Unrest Under the Umbrella

My buddy janitorqueer posed an interesting question to me a couple of weeks ago:

Have you ever come across someone within your own community who you strongly strongly disagreed with? If so, what action or non-action did you take?

I certainly have! This can take a wide variety of forms. As a Jew, I sometimes have strong disagreements with my fellow members of the tribe about Israel/Palestine, among other things. As a trans man, I sometimes have strong disagreements with others under the LGBT and/or trans umbrella. For example, I take issue with all forms of “trans enough,” “subversive enough” and “feminist enough” tests of individuals’ gender identities or expressions.

My responses have varied from situation to situation. The better I know the person, the more likely I am to broach the disagreement. With a solid rapport, even extremely challenging topics can be handled gracefully.

When I don’t know a person well, I usually still try to address the issue. There’s just something that gets under my skin about someone in my own community who holds views I see as harmful to that community.

Sometimes, this goes really well, and we both learn something. Other times, we fail to communicate well. Feelings get hurt, wounds get salted, and we walk away even angrier than we were to begin with.

I love that janitorqueer asked about “action or non-action,” because this is where the latter comes in. When it becomes clear that the conversation is producing a lot of heat and little light, it’s time to walk away. This especially applies on the internet, where we are often quick to judge, slow to listen, and likely to misinterpret and be misinterpreted in turn.

I’ve been in my fair share of debates, and I have little interest in debating anyone now. Treating each other with kindness is more important that proving a point. For trans people, sticking together as a community is an essential part of the struggle for justice.

In an online context, if someone’s opinions drive me nuts and communication is not going well, I simply stop reading anything that they write. That might sound obvious, but it took me years to learn to stop going to blogs that piss me off.

How do you deal with disagreements within your community?

Ask me a question.

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3 comments

  1. Charlie

    I tend to be old-school and am not exactly out on my past. I live as a man but do not like using the “trans” label, which I know is off-putting for many in our community today. I am in favor of making it easier to switch our papers to reflect our sense of self, but I still think at least some kind of psychotherapy and medical testing should be done so nothing is the result of an extreme fetish, hormonal imbalance, maybe a strong disagreement with sociological stuff. I am also big on questioning on why trans and gay issues conflate, because our issues contend sense of self, while gays are about their relationships, and I say this as a gay-leaning trans man. (Yes, we do have some overlapping issues, and we should help one another because of the bigotry that we both suffer from, regardless.)

    But we as a trans community, from the simply gender variant to the transsexual getting all the surgeries done, are where gays were around 30 years ago. We are very divisive and going through plenty of growing pains. We have competing POVs and politics that combat for the primary sense of groupthink. We have trans who are out and proud of their status, to those of us who simply see ourselves as the opposite gender, want to simply transition, and live the rest of our lives as gender-conforming members with whom we identify with. We have trans who see genderqueering as trivializing the old gaurs sense of what it means to be trans, and trans who see genderqueering as a graduation of the old androgyny label. We are young. The debate and ind infighting is actually good. It’s better than a few individuals deciding whose experiences are legit, and whose are “trans enough”.

    • rimonim

      Hi there, Charlie! There is a lot I want to respond to in your comment. I completely agree that it would be bad to have a few people decide who counts as “trans enough.” I also agree that the trans equality movement is young, that growing pains are inevitable, and that open conversations within our community are a good thing.

      As someone currently studying to be a mental health professional, I completely disagree that passing some kind of psychological or medical test should be a criterion for transition. First, a philosophical disagreement: this is probably the most extreme way that the question of who is “trans enough” could be placed in the hand of a few individuals. On a more practical note, there simply is no test that can tell whether a person is really trans. I think it’s a great idea for all trans people to seek mental health services during transition, because the process can be so complex and stressful. However, it is inappropriate for health care providers to function as gatekeepers of transition care.

      The research shows that gatekeeping creates mistrust and does not improve mental health outcomes. The research also shows that transition itself improves psychological, social and (in some cases) vocational functioning, and that those who can’t access transition are at risk for poor outcomes including suicide. Some people transition and regret it–but this is actually quite rare.

      Also note that transition is financially out of reach for many. Imposing further requirements, like extensive psychological testing, puts it even further out of reach for the most vulnerable members of our community. It also creates an incentive for people to obtain care through dangerous channels, because the mainstream health providers are perceived as hostile.

      So, I see no reason to be overly concerned about deluded cisgender people seeking transition. I see every reason to be concerned about whether trans people can access care without undue cost, gender policing, etc. It wasn’t that long ago that being gay/lesbian was a reason to bar trans men and women from transition care.

      Regarding infighting being a good thing, I think passionate engagement is a good thing. But why does it have to look like fighting? I occasionally attend a trans masculine support group at my local trans community organization. At any given meet, most people in attendance are straight, masculine men who don’t see being trans as the center of their lives. However, at every meeting, there is also a lot of diversity: 3-4 ethnic group, ages ranging something like 16-60, gay, bi and queer guys, and people with nonbinary identities, including genderqueer people, butches, etc. We all manage to sit in that room and, for a few hours, show one another support and respect. We listen to each other, we learn from each other. We know were not all the same, yet we also see our common struggles. Where our struggles differ, we still show respect and we help when we can.

      As these important conversations unfold in our communities, it’s up to all of us to make them a little more like that meeting and a little less like a shitty, unproductive flamewar. One connects us and builds us up; one divides us and tears us down.

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