Why the Umbrella Failed

(Part of a three-part series:
Part 1: The Death of the Transgender Umbrella
Part 2: Why The Umbrella Failed
Part 3: Decolonizing Trans as Allies)

While writing “The Death of the ‘Transgender’ Umbrella,” it became necessary to clarify something in my own mind.  The language is changing, yes, but the aspect of the word “transgender” that had especially changed was also the thing that seemed to make it most valuable: its use as an umbrella concept.

While it’s true that the specific words we use are ultimately irrelevant to how human rights protections are encoded in law, the way we’re framing our issues currently does in fact set us up for serious conflict between binary-identified and non-binary trans people when addressing issues of legal documentation and accommodation, and also spawns confusion and misunderstanding when the general public is faced with multiple narratives and tries to figure out how to parse them into a single entity.  We need to recognize — and sooner rather than later — how couching transsexual and gender diverse issues under a single umbrella creates an expectation of a single narrative with a single solution to all associated challenges.

I doubt very much that people who embrace a trans umbrella of any sort ever intended to erase these differences — instead, the intent often was very much a spirit of “let’s accomplish everything together.”  But umbrella thinking usually leads us down a path where we’re looking to one solution, one neat and tidy accommodation that will work for everyone.  It also causes us to give the impression (intentional or not) that a single one-size-fits-all solution will work for transsexual and gender diverse people.  Just like some of the things we struggle against, it too expects a certain amount of conformity.  And this is where shedding a trans umbrella hurt most — acknowledging my own hypocrisy.

In my defense, this was largely because I wanted to believe that gathering under an umbrella didn’t have to mean erasure, and didn’t have to mean forcing a single narrative on everyone, provided we were all conscientious and diligent.  But what I know about decolonialism tells me otherwise.

Imply / Infer

To me, the umbrella didn’t mean a single narrative.  To those I interacted with, though, this was very much not the case, no matter how clearly I tried to communicate it.  This was most evident when speaking on trans issues to general audiences or medical groups.  What became most organic was to say a bit at the beginning on how diverse the trans community was, and then move on to specifically transsexual issues while trying to remain clear that the medical processes and needs were specific to transsexuals only.  Invariably, the question period afterward was fraught with questions from people who were trying to resolve for themselves where non-binary trans people fit into that narrative.

I wanted to believe that unity didn’t have to mean erasure, but inevitably, I needed to recognize that’s what had been happening, once I started to reflect:

How are we to be identified in society?  Are we to be accepted as men and women, or have a third-sex / third-gender designation?  As long as we’re under a single name, society will look for a single solution and see us as a single entity, so there’s a serious risk of it becoming an either/or question,  affecting identification, accommodation in gendered spaces, and to some degree how we interact with society overall.

We don’t get to frame the whole debate, but the way we frame it when we initiate it through lobbying, instruction and protest forms a foundation.  Society’s understanding of trans people is growing and evolving, and with the “you can’t change your chromosomes” attitudes that are out there, it’s certainly a risk that as society becomes more trans-aware, non-binary gender markers could become the easy solution for legislators, seeming to appease both trans people and our opponents (because they always always always look for an easy way out).  Except that a non-binary gender marker becomes a scarlet letter for many transitioned transsexuals.  It also potentially becomes an easy way to exclude us from marriage in places without SSM.

We’re not consciously doing it, but this is how we’re presently initiating the discussion.

It was a particularly difficult article to write for a number of reasons, not the least of which were the facts that I am still personally comfortable with the term “transgender,” and that I still realize that there are issues that touch on most or all trans people, requiring a collective response.  The Transgender Day of Remembrance is one such reminder that transphobia touches all of us.  But points of mutual empathy should not be mistaken as evidence of sameness, and that is why the umbrella failed.

Decolonizing Trans

I’ve been interested in decolonial theory for awhile, although I look at it somewhat differently than most do.  I won’t go into depth, but in simple terms decolonialism is about how various classes lay claim and ownership over each other and impose regulations, will and rules of conformity that run counter to other classes’ needs.  It’s not a popular subject, since the language of communicating colonial struggles — words like “oppression” — tend to trigger immediate defensive reactions, and something I didn’t initially recognize as a proponent of a transgender umbrella was how I was slipping into that trap.  In this argument, we had people clearly reacting to a perception of colonial annexation.  The typical colonial response is to dismiss it as “all in their heads” or simply rationalizing it away as bigotry or reverse discrimination.  I didn’t like the part I found myself playing.

One problem that decolonial theory has is that academia treats it as its own possession, as though it’s their noble responsibility to lead the unwashed masses to salvation, thus perpetuating colonialism yet again.  This is something I’ve experienced plenty of myself, having had no shortage of people throughout my life to remind me that I’m not worthy enough to lick academia’s boots, or to decide that they’re a better authority than I am on who I am and what I need (it’s actually made academia quite triggering for me).  In order for real decolonial change to happen, it needs to be something that’s recognized and understood by the public at large.  When I bring it up here, it’s not to be aristocratic, but to simply engage the discussion on a community level.

