Austen Crowder

Putting on the brakes: An apology

Filed By Austen Crowder | November 14, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: ENDA, inclusion, politics, strategy, transgender, transgender inclusion, transphobia

As Antonia said in my last post's comments, "My dear, you certainly stepped into it."

It has come to my attention that my counterpoint article on trans exclusion/inclusion has made the rounds on e-mail lists, forums, and the desks of executives at a few national LGBT organizations. Just like in any game of telephone on the internet, some things were left out as the article made the rounds. Because of this, the piece was misconstrued as a piece of transphobic trash Im-Sorry.jpgtargeted at a vulnerable population out of spite. The post has gotten me called everything from an angry lesbian (or gay man, depending) to a transphobic straight girl posting to Bilerico.

Before we go any further... whoa. Just... whoa. Please, for everyone's sake, let's put the brakes on this handcart to hell for just one moment, step back, and review both the reasoning of the posts as well as what we've learned about the issue as a result.

This needs to begin with an apology. I did not state clearly enough that the piece was merely an academic exercise in point-counterpoint writing.

My previous post on the matter, Take a tip from the Lions: or why I don't like the marriage fight, was written from my personal opinion on the community's approach to the gay marriage debate. As a transgender woman I wanted to comment on the potential pitfalls of advocating marriage equality over other goals in the LGBT movement, and as an armchair political analyst I wanted to advance a more municipal/state strategy for civil rights, taking our cues from the subtle change in Yes on 1's rhetoric at the close of the campaign. The counterpoint piece was built on two things: one, comments from the "Lions" article made by readers, pointing to me as a "selfish trans woman" or to the trans community having a "parasitic relationship with the greater LGB community"; and two, simple Google-search research for statistics.

I did not make this academic disconnect clear enough in the introduction of the piece, and people mistakenly took and distributed the second piece as if it were my personal convictions and beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The piece could easily have been pushed into parody by absurdity by simply taking the train of thought to its logical conclusion:

  • Gay sex weirds straight people out, thus we must remove gay people from legislation.
  • Bisexual people weird straight people out, so they must also be removed from legislation.
  • All closeted LGBT people should be removed, since they don't contribute money to large organizations.
  • And so on, and so forth...
  • Until all we are left with are a pair of hot lesbians making out in the corner.
  • Brilliant! Give them their rights!

"Is This How We Want To Win?

The truth of the matter is this: I cobbled together arguments based on a 90+-comment thread on legislative strategy, stripped away the candy coating of political correctness, and laid the cold arguments bare. I wanted to spur discussion on the specific talking points presented by my opposition without any emotional leaning, one way or another, save for the sadly understated "Is this how we want to win?" at the end of the post. I considered this post to be a continuation of the discussion that began on the first post.

The discussion that arose from the second post took a delightfully different tack. Instead of "selfish trans activists" and "parasitic trans legislation," people began wrestling with the difficult moral quandaries that arise when compromise comes at the price of someone's identity. Discussion of moral high ground as a potential political advantage, the important outward appearance of maintaining allies within disparate communities, and the overall moral directive that "leaving trans people behind just wouldn't be right" all came out to the open. Also, competent rebuttals to my counterpoint's assertions were hashed out by prominent advocates across the entire LGBT spectrum. Reading the comments thread as a whole, one can begin to see ways to articulate two things: one, that removing trans people is not the right thing to do; and two, precisely why the former is a bad idea.

The key word in that sentence is "why."

We are happy to wax poetic about solidarity and continuity, but are unwilling to articulate exactly what these terms mean within our rhetoric. The "why" of solidarity and continuity is presented much like a band-aid slapped over a putrid wound, and any attempts to peek under the bandage are warded off as unnecessary, politically incorrect, off-message, or otherwise unsavory.

Solidarity Is Not a Band-Aid

The reasons supporting this line of thought are as numerous as they are important to mention. First and foremost, prominent and important LGBT legislation is in the works in the form of ENDA. As far as I'm concerned this single piece of legislation stands to do more good for the LGBT community as a whole than any other legislation presently in our community's organizing efforts. A federal mandate demanding that we are to be treated as human beings carries with it implications far beyond individual communities' pet projects, be they gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans. ENDA will not pass without the entire community's support. Thankfully, organizers have stayed on target concerning the legislation's progress, and with continued support ENDA will pass into law.

