RSS Feed

Updated Postion: Why Trans* Rights and The Civil Rights Movement Are Not the Same Thing


The original post that was located here generated just a tiny bit of controversy. Now, I love controversy because it gives me the opportunity to test my convictions against dissenting opinions. In the end there can be only one of several conclusions. The first is that we find a middle ground and mutual understanding – by far my most preferable outcome. Yay! Positive sum gain! Next best is that I get to convince someone they are wrong. This hardly ever  happens, but pleasing nonetheless. Finally, the worst case scenario, I have to rethink my position because it just isn’t holding up under the scrutiny of devastating alternate logic or perspective. What we have here today ladies and gentlemen, is the latter. Ooo, I hates latters!

My original opinion was that we should stop constantly comparing the trans* civil rights struggle to that of the African-American struggle, alternatively known under the capital letter Civil Rights. My contention was that the Civil Rights movement represented the culmination of centuries of active discrimination, brutality and subhuman treatment. It was, therefore, sacrosanct and should not be diluted by constant comparisons seeking to capitalize on the emotional punch it brought to the argument. OK, none of this I think I’m wrong about by the way.

Where I finally agreed that I went astray, and oh, it took a lot of convincing, was that the trans* struggle was entirely different in nature and therefore perhaps of a different magnitude of wrong. This is where even my ex started comparing me to Uncle Tom. Even my dear twin Becky respectfully disagreed! What on earth was I failing to see here? All I wanted to do was gain my own dignity and rights without stepping on the toes of others. And there was the answer right in front of me. I was arguing as a trans apologist instead of a trans activist. In attempting to attract the flies with honey, I managed to spill it all over myself. Who wants to be covered in sticky little flies, anyway?

The challenge really becomes finding that sweet spot without getting stuck in it. Labeling myself Rosa Parks because someone gave me the hairy eyeball for trying on a blouse at Sears? Not a good place. Conversely, making a walk of shame over to the men’s changing rooms with three dresses in my arms is also just as heinous. The sweet spot lies very much in that place where we are full and equal members of society and gender demographic whether some find that displeasing or not.

I began this journey operating under the assumption that by providing patient education to anyone who didn’t fully understand, we could overcome all obstacles. This of course has proven to be not true. Some fully understand and are against us anyway for a variety of reasons, while others are determined not to understand however well we explain. I’m getting away from the point.

I still hold that the struggle for trans* rights is different than the Civil Rights movement, however, I would like to caveat that by stating clearly that the nature of both struggles remains the same. Fundamentally, all efforts to bring forth equality are inherently rooted in the same context that it is recognized that a portion of the population is considered to be less than. The inequality is recognized as being incongruent to the principal that all humans are equal in deserving the same rights and liberties as those around them.

While I do still feel that it is best practice to use as examples members of the trans* community to highlight the nature of particular injustices, I also feel that using other examples to provide context is not necessarily a bad thing. As I stated above, labeling someone “the Rosa Parks of the Trans* movement” for a minor or inconsequential incident is falsely inflating the issue. Using broad generalizations, however, such as highlighting ‘separate but “equal”’  laws when discussion something as unlikely as broad adaptation of transgender bathrooms is probably applicable and helps define the inherent inequity.

To wrap this up, I will simply state that Trans* Rights and the Civil Rights Movement are different struggles in regards to the populations affected by the inequality, but of equal urgency in correcting a situation in which individuals are placed at risk or denied equal rights, protections, and access commiserate with those enjoyed by the majority of the population. There is an endless stream of examples highlighting the critical need for this to be legally addressed and corrected for beyond the need to create a shift in public perception though education.

OK, I hope the subtle differences are understood, and I’ll leave my original post immediately below for context and comparison. I hate having to retract or alter my position, but I am willing to listen and adjust when convinced, so thank you to those of you who challenged what I thought was a strong argument and prevailed. J


Original Post:

There has been no shortage of trans civil rights as a topic in the media, and especially the craptastically named ‘blogosphere’. Invariably comparisons are made to the big daddy of them all, the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s. I’ll come clean and say I’ve done it myself because it’s nice and handy as an analogy to use that most people can readily understand. It seemed harmless at the time, but more than one person called foul, so I had to go and actually think about it for a bit. Yeah, we should stop doing that.

