Tina K. Russell

February 28, 2008

Black is the New…. whatever

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 7:35 pm

Go Back to Black – New York Times

What a great and emotionally stirring call for an embrace of pan-Africanism. My dad’s from Norway, so I’m very proud of my Scandinavian heritage. I hope we can all learn from this guy that sometimes, meaning well, we slice and dice ourselves into ever-smaller categories that slowly eclipse what we have in common. Hearing the pundits kick Barack Obama’s race around like a balloon at a party, you’d never realize that black people across America and all over the world see Obama as one of them.

And hell, I think it’s high time we had a black president. I think it’s about time for a woman president, too, so it’s nice that history wins either way. It’s just…

I tell this story a lot: I love Milestone Comics, the short-lived, black-owned comics label in the late nineties that portrayed a truly diverse slate of black heroes and villains. One of their series was Icon, about a wealthy lawyer with superpowers who fought crime alongside his impoverished-but-plucky teenage sidekick.

I remember that one woman wrote to the letters page referring to herself, offhandedly, as “black,” noting that “I’m not African-American, I’m black and I’ll be black until the day I die.” That really stuck with me, and to this day is the example I cite for why I staunchly refer to myself as “transsexual,” and instruct others to do the same for me, rather than the softer “transgender” that is becoming the more accepted term. “Transgender” is a much broader word and I do not doubt its utility, but it irks me to think of people calling me by a word created so that people wouldn’t squirm so much when they talk about me. I’m transsexual, and if you don’t like it, you can stuff it. (I guess part of that is that I also often like to stuff it in people’s heads that, actually, no, my gender does not exist on a fanciful spectrum sprouting forth from the ether and seeding beautiful, wild geraniums which smell like sensual mermaids bathing in the Rhine. But, that’s another discussion. You can write to me, if you want, if all this went over your head.)

Yes, I do have a big concern (though I’m not sure it’s what this columnist was trying to express, so don’t attach it to him) that, in well-meaning attempts to be politically correct, we fragment ourselves into tinier and tinier categories. Look at us, uh, queers: there was gay, and then it was gay and lesbian, and then gay, lesbian, and bisexual, and then that plus transgender or transsexual (though you know which side of the fence I’m on there, I am aware that “transsexual” excludes a lot of people who ought to be included in such diverse arrangements), and then it became a series of initials (not an acronym, those are pronounced as words), and started including queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and spicy Italian salami. I hear a similar dogpile is taking place in minority recruitment, where university officials weary of talking openly about “racial minorities” (and how, yes, they are probably underrepresented at your school, so get to work), have arranged various minorities into an ever-lengthening initialism obfuscating whatever it was they were trying to accomplish.

I say, let’s ditch the political correctness and tell it like it is! You can’t unite around common themes when they’re longer than could feasibly fit on a poster or billboard. Besides… I’ve always been irked by “transsexuals” being lumped in with gay groups, eager to add a “T” to their missions without stopping and taking the effort to learn how to represent us… and as a result, transgender rights has failed to coalesce into a single political movement and has instead ended up in the back closet of gay rights, gathering dust next to old rainbow flags. I’m more comfortable around straight friends who don’t give a flying damn who I am than around gay friends who want to be seen next to me in Stephen Colbert-like photo ops. (Obviously that kind of stuff goes both ways, straight and gay, I’m just saying I don’t appreciate being used as a poster child if it’s not backed up with serious commitment.) I don’t really feel “left out” by organization titles that don’t include me if they include gay people. After all, transsexual rights are not included in the mission statements of the NAACP, or the Anti-Defamation League, or, uhhh… the Free Software Foundation… groups are organized around specific goals, and I’m okay if mine ain’t in them. I’d much rather see organizations struggling to look “LGBT” get serious or drop the “T.”

…That said, I was doubleplus creeped out when I saw a campaign message from Hillary Clinton that emphasized her support in the “LGB” community. That was just weird. Who says that?

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