By BAILEY DINEEN
Wednesday, Nov. 20, marked the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. I’m going to assume most people did not pause to honor this day for a second. I’m going to assume most people didn’t even notice.
I don’t write this because I am some elitist, blogosphere feminist, scoffing at the ignorant souls that aren’t “progressive” enough to like the right Facebook pages, and missed their updates about just how many transgender people were targets of violence this year. I write this because the sad truth of the matter is that although gender-nonconforming individuals are targets of violence and hatred, Americans were too tied up thinking about same-sex marriage this year to pay very much attention to the transgender people who were murdered … if any attention at all.
The fight for same-sex marriage has progressed in the mainstream so that we have come to take it for granted. We unquestioningly accept it as the single issue most important issue of the gay right’s movement because “Of course achieving same-sex marriage is a reasonable thing to strive for! It’s one more step toward equality and you can’t argue there is anything wrong with that!” Well, actually, you can. There is a lot wrong with that.
Before the discussion of gay rights and same-sex marriage co-opted it, there was a gay liberation movement. Now, gay rights and gay liberation are completely different things. If we look at the dynamics of the gay rights movement, we see people working through the courts to gain access to state institutions like marriage and the military. And that is the equality people are looking for — equal access to state institutions. Herein lies the drastic departure from the gay liberation movement — gay liberationists once advocated for a radical reshaping of these very institutions gay rights activists simply want access to. They reasoned that the state and the institutions it contains, as they stand, were created to perpetuate a patriarchal and heteronormative value system that was inherently about exclusion. They believed that rather than working within these institutions that were never created to include everybody, we need to disrupt the value system upon which they are based in order to achieve freedom and equality.
Did you know that history? Did you think of that version of liberation as a possibility? Or did the obsessive discussion about same-sex marriage stall your consideration of just what liberty and equality entail? Did the gay rights movement convince you that inclusion was all it takes?
It probably did because that was the intention. If we think of “queer” not as a sexual identity, but as a verb that means to disrupt the patriarchal, normative value system and its institutions, then we can think of the gay liberation movement as an attempt to queer our society. Queering was, and is, necessary because there is too much injustice, and therefore so much to disrupt. But queering the world was too drastic for some — it would require a revolution of our society’s values, and some gay people just didn’t need that. For some gays, the patriarchal value system and institutions could actually give them an immense amount of privilege, if only they could be included within it.
And so they managed to co-opt the movement and make it one about inclusion. Maybe not inclusion of all, but inclusion of people who can convincingly appeal to the power holders, “We’re just like you! We promise!” How do you convince them? Well, be a gay person who can fit into the white, upper-middle class, normative lifestyle that the patriarchal value system privileges.
Then who is the gay liberation movement for? There are a lot of queer people who are non-normative in more ways than just their sexuality. There are a lot of queer people who have more to lament than just their exclusion from marriage. There are a lot of people that may not have a non-normative sexuality, but who are non-normative in other ways and oppressed by the system accordingly. And what happened to them when the Gay Rights activists took over? They were relegated to the margins. Again. Transgender people, cast to the side. People of color, cast to the side. Lower-income people, cast to the side.
There was a gay liberation movement that believed that all oppression was connected. That the patriarchal, heteronormative value system that the gay rights movement now legitimizes is a value system with domination at its core; and that liberation — from oppression, from domination, and towards equality — will elude us until that system is destroyed.
If that be the case, then inclusion for those gays that are “just like everybody else!” will necessarily reinforce the exclusion of others. And that is the case because 238 people were killed this year due to transphobic violence and I surely saw no collective pause.
If we demand justice, we must be willing to radically reshape this world and not settle for an inclusion of some that ensures the continued exclusion of others. We can’t keep kidding ourselves that inclusion is enough to achieve liberty. That lie is a distraction that means the continuation of oppression, domination and violence. I wonder how many transgender people we can spare before we realize that.