Queer Genocide


As I discussed in my last post, there were a very rough estimate of 15,000 gay men who were sent to concentration camps, marked with Pink Triangles, who received some of the most cruel and terrible treatment of any non-Jewish group. This doesn’t account for the numerous lesbian women who were also sent to concentration camps, but were considered ‘asocials’ along with prostitutes and mentally ill people. Further, unlike other groups, once the Pink Triangles were freed from the camps, they were often tossed back into jail, since homosexuality was still illegal in Germany and most of the Allied nations.  This post dives deeper into what happened to the Holocaust survivors after the war, and how this was a crucial turning point that humanity only part way followed through with, as well as theorizing how our world could have been different.
After World War 2 ended, the word “Genocide” was officially coined to describe the atrocities against the Jews in the Holocaust. Prior to that, the word did not exist, though there were events that could be classified as genocide prior to World War 2. In 1948, the newly formed United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) to ensure such atrocities would never occur again in our world. The convention defined Genocide as follows:

“Article II:  In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group; 

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; 

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; 

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; 
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The convention went further to define and clarify which actions are punishable. It is important to note that, while actually committing mass-murder genocide is obviously punishable, any sort of conspiracy to commit genocide, attempts to incite genocide, or even being complacent to allow genocide were all punishable. Some examples include creating laws and policies to push the concept of genocide, restricting marriage, or separating and isolating certain groups of people. The following quote comes from Article 3  of the convention:

It is a crime to plan or incite genocide, even before killing starts, and to aid or abet genocide: Criminal acts include conspiracy, direct and public incitement, attempts to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide.

Article 3 goes on to expand on each point of Article 2. I think their explanation of “(d) Prevention of births” is very poignant:   

