In the year since President Barack Obama voiced his support for same-sex marriage on May 9, 2012, the mainstream “LGBT movement” has gained an immense amount of traction, visibility and support within the realm of public consciousness. However, few of these political and social gains can be said to benefit changing public perception surrounding institutionalized and systematic marginalization of transgender people, as continually evidenced through events such as the media’s coverage of the deaths of Cemia Acoff and Lucy Meadows.
Indeed, our culture does seems to be on the path to recognition that gender is largely socialized from a young age rather than an immutable characteristic of an individual tied to physical anatomy. However, as gay- and lesbian-identifying activists continually cite political and social gains, such as marriage equality and Boy Scout inclusion, as representative of progress for all queer experiences, individuals indentifying as trans are only being further marginalized and ostracized outside the battle for “LGBT rights.”
The reality of what it means to be a trans individual and the violence, not merely physical, that accompanies the lived experience of this identity signifier can be hard to comprehend within the boundaries of mainstream cultural intelligibility. Even within the queer community itself, there are often misconceptions about trans identity, and even blatant transphobia, particularly when activists attempt to claim a sense of ownership over the mainstream “LGBT movement.” Furthermore, attempts to understand trans identity within an exclusive binary structure of “male-to-female” and “female-to-male” serves merely to erase the vast plethora of identities, experiences and ways of being and knowing that we tend to linguistically lump together under the signifier “transgender.” Within this, we must recognize how limited understandings of the ways in which individuals “transcend gender” allows language itself to become regulatory unto our ability to talk about and comprehend human diversity.
In an effort to articulate this reality outside a theoretical lens, I asked my friend and college peer Janke Seltsam to share their recent experiences while traveling the country performing their musical project Romantic Animal in various cities, spaces and regions. With the knowledge that Janke identifies as trans and has experienced violence in multiple forms in response to this identification, I felt that their travels throughout this timeframe would in some way speak to issues for trans individuals during this crucial time for the queer community. In addition, I felt that the looks, words and actions of individuals whom Janke encountered throughout their tour would help illuminate many of the driving forces behind a transphobic mentality, both within the larger social world and the queer community itself.