“All they did was talk about binders, I just wanted to meet other gay guys.” This quote by a gay man who visited his college’s LGBT campus group stood out in my perusing of the reddit sub formerly known as LGBdroptheT which has been recently banned for hate speech against transgender people. Reddit has been trying to clean house lately but I think they may have made a mistake this time. The critique of the transgender movement and the tensions between some of the letters in LGBTQIA+ is a very real thing and is certainly worthy of conversation.
The LGBT Movement Until Now
When the Stonewall riots broke out in 1969, they punctuated a decade of racial strife, war protests, and massive social changes. Tensions between the police and LGBT people had been growing over the decade. At that time, both in the UK and in the United States sodomy was often illegal. Bars, where gay cruising was common, were often raided by the police and people participating in same-sex activities were arrested on morals charges. There were even laws requiring women to wear a certain amount of female clothing to avoid arrest. It might seem a bit strange now, but those were the times. When the LGBT movement began to strike back, it only made sense for all aspects of the broader queer community to unite under one flag. Gay men, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transpersons began their march for equality. The rainbow flag was created to represent everyone who didn’t fit into the heteronormative society.
Over time, those riots paid off and gay bars, events, and festivals began to flourish. Gone were the police with their batons in hand and slowly but surely, America learned that gay people were everywhere. They were in every profession and almost every part of society. Fast forward to 2015 and the Supreme Court, via the Obergefell decision, legalized gay marriage in the United States. Over the intervening decades, activists helped pass state-level gay marriage laws and civil partnerships. In the media, LGBT people became much more prominent. While Ellen Degeneres caused a national stir when she came out on her sitcom, Modern Family and other shows have slipped gay characters right into the storyline. Rupaul’s Drag Race, despite its extreme camp and plenty of drama, has brought a large part of the gay male culture into the mainstream.
Over the past 51 years since Stonewall, the LGBT has made slow gains and now in 2020, acceptance is widespread like never before. It is one of the safest times to be LGBT in modern, western democracies. However, one group feels distinctly left out: Trans people (the T in LGBT).
The LGBT Movement After Obergefell
After the 2015 decision, it seemed like the LGBT movement had rather reached its zenith. The main goal: marriage equality had been achieved, at least through the court system. However, a new struggle was already set to begin: trans rights. LGBT groups redirected their prodigious funding and resources to fight these new battles. The transition happened quickly and it started with a certain bathroom bill. We’ll come back to that in a moment.
First, we should talk about the legal challenges that trans people might have when making the transition. There are a variety of legal problems that trans people face that are not common to the gay community. When someone chooses to transition to a different gender, there are all sorts of barriers within the legal system that make the transition difficult. Getting gender reassignment surgery can be a long process requiring the consent of a psychiatrist. Getting passports, driver’s licenses and birth certificates changed can also be difficult. Filling out any form asking for gender identification can be an anxiety-inducing experience. Some states even sport deception laws where if someone picks up a trans person at the bar and discovers that they have different genitals than they were expecting and kills them, it’s not counted as murder. And then there’s the bathroom problem.
In 2016, the nation turned its attention to North Carolina. That year, the Republican-controlled legislature passed HB2 which required transgendered persons to use the bathroom corresponding to their birth certificate. This means that even if a trans person has had surgery but hasn’t their birth certificate changed, they would have to use the bathroom according to that gender. This law even applies to a trans person who had been on hormones for years and no longer looked like their birth gender. Social media took to the cause and trans people posted pictures of themselves in the “wrong” bathroom. Their point was clear, why would you want a transman in a female restroom or a transwoman in the men’s room?
The controversy became a flashpoint in the 2016 election and even Donald Trump admitted that he had no problem with the bill and that people going into Trump Tower could use any bathroom they felt was best. Caitlyn Jenner famously tested this out by going to Trump tower and using the bathroom herself. For the rest of the right, the bathroom bill became an issue to die on. The bill would wind its way through the courts until a settlement was reached in 2019 ultimately defeating the bill long after the national microscope had moved onto other issues.