Prevention of births includes involuntary sterilization, forced abortion, prohibition of marriage, and long-term separation of men and women intended to prevent procreation.
It is important to stress that, according to the UN, the action of mass murder is incredibly heinous, but the intention of eliminating a group extends further than just physical death  Isolating a group, classifying them as lesser and deserving of lesser rights (causing mental harm), banning marriages, or forcing sterilization are all qualities of a culture leading to genocide. The parallels to the current day oppression of LGBT individuals are obvious. Many politicians still call us unnatural, disgusting, prevent us from being married, prevent us from adopting, and block anti-discrimination policies. Anti-gay camps still conduct medical experiments on humans to try and eliminate the gay gene or pray away the gay. Much has changed, but much more still needs to be done.
Unfortunately, the CPPCG specified only four protected groups as protected internationally from genocide; each a group that was targeted for genocide by the Nazis in the Holocaust:  national groups, ethnic groups,  racial groups. religious groups. It would be a logical extension to include LGBT individuals in this list, since they were also a group specifically targeted in the Holocaust, but due to the politics and the overwhelming homophobia, the plight of the Pink Triangles was brushed under the table. This can be seen as an extension of the Nuremberg War Trials, where the queer Holocaust victims was entirely ignored, where doctors who conducted inhumane experiments on living queer people were never prosecuted, and the world at that time and for decades after knew nothing about queer people being targeted. While it is not surprising that queer victims were silenced and ignored, given the rampant homophobia at that time, it is still a crucial moment where we could have, as a united group of humanity, decided that torture of any of our brothers and sisters was wrong, we instead decided to qualify that only some sorts of hate were not acceptable. At that time, we as a world society decided that trying to outright eliminate certain groups was unacceptable, but other groups might be okay to be washed away. It makes me wonder what would have happened, had the CPPCG not qualified only certain groups, or used more broad qualifications, where would we be now? It was not just queer groups who were left out; numerous social and political groups were discluded, which drew significant criticism to the CPPCG. 
Had the queer victims of the Holocaust been freed and acknowledged like all the other groups of victims, what would that have changed? If “homosexuality” was included as a group protected by the CPPCG, what would be different? There would obviously have been greater justice, peace, and healing for the queer Holocaust survivors. But beyond that, governments around the world would have had to re-evaluate their anti-sodomy laws and other homophobic policies. Theoretically, there could not be any laws on the books that explicitly banned gay marriage, nor adoption of children, and there could be no restriction on gathering of homosexuals, if a nation was to abide by the UN’s guidelines preventing genocide. This would have put LGBT rights decades ahead of where they are now. Had this happened in the 40’s, LGBT rights may not be a controversial topic today. Of course, this is all theoretical, and even if the queer people were protected by the CPPCG’s definition of genocide, there would have been ways around the new standards and laws. Take for instance the plight of the African American community in the early 50s. 
In the early 50s, it became apparent to numerous African American rights groups that the standards set by the CPPCG preventing even the intention of genocide were actually not being met here at home. Jim Crow laws cruelly separated African Americans, inter-racial marriage bans put a limit on reproduction, politicians frequently debased and devalued the “Negros”. The parallels between what the CPPCG defined as pre-indicators of mass-murder genocide were often met in America under Jim Crow. In 1951, a petition entitled “We Charge Genocide” was presented by  the Civil Rights Congress, a pro-African American rights group, considered by some to be an extreme fringe group. They claimed that Jim Crow laws, lynching, and other forms of assault all qualified as punishable precursors to genocide, according to the CPPCG’s standards.  Their tactic, in part, was to publicly embarrass the USA on a global stage in efforts to force change at home – how could the USA claim genocide was atrocious while committing those same actions at home? While this petition was never adopted by the CPPCG, likely due to the UN’s relatively limited power at the time and the importance of keeping America as part of the UN, this tactic was later used by numerous civil rights groups. Pointing out the hypocrisy of fighting for freedom while stealing freedom from certain citizens proved to be an effective strategy to put pressure on politicians, and while this petition was dismissed, it still brought the issue to an international and very public stage in a way it had never been before. A similar strategy was used in the 60s to bring more pressure for equal rights for African Americans, and played a part in the legislative changes which came later.
Overall, it is hard to say what exactly would have happened had the LGBT victims of the Holocaust been recognized at the Nuremberg War Trials, and further as part of the definition of genocide and thus having the protection of the UN. However, we would be much further along than we are now. The world recoiled from the extremism of the Nazi Holocaust and made a decision at that point we would never allow such a heinous tragedy to occur again. Even if the movements were largely symbolic, a decision was made then that we would as a human race would grow past that and never again try to utterly exterminate any group of our brothers or sisters. However, we only went part of the way to that ideal. Because it was too difficult, only some groups were considered worthy of being protected. In many ways, it seems like a missed opportunity. While it was a monumental and historic occasion for the human race, we backed away because it was too hard. Perhaps its time to revisit the definition of genocide?
Some may say this has no relevance today, but queer genocide is a real thing that is really happening in our recent history, especially the intention to commit genocide, though actual mass-murder of queer people has occurred quite recently as well. Darfur and Uganda are two examples of modern mass-murder ‘genocide’ (though neither met the technical criteria issued by the CPPCG). Russia’s new anti-LGBT laws will throw people in jail (isolating them) solely for supporting queer rights. The justification used in Russia is the exact same as Nazi Germany, “homosexuals jeopardize the moral purity of Russia”. 
To a lesser extent the same genocidal intentions are present here in the USA. Conservative American politicians push the exact same dialog as the Nazis and the Russians to justify their positions; LGBT rights are immoral and acknowledging them lessens the value of the straight majority. The sort of dialog pumped out by these conservatives meets numerous of the criteria for genocidal intention. The sodomy laws and explicit bans on gay marriage violate the CPPCG’s standards. LGBT rights have come a very long way in the past few years, but we still have a long way to go, if the treatment queer people receive in US in 2014 could still be classified as precursors of genocide. 

