Part Three: Ashley Love And Anti-Defamation
This is part three of a series of essays on self-described transsexual anti-defamation activist Ashley Love. Part one of this series explains why I’ve written, and why I’m posting this series of essays.
Homophobia and transphobia are the ugliest when they come from inside the community. “Tranny” isn’t a word I apply to myself, nor do I find it charming. But I won’t tell other trans people what they can and can’t call themselves. And denigrating them for being drag queens, genderqueer, non-op or anything other than “your” idea of what a True Trans Person is smacks of transphobia and homophobia. “You” don’t own the word “trans” just because you went through some version of it.
…Ashley, what I’m hearing you and others express is an all-out condemnation and hateful, homophobic and transphobic jihad toward anyone who uses the word “tranny” for any reason. I don’t hear any room for any other opinion, or acknowledgment of any other trans experience than your own. It’s shrill, ugly, dismissive and typical of fundamentalism. Hopefully, your activism will mature with time. For now, you’re a bit over the edge.
~Calpernia Addams in a Facebook comment thread (November 13, 2010)
If you’ve ever seen the movie Soldier’s Girl, you may remember who Calpernia Addams is. If you know anything about the murder of Barry Winchell, you may remember who Calpernia Addams is. Calpernia Addams was a showgirl in 1999 — she came to her trans identity through drag community. Addams made her comments above after Ashley Love, in a Facebook comment thread stated this on November 13, 2010:
I’m tires of trans people who only advocate for the word “tra**y” because their gay male fans pay to laught AT them. I’m tires of drag queens, or trans women who perform alongside drag queens, advocating for the use of the word because they exploit their birth challenge in a minstrel “trans face” show where trans women are “othered”, not as women, but as harlequins, clowns, and lap dogs/pets and gay men. When are we going to take a stand for our dignity, humanity and rights? Of we are only seen as campy jokes, how r we going to be taken seriously? Not all og us want to be segregated to West Hollywood or other gay areas. Mainstream sees us as “drag queens and tra**ies”. Why would we encourage that by submitting to degrading slurs? The slur stemmed from a way to mis-gender and objectify transsexual WOMEN. Now its morphed into a term spit with hate and is often associated with violence. Its a way of saying ” you’re not *really* a woman” and knocking a trans woman into “her place”. I want more for our community, and our youth. Just because drag queens like the shock value and “coolness and comedy” of the word, doesn’t mean they should make up BS reasons why its okay. Think of the bigger picture, our movement, strategy, perceptual management and reality. We are not clowns, we are human beings, not “its, subwomen or tra**ys”. Low self esteem is common for people oppressed and dehumanized by society, so I understand why some find the term “comforting”, but that’s not authentic “comfort”, its accepting and making excuses for abuse for our oppressors. I say we rise up and take a stand for our worth. We deserve more then the “class dunce clown” pet name. We deserve to be called by our name, not a “ni**er” “tra**y” or any other dehumanizing slurs. And gay men and drag queens are not right to reclaim a word.
In her statement above, Love takes issue with gay drag performers; She states that drag performance is “a minstrel ‘trans face'”; she attacks trans performers who perform with gay drag performers as facilitating gay men laughing at trans women.
Since Addams had commented in that thread prior to that Love comment above, and Addams advocates for people to being able to self-identify — even if the self-identity is “tra**y” — Addams assumed Love was referring to her in that comment. Love assured Addams in the comment thread that this wasn’t the case, but Love made broad statements about drag performers, and transsexual performers that perform with drag performers, and those broad statements painted Addams’ life experiences as a showgirl as supporting minstrel show “trans face” shows. Addams knows, as I do too, that Love’s broad brush painting of drag performers and other showgirls applies to many trans women.
I personally know a good number of transsexual people who identified as drag queens as an interim identity on their path to embracing themselves as the transsexual women they are. Sylvia Rivera, one of Love’s heroes, identified herself as a drag queen.
One of the six people who influenced me the most on my path to becoming an activist is Amanda Watson — a trans woman who at one point in her life was known in San Diego as the drag performer Amanda Hugandkiss. Gender identity (to include gender expression) wouldn’t have been added to San Diego’s Human Dignity Ordinance (the city ordinance that protects San Diegans from discrimination) in 2003 without Watson spearheading the effort to change that ordinance. We had antidiscrimination protections for trans people in San Diego before we had similar protections afforded by state law.
