The so-called lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender/transsexual (LGBTI) movement is fast becoming a frightening nightmare. There seems to be widespread human rights abuses that are being ignored; the violations committed by some homosexuals against transgender persons do not merit the interventions they deserve. It’s high time we stopped pussyfooting on this issue – time to call a spade a spade not a big spoon. We need to stop pampering some people with the common cliché of gays and lesbians are ignorant of trans issues and justifying human rights abuses orchestrated by some gays and lesbians.
In the month of February, a commentary was published named ‘LGBT: Transgender rights not simply gay rights’[i]. I authored that commentary and as expected I received a lot of criticism from a section of gays and lesbians. For some, I could sense palatable denial and the fear of being deserted by those they thought gave them the security of numbers. Additionally, there was this other section who came to learn of the mistakes they had been making in their LGBT organisations. It’s for the latter that I will delve into the topic of unpackaging the LGBT community.
I will start with my views on whether transgender persons should be lumped together with the LGB community. And my answer is a definite no. The issues concerning LGB people stem from sexual orientation, whereas those of transgender people stem from their gender. The issues of transgender persons are completely different from those of the LGB.
Much of the retort I get from some LGB individuals is that though the issues of transgender persons are different from those of LGB individuals, we face similar oppression. There is no iota of truth there. Just because at times people confuse transgender for homosexuals and abuse their rights due to that confusion doesn’t mean we face similar oppression. That’s oppression based on perceived sexual orientation but not real sexual orientation, and the best way to deal with it is to educate people that transgender persons are not homosexuals.
Transgender persons have to deal with issues of changes of names and sex markers on identification documents and academic certificates. How many homosexuals have to deal with that? Transgender persons need to access medical services such as hormone therapy, castration, mastectomy and oopherectomy. Are these issues of any relevance to homosexuals? No. Is discrimination in employment and access to public service the same for homosexuals as it is for transgender? Do gays have to fret when they have to get services at the bank like a transgender person? Transgender issues are completely different from those of gays.
At times you will get ridiculous arguments from LGB individuals, and at times certain ‘transgender’ persons, on why the T should be lumped into LGB.
‘[T]ransgender isn’t a sexuality (then again, ‘LGBT’ is just a collective for people who don’t think ‘straight’). Sure, there’s a great deal of intermingling between sexuality and gender, but they’re unrelated. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure you can be both transgendered and not take on the heterosexual mentality of the gender you change into.’[ii]
‘I do feel that if the T was removed from the LGBT then it would just drop of in society. I think the reason they were probably lumped together in the first place is because it was the Gay community that brought Transgender people more out into the open back in the early days. Many Trans people also identify as bisexual or Gay. As a Gay male I have no problem with the T being lumped in with the LGB.’[iii]
The problem as far as this sentiment is concerned is that they are a weak and pathetic intellectual brew. What do these kind of people mean that transgender people don’t think straight? So transgender people think like what? Homosexuals? I don’t think so. I am not insinuating that homosexuals are bad but lets not gaynize transgender people for the sake of uniting the LGBT community. At times I get to hear some trans people saying there are trans persons who are gays, lesbians and bisexual. But I wonder why they don’t say some trans folks are mechanics and computer scientists and should be lumped together with mechanics and computer scientists. The thick line that separates transgender from the homosexual community is fast becoming blurred for purposes of courtesy. The mentality behind it is mostly, ‘lets sacrifice some transsexuals to LGB to appease them and make them think we are together and some of our kind are like them’. This wheeling and dealing is as dangerous as it is irresponsible.
Others will ask questions that call for a serious re-evaluation of whether most LGBs should even be allowed to work on transgender issues. Two have asked me how transgender is different from LGB: ‘Don’t transgender people have sex like homosexuals?’ My sympathies go to this section. I mean, how am I supposed to know how transgender persons have sex? Secondly, who gave these people the right to poke their noses into how every transgender person in the universe has sex? How are transgender persons supposed to work with such people? But then the fence-sitters will say give them a break, they are suffering from insatiable appetite for transgender education.
It’s a relief that there are homosexuals who support the idea that transgender persons should not be associated with gays and lesbians.[iv]
‘Well although Transsexuality is a choice……Perhaps they should belong in a seperate group…Although if I ever met one I wouldn’t make fun, I would just mind my buisness maybe ask a question if I am curious (Like for starters thier sexualities. In TV shows when someone becomes a transexual they seem to like the opposite sex. But how does a girl who turned into a boy start liking girls even though they originally liked guys unless they gay or bisexual.’
‘I just think that associating transsexuals with gay/lesbian/bisexual is like bald being associated with blond, brunette, etc. I don’t think it’s a sexuality thing as much as a gender role thing, and YES, there’s a difference.’
