Conversations we need to have

Update: Pam’s House Blend has picked up the story of the hoax perpetrated by the Montgomery County anti-transgender group.

There’s been a lot of chatter about race and gender in the last week amongst the chattering class, hasn’t there? Has this discourse even once risen above the level of competing interest groups and how their votes might be disbursed?

In contrast, here is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking article (hat tip to Ted – thanks for pointing this out). Becoming a Black Man is actually broader than the title implies. It explores the different ways in which racism is experienced by men and women, from the perspective of people who have personally experienced both. There is a deep knowledge in this community of the way race and gender work in our society, knowledge that no one else has. It’s extremely powerful. One man profiled by the author, Louis Mitchell

finds that he’s in a unique position now to mentor young Black men. As someone who came of age in the lesbian community and has feminist politics, Mitchell jokes with Black boys who talk about “fags” and refer to women as “bitches.” He pulls the teenagers aside and uses a bit of reverse psychology, telling them that it’s okay if they’re gay. When the teens protest that they’re not, Mitchell says, “You have no respect for women, and you’re fixated on gay men. What am I supposed to think?”

Who else could both understand the urgency of doing this kind of intervention, and be in a position to do it? Another transman I know tells people this: “When I was a woman, I was a feminist. Now that I’m a man, I’m a virulent feminist.” What he means is that he now understands much more clearly how unexamined and nearly invisible gender bias can be, bias that insidiously constricts and censors each of us. Ways in which other people interacted with him when they thought he was a woman only became visible and subject to analysis once he had the perspective of interacting with people as a man. So there is this entire universe of knowledge about gender that is only accessible through the experience of transgender people and the freedom of transgender people to share it.

Some of this knowledge is already available – for instance, we all “know” about Driving While Black – but becomes known in a much more decisive and enriched way:

“I always wear shoes I can run in,” Park says. She concedes she knew that Asian women were exoticized, but “it’s one thing reading about something in a book and another to be running down the street.”

The value of this knowledge goes far beyond the individual who attains it, too; we all collectively benefit from the articulation of experience that would otherwise remain invisible to us.

Listening to Monica Roberts, it’s hard to imagine a time when she wasn’t a leader. She’s adamant that Black trans people need their own spaces. For example, she says, there’s a lot of hostility in the white transgender community toward Christianity, and some of that is justified. But when it comes to Black trans folks, she says, it’s impossible to just walk away from the church. “You can’t leave out Christians if you want people of color” at a conference, she says. “We were all raised in a church.”

This truth, the need for this separate space, is also paradoxically laying the groundwork for Christian churches universally to become welcoming of all their children. The refusal of trans people of color to walk away from the church will require the church to grow. This isn’t something being “forced” on anyone through legislation or the courts. It simply is.

I find it fascinating that folks who are actively involved in trying to censor and repress GLBT people often express what they object to as “eliminating gender.” You even see this meme in the increasingly common anti-marriage equality phrase “genderless marriage.” How can a marriage, or anything else involving people, be “genderless?” You might not like the way someone expresses their gender, you might not like the fact that they are oriented toward a partner of the same gender, but that hardly renders a person or relationship “genderless.” Anyway, that idea is the current fashion for those smearing the transgender community and fighting to maintain legal discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

What do they mean by this? They aren’t actually afraid of a “genderless” society at all, since that is impossible. Gender is real, not a social construction that can be eliminated through social engineering. This is the ultimate irony: What they fear is the very realness of gender, and its visibility. They don’t fear a society that’s “genderless,” they fear a society in which gender is no longer hidden behind the artifice of compulsory roles and modes of expression. Let’s take gender out and look at it, let’s learn everything we can about it, and let’s apply that knowledge to building a beloved community in which every single person is cherished for who they are. Uh-oh, scary.

You can kind of understand why people who feel their traditionally unquestioned positions of privilege slipping from their grasp are so terrified by the voices of the transgender community. While their fear may be understandable, the way they choose to express it – the approximate range of behavior between dehumanizing insult and brutal murder – is not.

