This is the third and final part of a series of essays on self-described transsexual anti-defamation activist Ashley Love. Part one of this series explains why I’ve written, and why I’m posting this series of essays.
[W]e were enraged when transgender activist Ashley Love expressed her support for Get Equal in private communication with us. Of course she saw our post the following day in which we referred to her enthusiasm about the org as calling them the BFF friends of the Transgender community. That’s not true. She didn’t say those words. Nor did she say Robin McGehee was mother Jesus. Those were our words. Love just expressed her support of the org.
~Derrick Mathis, from Renwl‘s Justa Bunch Of Gay Guys Sittin’ Around Talkin’ Transgender Exclusion (January 3, 2011)
Despite Derrick Mathis stating that Ashley Love is a transgender activist, she isn’t a transgender activist; Ashley Love doesn’t identify as transgender. In fact, she has expressed some disparaging thoughts about transgender people, as well as transgender activists, in declaring that she’s transsexual, and not transgender.
First on Love identifying as transsexual, but not transgender: In January of 2010, Love posted comments in a comment thread for a The Scavenger, entitled Don’t Call Me Transgender. Love crossposted that The Scavenger article by Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, ND onto her Facebook page as well. Love states the following within the comment thread of the crossposted article:
When I say they the term “transsexual” I do not mean someone who had had medical surgery, or even hormones. I mean someone who identifies as a gender that does not align with their sex assigned at birth- meaning a person who does… identifu with the binary, and feels they were born with a birth defect. The “criteria” for transexual was only uplifted after crossdresser Virginia Prince coined the term “transgenderist” (where we got transgender from). I am woman regardless of my anatomy, and that’s why I identify as woman, or for a medial term, as a transsexual woman. I feel trannsexual people are being denied the dignity of their identities by the umbrella term (and history of) transgender. I agree that misunderstanding goes both ways, but I feel transsexual people are very much oppressed in this new age of gender queer and 3rd gender politics, and this unfair umbrella called transgender, where heterosexual men with sexual fetishes have the pleasure of being in the same space of women who were born with birth challenges, and have nothing in common with these CD men, except the fact that the establishment has caged them together. The non LGBT detractors of our community, like the religious right, like that TS women are associated with Crossdressing men formally and publiclly, for it strips TS women of their identies as women in the media and in society, and provokes the whole “men in womens bathroom” scare tactic that blocks the integration of TS women into mainstream society. We all dont live in San Francisco, and do not have the luxory or even the desire of alternative communties. This DR has done a great service by writing this article, for many TS woman who identify as women feel that their idenities are being acknowledged, and this is a healthy conversation that many in our community refuse to have, especially publically. I have yet to see any Eexec Directors of non profits weigh in here. Being PC is hurting some in our community, and uplifting others. This article will spark a lot of dialogue, and thank God and equality for that!
In the comment thread of the original posting of the O’Keefe article, Love states this:
What some label as “too aggressive” I see as “unediting”. What some here label as “angry”, I see as “impassioned to affirm one’s OWN idenity.” And that’s really what this comes down too- All Dr O’Keefe is doing is affirming her own expression, and in doing so, she is also clearing up some of the ill concieved notions that come with being chained to CD/TV men, which sexualizes transsexed/interssex/gender born gender people, instead of humanizing them. I applaud Dr O’Keefe for not promoting political correctness BS, which has been a weapon that has been used to control minorities for decades. Many women and men who were born with birth challenges stand behind Dr O’Keefe- and her essay has added to the revolution that many have been praying for for years. People may try to dismiss O’Keefe efforts as “divisive” “destructive” and “angry”- but the truth is that she is giving voice to the minorities within the unfairly diverse “transgender” umbrella. I wish more “experts” would stop with their “fetish” of misclassifying men and women who were born with birth challenges.
Those statements by Love could explain why at this point she would separate transgender from transsexual in her Blogger biography (emphasis added):
Ashley Love is a woman born with chromosomical and anatomy diversity (which transpired into a medical condition), and is an advocate for LGBT humanity. Ashley is a poet, novelist, activist, journalist, host, media specialist, film maker and spoken word performer. She is the Organizer of Media Advocates Giving National Equality to Transsexual & Transgender People (MAGNET). MAGNET is an anti-defamation organization dedicated to educating the media about transsexual and transgender issues, as well as pushing for more authentic and positive portrayals of trans people in the media.
