Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Stand as one


Illustration: Christine Smith
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Some Republicans in Idaho, apparently not content to see marriage laws that bar same-sex couples from being wed, have decided to take things one step further. At the Idaho state GOP convention, a panel of delegates has suggested redefining marriage as "a bond between a 'naturally-born' man and woman." This would further push transgender people away from any marriage rights whatsoever.

I've talked many times about my marriage, and the marriage of some close friends of mine who happen to be transgender. For them, as well as my partner and I, we face the same-sex marriage issue on an all too regular basis. We deal with private companies and government entities that at best simply want to strip away our marriage and/or identity because their paperwork doesn't have a handy checkbox for our relationships. At worst, of course, they're actively hostile to us, attempting to directly thwart our ability to get what is legally, rightfully ours.

One thing I've also talked about is how there are members of our own communities – gay and lesbian as well as transgender – who have argued that the same-sex marriage issue is not a transgender issue. While I disagree with that notion, I think the Idaho GOP has just clearly trumped such a debate. With the possible addition of "naturally born" to their language, they've made it clear that they see us all as a part of the same stew, and don't want us somehow tainting their view of marriage. Or, more likely, they just don't like "our kind" and feel that barring us from marriage will somehow make us retreat back into the closet, away from their view.

Of course, the "naturally born" language is flawed. What is a naturally born male? Someone who possesses a penis? Someone about whom hir mother's doctor says, "it's a boy?" Someone who has an "M" on hir birth certificate? Something else? Chances are, each of these is just as likely to have dozens of exceptions to any rule about what a person was "naturally born" as. Yet I digress: I'm not here to write about marriage itself, at least directly.

So often we seek to put up barriers, and define exactly what we are. Oftentimes, this is done by proclaiming what we are not. I've known more than a few non-transgender gay men who revel in their own ignorance about transgender issues, not even wanting to understand why "a guy would want to cut his dick off." I've known plenty of non-transgender lesbian women who claim that the "penis privilege" of a transwoman makes it all the more necessary for them to bar all transgender lesbians from their events and organizations. I've seen transmen similarly treated, with people erasing their identities and viewing them simply as very butch lesbians, or demonizing them for masculinizing their bodies with hormones and surgery.

Oh yes, and then there's the biggie. How many times have transgender people taken the short straw on fights for equal rights for LGBT people? It's 16 years and counting for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, though the first instance of transgender people being kicked out of a bill in order to get rights for others dates back to the early 1970s. You'd think we'd be used to it by now.

Yet this is not a one-sided issue. You'll find plenty of transgender people arguing that we should not be around gay, lesbian, or bisexual people. The argument tends to be that the latter are all about sexual activity, while being transgender is purely about gender identity. There is a point to be had in that argument, too. If only it ended there. Instead, it usually devolved into catcalls and jeers about non-transgender people. Assumptions run rampant about how "they" cannot even begin to understand what "we" go through. Offense turns to anger, and no one moves forward.

Meanwhile, as we fight among ourselves over who is what, who isn't what, and who has the "right" to speak for any one group, people like the Idaho GOP delegates take advantage of our own fractured community to attempt to remove all of our rights. Not content with laws in Idaho defining marriage as between one man and one woman, they need to add "naturally-born" to further force all of us – gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender – to lose the right to marry.

The thing is, definitions and distinctions only matter to those of us who choose them. While I'm sure the option is out there, I have never been verbally harassed by anyone specifically for my gender identity, but for my perceived sexual orientation. I don't get called a "he she" or "shim," but a "faggot." I suspect many other transgender people share similar experiences of being called "dykes" and "faggots" far more often than any transgender-specific slur.

Likewise, those who are gay or lesbian identified, I suspect you have faced discrimination far more often over perceived gender cues than obvious examples of sexual orientation. Heck, being a naturally-born male who is attracted to others of his ilk could be argued as being transgressive, and outside of expected gender norms, no?

When they come for us, it may read like Pastor Martin Niemšller's famed statement ("They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. ... Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up"), or they might just try to take us all out in one fell swoop – but make no mistake, they don't want anyone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. This is why, to me, it is all the more important that we stand together and celebrate our similarities, rather than fight about our differences. Quite simply, we need to be one people, because those who stand against us already see us as such.

Gwen Smith is a bisexual-identified transgender woman in a long-term lesbian relationship who is rarely mistaken for a gay male. You can find her online at

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