6 ways you can use intersectionality to help stop trans murders

You’ve heard (I hope) that the vast majority of trans people who are killed are male to female living in poverty, and many are sex workers and immigrants. Here in the United States, most of the dead are black or Latina, and often both.

intersectionality1This is intersectionality at work: if they were just poor, or just female, or just seen as gay, or just nonwhite, or just immigrants, or just employed illegally, or just sex workers, or even just trans, their risk of being murdered would already be higher than a non-trans straight white middle-class legally employed male American citizen.

Together, though, these risks multiply, and even reinforce each other: if you’re female, or trans, or nonwhite, or an immigrant, you’re more likely to be poor, and if you’re poor you’re more likely to work in the “informal economy,” including sex work. If you’ve immigrated in violation of the laws or work in the informal economy you’re under constant threat from law enforcement, and if you’re seen as poor or nonwhite or gay or female, you’re more likely to face discrimination when it comes to police protection and employment. It’s also harder to get a good education when you’re poor, which makes it hard to get work. If you can’t get a good job you get poorer, and the cycle continues.

A large amount of anti-trans sentiment is related to anti-gay sentiment. The real solution is not to convince people that MTF trans people and the men who have sex with us aren’t gay, but to make it okay for us to be seen as gay. It should be like being mistaken for Irish when you’re really Scottish in the US today: a minor inaccuracy that’s annoying at worst.

We can use intersectionality to solve these problems too. If we could bring murder rates for nonwhite, poor and immigrant trans women down to those of white middle-class trans women we’d eliminate most of the killing. If we could bring the rates for African American trans sex workers down to those of non-trans, non-sex-worker African-American women it would be a huge improvement.

With that in mind, here are some intersectional ways to help stop violence against trans people:

  • Break the cycle of poverty. Adequately fund public education.
  • End racial discrimination. Enforce equal opportunity laws.
  • Help immigrants. Create an immigration policy that makes our country welcoming again.
  • End sex worker harassment. End the use of condoms as evidence for prostitution.
  • End violence against women. Speak out against rape culture and domestic violence. Examine your own actions for ways that you might commit or condone such violence.
  • End homophobia. Support respect, dignity and equality for gay men, lesbians and bisexuals.

Which of them is easiest for you to start working on? Which is hardest?

Outsider perspective

I was talking with some trans men recently, and they said something to the effect of, “Nobody told me I’d be short!” Obviously, they knew how tall they were, both on an absolute scale and relative to the men around them, but they knew it in their heads. That didn’t really prepare them for the reality of going through life as a short guy. Similarly, nothing prepared me for the reality of being a tall, overweight woman, for the pain of walking in heels and the discomfort of the male gaze.

When I posted about my trans feelings back in January, one response was that I didn’t sound like a woman, that the feelings I wrote about don’t support any claims to “interiority,” and that I have an “outsider perspective.” The commenter assumed that I would claim this interiority because I identified as a trans woman, but the point of my post was that I don’t claim any kind of interior femininity. I do have occasional flashes of “insider perspective” on a woman’s life, but they come from the limited time I’ve spent in women’s roles, not from some essential “interiority.”

I’ve observed the same thing in other trans people. The degree of understanding I see in other trans women is proportional to the amount of real experience they have living in the world as women and interacting with others as women. And no, experience in support groups and “trans women only” spaces doesn’t count. I’ve never seen any evidence to support claims of inner femininity.

Maybe you say that I don’t see their inner femininity because I’m “really a man.” But think about the transmasculine friends I mentioned above. You can’t get much more of an outsider perspective than not knowing how short men are treated. If you believe that these trans men have always been “really men” too, why didn’t they know?

Not only do many trans people persist in claiming interior femininity (or masculinity), but many are willing to accept those claims – or even to claim them on behalf of other people. Not long ago a trans man told me that I was so obviously feminine that I should be making plans to transition. It wasn’t the first time people have told me that I should transition, or assumed that I’d already transitioned, or even assumed that I was born and raised a woman. Some have even assumed I was a trans man. None of them were right. People are bad judges of this stuff.

Even if you believe that trans women are and have always been women, and that trans men are and have always been men, you should be able to accept that many aspects of masculinity and femininity are cultural, and that knowledge of these aspects is very difficult to acquire without direct experience. Trans men who haven’t lived as men will have an outsider perspective on many aspects of masculinity, and trans women who have never lived as women will have an outsider perspective on many aspects of femininity.

