So, You Are an LGB Ally – How T is Different

Are you an LGB (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual) ally?  Or maybe you are L, G, or B.

Think you know T (trans)?  Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.

A lot of pain is caused by people assuming that being a trans ally is just like being an LGB ally (or an L, G, or B yourself).  But it’s not – there are key differences that too often are ignored.

Here’s some differences:

Acceptance for Some Trans People is About Invisibility

For much of the LGB community, the desire is to be who you are, wherever you want to be: to be able to bring a loved one with you to the company picnic, to be able to get legal recognition of your relationship, or to be protected from discrimination when people see you as you are.

For some T people, this is the same – particularly for people who identify as non-binary.  They want the right to be accepted as they are, without having to confirm to an inappropriate category.

But, equally, many want to be recognized as the binary gender they identify as. They don’t want to be asked if they are trans, they don’t want to go to a trans-pride rally, and they don’t want to be outed. It’s not that they aren’t proud of who they are, but rather that they know who they are. It isn’t a third category. It’s one of two categories already recognized.

You want to respect a transsexual who identifies as a woman? It’s simple: treat her as a woman. Not a transwoman, but a woman.  And treat yourself the same way – treat yourself as a woman (or a man), not a ciswoman or a cisman – that still creates a distinction when someone else just wants to be part of the same group you are in.  Treat this person like any other person. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to someone who considers themselves non-binary. But many trans people do consider themselves binary.

That leads into…

Not All Trans People are Non-Binary

Just as not all LGB people are bi, not all trans people are binary. It’s insulting to a gay to insist that he’s “really” bi. In the same way, it’s insulting to insist a trans person who identifies binary is really non-binary!

So, you don’t create bathrooms that are “male”, “female”, and “trans.” You don’t ask someone if they are “male,” “female,” or “trans”, as that creates a difficulty for a binary trans person – are they a man or a trans person? And are you really wanting to know about chromosomes and genitals (male, female) or gender, anyhow?  What you do is consider things like single-user bathrooms that everyone can use and forms that provide a blank rather than a checkbox for sex or gender.  But you don’t create a “trans” choice that may make some people feel pressured to identify essentially as a third-gender. At the same time, you recognize that some people are non-binary and you provide that option as well – just do so in a way that doesn’t pressure a trans person.

Trans is Not the Future Civil Rights. It’s the past too.

Remember Stonewall, where the gays rose up against oppressive laws and police? Go back and read about it again, and read why people were prosecuted. In general, it was for crossdressing.

When people promote an employment non-discrimination act that throws T people to the curb, they are denying the heritage and the people that helped fight for (and win) rights for gays. Nobody that does this, no matter how much of an ally they are for LGB people, is a T ally.

Trans People are at Higher Risk

Trans people face higher risks of violence, homelessness, and unemployment than LGB people. Trans people are more likely to be kicked out of their home, have their identity used against them in child custody cases, and lose connections to former friends when they come out.

While sadly many LGB people have also faced these things, it’s important to be careful about saying you can relate. It’s generally best to not compare sufferings.

Trans People are Discriminated Against by LGB Groups

Just because a place claims to be LGB friendly, doesn’t mean it is T friendly. This is particularly true for transwomen. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival comes to mind – they welcome lesbian women, so long as they weren’t born with a penis, complete with justification about how women can’t feel safe if there is a “man” there (typically referring to a transwoman that way) – very discriminatory BS. I’ve heard stories from transwomen about being excluded from lesbian-friendly survivor support groups, dating sites, social events, etc. I know others that have been discriminated against in some Metropolitan Community Churches (one of the first “gay friendly” denominations). Just because an event is LGB friendly doesn’t mean a T person is going to be welcome.

It’s also important to remember, despite this blog mostly drawing a distinction between LGB and T, things aren’t quite this simple. Plenty of T people are L, G, or B.

Trans and LGB People Have the Same Problem, But it’s not Recognized

Trans people face discrimination and violence because they don’t fit someone else’s idea of the gender role they should live. (edit: of course it’s due to prejudice ultimately – that prejudice is based on the idea that people should fit certain gender expectations of prejudiced people)

LGB people are similar. But this is one that a lot of LGB people get upset about when it’s mentioned. Part of this is because a lot of gay people have been insulted and told they are like women, while a lot of lesbians are insulted by being told they are like men – when obviously this isn’t true. Gay men are just as “man” as straight men. The same goes for lesbian women – they are just as “woman” as a straight woman. So it is understandable there would be a gut reaction. But the issue is still there: The reason a gay man is discriminated against is because of the gender role they are living. They are living, as a man, but not following the stereotype properly – they are attracted to other men, after all. That’s where their lived gender role (that of a man) fails to fit the stereotype of what others believe a man should be.

