I wrote this to the Portland organization Gender (Free) For All just now. It’s pretty self-explanatory. The short version is that I thought the group’s 2009 march was supposed to be for all trans people, but it felt more like it was for only some. Key poor choices effectively erased my identity, making me feel like I wasn’t welcome.
(Note that, as a grammar nut, I also have a problem with parentheses in a proper name, but I decided to choose my battles in the letter itself.)
Hey, there. I was reading about the recent Trans March in San Francisco and I got to thinking.
I attended the Gender (Free) For All march in 2009, and I really enjoyed it. (I was the one with a red cape and black bikini.) Still, the name upset me; I want to be proud of being transgender, and of being transsexual, and I know that we never agree on labels but I want “transgender” to be inclusive of the whole community (whether trans-binary, genderqueer, otherwise gender-variant, cross-dressers, etc.). The difficulty of ensuring that the historically marginalized genderqueer community is included is an important issue, but I’ve always felt that “Gender (Free) For All” as a name only makes the problem worse. I don’t consider myself to be gender-free, nor do any gender-binary folk, and not all genderqueer folk either. In fact, I worked hard, all my life, to be known as a woman. My gender identity is extremely important to me. When I feel like it’s being taken away, by insinuations that I am (or should be) “gender-free,” liberated from the concept of gender entirely, it hurts, and it reinforces the idea that trans people are automatically a “third gender” even if they are trans-binary like me.
(I know the name has parentheses in it, but really, I cannot parse what “gender for all” would mean. It doesn’t make sense.)
As if to confirm my fears, as I lined up for the show-and-tell segment, I saw and heard that one of the questions asked was if participants agreed with the “either-or” system of gender. Now, as I explained, I don’t, because it’s unfair to people who feel it does not include them. Personally, though, I continued, I am a woman, and want—and work hard for—people to see me that way. It was bizarre, because I was essentially fed a position I strongly agree with, but phrased in a way that made me have to feel I had to defend my own identity, that I was working from a “default” of being, well, “gender-free.” It was, all told, pretty offensive.
So, if you do another march—and I would really like you to, given my pride in Portland and my pride in being trans—I would deeply appreciate if you call it simply the “Trans March,” because, in all honesty, I’m tired of feeling ashamed for being trans, tired of being shunted back of the “LGBT” initialism, tired of being treated like I’m a second-class queer. I want us to make sure we emphasize the diversity of “trans” and “transgender,” end the media stereotype that all trans people are binary women like me, and push inclusion of the genderqueer and otherwise gender-variant into every aspect of the trans movement and philosophy. We need to stop pretending that “transgender” is monolithic, that there’s only one way to be trans. There are as many ways to be trans as there are trans people. I am not every trans person, nor do I ever want to be. Let’s take back the term “trans,” in all its prismatic beauty, and hold it up as a badge of honor instead of shying away from it in shame. Let’s celebrate every way there is to be trans, instead of falsely implying—as the name “Gender (Free) for All” does—that there is only one way.
I’ll keep you posted.