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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fear and (self)Loathing in Las Vegas, Lansing, or wherever you might be

Henry, the 'PRIDE pig of happiness'


Good morning, darlings! I hope you've been having a great summer so far. As I write this, there’s a thunderstorm afoot, but the weather was gorgeous this past weekend. My partner and I and some friends enjoyed a perfect day at PRIDE: mid-80s, exuberantly sunny, with a light breeze to take the edge off. Couldn't have asked for a better day. Rumor has it an estimated 4,000 people turned out at the state capitol for the march for equality and a commitment ceremony in front of the capitol building. There was a religious festival of some kind (‘Bless Fest’, we were told) being held about ½ mile away (located on the ONLY walking path from the capitol building to PRIDE fest – talk about odd planning) – but for the most part no one was bothered and things went swimmingly. We met a lot of nice people, and one little pig in a harness (yes, you read that right). His name was Henry, but we decided to dub him ‘the PRIDE pig of happiness’. (I really can’t explain.) There was only one thing that could have improved the day for me (well, two, really, if you count the addition of a shaded dance tent with DJ’d music): I wish we didn't hate ourselves and each other quite so much.

I’m heading into dangerous waters here. This is something we’re ‘not supposed to talk about’. The LGBTQ community likes to throw big parties and pretend that we’re all about rainbows and love and acceptance for everybody, and some of them can get really uptight if anyone tries to say otherwise. But I tend to think that the most dangerous things are precisely the things we should talk about – maybe must talk about – because they’re sure as hell not going to go away if we keep burying our heads in a pile of glitter and chanting “There’s no place like home.”


Before I go pointing any fingers and calling anyone out, I want to say straight out (if you’ll pardon the usage) that I love being a part of the LGBTQ community. I freaking love it. I love the friends I've made, I love the things we do, the events we throw, and I especially LOVE being ‘out and proud’ and doing everything I possibly can to further the causes we believe in – especially for the kids. There is a generation of young people today who have grown up in a different world than the one I faced more years ago than I’m going to admit to here, who were told, “Hey, it’s okay to be gay,” and the LGBTQ community has been a huge part of making that happen. Not that we’re going around recruiting straight kids and turning them gay (well, apparently Russia thinks that’s what we’re doing, but that’s another issue entirely) – but we’re bringing them the awareness that they’re not alone, they’re not freaks or crazy for feeling the things they feel or thinking the thoughts they think. We’re telling them, “It gets better,” and we’re showing them that even if the worst happens and they lose their families and ‘friends’ by coming out, that they can have a whole new family of people who love and accept them for who they are.

Unless they’re bisexual or transgender, in which case we frequently either abandon them entirely or give them the cold shoulder and hope to god they just go away.

Did that get your attention, darlings? Did your little sphincters just slam shut and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and your teeth clench so hard that you saw stars? GOOD. That means you may actually be one of the ‘nice’ gay people (or allies – you certainly don’t have to be gay to read this blog!), instead of part of the problem. There’s hope for us yet.

It’s a dirty little (not-very-secret) secret that the LGBTQ community welcomes everyone – but some more than others. If you've read my previous post, ‘Ins and Outs – I don’t even keepmy clothes in the closet’, then you know a little about my recurring attempts to come out, and the scorn and outright hostility I was met with by not one but two LGBT ‘support’ groups.

(If you haven’t read it, you can either go do that, or – wait, that’ll take too long. Here’s the super-shortie-version: In college when I came out as bisexual, I was humiliated by a group of supposed brothers and sisters for being “not gay enough” and was shoved back in the closet. Years later, I came out again and joined another group, who loved me long time – until they found out I didn't identify as “100% all-gay-all-the-time”, at which time 99% of them remembered they had somewhere else to be for the rest of their lives – or hoped I would.)

Now, here’s the thing about me. I don’t like labels. No - I don’t just ‘not like them’, I actively despise them. While they may seem useful on one level, I think they do more harm than good, by forcing people to pigeonhole themselves to fit into other people’s ideas of what is acceptable or OK. People aren't one-size-fits-all. (Please see another of my previous posts, ‘Labels are bad, Mmmkay?’ for waaaaaaay more on this subject, if you are so inclined.) My resistance to slapping a big old ‘bisexual’ label onto my chest comes partially from that (and from the fact that it doesn't actually fit who I am or how I feel) – and also from the fact that the community has taught me that bisexuals are a lesser subclass of beings that really has no right to exist with civilized humans. Sort of on the same level as a sewer rat, but with even less chance of being accepted or invited to parties.

Yes, you heard it, straight from the Unicorn’s… keyboard. Even me, resplendent with self-love and joy and the delights of being as ‘out and proud’ as you can get without literally standing on the roof with a bullhorn and a glitter cannon – your friend the babbling Unicorn has felt the pangs of self-loathing not from anything I myself believe, but from what my brothers and sisters have told me must be true. About myself. Because group-think always trumps self-esteem and truth, at least at night in the dark, when it’s hard to sleep and your mind keeps coming back to what those who are supposed to love and accept you seem to believe.

