CommunityPam's House Blend

Was That Peter LaBarbera Or Ronald Gold Posting That Antitrans Sentiment On Bilerico?

NOTE FROM PAM: It was late into the day yesterday when I finally read the Ronald Gold piece at The Bilerico Project, and the resulting fallout was well under way. I waited for Autumn to compose her reactions for readers; I asked to  share this space in her post to include my reaction (it’s below the fold). I wanted our thoughts to be together to preserve and unite trans and ally reaction to this incident.

NOTE 2 FROM PAM: You have to read this fantastic post by Dr. Jillian Weiss, “Transphobia In the Gay Community.”

If a whole bunch of trans people tell you that your words are transphobic, they’re right.

~Alison Robinson

On so many levels, I dislike negatively commenting on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) inclusive publications and blogs that are generally friendly to trans people, but now have engaged in some sort of “anti-______ sentiment” — especially antitrans sentiment. Roz Kaveney's six axioms of trans activismI also don’t like commenting on LGBT organizations in a negative way  — I like to get in contact with the organization first, and see what their response will be to the something I find to be expressing “anti-______ sentiment.”

And, I expect to see some mistakes; we’re human, and that means we’re prone to make mistakes. Sometimes, we don’t know when we’re expressing “anti-______ sentiments,” and we have to engage in mea culpas after learning of our mistakes. Gawds know I learned some lessons related to making public mistakes during the weeks of the cissexual/cisgender discussion on our site that turned viral — I blew it big time, and had to eat lots of crow.

So, I don’t jump on people in a vacuum; I try to treat my LGBT peers with the same deference that I’d like to be treated with. I remember what it was to have felt that like the whole trans community was against me. So remembering the humanity of myself and others, I’m less willing these days to get on my soapbox and say something bad about people and organizations I consider part of the LGBT community — those others that are just as human as I am.

Bayard RustinSo that out of the way, let me again quote that Bayard Rustin quote from my personal mission statement — the quote that oddly was the subject of yesterday’s Q Of The Day:

“[T]he job of the gay community is not to deal with extremists who would castigate us or put us on an island and drop an H-bomb on us. The fact of the matter is that there is a small percentage of people in America who understand the true nature of the homosexual community. There is another small percentage who will never understand us. Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Nor was our aim in the civil rights movement to get prejudiced white people to love us. Our aim was to try to create the kind of America, legislatively, morally, and psychologically, such that even though some whites continued to hate us, they could not openly manifest that hate. That’s our job today: to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay sentiment.”

Bayard Rustin; From Montgomery to Stonewall (1986)

There is an example of horrid antitrans sentiment that was posted on a blog I previously considered very trans-friendly: Bilerico. The post in question was written by Ronald Gold — and Ron Gold is no gay slouch. A short bio from Queer By Choice:

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. In his article “Morality and Homosexuality: Gays Must Take Up the Affirmative Argument,” which is reprinted with his permission on Frank Aqueno’s Queer by Choice website, Ron Gold writes that when queer people hear homophobic remarks, “we must stop answering that we’re proud of who we are, but anyway we can’t help it. We must declare the truth: We have made a moral choice.” …

Apparently now, Ronald Gold is taking his moral choice argument, and applying it in the negative. From his first piece as a Bilerico contributor comes a piece entitled ‘No’ To The Idea Of Transgender.

Gold begins his piece at Bilerico by engaging in offensive stereotyping of trans people, and functions as a trans people and community denier:

What is transgender? Well, there are two sorts who seem to be covered by the name, the drag kings and queens so good at portraying cartoon imitations of straight people, and transsexuals, the folks who report that from an early age they’ve felt themselves trapped in the wrong bodies. Despite the equipment they were born with that belies their assertions, they say they are really men or really women.

What does it mean to be really a man or a woman? Since it’s not about genitalia, it must be about personality, and what, one asks, is a male or a female personality? Ronald Gold: 'No' To The Idea Of TransgenderEven straight people nowadays concede that some men are the warm, loving type that used to be thought exclusive to women, and some women are the strong, action-oriented sort that used to be thought exclusive to men. And lesbians and gay men have always known that people of the same gender can be very different from each other. Isn’t it true that those we form mated relationships with are always complementary – even polar opposites – to ourselves?

Let me state it categorically. There is no such thing as a male or female personality. Personality is not a function of gender.

So where does that put the concept of transgender? In my view, down the tubes! And that leaves the further questions of how “transsexuals” got to think the way they do, and what to do to resolve their dilemmas. I hope I’ll be forgiven for rejecting as just plain silly the idea that some cosmic accident just turned these people into changelings. What happened, more than likely, is that, from an early age, when they discovered that their personalities didn’t jibe with what little boys and girls are supposed to want and do and feel, they just assumed they mustn’t be real little boys and girls.

Genderqueers, crossdressers, gender fluid people, and female-to-male trans folk don’t exist in Ronald’s dichotomy of trans experience — the dichotomy that only includes parodies of women and deluded male-to-female transsexuals.

