So, over on Pharyngula kathleenzielinski has been having a bit of a say. I will likely go into other things said by kathleenzielinski (and issues that they raise or raised) later. But for now, I want to talk about the Great kathleenzielinski Gay Rights Movement, which, she would like you to know, is much, much better than that icky trans rights movement to which she would like to compare her GRM:
I will say this: The gay rights movement moved as quickly as it did because we took the time to win over our opposition using their own language. Conservative arguments were made in favor of gay marriage and legal equality. Some of us even quoted the Bible. We didn’t demonize people whose real fault was that they didn’t understand us. We won them over.
The trans rights movement is, if we are to believe kathleenzielinski, both moving much more slowly than her cherished GRM and is also much less friendly and compassionate to the bigots who oppose trans rights than the gays were to the bigots who opposed gay rights.
I don’t know what movement kathleenzielinski participated in, but when I was fighting for queer rights at the end of the 80s and throughout the 90s there was a hell of a lot of language that trashed the hypocrites and bigots of the right. We outed the fuckers who were queer themselves but using conservative politics to camouflage their Christian sins with secular evils. We conducted die ins and accused them of genocide. Hell, we even fought each other. Viciously.
Arguments in favor of queer marriage didn’t even exist as part of any gay rights effort when I joined the movement, much less conservative ones. Marriage was only implicated in discussions around health benefits and how straight couples could marry and allow the job related health benefits to cover their family, while gay men were denied that option in the midst of the HIV crisis. Health insurance was the issue, not marriage, and we were scrambling to find ways to gain access to those benefits despite not being married. In fact civil unions came into being because queers advanced the very radical idea that government should get out of the business of marriage altogether. And that’s all from 1988/89 and later. I’m not even talking about fucking Stonewall, which, I am told, did not rely on conservative arguments and reaching across the aisle for its emotional power.
The queer rights movement involved incrementalist conservatism to be sure, but that wasn’t its driving force and it certainly wasn’t responsible for the rapidity of the social gains once the Daughters of Bilitis were formed in the 1950s. Oh, no. Wait a sec. There were jack shit for national gains from when the Daughters of Bilitis were formed until Stonewall. The DoB, the gay men’s Mattachine Society and other small groups built the radical networks that made change possible, but they couldn’t create large social gains themselves. They needed an army. They didn’t get one quickly. The incrementalist conservative gay and lesbians entirely ignored issues of queer rights until such issues were forced upon them.
Many lesbian (and bi and queer and trans) feminists worked quietly in the background of the feminist movement in the early 70s… until the queers started organizing “Gay Liberation” marches commemorating Stonewall and demanding action to guarantee to queer people the rights guaranteed to straight folks. Straight feminists were terrified that the so-called Second Wave movement would lose its momentum and power if conservatives were able to portray organizations such as NOW as too sympathetic to lesbians. The straight feminists labeled the queers and the nascent FtM folks a “Lavender Menace” (the capitals probably came later) and proposed a purge, supporting women by jettisoning women from the movement. That’s when many of the incrementalist, conservative (on queer issues, probably fairly radical on feminism writ more narrowly) feminists became visible. When it became clear just how many people they would lose, the straight leaders reversed course. But let’s be clear: they only thought a purge was a viable option because so many lesbian and queer women had been silent in the first place, and the movement only became accepting of queer women and lesbians and their issues because radical action forced the issues into visibility.
There were further struggles throughout the 70s and 80s, though not so famously or on such a national scale. And in every case the issues did not get raised by conservative incrementalists. They got raised by radicals creating a fuss.
I have said many times that we need both outside radicals and inside educators and negotiators to create positive, lasting change. I don’t rag on Biden, for instance, because he’s drastically less radical than I would like (indeed than I believe the USA needs). I could, but I don’t. We need incrementalists who will push forward progressive policies from within. If I could get a true progressive elected POTUS, I sure as hell would, but that’s not going to happen. That said, I sure as hell am not willing to give Biden credit for being the one who made climate action a rapid reality, because,
- It’s not a rapid reality. We’ve been worrying about this since the 70s, screaming about it since the 90s, and have known about the potential for millions of deaths and massive refugee crises around the globe, with food and water crises both spurring and exacerbated by mass human migrations. The scientists at IPCC have been telling us what we need to do for decades. We’ve had plans for transforming electrical grids and generation priorities that entire time. Biden doesn’t get lauded for doing what is necessary 5 decades too late merely because it’s not yet 8 decades too late. And
- He’s only doing this because other people did the work of making climate action necessary.
The conservative incrementalists are always, ALWAYS acting within a context of necessary change. When an incrementalist patiently explains to someone about how lesbians aren’t eating aborted babies for breakfast, it’s not because they’re going out of their way to make the world better. Nope. The world is changing anyway, and they worry that the changes could be better or worse for themselves, and they choose better.
