(My my my) Dear Lila…

Awful joke, I know, but I have to play up my Welshness from time to time.

Rarely have I suffered a bout of post-post remorse so quickly, but thanks to the feedback I have received – some of it truly educative, some of it merely depressing, and all of it in the comments thread below – my thoughts on this subject have undergone a minor revolution, so please consider the following as chiefly archive material…


(ORIGINAL POST)

I deactivated my Twitter yesterday, after having gotten myself hopelessly entangled in the #istandwithmissourigirls debacle. For anyone with the good fortune to have not heard of this, it relates to one Lila Perry: a 17-year old transgirl who, having recently come out (though with an established history of trans identity), has apparently rebuffed her school’s offer to make staff WC and changing facilities available to her, and has requested or demanded (depending on the political affiliation of the news site carrying the story) access to the standard girls’ facilities. This was granted, but what is commonly reported is that many of the female students at the school opposed the decision, leading to a protest and a counter-protest.

I was, myself, somewhat sceptical of Lila’s stance, worry that it had the potential to do more harm than good, though I felt at her young age she probably supposed that she was taking a bold political stand, and may have lacked the historical perspective to realise that it is only very recently that society has tolerated transpeople, and enabled them to be themselves at all. Not so long ago (late 20th century) mental health sectioning and electroshock were practised for trans therapy in some UK regions, and the fact that Lila’s school already had a policy of allowing genderqueer students to use staff facilities did seem to me an encouraging sign. There are places of business even in this liberal city, where if I asked to use disabled or staff facilities, I would be curtly pointed towards the men’s room…

And I would still state that showing appreciation for these sort of efforts, imperfect though they may be, is a necessary part of trans activism, as it encourages society to persist in them and improve them by degrees, which also has potential to be good for non-binary people (trans being, for good or ill, the only very visible part of the genderqueer spectrum, and thus the best placed to win benefits for the whole). Insisting on having all-or-nothing in the here and now runs a risk of discouraging unconvinced people in high places from trying to help trans / non-binary people at all, though with the conflicted news reports it was (and remains) hard to know if Lila made angry demands that were reluctantly granted, or polite requests that the school board were more than willing to grant to demonstrate a progressive policy. If so, their own misjudgement of or indifference to the reaction of the female student body would perhaps be the more proper target for Lila’s legion of Radical Feminist critics, but I digress.

At any rate, hoping to put a more moderate impression of trans people out there, I thus decided to join the Twitter debates and speak my piece. I was encouraged in this by my friend Jaqueline Sephora Andrews, who felt I could be a voice of reason. Jaqueline, alas, has exposed herself to all amount of flak from the transactivist community for having taken a gender-critical stance, but I admire not only her tenacity but her ability to absorb that flak with dignity (A rare gift on Twitter). Attempting to follow her example, I plunged into the hashtag swamp…

A day later, having been surprised to find so many people angry at me for basically agreeing with them (with minor reservations), I groped my way back to the surface and pulled the plughole on it. #wasteoftime… I did learn, or rather re-learned, that trans activism, flawed though it is, is well-matched by the vitriol of its critics, who see us (and please to note, that means all of us: for they would make little to no distinction between Lila, Jaqueline, me, or any other transwoman) as women-hating sociopathic beta-male narcissists, who should not be “enabled” in our “fantasies” but should rather be shamed and counselled into renouncing them, until we can rejoin society as chastened, humbled, and probably very depressed “effeminate men”. But that, to their minds, would be us accepting reality and doing the responsible thing.

There is no point in engaging with this mindset. I am committed to my transition, and if I may give Lila Perry her due…

(From The Independent)

Speaking from Missouri, the teenager told The Independent the last few days had been “crazy” and that she was trying to take things day by day. She said her transition had not initially been easy.

“I didn’t manage things very well. I broke down a lot,” she said.

“Now, I stay very close to my friends. I have a very good support network.”

The teenager said she had become more at ease since February and more outgoing.

“I was very anti-social before I came out. I feel more confident about making friends and meeting people,” she said.