The Invisible Queer Victims of the Holocaust

A few weeks ago, I went up to Cedar Crest College to speak on the last day of a week-long series of events focusing on the Holocaust, hosted by a very good friend of mine. At first, I had some hesitation over agreeing to the topic. While I knew queer people suffered during the Holocaust, I wasn’t sure how I was an appropriate person for such a presentation, but after preparing for my speech, I learned so much more about how the queer Holocaust victims received the worst treatment of any non-Jewish group, and unlike any other group in the Holocaust, even after being freed from concentration camps, the hatred faced by queer Holocaust victims continued for decades. I learned that while the Nazi Holocaust is long past, the genocides in Uganda and Darfur, as well as Russia’s new anti-gay laws show we may not be as far from repeating these mistakes as we would like to think. I wanted to share some of the story of what happened to gay people in Germany during this period in time, and highlight how many things have not changed in the past 80 years.
As a sidenote for some historical context, Transgender as a term did not even exist until the 90s. A transgender person living in the 1930’s and 1940’s would likely be considered to be gay, at this time. Even the label gay doesn’t quite fit, as it has a specific definition present day that doesn’t always match up with how people may have thought throughout history. As gender roles and cultural norms shift, behavior that we might think is “gay” may have been considered perfectly normal for a straight man at a certain time in history to do. That being said, “homosexual sex” is usually the big issue, and often focuses on male + male penetrational sex (often defined as sodomy, though technically the term refers to any non-procreational sex) being the truly heinous offense.
Prior to World War 2, things were relatively good for gay people in Germany compared to other European countries. While there were sodomy laws that made male + male penetrational sex illegal, the standard for conviction was very high, so it required a great deal of evidence to convict anyone of that crime. Gay social groups were allowed to exist so long as they did not actually admit to having sex. As the Nazis took power in the early 1930’s, that radically changed. Hitler and his regime practiced a strict policy of homophobia. In 1935, “Paragraph 175” of the Germany Criminal code, which up till then banned sexual deviants such as pedophilia and beastiality, was ammended to make male gay sex a punishable offense of up to 10 years in jail, lowered the standard of conviction significantly, and later gave judges the power to order compulsory or voluntary castration (which many were coerced to undergo anyways). While lesbian sex was not considered illegal under Paragraph 175, lesbians were considered asocials, since they did not meet the “German standards of womanhood” such as being a good wife and mother, bearing kids for your husband, etc. Other asocials included prostitutes, chronically unemployed, mentally ill, handicapped people, and more.
In February 1937, Henrich Himmler, head of Hitler’s SS, gave a speech in which he declared that <b>homosexuality threatened the moral purity of Germany</b> as well as the racial purity of the Aryan race. He also announced that, under his authority, any homosexuals convicted under Paragraph 175 would be sent to concentration camps once the court had finished with them. Informant networks sprung up, with kids informing on teachers suspected of being gay, gay groups being raided, having their membership lists used to identify more homosexuals, and all books relating to sexuality were publicly burnt. The program to send homosexuals to concentration had a slogan of “Extermination Through Work.”Men convicted under Paragraph 175 and sent to concentration camps were marked with a downward-pointing pink triangle (just as Jews were branded with a yellow Star of David). Lesbian women were branded with black triangles, marking them as asocials.
Life in the camps for the Pink Triangles was more awful than any other non-Jewish groups. They were strictly monitored 24/7 to ensure no men had sex. They were completely isolated in their own block, immediately killed if they so much as talked to a prisoner from another block. The Nazis were terrified the Pink Triangles would seduce the other prisoners, which was ironic, since homosexual sex was much more prominent in any other block which was not as strictly monitored. Not only did the Pink Triangles experience abuse from their Nazi jailors, but they experienced the same discrimination and hatred from other prisoners due to widespread homophobia; gay prisoners were even beaten to death by other homophobic prisoners. For every other group, the camps were made up of two groups, the Prisoners VS the Nazis, which gave all of the prisoners a sense of commrodery which helped many make it through the terrible period. This was not true for the Pink Triangles, they had no support, no group, no safety at all. Everyone was likely to want them dead. This complete isolation, even by other prisoners, had a terrible affect on the Pink Triangles’ psyche.
Pink Triangles were considered the lowest of lows, below the criminals, often not allowed to hold any sort of position of responsibility. If a homosexual man went to the sick bay, they were not likely to ever return. The Pink Triangles were the first to be taken for experimentation. This was especially true for numerous doctors who tried to <b>discover and destroy the gay gene</b> and <b>cure the gay disease</b>. Pink Triangles were forced to undergo 10-13 hours in grueling, backbreaking, pointless work meant to break their spirit and crush their hope. An example of this would be taking the first half of the day to move snow from one side of the road to the other using their bare hands, then spend the second half of the day moving it back to the original side of the road. Death rates of Pink Triangles was susptected to be 3-4 times higher than any other non-Jewish category of prisoner.
The torture for gay Holocaust victims did not stop after World War 2. As the Allied forces liberated the concentration camps one after another, most people were freed and sent home, many eventually given some monetary compensation or pension by the government for their suffering. Pink Triangles, however, were often taken out of concentration camp only to be returned immediately to German jails, since homosexuality was still illegal under Paragraph 175. Their time in concentration camps was sometimes counted as time served. Further, many other European countries (and America) still had laws banning sodomy, so even the liberators of the camps considered the Pink Triangles lower than criminals. The targetted torture of the LGBT people was not recognized at all in the Nuremberg War Crimes, which took place after the war ended to hold key Nazi officials responsible for the atrocities they commited during the war. Many of the doctors who committed atrocious experiments on humans to try to cure the gay gene lived and died as free men after the war. It wasn’t until 30+ years later that the German government officially repealed the part of Paragraph 175 banning gay sex in 1969. Even then, it was not until 2002 that the German government offered an official apology to the gay community. The last known gay Holocaust survivor died in 2008. Because of all the homophobia that was rampant throughout the area and the techniques used to silence gay Holocaust victims, nobody really knows how many gay people were in the concentration camps. Most reports range from 5,000 to 15,000 Pink Triangles in the concentration camps. Other reports site over 100,000 gay people being arrested and taken away. Over 60% of the people wearing Pink Triangles died after they arrived in the concentration camps.
Historically, this is a very sad story and a part of our story as LGBT individuals in a world full of hate and homophobia. But the ramifications of this event in our past are still only now being understood. For so long, gay victims of the Holocaust were invisible, it has only been in the past 30 years they have even been acknowledged, and only in the past 10 they have been officially recognized as victims of the Holocaust. I believe it is important for us as queer people to claim this part of our history. This is the end result of the homophobic speeches given by numerous conservative leaders to incite the masses against their queer brothers and sisters. This is where policies like those in Russia, where they are rapidly identifying and isolating any homosexuals, this is where those policies lead. Queer rights aren’t some new special thing, but the exact same rights conservative governments have tried to take from us for centuries. We are not some new movement that came from nowhere, we are a culmination of centuries of pointless hate, and we won’t take it anymore. Claiming our history is, in my opinion, a big step for advancing our identity as queer people, and an amazingly powerful driving force to make us not only crave equality and justice, but to know we deserve it.
Had the queer victims of the Holocaust been recognized immediately after the war ended, had they be part of the Nuremberg Trials after the war, I believe we would be living in a radically different and much more equal world. I will get into why I believe that in my next post, but I wanted to first explore some of the historical facts about the Holocaust.

