[this image graphically representing Two Spiritedness is from here]
I am retiring the socially used congregation of unpronouncable letters for the queer community: LGBT. There has been a Q for "questioning" tacked on at times. And sometimes there's an A at the end, for Allies. Screw that. If you're an ally, you don't need a letter of your own: you need to be an ally without giving a shit whether or not you have a letter. And if you're questioning, join the list when you've got some answers.
And a heartfelt farewell to the sexist GLBT.
I am increasingly perplexed at the complications involved in writing about something that has been on my mind and in my body, for years: the whole matter of LGBT community: what it is, whether it is, and why it is what it is.
What follows are a series of observations, critical thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and conclusions. None are, in any sense, "done". This is an ongoing conversation within myself and among myself and my queer friends. And to all those who aren't queer: this is not your conversation; read if you wish, and please don't comment. To anyone who is queer, whether genderqueer or queer in terms of not being heterosexual, feel free to post comments as long as they abide by the comment guidelines, which you can find linked to in the top right area of this blog.
I'll start by saying that I understand that all of us who are not appropriately gendered and sexed, and who aren't heterosexual, are stigmatised as many things, none of them good. And that appropriately gendered men who are heterosexual in certain ways, are statused in ways gender, sex, and sexuality queer folks aren't likely to be any time soon. In this way, whether we are addressing the same political issues or not, we are made into a political group, just as "people of color" are formed by the presence of white supremacist violence and racism. And people of color, let's be clear, are the majority of who comprises queer community. Not that white run queer and anti-queer magazines will indicate that.
My white and mixed-class history is not with gay activism. In my little worlds, "gay activism" was white, male dominated, and middle class, through and through. It had little to no relevance for the issues that I cared about and fought for: fighting male supremacy, racism, and, later, classism. There were queer people fighting those things, but not near me. And so my associating with "Gay Politics" remains a classist, sexist, racist movement designed and organised around some very privileged gay men, who want "in" to the world of even more privileges that white, class-privileged, het men enjoy.
From the start, I was far more interested in what lesbians were doing politically, as they tended to be feminist, for one thing, and tended to be more concerned about issues beyond their own direct experience, for another. The feminists who were lesbian were those I most identified with, although I knew and valued the work of plenty of heterosexual feminists as well.
"Progressive" men, back in the day, were interested in questioning gender roles, as it was termed, but not entitlements and privileges, let alone power. Gay men already had a head start on questioning all this, as we didn't fit a heteropatriarchal model very well, given that the model is founded on interpersonally oppressing a woman who you are romantically and sexually involved with, as well as oppressing and dehumanising women socially and publicly. We gay men do that part, in many ways, and one of them is through what is called Drag Shows, in which gay and het men, and now het and lesbian women, do their best to portray the most stereotypical presentations of gendered being, while also being classist and racist as hell.
I have never really understood why the B is in the group. Because regardless of who you can imagine yourself sleeping with, regardless of who you fuck, regardless of who you desire to be sexually or romantically involved with, who you pine away for, have a crush on, or fool around with when drunk, if you're not identified socially as lesbian or gay, you're not dealing with what lesbian and gay people deal with--which is the awareness that we are, without question, outside the mainstream due to who we love in ways forbidden by heteropatriarchal mandates and customs. Bisexuality comes in and out of vogue in a way that being lesbian or gay does not.
I know so many lesbians and gay men who have been hurt and used by people seeking to find out just how bi they are, at our expense. This has happened to me several times. And, yes, part of being lesbian and gay in my society means we are raised to think being het is the most desirable thing ever, and so we are often attracted to people who are out as het, or, bi. Our bad? I'm not so sure.
In the conversations I've had with whites on queerness, not one has been about our obliteration of Indigenist understandings and experiences of what we call "queerness". The idea that "queer" folks might not be queer, but might, instead, be revered and valued as important members of society was not part of my worldview until I read about Two Spirit stories and how some Indigenist societies, traditionally, did not understand there to be only two genders or only one way to express sexuality.
And in conversations about sexuality, the notion that some of us are asexual doesn't seem to occur to most people, and I think that's because part of compulsory heterosexuality is compulsory sexuality. For more on that, see *here*.