This testimony rings so very true with me that I will most definitely not, like the most vitriolic of her critics, stoop to questioning Lila’s gender identity. Say what you like, call it “delusion” and “fantasy”, but the experience of transition is still one of rebirth and liberation for the transsexual, and not one I would give up easily or encourage others to. By the same token, I do not want people to think that transpeople care nothing for the sensitivities of those around them, or are inconsiderate of the fact that their words and actions can affect how people come to perceive the entire genderqueer spectrum. But I begin to feel the only meaningful difference I can make to all this is by trying to set an example in real life, and leave social media to the more eloquent (and resilient).

Hwyl fawr am nawr, sisters and allies…

(END OF ORIGINAL POST)


…though I would add, however conflicted I feel over Lila’s situation, I remain a great admirer of Jaqueline Andrews, who has taken a very difficult but honest stand within a community that, sadly, has a tendency to be unkind (and in her case, even racist) to those who refuse to toe the party line. It is not as if one can actually choose whether or not to have gender dysphoria, so one must expect (not to mention respect) that not everyone with that condition will be blessed with exactly the same political opinions.

As for Lila, although I am still not wholly convinced she chose her battle wisely, I think she at least did so sincerely. I suspect things will get harder for her before they get easier as a result of this, but I am glad she has supporters around her, and perhaps now is the time for fearlessness and intransigence rather than appeasement. If nothing else, she has certainly succeeded in making me feel like a jaded old wallflower… so perhaps I should be thanking Lila (to say nothing of my friend and mentor Fairy Jerbear) for having given me cause to believe that my own activism could use a bit of a kickstart, though heaven knows in what direction.

My Twitter, alas, is active again, though I will try to refrain from using the damn thing as a soapbox. The lure of reaching out to millions of people on social media is compelling, but ultimately an exercise in futility and frustration (and probably for them as well).

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21 thoughts on “(My my my) Dear Lila…

  1. Oh dear!! I experienced a Twitter frenzy for the first time recently and it left me dismayed. It wasn’t like yours, except that it was also socio-political and I was also trying to tease some nuance out of a very black & white situation. I also didn’t want to fight. I’m left wondering if Twitter works at all in these situations. Life is complicated and I applaud you for insisting on not following the pre-ordained script in this situation. I think that it’s really important that activists keep thinking for themselves, otherwise they/we become just a braying mob.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree completely. I guess the character limit in Twitter lends itself more to dogma than nuance, but it seems very hard to break through the harsh polarity of opinions. As soon as people see what you are, they don’t care what you think, and the barrage of slogans and insults comes quickly…

      Every movement and debate has its grey shades and subtleties, and I always try to reflect that. I am sure no-one respects any movement that claims it is always pure and righteous, any more than we would respect a person who claimed that.

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    • I can completely see where they are coming from, but I suspect that this school of thought can build few bridges. A few Radical Feminists are warmer towards trans-critical transsexuals than they are to non-transitioning transpeople, but just as many if not more make no distinction (not that I think they should).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely. Nothing positive is achieved by sections of the trans community joining in the hissing and spitting at people like Lila. The critics will just ask why, if their support for trans-critical feminism is so sincere, they continue to identify as trans? I believe we need the willingness to acknowledge our bond while not feeling that we have to unequivocally defend everything that trans people do or say, if we think it could have been done more wisely.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I too got a satirical and nasty tweet from our TERF “friends,” (a satirical use of the word friends). I mentioned it to our Facebook friends noting that I now felt that I had now,arrived as a trans activist. As to strategy; I have always felt that progress demands both mainstream and radical political approaches. Civil rights needed both Martin Luther King Jr and Malcom X. Progress in finding effective treatment for HIV/AIDS needed both infections disease physicians working with the FDA, (our drug regulatory agency), and ACT-UP loudly and extravagantly acting up at pharmaceutical companies and the FDA. I have often been the radical and was a proud participant in ACT-UP demonstrations and Queer Nation events back in the day but I have also worked from within the system as I did working for our state’s Department of Health. I am siding with Lisa and her right to use the women’s facilities at her high school. All of the attacks are based on straw person arguments. Using spereate facilities to placate the anti-trans side is, in my mind, similar to arguments used by segregationists in the American South who provided separate facilities for Black citizens. Lisa identifies as a woman and should be treated as such. The school should also provide for gender neutral options for people like myself who are non-binary gender identified.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You could be right, but I am concerned that sheer numbers are a stumbling block here. Comparisons like Lila made, to civil rights movements of the past, are limited by the fact that while there were millions of women and millions of black people to effectively mobilise, there have never been comparable numbers of trans and genderqueer people, to the extent that we feel the need to operate under the wider LGBT banner… and even there we sometimes struggle for acceptance.

