Who cares? Why talk about identity categories at all? When people ask me why I am interested in terms like gay, straight or transgendered, I speak of Brandon Teena, who was murdered in 1993 in Lincoln, Nebraska, or Jamie Hubley, the Canadian gay teen who committed suicide due to depression over bullying on Oct 15, 2011. In such cases words like dyke, fag and tranny are hurled at people as terms of abuse. In other words, I would – like the founders of the gay liberation movement – be pleased when we all become one. Unfortunately, the time has not arrived. Until it does, we must own the terms of abuse that are so often hurled against us and be proud queers, dykes and trannies.
I am specifically interested in whether or not transgendered people are gay. This is not because I don’t like them, or because I am jealously guarding my own personal identity category. (In fact, in The Globe and Mail I recently spoke out about what I think is wrong with the gay identity today.) No, my concern is about what seems to be a general assimilationist tendency in minority politics. In other words, many think that racism, misogyny and homophobia are pretty much over and that people are tired of listening to what whining feminists, anti-racists and gay libbers have to say. Even many members of the Tea Party and the Occupy movements work hard to be considered representative of the majority.
Gay men are obsessed with reminding everyone how much like straight people they are. They’re the only ones these days that really want to join the army (Bradley Manning may be one infamous exception) and still line up for the best pews at church. And long after most straights have come to view marriage with cynicism, gay men still get all dewy-eyed at the prospect of turning their favourite dirty john into their respectable husband, Johnny.
And while many trans people are passionately committed to being members of a radical minority, others, well, they’re kind of not.
I should begin by stating that I consider myself a transgendered person. I do not live 24 hours a day representing myself as belonging to the gender that I was not assigned at birth. Many people consider this to be the working definition of transgendered. But I am a proud drag queen and an effeminate gay male, one who makes others uncomfortable with his often-unintended flamboyance, and is often denied basic human respect, because of that.
In our community there are two kinds of people: those who want to assimilate and those who celebrate and enjoy difference.
What excites me about the transgender movement is the commitment of those who celebrate their visible outsider status. What is less exciting to me are those who – when they are able to pass – decide to take full advantage of the rights and privileges offered to them as heterosexuals. For some transgendered people the goal is to marry a person of the opposite sex, have children, go to church, get a good job, buy lots of cheap products from Walmart, and not ruffle any feathers. Of course one cannot blame them for wanting affluence and acceptance, but they are not gay, at least in the old gay liberation sense of the word.
To all my trans friends who are married, have children, and who pass: more power to you. But unless you want to proclaim your queerness and your difference every day, and experience the corresponding loss of privilege – which is what being out means – then I would suggest you just call yourselves straight.
I say this because I used to be 100 percent behind all trans people. This is partially because I am one, but also, because trans was once the only queer identity that seemed to enjoy challenging the status quo. However, I recently read an article in Toronto’s The Grid magazine by Sarah Liss about high school gay-straight alliances that stated “‘coming out’ can be a very fraught issue in the trans community, where passing can be a significant part of identity.” As I say, I have nothing against trans people who wish to pass, but if their don’t-rock-the-boat approach to their lives persuades young members of the already too conservative gay and lesbian community that the closet is okay, then we are all in big trouble.
Yay trans! Yay gay, queer, dyke, fag! And, yes, okay, yay straight! But if you want to be exactly the same as everyone else, you are now part of a bigger club that some of us don’t actually want to join, but instead would love to challenge to the core.