This essay is a response to “Unpacking the LGBTI Communities,” by Audrey Mbugua. I do not know the author of this article personally but I am enamoured by her eloquence with the regards to the positioning of the “tagging” of the “T” onto the LGB. However I do not agree with the exclusions hazarded in the writer’s attempts to unpack the LGBTI community. Sure, according to the author, “[t]he issues concerning LGB people stem from sexual orientation, whereas those of transgender people stem from their gender.” I almost said as in gender role but no. For me, matters are more personal and so is my gender identity. I say who I am. No matter what the wider communities positions are. I matter because I say I do as an African (Black) transsexual woman (gender identity) who identifies as a lesbian (sexual orientation) and that all there is to it.
In her article, “unpacking the LGBTI Communities” the writer’s heterosexuality is instantly apparent from the tone of this article but that does not excuse her cavalier attitude towards those transwomen who exercise their choice to be different from the hetero-normative dictat. Unpacking the LGBTI without considering the fact that some transpeople do identify as L, G, or B, is an act of exclusion and the reasoning behind this statement will become apparent in due course.
Before we bother ourselves with the confliction of whether we (i.e. the “T“) are lumped together with the LGB or not, we ought to take a mirror, catch our own reflections and ask ourselves: “‘Mirror, mirror, who is the fairest of us all?’ To which our individual response ought to be, ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall; I am the dearest of them all. ’” A self-referential sense, rather than relegating ourselves as slaves to society’s impositions upon the transgender community by generations of “compulsory heterosexualism” and again within the as in traditional LGB before us. Perhaps, defining our collective selves as a community and doing so carefully so as to acknowledge the differences at the heart of the transgender communities as opposed to denying its diversity for whatever reason.
I am aware of the local of the author -Kenya- and that she herself faces a separatist throng within the LGB not to mention the wider community that side steps issues affecting transgender people. I, on the other hand live in London, and trust me when I say that, living in the capital of the United Kingdom is no escape from LGB/heterosexual transphobia be it subtle or otherwise. I am also of the African Diaspora and I have experienced some of the worst instances of discrimination from Africans as well as from Europeans, Americans and Asians of all generations for reasons of my gender identity, my gender expression and my sexuality.
We have to deal with all those transitional issues as the writer catalogues. We also have lives beyond all those socio-economic determinants and the “go under the scalpel or not” that, the writer claims, members of the traditional LGB do not partake of by choice. This comes as a surprise bearing in mind that drag kings like Ru Paul, Denis Rodman to mention two, became world famous entertainers? Not to mention the throng of straight men that experiment with their gender expression in daily or nightly performance. I am saddened that the only example of a transperson in this article beside the writer seemed to think that distancing herself is sufficient excuse to say the following:
I am transsexual woman who neither seeks anything from, or gives anything to, the LGB community. As far as I’m concerned, if every LGB vanished from the face of the earth tomorrow, if wouldn’t affect my Transsexualism one iota… I have nothing against LGB people, but their condition has nothing to do with my condition. Frankly, I don’t care what any of these “communities” do. As far as I’m concerned, they’d be better off looking at my example for guidance and support, than I would be looking at theirs. How are communities full of people like this going to benefit me?
As if the LGB clamour means that the trans “LGB” ought to pretend not to exist. These issues are not up to them nor are they up to the author of this article. One thing I want to get out there if anything is that the traditional LGB possessive defence of the sexuality landscape is redolent with paranoia that needs to respectfully ask when they do not understand the phenomenology of transsexuality or transgenderism. Striking self-righteous poses without understanding the trans community is as ignorant as a straight mob denying the existential integrity of traditional LGB where even bisexuals can sometimes find themselves grotesquely marginalized within the community.
