Blah, Blah, Blah: Sylvia Rivera and community identity

I was a contemporary of Sylvia Rivera.  We never met.  I was west coast, she was east coast.

I never thought of her as some sort of great saint.  I never considered myself to be part of the street queen hustler culture.

But then I never really saw being transsexual as the basis for forming “a community.”

All the identity politics jive came much later.

There has been this hagiography developed around Sylvia.  STAR may have been important in NYC but its impact was bordered by the Hudson and East Rivers.

Tapestry did more to create the modern “trans-community” than anyone else.

But everyone is looking for saints, everyone wants a trans* Rosa Parks when many of the actual pioneers were sex workers and scam artists out of economic necessity.

Most of the pioneers died unrecognized.  Way too many from drug abuse and too many others from AIDS.  Yet others died from lack of health insurance to cover things like heart disease.

Those who stayed in the ghetto had harder lives than those who broke free.  SRS led to better lives for those who had it and got out than did staying non-op and remaining “in the community.”

Oddly enough the latest skirmish in the perpetual trans-wars, which had died down over the last couple of years involves the “Trans-Community” attempting to distance itself from the very scene Sylvia came from, the scene that was documented in “Paris is Burning.”

For what it is worth: Sylvia had zero impact on my life or the lives of my friends who went through SRS in the early 1970s.  To us Sylvia was a queen who drank to much and made scenes that created hassles for us in the women’s movement.

From The San Diego LGBT Weekly:

Sylvia Rivera and community identity

by Autumn Sandeen

A friend recently pointed me to a video of trans advocate Sylvia Rivera’s Y’all Better Quiet Down speech at New York City’s 1973 Liberation Day Rally. In the speech she stated, “I believe in the gay power. I believe in us getting our rights or else I would not be out their fighting for our rights.” She saw gender variant people as herself belonging to the gay community.

Rivera referred to her “gay brothers and gay sisters” in jail who were “beaten up and raped,” and they hadn’t “spent much of their money in jail to get themselves pumped and to try to get their sex change[s]. The women have tried to fight for their sex changes and become women of the women’s liberation.”

In a pamphlet entitled Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries written about the STAR project of the early 1970s, Rivera talked about being a “half sister.”

“Transvestites are homosexual men and women who dress in clothes of the opposite sex,” Rivera wrote. “Male transvestites dress and live as women. Half sisters like myself are women with the minds of women trapped in male bodies. Female transvestites dress and live as men. My half brothers are men with male minds trapped in female bodies. Transvestites are the most oppressed people in the homosexual community. My half sisters and brothers are being raped and murdered by pigs, straights and even sometimes by other uptight homosexuals who consider us the scum of the gay community. They do this because they are not liberated.”

Continue reading at:

Considering the current skirmish in the Transgender Community regarding the word “tranny” and the attacks on Jayne County, Andrea James and Calpernia Addams I some how have a hard time imagining that today’s “Trans-Community” would embrace the Sylvia of the late 1960s- early 1970s any more than the transsexual women of my era embrace her or the crazy west coast person who went by the name of Angela Douglas for a while.

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