Most often, decolonial theory is used as an examination of how a primary class governs others, but minorities do it to each other too.  In this understanding of minority issues, privilege is not a you-have-it-or-you-don’t proposition, but rather an edge that we find ourselves on differing sides of in differing situations.  So I see colonialism not as something that happens between nations but as something that happens among majority and various minority classes as each seeks personal power.  Colonialism keeps getting perpetuated because it’s the only framework we’ve ever had with which to view society, and we expect that one collective group (whether democratic, economic class, ideological or characteristic in nature) is supposed to rule, and everyone else needs to be governed or to “get with the program.”  And when the majority makes accommodations for various minorities, it’s often in a paternal, tokenistic way because its privilege blinds it to the deeply-rooted needs that the minorities have, and instead seeks easy and soft fixes.  Which is why true beneficial change for a minority needs to be initiated and defined by the people in question themselves.

The whole point is that by looking at the struggles of minorities on a global scale, patterns emerge in how they self-define, seek personal power through the same colonizing behaviours they have struggled against, assert authority (sometimes justifiably, sometimes not), and often succumb to the idea of ownership rather than partnership.  Decolonialism attempts to rethink this process, recognizing that either we’re truly committed to social justice, or we’re simply seeking to better one’s own class – if we do the latter, we inevitably perpetuate colonial thinking, however much or little we’ve been able to elevate ourselves.

If There Are Different Defining Characteristics, You Can’t Portray Sameness

And when you have a group or groups with unique and strongly defining characteristics (say, a medical process, identification issues that affect citizenship, accommodation concerns in the 24/7 day-to-day) grouped with ones who don’t share all or some of those characteristics, all the while claiming to speak with one voice, you have a situation that is absolutely rife with the potential for colonial conflict and attempts at possession.

Personally, I don’t think that transsexuals have been completely annexed by other gender diverse peoples (and yes, I realize that “gender diverse peoples” is itself an umbrella phrase, but am currently using it for now because it at least acknowledges diversity), nor gender diverse peoples completely annexed by transsexuals.  In my local community, I see more danger of the latter happening.  But by setting up an umbrella communal framework, we’ve created a colonial structure, and we’re now seeing the push-pull.  It’s happening more often online because that is where our self-definition has been mostly taking place, and that is also where people feel most empowered and safe enough to speak about it.

It only escalates from here, unless we rethink how we’ve defined things.  And we may not have had a conscious will to annex anyone — but the conviction that it is advantageous to present ourselves as a single whole is all the seduction we need to do so unwittingly.

The idea of an umbrella is that we can all stand under it — race, ability, sexual orientation, age, gender identity and/or expression — and that is why the idea is so seductive.  It appeals to a sense of strength through unity.  But an umbrella implies one people, one collective narrative and one solution, allowing colonial thinking to set in as we try to define a singular course of advocacy, thinking that anyone who doesn’t initially like it will one day thank us anyway.

We also often rationalize a transgender umbrella by equating it to a spectrum of gender expression.  While some of the conflicts can be separated between binary and non-binary -identified people, we as individuals cannot always easily be sorted that way.  Some gender diverse people feel a need to transition to a degree; some transsexuals don’t completely adopt one gender or the other for a myriad of reasons — this all seems to validate the idea of a spectrum, and maybe it does.  But we can’t use this as a reason to ignore the potential for conflict along binary and non-binary lines.  In fact, the impulse to see everyone as part of a whole has caused us to completely fail to understand how people at either end of the question can feel triggered or erased when someone else’s narrative becomes perceived as dominant.

Decolonialism is Not Simply Divorce

That said, if a “divorce” of transsexuals from gender diverse peoples were to take place, we still need to take care and be conscious of those who identify as both.  Historically, it has always gone very seriously tragic when communities have jettisoned people who don’t fit narrow idealized definitions (gay men to effeminate gays, lesbians to “butch” dykes, racial communities to “halfbreeds,” women’s movements to transsexual women, transsexual men and sex workers, the middle class to the poor, gays and lesbians to bisexuals, and more — these did not all occur in exactly the same way, but all were nonetheless damaging).  Folks in the in-between are often not the exception that challenges the rule, but rather situated where they experience compounded ostracism that perpetuates even more isolation and marginalization.  Simply divorcing ourselves from each other doesn’t actually address colonial structures: it merely draws a new border and creates one more class to seek advantage over.  If we are to claim a true decolonial approach, that will involve both defining ourselves as distinct, and working with people outside our own bubble for our collective empowerment… without assuming that a single solution is going to accomplish that.

Longer Than We Realize

The “don’t call me transgender” argument stems from peoples’ desire to distinguish themselves from the relatively recent but large proliferation of genderqueer and transgressive narratives.  Those, in turn, stemmed from peoples’ desire to distinguish themselves from the medicalized and cliched “man in a woman’s body” -style narratives before them.  We’ve been seeking to define ourselves the whole time, and that’s a necessary part of emerging as a movement.  But because we’re trying to present ourselves to the world as part of a single whole, doing so affects the self-definition of others.  This tug-of-war has been taking place for longer than we realize, and unless we reconsider why and how we’re trying to assert a oneness, this will only get more bitter.  And it’s unnecessary: total sameness is not a prerequisite for undertaking activism as an allied whole, nor for empathizing with people who share some of our struggles.

