When Being “Different” Could Mean Death

By Levi van Wyk

With 11 official languages and a variety of cultures, South Africa should be one of the top symbols of diversity in the world. The keyword here, however, is ‘should’. Like any other country, South Africans formed their own political groups advocating for various problems and personal belief systems, which in turn, either made life more difficult, or better for different people. According to the Hate Crimes Report of November 2016, out of 2,130 individuals surveyed, more than 55% of LGBT individuals said they worry about experiencing discrimination, and more than 41% said they knew someone who had been murdered because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Another Hate Crimes Report survey showed that only 56% of residents living in Gauteng, believe that LGBT individuals deserve equal rights. While most South Africans tend to tolerate the LGBT community in public spaces, in reality, we still have good reason to be wary when it comes to our personal safety.

Personally, I haven’t experienced much discrimination in public, apart from strange looks and awkward tension in gender-specific areas, such as the men’s locker room at the gym. I’m a white, asexual, transgender male, and only 5 months into my transition. I’m lucky to have a fairly masculine face and voice which sounds too deep to be female, but also too high-pitched to be male, making it a bit easier for me to pass successfully. In my early transition months, the general public used to address me as “ma’am”, and I had to politely correct them almost every time. They didn’t seem to ever have a problem with it, apologized and carried on as if they deal with a similar situation frequently. The, dare I say, “good” thing about South Africans, is that many people, if not most, don’t even know that transgender individuals exist, and would confuse transgender males with masculine girls or “tomboys”, and transgender females with feminine guys. I personally feel that, while it’s completely wrong and disrespectful, it can be better in regards to momentary safety and getting away with a few stares rather than being violated against. In general, I believe that most South Africans also confuse “transgender” with “transsexual”. While I can’t talk about a lot of problems in regards to the LGBT community in areas made up of a majority of non-white South Africans, I do know that being openly LGBT in said spaces could sometimes lead to abuse or even death.

While I was in my last year of university, various non-white students spoke about the violence and hate crimes against LGBT individuals in their areas of living, and said that it’s still unsafe to be open about your sexuality and gender identity. In areas made up of a majority of white South Africans, you could expect the same, with perhaps more verbal and psychological abuse. In my experience, white South Africans tend to keep their hate and bias to themselves in public, but would speak their minds where they are with like-minded people. A lot of white South Africans are extremely conservative, but they mostly live away from the cities and keep their focus on politics rather than social science. While the differences in culture vary a lot, it’s important to understand why certain people have certain beliefs. Thanks to Apartheid, education for non-white South Africans was lacking, which still has a huge effect on people’s opinions in regards to social science, sex and gender, and LGBT education. White people are generally more privileged, and can use the internet to educate themselves, where poorer non-white communities haven’t been introduced to proper technology yet. That being said, the previously-mentioned lifestyles and cultural beliefs only belong to a number of people in South Africa, and in no way represent entire cultural groups or belief-systems. Today, many, if not most, South African LGBT support groups and events are led by a majority of individuals of color. Different groups are educating as many people as possible, holding conferences, creating events, and offering support to people who might not have it at home. All cultures will have their “rotten apples”, and I personally believe that LGBT individuals should be equally wary of where and when they are open about their sexuality and identity. Cultural beliefs of all South Africans are in the process of being reformed, and people are becoming more open-minded in regards to others’ lifestyles. While we still have a very far way to go regarding the acceptance of LGBT individuals, we’re at least past the point of absolute inequality.

In previous years, many South Africans didn’t get involved in LGBT-related problems. Unfortunately, at the beginning of 2017, I noticed South Africans’ intolerance and rudeness in regards to LGBT rights spiking online. Suddenly, comment sections were flooded with angry comments from a majority of white South Africans, talking about how the LGBT community exists out of sin and doesn’t deserve to be treated as human beings. While South Africans tend to judge in silence, they speak their minds online, especially if they know they will be backed up by others. With the US election results, many conservative South Africans found reason to be outspoken about their outdated opinions. South Africans were indeed reminded of the LGBT community existing all over the world, but it didn’t stop them from picking the community apart, and finding issues to be judgmental about. While a lot of South Africans don’t exactly understand the LGBT community, they still tend to form negative opinions about the different sexualities, especially towards asexuality. As a result of sexual abuse in my previous relationship, I became sex-repulsed and severely asexual. I’ve been told by various people that I just haven’t experienced good sex yet, or that my views on sex will change when I meet someone better. While I understand that they are simply ignorant on the subject, it still reminded me that I live in a sex-obsessed country. South Africa is one of the rape capitals of the world, with an estimated 30 reported rapes every 60 seconds. Rape culture is also a big problem in the country, with high school boys aiming to have sex before the age of 18, and girls making their skirts as short as possible to feel attractive. All of these problems make being asexual extremely difficult, especially since people tend to believe that asexuality stems from the lack of good sex. It’s unfortunate. While a lot of LGBT individuals come together and celebrate their sexuality and identities, I feel like asexuality is probably one of the least represented sexualities in the country.