I acknowledge the writer of “Unpacking the LGBTI Communities” is Africa-specific. I lend voice to that argument in the sense that I am African too. I certainly don’t have to live my life based on what society, community, neighbour-hood commands members to do, irrespective of which of the many communities I belong to. Why not? I am an individual with a unique ability to make my own choices without having to be force fed by anyone. When a gay man once asked me: “did it hurt?” I could have been rude but due to passing of time and experience I am beyond being defensive about gender specific curiosities. I faced him calmly in a level headed manner and responded, “No, it didn’t hurt!” He looked puzzled since for him, his penis was his very existence. I had to make him realise that my transition wasn’t just about what genitalia I had but me -my whole person. From the moment I decided to, “go the distance,” pardon the sports-speak it was no longer about personalised pain. As human beings, we give our “pain bodies” too much importance. I can hear that in the “straight transgender-ist” tone of “Unpacking the LGBTI Communities” which itself excludes my trans-difference, threatening to set me of in primordial fear, anger. My right to choose foreclosed in an instance by a presumption concerning how I lead this life of mine. I can also hear my own pain-body but at least I realise it. Not everyone would have the courage to do so with such ill-placed positioning as the writer of “unpacking…” postulates.
It was about arriving and that arrival wasn’t subject to what my gender expression MUST BE! Apart from the initial “real life test” in which I was required to wear woman’s clothes my choice was for Tran feminism. I chose my position, space and appearances free of “absolutes” and that remains the same as a transsexual homosexual woman. So as transgender people, or transsexuals to be precise, according to the writer, we seem incapable of reason; we are also robbed of our right to make our own choices. She makes the following claim:
What at times unnerves me is the ridiculous notion that transgender persons are pushing themselves to the homosexual crowd. It needs to be said transgender people are not to blame. It’s the way some gays (especially effeminate gays and butch lesbians) behave that created this problem to begin with… cross-dressing in parties and pride and having boob jobs to get into the she-male porn industry – it was assumed that gay men want to be women and lesbians want to be men. You made transsexuals look like a big joke and as people who capriciously break gender norms for the sake of it.
This borders on hate speech and I’m saying this as one African transsexual woman to another. It comes across as homophobic and, in trying to defend homosexual transpeople belittles us. Our ability to fight our own fights, make decisions on how we choose to identify, making the assumption that we copy our gay sisters and brothers and in doing so ends up insulting us because of our life choices. That is coming from a transwoman is internalised transphobia. A greater understanding of the issues facing transgender people and how to access transgender resources globally is urgently needed rather than erroneous generalisations that more than likely would lead to confusion. Only last month, I received a hateful comment from a reader who was having difficulties negotiating the difference between transsexuality and transgenderism. The said readers comment went as follows:
Please do not use TS and TG interchangeably. TSs are mainstream women born with the wrong body and fix it. TGs are men who choose to pretend to be women and love keeping their precious penis for life. TS is a birth defect while TGs are men who lie and pretend to be women and commit sick acts with their penis. Lumping TSs in with TGs is like lumping someone taking pain pills after surgery to a drug addict. TS is a birth defect and a type of mainstream woman, TG is a choice and a type of queer. ALL non-ops MtF TGs are men and NEED to be called male pronouns no matter how much they protest. To call a man who keeps HIS penis for life a she and her is immoral and wrong. ALL TSs need the surgery, while ALL TG men pretending to be women want their penises played with.”
Did the “TS” in the story have surgery or was in need of it, or were they a TG man living a charade as a woman? If it was a TS, then the gay man was a bigot. If it was a TG, then the gay man did correct in warning the woman about the man pretending to be a woman and was supposed to keep his penis. Of course, any true-TS woman would have punched the f*g, and this person’s “overlooking” is a type of effeminacy – a male homosexual response. A female would have raised hell. But the “TS” must have enjoyed it as the lack of response showed. Any TS who doesn’t speak up EVERY time she is misgendered is not my sister.”