It is because of this that trans people have long recognized that the LGB movement is about gender roles, just as the T movement is about gender roles. Not the idea that gender roles must be dismantled (although obviously some people believe they should be), but rather that one should be able to live as they identify, even when someone else doesn’t like that choice based on stereotypes and expectations.

Some T People will Always be Clocked

If I see a non-trans man at Wal-Mart, who is alone, I have no idea if he is gay (barring a T shirt that says, “I’M GAY!”). Yet that man can very well might be living as a gay man, openly.

However, some T people, aren’t fortunately enough to be able to live as they are without people knowing they are trans. They simply never get seen as a human being apart from being trans. They are always trans, to everyone, all the time. They are always on-guard, and even completely innocuous things, like going to Wal-Mart, can become an ordeal. It can be hard to just leave the house.

So It’s Just Not the Same

The summary is simple: Trans people have desires and overlap with the LGB community, but also have concerns unique to their community.

You Want To Talk Bathrooms?

If you listen to the right wing, their opposition to every LGBT protection law that includes gender identity comes down to bathrooms.

In California, AB1266 recently became law.  This law basically made it explicit: trans people have rights, even if they are children, and that includes the right to be treated as a member of the gender they identify as.

What gets lost in the discussion of the law is that this law didn’t change the law!  Seriously.  It was already California law that you not discriminate, and there has been plenty of case law in other areas establishing that treating a transwoman as a man (for example) is sex discrimination, both federally (this is a positive recent change) and within California law.

What it did do is end a bunch of legal bickering that occurred in more conservative districts whenever a trans person wanted rights in schools.  It made it easy for the bigots to figure out the law – they didn’t need to think anymore, which apparently is good for bigots.  Now they have no excuse and no legal arguments over what the law actually says.  So it did do something, even if it wasn’t necessary: it made it harder for districts to waste time in court while being an asshole to a trans student.

That’s probably why it was supported by so many people.  According to the bill’s Senate Floor Analysis, it was supported by Equality California, Gender Spectrum, GSA Network, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Transgender Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union of California, Anti-Defamation League, Bay Area Youth Summit, California Communities United Institute, California Federation of Teachers, California LGBT Health & Human Services Network, California State PTA, California Teachers Association, Child & Adolescent Gender Center, Family Equality Council, GLSEN, GLSEN Orange County, HonorPAC, L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, Labor/Community Strategy Center, LAUSD, LGBT Community Center of the Desert, Los Angeles Gender Center, MALDEF, National Association of Social Workers, CA Chapter National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, North County LGBTQ Resource Center, Our Family Coalition, Pacific Pride Foundation, Public Advocates Inc., Public Counsel, Restorative Schools Vision Project, San Diego Cooperative Charter School, San Diego LGBT Community Center, San Francisco Unified School District, The Center Long Beach, The Center OC, The Trevor Project, and Youth Justice Coalition.

Yes, that’s a lot of support.  Who opposed it?  You would think that if this created problems in schools, at least one education-related organization would oppose it.  So let’s see…who opposed it officially?  It’s a short list:

  • California Catholic Conference
  • Capitol Resource Institute
  • Concerned Women for America
  • Traditional Values Coalition

I had to look up “Capitol Resource Institute” (CRI) to find out who they were.  They are a right-wing Christian lobbying group, who opposes gay marriage, LGBT rights, and other “left” causes like public money funding public schools (rather than vouchers, which of course CRI supports). They are also working with the creators of California’s hateful Proposition 8 to come up with a ballot initiative to remove rights from trans students.

The others are also right wing Christian groups.

Not one educational organization was willing to officially oppose the bill.  That should tell you something: restating existing law is hardly the end of the world as we know it.

So, what is the opposition?  The guys trying to appear to be sane according to a Huffington Post article that quotes an AP story, say,

In an interview with the Associated Press, Donnelly said that his sons, aged 13 and 16, are “horrified” at the prospect of using the same bathrooms as peers who were born female.