But the maintain-the-community argument goes beyond being simply for political gain. Disparate groups within the community suffer from extreme discrimination and vulnerability. People are shunned, fired, beaten, treated as second class citizens, dismissed, and sometimes killed because of who and what they are. Protecting both the self-esteem and personal safety of the community as a whole is an important duty of the LGBT world. After many legislative false starts, political runarounds, divide-and-conquer opposition tactics, petty infighting, and the all-round stress of being a minority group whose very core essence remains up for debate by anti-gay groups; we are a shell-shocked community. These are the wounds of political warfare when waged by two polar groups whose goals will only be achieved by complete and total ideological obliteration of the opposition.

At the same time, however, we must be willing to pull away the bandage, triage the situation, and precisely articulate the pain our community feels. We all have wounds: wounds from family; wounds from friends; wounds from faceless hate groups; wounds from fists, knives, guns, stones; wounds from those we would call allies. This is not a question of philosophy; it is a question of history. Our willingness to show exactly why these wounds should be prevented - and, more importantly, why these wounds are more meaningful and impactful than the wounds of our opponents - is what will ultimately win the LGBT community their rights. I believe that this lack of simple, articulate solidarity is the tripwire that often stops the progression of our rights. We aren't willing to answer the tough questions, nor are we willing to have the discussion and discourse necessary to find those answers.

The Long Haul

Our opposition is willing to stoop to unbelievable lows to cut to the quick of the American people. Their message is streamlined, fear-mongering, and powerful: my church says it's wrong, so I should be able to say it's wrong. That's it. Everything else is simply window-dressing. That kind of political solidarity is as powerful as it is dangerous. Time and time again, opposition groups have shown that they can disrupt, destroy, and otherwise derail LGBT legislation with slipshod organization efforts, well-heeled front groups, and halfhearted scare tactics aimed at children and churches.

Removing the transgender population from the LGBT community does not change our opposition's message. The PR nightmare that would result from such a sudden change in direction would tank all the momentum the community has built up over the past few years. While our opponents continued to drum out their single, focused message, we would be too busy explaining to the MSM why the trans people Just Didn't Make the Cut. So long, ENDA. Farewell, DOMA repeal. Auf Wiedersehen, DADT repeal. As soon as we would make any move in this exclusionary direction, our opposition would go on the offensive, attempting everything within their power to push us further back into the closet.

It's a hard time to be LGBT in this country. Exciting, yes: what with the first federal-level piece of LGBT-affirming legislation signed into law just weeks ago; and a long, hard-fought ENDA within our grasp. With increased visibility comes increased pressure to maintain a solid, articulate political image, both as a community and as American citizens. My pieces were written as tools to help achieve that solidarity of opinion through the fairest tool I know: reasoned, balanced debate that takes all ideas into account. I can only blame myself that the pieces were construed as divisive by the greater community.

However, the outrage and general uneasiness generated by this misunderstanding gives me great hope for the continued solidarity of our movement. We really are in this together for the long haul.

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Austen, I don't know why you feel the need to apologize. Anyone who doesn't think we need to know what our enemy is saying is absolutely nuts. You made it perfectly clear at the beginning and end of the piece this is an academic exercise, and if folks are too lazy to read the entire thing, they shouldn't comment.

You did the right thing, Austen. You presented the other side of the issue so that we can take the arguments and rip them apart. Why shouldn't we do this? What is wrong with this?

The only thing wrong with "Counterpoint" were the brainless commenters who clearly didn't read more than the headline and the writing before the jump before butting in and dropping their useless pence like they know anything about anything other than their own fingernails.

Austen, don't let the criticism fool you, you are one of the greater jewels of our movement. I liked the piece for its noble goals, and everyone else can suck it! :-)

What Phil said.

Next time you'll know that you have to really emphasise what your article is about repeatedly though, for the hard-of-thinking whose piss-off-ometers are wired to max.

Even then some will go into pyroxisms of righteous wrath at you, for saying something you didn't. My sympathies there, but it's part of the deal, no matter what you say.