Bisexuals have always been the red-headed stepchild of the LGBTQ community.  (I’m using bisexual here as including pansexuals, even though the two are not identical, because they are treated as such for the most part by others. Please don’t take offense at that and just go with it for now, OK?) Straight people see us as weirdos who will cheat on them with another man (or another woman), and as such should be shunned. That or they hope it means a lot of threesomes. Ick. Fortunately, the LGBTQ community understands us and – oh, no, wait. They think that, too. (Maybe not the threesome part. Mostly.)

‘Confused’ is the nicest thing I was called – by those in the community. ‘Fence-sitter’ comes a close second, and isn't inherently hateful as much as it is disrespectful. The others hurt more, not only for their ugliness, but their blatant judgment that they were facts, with no possibility of their not being true: Slut. Whore. Nympho. Cheater. (I was never sure where the belief even came from that being pansexual – not judging a person based on the sexual organs they possess – equated to an inability to be faithful or monogamous in a relationship. Were they suggesting that being gay automatically made one more inclined to monogamy? Or saying I wouldn't be able to keep it in my pants, just because I didn't think about vomiting when I thought about what half the population had in theirs?)  

Transfolk have it even worse.

I suspect this is one of those areas where you’re not allowed to have an opinion on something unless it directly pertains to you. Kind of like you can’t talk about child-rearing unless you've reared a child, and you can’t have an opinion on abortion unless you've had one – or at least own a vagina. 

I am not a transperson. I do not plan on ever being a transperson. I’m not going to ‘out’ anybody here, because privacy is important, but someone very close to me IS trans, and I know a whole LOT about the things this person has experienced, as well as what some other transfolk that I’m privileged to know have gone through. How? Some of it I've seen. Some of it I've intuited from things they've said – or not said. I've talked with them about what it was like for them realizing who they were, and how their ‘outside didn't fit their inside’. We've talked – a lot – about the decisions to physically become who they really are, and we've talked about how important it has been for many of them to have a someone who understood their journey, for support and encouragement or just a wall to wail to when things aren't going well. Mostly we've talked about how most of them really, really don’t want anybody to know that they are trans.

Being ‘stealth’ (i.e., passing for the gender of your choice rather than the one you were born with the physical sex characteristics of) is a very personal choice for transfolk. It’s an extremely personal choice, and one that no one should ever make for you. Many transfolk choose to remain stealth for reasons of work (you can still be fired in 30 states in the US for being thought to be gay or transgender). Some are stealth so that their families don’t find out. Many do it for reasons of safety – it’s dangerous to be transgender in some places, maybe even more dangerous than being gay, and many choose to keep it under wraps rather than risk being beaten to death for being discovered in a public restroom with the genitalia not generally associated with that sex.

I totally get that. There are a lot of really good reasons transpeople choose to keep it a secret. But there is another, really shitty reason: because they are ashamed. And the LGBTQ community, unfortunately, bears a lot of responsibility for that, too.

You see, transpeople have kind of a hard road to walk for any number of reasons, not least of which is that some factions within the LGBTQ community don’t really want transfolk there. In those people’s viewpoint, transfolk aren’t actually ‘gay’ – they are mis-gendered at birth. And, to further complicate the issue, a lot of transpeople don’t identify as ‘gay’, either – they are straight men and women who were given the wrong body at birth. So, once they transition, they identify completely as straight.

People outside of the community tend to group transpeople with the gay community because they have a ‘weird sexuality’ – being born in the ‘wrong’-gendered body gets you boxed in with the rest of us ‘weirdos’ who are not 100% straight. (Hence the T in LGBTQ.) And some transfolk are LGB or Q – just as some are straight. Being trans has NOTHING inherently to do with your sexuality, just as being born in a body that you feel DOES fit you has nothing to do with your sexuality. Gender does not equal sexual identity for a transperson any more than it has to do with anyone else. Get it?

So, what does that have to do with the price of tea at Starbucks? Well, it means that not only does the straight world not know what to do with transpeople, neither does the community. Are they gay? Are they straight? Are they bi? We don’t know! All we know is that their parts are weird, and we’re not sure how to put a label on that! And, as I've mentioned above (again and again), the LGBTQ community absolutely hates it when we can’t put a label on something. So what do we do? We discriminate – sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly – and we hope they go away.

And talk about discrimination: I've seen transwomen denied entrance to women’s festivals, supposedly an empowering celebration of all aspects of women’s experience, because they were not “women born women”. Transmen tend to fare a little bit better on this score – probably because transmen in general tend to ‘pass’ a little bit better than some transwomen. (That points out another, extremely discriminatory element in transpeople’s lives: heaven help the transwoman who isn't “pretty enough to pass”, because she faces judgment from all sides, straight or gay.)

It seems sometimes almost as if the LGBTQ community, (supposed to be a ‘safe space’ for all who don’t fit into the straight paradigm) is saying, “We don’t believe you. You are not who you say you are,” as if the transpeople are all banding together to try to put one over on somebody. As if they are putting themselves through physical and mental hell just to lure in some unsuspecting gay brother or sister and then yell, “GOTCHA!”  Really?!

