I’ve heard conflicting reports. It’s so hard to get to the real story. But, I think in the last week, it’s become official. Hollywood has announced GLB and T are getting a divorce. Actually, I’m not sure of B’s stance. There’s a reason that visibility has always been their main agenda item. And honestly, I think that for the past decade, G&L have believed the rest of the acronym to stand for perhaps, Boston Terrier.
But, apparently, after 45 years of an arduous, fragile marriage, where T has basically been the homely, resented wife who worked three jobs in the beginning just to support G&L for the promise of their mutual benefit and has always been responsible for the family’s dirty laundry, G&L is simply moving on. They’ve been cheating on T for some time with some younger, hotter arm-candy called Respectability.
However, this shocking announcement was not the result of a chair fight on Jerry Springer, because dreams don’t always come true. Nor did it come out in a press conference held by the HRC, announcing its own irrelevancy and bankruptcy in light of the recent legalization of same-sex marriage, though I’m sure that is forthcoming. No, the imminent dissolution was revealed in the form of public awkwardness on a daytime talk-show, the harbinger of all cultural upheavals.
Ellen Degeneres, for the premier of her thirteenth season, invited Caitlyn Jenner on her show for a chat. I’m sure this seemed like a brilliant and generous idea to Ellen. The long-reigning darling of Likable Lesbians Institutionalizing Cultural Knowledge (LLICK), would magnanimously arrange a popularly-viewed summit of sorts with the newly-crowned Most Recognizable Representation of the previously invisible world of TRANS for mainstream America. Caitlyn edged out Laverne Cox for the title, sadly, because of the whole Wheaties Box/ESPY thing…basically because straight white dudes know who she is.
So, despite the fact that representatives from only two of the four letters of the acronym were present, the L and the T, and they are both also wealthy, famous, and white, (exemplifying basically no one) the drama was sufficient to expose our irreconcilable differences to the audience of popular culture. As a bonus for the G&L’s, emotional damages and righteous sympathy were clearly awarded to Degeneres. I’m sure this will factor significantly in the upcoming custody disputes over freedom rings and other heirlooms, and perhaps even the beloved family pet, Pride.
Dear Judge Judy, pretty please do this for me.
Personally, I will admit that I would have remained completely ignorant of this paradigm-shattering announcement had I not been directed by Facebook to the profuse and lively chatter surrounding the incident. Thank the Goddess for Facebook. How embarrassing would that have been, as someone who is perceived as trans, to show up, unprepared, at a lesbian wedding, say, to which I was invited before the Ellen incident, only to learn that everybody now assumed me to be an unsupportive dick and a real downer because of the divorce and everything?
Before even watching the actual Ellen footage, I casually clicked on a related link bringing me to an article entitled, “Why it’s time to take the T out of LGBT”. It was published in an English Ezine called the Independent and written by a transwoman so it must be authoritative. The link had been shared by several of my friends with brief solicitations for opinion on the subject. “What say you?” Are we voting?
The article begins with, “Why do so many people believe that if you’re transgender, then you must be gay?” I don’t know. Why do so many people believe that if you’re English, then you must be smart? Are you saying that transpeople should have a separate movement so nobody thinks we are gay? She quickly transitions into what I believe was her intended critique of the recent Ellen interview of Caitlyn. Her argument becomes more about ‘Why do gay people assume transpeople are automatically supportive of gay issues?’ Although this question could introduce a productive discourse on the historical power imbalance within the LGBT movement in general, or even why this coalition intuitively seemed beneficial in the first place, the article moves into some weird, uncomfortable queer family reunion picnic territory, where everybody brought hummus and no one brought quinoa salad. The last line of the article should be read in a thick, Minnesota-nice, Michele Bachman accent, “But reactions like Ellen’s tell us everything we need to know: LGB’s and T’s are getting a little too close for comfort.”
While I could gleefully go on picking apart this specific article, it strikes me that uncritical queer narratives, moored to reactionary identity politics, are simply the situation we find ourselves in now. From the sinister whitewashing of queer history (please watch trailer for the upcoming movie, “Stonewall”) to the mere fact that Ellen’s smug entitlement reacting to Caitlyn’s smug entitlement could possibly herald a new frontier of queer political stratification. What is clear is that we have become a Lifetime Channel Meredith Baxter-Birney version of ourselves. This means that important and complex social and personal realities are being distilled and consolidated into consumable generalizations and then redramatized for sensational effect to startle a mainstream audience under the guise of liberal moral education.
To illustrate, let me offer a short critique of the actual interview.
