Deconstructing Jessi – Why Pgh’s Lesbian Community Owes One Woman an Apology

For the past 24 hours, I've mulled over the best approach to this post updating you about the discrimination experienced by Jessi Seams, a local transwoman, when she attempted to audition for a women's variety show.  This week, the City Paper's feature article is thoughtful exploration of this specific incident in the context of larger debates over gender identity, trans-inclusion and the LGBTQ community.

A prominent local gay male told me he was unhappy the story was being published because it aired “the dirty laundry” of the community.  While I get where he is coming from, this is problematic thinking, even dysfunctional — the problem isn't that we have dirty laundry, it is that people know we have it.  That perspective doesn't help those who are oppressed within our community. Well, now the readers of the City Paper know that all is not right in the land of the homos.  Surprise!

I'm struggling to find the right words.  I am very angry with some of the women in the local lesbian/queer women's community.  Angry and disappointed at their narrow-minded, bigotry and amazed at the vitriol they spew in Jessi's direction.  These chicks have mounted a self-righteous attack based on the supposition that Jessi wants to have her cake (live part-time as a man) and eat it, too (live part-time as a woman).  They are so absolutely fucking terrified that anyone even associated with a penis might invade their woman only space that they've elevated this one particular transwoman into some sort of spy for the patriarchy (h/t to Jess Snodgrass).

It all comes down to these particular lesbians and their circle of small-minded cohorts having the privilege of self-determination (as lesbians) while women such as Jessi and her male-born counterparts do not.  Period.

Here are a few examples:

We'll call this one “Double Amen”

I'm curious…I read the article in the City Paper and Emilia is quoted as saying,
“You're Jessi, period,” Lombardi says, gazing at her. “She's my girlfriend.”
However, Jessi does not live as a woman at work or even around his own family according to the article.
So, my question is this….If you say someone is your girlfriend during the “night hours” or when you're in a bar, etc…yet they live as a man when they are at work and when they are around their own family, are they then considered your boyfriend?
Just curious is all….

That is probably the most ridiculous and disrespectful statement I've read all week.  If this sensibility reflects the CTN fan base, perhaps Jessi is better off (as are the rest of us). 

In another stunning example of uncritical thought, one woman thinks the City Paper and Jessi are *creating* fissures in the local gay community.  In one long rant, she condemns Jessi for taking advantage of  the economic benefits of being male in her work life, demonstrates total ignorance of the reality of life as a transwoman or transman, and continues to blindly defend CTN without even remotely addressing the very real questions many, many women have been asking.  She does make use of lots of hyperbole.  At least, I think this is hyperbole.

Furthermore, the consequences are deadly. United we stand,
divided we fall.

For example, I have never seen a trans-janitor at any Celebrate the Night
event! This kind of slanderous attack puts the ONLY women-centered,
non-smoking, non-alcoholic event in the city at risk.

         However, s/he has chosen to slander the community that I hold dear in    attempt to elevate her own position and that is inexcusable

It is preposterous to claim that these fissures around gender identity and inclusion have just somehow appeared in what was previously a harmonious, united community.  I guess if you dwell in the land of white, middle-class gay male and lesbian privilege, perhaps it was.  One needs only take a look at the composition of the board of our own community center to recognize that inclusiveness is not our strong suit.  For a lot of reasons that are much bigger than the current individuals serving on that board.  I used to be one of them and making those types of institutional changes wasn't an easy challenge to tackle.  I left so I have to shoulder some of the responsibility for not achieving institutional change.

So what do you think?  Does Jessi get to determine her own gender-identity?  Should CTN conduct background checks on performers?  Would your own history on the Internet stand up to scrutiny?  Could you, perhaps, be found less worthy because you don't conform to rigid norms of behavior, sexual or otherwise?

More importantly, of course, can Pittsburgh's LGBTQ community successfully navigate the fallout from illuminating our failure to include transwomen and transmen in our institutions, social and otherwise?  We can't even admit it!  We can't even admit the possibility of it!

I just truly do not understand how lesbians who have lived partially closeted at work, with their family (extended or not), in the bowling league, at church, or wherever — how can these very lesbians be so damn judgmental of Jessi living part of her life as a man.  How can they not see any parallel? 

I'm perplexed. I'm angry.  I'm frustrated.  I've been invited to participate in a podcast discussion on the topic and I'm looking forward to exploring these issues in a context where people can at least muster up the respect to use appropriate pronouns.  I suppose I shouldn't condemn people for being disrespectful when I myself have contemplated slowly strangling any lesbian who ever again whines about the demise of Bloomers, CJ's or any other lesbian bar all the while hoping a new woman-only establishment would magically fall from the sky and not require female-born female loving patrons to buy anything other than a free-refill coke to be financially viable.  Strangling in a purely hypothetical sense, of course.  Ledcat does not approve, being a fan of Bloomers herself. 

That being said, if you still want to hang out and eat Asian food with Jessi, Emilia and some other cool chicks a week from Saturday, email me and I'll give you the specifics.  It won't be a lesbian owned establishment, but the food is great and cheap. 



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