South Africa still has a very long way to go in regards to people’s different lifestyles. Despite studies showing that the country is becoming more homophobic, I believe that the country is also getting more diverse with more and more LGBT individuals speaking out about their sexualities and identities. Universities are making LGBT-education mandatory, and schools are starting to see more students transitioning and employing LGBT educators. With time, education and support, I believe this country will change for the better.

 

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THIS OR ANY OTHER TOPIC ON OUR SITE, PLEASE JOIN THE CONVERSATION ON  THE TMP FORUM


African transgender support groups:
 Gender Dynamix
OUT LGBT Well-Being
PFLAG South Africa
Resources for Trans People and Their Partners SA
Transgender and Intersex Africa


Sources:
Theotherfoundation.org: A study of attitudes towards homosexuality and gender non-conformity in South Africa.

The fear of discrimination is a daily reality for most LGBT South Africans, a groundbreaking new report has revealed

Shocking new stats show that South Africans are becoming MORE homophobic.

 

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Support Systems Can Be Important To Trans Mental Health

By Sabrina Samone

Before the internet and social media, support groups plaid a huge role in the lives of transgender people. Now many can connect online with others going through similar stories world-wide. There’s video chat, messengers, text and if you are close, a life long friendship can be formed. Yet, trans support groups are still very critical to the emotional and mental health of transgender people, no matter what stage of transition. Unlike a support group headed by a therapist, you are amongst peers without much fear of being analyzed. In fact you may not have to say a word at all and feel the benefits of socializing. Across the globe, no matter what country, nationality, religion; where there’s a large group of transgender people, there’s possibly a support group near you. The double-edged sword is that while we are fortunate with greater trans awareness to be able to reach others of shared interest, the traditional medium of support groups across the country are struggling to continue. That would be unfortunate for our community.

Looking back at how I became aware of being transgender, the support I received, the community spirit that was instilled in me at an early start: I feel very fortunate to have had the experiences I’ve had, unlike my partner who did it completely alone. That isn’t a unique story. There are many transgender people who become aware and make the necessary steps to live their authentic lives without any assistance, emotional support, no family or friends to relate too, and even some without much therapy at all. Though I haven’t seen an actual case study on the matter, and not a psychologist or sociologist myself, I have witness the long-term emotional distress, more intense dysphoria and shame associated with being trans with some that received no support through their entire transition.¹ Luckily for many today there is more acceptance than ten years ago, and more awareness. There are growing numbers of supportive parents of transgender youth, along with the beginnings of media representation that can make us feel just a little less alone. Yet, we hear of those happy stories of supportive families, communities, jobs etc., because they are still rare and unique stories to millions of trans people in medium, and small rural towns across the globe.

I have been humbled and moved by my transgender community.

 

When I look back over the years of my transition, and living my truth; the moments that were the lowest for me were when there was no connection to anyone who understood. In a millennium long, long ago, in a small rural football loving, truck driving, tobacco chewing town in South Carolina, I began to live my truth. The initial thought of such a place to come out may cause immediate anxiety. While it was not a walk in the garden by no means, it wasn’t as bad as first thought. As I said I’ve always been fortunate, most of the time, to have a community. There were those that came before me even in that small town, a few transvestites, that were by my side from the first time I began presenting myself. I had that connection, along with being apart of my local lgbt community. It was in that community that my then best gay friend showed up and introduced me to my first trans sister. I remember that day, and remember not knowing it was even possible that I could ever transition to look like the woman I knew I was. I had no clue what transgender was. All I knew at the time was RuPaul. Yet, suddenly this woman who looked like Vanessa Williams, wearing Kenneth Cole thigh high boots, daisy dukes, a midriff shirt and showing ample cleavage, came prancing in my bedroom. I immediately jumped to attention. This was the first person I had ever seen that was transforming, and developing as themselves. It felt like someone was bringing me the answers to my dreams. Thankfully, she was very supportive and wanted to help, not all girls are and that’s unfortunate. I continue to be lucky, and over time we became close friends. She took me to my first doctors appointment and as I developed pass the boundaries of acceptance for the small town of Hartsville, South Carolina, I took off to trans city USA, Atlanta GA.

It was time to blossom

                         Support This Local Trans Support Group

Atlanta allowed me to blossom in the arms of a very united and supportive local trans community. For the first time I met hundreds like me, and learned about what it means to be trans. What I mean is being trans does not always mean you’re an expert on everything trans. I had a lot of education ahead of me and I still find myself remaining open to learning about my community, and myself to this day. At this point, I was in therapy and had the support of a community of trans sisters. Yet, I was still not part of a formal trans support group, exposing me to a wider diversity of our community. I’m ashamed to admit today, that when I met the first trans guy that wanted to get to know me better, I remember being so afraid and nearly homophobic. I would hide from him in public and complain to my friends, asking why does she think I’m a lesbian. This was ignorant I now know, but I make this point because that ignorance still persists in our community amongst ourselves when we are not exposed to the diversity that could easily be overcome through a local transgender support group.