It’s pretty clear that Ashley Love doesn’t like drag performers. She also doesn’t like genderqueer identified folk much either. In a November 27, 2010 Facebook thread announcing ,her upcoming blog radio program Transcending The Blacklist, Love states the following about drag performers and those she identifies “late transitioning gender queer males”:
[More below the fold.]
A lot of feminists with a transsexual and/or intersex birth condition are not allowed a proper voice in LGB”T” news outlets, and mos def not on mainstream ones. Its seems they prefer drag queens, or late transitioning gender queer males.
In a more specific comment directed at genderqueer people, Love made this comment on January 3, 2011 in yet another Facebook thread:
[I]ts times to stop living in a fantasy, and face the facts. Sweeping diversity and individuality under the rug has done nothing for the sex and gender diverse communities, or at least nothing for the transsexual and intersex communities. Perhaps its done a lot for white cross dressing males and white gender queer FTMs, but it has only served white trans masculine people, and thats it. I have more in common with a non-trans woman than I do with a cross dresser or drag queen. Many TS/IS people are fed up of being bullied by PC BS. We are tired of being muzzled by late transitioning white CD and TG male bodied people who run the TG Facista non-profit world and buy their way onto the Gay(lgbt) non profit boards. Did we go through all we went through to be told we are the same thing as men in dresses? We think not.
Again we go from the macro to the micro. Commenting about community icon Kate Bornstein on December 11, 2010 — who Love has identified as a “gender queer performer” — Love compares Bornstein to anti-transsexual feminist Janice Raymond:
[Ashley Love] is curious why gender queer performer Kate Bornstein always attacks women who are transsexual and expresses some of the same sentiments that Janice Raymond, Mary Daly and other anti-transsexual feminists?
On November 16, 2010, Love stated this in yet another Facebook entry:
Who needs the mother of anti-transsexual woman sentimnet ,Janice Raymond, to bully, misgender and gay appropriate transsexual/and or intersex women when gender queer Kate Bornstein is continuing Raymonds legacy for her?
Further into the comment thread for the Facebook entry for that entry, Love inappropriately put quotation marks around a pronouns she used to refer to Bornstein:
Read her new attack on TS women on Out.com, zi calls TS women not “real women”, that are “co-opting the word women”, etc, etc. That’s great that “zi” invents new pronouns for “zirself”, and has a primarily white gay queer following, that includes the ant-transsexual lesbian women who say “ts women are fake”, but zi is throwing us under the bus with her gay psuedo gender theories that invalidate our birth condition. My “gender didn’t change” as Bornstien says of us. Not all of us want to be “San Fran queer radical fuck gender super stars!”. Some of us are just women who want to live our lives, and not have Gay Inc pay token toms like Bornstein to “put us in our place”.
Its okay for “zi” to say zi is an outlaw, and both gender, but to cal ts women “fake” and “co-opters” and “wrong to be in “real womens” spaces mirrors the sentiment of Raymond. Why do you think many psuedo radical feminist lesbian professors put zi on a pedastool: they agree with how zi sticks it to ts women who “have the disillusionment to think they are real women”. Why do you think the transphobic white gay male news sites call on Bornstein when ts and tg women rise up and protest? Why don’t they call Andrea James, Julia Serrano, Monica Roberts, Katrina Rose, Katrina Fox (trans women who I respect, and who are women who call themseleves women), etc, etc- its because only Borntein will “shut us up”, talk down to our plight, and throw us under the bus and co-sign the gay appropriated version of transsexualims that say ts women are not women at all. Kate actually has the same message many transphobic LGB people have about ts women, as well as bigoted straight people. I feel bullied be “zi”, and don’t apologize that I’m not “queer” enough for “zi”. I’m a woman, and my gender is real. Also, Kate seems to not understand that male and female are sex terms, and woman and man are gender terms. I see through her propaganda when she miseducated about sex and gender.
