Baby and Bathwater

There is a tendency, I think, for those of us whose goal is creating a world that is a little more self aware of sexism, racism, transphobia, and the rest, to dismiss writers and artists based on a single opinion, utterance, work of art, song, etc.

  • Is all of Kate Bornstein’s work necessarily discredited because she defended the use of the T word?
  • Is all of Dan Savage’s work for shit because of his denial of bisexual existence and/or his transphobia? 
  • Is there any delicacy in recognizing that there was a moment in time in which being “trans amorous” was a radical and trans-positive position? 

I think about this stuff because a lot of what I’ve written over the years could be interpreted as transphobic now, or, at the very least, problematic. Some of it was at the time, too. I am not, nor have I ever been, a ‘respect your elders’ sort of person, but I’m also pretty turned off by the complete lack of historical context some seem to exist in, as if fine-tuned arguments about the nature of transphobia haven’t been happening all along: As if we didn’t debate ‘transgender’ vs ‘transgendered’. As if no one has ever called themselves a transvestite proudly. As if…

To some degree, it’s one of the reasons I feel myself not wanting to write another book about anything trans related; for starters, I think it was useful for a cis feminist liminally trans type like myself to do the work that I did at the time, but now? I think transness is in good hands for the most part, although I’m happy to pipe in when and where it’s needed.

But mostly I feel myself stymied by the idea that anything I might put into the public sphere now would be so roundly shot down on a technicality that it’s really just not worth the effort. I prefer hanging out in this tiny corner of the internet doing my thing, being read by folks who appreciate what I do, and talking to people one on one who might need some help finding resources or the like.

I’m tired of people who have opinions but who don’t do anything or create anything or legislate anything. I feel more much occupied by the work and much less interested in the debate.

Maybe it’s an older vs. younger activist sort of thing and I’m officially middle-aged, but from here on in I feel like I’m going to be asking a lot more questions of critics far and wide: well, what have you done? Who have you helped? Have you created, or tried creating, anything of lasting value? In a sense it’s an age-old problem: This doesn’t satisfy, says the critic; So what have you got? says the artist.

And out goes the bathwater, baby and all.

Helen Boyd

is the author of My Husband Betty and She's Not the Man I Married.

2 Comments

  1. I would add, is Caitlyn Jenner no good because she’s republican and wealthy? God knows the litmus test to really being trans is being a democrat and poor.

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