Some of us don’t transition

In the past I’ve done verbal hygiene on the words “transgender” and “coming out,” and now I feel like I need to do some on the word “transition.” I have always thought of transition as meaning that someone takes on a new identity, with a new name and a new presentation, and a new gender marker to go with it. Almost twenty years ago I decided not to transition, meaning that even though I regularly feel gender dysphoria (a discomfort with living as a man) and transgender desire (a desire to live as a woman), I examined my options and concluded that I wanted to continue living as a man most of the time. Back then it seemed pretty clear to everyone what transition was, and I chose not to do it.

Maybe I'm transitioning to a new Centauri identity...
Maybe I’m transitioning to a new Centauri identity…
Once in a while when I tell people I’m transgender and out but not transitioning, I get a puzzled reaction about the “not transitioning.” The first time I recall was about ten years ago from Reid Vanderburgh, but I’ve heard it from several other people since. The general idea is that everyone’s idea of “transition” is personal. I can just decide that for me “transition” means not changing much of anything, so then I must have transitioned!

I guess this line of thinking is meant in a nice way, but there are a few things that bother me about it. The first is that it undermines its own claims to respect my definitions. In this view, I can have any definition of transition I want, as long as I transitioned. I am not allowed to define transition in such a way that I – or any trans person – have the option to not do it.

The second problem is that it erases very real prototype effects. Maybe Vanderburgh and friends will respect my personal definition of “transition,” but they have no power to compel anyone else to. Even if people do accept the idea, that means that nobody knows what I mean by “transition” until I tell them.

As I understand it, they think that I can talk about “my transition” and everyone will keep an open mind and not make any assumptions about what it entails. But that’s really not how anyone’s mind works. We always have an image for any category. If I mention “my dog,” you’re probably going to imagine a common breed like a yellow Lab or a German Shepherd, or maybe a pit bull or a Maltese if you know city dogs. If I then tell you I have a great Dane or a Bassett hound or a Chihuahua you might not be surprised, but you won’t envision one until I tell you, because they’re not prototypical dogs.

Similarly, if I mention “my transition,” you’re going to envision hormones, surgery and a name and document change, because that’s the common transition image. There are so many people doing it who are so vocal about it, that me saying, “I shave my legs more often now” is not going to budge the needle.

Finally, there’s a message I want to send: that you can be trans and lead a relatively happy life without hormones or surgery, and without significantly changing your gender presentation, name, pronouns or legal documentation. For me, the easiest way to say that is “I’m trans, and I decided long ago not to transition.” Take that away, and it makes it that much harder for me to say what I want to say.

The bottom line is that people have images, schemas in their heads for every category. That’s the way the mind works, and saying, “everyone has their own definition” doesn’t make it so. There are some things you can legislate about language, but you can’t legislate prototypes out of existence.

Short Skirt/Long Jacket

Short Skirt Long Jacket
a mind like a diamond knows what’s best
shoes that cut eyes that burn like cigarettes
playing with her jewelry the right allocations
putting up her hair fast and thorough and sharp as a tack
fingernails that shine like justice touring the facilities
a voice that is dark like tinted glass picking up slack
stays up late gets up early
a car with a cupholder armrest a car that will get her there
Kitty Karen
MG white Chrysler LeBaron
Hey! Ho!
uninterrupted prosperity
uses a machete to cut through red tape
smooth liquidation
good dividends

More or less…

We still exist!

I had some doubts that a drag queen could do justice to the story of Casa Susanna, but I should have known better than to doubt Harvey Fierstein. He is, really, one of us and a gifted, sensitive storyteller, as I should have known after watching Torch Song Trilogy. The actors assembled for Casa Valentina may not be transvestites, but they are seasoned professionals, and they captured the reality of our lives (including the gender fog). I recognized a bit of myself in every one of the transvestites, and was reminded of many others I’ve met at various gatherings. It’s up for three Tony Awards: Best Play, Featured Actor (Reed Birney) and Featured Actress (Mare Winningham, who as Rita expertly draws out the ironies and contradictions in the feelings of the transvestites around her).

As I told Reed Birney, it is hugely important that he and the rest of the cast are doing such a great job telling our history.  Thanks to my friend Alice for giving me a chance to meet him!
As I told Reed Birney, it is hugely important that he and the rest of the cast are doing such a great job telling our history. Thanks to my friend Alice for giving me a chance to meet him!
Anyone who has any interest in transgender issues should see this play. Fierstein tells about a critical point in our history that reverberates today, culminating in a great line from the character of Charlotte (Reed Birney), a stand-in for Virginia Prince: “Fifty years from now, when homosexuals are still scuttling about as the back-alley vermin of society, cross-dressing will be as everyday as cigarette smoking.”