I can't believe that you were subjected to such hassles after writing two of the most well-written and thought provoking pieces published on Bilerico in recent memory.
As much as I love the internet, it does seem to allow too much raw emotion to surge from people who just don't stop and think. Anyone reading your pieces should know that your whole tone is not to provoke as Sunday morning yelling matches on TV, but to provoke as in thoughtful consideration.
I hope that any of the national organizations who got hold of this piece read it in conjunction with your other writings, and then get you on the phone with a big job offer. The movement needs more people like you. However, the response that you got does seem to indicate that there are elements in the coalition that seem to consider themselves as the sole possessors of "the TRUTH" and hold that any other opinion has no value.

I agree as well. You have nothing to apologize for Austin. If there's anything I've learned from creating LGBT community media and commentary for as long as I have, it's that no matter how clear or how well you express your points, sooner or later someone or many someones will misinterpret or just ignore what you're actually saying and attack you based on their own faulty understanding of your arguments and/or their context.

You're a regular Bilerico contributor now, hon, so I'd suggest you get used to it. I can virtually guarantee you it won't be the last time.

The sweet irony! I am delighted that you got a dose of trans activist medicine. Any objection to the forced inclusion of "T" in the LGB is met with name-calling and abuse. Instead of reasoned debate, you are called "transphobic" and spiteful, and your morals and motives are attacked. And now thanks to Phil Reese's comment above, we can add "enemy" to the list of abusive names. What are you going to do to the "enemy", Phil? Launch an attack?

This is mob behavior and it is entitled to no respect whatsoever. If anything, it only underscores the intellectual poverty of the trans-inclusion crowd.

As far as the rest of your post above, you can use the terms "we" and "our" til the cows come home, but it isn't an argument or an explanation as to why a group defined by gender identity is to be considered part and parcel of a movement based on sexual orientation. You just assume your conclusion.

battybattybats battybattybats | November 15, 2009 8:15 AM

Forced inclusion huh?

Do you David, recind and dissavow any personal and GLB claim to and connection to and benefit from Stonewall? Cause i think they were arresting people based on an anti-crossdressing law there was it not? With people amongst the fighters who'd fit under the S&GD/TG umbrellas?

Also last i checked there was neuroscience on cross-sex neurological data from G and L folk rather similar to that of TS folk. Meaning that the two are related to some extent at least.

So thats history and science both saying the T belongs with the GLB.

David, you are
so uninformed and ignorant of history.
the T started the whole ball rolling for rights.
please learn about the Compton's Cafeteria Riot.
It was the first time abuse was met by resistance,predating stonewall,and was started by T.

I'm flabbergasted that your post generated so much negative comment, Austen. I thought people might be interested in my article on the origins of transphobia in the LGB community.

Weiss, J.T. (2004) GL vs. BT: The Archaeology of Biphobia and Transphobia in the U.S. Lesbian and Gay Community. Journal of Bisexuality 3, 25-55

another david | November 16, 2009 10:08 AM

Thank you for your article that blueprints perfectly why gay has no place in the Trans Bi Queer community. You articulate the oppression by gays of the TBQ peoples perfectly and in doing so demonstrate that this flawed amalgam of groups was a huge political and social mistake. Thanks again for providing the theoretical, historical and personal reasons why BTQ MUST remove G if it is to have any hope of ending the centuries of homo oppression of BTQ communities and individuals.

battybattybats battybattybats | November 16, 2009 4:38 PM

Holy household cooking appliance chromatic hypocracy Batman!

Sorry but that FAIL was of Adam West and Burt Ward tv show proportions.

Another David, it's called Horizontal Hostility. It's a result of Internalised Oppression. It's found in virtually every oppressed community in humanity From every subgroup of GLBT to the conflicts between subcultures like Punk and Goth and Emo.

There are bigots in every group. The more power the group has relative to another the more effect. There are homophobes amongst Lesbian and Transgender communities too. I know cause I've argued with more than a couple, especially amongst homophobic crossdressers keen to maintain the myth among the crossdressing community that CDs are all straight and who do their best to ostracise gay CDs from forums groups and organisations so that het cis wives of CDs wont have their fears of their CDing spouse turning gay triggered by the presence of a gay CD at a support group, forum or social gathering. And thats just one example of many.