Transphobia and Racism?
Is separating trans/gender issues from sexuality a bad idea? Trans activists already seem to think so. A new organization dedicated to that separation has been decried as transphobic. When Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling came out supporting someone who had been fired for declaring there are only two sexes and that there are differences, The Twittersphere nearly exploded and people began the long march of cancel culture against J.K. Rowling.
Dress however you please.— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 19, 2019
Call yourself whatever you like.
Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you.
Live your best life in peace and security.
But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill
The intersectionality or lack thereof in the LGBT movement has been recently highlighted in putting trans women of color to the forefront of activism and defense. In this piece from the New York Times they reported that violence against black women had reached epidemic levels and that black trans women, who have never really shared in the successes of the LGBT movement are looking for changes. The challenge here is two-fold: fighting the systemic racism within the gay community and also creating an accepting place for trans people and sharing in the cultural acceptance and social gains that LGBs have recently achieved. This is a tall order but they are out front bringing awareness to the issues facing trans people of color and trans people overall. The progress made over the past 10-15 has been lightning fast and the first hurdle happens right within the LGBT community: dating.
This problem has hit the dating arena within the LGBT movement. Anyone who is gay and has used an app knows that racism is rampant, however, there is also a gender identity and sex problem that is really the source of the rift. Most LGBs are attracted to the same gender as themselves and have certain expectations when they are dating including the biological parts that go along with their attraction. Trans activists claim that far too many people, especially gay men, have “genital hang-ups” when dating trans men or trans women who are homosexual and which to engage in relationships with people of the same gender as their gender identity. Lesbians have also had a terrible time with their spaces being flooded with transwomen. What is a well-meaning LGB person to do? Trans activists would say date the trans person but many people who identify as LGB are not necessarily excited by the physical relationship that might entail. The mental anguish for trans people is obvious as is the difficulty for LGB people who may not be excited about the realities of dating someone who is trans. Gay men are attracted to other men and lesbian women are attracted to other women if the very concept of what a man or woman means is gone, where does that leave homosexuality? Does that mean that it is time for LGB and T to finally break free from each other?
Time for the T to Leave the Nest?
In this article from the Independent, a trans person posits an idea: it’s time for trans people to fly the LGBT coup. They admit that its been a nice partnership but maybe it is time to separate from the LGB. The issues are different and while they have made tremendous progress in only 10 years, there are many people who are struggling to swallow this new cultural change. People are just getting used to having gay people around and it took nearly 50 years to make it happen. Trans activists are trying to create in far less time what took LGBs decades to create. However, politics drove the LGBT together and politics might keep them together.
There might be a reason to stick together and it’s the reason that LGBT came together in the first place: power in numbers which translates into political power. In a recent article from the Southern Poverty Law Center, they identified a new potential strategy for legislative wins again the “alphabet soup,” separate trans people from the LGBs. They deem that gender identity is a bridge too far for most people and the Right could have political success against trans people if they lay LGBs off to one side.
In this article, a poll is cited that people are actually less accepting of LGBTQ people, especially among the 18-25 set and long-time LGBT activists are worried that part of that decline has to do with the trans movement blossoming out of nowhere in the last 10 years and immediately demanding society bend to a new reality where gender is a choice rather than a biological reality. A little Q and A from The Atlantic summarizes the issues well. Trans issues are different than LGB issues and most LGB people are gender essentialists (people who align with their biological sex). It seems like LGB and T really should separate but that could also be a hand-out to the Right to hammer down on trans activists without offending the larger LGB movement or people who support their LGB relatives and friends. Trans activism on its own could be in a lonely political landscape with little outside help.
Whether the LGB and T groups should separate is a decision that will be made by people, activists and organizations moving forward. The fact that the movement no longer has the solidarity that it once had is still troubling. Everyone in the LGBTQIA+ movement has a long way to go to get true quality. Just this year, the Supreme Court finally made it illegal to fire someone for their sexuality but noticeably not for their gender identity. The LGBT movement still has a long way to go. It may do well to stick together for a little while longer.