Sex and gender at work, in bed, and on the street

Sadie-Ryanne Baker on the role of trans activism in the LGBT community

December 9, 2010 - 04:00 PM
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Today's Kojo Nnamdi show focused on discrimination faced by LGBT youth in the District—their challenges in their families, schools, communities, and within D.C.'s city services. The show featured three guests: Andrew Barnett, executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League; Kevin Abellano, an LGBT activist at Howard University; and Sadie-Ryanne Baker, a trans advocate with the DC Trans Coalition. Mid-way through the program, a listener called in to question why Baker was there. The caller argued that sexual orientation and gender identity comprised "distinct issues and distinct communities," and he objected to gay issues and trans issues "being grouped together on the same show."

Baker's response acknowledged the differences between gay and trans identities, but also mounted a good defense of keeping the T in LGBT:

"I somewhat agree," said Baker, who took the caller's question after detailing how she was estranged from her family after coming out as trans at the age of 21. "Trans issues sometimes get subsumed" under the broader LGBT umbrella, Baker said, only to be ultimately "ignored by the larger LGBT community." That "can work against trans people," said Baker. She added that "confusing the two—gender identity and sexual orientation—has in some ways increased the ignorance out there about trans people."

At the same time, "non-transgender LGBT folks can be some of our most powerful allies," Baker argued, "and a lot of us do come from the same communities." Those communities are often forged in adolescence, when gay, lesbian, transgender, and gender-nonconforming people are struggling with their own identities—and are facing the same sort of discrimination from their families and peer groups. "All of us grow up 'queer,'" Baker said. "We're  treated similarly. When I grew up, everybody thought I was gay. I was called gay all the time. . . . This is an opportunity for us to sort of work together. I think we can mutually support each other because we've been through a lot of the same things."

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  1. TJ TJ

    TJ T

    Dec 10, 2010 - 08:24:37 AM

    Ok. I'm just playing devil's advocate, but with that argument, would it not make sense to say to all discriminated minority groups to all stick together? For instance, all African Americans and Asian Americans and Latin Americans and every other ethnic minority in this country should all band together because, at some point, we were all discriminated against? I am not advocating that the "T" in "LGBT" should be taken out in the least bit, but I don't buy Ms. Baker's argument that just because she was called gay (wrongly, I might add, unless she is now sleeping with women) as a child she shares some major common ground with gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. The queer angle, though? I'm on board 100% with that argument. We are all queer in some way (yup, I'm a big 'ole lesbo), as we are what would be deemed different from the norm.

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    • Sadie-Ryanne Vashti Sadie-Ryanne Vashti

      Sadie-Ryanne Vashti

      Dec 18, 2010 - 12:06:09 PM

      I totally agree, Kathleen! Trans folks, and especially trans women, have been leading the queer movement for generations already. For the record, I *do* think that all oppressed and marginalized people should band together. =) That's not the same as saying we're all the same. On the contrary, I think it's very important to pay attention to the distinct experiences we all have, based on our race, gender, class, etc... But I do think we should all work together. And also, I *do* sleep with women and (as I say on the show) identify as both queer and a lesbian. I think it is interesting that people keep suggesting that because I am trans, I don't belong on the show... when, clearly, I indicated that I am a gay woman. As a trans woman, I am always pigeon-holed and forced to focus on that single part of my identity, like it's the only interesting or important thing about me, and every other part of me is ignored. I'm always "just a trans woman." I'm always referred to as a "trans activist", even when I also describe myself as a queer activist and a sex worker activist and so much else. I'm a gay woman who also happens to be trans... like how one of the other guests on the show was a gay man who also was Filipino. We all have multiple identities... and my experience as a queer white trans woman will be different than his experience as a gay Filipino cis(non-trans) man. And of course we should acknowledge that. In some ways, we do come from very different communities. But we're still allies, too.

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    • Kathleen Kathleen

      Kathleen M

      Dec 10, 2010 - 12:59:04 PM

      The LGB and T communities stuck together is not a new phenomenon and trace back to the beginning of the gay rights movement. Trans people were most likely to fight back during stonewall, they started the movement but are now excluded. Transphobia and homophobia are linked, and homophobic attacks are often directed toward those who are gender transgressive, linking the LGB and T communities through discrimination faced and need for advocacy.

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