After three years in Atlanta I unfortunately found myself back in that small rural town, where TS still meant a tropical storm. For the first time I didn’t have support, the transvestite girlfriends I did know there had sadly passed away. I performed as a gender illusionist along with gay men who dressed for performance only, and who would ask me why would I do such a horrible thing to my body. I had changed, developed, but the town was the same. My family would try to persuade me to hide my attributes, wear men clothing again in order to keep the towns folks appeased. At first I had a hard time getting a job, and when I did, they also would ask me to “tone it down”. I had no local support. My friends back in Atlanta could not relate and were little help. I resisted, stood my ground for my truth as long as I could, but several months later pressured by jobs, family, no friends that understood or support group, I gave in. I’m a male to female transgender woman, yet I found myself binding to hide my boobs so know one else would be offended and to please my family. Gone was the hair weave, and I began to grow my own hair which at first was a tiny pony tail. My insurance didn’t cover therapy or any transitional care. I was no longer in therapy. I paid out-of-pocket to get my hormones and could only find one pharmacist willing to fill my prescriptions within a thirty mile radius of me. In the gay community, I was the token trans who was only called upon when money was needed to be raised for local AIDS organizations. The spiral of depression was gradual but devastating. In 2002 it would nearly end my life after my first and last, near succesful suicide attempt that left me unconscious for hours. I had to receive blood to live due to a near fatal loss of blood, along with one month under psychiatric observation. At 25, had I had any wisdom to form a support group, been able to attend one, or have others that understood; things may not have happened as they had.

The meaning of community

DONATE TO HELP C.A.T.S.

When you’ve survived a near fatal suicide attempt, it’s then you decide to live. I had to find a way back to myself and love me for me. With the help of therapy I decided to move for my own sanity. I ended up not far, just three hours south in Charleston SC, but what a difference three hours had made.

In 1999, Olivia (read our story with Olivia)², had created C.A.T.S, Charleston Area Transgender Support Group. Though small at the time I first attended, it would be another learning curve as a transgender woman for me. The trans community of Atlanta I had come from placed the highest value on passability, and trans hierarchy. Many I had encountered did not validate the lives of those that transitioned later in life, or who only dressed on occasions due to non-supportive marriages or family. My time back in my hometown that lead to my depression had changed my views on those that could not always express who they are. I now knew from experience how that felt myself and could relate. Those first meetings, I was often the only trans person of color, but eventually that would change when William, a trans man of color who was married to a trans woman befriended me. Through William, I was educated on trans masculinity and had my first exposure to trans/trans relationships. I met two girls with one that remains a close friend to this day, Jenna, who was the first transgender lesbian I had ever met as well. Again, the circles I had known prior did not include transgender women that didn’t like men, and at first this was a delicate topic for us. I had to come to terms with my own internal homophobia, and be educated that my transness was my gender and not my sexuality. Jenna was the first to help me understand that sexuality varies among trans people, and adds to the beauty of our diversity.

After a year of attending the support group, I had made the close friends I was going to make, and kept in touch with Mrs. Olivia over the years. I would drop in and out over time. As the next few years passed,  the directors and members of the group would change. Mrs. Olivia had left due to illness, some good changes some bad. The most productive were during the time of Amy Garboti and the current director Lee Anne LeLand. During this time the support group would grow from just a dozen older transitioning, white trans women to be more welcoming to trans people color, trans men, non-binary and parents of transgender youth. That dozen grew over time to hundreds in the community, even creating new groups for trans men, non-binary persons and for those younger than 18. This community group that educated me on diversity, has itself become a beacon of diversity for Charleston’s trans community.

The effects on the trans community of South Carolina by this group and it’s network of groups, would be an understatement if I even attempted to try to explain. In the years I’ve been witness to their work, the group has gone from etiquette, make-up and hair classes to real issues that we face. It’s here you will get a list of health care providers, list of friendly businesses, help with name changes and legal documentation and join a network of trans people throughout the area and state. Even among those who no longer attend regularly, there remains a supportive network. They have helped many find work, therapist or simply a friend that understands. Saving countless from the tragic depths of loneliness and depression. I’ve witness people who for the first time presenting themselves, full of fear and anxiety,  become confident and beautiful. It has inspired some to get politically involved and now work in local politics, business and it was at the table of one of those C.A.T.S meetings, that the proposal of me blogging about trans issues was born. That inspiration is now leading to my dream of my own magazine for my community. They have grown, adapted and served the trans community along with other members of the Palmetto Transgender Alliance³, to serve the trans community of South Carolina. Now they need our help.

