In a recent anti-radical feminist screed, published prominently on several leftist blogs, a trans* activist attempted to equate gender critical analysis with homophobia. This is the latest twist on the conflation of the lesbian and gay rights political movement with the trans* political movement. And it’s the latest indication that it will be lesbians, other women, and girls who are most harmed by that conflation.
Though there are claims that our groups have reason to have a strong political alliance, it’s arguable that Gay, Inc. – the large, well-funded and influential political groups – created this conflation simply to increase funding and reach. There doesn’t seem to have been a period of time where lesbians and gay men were allowed any discussion or input about this decision. But there are obvious reasons to question the unholy alliance.
The true similarity between our groups is in the bedrock homophobia and misogyny of those who work against us. But here is the terrible irony of that: Trans, Inc. does not want to acknowledge that reality, let alone work on dismantling it, because it undermines their talking points. Look at how their narrative is broken by the reality of lesbian and gay experiences.
A significant number of transmen are lesbians who report that they want to transition in an attempt to escape misogyny – their own internalized version as much as society’s. A significant percentage of transwomen are homosexual males, pressured into transitioning by conservative society that hates gender non-conforming gay men. And the majority of kids diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” will be or already are lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
Beyond these realities – that trans* activists refuse to acknowledge – lesbian and gay people have almost no connection with trans* people or their issues. Yet the trans* political movement has ridden the coattails of the lesbian/gay political movement. We opened the doors, they walk through them. We set the stage, they take it over and turn the discussion to themselves. They had no original movement of their own, but have bent our arguments to their own purposes.
And worse still, our resources are going toward meeting their needs. It’s long past time to look at what separates us and what has happened because of the mash-up of LGB-with-T.
It is clear from looking at that chart that we have far less in common than is assumed. But despite the obvious differences in our experiences and interests, on the very rare occasions when this has been pointed out, all hell has broken loose. John Aravosis, a prominent gay blogger, wrote about this issue in 2007. This caused huge controversy and resulted in a public shaming of him for even daring to mention the false equivalency between lesbian/gay and trans* people.
When Ronald Gold wrote the blog post, “‘No’ to the notion of transgender” for the popular gay website Bilerico, a similar thing happened. But you’ll have to read his post and the account of what happened to him on a different web site, because the original and all discussion thereof has been removed:
Since then the issue has become untouchable and you won’t find any mention of it in the lesbian/gay media or major online communities. Instead there is very nearly lockstep enforcement of silence on the issue.
The political alliances forced by the major political groups have created a de facto link in peoples’ minds between lesbian/gay political concerns and those of trans* people. So straight liberals have taken up the LGBT banner and with terrible irony, have bashed lesbians and gay men with it. Liberal online and print publications have been refusing to let us give our views when we disagree with trans* activist orthodoxy. The comments from the many gay and lesbian people who supported Aravosis are wiped off the post, but not the link to the rebuttal by the trans* activist transwoman and HRC Board of Governors member Dana Beyer.
The bottom line for women in all of this is that, of all the people that Gay/Trans, Inc. claims to speak for, lesbians are most hurt by the false alliance.
Employment discrimination against lesbians
As described by Margaret Ryniker in her article, “Lesbians still face job discrimination,” lesbians are in the unique position of facing sexual harassment as women and, at the same time, discrimination because of their sexual orientation. Lesbians also represent a larger percentage of female workers in male-dominated fields, making them even more vulnerable to workplace harassment and discrimination. And in the U.S., a woman can be fired in over half the states just for being a lesbian.
Yet the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would provide protection for lesbians from being fired just for being lesbian, has still not been passed by Congress. There was a window of time when it might have been passed, but trans* activists very effectively derailed that opportunity to fight for their own rights instead of the rest of their coalition’s rights. Outrageously, most of their socio-political resistance has focused on the inclusion of language allowing males to use female bathrooms on the basis of gender identity. (Also note at that link the hateful language used toward a gay member of Congress.)
In 2007, when Congressman Barney Frank was trying to get ENDA passed, even the Washington Post had some advice: “Delaying passage of ENDA, which was first introduced in the House in the mid-1970s by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), until the transgender community changes enough hearts and minds would be a mistake.” They may have said this because Frank was getting no help from Gay, Inc. In fact, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was far more interested in trans* inclusion than in fighting for the named constituents of their organization.
Large political/legal groups don’t focus on lesbians’ issues and concerns
In addition to their fight against the better judgement of members of Congress, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has been known to create their annual conference program without any mention of issues and interests specific to lesbians.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is equally focused on transgender issues. For example, HRC has provided a $10,000 grant to a legal clinic focused solely on trans* name change issues.
