By guest-writer Jane Heenan:
The “LGBT Community” includes persons who queer the sex/gender stereotypes of our society’s heterosexist system in two ways: violating norms of sexual orientation (gay/lesbian/bisexual persons), and violating norms of gender identity/expression (transgender persons). Sexual orientation is about “who we love.” Gender identity/expression is about “who we are.”
My partner and I have been together over 19 years. (Applause, Applause!!) In the early 1990s when we began our journey together, we were “boyfriend and girlfriend.” And my fears of losing my partner were among the major stumbling blocks in my journey. Such fears seemed reasonable, inevitable even; I mean, a couple can’t go through a sexual orientation change, could it? She was straight, I was straight, but then again, I was queer, and so she was what? Well, I’ll tell you what I believe she was: destined to leave me and us. For many years I never ever allowed myself to believe that my partner and I would remain together. I am still not sure (beyond the obvious, “We worked hard”) how or why we are so lucky as to have remained together – I mean, as a therapist, I see lots of folks who cannot bridge together the changes life brings whether or not they include such brazen gender exploration. Whatever the reasons, our ability to struggle together has allowed my partner to remain my greatest source of stability and support.
So, we started off as a hetero-normative couple, and our “boyfriend-girlfriend” status meant privilege in our society’s heterosexist system. With such privilege, however, comes the threat of the loss of status. Loss of status commonly correlates with fear, denial, depression. For years, I wondered over and over who would ever want me around anywhere anytime as I became more and more visibly queer. When anyone violates gender stereotypes, there is almost always some form of negative sanction: a look, a comment, perhaps the denial of a job or promotion. Some spaces can seem safer than others, and yet almost all of us spend lots of time, money, and effort to look like a “real” girl, to look like a “real” boy. I was breaking these rules, choosing to look like a “girl” even though I was a “boy.”
This, of course, impacted my relationship with my partner. And, while we are still together, we are now something else. (Yes, we are, indeed!) But what to call us? Who are we? It is an essential corollary to the question, “Who am I?” because we human beings only have meaning in relationship to other human beings and to whatever else makes up our environment. This is a basic sociological premise, a basic premise in my work as a Gestalt therapist. And it’s an important part of clarifying experience somewhere under the rainbow.
When we are out in the world, I have no doubt that most persons who encounter us would use the label “lesbian” to describe our relationship. But, my partner doesn’t see herself as lesbian. And I don’t self-identify as a woman. These labels don’t work for us, and they hide our lived experience, making it invisible.
How to define the lived experience of fluid on-going gender identity and expression – and particularly how this relates to constructs of sexual orientation – has long been the basis for a great deal of conflict within queer communities here in Southern Nevada as well as in many queer communities throughout the world. For, while the rainbow is supposed include us all in its many colors, those colors that self-identify as lesbian/gay are privileged. And this privilege creates conflict.
Many queer persons that I’ve encountered don’t want to acknowledge such conflict. In some ways, to me, this is similar to white persons’’ experience under the system of White Supremacy: we white persons often use our privilege to deny the existence of differential treatment in our society. (I know this in part because I occupied the position of the powerful earlier in my life. I was white, straight, male, Christian, able-bodied, blue eyed, blond haired, educated, English-speaking –– everything that makes a person a person in America. And let me tell you what a wild ride to the bottom it has been!) While I still retain some vestiges of that “white/straight/male” privilege, as a tranny my experience is regularly restricted even within queer space. Such restrictions and the conflicts which emerge from it need to see the light of day for us to heal and grow.
Sometimes I think that how this conflict is handled says a great deal about our communities’ maturity: queer communities that exclude trannies or that don’t know how to include us are immature, adolescent, juvenile even. Such has always been the case here in Southern Nevada, in my experience. Oh, the stories I could tell about how privilege operates in queer space locally. Mostly, it expresses itself as exclusion and denial of our communities’ diversity (e.g., our local center is named, “The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada”). Sometimes it has emerged in political contexts. From my last-minute push in 1999 to make AB311 (the first statewide bill to protect any queer persons in the law) inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/1999/mar/22/gay-rally-adds-impetus-to-assembly-bill/) or (http://www.outhistory.org/wiki/Las_Vegas_Transgender), to my experience in the 2009 legislature when queer persons and groups and their allies again bargained away rights for trannies, I have had my share of political sand kicked in my face. The outcomes of such exclusion and denial include disorientation as we come to realize that we are as unwanted and misunderstood in lesbian/gay space as we are in straight space. I gotta tell ya: we queers really need to grow up.
For me, it is the seemingly progressive lesbian/gay persons who can be the most resistant to dialog and growth. To challenge such persons’ way of understanding how the world works is to provoke not just denial, but sometimes hostility. It’s a sticky wicket, really, because as queer persons we all face severe forms of harm expressed interpersonally and institutionally, and I don’t want to deny that lesbian/gay persons face significant struggles. But privilege is granted on the basis of ability to visibly pass as straight in our heterosexist system. Transgender persons, for at least some portion of our lives (and some of us for forever), can’t pass. As a result, we trannies threaten the status of lesbian/gay persons who can. And they – understandably, I would acknowledge – want that status of passing as straight. Still, we have to come together to talk about who we are – really.
Transgender persons have been historically stuck somewhere under the rainbow. Who was really being targeted at stonewall – and who threw the first stones? That would be trans persons in the guise of “drag queens.” What portion of the LGBT community remain without any state or local laws in Nevada that would offer us shelter from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations? Trannies (along with anyone – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity – who refuses to conform or who cannot conform to stereotypes of sex/gender). Who is ultimately harmed by well-meaning claims of inclusion emerging from adding the “T” to the end of the queer acronym? We who are the “T.” Privilege and the denial that hide the truth of the system make me sick, honestly. How many more of us queer queers need to die, I must ask (www.gender.org/remember).
Let’s talk. Maybe you would continue the dialog by commenting below.