We should always pay it forward

Save a Support Group

If you follow TMPlanet, you’ve probably noticed that I’m not one to have many ‘about me’ type of blog post. I don’t speak that often of my story, or get too personal. I’m actually shy, and withdrawn despite what many think. This is not about just helping friends. I haven’t been to a meeting probably in a year. After a lot of tribulations personally over the past couple of years, and the development of my dream of this magazine; many have suggested a kickstarter or gofundme. I have shared fund me campaigns on our social media pages for anyone in our community who asked, and I was seriously considering one for TMP until I heard that this local support group that has done so much, needed some love back from the community. Now, this is bigger than TMP, or C.A.T.S or any individual trans person or entity. This is about the countless trans people who still feel alone. This is for those that heart drops to the pits of their stomach,  as they walk out that front door as themselves for the very first time. Those wanting a place where they are welcomed as their true self. This is about keeping a safe place for many in the years to come. This is about being able to meet people who knows what if feels like to be discriminated against, harassed, and also the joys of that first T or E shot.  It’s about the next Sabrina, who as a trans woman of color can come to a place of diversity and be welcomed, and where she herself can learn more about the diversity of her trans community.

This is about love. Love for my sisters and brothers of C.A.T.S and all the trans support groups on the ground that are making a difference in so many trans people’s lives. Will you please consider helping with their expenses, or share this blog post so someone who can will. Also, support your local trans support groups, or start one. Let’s make sure the next generation continues to have a place of love to come and feel safe.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THIS OR ANY OTHER TOPIC ON OUR SITE, PLEASE JOIN THE CONVERSATION ON  THE TMP FORUM


  1. Trans Mental Health: There can be isolation, hiding and secrets, which can lead to depression and anxiety.  Transgender adults are much more likely to have suicidal thoughts, with 50% of adults reporting some suicidal ideation.  There seem to be two paths that people take early on: either one tries to hide their inner feeling of being the wrong sex and “passes” for what looks like a boy or girl, or one is incapable of hiding and presents as either a tom-boyish girl or a feminine boy.  Either path is fraught with problems for one’s emotional development.  The second scenario – of presenting as gender non-conforming is known to elicit harsh responses from society.  This is true for non-transgender people as well and many gay men and women experience this early on.
  2. Dear Trans Family…Will You Still Love Me When I’m No Longer Young and Beautiful?  Is the story and support of Olivia covered by TransMusePlanet, one of the founders of the first transgender support groups that is still in existence. Charleston Area Transgender Support Group, known as C.A.T.S. still operates today with several splinter groups for transgender men, non-binary and trans youth and most still attend the main meetings which can have an average of 50 attendees.
  3. Under Palmetto Transgender Alliance, the support groups are connected for greater awareness and reach for the states transgender community through their network of support.
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What Does It Mean to be an Ally? 

by Micah J. Fleck

I walk in some pretty indecipherable political circles these days– I care very much about progressive social promotion and science literacy, but I’m also not exactly a “progressive” by one’s modern standards of what a progressive must stand for and believe in. For instance, I have fiscally conservative views for the most part, and believe that less regulations on marketplaces tend to lead to greater opportunities and prosperity for all (though I make exceptions for forces of nature like climate change, which frankly don’t care about following classical economic rules, and advocate for green energy subsidies and caps on pollutants).

What this amounts to is the following: I actually relate to multiple different political outlooks and have no single circle of like-minded types with whom I can have conversations without ruffling at least a few feathers. Normally, this amounts to clashes of personal opinions regarding which mechanisms are the best for social change. And that’s fine– I can deal with honest debate. But one of the brick walls I continue to be run up against with my more conservative-leaning and libertarian friends is the issue of the transgender experience.

What I mean by this is not a mere disagreement on positive vs. negative rights regarding trans bathrooms; I literally run into people who feel that trans individuals are suffering from a mental disorder and deserve to have their self-identity belittled. For many of those who call themselves conservatives (and more ironically, libertarians), there is an apparent desire to not just personally disagree with the trans perspective, but deliberately and outwardly make a mockery of it.

This is, unfortunately, not a fringe belief, even in the early Twenty-First Century. A recent poll has revealed that a staggering 21% of Americans still believe that being trans makes one mentally ill. Think about this for a moment: the common argument against declaring trans rights as a serious civil rights issue is the citation that trans individuals make up single digits of the overall population, percentage-wise; but when nearly a quarter of the country believes the exact wrong thing about trans people themselves, the odds of a transgender American being discriminated against in everyday life go up dramatically. Who am I, as an ally, to buy into the argument that trans rights issues are “exaggerated” in the face of this data? Who are any of us? Fools, if we buy the lie, and unworthy of calling ourselves “allies” if we can just stay silent when we witness a friend or acquaintance perpetuating the ugliest of the preconceptions about our trans sisters and brothers.

Well, what about the “not so bad but still ignorant” views of trans people that are out there? Surely, we can forgive our “lovable bigot” friends and families for simply being ignorant, right? Well, the same poll that revealed the much-too-high number of Americans who saw transgenderism as a mental disorder revealed another cold truth: nearly 40% of Americans– double the number of those who see trans people as mentally ill– believe that transgenderism is “a choice.”