We do not want to give people confusing information but even with our best efforts some people still have difficulties understanding. According to Emi Koyama quoting Cherrie Moraga:
In this country, Lesbianism is a poverty-as is being brown, as is being a woman, as is being just plain poor. The danger lies in ranking the oppressions. The danger lies in failing to acknowledge the specificity of oppression
These days, globally, transgenderism is the new poverty and transsexualism much more so especially if you do not pass. The writer’s failure to realise the diversity of transsexuality and inevitable sexualities of transpeople is such an act. I’m left wondering whether the writer of “unpacking…” fully understands how diverse transsexuality really is and that this goes beyond an assumed “compulsory heterosexuality” that she seems to favour over all else. I have to say that it is unfortunate that she so fleetingly overlooks the diversity at the heart of transsexualism not to mention the greater transgenderism when she claimed that:
The wanton oversight that defined the LGBTI movement in divisive terms only stands to isolate transgender agency further in a homo-normative enclave. Internalised homophobia is rife but so is transphobia. Passing judgement on transwomen or transmen without fully understanding how gender identity and sexual orientation merge is detrimental to human evolution
While I believe that subjective narration of transsexual experience is important for a fuller understanding of transsexual individuals and our life experiences in the world I object to sisters or brother who wantonly assume age old compulsory heterosexuality for all. As a transsexual woman who identifies as a lesbian myself I find these implications deeply offensive. The author of “unpacking…” seems to claim that I do not have freewill or the right to make that choice. Is she saying that any woman has such rights to go outside heterosexuality by the same token or is that particular slur only reserved for transwomen that exercise that right?
A closer look at “Unpacking The LGBTI Communities” reveals a regressive step backwards instead of encouraging a positive multitude going forward together in her assertions the latter takes precedence. Using the discomfort of a gay man for levity the writer of “unpacking…”quotes the unnamed person as stating the following:
I dislike transsexuals. I have nothing against them. I just don’t want think they should be put in the same category as the gay/lesbian/bisexual community. Being transsexual doesn’t affect which gender you’re attracted to. I’m not saying they’re bad, I’m just saying that it doesn’t belong in the classification of sexuality”
another gay man claimed:
“Transsexuals being associated with homosexuals make homosexuals look bad.”
Sexuality fundamentalists or what? And the insults go on. One gay man again, even said, “I hate being put in the same boat as ‘transgender’. However his fears are apparent when he goes to talk about the appearance transwomen, surgical intervention we undergo and his need to keep up with the Joneses as an authentic gay man without noticing the hatred he deplores in the stereotypical view of transgender people. Perhaps all he was saying was like one Nigerian question asked once at an LGBTI conference when he said, “What does transgender mean anyhow?” an opportunity to educate if any but unfortunately the conference ended. We swapped contacts but no comeback took place. Really if people what to know anything about anything transgender include the best route to knowing and then understanding a given subject is to ask questions and follow through. Pandering to stereotypes, assumptions, and swift judgements are founded on dogmatic beginnings and or cultural conditioning. They do not help rather they give way to fascist mindsets where gender diversity ought to reign.
The writer of “unpacking…” doesn’t specify or directly use lesbian or bisexual voices and at times she seems to stumble into the same stereotyping as the gay men above have done. She does not seem to be able to conceptualise homosexual transsexual women not to mention transsexual men in doing so excludes all other possible ways of identifying as a trans person. If this is the case, what would she make of a gender queer person or an mtf butch or a transdykes? Would she be willing to date an femme ftm, for instance? Trust me, I don’t mean to sound insulting. I am just attempting to map out the landscape that is trans-X-U-all ala Tracy O’Keefe and Katherine Fox of that same title… True transsexuality/transgenderism is about gender identity but everyone also has a sexuality unique to them. In addition, imagine a transwoman and her cissexual woman lesbian partner, do you need to cast aspersions on such healthy relationships because your worldview is so narrow as to recognise such fluidity as diversity is capable of conferring on the human race?
Nothing is said about the throng of what constitutes transgenderism. Does of “unpacking… ,” for instance, realise that apart from being about gender identity transgenderism actual impacts on the entire human species as in QUILTBAG (coined by Lee Sadie, the interviewer talking to the gender performer, speaker and activist Kate Bornstein) as a featured in DIVA mag where a claim to unify sex, sexuality and gender identities and /gender roles were made in an interview with Kate Bornstein. Diversity comes in different forms and it is not fixed in the way the writer of “unpacking…” and company would prefer. We need to educate ourselves before we can educate others. I so hope she would not want to become the pied piper for the transphobic horde?
Mia Nikasimo © August 2011