Over the years, I have watched the transgender community from within. Some people have been around the community for many years, steadily campaigning to improve matters, they become familiar faces both within and beyond the trans community. With the popularity of the internet, online groups and forums began to spring up, usually started and controlled by self-appointed creators and moderators of those groups and forums. These tended to be ruled with an iron fist, dissent not tolerated, and anybody not going along with the moderators &/or group ethos would be subject to abuse, and if they responded without submission ejected from the group. Then social networking sites became popular, and a new phenomenon began to emerge – the ‘spontaneous’ protest at just about anything or anybody self-selected leaders of protest deemed as ‘transphobic’. A series of protests aimed at figures-of-hate were organised from within the community, yet always attracting about 200-250 people. The self-appointed representatives seemed to emerge from nowhere, and soon sank back into obscurity.
The relationship between the trans and lesbian and gay community seems to be a recurring theme, with individuals and organisations known for their association with radical lesbian and gay politics often the target of accusations of transphobia. Surprisingly more so than outspoken clergy, or church organisations. The relationship between the lesbian and gay community and the trans community has a difficult history which dates back at least as far as the Gay Liberation Front. One leading activist from those days once described what happened back in the 1970’s as the girls left the boys to play on their own, and both turned their backs on the drag queens and crossdressers. For much of the following 30 years, lesbian and gay politics operated without reference to trans people. In some ways, having achieved their own freedom from legal prosecution for being queer, and liberated from a psychiatric profession that had treated their sexuality as a psycho-sexual disorder, the heirs to the GLF and CHE set off on their own paths as lesbian and gay people – and left those now referred to as transgender in the hands of psychiatrists under the GID diagnosis; the irony of that situation is that many of those psychiatrists who went on to specialise in the treatment were themeselves gay.
Trans activism only really began to take off in the early 1990’s, over twenty years after gay liberation. With that we began to see the first wave of transsexual people who were able to take their place as professionals, experts and activists in areas that concerned transsexuals ,and who would change the lives of many transgender people in ways unimagined before the late 1980’s. Following the increased recognition of rights, and the increasing willingness of trans people to stand up and be out themselves, the new generation of trans people who wanted more (understandably) than just acceptance and rights – but to be treated no differently from anybody else in society, a recognition of the validity of their call on public health services, adequate health care, equal opportunities in employment and services, and legal protection against harrassment and bullying.
I applaud all of this, and I support it.
What I find harder to accept may be down to my own personal prejudices, and I find that hard to accept in myself, but have to be honest about. Imagine a scenario where you are middle-aged, have been out as lesbian or gay person since adolescence, and have campaigned on lesbian and gay issues. A middle aged transsexual comes along – somebody you have never come across in your 30+ years as an activist – and demands you include their issues, and accept them as ‘one of you’. It must seem odd, 30 years after you left a group of people to their cross-dressing and psychiatrists, people who to you seemed quite content to live as heterosexual men and women, to suddenly find yourself attacked because you are not catering to them as well. So, you probe a bit, ask a few questions, and discover that this middle-aged person spent their entire adult life, up to a couple of years previously, living as a heterosexual man, having a successful career, married with children who had now grown up. This person, who now identifies as female and believes that prior to two years ago their whole life was a lie; they tell you that their former heterosexual family still stands by them. They tell you all sorts of stories about how hard it was for them, and how hard it has been since they transitioned, especially with their employer who had known them as a man for 30 years. They then tell you that you must accept them into the LGB fold, not only as a transsexual, but as a lesbian – because they are still attracted to women. They might even go further and reveal that they do not see the point of reassignment surgery.
You might wonder about the sanity, or the motives, of this person who, all the time you were struggling with issues they seem to have only recently become interested in, was enjoying a certain priveleged situation in life. You might find it hard to simply accept them that easily. Then you would be considered transphobic, and find that you are being criticised for holding the views you do by this person, who for some reason despite their relative newness to this hypothetical ‘movement’ seems to know far more than you do about what lesbian feminists should think than you do. That might irritate you a bit, make you feel a bit patronised, but if you try saying anything – then you are being transphobic.
