Community Building

Christina Engela's picture

Recently I wrote about cohesion in our pink community, and over the weekend I was again faced with the exact opposite. Some trans-women seem to feel that I have been remiss in campaigning for transgender rights and focusing only on gay rights. They feel, as I do - that there are some rather prominent advocacy groups, some of them advertising that they stand for all GLBTI rights, some not - and that these groups are abandoning trans people.

A prime examples of this is the ENDA (Employee Non Discrimination Act) in the USA, which has failed to pass in the past - and from which transgender rights were conveniently removed by some of our gay allies in order to see that the act had a "better chance" of passing. Hmm. I have to point out that (duh) this is not the act of an ally. The dust around this issue still has not settled, and I wait with bated breath to see how it goes down.

Another infamous example of exclusion and working against community unity is the UK group "Stonewall" which deigns to take the name of that holy grail of GLBTI rights and sullies it by excluding the transgender and intersex communities, and catering only for the benefit of gay rights. They do a very good job of gay rights advocacy, kudos to them for that - but shame on them for not caring a damn about the trans and intersex people - and refusing even to provide them a counseling service, information, or even to stand up for their rights while standing up for their own! Stonewall UK is a large group with a loud voice, and the T and I in GLBTI are left to fend for themselves. I am frequently disgusted whenever I am reminded of this by their one-dimensional advertising and informational campaigns.

And yet another example is the transphobic "journalist" and rad-fem lesbian activist Julie Bindell who hates transsexuals so much that she does radio and TV interviews smearing our name and advocating the same despicable "ex-gay" "reparative therapy" for us which she opposes for gay people. Talk about a hypocrite.

It is this sort of duality and internal strife and bickering which breaks down our community from the inside - and is just the sort of thing which I work against.

Most rad-fems (or radical feminists) like Bindell, oppose the butch-fem delineation in the gay community, hate effeminate gay males, loathe drag queens and kings, and utterly hate anything which appears remotely transgender, or dares to blur in any way the line between the genders. (Very much like the same folks who happen to hate them along with all of us for doing something remarkable similar - ironic, don't you think?) According to them, men should look and act "like men" and women should look and act "like women" - regardless of their sexuality. They also like to make derogatory and really nasty comments on people's blogs and articles about how trans-women will "never be 'real' women, no matter what they cut off".

Fortunately, the world does not turn on Julie Bindell's, or the rad-fem's axis, although some of us certainly would like to kick it.

Sorry, Julie, not all trans-women want to be "girly-girls" - and as she so clearly demonstrates - the average gay person might not understand that. Their experience of gender variance is generally limited to drag. And how can they know what transsexuals are if WE don't tell them? How can we blame them if we don't make every effort to educate those around us?

Some of my trans friends have been getting really hot under the collar about this topic lately, and they have been lashing out wildly at the rest of the community, instead of directing their justified (in my view) frustration at those in our community directly responsible for cutting us out of the fight for our community rights - and in fact, cutting us out of the community.

Getting all aggressive at the broader community and making careless generalizations certainly won't help them understand or make them "just know" what we are. Imagine if I had got aggro with all the people - gay and straight, who just wanted to know what my transition was all about? Yes, they would have learned a lot from me - that trans people are bitchy, nasty and even harder to understand, and possibly not worth the effort to.

I'm not saying that you need to walk up to every person you meet, saying "Hi - my name's Candy and I'm a transsexual...", but there are times when such things are appropriate to discuss, like when you can see someone staring, too nervous or shy to broach the subject, or when new introductions are made between friends etc. Sometimes it helps to make the first move. Imagine how you can break the ice when you see a new colleague at work wondering, and curious - and you just casually break that ice and let them know it's no big deal.

Immediately they know they can relax around you and not be concerned about awkward moments. Imagine the potential to educate. Most of the folks I worked with when I began to transition were only too relieved when I made it clear they could ask me anything and I would answer. And I did. Suddenly they realized I wasn't some kind of threat and they understood me better. In fact, suddenly my work environment became a lot nicer to work in, and I even made some new friends.

Life isn't all about us - why should they make the first move? Any relationship between people needs input from both sides. Give a little, get a little. Give and take. 50-50 etc, etc. If they don't know, tell them. Not everybody thinks they need to know. Some people actually think they know what we are - and they call us all "gay", thinking that being GLBTIQ is the same thing.

