I'm watching another eruption of transsexual separatism around here, lead by one of the perennials.
One of the local leaders has gone over to that side. Reading her messages, I see why this path is so seductive to her.
Transsexual separatism changes a challenging, individual path of transgender to an archetypal path walked by "people like us." It shifts the challenges we face to be better people into the challenges that people like us have always faced from the small minded and closed hearted. We are no longer people enduring challenges that shape us, we are group members enduring systemized oppression from a cruel and abusive world.
"When people challenge us, they are just acting out their internalized destructive sickness, and we have the full power of obligation to not stand that pig behavior, to rise as women and smite them for their sins against our group, our tradition, our heritage and our power. Any challenge isn't about our personal choices, it is bashing people like us. If you disagree with me, you are one of them, and we deny you the identification we keep for ourselves, for people like us!"
In other words, once I change the focus from you hating me for my choices to you hating us for our very existance, then my responsibility is only to defend my peeps. No matter what specifics you give, your response isn't because I am a bristling pile of rage and pain making nasty choices, it's because you are one of them, and I am one of us, and we need to make you understand that we must be protected by any means necessary.
Once you slide away from personal reactions to personal choices which are tied to personal responsibilities and go to atavistic reactions to group choices which are tied to group oppression, your personal responsibilities go away.
The break between "women's studies" and "queer studies," between feminism and pomo, between transsexual and transgender is the break between identity politics and empowering indviduals, between group dynamics and personal responsibility. The first says it's about us and why they hate us, while the second says it is about me and you and our obligations as humans.
It's very hard to see the world as us versus them if you know that part of you is us and part is them. To walk in a liminal space requires embracing the personal, accepting the variation, celebrating the indvidual.
I understand the pull of group identity, and I know why people crave it, embrace it. It's nice to say it's about gays versus straights, transvestites versus transsexuals, men versus women, male-oriented versus female-oriented, penised versus non-penised, estrogen-based versus the world, or whatever other cut you want to make.
But transgender, well, transgender says that it's not about that group separations, because each of us cross & thwart (the root word for queer) those groups within us, part of a continuous common humanity that comes from the one human nature we all share. Transgender is an indvidual path that demands other people face their own differences and face our own commonalities.
"If you challenge me, you are just a ____ bastard who is hurting people like us, and anything I do to stop you is just to defend other abused people like me!"
I get the comfort in that, I really do. People really do make up groupings and separations, quickly separating themselves from people like us, and then use those divisions and walls to try to keep us in line. Why shouldn't we do the same back to them, let them have a taste of their own damn separatist medicine?
We shouldn't because the ultimate calling for each of us, at least according to the spiritual tales I value, is to become ourselves. We have the obligation of changing the only thing we can control in this world, and that is our own choices. We have to learn how to not play their game, but instead play the game we know to be right, where the infliction of abuse stops with us, where we speak to the empowerment of indviduals and indvidual choice as we want to be respected and empowered in our indvidual choices.
My quick rule of thumb on which paths are destructive and which are constructive is simple: any path that says we as indviduals have to face the connectedness of the world is constructive, and any path that says we have to create better separations between people like us and people like them is destructive. What separatists do is to separate, and that just leaves the world in pieces, because the opposite of integration is disintegration.
If we want to sing the song our creator taught us, we have to encourage others to sing their song. If we want people to approach us with an open mind & heart, we have to approach them with an open mind & heart. If we want others to make responsible choices that they are accountable for, we have to make responsible choices that we are accountable for. If we want them to listen to us and respect us, we have to listen to them and respect them.
So much bloody work, especially for someone who already had been battered and bloodied by the stigma to respect fears, defend walls, and keep separations real. The line between, though, runs through our hearts, and any battle there will only keep us in pain.
I know why we love the idea that it's not me in the world, it's them versus us.
But I also know why that idea causes the kind of problems that have hurt us all our lives.