Come on in. The beer’s still cold… And so are the partygoers.
Feminism has had a problematic relationship with trans people for decades. That problem has existed, at the very least, since the heyday of second wave feminism in the 60s and 70s. Similar problematic relationships have evolved between feminism and people of color, poor people, native people, immigrants, and on, and on. Sadly, feminism has come to represent those who have had a majority representation among women: white women, middle class women, cis (non-transgender) women, able-bodied women, etc.
I once dreamed of a feminism in which all of our voices are heard. However, in recent years, I’ve had to come to terms with the hard, cold reality of how social dynamics actually play out. As with so many institutions, organizations, and movements, the majority, by sheer force of numbers and available resources, wind up setting the agenda and trajectory of the social body in question. Sadly, this leaves many women behind. It creates alienation, anger, and the eventual exodus of those people who are marginalized, ignored and mistreated.
If that’s a little dry and distant, here’s an analogy for you:
Imagine that you’ve just met a new group of friends. At first, they seem nice and share a number of interests in common with you. They’ve know each other for years, are fairly well connected with the community, and seem to be a fun group of people to spend time around.
Shortly after, your friends invite you to a monthly party that is thrown at one of their houses. Each month, before the party, your friends spend a day decorating the house, cooking the food, and lining up the music to be played. You politely ask if you might help out in some of these tasks and the response you receive is, “Well… OK.” Admittedly, their response is a little lukewarm, but you really like them, so you dismiss the response as a fluke and continue to hang out with them.
After a few months, you begin to notice a distressing pattern. Somehow, the house always manages to be decorated before you arrive to help. The food you prepare always seems to be shoved to the back of the buffet table, behind other dishes, or worse: it gets put into the refrigerator without being served. Whenever you make a suggestion for the music, it is ignored, or someone turns it off after people complain about how terrible it is.
At one party, you accidentally overhear several of your friends laughing at how outlandish your tastes and interests are. As you walk into the room, a hush settles over it. Understandably, you’re feeling pretty awful. You explain to your friends that you feel hurt and excluded. Some of your friends tell you that you’re imagining things. Some leave the room to avoid you and take their conversation into a different space. A few others, responding in anger, inform you that you are a troublemaker and ask you to pipe down or leave.
Now, the question is this: do you continue to hang out with these people, or do you find new friends who will treat you with respect and who share far more in common with you?
Often times, this is what it feels like to be a trans woman in a feminist space. More generally, this is what it feels like to be a trans person in a social venue that is largely populated by cis people. Your concerns, perspectives, experiences, ideas, and ways of life are seen as awkward, unimportant, outlandish, or disruptive. On an average day, all of this is swept under the rug and ignored by the majority. If you challenge people on the ways that their treatment alienates you, you are dismissed, ignored, ostracized or called a troublemaker. You are told that you are making a big deal out of nothing. You are told that you are over sensitive. You are told that you don’t belong with the larger group anyway and that you should leave. You are told that it’s your responsibility to accept that the majority sets the rules and you are required to comply. If you can’t comply, then it is only right that you suffer the consequences.
It gets old after a while.
I prefer to end on a positive note and I have to admit that what I just wrote was a wee bit negative. It doesn’t have to be this way, but to make thinks different, it’s going to take a lot of effort.
So, I’d like to extend an invitation to a different party. This party has a brand of beer that you might not recognize. The music sounds a little strange, but it still has a beat you can dance to. The decor is a little unusual, but aren’t you getting a little tired of Martha Stewart, anyway? There’s a lot of vegetarian cooking at these parties, and yeah, I know that sometimes puts people off, but hey—it’s good for you! It tastes good too, if you’ll give it half a chance.
This invitation goes out to the cis folk who see the value in being allies to trans people. There’s a wealth of information out there that you can explore about trans folk. Learn about us. Take this knowledge back to the people you call friends and kin. Share it. Challenge the people around you. Make this a better world.
Now, who’s bringing the dip?
PS: See that sidebar over there? *enthusiastically points to sidebar* It’s an easy place to start. 😉