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

trans_rights__civil_rights

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

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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.

Yes Already, I Am Going to Talk “Bathroom Issue”

If you ever want to get an outraged earful from a trans woman, simply go up to her and say, “But, you don’t use the ladies room, right? That would be immoral!” Honestly, I want to smack myself just for having written that. The bathroom issue, as so known, is one of the top 100 issues trans people are a bit prickly about. If you can’t understand why, take advantage of the endless refills at McDonalds and try to imagine not knowing where to pee without risking a beating. The issue has little to do with us just being fussy.

You might be surprised to learn that I’m not the first person to bring this up, nor did I coin the term “bathroom issue”. In fact, this has actually been done almost to death. ‘Almost’, because if it was taken all the way, it would no longer be an issue. I want to take a moment and give my spin on why it is an issue to begin with, and then why that thought paradigm is wrong in some very basic assumptions. I doubt this is new, but you can’t have too many search results in our favor when Sully down at the Department of Public Works goes and tries to get himself informed.

Why should trans women be discouraged from using the ladies room? The oppositions answer seems to make sense. People feel universally unsafe performing, um, elimination activities. Women feel particularly unsafe doing such in the presence of men, particularly because on a historical basis, unclothed vulnerable women have a much higher risk of something heinous happen if men are within grasping distance. While it is acknowledged that trans women also feel vulnerable and unsafe around men for the same and very different reasons, there are way, way more cisgender women than trans women. Why should cisgender women be made uncomfortable to accommodate a population miniscule by comparison? This almost seems to make sense, but really doesn’t.

The logical fallacy of the above is in the wording and a glossing over of a key piece of information. Yes, some cisgender women may feel at risk with transwomen in the bathroom, but trans women actually are at risk in a men’s bathroom. Given that there is no record of a trans women assaulting a cis woman in the bathroom, and countless records of trans women being assaulted, it’s fair to say that only one of the groups is actually at risk. The group that is at risk, I think anyone would agree, is the one that should be offered protection, even if it makes some uncomfortable.

In case this isn’t clear, let’s look at an example from our recent past where some pretty ridiculous notions prevailed. White society objected to minority use of common rest rooms under the unfathomable notion that they were less sanitary. Since then a modicum of wisdom prevailed and declared this separation moronic and obscenely inane. The trans bathroom issue is the same, except the general public hasn’t yet been educated enough to understand that we not only pose no threat, but in fact, are under grave threat.

“Whoh there Michelle! Won’t bathroom access just encourage would be rapists to put on women’s clothes to take advantage of the situation?” In a word, no. Anyone who has taken any interest in the subject, which really should be all women, or even watch non-Fox based news knows that rape is way more often a crime of power than it is about sex. Be that the case, stick any non-CD cisgender man in a dress and see how powerful he feels. Probably not so much. Like wearing you Weight Watcher’s tee shirt to the Old Country Buffet, what you have on is going to affect performance. In the event that someone, and I’m sure he’s out there, does have a particular fetish for doing this, he’s probably going to do this anyway and pick somewhere seldom frequented to avoid notice, and not the loo at the Regal Cinema.

To sum it all up: We who consider ourselves women are extremely unlikely to pose a risk; if we are on HRT, we likely can’t even if so inclined, which we are not. At worst, we make some people who are uninformed feel uncomfortable. In the wrong bathroom, however, we are at grave risk. Men feel just as antsy and uncomfortable when peeing, and far more likely to meet a perceived threat with violence. The notion that legal and socially condoned access would encourage potential rapists to take advantage fails to take into account the malevolent mindset of such perpetrators. Putting on a skirt set and make-up is not how they are going to enact their need to dominate and subjugate women. We need the protection, pose no risk, and with a little social adjustment, everyone is safer and happier in the long run. One would think this would be simple.

GENDA Agenda

It’s time to get serious about something. I’ve spent a lot of time so far on this blog pointing out what is probably not worth our collective attention as transgendered folks. My thinking is this. If we pour our energy into addressing every slight, misperception, or even outright insult, the focus of our efforts is spread over a vast array of venues and the overall impact is significantly diluted. Today I’m going to address one of the areas I do feel we should be paying rapt attention. That’s right, rapt. I only pull that one out of my bag when I really mean it. Regarding GENDA, I really mean it.