Yes, I’m sure that Donnelly’s kids have no idea that vaginas exist.  After all, I suspect Donnelly believes in saving sex for marriage – you shouldn’t know anything about it until then, after all.

But, more significantly, the opposition is always about bathrooms.

Except it’s not about bathrooms.  It’s about basic dignity.  It’s about being treated as who you are.  And it applies to far more than bathrooms – it ensures that a girl is treated as a girl in all aspects by the school.  That’s what it’s about.  It’s not about seeing penises or vaginas.

But, if they want to talk bathrooms, let’s talk bathrooms.

One California Representative opposes the recent law because it invades the privacy of the other 98% of students.  For instance, he says:

Some of my most pressing questions are: What are the long-term repercussions of this measure? Will some kids be too embarrassed to use the bathroom or locker rooms, knowing that a member of the opposite sex could enter any time? Could this create unneeded anxiety with students, creating a massive learning distraction? Will creating gender neutral facilities increase the likelihood of a sexual assault on campus?

Let’s look at that.  Let’s start talking about kids not being able to use the bathroom.  Let’s talk about the 7% – a large part of that “98%” he talks about – who have trouble using public facilities due to Paruresis, a medical condition commonly known as “shy bladder.”  According to the International Paruresis Association, restrooms could be designed better.  To give people privacy.  Then this 7% could pee in peace.

But it’s not just that 7%.  We have gay people in our society.  Really.  And it’s 10% of the population.  The California legislature concerned about the privacy rights of the 98% is also concerned that somehow transgender students will be attracted to the students in the bathroom they are using, but not the bathroom that doesn’t match their gender.  Apparently he doesn’t realize that not all trans people are gay.  Heck, most aren’t.  Duh.  But 10% of the population is gay, and is using showers and facilities.  They might even be attracted to someone.  Rick Santorum was definitely worried about this when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was being repealed.  So we have to worry about that 10% too.

Of course it’s not just gays – there are those pesky bisexuals.  46% of the male population, according to a Kinsey study on behavior (not attraction) or reaction (you can guess what that means) of men to men and women, showed they were at least somewhat bisexual.  That’s an older study, but I suspect men in the 1940s and 1950s were even less likely to tell a researcher about their bisexuality than it would today.  Now, most of this 46% doesn’t identify as bisexual, but does that matter to the right wing?  Probably not.  And plenty of other studies have confirmed Kinsey’s studies, although it is important to distinguish between differing definitions of bisexuality (as an aside, Kinsey disliked that term). And would they want a bisexual student peeing in a urinal next to their boy? My guess is no. So they must be excluded.

So let’s see… 98% of the population needs privacy from trans people.  Of that 98%, 7% of them can’t urinate with others in their space or sound area.  So that’s .98 multiplied by .93 which yields 91% of the population doesn’t need bathroom design changes if trans people aren’t allowed in any bathroom.  If we take that 91% and multiply it by 90% (let’s exclude the 10% of gays from bathrooms, so nobody worries about the gay guy checking them out), we find out that 81% of the population is now okay.  But, remember, 46% is bi.  So 54% (the non-Bi chunk) of 81% is 43%.

43% of the population would be just fine if trans students, people with paruresis, bisexual attractions or behavior, or gays were banned from restrooms.  Of course that would require us to ban 57% from the bathroom.  Or at least build bathrooms, showers, and other environments that are accessible to the majority (the 57%).

You know what meets the needs of both the 43% and the 57%?  Private facilities.  Seriously.

But of course none of the legislators or right wing lobbying groups talk about making facilities private.  No, they just talk about excluding people. Even though 57% of people is a lot of people not peeing if they have their way.

It’s time the 57% get their rights back.

The Tradition of Fixed Gender

A recent Fox News article about a proposed California law to protect trans students from discrimination is what one would expect from Fox – transphobic and ignorant of science, while finding obscure hate groups to provide “counterpoint” to a fictitious argument.

As someone who finds history – particularly history of gender, sex, and orientation – to be fascinating and much more interesting than much of what I was taught in school (or should I say “what they tried to teach me in school?”), I found one statement pretty humorous:

“For a millennium, sex has meant male or female,” she said. “What they are saying is now you can change that.”

