For the past three weeks some gay men have publicly offended, marginalized, and misrepresented transgender issues and individuals. I have written about some of that mess here: Remembering Jorge while Forgetting what Binds Us. People have been at work publicly and behind the scenes to speak directly to the gay men responsible for words and actions that serve to break down community rather than build it.
The Bilerico Project, a blog that attempts daily experiments with LGBTQ issues, offered a truly failed experiment in the form of a post by Ron Gold, a new contributor to the site. Ron comes with an impressive CV in queer activism. According to one site,
Ron Gold was one of the five original founders of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in the USA, and he was the driving force behind the movement that got the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of “mental illnesses” in 1973.
That's great stuff, and as a gay man, based on that information alone, Ron would stand out as a hero to me. But in his first post at Bilerico Project, No, to the Notion of Transgender, he instead takes the role of an uninformed and insensitive critic of transgender issues and individuals. He uses language that demeans the transgender experience and is outright offensive. Now perhaps Ron attempted to offer a post-modern philosophical musing about the nature of identity and that our idea of gender arises in part from a social construct, (something that Rikki Wilchens does expertly in the book Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer.) In his blog post, Ron failed miserably.
Instead he reinforced the long experienced expectation that non-transgender gay men do not get it and instead go out of their way to denigrate and bully transgender people. As more than one commenter to Ron's blog post stated, with allies like that who needs enemies.
A new friend, Abby from Arizona, an intelligent lawyer with a delicious wit, first brought Ron's Bilerico piece to my attention through a tweet she made to the site.
As I waited in the lobby of the Hartford Health Collective for my regular check up, I read on my phone the many comments that people posted in a very short time. I appreciated the directness and the clarity of many of the comments as well as the willingness of some people to share their experiences, perhaps in hopes that narrative will help some people like Ron to “get it.” I have found many transgender people like Abby express themselves brilliantly and advocate for themselves expertly. Mercedes Allen, a bisexual transsexual in a lesbian relationship who contributes to Bilerico Project wrote a post in response Thank You For Flying Bilerio Airlines and provides links to other responses. Even so, everyone benefits from allies. I was glad to see some non-trans (cisgender) folks also comment to denounce the post and announce their support of transgender people.
When I got home last night, I posted the following comment,
Yikes! This is an outrageously offensive & misinformed post.
Like you I am a non-transgender gay guy, and I strongly disagree with the content of your blog post. You messed up big time. Perhaps these many comments will serve as a wake-up call. Hopefully you will not react defensively. Rather I hope you reflect, read, listen. Some. The work of being an ally means we will get it wrong. We will get corrected. We will need to educate ourselves, listen deeply and educate ourselves some more. Think of the clumsy ill-informed gay allies you may have met in your early gay days. Clueless and uneducated allies can make a mess.
But then maybe you don't even wish to be an ally to transgender people. Perhaps you want to correct people with experiences different from your own, to sort them out like the reparative therapists tried to sort us gay guys out. Perhaps you learned that trick from our oppressors. It's time to learn some new tricks. Start by listening deeply, then listen some more.
Ron's blog post at Bilerico Project hurts a lot of people, and not just their feelings, although that pain should not be minimized. His words can injure community and the often tentative ties between trangenger people and non-transgender people who stand in clumps under the broad and often leaky LGBTQ umbrella. But it doesn't have to end with hurt and further breakdown of community.
Over on a Facebook note, Michael Eric Brown of TransMentors International offers support to transgender people who have been negatively affected by the Bilerico post. He writes,
Mr. Gold’s posting has brought out a myriad of emotions in all of us, and has affected not only the trans-identified community, but also those who are our true allies (some who are gay, lesbian, bi or hetero-identified).
Some are angry (livid even), some have begun the descent into depression. Some are losing faith in the activism and advocacy work they’ve been involved in, thinking “What’s the use? It’s a lost cause.”
What's the use? It's a lost cause. I have felt that myself around the inclusion of lesbians and gays in the church. I have felt it in regards to activism to counter the lies and damage perpetuated by the Ex-Gay Movement.
I have grown weary and discouraged when someone who I thought was an ally took a potshot or totally misrepresented the work some of us carefully built over time. At those times straight friends like Auntie Doris and members of my Quaker meeting and colleagues like Fran, Jen, Steve and Christina from the Watkinson School and my sister Maria and my US Marine Bronx-raised Dad and others encouraged me, told me that it is not in vain, reminded me that I am not alone. They let me know they stand with me–allies.
And I know that in the past year I have met MANY non-transgender lesbian, gay and bisexual queer folks who stand with their transgender friends and the transgender community. I think of Brian in New York and Jane in Washington State and Sharon in London and Suzy in Maryland and Christine in Colorado and Doug in Oregon and Doris in Vancouver and Tim in Tennessee and many many more.
I ask fellow allies to take a moment to write a comment of support for your transgender friends and the transgender community. What have you learned from knowing transgender folks? How has your life been enriched? Log in your support.