‘I don’t dislike transsexuals. I have nothing against them. I just don’t think they should be put in the same category as the gay/lesbian/bisexual community. Being transsexual doesn’t affect which gender you’re attracted to. I’m not saying they’re bad, I’m just saying that it doesn’t belong in the classification of sexuality.’
‘Transsexuals being associated with homosexuals makes homosexuals look bad.’
‘I am a gay guy and I don’t know any transgendered or transexual people…and I have lots of gay friends who dont associate with trans people either…so why are lesbians/gays lumped together with trans?’[v]
‘I hate being put in the same boat as ‘transgender’. Im gay, and im a man. I dont wear womens clothes, and i dont wanna have my balls cut off!!! I think its incredibly insulting to be grouped together with ‘transgendered’ people like this. People associate gay men, with wearing your mums dress, and its because we are all lumped together like this.’[vi]
The point to be lamented is not that some transgender persons don’t want to be associated with gays and lesbians, but that there are gays and lesbians that don’t want the lumping of transgender into the homosexual community and that we the lowly and pathetic transgender persons need to give gays and lesbians their space. As one transgender person said:
‘I am a Transsexual woman who neither seeks anything from, or gives anything to, the LGB community. As far as I’m concerned, if every LGB person vanished from the face of the earth tomorrow, it wouldn’t affect my Transsexualism one iota… I have nothing against LGB people, but their condition has NOTHING to do with my condition.. Frankly, I don’t care what any of these “communities” do. As far as I’m concerned, they’d be better off looking at my example for guidance and support, than I would be looking at theirs. How are communities full of people like this going to benefit me?’[vii]
What at times unnerves me is the ridiculous notion that transgender persons are pushing themselves to the homosexual crowd. It needs to be said transgender people are not to blame. It’s the way some gays (especially effeminate gays and butch lesbians) behave that created this problem to begin with, with effeminate gays cross-dressing in parties and prides and having boob jobs to get into the she-male porn industry – it was assumed that gay men want to be women and lesbians want to be men. You made transsexuals look like a big joke and as people who capriciously break gender norms for the sake of it. And thanks to the social justice system that listens to everyone except transsexuals, transsexuals ended up being lumped together with gays despite the knowledge that it would breed irreconcilable conflicts. We are not in the business of hijacking the gay rights movement – we don’t need to – and for those who think so can only tell them to take their crazy ideas where they came from. Do you think most transsexuals are happy when they see trans folk in gay prides? Being mocked by some dressed up gays and lesbians or being used as clowns in your prides?
This will be incomplete if I failed to mention the issue of suffering the stigma of others and affirming stereotypes about transsexuals. I hope I don’t make a slip of the tongue and if I do just know it wasn’t intentional. Some gays have expressed the sentiment that transsexuals make them look bad. Well, I don’t know how transsexuals look bad and how they victimise gays but if that’s the case it’s true that having these groups working together tends to make different groups suffer for the ‘sins’ of others.
I normally recite this mantra once in a while: I would rather have my rights violated because am a transsexual woman and not because people have confused me for a homosexual. I am willing to fight back and bear the pain for my ‘sins’. But I can’t bear the pain of suffering because of other people’s ‘sins’. Transsexuals should not be turned into human shields for some gays. We can work together the same way we can work with any community, but we cannot accept the unwritten rule that transsexuals must work with gays at all times. We have freedom of association.
The LGBT community affirms stereotypes about transgender people and that their gender issues have something to do with their sexual orientation, i.e., they change sex to sleep around with some people. You can even see this trend at the international human rights fora, e.g., the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution on Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity.[viii] Why is it that transgender issues have to be dragged alongside those of homosexuals? Does it mean that if gays didn’t exist then the issues of transgender person will not be worked on by the UN? This trend tells people that gender identity and sexual orientation are related and that transgender persons are partly (if not wholly) gays. This has to come to an end.
It’s bad that some transsexuals had to pass through the homosexual community. They didn’t choose it; they were forced by the societal norms that equate transsexualism with homosexuality. Coupled by a sad community who opened their arms widely for transsexuals to make the great gay ark their domicile, people who needed the security that comes with numbers and human shields. It’s regrettable that we had to pass through that but time was on our side. We came to know better.
But am I too optimistic when I say that? Recent activities in South Africa show I am chasing a mirage. It so happens that the South African trans community is upset that they were not included in this year’s gay pride theme, ‘Born This Gay’.[ix] The thing is they feel alienated by the gays because they never mentioned transgender in the theme. Have a look at this:
‘As a heterosexual transsexual person I would like this clarified and would like to know if our affiliation to the “LGBTI” Joburg Pride is an error on our part.’
Leigh Ann van der Merwe, a Trans woman in the Eastern Cape asked: ‘How can they advocate to being inclusive about LGBTI but do this?’