The irony, of course, is that it is us transvestites who are still scuttling about, while homosexuals are more everyday than cigarette smoking. We took pains to distance ourselves from gay men, and in particular drag queens, and look what that got us. We distanced ourselves from “sex-changers” and eventually “transgenderists,” as Prince came to call herself, as well. Now we’re still in the closet, while they gain more acceptance every year.

The one thing I really want to add is that we do still exist. From reading the reviews of the play and commentary inspired by it, you might think that a black hole swallowed us all up in 1963, with our bouffant wigs. The one exception is Playbill, which quotes Fierstein: “What grabbed me was: Why did they get cut out of our world? Why aren’t they part of our struggle? We get rights. They don’t.”

I had read some of the reviews before I went. I told the bus driver I was going to see Casa Valentina, and he mentioned he had heard good things about A Raisin in the Sun. Later in the conversation I told him, “Imagine if people were talking about A Raisin in the Sun as though black people only existed back in 1961?”

No, we do still exist, and the vast majority of us are still deep in the closet. And here’s where you come in. You can help us to come out. You can make a safe space for us.

Chances are that someone you know is a closeted transvestite. When I came out of the closet, it was a huge relief to hear people say things like this:

  • It’s okay if you wear women’s clothes.
  • It’s okay whether you like men or you don’t.
  • It’s okay whether you believe you’re really a woman or you don’t.
  • I won’t laugh at you.
  • I won’t fire you.
  • I won’t kick you out.
  • I won’t leave you.
  • I’ll still love you.

It would have been even better if they had said those things before I came out. Maybe you can say them, for your friends and family and employees and tenants and neighbors to hear. Maybe if enough people say them, we won’t feel so afraid any more.

The essential conflict between transitioners and non-transitioners

I’ve written here before that I believe most transgender people share the same basic feelings: gender dysphoria, transgender desire and gender fog. Whether you are transsexual, transvestite, drag queen, drag king, butch lesbian, genderqueer, non-binary or something else, you almost certainly experience one of those feelings, and probably all three. Whatever neurological claims you may have read about essential differences between one group and another, the fact remains that almost none of the trans people you will meet have been found to have a “female brain,” neurologically. People cross those subcategory boundaries all the time, and the only evidence currently accepted for membership is personal declaration.

We are the same, and yet we can be divided into two subgroups that are very different, with an essential conflict of interest between us that is impossible to erase. This difference is not based on biology or neurology, it is based on a simple difference of goals. Trans people who transition – who take a goal of becoming or being seen as a different gender – are often at odds with trans people whose goals do not include transitioning.

There are multiple conflicts between transitioners and non-transitioners, but the most common, the most salient, conflict is over destiny. Transitioners tend to believe that it is their destiny to transition, and to interpret facts as evidence for that destiny. Non-transitioners may believe that it is our destiny not to transition, or we may be agnostic on that issue.

For example, one time I was out with a friend, presenting as a woman. My friend remarked to me, “You’re not very feminine, are you?” At first I was hurt, but then I saw he had a point, and I thought to myself, “Actually, I’m getting tired of being a woman, and I’ll be glad when I can take this bra off and use my regular voice. Good thing I didn’t transition!” In contrast, Lal Zimman interviewed trans men who reported feeling devastated by the idea that they were failing as men. They couldn’t say, “good thing I didn’t transition,” because they did. Instead, they said things like, “I must just be a feminine man.”

And you know what? I completely understand the value of the destiny argument. Transition is hard. I’ve known transitioners for whom it was pretty obvious to everyone that they were on the right path, but still they encountered some very daunting challenges. There are many people who are politically and philosophically opposed to transition, and who will fight you on it, possibly including parents, employers and medical professionals. It’s hard to go through that constantly wondering if you’re doing the right thing.

The psychologist Dan Gilbert talks about an experiment where people who felt that they were stuck with a possession (an artistic print) decided that they liked it better than people who thought they could exchange it. When we’re stuck with something – and it’s something we can live with – we make peace with it. When we can change it at any time, the grass is always greener. Marriage works in similar ways. If you’re committed to a person it helps to believe that you’re destined for them, and if you’re committed to transitioning it’s helpful to believe that you’re destined to transition.

