Antonia D'orsay

When Its Not Your Fight

Filed By Antonia D'orsay | November 13, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: deep thoughts, future of activism, gay rights, horizontal discrimination, internal homophobia, Lesbian, marriage equality, Passing, Straight, Trans, transgender, transsexual

So for my first actual contribution, I'm going to talk about something that's been on my mind of late. Some of it is informed by Austen's recent posts, but for the most part its informed by the direction I've come to feel that things must go in order to make headway in our quest for equality and equity.

And I think about this stuff for a really simple reason: its not really my fight.

I'll bet that right now a bunch of you are wondering what I mean by that. How can it not be my fight? I'm Trans - that means I'm discriminated against enough as it is, and that I'm seen as gay, even by gay folks. How can it be anything but my fight?

Well, I'm not just Trans. I'm a passable Trans woman who gets hit on by men and women, who has a good relationship with her boyfriend, who generally doesn't have much in the direct way of discrimination against me, as a person, for being

Indeed, the discrimination I face - the worst stuff I get - comes at me from the other Trans and gay and lesbian and bisexual people I've encountered.

Now, as a multiracial gal, as well, I get to see all manner of various forms of prejudice.

I've been told in the past that I was going to have a job offer rescinded because I lied on the application when I checked "white". According to the interviewer, I should have checked black. As my picture might show, I'm too pale to be black, there was no red box, and the application said "pick one".

I'm three - and there was no option for many-colored people.

So I've seen and felt colorism, and been told, bluntly, that although I'm just as African American as anyone else, it isn't my fight, the battle for civil rights on the basis of skin color, as I've already got the right one.

That is, I pass for white. And, as a result, I don't really get all that much hassle for it - one application in damn near 30 years of working that stands out is not a pattern.

I pass as a woman. This is likely because I am one, but as a Trans woman, this is very similar to passing for white. I haven't been discriminated against as a Trans person since I completed the paperwork. My passport, my birth certificate, my ID, my general paperwork that we use to say this is who we are in our world - it all says female, and I look and sound and act like any other woman.

I'm not asked to drop skirt and show my privates.

I haven't worked in three years, of course, and a search on my name in Google, Bing, or even Ask tells you I'm an advocate and activist if you look around because I don't hide my past, and I celebrate it.

That's what gets me denied of late, more than anything else. My upfront, out in the streets arguing with pretty much anyone over trans folk and their rights, and since I seek to cover all Transfolk that means I include the GLB people kind of hard core, terribly personal activism, that leads to photos and jokes.

I have been the victim of a hate crime - but that was before I transitioned. I have been evicted for being Trans - right after I switched to full time. I walked into the manager's office, let them know I'd be paying next month and going forward like this (bad hair, iffy clothes, the usual early transitioner), and then when I went back the following month to pay my rent on time, I was informed that my money wasn't good any longer.

By the end of that month I was paying 50 bucks a night at a Motel 6 that told me since my ID photo didn't match my gender presentation, they wouldn't let me register. So I had to go and get a new picture on my ID, come back, and then deal with being sirred. I haven't had that happen in the last 18+ months.

I can get married next week if I want. Heading to Vegas, would take all of five minutes. I'm a female, it says so on my birth cert - the only one on record for me - and state law says that marriages between two women are void both in Nevada and Arizona. That I never got a divorce from my wife is irrelevant. (As a note, not really: but who wants to test it?)

I don't get gender no match letters from the SSA when I have a social security check run. That was changed as well - easy to do when you hand them a birth certificate and ID that say you aren't male.

In short, I have no problems now in my life that are the direct result of being trans.

So why should I bother to fight?

I don't want to fight for the rights. I'd rather just open my little bed and breakfast. Spend my time doing what I enjoy doing, get back into writing, maybe even have a chance to join in on the work I used to love ages ago in sociology. There's a group leaving in mid December to work in Iran - I could get in on that.

As long as I wasn't an "activist".

So it's not really my fight. I don't gain anything from it I don't already have. I don't benefit, there's nothing in it for me. I am, ultimately, not a second class citizen.

