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Photo by: Björn Erlingur Flóki Björnsson

Photo by: Björn Erlingur Flóki Björnsson

For the past few weeks the Internet, specifically the social media activity of the queer community, has been sickening – and not all of it in a good way. Anyone who is active on social media has likely stumbled through, or into, the RuPaul tranny debate. The basis of the debate rests on the question of whether or not the word tranny is offensive and/or transphobic, and the key players for the opposing sides have become American icon RuPaul and RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Carmen Carerra. The problem with the debate is not the argument itself, because we as a community are growing and need to have these types of conversations about language. The problem is that the debate has participants that are uninformed, biased, and privileged.

The two figureheads in the debate have received the brunt of the punishment and rage of this free-for-all, with Carmen arguably getting the most hate. The pro-tranny team is so focused on staying true to their fandom and idolization of RuPaul and RuPaul’s Drag Race, that they are incapable of looking at this debate with an open-mind. We as a society that is forever plugged in, and constantly sharing our thoughts, need to do what generations before us did, and actually read, research, and go out into the world to gain experience on the topics we’re talking about.

Facebook and Twitter, as two primary examples, allow people to share thoughts freely. There is no criteria for those that can share their thoughts; anyone can do it. The result of these unmoderated forums for discussion lead to folks sharing their thoughts en masse based off of their love for either RuPaul or Carmen Carerra, or perhaps just as often, people commenting without any knowledge on the topic at all. RuPaul, on her end, shared a New York Times article amidst the chaos, which could explain the behavior on both sides. The article, “Faking Cultural Literacy,” discusses the tendency of folks to talk about things they have no real knowledge on.

“What was Solange Knowles’s elevator attack on Jay-Z about? I didn’t watch the security-camera video on TMZ – it would have taken too long – but I scrolled through enough chatter to know that Solange scrubbed her Instagram feed of photos of her sister, Beyoncé.” This passage explains a huge problem with this current debate. Our generation is so flooded with news that we often derive our information from headlines, summaries, and comment threads, none of which offer a full, unbiased view of the real issue at hand.

I may be seen as a traitor to the gay community, but truth be told the gay community and its allies are more guilty of this fake cultural literacy than the transgender community and its allies. As gay men the word tranny is not, and was never a term used primarily against us. The same guiding principal that says white people can’t reclaim the N-word applies to the gay community and the word tranny.

To continue my traitorous admittance, I believe my fellow gays need to understand that the G in LGBT has much more media representation and support than the T. How often do you see an empowered, three-dimensional transgender main character who isn’t named Laverne Cox? When we receive transgender news it is hauntingly similar – attacks and violence. As gay people we are so used to being oppressed that is hard to see ourselves as oppressors, but that is exactly what we do to the transgender community when we act like this. It’s up to us to own up to this and make a change, and learn to listen instead of talk when an issue directly affects another part of our community.

We, the queer community as a whole, are too bullied and oppressed to be hurting one another. This is not to suggest that things can be perfect, because every community has its faults, but we live in a time when people in our community still do not have equal access to healthcare, are harassed in-person and online, attacked in schools and on the streets, and can’t marry the one that they love. When we divide ourselves it simply makes it easier for our opposition to revitalize their bigoted movement.

I wish for nothing more than a united queer community, which is why I have not participated in this debate. I am comfortable admitting that I am not educated enough in the transgender movement to take part in the debate. Plus, who am I to speak for what other people should or shouldn’t be offended by? Let’s just lose the pride for a moment, and step back when we don’t know enough or when it’s not our place to speak. Otherwise you’re just stating ignorant thoughts and fueling the fire for no reason.

I proudly admit that I don’t know what should happen with the word tranny, and that I don’t believe either RuPaul or Carmen Carerra are completely right or wrong. Only time can tell how this will end, but for now we as a community need to let those that feel oppressed talk and express themselves without fear of being spammed and attacked. Most importantly, we need to become a true queer community and erase the lines between gay and transgender.