We’re drawn to the idea of community as some kind of nebulous ideal where we all share kinship, as a kind of family.  Many of us have sacrificed a lot in search of it, and perhaps we even need it.  We’ve been emotionally buoyed or wrecked by interactions because of it.  As romantic as the idea of community might be, there are obvious flaws with that logic — which is why The Community™ always seems to fail to live up to that promise.  There are kindred spirits to be found, yes, but not everyone in our neighbourhood can be seen as one.  Community can only ever be a loosely-knit coming together of diverse individuals who are unified only by the fact that they happen to live near each other and perhaps have some political needs in common.

Where Alliance Differs

We sometimes see the concepts of umbrella and alliance as interchangeable, but that is very much not the case.  During the beginning of the “don’t call me transgender” argument years ago, I wondered at times if some of us were arguing about the same thing.  But there are very clear yet subtle differences in thinking that go with each concept, whether we’ve intended them or not.  Coming from an umbrella standpoint, we’re inviting people to “come over here and stand with me.”  From an alliance standpoint, it’s a bit more of a realization that sometimes we need to stand with someone else too, and that sometimes requires stepping out of our own protective zone to do so — but also realizing that it’s needed.  An alliance acknowledges that we’re not all going the same direction, that we can only speak to our own experiences, and that it’s not up to everyone to focus on us but rather agreeing to exchange support among people who don’t always need the same things.  It also means realizing that our needs aren’t all the same, will sometimes conflict, and should probably be examined carefully before pushing solutions in order to minimize the harm we do to our allies.

That is, in an ideal version of alliance.  No approach is perfect.  Umbrella or alliance, both are vulnerable to paternalism, conflict, tokenism and betrayal.  Alliances still need the ability to recognize when they’re seeking to define others and the will to change it.  The primary reason for shifting from umbrella thinking to alliance between transsexual and gender diverse communities is to better recognize and empower the parties in question to voice their own perspectives and needs.  It becomes easier to recognize when troubles occur, since the collaborating partners have been more empowered to speak.  It’s a small difference that can mean everything.

And since umbrella thinking is the issue, many of these things will have implications for other advocacy structures.  It’s also worth examining what this says about the “Queer Umbrella,” as well as how trans isn’t “in” or “out,” but still very reasonably allied (more on this in part 3 to follow).

So if it seems sometimes like I’m talking about platitudes, it’s because I am.  The practical application is still entirely dependent on our commitment to achieving an ideal and equitable result.

LGB, People of Colour, Canada and Alliances

Many other communities have settled into alliance-based frameworks, even if they haven’t consciously done so or have later forgotten why.  Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals probably have a clearer thread uniting them — sexual orientation — but still have a myriad of differences, distinctions and places in which there is outright conflict.  For a gay man who is trying to communicate that his sexual orientation is innate and something he can’t just change through conscious choice or aversion therapies, for example, the very existence of bisexuals would at first seem to undermine him.  We choose to ally, and if we listen, we start to understand what’s at the root of those conflicts and see where both can co-exist.

As someone who is Metis (that is, part Native American — enough that I witness and sometimes experience some of the marginalization of Aboriginal peoples but not enough that I could speak to all of it), I can find some kinship with people of colour.  But at the same time, my experiences aren’t necessarily in line with the PoC narrative.  Discussion of issues affecting people of colour sometimes slip into the trap of speaking about only one or two colours.  If I were to voice my experiences while identified as a person of colour (I don’t, since I recognize that I’m largely seen as white), the first thing that would happen is that people would contest my right to identify that way; the second (assuming we get past that) is that they then try to find a way to fold my experiences back into the existing narrative.  As with those who’ve advocated an umbrella community, I don’t believe this is necessarily intentional.  But I’ve found it’s certainly more effective for me to communicate my relevant experiences as a Metis person, so that those experiences can be seen on their own merits and unencumbered by another narrative.  At the same time, I’m perfectly happy to ally with people of colour and do whatever I can to advance their needs and inclusion as well.  At that point, I’m more an ally than anything (hopefully a good ally), and inevitably need both my own language to describe my experiences, and a willingness to listen to others’.

We Need to Revisit This, But Without the Mutual Invalidation

If we were to look at how trans theory has evolved over the years, I’d bet we’d find that this is a discussion that we keep coming back to without realizing it, because umbrella thinking has started us on a circuitous path that keeps stirring up the same old unresolved conflicts, the same old unanswered questions about where colonial borders should be, the same questions of empowerment and disempowerment and the same resentments from erasure and betrayal, time and again.  I’m as tired as anyone about identity politics.  But inevitably it needs to be revisited, lest it continue to hamper our collective (and hopefully reasonably allied) movements for transsexual and gender diverse people.

Arriving at this conclusion, though, is not at all helped by the fact that there is clearly some invalidation taking place.  Yes, some of the “don’t call me transgender” argument has stemmed from a few peoples’ impulses to dismiss anyone who doesn’t fit a narrow definition of post-operative transsexual as either fetishists or extremists.  I won’t make excuses for people who have spouted those attitudes.  But those who’ve responded have also in turn dismissed absolutely everyone who objects to umbrella thinking as a bigot.  Both are destructive impulses we need to stop.  Ironically it took being triggered in a big way by invalidation to open my eyes to just how ferociously we can sometimes respond to it, and just how unconsciously we can perpetuate it.  The only thing that taking swipes at people does is to turn them off the idea of giving serious consideration to the point of view of the person taking the swipe.

The invalidation on both sides of the discussion has to stop now.

