Transgender Inc

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.

7 Responses to “Transgender Inc”

  1. Angela Says:

    I don’t know the detailed history of this but I am increasingly finding the TV’s and transgender people, especially the male assigned ones who demand female priveliges while keeping their male ones, increasingly annoying. I think the situation is different for people assigned as female at birth, and for them transgender can be very liberating and empowering. But the other way around it seems ripe for exploitation of womens sex identity. Personally I find this difficult. I am often called transgender by people who wish to define me in a way that excludes me from womanhood, and as it is easy to see my history written on my body, just as I experience my womanhood written on my body, it is a constant struggle.

  2. tinagrrl Says:

    Angela, I not only agree with you, but I’ve also had very similar experiences.

    When I lived on Long Island, the local Lesbian community made it very clear that I was, in their eyes, “Transgender”, and NOT (ever, ever, ever) a woman.

    It has taken me quite a few years to get over that rejection, and all it’s ramifications — including how it affected my (then) relationship.

    It can be VERY difficult.

    Today I support the goals of LGB folks with no reservation. At the same time, I have said (for many years), “there is no future being the T in LGBT”.

    As the attitude of many (some?) Lesbians has changed, as they have become more accepting — or perhaps, as my hurt has diminished — I am more understanding of their inhumane stance. We frighten them. In some cases, we bring to the fore their own sex/gender issues — the ones they claim they do not have. So, when we are at our most vulnerable they attempt to drive us back into the hands of “The Transgender Community” — there THEY are “safe” from our disquieting existence.

    My response was to disaffiliate from ALL. NO bullshit TG groups, no LGBT connection. I worked on living my own life and letting go of all the rage.

    Over time it has (mostly) worked.

    When I talk of my support for the rights of transgender, etc., folks it has to do with basic human rights. Since I am in a lesbian relationship, I (obviously) support the right of LG folks to full citizenship, to full civil rights.

    It does appear, at times, that “Transgender Inc.” supports the “rights” of “The Transgender Community” (a useless, untrue, and misleading, group of words — perhaps transgender communities would be slightly more accurate) at the expense of the very post-op transsexuals THEY insist, and DEMAND, are a part of their group.

    Really makes little sense. It seems we are there as some sort of “window dressing”, to be thrown “under the bus” the moment they achieve THEIR goals.

  3. tinagrrl Says:

    By the way — to all those who insist, demand, write, attack, Suzan (and me) as being a part of “the transgender umbrella” because we actually have some concern for the rights of other human beings, because we are willing to stand up and say, “we will work with you, give respect, as long as that respect is returned”, I have one question — WHERE IS YOUR HUMANITY?

    Why do you — a marginalized community — attempt to further marginalize others?

    Why do you do the work of those who would put us ALL in cattlecars and ship us away?

    Why is your rage so misplaced?

  4. Angela Says:

    Maybe it’s different here. As things have progressed I am finding that lesbians are increasingly accepting, especially the ones who are grounded and into nature and the arts. Someone from my local older lesbians network gave me a contact number at pride a few weeks ago, which wouldn’t have happened a while ago. Likewise the hetero queer people are usually fine I find. I have also discovered support in unusual places, homeless people, white trash who would have spat at me a few years ago now often treat me with respect, the more moderate muslim women, and our recently arrived African community, although they are often deeply religious they have also mostly escaped from terrible situations.
    At the same time the male TV/CD people and straight acting gay men and men who have sex with men, as well as many christians seem increasingly uncomfortable around me. I don’t think it’s just me, someone else said something similar to me recently.

  5. Andrea B Says:

    @ Angela,

    Seems I am noticing the same thing.

    At present my main social company when we meet up at the resturant every week, appears to be two iraqi women, an israeli woman, an albanian woman, a romanian woman, a turkish woman, a swedish man, a ugandan woman, 3 swedish women, a russian woman and 3 polish women. I have more in common with them by at least an order of magnitude, than I ever had with anyone from the LGBT community.

  6. Sunset Says:

    Vern well written. I identify as androgynous/third-gender, and the hostility from the trans movement can be palpable. I’ve been told my gender identification is a fashion and not a real identification, that I’m just trying to be cool, etc. It can be very hostile for anyone who doesn’t want to go the full route to the other sex and gender.

    • Suzan Says:

      The idea that one is defined as male or female based on what one does or how one dresses or ones interests is pretty oppressive. Particularly given how finicky gender is. In my lifetime I have seen pants on women go from something banned at most work and school sites to the norm in both. In 1967-68 women were still being arrested and charged with impersonation for wearing front fly jeans with rear pockets. Is gender really little more than fashion only tyrannically imposed?

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