Blogger’s note: this rambles a but more than I had expected when I started it. But after reading over it, I’ve decided to publish anyway.

I’ve been writing quite a bit about transgender issues and persons, and today, I want to direct you to a powerful post on HuffPost Gay Voices. After you read it, contrast it with Nelson Garcia’s post, and my open letter to Nelson Garcia regarding transgender. This grouping posts illustrate wonderfully the value of sharing our stories as opposed to treating whole communities as if they are monolithic, or that they have only one voice that represents the whole of a community.

Kayley Whalen’s story speaks for itself. I especially appreciated her description of the older woman she worked with who wore the red symbol. How much I wished she had had whatever she needed to come out to this woman, and yet I relate in a big way to how difficult that moment might be.

While this issue comes up each year surrounding the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, trans issues have been getting much more more media coverage overall, begun earlier this year as trans advocates chastised RuPaul of use of the term “shemale” and “tranny.” Communities seem to exist partly reliant upon their ability to determine what is appropriate and what isn’t- this is a way by which the boundaries are created and identity determined. Yet, these instances demonstrate how much more complex it all is than that.

I remember roughly the first time I heard of the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, and from all I heard it was utopia, though a utopia I could never visit as I was a man. It took many years too for me to come and understand Gender as something other than Sex. For me, my identity as male is so connected to my body and my genitalia, although I’ve come to see that for many, their awareness of their gender. Is not aligned with their bodies. And for me as an outsider, I see these notions of body, sex and gender as intertwined in the struggle surrounding trans exclusion at the festival.

I also remember my first awareness of a woman’s community. I came out in Columbus Ohio, where at the time, there was only one bar with a cover change. A lesbian bar had a cover for male patrons of $20 though there was no cover for women. I never visited, and this type of exclusionary behavior was at odds with the expression of unity expressed by woman I met surrounding the Ohio Gay and Lesbian Rights Coalition, and organization I was involved with when I first came out. But over time I also came to understand why women-only space was important.

Here in Pittsburgh a number of years later, I came to a different appreciation of this notion of women’s space and the fallacy of unified monolithic communities. A women’s collective existed on the South Side called Bloomers which was part restaurant and part bar/ gathering place. A controversy arose when a female artist’s work which was displayed, enraged a patron such that the patron destroyed a painting. The painting contained penises, and this patron didn’t believe she should have to view penises while eating. The act was violent and attacking. Rather than ask to be seated elsewhere or for the painting to be removed, she damaged it- an act quite contrary to the notion of a “safe place” based on respect for all women. This female artist’s voice was unwelcome, at least by this patron.

I have a different opinion from Whalen in just one regard. What led to the festival feeling like “home” really had nothing to do with feminism or being a womyn’s space. Rather it had everything to do with being a part of a group who actively builds a sense of the community. This isn’t about feminism exactly, rather it is about bucking patriarchy which is not the same thing as feminism. It is about egalitarianism and that has nothing to do with gender or sex. For some, this sense of egalitarianism happens at places like Michigan Womyn’s Festival, Burning Man, or on retreats, or spiritual journeys. It can happen while starting groups, or in many other ways. Too often, this upheaval of patriarchy  is called feminism where a power-with mentality takes precedence over a power-over model. But as the various stories here that I’ve mentioned demonstrate, a power-over mind-set isn’t connected to gender or sex. )Power-over dynamics can happen in any group, because no matter who we are, or where we are, we have been raised in a culture where a power-over mentality rules. We can fight that structural influence and at times do well to act differently, but when conflict erupts, it can easily return.

We have always experienced an element of the tension between egalitarianism and the status quo in the LGBTQ Rights movement. Indeed, the very notion of including the letter “Q” is an example, as well as Garcia’s concerns of how the trans movement is hurting the gay men’s community. It is structural and systemic- that we draw fault lines at any intersection when fear pops up or we get challenged in ways that make us uncomfortable.

Whalen’s piece isn’t the only one to recently be published. Check out this piece by Dana Beyer as well.

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