As we are all aware, the trans* population is fairly small. This has obviously made it hard for us to unite and gain ground as a community over the years. With the Internet, trans* people have found it easier to talk and get to know one another. It has also facilitated our activism, and 2014 seems to be the year of the trans*person. We’ve seen Janet Mock, Laura Jane Grace and Laverne Cox everywhere. For me, this has been awesome.
Unfortunately, with our growing voice in the media and society, there has been some push back from unexpected places. The proverbial breaking point was this past month. It all started with the controversy surrounding RuPaul’s Drag Race using a slur commonly associated with transwomen. The slur was used in conjunction with a demeaning, transphobic and misogynistic game involving women and drag queens. A lot of us in the trans community were kind of outraged by how that word was used in that game. This slur has also been used repeatedly as a pun when the queens get Ru’s video email messages. While the punnyness of the email rhyme never personally bothered me, the use of the word in the game to degrade women while supposedly being funny really set me off.
Parker Molloy wrote about the controversy for The Advocate. The piece elicited controversial responses from famous transwomen Calpernia Addams and Andrea James. Calpernia basically called Parker homophobic for attacking RuPaul even though Parker herself is queer. She also basically went after any young transperson who wasn’t originally a gay male. Her article was followed up by an even more rabid response by Andrea James, calling Parker and women like her “shut ins” and “Social Justice Warriors.” Andrea referred to the fact that most people attacking RuPaul for the misogyny were transwomen attracted to women. She also attacked the use of the phrase “cisgender heterosexual” by transactivists, saying people like myself and Parker would have been considered that a few years before our transition. Basically, she slung transphobia and homophobia at Parker because Parker did not start out her transition path as a gay “male” like Calpernia or Andrea did. Because these women who once identified as “gay” men, they understood that drag was an act, that drag queens use these terms to shock and for humor. Those of us who didn’t identify as “gay” men at one point apparently do not understand this about drag. Andrea argued that new transitioners had a lot more options for employment so they wouldn’t understand that for most of the 20th century, supposedly, transwomen had to be drag queens to be themselves. I have never really heard that before, though I do know that plenty of older drag queens were transwomen. I know that most of the people at Stonewall identified by the media as drag performers were, in fact, transwomen.
Frankly, I have no disdain for drag at all. I am an avid watcher of the show I am critiquing. My wife and I are rooting for BenDeLaCreme to pull a Seattle win back to back after Jinkx Monsoon won last year. I have been to numerous drag shows. I even support including drag performers in the trans* umbrella. I have a big umbrella.
My disdain and anger is the fact that my community is consuming itself currently as opposed to working together for rights. What Andrea and Calpernia pulled was the “you aren’t trans enough” card. The trans enough card scares the crap out of me. The trans enough card has been used by gatekeepers over the years to keep plenty of transwomen from hormones, from surgery, from life changing medical help. When I was first realizing I was trans, the Internet had really only information about older women transitioning. That information included the idea that when we did transition we had to be heterosexual and stealth. This scared the shit out of me. I pictured myself as some Donna Reed stereotype, and that isn’t who I am. I am a queer femme woman who has a bit of a mean streak. I am loud and obnoxious. I am not demure.
The fact is that Ms. James went after people like me, saying we wouldn’t understand what it’s like being picked on for being a feminine-acting male. I was definitely picked on for being feminine acting; I just never identified as a gay male. Being a gay “man” should not be a prerequisite to coming out as a transwoman. We all reach our womanhood differently. I happened to reach mine at 30 with a loving wife by my side.
When other transwomen begin to buy into that gatekeeping outdated model and then force it on us, that doesn’t help us, it hurts us. I know that plenty of transwomen just coming to terms with their gender must be scared shitless right now by all this fire in our community. I hope they don’t buy into outdated ideas of what being trans means. Ms. James believes that transwomen must have surgery to be legit transwomen, as well, which is a common thought among older transwomen. It goes back to how the rules of gender transition under archaic gatekeeping rules played out.
I honestly think a lot of these older prominent women are afraid because they are used to the crumbs from cisgender gay male activists and organizations. They are not quite used to the fact we now have our own organizations and our own voice.
I want everyone to understand the following. I hope that Ms. James reads this too.
We are all legit transwomen. We are all legit women. There shouldn’t be a litmus test for something I have known since I was 5. Even if you come to terms at 70, you are trans. If you come to terms at 6, you are trans. Late transitions, early transitions, no transitions, it’s all good. We are all trans.