I've just seen (again) how major media deals, currently, with trans issues. CNN has been doing a lot on the subject--relatively speaking. They normally don't deal with queer issues. But this weekend they've shown a special called "Her Name Was Steven" and an interview on AC360 with Chaz Bono. Both of these people have class privilege. Most trans people do not.
To deal only with class-privileged folks means you're more likely to be dealing with medical issues, surgery, hormone therapies, psychiatric perspectives, and being fired from prestigious jobs with big salaries. So as far as media goes, I don't feel I've ever seen any adequate representation of trans people and trans issues. The same goes for lesbian and gay issues, of course, as most of us who gain media attention are also white and middle class.
The issues tangled up with being trans cross many issues, but only a few are focused on when the subjects are white and class privileged. For example, how racism and transphobia intersect, how poverty and transgendered reality interweave, is never talked about on television, in my experience. We see cases brought before the Supreme Court where a teacher or city manager were fired due to transitioning. But what about the sanitation worker, the factory worker, and the server at a restaurant? Is their firing going to get a hearing at the Supreme Court? I doubt it. And part of the reason for that is that working class people can't afford the surgery, and so live with being trans in a way that people with big bucks don't have to. People with enough spare cash can life with the realistic potential of life being different, in terms of what one's anatomy looks and feels like.
So what we get on CNN and elsewhere is whether someone is going to have their dick cut off and.or inverted into a vagina, and what the effects of taking certain hormones over time are. I just found out that penises can shrink when taking "female" hormones over a period of time. Does this mean that the inverted constructed vagina is smaller the longer one waits to have surgery, assuming someone can, and wants to? We get what's going to happen to the former or current spouse, who was married to someone who wasn't the same gender as them, but who may decide to appear to be that gender to the general public. We deal with how this will impact the children. These people who make the news tend to be liberal and secular, so we don't get to see how being trans plays out in religious community, in cultures where church, temple, and synagogue are central to daily or weekly life.
So am I supposed to base my view about "trans people in queer community" based on what CNN has to say on the subject? I better not. Because dominant media also wants to tell me a story about what becoming a woman means, which means telling me what being a woman is. And it's not pretty. And the jokes abound about how "ugly" men who try and look like women are, as if women all look feminine and should want to. If a woman isn't at all pretty, dominant society doesn't consider her attractive. That's fucked up beyond belief, and is terribly ageist and ableist as well.
Being a woman is so many things that none of the lesbian feminist women I know, of many ethnicities and classes, ages and abilities, consider all that important. The lesbian women I know have to contend with being rejected for rejecting dominant society's standards of femininity, which, it is enforced, are for women to maintain, through purchasing products that create something called "the way women are supposed to look". The lesbian women I know have to fight this battle daily: of being misperceived to be a man, for being seen to be a lesbian, for being misperceived to be heterosexual and "interested" in men. I know lesbian women whose gender identity is fairly ambiguous and who, during the day, are harassed for that reason, but, somehow, at night, are targeted by men who realise they are women and can be harassed and threatened as such. There are heterosexual women who also don't pass as women, as it is defined by racist heteropatriarchy, but unlike with lesbian women, there is not generally any support from ones friends for rejecting the standards imposed by het male supremacist society.
The political project of the lesbian women I have known throughout my life is to do at least two of the following things: challenge patriarchy, challenge white supremacy, and challenge capitalism. In the reporting done on gay men and transgendered people, these matters are not the issue. It is presented as possible, if not probable, that one can be a white gay man and a class privileged trans person and somehow find ones way into the dominant culture, with struggle and many stories of discrimination and homophobia and transphobia.
Finding a way into society is not the project of the lesbian women I know. They do have to survive, but are not trying to reproduce racist capitalist patriarchy in their lives, if possible.
This was never "the term of choice" when I was young. It was and remains a term of derision. Then again, so too does the term "gay". What's a gayboy to do? I could call myself Queer as there are parts of Gender Studies Departments that promote "Queer Studies" which gives a kind of legitimacy to "queerness" that lesbianism and gayness have never enjoyed academically. This whole matter of calling oneself queer is, in my experience, also very tied to class, or at least to access to post-grade school education.
