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Transphobia is My Issue Too!

Warren J. Blumenfeld

By Warren J. Blumenfeld
Warren J. Blumenfeld, Ed.D., is Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa specializing in Multicultural and International Curriculum Studies, as well as LGBTQ Studies. He has edited and authored a number of publications, including "Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price"; "AIDS and Your Religious Community"; as well as the report, "Making Colleges and Universities Safe for Gay and Lesbian Students: Report and Recommendations of the Massachusetts Governors Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth." He also co-produced a documentary on homophobia titled Pink Triangles.
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We laughed together, and we cried together. We shared our ideas and most intimate secrets. We dreamed our dreams and laid out plans for a world free from all the deadly forms of oppression. And, somewhere along our journey, we began inventing new ways of relating to one another. For the men, we came to consciousness of how we had been stifled as males growing up in a culture that taught us to hate the woman within – that taught us that, if we were to be considered worthy, we must be athletic, independent, assertive, domineering, and competitive. Most of all, we rejected the idea that, to truly be men, we must bury our emotions deep within the recesses of our souls.

Looking back over the years, as our visibility has increased, as our place within the culture has become somewhat more assured, much certainly has been gained. But, also, I can’t help but feel that something very precious has been lost. Our early excitement, our desire— though by no means our ability—to fully restructure the culture, as distinguished from mere reform, seems now to lay dormant in many of our political organizations and communities. Today, reflecting on what seems to be the major focus of the mainstream movement, I see four main themes — or, what I am calling the “Four Ms” of the mainstream movement.. These “Ms” are: 1. Marriage Rights, 2. Military Inclusion, 3. Media Visibility, and 4. Making Money.

While these are laudable goals, I believe that if we are going to achieve a truly equitable society, we must reach higher, wider, and broader.  I believe that we need to work to “transform” or “revolutionize” completely the society and its institutions by challenging overall power inequities in terms of traditional gender and racial constructions, the economic basis on which this country rests and the massive inequities between socioeconomic groups. We need to make links in the various forms of identity and forms of oppression, and form coalitions between various marginalized groups, as well as look at other means of activism, which can result in true and lasting systemic change. 

I do remain hopeful, however. The increasing visibility and recognition of bisexuals and transgender people today is again shaking up traditionally dichotomous notions of male/female and gay/straight. Their stories and experiences have great potential to bring us back into the future — a future in which the Estelles (indeed, anyone on the gender spectrum) everywhere will live freely, unencumbered by social taboos and cultural norms of gender. It is a future in which the “feminine” and “masculine”— as well as all the qualities on the continuum in between — can live and prosper in us all.

With this in mind, let us not work only toward lifting the ban against gay, lesbian, and bisexual people in the military. Instead, let us also work toward lifting the ban against our transcending and obliterating the gender status quo by continually questioning and challenging standard conceptualization of gender in our society. For ourselves and our young, we must work to build a society in which we can all feel the freedom to express our gender in ways that are authentic, honest, and sincere to each individual, ways that we choose rather than those that are prescribed.

Let’s face it: transphobia is our issue, too. As important as are our efforts in defeating sexism, homophobia, heterosexism, and biphobia, also important is our work toward conquering personal, institutional, and societal forms of transphobia and its offshoots, such as what some call “effemiphobia” (or, as it has also been called, “sissyphobia”) — that insidious and dehumanizing fear and hatred of anything even hinting at the feminine in males. This is, of course basically a thinly veiled version of misogyny. Indeed, we can argue that homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and heterosexism, have their roots in sexism. One cannot hope to eliminate the former categories without eliminating the latter.

While we continue to work on issues around same-sex marriage and domestic partnership, we should ensure that we work, as Estelle has done for me, towards strengthening a partnership between the many points on the vast continuum between our masculine and feminine qualities that make us all whole, integrated human beings. We must not, however, limit our efforts to these forms of oppression. For oppression operates like a wheel with many spokes. If we work to dismantle only one or a few specific spokes, the wheel will continue spinning and trampling over people. We must work toward dismantling all its many hideous spokes if we hope to ever truly dismantle oppression.

I believe that sexual and relational attractions and gender expressions alone are not sufficient to connect a community, and by extension, to fuel a movement for progressive social change. We must, therefore, look beyond ourselves and base our communities and movements not simply on our identities, but also on shared ideas and ideals that cut across individuals from disparate social identities. We must come together with like minds, political philosophies, and strategies for achieving their objectives.

This is my vision of a movement for social change, which follows a central tenet of Jewish tradition known as Tikkun Olam: meaning the transformation, healing, and repairing of the world so that it becomes a more just, peaceful, nurturing, and perfect place. I understand Tikkun Olam to be equivalent of working for social justice and social equality, sometimes against incredible odds, for people of all social identities and all backgrounds. 

Whenever individuals or groups oppose dominant ideologies and dominant group privileges, however, there is always a risk of ferocious backlash. The vicious attacks against Estelle are only one case in point. Currently, there is a cultural war being waged by the political and theocratic right, a war to turn back all the gains progressive-minded people have fought so tirelessly for over the years. Until LGBT organizations and movements join in coalition with other communities working to end oppression, we will never achieve a genuine sense of community, and a genuine sense of equality will be wholly unattainable... (continue reading)

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Candygirl said:

I just loved Estelle and your vision...
Thank you for sharing it with all of us! :)

Posted at: September 11, 2008 10:28 AM

johnstevens said:

Great page. Good stuff.

Posted at: June 22, 2009 2:39 PM