The Unfortunate Statements of Susan Stanton
For every Melissa Etheridge you get a George Michael; For every Sylvia Guerrero (Gwen Araujo’s mother), you get a Renee Richards.
When people become spokesmodels for components of the broader LGBT community because of circumstances instead of experience or talent, you never know what you’re going to get — sometimes these icons turn out to be particularly ill-fated for the role of community spokesperson.
Per the St. Petersburg Times: Susan Stanton’s lonely transformation:
Susan [Stanton] has said all along that she’s not like other transgender people. She feels uncomfortable even looking at some, “like I’m seeing a bunch of men in dresses.”
Eventually, she decided it was too early for transgender people to be federally protected. People need more time, more education, she says. “The transgender groups boo me, now, when I speak. Isn’t that ironic?
No, it’s not ironic. If a publicly transgender woman uses the transphobic language of the religious right to denigrate the less than photogenic members of her transgender community, it’s community chagrin that’s being evidenced — not irony. If a publicly transgender woman speaks in terms of accommodating those who would discriminate against her and her peers, it’s a feeling of betrayal that her community is feeling — it’s not irony.
I suppose the lesson to be learned here is that there are a wide range of opinions within the LGBT community. Stanton has valuable narrative — an important role in T history — but this historical importance shouldn’t be mistaken for personal expertise in political lobbying, activism, and especially civil rights. There are plenty of those on the front lines who are well aware of the how each word spoken by “out” Ts like Stanton can be twisted for their own use. Stanton’s clearly not politically savvy, and clearly still dealing with self-image and self-identification issues.
Susan Stanton shouldn’t be faulted for not being politically savvy, or with struggling with her personal issues. What is sometimes difficult for communities to grasp is how icons aren’t always the best spokespeople for causes, yet somehow, they frequently get anointed as our spokespeople. And as an icon turned spokesperson, Stanton’s comments were particularly unfortunate — both for her and the rest of the transgender community.
For every Melissa Etheridge you get a George Michael; for every Sylvia Guerrero you get a Renee Richards; for every Judy Shepard you get a Susan Stanton. I can only hope that Stanton’s comments represent temporary viewpoints rather than permanent notions.
Pam Spaulding contributed to this post.
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