Defining a Gay Relationship

When someone says they are gay, it is often implied to be a simple meaning. If they are a man, that menas they’re into men. If they’re a woman, that means they are into women. However, with our new defnitions of gender, that becomes more difficult. What about someone who is between genders? What about transsexual people who are both?

I was once talking with a lesbian woman who I liked very much. We were flirting a little, but in the end, she said she was only interested in real women, with vaginas. For a long time, I was offended by this, despite the fact she was my friend. Is having a vagina her prerequisite to being a woman? Which led me to ask, is a lesbian relationship about two vaginas, or two women? How much of the relationship is about genitalia and how they interact? When its spelled out so bluntly, I think it sounds rather silly. But it all comes back to, how do we define man and woman?

Being a few years older and a few years wiser now than I was when I talked to this woman, I do understand now, sometimes people have a preference for being with someone with certain genitalia, and that is perfectly reasonable. People have their own sexual preferences. However, the question is, is this the same as being gay or straight?

For instance, a genetic female (a person who was born a woman and defines themselves as a woman) dates a transgender woman (who was born male but identifies as female), is that a lesbian relationship? What if the transgirl is pre-op or non-op (either before, or not intending, to get Sexual Reeassignment Surgery(SRS), and still has a penis), is that still a lesbian relationship? What if two transgirls were together? Would they be in a lesbian relationship only after SRS? Is it gay if they are both pre-op?

I have the unique experience of being a transgender woman who has dated other transgender women. Whenever I dated transgirls, there was a sense of shared experience. We both knew what it was like to deal with hormone replacement therapy. We both knew about makeup to cover stubble, we both knew about tucking, about re-learning to speak, about feeling suddenly self conscious about passing. We don’t even have to speak about it, it is just something we both share. We often tease, this must be how “normal” gay  couples feel when they start dating someone of the same sex, this sense of shared experience.

In the end, I find it hard to define what a gay or lesbian relationship is. I think the best way to go about it is to define the relationship based on the gender identity of those involved, but since gender isn’t a binary, often even those definitions are too limited.