So we are faced with a grand total of ~60% of Americans who believe trans people are either one of two things: crazy or lying. This is the false dichotomy that the majority of our fellow Americans has dreamt up for themselves. And it’s terrifying.

I submit that as long as such utterly untrue beliefs about the mental states of trans individuals persist in such high percentages across this country, the only way we can call ourselves true allies of our trans friends, family members, lovers, spouses, children, etc., is to stand our ground and fight back against the falsehoods. It is not enough that we merely show support in certain venues, during certain days of the week, and within certain hours of the day; we must actively respond to any and all instances of ignorance and bigotry (even of the “soft” variety) that we come across.

How do we do it? Well, there are several ways in which one can make the argument in favor of the normalization and demystification of the trans experience– I intend on writing a series of articles doing just that. But for the time being, as a start, we must get it out of people’s heads that being trans is a delusion. For better or for worse, the “reasonable” transphobe’s argument amounts quite often to the appeal to “science” as his getaway car. We’ve all heard it at least once: “look, I’m not a bigot, but it’s just science!” Now, I’m going to write an entire piece addressing this claim from more that one angle, but for now I want to present the simplest argument: “science” is more than just biology. It also encompasses the fields of psychology and neuroscience. If one is going to appeal to scientific determination as a means to argue the “truth” of trans people’s mental states, then one must stay intellectually consistent and embrace the latest scientific findings and conclusions across all the scientific fields– otherwise, the person is picking and choosing what science to believe and what science to discard. The sure fire way to expose someone of doing this is to appeal to another scientific field that contradicts an anti-trans claim.

So let’s start with psychology. Here is what the official APA website’s most up-to-date (as of this writing) section on transgender mental health has to say on the matter:

 

“A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability. Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder.”

 

This distinction is very important: simply being trans does not guarantee one will experience gender dysphoria; gender dysphoria and being trans are not one and the same. But furthermore, gender dysphoria itself isn’t a mental disorder, either, as “mental disorders” are colloquially seen as synonymous with delusion or worse. But dysphoria is not dysmorphia; there is no warped perception of one’s own body or reality occurring even in the minds of those who are afflicted by GD. Instead, these individuals merely feel out-of-sync with the world around them due to the clash of public perception of gender and the person’s traditionally “opposite” outward presentation. But that is where the issue of perception begins and ends, and its origin point is with the onlooker; not the trans person herself.

“But psychology isn’t real science,” the transphobic critic might say. As much as this is already something akin to a fast-approaching no true Scotsman fallacy, let’s indulge this claim for a moment and dig into a field that is undeniably a hard science– even for the naysayer who might be resisting thus far. I’m referring, of course, to neuroscience.

Neuro researchers have been able to determine for some time now that men and women seem to possess, on average, distinct and recurring brain structures that are more or less exclusive to their gender. Does biological sex predetermine this? There are prominent naysayers in the scientific field today, such as Cordelia Fine and Victoria Pitts-Taylor, who argue that it does not, and that assuming so without digging deeper is not only unscientific, but prejudiced in its own right. While the neologism “neurosexism” is often cited as needlessly incendiary, it isn’t without merit. It is very unscientific to simply stop the inquiry after an initial finding only seems to confirm a preconception. And with the emergent discussion in neuroscience regarding brain plasticity’s potential susceptibility to external social experience, the book is far from closed on this.

Furthermore, there have been some exciting findings as of late regarding the brains of trans people: they, too, seem to possess their own unique brain structures. Since most trans people are, strictly biologically speaking, either one sex or the other, this would seem to put a pig hole in the assumption that men and women have the brains they do because they were simply born that way, predetermined by biology to think, feel, and perceive as strictly male or female. But despite this, when there are similarities seen to the more binary brains of men or women (and there are some), such similarities are aligned with the gender that the trans person identifies as. So when a trans woman calls herself a woman, her brain, unique in its own right, still has more traditionally female physicality than a cisgender man’s does.

How can this be? I think I have a good idea: what if factors other than mere biological predetermination are coming into play? What if one’s self-perception of gender truly is a result of social construction? What if brain plasticity (the ability for the brain to physically change yet still retain its solid qualities) has something to do with gender identity? Would this not line up with the scientific findings cited above? And would this not mean that a physical, tangible, scientific example of gender identity being tethered to one’s brain structure has been found?

