Incrementalism and Assimilationism

If there was a post I wanted the most influential people to read, this is it, right now.

This post had a different title and was about a thousand words in when I changed my mind about how to approach it. I’m feeling lighthearted today, but the subject isn’t one that deserves such.

The last couple days I have been treated to stories by MSNBC, CNN, FOX, NPR, and others, where the discussion centers around ENDA. And while the language of ENDA hasn’t been touched yet, and the nature of it hasn’t been looked at yet, there is a word that has come up once again, due to press comments about the speech Obama will be giving tonight at the annual HRC dinner.

Fueled again by the most recent letter sent out by the person I’d most like to see strung up by his toes in a spiked iron cage: Scmhoe, err, Joe Solomonese.

A lot of folks know that in this area, my underlying feelings are very closely related to the same small group of malcontents that I’ve carried on a running feud with across several blogs for a few weeks. They want their specific definition of transsexual removed from beneath the “T” umbrella (which, these days, isn’t even transgender except in the wider media, and then only in stories talking about, well, transsexuals).

I want the HRC to be freaking honest and say that it really only supports the cisGLB folks, because they really do seem to want to throw not merely the straight Trans folks as a whole to the side, they don’t even give a damn about the transGLB folks.

The word, of course, is incrementalism.

I hate that word. I hate that concept. I have a strong and deep dislike (which, btw, *is* hate) of it.

And what I dislike more is that it is based in three things:

  • An aversion to discussing the last little letter of the four in the acronym LGBT. The media does it – this weekend I’ve seen stories about ENDA and not once do they say trans anything. It’s always gay and lesbian. The blogs do it – a trans story on HuffPo, or Femiiste, or feministing, or PHB, or Bilerico is ignored, they are worried, they have an aversion to getting involved, and they describe it as “well, those transfolk are always so angry and loud and they make us uncomfortable”.
  • They have a fearfear of talking about it lest it place ENDA at risk – no one wants to get into a fight over a bathroom bill, and there’s a large part of all of this that is going into it on the grounds of “ignore the trans stuff and the opponents will lose.”
  • And, often, those two things lead to an intense dislike, often brought about by the anger and frustration that many transfolks feel. When we are angry, we speak out, angrily, and in case everyone has forgotten, we have a whole busload of reasons to be not only angry but realistically up in armed rebellion.

    I don’t advocate such, at all – we would get creamed. Granted, a lot of transfolks , men and women, could likely have a damn good showing, and we’d ultimately bring down the entirety of the communications systems in use since, well, we have fundamental capability to do so, so the battle would be pretty devastating to the other side, but, in the end, we are so overwhelmingly outnumbered that we’d be wiped out.

Now, when you have someone that feels, singly or in combination, aversion, fear, and/or intense dislike, that’s called a phobia.

When its done at an institutional level – say, like the institution of the HRC or the institution of the Media – we call that institutionalized phobia.

And when that’s done against transfolks, we call that institutionalized

It doesn’t matter that Autumn sits at PHB, or that Monica, or myself, or Ms. Crowder, or any of the other transfolks are at Bilerico.

It doesn’t matter if Little Light is around.

They are individuals, and we are not talking about individuals – we are talking about the institution they are present in.

This is part of why Autumn gets so much crap and is accused of being a sell out or being too willing to shut down transfolks. She is in a position of trying to appease the institutional problem by looking at it not as an institutional thing, but on a personal level.

And the two levels are entirely different.

As a sociologist, I look at the institutional level, first and foremost. The level of people in groups more than the level of people as individuals. It’s why I place Radical Bitch in with the CTS crowd even though she doesn’t share the group’s penchant for misgendering or erasure.

There are lots of good individuals at Bilerico and PHB. Lot’s and lots of them.

