UPDATE: While readers are still encouraged to join in this discussion thread, the first question resulting from the post can be found at: "What IS the LGBT community? Who are we?"
Earlier today I published a post about Sarah Palin that a few folks thought was sexist. After re-reading what I'd written, I changed the reference and put a note in the comments section that I'd flesh out my thoughts more in a separate post. This is that post.
Another bit that stands out in my mind was something I was told by Marti while we were in Denver. We were talking about a mutual acquaintance and I said "I don't think so-and-so likes me." She said I was correct and said, "So-and-so thinks your view of trans people is fucked up. And it is."
I was planning on writing this post today already based solely on the trans item, but it's a good way to blend together two issues I have with my own site. Sometimes I don't know enough to feel welcome in the conversation surrounding other posts or even my own. Two areas stand out in my mind: feminism and trans issues.
The older you get, the more you realize that you don't really know anything at all. And I don't know nuthin'.
We've had many discussions on TBP about trans exclusion from ENDA. Some have been productive and others have been bitch sessions where we let off some steam. I mentioned in a previous post that I was tired of the constant HRC bashing though and wished that trans Projectors would steer towards another direction sometimes.
I said that I had plenty of questions myself about trans issues that I wished could be addressed instead of the constant mantra about HRC. Several Projectors wrote and commented on the post saying, "What are your questions?"
While the woman I quoted in the comments section of my Sarah Palin post wasn't nearly as nice about my apparent lack of understanding surrounding sexism, it is still a good way of wrapping feminism into the fold of "Things I Do Not Know But Should."
I have questions about both of these issues. If I'm running one of the largest LGBT blogs and I'm still running amok on some of these things, I can only imagine that others are experiencing the same problem - I feel stupid sometimes.
A Bit of Background
I hardly know anything about queer theory. I know just as much about feminism. I haven't had college classes in either subject. I've not read textbooks, had in-depth conversations (off the blog) or been taught most of the standard theories.
My education has come from the school of hard knocks. I'm not an expert, although I play one on the blog. I'm just a gay guy from Indiana with a lot of opinions and a small gift for putting that on paper. It still shocks me when I get to be a D list celebrity at events like the DNCC or the Creating Change conference.
When I started the blog, I worked at a Hewlett Packard factory as the Operations Manager. I left HP after a severe manic episode that almost ended in hospitalization. Since our little family runs on a shoestring budget, I took a job at Watch World as a salesman and ended up on disability.
While I worked at Watch World, I was tapped to lead the coalition fighting for a human rights ordinance here in Indianapolis. It took a lot of soul searching and cajoling before I'd accept the responsibility; I was afraid I'd flake out at a critical juncture and let the community down. From there to here has been one helluva jump.
Trans Issues: A Short History and Some Questions
When I worked on the human rights ordinance, it was on its second turn at bat. The measure had been voted down a few months previously, but two Indianapolis City-County Council members were determined to bring it back up for a vote. Shortly after I started looking into the matter and meeting with other councilors, one thing was made obviously clear - if gender identity was dumped from the ordinance, I had enough votes for passage.
I was willing to do it.
Before I even talked about it to the sponsoring Councilors, I talked to Jerame about it. Jerame had attended an Equality Federation conference with a good friend who is heavily involved in trans issues. They'd had a heart-to-heart and he was able to ask a lot of the questions he needed to. Jerame flatly refused to let me ditch gender identity in favor of sexual orientation.
I respect Jerame and his opinions; after all, he's my number one adviser. When the topic came up with the Councilors, I didn't do it. (Not that the sponsors would have allowed it either. They agreed with Jerame.) I didn't push for a non-inclusive HRO while promising to come back later for the trans community, instead we passed an inclusive human rights ordinance.
Jerame got INTRAA - the Indiana trans group - involved in the discussion around the HRO and they sent a cute young representative to attend our strategy meetings. It was contributor Bruce Parker. He's not trans, but had been involved in trans issues for a while. Bruce joined the blog and immediately started advocating for a trans voice on Bilerico.
I wasn't willing to do it. Jerame, again, had to convince me that it was the right thing to do.
Why? I didn't have a large enough grasp of the issues around gender identity. Trans people weren't important; their issues were not my issues. I didn't feel the kinship that I felt towards gays and lesbians; I didn't know any trans people well enough to ask questions without feeling really uncomfortable. If you keep your mouth shut, you won't look stupid.
