Keeping the “T” in LGBT

IDAHOBiT day gave me a chance to reflect on trans inclusion within what sometimes feels like the LGB(t) movement. I’ve written lots before about the importance of organising across difference, and I make no bones about it – I think whenever and wherever we can, we should be as inclusive and pro-intersectional in our community organising as possible.

This point was drilled home for me in one of the events in IDAHOBiT week that I co-organised – a creative writing workshop followed by open mic event that was all about the trans community being empowered to tell our stories. We deliberately made no exclusions – trans people were prioritised, but anyone could attend. This inclusiveness led to the discovery of how many themes connected across the different groups represented. We don’t have to be “the same” in order to connect to one another.

I’ve been struck, also, in some of the other organising I do, where socials are organised across a broad LGBTIQA spectrum, that so many LGB people who approach these inclusive spaces are reporting experiences that intersect with a trans story, even if they do not want to live or identify openly as trans people. I’ve met lesbians, for instance, who have some gender dysphoria, and who feel like imposters in women’s spaces, as I once did, or gay men who toyed with transitioning but decided it was not for them, but nevertheless remain gender variant. These people often feel marginalised in the communities that are supposed to be “theirs”.

Gender is an unspoken issue across LGB campaigning. When it is not spoken about, we pave the way for “acceptance” that is based in cisnormative values – if you act and present yourself in gender conforming ways, you can sleep with, and indeed marry, who you like. LGB people have been sold an idea of “rights” that looks a lot like assimilation. This leaves gender non-conforming LGB folks, who often face the most prejudice, high and dry.

Gender and sexuality have only recently been seen as two entirely separable things. When the term “lesbian” was first coined in the late 1800s, it represented gender non-conformity rather than simply sexuality. In Nazi Germany, when “homosexuals” were sent to the death camps, that included people we would now think of as trans. In the early 1930s, Germany had been pioneering transsexual surgery – the Nazis burned down the institute responsible.

At the Stonewall riots, butch lesbians and “drag queens” took a lead role – these were the people subject to the most violence and oppression, the folks who did not conform to gender. Stonewall icons Sylvia Riviera and Marcia P Johnson, called “drag queens” at the time, would now be known as transgender women.

Since Stonewall, we have come to understand gender identity and sexuality to be different things, and our community has separated out in a way it never was before. The movement for rights in same sex relationships has forged ahead, with gender non-conforming folks being left behind with weak promises that the bus will come back for us.

Now inclusion is improving, and I’m pleased to say locally there was good representation of T and B at IDAHOBiT events. But representation is often based on the idea that it is LGB’s movement and we Ts are crashing it. However, those folks within the LGB community most in danger, most at risk, are those with the biggest connection to the trans narrative. This is why gender variant folk have always been at the forefront of LGBT activism.

In reality, there is a huge overlap between our communities. Our rainbow is an ever-merging spectrum, rather than neatly divisible colours. It is not that we are “all the same” but that we are on a continuum, with no clear place to draw a divide between us.

We are and always will be one movement.

IDAHOBiT day celebrates the day, 25 years ago, when homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness by WHO. However, Gender Dysphoria is still in DSM V, the latest manual for psychiatric illnesses. Of all days, this has to be a day to raise awareness of the fact that trans people are still fighting a stigma that LGB folk have had lifted.

Those that say IDAHO is really about being gay and nothing to do with trans folk are missing not only the interconnectedness of our lives and histories, but also the importance of reaching out in empathy and fellowship to people who still fall under the stigma of psychiatric diagnosis.

Even when we’re nominally included, the extra difficulty trans people face in participating in events is often overlooked. Trans women in particular are more likely to experience hate and violence than other members of the community, and are often, therefore, terrified of being visible. Many if not most trans folk have trauma levels higher than the general population. Making participation safe and welcoming is therefore a disability access issue.

And let’s not forget that the violence figures for queer people of colour are even higher still.

But often instead of being supported to participate, trans and queer people are branded “unreliable” or “difficult” and cis folks just shrug and say “we tried”. Often they haven’t listened carefully enough, at worst they see us as an inconvenience, or too demanding.

Image: Sam Hope holding a placard that reads : Listen to the trans community

IDAHOBiT, 2015

In reality, if we’re not making events accessible and fully inclusive to trans people, we are probably also deterring other vulnerable and marginalised elements of our LGBTQ+ community. IDAHOBiT needs to be more than just a day when white professionals can come out to represent “diversity”. Youth, disability, race, gender non-conformity, class, mental health and a whole lot of other issues are the casualties when this happens. When we start to focus on inclusion, it’s hard work, but the benefits to the whole community are enormous.

5 thoughts on “Keeping the “T” in LGBT

  1. Alice kelly

    I am a transwoman and lesbian. My wife and I live in our car and until I can get us a new home I beg on a street corner with a sign. I have been assaulted insulted spat upon and ignored. I have learned some very important things about marginalized groups. Day after day people sit mere feet from me eating while I hold a sign hungry. A simple smile nod of the head or a hello costs nothing and improves everyone’s day. Like a nod lgb persons need only nod to us to let us know you got our backs. These days I make eye contact with everyone just to acknowledge our brothers and sisters of color and anyone else who might slip through the cracks like my disabled wife and I. Like basted children I see you my mother’s and fathers and one day I will make you proud of me… Your trans adult child

      1. Alice kelly

        It’s OK I have something far more valuable than money. I have my self respect. Cause I’m doing it all alone. And I’m happier than I’ve ever been. But this wasn’t about me. It’s about my gratitude for being included.

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