Bathroom Advice

For transgender people, the bathroom is an incredibly significant place. I mean, sure, everyone uses the bathroom. However, for trans people, bathrooms can be stressful, embarrassing, frightening, or even dangerous. When a trans person is just starting transition, bathrooms can be one of the biggest obstacles they face, despite the fact all they want to do is pee. And so, I want to share some of my bathroom experience. I promise I washed my hands!
When someone decides to enter a bathroom, they are immediately faced with one of two choices (usually). Stick figure with pants or stick figure with a dress. You have to pick one or the other. Sometimes you will be lucky and find a gender neutral bathroom, but more often than not you will have to pick one of the two doors to go through. My advice for which door to choose is what I call “the bathroom of least resistance.” If you are presenting male, and look more male than female, use the men’s bathroom. If you present and/or look more female, use the women’s room. This can change based on the day, but the best bet is to blend when dealing with bathrooms. If you look too much in the middle, you will probably have issues blending. Gender ambiguous people often struggle a great deal more than transsexuals when it comes to using bathrooms.
Behavior is very important in bathrooms. Men do not talk, unless you are with a friend or were talking before you went in. Women will strike up conversation over the stall wall with strangers at times, and small talk is very common. It throws many trans people off when they first enter the other restroom, but it is easy enough to adjust.
There is a concept in the trans community called Stand To Pee, which may be very important for transmen. By using devices such as spoons (which you can buy easily over the internet), transmen are able to use a urinal just like any other man. It does take practice though, as well as finding the right device to use for yourself. Transwomen have to learn the opposite; when using a public ladies’ room, a transwoman should always sit. Its not because other women are going to be staring in your stall, but seeing a set of feat pointed the wrong way, even in passing, may cause alarm. However, a transwoman can still pee standing up without a problem. If I am ever out camping, I swear you will not find me squatting.
Another important pee-releated lesson for trans people is about sound. Transgender women and men (but especially men from what I have heard) have to change the sound they make when urinating; there is a subtle difference between how biological men and women sound when they go, and this is something trans people have to be aware of to blend in the bathroom.
The most important thing I can share from my experience is to be calm and relaxed. If you are overly anxious, it will be picked up on, and other people will become uncomfortable. If you’re comfortable, its more likely noone will pay enough attention to you to even start questioning your gender.
Some readers may wonder why all this is necessary. Its just peeing, why must it be so complicated? The truth though, is that it can be very dangerous. Since bathrooms are gendered space, any obvious trans people may be seen as an invader. Someone may want to prove the sex of a trans person. Some may feel violated just by our presence in their gendered space. There is often only one exit, so a trans person can be trapped easily. Not only that, but attacks from conservative groups paint trans people in bathrooms as “Men in dresses who are after your daughters.” In fact, bathroom-based attacks are very common amongst transphobic and homophobic groups and individuals. This has created a culture of anxiety and fear for trans people who wish to use the bathroom.
I always try to turn difficult moments about my transition into learning moments, either for myself or to educate the people around me. However, in such a strongly gendered place, it helps to know some tricks to blend in. Choosing your battles is another important lesson for all transgender people.

 