Just to make sure that those who think Mr. Gold isn’t including those who subscribe to the concepts of Harry Benjamin Syndrome — or perhaps identify as a classic transsexual or a woman of transsexual history — Ronald Gold says this about genital reconstruction surgery (emphasis added):

As for adults struggling with what to do about their feelings, I’d tell them too to stay away from the psychiatrists – those prime reinforcers of sex-role stereotypes – and remind them that whatever they’re feeling, or feel like doing, it’s perfectly possible with the bodies they’ve got. If a man wants to wear a dress or have long hair; if a woman wants short hair and a three-piece suit; if people want romance and sex with their own gender; who says they can’t violate these perfectly arbitrary taboos? A short historical and cross-cultural survey should establish that men and women have worn and done all sorts of stuff. I recall reading something by Jan Morris in which it seemed that he thought he needed a sex change because he wanted men to hold doors open for him and kiss him goodbye at train stations. For starters, I’d have told him that I’ve had these nice things happen to me and I’ve still got my pecker.

Basically, Ronald Gold is telling transsexual women that our female gender identities are illusion — biology is destiny. He assumes crossdressers are essentially the same thing as drag queens, and horribly he doesn’t acknowledge genderqueer and female-to-male trans folk even exist.

I am very much aware that Mr. Gold is an activist of historic proportions for the gay and lesbian portion of the LGBT community, but Mr. Gold has definitely not stayed with the times — he’s a very much a transphobic, transmisogynistic dinosaur in our community’s civil rights movement.

Described in a more snarky way, Ronald Gold’s views on trans people strikes me as being in the same vein as religious right loons — Ronald Gold seem now to be the Ronald McDonald of Bilerico LGBT contributors. Gold’s views are as clownishly evil as James Hartline, Mike Hein, or Peter LaBarbera, and his attitude towards trans people reminds me of that former manager at the Orlando McDonalds who called a 17-year-old, African-American trans woman a “f—–t.” Yeah, the Ronald McDonald of Bilerico LGBT contributors seems to fit.

And, that Bilerico Editor-in-Chief Bil Browning gave Mr. Gold a forum for his vile and hateful piece is beyond the pale. When the piece originally posted, they had no comment on the piece indicating the piece was an opposition piece, and not in alignment with their editorial viewpoints and their terms of service agreement. Someone at Bilerico then put up this header:

Editors’ Note: All posts published on Bilerico Project do not reflect the opinions of nor any endorsement by the Editorial Team. Many Bilerico readers and contributors have found Ronald Gold’s op-ed offensive or needlessly coarse. The idea behind Bilerico Project is to encourage dialogue among different facets of the LGBT community that might normally never interact this intimately. We encourage all readers to continue responding to Mr. Gold in the same spirit his post was written – with positive intent while bluntly stating your own opinion and experiences.

Positive intent? POSITIVE INTENT??? It’s unconscionable that Bilerico gave a voice to Gold’s bigotry at any point in time, but it’s especially questionable timing to post that vile bigotry when ENDA is being discussed. The disclaimer above the piece is completely inadequate as there was absolutely zero positive intent in the post. To me, everything about Bilerico posting this horrid and vile piece is an Epic FAIL.

And by the way, remember that Gold’s bio includes a reference to being a founding member of The Task Force? When I inquired, this is the response I received from Inga Sarda-Sorensen — Director of Communications National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

The [Bilerico] post in question in no way represents the perspectives of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, nor was its author serving as a representative of, or spokesperson for, the Task Force. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is fully committed to transgender equality, which we work for every day at the local, state and federal levels.

Good to hear.

I know more than one trans person, by the way,  is making the ENDA connection to Bilerico’s editorial choices as of late. From Jayna L-Pavlin of Trans-Ponder:

“Bilerico has in my opinion served as an extension of certain movement leaders wanting the blog discourse steered a certain way in exchange for exclusive content and continued political good will. It feels as though we, the LGBT community, are being softened for a potential ENDA shakeup.

Bilerico’s has made an editorial choice to, in essence, endorse Gold’s posting that disenfranchises transsexual women as inauthentic and considering other such articles such as Pedro Serrano’s statement that Jorge was dressed as a woman but has nothing to do with trans people and is an ‘authentic’ gay male. We have seen this tag before and it feels as though as of late its being given prominence, which is questionable timing.”

This post by Ronald Gold could have relevance to ENDA, I’m sure. We have religious right wingnuts like Lou Sheldon, Andrea Lafferty, Peter LaBarbera, and Matt Barber arguing against trans existence and transgender civil rights — now we have a historic gay activist arguing in the same vein against trans existence.

My message is this: I exist. I am transgender; I am transsexual. My peers and my civil rights are important. I refuse to let journalistic and intellectual attacks on my subcommunity of the LGBT community go unanswered — we can have and keep the moral high ground.

So, I will confront antitrans sentiment where I can, even when it’s expressed at an LGBT blogsite on which I’ve previously posted articles. I don’t like doing that, but I believe it’s practically required of me. We deserve better in the LGBT community than what Ronald Gold just served up to us with the blessings of Bilerico‘s editoral staff.

It’s Time to Draw a Line in Our Movement’s Sand

Now that Autumn has shared her POV about Ronald Gold’s fact-challenged and cruel piece, as well as the editorial decision to publish it, I wanted to put my thoughts down about this depressing event.

When I surfed over to read Gold’s now-deleted post, I was aghast at the topic and the approach taken — if his goal was to dismiss and demean the trans community, it has succeeded beyond all imagination. What’s amazing is this was published on a blog that has seen its fair share of trans-wars (something Autumn and I know all too well, as she mentioned); Gold took a flamethrower onto the subject of trans identity and turned it into alternately a delusion, or something to be dismissed and severed from the LGB community.

Of course, editorially speaking, Bil Browning and his ed team concluded that Gold’s approach and observations would generate productive discussion; they rolled the dice and we see the result — there’s not much to say about that since Bil did own the final decision to publish.

When it’s is your pad and it’s your decision to provide a platform for a truly broad spectrum of voices — even those you believe are controversial or even harmful to a part of the community – that’s one editorial tack to take. It can lead to bad decisions or ones that turn out not to be a big deal in terms of fallout.

I’ve run plenty of posts that I’ve not agreed with personally and I felt deserved debate, but given that the trans community is under such great siege by the right wing fundamentalists and haters at levels LGBs cannot begin to understand, I’ve felt that ethically I’m not able to post tripe like Gold’s and be able to claim a reputation as a bridge builder within our community. We have so many stress points within that to ratchet up the heat and hurt, particularly in the trans community given the proximity to the Mike Penner/Christine Daniels tragedy, that there isn’t any way to roll the Gold flap back now.

I would never tell any blog editor what they can or can’t publish, but when you do tread on a difficult topic, I always include an above-the-fold introduction that at the very least would help readers understand what the editorial thought was and put it into context, and to take that responsibly up front.

Without that, TBP Ronald Gold Express ran off of the rails. The explanation after the blow-up was successful on one front because responsibility was immediately taken, but the assessment that there was positive intent in Gold’s demeaning elimination of the T from LGBT was like throwing gasoline on a house burning down. Knowing what it feels like to be in an editorial inferno, any decision you end up making will piss off some group of those already angry. And today it came to this:

The Bilerico Project editorial team has unanimously decided to remove Ronald Gold’s contributor status and have taken down his previous post from the site. We regret that his words have caused so much hurt to so many in our community.

We appreciate all of the heartfelt responses and shared concerns about the post. This is only the third time a post has been removed from the site since the Bilerico blog started over five years ago; it is not something we take lightly.

We are very proud of our record of trans inclusion and participation and would never intentionally seek to harm anyone. We let you down this time and it won’t happen again.

Was removal of the post the right decision? I don’t know; probably so, but an argument can be made that Mr. Gold actually provided our movement with a line in the sand with his essay.

We have a big problem in our community — elements of it are not prepared to embrace or defend trans folk as a part of the movement, and Ronald Gold is surely not alone in his opinion. I’m sure he has shared that opinion with peers who agree, otherwise why would he have, without hesitation, publish hateful, irrational refuse for public consumption? It’s sad and shocking to see this manifestation of the problem, particularly in light of the ENDA debacle that brought out the worst in way too many gay men who shared their truth — throwing our transgender brothers and sisters under the bus to pass a trans-free ENDA was not a problem for them. And its still not a problem for Gold, since trans people are delusional and just need to get with the program.

I wonder how Gold explains the phenomenon of young children expressing gender variant behavior quite naturally, expressing themselves in a way that shows they are in touch with the fact that their bodies don’t match how they feel inside. Do these children, unexposed to trans folk, not exist for Gold?

These disconnects within the LGBT community about whether the T segment of it even exists as a group entitled to equal protection under the law is vile, and as I said, depressing. How can we fight the anti-trangender lobby when we have such ignorance and bigotry in our own house that is enabled and given voice as a legitimate position to debate? We have to draw a line in the sand — not whether to censor the opinion (that will always be debated), but are we willing to address a core problem of this movement, not how it manifests itself? I don’t have to think twice about whether the T belongs in LGBT; oppression is oppression. That’s an easy call. All or nothing on ENDA.

What I cannot fathom is erasure and dehumanizing as a debatable point in our community with ENDA  moving forward next year.


Further Reading:

* Bil Browning at Bilerico: My Responsibility: The difference between “challenging” and “offensive”

* En / Gender: Ronald Gold Just Hasn’t Met the Right Woman

* Peterson Toscano’s A Musing: Calling all Transgender Allies (Yes YOU!)

* Erica Keppler: An New Perspective on Mr. Gold’s Post

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Autumn Sandeen

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