From what I know of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) identified community activists I work with on community issues, as well as trans community activists working on trans specific issues, Love’s division of transgender and transsexual issues is an outlier viewpoint on community activism. In fact, if Love’s viewpoint on community division were widely accepted by trans community activists, that approach to activism would impede passing federal, state, and local legislation, developing governmental regulation, and business adoption of antidiscrimination policies that protect trans people based on gender identity and gender expression. One can’t protect the gender expression of transsexual people without protecting the gender expression of genderqueer people and crossdressers as well. The common interest in protecting the gender expression of feminine men (to include feminine gay men), masculine women (to include masculine lesbian women), and people who fall under the transgender umbrella is probably the most important impetus for why trans community activism exists. And because gender expression isn’t just a transgender issue — for example, school bullying of feminine males because there is an assumption an feminine male is gay, and school bullying of masculine females because there is an assumption that a masculine female is lesbian — gender expression is a broader LGBT community issue. Love’s viewpoints on division of community is dangerous because it’s based on differences between one individual’s identity and another individual’s identity — instead of being based on the commonalities between individuals. It’s advantageous for broader communities to focus on people’s commonalities because that builds community, and broad communities create opportunity for solving common community issues for the broadest range of community members — for the broadest range of human beings who all deserve freedom, equality, and justice.
I very much understand that not every transsexual person identifies as a transgender community member, and not every transgender identified community member is a transsexual person. I very much understand that transgender is a sociopolitical community based on gender variance, which is why the term transgender is described as an umbrella term for subgroups — subgroups which include transsexual people, genderqueer people, and crossdressers who align themselves under a transgender umbrella. We each are afforded the opportunity in life to self-identify in a manner that suits each individual best.
But, there is a cost to dividing based upon differences instead of uniting based upon commonalities. Looking at the manner in which Love linguistically separates transsexual from transgender, she’s communicated that there is such a vast difference between transsexual and transgender identified people that there are no people who identify as both transsexual and transgender. Yet according to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation‘s (GLAAD’s) Media Reference Guide, the definition of transgender is this:
An umbrella term (adj.) for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers and other gender-variant people. Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF). Use the descriptive term (transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, FTM or MTF) preferred by the individual. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.
Transgender and transsexual are not binary identities with no overlap. Frankly, I can’t think of any effective transsexual activist that I personally have met that doesn’t identify as both transsexual and transgender.
And in separating transgender and transsexual into a non-overlapping binary with no overlap, Love has derided people who identify as transgender. She has associated the transgender identity as the identity of fetish crossdressers, and not the identity of transsexual people. Three examples of this viewpoint of Love’s are found in the comment thread the O’Keefe article found at The Scavenger:
I notice that some of the most militant oponents of trannsexual/intersex/gender born gender people in the transgender umbrella are male born individuals who later identify as transgender or GQ or CD (& who lived life with white male privilige, either as gay men, or heterosexual men.) They seem unable to understand things from a woman feminist’s point of view, or from a woman of color’s point of view, or from the view of a person who always knew they were the gender they are, or present in the world as they identify.
There is a problem with the phonics in the term “transgender” that confuses non LGBT people into thinking all trans people evolved from one gender to another, or are both, etc. While this may true for many in our community, it is not true for others. And this is where there is a problem. Language is very influential in educating. When Virginia Prince publicly voiced his disdain for transsexual women, and opted for the term “transgender”, the identities and progress transsexual women and men had worked so hard for became overshadowed by the new crossdresser movement. I do not believe that just because people “wear dresses” that it means they are “family”. Attaching heterosexual men of privilege who have fetishes of wearing women’s clothes to women who have woman gender identity serves the CD community, but sexualizes and stigmatizes TS people. That is where one of the most dangerous misconceptions about transsexual and trans women is founded. I cant turn on the TV without Hollywood referring to CD men as TS women, and this is an attack on our humanity and leaves a stigma that we have not been able to shake, which leads to hate crimes, homeless trans people, unemployment, no healthcare, etc, etc, etc
And in that same comment thread, she makes several more comments on transgender identified people she considers fetishists:
[More below the fold.]