All struggles for civil equality hold some points of similarity. A portion of the population is operating under a different set of rules and entitlements than those who seem to see themselves as more equal. Little ‘Animal Farm’ reference there for any of you who had high school reading assignments during the Cold War. Incredibly, those empowered to make rule and entitlements into enforceable points of law just happened to be those in the ‘more equal’ category. I know, right? One would think they would purposely add more roadblocks to better prove their superior status, but no. People with more rights appear to be either very pleased to keep the status quo, or don’t feel particularly motivated to make change a high priority.

With the technological progresses in the area of communication, disempowered populations seized on the means to promote inherent equality with those in power. To date great successes have been achieved by women, African-Americans (serving as a gateway to other minorities), and now homosexuals, though none of these groups has actually yet gained full equality. At best, great advances have been made, so it’s something to be happy about as a good start. None of the above, however, are real anxious to be pulled over in rural portion of any red state, so equality remains situational at best. Then there is us. The trans*. Technically we got our start at Stonewall but were not differentiated from the gays at the time, and they kind of ran with it thereafter. Now we have Joe Biden calling our struggle the civil rights issue of the day.

You can see where it would be natural to make comparisons, but aside from the end game of equality, the nature of the struggles are inherently different. Linking them beyond the most generic top level view does a disservice to everyone. The time, nature, and backdrop of the struggles are different enough to make point by point comparisons look exaggerated and contrived. The Civil Rights Movement had Rosa Parks. The Trans* or even LGB Rights Movement don’t have “a Rosa Parks of the…”. Rosa belongs to Civil Rights, as do all the seminal events of that struggle. We have our own people and events that characterize our efforts, mutually exclusive to other movements.

I think the temptation is there because Civil Rights captured the attention of the nation, had been brewing essentially for centuries, had a horribly violent history that included slavery, lynching, beatings, murders, humiliation, and overt and advertised segregation and discrimination. African-Americans were identifiable, ghettoized, and marked as less than human. This was a very compelling struggle in which a great and evil wrong was identified and overcome.

Our own struggle is much different. Until very recently, the vast majority of the population wasn’t even aware we existed, and when they did, we were considered to simply be a homosexual expression. The military didn’t even know enough to ask at enlistment before DADT. While violence, pain, and humiliation does characterize our existence (there is a Transgender Day of Remembrance for a reason), I worry much more about drunken frat boys than I do population striated lynch mobs or the police in general. Again, yes, on the latter I know about all the instances, but they do remain largely the exception. I have no expectation of President Obama sending the National Guard to ensure my entry into the local Curves.

Our struggle is one much more of information than overcoming bias. In coming out I came to realize how few people even know what trans* was, even among well educated people. The biases against us, for the most part, are more based on misunderstanding and misperception than generation upon generation viewing our population as sub-human former property. It’s simply not the same, and making the comparison to take advantage of the emotional punch it brings not only disrespects that which was not ours, but gives the appearance that we are employing gross exaggeration to further our own agenda. This can hurt us in the long run. I think it’s far better we keep to the facts of our own case, press forward in educating everyone we have the opportunity to, and letting the strength and truth of our own cause speak for itself.

Special thanks to Dianne Piggot over at:                                for starting this discussion with me.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

4 responses »

  1. Shucks, I would have like to have read the original post.


  2. Sis,

    While I agree with you on the idea that we shouldn’t exaggerate our position merely for the dramatic effect, I would tend to disagree that there aren’t enough parallels to allow for significant comparisons.

    The biggest place I will disagree is that we don’t have our own Rosa Parks. We certainly do. I refer you to April Ashley. Recently honoured with an MBE, she blazed many trails and experienced lots of discrimination for being trans*. The most notable example was when she filed for divorce from her husband. She was married to a man as a woman, yet when she filed for divorce, the judge ruled she was still a man and merely annulled the marriage as having been invalid all along, and accusing her of fraud. She continued to fight against discrimination, and has been a significant reason the the UK has always been at the forefront of trans* rights.

    I think you make a good argument here, but I have to disagree this time.



    • Hey Sis,

      We talked on this yesterday and I remained convinced I was right. I talked this over with multiple people who also disagreed, and held firm. Now I’m starting to think I was wrong. Not about everything, but some. Well, this is how one learns, dang it. 🙂

      So… when I have the time to write it, I will be posting my first ever redaction! Exciting stuff, no?

      Thanks for sticking with me, even when the pride of my conviction overwhelmed my common sense.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: