They say history repeats itself, and it hurts just as much the second time.
The Stonewall Inn in downtown New York City is, historically, the epicenter of the LGBT rights movement. In June, 1969, a routine police raid on the iconic gay bar located on a quaint, tree-lined boulevard, spilled out into the street and escalated into a violent riot that would change the social and political terrain for LGBT Americans nationwide.
The Stonewall Inn has since been dubbed a historic landmark, and the city recently announced plans to erect a statue of two of the most visible activists to come out of the riots. Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were instrumental in maintaining momentum post Stonewall as they organized rallies, publicly protested police brutality and inequality and put a spotlight on the plethora of issues facing the community at the time- such as a weaponized legal system and corrupt officers that saw thousands of LGBT folks brutally beaten and unjustly incarcerated.
In 1973, Rivera took the stage at the 4th annual Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally in Washington Square Park, which was heavily attended by gay men, lesbians and, in fewer numbers, transgender folks. A mere four years after the riots at Stonewall, Rivera and Johnson were the most visible transgender figures in New York City. Having spearheaded initiatives to provide outreach support for gay men in prison and subsequently, following a sit-in at Weinstein Hall at New York University in 1970, the two established S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) on the lower East Side, which would be the first LGBT youth shelter in North America.
Despite her broad activism for everyone beneath the LGBT umbrella, on that stage, Sylvia Rivera was shouted at, insulted and booed by the gays and lesbians in the audience… because she was transgender.
This resulted in her iconic speech, “Ya’ll Better Quiet Down” wherein she angrily scolded those dismissing her. In the footage, you can hear the frustration in her voice and watch the pain of betrayal burn on her face. These were the very people she was fighting alongside to liberate.
“You all tell me, go and hide my tail between my legs.
I will no longer put up with this shit.
I have been beaten.
I have had my nose broken.
I have been thrown in jail.
I have lost my job.
I have lost my apartment.
For gay liberation, and you all treat me this way?
What the fuck’s wrong with you all?
Think about that!” — Sylvia Rivera
50 years later, progress has been made, largely for the LGB community. Transgender people, however, are spiraling backward in time. Protections for transgender people have been rolled back. We have been banned from military service, called a “Burden” and “Distraction.” Even our rights to use a public bathroom are talking points for politicians. We have such little visibility in media that those trans folks with a platform we can count on one hand. When we talk about transgender people, even the most ambivalent person knows them by their first name alone. Janet, Laverne, Carmen, Caitlyn. Today, a mere 16 percent of Americans admit to knowing a transgender person. Typically in films and television we are portrayed by cis men who are lauded for “groundbreaking” performances, while the few transgender actors who turn in a critically adored performance find themselves abandoned after filming is complete, shunned by the industry. Trans women of color are still murdered in disproportionate numbers as violence targeting us reaches a record-breaking high in 2019. Perhaps that is why at least 50 percent of trans identifying youth who call crisis hotlines have attempted suicide or express suicidal ideation.
To compound that, in a recent survey, 27 percent of Americans said they would never be friends with a transgender person, while even fewer said they would ever date a trans identifying man or woman.
In another study focusing on dating within the LGBTQ community, even those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer express disinterest in dating transgender people.
A lot of people associate transgender people with sexual fetishists. Radical feminists claim we’re trying to take away their lesbians and forcing them into sex with our “Bepenised bodies.” All this hysteria in spite of the fact that most transgender women experience severe sexual anxiety due to body dysphoria, and only a very small number of trans women sexually identify as lesbian. The idea of transgender lesbians, however, has been met with much criticism despite there being no precedent of transgender women laying claim to lesbians, brainwashing them or forcing them into engaging in sexual acts against their will. These radical feminists have accused transwomen of rape despite it never happening, and that is what they use to instill fear and provoke more violence toward the trans community. Entire groups have been founded by lesbian women and their straight allies in pursuit of disenfranchising trans women further, making baseless accusations and grabbing at straws to demonize us. Groups like Mumsnet, Woman’s Place UK and high profile feminists leverage their social media platforms to attack, harass, threaten and bully trans women into silence. They grab at straws to find an argument that justifies their hatred. The most commonly used excuse is that transgender women are erasing lesbians or impeding on their right to be lesbian. It’s not a real argument. It’s not factual. It’s a nonsensical flat-earther type debate that has no merit whatsoever, but those running with the narrative, they wield it without the burden of logic, research or facts because it would put them in the deeply uncomfortable position of having to consider they might be wrong. Trans women aren’t going up and down the streets of lesbian neighborhood demanding sex. That’s their way of portraying Transgender women as men.
Let’s talk about erasure for a moment. Lesbians blame social erasure on transgender women. Little consideration is given to the fact that transgender women are actually being erased from history. People debate now whether Marsha P. Johnson was a Transwoman, preferring to re-frame her as a drag queen instead since she didn’t always present herself as female. This is true. This was her way of staying out of jail. She, like Rivera, got their hormones off the street market. Taking the transness away from Marsha, a beloved figure, in order to sanitize her for the greater LGB community, that’s erasure. So are the films produced and released such as Roland Emerrich’s “Stonewall” that intentionally shift the focus of the stonewall riots as a battle fought by white, cisgender gay men… and the film “The Lavender Scare,” a documentary narrated by Glenn Close that re-writes a version of New York City history that was absent of transgender people- only white gay men suffered.
Physical erasure of all transgender people is happening as our government has enshrined religious beliefs into law, and we can be denied healthcare or life saving treatment for being transgender. The government is made calculated moves internally to make sure trans people die, either by illness they are too afraid to see a doctor to have treated, by suicide as we become increasingly vulnerable to the hate that is thrust upon us every day, and now allowing us to be fired from our job or legally evicted from our homes for being trans. Or, murder. So many transwomen of color have been killed, and only 1% of those women have seen their killer brought to justice. They may not be lining us up for gas chambers, but this is a passive genocide by legalizing every means possible to ensure our erasure from greater society.
Furthermore, while the art of drag has gone mainstream, now mostly performed by cis men whereas it was once primarily done by transgender women, they have today enjoyed a word wide social acceptance that transgender people have been denied. People are more willing to accept a drag queen, as portrayed by a gay man, than they are a transgender woman. While politicians debate whether or not we are a threat to little girls and women in a public restroom, drag queens are reading books to children in local libraries.
As gay rights have pioneered onward and into the future, transgender people have been, undeniably, left behind. The rise in anti-trans sentiments isn’t solely a consequence of evangelicals, political conservatives but also by the emboldened bigotry of an alarming number of lesbians who don’t believe transgender women should be a part of the feminist movement, and gay men who believe that our inclusion means they will experience unnecessary resistance to their further social and political progress. They think we’ll hold them back, thus, in order to appease the gatekeepers of acceptability, they’ve turned on us by allying with our oppressors believing they’re safe as long as the bullets of injustice and inequality are hailing down on transgender people instead of the more palatable LGB folks.
I pondered this phenomenon last year in an article called “Why are More Gay Men Turning on Transgender People?” The readers of the article responded- not to me- but by spewing the familiar rhetoric they’ve been trained to by their think-pack. This individual says we’re forcing lesbians to like penises;
“Trans rhetoric is all too often about entitlement to sex and love from others who simply aren’t attracted to penises to the point of the disgustingly offensive and anti-women “cotton ceiling”. Most people are mono-sexually attracted and whether you like it or not, bodies are a big part in this. As much as we’d like love to be about the person, a relationship relies on the bedroom.
The very same trans rhetoric is reeling back 30 odd years of work by the gay community about how sexuality is not a fucking choice. People are born with an orientation , if they don’t like dick they don’t like dick — get over it.
When you think 90% of the population are wrong and need to change specifically for you, maybe you’re actually the one that needs to re-think. Of course society absolutely shouldn’t be taking away your job or your house because of your “gender identity”, name or clothing choices but certainly no one owes anyone sex and suggesting that people do will not gain you any favour.”
“We’re not “turning against” you. We’re simply stating the uncomfortable (for you) fact that no, people born with a penis cannot suddenly call themselves women because they feel like it, sorry, and neither can a person with a vagina call herself a man. For years this was an obvious fact that I kept to myself out of politeness, but recently I’ve seen so many examples of people with penises expecting sex from lesbians (and, more rarely but still a significant amount, straight men), and women masquerading as men expecting access to gay men’s spaces and bodies, that I’ve declined to remain silent any longer.”
The ironic thing about this is that the biggest threat to gay and lesbian people and culture is transgenderism, not the other way around. For example, what makes a gay man different than a straight. It’s a man who like a man, instead of liking women. But along comes the transgender movement and boom, a man can be a man, women, he-she-man-women, kind of a man today but a women the next, on and on the possibilities are endless. So why should gay men defend transgenderism. One is a sexual orientation, one is a mental problem, needing thousands of dollars of taxpayer or company money to “fix.” Except the suicide rate is the same post or pre transition. So obviously it doesn’t fix anything.
“Gays and Lesbians are acknowledging reality. Transgenders are fleeing from it. The two groups have almost nothing in common.”
“…you can’t force people to believe in something that simply isn’t true, and you can’t deny that trans id males (or their imposters) have been incredibly abusive to lesbians and women in general. Just check out http://womanarehuman.com for receipts. There are few if any lesbian spaces left, and anyone who dares speak up about it is viciously dogpiled and doxxed. Trans id males are all over lesbian dating sites and “the cotton ceiling” is perfectly vile from the trans tribe. Fix this, and maybe I will be sympathetic to your cause once again.”
A small sample of gay men and lesbian women who used the article to air their grievances toward the trans community in the comments. From the gay men and lesbians that responded, the most terms used to describe us were “abusive,” and “Mentally ill.” Some were supportive, but they were in the minority.
In the UK, the media temperament towards transgender women is even worse. Hostile even. It was recently reported by PinkNews that violence against transgender women has spiked to 81%. Much of this can be attributed to the relentless hate campaigns launched by journalists from The Times magazine who publishes daily Anti-Trans stories that suggest we’re a “Trans Taliban” attempting to enlist and mutilate children, or that we’re damaging the morality of the country. Couple that with the hate tours taken by the likes of Graham Linehan, Julie Bindel and Posie Parker wherein they ambush trans women at work as they did Sarah McBride, a Human Rights Council staff member.
Transgender women have not been asking for special rights. The wold has been sharing a space with us since the beginning of time. We aren’t trying to replace lesbians or steal from their ranks. We tried to fight alongside them in their efforts to achieve equal pay for equal work, the right to sovereignty over their own body, the efforts to stop toxic men from objectifying them as if they existed purely for their personal sexual delights. I consider myself a feminist. I don’t apologize for that. I’ll continue fighting for all women.
You see, this is the progress we’ve made since Sylvia Rivera took to the stage and was met with resounding boos. We are here, still fighting against nonsense claims people use to convince themselves we aren’t people, we’re monsters instead… because it’s easier to hate a monster. We have bigotry coming at us from all directions, and when we dare ask why- when I have asked why- I was called lesbophobic, homophobic, and told “Because you’re hurting us!” As they hurl slurs and deliberately misgender me.
Classic gaslighting. They attack, you ask why, and they tell you it’s your own fault that they’re abusing you. When you explain to them the stories they’ve made up about transgender women are untrue and provide evidence, they stick their fingers in their ears, unwilling to listen. They want us to accept that, without reason or rational, we are problematic.
And in what is now the grandest display of the deepening fracture between LGB/T in 50 years since the fires lit up the night on Christopher Street, on the anniversary of those historic riots, a transgender black woman stood inside the Stonewall Inn, the place where it all began. She took the mic from the drag queen performing, asking if she could speak. As she began to say the names of the 11 transgender women murdered in 2019…
… She was booed, heckled, and the audience shouted her down into silence until finally letting her finish her 11 minute tribute to the sisters we have lost to homicide.
This is how far we’ve come in 50 years since stonewall. It’s just a new generation of transgender women offended by sharing a space, and a movement, with a transgender woman. To the allies in the LGB community that we have left, thank you, sincerely, on behalf of the entire transgender community.
To the rest of you…
You know the old addage… United we stand…
Divided we fall.