The person quoted is Andrea Lafferty, the non-traditional head (many “traditional” churches still ban women from leadership, after all) of the Traditional Values Coalition of California, an obscure anti-gay group that has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center not because of their anti-gay stance, but rather because of the known and verifiable lies they use to promote their cause  of hate.  Any responsible journalist would recognize that this may not be the best source for a quote, unless you are talking about how absurd some groups in America are when it comes to hating gays (and, to these groups, gays and trans people are exactly the same).  But I digress.  She claims that for a millennium (that would be roughly 914 A.D. until now) that sex has meant male and female.

Apparently intersexed people don’t exist.  These are people who, at birth, have ambiguous genitals or other sex characteristics.  For instance, someone with some cells that have XX chromosomes (female) and someone who has XY chromosomes (male) would be intersexed (and, yes, these people do exist).  Sex determination is hard – so hard that most reputable, scientifically based groups (such as most sports organizations) have acknowledged that someones we just can’t know if someone is more male or more female – they are ambiguous, and no test can make it clear (in those cases most sports organizations fall back to the person’s legal recognition).

That of course is not new.  Focus on the Family seems to imply that intersexed people shouldn’t marry, by saying:

From [some previously quoted Bible passages] we see that Christians are called to understand that God readily seeks to strengthen and encourage those who find themselves unable to marry and participate in genderedness and sexual expression as ordained in the created order.

The context of this is about why you can dismiss intersexed people as a challenge to Biblical ideas of male and female (note that not all Bible scholars agree that the Bible says everyone is fully male or fully female and cannot change).  They go on to say that the person should live their assigned gender identity, never mind the possibility of error at birth.  So, Focus on the Family’s solution is to just ignore intersexed people when it comes to discussion about gender, and that they live single lives rather than complicate the situation for Focus’s followers.  Oh, elsewhere they tell us that intersexed people – unlike the rest of us – are a result of the fall of man, and thus are basically the fruit of sin.

So ignoring or insulting intersexed people is hardly new for some groups that claim to be acting in the name of Christ.  So it is no big surprise when the Traditional Values Coalition’s (TLC) executive director ignores those.  At least those who have existed in the last 1,000 years or so.

But back to the rest of her point – that, ignoring intersexed people, sex has meant male and female for a 1,000 years.  Of course we should differentiate sex and gender, with sex being biological and gender being identity – and I’ll ignore the common sense that says someone who identifies as a woman and is known to be a woman should use the women’s room, or the common sense that a non-discrimination law for students affects far more than bathrooms.  Or that this is needed because of the tremendously high suicide rate of trans youth.  I’m going to ignore that and just focus on how sex has meant male and female for 1,000 years.

Looking at that, most trans people would say, for the most part, it still does.  Most trans people don’t seek a third category (some do, and this of course should be respected).  The very idea of gender identity disorder (the current DSM-IV diagnosis for a transsexual) is someone that is unhappy with the biology of their body – and there are of course medically recognized treatments, consisting of things like hormones and surgery, for this diagnosis.  And most of these people would consider themselves to be male or female after transition.  No surprise there (except possibly to the TVC).

I suspect the literal reading (a mode of Bible study these people are fond of!) is not what the Executive Director intended, however.  I suspect she’s arguing that sex is fixed, and can’t be changed.  And, further, that people should live in the gender role that matches society’s expectation for their sex.

So, let’s look at some history.

Let’s take Queen Christina of Sweden in the 1600s.  That’s within 1,000 years.  After she abdicated the throne, she traveled as Count Dohna, a man.  There’s some evidence she may have been intersexed, and also may have been bisexual.  During her life, many observed she (unfortuantely I don’t know which pronoun she would prefer) did many things as a man would.  Want a real mindblower?  Her body is in the Vatican crypts.

Queen Christina of Sweden on horseback, as painted by Sebastien Bourdon in 1653

Queen Christina of Sweden on horseback, as painted by Sebastien Bourdon in 1653

Or the many Native Americans who lived as what we might see as transgender or transsexual lives.  That is, a person born with male sex organs who lived, worked, married, and dressed as a woman, often married to a man.  Or vise-versa.  Or those that lived as neither man or woman.  That mostly stopped as the USA was colonized and Christianity (and European interpretations of Christianity) were brought into the culture.  This was certainly within 1,000 years.

Or we can look at Islam and Mohammed, who lived a few hundred years before the last 1,000 years.  The Quran references “Mukhannathun” who would generally be considered transwomen today.  Within the last 1,000 years, other writings have confirmed this view.  There is controversy about whether trans people are committing sin in Islam, but regardless of that controversy, clearly gender was not always black and white.

