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According to the Buddha, right speech is a statement that is timely, true, kind, helpful (connected to liberation), and spoken with a mind of good-will. Let us all try to observe this precept.
The first-ever New England Transgender Pride March took place this weekend in Northampton, and I was there with my "Episcopal Church Welcomes You" rainbow tank top and a digital camera to capture the pageantry. I was hoping to blend into the MassEquality contingent, but they were scattered around other groups this time, so I just milled around looking like I knew what I was doing, and took lots of pictures. Next thing I knew, someone had handed me a bunch of purple and white balloons, and I was marching behind the lead banner, shouting "Trans Pride Now".
Without either of my moms this time, I felt anxious that I didn't have the right to be there. Straight allies are important, but on the other hand, was I co-opting someone else's oppressed subculture? (I had a Native American Studies professor in college who was apoplectic about this.) The fact is, when you're genuinely weird, and view all human social categories as potential idols to be deconstructed, the pleasures of communal solidarity are hard to come by. I have, at various times in my life, been a semi-kosher Jew and a Christian, a Republican and a Democrat, and worst of all, a Yankees fan and a Red Sox fan. I've argued for the Trinity to radical feminists and argued for gay marriage in my conservative prayer group. I genuinely want to be part of something with more than three members--heck, I even persuaded myself to get teary at John Kerry's 2004 Democratic Convention speech--but until I can find the Island of Misfit Toys on GoogleMaps, that kind of surrogate family may never be mine.
So as I carried my balloons down Main Street in the blazing heat, past neighbors who undoubtedly knew I was not transgender, I felt slightly idiotic and very conspicuous. That is, until I began to imagine that actual trans people must feel this way a lot of the time, their daily lives a constant round of puzzlement and hostility from a society that doesn't know how to categorize them. I couldn't be trans, but I could offer up a few minutes of solidarity with their experience of social exclusion, an experience that I as a straight white woman have the privilege of avoiding if I so choose.
Whereas the main Northampton Pride March in May had a family-oriented, carnival atmosphere, Trans Pride was more bohemian and political. From their placards and speeches, it sounded like many trans folks felt they'd been sold out by the mainstream gay and lesbian activist groups, particularly the Human Rights Campaign's decision to support the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act even though protections for gender identity and expression had been eliminated. Some speakers seemed concerned that groups like HRC were selling a more sanitized, bourgeois image of gay and lesbian life that ignored the poor, prisoners, people of color, and those whose sexuality and gender identity defied easy labeling. Maybe I was in the right place after all.
Is being queer a state of mind? Is queerness, like Protestantism, inherently self-fragmenting, as the need for a perfectly authentic personal identity clashes with the equally real need for affinity groups? The more precisely you draw your doctrinal statement (or define your gender), the closer you get to becoming an army of one.
I noticed that a volunteer legal services group had representatives on hand to take down the names and contact information of anyone photographing or videotaping the march, so they could find eyewitnesses if there were any incidents of violence or harassment. This awareness of danger was another point of difference from the Gay Pride march. I don't know what the hate-crime statistics are for transgender people as compared with gays and lesbians, but perhaps transgenderism feels especially threatening to people whose sense of self and social position is based on masculine versus feminine (a/k/a strength versus weakness). Gays and lesbians, for the most part, just want to be added to the list of acceptable categories, whereas trans people are undermining the categories themselves, in a very visible way. I find some support for this project in Galatians 3:28.
The photos below were taken with permission. More videos and pictures will be posted on the TransPrideMarch website in the coming days.
Above: MassEquality volunteer Gunner Scott (in the yellow shirt) with fellow members of the MTPC.
Above: Northampton's versatile and entertaining antiwar chorus, the Raging Grannies, and other groups from the parade.
Some get the message across with words...
And some, just by being fabulous.
Above: Jackie Matts, one of the TransPrideMarch organizers.