Next: Alliance… Why and How

This continues the thoughts from “The Death of the ‘Transgender’ Umbrella.” If you haven’t read that part and don’t believe that there is a conflict between binary and non-binary needs in transsexual and gender diverse advocacy, please read that part before reacting to this article.

(Thanks to April and Jillian for feedback.  Crossposted to The Bilerico Project Dented Blue Mercedes)

  1. What can be infuriating is the refusal to acknowledge truths.

    Truths such as, some separatists *are* clearly homophobic bigots. And resistance to colonisation gets confused by that.

    And many so-called ‘trans women’ *are* fetish-driven men, with no real sincerity behind their claim. But calling that out while trying to be sex-positive is difficult.

    My observations and reactions toward others are largely based on witnessing sincerity and responsibility, and then respecting it accordingly. i hold this in the highest of considerations, above all else, even surgery. Because the fact that many older seperatists fail to admit is that we live in a new economic reality that bears no resemblance to the one that made their success possible, surgically or otherwise.

    There’s anti-gender activists, and then there’s the real world. Anyone who seriously believes they stand a chance at getting two parties to cooperate, who oppose each other on something so fundamental as whether or not gender should exist, is deluding themselves. I am all about personal liberty, and enacting laws to protect that. It can be anything from the right to marry anyone you choose, or the right to express yourself however you like.

    But i am not willing to achieve personal liberty at someone else’s expense. Their personal liberty ends where their fist makes contact with my face, or their cock gets exposed to women in a public space. And deliberately refusing to acknowledge the serious problems in existing behavior *and* future possibilities is to firmly stick head in sand, both cutting off potential support from those cautious and rational, *and* inviting backlash legislation disaster.

    i call out bigoted or hateful behavior *every time* i see it on the seperatist side of this arguement. i have yet to see *one single* pro-TG activist acknowledge the behavior of those who are insincere, and who carry out idiotic behavior that foreshadows future problems. Not once.

    Academia sock-puppets spin quasi-pseudo-science such as ‘crossdreamer’ non-sense, simply to try and drag us back into the bucket where we don’t belong, and it won’t work. The resentment it creates, at least speaking for myself, is fiercer than anyone could possibly imagine.

    i’m relatively unknown and unseen, nor does anyone care what i have to say (no activist weight behind my words, and all that). But i have a long memory for certain things, and have not yet begun to resist in any serious sense of the word. And i intend to do so.

    i apologize for not replying at your premium venue, but Bilerico is a cesspool of hostility and kumbya me-too-isms. It’s not a safe environment for dissent, no matter how respectfully it may be conveyed.

      • dentedbluemercedes
      • June 19th, 2011

      You wrote:

      “And many so-called ‘trans women’ *are* fetish-driven men, with no real sincerity behind their claim. But calling that out while trying to be sex-positive is difficult.”

      I guess what I have issue with is how people are using “fetish.” I’m not talking about that versus the original meaning of the word, because nobody seems to use it that way, anymore. But “fetish” is often taken to be this dumping ground for anything remotely associated with sex that someone either doesn’t understand or doesn’t like. It’s become a convenient term used to invalidate someone, the same way “choice” is for sexual orientation and gender identity. In reality, I find desires actually say a lot of real and valid things about a person, even if it might not be immediately obvious what those things are.

      “Their personal liberty ends where their fist makes contact with my face, or their cock gets exposed to women in a public space…”

      But when does the latter actually happen? I know and know of CDs (almost full-time, yet with no intention of transitioning) who travel as female and use womens’ restrooms, without anyone ever seeing a penis, in them, and without anyone’s privacy being intentionally invaded. Statistically, there’s been no pattern of this occurring.

      “i call out bigoted or hateful behavior *every time* i see it on the seperatist side of this arguement. i have yet to see *one single* pro-TG activist acknowledge the behavior of those who are insincere, and who carry out idiotic behavior that foreshadows future problems. Not once.”

      Well, you’ve seen at least one. I originally came from the pro-TG umbrella camp. And I’ve seen a few others who have also reassessed that position. But most of the folks I know in that camp are trying to create an ideal of solidarity, confusing it with sameness. Sometimes, they even feel they need the umbrella as a way to prod people to care, because they’ve faced so much indifference. And that’s why reassessing umbrella thinking can be a bitter pill to swallow.

      “Academia sock-puppets spin quasi-pseudo-science such as ‘crossdreamer’ non-sense…”

      I get the impression that whoever that is, they’re still describing something that is still very real to them personally. Certainly, I have no reason to believe otherwise, but if you do, I’d be interested to know details. Off-blog might be better (dentedbluemercedes@gmail.com).

    • Natalie
    • June 17th, 2011

    Why I have issues with ‘transgender’.

    It’s just a few small, but important things.

    I’m tired of being pictured as a drag queen or a crossdresser because these are what get trotted out at any given transgender event. Therefore, what the public sees is more in line with either or both of these, and not representative of transsexual people. Nothing against crossdressers or drag queens, but they’re not me, not on the same path. nor with the same issues.

    I’m tired of seeing surgery depicted as a ‘choice’, ‘elective’ or ‘not necessary’ because ‘a vagina does not make a woman’. I’ve had crossdressers try to persuade me that it isn’t necessary and that I can just live my life by dressing up. For transsexual people, surgery is a massive step, hugely important both legally and psychologically and, literally, lifesaving for many of us. This should not be dismissed just because non-transsexual people do not seek it.