That matter aside, what queerness has become, in my view, is deeply problematic for anyone who wishes to challenge racist heteropatriarchy. I know there are some radical and militant anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal, and anti-racist queer groups: usually and most often comprised of people who are not white or class privileged. But queerness, perhaps because one can get a Liberal Arts degree studying it, is dangerously liberal in its political agendas. This is true of gay male politics too, generally. And there's something spreading through my community, called liberalism, that means it's now "cool" for lesbian women to promote wearing high heels as somehow liberatory. And it's really "cool" for women to be into pornography, and to value turning oneself into pornography, for people to watch, because it is liberating one's sexuality. I don't see it that way.
Queerness has also functioned, in my experience, to make it more difficult to identify fully as lesbian or gay, and that means that, in this regard and others queer culture dovetails nicely with dominant society, which also would rather not hear about those of us who are LESBIAN and GAY.
Queerness supports fluidity in sexuality, and many lesbian and gay men's sexuality is no more fluid and changing from year to year than many heterosexuals' sexuality. But now there's a perception that if one's sexuality isn't fluid, it's not honest. Polyamory has also taken hold, and while I think this has many radical applications to interrupting heteropatriarchy, what it has meant is that many times, someone's lesbian partner is sleeping with a dood. Or lesbians are encouraged to think of themselves as "bois". And to use male pronouns, not female ones. Because the stigma of being transphobia, when leveled accurately or not against a radical feminist nontrans woman is effectively silencing, I have yet to see meaningful conversation about the issues of misogyny and antilesbianism raised by Sheila Jeffreys in her book Unpacking Queer Politics.
We have to remember that everything female is degraded in dominant society, so the pressure is unrelenting to do away with femaleness as much as possible, or to embrace a form of it that is utterly self-dispossessed and radically impotent. During my lifetime, gayness has also taken a beating from heteropatriarchal imperatives that "femininity" is bad, and so personal ads have tended to note that "fats and femmes" are not desired. As if someone is only their weight or lack of butchness. I don't tend to see gay personal ads that indicated "butch and masculine men are not desired". Why is that?
At least in lesbian community, there still seems to be room to be a range of ways, vis a vis femmeness and butchness. The question is to what degree can one be neither and not be categorised as one or the other. I know lesbian women who insist every women is one or the other, and I find this view terribly misogynistic and heteropatriarchal.
I have never understood my identity or gender presentation as "femme" or "butch". I reject both options as perilously racist, misogynistic, and ageist. My personal-political role models were women and men who didn't identify as either one. I know that in some cultures, butchness and femmeness are significant in ways that they aren't in my own ethnic group. So, for example, when I hear whites put down Black women for participating in butch and femme roles in predominantly African American community contexts, I want to tell them, "Really, this is none of your business". Zami, by Audre Lorde, and other works by Black lesbian writers, have instructed me on how dealing with gender imperatives if not white is different and more tricky than dealing with it in white cultures. This is partly because race is gendered, and therefore stigmatised. So being a Black gay man or a Latino gay man, is a different matter than being a white gay man. Race and class can simultaneously reduce and expand opportunities to reject dominant expectations and pressures to conform to white het male supremacist standards. Place trans identity into this mix and you've got choices and struggles that dominant society, including the queer nontrans folks among it, are not likely to appreciate fully or appropriately.
A few months ago I saw a video by an intersex person who warned other intersex people to steer clear of trans community, because trans community promoted as liberating having surgery, whether or not one could afford it. And intersexed existence if far more likely to regard "gender surgeons" as fascistic enemies who butcher our young. To be intersex is very complicated, as there are so many ways to be interesexed. And none of them are allowed to exist without invasive questions and condescending assumptions about what being human is. As Toby once said on the Sally Jessy Raphael Show once stated, one need not have a gender to be human.
To be intersexed and not be medically labeled, well... good fucking luck. Lesbians and gay man, can, to some degree, be assumed to be "born that way" and for "that way" to not require surgical interventions. Not so with many intersexed people. From birth forward, surgery designed to make only two genders socially real is present and waiting, with sharpened knife in hand.