I agree with those saying that in some parts of the world, trans brothers and sisters are being abandoned and even sabotaged in their fight for equality, that in many cases it is the trans community that is doing all the work building bridges with the GLB community - but if you're on the side trying to build bridges, stopping the building and smashing the work done, in a fit of anger won't help, will it? If we want the bridges built, what can we do but keep on keeping on? Even if we end up doing all the work.

This kind of thing - fighting for equal rights, takes time - it is a generational war, fought across time. We're in this for the long haul, and should expect more gradual results instead of overnight victories.

Attacking what are our only allies (or would-be allies) is not the solution - because the only group of note that will side with you in that fight - is the same group that will hate us all along with them.

You can't expect people to care about the finer details around people they don't know or have never met or have no idea about what makes them tick. If you aren't involved in organizations that fight for or include (or are supposed to include) trans rights, how can you expect these groups to know what we are, who we are, and what we need - or to care?

So many trans-men and trans-women are also gay or bi or even pan-sexual as well, integrating and entrenching us even deeper into one single community.

Trans people hiding away and not being OUT even after transition, weaken our cause and make us all invisible and our voices weaker. In my book, those not living in mortal danger because of their trans status do not have any reasonable excuse for climbing back into the closet. We should all be out as well, instead of playing it safe and hiding away to pretend we were never trans to begin with. It's a pleasant fantasy, but the real world is not kind to fantasies.

Stop whinging about the odds stacked against you, and get involved in advocacy organizations, start helping to change the status quo from the inside. That is the only way to ensure inclusion - become a part of that machine and give it an overhaul.

Curiously enough, I am an openly post-op MtF trans-lesbian who not only mingles with the broad spectrum GLBTI community, but also head up two GLBTI bodies, one local and one national - and I don't seem to experience any discrimination or prejudice from cis-gay people. Although, I do live in South Africa, and that may have something to do with it. We are generally more open-minded here. Even so, we as a community still have a long way to go in building our community in terms of cohesion and equality.

GLBTI - and specifically T rights - are my passion. I can still see no better way to achieve Trans rights without seeking a global solution to GLBTIQ rights in general. Recognition and equality are not just handed out on street corners. They are fought for and they cost dearly. That is what makes them precious.

So many of our needs (in terms of acceptance, legal aspects, discrimination, employment) are the same as the GLB portion of our community - and can be addressed by supporting the whole. Few of our needs as trans-people are different to the rest of the community - and yes, we can address this by first educating the general public - and our allies. And yes, we have to treat each other as allies - if we start drawing lines and trying to "go it alone" or make enemies of the broader majority of our GLB friends - that will cut our support base and will get us nowhere super-fast. We need to open the eyes, hearts and minds of our allies, and show them the way to include us in the global fight for all our rights, without leaving anyone of us out in the cold.

We have to work towards a united cohesive pink community, because that is the only course of action that makes sense.

What can YOU do? Send out email alerts and blog notifications. Write your own blogs, get onto Facebook and build up a mailing list - and just keep sending the news and info out there. People see it, they take notice, even if you don't hear about it till later, even if you think it has no impact - it does. Even if you get more hate mail than compliments, do it - the more hate mail I get from right wingers and gay and trans haters, the more I know I am doing the right thing. The more I see our enemies discussing me in their articles and forums, the more I know I am having a positive impact for human rights in South Africa and around the world.

I have a job to do - a calling, which is human rights advocacy - which I do to the best of my abilities. If you like that, fine - if you don't, too bad. I am not competing - if you can do better, please do - it can only benefit the cause of human rights in the end.

If you're making loads of money out of human rights activism, then you're a lot smarter than I am. And while you're congratulating yourself, consider your dedication to the cause you have set your heart, mind and hands to.

If advocacy groups won't include you, then build your own groups - in Canada and Finland and anywhere else where the T and I are omitted from the GLB - build groups that include everyone and cater for the needs of everyone - and then shame by your example those that don't. But do not add to the shame and disgrace of individuals and groups that leave trans and intersex people out in the cold by reciprocating in kind and helping to break down the cohesion that we do have. Rather work to improve on it instead.

Build the Pink Community.
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