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Is Trans Activism Even Useful?

transactiveYou know those crappy dreams where you are back in school? Being part of the transgender community often makes me feel exactly like that. It’s not really all that bad and way better than those dreams where you really have to pee and finally find a toilet only to wake up in a mad panic, sometimes in warm dampish pajamas. By the back in school analogy, I’m talking about college, but not where there is a big exam you didn’t know about because you blew off the last 4 classes to sleep in Lockwood library. I mean the near constant cajoling to get off your fat tuckus and get involved already.

Being part of an often misunderstood minority, there is an inevitable call to activism if you choose to become affiliated with any type of support or advocacy organization. Counter to my lifelong resistance to joining anything unless intending to destroy it from within, I found myself showing up to the local group, Spectrum, and raising my hand to volunteer a lot. This too was counter to my philosophy of personal responsibility by having other people who would probably do it better raise theirs first. It really worked out better for all of us that way. For some reason by changing or affirming or confirming my gender, I felt the need to make changes in this area as well. Out of nowhere I went decades without ever knowing who the state senator for my district was, and now I find myself arduously working to really make him hate me. Why? Why am I doing this?

From the very moment I stepped into a room where other trans people happened to be, there has been a nearly incessant call to arms. We must fight the good fight. We must force change. We must guarantee the rights and equality for ever single trans person, as well as a chicken in every pot and a sock in every shoe. I quickly agreed, castigating my old lazy ass apathetic self. The stories of grave injustice, persecution and downright craptacular treatment were too much. Batgirl wouldn’t stand by and put up with this shit, and neither would I. It wasn’t long before I realized that this was a little more than pestering curmudgeonly old Mike Ranzenhoffer with pissy emails and unrequited entreaties to call me back (you think he would pick up just once, but no). People were organizing things, making long smelly bus rides to Albany, forging deep collaborative ties with other support groups to achieve political might, and so on. People get overwhelmed when faced with something that looks more like a full time job, or even career.

It’s easy to see why the question of ‘why’ will pop up on an increasingly frequent basis. Really… why? Even if GENDA passes, it really won’t be much more difficult to fire me, decline to hire me, refuse to rent to me, or even provide inept medical care if they happen to hate the trans folk. They will just find different reasons that are legally sound and easy to back up. In fact, it seems likely that I will face more opposition on account of the perception that I’m receiving some form of special treatment through legal protection. You know how it is in this country. God forbid anyone has anything they don’t, even if they don’t need it or want it. It’s like an child stuffed to the gills getting the raw end of dividing an oddly numbered bag of M&Ms with another who is near starving. So why bother trying to tackle the impossible?

The why is actually very easy. Even if any type of legislative solution turns out to be a paper tiger at best, it is the fight for that tiger that generates awareness. It’s the action of trying that creates the real value in making change. Most people are and will remain blissfully unaware the law as it is, or what it will be, but they will hear of the efforts to make change. Resistance to our existence, aside from some notable exceptions, has far more to do with ignorance than understanding what we are and opposing us anyway. The legislation, when it passes, is unlikely to truly protect anyone. The knowledge and awareness, however, is what changes hearts and minds. This is what will put us on equal ground with everyone else. If I get a new job in the future, it won’t be because GENDA tells them they can’t immediately disqualify me, but because my being transgender will not be a factor in their hiring decision. All the legislation will do is benchmark where we stand with the population in general.

As for the overwhelming enormity of it all, after time I realized people, myself included, will do what they can. There will be super stars out there who make every event, organize rallies, and muster the troops to glorious battle. The rest of us will follow when we can, contribute when we can, make calls when we can, or even scribble our little blogs in hopes that some cisgender readers wander over and leave with an expanded perspective. I didn’t realize in college that ‘getting involved’ didn’t necessarily mean joining every club and leading a bloody coup against the student council or hiding at home doing nothing, so I hid. The trumpeters never said that just showing up, and not even every time, can also make a difference. It’s not go big or go home, but a simple entreaty not to hide there.

PS – you can also just click the link and give Ranzenhoffer a hard time for opposing GENDA. Love ya bunches if you do. 🙂

PPS – On an unrelated topic… I just drifted back to find that my last post was ‘Freshly Pressed’ by WordPress. As a result, lots and lots of people came by and the number of people who subscribe to my posts pretty much doubled. Holy shit. It’s like going on stage to allegedly present to just a few people and having the curtain lift to a massive auditorium. Seriously, holy shit. Not going to lie; got a little touch of the old performance anxiety, so here comes the part where I babble for a few about how I know today was not my best effort, but I promise to grease up my elbows and crank out some kind of masterwork after they finally coax me out from under the bed. Why didn’t I poach a more clever picture? Really, swear I’ve done better in the past, and if you check out my grand and nearly comprehensive list of topics (dammit, I knew I should have updated that thing more often, but still it’s most of them I think), you might find something worth reading. Stop panicking Michelle. Seriously, stop it. It’s just a blog. The bar is set really low. You can do this. Just breathe.