Or we can look at USA court cases.  Such as M.T. v. J.T. in NJ (1976), which affirmed that a post-operative trans person was in fact a different sex than their birth.  It’s for this reason that most US states allow reissuance of a birth certificate after a sex reassignment procedure.  Clearly sex is not fixed in the eyes of the law.  We can look at more recent legal decisions such as the federal In re Jose Mauricio LOVO-Lara (2005), where a post-operative trans person was recognized as a female for immigration purposes.

There are literally thousands of examples I could cite, but the above is sufficient: sex was never recognized as completely black and white, one way or the other, and unchangeable.

Of course then we get to the heart of the issue and the real transphobia in the Fox article.  The heart is the idea that trans people aren’t really the gender they claim to be, that they really are whatever was put on their birth certificate at birth.  That’s what’s really at issue, beyond all the talk of bathrooms and religious discrimination and love for the product of Adam’s sin.  It’s about whether or not a person’s gender can be legally recognized.  Some, who have nothing in the fight except hate, say no.  They say that they outnumber trans people, so trans people should lose.  Fortunately, our country’s founders were smart enough to not quite let majority rule at their whim – and this hateful group very likely lacks even that majority.  Even the rights of one are worth protecting.  Scared your kid might have to use the bathroom with a trans person?  I hate to tell you this, but they almost certainly already have.  And so have you.  Beyond that reality, trans people are not sexually assaulting kids in bathrooms.  No, rather than that, the trans kids are being assaulted in the bathroom.  So, if you really care about kids, as you claim, why don’t you start by figuring out why someone would think it’s okay to beat someone up because you think they dress wrong, talk wrong, act wrong, or pee wrong.  But, no, the solution from the right wing is to allow schools to exclude and neglect trans people, to appease people who think they are living a life of sin, who want a trans person to be punished for the mistaken idea that somehow you can punish the trans out of someone.

One thing is for sure, though: trans people aren’t a new part of society.  This is hardly a new idea to any serious student of history (you know, the kind that doesn’t just read stuff that reinforces their views and ignores all other sources).  Maybe it’s new to some bigoted right-wing hate group administrators, but it’s not new to the world.  I didn’t even mention the Asian or African cultures that lived for thousands of years (and often still do) with third gender members of their communities.  Or the women who dressed and acted as men to fight for the USA (or other nations).  Or the many other people who didn’t meet everyone’s gender expectations.

Sexual Orientation is a Continuum

Uh, no.

It’s not.  Really.

Yes, I know there are gays and lesbians and bisexuals.  Sure.  I know that some people are mostly attracted to men or mostly attracted to women, but have some attraction for the other gender, and that the relative preference for one gender over the other can be all over the map, depending on the person.

I get that.  But I still say this is the wrong way of looking at sexual orientation.

This is the political way of looking at it: we separate people into groups, primarily based on whether what they do is persecuted by society at large.  Straight people don’t get persecuted, pretty much everyone else does.  So we define groups based on the factor that causes persecution: is the person attracted to the same sex?  Then we divide this further: is the person attracted to both sexes, and to what degree (perhaps)?  Maybe we even throw in, “I’m not attracted to anyone” or “I’m only somewhat attracted to anyone.”  And, for politics and identity, this can be a fine way of dividing things.  Nor will I fault Kinsey for his use of a continuum scale.

But is that really the most important thing in finding relationships?  For some people, yes, sex or gender is an absolute – the relationship can’t work without that, there is no attraction without that.  For others, it’s not important at all, but some other characteristic – possibly something that most other people don’t care about – is what is important and can disqualify those who lack it from being considered as partners.  Others might find sex or gender important, but not an absolute – they might strongly prefer men, but at the same time be open to a woman who has certain traits.

Sexual orientation is a great simplification of reality – and why that translates into the inapplicability of the experience of one person with an orientation to members of the entire group that share that orientation.  It’s a simplification of the mosaic of desire into a simple line.  You lose most of the mosaic when you turn it’s two or three dimensional design into a one-dimensional line (or worse, a binary choice). It’s important that our expressions of experience consider that not everyone – even those in the category we identify with – would agree with all the things we consider essential to our experience as a member of that category.  If you know one gay man, you know one gay man!  That one gay man’s experience may or may not be similar to other people’s.  We’re a mosaic, not a line.