Better brace yourselves, everyone. When I started blogging on here 10 months ago, I was hoping to never use this platform to go on diatribes over anything and everything. However, this is one time when I have stand on top of the nearest soapbox and rant away. Don’t worry, I will do my darndest to be respectful in this post.
Anyway, this post is regarding two related articles I came across this week: One pop culture news item that kinda left me thinking, “Hmmm…” and a related opinion piece that left me shaking my head. They both involve someone who’s gained quite a bit of admiration during 2015:
Yep, that’s Caitlyn Jenner in that pretty nice outfit. (Gosh, I want a top like that. That jacket, too.) Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past half-year or so, you certainly have heard her story: Former Olympic golden boy who became an American athletic icon, only to become a reality TV show side character, only to discover and reveal her true self and in the process become a transgender icon. Back in April, the person then known as Bruce Jenner revealed to ABC’s 20/20 that he identifies as a gender he was not born as, and that he was in the process of transitioning to female. Yeah, it was a big TV and social media event; nearly 17 million people watched it, a big audience for Friday night television these days.
Jenner’s revelation and her subsequent presentation and appearances as Caitlyn, from award shows and interviews to her own reality television series, have earned her an enormous amount of praise and support. It’s not come without some criticism, though, as this opinion piece on Entirely Amelia, posted hours before Jenner’s April interview, so witheringly proved. (To be fair towards Amelia, the blogger in that post, her post was more a criticism of the “wealthy white celebrity” caste from which Jenner comes from, and the media attention that said caste attracts. Amelia clarified it as such in a follow-up post, but held to her stand that Jenner’s transition isn’t the same as that of every other trans person.)
Admittedly, I did not watch Bruce Jenner’s April interview, and my following of I Am Cait has been rather passive and cursory. I say that’s due to the fact that I’ve never been a fan of reality TV or celebrity-oriented tabloid journalism in general; Caitlyn has certainly been a part of both. However, I do admire Caitlyn for the path she is on now. What I pick up from her progress is that Caitlyn is, well, a work in progress. She’s not your average everyday trans person (she’s got money in the bank, for one thing), and she’s not entirely perfect, and she is doing her best to become the best woman and trans role model she can be… even if, as Amelia noted in her blog, Caitlyn’s story, background, and progression may not be the same as many other trans people experience.
Speaking of Caitlyn Jenner’s background, she has been on the record as identifying with the conservative-leaning Republican Party, which made me think… well, Caitlyn, your and my political beliefs may not mesh, but that’s okay, although it certainly may feel weird for you to align with a party where a fair share of its acolytes sneer their noses towards the LGBT community, and that’s a relatively nice term for how they feel about us. (That must be a hard square for you to circle, now isn’t it, Caitlyn?) One (mostly) bedrock conservative belief involves the belief that marriage should be in the traditional sense — one man and one woman, nothing else. That’s what Caitlyn admitted while marriage stance was during an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show just the other day. For those unfamiliar with Caitlyn’s beliefs, that may have come as a surprise: Here was a trans woman admitting she had a belief that did not gel with many in the gay community, a movement whose plight is seemingly so intertwined with the trans community (more on that later).
Even though Caitlyn expressed to Ellen in the interview that her stance on marriage equality has softened and she’s “on board” with marriage equality (basically stating, “I won’t stand blocking the happiness you seek if marriage is important to you”), it still didn’t sit well with DeGeneres, who herself is a prominent figure in the LGBT community and an ardent supporter of marriage equality (and is married herself; Portia de Rossi is her partner). Ellen basically told Jenner, well, I don’t know if you’re completely onside with us on this. Ellen even said as much in a subsequent talk with Howard Stern, where she also admitted she’s “trying to understand” Jenner’s trans journey but wants Caitlyn “to be happy — which is what I want for her [to want] for me.” (Ellen and Howard’s talk is pretty good stuff in of itself, so much so that I’ve embedded video from that conversation below.)