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Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons--Stephen Luke

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons–Stephen Luke

The battle for marriage equality has been a fight looked on by Americans nationwide. The community celebrated a victory at the death of DOMA and repeal of Proposition 8. People have walked a painful and arduous path to this win for the community, but marriage equality has been presented as the gay community’s most pressing issue, when there are issues that are equally or more worth fighting for. These issues include being protected from discrimination in the workplace and combating HIV and AIDS.

The Washington Post interviewed Terry Stone, of Center Link, which is a “nationwide coalition of more than 200 community centers that serve lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people.” The Washington Post reports, “Stone said that latest survey of the community centers’ patrons found that their top concerns were anti-bullying at schools, transgender rights, HIV and AIDS issues, and the need for more laws against anti-gay discrimination in employment, housing and healthcare.”

While this survey cannot express the wishes of a worldwide community, it brings up a valid point. Why has the issue of marriage equality become the main focus, continually covered by media outlets? The mainstream media always “sells” products and information that they want or that fit their agenda, ideology, philosophy, etc. The mainstream media has latched so tightly on marriage equality, not because it is the top concern of the LGBT community, rather it is because of the group of people in the LGBT community that are most vocal and visual in this fight. What is revealed is a separation in the community based on race, class, and privilege.

Upon a glance at the top online news sources, on the topic of the death of DOMA, the galleries and images show a trend in race. The people celebrating this victory are white. The galleries offer at maximum one or two pictures where the central focus in the photograph is a person of color. Examples for reference include: the Washington Post, the New York Times,  Huffington Post, USA Today, and CNN (videos, rather than images show the white dominance in this issue). I want to follow-up these sources by reminding folks that these are mainstream sources of news, and there are more niche, specific publications and news sources that covered marriage equality differently, however these are clearly the sources of news that people are most often using.

The concern with the demographics behind the fight for marriage equality goes further than race. Class and privilege are very much part of the discussion. Folks that were rallying and fighting for marriage equality are generally middle to upper class people. This can be viewed from the fact that people had the time to take off work to go to these rallies and protests. This is not meant to generalize the entire population of the groups fighting for marriage equality, but is certainly a point to ponder, as people who work paycheck to paycheck (people in the lower class) can’t take days off even if it was the person’s greatest wish.

What you end up with is a combination of dominantly white and privileged individuals fighting for marriage equality. This is the type of the community that the mainstream media wants to cover. They do not want to cover other issues because the demographics would be very different. The Washington Post continues in their previously referenced article to write, “A joint open letter issued in June, signed by 35 leaders, said that gay and bisexual men, while comprising only about 2 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for more than 63 percent of new HIV infections in 2010. It said the rate is particularly high for young black gay men.”

While HIV and AIDS is not solely a black issue, it is one that is very prevalent, especially in the black gay community. If the mainstream presented this issue as it presented gay marriage, it would ultimately send a call to others that this is something that people need to care about. This indicates that perhaps the mainstream media has no interest in helping this community and other communities like it. There is no clear-cut reason why the mainstream media does not report as heavily on issues, like HIV and AIDS, that innumerable people in the LGBT community find more important than marriage equality.

The lack of representation of the black gay community, is based in homonormativity. Beyond being physically built a certain way, homonormativity can include race, based on the society in which it lives. In America there is a white dominance, which can be seen clearly in our entertainment industry. Thus, white is beautiful, and other is not. Homonormativity therefore dictates even more specifically that in America the top of the gay community is composed of masculine, discreet, white, gay men and feminine, discreet, white women.

Until this homonormativity is battled, the issues that will receive attention in the LGBT community will be the issues fought for by the middle to upper class white folks. People of color, and the transgender community will continue to be ignored. However, now that the battle for marriage equality has essentially boiled down to a state-by-state battle, it will be interesting to see if the community will take on a different nationwide issue.

 

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