Two Speeches on Domestic Violence

This past week has been a very busy, but very productive week for me. On Thursday, I gave a full-staff LGBT Sensitivity training to Turning Point, the local domestic violence shelter, and on Friday, I returned to Millersville University, my alma matar, to give a presentation on the fight for equality. I noticed several commonalities across my two presentations; even though they were on different themes with very different audiences.
Speaking at Turning Point was an amazing experience; I spoke to nearly every staff member who works at the shelter, as well as their therapists and administrators. Many in the audience were already well versed and very comfortable discussing queer issues, and even those for whom, this was their first exposure to LGBT issues had no trouble understanding that LGBT rights are human rights, that we are fighting for the equal right to live without being the subject of verbal, physical, and sexual violence. I had an amazing discussion with the staff of Turning Point focusing around labeling the abuse LGBT youth especially suffer at the hands of family. The next night when I spoke to a group of students at Millersville, we had a very similar discussion about a new shift in how society is beginning to view queer people, and how we as a movement are responding to the treatment we have received.
For some reason, I have seen a great deal of hesitation in the LGBT community to label what we go through as abuse. If a straight child was screamed at by their parents, told they are going to hell, that they will suffer for eternity, we would call that parent a bad parent. If a straight child was thrown on the streets by their parents and told never to come home, that they have no family, we would as a society call them bad parents. If someone’s religion dictates that their children are their slaves and make their kids do back-breaking, dangerous work, we would call that abuse. If a man is a chauvinistic bigot and believes his daughter is ‘lesser’ than him, that she will always be less of a person because of her gender, we call that abuse. If someone’s faith says its okay for them to rape their children, we call that abuse. We give a lot of value to freedom of religion in America, but there is a line, and that line is called domestic abuse. You cannot commit violence, be it verbal, physical, or sexual, upon your child in our country; we call that abuse, and you will lose your children if it is discovered. And I think its time the queer movement recognizes that it is NOT acceptable for parents to attack their children, no matter what their religion says. The bible was once used to protect slavery, we cannot allow it to be the safeguard for homophobia and hatred, especially not when it is committed against vulnerable LGBT youth.
I believe labeling this behavior as abusive will do many things for the LGBT movement and for our culture at large. First, there are MANY resources available for the victims of domestic abuse; there are shelters, there is empowerment training, there are resources allocated for giving supplies to victims, and so, so much more. This also presents a change in the way society views queer youth. It has already become very well known that LGBT youth suffer extreme amounts of bullying at school, but not many realize many of these kids are going home to environments that are just as negative and dangerous, if not worse, than the bullying they face at school. Even when an LGBT youth expresses concerns about their parent’s homophobic/transphobic behavior, they are told to ‘just be patient,’ ‘maybe they just need more time,’ ‘give them a chance’, even if they go home every night and are physically attacked for their gender variance. Labeling that behavior as abuse makes it clear that it is NOT the child who is the problem because they are queer, it is the parent who is the problem, because they are attacking their child. So many queer youth who lose their families blame themselves, “if only I hadn’t been gay, I would still have a family.” “If only I hid being trans better, I wouldn’t have destroyed my family.” Putting the blame on the attacker, not the victim, will allow us victims to heal from the attacks we endured.
I should clarify that it is not my opinion that a lack of acceptance of your queer child is abuse; it can be hard to accept your child is gay or trans, and it can take some time to adjust. What I am saying is, when you attack your child, when you intentionally inflict harm by openly rejecting them, making it clear they are less of a person because of who they are, when you throw them out and make them feel like garbage, you are a bad parent. Parents should love and support their children, and no justification warrants hurting your own child.

Gender Expression

I get a lot of weird questions when I’m presenting to LGBT groups about trans issues. Usually the top of the list  of most commonly asked questions have to do with my genitals or my former name. But one of the questions I always found the most odd were when the queer audiences would ask why transgender rights were advocated alongside gay and lesbian rights. On some level, I could understand why they would ask that; on the surface, trans rights may seem very different from gay/lesbian rights. But it still seemed odd to me, and I’m quick to point out to others, a gay man doesn’t get beaten up because he is attracted to men; he gets attacked because he expresses in a way that is outside of the typical expectations of a man; he is not being ‘man enough.’

Likewise, a lesbian woman doesn’t draw discrimination from being attracted to a girl, but by expressing those feelings, by not wanting to wear makeup or being more aggressive than women are ‘supposed to be’ in conversation. Maybe its something physical, like walking down the street holding her girlfriend’s hand. Regardless, it is not the internal feeling of attraction that draws discrimination; its the expression of these feelings. In fact, one of the most common arguements against gay rights is that we want to be so “in people’s faces with our gay-ness” which means, we wont just quietly love eachother in the closet; we want to come out.

The LGBT community has fought for 50+ years to earn the right to express ourselves. We do not want to be afraid to walk down the street. We do not want to lose our homes, our jobs, our families. But when we are forced into the closet and we cannot express ourselves, we suffer as we have for decades if not centuries in the past. We have, in the last 50 years, earned the right to express ourselves. By being free to do so, we can live fuller, happier lives. Whether you want to express yourself as a gay man, a bisexual genderqueer person, or a straight transsexual person, the fight is for the right of expression.

I think its time we as a movement consider that idea; gender expression is the glue that binds the LGBTQIA community together. It’s the thing we all strive for together, and its an objective we can all fight for, united.

Update on DeSales Homophobia

I first want to thank Elizabeth Rich for commenting on my previous post and highlighting her article on the topic, which I would like to respond to here.

It’s interesting to see DeSales’ view on the matter. We could boil the argument down to whether it is indeed hypocritical for a Christian institute to not openly condemn LGBT students. From all of my research, Jesus emphasized loving your neighbor despite their ‘sins’ and not to judge yourself as better than your neighbor. However, this isn’t just a spiritual argument. This article highlights graffiti of the word “Fag” that was spray painted in one of the dorms on campus. No one was reprimanded or punished for this. It was simply glossed over.