The conflict comes in when people start making universal destiny arguments, like the idea that “trans women are women,” not just when presenting as women, but essentially, eternally, from birth through death, whether we transition or not. Transition then is portrayed as not a change of gender, but as revealing the “real you,” or your “authentic self.” That implies that someone like me who chooses not to transition is hiding the real me, or denying my authentic self. And that is true for people who stay in the closet, but it’s not true for the rest of us.

If we are not denying our authentic selves, but we are still not transitioning, many conclude, we must not have that essence of womanhood (or manhood) that makes transition such a necessity. And that leads to bizarre twists of logic, where someone can be a “man who likes to wear dresses” one day, and be seen as essentially and forever male, and the next day declare a transition and be seen as essentially and forever female.

This essentialist view of non-transitioners leads people to declare that we are not truly trans, and therefore not part of LGBT. It leads them to deny the very real feelings of gender dysphoria, transgender desire and gender fog that we continue to feel, and to deny us any need for support or services. It leads them to speak on behalf of all transgender people, setting priorities and making declarations about terminology without any regard to our very real needs.

Transgender essentialism also leads people to marginalize and ignore non-transitioners. Because the choice not to transition results in people tending to become less passable over time, non-transitioners are caricatured as embarrassing, and negative characteristics that are found across the transgender spectrum are pushed into caricatures of cross-dressers and drag queens as big clumsy insensitive objectifying men in short skirts, and of transmasculine genderqueer people as childish “transtrenders” who claim gender variance only to attract attention.

Detransitioners are usually kicked right out of the transgender club. The fact that they weren’t happy with their transition leads many people (including many detransitioners themselves) to declare that they were “never really trans” in the first place. But of course the feelings of dysphoria and desire and fog don’t vanish, and the detransitioners are left to cope with them with very little support.

In short, the essentialist way of thinking about trans issues is a big problem for non-transitioners and detransitioners. I used to think that it was just confined to a particular subgroup, and I had friends, many of them non-transitioning trans people, who were skeptical of it. But then a funny thing happened. Many of these friends transitioned, and as each one began to commit to building new lives in a new gender they and their families started repeating essentialist claims. Each time I heard one of these claims I objected, but the result was that over time they began to think of me as a combative stickler. This pattern is repeated in most of my interactions with transitioners.

I used to take some of this personally, but now I realize that the transitioners are just protecting their interests. They don’t seem to be capable of realizing how much their actions threaten my interests (this kind of egotism is a hallmark of gender fog), and thus they tend to dismiss my complaints as cranky contrarianism.

It is not cranky contrarianism. It is the one essential difference between trans people who transition and those who don’t: transitioners have an interest in justifying transition, and non-transitioners often have an interest in justifying not transitioning. It is not biology, it is simple psychology.

Can we still be friends? Yes, despite this difference, we have many of the same feelings, and many of the same needs. We face many of the same dangers, and we inhabit many of the same spaces. I have friends who have transitioned or are transitioning, and I respect their choices about what path to follow. (That is all I can do; I cannot accept that they have no choice. I think this is clear.)

There is room for us to form alliances of common interest, and alliances of the hearth. But there will always come a Yalta, a time when that essential conflict of interests will manifest itself, when the alliances will break down. Some people – Righteous Ones – will be able to put things in perspective and sacrifice their own interests for someone with a greater need.

It will not always be obvious whose need is greater, and we may take actions that are at odds with each other’s interests. But what is absolutely critical is to acknowledge and respect them. If a transitioner tells me that something I do or say affects her interests, I may keep doing it, but I will try to accept that the conflict exists and respect her interests. I ask the same from transitioners. If we all do that, there’s a chance we may be able to stay friends and keep the door open to future alliances.

The Righteous Ones

I was a bit too glib writing about the “myth of the Righteous Person.” Let me walk that back and say that there is such a thing as a Righteous Person: someone who stands up for trans people not because they want to get invited to the Queer Students’ Party, and not because they worry they might be mistaken for a “tranny” some day, but because they believe we are people who deserve respect and fair treatment. Those are the best kinds of allies, the ones who do it out of a heartfelt commitment.

I call them Righteous People based on three concepts from Jewish philosophy: the Righteous Ones, the Righteous Gentiles and the Righteous Among the Nations. The Righteous Among the Nations is an honor bestowed on non-Jews who risked “life, liberty or position” to protect Jews during the Nazi holocaust. It specifically excludes anyone who acted for personal gain.