One could argue it just takes a moment to show my past, but that's not really all that accurate either. Because I'm open about it. And most folks know, and the internet is used, and I wouldn't work for someone who has a problem with me anyway.

On the other hand, the nastiest commentary I've ever had directed at me didn't come from the nastiest of our opponents. It came from my fellow transfolk and allied GLB folks.

I've been called delusional by gay folks and Trans folks. I've been called a transvestite whore by trans folks. Accused of prostitution by gay folks. Criticized for being "too girly" by transfolk who then turn around and say I'm "not woman enough". I have lesbian feminist separatists calling me a man and informing me my voice is not only not good enough to be heard, its very existence is an affront to them.

I am intentionally misgendered by transfolks - not so much by our opponents. They usually try to make up stuff about me (like how I have an Adam's apple from a picture half an inch tall). Then still call me she and her.

I'm told by our opponents that I'm gay, that I'm part of a vast Homosexual Conspiracy. I'm told by my trans and gay kith that I'm not a part of the movement that we started together.

In short, and especially the last 18 months, I'm being told that I belong in the wider world, not in the one that I've fought so long and hard for, while in the 18 months before that, I was told I belonged in that group by the wider world.

So if the wider world doesn't give me hell for being myself, but the LGBT community does, and gives me a hell that makes me cry, why should I put myself in a position of suffering for something that I have no practical stake in?

My answer to this is not quite as simple as "It's the right thing".

But I will save that for a different article.

This time, I'd like to put the questions to you. I'll tell you why I ask you, as well, in my follow up.

So, if you were in my shoes...

  1. Why is this a fight I'm a part of?
  2. What do I gain from it?
  3. Why should I put myself at risk for all of you?

I'm interested in the answers.

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Hi. While I think what you're saying is undoubtedly true for you, I think there are a couple of good reasons why this is your fight:
1) you clearly care about the larger human struggle, and this is part of that
2) not every trans person has the advantages that you have. Not all of us can get new ID, let alone a new birth certificate. Not everyone passes.

I hear what you're saying about the LGBT community giving you crap all the time too, especially since the T often gets cut loose when it's convenient. I'm sorry you have encountered so much transphobia and transmisogyny from both within the LGBTQ etc community and outside it. That's inexcusable. And honestly, I don't know what you gain from this - you already have what seems like a pretty excellent situation.

But I am hopeful that you will keep fighting with us. Not so much on Marriage Equality or DADT, things that are currently DEEPLY GLB-centric, but on issues that will make life easier for other trans folk. Things like ENDA and housing and so on.


I'm glad my thoughts could spark your thoughts. ;)

1. Two ways to look at it. Altruistically, this fight represents a moral and social good, and your contribution will help push the conversation forward. For you personally, it's fun. (The way you revel in the discourse is quite obvious, and hey. I wouldn't be doing this if it weren't fun either.)

2. Intellectual discourse, rights, security, and peace of mind. You could disappear from the world and reappear as just another girl (TM), but that would feel like a lie and you're not one to be okay with that sort of "deception."

3. Again, because it brings you pleasure. Gotta stick with Occam's Razor on this one. :D

Dawn Dickinson | November 13, 2009 5:43 PM

Why should you continue?Because Antonia, aside from the misogyno/phobic treatment that you've received, and regrettable as that is, it's not a complete representation of the rest of us who will/would never raise issue with you as a Transwoman. Or a woman of color. The battle is not over. We need every person we can have with us as an ally to win it. That includes you and I.

What do you gain from it? Ultimately, satisfaction.

I would not ask you to risk anything I wouldn't be willing to likewise. Given the chance, I'll stand next to you!

For the last ten years, I have not had any problems in the non-LGBT world, all for the same reasons you stated here and others. I have been working at the same company for 2.5 months shy of 20 years and I have been Monica for 12.5 years and pass everywhere. I have even had the experience (several times) talking with a lesbian for an hour, only to find out she didn't know.