Then there are some who use “LGBT” and consistently forget the T, and that’s commonplace. It really would be perfectly fine for them to speak to GLB issues just by saying GLB. But when they include the T, and don’t include some aspect relevant to transfolks, or discuss how it is not relevant to them, then they are erasing translives, even if they don’t intend to do that.

We cannot be a second thought any longer.

The usual response to this is “well, we need more education“, and yet, because of the aversion they feel (which is NOT the fault of the trans people, but the fault of their own, as we each own our own emotions, and are responsible for how we feel), they avoid that education.

How does one educate those who will not be educated?

Schmoe is a prime example of this – he continues to speak to cisGLB stuff.

DADT is an example of this – most discussion surrounds strictly the ending of the policy for cisGLB folks. Well, if you are being inclusive, then you will *also* focus on how the trans community can’t even get to the point of being eligible. We can still be asked, and we still have to tell, and we are still kicked out.

DOMA affects transfolk directly – putting legally valid marriages into a hellacious maze of trouble based on different situations from state to state. And yet, as one quarter of the whole acronym, we get erased from it’s discussion because we aren’t one quarter of the population (despite a whole bunch of us being GLB and wanting the same thing ourselves).

Yet if we speak these issues, even pleasantly, we are informed we are too angry, or the very nature of the argument is glossed over and ignored, out of an aversion to the complexity of speaking about trans issues.

Out of the transphobia that exists in the institutional LGBT Movement.

Incrementalism at the expense of transfolk is using institutional transphobia to justify removal of gender identity or expression from legislation, using it as the basis of “they are just not ready” types of arguments which are the same arguments used anytime one group makes another feel uncomfortable.

That “just not ready” is based on the concept of assimilation – that we don’t fit into the overall society yet, that we haven’t blended into it enough to be without any problems.

And it’s a lie when it comes to transfolks.

Transsexuals – who are, for better or worse, the primary beneficiaries of much of this, and in whose interest a lot of this sort of stuff is done – generally don’t have as great an issue of acceptance as gay folks do in the broader society.

Indeed, that underlies some of what the aforementioned CTS crowd speaks to, even though they tend to do it with a great deal of homophobic commentary as well.

We’ve lost ground, and a large part of the reason for that losing of ground is the institutional transphobia within the overall community, and in specific with the institutional leadership of those institutions, who still see assimilation as a goal, even though they no longer speak to it.

It is the “don’t make waves”, “don’t disturb the status quo”, “don’t upset the rest of the people here” kind of arguments that assimilationism underlies and it creates a strong and deep and abiding mistrust. All of which are based on the concept of aversion – the distaste for having to discuss it.

Combine that with the outright, intentional deceptiveness of the sort that the HRC has consistently done within just the last ten years (never minding the history of such earlier than that), and you have a recipe for what I ‘ve been feeling for a while but haven’t called for yet, and will have a good idea if it’s time for such following this weekend.

This also underlies the disconnect between the grassroots efforts and the national organizations – grassroots movements are not as heavily invested in the same priorities as the national groups.

One could use a cynical outlook and say the national orgs are all about protecting themselves – and its fairly certain that on some level, they are indeed doing so – as a former friend once said to me, once money is taken to do activism, it changes everything.

I’ve avoided that trap so far myself, but I know all too well the desire for such, as without it, its very easy to burn out and end up a worn out husk, and to lose sight of helping yourself when helping others.

But in the case of an organization such as the HRC, which is home to a friend of mine who gets much flak for it undeservedly, or, to look to their in the pits man on the floor, Rep. Frank, who calls for plodding momentum and is still working on being inclusive himself despite a transman in his ear.

This is the future our predecessor’s have fought for. Right now. We are living in it.

And we are seeing that the old guard – the old ways, no longer work, as they have been coopted by the very system they sought to change.

They changed it, you see, and yet failed to change themselves.

It is time to make this the world *we* fought for.

And now we have Joe Solomonese saying “give us until 2017″, when it’s not a given that there will be a 2012 reelection except among some democratic insiders who honestly think and believe they will hold the line despite the history of the last 50 years.