The Righteous Among Nations is said to be based on an earlier notion of the Righteous Gentile, one who is not Jewish but lives among Jews and follows the laws of the community, as shown in the common Hebrew word chasid, which is translated as “righteous,” but also sometimes as “pious.” This is the same word that is used for Hasidic Jews, people who define themselves by a greater adherence to Jewish law than assimilated European and American Jews.

There is another word, tzadik, that is translated as “righteous.” In the words of Maimonides, “One whose merit surpasses his iniquity is a tzadik.” This word comes down to us in the names of Neil Sedaka and Janette Sadik-Khan, who are both apparently descended from Righteous Ones.

I mention these distinctions because I think the concepts are also reflected in our concept of “ally.” There is the brother in arms, who is like the Allied Powers, fighting a common enemy. There is the ally of the hearth, who comes to meetings and parties, and makes an effort to get all the pronouns and terminology right. They are like the Pious Gentile, the one who is not one of us but lives among us and follows our laws. Then there are the ones like the employees of the Maryland McDonald’s who tried to defend Chrissy Lee Polis from her attackers, with no motivation but human decency. Those are the Righteous Ones.

The key is that a Pious One is not necessarily a Righteous One. Just as importantly, a Righteous One is not necessarily a Pious One. This is why we need to be careful which kind of ally we are talking about when we use the word.

Four transgender paths

I’ve written before about how important it is to separate transgender feelings and beliefs from the actions we take in response to those feelings and beliefs. Some of these actions are spontaneous and impulsive, but many are deliberate and goal-oriented. Everyone’s trans journey is individual, but I think there are four main paths that people take.

Stanley Park 038-001The best-known path is that of out transition, followed by celebrities like Laverne Cox and Chaz Bono. This path leads to the goal of a different social gender classification, and also social classification as transgender. It involves actions to transition, like body modifications and legal gender changes, and also actions to be or remain out, like declarations of intent to transition or disclosure of past transition.

The second path is the closet, which may not seem like an active path. It leads to maintaining the gender that was assigned at birth, as well as a social classification as “normal” – not trans, and usually not gay. But people who choose the closet actually have to do a lot to maintain their “normal” status: joining secret clubs, constructing elaborate stories to explain their shaved bodies or trips to Provincetown, building literal hiding places for their clothing.

A third path is stealth transition, which aims for a new social gender classification but to keep the status of “normal” and not transgender, and involves the actions of transition plus those of the closet.

The fourth path is the one I have chosen. I reject repression, and I have found that I do not need the closet, but I have also decided that transition is not for me. My goal is to be socially classified as transgender, or maybe a transvestite, but not to permanently change the way that others see my gender. The only actions that I need for this goal are the “eternal coming out” – because even though I put up a web site in 1996, not everyone has read it, so I need to keep letting people know. And this path has worked very well for me. The vast majority of the stress that I felt as a teenager in the closet went away as I accepted myself and came out.

I know that I’m fortunate to be able to follow this path, through the acceptance of my family, friends, co-workers and customers. Some people choose the closet, and others truly have no choice.

You don’t hear a lot about those of us on the fourth path. It’s a bit harder and lonelier than I thought it would be when I chose it back in 1996. But it’s here. It’s not repression, and it’s not transition. It’s another way of dealing with the trans feelings, and it might work for you. Please respect it.

Tribal traitors

In February I talked about the odd concerns you hear every once in a while over “low birth rates.” I noted that they’re always about the birth rate of one country, ethnic group, religious group or even race, relative to another. It’s an ancient tribal feeling, and this article by Israeli tribalist Moshe Arav about the Jewish State’s “demographic targets” is unusually blunt, even for the genre.

If you think about it evolutionarily, there’s a certain sense to this tribalism. If most people look after the tribe, and even show a lack of concern for people from other tribes, then the chances that any member of the tribe will survive are greater than if everyone just looked after themselves of their nuclear families or treated everyone in the world equally. On that basis, a concern with the tribe’s birth rate is understandable.

But tribal impulses like these don’t work well when they’re applied to a nation or an empire. Caesar Augustus worried a lot about low Roman birth rates, but it was much more effective to allow Italians and other non-Romans to take on a Roman identity than to promote rigid morality and existing bloodlines.

Birth rate obsession may not be effective for nations and empires, but that’s not to say that it isn’t dangerous. In fact, it’s one of the main historical reasons why transgender actions and homosexual desire have been condemned and even criminalized, and why women and others have been oppressed. As Philip Longman detailed in 2006, it’s the prime motivation for patriarchy.

