I want to talk briefly about an article making the rounds of social media entitled "27 Powerful Portraits Challenging the Definition of What It Means to Be LGBT". There’s a lot to say about this article, but I’m going to touch on three points: 1. the reifying of queer identities that have been around for years (some even centuries!) to re-center queer culture on cisgender and trans masculine people. 2. the blatant and terrifying cultural appropriation of “three spirit” 3. the lack of trans feminine identities, though there are many outside of the binary “trans woman.”
1. Let’s look at some identity terms that have been around for awhile: ‘Power Bottom’, ‘Femme’, ‘Dandy’, ‘Top’, ‘Tomboy’, ‘Queen’, ‘Butch’, ‘Homo’, ‘Fag’, ‘Bear’, ‘Daddy’, ‘Gold Star’ *insert shudder here*, ‘Cub’, ‘Dyke’, ‘Bisexual’, and ‘Boi’. These terms have been around for a long time, and many of them (i.e. Gold Star which is and has always been an identity rooted in cissexism and biphobia) have a lot more to do with defining a historical definition of what it means to be LGBT. And let me be straight up for a second: I have no tolerance for white people identifying as ‘Queen’. That’s not reappropriation, that’s nostalgia. As for the other person who identifies as ‘Jaded Queen’, I’m scared that this apparent phenomenon of cis women using the term ‘Queen’ might mean she is cis as well. And while I have no problems with her using the term, I’m just sad that there are no visibly trans-feminine folks in this collection. The one transgressive MAAB person got re-written: notice the original caption says “Cisgenderqueer Feminist Butch Queen (argh white people stahp)” and then the Policy Mic one says “Cisgendered Feminist Butch Queen.” And while I assume this was a simple mistake by Policy Mic, the normally ever-watchful queer community has somehow let this one slip past the cracks. It isn’t very surprising: the focus of this piece is clearly on the plethora of trans masculine identities and on cis women…I don’t know, reclaiming?…femininity. Which I’m so bored of people treating that like its some sort of revolutionary act. Femme is not a gender, it is a gender characteristic, a marker of what kind of woman, man, genderqueer, etc. person you are. When femme is used as an overarching gender, it erases those who make up its minority: trans women, women of color, disabled folks etc, who don’t have the luxury of being able to consider themselves ‘solely’ femme in a world that assumes whiteness, cisgenderness, and ability. Speaking of where are the crip-queers? Where are the folks reclaiming native identities like muxe or two-spirit that white colonialists attempted to eliminate?
2. Don’t worry folks, the white person is on it! And better yet, they improved on your silly identities and created three spirit! An extra spirit to, I guess, hold all that person’s crackerocity. Look at the way they’re touching their forehead! So mystic, much exotic, very Said would have a lot to say about this, wow. I’m pretty sure I saw that exact pose from that old white woman at the ‘Buddhist’ Bookstore when she was trying to contact her ancestors to find out which overpriced crystal I should buy from her.
3. So why does this matter? The people I’ve seen celebrating this hardest (someone even said it was the greatest article about queer stuff in a long time, which rendered possibly my most exasperated sigh ever) aren’t folks ignorant or even apathetic about trans women issues. These are folks who ‘responsibly’ share the articles about Janet Mock and Laverne Cox and will silently tut-tut while talking to me about Pierce Morgan and have even messaged a trans woman on OkCupid before (good deed done! now to go hook up with that trans guy!). But they saw this article, an article that was about them yet had the protection from criticism of being about ‘non-binary’ identities, and became overjoyed. Of course they did. I ain’t even mad about that. What I am mad about is that the queer community, including my fellow trans women organizers, have completely ignored the utility of desegregating the queer communities. Trans women, and overwhelmingly trans women of color, are invisible in queer spaces. Sure they’ll be given awards or invited as speakers but how many cis and trans masculine queers just go out for coffee with trans women? Or invite them to lunch? Sure you wrote an article about checking your privilege as a white trans man but when’s the last time you did something nice for a trans woman you know? Are you afraid? Are you embarrassed? Do you worry that this is some competition for attention, recognition, or safety that is being fought along lines of what Western hegemony designated our birth sex?
In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own
fear - fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or
recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I
think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live.
Audre Lorde, The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action