Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I’ve had her faced seared into my mind for weeks now. Remember back in July when the news first broke? I was adjusting again to life in the Palouse, relatively unaware of the world outside my window—everything was disjointed, I only heard murmurs of the girl murdered in Colorado. In case you hadn’t heard, Angie Zapata was brutally beaten to death with a fire extinguisher last July; she had been involved with a man who, upon discovering that Angie was trans, felt the appropriate reaction was a hate-fueled murder. This horrific tragedy rekindled debate in the trans community concerning disclosing trans status to friends and lovers, along with a broader discourse of the Deception Myth. I’m sure anyone keeping up with blog is well aware of my stance regarding the deception myth and the plethora of bullshit assumptions that accompany it.
But I don’t want to trudge through the quagmire of these ridiculous conversations; in relation to the atrocity of the crime and in the wake of Angie’s life, these discussions are somewhat irrelevant. What is important here is the life of Angie Zapata—a tenacious, strong, courageous, loving, beautiful life that inspired the best in her friends and family…and though I’m hesitant to speak for the trans community I’d like to say her life has inspired the best in us as well. I’ve been thinking about Angie a lot lately, holding vigil over the details of her crime, trying to piece together what I can of the girl left in the wake of violence.

Angie is haunting me. Hers was a genuine life, lived to its fullest, filled with beauty and pure potential; the profound grief of losing her is something I’m not sure words can articulate justly. In the face of this tragedy there is but a little solace to be had that Angie left behind her seeds of strength. Hers was the strength and the courage to take risks, to radically accept herself and share that self with the world.

The trial of Angie’s murderer, Allen Andrade, has been exceptionally difficult to watch. I’ve heard the way Andrade described Angie, referring to her as “it,” saying, “Gay things must die.” Andrade said, “It's not like I went up to a schoolteacher and shot her in the head or ... killed a law-abiding straight citizen” and “Did you see that thing in make-up?” He never showed any remorse for what he did—never even acknowledged Angie as being more than an inanimate object. He even jokingly suggested he could sell his story—about killing Angie—for $50,000. His attorneys were not much kinder in their treatment of Angie; they only referred to her with male pronouns and only with the name “Justin” Zapata—they made their argument not about whether or not Andrade did the crime, but on Angie deceiving him. They said, “Justin Zapata deceived a number of people. He was not a girl; he was a boy,” and “Andrade reacted to the deceit not because of Zapata's transgender status.” They accused Angie of lying to people—minimized her murder, saying it was heat of passion, merely a reaction to deceit; minimizing Andrade’s use of the pejorative “it;” all the while the defense constantly said “Mr. Zapata,” “He,” “Him,” “Justin” in reference to Angie. They were attempting to erase the reality that Angie was a girl. Overall the defense’s case was disjointed, sloppy, hard to follow, and weak. They relied on the jury having a gut reaction to Angie—they relied on the myth that transgender people are deceptive, and this strategy blew up in their face. The DA said it best: “Is she supposed to where a sign that she's transgender?”

The jury returned verdicts within two hours: guilty of identity theft, guilty of vehicle theft, guilty of bias motivated crime, and guilty of first degree murder. The defense, at sentencing, said “Mr. Andrade is not some kind of monster." I obviously disagree, and the defense, in the way they handled this case, was likewise monstrous (or at best highly unethical). This trial has left many words seared into my mind: Andrade’s hate-filled phone calls from prison and his dehumanization of Angie; the defense impugning Angie’s character and the validity of her identity; the DA being the soul voice defending Angie…and Angie’s mother, speaking at sentencing: “your honor…I lost somebody so precious....It's so bad. I feel so alone...He took my baby away from me in such a selfish act."

Today, nearly a year after she was taken from us, we have justice for Angie. And you will hear how important this case was, being among the first (if not THE first) case in which the murderer of a trans person is also being tried with a hate crime. We have justice for Angie, and some precedence for those still to come. Tonight, nearly a year after she was murdered, I find myself missing Angie Zapata, even though I never met her. She’s had a profound impact on my life—she has called me to question…Tonight I will light one more candle for Angie, and remember.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Myths of Inclusion: The Vanishing T in GLBT

In July of 1969 a “little” riot broke out at the Stonewall Inn lead by Sylvia Rivera, a transgender woman. It’s widely recognized that the Stonewall riots kicked off the gay civil rights movement in America; however, what is not well known is that many of those individuals leading the charge against police raids at the Stonewall during the riots were transgender. In the years that followed three transgender people, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and Angela Keyes Davis, played important parts in the organization of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. In 1971, the GAA wrote and introduced a bill to the New York city Council that was meant to protect gay people from discrimination. This bill did not, however, include any protection for transgender individuals. This bill was a major betrayal of the transgender population at the hands of the gay community. Sylvia Rivera, in disgust, said to the leaders of the GAA, “It’s not us that they are afraid of — its you! Get rid of us. Sell us out. Make us expendable. Then you’re at the front lines. Don’t you understand that?”