Now to continue the camp 60's tv theme of this response Yvonne Craig as Batgirl bursts in to deliver a chorusline-kick of justice and healing to the glass-jaw of evil-doers of injustice and internalised oppression!


More symptoms of dysfunction.

We will not make a lot of progress until we can come to a place where we don't get offended every time someone expresses and idea we do not agree with. As I teach my students: if someone says something you disagree with the first thing you owe them is to ask what they meant, then you can get pissed.

Personally, I found your straw man argument rather well done and easy enough to spot as an "academic piece". I would suggest that the negative feedback has more to do with some peoples internalized transphobia and need for uber PC language from their allies than any writing errors.

Absolutely. When people raise concerns, it's always inappropriate to disparage their motives. And monitoring their use of language is equally concerning. Except when they're commenters I disagree with?

battybattybats battybattybats | November 15, 2009 9:48 PM

People used to being attacked will develop defensive reflexes. Assuming this will not occur is illogical. Of course it will occur. And it's good to raise difficult questions, a habit of mine too, but we cant blame those who are injured by trauma for having the symptoms of that trauma.

Oppressed people will have defensive reflexes and a pressure-cooker of bottled up anger. It's irrational and unjust to assume or demand that any oppressed group can or should set aside all emotion when faced with statements which justify their oppression or which seem to.

This is no simple discourse of purely academic esoteric notions but about peoples lives and peoples pains and the defence of or abuse of Universal Humna Rights. Anger and defensive hostility is to be expected.

And I say this as someone who read Austen's link but played along with the game, because it IS useful to read and raise opponents arguments in order to better say why they are wrong and effectively argue against them.. but few schools teach philosophy so thats an idea few people are exposed to. I was not personally offended. I see the angery response to the post every bit as good as the responses which tore apart the reasoning of the raised arguments.

Because our community needs to express that anger and our community needs to see that hurt and anger. Emotions without reason can be poor things to base decisions on but reason without emotions is uninformed lacking awareness of a crucial measurement. And anger and willingness to fight are important key stages of standing up to bullying and oppression as well as to healling the harm of past trauma.

You have no reason to apologize.
the article was well written.
And so it is thus,I tried to explain why people weren't understanding. However it because of mental unfortunates ,such as those who misread the piece, that I must use the traveling lane to go around the slow car in the passing lane.They are Ultimately backing up those who wish to progress, oblivious to others in the world,self important,too preoccupied to pay attention, and brain dead (but still believe that they are safe drivers). having no clue as to why others are passing them by with finger held high.
and thus you have the typical sheep-like American.
just enough education to hurt someone.

David, I'm so with you as are many, many others. Most of those are silent. It doesn't matter what neuroscience or Stonewall history connects one to any other group. It's about today, and whether or not I feel any connection to this monolithic political group called the LGB ... T. Why any responsible transitioner would want to be associated with a group based on sexual orientation is completely beyond me. Unless, of course, the trans person is a gay woman or man post-transition. But transexuality? Something that one corrects and then continues on with one's life? Nope.

Connection of the LGB to my post-transition life? Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Sara ...

Great analysis of why the negative responses! Taking anything out of context can cause someone to not understand the whole. Humans make mistakes and do not often read the entire article! I thought you had done a fantastic, thought provoking, piece. Your apology was not needed but a great way to make peace!

Ditto on what Phil said.

Also too, I'm just going to point out that back in 2007 there were plenty of Bilerico contributors who were against trans inclusion in the ENDA, but I can't think of a single post published here on this site to that effect (feel free to refresh my memory).

I think it would have been better for everyone if someone did, so at least it happened now. People on the other side spent surprisingly little time supporting their urge to kick trans people off the ENDA. The most some people gave was that it was a "strategic" decision, as if there was no ideological component, as if the "strategy" was all on one side of the argument, and as if we can debate a "strategy" without first discussing the end goal.