So, what had happened was…Caitlyn sat across from Ellen. Everybody cheered, cuz they’re supposed to and then Ellen told Caitlyn she looked “fantastic” while supportively grasping Caitlyn’s hand and making sincere eye contact. This is an obligatory greeting for a talk-show host when interviewing: famous women over the age of fifty (previously forty), famous women wearing a dress size over eight, and now famous transwomen. The thrust of this gesture is to convey the host’s, and by extension her show’s position that despite strict conventional, regulatory beauty norms, the guest has been awarded an honorary place somewhere on the sanctioned beauty continuum. ‘You look almost life-like’ is what I always hear. This is also Ellen cueing the audience to cheer in agreement. Ellen knows what she’s doing. She is in the business of cultivating her vision of liberal social empathy.
Ellen is the Sesame Street for homonormativity. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy both shows, but I don’t watch them for my personal edification. My grasp of the number 8 has been pretty solid for only slightly longer than my awareness of the importance of the vest in lesbian fashion. Neither show is readily equipped for complexity or confrontation. Ellen was offering Caitlyn a spot on her happy gay muppet float. Everything was working just fine in her diversity skit, until Ellen asked Caitlyn about her “former” Republicanism. (Maybe Ellen was recruited by the lesbian mafia to precipitate this public split.) Caitlyn answered that she was still a Republican. The audience reacted as if there was an inexplicable pile of shit in their Wheaties, so Caitlyn quickly went on the defensive, maintaining that being a Republican isn’t a bad thing. In this uncharacteristically edgy moment, Ellen tried to reason with Caitlyn explaining that now that Caitlyn had transitioned into a T and had officially obtained her membership into a marginalized acronym, that it would be a conflict of interest to maintain her conservative social values. And then Ellen asked about same-sex marriage, which Caitlyn quickly renamed gay marriage, then tried and failed to assuage the escalating atmosphere of lesbian judgement by stating that, indeed, her views had softened recently. That while still a “traditionalist” and as someone who is older and doesn’t fully understand gay marriage, it was not her place to stand in the way of anybody’s happiness. That obviously did not cut it, Caitlyn.
Not allowing the beloved sanctity of same-sex marriage to lie besmirched upon the coffee table, Ellen tried a different angle. She asked Caitlyn who she thought she was going to date now, even going so far as pointing out Caitlyn’s lifelong track record of loving women. I must say, it shows perverse dedication to the official gay agenda to be the only person in the world who would quiz Caitlyn Jenner about her sex life solely in hopes to label her as a lesbian and thusly, logically bound to support same-sex marriage, rather than to ask Caitlyn Jenner who she’s going to fuck because everybody is fetishistically fascinated by her possible genitals and how they might imagine them interacting with other possible genitals. Well played, Ellen. You get the toaster.
As an important, yet largely overlooked addendum to this interaction, Ellen appears on Howard Stern, like the next day. I used to listen to Howard Stern in the nineties, so I don’t know what he’s like now, but I would have previously considered this an unlikely booking for both parties. That’s what happened though. Ellen, looking like Grover got scolded by Maria, obviously still befuddled, confided in Howard Stern about her feelings over her conversation with Caitlyn. To my surprise, instead of calling her a carpet-muncher and asking to see her boobs, Howard, unprompted, echoed Ellen’s exact logic, positioning himself as Ellen’s sympathetic wingman in solidarity with her emotional distress. Ellen then submits the final piece of evidence to the court in the divorce proceedings. She tells Howard that she doesn’t really understand Caitlyn or the whole thing (the whole trans thing), but she doesn’t want to stand in the way of anybody’s happiness.
So see what happened there? She said exactly the same thing about being trans as Caitlyn did about gay marriage. And she did it on Howard Stern, which adds a whole other layer of irony that I haven’t even finished processing yet.
So what does that mean? That we just don’t understand each other anymore and we should break up? That we are growing in separate directions and we should break up? Did we ever love each other?
In the real world, the Ellen interview of Caitlyn Jenner has absolutely no relevance in answering these largely irrelavant questions. To be fair, Caitlyn herself in the interview acknowledged that her experience has been completely unlike those of others “in the community”. I think she was astutely referencing her own privilege which completely demystifies her continued conservatism. There are G&L Republicans, too.
There have been stirrings for years in the trans community about launching a separate movement. After all, trans people started the first one. It is entirely too common for gays and lesbians to “not understand” the whole trans thing. The last three times I have been harassed about my gender presentation has been by gay men. I have also noticed what I perceive to be an increasing reliance by the trans community on a political narrative that makes a clear and binding distinction between gender presentation and sexual orientation. I’m not sure what the efficacy is of this distinction other than to clarify political identities and to engage in really specific identity politics.