This sort of overt hatred from one student to another should be a red flag to administrators. First off, if someone is bold enough to directly deface an LGBT student’s door, it is not a far leap before they are attacking that student in other ways. To gloss over this issue is to put the student in jeopardy of more attacks, that can very easily escalate. Besides the physical danger to the student, this sort of isolation and dehumanization of LGBT students lead to increased rates of lower grades, depression, and even suicide. If you would like to learn more about discrimination in schools and its effects, I recommend reading some resources including GLSEN’s National School Climate survey from 2009. While the focus is on K-12, the statistics show where these students may be coming from as they enter college, and why such bullying can have such terrible consequences for any LGBT students.

I also want to highlight an Op-Ed penned by a friend of mine, Adrian Shanker, President of the Board of Directors for Equality Pennsylvania. This article talks about how GSA’s are just one part of what makes an inclusive campus, and talks about the many steps a campus actually can take to be inclusive and supportive to their LGBT students. In particular, Adrian highlights that  “graffiti with the word “fag” carries no more a punishment than the word ‘frog’, when the former is a hateful epithet and the latter is not.” I have talked about how powerful the word “Fag” can be, but suffice to say, DeSales failed utterly to do so much as protect the safety of one of their own students by ignoring this.

While a GSA would not, in any way, make DeSales an inclusive campus, it would allow any queer students at the college at least one safe space they can go to and not feel in danger, not feel isolated. Several people have talked about this with me and suggested the LGBT students shouldn’t attend that college at all then. Unfortunately, from my experience, parents can often influence or directly decide what university their child attends. Most 18 year olds right out of high school cannot afford college on their own, so their parents’ often have a strong say where their child goes. I would not be at all surprised to find a fair number of students at DeSales sent their specifically by their Catholic parents in an effort to “fix” or “cure” the child. The students may have little or no say where they go.

I don’t realistically expect DeSales to suddenly turn around and support a GSA. However, I think this is the perfect opportunity for students at DeSales and local allies to highlight that the university is actively and publicly condemning it’s own students; that the university would rather keep to its “antiquated church doctrine” (which actually talks about love and acceptance despite sin, not condemnation) than protect the lives and safety of its own students. If they want to allow physical, verbal, and emotional violence from their students and staff to other students, make that publicly known. As for the students at DeSales, regardless of the outcome, I encourage all of you to get together and create a carpool to visit other campus GSA’s, attend their meetings as guests, and overall just ensure some sort of safe space for the students who need it.

The Trans Individual VS The Trans Movement

I apologize for not posting in a bit – June was a very busy month! I’ll be resuming regular posts shortly!

Anyone who is reading this and has met me in person knows I’m a very feminine woman. When I was beginning transitioning, I was alarmed by this. I berated myself for not being a good trans activist since I was reinforcing the gender binary. I always thought I should have been more to the center of the spectrum and try to teach others through that. There is some amount of pressure from within the trans community that we should do what we can to break down the binary, since once people really start understanding the gender spectrum, it becomes much easier to understand transgender people as a whole.

During my transition, I was seen as a very androgynous person. I would get just as many “Ma’am’s” as “Sir’s” and I was incredibly uncomfortable. I was eager for hormones to work better, to learn about makeup and clothes, to figure out what to wear to make me look more feminine, to make me pass better. As time went on, hormones did their magic and I learned more and more about dressing right and using make up, I would get more and more “Ma’am’s” than “Sir’s.” There came a point where, even if I didn’t wear makeup or dress nicely, I would only get “Ma’am’s.” But I still liked wearing make up and dressing nice, not because it helped me pass, but because I liked how I looked, and more importantly, I liked how it made me feel. In many ways, I am that cliche girl who worries about her looks, just like many other women out there.

For a while, I considered being such a feminine girl being a failure to break the gender binary. But then I realized, the gender spectrum does have two ends, and being closer to one or the other end does not mean you are failing to see the spectrum. Instead, I’ve embraced where I identify on the spectrum, near the feminine end, but I acknowledge that it is a spectrum, not a binary. I had to physically live through moving through that spectrum, and I’ll never forget that experience. Still, I am who I am, and I am comfortable with that. I don’t need to change who I am to fight to break the gender binary. In that way, there is a major separation between the fight of an individual transgender person and the fight of the transgender movement.