I'll point out that John Aravosis was a notable exception in that he was willing to engage the ideological question. Sure, most people who discussed the topic disagreed with him, and that comes with being wrong, but at least he put it out there instead of hiding behind "strategy" and "incrementalism."

another david | November 15, 2009 4:25 PM

David and Sara -- have faith. Time will prove you both right. Homosexuality and gender issues, gays and transpeoples are two totally separate and different groups. Stonewall means nothing to gay men and lesbians. It was a trans event by and for trans people. It had nothing to do with gay liberation. In 1969 in Canada, homosexuality was removed from the Criminal Code by Prime Minister Trudeau and that had nothing to do with the US trans Stonewall. European countries homosexual laws also had nothing to do with the Transliberation Founding Event Stonewall. Transgendered peoples of all kinds need to work within the hetero and bi majorities to teach them and reach them. It's time for trans people to leave the homosexuals behind as oppressors, dead weights and irrelevant to trans goals. Far more germane allies will be found among the straight and bi sexual/gender renegades and class, race and privilege workers. The time to split is now.

I have two thoughts to offer on this contribution.

First, effective communication of ideas requires considering the human condition of those who you want to reach. These are highly emotional issues being discussed, and attempting to make an academic discussion out of it asks too much of the reader. Real lives and real emotions are involved, and that means building understanding with patience.

Two, in order to reach a critical mass capable of effecting positive change for all of our communities, we need to cast the widest net possible. Splintering off into even smaller minorities will lead to failure and reversal of the gains that have been made for T's, G's, L's, B's and the rest of the alphabet soup. Personally I would like to see inclusion of heterosexual polyamorists and anyone else that finds themselves labeled anything other than hetero-normative.

We can have all the disagreement and discussion we like, but please let's stop with the infighting, attacks, and name-calling evident in the comment strings. We are better than that.

This is further compounded by the fact that we, the LGBT community, have folks that are scared.

And what they are scared of is association -- of being thought of as "like those freaks".

They are closeted types, whose sense of personal security is predicated on their continued invisibility.

And there is a small group of them who are very actively seeking to sow dischord within the community over this very issue, because they are scared that such an association will, somehow, make them less than what they are.

They are afraid, and when people are afraid, they will fight even against their own self interest. They will even go so far as to pretend to be something they are not to argue their points.

What's sad is that they don't realize that very fear is what we fight against -- because it is fear that is used to make us freaks.

This is the weakness of assimilationism.

another david | November 16, 2009 8:18 AM

to the comment above -- that was quite a pile of psychologizing generalizations about a serious issue. Dismisssing political opionion, discussion and strategy by emotionalizing or belittling through projection of emotions is distrurbing to say the least. Please provide concrete and cited examples of these "scared" people. This kind of implied attack and dismissal is one of the proofs that homosexuality has no place with the trans/queer/polyheterokink communities. Anyone who has some homosexual aspect of their lives who identifies as queer would of course remain with their own trans/queer community. But homosexuals would move to their own issues which this blog's commenters prove over and over every day have NOTHING in common with the trans/queer oppression movement. There is a difference between family and relatives -- homos are distant relatives (by historical association only) to trans/queer people and not family. Time for both groups to grow up politically and move on from each other.

Your reflexive reaction to what Antonia can be considered supporting evidence to what she said. And she wasn't being dismissive or attacking, she was attempting to shed more light on what she sees as part of the problem. I suspect that you came here to spout off your personal beliefs about how different Gays are from everyone else and not to engage in an actual discussion. And your rhetoric sounds a lot like Dwerk from Joe.My.God. blog... If that's who you are taking your arguments from, I suggest you start to think for yourself and stop blindly following someone else.

I personally didn't have any problem understanding where Austen was coming from in her article. The fact that some did and some didn't points to the fact that effective communication requires a certain amount of repetition and restatement of the obvious.

Whenever I read threads regarding the inclusion of the trans community with the GLB group I'm reminded by the answer Jennifer Finney-Boylan gave when she was asked about it. "Because we get beat up by the same people!" Kind funny but it carries a great deal of truth. I think our primary point of similarity is our opponents. It's what we all have in common. They lump us together, they do not discriminate between a straight trans woman and a gay man. They don't care if the trans man used to identify as a lesbian until he came to grips with his identity. It's this underlying fact that negates the idea of excluding the gender variant community in order to gain political advantage. Our opponents will not reduce their opposition because GLB people denied trans people. They would instead be encouraged by our community's division and acrimony. Short term gains would become long term losses.

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend" is a truism that applies here. Above all else, I think that alone should override any concerns the GLB community have regarding trans inclusion.