With a good job, a mortgage payment, a new girlfriend, a family who loves me and being a member of a woman's pool league, why do I have to fight for the rights for others? Why do I care about transgender veterans? Why should I care about the repeal of DADT? Why should I care about employment rights if I have a good job? And, why should I put up with the crap of (bleep) who couldn't pick me out of crowd of all women? Why do I have to put up with crap from gay men who care for no one but themselves? Toni said it all.

Yes, Bil, "they" will come out now.

(Insert "Thriller" here.)

I too have "passing privilege". And although I can't get my BC changed without a change to UK law, impelled by an EU Human Rights Tribunal ruling, it doesn't affect me: my Australian immigration record says "female", and that's what really counts.

I've had to fight a long legal battle over getting a passport, but we've won there, and caused a cultural change in the Australian Passport Office. They're now "trans-friendly" rather than the exact reverse.

And I'm straight. Not even bi - a pity, since I'm in a same-sex marriage, and we love each other just as much as the day we married. Things like one partner changing sex are of less significance than you think.

So it's not my fight either. But I've seen too much. While there's a single person drowning, how can I leave the pool?

My answer differs from yours. To me, it is simple. It's the right thing.

Hence my support for GLB rights. How can I claim my own right on the basis of equality if I didn't do the same for others?

One other thing. The only "hate crime" I've experienced was on July 26th, 2005. My peculiar change had really done a number on me by then. I had no idea what my future was going to be. I had seen an endo once, and been to the Gender Centre in Sydney, once. Hadn't seen a psych, it was less than 3 months before the start of the metabolic strangeness.

I was just walking from my car to my office, still wearing the same stodgy male attire I'd always worn, thinking more about programming than whether I'd transition or not, when a bunch of drunks accosted me. They called me a "Butch Dyke" and a "Drag King", and threatened to "convert" me. I ran.

I wasn't passing as male any more, even though I'd done nothing, no idea if I'd ever be approved for HRT or surgery. But I got the full force of Homophobic Misogynism that day.

The next day I went fulltime. I'd only ever worn female attire for the first time 3 weeks earlier, just to see what my likely future in 6 or 12 months was going to be, should I be approved for treatment.

I was still medically regarded as an Intersexed Male at the time. Still legally male. Psychologically, trying to hang on to any remaining shreds of sanity as my body changed underneath me, part of me saying "Thank God I'[m Free at last" and another screaming hysterically that "this cannot be happening!!!". Genitally, an ambiguous mess, but more M than F. Not even gay.

I was still threatened with rape as a lesbian.

So yes, been there, done that, got the T-shirt. I have no excuse, I can't say that I'm unaware any more. I have to fight, just to remain myself. You could say that it is my fight, because while I may be a "Freak of Nature", I'm human, and this is a Human Rights issue that I can't ignore.

Because you are articulate, thoughtful and intelligent. Because all people need to be educate. Because many of us want to listen to and support transgender individuals. Because it's not as well understood by many. You have a wonderful writing style. By being a real person, people will see a human, not a stereotype. And you will help make the road smoother for transgender children and teens.

Because this movement is about every single human. And I think you would be a great addition.

Because being an activist isn't about helping *you*. It's about helping everybody.

antonia, i'm sure i'm being naive here, but i've been called worse.

i'm obviously clueless of your personal life experiences, and presumably so of the more general struggles of transpeople; although i'm a good learner, observer, and am regarded as empathetic and intuitive.
indeed, i don't know if my posting on this most courageous and personal of blogs is appropriate.

but i honestly 'don't get' what's in it for me? as meaningful for not going to the wall for 'what is right', especially if one is an activist who cares about justice, fairness, equality.

i have never had to grapple with anything you have: i was born cis, female, heterosexual; one of the dime a dozen majority.
those who judge others by appearance might put me down by saying i've had a weight problem much of my life, only slightly prettier-than-average face (and that ruined by the fat), and bad hair.
but that's, of course, nothing.

i've been an activist for many progressive causes all my long (late 50's) life, and the GLBTQ movement has been at the forefront since a dear gay male friend in drag was roughed up in the stonewall uprising.

it's not about 'me' - i've had two lousy marriages; so cruelly easy for someone born cis and straight.

Equal rights is everyone's fight.

