Originally Published Winter 2016
I'm feeling concerned about the way that people are speaking about the flurry of anti-trans legislation popping up all over the country. There seems to be a sense of surprise like, "How did this happen?" "How did things get so bad?" As usual, "conservatives" are being demonized: the prototypical white straight southern racist becomes the straw man for all of the virulent transphobia and backwardness more generally. As always the liberal establishment is quick to produce a foreign enemy responsible for all of the hatred rather than taking responsibility for driving an agenda that not only disenfranchised trans people, but made us even more susceptible to violence.
Certainly there are many factors driving these policies (the rise of right wing nationalism being one of them), but what gets lost here is the complicity of cisgender lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and their political organizations and allies.
Never forget: there is no gay victory without trans backlash. The history of the gay movement is a history not just of trans exclusion, but of forging the very ideas, conditions, rhetorics, and politics that contribute to trans violence. This movement made a series of strategic choices that contributed to increasing the vulnerability of so many trans people (and especially gender non-conforming people.) "Gender identity" was defined (medically, legally, socially, politically) as separate from "sexual orientation," because "love" is more palatable than gender non-conformity.
Trans people as a group, as a symbol, as a rhetoric -- were construed as a threatening and abhorrent character foil (read: failure) for acceptable and friendly cisgender gay people (read: success). We cannot understand the ongoing criminalization of gender non-conformity without understanding that #LoveWins precisely because #GenderDoesn't.
This is the time and place "somewhere over the rainbow." This is where frameworks of "equality," commitments to "love," and pleas of "we're just like you," reveal themselves to be morally bankrupt. This is the moment where those of us who have never had the privilege to escape the condemnation of our difference are left behind.
So the solution is not just about educating conservatives about trans people, it's also about challenging progressive liberalism for its inability (and in fact refusal) to seriously account for the historical & continued demonization of gender non-conformity (especially against transfeminine people).
Let's be clear: that if these policies were targeting cisgender gay, lesbian, and bisexual people there would be a very different sense of urgency.
support the author