I have always felt a particular kinship with intersex people, as well as lesbian and gay people, because we, collectively, tend to view the medical establishment as suspect, not saviors. I find that the trans community views many dominant institutions with less skepticism. And this may simply be due to having a different condition that warrants different considerations for how to resolve matters during one's lifetime, if possible.
Asexuality, like intersexuality, cannot be easily comprehended by dominant society as anything other than "unfortunate" or "in need of some form of intervention: surgical, if intersex, psychological if asexual. Fuck all that. Trans folks get both imperatives, regardless of what any given trans person wants for themself: surgical, hormonal, and psychological "preparation" is called for by the medical establishment for anyone who wishes to transition, as if transitioning necessarily means having surgery or taking hormone injections. Again, class is an issue here, as is culture. One Indigenist North American person I discussed some of these issues with remarked how odd dominant society is to think that something has to be "done" to people who are queer and trans. Why can't people just "be" who we are, including transgendered? This acquaintance told me, in their society, there are eleven genders... none of which require surgery. Hmmm.
I'm not suggesting this means trans folks who want surgery, and who can afford it, ought not get it. As a white trans person said when I brought up this other conversation, "Well, I don't live in that society, do I?" Good point. We live in a transphobic, homophobic, anti-Indigenist, racist, heterosexist, masculinist, and misogynistic one.
And it is easy to forget, when obsessing about matters of trans-surgery, that there's a gender that isn't trans that is told to get surgery in order to fulfill the promise of what their gender offers society. That gender is "women".
Dominant society tells all women, any women, however you understand the term "women" to do things to their bodies that men are not compelled and impelled to do. The list is long from tending to hair, removing hair, coloring hair, curling and straightening hair, and cutting hair regularly, or not often at all depending on ethnicity and other factors such as age. When I was young, white women could let their hair grow and grow. Some whiteboys could too, but not without being ridiculed by some. Some people of color could grow out their hair, but to do so and not have it chemically treated was seen as a political act. White women growing out there hair was not seen as political. It was what was fashionable to do.
Lesbians, more than any other queer group in dominant society, have great range in how gender is presented. Not safely, mind you. But gay men, to me, seem far more rigid about adhering to masculine norms not serving the radical agenda that used to be part of our community. With Two Spirit, trans, assexual, and intersex folks: the pressure to conform is intense, and the likelihood of finding "community" far more difficult. It's difficult enough for lesbians and gay men, but looking back on my life, there were always non-het people in it. There were always gay males around somewhere. We might not have been out to one another, but I knew I wasn't the only one. I think if I were trans or intersex, this sense of "not being the only one" would be more distant and abstract. As an asexual, let's just say you're likely to meet one other person in your lifetime who identifies as such and has thought significantly about this matter as it relates to capitalist, hypersexxxual society.
Segments of each group, whether lesbian, asexual, Two Spirit, transgender, asexual, or gay are physically and culturally invisible as such. Most of us are ridiculed and scorned, invisibilised and stigmatised by socially dominant men, based on what we look like alone or based on what dominants assume about us. Asexuals, Two Spirited people, and butch lesbians of any color or class are totally, absolutely invisibilised by dominant media. And if a butch woman accidentally appears on television, she is regarded with contempt, and is called ugly. The physical transformation of the not-butch woman singer, Susan Boyle, was a good example of gender policing. I knew she wouldn't be allowed to keep those bushy eyebrows. She's "a woman" after all. Women are supposed to HAVE bushy eyebrows. Except, well, some women do. No one makes Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes tweeze his eyebrows all to hell. This is sexism and this is misogyny. And this is the extreme contempt reserved for women who do not look femme. That many, many women don't look femme, including many femme women, seems to be of no consequence to the preservers of the status quo. Even femme women on television can barely be over fifty, and if they are, they'd better be wearing makeup, dresses or skirts, and be doing something noticeably expensive with their hair.
What I conclude from all of this is that forging alliances, while never easy between the have and the have nots, the "innies" and the "outies", will be made far easier if challenging white supremacy, capitalism, dominant institutions, and patriarchal mandates are central to the struggle to find ways to be human while fending off inhumanity targeting those of us who are not and will never be heterosexual or gender-appropriate. For those of us who salute and wave the LATSTIG flag.
Um, can someone design a LATSTIG flag?