Sometimes imagining oneself on the political left can be a drag in this nation. When one looks around at (what remains) of the United States, it’s downright depressing. Six and half years of mismanagement, war, corruption, and greed has left the nation in economic ruin. The U.S. dollar is becoming as valuable as used toilet paper in Europe (and even Canada!). Most people in the U.S. seemingly feel no sense of responsibility for their fellow citizens (much less a commitment to global human rights). The earth is leaking ozone. News media channels won’t stop talking about Brittany Spears or the gay men who obsess about her. Taken collectively, all of that can drive GayProf a little nuts.
What can be even more grim to me is the way that the left eats its own in this nation. The mess around the recent passage of the Employment NonDiscrimination Act (ENDA) has left me remarkably depressed. If signed into law (which is unlikely), the meek measure would provide (very limited) protection of gay, lesbian and bisexual employees. To get it passed, however, required the intentional exclusion of the transgender community (or others who don’t conform to gender expectations (which, to my mind, is really the entire queer community (but that is another issue (I wonder if I use too many parenthetical asides)))).
While I disagree strongly with those gay men and lesbians who supported the revised ENDA that excluded transgender protections, I understand the reasoning that “some protected is better than none.” Two things about this debate, however, left a chill in my heart (as Annie Lennox might say).
The second most chilling thing to come out of the ENDA debacle was the number of prominent members of the (white) male gay elite who delivered a message that members of the left should just “shut up” about transgender rights. Instead, they argued, we should be grateful for this allegedly historic moment (which is arriving decades later than other nations and has been promised to be vetoed anyway). Fuck off. Measures like ENDA are about protecting our rights, not granting us rights. We needn’t grovel or idolize members of Congress for doing their job. I will also never celebrate a measure that protects my rights at the explicit cost of another’s rights.
By far, though, the most chilling element about the recent ENDA debacle was how quickly and easily so many members of the queer community dehumanized and denigrated transgendered individuals. One needs to only poke around the comment sections of various gay blogs (including this one) to discover unashamed declarations of hatred, stereotypes, and fear that gay men use to justify the exclusion of transgender people. At the heart of almost all of their arguments was a notion “they aren’t like me, so therefore they don’t deserve equal treatment (or, in many cases, to even be considered fully human)”. Shockingly, many of the accusations coming from gay men about the transgender community are almost identical to the argument that the right uses to justify denying gay men of their rights (an alleged propensity for drugs, “not normal,” menace to society, etc. etc.).
Twenty years ago, the African-American and openly gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin declared, “The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it's the gay community. Because it is the community which is most easily mistreated.” To be honest, I always felt like this quote from Rustin wrongly presumed the battle to end racism was over (which it still isn’t). If we use his logic, however, I think that we can now say that barometer is no longer the gay community, but is now one’s perception and commitment to the transgender community.
Let's not even talk about employment. Right now, the murder rate of the transgender community is 17 times higher than the national average. The rate of physical assualt on the transgender community is the highest of any minority group (either by race or sexuality). The rate of violence committed against transgendered people of color grew the fastest over the past few years. All transgendered individuals in the U.S. have a 1 in 10 chance of being murdered in their lifetime. In comparison, other citizens in the U.S. have a 1 in 18,000 chance of being murdered.
It’s easy for safely employed (white) gay men who have cushy jobs in political organizations or the queer media to tell the transgender community that they have to “wait” for their rights until the general society learns to tolerate them. That, however, is entirely unacceptable. The measure of our success is not how well we succeed in protecting the rights of people like ourselves. Instead, the measure of our commitment to real sexual liberation and social justice is how well we defend people who are the least like us. Forgive me if I don’t open a bottle of champagne.