We have reported on the saga of Montgomery County’s non-discrimination statute, here and here. Now the little group that has made its mission preserving the “right” to discriminate against transgender people has jumped the shark. Apparently, they have perpetrated a hoax to support their claim that heterosexual men pretending to be transgender women** would invade ladies’ locker rooms to leer at the ladies. I say “apparently” because this, based upon the available evidence, is the most likely explanation for what Channel 7 news reported last night. In that report, a woman at a Gaithersburg health club says that a man wearing a blue ruffled knee-length skirt entered the locker room where she was drying her hair. The person didn’t say anything, left, and was not seen by anyone else.

It’s almost surreal that the pro-discrimination group would engage for months in a highly emotional campaign, trying (often in humorously large font) to generate fear about exactly this improbable type of incident – and then, lo and behold, the incident “happens” exactly as they described and warned about it. And wonder of wonders, it “happens” at exactly the crucial moment when it’s looking as if they are not going to be able to collect enough signatures on their petition to repeal the statute. Did they really think people would not see through this?

As one commenter said, “Maybe Johnny Garza [one of the leaders of the little pro-discrimination group] was wearing the dress.” And…a blue ruffled skirt? Can you picture it? For the love of God. Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

In addition to Montgomery County, 13 states, the District, Baltimore and 90 local jurisdictions have passed protections for transgender people. In cities with similar laws on the books, government officials said fears of people abusing the law to gain entry into private facilities were unfounded.

These fears were “unfounded.” That’s because in all of these jurisdictions, over many years, what was alleged to have happened in Montgomery County last night has never happened. ‘Nuff said.

As of 5:00 pm on Wednesday, I still see nothing in the Washington Post about this terribly salacious and fascinating event. Of course, a more interesting and important story – and one that would require actual investigation – would be that a little special-interest group tried to perpetrate a fraud on the media and the public for political gain.

** This is, to the best of my ability to discern, what they are claiming, although it’s difficult to be sure what they mean because of the deliberately contorted language they use.

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6 Responses to Conversations we need to have

  1. Jonathan says:

    Spokespeople from the AGI often complain that we compare our equality movement to the civil rights movement and that it is not a fair comparison because: orientation and race are different; and there is no comparable genocidal great crossing followed by generations of slavery, segregation and continuing discrimination. That’s very true, however that’s not relevant. Our point is that the prejudices held by racists and anti-gay activists are similar.

    A comment that made the point was removed from the WJLA comments over the perpetrated hoax. I captured the comment and will reprint it. If people find it offensive, that’s the point.

    If ever there was a case that needed investigative journalism, this is it. This smells as fishy as a member of the KKK dressing in blackface and shouting “where’s all da white wimmin?” outside Church while munching on watermelon and singing “Old Man Ribber”

    ZoeB 2:16 AM on 01/16/08

  2. Jonathan says:

    Pam’s House Blend reported on the story here

  3. David says:

    I don’t think anybody who has been paying attention at all in Montgomery County for the last few years (and that is a lot of people, due to the behavior of this same group regarding the sex ed curriculum) is failing to instantly see through this hoax. I think the group has almost set up the expectation that they would do this – people have been waiting for it.

    What’s really telling is that they don’t even have the “story” posted on their own website. I think they may realize that this was a serious miscalculation.

  4. David says:

    Thanks, Autumn!

    Kelly Nicholson, general manager for the gym, said the person exited the locker room quickly and the gym could not verify that the incident had occurred. The offender has not been identified, and Nicholson said she questioned whether the person was actually transgendered.

    This is funny – I didn’t think anyone had suggested that this mystery person was transgender. They all keep referring to him as a man, so I assume he (if he even exists) is a man. That’s what the CRC/G/Whatever group keeps yapping about too, that “men” will use the law as cover to leer at ladies in the ladies’ room. I have to wonder if they even know what it was they were attempting to convey. What a funny bunch of people.

    World Nut Daily is so bizarre I wasn’t even going to comment. Maybe Unruh was wearing the dress.

  5. Pingback: Equality Loudoun » File under Hoaxes, badly executed