The exclusion of gender identity from early non-discrimination bills was only foreshadowing the major backlash that was to come. In 1973 Beth Elliot, a trans woman, was elected vice president of the San Francisco chapter of the Daughters of Bilitus, a nascent lesbian organization. Elliot was outed as transgender at a major feminist conference and then trashed by her fellow lesbians and feminist as having “insinuated herself into a position of power over women as a patriarchal man, a propagandist ploy that was to become common when attacking other transgendered people” (Kay Brown). In the 1970s the lesbian community had aligned itself with separatism and radical feminism, both of which actively excluded transgender individuals.

Around this time transgender individuals were being marginalized from the queer community from within. The gay community began to exclude trans people from Pride parades in hope that without the “flamboyance” of transsexuals, drag queens, etc., the media would pay more attention to the fact that gay people were just like everybody else [honestly, I don’t see the logic, as so many gay boys and the dykes on bikes are far more flamboyant than the average transsexual]. Also, at the same time, Carol Katz, a trans woman, was a security coordinator for Gay Pride Parades and for Take Back the Night, but she was forced to resign because so many in the gay and feminist communities disapproved of a transsexual participating in their activities.
The attitude of the time was that transsexuals were masquerading as another sex, that they would hinder the progress of civil rights movement, and that they were mentally ill. Janice Raymond published her book The Transsexual Empire in 1977, saying that “All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female for to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves.” And that trans women were “patriarchy’s shock troops, medically constructed pseudo-females created to infiltrate the lesbian community and destroy it.” However horribly those words sound, they are not the most harmful things Raymond has done towards the
transgender community:

Far worse was a United States federal government commissioned study in the early
1980’s on the topic of federal aid for transsexual people seeking rehabilitation
and health services. This paper, not well publicized, effectively eliminated
federal and some states aid for indigent and imprisoned transsexuals. It had a
further impact on private health insurance which followed the federal
government’s lead in disallowing services to transsexual patients for any
treatment remotely related to being transsexual, including breast cancer or
genital cancer, as that was deemed to be a consequence of treatment for

Raymond’s writings are also closely associated with those of Mary Daly who describes transsexuals as “Frankenstein’s Monsters.” These opinions, archaic and hateful though they seem, are still alive and well.

The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has, since 1976, been a safe haven for women, and has indeed become a major lesbian event. However, the MWMF has, since 1991, had a womyn-born-womyn only policy, meaning that anyone who was not born biologically female AND raised as a girl is barred from attending the festival. In 1991 Nancy Burkholder was expelled from the festival after revealing her trans status, even though she had attended the festival in years prior without incident. In a feminist event and a feminist attitude that women are not defined by their genitals, it seems that trans women can still be excluded on the basis of their genitals.
In the 1993 March on Washington, transgender activists worked for months to gain inclusion, and to have transgender included in the name of the march. When trans inclusion was denied, there were cheers of joy from the gay and lesbian community. This sort of exclusion still occurs today. As the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was waiting in Congressional limbo, gay blogger Chris Crain said, “HRC says it won’t support workplace protection for gays unless trans rights are included. That mind-boggling decision is wrong politically, legally and morally.” According to Crain, this “trans-jacking” of ENDA would prevent the bill from being passed and therefore prevent gays from getting the protection they deserve [to hell with trans people]. In the end, HRC eventually gave support to a non-inclusive ENDA.

And where are we today, even after ENDA? Many GLBT organizations include the T only because the letters G, L , B, and T seem to roll off the tongue so easily. If not GLBT, then the organization becomes something along the lines of GSA—which seems completely non-inclusive. We have lesbians and feminists referring to trans women and male-to-constructed-female, still suggesting the nature of a transition is artificial, and that genital states at birth and the way a child is raised dictate gender (which in many ways seems contradictory to their positions as feminists…I suppose those theories and assumptions only apply if you’re a womyn-born-womyn). I watch the L word and have an OurChart account, both of which have insinuated horribly oppressive things about the transgender community, mostly that transitioned individuals are not “real” women or men. Many of these problems seem to come from a general misunderstanding of the terminology associated with the transgender community, namely what is transgender? What’s the difference between transgender, crossdresser, transvestite, transsexual, drag king/queen, genderqueer, and intersex (even though intersex really doesn’t concern transgender identity)? What’s the difference between sex and gender? And, most importantly, what motivates transgender expression, identity, and transitions? It’s often been misinterpreted that transsexuals will transition as a means of fitting in—either they couldn’t stand being gay or lesbian, or they couldn’t stand being a feminine man or a masculine woman. Those things generally don’t motivate a transition. There’s a misconception that a trans-identity or post-op sex/gender identity are somehow less valid than women-born-women and men-born-men. There’s a misconception that transsexuals are somehow trying to reinforce the paradigm set up by an oppressive patriarchy—a theory that strikes me as absurd, conspiracy-theory, militant bullshit. A fear that trans women still maintain a masculine energy, and that they might, in fact, rape women at the MWMF.

