This is a continuation of the following pieces:
I took a break to give everyone time to digest those pieces and to be ready for the ones coming up.
Today I will talk about one aspect of intersectionality: in particular, how it is that one can be gay or trans or straight or cis, and still be something else, even temporarily.
It's called Situational Membership, and it affects most of the LGBT community in one way or another, and reaches outside us, into the wider world.
Situational membership happens when you find yourself, seemingly unwillingly, thrust into a group with which you otherwise might not feel you have much in common.
Bisexual people often experience this in both the gay and lesbian communities, as well as the straight community -- entirely based on who they happen to be with. And, as a result of the underlying animosities there, they are often attacked on both sides for it, in subtle and invidious ways.
Trans folk, such as transsexuals, can find that different people's perceptions of their gender affect how they are seen in terms of sexual orientation. They might for example, be called a faggot; or perhaps when they seek to marry they are told they aren't really their particular sex, but instead a different one.
Situational membership is also easily pointed out among our loudest and most vocal opponents -- Vitter found himself a situational gay, for example.
An area many activists dislike talking about is prison -- segregation in prisons is often noted to have a high rate of both consensual sex and outright rape that results in a situation of membership in the gay community by virtue of the apparent homosexuality shown.
And if you read the press on these things, you find that often LGBT people will take a case of situational membership and use it against people, perpetuating the idea that such is negative, and thereby casting further negative connotations back on the idea of being LGBT.
More clearly, if the Advocate, for example, was writing about Vitter in a manner that seeks to embarrass him is indeed working to make the idea of being gay itself embarrassing. Or any other source, as well.
This is Stigma -- enacted, and likely felt, as well.
The is a great deal of stigma attached to the various ways by which we end up with situational membership. To avoid that stigma, we often speak out against the ideas being placed on regarding that situational membership, denying it instead of accepting it.
This runs deep, and is part of the institutional system that surrounds much of our work -- its one of the things we do that reinforces the stigma attached to us by the society we live in.
A gay man who happens, one night, to go to a party dressed in drag is a situational member of the Trans community, without ever intending to actually be part of it -- because to the rest of the world, he can be described as such.
A trans woman who is straight might be looked at as gay, since she prefers to be with men and some people (in particular, though who choose not to believe the science I talked about behind Gender, previously) may see her as a man -- usually claiming that she is *always* a man, regardless of how she dresses or acts or presents her gender (essentialism itself).
That same idea of essentialism undergirds a lot of the jokes at our collective expense, even within the community: gay men are said to be afraid of having their penis whacked off because they venerate it -- the idea being that gay men only see a penis as being what makes a man. As a result they are bothered by transsexuals -- a kind of Trans, but not the only kind -- since trans women often choose to transform theirs. Its not true -- indeed, nothing could be further from the truth.
In my discussion on What is Trans, this idea of situational membership was raised by Father Tony:
In this definition I am trans. Everytime I used eyeliner because I knew I'd be spending a night in a dark and smokey leather bar where it would help bring out my eyes or anytime I applied a coat of lip-plumper in the bathroom of said leather bar or anytime I carried my Italian hand bag or anytime I shopped on the women's side of the Gap for a sweater because they were cut shorter and fitted me better. Seriously, at those times, I was not conforming to societies expectations etc. (the evidential list is actually much longer.)
He was correct -- in all of those cases, he can be described -- due to the situational nature of those actions -- as Trans, and he gains membership in that affinity group for those times. The same applies to anyone who breaches conventional, commonplace, everyday, ordinary expectations of what gender is to be.
Situational membership is not limited to a single class, either -- one can be in several classes on a situational basis depending on the particulars involved. It is in this way that that the idea of intersectionality strikes the concept of affinity groups, and how the stigma against one is the stigma against all.
Stigma is a social element that is always reinforced negatively -- that is, you don't do that because its bad in some way. When we deal in politicians that "cross the line" and get "caught with their pants down" engaged in sexual intercourse of some form or other with another person of the same sex, we are just as prone as anyone else (if not more prone) to attack them using the power of stigma for having crossed that line into "our territory".
By making it seem like a bad thing, we reinforce the idea in general that is *is* a bad thing, even though what we are attacking is the hypocrisy itself that we see.
We use the stigma against us against them, instead of doing something that may be far more damning -- embrace them and offer shows of support, despite the obvious hypocrisy.
Trans folk are famous for using stigma against others -- not merely those around us, but our own, as well. As was also noted in the comment cited above, there are some very nasty arguments within the Trans community itself. All of them based on social stigma to some degree or other (as well as many other factors such as outright prejudice).
All of us, at one point or another, have had situational membership in the straight community -- as children, as adults, as just people, walking down the street.
The power of this stigma affects Bisexuals and Trans folk often most directly within the community -- one of the things that goes into the efforts to pass ENDA, for example, is an active erasure of them from consideration out of concern that "they are just too weird" for the average person. And in so doing, those groups become members of the gay and lesbian community.
This also works to shore up several different forms of privilege, since privilege can be a shield in many ways against some forms of stigma -- the "straight acting" and closeted gay man, for example, is shielded from the stigma of being gay while he remains straight acting and closeted. The stealth transsexual is shielded from the stigma of being attached to the GLBT community if they are straight, or shielded from the trans part if they are gay or bi.
It is all interwoven into a single structure that works to keep us separate while maintaining the tautness of the fabric that unites us. That makes the "alliance" of these groups often brittle and easily weakened, while if we were to somehow magically erase the idea that within our community being trans, or gay, or lesbian, or bi was somehow wrong, then we would likely find our community stronger, both as individuals and as a collective whole.
And Magic is a funny thing, I should point out. It always starts with you.