Before We Talk About The Emperor’s New Gender
Intros, disclaimers, caveats, explainers and precautions
By Alix Dobkin (First published in Alix’s Minstrel Blood Column of Windy City Times)
“…disappointment takes out its knife…”
Butch resisting the pressure to change gender
You know that glazed look certain born-again Christians get in their eyes when they’re not listening? Or how voices of loud mouthed Republican politicians and TV pundits get even louder to outshout the opposition? To foreclose debate defends the fainthearted against perceived attack, even when no attack is
intended. Beloved tactic of cowards and bullies everywhere, shutting down discussion stymies challenges to the firmly held, vulnerable doctrine of the True Believer. Thus does insecurity unite with bluster to frustrate education’s advance.
This brings to mind an incident occuring twenty years ago in Europe. At a concert in Zurich I identified myself as Jewish, whereupon a small group of women got up and left the theater. Why? They didn’t say, but we can guess.
My deal with myself was that if I agreed to tour Germany and Switzerland it would be on condition that I declare my Jewishness at every show. Otherwise I could not have endured setting foot on those killing fields. But I was as unprepared for the shockingly defensive reaction that statement would provoke in my audience as they were to hear it. Naively assuming that German Dykes were as used to discussing sensitive race issues as we USA veterans were, it never occurred to me how personally they would take this (seemingly) simple declaration. If I hadn’t immediately calmed my audience with friendly assurances they would have shut down and shut me out, and by the time I reached Switzerland I understood that going public as a Jew required the following instant affirmations: That
- I did not believe in God
- I did not necessarily support Israel’s every action, and
- I did not blame any of them for the holocaust
These three disclaimers usually relaxed most of the crowd enough so they could sit through my show without excessive
distress. Passionate English and German post concert dialogues proved wrenchingly difficult, but they moved everyone forward, and we were all glad to have stuck with it.
I hadn’t thought about that old story for many years until Elana Dykewoman told me of a similar experience at a reading only weeks ago of San Francisco Jewish Lesbian writers. When she spoke the name of her new poem (see above) a group of
transgendered individuals and their supporters got to their feet and left the theater. Had they stayed they might have learned what this award winning writer and long time survivor of Lesbian community struggles (since before some of them were born) had to say, proving that closed minds are not limited to anti-Semites. Like my Swiss departees, this bunch also refused to listen. Too bad, they lose.
Experiences such as these and others have prompted this extensive preface to my (next) column on transgender, particularly FTM (female to male). I am well aware of how volatile an issue it is in our community and how personal it can feel.
Jim Fouratt, long time activist, writer, independent thinker and faery has lately taken quite the trashing for his forthright critique of Genderpac’s “ruthless and aggressive attack on the gay and lesbian community based on gender bias…”. Jim and I agree that, “once again men are defining who and what women are”. That’s our opinion and we are entitled to it without being called “nazi”, “fascist” and the like, as we each have in the past when overstepping the party line on gender.
Therefore, in the hope of contributing more light than heat to the discussion, let it be known that I am aware that:
- transgender issues present complex and difficult terrain loaded with quicksand and stumbling blocks which I approach respectfully and with an open mind.
- Over the past decade I’ve accumulated masses of information and engaged in much study, reflection, thoughtful
discussion and process with a variety of people representing diverse perspectives.
- In conversations with transgendered individuals and their supporters, some of whom I like and some not, I am aware of their pain and try not to add to it.
- Everyone needs a community where they feel respected and safe.
- There is more to learn
Further credentials are available upon request.
Now here is the question to my Queer/LGBT community, particularly young butch Lesbians who are considering “changing”
genders: Is thoughtful, open discussion possible without personal attacks and hurt feelings?
So let’s put away the knives. Can we talk?