    Yes, there are many common issues, just as there are with the LGB. But, just as the ‘transgender’ T needs to learn to speak with it’s own voice instead of riding the coattails of the LGB, (who have demonstrated time and again their willingness to throw the T under the bus), transsexual people, who have unique issues of their own, need to have their own voice, separate from that of ‘transgender’.

    Face it…a male identified crossdresser, someone who hangs the dress up on Sunday and goes back to being a regular guy on Monday, is less likely to care about issues of transition, of hormones, of RLE, of surgery, and isn’t going to speak about it in the same way as a transsexual person with a vested, personal interest. It’s a generalization, of course, but some nasty experiences have shown me to be wary.

    We can fight united to defeat the haters, and well we should, but I want to speak with my own voice when it comes to a transsexual transition. There are many things I do agree with when it comes to ‘transgender’, but because I don’t agree with all of them, I shouldn’t be made out to be the equivalent of Hitler.

    …and race or skin colour doesn’t even enter into it, no matter how hard certain groups or individuals will work to portray those of us who do not identify with ‘transgender’ as somehow racist, as is happening.

      • dentedbluemercedes
      • June 19th, 2011

      “I’m tired of being pictured as a drag queen or a crossdresser because these are what get trotted out at any given transgender event. Therefore, what the public sees is more in line with either or both of these, and not representative of transsexual people. Nothing against crossdressers or drag queens, but they’re not me, not on the same path. nor with the same issues.”

      I agree with your next statement that we need to speak with our own voice. And part of that is to be out there and visible in some way. Don’t fault the CD or drag community for being visible. That’s a natural need for the gender diverse and LGB communities as they emerge from the closet. Stealth is what has hurt us and erased us more than anything, in this regard.

      I perfectly understand stealth, don’t get me wrong. There will probably be a day when I no longer want to be as trans anything. But the visible will be heard.

      That said, having a single-named community certainly adds to the conflation and confusion.

      “Face it…a male identified crossdresser, someone who hangs the dress up on Sunday and goes back to being a regular guy on Monday, is less likely to care about issues of transition, of hormones, of RLE, of surgery…”

      I’ve actually seen one argue vehemently against health care funding for transsexuals. Fortunately, I don’t see it as a majority or even large minority opinion.

      “…and race or skin colour doesn’t even enter into it, no matter how hard certain groups or individuals will work to portray those of us who do not identify with ‘transgender’ as somehow racist, as is happening.”

      I’m going to disagree there, although it’s not immediately obvious where colour enters the equation. It can often be a question more of economic class and social acceptance, which is where there can be a significant disparity in terms of colour. Enfranchised or relatively-enfranchised people have the luxury of arguing over these semantics. Impoverished and disenfranchised people more often need to focus just on the necessities. In fact, I think people of colour are more often greatly hurt by erasure and umbrella thinking, but because other needs are more immediate, the question can sometimes seem less relevant.

        • Natalie
        • June 19th, 2011

        Well…I have yet to see an LGBT event in which it’s not a drag queen. I’d be happy to step up to the plate. You already know that I’m quite capable of doing so, and that I’m as active as I can be, given that I wear a CF uniform. I’ll be in the Toronto Pride parade again this year, marching with the other military people. I don’t fault the CD or DQ community for being visible. But if they’re going to be representative, then they need to make sure that transsexual people are made to be visible as well. Stealth is neither the SoC requirement nor the Holy Grail it once was for transsexual people. I know more than a few that are NOT ashamed of who we are and have NO reason to hide. As I mentioned, I will step up to the plate, geographical and financial restrictions notwithstanding, if the opportunities are presented.

        “Face it…a male identified crossdresser, someone who hangs the dress up on Sunday and goes back to being a regular guy on Monday, is less likely to care about issues of transition, of hormones, of RLE, of surgery…”

        I’ve actually seen one argue vehemently against health care funding for transsexuals. Fortunately, I don’t see it as a majority or even large minority opinion.

        I’ve come across more than a few, and this, combined with the experience I’ve related about two crossdressers trying to persuade me, in the very early days of my transition, that surgery was not necessary, that I could live my life by just dressing up and playing the role, that what I was experiencing was ‘gender euphoria’, as they termed it. I already knew I was surgery track, and have no regrets about SRS, almost six years later. What this suggests to me is that this attitude is more prevalent than we might think.

        “…and race or skin colour doesn’t even enter into it, no matter how hard certain groups or individuals will work to portray those of us who do not identify with ‘transgender’ as somehow racist, as is happening.”

        I’m going to disagree there, although it’s not immediately obvious where colour enters the equation. It can often be a question more of economic class and social acceptance, which is where there can be a significant disparity in terms of colour. Enfranchised or relatively-enfranchised people have the luxury of arguing over these semantics. Impoverished and disenfranchised people more often need to focus just on the necessities. In fact, I think people of colour are more often greatly hurt by erasure and umbrella thinking, but because other needs are more immediate, the question can sometimes seem less relevant.

        Is this situation caused by the transsexual vs transgender divide, or just a small player in a much larger pool? I would suggest the latter. To be honest, I still do not see how my need to speak with my own voice as a transsexual person diminishes the voice of a transsexual person of colour in any way, shape or form. They are still transsexual people with the same needs for proper access to medical professionals, even if there’s a much bigger hill to be climbed. I don’t see how knocking down my needs as a transsexual woman will possibly help transsexual people of colour achieve those same needs. But being labelled as a WWBT ‘White Woman Born Transsexual’, and painted as a racist for expressing those needs doesn’t make me sympathetic.