A transsexual woman affirming her identity and countering miseducation and false labels that she does not agree with does not make her an “elitist”- it makes her a woman excersing her right of free speech, and she is entitiled to talk about the stigma she feels by being confused as someone who has a sexual fetish- or her right to say she is women and not a 3rd gender.
…[Transsexual people] prefer not to deal or support the stigma that comes with the way the establishment cages TS women with fetishists and/or those who would strip them of thier identity and sexualize or misclassify them.
TS women will not lie on their backs in silence just do crossdressing men can feel like part of the “girls club”, though to them it’s really just a kinky sexual fetish.
Again, the women identified women in the extremely diverse trans umbrella deserve the right to be heard, understood, humane treatment and the pursuit of happiness and with dignity. All these attacks on transsexual, transexed, intersex and/or women identified women/men identified men as “eltisist” and “hiding” is propganda, misuderstanding and fear of these women and men who feel they born with birth challenges, and a violation of their human rights. I also feel this practice of trying to silence trans women is a product of the patriarchy to degrade and sexualize femininity, place a dehumanizing stigma on these women so they will be ostracized, and I think the far religious rights is happy that these women are under the attack of the “men in the women’s bathroom” scare tactic. TS women will not lie on their backs in silence just do crossdressing men can feel like part of the “girls club”, though to them it’s really just a kinky sexual fetish. And TS women do not have to sign a contract saying they are a 3rd gender, if they themselves know THEY ARE WOMEN!…Transvestite Virginia Prince hated TS women, so why in hell would I sumbit to the term “transgender” that he coined! I find that repulsive, mysogonistic and heartbreaking…Please stop thinking of only yourselves, and consider what our spirits know to be true. It’s best if people accept that it was inevitable that the ts and intersex communities would eventually stand up and shake off these cages enforced on us. We are busting out of these cocoons that Virginia Prince and the establishment has wraped us in, and we are spreading our butterfly wings and flying to a place where we can identify our own truths, and it’s a good thing, so please stop sexually harassing us!
Virginia Prince created a term that’s not in use much anymore — “transgenderist.” Prince took credit for creating the term “transgender” because the term transgender developed out of the term “transgenderist” Yet, the term transgender isn’t defined in the way Prince defined transgenderist at all. The term transgenderist is defined in detail here, but in short the term is referring to crossdressers who still identify with their natal sex, but who dress and live full time in clothing associated with the opposite sex; transgenderists present as one sex, but identify as another. Transgender, as defined by GLAAD and transgender identified people, isn’t a synonymous term to transgenderist.
But, it’s not just the transgender identity that Love derides as transgenderist identity, but she also has taken to deriding transgender activists whom she apparently doesn’t consider to be true transsexuals. This statement is also from that same The Scavenger article thread:
I feel some folks allow their “egos” to get involved because of “all the hard work they have done to promite transgendre” as the man-date– and it’s selfish to ignore the minoritie’s needs in our community.
“Man-date” — she literally, and not figuratively, stated that transgender identified activists have a “man-date.”
Love also uses the term “gender born gender” — which sounds very similar in concept to lesbian separatist “women-born-women” language used by organizers of the Michigan Womyns Music Festival to exclude transsexuals. It appears to me that Love is using “gender born gender” in a similar manner — to exclude transgender identified people from those she considers to be in her community family. From the crossposted O’Keefe article comment thread:
Furthermore, I notice that some of the most militant oponents of trannsexual/intersex/gender born gender people in the transgender umbrella are male born individuals who later identify as transgender or [genderqueer] or [crossdressers] (& who lived life with white male privilige, either as gay men, or heterosexual men.) They seem unable to understand things from a woman feminist’s point of view, or from a woman of color’s point of view, or from the view of a person who always knew they were the gender they are, or present in the world as they identify.