Why does this matter? Must we cite scientific evidence of the reality of the trans experience in order to trust the sincerity of trans people themselves? Well, the truth is, we shouldn’t have to; but the numbers at the top of this article tell the story as to why we do. A great number of our fellow Americans still fail to understand that for trans people this is not a choice, preference, or delusion; it is the very identity of self. And that needs to be respected, delineated, and above all, protected. Protected from the bigotry and discrimination; protected from the rapes and murders; protected from the shortsighted legislation attempting to police where transgender people can go to relieve themselves. And as self-identified allies, this is not our time to pipe down or “let it slide” when yet another perpetuation of a falsehood slips by our ears or across our social media feeds. I believe that the mightiest weapon is the truth, and the best convoy for its application is the well-placed argument. Please, all of us allies, we must present our own arguments for the sake of truth, and for the protection of our trans loved ones. Hopefully some new truths were introduced to you today; place them well.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THIS OR ANY OTHER TOPIC ON OUR SITE, PLEASE JOIN THE CONVERSATION ON  THE TMP FORUM

 

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The Curious Case of the Philadelphia Pride Flag

by Micah J. Fleck

In June, the city of Philadelphia raised a new LGBT pride flag featuring two new colors (black and brown) in order to recognize and highlight a particular subgroup in the broader LGBT community: gay and trans people of color. The initiative behind this addition, More Color More Pride, is led by black queer activist Amber Hikes for the purposes of drawing attention to what she sees as a type of in-group bigotry within the LGBT community against its black and trans members. The new colors, which frankly look pretty damn cool up against the traditional rainbow, are being reported as having caused a divide in the LGBT world. But I think in an ironic way the additions merely put a spotlight on a rift that was already there.

The divide in question is being seen between the white and black LGBT members, as well as between those who are cis and trans. Now while this is certainly not true across the board (broad brushes make sloppy paintings), it’s common enough for me to have come across it firsthand despite being a mere ally who doesn’t live every second of my life in the gay or trans stratosphere. I’ve even had a few conversations with people who are cis, white, and gay, and who seem to be deeply irritated by the change. Before weighing in on which arguments I actually find reasonable and which I do not, let’s establish first a quick history and purpose behind the flag as well as how ubiquitous the color additions actually are.

First of all, the flag itself in its original form. It was designed by gay activist and artist Gilbert Baker in 1978, and originally did have two more colors than its final rendition. Though they were removed simply because the particular shades were more expensive to obtain in cloth at the time. What the world ultimately saw was a flag that featured the following colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. And each color represented something abstract and elemental, yet experiential (i.e. an emotion, like joy, or a natural interaction, like sunlight). In this way, the flag ensured to encompass the human experience broadly enough that it would be as inclusive as possible. It is a flag for all—including those who are gay. Because underneath the surface we all share these elemental and positive desires.

This is the intended symbol of the flag—inclusivity and humanity, no matter who you are. It’s a positive message, and had it been universally upheld for its values within the LGBT community, I seriously doubt there would even be an issue in the first place. But the reality is that many gay communities and events have been known to segregate themselves based on race, gender, class, or citizenship across the country—from Phoenix to Virginia to Philadelphia, and beyond. And this has been a thing for some time, dating back at least the 80s when lesbian majorities would keep blacks and men out of their gay bars, which were often the only places of refuge at the time, even if they too were part of the gay community. There’s also the ongoing problem of mainstream pride movements such as the Human Rights Campaign being accused of things like excluding conservatives or not investing any real money into trans-specific causes.

And the greater reality is that despite the more all-encompassing title of “pride” it now bears, this movement was originally just known as “gay pride,” which has caused confusion even among some of the modern gay activists I spoke to on this topic regarding how welcome trans people really are in it. “It’s gender, not orientation,” one woman in the movement explained to me; “Maybe they don’t belong in this movement and should have their own.” Apparently ‘separate but equal’ is back in fashion, at least for some in the gay community who can’t seem to wrap their heads around non-heteronormative genders being just as in need of pride representation as non-heteronormative sexual preferences.

Now of course there is indeed a trans rights movement all of its own—it even has its own flag of badass colors! But the point is that the pride movement at large has grown into something bigger and more encompassing than what it was when it began. And that’s absolutely okay. The entire point of pride parades, etc. is to show that one does not need to feel ashamed or marginalized for being oneself. To celebrate one’s humanity and social worth, regardless of what prejudices or discriminations are unfairly hoisted upon one’s very existence. Do trans members of society not qualify for that? Are they seriously not welcome in the pride movement simply because their plight is due to social clashes with their gender rather than who they are naturally sexually attracted to? Aren’t both of these things equally worthy of delineating a self-identity?

And what of the racism in particular that is seen in the LGBT community? It seems to permeate into the subconscious of so many LGBT people to the point where it causes exclusionary friendship and dating habits, according to some reports. And even if that itself isn’t as blatant or intentional as it could be, it comes back around to the principle that failing to provide welcome to others in the same rights crisis is akin to denying them refuge. Why in the world would human beings do this to each other?

Which brings us to the final piece of evidence in favor of the inclusion of the additional stripes to the Philadelphia flag: the murders of trans women of color that occur every year in the double digits and beyond. This has been called an epidemic by trans advocates, and whether or not one wants to go that far with the rhetoric, it’s hard to see it as anything other than targeting  of a specific demographic when one takes into account the very small percentage of trans individuals alive today in the U.S.: 0.3% of the total population. Now take that number and slice it even thinner by focusing not just on trans females, but trans females who are black. Why in the world are so many of them dying per year if their murders are just random occurrence and not specifically because of who and what they are? Why does the LGBT community, even in patches, seem disinterested in helping raise awareness about this group, and as a result take steps toward humanizing them? Protecting them?