          • dentedbluemercedes
          • June 19th, 2011

          That’s something I don’t know with the Toronto community. There have been some political issues there, and I don’t know enough details to say much. I do know that sometimes the LG(B) community sometimes (okay, a LOT of times) rushes ahead and does things, and then thinks, “okay, we’ve covered trans plenty enough” because even a lot of those folks don’t understand the differences.

          And to be fair, another part of the problem is that we’re terribly normal. :) Here (probably like TO too), we make sure there’s a TS contingent at Pride in Edmonton and Calgary every year, and aside from the year GRS was delisted, attendees find us terribly uninteresting compared to the glitz and sensationalism of the other groups. Although sometimes our signs can engage people a little, depending on politics at the time.

          Toronto has a Trans March too (although it sounds like there’s organizing issues again this year?). Do you find that the Trans March reduces peoples’ participation in the main parade?

          You wrote:

          “What this suggests to me is that this attitude is more prevalent than we might think.”

          Possibly. Alberta’s LGBT communities are relatively small in comparison, although Edmonton’s has blossomed the past couple years.

          “Is this situation caused by the transsexual vs transgender divide, or…”

          Probably not caused by it, but it does mean that we end up with privilege that causes us to not think about some things that can be fundamental aspects of peoples’ experience. It doesn’t mean that we should be silent, but from a social justice standpoint, because we have that privilege, we need to recognize and respect paths that are often more difficult.

          “But being labelled as a WWBT ‘White Woman Born Transsexual’, and painted as a racist for expressing those needs doesn’t make me sympathetic.”

          It’s true that some of that respect and patience needs to be a two-way street. And yeah, venting doesn’t usually win anyone over. But as oppressed communities interact, folks with more privilege will often have to recognize that and turn the other cheek a bit more, as people do.

    • Jessica
    • June 18th, 2011

    I’ve supported the concept of the umbrela term because I see the need for collective empowerment, and because I haven’t had a better word to hang that need on. I want to be inclusive, I want to fight for the rights of as many diverse groups as possible. Yet all too often I’ve been accused of the very erasure I work against.

    I too call out exclusionary thinking. I cite the internalised transphobia behind the thinking “I’m not like those freaks over there!” There’s too much of that kind of divisiveness in our comminuty. We all get abused the same way, for the same reasons, by the same people. We all need to stand together to demand our rights. Yes, our needs differ. Yes, we’re going to be asking for different things from the Powers That Be, but we need to ask for all of those things together. We need to teach politicians and decision makers. We need to show them our differences, and show them what they need to do in order to accomodate our differing needs. Together we have a voice. Apart, we’re voiceless. One size does not fit all, and we need to speak together to make sure that message gets heard.

      • stephanie
      • June 18th, 2011

      @ jessica. nicely said. x stephanie.

      • dentedbluemercedes
      • June 19th, 2011

      You wrote:

      “I’ve supported the concept of the umbrela term because I see the need for collective empowerment, and because I haven’t had a better word to hang that need on.”

      Yes, many of us have wanted collective empowerment. An alliance can be an excellent way to accomplish that without requiring a single name to hang it on. In fact, if anything, it can help empower different voices to speak for differing issues. But that requires us to step aside a little and speak mostly for what we know, and be a voice for others only when they’re not available to speak for themselves.

      “Yes, our needs differ. Yes, we’re going to be asking for different things from the Powers That Be, but we need to ask for all of those things together.”

      And doing that under a single banner confuses the legislators we’re speaking to. It makes it sound like we’re asking for the best of both worlds, or we can’t make up our minds. Dual phrasing helps indicate dual trajectories.

  2. i appreciate the struggles that specific minorities face right now, but subscribing to boilerplate feel-good-isms that say ‘we are or must be one’ is inherently false, and intellectually dishonest.

    Transsexual women quietly worked toward getting legal recognition, and successfully have done so in almost all states, for the last 50 years. And they did it with relatively anonymous effort, without the modern ‘trangender movement’, or help from LGB.

    Any attempt to cast TS women in the light of being part of a ‘community’ that effectively arose in the 90’s with the internet (i have no interest in arguing revised-history semantics on this, as some attempt to do) is presumptuous and insulting, at the very best. Particularly under the insistance that they are a part of it, whether they ‘like it or not’.

    i really do think a crab analogy is a good way to describe the current situation. We are all scattered on the beach. Most of us want to run for the wide open sea, but a few like the beach, with all the focus, attention, and strange, unique experiences it brings.

    Two people walk the beach with buckets. One filling it with the intent to cook them for dinner (probably at the next Conservative rally). One filling it with the intent to save them, by dumping them in a fish tank where they can be viewed by everyone, and not be harmed (let’s call it a showpiece for a Progressive function). Once thrown into the bucket, you’ll be dragged back inside by your fellow captives each time you try to escape.

    And then there’s violent crime. That one ass on the beach who steps on things for the perverse joy of inflicting pain on others. There will *always* be a guy like that. Reason, logic, and laws won’t make them disappear. It’s immutable human nature.

