Wednesday, October 03, 2007

No Betrayal of the Transgendered!

My favorite bear-written blog, Joe.My.God. has been hot and heavy with a discussion over the role of the transgendered in the gay community. The discussion was triggered by an attempt by some gay and gay-friendly politicos to try to pass ENDA, the federal anti-discrimination in employment measure meant to cover the "GLBT" community, by stripping the bill of any inclusion of protection of the transgendered.

In the fallout of this now abortive move, the transgendered board member of the Human Rights
Campaign (a gay organization of quite questionable politics), Donna Rose, resigned. Her moving statement can be found on her webpage.

Anyway Joe.My.God. has written eloquently in defense of inclusion, though many of his commentors have revealed a nasty thread of transphobia ranging from misunderstanding to what can only be called bigotry.

I am no fan of the awkward "GLBT" to identify our community: it's not a word, it's unwieldy, and it smacks of so-called political correctness and political calculation rather than the emotional, supportive inclusion it is meant to communicate. That said, gay people need to embrace completely and without reservation the transgendered as being members of our community and longterm allies in a struggle for liberation. When I was a Pagan I helped organize a group called Queer Pagans: The word Queer a banner of welcome to all those of varying degree of divergence from the heterosexual mainstream. In my middle age "queer" no longer rolls off my tongue so confidently but I remember how its spirit of inclusion created a place that the transgendered were encouraged to come and play and worship and experience along side those of us who were merely gay or lesbian or bisexual.

And it cannot be repeated too often in our creation myth of Stonewall, it was the drag queens--while not as a group quite the same thing as the transgendered--who carried the day.

Back in 1980 I was a member of something elaborately entitled the "Gay Revolutionary Discussion Group" in Chicago. GRDG existed mostly as a channel to recruit a small handful of activists from the gay movement to a no-longer existant left group called The Revolutionary Socialist League. The RSL was on its trajectory from Trotskyism and Leninism toward Anarchism: a trajectory that included an embrace of gay activism that, at the time, no other left group could claim.

Anyway the RSL and GRDG were talking to various other groups of activists to build various coalitions. Me and my friends (including Michael Botkin and Joe Alongi/Galante, lost many years ago to AIDS) were at some group, I want to say it was the Rogers Park Edgewater Gay Alliance, but I don't completely trust my memory, and along with us came Natasha, an RSL member who often helped organize gay-focused events.

One of the people we were talking to, who I remembered called himself a feminist, then a kind of rarity for a male, started to pontificate about transsexuals. He accused them, and he apparently meant male-to-female transsexuals, of being men trying to colonize the world of women. He went on at great length. All this time Natasha seemed to be very uncomfortable. She was a quiet woman who when she rose to speak always conveyed emotional passion with her political entreaties.

In this small meeting suddenly Natasha jumped to her feet. "You don't know what you're talking about!" she cried angrily. "I am a transsexual!"

The room went dead silent. I considered Natasha a comrade but I didn't know her well. My friend Joe has had a fling with Frank, her current boyfriend, I knew that. What she announced was complete news to me. We were all in shock, well with the probably exception of Joe, both her comrades as well as the delusional know-it-all she had so completely put in his place.

She stomped out of the room after a further impassioned declaration about what transgender-ism was and was not. We left together shortly thereafter, Natasha retreating in to her quietness and the rest of us alone in our thoughts about her revelation.

I never learned more about Natasha. Her defenses went back up, and I have no idea where she is today or if she survived that sad era. But I learned from her, a committed fighter for gay freedom, a revolutionary, and a person on a journey I could not imagine, that I wanted her on my side. I would do anything I could to make sure my political world was full of more Natashas and fewer ignorant self-righteous exclusionists.

Thanks Natasha.

ENDA must protect the transgendered. Thirty pieces of silver are not enough to buy our souls.


  1. Hello, ish! I remember Joe, Michael, Frank and Natasha. I used to hang out at their place (big, high-ceilinged kitchen, Joe's platform bed... I wonder if you and I ever met. Surprised I found your site by Googling Joe Alongi/ Galante! Also wondering what became of Andy Arocho... Pls drop me a line if you get a chance...

  2. Hey cap! Thanks for the note. I don't know if you saw I wrote a whole post on Joe more recently:

    Do you know what happened to Frank and Natasha?