The Need for another Kind of Activism

The first documented  Transsexual Activist group that formed in San Francisco after the riot at Compton’s Cafeteria operated on multiple fronts.  First was the political aimed at abolishing the onerous 650.5 law that criminalized the wearing of clothing not associated with one’s genital sex.

Then there were the efforts at educating the public by giving talks at schools including the police academy.

But there was another side to the TCS/NTCU.  Along with transition advice we provided social support.  The people who ran the center before Jan and I did had advocated for the development of programs at both Fort Help and the Center for Special Problems that allowed those of us who were literally living on pennies a day to obtain free hormone treatment.

Now those were different times, a far fairer and more liberal era when it was possible to get welfare and when the states and cities supported public health clinics whereas we are in a depression caused by 30 years of neo-fascist malfeasance.

The ultra right wing free market policies of the last 30 years have shreaded the safety net we had back then.

Also in those days transsexual/transgender prostitution was easier and safer.  There was less violence and we were targeted less by serial killers and thrill killers.  The laws against low level pot dealing were far less severe.  It was easier to survive on the margins in 1970 than it is today.

For one thing rents were far lower and communal living was common.  Now various cities even have laws limiting the number of unrelated people who can share living space.

As a working class person who had already descended to the status of lumpen prole by become a hippie prior to coming out there wasn’t much downward mobility brought about by my coming out.

But for many now coming out in middle age in this time of depression, transition is going to be hitting the down button on the mobility elevator.  In times of low unemployment anti-discrimination clauses have meaning but if they are cutting the work force in your place of employment by 20% (an arbitrary figure pulled from a myriad of layoff reports) then there is a good chance you will be among that 20%.

Many of what were social services have been replaced by faith based government funded ones that are permitted to discriminate regarding who they will help.  Considering the hate speech many of them have been engaging in regarding people with TS/TGism…  Good Luck on getting a bag of food or helping hand from them.

Even if you have white skin privilege and the privilege of middle class status being TS/TG makes you a minority, no different from other minorities.  Your status is determined by your body.

As I write this I just flashed on Larry Kramer at the start of the AIDS crisis.

Over and above our political organizing we have to start thinking about issues such as homelessness and no health care.  Part time low paying employment for those of us who have jobs.

We have to turn our attentions from national political organizations to making sure the local gay and lesbian organization do not just include a T in their mission statements but actually provide services.  This means things like hormones, rap groups, employment counseling and even employment, emergency housing that is open to people who do not fit in a genital based sex binary.

I can now anticipate the hisses and boos from those who have taken WBT to a greater extreme than I have.  I fully expect some to condemn me for being a TG sympathizer.  I see that one as short sighted.  Like Tom Joad’s closing soliloquy:

“Well, maybe it’s like Casey says. A fella ain’t got a soul of his own, just a little piece of a big soul – the one big soul that belongs to ever’body. Then…then, it don’t matter. I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be ever’-where – wherever you can look. Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad – I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise, and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.”

Hard times are coming over the next few years and we are going to have to be there for each other organizing on a whole other level than we are today.  That means service organizations and support groups for everything from substance issues to employment.  We have the networking tools.

But mostly it is going to mean that TS/TG people who are in professional positions are going to need to think about more than securing their own positions of privilege and use those positions to generate support for a social structure similar to the one brought about by the AIDS crisis, indeed APLA and the Gay Men’s Health Crisis might serve as role models for the broad range of social services required.