She has grouped late transitioning transsexual people (transsexual people who transition later in life, as compared to early transitioning transsexual people who transition in or before their early twenties) with genderqueer people and crossdressers under the transgender umbrella. It’s quite true that late transitioning transsexual people, genderqueer people and crossdressers can self-identify sociopolitically with the transgender identity, and therefore would be members of transgender community. Love; however, frames that grouping as an unholy alliance of those who are working in direct opposition to the interests to a perceived community of intersex and early transitioning transsexual people.
…Language is very influential in educating. When Virginia Prince publicly voiced his disdain for transsexual women, and opted for the term “transgender”, the identities and progress transsexual women and men had worked so hard for became overshadowed by the new crossdresser movement. I do not believe that just because people “wear dresses” that it means they are “family”. Attaching heterosexual men of privilege who have fetishes of wearing women’s clothes to women who have woman gender identity serves the CD community, but sexualizes and stigmatizes TS people. That is where one of the most dangerous misconceptions about transsexual and trans women is founded. I cant turn on the TV without Hollywood referring to CD men as TS women, and this is an attack on our humanity and leaves a stigma that we have not been able to shake, which leads to hate crimes, homeless trans people, unemployment, no healthcare, etc, etc, etc
Language is influential in educating others in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and broader society, and Love is educating others in and out of community how she wishes them to hold transgender identified people — especially transgender identified activists that she describes as “militant.” She wants those in the LGB portion of LGBT community, as well as those in broader society, to hold transgender activists in low regard.
Outside of the comment threads for the O’Keefe article, Love has made other derogatory statements about transgender people and activists. She posted a comment from an article thread that I referred to in part two of this series of articles which she clearly agreed with:
Millitant transgenderists are guilty of paradigmal piracy. The point being that it has taken years for transsexualism to be understood and accepted, then a bunch of people are storming the gates purporting to be transsexual because the stigma appears to be breaking away. Transgenderism is a legitimate lifestyle, but it’s very unethical to simply annex transsexualism and colonize it just to build your numbers for the sake of activism.
I’m not sure where the idea originated that transgender activists have unethically annexed transsexualism to colonize and build numbers for the sake of activism — frankly, I believe in the transgender model for activism because I believe all who are express gender in ways that don’t conform to societal sex and gender norms deserve protection under the law. That includes crossdressers, genderqueer people, and transsexual people, and these are all subgroups of people that fall under the transgender umbrella.
She has of late begun to refer to some trans people as “Transgender Inc.” and “toms.” In a Facebook posting from December 2, 2010, Love highlights a BBC News article, entitled Transsexual Gene Link Identified:
Sorry Transgender Inc, transsexualism IS NOT a “gender, clothes preference, gender queer activist lifestyle” as you propagate: its an actual medical condition and birth challenenge, so please stop bullying us with your appropriation, we are not drag queens or cross dresser fetishists.
She then went to partially quote a paragraph from the BBC News article:
Co-author Professor Vincent Harley added: “There is a social stigma that transsexualism is simply a lifestyle choice, however our findings support a biological basis of how gender identity develops.”
Again, Love organized an organization that she states is battling anti-defamation of “transsexual and transgender people” — but in quoting an article comment about stigma against transsexual people, she appears to be engaging in the stigmatizing of transgender identified people who don’t identify as transsexual, or those who she doesn’t deem to be true transsexuals.
She also has began using to use the term “tom” — as in “Uncle Tom” — to describe trans people she believes are serving the lesbian, gay, and bisexual portion of the LGBT community to the detriment of transsexual and intersex people. From a Facebook entry on November 5, 2010:
Frankly, Im tired of “Tired Trans Token Toms” selling us down the river just so Gay Inc will advance their career. They get seduced by the bueracracy, and become total puppeTs, and the whole trans community suffers as a result. Sometimes I feel like naming names!!!!
And from a Facebook entry on Christmas Day, 2010:
Dear Santa, why did u allow DADT 2 be repealed, but excluded trans people from being able to serve? What happened 2 the LGB”T” in unity movement. Why did u have Gay Inc enroll Token Trans Toms to the DADT signing ceremony to imply that trans exclusion is ok? Trans exclusion & Gay Inc’s transgender apologists/sell outs are not ok! Ba humbug!
