Towards A New Strategy: ENDA, Marriage, And beating them at their own game.
These days, a few of you may know me from my occasional and typically infuriating comments here at PHB, or occasionally on Bilerico.
My name is Toni D'orsay. I am a multi-ethnic woman living in Phoenix, Arizona. Starting in late 2010, I will begin running for office here in Arizona — office in specific to be determined. I am also a transsexual, and while I am *not* an activist, I am an advocate.
The distinction is a fine one, as I see my role as an advocate more educational — both within and outside the queer/lgbt/whatever community — than political, although obviously a run for office will sorta change that.
I do not always see things the same way that the general leadership of much of the community does — at 44, I come from a different worldview and understanding of things than many of them.
I have talked in the past about strategy, about the way of doing things, and, given the general unrest regarding many of the current leadership's methods, I figure why not do the advocate thing and talk about possible changes.
I approach things with a focus on the Transgender side. I look at all of these issues as being trans issues because the majority of transfolk are also gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals. The straight one's like me are pretty rare, comparatively.
In looking at the big issues that loom in the future, the fights that matter the most, right now, in my opinion, are pretty wide ranging, and consist of 5 things:
- Recognition of Unity
- Non-discrimination in housing, employment, etc.
- The “Bathroom Issue”
- Health care issue resolution
- Marriage equality
Now, I realize that a lot of my cis queer/LGBT friends will be somewhat taken aback that I would list marriage as the last one, but I did say that I am informed through a transgender lens — there are gays and lesbians for whom marriage is worthless since they won't have a place to live or a job to pay for the license and rings.
After the break, I'm going to suggest some approaches to these issues that may not have been considered before, and that are actually inspired and informed by our very own enemies in this battle. To do so, I will explain some aspects of history that are often ignored or overlooked by the queer community (which is how I will refer to them going forward).
I hope that some of you will follow. I hope because it is not a short posting. Indeed, it is one of the longest political posts I've ever written in my life. Sorry I'm so wordy.
Problem One: Recognition of Unity.
Unity of everyone. You may have noticed I used queer.
I am fully aware that this word still has intense, painful emotional resonance with many of the older generations, but I find the term to be one of power because of the word's meaning over its connotation.
The word means someone who is different, odd, unusual, outside the normative patterns.
IT has been used as an epithet and something cruel flung at others and it has caused deep and lasting harm to some people.
But it *does* unite us — and any acronym merely fails to do that by perpetuating the differences (hence the phrases about “ignoring the T” or “drop the T” or, whatever), when if we are indeed going to work towards rights for all gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks we need to do so for the gay, lesbian, and bisexual transfolk as well.
You may note I don't include straights such as myself. Well, I have been informed several times that not only am I not welcome in queer only spaces, I'm not queer enough.
Which is ok — I get told by some feminists that I'm not a woman as well.
I get called all manner of things by people from the ethnic minorities to which I belong (all four, three by descent).
You get used to it after a while and you have a choice: you can either be a victim of such, or you can take it and turn it into your power.
I am not a victim. Indeed, I am the very monster they fear, the boogeyman of their dreams. And all they have to do is turn the light on to see I'm not near as scary in the day.
I do not live in a mindset of victimization. I am a victor, and I live in a mindset of get the hell outta my way or bow down to me.
Its an ego thing, and yeah, I'm working on it.
It is never “with me or against me” however — that's a victim's mindset.
I will use queer — for those of you for whom such is a painful issue, simply read your acronym or word of your choosing in its place for now.
The new strategies to achieve parity and quality are based on and working from the efforts of literally tens of thousands of previous activists — the old guard, so to speak — and the work being done even now by the new breed of community activists.
Thanks to the work of so many, the world today is not the one that was. In part this is because of the two movements that have come to dominate politics today:
The Reconstructionist Movement (RM) and the Queer/LGBT Rights Movement (QM).
The current incarnations of both began in the late 1960's, with unrest in their respective communities over the social fabric of the day. In the case of the RMs, they felt that the social fabric had moved outside of what they considered proper and moral, and this was based in strong part on biblical beliefs.
In the case of the QM, they saw that change was happening, and that f they stood up for themselves, they might be able to have recognition of what even to this day escapes them: their life, their liberty, and their pursuit of happiness.