Love to all and thank you!!!!!

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.

11 responses »

  1. Good for you on getting involved. You’re absolutely right too, GENDA probably won’t do anything but if it raises awareness and gets rid of some of the stigma around transgendered then that is a lot. Good luck!!

  2. Congrats on Freshly Pressed – you deserve it. It is a real thrill to be recognized outside the “community.” It is also strange to be followed by a ton of cisgendered people who have never really thought about this before. Eventually the flush wears off and it is back to the regular readers. But it is fun to see those stats spike.

  3. Well done. And, congrats on being Freshly Pressed–well deserved!

  4. Politics and laws only goes so far, and much less if they’re either ignored or not used when they should be. The crunch comes when there’s a first test case using those laws. Sometimes those things get very very messy, but the outcome is publicity about the laws and maybe an awareness that folk can no longer be arseholes with impunity.

    As someone who was part of one of the lobby groups that got gender recognition in most states in Australia, I know that solid and consistent efforts do pay off, eventually. But it comes at a cost to those who make the effort.Just be sure it’s one you want to pay.

  5. Michelle – I am one of those who joined the audience because you got freshly pressed and I feel very lucky that I did. I like today’s post and I would like to share some thoughts with you.

    My Girlfriend and I are not just out we are “Out Loud”. To quote my GF “Being out is the act of being openly gay. It is refusing to pretend to be straight. Instead of calling A- my “roommate” I openly refer to her as my girlfriend. We refuse to play the pronoun game. When people talk about their significant others we talk about ours too. We don’t hide. We don’t pretend.” You can read the rest of her post on her blog here –

    I bring this up because we consider ourselves involved in the LGBT Civil rights movement – we just are not a card carrying member of anything at the moment.

    We read blogs and news articles, share them and comment on them. We school people when they are wrong, celebrate and support people when they are right. We actively strive to learn how to be better allies and members of the LGBT community (or “Team Rainbow” as we call it). I am constantly working to learn to use the correct pronouns and terms to ensure that I am Trans* friendly in my language and inclusive in my communication. She blogs about many issues, including Team Rainbow issues, I blog about my photography.

    When we are not on the interwebs we talk to people. We refuse to be embarrassed about who we are and what our relationship is. We correct ignorant language and comments when we hear it.

    But the absolutely most important thing we do is NORMALIZE LGBT people for the rest of the people we meet and work with. We assume straight privileges even when we don’t have them, by dealing with our relationship in the same way that “more accepted” straight couples do. And we make people deal with us normally and respectfully, and individual by individual we develop allies, change minds and create a more accepting community. Sometimes all we do is force ignorant people to keep their ignorance to themselves. As a result other LGBT people have a little easier time.

    So my point is this – simply living for you is activism. I’m so very sorry that we have a culture that a Trans* person’s life is activism. Because our culture is so stratified by gender that every time a Trans* person gets up and lives their day they challenge “gender norms” and as a result challenges the culture. So you don’t have to join any groups, write a bunch of angry letters, or march anywhere you don’t want to. Living a normal life will do quite a bit.

    Further you have this blog. A much broader audience means you will have more ignorant comments – and that is terrible. But you will also have a much broader reach. I don’t know what it’s like to be Trans*. I want to be a better Trans* ally, and reading about your experiences may help.

    So I wouldn’t worry so much about upping the quality of your posts. We’re here because we like what you have to say. Be honest and frank, that’s what I found appealing about your blog.

  6. I sometimes wonder if it is really necessary to have all of these laws and all of this legislation. Every time there is a new law created or a purported new right carved out we end up with more lines, distinctions and exclusions.
    I agree that there should be no discrimination in hiring or employment but I also think that employment at will is important for the economy. I am not sure that people have a right to a job…only the right to be able to do a job well enough to encourage an employer to part with a pay check.
    having said that I also see no reason for the passage of GENDA to be deferred. It may be important to a few and other than that will have no real effect on most.

  7. I think exposure is always good. While the glb side failed with trying to convince everyone, “we’re just like you”, I think that’s exactly what we need to do. Unfortunately the most visible people are usually the least representative of us.

    I hate to admit, at least in my experience, they seem to be most highly concentrated in support groups, etc.

  8. Patricia Jones

    Awesome!! as usual Michelle Thanks Patti

  9. Michelle Black

    Hey, It’s Michelle here. Yes, I still read every post. Sorry for being a nazi. “It’s like an child stuffed to the….” You tell me what’s wrong with this. 😉 Great read by the way.

  10. I was expecting more of what I’m feeling lately out of this post than what it delivered based on the title, but instead found something mildly inspirational. What I was expecting was “genda didn’t pass AGAIN, why do we try?”. Instead I interpreted “if people see us trying whether or not the law passes maybe they’ll come to understand our troubles” which is just about exactly what I needed to hear. 🙂

    Thank you for another wonderful post, and as you’re getting new subscribers, I think it’s a perfect topic to write on.

  11. Awesome……..Just Awesome Share.I love it.Looking forward for more.Alex,Thanks.


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