The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) was on the NYS legislation block in 2010 along with the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA). Makes sense right? We are one big LGBTQ family and all; all for one and one for all. I’m not going to whine about the pervasive feelings of betrayal circulating the trans community after SONDA passed and GENDA didn’t. All things in their time, and yes, better some than none. I can’t argue that more people don’t stand to benefit from SONDA either. Plus, it did weaken the barrier. The fact remains that the trans community continues to lack legal protection from discrimination in NY, unless we want to get married. That avenue is also clear. It’s not every day I get to brag about my residence in a state with such a Republican sounding motto, but the accomplishments of recent years allowed me a few joyful woots.

Now why did SONDA pass and not GENDA? A lot of finger pointing abounds, but let’s be real. A certain significant percentage of the population exists, even in the really blue states, that think anyone not cisgender heterosexual is deviant by choice, mentally ill, or thrice damned in some way or another. Encouraging such moral delinquency by admitting the inherent equality of citizens will invariably cause an irritable deity to unzip and take a wicked piss on all America. Politicians, even those not of that opinion, know that these people like to call them a lot and complain. To someone whose entire career goal revolves getting reelected, this kind of kvetching can get in their head, even if it represents a small minority.

If a sizable portion of the voter block is against it, why should GENDA pass? Good, an easy question; it’s nice to promote rafts to castaways once in a while. (1) We exist and are citizens of this country and state. (2) As such we deserve equal protection under the law as any other majority or minority citizen. (3) Because the condition of our existence causes no demonstrable harm or inconvenience to individuals or society. (4) Or imposes said condition on anyone against their will or otherwise. (5) Attaining protected status promotes said equality and fair treatment. (6) While the lack thereof bears strong evidence to have a negative effect on employment, housing, financial management and other areas. (7) Clearly supporting the argument that lack of protective status has a significant and measurable burdensome effect on society overall.

To break it down, with GENDA we have increased opportunity to employ marketable skills that contribute to the tax base, as well as better guarantee to secure sustainable living arrangements. Without, an increased proportion of the population must subsist on public assistance and contribute to the current blight of homelessness. Isn’t enabling equal opportunity for individuals who wish to participate in capitalist democracy better than marginalizing them into an undesired socialist existence? No brainer, right? With, everyone benefits with some more than others, and without, everyone loses, again, some more than others. This of course is simple macroeconomics. The real and true reason should simply be that securing the rights and equality of all citizens should be inherent to the core philosophy of our system, making it the right thing do as Americans.

That said, what to do about self-preservationist politicians who are constantly getting an earful from groups who see any opportunity in our favor as a detriment to the common good for some contrived reason? If loud insistence is the language, I think the answer is to talk it. No matter what his personal convictions or what he tells you to your face, if someone like Mark Grisanti hears more from people who are against this, he’ll lean that way. If he hears from us more, he’ll lean our way. There are exceptions, but I’m pretty certain that is how it works. We’ve all heard the old chestnut, ‘the squeaky wheel gets replaced’, but if that can’t happen, it gets the grease.

I think there are now dozens of organizations across the state, including to the one I belong to, Spectrum WNY (see the link on the side) who have taken up the cause full fury. I’ve decided to do my part by both writing all the state legislatures as well as creating a new page on this blog. My feeling is that no matter how right it is that people take action, they are much more likely to do so if you make it easier for them. So, to make it easy…

  1. Pick the legislature for your district.
  2. Print out the letter.
  3. Use the conveniently provided address
  4. And send to them

 

And here is a link to find who your state senator might be that you may contact them with ease at your convenience:

 

http://www.nysenate.gov/report/member-directory-142011

 

Coming soon to a page near you, sample letters and other tools to make this process even easier!

 

Remember, making positive changes at this level is not like having to convince the Supreme Court of anything, especially the Roberts court. This is simply about outnumbering those people who have linked the denial of rights in others to a validation of their highly specific belief system. And hey, even if you can’t be bothered because you don’t know or care about any trans people, won’t it feel good to know you can still royally piss off the other side?

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