I’ve seen this first-hand, so this isn't even hearsay anymore. I've seen someone that I met as a gay person at one of the groups be given the extremely-cold shoulder upon coming out as trans. As if it wasn't hard enough that this person had previously come out as gay, and dealt with the judgment of the world for that – but now they had to go through it a second time with a community of their own friends, who now didn't know ‘what to do with them’ if they ‘weren't gay anymore’. My partner and I reached out to this person when we saw this happening, because we've been on the receiving end of the ‘be gay or GTFO’ attitude from a supposed ‘support’ group enough times ourselves. We congratulated them on coming out, and offered what support we could (even if that wasn't much). It may seem little, but at least they felt like they still had a few friends in the community that didn't judge them based on either the parts in their pants or who they were sleeping with. We just didn't think that was that big of a deal. I certainly don’t judge people based on those things, and I hope you do not, either. Really, that kind of thing is really only of interest to the person you’re sleeping with, right?

Again, I am not trans.

I have not had to live part or all of my life inside a body that did not fit my mind or my soul. I have not had to invent a fantasy life in which I grew (or lost) some part of my body by which the entire world defines who and what I am, in order to continue to function in the world. I have not had to fight thoughts of suicide because I could not see any way to make how I am perceived match how I feel and what I know to be true about myself. I have not had to endure dangerous surgeries that put my health and my sexual function at risk, and go through painful recoveries, just to feel whole, only to find that I still have to continue to hide the truth about who I am from people in order to be accepted. I have not had to live with the shame of feeling like I am still not good enough, that I will never be a ‘real man’ or a ‘real woman’, despite everything  that I've gone through, and knowing without a doubt who I am inside. I have not had to live with the pain of knowing that only other transpeople can understand something of what I am going through, and that the LGBTQ community not only doesn't understand, but doesn't want to.

I am glad that that hasn't been my life, because frankly, I do not know if I am strong enough and brave enough to make the choices that transpeople have to make, to do what they have to do in order to live their lives as the people they truly are. I admire the hell out of anyone who has done or can do what they have done, and I hate that so many of you are made to still feel second-class – especially by people who are ourselves marginalized, belittled and discriminated against by the outside world.

I need to say at this point that I know that not everyone within the community shares the feelings I've been blasting above, but enough of them do that it is a pervasive undercurrent in every group I've met so far. If this is not your experience, I’m really, truly happy for you, and I hope you will remember it and help others have a more positive experience as well.

Because I know that we can do better than this. We can be better. Don’t we have enough negativity to deal with from the world at large, without bringing the hate home to our own tables? Loving ourselves is hard enough in the face of negative pressures from outside; why should we hate each other, or hate ourselves? To hell with that. Love each other instead, and maybe we’ll learn to love ourselves a little bit more in the process. How can we expect to be treated with equality and respect by 'the rest of the world' when we can't even do the same to people within our own community?

Maybe we should educate ourselves more on what it means to be bi, to be pan, to be trans, to be ANY expression of human sexuality other than our own, so that we can try to understand each other before we pass judgment. Safety and inclusion - that's what I believe the LGBTQ community can embody, and we owe it to ourselves and each other to make that so. Community should be about tearing down the walls of oppression and ugliness, and about coming together, rather than dividing us into smaller and smaller boxes until we are all isolated and lonely and alone.

How would you like to see the heart of the community? As a safe space, with respect and dignity, or one based on shame, apathy and self-loathing? ‘Welcome to PRIDE, brothers and sisters, as long as you fit our idea of what you should be’? Or ‘Welcome, everyone! There is room for all!’

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a pretty sad rainbow that has only 2 or 3 colors. We may each have our favorite hues, but when we put them all together, they shine with a very lovely light.


And why stop with a rainbow? Maybe if we can open our hearts enough to others, without worrying about whatever or whoever they might be inside or out, we can take it further. Dare I say ... 'double rainbow, all the way?' Come on, now, my darlings... you have to admit that would be cool. Weird, but cool. ;)

Photo courtesy of pridewestern.ca

 

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Comments very welcome, whether you agree with me or not. Please be respectful and – as always – be fabulous to each other.



2 comments:

  1. A friend of mine is probably the most hated part of the group you describe - a woman born in a man's body who is attracted to women. I can't really imagine how tough things are for those people...and I don't like people who make it tougher.

    It's part of the human psyche to find a group to belong to that sees an "us vs. them" mentality. Whether that's nerds vs. jocks, Christians vs. secular society, or even Detroit Red Wings vs. the rest of the NHL, people will seek out a group that are like them to join. Sometimes people have a hard time accepting those who are "somewhat like them but different in some way"...it's not their fault, they're just having to fight against thousands of years of evolution. It is tough to rationally fight against things that served us positively in the past and were inborn through evolution...but it's worth doing, especially if we want to understand reality.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very well said. I don't envy your friend what she has to go through - that would be very, very difficult. But I admire the hell out of her for being who she is.

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