Since that time — the last 40 years or so — the RMs have grouped, built internal support systems, linked with allies, established non governmental agencies, trained new leadership and helped them to enter into positions of authority and power. The did this primarily using the mainstream cultural systems and methods available.
Shortly before the Reconstructionists siezed control of the Republican party, they looked hard at the language and the messages of the mainstream party, and they co-opted them meat of such. “Fiscal conservatism' is not a hallmark of their greatest triumph (Bush 2) nor of their elected candidates. Yet that is the meme, the message, the concept that they used to shift the old party elite into a position of countering that they simply were not able to to adapt to.
The effect of this was felt halfway through Clinton's tenure in office, and while he can be dunned for signing DADT, it was that movement that created it, that seized party, and essentially gave him no political choice.
So the first step, which can be used to counter arguments like the bathroom, is to advertise. And to take a page from our opponents. This is much the same advice that many people involved in pragmatics and similar social sciences gave them — and make no mistake, and do not fall into the trap that so many of us do fall into:
These people are not stupid. They are not crazy. They are not unhinged. Their followers may be, but by and large, those wingnuts and farkwits are not the majority of whom they reach, because they are still carrying a mainstream message. They are still playing on the fears and ideas of people who generally don't care — and are motivated by fears, by ignorance, by whatever seems to touch on their rage.
Why do you think that so many of the loudest, most popular of their media kings are all so incredibly offensive — always so angry and upset and outraged? It is to create a mirror and provide a sense of peer respectability, because people will do what seems like the right thing when around people that think a certain way. Humans do that. Peer pressure is incredibly powerful.
They are *incredibly* smart, very sharp, highly funded (10 to 1 over us in 2005, 9 to 1 in 2007, likely 8 to 1 today in terms of dollars they have), and moved by people who know and have been a part of the system in ways that most Queer folk literally do not understand or comprehend and for a good reason: they have no need to.
The QM folk have done the same thing, although to a much lesser extent, as they use the countercultural systems and methods, with astounding success given that in so doing they are much more limited in resources. They have also been decimated by disease — the AIDS crisis killed off critical and instrumental leadership, and caused many times more damage to the movement than the Abramoff issues ever did for the RMs.
End effect, today, LGBT acceptance (not tolerance, but actual acceptance) is usually at or around the 40% mark. And this includes the one's that “people have the most trouble with” (the T for those of you wondering what was meant by that quote).
This makes queer folk mainstream. To a great extent, the ability to achieve that has been due in strong part to the recent (last 15 years or so) use of the QMs as a scapegoat by the RMs. Indeed, it was this use that revitalized much of the QM after the losses of the late 80's and early 90's.
The leadership today, however, is still stuck in the frame of mind where they use old arguments and methods that the majority of rank and file Queer people have long since abandoned, and they use methodology that fails because they do not recognize that Queer people are *effectively* mainstream.
The new stratagems that come out of this going forward must be mainstream ones, turning the tide on their opponents and forcing them into the countercultural methodology.
This means not merely that we continue to use new media and the force of the communications revolution (which the next wave of leadership understands incredibly well — far better than their supervisors), but that we also begin an unorthodox and desperately needed public relations campaign the likes of which has not been seen since, well, the mid 70's through mid 80's, when the Reconstructionists and their allies did it to us.
This is not cheap to do, however. This means creating effective campaigns that run at all times, for different purposes, and use new arguments that our opponents will not merely recognize, but that literally subvert theirs to our purposes. Take away their excuses, display their fears, and claim their message.
And people, one of the best ways to do that is to put transfolk upfront.
Yeah, really. Because we have a broader and wider reach than you do, positive and negative, and we include gay and lesbian and bisexual and straight and every ethnicity and everything from really butch women to really nelly men, pretty men and women, ugly men and women – the whole freaking works.
And besides, it will really throw the RM's cart all a kilter – suddenly they have to fight themselves, as we are a mirror of them as much as we are a mirror of the QMs.
Problem Two: Non Discrimination
From a trans perspective, we've watched gay, lesbian, and bisexual people hurled under the bus by a particular Gay man and an organization that has long claimed to speak for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.
They apparently didn't fit the mold expected by these people, and we find them speaking of 18 votes needed when they had enough sponsors for the bill already. They speak to education by these queer people who have been cast aside as inconvenient, and so while bitching at them, we have done exactly that and to a degree that is utterly astounding. In the last three years, there have been more programs and news stories on transgender lives (and, more specifically, on the tiny segment of transgender people known as transsexuals) than in all the previous 15 years combined.
