Archive: HRC and the Need for a “Second Stonewall”

(Originally published July 2008, although on the eve of ENDA and ongoing complaints about “angry trannies,” some thoughts may still apply)

“The rage against the HRC is not fuelled by one deception last year, but by a legacy of exclusion…. The HRC’s insistence on adhering to the old patterns of disregard is why a second Stonewall has literally erupted at their door.”

There’s a pattern of victimization that happens to girls in some parts of the sex trade. It begins when they hook up with someone for the “fun” (drugs) they have to offer. Things are nice for awhile and then, in a fit of anger, he beats her up, opines about how she’s cost him so much money (later the suggestion is about how she should earn it back), etc. Usually, she runs away but doesn’t have a whole lot of places to go, and that draw toward the escape that he offers brings her back. After he’s beat her up a few times and she’s kept coming back, he’s “got” her and knows that he can do whatever he bloody well pleases with her.

I mean no disrespect or the obvious connotations when applying the analogy to transfolk returning to the arms of the HRC. I know their motives are to make a change, and not a “whorish” sell-out. A few in particular I know will do their best to keep the HRC on their toes. It’s simply the analogy that comes to mind most vividly.

//
// Transfolk, and the gays and lesbians who’ve grown impatient with them, need to keep something in mind: the events of 2007 and 2008 — particularily revolving around the ENDA debate — are currently poised to go down in our history as a second, non-violent Stonewall.

That may sound a tad overdramatic, but the advent of UnitedENDA signalled a major change within the national GLB community, while the trans community has continued to become empowered in other ways. The rage against the HRC is not fuelled by one deception last year, but by a legacy of exclusion both by the HRC itself (former director Elizabeth Birch: “trans inclusion will be a legislative priority over my dead body”) and the larger GLB community, dating back to Sylvia Rivera’s expulsion in 1972 and 1973 from organizations she helped to found. The larger community has realized the error and made a conscious and sincere effort to change it. The HRC’s insistence on adhering to the old patterns of disregard is why a second Stonewall has literally erupted at their door.

Except that this event could be rendered meaningless if we keep going back to the abuser, without a visible, conciliatory (i.e. not token gesture) change in HRC administration. Saying they “misspoke” again is not the same as an indicator of real and lasting change.

Make no mistake: HRC’s “Project Win-Back” is not primarily about bringing transfolk back into the fold. If it were, there would have been an apology, a vow to change… shit, anyone can make an insincere show of that, if that was what was wanted. The HRC doesn’t need to win back the trans community — in fact, many hardline GLB people feel there’s no worthwhile financial gain, community need or volunteerism to be gained for doing so. The HRC only needs to dress up and look nice for the judge… their donor constituency. “Project Win-Back” is designed to give the surface appearance of change in order to win back the gay and lesbian supporters of trans people so that they can paint themselves as the victims in the ongoing conflict. And it is working.

Again, I don’t want to overlook the support that has grown both from the grassroots GLB communities and from national organizations. These groups need and deserve our support. And on top of that, if we are to expect them to boycott the HRC also, then we need to be prepared to make up whatever shortfall (in donations, participation, organization and creating opportunity) that these organizations are going to experience from doing so. If we can’t… well, we may have to bite our tongues on that one. We want their support, not for them to sacrifice themselves. This is especially important when we realize that we don’t even know if it’s a majority of the GLBT community that supports trans inclusion or a minority.

It also needs to be recognized that the trans “community” is not without its challenges, especially when it seems like no two radicals can agree on anything, and attempting to organize is (like many have independently commented to me) like herding cats. In the growing pains of self-definition that have developed over recent years, the infighting is something that we earnestly need to address.

But this “Stonewall” is still largely about a legacy of exclusion. It’s about Patrick Califia transitioning instantly from a highly respected lesbian writer to a forgotten and exiled pariah, the moment he came out as a transman. It’s about Janice Raymond’s transgender boogeyman still surviving in the form of “The Gendercator.” It’s about earlier top-down managed, patronizing, parent-minded GLBT organizations establishing token committees and work groups as ways of putting transfolk “over there” so they don’t interact with the general population. And it (usually) carries along with it the empathy of gay and lesbian people who still remember when the “butch” and “femme” lesbians were ejected from movements that they were the earliest supporters of and when effeminate men were written off as an “embarassment” and a “parody” of what gay liberation was supposed to be about. That “tranny infighting” people see now is not altogether different from the gay community’s own growing pains.

My first and fundamental impulses have always been toward respect, acceptance and unity. I think my previous writings have borne this out. But there is a time when it is not appropriate to take the abuse and keep going back.

But then, I’m Canadian, so all I can do in this matter is comment as an unaffected, independent observer. And then, all I can do is step back and let people go their own way. Which is why I will essentially be leaving this discussion now to the people it affects.

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