IT’s also what the Republican‘s of the last 50 years believed, and if you buy into the “it’s all rigged anyways” idea, well, there’s some power there.

Which would mean that the HRC is in that power, and if they are, then they are complicit in the overall refusal to advance the causes and rights and equity and equality of LGBT folks.

Which is counter to their missions.

So assimilate or go away is the idea, and it is expressed in the manner of incremental progress, which, even if its not intended to mean transfolks in particular, is still applicable to the wider LGBT community.

They are, in this case, the same thing, the same idea, separate concepts entwined and feeding each other, and they are the same.

They are why I continue to Rage against the Mattachine.

Because the spectre of that long dead movement resides with us still.

Why, though?

Could it be that the idea of fitting in, of acceptance itself, is what pollutes this?

Acceptance cannot be forced. It cannot be brought about by constant exposure. You cannot make someone accept you just by working with them or by being related to them.

Acceptance is something they do because they want to, and they will do it when they reach a point where they are comfortable with you.

Acceptance is always personal always individual, and while much can be said about wide acceptance leading to much of this, it will never reach all people.

There are people who will be nice to you at work, go to work related functions with you, will never once demonstrate how they can’t really find the idea of giving you equality and rights, and so when they go home, away from you, away from work, they will say bad things about you.

And if you don’t think so, think of the people to whom you do it to. Or who you’ve heard do that.

Maybe not about being gay or trans, but maybe about the way someone dresses, or their hobbies, or their personality, or their hair, or their laugh, or how they are a bit too religious.

That isn’t acceptance. That’s tolerance. And tolerance is the virtue many of seek – the idea that one should indeed be free to do such things. Acceptance is too personal, too localized, and too dependent on the individual versus the group.

Assimilationist ideas are all about acceptance, all about being liked and sought out and while that’s all nice and happy and speaks to that personal need we all have, it is not a political concept.

And yet we have it feeding one, and the name of that one is incrementalism. The idea of doing it a bit at a time because that’s how it was done before, in dribbles, forgetting that there is no dribble in “all men are created equal”, there is not bit and there is no little bit at a time in

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

That the idea doesn’t come in bits and pieces, but rather the idea of society integrating that idea does, and that those bits and pieces are not what we are fighting for – we are fighting for some bold, strong, absolute statement that we are indeed created equal – if not superior – to all others, that we, as human beings, are not to be denied jobs, or housing, or medicine, or children, or kinship, or ability to serve our country openly and honestly, or any of thousand things that those who happen to conform to social expectations don’t have to worry about.

That’s not acceptance being sought there. That’s not even tolerance. It sure as hell isn’t incrementalism. It is, plain and simple, equity and equality in the law of the land, so that when people *do* such things, they can be reminded that there is something bigger than their own personal issues at stake here.

That is not assimilation. We can, realistically, not be readily assimilated – to do that, to become part of the great melting part that statue in a harbor is so often spoken of as representing, there must be a change in the social structure of the country, and that could, in all honesty, take longer than the lives of anyone walking the planet today.

We need to realize that, as a group of disparate parts in all our incredible variety and conflated understandings, and we need to be sure that people realize that we are indeed all equal and equitable in our own efforts, never ignoring any other part of the whole.

There will be no second thoughts. There will always be first ones.

But to do that, we have to stop ignoring things, stop avoiding things, stop being afraid of having those loud, angry discussions with lots of hurt feelings, stop being phobic about what bill will pass and how it will do so and simply and absolutely and irrevocably do it all at once.

Because nothing else is acceptable, nothing else is satisfying, and nothing else has the value and worth that that one does.

I, for one, will never find it acceptable, never find it tolerable, that incremental progress is “the only way”. I will not leave behind siblings in a fire – I would much rather die in trying to save them as well as myself.

Some would call that stupid.

I call it a principle.