Tuesday, September 1, 2009

We Need A Training Course on Transgender 101

I can't help but think how the greater LGBT movement has been so focused on an orientation hierarchy they've dropped the ball with regards to "normalizing" trans men and trans women. There's been a huge push at reducing the anxiety and generating familiarity for lesbians and gays that it doesn't seem so "weird" anymore. It's still opposed by many but it's not a wholly foreign concept. Think of it in terms of how relations between whites and blacks were addressed.

As a cis-gender woman I often cringe at the public fumbles and stumbles of others who are lesbian, gay and straight alike who exhibit their lack of understanding of trans-related "issues". I have to qualify this with the quotes because I do not purport to understand what it's like to be a trans woman. Just as a white person will never understand what it's like to be black or a wealthy person not know all the ways they've benefitted from not being poor we all have our own set of blessings and obstacles. I do think the standard should be higher for the lesbian and gay collective but we as individuals can pick up the mantle as we see fit.

I expect reciprocity in my support of all LGBT "issues" but realize that as with many things in this society certain people of color may have an extra burden. I've also written about numerous cases of violence against black trans women like Lateisha Green and Duanna Johnson. I have also found that for every person willing to examine how they relate to others many still exhibit virulent discriminatory behavior. Including gays and lesbians. So if they engage in such foul behavior against their trans kinfolk how is that the straights will learn? Not to mention the racism and gender bias that exists amongst the entire population.

I am confident that I examine the ways in which I express my gender privileges if only because I'm willing to be put through the paces by others. We have to be humble enough to consider the fact that being well-intentioned is no guarantee of complete success in dismantling our prejudices. There is a big difference though from deciding to hate in thoughts, words and deeds.

There's been a discussion at Pam's House Blend about the review of this dance crew on an MTV dance competition show by a recording artist. The comments by Lil Mama displayed a lack of understanding that should be addressed but are by no means as offensive as statements made by gay politician Barney Frank for example. Any standards for evaluating behavior should be applied across the board. I see this as a teachable moment IF people are willing to learn. Like most reality shows they're edited to promote high drama and ignorant behavior for ratings.

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tertiaryanna said...

Thank you for this post. I looked at Pam's link, and the breakdown of the comments were extremely informative.

About this:

"So if they engage in such foul behavior against their trans kinfolk how is that the straights will learn? Not to mention the racism and gender bias that exists amongst the entire population."

I think we have the tools to comprehend intragroup differences even if people aren't quick to use them. Because we have already seen where allies in one cause (exaggerated example is Russia and the US against the Nazis) aren't allies with each other on a separate issue (Russia against the US in the Cold War.) There are other, less obvious examples that should be well understood by minorities (B/W feminism contrasted to feminism vs. the patriarchy, issues between BF/M contrasted to the BC vs. White racism, etc.)

But I think that a key part of the answer to your question is being aware of the ways the majority can effectively silence the minority by using their "type" power to take away the minority voice. By "type", I mean social, legal, economic, etc.

It's easy to think that one can speak for another, but the inequities of power mean that the person in the weaker position may not get to speak at all. And so they're effectively excluded from creating the norms, terms, and values that they want to be used to define their experiences.

To me, being an ally for someone when there is a power imbalance (for whatever reason) means that the person in the more powerful position leverages their power to clear or safeguard a place where the other can air their voice.

As a straight person, to me that means making sure that when I speak about LGBT issues that part of my power is used to ensure that LGBT people are speaking, that it's not just heterosexual, cisgendered people who are being heard. This is the same as what I'd expect someone who is an ally to my own issues (generally speaking) to do. I would be angry if, say a male forum defined the female experience while excluding female voices. Any variance among groups can be substituted here.

In this sense, I would hope learn about trans people from what they have chosen to say of themselves. I think it's important to be clear about the fact that no culture or type is monolithic, so I don't expect a handful of sources to define the entire experience (if an entire experience could even be defined.)

So the combination of willingness to listen and continue to listen, and also to, in some sense, recognize another person's power disparity in light of one's own experience.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

We do have the tools to comprehend intragroup difference but I don't think many heteros realize there ARE intergroup differences. It also doesn't help matters when gays and lesbians don't address their own prejudices because it plays into cisgender privilege which gays, lesbians and straights share equally.