The Privilege of Being L or G in the LGBTQ+ Community
You’re not really a lesbian, you just haven't met the right man yet. You're not really butch, you're just a tomboy that was never taught how to be a lady. You should smile more. You should shave your legs. You should wear makeup. You should, you should, you should…
Feel angry? You should.
That’s a healthy mix of empathy and indignation at work. It’s human compassion, it is our humanity. No one wants to be told who they are, or how they should feel by someone who is decidedly NOT them. And while it’s true that no one understands your internalized struggles or true thoughts, age and wisdom have taught us the humane way to engage others. That’s how we know to feel upset when members of our queer community are attacked, even if that attack comes from within the community. Our transgender brothers and sisters are hearing the equivalent of this from large lesbian websites. I certainly was angry on their behalf by the time I finished reading this article on After Ellen:
(OpEd)A Butch Eradication, Served With a Progressive Smile.
Words have power, as we all know. And to use yours as a weapon against people who are more marginalized than you is irresponsible and careless, perhaps even malicious. No one is erasing butch lesbians from the vocabulary, we are simply expanding the vocabulary to give everyone a place. The same fear and bigotry that wrote this article is also behind white males thinking that by giving everyone a voice, theirs is somehow lessened. Transphobia is bigotry.
Thoughts to chew on: Years ago we had gay and lesbian. The big, bad, and scary G & L. It took a little bit of adjustment for the straight/cis community. They are still adjusting. Then some thoughtful soul added B for Bisexual. Because we have MORE than 2 flavors of queer, right? Of course we do, to say otherwise would be purposely and willfully ignorant of literally everything going on around us. And then the flag grew even more as we queer individuals continued seeking better descriptions of us. And after years of introspection and connection many realized they didn't have to get stuffed into one of the three main boxes because people didn't know what else to do with them. Years ago transmen were simply labeled as 'butch lesbian' if they were too masculine, without asking the underlying question of, “who are you inside?” Masculine and feminine are merely descriptors for how you are on the OUTSIDE, not indicative of sexuality or sexual expression. So after years of being mislabeled, the T was added for Transgender.
And here are some facts about transgender, explanations of why transmen are not just a “butch lesbians”, or why transwomen aren’t just “effeminate gay men.” Some transmen like men. Yes, they are transgender males living as gay men. Some are transgender males who are attracted to women and live as heterosexual men. Want more? There are transgender men that like women BEFORE they transition, then like men AFTER. That is a proven scientific phenomenon that deals with same sex attraction continuing despite gender transition. The same scenarios apply to transwomen. It’s crazy right? Wrong, it’s not crazy. It’s called being true to themselves and searching for that connection in life that most makes them happy.
I mostly identify as lesbian. I could also be classified as a butch lesbian. Personally I lean more toward queer, or even non-binary or genderqueer, though I’ve never said the latter aloud until now. I’m white, and thought I was straight enough to get engaged to a man <gasp> at one point, so obviously not a gold star. I also turn 45 this year and I try my hardest to stay understanding of the way people, communities, and political landscapes change all around me.
You may wonder with my background why I’m an advocate for transgender rights. To be honest, I’ve always hated discrimination no matter what scent it reeks of. However, I do hold trans rights close to my heart. The picture below is of me and my friend Kerry. He accepts me no matter where I’ve been or where I’m going in my search for definition. I do the same in return. We don’t even live near each other anymore but he’ll always be one of my people.
One of us is butch-ish, the other is trans. We are “L” and T respectively. And believe me, we’ve BOTH gone through our share of changes and identity crises. I know I’ve changed and I continue changing. We spent countless post-bar evenings talking about life, experience, and the world around us. The conversations ranged from deep and philosophical to inane. And I know from those conversations that Kerry has worked hard to get where he is. He won’t let someone tell him who he can or can’t be, who he is, or who he should be. He’s not alone in this. We are not alone.
But to continue with the story, what if I told you there are dozens more labels to describe gender, sexual expression, and identity? To refuse to accept that there are more flavors of ice cream than what you grew up with, or there are more flavors that you are comfortable with is the worst kind of bigotry. Nobody has the right or authority in the grand gay scheme of things to dictate someone else's gender, expression, or identity. You are not me. You are not them. Dictating how someone else feels is wrong, a wrongness that transphobic people probably suffered through at some point yet still perpetuate. Think about how you felt when you read the opening paragraph of this piece.
Do you remember that all-inclusive saying about love? It’s the one that we see on signs at pride parades, and it crops up in social media and pop culture on a regular basis. Love is love. How about all the transphobic, bi-phobic, female-hating, and male-hating people in the LGBTQ+ community practice a little of what they preach? There can be no real progress without solidarity, and no solidarity within a bigoted base. Sure, L and G may have laid the track for this big rainbow train, but the engine for this journey is in the hands of the younger generation now. All those bi, queer, transgender, questioning, ace, and other kids need acceptance, not someone reminding them a thousand times that they don’t exist, that they’re confused or have nothing to contribute. The joy of discovery is that there is always more to discover.
Perhaps someday we will truly be equal and free to just...be. No boundaries, no labels other than people. But we're not there yet, and labels help us discover not just who we are to ourselves, but to others that are like us. For now though, let's just let people be who they are. Treat others how you wish to be treated. Do you wish for acceptance of your sexuality and gender? Be prepared to give it in return. Help gather the community, don't tear it apart. I don't know what I am other than me. And I'll admit that some of the queer labels are outside my understanding. But I am open to education and practice acceptance.
To conclude, I was disappointed to read this article on such an esteemed lesbian-focused site. I was more disappointed to see individuals in an already attacked community turning on their own. Erasing the letters we've all fought so hard for. Just because you don't understand something, doesn't make it wrong.
“If you can’t rise up without pushing someone else down, you were never meant to rise.” K. Aten
And still searching.