I wonder if other marriage equality supporters felt taken aback at Caitlyn Jenner’s apparently softening stance on the issue as Ellen DeGeneres was. I admit I wasn’t as surprised, and maybe it’s due to my mindset equating cultural conservatives, whoever they may be, to having a strict stance against marriage equality. (That’s too broad of a brush, I know.) I admit, too, that just like Ellen, I felt a little bit of consternation over Jenner’s thoughts on marriage (I share Ellen’s stance on the matter, as I’ve hinted here and here). But I’ll be the optimist in this matter and give Caitlyn the benefit of the doubt when she says her marriage opinion has evolved… even if I’m tempted to take it with a grain of salt. Marriage equality is certainly one of the biggest social issues of our time, if not the biggest. And the rapid progression toward legal and cultural acceptance of marriage equality, and the happy scenes that its legality has provided, has certainly made even hardened opinions soften at least a little bit… like, say, Caitlyn Jenner’s.
Learning about and reading up on the Ellen/Caitlyn thing, my attention was directed to an opinion piece that, as I hinted at the beginning of this post, left me a little bit disappointed. The op-ed appeared in the British newspaper The Independent and was penned by Katie Glover, editor of the trans/drag/crossdresser-friendly magazine Frock and a trans woman herself. The idea of Glover’s thoughts is this: If someone from the gay/lesbian/bi community like Ellen DeGeneres is stunned that a trans person like Caitlyn Jenner may not fully endorse every gay-oriented issue, then it’s time for the trans movement to break off from the gay movement. The navy blue block quotes shown below are from Glover’s column, interspersed with my thoughts:
“[As] admirable as the fight for gay rights is, it’s not necessarily a transgender person’s turf. In fact, it’s been estimated that the number of trans people who are gay is only about the same as in the wider population.”
Okay, I’ll agree with that. The “LGB” of the LGBT acronym (lesbian, gay, bisexual) does indeed involve who you love and are attracted to, while the “T” (trans, of course) deals with who you believe you are. What’s between your legs has no bearing on what’s in your head or heart. (Gee, I hope that interpretation came out okay.)
“… but the message [that sexuality and sexual identity are separate] is still not getting through – no matter how much trans activists try to hammer the point home… To some degree, this could be [due] to the way trans people have been portrayed in the media for decades (think Jerry Springer) or it could even be partly because transgender people themselves have been happy to be part of the gay or LGBT community since Stonewall back in the sixties.”
Well, that rainbow flag welcomes all comers; always has always… will?
“But that [happiness under the LGBT rainbow] might not be the case any longer… Things are changing: our numbers are growing…”
On the last part of that quote pull first: There’s no denying the trans community (transgender, transsexual, non-conforming/gender-fluid, and, dare I say it, crossdressers like me) have clearly gained some sorts of respect, acceptance, and definitely prominence in at least the past half-decade, if not a little bit longer than that. I mean, “T’s” have come a long way from being “weirdos” (note the air quote marks) to gawk over on Jerry Springer or Maury, and that’s something the entire LGBT community should be happy for… even though, yes, the gay/lesbian/bi portion of the community have gained more than “the T community.”
But that first part of that quote… makes my stomach queasy. And this next pull has made me want to throw up a little bit:
“…perhaps the time is right for the transgender community to separate from the LGB – time for us to fly the LGB nest, if you will.”
All right, now here is where I really have to disagree with Ms. Glover’s viewpoint. Before I go any further, though, I must make two admissions: First, I’m not one to seek out or start an online fight, so I won’t use the hockey analogy of dropping the gloves and putting up my dukes (and I love hockey). Secondly, I do not profess myself as an expert on all operations of, to use a friendly train analogy, “The LGB&T Railroad.” (I’ll explain the ampersand later.)
With all that said, here’s my beef: I have always been of the impression that ever since Stonewall, the trans community has been an accepted part of the LGB&T Railroad. “Accepted” is the key word there, though I’d admit that “tolerated” may be a key word, too, as not every gay/bi person may feel understanding toward trans people. But don’t think that every bi or gay person feels that way; trans people have been a longtime part of the gay plight, even though gender identity and sexual preference are two totally different things. (Hey, the LGB&T Railroad has a lot of cars to pull.)
What Katie Glover contends is that the trans community will have strength in independence if they break off from the LGB&T Railroad and lay down their own tracks. I, however, have to strongly disagree with her viewpoint. Issues of sexuality and sexual identity can be different issues, and I understand that. However, our hopes and dreams and struggles — as different and varied as they may be — are so tightly intertwined. And that intertwining has pretty much stayed strong even with some frays in the rope, or so I personally perceive.