And I'm not talking about the Jerry Springer sort of stuff. I'm talking serious stuff (I mean, wow — a hot transgal playing a hot transgal on broadcast prime time television? Unheard of!). Factor in the fluff and the exposure good and bad balloons to the most ever seen in 25 years. Indeed, the only time there's been this much coverage in the US was Christine Jorgenson's homecoming or Renee Richards' fight, and this is a hell of a lot more positive, comparatively.
(Oh, for those who say trans issues are “new” or “relatively new” (and yes, that's been here on PHB) Christine Jorgenson was in the 1950's, and Renee Richard's was in the early 1970's. That ain't new, and please do remember that the GLF was founded by transwomen, lesbians, and bisexuals as well.)
So while we've done what was asked of us, we haven't been doing one thing: we need to commercialize translives. There is a video making the rounds for the last couple years, that was produced by a south American bank, which features a transwoman being approached by one of her long time critics, who says that if the bank can give her a chance, he can.
Aw, how sweet. Its a poignant commercial that tugs at the heart strings. Well, we need to make on ourselves. HRC, GLAAD, Task force, whoever — get a crew, film the commercial. Film several versions of it. Hell, get me the money and I'll do it (poorly, I'm certain, as I suck at such).
Here's how it goes: Grocery store. Cashier is doing her best, its a hard day, she's working the line, looks up to smile at the next customer, doing her job. Its her neighbor, who has called her things like faggot, freak, etc. She *almost* loses her smile but puts in back on for him. he smiles back, tells her he's sorry for that — she works hard, and since she's doing such a great job here, he wants to know if she would be willing to go work for him in what he does. As he turns away, its revealed he's a pastor.
Do three variations of this — different ethnic combinations.
Run it in the DC market during ENDA.
If ENDA goes down, then focus on the local markets — hard core. Put everything you can, and run those commercials there, anywhere the local people get some sort of local ordinance running.
The other element is hey, transfolk: if your city doesn't have transprotections, start a voter initiative. Put it on the ballot. The cis queer folk are saying we aren't doing enough, or that we are riding on their coattails. You can change that yourselves. With a lot less risk than we had at Stonewall.
(Note to my cis bothers and sisters in the QM: you may wonder why you don't see transfolk at marches, in parades, out and about and shouting and generally making an annoyance of themselves. The reason is really simple: transfolk who go to jail suffer immeasurably more than any cis person, and although, yes, ethnicity can make this worse, its still basically the ultimately cruelty. Think of it this way: if the price was castration or mastectomy just for protesting, how likely would you be willing to go out?)
Yes, really transfolk. Stop thinking people hate you — for the most part, they don't care. 80% of the US thinks we should have those protections. So put that constant poll number to the test — go out and copy ENDA and put it into your next city election. All it takes is signatures. Give them what the bad guys say they always want: a chance to vote on it.
Take away their excuses. If they introduce a bill to block it, go sit on your legislators and find one to introduce your petition with a different title in there as well. There's going to be one that will eventually.
And, more than anything else, we absolutely must find, groom, shape, fund, and elect our own representation. QM candidate's, and, really, it doesn't matter what the party is, or, as many point out, even if you don't win (but dammit, win. I sure as hell will.), what matters is that you are out there. Look at how many unimaginably prejudiced candidates the RM's put forth in the last 30 years. If we put forth that many ourselves, we would also win a lot more often than they did.
Problem Three: The Bathroom Issue
This is one where we spend a lot of time fretting and whining and bitching and complain and not enough time thinking about it. Here, transfolk and their allies take a page from those other people who refuse to be transfolk (HBS, TGN, whatever):
The usual campaign methodology for the RM's is to run a television commercial that shows a young girl entering a restroom followed by a rather unsavory kind of guy.
This plays on two things: the idea of men as predators, and the old meme of Queer folk as child molesters.
So here's how you kick their hind ends. You get several transwomen together – say five or 10. They are lined up in their best clothing, dolled up (gotta remember, sex sells). Bluntly, you get what I hate to talk about but in this case it works: passable transwomen. I'm talking Candis Cayne.
