Carving Up the Rainbow?

Vertical colour studio shot of young woman with pink hair in 40s style and zippers on face and hand. Zippers are open to show
Vertical colour studio shot of young woman with pink hair in 40s style and zippers on face and hand. Zippers are open to show colourful abstract rainbow makeup. Front view, looking at camera while appearing to pull open zipper on hand with other hand. Waist up on dark blue crushed velvet background.

The trans community and the LGBT community is falling into the old trap of infighting over who among us is most to blame for the hate now being directed at us and, perhaps in seasonal spirit, trying to figure out who should be the Paschal lamb. It appears from the debate that this honor will be bestowed on gender fluid and trans people who do not inhabit the binary.

There have been articles from gay activists like Shannon Gilreath accusing trans-inclusive protection supporters of unleashing the gates of hell on innocent LGB bystanders, and even trans activist Dana Beyer has suggested that we should hide the non-binary trans Americans from view, because they embarrass us and make people uncomfortable.

What an incredibly shortsighted approach. It helps make clear why American bigots have always been able to take aim so easily at the minority piñata du jour. Instead of banding together and challenging the very vinculum of intolerance toward what is different or uncomfortable, we have been deciding who is more deserving of rights and at whose expense. Perhaps we should all take a moment to reflect on Martin Luther King's observation that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," so similar in spirit to Martin Niemöller's famous poem about passivity in the face of oppression. First they came for the gender-fluid, but I was not gender-fluid, so I said nothing...

Let me instead say something. It is very hard for me to personally conceive being gender-fluid, in many ways as it might be for cis people to conceive being transgender. Ever since I was a little child, my mind and soul screamed out that I was a girl -- a great source of distress for me in adolescence was wondering where my vagina was, and why facial hair was growing instead of breasts.

A regret I still bear is not being able to experience pregnancy and not having carried my children in my womb. In fact, there have often been times when I have felt excluded from elements within the trans community that have heavily emphasized the non-binary and left out or even rejected those of us viewed as "sell-outs" for having embraced binary gender identities.

Now, unfortunately, the trans rights movement has decided that it is politically expedient for winning legislative battles to pretend that all trans women look like Andreja Pejic and Carmen Carrera, and then to rhetorically ask how anyone would expect them to be using the men's room. The fact is that many, if not most, trans people do not, cannot and have no desire to conform to socially constructed expectations of the gender binary. It is these trans children and adults who are most at risk in our locker rooms and restrooms.

What purpose does it serve if the American public is made to believe that so long as someone looks like a woman in the way that Pejic and Carrera do, she should be allowed to use the women's room? Who would question these women in the first place, given their obvious passing privilege?

I certainly do not want to spend a red cent or an ounce of breath on meaningless legislation and court battles that achieve nothing on the ground for trans individuals -- or that offer protection only to those individuals who least need it, while casting off those most at risk as if they were an expendable afterthought.

Fighting these transphobic bills on paper in legislatures and courts is all for naught if we are not actually protecting vulnerable trans people in the real world. The trans women at greatest risk are those who cannot afford the costly procedures required to pass as conventionally appearing women, or those who simply do not agree to them on principle. It is the gender fluid teen thrown out on the streets who is trying to get access to a shelter, or the gender fluid adult who cannot find secure employment.

We cite the horrifying statistics of violence against trans women, and yet then propose to exclude from our public face the trans women of color who live every day in danger because they do not project the image America expects to see in its females. The futility of fighting against sexism and homophobia without confronting transphobia has become abundantly clear. And it is a contradiction in terms, not to say pure hypocrisy, to seek equal protection and dignity in society for some trans individuals but not all of them, as if some were more equal than others.

One thing that is heard from all sides, advocates and bigots alike, is that many transgender people, such as the proverbial "men in dresses," make the general public uncomfortable. Advocates mistakenly believe that we will alleviate the problems of violence and suicide, of discrimination and ostracism, by selling a narrow palatable version of the trans experience to society. This is guaranteed to backfire, as people who do not conform to the sanitized version will be harassed and bullied in gendered spaces, and those bullying them will argue that encountering people like them is not what the trans rights movement sold to them.

Indeed, catering to the sensitivities of the bullies only encourages their double standards and delusions of victimhood. The bigots on the right arguing about the discomfort some people might experience upon seeing a gender non-conforming person are the same ones who are opposed to the campaign of "political correctness." In their mind, straight white men have the right to say and do as they please, including dressing up as the KKK and calling women obscenities, and everyone else should shut up.

The very act of complaining against this expressive violence is objectionable to them, and constitutes censorship. Yet, a person who dresses and presents in a way they choose and one that reflects their authentic internal identity, and uses a locker room or restroom of their choice, is a source of discomfort they need to legislate out of sight. Allowing them to set the terms of trans America's self-presentation is a recipe for disaster.

It will be undoubtedly a harder and longer struggle to convince the American public that all manners of gendered expression and the spectrum of gender identity are valid and deserve respect and acceptance. However, it is the only struggle that will truly achieve our aims, and going for a meaningless victory on paper serves no one.