◼︎MY PERSONAL JOURNEY
I came out in 1975 at Kent State where I soon met the first transgender person I’ve ever known. She was somewhat isolated in the Kent Gay Liberation Front. I recall having to defend her against criticism by others in the group. There was little knowledge or understanding of transgender people at that time. We seemed unaware that transgender people, along with transvestites, had been the break-out leaders and soldiers in the two key battles that gave birth to the modern gay liberation movement: the 1966 Compton Cafeteria Riot in San Francisco and the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City.
I’ve never had any difficulty accepting when a transgender person says they feel, at their core, that they’re in the wrong body. I haven’t the slightest idea what that sensation must feel like, but I don’t need to know in order to accept that this is how they feel. My responsibility is to accept them and affirm their worth and humanity.
I’ve supported transgender people all these years, have known a few personally, have friends who provide medical and other services to them, and I’ve known they are disproportionately targeted for hate and violence. Just this past month a friend reached out to me for guidance and referrals to help a transgender member of the family. Still, until recently I haven’t especially focused on their specific problems and issues apart from the broader LGBT community. This is now changing. Defense of the transgender community has become a new priority for me.
This past year I’ve been stunned and appalled at the frequency and ferocity of anti-transgender commentary I’ve encountered from friends and acquaintances on Facebook. It hasn’t been limited to things like sports competition where I concede there’s room for debate. The very identity of transgender people has been denied as well any legitimacy of new medical or scientific inquiry into gender identity. A man has a penis and a woman has vagina — case closed. Our established scientific understanding to date is the only science that is real or worth consideration — a stance I consider prejudice, not scientfic.
But it gets worse. One of the more strident folks has rejected any possibility that an “LGBT community” could exist. The idea is a liberal utopian fantasy, I guess because there’s too many letters of the alphabet for us to share anything in common. This will come as quite a surprise to a lot of people I know! It seems to me a community is defined by its members, not by a hostile outsider.
But it gets worse. Another person dismissed the reported rise in people self-identifying as gay as so much fake news. The increased numbers aren’t really gay people coming out, I’m told, but instead straight middle-class ‘woke’ youth identifying as gay so they can be victims in order to feel cool — millions of them, apparently, given the increased national percentage. In response I’d point to another number of significance: all the kids committing suicide these days because they enjoy being so cool.
What I’m seeing is that some people’s anti-transgender positions have generalized into overall anti-LGBT thinking, or at least opinions so cynical about the “so-called” LGBT community there’s no way they can be considered allies. As the expression goes, “With friends like this…” I’ve unfriended a few of the most egregious offenders and placed others on Restriction (a Facebook settings option). I’m cutting family and my closest friends some slack, but need to make something clear:
I now view any attack against transgender people as a personal attack against me. I draw no distinction. I am declaring myself one with the transgender community. Their fight is my fight. I don’t expect anyone to change their beliefs or opinions because I say this. I’m simply stating where I stand.
Interestingly, most (but not all) of the opponents of transgender people I’m encountering on Facebook are Marxist friends and acquaintances. While we hold many positions in common — I’ve been involved in the socialist movement off & on since 1975 — we are fiercely at odds on this issue. I’ve been disrespected by being told I don’t care about science, that I’m only moved by feelings. It’s also been explained to me that my position relegates me to the status of liberal, which is something of an epithet. Well, so be it. I will proudly wear the scarlet “L” if I must, but retain strong Marxist sympathies nonetheless.
Assaults and Homicides at Historic High
The stakes here are greater than small scuffles between friends on Facebook, disheartening as they are. Physical assaults and murders against transgender people are at an historic high. 2020 was the deadliest year on record for transgender people, particularly Black transgender women who comprised 63% of the confirmed homicides. 44 total deaths were recored in 2020. Already we’re at 29 so far this year, placing 2021 on track to be the new deadliest year.
I don’t think these Facebook debates I’m describing have a wide-enough audience to matter, but an accumulation of negative messages in the news and social media can have a powerful impact on encouraging attacks against minority communities. In a climate where public support for transgender rights is still tenuous (though growing) anti-transgender rhetoric can encourage reactionary forces to strike out. It’s been said that Donald Trump’s rhetoric emboldened white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups and individuals to come out openly, such as that tiki torch march in Charlottesville. I think there’s no question about a connection between rhetoric and action.
A New Calling
As I said above I’ve never singled out transgender issues for special attention, but that’s changing. This past year has brought me to a point where I feel called upon now to become an active defender and advocate for transgender people — not just for their legal and democratic rights but for their human dignity.
In the coming months I’ll use this blog to speak out on transgender issues. I’ve created a new category, “Transgender Community,” that you’ll see listed at the top of the sidebar. I will consider and present information from both sides of the debate, but admit right now upfront that my bias is in alliance with the transgender community. This isn’t to deny that there are some thorny societal issues to work out, such as bathrooms and sports competition.
I will be reading and discussing material from both sides, including the two books shown here that have been recommended to me by those with anti-transgender positions. I’ll also study the controversial opinions of J.K. Rowling on the subject and the criticism she’s receved.
On the other side I’ll examine scientific and medical research that’s looking more deeply into gender identity, its implications and related issues. Existing science-to-date — penis, vagina, X-chromosome, Y-chromosome — only tells part of the story. Perhaps there wasn’t much questioning until lately because the need and interest wasn’t there. Now with science and medicine taking a closer look and having new technology to do so, we’re finding that gender identity is a little more complex than we’ve assumed.
I hope also to reach out to talk one-on-one with some transgender people. Perhaps one or two will write here as Guest Authors. The gay community discovered long ago that it’s harder to hate us when you know us. Most people don’t know any transgender people in their lives, at least not that they’re aware of.
I plan to start my new transgender coverage here within a few days by sharing some short films I’ve discovered. I think film about real people and fictional stories can be powerful. So much of the dialogue and argument about transgender people is dehumanizing, harsh and critical. We talk like they’re just things, or worse, monsters.
I invite those willing to join me on this journey here. I am open to civil and respectful debate, but draw the line at prejudice — which I admit is sometimes in the eyes of the beholder. Nonetheless perceived disrespect or denial of the life experiences of transgender people here will be a problem. There are ways to debate the issues, even difficult issues, respectfully and compassionately without crossing that line.
And finally while I’m at it, other discussions on Facebook with other people have sometimes bordered on racism or anti-Semitism. This will no longer tolerated either and will be dealt with as I’ve described above.
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