Op-ed: Adopting the T in LGBT
Even though I’ve been screaming about equal rights for LGBT people since I was a tweenage fag hag, I never imagined my fight for tolerance and acceptance would one day include waving the trans flag as my own.
I’m a grown San Fransexual woman proudly living in a gay man’s world, but I’ve routinely overcome skepticism at best and discrimination at worst. I’m still taken aback by just how long the road ahead is for true freedom of sexuality, gender, and identity.
I recently helped lead a march from City Hall to the Castro for the first-ever raising of the trans flag in San Francisco and experienced new appreciation for the struggle of those who, for whatever reason, choose “other” when faced with the binaries of gay versus straight and male versus female.
It’s human nature to try to categorize everything. It gives us comfort when we can neatly organize our chaotic world and messy political battles into more manageable labels and factions.
Still, I was surprised by how oversimplified the either/or dichotomy is when it comes to gender and by just how personal my common cause is with the T in LGBT, even though I readily “pass” as a “normal” RG (real girl).
Being “none of the above” or “all of the above” has always been a source of amusement for me, like when I travel to circuit parties outside of San Francisco’s bubble and am forced by security to use a designated “ladies’” room, instead of lining up with all my boys in restrooms that were functioning just fine as unisex by default.
Defying authority in those ridiculous circumstances raised my awareness of the absurdity of the enforced male/female divide back at home, in the gay capital of the universe, in what I’ve since determined to be the crucible of gender socialization: the locker room.
I’ve always felt excluded after working out with my boys. Why should I have to go elsewhere to shower? Especially when my separate and arguably equal elsewhere is the only elsewhere shared with individuals in transition. These brave individuals “present” as both male and female and everything in between, proving that facial hair and breasts can coexist quite peacefully.
It’s a curious conundrum, one I can’t help but question. My trans locker room buddies confide in me that they aren’t yet feeling prepared to inhabit the sexual intensity of the men’s locker room, while I’m trying to kick down the door so I can spend time seamlessly with boys I consider my closest girlfriends.
I’m confident in my ability to walk the gender tightrope with due respect, simultaneously breaking the ice and the gay glass ceiling, just as I have on several Atlantis cruises, at a couple of Black Parties, and even at International Mr. Leather. I’m merely acknowledging what now seems arbitrary, appropriately pushing the envelope of “the new normal” by advocating for a single unisex facility, just like those typically found in Holland. A modern-day interpretation of “going Dutch.”
Access to routine medical care is another area where I’ve been denied for being an “other.” Despite a lifetime of raising money and raising hell in support of HIV services, and even though I’m recognized by my community as an advocate for regular testing and treatment, I face rejection at my gayborhood free clinic when I seek the same free screenings that are readily available to my male friends. Meeting the clinic’s requirements for federal funding is apparently the issue, but seeking answers for why my female body doesn’t qualify for the benefits that are universal to males has elevated my consciousness about the issue of trans equality.
I realize that my perspective on identifying with trans is one of utter privilege. The rights I’m being denied hardly threaten my safety or my life chances, but the barriers I encounter are nevertheless real and unfair. It’s because I get away with so much as “that girl who loves her gays” that I feel compelled to voice my discontent so fiercely, and to be so unladylike in my push to break down boundaries.
For the record, I don’t intentionally try to have it all ways. Because my grievance isn’t with people so much as with the powers that be, I politely decline when chivalrous gay gentlemen invite me go ahead of them in line for the bathroom. I’m heartened that many of these gay gentlemen are equally as appalled as I am upon learning that my vagina prevents me from getting free HIV test results in 15 minutes on every corner like they can.
My comfort zone has certainly been put to the test in instances where I wasn’t sure which pronoun to use when addressing someone or couldn’t quite understand the logistics of gender presentation in certain contexts. But I’m choosing to embrace the awkwardness to help surface the struggle that is right in front of us, testing just how open and liberal “the left coast” really is.
Trans rights are without a doubt the next frontier in the gay civil rights movement, and I’m seeing that the time to rise up has already come. As a person who presents utterly female yet identifies completely as a gay male, I fight on the front lines of trans and wonder why a community represented by the rainbow isn’t yet making room for the many shades of gray.
SUZAN REVAH is a writer, performer, and fund-raiser in San Francisco. She blogs about her mission as a self-described “homosociologist” at LoveMyGays.com