On December 1, 2010, Love again inappropriately put quotation marks around a pronouns she used to refer to Bornstein, as well as identifying why she believes Bornstein is revered in community:
Kate Bornstein mirrors a lot of what Janice Raymond and Mary Daly “preached”. But no one notices because the gender queer empire puts “zi” on a pedastool, and the radfem lesbina professors invite Kate to speak at their universitys
Not surprisingly, Kate Bornstein is once again capitalizing off the exploitation of transsexual woman and is writing an article for Out Magazine (which has a primarily white gay male readership, the Christian Soriano types who use the T word to be “cool”) soon to be published glorifying the “T-word”. Bornstein identifies as “gender queer” and this spring attacked & dismissed the transsexual women who opposed the Ticked Off Transphobia film. “Zi’s” career is based off “shock value, aggressiveness & LG pseudo theories of gender”. All the drag queens and gay males who love the T word are going to once again be praising Bornstein as a “hero” like they did when she attacked GLAAD, MAGNET and the trans people who protested the misrepresentation of TOTWK. The sad thing is that T word is not gay mens, their straight girl BFF’s, drag queens, bigoted straight men, cross dressers or even gender queer or FTM guy’s word to “reclaim”, much like Latino people should not reclaim the “N word” just because they have dark skin too. The word originated as a word meant to mis-gender and objectify transsexual women, and has now morphed into a slur spit with hate, violence, mocking, misogyny and/or ridicule. Kate Bornstein: Our birth challenge, the slurs associated with it, and the fear and misunderstanding that provokes hate and violence against us from society is not “cool”. If you want to be “cool”, go buy a Drake or Katie Perry CD, keep your predatorily performance “act” out of our medical condition, and if you need content for another sensational article, try not oppressing an endangered minority group to do so. Just shameful.
Whether or not Kate Bornstein identifies as a she or a ze, it’s not acceptable to put quotation marks around the pronoun one uses to refer to Bornstein. The largest anti-defamation organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community is the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and in their GLAAD Media Reference Guide the organization says this about putting pronouns in quotation marks:
It is never appropriate to put quotation marks around either a transgender person’s chosen name or the pronoun that reflects that person’s gender identity.
Putting quotation marks around a pronoun is a way to question a person’s gender identification; it’s a means of misgendering a transsexual, a transgender, and/or a genderqueer person’s gender identity by implied disbelief of verbally or visibly expressed gender identity. Despite having stated on November 23, 2010 Facebook thread that “I never misgendered anyone,” Love actually had begun misgendering Bornstein via quotation marks around pronouns on November 12, 2010.
Janice Raymond is a feminist professor and author who wrote the book The Transsexual Empire; The Making of the She-Male; Janice G. Raymond wrote a book with an antitransgender pejorative in the title. To give an idea of how anti-transsexual Janice Raymond’s writings actually have been, these are some quotes from her on transsexuals:
• “Transsexually constructed lesbian-feminists show yet another face of patriarchy. As the male-to-constructed-female transsexual exhibits the attempt to possess women in a bodily sense while acting out the images into which men have molded women, the male-to-constructed-female who claims to be a lesbian-feminist attempts to possess women at a deeper level, this time under the guise of challenging rather than conforming to the role and behavior of stereotyped femininity”.
• “I contend that the problem with transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence”.
In a quote from the book known to many transsexual people, Raymond connects transsexual experience to the rape of women:
“All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves … Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive.”
Without apparent hyperbole, Ashley Love has stated that Kate Bornstein is worse than Janice Raymond. What angers Love about Bornstein is Bornstein’s embrace of the term tra**y. In the Out Magazine article by Bornstein that Love refers to, entitled Who You Calling A Tranny?, Bornstein wrote the following:
No matter what ideas you might have about transsexuals or drag queens, if you were M headed toward F in any fashion at all, you moved into, through, up and out of the drag queen community. So there was always a bond between the drag queens and the MTF transsexuals in Sydney. The bond was so strong, they invented a name for the identity they shared: tranny. It was a name that said family. Doris Fish taught me that she and I were family.
Years earlier, when I went through my gender change from male to female, I glided through life under the commonly accepted assumption: I was finally a real woman! That worked for me until I ran into a group of politically smart lesbians who told me that I wasn’t allowed to co-opt the word “woman.” Woman was not a family word that included me. My answer to this exclusion was to call myself a gender outlaw: I wasn’t a man, I wasn’t a woman. By calling myself a gender outlaw, I had unknowingly reclaimed the right to name myself outside the language generated by the bipolar gender system. Under that system, each of us needed to fit neatly into a pre-fab sex/gender identity.
