27 April 2013

Same-Sex Marriage And The Lost Generation Of Transgenders

In previous posts, I've said that I am glad that same-sex marriage has been legalized in New York and other states, and hope that it will be recognized by the Federal Government of the US, mainly because it's the best solution we can achieve under the current social and economic system.  

That situation, I believe, has at least a little to do with what I have described as the Lost Generation of Transgenders.  It also has to do with the fact that, early in the modern gay-rights movement (or "gay liberation", as it was called in those days), transgender people were allied with gays and lesbians.  To some degree, trans people chose such an alliance, but the media and the general public (to the extent they were thinking about us) lumped us with gays and lesbians simply because most people, at that time, conflated gender identity with sexuality.

Whether or not Sylvia Rivera actually threw her red stiletto-heeled shoe at police officers who raided the Stonewall Inn on that fateful early summer night in 1969 (I have spoken with people who claim to have been there and insist that it didn't happen), there can be little doubt that transgender people were active in, and integral to, the Gay Rights movement in its early years.  Rivera herself, while participating in various marches and demonstrations for gay equality, drew attention to the plight of trans people.  

However, two things happened to marginalize trans people within the LGBT movement--and to leave us further marginalized than we already were within larger society. The first, as I have mentioned in other posts, was the rise of Second-Wave Feminism, spearheaded by Janice Raymond.  The second was the AIDS epidemic, which led to LGBT movements being dominated (some would say hijacked) by affluent gay white men.

Now, I will not deny the importance of AIDS activism:  After all, sixteen people who were friends or acquaintances of mine have died from illnesses generated by the disease, and every one of their deaths was horrific.  However, once ACT UP and other organizations dedicated to the effects of the epidemic--most of whose victims, at the time, were gay men or intravenous drug users--came to be dominated by affluent gay white men, there would be no turning back.  No other part of the LGBT rainbow can even come close to matching the financial power, not to mention the organizational ability, of the men of Christopher Street or the Castro district.  And trans people were far behind even lesbians of color, as there are fewer of us and, then as now, we are more likely to be unemployed and living in poverty.

The more affluent and integrated people are, the more they are likely to try to use the system, as it's constructed, to further their own interests.   In the case of gay men, the ones who were white and working as in the FIRE industries or as advertising art directors wanted (understandably) to enjoy the same sorts of tax benefits, and to be "respectable" in the same ways, as their heterosexual peers. 

What I've described in the previous paragraph led to a nearly singular drive, among LGBT organizations, for "marriage equality"--at times, nearly to the exclusion of every other issue.  While some trans people want to enter same-sex marriages (or are, in fact, in them), many more are preoccupied with day-to-day survival and the issues that are part of it, e.g., employment, health insurance, homelessness and being victims of violent crime and other forms of discrimination.  

However, discussion of--let alone advocacy for--such issues was largely absent during the days of AIDS activism and the drive for same-sex marriage. In the meantime, those who could gain from marriage "equality" pushed for a parallel system to the one most heterosexual people take for granted, i.e., same-sex marriage that followed the heterosexual (and hetero-normative) model. Rarely, if ever, was any consideration given to the idea of getting the government out of marriage altogether, and of taking away the churches' (and other houses of worship's) power to decide, for the (nominally secular) government, who is and isn't married.  

Instead, organizations like the Human Rights Campaign focused their efforts on allowing gays and lesbians to have the same kinds of marriages as straight people. I can't help but to think that if trans people had been more influential, we would have fought for the the separation of Church and State in matters of matrimony, and to have other kinds of relationships (including ones that don't follow the heteronormative script of marriage).  But that didn't happen, in part, because one of the results of a Lost Generation of Transgenders is that because we are far fewer in number (and, proportionally, far less wealthy) than we might have been otherwise.  So, while we were able to get language protecting us into the New York City Human Rights Law in April of 2002, we were (arguably) further from having similar language included in New York State's or the Federal Government's laws and policies than we were in 1972.

I still hope that we will have fair and equitable policies for trans people everywhere.  Then, perhaps, we will be able to move beyond the effects of losing a generation of our people.

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