6/8/2008 6:56 PMCallie wrote:
Somehow, I don't think there is transgenderism any more than there is queerism. As you note, trans is more a journey to claim an individual identity than an assimilation process. Gay men need gay men to really be gay; lesbians need lesbians, but transpeople don't have the same need to come together. Our identity is driven by self knowledge, not desire of others. Our erotic urge is for expression, not coupling.
And, as you also note, when we have a life that crosses boundaries, a life that is lived in the limina, the doorway, simplification of identity becomes erasure. We are our twists.
And being in the diocese of Albany, the slogan on your tank top amuses me.
I hope you always feel welcome at trans events. We don't come together because we are alike, we come together because we share journeys. That means respecting the journeys of others.
I suspect that your journey has lead you to respect, too; that means you too are queer like us. Reply to this
Your words of welcome have strengthened me during a difficult time, when questioning the concepts that people use to exclude one another has left me "betwixt and between" with respect to finding a family or community where I feel at home. Folks, check out Callan's insightful and well-written blog here. Reply to this
"I don't know what the hate-crime statistics are for transgender people as compared with gays and lesbians" -- They are a lot higher than gay and lesbians because we are more visible. Ever November 20th we have a Transgender Day of Remembrance to remember those that were murdered during the year. Reply to this
Thanks to Diana and other commenters for helping me become more educated about trans issues. I'll look for info to post about the Transgender Day of Remembrance this fall. Reply to this
6/9/2008 10:02 AMdenabotbyl wrote:
this is a fantastic blog. i was wondering if you would like to be a guest writer for my blog. i am looking for articles on alternative lifestyles & activism (ALL KINDS). would you be willing to help? i would certainly provide linkbacks and anything else you could think of. please let me know.
you can reach me at email@example.com
thanks much for your time. i look foward to hearing from you. Reply to this
6/9/2008 11:55 AM
Hank Rodgers wrote:
I think of one of Woody Allen's great lines, to the effect that 'I would not want to belong to any club that was willing to have me as a member'.
Still, I think that, essentially, we are not only sexist, racist, etc., but that we are all "me-ists", by nature, and despite our need (and often our benefit) from 'belonging'.
One of the stanzas from my own song lyric ("Here for Me" goes: "Her crea-tures some-times won-der, but our Mo-ther has no doubt;/ Ol' Na-ture ne-ver blun-ders - she just lets us fight it out./ No use to run and hide, it's tough, but nature nurtures strife;/ She does not let us love e-nough to live a-noth-er's life." The chorus goes: "It's nei-ther here nor there, I guess, where we were meant to be;/ But you are there for you, God Bless, and I am here ...for ME!" Reply to this
That ol' selfish gene thing again As usual, Hank, you express your worldview so eloquently in verse, and perhaps inadvertently highlight the main difference between it and the Christian one. "No use to run and hide, it's tough, but nature nurtures strife;/ She does not let us love e-nough to live a-noth-er's life." Christians would agree but say that that's not the end of the story. Precisely because our nature is insufficient to overcome selfishness, God incarnate in Jesus did what we could not do -- love enough to live another's life and die another's death. I can't prove that, of course, but I'd rather live my life as if it were so. Reply to this
6/10/2008 9:30 AMKhyri wrote:
I posted a pointer to this thought-provoking piece over on TranscendGender">http://transcendgender.com/">TranscendGender. I think it will hold meaning for many of our readers - as another straight ally it certainly did for me. Thank you, Jendi! (Led here via Callie's blog) Reply to this
I love this entry! I love that you wore your Episcopal Church Welcomes You tank to Trans Pride! We need more allies like you within and beyond the Episcopal Church. Don't know if you know about it, but there's a group, TransEpiscopal, which very much welcomes allies as well as transfolks. Drop me a note if you'd like to join the online group or see groups.yahoo.com, keyword 'transepiscopal.' And check out our blog: www.transepiscopal.blogspot.com! Thanks again, and peace,