The other day I used the phrase Transgender Inc in a Facebook exchange, and Ashley Love asked what I meant when I used that phrase after she had used the phrase Gay Inc.
I had to think about it a bit and decide what I meant to attack and who I didn’t want to attack. And that is what it boils down to… There are many well meaning activists out there who have become trapped in some really oppressive dogma, who have embraced some very contradictory ideas that have some poorly thought out implications and, dare I say it some subtexts that could have extremely negative impact on not only post-SRS women with transsexual histories but upon all women.
Part of the problem has been the move from DIY activism to the structured corporate forms of activism that are dependent on fund raising and often time non-profit status. DIY activism can be performed by anyone with the wherewithal to put up a web site or blog. For that matter by anyone willing to scrape together a few dollars to put out a ‘Zine they print at Kinkos or some other cheap print shop and collate/staple by themselves.
Activism occurs when two people decide over coffee or____ that something must be protested. Or at least that is how it used to happen but now it seems to require these huge organizations with fund raising campaigns, official spokes people, lawyers and lobbyists.
With this professionalizing/corporatizing of activism we have lost the right to our individual opinion. Now those same individuals who have thoughts of their own on the issues are given the choice of going along with the party line or with being shut out.
Yet when we vent our anger at being shut out too often we vent it at particular individuals rather than the structure and the ideology.
Autumn Sandeen, is often a target but there are others such as Jillian Weiss, and Mara Keisling. They shouldn’t be the target even if they have sometimes turned deaf ears to the complaints voiced by post-SRS women of a transsexual history. If we could get them to listen and get them to hear what we are saying perhaps we could reach an understanding that would allow us to work on common goals.
Women Born Transsexual was co-opted for a while by people who now consider us too transgender friendly, and who have moved on to describe themselves as either “classic transsexuals” or as having HBS… because they are too good to have plain ordinary transsexualism as part of their medical history. Yet, when people who should know better like Denise LaClair of IFGE use Women Born Transsexual as a smear and attempt to exclude people from inclusion in a major conferences based on Denise LaClair’s personal prejudices then we have to ask just what Transgender Inc. represents. What are its long term goals?
Transgender has a seriously troubled history rooted in Virginia Prince, IFGE, Tri-Ess and other heterosexual cross dresser organizations.
Lately I have noticed a serious streak of revisionist history with regard to the role of “transgender as umbrella” in the history of the Gay and Lesbian Liberation Struggle. Now, I have been out since 1969 when I transitioned. Indeed I worked for one of the earliest Transsexual Peer Support organizations. We were funded by Reed Erickson.
Over the years I have met and on occasion worked with people who were the founders of the modern Gay and Lesbian Movement. I was on several occasions the sole transsexual at the early post-Stonewall West Coast Conferences and the only person associated with any sort of trans-prefixed word.
Transgender folks were not there. Transgender did not exist yet. People who took part in the things like Stonewall and the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot were drag queens and transsexuals. The people who would become the ideological well spring of transgender were active in a different arena.
Virginia Prince was fighting charges based on using the postal system for immoral purpose, something parallel to what was going on with the gay and lesbian pre-Stonewall activists, but separate and apart from that struggle. Other things within that transvestite/transgender community involved rural retreats and the formation of Tri-Ess. Virgina Prince’s extensive conversations with Dr. Robert Stoller at UCLA became the basis for much of the transgender constructing of “GENDER” as an all purpose social construct that defines the proper role for both men and women.
Prince was also in directly responsible for AP/AGP as she defined the two motivations: That of those attracted to men as being sexual based, and that of heterosexual cross dressers as being due to their over attraction to, and subsequent identification with the female sex role (gender role).
Whenever I hear speech emanating from those in the transgender movement who are non-op or pre-op disparaging the vaginas of post-SRS women it is as though I am listening to someone utter the words first written by Virginia Prince, a person who hated transsexuals and surgery in a way that reflected both homophobia and misogyny that was so deep seated as to discredit not only Prince but those who continue putting forth Prince’s words, in spirit if not verbatim.
Transgender Inc. has always felt like it was grafted on to the Gay and Lesbian Movements. Perhaps because even in those heady days of Stonewall and Gay Liberation those of us who were in the process of changing our sex didn’t feel like we were a part of that movement. And those of us who did were there because we discovered we were lesbians as we went through the process of changing sex.
I was a radical feminist with a deserter boy friend and had SRS prior to coming out as bisexual/lesbian. Part of my lesbian identification in spite of having a bisexual history is rooted in the radical feminist position of putting women first. When one does that, feminism becomes the theory and lesbianism becomes the practice.
Coming from this sort of space and having been part of the Lesbian Movement years before any sort of Transgender Movement appeared and demanded the grafting on of a T for transgender, is it any wonder that I take the position of, “I don’t need a “T” stuck on there. I’m perfectly happy with the L.”?
I have listened to some pretty strange reasons why Transgender Inc insists on the inclusion of post-SRS women with a transsexual history under that “T”, but excludes those drag queens who are far more oppressed than most post-op women and who actually fit the original definition of “transgender”.
Too often Transgender Inc seems to reflect its heterosexist roots. Not so much with those actually doing the activist work but in those who do the expounding on the mailing lists where some of the voices sound almost as if they are coming from people engaging in fantasy role play.
The kicker is how rare it is for me to encounter so many of those at demonstrations and the like where it is so often a matter of my running into the same few dedicated activists over and over again.
So often these individuals are either sisters in process of getting SRS or post-SRS women, that I sometimes think we would be better off scraping the Prince originated baggage and starting afresh under the “Transsexual as Umbrella” banner.
We could start by building on some of the works of Julia Serano and Viviene Namaste as well as things that reflect feminist roots and L/G Liberation traditions rather than a foundation reflecting the heterosexual CD world of Prince and Tri-Ess/IFGE.