As a community, we've certainly been flaunting our fault lines lately. The recent segment on RuPaul's Drag Race, "Female or Shemale," attracted widespread attention due to its problematic and transphobic nature. More than merely using a controversial term, the game itself asked contestants to dissect the appearance of women and determine whether they were biological women or drag queens (thankfully, there were no trans women included). As former contestant Monica Beverly Hillz responded, while trans individuals are tirelessly working to gain acceptance as women -- not some qualified version -- the show's stance was insensitive and damaging. Logo TV and Drag Race, after issuing an initial statement in support of the trans community, took the significant step to remove the episode from all media platforms and edit out the "You've Got She-Male" introduction in all forthcoming episodes. Given the concerns raised, this was undoubtedly the correct response. However, while the issue arose out of a specific incident, the nature of the media storm that raged revealed tensions that run far deeper.
As Adam Hunt's recent article highlighted, arguments between the T and the LGB segments of the LGBT community have been becoming increasingly vocal and vitriolic. Yet, while some of the loudest trans responses to RuPaul have been of unmitigated hatred, that is in no way the whole story. Former Drag Race contestant turned trans model and advocate, Carmen Carrera, celebrated all the show has done to educate a wider populace about drag, a scene that has always supported a vibrant trans dimension. For some within the trans community, however, connection to drag and gay culture is distasteful. Recently, trans icon Our Lady J has argued against the over-policing of language, claiming that subversion is at the core of drag and has allowed the phenomenon to shatter the supposed static nature of gender. Others argue that policing language is the only way to bring about meaningful change within popular conscious. Tensions exist not only between the various components of LGBT, but within each individual "community."
This shouldn't really be surprising, because the idea of an LGBT or gay community is somewhat misleading. What is it that makes us a community? What do a people scattered across the world, raised within a myriad of specific cultural situations have in common? The gay community can be said to be united by attraction to other men, although the idea of "man" is hugely complex and increasingly susceptible to challenge. But what do a heterosexual trans woman and a gay man have in common, what links them together as part of one larger family? Within a "community" as disparate as the LGBT, it is arguable only a shared history of ostracization from a hetero-normative society and oppression that unite us. This means that, as we stride forward in the accumulation of acceptance and civil rights, our community will only continue to fracture. The current makeup of the LGBT community condemns it to deterioration and collapse as our lives get better, so we need to establish a new foundation.
As newer generations of gay men find their voice, they react against the older, and even against each other. Bathhouses and saunas are stigmatized, the celebration of sexual liberation and promiscuity is challenged, the merits of the showiness of Pride and drag are questioned. As our struggles become less pressing, we've been given the chance to catch our breath and look about us. Where we once saw only comradeship in a brother or sister united in our fight for equality, we now see our differences.
It is important to know our history, to understand the sacrifices those that came before made to get us to where we are today. But those who fought at Stonewall didn't do so in the hopes that insecurity and oppression would become the hallmarks of future generations. They suffered to bring about a better existence for their children and grandchildren. We are still faced with embedded cultural and legal challenges to our existence and our rights, but they won't last forever. Therefore, if we want to preserve a sense of community, we need to find something else that unites us, something more enduring, something positive.
Our struggle has been in pursuit of equality for all, it hasn't always been dominated by specifics like marriage equality. Yet this current trajectory we're on -- where the closer we get to achieving our legal goals, the more we turn on each other -- is fundamentally at odds with the world we've suffered so much hardship to realize. We've fought long and hard for a future of acceptance, one free from hate and ignorance-fueled persecution. Now is the time to truly appropriate the values we claim to hold dear.
Let's make openness, support and love the essence of the LGBT community so that, when there's no need for us to cordon ourselves off anymore, such values endure. We may not have much in common, but turning against each other only ends up hurting those who need the most support. We're all fighting for the right to be true to ourselves. We should let the celebration, rather than trauma, of diversity and individuality define us. We may not agree with each other, or fully understand each other, but we owe it to ourselves and to those who suffered before us to calmly educate, to patiently learn, and to support the humanity in everyone.
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