Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What Do We Really Want?

Often there is dissent among people loosely grouped together in the GLBTI community who feel the interests of the whole do not serve their particular needs. In fact some have been downright negative and acerbic in their criticism of the whole community and even gone so far as to vent hatred against fellow members of the community. It is possible they do this because they feel thay have been hard done by, but it is also likely that they are just a bunch of sour old farts who see a pink community that is today far more cohesive than it was in the past - and have some sour grapes about it.

In previous posts I addressed such discontent by saying that if certain groupings feel the civil rights movement as a whole does not meet its needs then they should stop complaining about it and get off their asses and do something to change things. One might sit and complain for decades while sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing about it - but I doubt any changes will result from this. If we as gay or trans or intersex or bi or lesbian people feel left out of initiatives taken by civil rights groups - then we need to stop whining about it and get our hands dirty. If there are no groups you can join to do this, then start your own - but do something - do something constructive - anything other than to start attacking all the other groupings and do your best to destroy what cohesion there is in the whole community just because you feel you got left out or you don't like the way things are. Likewise, leaders of advocacy organizations which discriminate against members of the same community and who lead their groups away from addressing issues of the pink community need to have their motives questioned and their asses booted out the door. That is just my two cents worth.

Be that as it may, I decided to draw up a list of items that describe our basic needs of the civil rights movement as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and to see which apply and which do not - and to whom. Bear in mind that I am a transgender woman (post op transsexual) and I identify as pansexual and am currently in what could be described as a lesbian relationship. While this may seem confusing, it just goes to prove part of my point - that it is possible for each of us to fit ourselves under more than just one heading in the collective GLBTI community. Thus, it should also be true that the interests of the pink community should be good for all of us, without exception. Note, I did say should - so let's put it to the test, if you will bear with me:

We all want to be seen and treated as equal to the rest of "heterosexual society".

We all want the freedom to marry who we want, regardless of what gender that person happens to be, or whether or not that person happens to fit the mainstream gender binary definition of how they should look or act.

We all want the freedom to add our partners to our medical aid and pension schemes as dependants or to our wills as beneficiaries.

We all want the freedom to walk in public holding the hands of our loved one and to kiss them without being victimized by bigots - just the way heterosexual couples do.

We all want equality with the heterosexual community, both on a social level as well as legal equality - including equal legal protection against discrimination, hate crime and hate speech. This includes being allowed to marry partners of our choice, to adopt children, and all medical, social and retirement benefits applicable to heterosexual citizens.

We all want destigmatization and an end to the civil enforcement and institutionalization of prejudices or ideologies which enforce the idea that people who are not heterosexual or cisgendered should live in shame as outcasts seperate from mainstream society and the intimidation and incitement of hatred and intolerance against us.

We all want an end to prejudice, bigotry, persecution, physical violence, spiritual violence, hate crime and hate speech directed against us which is motivated out of intolerance or hatred for who and what we are or based simply on our sexual orientation, gender identity or other identifying characterstics.

We all want the dissemination and reinforcement of fact over fallacy, to educate people about what it is to be us, whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex with the aim of fostering acceptance and tolerance of diversity in society in order to build a society where all people are equal regardless of race, color, religion, language, culture, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Looking at all the points I can think of being specific to particular parts of the Pink Community, I tend to choke up. Why? Because in looking at the content of these I see similarities between the subgroups and the same points occuring again and again, perhaps just in different words and I realize that in the end, for the most part - we all want the same things.

In all of the items on my list, only the following stood out as unique to only one or two groups - the transgender and intersex communities, which aside from all the other common needs they share with the other members of the pink community, tend to have some unique needs as well.

Transgender people are the most diverse grouping within the Pink Community - they include transsexuals, transvestites, shemales, drag queens, gender benders among others. And they all tend to blur the institutionalized lines between the percieved gender binary components the most. They also tend to confuse even other member of the pink community as to what they really are. Transgender people are also generally out of ignorance percieved as being Gay (although many may identify as gay, even if transvestites generally identitfy as heterosexual - although orientation is a separate matter from identity).

For a long time, even after homosexuality was removed from the list of "mental disorders", people who bend the traditional definitions of gender roles, stereotype appearances and sexual orientation have been viewed and treated as 'mentally ill' - this must end.

Transsexuals in transition have lived in one gender role and then change to another, and bear the same stigma faced by Gay people. Bearing the concept that sexual orientation is also a seperate factor from gender and gender identity, such a person may then also be percieved as Gay if they engage in a relationship with somebody of the same gender as their percieved gender.

While Transgender people manifest a spiritual incompatibility with their physical gender, Intersex people on the other hand show a physical incongruity, conflict or ambiguity in terms of gender. Many people, including myself, view transgender and intersex as the same group - or as two opposite extremes on the sliding scale of gender and sexuality, one manifesting spiritually and the other more physically in nature. Some Intersex people are outraged and even insulted by being compared to transsexuals, revealing the underlying politics, prejudices and tensions at play in our community.

Many Intersex people suffer the same fate as transgender people in that when they are born with either with the genitalia of both genders, ambiguous genitalia, or even absent genitalia - their parents and the doctors choose for the infant what their gender "should be" - and perform surgery to make it so. These people often grow up with the same dillemas which face transgender people - particularly when these "experts" make a mistake and make the wrong choice. They have a "choice" forced on them by a society which embraces a gender binary and frowns upon any individual which blurs the lines they see between the genders. Intersex people should have the freedom and right to choose for themselves what is right for them in order to avoid unnecessary future tragedies.

An Intersex person who is in this position is often regarded as a transsexual and if he or she has lived in one gender role and changes to another, with or without surgery, they then bear the same stigma faced by transgender people. Bearing the concept that sexual orientation is also a separate factor from gender and gender identity, such a person may then also be percieved as Gay if they engage in a relationship with somebody society may deem inappropriate for their percieved gender. Thus they may also bear the stigma of being seen as Gay.

So-called "gate keepers" holding the keys to surgery and other resources for transgender and intersex people have for years played God with the lives of their patients - they need to know that the people who pay them for their services call the shots - and not the other way round.

With so much in common, it only makes sense to stand together to face discrimination, share resources, work towards our goals and to show each other support. It is time for us to put an end to in-fighting and bickering about who is "better" than whom.

We are all asking for and expecting equality - so that is the answer - none of us is better than the other. We are all equal within the pink community - and if not, then we must make it so. Internalized bigotry and homo or transphobia - or even racism - within our community cannot be allowed or tolerated.

I have many times asserted that our enemies see us all as one group - they attack homosexuality and "immorality" - but when they do so they do not just mean gay people - they mean all of us.

The same groups who campaigned against the decriminalization of homosexuality in SA also campaigned against the laws which allowed transsexuals to change their birth certificates to reflect their gender change. The same groups campaigned to ban all of us from adopting children or gaining marriage equality under the insults of "perverts", "homosexuals" and "threats to the family". The same groups today oppose hate crimes legislation which will prevent them from continuing to openly make war on us as a whole.

As a community unified against such threats - even if simply because we happen to be standing back to back while surrounded by our common enemies - we should see each other for our similarities instead of our differences. We have common needs and goals, we are a minority, we need each other. That is what makes us family, partners and allies.

It is time we started viewing our pink community in the light of the classic union slogan: "an injury to one is an injury to all". Because that's really what it is.

Strength and unity in our diversity.


If you would like to know more about Christina Engela and her writing, please feel free to browse her website.

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