Queer and Transgender: A Wider View

Fearing a queer apocalypse? Trembling at the prospect that transgender folk might come eat all the communion bread at your church? Or maybe you have a recurring nightmare of a bearded, skirt-sporting stranger going pee next to you at Tim’s Pizza? It’s gender madness!

I’m fascinated that anyone in Fayetteville would suffer from gender madness. As a typical Fayettevillain (peace activist, musician, etc), imagine my surprise when I looked at the list of folks who would repeal our new anti-discrimination law (hogtownhaters.com), and found names of folks I love.

The arguments against the law cling to two pithy frames: first, a rights discourse: “It’s my right to exclude people from my church/business/apartment complex,” and second, and maybe more frequently, transphobia, a fear or anger toward folks who don’t conform to society’s gender expectations. The transphobic folks say things like, “people will dress different just to gain access to a bathroom and assault folks.” This is bologna, but fear works. Narrow-hearted people use it and well-meaning people sometimes believe it.

So. To move from fear into love, I propose a broad perspective on LGBTQI (or simply, “queer and trans”) issues. Queer and trans (QT) people’s lives face vulnerabilities that straight people don’t have to worry about. For example, often biological families have abandoned us out of religious shame, leaving us without safety nets and support networks. Since society is still generally hostile to QT people, our bodies are at greater risk of violence from prejudiced folks, as well as from the state’s administrative and police agencies.

Violence from prejudice folks can include a disparaging “faggot” spat with tobacco from a mouth on Dickson; or, violence might take the form of spreading fear about QT people at church. All of it devalues human lives and makes more likely physical violence against humans that happen to be QT humans. State violence can come from immigration enforcement forcing a young undocumented trans-kid back to El Salvador. Another site of state-caused harm: studies have shown that when social services refuse to modify someone’s records to align with their gender identity, those people suffer from greater violence. Given this context of difficulty, it seems wise to offer some protection, which Fayetteville has done.

Before, if a trans-person presented as female after years of being in the closet, she could lose her job because of her employer’s transphobia, and then, unable to pay her rent, she would lose her home. With no family and no safety net, she’d be homeless and even more vulnerable to trauma and poverty in a society that criminalizes poverty. People who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth don’t have to worry about this, so an ordinance such as ours may seem pointless to them. This is why it is important to please reach out to folks that do not see the usefulness of the ordinance, and help them see the broader context of why a law like this might be helpful.

And now let’s look broader still: when people face multiple vectors of subjection, for example, racism and sexism, they face unique harms. An undocumented Latino queer, for example, has to dodge the xenophobic deporting police like other undocumented people, but perhaps at dinner, also has to dodge his family’s questions about why he ain’t got no girlfriends. It’s stressful, it’s traumatic, and in Fayetteville we just made it a little less bad—at least he couldn’t be legally kicked out of his abode when his homophobic landlord catches him smooching outside the apartment.

In short, this ordinance could help keep a QT person—perhaps already rejected by friends and family—from being kicked onto the street. Nobody can contribute to community when they’re struggling to eat, or worried if they’ll have a bed to sleep in. Our law could help a QT person keep their job, pay their rent, and—with this security—be an active part of improving our community.

So, check out the list at hogtownhaters and talk lovingly with folks about how queer and trans-people are just people and it ain’t nobody’s business how we dress and go to the bathroom. If you don’t know much about queer and trans issues, check out this thing, ‘believe it’s called the internet. It might also help to remind these fearful folks that most sexual violence comes not from strangers, but folks who actually know the victim. So it most likely won’t be the QT stranger.

It’s been said that “Equal is everybody having shoes, and equitable is everybody having shoes that fit.” All Fayetteville’s ordinance did was make Fayetteville a little more equitable; before, everyone could rent an apartment, but not everyone had the same chance at staying in their home. We just took one step toward making QT lives more secure. That’s loving your neighbor.

To really freak people out, ‘next thing on our Gay Agenda, the thing that will really get us all smote: community park-and-ride bicycles. And we’ll encourage people to ride bikes that don’t align with their gender… mmmuuuhahahah. All the hogtownhaters are gonna have to flee the city or—perhaps more terrifying for them—start to love everyone conditionlessly! *gasp*

Stephen Coger is a Fulbright Scholar, Gates Public Service Law Scholar, and an America India Foundation Clinton Fellow. Additionally, he said he’s searching for the handsome tan human that he saw at The Farmer’s Table, one with black curls and a forearm tattoo. He can be emailed—hopes to be, in point of fact— at stephen.coger@riseup.net. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

A 2009 study found that 47 percent of transgender people surveyed had experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion, and 97 percent had experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job based on trans-identity. The same study reported that one-fifth of respondents had become homeless due to being transgender.

Source: National Transgender Discrimination Survey: Preliminary Findings on Employment and Economic Insecurity

Categories: Commentary