    But speaking in general toward TG activists, i still don’t want your fish tank. Thousands of other transsexual women refused your fish tank. They ran for the wide-open ocean, which is what i am doing. If you *want* to hang out on the beach, or have your fame in the fish tank, that’s your prerogative.

    It’s possible to convince me to change my views on any topic. It must be, since my views on almost everything have evolved throughout my life. But my current belief is that manipulating new transsexuals into thinking they have no choice, or demanding that they remain silent if they refuse, is wrong.

    i’ve seen far too many TG that make mutilated crotch jokes, create panty-jerk-off websites, act like a complete embrassing ass in public, act out the worst misogynistic stereo-types possible, and shout me down when i dissent.

    Notice that whenever these wide-spread behaviors are mentioned, they are not acknowledged. Instead, the buzzword ‘internalized transphobia’ is tossed around, rather than any serious discussion made on the problems these types of people cause for others who are sincere.

    My willingness to get in the same old arguements with TG foot-soldiers is gone. My open-hearted desire to communicate with reasonable people is low, but it’s still there. i saw this blog post as an opportunity.

    If it goes nowhere, then it goes nowhere. It wouldn’t be the first time.

      • Jessica
      • June 18th, 2011

      Your analogy fails where you neglect to consider that the people scooping up the crabs also police the ocean you’re trying to assimilate into. They’ll punish you just as severely as they’ll punish the TGs you’re trying to distance yourself from. You also fail in considering the umbrela concept to be a trap. What if, instead of a trap, the umbrella concept is a Union granting us collective bargaining power? You paint us all as victims whose only two choices are to be caught or to run away and hide. There’s another option which is to stop being victims and stand up for ourselves and make our voices heard.

      The umbrella concept need not be about wanting a safe fish tank to be on display, it should be about banding together to protect all of us from the narrow-minded thugs who think it’s acceptable to punish, up to and including killing, we who for myriad reasons do not fit into Society’s gender pigeon holes. This is about working together to change peoples’ attitudes, by reason if possible, backed up by law where necessary.

      Regardless of our personal motivations, we all face the same discrimination. We all need to advocate together for all the basic human rights we’re routinely denied.

      • “Freedom” is not “hiding.” The crabs were on the beach hiding from the ocean to begin with. The other option you missed, is to stop hiding on the beach, get back in the ocean, and sink or swim on your own merit. That’s not hiding, it’s living.

        Being on the beach limits a crab’s mobility and makes it easy to capture. Have you considered that maybe the ones in the ocean telling crabs to head for the beach, are undercover police, working in tandem with the police on the beach who have the dinner buckets?

        BTW, the person with the dinner bucket might just lay that bucket down sideways on the sand, tell you it’s the safe-fish-tank bucket, and let you do the work of capturing yourself for dinner. Easier that way, then he doesn’t have to chase you down.

        It’s not crabs, but the reality of the situation looks a lot like this:
        http://static.seekingalpha.com/uploads/2009/8/11/saupload_man_dog_working_together.jpg

        Once you’re on the beach, by your own analogy, only four things can happen:
        1) You get captured and eaten
        2) You get captured and thrown into a fish-tank prison
        3) You suffocate and die because crabs can’t breathe out of the water.
        4) You crawl back into the ocean before #3 happens.

        If I were in your position, I’d rather take my chances in the ocean and skip the beach-trap entirely. Nothing can happen on that beach but capture and/or death. Call it a “umbrella,” call it a “union,” whatever you call it, it just looks like a bucket to me. I wouldn’t want to be in it and my sympathies lie 100% with those who don’t want it either.

        Hey, I might succeed in the ocean – which is something no one in a fish tank ever has the chance to do. Or I might get eaten, but that’s a problem on the beach too, and the ocean gives me more options and more mobility should I feel the sudden need to “scoot.”

        Protection from success is the price of protection from failure. If it were me being asked, I’d say no thanks, I’m fine on my own here in the ocean. Don’t worry about me. I’m good. That’s what I’d say.

  3. 01.) No one entity polices the entire world.
    02.) No one is ‘punishing’ me, or anyone else. You use that word twice. Interesting.
    03.) You attempt to villanize me by falsely framing me as ‘distancing from others’.
    04.) The umbrella is an isolating reality bubble. ‘What if’ scenarios are meaningless.
    05.) You are a prime example of victim-speak. Accusing me of such is indeed ironic.
    06.) The ‘transgender=death’ meme is a statistical lie, and insults real probability victims.
    07.) ‘Gender pigeon holes’? i have no interest in a binary reality arguement. It’s tired.
    08.) ‘Regardless of personal motivations’ is non-sensical. Personal motivations are everything, and society as a whole can see right through to them. They act as the foundation for sincerity and accompanying responsibility.
    09.) Transsexual women have been routinely denied nothing for 50 years. Perhaps you failed to even read my post.
    10.) You have completely and deliberately avoided my point, and offered nothing but boilerplate rhetoric. This is exactly what i have no interest in doing. It’s tired, and boring, and goes nowhere.

    If it may make others feel better to ‘teach me a lesson’ with finger-waving responses, then enjoy. i won’t even bother responding to them.

    I took this blog post as a sincere effort at *real* dialogue, Mercedes. If it was genuine, i’d be willing to converse with you over email. If it was nothing more than an attempt to draw someone like me out so that umbrella footsoldiers can wear them down, i have no interest.