Those Pesky "Women's Issues"
I admit, I struggle with "women's issues." Mostly because I don't really consider them "women's" issues. As an example, I used a sexual reference in my post earlier today. Jerame quickly pointed to that as the reason why it was sexist. "Most men consider women only good for three things," he said. "Cleaning house, cooking dinner and sex. You hit #3."
"But I don't consider women as sexual objects," I countered. "I'm a gay man!"
"It doesn't matter. You have a penis," he told me. "As a gay man, you still 'outrank' in some people's eyes. You need to consider their filter instead of your own."
Jerame is dead on the money with that last sentence. I usually write from my own experiences because I consider that to be the most honest filter I can use.
My mother was the female influence in my life. She's a gruff older woman who's just as independent and half crazy as I am. We never talked about "women's issues" mostly because I don't think she saw things in that way. She worked as hard as any man I've ever known; I never considered her "second class" and I wouldn't have dared talk to her as if I did.
I tend to mostly not think about feminist ideas. Why? I didn't have a large enough grasp of the issues around sexism. As a gay man, women weren't important; their issues were not my issues. I didn't feel the kinship that I felt towards other gay men; I didn't know any women well enough to ask questions without feeling really uncomfortable. If you keep your mouth shut, you won't look stupid.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Several times I've mentioned to Alex or Jerame that I wanted to put up a post that just said, "WTF?" and the general consensus we've reached each time is that it wouldn't look good for me to start revealing exactly how little I actually know about feminist and queer theory. After all, how do you stay the Wonderful Wizard of Oz when the curtain is pulled open and you're revealed as just another man behind a window treatment?
This time I've decided to ignore my own advice. I'm willing to admit how ignorant I am. I'm willing to admit that I've had my own struggles with some of this. After all, this is a good group to "come out" for.
When I lobbied Rep Baron Hill in the Sheraton parking lot last Friday, I did it for trans people. He was already willing to include gay men in protections. The statistics I used to lobby him came from information readers and contributors have given me via Bilerico Project.
I've learned from this "large, happy, bitchy, dysfunctional family," as one recent commenter succinctly called us. Ya'll have become my sounding board and my teacher.
So I'd like to throw this back into your laps. When Rep Barney Frank says that "more education is needed," I tend to agree with him. Four years ago, I'd have made the same decision on the HRO. I made a sexist comment today. Obviously I still need some education and until I have answers, I can't provide them to someone else and help bring them along too.
Often I simply don't comment on a blog post or just leave a platitude if I'm over my head and don't want to look stupid. While we have thousands of visitors a day, only a small crowd join the comment conversation, so I'm confident I'm not the only one hesitant to wade into the waters.
Taking the First Step Together
If no one takes the first step, we'll all be sitting around and bitching about the same things. I'll continue to make stupid mistakes and won't be a better advocate. Instead, let's remedy this problem.
Anyone who knows me quickly figures out that I like to ask questions. By asking questions I can help frame my argument as well as learn new information.
I have a ton of questions to ask about trans issues and women's issues. I don't know the answers and I doubt any of them are pat and dry little answers that will satisfy or encompass everyone. But if it helps me to put things in perspective and clicks in my head, then I can advocate for transgender folks and for women more effectively - or at all.
If I have a million questions, I'm sure others do too. So instead of sitting around and answering questions in the comment thread of this post, I'd like to suggest a small change.
Instead of trying to provide answers, let's ask questions.
Don't be shy - ask away. I'm especially after questions around women's issues and transgender issues. No question is too stupid or too intimate to ask. We'll all take a break from our preconceived notions for a short time and put out on the table some of the things that still baffle or intimidate us. Every so often, I'll take one of the questions and put it up as an open thread.
I've learned a lot from some very smart people via Bilerico Project. If we all show as much openness and respect as we do when we're leaving questions, we could really learn a lot from each other.
We told Projectors that TBP was "an experiment in LGBTQ" when we launched. Let's think in that vein as we approach this idea. Be honest about your questions, your experiences and your doubts. We'll consider no subject taboo; instead we'll encourage our family to ask the questions they wouldn't dare ask someone else.
We'll be one community by learning what we share and sharing what we learn. That's what I want from the site; the opportunity to learn and grow further. I've come a long way from the watch salesman who thought trans people were drag queens and bisexuality was just a way to put one foot out of the closet. I want to go further.
So for my first question, I'd like to ask, "Anyone with me on this? Anyone still reading?"
To answer, leave your own question in the comments.