…[When we were looking for submissions for Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation], [S. Bear Bergman] posted a call for submissions on his blog. In the interests of keeping the call as open as possible, we agreed to include as many trans-identities as we knew, so we used the word tranny. And that’s where the activist shit hit the postmodern fan base. People were pissed. Here’s their argument: FTMs are co-opting a word that belongs to MTFs. The word tranny belongs to MTFs, those who were hurt by our use of the word reason, because it was a denigrating term reclaimed by MTFs — ergo, only MTFs could be known as trannies. I spoke with Bear, and we agreed that’s wrong on several counts:
- Tranny began as a uniting term amongst ourselves. Of course it’s going to be picked up and used as a denigrating term by mean people in the world. But even if we manage to get them to stop saying tranny like a thrown rock, mean people will come up with another word to wound us with. So, let’s get back to using tranny as a uniting term amongst ourselves. That would make Doris Fish very happy.
- It’s our first own-language word for ourselves that has no medical legacy.
- Even if (like gay) hate-filled people try to make tranny into a bad word, our most positive response is to own the word (a word invented by the queerest of the queer of their day). We have the opportunity to re-create tranny as a positive in the world.
- Saying that FTMs can’t call themselves trannies eerily echoes the 1980s lesbians who said I couldn’t use the word woman to identify myself, and the 1990s lesbians who said I couldn’t use the word dyke.
Kate Bornstein identifies as a gender outlaw, and embraces the term tra**y. I don’t embrace the term tra**y, for myself or on behalf of others, but I’m with Calpernia Addams in believing people get to self-identify. But that said, disagreeing with Bornstein on use of the term tra**y doesn’t mean I disown Bornstein as a community sibling, nor does it mean I can use antitransgender derogatory or defamatory language to label Bornstein. Frankly, I like Kate Bornstein and many of her ideas a lot — disagreeing with her beliefs regarding the term tra**y doesn’t mean I need to hate her and all she stands for. What it means I disagree with her on an issue of importance to trans community.
1.) Display solidarity with all our trans brothers and sisters.
2.) Build alliances by getting involved as ourselves in other areas of politics.
3.) Refuse to let journalistic and intellectual attacks on our community go unanswered – we can have and keep the moral high ground.
4.) Be creative, be smart, be ourselves, and don’t let anybody tell us who we are and what we do.
5.) Refuse the pathological model – we are not sick, just different.
6.) Refuse those politics – heterosexism, body fascism – that work against all of the above, but especially #1.
These axioms are part of my personal mission and vision; these axioms guide how I approach activism. Building alliances, refusing to let journalistic attacks on community go unanswered, not letting anyone tell tell transgender people who we are and what we do, rejecting politics that divides instead of unites — these are important axioms because they address how to achieve political success at gaining community freedom, equality, and justice.
Since Ashley Love doesn’t identify as transgender, it should be as no surprise then that she doesn’t embrace any of the Six Axioms of Transgender Activism. She definitely isn’t displaying solidarity with transgender people she lists in her biography as one of her constituencies, she’s encouraging divisiveness instead of building alliances, she tells other trans people who they are and what they do, and embraces politics that work against solidarity. And, not only does Love let journalistic attacks on trans community (that she even has linke to) go unanswered, she actually engages in attacks on trans people and trans community and its members herself.
It’s just not acceptable behavior to attack any transgender identified person with antitransgender, derogatory language if one defines oneself in terms of being an activist “dedicated to educating the media about transsexual and transgender issues, as well as pushing for more authentic and positive portrayals of trans people in the media.” A anti-defamation activist who uses derogatory and defamatory language to attack those he, she, or ze disagrees with is hypocritical, and potentially dangerous to the community that he, she, or ze is claiming to serve.
As I’ve said before, I’m finding it difficult to fully embrace Ashley Love as an anti-defamation activist. This is because in the past year she’s used derogatory, antitransgender language herself, and in putting quotation marks around pronouns for Kate Bornstein and in labeling me as a transgenderist, Love has engaged in behavior that she says she doesn’t do — misgendering people in trans community.
Again let me state that the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) doesn’t accomplish their anti-defamation work by defaming others, nor does the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Again let me state that the tactics and language that Love has been using for the past year are more akin with how the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) and Family Research Council (FRC) do their work than with how other anti-defamation focused organizations — and other anti-defamation focused people — do their work. And, that is just unconscionable behavior for a self-identified anti-defamation activist.