      • Jessica
      • June 19th, 2011

      You are putting words in my mouth. You are reading what I said through your biases and deliberately putting the worst possible interpretation on them. You are accusing me of being a “transgender footsoldier” (whatever that is) without hearing what I’ve said because you’ve already decided that I’m wrong.

      I’ll answer you point by point.
      1. I never said that. The whole of Society does gender policing. Look at the controversy over Storm for example. Look who’s doing the complaining about what hir parents have decided to do.

      2. Get Outed and see how quickly you’ll be punished for breaking gender norms. Or would you rather I said “abused”, “attacked”, “harrased” or “killed”?

      3 You are distancing yourself from others. There’s nothing false about it.

      4 You speak as if the umbrella concept is one thing, and that it can never change or grow. “What if” scenarios are there to allow your imagination to escape the prison of your biases. Obviously this failed with you.

      5 This is totally nonsensical. How does speaking of empowerment and taking responsibility for our lives make me a proponent of victim speak? You seem too invested in your own victimhood.

      6 What are you talking about here? Illogic does not make a valid argument.

      7 Society enforces the strict binary whether we want it to or not. Just because you’re tired of hearing about it does not make it any less real.

      8 Whether you think it’s nonsensical or not does not make it any less true. You also seem to have utterly missed my point. The haters don’t give a rodent’s rectum how sincere your personal motivation is; they’ll still hate you because you transgress their notions of gender norms.

      9 I don’t know what fantasy land you’ve been living in, but here in the real world trans people have always been and still are denied basic human rights like housing, job security, medical treatment, legal identification we can use without constantly being Outed, marriage to our choice of spouse, access to public washrooms and even our most basic identity. Ask Susan Stanton the cost of being Outed. Ask Angie Zapata. Oh wait, you can’t ask her because her price was her life.

      10 I find it deeply ironoc that you can accuse me of missing your point in an argument which so completely missed mine. You dismiss me. Fine. You go ahead and live your life without allies. It seems that you want to, yet it puzzles me why you’re here investing so much energy into this topic if you’ve already made up your mind that it’s worthless.

        • dentedbluemercedes
        • June 19th, 2011

        You wrote:

        “1. I never said that. The whole of Society does gender policing. Look at the controversy over Storm for example. Look who’s doing the complaining about what hir parents have decided to do.”
        and
        “7 Society enforces the strict binary whether we want it to or not. Just because you’re tired of hearing about it does not make it any less real.”

        I’m actually going to ask for a pause on this part. Much of your argument(s), I think, is that because of how society and especially the far right view transsexual and gender diverse people, we should naturally come together.

        This is something I’ll be discussing in part three on alliances, but what you might not realize is that this is a cornering argument — albeit maybe not intended that way — and will typically get a cornered response.

        No one is obligated to care for anyone else. You can’t force that. If you try, you’ll get pushback. You can, however, present societal attitudes as an argument in favour of allying. It is, in the end, a point where we can find some mutual empathy.

        Even then, we’re building alliance. We’re not requiring someone to conform to our narrative when they do so. And where the borders are is relatively irrelevant.

        That distinction may seem like a small difference, but it’s a huge way to heal and build community, rather than stay locked in a push-pull. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but we have to be careful not to.

        “2. Get Outed and see how quickly you’ll be punished for breaking gender norms. Or would you rather I said “abused”, “attacked”, “harrased” or “killed”?”

        I speak as someone who was specifically targeted for an act of violence once. It’s also a trap to focus on terror. These things happen, but not always, not to everyone, and we can’t live in constant fear of them. It is true that you never know where a lone nut might come from, and that a person underestimates how life-changing it can be until it happens. But even if it does happen, there comes a point when you have to let it go. It can’t be a 24/7 fear governing your life, and you can’t expect it to be a 24/7 fear governing someone else’s.

      • dentedbluemercedes
      • June 19th, 2011

      You wrote:

      “I took this blog post as a sincere effort at *real* dialogue, Mercedes. If it was genuine, i’d be willing to converse with you over email. If it was nothing more than an attempt to draw someone like me out so that umbrella footsoldiers can wear them down, i have no interest.”

      I assure you, I’m quite sincere. I’ve not been able to be at the keyboard as much as I wanted to when this post went live, though (long story). But I also try to focus on challenging people, rather than silencing them.

  4. I think Mercedes has done a good job of presenting her views and I wish her well on the next part, Alliances.

    However, what I have seen so far reminds me of Déjà vu all over again. For many years now, I have seen ths cycle repeat and get worse with the next iteration: new people come along and in good faith try to find common ground, people born transsexual do give ground, but are rewarded with the natural outcome of empty promises — a spot under the bus as it backs up over them.

    Those of us who somehow managed to break out of this cycle and make it through to correction then are vilified for all kinds of class, race, separatist, and elitist nonsense reasons.

    I hear that about me without the accusers having any idea what my personal circumstnces and struggles were like back then — or now.

    It would help if people would speak honestly and listen intently, but the grip of celebrity culture and a preference for adolescent rant interferes with communication.

    Mercedes, I do wish you well with your piece on alliances. We tried that off and on years back but failed as such efforts were always undermined by males intent on double-dealing to protect their perceived interests.

    I hope that will change, but …

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