IDAHO: A Plea for Honest Initiatives

So today is apparently the “International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia” aka IDAHO. Which is all well and good… except wait a minute, what? Why is transphobia tacked on to the end, there? Shouldn’t it be IDAHOT, if anything? Well, no, not really. Not only does it make the acronym less “catchy” (uh, if you could ever really call it that), but there doesn’t appear to actually be any appeal to transphobia being made here, at all.

You see, the big event for this day is a same-sex Kiss-In, which… yep, you guessed it, doesn’t address transphobia at all. And the reason why May 17th is being celebrated in the first place? Because it’s the day that twenty years ago, the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality—homosexuality, and not transsexuality—from its list of mental health disorders. Gender Identity Disorder is still an institutionally sanctioned diagnosis of mental illness in America as well as much of the rest of the world, and will remain so under the new name of “Gender Incongruence” with more extensive coverage, according to the DSM-V’s Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders workgroup’s current proposal.

Yeah, but who cares about that, right? Not the group behind IDAHO. I haven’t seen anybody talking about that at all, except for the excellent coverage going on over at Asexual Explorations, which is of course completely unrelated to this event. [Edited to add: Check out this link, if you haven’t already; it’s a letter by Dr. Allen Frances to the APA Board of Trustees on what is going wrong with the DSM-V—as Andrew says, “When the heads of DSM-III and DSM-IV are going ‘Holy shit! Holy shit!’ you know things aren’t going well.”]

So why the hell is transphobia being included at all?

This is just one instance of a larger trend within the GLBT community of tacking trans issues on to the discourse as an afterthought, without really doing anything to help alleviate them. It’s kind of like, “Oh yeah, and transphobia is bad too.” It’s a disingenuous way of making nice, and while the people involved might actually honestly believe that they are doing something to be inclusive and helpful… they’re not.

Transphobia and homophobia are very much separate issues, and that is a point that most people don’t seem to understand. Trans people can be homophobic (take Christine Jorgensen for example), and lots and lots of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals are transphobic. Gender and sexuality are two different things. Some members of my girlfriend’s family approve of me because they think it is somehow a sign that she isn’t trans after all, that eventually she’ll come around to lead a straight life as a man. That’s not going to happen, because she’s trans whether or not she decides to date girls or boys. Yet because “transsexual” sounds like “homosexual” and “bisexual,” and because the T is tacked on to GLBT without acknowledgment that trans issues are different from issues of sexual orientation, people seem to see connections between the two that aren’t there.

I mean, at the very least, if you’re going to say you’re against transphobia, wouldn’t you try to at least discuss the issue? The closest IDAHO gets to that is some petition they’re creating against homophobia and transphobia in religious discourse. Which, uh, yeah… fat lot of good that is going to do. I mean what are they going to do, hand it to a bunch of religious leaders? Yeah, I can’t see someone like Fred Phelps buying it, can you? Or the Pope. Or much of anyone else, except for religious organizations that already support gay (and maybe trans) rights.

It’s all well and good to have a day set aside to celebrate the removal of homosexuality as a diagnosis of a mental disorder, and promote acceptance of that. But it’s totally dishonest to claim that this has anything to do with transphobia, which isn’t even mentioned at all on the page which explains the origins of the event, so I have no idea at what point somebody decided it would be best to add it. So why do it? If it’s a move to be inclusive or politically correct, it’s a bad one, because simply mentioning that something is bad without taking measures to stop it doesn’t really constitute inclusiveness in a political sense. It may even do more harm than good, because saying that you’re fighting transphobia while you’re only really focusing on homophobia creates the misconception that the two words are synonyms.

Let’s be honest: it was never about trans issues, and it still isn’t. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; there can be other days set aside for trans stuff, where the focus is not split by another, more well-known issue. But if you’re going to say you’re fighting transphobia, then it’s best to actually do it.

Edited to add: I realize now that apparently, last year’s IDAHO was more focused on transphobia. And individually, some people have chosen to focus their own efforts on it this year. However, I still feel that this is not sufficient. I think it’s still problematic to call attention to the issue once and then go back to focusing almost solely, on a collective official level, on homophobia. Transphobia needs to be given an equal level of acknowledgment every time the day comes around, or else it becomes support in name only, and that is not good enough. We should not let trans people be kicked to the curb again and again and again, as they have been so many times already. In order to be true allies, we need to have higher standards than that.

