Current events show that the trans community is increasingly becoming a target of anti-LGBT bigots (The Calculated Republican “Trans Bathroom” Wedge Strategy). This is clearly a divide and conquer wedge strategy. However, I’m beginning to think that this is more than just that. I’m beginning to think that this is also a direct result of all of those years of “we will come back for you later” strategy in the LGBT community.
When I first became involved in electoral politics a decade or so ago, there was a lot of pressure to “stay on-message.” When we were phone banking or canvassing they’d tell us, “Don’t bring up being bisexual, gender non-binary, trans, or poly. That will just confuse people.” Polling also had significant impacts on what messages we were giving out, “The term ‘gay marriage’ polls better than ‘same-sex marriage,’ so it is important to call it ‘gay marriage.’”
At the time I remember thinking that staying “on message” really reduced our ability to educate people and build towards long-term change. It also made me feel invisible as a pansexual, non-binary, poly person. I know how important to defeat hate bills, pass protections, or elect certain people into office, but if all we do is reinforce people’s current biases by only saying those things that they are already comfortable with, how can we make lasting change? Isn’t this creating a situation where only the attitudes toward most privileged members of our community are changing? I don’t feel like I’m challenging the core mechanisms of oppression. Where is this really leading?
Well, now I have my answer. We end up here with increasing numbers of anti-trans bills inciting people to bigotry. The gap in tolerance between the more accepted and more marginalized members of our community has grown, encouraging bigots to focus their efforts ever more on attacking the most marginalized members of our community as part of their core strategy to oppress our community.
When mainstream organizations and campaigns focus on the needs of the most privileged members of our community, marginalized community members can’t meet their needs through the mainstream movement. This is where the divides within our community came from. Trans activists, for example, have been largely put in a situation where advocating for gay rights and trans rights are separate. This forces them to choose between spliting their time amongst what are now separate causes or drop out of the gay rights movement all together.
This split also causes a difference in the amount of resources that are going into fighting bias against different subgroups within our communities, with the largest portion going to fight bias against the most privileged. This differences in resources further widens the gap between the acceptance of the more privileged members of our community and the more marginalized ones. Bigots who now have less traction in attacking the most privileged community members fall back on attacking the most marginalized community members as their primary tactic for marginalizing our whole community. Anti-trans bathroom bills target trans people, but the harassment and violence won’t be limited to trans people. Any gender non-conforming person, including some cisgender gay people, will be subject to it as well.
Leaving a group behind is more than saying “you are going to have to wait to get your slice of cake.” It is a self-reinforcing cycle that enhances the difference in privilege between the most privileged and the most marginalized members of a community (the privilege gap). The more a group gets left behind, the farther behind it is. Therefore leaving it behind becomes increasingly expedient and “necessary.”
We can recognize that failing to oppose oppression that is happening right in front of you in your daily life allows it to continue happening. It is participation through inaction. Isn’t this the same for movements? Endlessly sacrificing the needs of trans community members for those of mainstream gays acts as a tacit agreement from the most privileged members of the LGB(T) community that biases against trans people are justified.
All of those years of “we will come back for you later” seems like it actually painted a target on backs of the most marginalized members of our community. It has divided us and the farther behind a group gets the more of a target they become. And while it has always been the most marginalized members of our community that bear the brunt of violence and oppression, something that is intensifying rather than lessening, we are all going to be affected by it.
And I’m left with the feeling I had all those years ago when I first got involved in electoral politics: By focusing on immediate political expediency above all other things we are letting a corrupt political system dictate strategies to us. The “we will come back for you later” mentality is inherently broken. We need to find strategies that do more to challenge the core mechanisms of oppression because we can’t end oppression by gaining more acceptance for the most privileged.