This, the compilation of all the previous points, is the strongest case I have found for why the added colors were deemed necessary by the activists led by Amber Hikes. There is evidence that the LGBT community isn’t as inclusive as the flag supposedly represents, and for the specific demographics being ostracized, perhaps a visual cue or reminder that they matter too is needed—especially in Philadelphia, where we’ve already established this sort of exclusion goes on. From the perspective of someone in the position of Hikes, Philadelphia in particular needed a wake up call. It is, after all, just a local flag in Philadelphia; it’s not yet been accepted as the official worldwide flag. Who knows if it will, but even the fact that the flag was changed in an unofficial way in a single city has already caused an uproar with many gay activists. Considering the evidence put forth… Why?

The arguments against the additional colors vary, but the most reasonable one to my eye is the one that aims to preserve the legacy of what the flag was originally about. As it stands right now, the new flag’s colors do not seem to have an elemental meaning to them; they simply are the colors, and nothing more. Which makes the flag about race, now, and this is something Gilbert Baker was clearly trying to transcend. However, perhaps that transcending was, like many ideal things, a bit premature. After all, the LGBT community is still struggling with racism and transphobia, and the response from within to these additions do seem to confirm that a subconscious desire to exclude exists. What I can understand is the initial pushback to the idea at the conceptual stage, and for conceptual reasons; what I have a harder time wrapping my head around is the outright anger and division that has been occurring since the change was already made. What good does it do to literally say “you can’t add your colors to our flag… Because you’re welcome?” It becomes a contradictory rhetoric that seems more concerned with undoing an inclusive visual than taking genuinely inclusive action. And the latter is all the added colors were ever really after.

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Is Transgender Society’s Unity, Under Siege…From Within?

Throughout the world, Transgender society is under siege. If you think we are at war, you may not find many within our community to disagree. The call for visibility is at an all time high. The dangers are even higher, but it’s a call that has been made before in the past, and is now true for transgender society. Our pioneers threw the first stone to ignite ‘The Stonewall Riots’. The LG movement, then mobilized at a grass roots level, but it may have not been until the leadership of Harvey Milk¹ and his call from the steps of  the San Francisco city hall when he said;

“Gay brothers and sisters,… You must come out. Come out… to your parents… I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! To sit on the front steps — whether it’s a veranda in a small town or a concrete stoop in a big city — and to talk to our neighborhoods is infinitely more important than to huddle on the living-room lounger and watch a make-believe world in not-quite living color. I would like to see every gay doctor come out, every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up, and let that world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody would imagine. I was born of heterosexual parents. I was taught by heterosexual teachers in a fiercely heterosexual society. Television ads and newspaper ads — fiercely heterosexual. A society that puts down homosexuality. And why am I a homosexual if I’m affected by role models? I should have been a heterosexual. And no offense meant, but if teachers are going to affect you as role models, there’d be a lot of nuns running around the streets today.”

Imagine today the words of the Great Harvey Milk, if the words “gay brothers and sisters”, were trans brothers and sisters, and that the words heterosexual and homosexual were replaced with cisgender and transgender. Being transgender and being ostracized, cut off from families, loss of jobs, a second puberty, and your life being on the line, are not a choice. As in the late 70’s, we now live in an era with little representation in media. We are not fully represented in politics or sports, yet there are countless willing participants in our community. There are far too many misinformed cisgender people about what it means to be transgender. There are too many of us in trans society, sitting on their porches or concrete stoops of privilege. Be that privilege of passing, race, gender, etc., there are far too many people around the world that still say that they have never met a transgender person. Many are having conversations about yet another tragic trans death, all while standing next to one unknowingly.

At times like this in warfare, a tactical maneuver to efficiently deal with numerous opponents is to divide and conquer. Over this past week while yet another trans-woman of color was murdered, her life being ridiculed on black mainstream online media; a white trans woman, a former blogger and S.C. resident, thought she was giving major advice when she posted that trans-women of color should watch out for their surroundings as her only words of wisdom. She dances on the borderline of even blaming her sisters of color for being in a dangerous work environment, prostitution. Ignorant of the fact that, that was not the case for half of the eight victims who’ve been murdered in the past 30 days. 