Robert Hamblin, advocacy manager and deputy director at Gender DynamiX, an organisation that works for the advancement of transgender and intersex people, said: ‘This theme is unacceptable. People believe that gay people know the latest trends, but they definitely got it wrong this time.’
In all fairness, I can only say that the complainants saw it coming. But you ignored the signs and wished you were in safe hands, yet in the back of your minds you knew you would be short changed. That was a gay pride, not transgender pride. If you get hurt when encroaching on other people’s territory then blame yourself; don’t blame gays and lesbians.
I have witnessed overzealous gays who think they have the right to be our voice. This unsolicited help ends up causing conflict that end up being blamed on transgender people. The depathologization campaign is one area that needs to be highlighted. Look at the following:
‘Being transgendered is not a mental illness. We are simply part of the diversity of humanity. Gender Identity Disorder is therefore not a valid diagnosis. Homosexuality we removed as a mental health diagnosis in 1987. For us to achieve true liberation and recognition we need to throw off this unjust stigma. We are not ill, just different.’[x]
You would think this is a transsexual person talking but it’s a homosexual. And look at his argument: homosexuality was expunged from the DSM so transsexualism should follow suit. Why do people like these view transsexualism and the issues of transsexuals from a homosexual lens? Who gave them the right to speak on our behalf? Transsexual people from London responded saying:
‘[W]e were worried that campaigning for the removal of Gender Identity Disorder as a medical diagnosis without proposing an alternative mechanism by which transsexual people would be able to access medical transition resources was premature and dangerous.. do not wish to support a movement(transgender) which may give the impression that we seek complete divorce from the medical community… We further call on Mr Hambridge, who is not trans himself, to stop claiming to speak on our behalf when he is ignoring our protestations and silencing our voices.’
I don’t know why some gays are good at helping people solve their problems but lousy in their work. Clean your houses before you go out there to clean others. I think there is something these people gain when they do that, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Ironically, the Global Forum on MSMs was there as sidekicks for gays (regarding the depathologisation of GID): ‘The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) recommends a rights-based and person-centered approach to developing guidelines that will help transgender persons receive non-discriminatory, non-judgmental and quality health care.’[xi] You would be shocked to know that this is the same organisation that for years tirelessly labelled transgender women ‘men who have sex with other men’. I wonder which is the greater of these two evils, i.e. putting transsexualism in psychiatry and labelling transgender women men ‘who have sex with men’? We don’t need disrespectful and arrogant people pretending to be our sidekicks. If you cannot shed your bigoted gender normative stereotypes then I suggest you leave lowly transsexuals alone with their problems.
I hope I have been adequately sensitive to all persons and I hope there will be a change in the way things get done. I am not on this earth to split or unite the LGBT community – I am a busy person. But the issues of transgender persons would not fall through the cracks if we didn’t have T lumped together with LGB.
We need to re-evaluate projects, organisations and donor funding and ensure equitability for all. We need to have a system whereby no one fears to criticise gays and lesbians because they fear being regarded as homophobic. Gays and lesbian do make mistakes, but rarely will you hear people correcting them. Is it that they have special rights or is it we became too open minded our brains fell out? It’s high time we realised that the LGBT model failed and transgender persons have to move on with their lives.
By Audrey Mbugua
Originally appeared in Pambazuka News 2011-07-06, Issue 538
[i] Audrey Mbugua 2011 LGBT: Transgender Rights Not Simply Gay Rights, http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/70777
[ii] Yahoo Answers: Why are Transsexuals Lumped Together with Gays in LGBT? What Do We Have in Common?, http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100412004213AA7JioU
[iii] QueerUk. The T in LGBT, http://forums.queeruk.net/threads/the-t-in-lgbt.967/
[iv] Serebii.net Forums. Do Transgender Really Belong in LGBT, http://www.serebiiforums.com/showthread.php?t=421250
[v] Yahoo Answers: Why are Transsexuals Lumped Together with Gays in LGBT? What Do We Have in Common?, http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100412004213AA7JioU
[vi] QueerUk. The T in LGBT, http://forums.queeruk.net/threads/the-t-in-lgbt.967/
[vii] Yahoo Answer LGB People, what are your views on transgender individuals?, http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20101201123307AA2TITq
[viii] Hillary Rodham Clinton. 2011 United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution on Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity, http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/06/166383.htm
[ix] International Gay and Lesbian Association. South Africa : Trans community rejects ‘born this gay’ theme for Jo’Burg Pride, http://ilga.org/ilga/en/article/n37sQPK1sC
[x] Sarah Brown. 2009 Rogue Cis LGB Activist Fighting Against Trans People on Our Behalf, http://transgender.livejournal.com/2142354.html
[xi] International Lesbian and Gay Association. Global Forum on MSM & HIV Supports Worldwide Advocacy, Efforts to depathologize Transgender Identities, http://ilga.org/ilga/en/article/moljQIx12W