Since coming out as an agender identified trans person I have noticed some very disturbing patterns within what many people refer to as the “LGBT Community”. I have been verbally assaulted by fellow queer folk telling me not to get upset when people use the wrong pronouns with me or telling and/or expecting me to act a certain way when educating. These are only a few examples of the violence I have experienced at the hands of the Cis Queer Community.
(I am using the term Cis Queer Community intentionally and it is a reference to a specific community. That community being anyone who is part of the “LGBT Community” and cisgender. For clarification: the term Cis is being used as shorthand, for cisgender, to refer to folks within the LGB community who identify as cisgender. I am, also, specifically choosing to use the word queer because I have found that many people who are not LGB, but also do not identify as straight, feel othered by the term LGB(T) and tend to use the term Queer community instead of LGBT community)
I am writing this in hopes to address some of these behaviors and discuss why it’s both ironic and unacceptable that this continues to occur.
When we discuss the LGBT Community we talk about it as though everyone within the LGBT Community is oppressed in the same way and/or somehow equally oppressed and marginalized. This isn’t even remotely true or accurate. Gender and sexuality are two separate concepts and forms of identities that are othered and marginalized in very different ways. However, because of this historical undertone of Trans people and Queer people being the same or oppressed in the same manner there has been negative effect on the community. It has caused and perpetuated many oppressive behaviors from Cis Queer people perpetrated on Trans, non binary, and gender nonconforming people and continues to go unchecked and undiscussed.
The Cis Queer Community has a history of contributing to, perpetuating, condoning the oppression of and even blatantly, violently oppressing trans folk. During one of the most well known riots for Queer Liberation in US history, The Stonewall Riots, Gay and Trans folk fought side by side. However, Queer Trans Women of Color lead that fight and they still lead that fight today. Yet they are constantly under attack and consistently being ignored and their cries for change and justice continue to go unacknowledged. They are more likely to be violently assaulted than any identity within said “LGBT community” and yet are the least discussed and represented within said community.
The irony of all this is astounding to me. Within the “LGBT community” itself, Trans and gender nonconforming people face more violence than the rest of the community. On top of that, the people constantly claiming to be our “allies” are notorious for violating us, policing our voices and our expressions, and even going as far as to actively speak out against us. What’s more, on top of that, is the irony that is you all failing to acknowledge these things further marginalizes your own identities. Trans and gender nonconforming gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc people exist. So not only are you harming people you claim to share a community with, you’re harming people who share your identities.
With that said, there is something that I find particularly interesting, in regards to “our community”, that I want to discuss: When it came time for Cis Queer folk to stand by Trans folk in history, they did not. Every time it came time for you to stand by us, you failed to do so. In fact, the opposite occurred and that has been lost to most people within the community. This has resulted in behavior that ranges from microaggressions via respectability politics to outright violence against trans people perpetrated by the Cis Queer Community.
About a century ago, trans and gay people were considered to literally be the same thing. Transvestite was actually a term coined by Magnus Hirschfeld, in 1910, in order to differentiate between those who expressed themselves as, and/or identified as, the opposite gender they were assigned at birth and those who were simply gay. As we move forward in history, we see the language continue to change and evolve. This is how we got the terms transsexual, transgender, trans, and now even more terms that are being used to describe different gender identities.
As time went on, people continued to separate gender and sexuality. Pieces of society started to realize that one could, in fact, be assigned male at birth, identify as a man, and be attracted to other men, and those facts were not indicative of one having a gender identity that does not correspond with what they were assigned at birth. This is where the piece I find particularly interesting occurs.
In order to further the “Gay Liberation” movement, Cis Queer folk denounced us, attacked us, and regularly spoke out against us. Organizations (the HRC being one of the most notorious organizations to do this, also PFLAG and GLAAD) claiming to stand for Queer Rights failed to and often refused to acknowledge us and our needs. Events and rallies (Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, West Coast Lesbian Conference, etc) claiming to be for queer folks rejected and denied access to trans people.
In the late 1980s, the term LGB community was used to replace the term “gay community”. People felt “gay community” did not accurately represent the people within the community which is particularly ironic given the next bit. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that the T was added to LGBT in an attempt to “unify” the community. The intent may have been to unify us, but the impact did not follow. On top of that, after decades of violence and harassment from the LGB community, they wanted to unify us? To be honest that’s almost laughable.
You see, once again we were an afterthought. Despite our terminology and communities existing as long as yours and having fought for and with you, our needs and rights always come second. The Cis Queer community has shifted from speaking out against us (some still do), to telling us and others that “trans rights are next in line” and policing our voices under the notion that we, as trans people, are oppressed in the same manner as you and therefore you have a right to dictate when and how we speak about our struggles and survival.
We are the burden that the Cis Queer community never wanted to bare. I am here to tell you I will no longer entertain your respectability politics. So many of you use the term LGBT community like we are all equal , when we are not. You use the term and consider us part of your community while consistently demanding that trans and gender non-conforming folk act in a way that you deem appropriate. In doing so, you silence and dehumanize the very people you claim to share a community with. Your behavior is policing and trampling on our very existence. Stop. I will not allow this rhetoric to continue. Particularly during important discussions on the survival and existence of the trans, non binary, and gender nonconforming communities.
Instead of telling us we should be nice about our pronouns and the language we’re not comfortable being used in reference to ourselves, try listening to why we’re so angry or upset when someone accidentally misgenders us. Instead of telling us “we’re next”, acknowledge the fact that we were not only left behind, but intentionally trampled for the purpose of furthering “Gay Liberation.”
I hate to break it to you, but you will not have “Gay Liberation” without “Trans Liberation.” Just as Trans Liberation cannot happen without Black Liberation, Latinx Liberation, discussions and change around immigration and foreign policy, changes for low income people, particularly people of color, and so much more.
Do not tell me or any trans person how to act or respond to their marginalization and the violence that we face. You most certainly may not back that up with the idea that “it is for the good of the LGBT community”. Do not demand my cooperation. Do not demand my patience. Do not stand up for people who “accidentally” misgender me. Do not criticize how I advocate for my survival and my existence. And most certainly, you may not reduce my frustration and anger to hostility or selfishness.
Listen. For once, take a step back and listen to understand instead of to respond. Take a step back and acknowledge that our needs are different. Take a step back and try to understand that despite your queerness, despite your marginalized identities, your Cisness is a privilege. The time for respectability politics is over and frankly it never existed in the first place.
Dear Cis Queer people, do better.
Jason Baskette (they/them/their) is an agender identified person passionate for politics and social justice. Currently a supervisor at blue state coffee, Jason hopes to pursue a career in higher education. More than anything, they hope to change the way gender is seen and understood in everyday life simply by existing genuinely and authentically so that those around them will begin to question the very fabric of everything we know and understand about gender as it is. Read more from Jason.