Tony it is your fight, its everyone’s fight to be respected and to be treated fairly.
I could sit here and write volumes about the subject. But in the end, it’s simple.

Freedom isn’t free. Its bought and paid for everyday by people such as yourself and others like you. There are victories for those days that go well with celebrations and glory.
There are losses as well with introspections and self incriminations for failing.

The hero’s are those that fail and fail again yet continue to rise up striving for victory knowing full well it may not come but striving to win the day and giving it their all everyday that they can.

Standing up in the full light of day and saying “I’M TRANS AND I’M PROUD OF IT!” or “I’M GAY AND I’M PROUD OF IT” and doing it day in and day out striving to win the respect and the equal and fair treatment of an entire community....that takes a lot for anyone to do. It’s a bit daunting to say the least.

There are no medals around here. If I had one to give you and others as well.
I can only give thanks for doing what you can, where you can, when you can, however you can and offer to carry your kit when you’re tired on the long march.

Gina, I find it interesting that you addressed your comments to 'TONY' rather than to 'Antonia' or even 'TonI'. Just an observation.

Well since you asked I went through the trouble of signing up and will risk being burned at the stake for my comments. I will die pleading that "you asked"

Despite rosy feel good queer history books our movement is NOT united and rarely has been. We were founded by radicals, sexual outlaws tossed out of everything from the womens rights movement to the Communist Party because we were detriments to those movements. We don't celebrate many of those little facts or even mention that a number of our founders were champions of intergenerational sex (Pedophilia to be blunt) But during the early years there was an unwritten rule that though we were different we would all work together. Mattachine and Bilitos, we saw that we needed different organizations but we worked for the same political goals.

Then came the era of AIDS and lesbians took the forefront as gay men desperately sought to survive. It was no shear chance that the movement embraced a more feminine,gender and family stance as the number of sexual radicals died. The last remnants, the radical fairies are barely a echo in the LGBT movement today. We abandoned our non-conforming brethren to work for marriage and family rights.

We did the same to trans folk, when the bill needs a vote, it is the non conforming who suffer. We are all interested in our own lives and desperate for our own civil rights. Which is not so much bad as it is human. So if Marriage and the right to die for your country are at least realistic fantasies we are willing to cut loose anything and anyone else to achieve it.

We as a community of course deny all of this. Kumbaya and hold hands with the nice trans folk then apologize when we need a vote here or there. And heaven help anyone who does not advocate an extra billion years in prison for boylovers. And lets not mention leather people or fetishists. Too sexual and disturbing and all of which will stand in the way of marriage if the Right Wing finds out. (forgetting they lump us all together anyway)

This is the sad bad news dear and we have to deal with it. Its best to remember what our movement is. Then you can realize that no matter how much progress we have made it doesn't mean squat. At three AM in the heart of the city as we walk down the street together we all go back to being sexual radicals and are all subject to the threat to our lives called bashing. Its best to remember that late at night but also when voting or supporting a struggle that is "not my issue". I have spent many hours advocating for trans rights though I frankly don't yet fully understand the issues or even approve of the body modifications. I will continue to do so, not because I approve but because I recognize that we are BOTH still outlaws and that the same person denying you your rights is the person denying me mine. I refuse to let the dysfunction of the LGBT movement move me from that position.

I've been called lots of awful things too.

I have the privledge of "passing" which just seems to piss a lot of other transwomen off. I've been told that I have no right to venture comment for the trans community because my "struggle wasn't hard enough". I've been told I am a traitor and a sell-out when I work for unity within and without the LGBT community. I have been stalked, had my life threatened, and most disturbingly, during the campaign here in Kalamazoo-Was told by an anonymous caller that if I wanted to be a woman so bad, maybe he could help by raping me.

Those things really hurt. The very simple fact for me is that I have a responsibility to make the path broader for those who will follow. Don't get me wrong, there are times that I want to just slip into society and no one would be the wiser.