A prominent trans man within the community told me about an ongoing attack (or a potential hot seat as stated by the perpetrator) from a trans woman who criticized him for his presumed lack of support for trans women. She demanded that he represent trans women, ignorant to the fact he does. I’ve witnessed the ramblings of one mixed raced trans woman of color attack a prominent trans woman of color blogger about her, as she viewed, her militant black American support. Ignorant at the fact that she is enlightening mainstream black America, to think about their trans sisters and brothers of color. Again, at times of war, a tactical maneuver to efficiently deal with numerous opponents is to divide and conquer.
Unity, is a choice we as a society can choose. Will there be a utopian world of complete unity? No, but that does not mean we should not strive for it in order to help change laws, protect the lives of those yet to come, and to one day see even more trans people represented in the media. We as a society must be careful in our attempts to gain understanding from a different segment of our society, that we don’t alienate another and aid in the divide and conquer of war. We can not expect all trans people to be the same, yet each and everyone of us owe it to our community to see a society in need of unity, and do each of our parts to attempt to reach beyond our immediate comfortable surroundings to a brother or sister in another segment of our society, remembering our common denominator.  If we are to be a unified community worthy of discussion at the table of mainstream society. Ty Underwood, Lamia Beard, Taja DeJeus, L. Edwards, Penny Proud,Yazmin Vash Payne, Bri Golec, Leelah Alcorn, Andi Woodhouse,² deserve our unity, their lives say ‘fix society’ and part of fixing that society starts with ours.

Visibility should be the death of the trans hierarchy, which basically is saying; that though I’ve received support, encouragement, guidance, and direction through my transition, and now that I have completed my transition, there is no need for me to return the support, encouragement, guidance and direction to others. That mentality has added zero to the equality of who we are, but kept us in the medieval mindset of mainstream society. It is the height of social selfishness when you take from a society that has guided you and give nothing back in return. There was someone who supported you through your completeness. There was a community providing literature to know who you are. There were support groups to share with like minded people. Without the visibility of those of the past that have provided for many of us today, we would still be searching to know who we are or worse, felt there was no one to ‘fix society’.

When we are accustomed to something we no longer fear it. When the world knows of trans people they will no longer fear us. When your family and friends knows a trans person, they will no longer fear us. When your towns and cities know a successful, happy trans person, they will no longer fear us. When our politicians make laws concerning our lives they will know the lives they are affecting. Visibility is hard, can be dangerous, but it is necessary for the seamless transition to be fully equal and to have our seat firmly planted at the table of the world.

 

Unfortunately even with visibility, a community that can not support each other will have little respect or hope in gaining support from those that don’t understand. There can’t be a transgender person alive that does not realize we need more unity even amongst ourselves. Then why are we still urging it within trans society? Why are there still trans people who know no other trans person outside of their race? Why are there trans people of “passing privilege” adding to the discrimination of those without? Why are there trans men on the TERF’s³ side against trans women? Why are there trans women against the visibility of trans men, who have only recently been given the media attention and visibility that trans women have had far more years of? We should be glad as women, to see the men shine and take a seat at the table of trans society. The visibility of both sexes matter and is necessary.

There is no room at the bottom of the barrel of the world’s minority groups for racial hate or ignorance. Hate is something I honestly say I can’t understand. Since I was a child I could never imagine hating an entire community of people. Being multi-racial I tackled my ideas of race in pre-school. I realized early the one drop rule;  a sociological and legal principle of racial classification that was historically prominent in the United States asserting that any person with even one ancestor of sub-Saharan-African ancestry (“one drop” of African blood) is considered to be black. I  also learned what it meant and felt like to be told, “not black enough.” Seems representing my duality is something I learned long before dysphoria set in.

We as trans society can do so much more to reach across the aisle of race and be an example to the rest of society, sadly we are not even halfway there even amongst ourselves, and we dare sit at the table of the world and say give me equality!

Before visibility can achieve full equality for trans society, we as a society must address, and correct the things that divide us. One can not achieve equality if one doesn’t know how to give it. It is not up to the trans activist to do this. It is not just up to the trans celebrities to set an example. It is not up to the blogger to bring it up. Support of others within our community can’t be limited to a Facebook post. We, trans society, each man, woman, and the gender fluidity in between is responsible for our own actions concerning unity. Here and now, we are the writers for our society. We determine the direction trans people 50 years from now will follow. Will it be a society unified, or a society that still can’t achieve their seat in the world because they haven’t learned how to even give a seat to their own?

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  1. Harvey Milk, was a visionary civil and human rights leader who became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk’s unprecedented loud and unapologetic proclamation of his authenticity as an openly gay candidate for public office, and his subsequent election gave never before experienced hope  to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) people everywhere at a time when the community was encountering widespread hostility and discrimination. His remarkable career was tragically cut short when he was assassinated nearly a year after taking office.
  2. Nearly three dozen transgender women were killed, or committed suicide in 2016 in America alone.   The TMM TDoV 2016 update reports killings of trans and gender diverse people between January 2008 and December 2015 in all world regions: 1,573 killings in 23 countries in Central and South America, which account for 78% of the globally reported murders; 179 killings in 16 Asian countries; 137 killings in North America; 112 killings in 16 European countries; 10 killings have been reported in 4 African countries; and 5 killings in 4 countries in Oceania.
  3. Terf: Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. That group of feminists that claims that trans women aren’t really women, as biological determinism is only a fallacy when it used against them, not when they use it against others.
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