In one form or another, we on the LGB&T Railroad cover the broad spectrum. Take myself, for example: I live as a full-time male but dress up on occasion as a female; that makes me a crossdresser, which I’ve always considered a subsection of the trans community, although there are some who will disagree with me on that (and I do accept that). I also consider myself questioning in my sexual identity. (Am I bisexual? Straight? Gay? Just curious?) So, yes, I may have my feet in different cars on the LGB&T Railroad — sexual identity and gender presentation — but they are still part of the same train. Again, separate cords intertwining with each other to form one pretty strong rope.
And that intertwining in the community is something even Katie Glover admits in her Independent op-ed:
“They (lesbian/gay/bi) have been our valuable friends in the past, and given us safety in numbers. When there were too few trans people around to have any kind of say alone, they gave us a voice. Our collaboration with the LGBs has been good for trans people everywhere…”
And there, in my respectful viewpoint, is where Ms. Glover’s argument falls apart. The gay portion of the community, while they may not share the plight or even the viewpoints of many of their trans brethren, have indeed made trans people welcome; there indeed has been “safety in numbers” (more like “power in numbers” Ms. Glover?).
While we in the LGB&T Railroad have felt our gains differently, I’ve always felt we’ve made these gains together. Sure, the trans community still encounter prejudices from some other passengers riding together on the LGB&T Railroad — and, sadly, more levels of prejudice from others not on our train — but I feel it’s sill something these different groups can overcome together. And if the community as a whole can try to overcome our internal prejudices together, then together we can overcome the prejudices of those who still do not accept our community and all we’ve accomplished.
What I’m basically getting at here with this post is that if the trans community splinters from the “LGB” portion of our community, that means we will all become weaker. The LGB&T Railroad still needs to be connected as one strong train; the ampersand in that analogy is meant to unite, not divide. Which is why I want to highlight this term:
United We Stand. Divided We Fall.
Well, that’s a little too obvious of a term, so I’ll go with something more frank:
Conquer Together or Be Conquered
I use that 2nd term because even though the LGB&T Railroad as accomplished a lot, and the community has had each others’ backs for so long, we’re all going to fall apart and be marginalized individually if the railroad disbands. Yes, our train has seemingly turned into a supersonic jet thanks to all the gains the community has achieved in quick order. But splinting off into separate railways will leave us susceptible to acquisition by the anti-gay, anti-trans entity that never really liked dealing with us anyway. You want proof of that? It’s not hard to find these days:
- Corporations such as Target have taken pro-LGBT stances and even endorse legislation banning anti-LGBT discrimination, but some self-righteous go so far as to propose whole communities where LGBT’s would have no rights whatsoever. (Scary thought, huh?)
- Same-sex couples may now have the Supreme Court-endorsed right to marry, but elected legislators and leaders still bend the rules to thwart hard-earned rights LGBT’s have gained (as this story proves).
- And while there are indeed those in government (elected or otherwise) who assure LGBT’s are not denied their rights, as well as whole communities who enact anti-discrimination measures, those who do dare to deny these rights are held up as “heroes.” (Yeah, and if anyone thinks Kim Davis is equal to Martin Luther King, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.)
So having said all that, would the trans community, as valid as their concerns are, really and truly want to divorce themselves from the gay/lesbian movement? Now more than ever, The LGB&T Railroad needs to stay together. If trans women and men and gay women and men can appreciate the gains accumulated (or, in the cases of Caitlyn Jenner and Ellen DeGeneres, begin to appreciate them), then together we can conquer the obstacles that remain in all of our ways. But go our separate ways, and those who constantly seek to marginalize us will all too easily force us into a corner. As one respondent to Katie Glover’s op-ed so succinctly put it (despite a little bit of political incorrectness), “All us freaks gotta stick together.” So let’s stick together, okay?
Now that I step off of my soapbox, I hope you accept this post as being supportive of the entire LGBT spectrum. Please don’t misconstrue my thoughts as being negative towards gays or trans people. After reading these stories, I just wanted to express my belief that despite our differences (trans, bi, gay, crossdresser, etc.), we’re still in the same boat. So, if you feel the need to educate me… by all means, leave a comment. But keep things as civil and friendly as I’ve tried to keep them here. Thanks for reading.