      Still, to go all metaphorical, someone who is physically weak can move a heavy load, but not with force – only with leverage. I am hopeful there will come a time when it seems ridiculous to deny people like us truly satisfactory options. I am hopeful I will even live to see it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The issue of numbers and support hinges on how successful the movement is in recruiting allies. With the increasing attention paid to the subject and positive portrayals on shows like I am Cait, I am Jazz, Becoming Us on tv and more positive fictional portrayals in film I think we are gaining allies. As was the case with lesbians and gays, trans people coming out and in the process gaining more allies will lead to a change in attitudes. Opponents rely on being able to create negative portrayals. Once people realize that trans people are human beings and deserve acceptance those negative portrayals will be shown for the fiction that they are.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I hope so. I am not watching I am Cait (or anything else, lacking a TV), but I keep seeing negative comments on it from trans people, and last week’s Gathering was very sobering, with two of it’s longest-term members telling me how they believed the LGB scene was actually even more transphobic than the cis scene. Makes me worry that we have a lot of groundwork to cover before people will want us as allies, but I certainly feel less of a coward now, if nothing else. God wanted me to own up to this identity and do my bit to make it seem less of a shameful thing in this generation. Not sure yet how I will do that, but nice to have purpose…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sadly, some people are very impatient with people in the public eye, Caitlyn is evolving from being a fairly conservative person in the past. To her credit she is taking criticism rather graciously and has been called out on some issues on her show. I would not want to be judged on everything I said my first half year out. There are some people that expect people to live up to their very exacting standards. They would gain more allies by having a calm discussion rather than calling people out and making them defensive. I don’t disagree with the agenda just some of the tactics used by some of the more strident folks out there, As for the LGB segments of the community, I would agree there are some very transphobic people but there are also some wonderful allies. I was an active member of that segment of the community for 25 or so years before coming out as agender. I know there are good people there and my gay and lesbian friends have been supportive, particularly after I shared my story. I believe in the power of compassionate sharing of stories to make a difference in people’s attitudes. I feel like I have gained allies in this past year. Yes there will always be transphobic bigots but don’t underestimate the power of our stories to collectively make a difference.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I have thought a lot about what you have said, and I think I will amend this post to reflect that. I was sad (though unsurprised) to note that my lacklustre effort at building bridges was still not to the taste of the anonymous critic here… If that is the result of appeasement (and it is fairly representative of the replies I get from the trans-crits when I attempt that line) then there is certainly little point in my being remembered as the Neville Chamberlain of transpolitics.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks! I, like you am only trying to reduce the very real transphobia that is out there in society by a means that I have evolved from my nearly three decades in LGBTQ and AIDS activism. I believe that the best way to build allies is by touching their hearts as well as their heads. It’s not always easy, and you do encounter hateful bigots along the way, but there are many people who may simply notunderstand. Once they hear the stories of trans people and find their heart moved, then you’ve gained a potential friend and ally. I have been part of speakers bureaus both LGBTQ focused and HIV/AIDS. I ran the HIV/AIDS speakers bureau where we trained people living with HIV/AIDS to talk with high school and college students and have seen that work very effectively. I was trained to be part of the LGBTQ speakers bureau in the area I lived in. This was in the late eighties and early nineties where we spoke to a wide range of groups. Now we have social media as a tool. I recently wrote up my story and posted it on my birthday as it was on my birthday in 2014 that I first told people I was convinced I wasn’t the gender I was designated at birth. I heard back from several people who were expressing support for the first time. Those experiences are part of why I advocate for the strategy I’ve talked about.

        By the way, I am about to talk about an activist group founded by trans people in Wales called ‘Wipe Out Transphobia.” I am impressed with what I’ve read.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Of course, the simplest solution would indeed be if trans people would renounce their trans identities and consent to be normal. I know of none who would, though, so I talk about pragmatic compromises.

    Like

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