I can't do it though.


rapid butterfly | November 14, 2009 11:29 AM

Antonia - I appreciate the food for thought from your article. But I can't help but wonder a little bit at the phenomena of trans women, especially passable trans women, taking great care to say: Hey, I pass, things are great for me, why should I help others who don't? Why is it ALWAYS so important for us as trans women (and I am a trans woman, too) to assert and trumpet that we pass and we COULD if we wanted slip off into anonymity etc. etc, but we'll be "nice" and stick around and help the ugly, the awkward, the unpopular, etc?

Is there not a terrible sort of narcissism and arrogance at work in this sort of question?

Why do any of us - where "us" means human beings, who are in a position to help regarding this or that human problem - ever help others less fortunate than we? Do people with food make a point of saying, you know, I have PLENTY to eat (and all very fine food, don't ya know) but I'll give some to the hungry? Do people who help the homeless make a point of saying - I have a home and boy is it comfy, but I'll help those who need shelter?

What would we think about people in those capacities who made those assertions when they helped the less fortunate?

I just don't get it. We help because it's the right thing to do, and because we are able to. The very act of being able to help someone demonstrates that one has the power to help. So what? It's the helping that is the point, not the assertion of power.

It's the temptation.

Don't get me wrong, there are times that I want to just slip into society and no one would be the wiser.
I'm no Activist, you see, I just want a quiet life.
I can't do it though.
No, me neither. That's not out of any altruism, because the temptation to withdraw is always there; it's that I can't bring myself to abandon others, though I really want to. It's a personal struggle.

Kathy Padilla | November 14, 2009 12:05 PM

No one can answer the internal motivations for wanting to be involved in activism - and particularly activism in certain areas. And those motivations change for us as our lives and circumstances change. I know I wish many who get burnt out and bitter after years of fighting would take a break and focus on their lives - and many who are just transitioning would focus on the hard work of transition and building a life before getting ground up by the political process and not have a life or employment. And spend sometime learning about the issues and political process before conducting their educations in public.

For me - while there's no denying the attraction of interesting ideas or achievements - the ultimate goal is to permit people to live lives without having to be part of these processes to the extent they can.

As to the external issues you question regarding personal self interest - I'd suggest that even if you pass flawlessly - someone somewhere knows your history & it will follow you. If you want to work in Iran - it will surely come up in a background check. No one ever has a completely secret history regarding their gender identity OR sexual orientation.

Even if you don't see the relevance of transgender identity or sexual orientation concerns to your life - that doesn't mean they won't be seen by others who could discriminate on you based on the perception of your appearing to masculine or feminine for their tastes, who find out about your history and perceive you to be gay, who perceive you to have a sex based mental illness, or who find out about your history and discriminate against you due to considering you trans - whether in work, health insurance - or whether they discriminate against your family and friends because of how they perceive you is irrelevent.

Because discrimination isn't about how we define and limit ourselves - it's about how others define and limit us.

twinkie 1 cat | November 14, 2009 2:44 PM

1. Because even though you pass now, you did not always and you might not when you are older. Because the younger girls coming up need the boulders moved over to the side of the road so they can make it without slipping in to drugs, prostitution and self loathing as well as going to the "silicone doctor" to have some pumps put in by another girl who works in the doctor's office.

2. Respect from both self and from others for standing up and saying that you are you regardless of how others regard you.

3. Because you have the heart of an activist. You really cannot stop. Because the GLBT community still has no Martin Luther King and has never been able to get organized and unified well enough to create that dreaded "Homosexual Agenda" that the conservaties fear so much. It is still gay "communities". They can organize around issues but have trouble having enough self esteem to recognize that however they express themselves they are one family. Each segment still looks down on each other.

Toni, I am so thrilled to see your column.

I'll answer #1 for now.

Because you are (or have been) all of the things that you state; man, woman, cis, trans, black, white, Latino, straight, gay (misidentified as such, perhaps)...have I missed anything?

We have much to learn from you...well, at least I do.

It depends on how you define the fight and how you know when its over.

Being trans is different from other human conditions in that it allows you to experience life in completely different ways. You actually get to experience sexism for the first time as an adult, or in my experience, the evaporation of sexism as an adult (I'm a gay transman). I now get to experience homophobia whereas before I benefited from straight privilege (that was really hard to lose). Everything gets turned on its head and you're forced to adjust to how the world sees you now, which is a big part of transitioning.

