I often hear the question asked, “Why does T belong with LGB?” It’s usually followed with the logic “LGB all refer to sexuality, while T is about sex/gender.” Larry King is why we belong together.
The media has spent the better part of the past three decades sending the message that trans people don’t exist outside of prostitution and daytime talk trash TV
During the pretrial and trial we learned that Larry King was gay. The media coverage focused significant attention on that fact: this was a gay murder trial, not just a murder trial. But between the crossdressing and the potential name change to Leticia, there was also compelling evidence that King was in the process of discovering they were trans, and that I and many others are remiss in not using female pronouns. (Sadly, King was killed before they could say one way or another so I will keep the pronouns neuter.)
That confusion – both on the part of those around King and those reporting on the trial – is why we are in this together. The media has spent the better part of the past three decades sending the message that trans people don’t exist outside of prostitution and daytime talk trash TV (and that trans men don’t exist period), so today, the domain of the homosexual man is the only permissible place for males to express effeminately. So when everything from Pride coverage to Glee to (my new guilty pleasure) Project Runway features delightfully effeminate gay men, is it any wonder that a potentially trans child would first assume they are gay? When gay and trans can be confused for one another by one another, why do we expect the media to be able to keep them separate?
One thing that the school did attempt was to ensure King’s rights were respected with regard to the dress code when Sue Parsons sent this email to staff at the school:
We have a student on campus who has chosen to express his sexuality by wearing make-up. It is his right to do so. Some kids are finding it amusing, others are bothered by it. As long as it does not cause classroom disruptions he is within his rights. We are asking that you talk to your students about being civil and non-judgmental. They don’t have to like it but they need to give him his space. We are also asking you to watch for possible problems. If you wish to talk further about it please see me or Joy Epstein
So here we have the first intersection of LGB and T: GLB gender expression = T gender expression.
The police raids on gay bars that forced transgender people to congregate at the Compton Cafeteria and led to that riot, and the raid that triggered the Stonewall riot were conducted based on laws that mandated “gender appropriate clothing.” In the 40+ years since these events, much debate has centered on what role trans people played in the riots, particularly Stonewall, but the time, with the exception of a few individuals, surgically corrected trans people were nearly unheard of.
Even today it is no simple task to tell at a glance whether a person is an early-stage transitioning trans woman, or an effeminate gay man, or an androgyne hipster. What does one make of the significant crossover between straight-identified trans men and butch lesbian women? Can you tell the difference between when a girl is a tomboy or a pre-transition trans man? How would you enforce a law about gender appropriate clothing when a person’s ID says M, their birth certificate says F, and they walk into the unisex bathroom wearing a tailored business suit? The right to express one’s self and one’s gender affects all of us because there is no line you can draw that won’t leave someone on the wrong side.
In King’s case, their parents stated that because of their child’s “unique vulnerabilities,” the school was partially to blame for not illegally enforcing the dress code by forbidding King from wearing women’s clothing. Even King’s own parents were involved in the victim blaming because King transgressed the expected gender expression of a 14 year old boy.
Autumn Sandeen wrote a very provocative piece today over at Pam’s House Blend (now a part of Firedoglake) entitled My Life Is Likely Less Valuable Than Yours.
At least, that’s what the hung jury in Brandon McInerney’s murder trial for the killing of Larry King tells me. The hung jury in the case tells me gay panic and trans panic defenses – “blame the victim” defenses – are still alive and well in my home state of California.
If your letter is anywhere in the LGBTQIAA or should be, your life is less valuable than someone whose isn’t because to those who do not understand, we are all the same.
McInerney’s defense not only included blaming the school, but also blaming King for bullying McInerney by asserting that allowing King to wear women’s clothing amounted to harassing McInerney. King was alleged to have made sexual advances at McInerney that made him uncomfortable. If McInerney told King to stop and they didn’t, then that might be the only thing King did wrong in this situation. However, I would have liked to have King’s side of that. As a victim of routine, prolonged bullying myself, I doubt that if King had politely asked the school and McInerney to stop, that they would have. If there’s anything justifiable in this entire situation, it’s fighting back against a bully the only way King could.
But why was it even effective in the first place? Why did it push McInerney to such extremes? Here come to our second intersection of LGB and T:Transphobia = Homophobia.
I cannot tell you how many times I have been told the following: “I have no problem with you people dressing however you want, and I’ll even call you ‘she’ if that’s what you want, but if you go around hitting on guys, don’t be surprised when you get what you deserve.” The threat of violence there is implied in only the loosest sense; no rational person in the threatened group would interpret that as anything but a threat. At the very least, it is condoning it as deserved.
(Here I must make something abundantly clear to those who see a contradiction in the preceding paragraphs: First, fighting back against bullying that the school is unwilling or unable to intervene on except for a teacher saying don’t be different is not in the same league as someone being made uncomfortable by a person’s appearance. Second, words are not bullets.)
The idea that trans people and gay people who hit on straight people deserve violence is the essence of homophobia. There is a prevalent notion out there that straight sex with a trans person somehow makes you gay, and that fear also implies that homosexual is an undesirable thing to be. The dislike and the distrust of trans people, and the image of the “deceptive tranny” immortalized in music of all genres, is transphobia rooted in homophobia. In fact, to those who view things that way, there is no difference because people with that view assert quite clearly a trans person is, and forever will be, the sex the doctor guessed when they were born, and no amount of surgery will remove the “core gender” or “true sex” that is deeply ingrained in chromosomes, or social conditioning, or pull something out of a hat because it’s all a moving goalpost anyway. Essentialism at it’s finest.
It’s this same logic that trans woman + man = man + man that led to Nikki Araguz’s marriage being declared invalid earlier this year in Texas, in part because her surgery had not been complete at the time (but mostly because the judge was pushing a bigoted interpretation of the law that said you are and forever shall be your assigned sex). This brings us to the final intersection of LGB and T: LGB rights = T rights.
When trans people are free to wear what they wish, butches, bois, queens, fairies, everyone else can, too. When homosexuals can marry because marriage is declared gender ambivalent, it no longer matters whether a trans person’s surgery date was postponed until after their wedding. When a person’s right to be who they are free of harassment is upheld by institutional power that does not bend merely to people being uncomfortable, then we will no longer need to worry about being assaulted in bathrooms, dragged behind trucks, or shot in schools. And when it does happen, it doesn’t take a mistrial that sends the process back to square one to see justice.
It is true that trans people require additional rights regarding correct identifying documents and aid from the medical establishment to varying degrees. Homosexuality has been rightfully absent from the DSM since 1973, but gender dysphoria remains in part because of the need for a diagnosis to pursue treatment, and in spite of its known stigmatization. In the recent revision, the historic requirement (and later, listing as a symptom) of homosexual feelings pre-transition for treatment of gender dysphoria has been stricken, which on its face further separates LGB from T.
However, ask anyone on the street, or even transgender people themselves, whether they went from one orientation to another, or whether they were always straight, or any combination in between and you’ll get every combination of answers for the same circumstance: gay men who became straight women, straight women who in their male life were really just straight women in a male body, bisexual women who happened to only date men pre-transition and post-transition, pansexuals who dated people of genders they won’t specify (but who, if asked, would self-identify as men).
When were they gay?When were they straight? Was Larry (Laticia) King a gay boy, or a pre-transition straight girl? We can’t know. While it does King a disservice in terms of historical record, when we as a society realize that the answer doesn’t matter to anyone but King themselves, we will realize that King’s true “offense” was being any kind of gender non-conforming individual. Not being gay, nor being trans.
Those who are against us are against us all.