Sentimentally, I guess I understand the impulse to sever one’s journey of gender realization from one’s seemingly supplemental sexual orientation, as it may be perceived by the individual to have caused the larger part of one’s suffering. However, from a theoretical psychological perspective, it makes no sense, whatsoever. You’re gender is completely tangled up in who you have sex with or don’t have sex with and it’s messy. Different partners actually make us feel differently about our bodies and our perception of who we are in the moment. The problem with strict identities is that they’re no fun and they allow no flexibility for the lived complexity of being human.
I was born female and the majority of my first sexual encounters were with men and they weren’t all terrible and I derived a sense of power from the desirability of my female body. However, I was butch from a young age and was really exited about having sex with girls and feeling like a guy. I didn’t start testosterone until I was forty and I did it because I wanted a sex drive, muscles, and some facial hair. I don’t really think of myself as a man and I still have attachments to my butch identity. Also, after a few months on T, I started having fairly strong urges to touch penises for the first time in a very, very long time and it makes me feel kinda gay. But I’m married to the sexiest woman in the world and I like to have sex with her more. So, I have been waiting for some time for the identity authorities out there to give me a label and send me a t-shirt. Thanks.
I know that emotionally satisfying identities have had the potential to be powerful political tools and they can be empowering on an individual level. The problem is that it just becomes increasingly difficult to accurately define or build solidarity around the proliferation of individual identities, precisely because of their specificity. People end up with a daunting list of multiple identities, and because of the restrictive nature of any label, may suppress or hide desires that seem incongruous the socio-cultural niche that they have crafted. It sometimes feels to me as if we have stepped back into the closet to accommodate all of our visibility.
In addition, there are glaring social complexities. The experience that I have had as a white, masculine dyke who transitioned into passing as a white, straight man with the adversity and privilege that has brought is a much different experience than that of a black transwoman who perhaps does not pass. We have much different issues to face, even as we may share a history of individual sadness.
If the big queer divorce is actually being imagined as a realistic public debate, the Ellen interview of Caitlyn must not be its catalyst. If you are at all queer, and have found yourself, in the last couple of weeks, actually engaging in any un-ironic side-taking with regards to this interview, don’t tell me because I will make you do push-ups. Instead, ask yourselves if transpeople, as an encompassing political identity, could actually build a brand new movement that steadfastly incorporates intersecting oppressions involving racism, classism, sexism, as well as transphobia? Not centering these issues has been sabotaging the GLBT movement since its inception. I don’t think Caitlyn will be an appropriate spokesmodel for this vision.
I think, once upon a time, there was a fleeting vision that all of the non-normative experiences contained within the GLBT coalition had something in common. Intuitively, it made sense, even though we’ve never really gotten along. Sissy gay boys and butch dykes are just as familiar with aggression toward their gender expressions as any transperson. Initially, the intended concept was that we were all fighting for freedom of expression and we took a certain Pride in all being different from the norm.
What has happened is that the dominant normative cultural paradigm in America has expanded just enough to allow a certain segment of the gay and lesbian population to assimilate into a certain marginal visibility in the outer reaches of its scope. Homonormative couples are still secretly considered, by even the most liberal example of the dominant culture, to be charming facsimiles of heteronormative couples in this model. The success of this recent mobility has been largely dependent on clear political identities that are not dangerous to the overall structure. I think that there is a bit of an identity crisis going on now that some respectability has been achieved.
There are still plenty of queers out there wishing they could figure out how to be a threat again, to the whole establishment, that honestly, at best, makes everybody feel like shit about themselves. Same-sex marriage was never everybody’s agenda, and the campaign to make it a litmus test for GLBT inclusion has been an integral part of the mainstream organizing efforts the whole time.
I feel like this kind of divisiveness has been trending since the nineties. I’ve been trying to discern the origin of it for quite some time. But, social justice movements in general, historically just have life spans. People don’t feel personally validated by a larger political alliance and retract into a self-preservation individuality or much smaller, more intimate subcultures. This is incidentally also why we can’t have dyke bars anymore.
I wish marginalized and oppressed people all just turned into muppets. The remaining humans would be the only easily identifiable representatives of the dominant culture in this metaphor. There are all kinds and varieties of muppets whose only commonality is that a human’s hand is shoved up their ass or pulling their strings. Then there would be a world-wide muppet revolution and after the take-over, if any muppets strayed outside of the “Rainbow Connection” paradigm, they would just turn human and have to undergo Big Bird’s Empathy Achieved through Sexual Submission Training (BBEASST)…again.
Moving forward, if we are to allow any celebrity to represent our collective suffering and hope, please let it be Kermit the Frog.