Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The T is Not for Token (Or why the gay marriage campaign makes me angry)

Mike is an 18 year female to male transman. He is currently studying psychology at The Evergreen State College between making quilts. He someday aspires to be a social worker, and in the mean time, he wants to fix the fact that not everyone is born with an inherent right to be themselves.
 

It has become the norm to refer to anything involving gay and lesbians as involving the LGBT community. This can be fine, because including bisexual and transgender people is important. The problem is that a lot of the time transgender people AREN’T included. Whether or not the piece being written or filmed has anything to do with the transgender community, the acronym LGBT is used.

The biggest example I can think of is the gay marriage movement. Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that the only thing that matters for marriage is that it is between two consenting adults, but the gay marriage movement is something that is extraordinarily frustrating. It is a “safe” cause, one that celebrities can endorse without taking too much flack. The Human Rights Campaign focuses primarily on gay marriage. It is also the cause that many “allies” take up when they want to prove that they are down with gay people. It is something that average people will agree with, even if they know nothing about transgender rights or anything to do with the rest of the LGBT community.

Gay marriage is also a glamorous issue. It involves true love, lifelong commitment, and the sadness of partners who have been together for decades who cannot get married. It plays into the romance stories and fairy tales of our society and gives people an opportunity to create a happy ending. There is perhaps nothing more enticing to the ordinary person than being able to make a love story come true. This also means that the media coverage for gay marriage tends to be a whole lot more respectful towards those involved than the coverage for transgender people. There are stories of couples who have been together for years who were first in line for a marriage certificate and tasteful pictures. The same respect is not given to transgender people, who must show before and after pictures, as if to prove their trans* ness to the world around them at large.

It is frustrating to watch all of this media attention and celebrity endorsement go on for something that can seem like a frill issue a lot of the time. There are transgender people who are losing their jobs and getting evicted from their homes for being trans*. It is extraordinarily costly for people to medically transition, because most insurance companies have specific examples for transition-related healthcare, despite ample evidence of how effective surgery is in the long run. These are issues of life and death, the difference between someone living homeless and in poverty and being reasonably well off. Transgender people are twice as likely to live in extreme poverty as the general population and transgender people of color are four times as likely to live in extreme poverty. Being able to get married seems like a trivial issue when it is difficult to find enough food to eat.

All of these issues are over shadowed in the push and quest for gay marriage. And issues might need to be tackled one at a time, but trans* rights have been bandied about as a bargaining trip, left off of hate crimes bills and only included in a school harassment bill after much bargaining. It is aggravating and frustrating to have entire campaigns with TV commercials that talk about how using gay as a synonym for stupid is incredibly harmful but there is almost no one who is willing to explain that not every man has a penis and not every woman has a vagina.

It is extraordinarily frustrating to get pushed aside and declared too weird for the mainstream gay rights movement, to be deemed too weird to fight for and often thrown under the bus to get rights  for the majority. I would rather have slow progress for all than massive progress for some, if those are the two options offered. It is all together more frustrating when gay marriage is portrayed as a goal for the LGBT community, as if  giving trans* people a letter it is a great concession towards their rights and inclusion. The T in LGBT does not stand for token, something to be thrown on to create the appearance of being inclusive without making any effort what so ever to actually BE inclusive. The T should actually stand for something. It should stand for the concerns of transgender people everywhere, for the inclusion of transgender concerns and advocating for trans* rights. I am not a token or a bargaining chip or something to be sensationalized, I am a human in search of rights and I am tired of being treated as less.