The Astrea Lesbian Foundation for Justice is now a major supporter of trans* political organizations. A quick perusal of their philanthropy shows a $100 donation to the Lesbian Herstory Archives (one of the very rare organizations that still focus entirely on lesbians) and 10s of 1000s of dollars of donations to trans* oriented organizations.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) is now at least as focused on trans* issues as lesbian. From their website: “we are a national leader in shaping transgender law, and our Legal Director, Shannon Minter, is recognized as a leading architect and visionary of the transgender rights movement.” The legal director they are so proud of is a transman and NCLR states that 85% of their budget is spent directly on their legal programs.
In the “Issues & Cases” portion of their website, the NCLR lists the following: Elder Law, Employment, Families and Parenting, Federal Legislation, Healthcare, Immigration, Marriage other Civil Rights, Relationship Recognition, Transgender Law, Sports, and Youth. That list is alphabetical, not hierarchical. What is most important couldn’t be more clear from reading closely. For each and every one of the other issues they address, “LGBT” is the community for whom they say they are working. There is only one constituent part of that coalition that is called out specifically and it isn’t “Lesbian,” it’s “Transgender.” The point is not to hate on Minter personally. The point is to see that Minter is taking care of a very specific community whose activism often works in ways that are *not* good for lesbians but probably always work in Minter’s favor.
This diversion of our resources is happening despite the fact that lesbians and bisexual women make up somewhere in the range of 2-3% of the human population, while the entire trans* umbrella (which includes males who cross-dress for sexual gratification and transmen who want nothing to do with lesbians, their issues and causes) covers no more than .5% of the population, contrary to the inflated claims of Trans, Inc.
It’s not hard to imagine that lesbians are major contributors to organizations with “lesbian” in their names and fully expect that their money is going to lesbians, their issues and needs. When lesbians donate to organizations that purport to serve lesbian interests, one wonders if they realize what percentage of resources are being diverted to the trans* cause. At what point does it become misrepresentation? And we have to ask ourselves why and with what input from the entire lesbian community has this focus become predominant.
Women-only spaces are under assault
The trans* political movement is deeply committed to ensuring that any male -– no matter his intent – is allowed into female-only spaces as long as he claims a trans-related gender identity. From bathrooms, to locker rooms, to dorm rooms, girls and women are being told they should not be able to refuse transwomen entrance. Beyond those spaces, what this means is that traditional enclaves of lesbians such as women’s music festivals and other cultural events, women-only political gatherings, and even athletic teams, are expected to be open to males who claim to “feel” like women.
Pressure on lesbians from the trans* community to accept transwomen as women
The event “Overcoming the Cotton Ceiling: Breaking Down Sexual Barriers for Queer Trans Women,” was held specifically to discuss how lesbians could be coerced to date and have sex with transwomen. In that vein, transwomen are creating accounts on lesbian dating sites without revealing their trans* status. And there is significant support online for the idea that transwomen should never have to reveal their trans* status when seeking to date lesbians online or in person.
Young lesbians and would-be lesbians being pressured toward transgenderism
In some communities there is significant social pressure on butch lesbians to identify as transmen. And the majority of gender non-conforming young girls and women become lesbians as adults. Yet trans* activists are now making substantial inroads into having such gender non-conforming girls declared “transgendered” and to enforce this designation, parents are strongly encouraged to put their daughters on puberty blockers before they have any idea who they really are.
Given all this, there seems little rational basis for lesbians to continue contributing their political efforts, resources, time, and energy to the combined Gay/Trans* movement. We especially do not want our work conflated with some of the current goals of trans* activism, including the support for the idea of “transgender” children who are born in the “wrong” body and to the idea that girls and women should not to be allowed female-only resources, opportunities, and spaces.
Let’s start with some deep skepticism when we see the claims that trans* rights equal lesbian rights. Then we can move on to the complete awareness that our needs and interests are not (and are not going to be) served by being allies with people whose interests are so different (and in some cases counter) to our own. Our allies are in the radical feminist movement and elsewhere. Let’s raise our awareness and raise our voices. Things need to change.
Note: Though Noanodyne is the author of this post, I developed it with the input of Gender Slayer, who came up with the initial idea for the chart, and with help from Elizabeth Hungerford, who contributed significant research for the reference sourcing as well as reviewing and refining support. I’m grateful for the collaboration.