Trans Suburbia

It’s been quiet here for a few weeks, because the week before last was crazy final-projects-are-all-due-on-the-same-day week, and this past week I was on vacation. So in the next few weeks, before summer school starts, I will try to catch up with blogging, and reply to the emails I missed while I was busy with real life stuff.

When I came back to internetland to check up on my blog, I found that a few people had surfed in here from this post, which WordPress thinks is similar to one of mine (though probably not the one I would have chosen as the most similar). How wrong it was! The problem with WordPress’s post-linking feature is that it connects the posts only by topic or certain phrases that they use. There’s no way to filter out diametrically opposed viewpoints on a specific topic.

Anyway, this person posted about the 2002 murder of Gwen Araujo, a 17-year-old trans woman who was killed because her assailants had oral and anal sex with her, and then claimed that they somehow discovered only afterward that she was trans. I really don’t understand how that could possibly have happened, since male genitalia during anal sex is pretty hard to hide.  The murderers tried to reduce their sentences to manslaughter, but really? It was a hate crime, pure and simple.

At least he recognized that, but there were a bunch of problems with the guy’s post, not the least of which was that he confused transgendered women with drag queens and used the wrong pronouns, but the real kicker was this:

I like drag queens. There’s a place for them in the world. Especially in the arts and in gay ghettoes in every big city.

They don’t belong at parties in the suburbs. That’s why she was killed. Because her mother and liberal culture enabled her acting out in the wrong environment.

If I knew a young person like Gwen, I’d say: You should be who you are, lots of people will get a kick out of you. But don’t do that around here, because a small town can’t handle this, and some people will try to hurt you. Study martial arts and only party with people you know and trust.

Now, of course all trans people ought to be (and I’m sure most are) aware that there are plenty of dangerous environments out there which they should try to protect themselves from. Having sex with men without making sure they are okay with trans stuff is really dangerous, but come on, really? To say that trans people just ought to stay out of the suburbs completely? News flash: trans people come from everywhere. They aren’t just born in big cities, and some of them just simply don’t have the means to move to one. Nor is it always the best decision to do so. Some of the biggest cities with the highest populations of trans people actually tend to be more dangerous for trans people for the simple fact that since there are more of them, the cisgendered people around them are more used to seeing them and more able to recognize them as trans. A trans woman who passes very well in the suburbs of a smaller city most likely wouldn’t pass as well in a place like San Francisco. It is way more complex than “small town bad, big city good” and it would be unwise for a trans woman to take the advice of someone who has such a simplistic view of the subject.

Most disturbingly, this attitude seems to condone the murder by implying that it was simply inevitable because of where it took place. It’s like: “Oh, I like you, but you better stay out of my town… for your own good!” Does that not sound like a veiled threat? Apparently, people who “complain about homophobia and violence against the transgendered” are “in denial,” presumably about… what, how widespread it is? Why should people NOT complain about how widespread it is? Even if people ought to just expect to encounter it, that doesn’t make it RIGHT. And if this is a comment on the mother not understanding how people could hurt her “son,” well… what else could she do? Is she just supposed to prepare herself to lose someone that she loves to this kind of violence? Speaking as someone who loves a trans woman, no matter how keenly aware I might be of the possibility of losing my girlfriend to the blind hatred of someone else, there could never be any way that I could be prepared for it. How could anyone? And how could anyone be so callous as to suggest that people should not be bitterly hurt by the violent murder of a loved one? Blaming her for it, and assuming that she never had any concerns about the safety of her child (I’ll bet she actually did, and I’ll bet they were one of her biggest concerns, just like Cupcake’s mother), is even worse.

There is also the sense that trans people transition and live as their preferred gender just to attract the sensationalist attention of the cisfolk who “get a kick out of” them, which is also very harsh, and ridiculously far from the truth. A pretty sizable portion of trans people never want people to know that they are trans, and go stealth after transitioning in an attempt to have a normal life, or as close to it as possible, as their preferred gender. It’s not something amazing and special, except as viewed by outsiders. In reality, it’s much more mundane. But to assume the motivations of a trans person’s transition is to please outsiders is akin to assuming that women only exist to please men.

I’ll cut it short now. I swear I have something more interesting to post than just rants about cruel and misinformed cisgendered people posting about trans stuff, though. I will try to get to it within the next week!