I still remember how scary it was to be gender non conforming 40 years ago.
Not only in school where, as a sissy, I sometimes suffered the insults and blows of classmates who today might be seen as caricatures of South Philly toughs, but also after coming out and deciding to let my hair down and my inner drag queen out of the closet.
Walking the streets of Philly in the early 70s in drag, I had to be constantly aware of who was on all sides of me and what they were doing. Groups of kids hanging out on a corner up ahead, better cross the street or turn around and go another way.
Back then, people didn’t differentiate between “faggot” and drag queen (or gender non-conforming, as we say now). They only saw “faggot.” And faggot was something to be ridiculed, attacked or murdered.
Even though David Bowie and a handful of other “glitter rock” stars dared to go where no man had ever gone before, the word on the street was that it was still not cool to be seen in long frizzy hair and mascara, with yellow platform shoes (with red hearts on them) and green, skin-tight hot pants. I didn’t have fashion sense, even in those days.
Questioning gender was a vital part of the gay liberation ideology espoused by the groups that formed right after the Stonewall Riots, which were, of course, led by queens tired of the endless police raids on their spaces (when the mob didn’t pay off the cops). We knew back then that it was indeed the final frontier. Gender was a continuum, we said, like sexual orientation. There was a fluidity to it that many of us in gay liberation wanted to explore and celebrate.
When I walk into a room of younger queers these days, I see the fruits of our labor. There seems to be more acceptance of gender non-conformity among them than there was in my youth. More than I ever thought I’d see in my lifetime.
But one thing hasn’t changed. I am reminded of it every time I hear about another transgender person being attacked or murdered. It’s that vile, senseless hatred that some people feel for those who don’t fit perfectly into one of the two little boxes we’re always asked to check on forms.
It’s more than hatred. It’s this sick need that some people have to strike out at someone they don’t like or understand. It happens with racial/ethnic differences, it happens with immigrants, it happens with so many people who are not liked by someone else.
It’s irrational and insane, and it occurs all too often. Even here in San Francisco.
A rally is being held this Friday, April 15 (6pm, 16th & Mission BART Station, SF), at the spot where a transgender woman was attacked about two weeks ago. It’s another reminder that, despite all of the progress the LGBT community has made on many fronts, anti-transgender violence continues at an alarming rate. One researcher, Kate Brown, has said that transgender people are 16 times more likely to be victims of hate crimes than anyone else in our society.
When does it end?