Identity is Fluid

I have a very dear friend who recently came to me with a problem. This person came out as gay several months ago, and he has been much happier since, as often happens once we realize that people are not meant to live stuffed into closets. He’s faced really rough discrimination from friends and family, as also often happens, but he is not denying who he is, he is being true to himself, and for those who have been in this situation, being able to be true with yourself is the only way to thrive, if not survive.

This friend was struggling because, now that he has finally taken the identity of gay, and is comfortable with the fact he likes men, he met a girl recently who totally took his breath away. Despite his desire to look at men, he couldn’t but look at her. For a gay folks (using gay as a generality for people of one gender who are attracted to members of the same gender), this can be an almost dysphoric experience. We fight so hard for the right to be ourselves, to love who we wish to love, that we feel we need to stay exactly where we are or other people will judge us. Once you go gay, you’re often expected by people in and out of the community, to stay gay. However, research is proving more and more that things, perhaps unsurprisingly, are not that simple; sexuality is not black or white, but shades of grey. We put labels and categories that put ourselves in groups.

Gay Bi Straight
Attracted to same gender Attracted to both genders Attracted to opposite gender

While these little boxes are nice and convinient, thats about all they are: boxes. It is nice to be able to look around and see “Wow, theres thousands of other people in this box!” which is often how people feel when they are first coming to terms with their sexuality and feel like they are alone. But these are just arbitrary blocks. In reality, sexuality looks more like this:

Gay ———— Bi ———– Straight

Just like gender, Sexuality is on a spectrum. And as with most of human behavior, this correlates to a bell curve. That is, there are exponentially more people toward the center of the spectrum. I have so often heard guys at a bar talking about “What man they would go gay for” and many women admit they either have experimented or would be interested in doing so. The number of people who are absolutely 100% only gay or only straight are the minority. Most of us fall somewhere in-between. It’s not simple to find where we are on the spectrum, and for whatever reason, it CAN change, though not radically or suddenly. But if you think about it as a spectrum instead of a binary, I think it makes more sense why some of us take a long time to figure ourselves out.

Of course, this doesn’t even start to address the question about what being a gay transsexual means, but that’s for another post!

Unity of Diversity

After President Obama’s endorsement of same sex marriage earlier this month, gay rights became a main focus of the 2012 election. News stations on both the far right and the left were broadcasting constantly talking about the latest poles saying that more than half the country now supports same sex marriage and more than two thirds support civil unions. MSNBC shows more and more elected and appointed officials coming out to support LGBT rights, while Fox shows their Tea Party making announcements on the superiority of having more white straight babies (Sadly this is only a slight exaggeration)

Needless to say, public opinion is shifting. For many, many years, at least back to the 1960’s, but likely many years before, the Right has used a divide and conquer strategy to keep LGBT people from becoming publicly accepted. It’s the same tactic they use against African American groups, Latino groups, Women’s Rights groups, Labor groups, and groups dealing with the rights of impoverished people and those who cannot help them selves. The Right tried to divide these groups, pitting them against each other whenever possible. And sadly, this was massively successful. One of the clearest examples has been between the African American community and the LGBT community. For instance, the reason Proposition 8, the ban on gay marriage in California, is said to have only passed because so many African Americans came out that year to vote for Barack Obama. And the President’s decision to publicly support same sex marriage immediately highlighted a schism in the African American community, with leaders in the community fiercely debating their Christian traditions of opposing same sex marriage with wanting to support the first African American president.

Just today I saw dozens of tweets going off from major LGBT organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force about a huge announcement. The NAACP, one of the most prominent and well known groups in the African American Community, have officially endorsed same sex marriage

http://www.hrc.org/blog/entry/naacp-board-endorses-marriage-equality

This represents a huge, huge step forward for LGBT rights. This highlights how quickly public opinion on LGBT issues is changing. This endorsement, along with the President’s, challenges the decades of division between the two minority communities. This is amazing, for when all the minority communities join together, we are, by far, the majority. When we can put the differences between us aside, and recognize the shared experience of discrimination and oppression that each minority group faces, we can stand united for equality for all people.

This is an amazing sign for the 2012 election. The right was banking on doing as they had in 2004, splitting the democrats between the moderates and the “extremists” who believed in equality for all people and a woman’s right to choose. In 2012, with still almost 6 months till the polls open, it has been made absolutely clear that tactic will not work.

 

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