Coming Out Against Transphobia in the Lesbian Community

Via Keith Haring

I am not inspired today.

When I logged into Facebook today, I saw that a longtime friend posted an anti-trans link, framing the use of pronouns as patriarchal and misogynistic. A lot of my spirit deflated.

The premise that biology and gender are fixed is an outgrowth of patriarchy and misogyny. The premise that the way we express our gender identity should conform with constructs created by society is patriarchal and misognyistic. My pronouns have nothing to do with you. Common courtesy and common sense say that you should respect my pronouns if you want to have constructive contact with me. My pronouns say nothing about your identity. Your choice to respect my pronouns says everything about your humanity.

Of course I understand that we live in time fraught with heightened attacks on women, attacks grounded in patriarchy and misogyny. I have two nieces and four nephews between ages 12-17; I am terrified about what the Dobbs decision might mean for them. They are already talking about the experiences of their trans, gender nonconforming, and queer friends and classmates.

But I realize that the powerful patricharchs and misogynists need us to look up, to punch up, to follow the money and the power and the decision making. Punching down at trans and nonbinary folx is just cruel as well as futile. The best example for me is sports – the threats to fairness and equal opportunity stem from the inherent unfair playing ground between male and female athletes. We created a gendered sports system and then deemed female athletes second class. They are paid less, they are valued less, they have fewer resources, their vulnerability to sexual violation is higher and overlooked as we see with the National Gymnast Association. And the detainment of Brittney Griner in Russia.

If we actually wanted to create more opportunities for female athletes, we would distribute the resources more equitably. Instead, we allow ourselves to be distracted by the very few trans athletes competing in youth leagues. We make a choice to collude with ignorance when it is so evident this is not going to actually create more anything for girls and young cisgender women. We punch down. We pick on the most vulnerable students. And in so doing, we ultimately fail the girls and young women athletes. All this vitriol to free up one or two slots statewide – is it worth it? Does it work? Is the price we pay in our souls going to comfort us?

In the post my friend shared, the OP said basically that you can tell a woman or a man when you meet them and asking for their pronouns is insulting, implying they don’t look feminine or masculine enough.

What?

How can any lesbian buy into that? Even if you are someone whose gender expression is considered mainstream, how can you dismiss the sexist idea that you can tell real women by looking at them. No, you can’t. I know this because my wife has been often mistaken for a man or even a child. She’s 59. The most recently occurrence was this past July – we went into an Eat n Park and they offered her crayons and a coloring page. They look at her and see a short person (she’s 4’10”) with a short hair style typically wearing men’s clothing. It is ludicrous, I know. But it has happened her whole life and during all of our 19 years together. They think I’m her mother because my style is more mainstream and I have gray hair. She’s seven years older than me. So they get all of this wrong because they make assumptions about our identities based on our presentation.

Now it is usually amusin because we have all sorts of privilege to offset the potential threat. But it wasn’t funny when we were chased by a herd of teenagers at the Waterfront. It wasn’t funny when someone yelled slurs at us from his car parked downtown and then got out of the car to pursue us. In that case, we were “rescued” by a gay cisgender male business owner who came out to help. It isn’t funny now when she goes into a bathroom or changing room at the gym. It isn’t funny that we recently had a conversation about what she would expect from me if someone confronted her about this.

We didn’t talk about her growing out her hair or changing her clothing style. She’s not going to change who she is and she doesn’t have to.

Taking a ‘principled’ stand about someone’s identity isn’t going to make our world any safer for my wife (or me.) Standing up to people who are trying to literally control our bodies and our lives will make the world safer.

I don’t know why this is so hard to understand. I don’t know why lesbians in particular allow tthemselveso be manipulated into fighting people with even less privilege. It is like pitting the wives of Gilead against the Marthas and the Handmaidens.

So on this National Coming Out Day, let me clearly reiterate that I’m an out lesbian who values and honors my trans and nonbinary neighbors. I stand with them in the face of this anti-feminist backlash from other women, especially other queer women. I also stand with dykes, studs, butches, and femmes. I stand with other women who pass for cisgender heterosexual women because of the assumptions people make.

I feel sorry for women who have internalized patriarchy and misogyny to the point that they are mean-spirited bullies to vulnerable neighbors who pose no harm. And I promise that when you pop up with your uninformed bigotry, I will say something no matter how uncomfortable it makes me or if it costs me relationships. It is my duty to resist oppression especially when it comes from my own corner. I’ll never #notalllesbians because I see it playing out all of the time – lesbians are particularly good at this sort of bullying. People make assumptions that I’ll laugh at their jokes because of how I look just like other white folx assume I’ll go along with the racism or the homophobia or xenophobia.

You are wrong. Your wrongness allows patriarchal oppression and misogyny to flourish. You are the Aunt Lydia in this scenario and that is horrifying.

I am ashamed of all of us for failing to apply lessons about identity to others.

I will resist you. I will hope for you to understand the harm you cause, but I will not enable you.

So here’s to everyone who can’t come out today because people I know make it unsafe and dangerous for them. I am very sorry they have hurt you. I’ll keep trying to be the adult in the room who isn’t hornswoggle about the real threats to our lives.

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