Trans and Queer People Have Always Shared Community, Get Over It

Today I was on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5 FM (a local National Public Radio affiliate) to discuss issues facing LGBT youth. You can listen to it here: “LGBT Youth: The Personal and Political,” and see some of my thoughts and reflections on the show (especially how some cis gays reacted to my being on the show) below.

I was proud of my response to the transphobic cis gay guy who called in to question why trans people are grouped together with cis LGB folks. There is some truth to what he said. I, too, feel that trans people need our own movement/community. I often think that trans people have perhaps as much at stake in other struggles besides gay ones, like the sex workers’ movement, feminism, or the struggles of undocumented people. Sometimes, instead of seeing ourselves as part of  ‘the LGBT community,’ it would even make more sense to see ourselves as part of those communities.

I think that the “LGBT” banner can obscure the unique needs of trans people, and we just get ignored. Plus, it confuses the rest of the world into thinking “trans = extra gay.” But why focus only on our differences? We — trans folks and cis GLB folks — have a lot in common, too. We have an opportunity to build mutually supportive communities based on similar histories and shared challenges. We should be natural allies, if only cis GLB people would recognize their own transphobia and cis privilege.

Not to mention that a lot of trans people are part, and always have been part, of gay/queer communities. Many trans women who used to identify as gay transition later, but keep their connection to the community. Some folks seek out the gay scene long after they’ve started living as trans. Also, plenty of trans men are still entrenched in lesbian/queer women’s communities. Whether homo/cisnormative cis gays like it or not, we share histories, spaces, friends, resources, and networks.

More than a few trans women are part of gay male spaces. I know a lot of trans women (especially in Black, Latin@, francophone, indigenous, and non-‘western’ communities) who sleep with men but also see themselves as gay males. They’re still women. But they are also gay. Not everyone makes the clear-cut distinctions between the two.

Personally, as a trans woman who sleeps with women and a trans-feminist who is invested in creating better language to talk about genders and sexualities, I think it is politically useful to separate the concepts of “gay” and “trans.” But not everyone makes sense of their lives the way that queer theorists or trans-feminists do.

I think it’s interesting how cis gay men, like the caller on my show, try to police trans folks out of “their” community. This isn’t new. It’s been a process going on for decades. For better or worse, lots of trans folks — regardless of their sexual orientations — share community with gay folks. It’s completely cis-centric to try to forcibly remove us from those communities with words or actions.

ETA: There was an article about the radio show on TBD and it focuses mostly on my comments about the role of trans activism in LGBT communities. Check it out. Also be sure to read my response to one of the problematic comments:

Trans folks, and especially trans women, have been leading the queer movement for generations already. For the record, I do think that all oppressed and marginalized people should band together. That’s not the same as saying we’re all the same. On the contrary, I think it’s very important to pay attention to the distinct experiences we all have, based on our race, gender, class, etc… But I do also think we should all work together.

Also, I do sleep with women and (as I say on the show) identify as both queer and a lesbian. I think it is interesting that people keep suggesting that because I am trans, I don’t belong on the show… when, clearly, I indicated that I am a gay woman. As a trans woman, I am always pigeon-holed and forced to focus on that single part of my identity, like it’s the only interesting or important thing about me, and every other part of me is ignored. I’m always “just a trans woman.” I’m always referred to as a “trans activist”, even when I also describe myself as a queer activist and a sex worker activist and so much else. I’m a gay woman who also happens to be trans… like how one of the other guests on the show was a gay man who also was Filipino.

We all have multiple identities… and my experience as a queer trans woman will be different than his experience as a gay Filipino cis(non-trans) man. And of course we should acknowledge that. We should acknowledge that cis and trans, white and POC, etc members of the LGBT community are different. In some ways, we do come from very different communities. But we’re still allies, too.

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