Switching gears slightly, last week I finally received my Q&A T-shirt in my work mailbox. For those of you who are not familiar with the queer traditions at WSU, Q&A is a recent reincarnation of the Gay? Fine By Me T-shirt campaign—a campaign started at Duke University in 2003 as a means for allies to show their support for the gay community as well as combat the perception that Duke was homophobic. The Gay? Fine By Me T-shirt program spread nationwide and was readily adopted at WSU. In 2007, however, the GLBTA at WSU began rethinking the Gay? Fine By Me T-shirts, feeling they were not inclusive and somewhat patronizing. The phrase “gay? Fine by me” evoked images of the gay community asking for permission to be gay, and limiting the language to the word “gay” seemed to exclude lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, omnisexuals, queers, and the transgender community. It was decided, then, to change the shirts to Q&A: Queer and Allies (ask questions, get answers). Here, the word “queer” was assumed as a catch-all in order to be all-inclusive. And this is how the Q&A program ran at WSU for two years. This year, however, was very different; this year the GLBTA decided to define the words “queer” and “ally” on the back of the shirts. The definition of “queer,” specifically, was the issue here:

Queer- (kwîr) noun- An umbrella term used by individuals who identify with
gender expressions and/or sexual orientations that are outside of the

There are a lot of things wrong with this definition—and certainly there was faulty logic behind the advent of the Q&A program itself. First is the notion the word “queer” could be reduced to one definition. One needs only look to a dictionary to see the great diversity this word carries:

queer (kwîr)
adj. queer·er, queer·est
1. Deviating from the expected or normal; strange:.
2. Odd or unconventional, as in behavior; eccentric.
3. Of a questionable nature or character; suspicious.
4. Slang Fake; counterfeit.
5. Feeling slightly ill; queasy.
6. Offensive Slang Homosexual.
7. Usage Problem Of or relating to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, or transgendered people.
1. Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a homosexual person.
2. Usage Problem A lesbian, gay male, bisexual, or transgendered person.
tr.v. queered, queer·ing, queers Slang
1. To ruin or thwart:
2. To put (someone) in a bad position
queer ish adj.
ly adv.
queer ness n.
Usage Note: A reclaimed word is a word that was
formerly used solely as a slur but that has been semantically overturned by
members of the maligned group, who use it as a term of defiant pride. Queer is
an example of a word undergoing this process. For decades queer was used solely
as a derogatory adjective for gays and lesbians, but in the 1980s the term began
to be used by gay and lesbian activists as a term of self-identification.
Eventually, it came to be used as an umbrella term that included gay men,
lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. Nevertheless, a sizable
percentage of people to whom this term might apply still hold queer to be a
hateful insult, and its use by heterosexuals is often considered offensive.
Similarly, other reclaimed words are usually offensive to the in-group when used
by outsiders, so extreme caution must be taken concerning their use when one is
not a member of the group.

The evocation of eccentric behavior or fraudulence in the definition of “queer” are clearly troublesome to a trans person, but going beyond this to the reclaiming of “queer” as a catch-call is still somewhat erroneous. Queer has more often than not come to imply a quality of nonconformity, progressive attitudes, and a refusal to accept without question the status quo. But this is simply a minor problem with the definition the GLBTA chose. They decided to make queer a catch-all, but in doing so they explicitly excluded the phrase “gender identity.” This means that while they include gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, crossdressers, drag queens/kings, genderqueers, genderfucks—everything under the sun EXCPET transsexuals. The ironic thing about all this was the timing; the shirts were meant to be worn on the same day the Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center (GIESORC) was co-hosting a panel discussion about queer-friendly campuses—this at the culmination of GIESORC’s annual Week of Dignity.

Frankly, I love the idea of dignity simply because the qualities of dignity essentially make up three of the four deficiency needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: safety, love/friendship/belonging, and esteem. Each of these needs, I argue (and argued at GIESORC’s panel discussion) can be satisfied with inclusion, affirmation of identity, respect, and acceptance. Funny how the GLBTA, in their exclusion of transsexuals, denied transsexuals all of these ingredients necessary for meeting the deficiency needs. How, exactly, was this supposed to cultivate dignity?

By no means was this the first time the GLBTA discriminated against trans people; when I was a member I had to fight tooth and nail for any trans inclusion, and if memory serves me they never even intended to include the T in their name—it was all a clerical error that they let stick. But all of this is not meant to chastise the LGB community (although some sects of that community certainly deserve to be verbally berated). Instead it is to prove a point and raise the question: where does the T belong? Where do we belong?

Sometimes it feels like transsexuality is a labyrinth I get lost in; a dark phantom through which I catch glimpses of the world around me. It’s sometimes like a prison and I am trying to readjust to life back on the outside. Sometimes I want to be surrounded with fellow trans people—people who understand first-hand what all this is like and who can empathize with what I’m going through. Sometimes I wish I could just let go and fully integrate back with society, leaving the shadows of my past behind me. Neither allows me to fully develop a sense of dignity—there is balance that needs to be sought. We belong somewhere in the middle…somewhere that does not yet fully exist in society because it does not yet fully exist in the imaginations of most—that we are nonetheless men or women, despite not being born in that visible physicality. We are a strange dialectic, still carving out its niche.