Why should we allow token trans toms to sell us down thei river so they can cash in on our oppression?
Just as I went from the macro to the micro in part two of this series, I’ll go from the micro to the macro again in how Love has described me in light of the commentary above. It’s pretty clear that Ashley Love has taken a strong personal dislike of me, but dislike of me is consistant with her statements about transgender people, transgender activists, late transitioning transsexuals, and those she perceives to be fetish, full time “transvestites” who have “colonized” the transsexual and intersex community’s civil rights movement. So, this Facebook entry of Love’s from December 27, 2010 sums up a lot of her feelings about why she holds me in such distain:
Thats great that Gay Media Mafia’s “transgender” blogger Autumn Sandeen actually lived as a man in the military, lived as a man most of their life, & now is a token trans tom/attention seeker, but the way Sandeen glorifies the military industrial complex, kisses ass to Gay Inc and bullies, misrepresents & co-opts the transsexual womens community makes me ill.
She describes me as a tool of the “gay and lesbian establishment” in a Trans Forming Media essay, entitled Suzan Cooke Responds to Gay, Inc. & TG, Inc. Hijacking & Appropriating the Transsexual Medical Condtion:
Sandeen is employed by the gay and lesbian establishment via Pam’s House Blend (Pam Spaulding’s blog). Sandeen has a long history of misrepresenting transsexual issues, yet as the gay and lesbian establishment keeps on rewarding Sandeen for compromising the transsexual and intersex communities, we do not see Sandeen stopping anytime soon. This is why many are speaking out.
In response to my PHB diary On Transgender Servicemembers And DADT; On Community Activism Ahead, Love posted this statement on December 27, 2010 on her Facebook page:
Dont listen to Gay Media Mafia’s token transgender tom/LGB apologist blogger Autumn Sandeen. Trans people are in fact FURIOUS that we have been left behind AGAIN in legislation!
It should be noted here that Ashley Love hasn’t been politically active in any effort to allow trans people to serve openly in the U.S. military services, but apparently expects others to be active working on an issue that she isn’t working on — while at the same time holding that working to allow trans servicemembers to serve openly and proudly as trans people would apparently be glorifying the military industrial complex.
I’m a grown woman with a pretty thick skin. I’m used to having those who are on the religious right, as well as those who identify themselves as true transsexuals, women of operative history, women of transsexual history and those who identify with the self-descriptor of Harry Benjamin Syndrome, disagree with my points of view. I’m also used to having them use derogatory and defamatory language — to use ad hominem attacks — to make their points. If Ashley Love were engaging in simple ad hominem attacks on me because she doesn’t like my points of view on transgender activism, I certainly have thick enough skin at this point that I wouldn’t consider the attacks as anything I’d need to respond to.
But, Ashley Love has a high profile, and self-identifies herself in her Blogger biography this way:
[Ashley Love] is the Organizer of Media Advocates Giving National Equality to Transsexual & Transgender People (MAGNET). MAGNET is an anti-defamation organization dedicated to educating the media about transsexual and transgender issues, as well as pushing for more authentic and positive portrayals of trans people in the media.
It’s not acceptable behavior to attack any transgender identified person in antitransgender, derogatory language if one defines oneself in terms of being an activist “dedicated to educating the media about transsexual and transgender issues, as well as pushing for more authentic and positive portrayals of trans people in the media.” A anti-defamation activist who uses defamatory language to attack those he, she, or ze disagrees with is hypocritical, and potentially dangerous to full equality under the law.
As I’ve said before, I’m finding it difficult to fully embrace Ashley Love as an anti-defamation activist. This is because in the past year she’s used derogatory, antitransgender language herself, and links to essays that use derogatory language without highlighting that derogatory language has been used in the essays.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) doesn’t accomplish their anti-defamation work by defaming others, nor does the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The tactics and language that Love has been using for the past year are more akin with how the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) and Family Research Council (FRC) do their work than with how other anti-defamation focused organizations — and other anti-defamation focused people — do their work. And, that is just unconscionable behavior for a self-identified anti-defamation activist.