OK, this is a bit simplistic, but it gives some idea why some people might get pissed off when they have been involved in something for years, suddenly start getting odd people turning up saying ‘I am one of you, and I demand to be heard and included’. The charicature I present represents just one type of transsexual (or transgender) person. I have met, and know, many wonderful people who are transsexual, transgender, intersex, lesbian and gay. We are not all the same, our histories are all different: we are diverse. Some are exceedingly sweet, and some are downright nasty. I myself had a lot of difficulty finding out where I was located in all this diversity – and it is a history that goes back to surgery in early childhood, oscillating between relationships with men and with women, brief failed marriage twice, therapy, trying to deal with gender identity issues, transitioning without being convinced transition would be any better. I grew into an understanding that as an intersex person, for me, it would not have mattered whether I was assigned male or female – sooner or later I would have rejected the assignment. I grew into an understanding that it was not so much the assignment itself I resented, but what went with it – the surgery, the pain at physical, emotional and psychological levels as I tried to grow up having a gender reinforced on me that made no sense to me, and I felt at a complete loss trying to perform. I grew into an understanding that had it been a different gender that had been assigned and reinforced, that too would have made no sense to me, and I would have been at just as complete a loss in performing.
The only times I have experienced any kind of targeted abuse, it has been when perceived as a gay man (“poof” and “batty-boy” kind of abuse) and when perceived as a traveller (the “gypo-bitch” kind of abuse) – never any cross-gender abuse. So, I do know what it is like to be on the recieving end of homophobic and racist abuse, but fortunately only once was there a threat of physical violence accompanying this. I had to deal with this at points through my adult life from my teens onwards – my appearance, as a feminine looking man, made it inevitable. I just want to say that, so it is clear I am very sympathetic when it comes to receiving abuse, as I am well aware of how it feels – uncomfortable and frightening. So, I have met and known some lovely trans people, and intersex people who have to identify as trans to get any help. People who are young, people who settle into relationships with partners as they go through transition, people who meet people after they have reassigned, people who transition and find themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual and straight, people who find they are not sexual, people who are older who remain with their former gay or lesbian partners as a heterosexual couple and get married after reassignment, people who are older who remain with their life-partner from their former heterosexual marriage, people who went through aversion therapy, and were diverted from their inclinations into cold straight marriages, who finally manage to escape and do what they wanted to do 30 years previously, and so on.
But, I find I cannot get over the resentment I feel about people who seem to have had it all – all the things I and many of the rest of us could never have had, and would have loved to have had, but were too busy trying to sort out the mess left over from childhood and adolescence, dealing with day-to-day bigotry, and were biologically incapable of – people who, having had their Stepford families, then turn around and tell them they were living a lie all along, telling everybody how hard it was for them (having everything), and how hard it is to be transsexual, and how we have to accept that because their brain was a certain way from before they were born, how everybody must now accept all this, and even welcome them into a community they had nothing to do with for thirty years of their adult life. Yes, I do resent that a bit. Not only do they expect to be accepted, they expect people to lay aside their own beliefs, ignore what they have learned over the previous thirty years, and bow to their superior insight – which usually rests on their having been a man with a good career all those years, who has recently ‘found herself’. I think they have a bit of a cheek, to be honest. And when this type of transsexual insults my intelligence by saying that they are intersex really, well, then I see red.
So, sorry, but I can’t accept you straight off just like that, because of my resentment. Maybe, in ten years or so, when you have stuck with the program, then I’ll be ready to listen – or maybe that should be, you’ll be ready for me to listen, because by then, maybe you’ll be ready to listen to me too. My phobia is not transphobia, it is middle-aged-family-man-becomes-a-woman-phobia.
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