Around the world and throughout history, some cultures have tolerated or even valued homosexual and transgender actions, while others have condemned them. Many of the explanations people give for condemnation are based on tradition, which doesn’t tell us much, but when they do go beyond tradition it usually comes down to reproduction.

If you’re simplistically focused on the birth rate of your tribe or nation, anything that distracts from making babies is a problem. That includes celibacy, birth control, masturbation and women’s education, among other things. Gay sex is a problem for this worldview, but boy howdy is same-sex love a bigger problem for it. If two guys fall in love, what incentive are they going to have to conceive children?

Trans people are just as much of a problem for people who worry about birth rates. Anyone who eliminates their reproductive capability through hormones or surgery is eliminating their ability to contribute to the birth rate. Trans women who don’t modify their bodies can’t conceive by having sex with men or with other trans women, so for birth rate purposes they might as well be gay men. Trans men who are still fertile but don’t have sex with men might as well be lesbians.

Beyond our own fertility, we threaten the birth rate by attracting others. A MTF trans person can’t be impregnated, so she’s wasting the time and energy of any man she attracts, and similarly with FTMs and women. Worse, we are often seen as deceivers who turn honest straight people away from the right gender, where they can be seduced by anybody. A significant part of the Rocky Horror Picture Show is devoted to mocking this fear of “decadence.”

Of course, many trans people can and do have kids, without repressing themselves: I’m in a happy marriage with one offspring. And it has been argued that LGBT people and a general tolerance for diversity increase the life expectancy of the children who are born, and their overall quality of life and character, by providing additional adults to nurture and provide for these children. But this kind of subtle reasoning is lost on the tribalists. All that matters to them is quantity, not quality, and a simple job: making babies.

People like to condemn “homophobia” and “transphobia,” online and in person. They’re right to condemn it. It kills people, and ruins other people’s lives. But it’s not enough just to condemn it. We need to understand where it comes from, how it functions, and what feeds it. A lot of what feeds it is this kind of tribalism: they see us as traitors to the tribe. Remember that the next time you hear someone moaning about low birth rates.

The limits of alliances

What have I done to help? have you *seen* how many images I've reblogged?

Image: Ally problems / Memegenerator

My mom says, “Ally means to me…..i got your back……count on me.” That’s what an ally is in one-on-one terms, but what does it mean for one group to be an ally of another? Or for an individual to be an ally of an entire group? It is relatively easy to be an ally when you have no stake in the game other than friendship or general human decency. It is much harder when the alliance has an actual or potential conflict with your own priorities.

Pauline Park has a good summary of the short-lived alliance among LGBT advocates for an Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The alliance was abandoned by some of its most powerful members, notably the Human Rights Campaign and Representative Barney Frank, who identified as gay men and saw their primary mission as the protection of gay men. They were willing to concede defeat on issues of gender identity and expression in the hope that protections for sexual orientation could pass on their own. In the end, nothing did.

It’s not like this doesn’t happen between groups under the trans umbrella either. How often is “gender identity” the focus, with no mention of gender expression? How often do transitioning trans people feel betrayed by famous drag queens like RuPaul?

In practice, these alliances function just like the Allies in World War Two: when there is a common interest they work together, but when there is a conflict of interest they work against each other. Somehow, people have an expectation that the alliance will not be so mercenary, but it usually doesn’t turn out that way, in war or in politics.

Why do we expect these alliances to hold in the face of conflicts of interest? Why would we expect gay men to put the interests of trans people ahead of their own? In part, I think it’s the myth of the Righteous Person. The people who help us can’t just be individuals who have a heart, they have to be so perfect that they can put our needs in front of theirs whenever there’s a conflict.

Beyond that, I think there’s a sense of alliances of the hearth. Many of these gay men and lesbians and transitioning trans people live in the same neighborhoods as us. They go to the same bars and clubs and community centers. Sometimes they literally are us: the magic of intersectionality and fluid identities means that someone can be gay and trans, or identify first as gay, then as trans.

We don’t expect the people we eat or drink with to go against us. How can they be helping us with our makeup one day, then lobbying against job protections for us the next? And yet somehow it happens. The alliances break down. In those of us who are simultaneously members of conflicting categories, the conflict of interest may have played out inside them before we saw it in the community.

Does this mean that these community relationships are all a sham, and all for nothing? No. Groups of people do great things for each other when there is no direct conflict of interest. Individuals even do great things for each other against their own personal interest. But the record seems to show that it is unrealistic to expect entire groups of people to voluntarily act against their group’s interest. There are limits to alliances. We need to be prepared for them, and act accordingly.