In the case of queer rights, the incrementalist, patient types were often not even the queers. Remember PFLAG? When ACT-UP was conducting die-ins and screaming that Ronald Reagan was literally the Antichrist, Queer Nation was throwing up provocative stickers and graffiti calling straight people murderers for working at insurance companies that wouldn’t cover antiretroviral medications and yelling at me for holding the hand of my best friend who didn’t want to have to march in the queer pride parade on her own…because they thought we were a straight couple. That was the action on the street when parents who were desperately afraid of their beloved child getting gay bashed, even martyred, for that a street activism formed or joined a local PFLAG and started speaking gently to their neighbors. They would never have had an awkward conversation about queers with their neighbors before, but in the emerging world where their children were refusing to be silent, they knew that they either had to have uncomfortable conversations or take the risk that their kids would be killed by a society that had no tolerance for them.
Conservative incrementalist lesbians existed during this period as well. I’m sure that they did brave, brave work explaining how they should not lose their jobs for being lesbian. And that’s fine. It was necessary work. The work is even praiseworthy. But let’s not forget that this was work which would never have been necessary without street pressure.
kathleenzielinski’s Gay Rights Movement is a sanitized one, one that dispenses with the memories of ugly conflict to savor the delights of victory. The victories were hard earned and deserve celebration. I don’t begrudge that party to kathleenzielinski or to anyone else. But this idea that the GRM never used insults or anger or street pressure to promote change is laughable bullshit, and to the extent that kathleenzielinski (or someone else) might come along to clarify that it’s not that they literally deny those things exist, it’s just that those things slowed down positive change while quiet, polite conversation accelerated change, well, that’s every bit as untrue.
kathleenzielinski’s argument is that trans people shouldn’t be angry, or at least shouldn’t show anger, because we will turn away allies and fail to make the positive change possible with just a few nice words here or there.
Let me be clear: this is trans hating crap. This is the same bullshit that Martin Luther King, Jr. described in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Dr. King focused that letter on the moderates, who said that they were allies to Black people in the US but decried angry or forceful tactics. And today FOX news portrays Dr. King over and over as gentle. As not angry. As all loving, all sacrificing. They portray this as the only legitimate model of creating change.
Make no mistake, kathleenzielinski has adopted that model whole, the FOX news model of social change in which anger and intemperate words are not allowed, and when they appear, they are used as justification to slow down the rate at which communities and governments act to protect the human rights of trans persons. When kathleenzielinski asserts that rapid change is only possible when trans people are gentle and quiet and kind, never using name calling or “demonization”, this is only the airbrushed vision of a threat not to respect rights if trans people don’t treat others with gentle, quiet kindness.
Make no mistake: I advocate gentle, quiet kindness. I want a world filled with generosity and love. But rights are not rights if they can be withheld the moment one person calls another person an asshole or a bigot or a racist or a transphobe. I will not submit to the FOX news formulation that the public policy question of when and how Black persons’ rights are to be respected and protected as soon as one Black activist calls Nixon a “white devil”. The questions of when and how trans persons and their rights are to be respected and protected should not change as soon as one (or seventy!) trans advocates or activists call one non trans person “transphobic” (or even “cis scum”).
kathleenzielinski advocates for gentleness and kindness, which I can respect, but at the very, very best she fails to understand lesbian and queer histories and movements and at the worst she is implying a threat to withhold respect for the persons and rights of an entire group based on the actions of some individual members within that group. She holds up a false image of gay & lesbian activism to surround her arguments with undeserved authority.
She is wrong, and however much she might wish to be an ally to trans people (assuming she wishes it at all), being an ally is a question of fact. Either one does or does not fight for one’s allies, and a soldier who aims a mortar behind their own lines is no ally at all.
The Gay Rights Movement of kathleenzielinski, the one with no name calling and only gentle, loving pressure, that movement never existed. The trans rights movement is in the image of the abolitionist movement which featured impassioned, intelligent writing and persuasion and also John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. It is in the image of the anti colonial movement which included truly inspiring rhetoric by Mohandas Ghandi and also vicious infighting between Hindu and Muslim. It is in the image of the feminist movement which included back room lobbyists like Patricia Ireland as well as firebrands like Pat Parker and the lesbian hatred of those who would have purged any woman who wasn’t straight. And it’s sure as hell in the image of the Gay Rights Movement that actually existed in this world, the one with Barney Frank and Gail Shibley as well as Queer Nation folks harassing me and my bi BFF and ACT-UP activists who ridiculed Nancy Reagan and her feckless husband.
kathleenzielinski would judge trans people against a fantasy and find us lacking, while judging herself and her friends against that same fantasy and finding cis lesbians heroic, angelic. This is only possible because kathleenzielinski never knew the Gay Rights Movement at all.