They are standing in front of what might be the same restroom. They look at the camera, and they say:
“They are telling me that I have to use the men's restroom.” Talk real quick about how the argument is going – if the RM's are saying don't pass an anti discrimination measure then the line is “They say that they won't let me in the women's room.”
They then go in the men's room. And after the last one goes in, you send in two shady looking, scruffy guys.
And then start screams just as the commercial fades to black with the appropriate message.
Play that sucker everywhere.
Now, its just as important to get the other side: so you film the same commercial except with transmen going into the women's restroom and getting the crap kicked out of them.
Note – the transmen come out in a ragged, quick line being beaten by women who are not helpless, and indeed, the transmen should be properly bruised and such.
Lastly, a third one: You have that little girl from their ad go in. Followed by the bad guy from their ad. Then he comes running out as a transwoman (one fom the previous commercial) comes after him calling him a pervert and such.
Not that all three of these messages play to the same fears that are being played by the enemy. They carry the same sensibility, the same stupidity, the same horrifically misogynistic underlying message, and they steal the thunder from the whole bathroom concept, forcing the discourse into areas where we can not only win, but utterly cream them.
This not only kills their argument, it puts their full meme – the whole Queers are child molesters – on center stage and shows it for the lunacy it is.
Problem Four: Medical Services And Health Care
Bad news people: HIV is still very much a risk out there. And from a trans perspective, we have a very real need for competent and affordable health care since our very ability to “come out” is dependent on such.
That means that there are gay men, lesbians, and bisexual people out there who can't be themselves without adequate medical assistance – they can't even really come out of the closet.
And yet, although my saying so will annoy a lot of very dedicated activists who fear stigma, there is very simple solution that ultimately doesn't change their fight one bit, but makes damn sure that in the interim transfolk can get care.
That one little thing is a very simple change to the ADA. Indeed, its a minor change to a little itty bit of it:
Section 12211, A (which says that being LGB isn't a disability), and B1 (which says that the medically necessary coverage for transsexuals is excluded specifically). Just strike them.
For one, LGB shouldn't even be mentioned in that act – its put there for the specific purpose of insulting and demeaning and implying that its some sort of illness.
Jesse Helms put it there for that very purpose. Yes, that Jesse Helms.
And B1 because, well, to be blunt, if transfolk were covered under the ADA, everything else would suddenly get a LOT easier – including the bathroom argument.
No other changes need be made. But pass it, and suddenly housing and employment become something that is not as critical an issue, since it already covers them.
Which is pretty damned cool in my opinion, and I'll take it, despite being well along in my transition and supposedly passable, etc.
This one would rely on things like the AMA's statement, and more recent studies into causation and life impact on transyouth.
And it is that exemption that allows insurance companies to bypass treatment coverage, and since medical expenses are at the top of these gay, lesbian and bisexual people's lists, it would be making significant changes to metrics like the CEI.
IT would also put the reparative therapist Dr. Zucker, who is legally and ethically still allowed to use reparative therapy on gay children to make them straight, out of business in the US.
A lot of you may not have known that a highly respected and very professional therapist was raking in the bucks doing reparative therapy on gay youth. You probably also weren't aware of something called sissy boy syndrome, which is what he's dealing with and which is still listed as an issue in the DSM, although now they call it GID in Youth.
A lot of people don't realize that. Or that he's in charge of the very area that would allow him to expand this in the revision.
When transfolk say the fight is everyone's, we aren't kidding. We cannot fight for trans rights without fighting for gay rights.
We are not allied with you. You are allied with us. We just haven't all realized that yet.
So this is a critical change and affects the lives of many Queer folks.
Problem Five: Marriage Equity
I've talked about the new strategy for this before, and been pretty soundly ignored unless I do it in person.
So now I'm going to describe what I will say when, as a candidate, I am asked question regarding this.
To start with, I sorta hope that by the time I start my run, I am divorced. Note that I must get divorced in my state – Arizona – despite the state recognizing me as a female for the purpose of marriage. Which is interesting, given that my state recently put into effect an amendment specifically voiding same sex marriage – which is what I am currently in, and not only is it Legal, its legal at both the federal and state levels.
Yes, you heard correctly. Two women are legally married in the state of Arizona and it is recognized as such by the federal government. Last year's taxes were filed jointly – we got all those 1138 deals.
Seems pretty freaking unfair, doesn't it?
Well, it does to me, at least. Smacks of inequity.
