No Room for Debate: Trans People and the Wider LGBT Community


It’s always encouraging to see criticism and internal dialogue within movements for equality—conversations that constantly question whether activists have the best priorities, are being as inclusive as possible, and are making a positive impact. I think one of the most admirable things about the modern feminist movement is the way we are always educating ourselves and each other, remembering that feminism is about equality for everyone regardless of their sex, gender, race, ability, and other factors—and asking whether our perspectives are complete and fair.

But I wish to see more of that healthy debate in the mainstream movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality today. Dialogue among LGBT activists often takes a more tense, accusatory tone about which goals are the most important, which queer community suffers more than the others, and which organizations aren’t good enough.

One of the clearest indications of this is the classic “debate” over how transgender issues fit within the broader LGBT circle. No matter how increasingly educated and informed we become about trans people and the issues surrounding trans communities, it seems like every couple of weeks there’s a new op-ed or forum debate or Twitter fight or public service announcement about whether the “T” should really be a part of the “LGBT” acronym. It never fails: just last week openly gay news anchor Don Lemon made that question a large portion of a panel of transgender celebrities he hosted on the Joy Behar Show. (The segment was extremely problematic, as Lemon is clearly not versed in trans conversations in any way; but promising in a larger sense, as I blogged about elsewhere).

Why is the “T” part of the “LGBT”? I hope that for feminists the answer is rather obvious. The stigma surrounding transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people is the same stigma that people who aren’t straight must confront: They’re not expressing themselves according to the strict rules and rigid binaries that society has created for us, where there are men and women; men are masculine and have sex with women; and women are feminine and have sex with men. The trans community confronts these most fundamental notions of what the world tries to tell us about gender.

And this has devastating impacts. Transgender women make up 44% of all victims of violence against LGBT people. People of color make up 70% of the victims. It’s worth repeating. Transgender women of color are the single most targeted group in the LGBT community. But gay men, lesbians, and other groups are also regularly harmed—usually not for their sexual orientation, but for their expression of their gender; for “looking” gay.

“There isn’t much that compares,” said advocate Ja’briel Walthour in the Huffington Post yesterday, to living life as a transgender woman of color. “To face discrimination and biased attitudes is one thing; to stare down the barrel of a loaded weapon is another.”

Feminists are beginning to recognize the integral importance of speaking up for and protecting our trans sisters (and brothers), and why it’s relevant to them. But it remains an issue for many LGB and straight people who continue to ask “Why should I care?” The fact that they think this is even debatable is scary. The answer is glaringly obvious to me.

7 responses to “No Room for Debate: Trans People and the Wider LGBT Community

  1. It doesn’t matter which community is being more targeted! Agreed completely. But I think it is important to be aware of which communities are being attacked, committing suicide more often, suffering with AIDS, depression, etc. That way activists can narrow in and become experts and problem solve on specific key issues.

    But in the larger picture, people need to know we are all working towards the same cause.

    Here’s a crappy analogy. When I clean house, I start in the kitchen and complete the kitchen. I don’t try to clean up the entire house! I focus in. If we have a lot of people focusing in on specific issues, this gets the job done much faster I feel.

    Another issue that isn’t often considered is the asexual community as well as the “genderfuck” portion of the community. There is a lot of ambiguity here. I feel that the LGBT community contains all the subdomains of pansexuality, genderqueer, etc. Others feel those need to be added on separately.

  2. I’m always baffled when I hear these debates about the “T” being included with the LGBT acronym. Like you, I feel that it undoubtedly and obviously belongs there, as the issues faced are basically one in the same. I think it’s silly to even debate about it, as there are definitely more pressing issues to talk about.

    Great post!

  3. “The trans community confronts these most fundamental notions of what the world tries to tell us about gender.”

    I think that most people who debate the inclusion of “T” in “LGB” dispute this. And personally, I can see where they’re coming from, since trans individuals go to the length of surgically changing their genitals in order to COMFORM to gender norms.

    As a feminist, I agree that the issues we face stem from the same ol’ misogyny/gender dogma — but I don’t know that the trans community confronts that dogma like gender-nonconforming people who DON’T switch sex in order to “pass” as stereotypically gendered do. In fact, I’d argue that the act of “transitioning” seems to confirm/support gender stereotypes.

    Undecided on this one, but I think there’s plenty of room for debate. The disagreements we’re seeing are a product of some important ideological differences – the kind of stuff that can’t just be handwaved away.

    1. C: T’s don’t change gender (to conform) because they CAN rather they do it because they MUST. Being transgender isn’t about waking up and saying “yeah, I kinda wanna cut my penis off today.” It’s about living life in the wrong body.

      Some feminist like to treat gender like it doesn’t matter, as if they understand the basic concepts surrounding gender. You can’t truly understand the solidity of gender without BEING transgendered. Being transgender rubs the very concept of gender in your face. Gender is not a choice. If you are born mentally as a woman but genetically as a man the mind battles the body every waking hour of every day.

      There is not a single moment when you don’t think about it. Could you imagine what it’d be like to be a woman with chest hair? Or a moustache? Or giant shoulders? The mind freaks out about these developments it cannot control. This leads to depression and in many cases suicide.

      Transgenderism isn’t about conformity. It’s nice to fit in, sure, but that’s not what being a transsexual is about. If it were suddenly socially acceptable for men to wear skirts it wouldn’t get rid of transgenderism. People change their gender because they desperately want their body to match their mind. Because that actually matters. To claim it’s an issue of ‘conformity’ is ignorant and offensive.

      1. Gender does not equal sex. It’s anti-feminist to claim that it does. It’s also anti-feminist to claim that gender is innate. That’s what conservatives do, no feminists!

        Genderism and trans ideology have no place in the GLB movement or in feminism. End of story.

  4. Here’s a crappy analogy. When I clean house, I start in the kitchen and complete the kitchen. I don’t try to clean up the entire house! I focus in. If we have a lot of people focusing in on specific issues, this gets the job done much faster I feel.

  5. I am one of those people who don’t understand how and why trans issues came to be linked with gay and lesbian issues. Take Chaz Bono for example. Before identifying as male, Chaz came out as a lesbian. If he had continued to identify as female, Chaz would naturally be a member of the gay and lesbian community. Now, Chaz identifies as a heterosexual male who is in a heterosexual relationship. How is that similar to me, a lesbian?

    I support anyone’s right to identify as he or she sees fit, but the issues of a transperson who identifies as heterosexual are not the same as someone who identifies as homosexual. They are separate. We can support each other without having to be linked in the same group.

    If there’s another way to look at this, I’d appreciate some clarity to help wrap my mind around it.

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