March 26, 2013

I Have A Lot To Learn About Transgender Politics

In terms of politics, I’ve always been a pretty forward-thinker. Call me a Democrat, a progressive, a liberal, a Leftie, whatever you like. I’ve always prided myself on being fairly aware and educated on politics, not to mention on the right side of most issues. I read the newspaper; I follow elections; I can name most of the party leaders in both parties in power today. I thought I was pretty solid.

So I was not ready for what awaited me when I started to connect with the transgender community online.

Part of the problem is that I’m really diving into multiple political streams at once. There’s gender politics, including feminism; there’s LGBT politics and all that encompasses that; and then there’s specifically transgender political issues.

Just the gender politics angle is jarring. Though I am politically aware, gender politics was never something I really got into. It just didn’t draw my interest. Even in college, when I was studying literary criticism, I favored historical criticism and close reading over political criticism (where feminist criticism lives). Nominally, I’ve always believed in equal right for everyone, but I never got into the nitty-gritty details.

Apparently, I’ve been a privileged white male all my life, and I didn’t even know it. I’d never heard this term before. It’s only the first of a series of ideas I’ve never really thought about before now. The way women are depicted in media and video games; the biased assumptions made about women in rape cases and the whole concept of “rape culture”; the problems facing women who want to work in technology, or business, or comics, or any male-dominated field. These are not things I had given serious amounts of thought to before. Am I a feminist? I have no idea. I guess I kind of need to be, all things considered.

LGBT and transgender politics are even more confusing. Prior to January I’d never heard terms like cisgender or natal sex or genderqueer. Even though I considered myself pretty liberal and aware, I was always working from a tacit assumption of binary gender (another term I’ve only learned in the past few months). I never thought about how being trans could affect things like marriage rights … or rights in a divorce. That last one only really became real to me when my new therapist pointed it out, that being a transwoman could work against me in a contentious divorce.

Here’s another one: I’ve always had a favorable view of the Human Rights Campaign. My wife ex-wife is more in tune with LGBT politics than I am, and she’s a paid member (there’s a HRC bumper sticker on our van, even). But I’ve discovered recently that HRC isn’t looked too favorably on by the trans community. Just today, I’ve seen negative comments about HRC on Facebook and Twitter, after HRC started promoting a “Red to Support Gay Marriage” profile meme in response to the SCOTUS hearings.

In fact, none of the LGBT groups out there seem to be very popular with trans folks, who see the groups as being more LGB than T. Before a couple of months ago, I’d had no idea there was a growing rift between LGB and T. But there is, stemming from a perception that LGBT groups generally tack on the trans without actually doing much for trans-specific issues.

Speaking of rifts: did you know that there’s one between feminists and transwomen? Someone on Twitter recently used the acronym TERF, and thankfully there’s an Internet to look this stuff up on, because I had no clue. In fact, I only started becoming aware that there was a problem between transwomen and some feminists who don’t think they’re “part of the movement” when the whole Guardian Online article flap happened in January.

So, short version of this post: I’ve got a lot of learning to do if I’m going to stay abreast of the politics of the transgender movement. And since I’ve always been  politically aware of the groups I’ve belonged to, I’m willing to do the homework and learn. If I could only figure out where to start …

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