The fact that your situation got better and mine got worse is a bit irritating, because we're both still trans (I don't like to argue about who is and who isn't trans, so please don't take this the wrong way, as some are wont to do). This commonality, the trans factor, if you will, unites us despite the fact that we are so different. Its not like being gay; there is no common culture, no one thing we have in common except that we both transitioned from one sex to another.

I read your writing on your website and the only time I feel a kinship to you is when you describe the political fights against other LGBT people and how ugly they can get. No one can agree on anything, it seems, and we all seem to be glaring at each other from across the room, blaming the other for every setback and slight. As a trans person, I believe that your insight can be transformative for other sexual minorities, in that you can understand what it means to be different, wildly different from the so-called norm and understand that there is an ultimate commonality among the isms - the need for a target of abuse.

You are no longer a target in your daily life, but online you are a big target. You state that "it's not really my fight. I don't gain anything from it I don't already have." I think you are wrong. It's still your fight, it will always be your fight and you will benefit from it. Why? Because the targets change, because we can't predict the future, because someone you love could be a target and the worst of all, you could still be targeted sometime in the future. To believe your fight is done because you have everything you want and need is foolish and a common misconception about civil rights.

This is why I like to think of civil rights as just an expansion of what is considered normal, so that no one is left out in the end. When no one is considered abnormal, the fight ends. Until then, you are still considered abnormal and therefore are not completely free. You would be remiss to not keep in the fight despite your daily trouble-free existence.


Thanks all -- these are some awesome comments! Good thoughtful stuff!

So now that we know all of that, how do we get a straight cis person to know that it's their fight?

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | November 22, 2009 11:15 AM


For once, we're not being admonished to let our enemies decide whom we should consider our friends or allies. We're being shown that we can support "trans rights" as human rights, without the usual "LGBT" kludge.

However, Toni, your statement's about "passing" still make my skin crawl, so let me pose a question (harshly, but in good faith) that may reveal why.

How do you think I feel when I'm rejected by a gorgeous, interesting hunk because I'm a gay guy and not a "passable" trans woman. I'm tempted to put scare quotes around the word "woman" in this instance, because that guy I want is actually looking for what he reads as "a chick with a dick" -- and (please forgive me), I, in turn, read his specific sort of desire as a manifestation of internalized homophobia. He wants someone he can see either as a woman with the mere accouterments of a man, or a man only if that man can pass himself off to his "internal censors" as a woman. (That way, my gorgeous hunk doesn't have to admit being gay - and, in a sense, he can even justifiably say he isn't really even attracted to men.)

In the end, though, rejection is still rejection.

Conversely, I recognized that I was gay when I realized that I simply wasn't interested in girls. So much for the supposed connection between gay identity and feminism. (I don't exactly pass as a hunk of a man, either -- just as a fat intellectual zhlub.

I truly detest gender, both ways, as a measure of identity - for me, burly beefcake and lace-doily pussy are both yucky. I'm attracted to beauty, which in the end I see as androgynous in ways that transcend the gender binary without trashing biologically sexed body attributes - even when personified by the aforementioned "hunk."

I can even spell the neologism "transmisogyny," but it ain't as if the mere prospect of having to confront that label haunts and daunts me as if it were a chunk of kryptonite. I really don't care about such invective - and if I don't care, well -- sorry -- I'm immune to its supposed power to make me tremble at the mere thought of ever having to confront it, so (please forgive the expression) it's impotent.

The sad fact is that much of the nasty infighting and backbiting we experience stems from a simple human reality: "Today's trade, tomorrow's competition."

No fancy pomo or queer-theory language there. The real problem is that in such a crowded world, evidently love is still simply too scarce.

That's my fight, FWIW.

Antonia - Thank you from the straight cis girl! I blog with a gay man and I keep a science blog. I have a very close friend who is transgender. Tell me what we can do to help. Or what not to do! I know that I am naive. I just simply believe in treating everyone with respect. I believe that everyone deserves to live openly as they are, without fear, without rejection.