Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Trans Metropolitan

Let me start this post by making it clear that I come from a place of privilege. I won't list all the ways that I'm well-placed in this world - some of them are accidents of my birth, some of them are things I've achieved - but suffice it to say this: I'm a straight, white, able-bodied, cis woman. For me to be aware of specific types of suffering (homophobia, transphobia, racism, etc.) is to know it about through second- or third-hand accounts of other people's experience. That's not to say I can't be empathetic or helpful, but I can't know someone's lived experience of their own body.

So when I attend an event like Pride, I do it in a way that makes me feel...weird, to be honest. I feel touristy. A gaggle of friends and I went down on Saturday night last weekend to check out the DJ stages and go dancing. The street part was in full swing with lots of different kinds of people: leather daddies wearing assless chaps; sobbing boys wrapped in feather boas; college girls in rainbow-printed teeshirts and collars; drag queens; muscular dudes with matching tattoos who waited for each other outside the PortaPotties; moms with infants strapped to their chest; clean-cut dudes in newsboy hats; girls in fetish wear, and more. It's estimated that, over Pride's ten-day run, over a million people come and make the scene.

Now, straight up: I'm a misanthropist jerk who hates crowds. I told my boyfriend that it was every man for himself as we shoved our way up to Wellesley, which was maybe not the most thoughtful thing I could have said/done. Part of it has to do with that touristy feeling; treating the party as a spectacle made it feel like an LGBTQ petting zoo. Which is complicated by the fact that some folks obviously party with a look-at-me vibe (exhibit A: the seven-foot tall drag queen in a silver lame bikini and stiletto heels), and some folks are there to be among "people like me," whatever that means to each specific person, and some people are there to tap into just the party and couldn't give a shit about the sexual politics of the event.

It was especially confusing after I read Nicki Ward's excellent critique of Pride's decision to exclude the Trans March, now among the largest in the world, from their official programming. No, not just exclude it: to actively work against it, to confound the Trans March organizers and the people who wanted to march with them. I say this will full knowledge of my privilege, with full acknowledgement of the discomfort parades and huge, drunken street parties make me feel: that is some grade-A bullshit right there.

In Toronto, Pride grew from protests following a bathhouse crackdown (imaginatively code-named "Operation Soap," which, like...really?) that saw 300 men arrested and 3,000 people take to the streets in protest. These days, over thirty years later, significant strides have been made in LGBTQ civil rights. Gay men and women can marry, and can adopt kids. Their jobs are protected. They can serve openly in the military. Many of these rights have been consecrated since the bathhouse raids, and Canada has an active and vocal queer community that has made huge strides in equality. Pride is a huge and important part of that: the tourism dollar are a boon to Toronto and Ontario's economy, there is a massive spike in queer visibility through media coverage, and politicians, prominent businesspeople, and other community leaders have made it a point to participate (although some choose to stay away).

So why shut out trans people? What about that particular group, which already suffers from employment discrimination and family rejection, provokes an "Oh no, not you" response in the rainbow community? It's discrimination, plain and simple. It's a powerful group using its power to undermine a less powerful community.

I'm not naive enough to think that transgender issues and gay/lesbian issues overlap 100%, or even 50%. But I don't think that matters; Pride has some serious work to do on this area of inclusion, and no valid reason not to. I understand there are risks; to change the delicate ecosystem of rights and power and visibility is a tricky thing, and fully embracing and accepting the trans population and beginning to care about their needs and motivations could carry some risks. But Pride organizers can no longer work actively against the trans people in their midst. They're not going anywhere. They're hear to stay. The largest Trans March in the world deserves more than radio silence and obfuscation, and I have hunch that they'll continue to take to the streets to get it. As they should.