Transgender people were thrown out of the Gay Liberation Movement in part because newly out transwomen aren’t photogenic — transwomen are often perceived to photograph as “freaks” — Is the desire to appear mainstream becoming more key in the LGBT push for marriage equality than it already has been? Could the “mainstreaming” approach to LGBT issues again negatively impact basic civil rights and protections for transgender people?

When I look at myself in the mirror, I see that my only two piercings are centered in my two earlobes; my hair is dyed a dirty blond (close to my old, natural color) to cover my gray; I get manicures and pedicures that are finished with “work-friendly” nail polish shades; my clothing is usually age appropriate; and my written opinions at Pam’s House Blend are usually made with a soft touch…with my opinions being pretty much within the norms of progressive politics. My therapist reminded me last week, as she has frequently, that I appear to be pretty mainstream.

What isn’t mainstream about me? Maybe the one, large tattoo on my back isn’t that mainstream, but frankly tattoos have pretty much entered mainstream society. The only other thing is I’m a very out transsexual  — who very much for political reasons identifies as transgender. But even with that, I’m not an angry transwoman who often whines about my fate, or frequently and militantly rails against perceived societal injustices towards transgender people. Apparently, I’m about as close to mainstream in appearance and attitude as an out transwoman can be — so I imagine it’s safe to identify me as mainstream transgender.

So if I’m so mainstream, why am so I chafing at the Los Angeles Times‘ story Gay couples are emphasizing low-key weddings? I’m concerned about the “unsolicited advice” to same sex couples is don’t be flamboyant even if you are flamboyant (emphasis added):

The gay and lesbian couples who packed a Hollywood auditorium last week had come seeking information about California’s new marriage policies. But they also got some unsolicited advice.

Be aware.

Images from gay weddings, said Lorri L. Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, could be used by opponents in a campaign designed to persuade California voters that gays and lesbians should not have the right to marry. Those getting married, she cautioned, should never lose sight of what they might be supplying to the other side.

Sitting close to his husband-to-be in the audience, hairstylist Kendall Hamilton nodded and said he knew just what she meant. No “guys showing up in gowns,” he said.

“It’s a weird subject,” added Hamilton, 39, who plans to wed his partner of five years, Ray Paolantonio. “We want everybody to be free, but the image does matter. . . . They are going to try to make us look like freaks.”

[After the fold, transgender inclusion in LGBT civil rights legislation tied to how transgender women are often less than photogenic.]The Victory Fund’s SmartBrief gives this as their synopsis of that Los Angeles Times article (again, emphasis added):

Couples getting married in California are being encouraged by some activists to avoid being overly flamboyant in their celebrations, so as not to provide fodder to anti-gay forces’ effort to pass a constitutional ban in November. But one consultant believes both sides will have to moderate their approach to the issue, or they risk alienating the middle. “Whatever side becomes divisive about this, it is to their detriment,” said political consultant Rob Stutzman. “These campaigns should be seeking to run their messaging as mainstream as possible.”

The mainstream transgender in me certainly gets the message, and even gets the why behind the message…Again from the Los Angeles Times:

Strategists cite polls showing that in 2004, after Massachusetts allowed gay marriage, people who saw the weddings became more supportive.

“All you had to do was just see it, and it was very difficult to then walk away and say, ‘That is not a wonderful thing,’ ” said Eric Jay, an advisor to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. “It’s the power of marriage.”

That said, both sides know that the images of some partnerships may be more palatable than others.

“One of the things that have hurt the gay effort in California is the exhibitionism in San Francisco,” which doesn’t always play well elsewhere, said political analyst Tony Quinn.

But at the same time, I also get that one of the why‘s behind transgender people essentially were pushed out of the gay and lesbian movements of the seventies (emphasis added)…

A major controversy erupted over transgender participation in the 1973 Gay Pride parade in New York City; there were shouting matches at the podium and a near brawl at the end of the march.  In San Francisco in 1973, a dispute over transgender inclusion led to the holding of two separate marches.

In the Pride parade battles, lesbian separatists were joined by more conservative gay men and lesbians, who found transgender people politically embarrassing, and feared that we would alienate straight allies and sympathetic politicians.  This was an early manifestation of what would become known as the “mainstreaming” political tendency in the post-Stonewall LGBT movement.

Similar clashes erupted over efforts to exclude transgender people from civil rights legislation.  There were efforts to exclude transvestites from coverage under New York City’s gay rights bill in the early `70s.

In Minnesota in the mid-’70s, the issue was fought out in the state legislature…

Whenever LGBT community leaders mention appearances in our community related to looking less “freaky” or “flamboyant,” and more “mainstream,” I get worried about my broader community dumping me and my trans peers out of the LGBT civil rights movement. When Lorri L. Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, says we need to worry about the public imagery of California’s same sex marriage ceremonies, and a gay hairstylist mentions how we don’t want pictures of “guys in gowns” to be available for use by those who are against marriage equality, I’m left remembering that male-to-female transsexuals, early in transition, usually don’t have “passing privilege” in their target sex. That there are more transgender women who are not particularly  photogenic than LGB people who are not photogenic leaves me deeply concerned about how civil rights for transgender people are tied pretty directly to how well transwomen pass as cissexual women.


Autumn Sandeen

Autumn Sandeen