Sunday, April 19, 2015

Lee Hurley Is Wrong On Trans Inclusion, And Here's Why

Metro recently posted an article by a trans man named Lee Hurley arguing that we should drop the "T" from "LGBT."    The basic argument being made is one that has been argued about pretty much ever since people started separating gender identity from sexual orientation.  Lesbian, gay, and bisexual are sexual orientations... and transgender isn't.  So why include it?  It's oh so confusing for the heteros, after all, who constantly conflate transgenderism with a super-extreme form of homosexuality.

The poll at the bottom says 58% of readers support dropping the "T" from "LGBT," a testament to the fact that most of the people reading this article are cisgender and looking for any excuse not to care about the T anyway.  And all validated by a trans man, imagine that!

I already wrote in the title that Hurley is absolutely dead wrong in his assumptions, but I think it's important to talk about not only why he's wrong, but why in hell any trans person would even argue this.  Because although my suspicion is that most trans people would disagree, it's also not that uncommon a belief.

Why Do Some Trans People Want The "T" Out Of "LGBT?"

The basic argument is practically always the same, and although I already went over it I'll quick reiterate:  Lesbian, gay, and bisexual are all sexual orientations.  They refer to who you fall in love with, or who you want to have sex with.  "Transgender" is a label used to describe a person's gender, or rather how they come to discover that gender (On an aside, Hurley makes the claim that adding the "T" is just like adding an "F" for female.  This is ludicrous.  "Female" is a gender.  Transgender is not a gender.).  By adding the "T," they maintain, it confuses heterosexuals into thinking that "transgender" is a sexual orientation and giving them license to think trans people are just the extremest of extreme homosexuals.

A huge proportion of trans people are not straight post-transition, with a very large chunk being bisexual or otherwise interested in multiple genders and another sizeable chunk being gay or lesbian.  In fact, I know multiple straight trans guys who feel almost marginalized in trans spaces because they feel like people assume they're bi.  The main demographic of trans critics of inclusive T are heterosexual trans people who are worried about being seen as anything but heterosexual.
As somebody who was gay for the first few years of social transition, I agree that the confusion this causes was and continues to be a fucking bane on my existence.  In addition to straight people constantly whining that I should have just stayed a lesbian (I never was a lesbian, I was heterosexual as a woman), cis gay men constantly made ignorant-as-fuck comments about it.  Cis gays in general viewed my transition as "choosing to be a gay man;" and many of them got frustrated or angry at this "decision" because they viewed transgenderism as nothing more than a way some gays and lesbians "chose" to escape their accursed homosexuality.  I'll talk about how true or false this idea is later, though, when I talk about why the T needs to stay.

Although I don't know very many trans people at all who support breaking off from the LGBT community, practically all of the ones I do know are straight... and usually talk about that a lot when they suggest exclusion.  A pretty big percentage of Hurley's essay (keeping in mind it's a very short essay, of course) is explaining that he's straight now.  Basically, the main demographic of trans people willing to make this suggestion are straight people who don't want to be seen as gay... something I see as more homophobic if anything.  Quite mildly homophobic in the great scheme of homophobic things, but still homophobic.

"But Jackson," you may be asking your computer screen right now, "he is right, you see, there's a big difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, I learned this in all my Queer Theory 101 courses."  And you're right.  The very base assumption that sexual orientation is independent of gender is pretty widely accepted in the queer community.  The problem is that there's nothing in that statement that actually gives a reason why LGB and T should be separated.  It's an irrelevant fact when placed alongside the immense social history the LGB and T have alongside each other.  Hence......

Why The "T" Totally Does Belong In "LGBT..." No Matter What They Tell You

Hurley says he "gets" why the T was originally included in LGBT.... sort of.  He spits out something about marginalized communities sticking together and trans people having "roots" in the LGB communities... but what he doesn't seem to get is that historically it hasn't just been "roots."  For the majority of recent trans history, unless you were reasonably wealthy you didn't come out as trans and then somehow grow out of the gay and lesbian community like a lot of newer trans people have the opportunity to do today.  Trans women in particular were heavily involved in and in many cases instigated many of the actions the LGB community traces its own roots to.  Stonewall in particular (an event so powerful in the gay psyche that major organizations are named after it and Pride season takes place during its commemorating month) was driven by trans women.

Lately there have been a lot of strides for some groups within the trans community--particularly well-integrated trans women and men--and without fail the media has been presenting these gains as having been ushered into place on the backs of the gay and lesbian movement.  Although the success of the same-sex marriage movement certainly has had an effect on peoples' views of trans people, it's historically ignorant to talk about it that way when so much LGB progress has been on the backs of trans people, trans people who were later carved out of the movements they were instrumental in creating!  The reality is that trans people aren't a group haphazardly tacked on to an already-existing community, we've been integrated with and mingling with the LGB community ever since it first started existing cohesively, whether they wanted us there or not.

History is just the half of it.  The fact that heterosexuals--and in fact often queer people--confuse transgenderism as a sexual orientation is a part of why it's so important for us to stick together as a community as much as possible.  Legislation and social progress that benefits LGB people also benefits trans people (for an example, I have every legal document changed except one... and that one document would have made me ineligible for an opposite-sex marriage before same-sex marriage was made legal here).  Legislation and social progress that benefits trans people often benefits LGB people, especially those with "stereotypical" habits and dress.

I already alluded to this, but almost half of trans people are not heterosexual.  Without fighting for trans issues, the LGB community would be ignoring the needs of an entire class of LGB people (although based on their history with queer people of color and other marginalized groups I wouldn't particularly be surprised).

Finally--and this is one I know a lot of trans people hate but I'm fucking bringing it up anyway--the distinction between gender identity and sexual orientation just isn't that goddamn set-in-stone.  I know, it's all progressive to talk about how they're totally unlinked in any way, but that's simply not true.  A large number of trans people wind up with entirely different sexual and romantic tastes upon transition because how you relate to one gender is often linked to what your own gender is.  There's a stereotype out there that trans men often turn gay after testosterone.  Trans women often become more interested in women, even if they were only into men before.  I became pretty hardcore pansexual after years of only being interested in men.  Making a hardline distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity is in the same category as making a hardline distinction between sex and gender... it looks good in your intro to feminist queer theory final report but it's not really in-line with the whole reality of the situation, which is much more malleable and individual.

In conclusion, although I suspect a lot of people see removing the T as some sort of weird progressive thing, this suggestion ignores a lot of real-life reasons why trans people are actually included in the acronym to begin with.  There's no good reason for exclusion, no matter what some hetero trans guy tells you.