Talking Community

From: Callie <>
Date: May 30, 2006 10:05 PM
Subject: Frontline: The Age Of AIDS

PBS had a fine special, and WMHT chose to play it in the offered time period tonight.

It's called "The Age Of AIDS" and takes you through the 25 years of AIDS.

Gosh, that seems like such a short period, but then again, it was around 1981 I was coming out.  I watched this plague start, and watched it slice though a generation of queers, including, for example, the owners of Club 145.

It's just part of what you need to understand to understand gay liberation, and you can't understand the context of trans without understanding gay liberation.

PBS is offering the full programme online starting Friday at 5PM.  If you have broadband, you can watch the whole thing.

It's worth it, a clear and professional documentary about people like you, and the political challenges to make people understand that there is no simple way to build a wall, create us versus them.

Much of the freedom we have now is directly traceable to those who fought to say that all humans count, that what affects any of us affects all of us.

It's worth it.

From: Callie <>
Date: May 31, 2006 6:51 AM
Subject: Re: [cdtga1] Frontline: The Age Of AIDS

If trans is solely personal thing, fought by one person at a time, then there is no such thing as trans liberation as a movement or communities.
However, there is still is context.  Your fight was affected by others who battled before you and changed things, and by those who battled beside you, even if you believe that your fight was solely personal.   The opinions and attitudes of service providers and others affected your battle, and those opinions and attitudes were affected by the context of others who fought similar battles as you, making changes and making visibility and making space.
I believe in this context and believe it ties us together.  Personally, I don't believe that gender variant expression, to use a phrase that the lawyers enjoy, don't believe gender variant expression is a form of sexual orientation, rather I believe that homosexuality is a form of gender variant expression.  I believe what Michaelangelo Signorile wrote in 1998 — that the whole battle for gay liberation was a battle for destigmatizing gender variant behavior.
I understand that the trans journey is essentially personal and indvidual.
I just also believe that no person is an island, and we need to care for each other to make space for the kids who are today growing up queer like us.
The context is the context, the history is the history.

From: Callie <>
Date: May 31, 2006 1:28 PM
Subject: Re: [cdtga1] Frontline: The Age Of AIDS

Other gays and lesbians have something G&L people want, so they hang together.  That's very different than transpeople, who don't usually get what they long for from other transpeople.
There are gay ghettos — Northampton, P-Town, in NYC and Boston and Atlanta and so on — where there is a gay economic base.  But does that exist in a place like Albany?  Other than gay bars, maybe some resturants and gift shops, is there really a gay economic base?  Even Libby Post has to lean hard to get business here.
Trannys don't have a community.  We may have a number of interlocking communities of interest, but we don't share the common thread that keeps gays together, for example, the desire to be in relationship with other gays.
I suspect that because trans is such an indvidual path, any model that plans for us to come together to succeed is doomed to failure.  It seems to me that our power comes from how we network and become an integral part of larger communities, taking a role much like the valued roles trans shamans had when people lived in tribes or villages.  We may learn from  each other how to be efffective, may network with others like us to learn how to become more effective, but our power will not come from being one of a gang of trannies, rather it will come from being the tranny in the mix who helps keep connections open, who reminds us of our continuous common humanity.
For me, it's not learning to put differences aside and stand together, it's learning how to respect & value differences and stand together.  That's what the role of the shaman always was, and the role people need us to play even today.
Trans is a path to walking though walls others think are solid, and as such, it is a path to opening connections, valueing difference, and honoring the special gifts of each beyond the reductive assumptions of tame society.
We need to empower each other, which means encouraging each other to do things we would never choose to do for ourselves.  It's about respecting indviduals, not creating some new group identity for us. 
Our commonality is in how we boldly claimed the indvidual calling we found in our hearts.  And our power comes from how we help others to respect that calling in themselves and in others.

From: Callie <>
Date: Jun 4, 2006 10:25 AM
Subject: Re: [cdtga1] Re: Frontline: The Age Of AIDS

Allies doesn't mean a group of people who think alike, make the same choices, have the same traditions and so on, rather it is a group of diverse people who work together toward shared goals.

All revolutions…have been led by persons
who knew oppression well,
but not on their own skin.
       Primo Levi

This is the big challenge with being allied with others: you have to have the capacity to understand and respect their different point of view, to speak for them even when you aren't them, even when you disagree with them.

The problem is that knowing oppression on your own skin leaves you burned, chapped and raw.  And most of what you end up doing is whatever you can to tend to that torn up skin, avoiding choices that require the thick skin of seeing yourself as others see you.  We conceal, concede, confront, clown, and try to convert just so we can stay insulated, keeping what we need and avoiding our own pain.

We don't see things as they are,
we see them as we are.
       Anaïs Nin

That's how this conversation started.  I said that you have to know the history of AIDS to know the history of gay/queer liberation, and you have to know the history of gay liberation to known the history of trans liberation.

Arlene disagreed with me, making her point that gay liberation and trans are very different things, and not as interrelated as I suggested.  She used her own experience as being out as a transperson to make that point.

To be an ally, we have to know that it isn't all about us.  But we can't live in that space until we know that our allies know that it isn't all about them, either.  We can't stand up for others until we know they will stand up for us, because doing that takes too much of the resource we need to defend our flayed and frayed skin in a world of oppression.

The path to trans-liberation isn't about what we will do, it's about what you will do and what I will do as an indvidual.  Rhea shows us one example where she creates a space and tries to foster healing & connection, while others show us examples where they feel hurt and try to hurt & punish others.

The challenge is in turning the other cheek, in letting the chain of pain and hurting and disconnection stop with you as an indvidual. When people act out out the pain written on their own burned and bruised skin, allies have to not have their own hurt stirred up, not jet back with their own very real, very present and very acute pain.

I read the responses on this thread, and I see references to "t-girls" and "sexual orientation" and my bile rises a bit.  Hasn't anyone heard that those terms don't apply to me, that I find that they aren't inclusive?  Did anyone read my words on the challenge of finding shared and inclusive language that creates connection, or are people just focused on their own rationalizations and tunnel vision?

But even as my spleen starts to boil, I know that these people aren't being nasty or mean, aren't trying to inflame me.  They are just saying their own position in the best way that they can, and if they haven't considered how their language affects me, well, starting a whole thing over it isn't going to help anyone.

This is the challenge of being allies.  We have to be mature enough, grown-up enough, parent enough to take the bangs and bumps of people finding common ground, letting the sting of those percieved slights end with us, rather than just playing hot-potato, tossing them back until the whole thing explodes.

We can become allies when we can speak for others who aren't like us, when we can be sensitive to their concerns, when we can fight for choices we would never make for ourselves.

That's really, really hard for people who are scraped raw from facing stigma everyday.

But yes, it's the only thing worth working for.