As an LGBTQ movement in southcentral Pennsylvania, our struggle with inclusiveness is to some extent about how we understand justice and injustice in ways that incorporate the experiences of many distinct and overlapping people. We don't always include trans identity and experience in meaningful ways. We don't always include non-binary folks – genderqueer, agender, neutrois, genderfluid, genderflux, two-spirit, polygender, pangender folks – or to even know these folks exist and how they express themselves. We don't always recognize how narrow representations of trans people are on tv and in film, how they tend to skew toward binary, white, middle- and upper-class models and toward a standard that is conventionally attractive, able to “pass,” respectable, and thin. We often fail to challenge the framework in which trans people of color are measured by a standard of gender based on white norms and ideals and are therefore forced into a deficit from the outset. And so on.
We lengthen our acronym in our hope to exhaust the ever-expanding universe of people and peoples in the LGGBTQQIAAAPP communities (lesbian, gay, genderqueer, bi, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, agender, ally, pansexual, polyamorous), which still already leaves out the NGGTPP folks named above, and a few dozen of the Facebook gender and relationship options, and the many, many folks who are creating new names for and understandings of themselves, and so on. We can't necessarily create an exhaustive list of initials that will bring everyone in and leave no one out. And why do we try, I wonder sometimes, when we still struggle so much with basic inclusions of just the T in our branding and messaging and accommodations.
In our desire to find ourselves in stories of protest and rebellion, we co-opt and center ourselves in the story of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Stormé DeLarverie, Tammy Novak, and the veterans of Stonewall: drag queens, early trans women and men, crossdressers, effeminate gay men, stone butches, scare queens, and other gender suspects, many of whom were people of color. And the stories of triumph that we cannot easily appropriate – the Cooper Do-nuts, the Compton Cafeteria riots – we do not tell.
And I wonder whether it might transform our movement and how we approach inclusion, how we understand our similarities and differences and how we talk about experience and spirituality and justice and injustice if we reframe our movement: Rather than beginning with sexualities and tacking on genders after the fact, would we better include more of us by beginning with another, more broadly shared vulnerable location? What if we begin instead with our overarching and underlying experiences of gender nonconformity?
Would we then finally talk about marriage equality and oppression and God and our goals and mission as a movement in ways that better reflect us all? Would we then find ourselves as kin, whether we are deviating from our assigned gender at birth, or deviating from our assigned gender in sexual partners, or deviating from our assigned gender in roles and mannerisms and interests and clothing, or deviating from our assigned gender by acting as gender traitors who encourage and support deviations from assigned gender?
I wonder whether, starting from a shared identity as gender nonconformists, we would then finally fully begin to understand that we were all assigned gender at birth; that we all have gender identities; that we all have preferred names and pronouns; that there are many expressions of gender and that we really need to talk to and ask everyone how they identify; that straight folks and non-trans folks are also harmed by rigid gender rules and standards of beauty and bathroom policing; that hegemonic masculinity and feminine ideals promote rape culture, disbelief, victim-blaming, and re-victimization; that police brutality and mass incarceration is tied to black bodies being hypermasculinized as super-strong, super-danger, super-predator; and so on.
This is not to argue that the root of all oppression is gender-related or transphobic, or that all of race oppression or sexual oppression can be contained in a single rubric. Still, it is possible that understanding the implications of not conforming to (white) (affluent) gender norms and expectations may go some distance toward improving our understanding of all oppressions as related. Our well-being as a movement is tied inextricably to the well-being of one another, and gender might be a bridge to connect the increasing violences in this decade done both to gay men and to black transgender women. Understanding our shared identities would undoubtedly open our imagining to the vast coalitions we can create in our shared goals of creating change.
The Central Voice has offered free column space to LGBT organizations since its inception in 2003 and to the LGBT Center of Central PA since its founding. CV has been a FAB Media Sponsor, the Center’s annual fundraising benefit, since the venue returned in 2007.