Worse – neither of us are lesbians. And we've seen each other one time in the last 13 months.
Where is the equal treatment under the law in that?
When I run for office, and I am asked what my thoughts are on gay marriage, I will say this, precisely:
“I believe that in the united states, all of us have a right to kinship – to that very bond which forms families, and from which we derive things like citizenship, parentage, surnames, and thousands of rights and responsibilities, and I will work towards ensuring that all of us have the right to form our own bonds of kinship and create families.”
Notice that at no time did I use the word marriage. I spoke about something deeper than marriage – I spoke about the purpose of marriage, and it is that purpose that those 1138 rights are drawn from.
Now, a lot of you will see that as my suddenly saying that I do not support marriage equity – “gay marriage”, “same sex marriage”, whatever – it is all the same thing to me.
It is kinship.
Once in a great while, an article will bemoan the slow death of the gay ghetto. IT will speak to how our queer enclaves are not as queer, not as cheap, not as potent.
Why did they form? Why did we end up in small and tight pockets? Affordability of housing, often is what's said. But even that misses the real truth, the underlying truth.
We were, for 50 years, cast out of our families. We were stripped of our kinship. Sometimes we were told to change our names and move far away.
And for transfolk, that still happens. Now. Today. When you look at homeless youth, the percentage of transchildren is enormous.
Listen to your enemies. They literally say they will abuse their kids, they will take away their kinship, they will throw them out of the family, disown them.
Kinship is instrumental to the human condition. Kinship is what forms families. It is the bond of brothers, the idea of sisterhood, what makes a dad a dad and a mom a mom and a husband a husband and a wife a wife.
It is the heart and soul of the matter, and they want to deny it to us. They want to control what kinds of kinship we can have, what sorts of families we are allowed to found. They block adoption, they block marriage, they protest IVF and fertility treatments, they make jokes about turkey basters.
They hate the idea of us having what they took away from us. And they don't even realize it.
In the art of war, this is their blindspot. Their biggest, ultimate weakness, their utter failure.
And when one formulates a new strategy, one looks for such things. Now you know what it is.
Most people do not understand kinship. To them, kith and kin is a phrase easily tossed – and especially in the Queer community when we use metaphors for kinship to build alliance.
And we do that because one meme they use is very true: Family is the building block of society.
But kinship is the building block of family.
The new strategy needs to stop focusing on the word marriage, and more on what marriage is, and seek that. Indeed, it needs to avoid use of the word marriage.
By doing so, it takes away their biggest weapon in this fight, and that is the idea that religion determines what is and is not marriage. They can do that because of the same thing I spoke about earlier: fear, ignorance, and appeal to the mainstream.
The mainstream says they support civil unions. When you ask them what they mean by civil unions, they really do mean that kinship is included. They want our children to be our children.
But they want the word.
We don't need it.
If we talk about kinship, as well, we can reach beyond the whole religious thing, reach outside the Queer ethos, and touch inside the hearts and homes of every family in America.
We can show those commercials with same sex couples. We can hold our ceremonies and more.
But we must fight for kinship. And yet, there is no civil union or domestic partnership or other form of “not marriage” that provides kinship.
Even the California domestic partnership doesn't do so, and it specifically says it conveys everything the same as marriage. But it doesn't.
The other benefit is that this is a clean slate area. All the fights have been about marriage, not kinship, because people do not realize that that is what is created.
So when we fight for this, it won't matter if there are constitutional amendments, or state laws, or any of that.
I've written about this, as I said earlier, before. Here and many times in many places. So I won't go into it more, but This really is a much more effective argument, and I suspect it will have a much greater chance of success since they cannot argue with it.
They can be brazen, but they cannot deny fatherhood (the gay man playing ball with his son, and he looks to the camera and says – “and they want to tell me he's not my son?”). They cannot deny motherhood (the lesbian mother baking cookies for her son and daughter).
They can argue perversion and all manner of things, but no one wants to have their family taken from them. That's all we have. That's home.
They say they fight to preserve marriage, to preserve family – but if they are denying kinship, then they are denying family. And all we have to do is show that, and they lose.
Again, sorry this was so long, but its important, and I wanted to describe a much broader range of attack than has been done previously. Since its so long, I know most won't read it (we like our bite size chunks), but those sound bite sized posts don't always get to the truth.
(crossposted at my own blog, and distribution by transgender individuals is allowed)