The Amancio Project Vigil

I received this message in the comments section, but I thought it deserved greater notice. This is a follow-up to my original blog entry from June 12th, 2005.

June 27,2005
The Amancio Project Vigil surpassed expectations. The tone and mood was one of joy, sadness and resolve.
Because of the dreadful murders Yuma yesterday of six people (four children), the news media came early and left before many vigil attendees arrived and left before the speakers delivered their messages. A head count went over 100.
Amancio’s family was there in force, all wearing t-shirts with Amancio’s picture on them. That was a beautiful sight by itself. Many people drew and wrote their thoughts onto “The Memory Wall.” A video was shown depicting Amancio’s life from early child hood to a few days before his death. It was obvious he was a happy child, spunky adolescent, spirited teenager and talented and giving adult. A poem by Don Gilbert, “One of Liberty’s Children” dealing with hate crime was read by Don and a framed copy handed to Amancio’s mom.
Speakers included myself as the Organizer of The Yuma County Gay Meetup and The Amancio Project, Representative Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona House of Representatives (first speaking for herself then delivering a message from Arizona Representative Amanda Aguirre), Luis Heredia representing Congressman Grijalva, Brenda Galvan Aguirre from the Arizona Leadership Institute, Donna Rose with the Human Rights Campaign, Lori Girshick the Anti-Violence Project Coordinator for Wingspan in Tucson, a hate crime victim’s mother whose son was murdered three years ago and the culprits have not been caught, a member of the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, Vigil coordinator Hanna, with the Yuma County Gay Rights Meetup.
No Yuma city or county representative was in the audience, an observation which did not go unnoticed by Rep. Sinema and Mr. Heredia.
A wreath was presented to the family. The mother and the grandmother then handed out “Angel” pins and small crosses to everyone while the candles were being prepared (unfortunately, it became too breezy to light them).
It is now incumbent upon all of us to keep this spirit alive and the momentum going.
Michael H. Baughman
The Amancio Project (still under construction)

Transvestites and Terminology, Redux

I wanted to reiterate one point: I’m not calling for people to start using the term transvestite if it makes them uncomfortable. I am all for people calling themselves what they themselves choose. In the same light, I’d love to see crossdressers accept the fact that some people will opt for transvestite- whether it’s because they’re from the UK, as a queer strategy, or for any other reason. We don’t have to agree on terminology in order to educate, by any stretch, and angrily arguing with another person with a male body who wears women’s clothes about what he calls himself seems counter-productive; likewise, writing a letter in response to a journalist’s use of the word is also pointless. My over-arching point was that it’s not the terminology that will make or break the chance of crossdressers and transvestites achieving public acceptance, but education as to the broader issues.
But I also think understanding where terms come from is important. Transvestite was coined by a fellow transvestite; I’ve just learned that Magnus Hirschfeld crossdressed (though if anyone can back up that claim, I’d like to see the evidence, as I’ve never run across it before). As much as I can understand a community choosing a new term over a word that had become loaded with negative connotations, I also strongly feel that taking back those words – emptying them of their charge – is equally valid. (I just learned that ‘Suffragette’ was a slur against the women who called themselves Suffragists, in fact, as if to minimalize and ‘make cute’ their issue. The Suffragists were not deterred by the slur and it certainly didn’t stop them in their tracks, since they won the right for women to vote not long after.)
Again, what words we use is not the important issue.
One of my themes recently has been that we need to be more gentle with each other within the trans community. We also need to ‘wait and see’ a bit more. I was accused not too long ago of using the term ‘real woman’ in one of my workshops. I was made aware of this fact by a transwoman who hadn’t read my book and who told me how offended she was, how hateful and hierarchical the term was, about a minute after my workshop ended. I was dumbfounded. As any of you who speak to groups know, you’re not always conscious of every word choice while you’re speaking. Still, I was pretty sure I hadn’t used the term – except perhaps in quotes, to indicate what someone else might have said. (Later, a transwoman and friend of mine, when she heard how upset I was, confessed that she had been the one to use the term in my workshop, and immediately volunteered to explain to the angry transwoman that she had attacked me unnecessarily. At the end of the day, the issue was resolved, but not before I’d felt attacked and shaken for having said something I never said.)
I’ve learned, as a feminist, that pointing out that I’m not a girl but a woman is met often with raised eyebrows. And this, within the trans community, where using the term transvestite instead of crossdresser or ‘real woman’ instead of ‘woman raised female’ can cause flame wars online and arguments in person! It’d be ironic if it were even a little bit funny, but it’s not. The constant use of ‘GG’ offends me regularly, for two reasons: because chromosomes are not necessarily the definitive evidence for one’s gender/sexing at birth, and because I’m over the age of 18 (as I like to remind my dad). But is it a big deal? No, it’s not. I mention it when someone refers to me as a girl, but if another partner or SO uses it for herself, I’m not going to correct her and tell her what she should be offended by.
Righteous anger over how transpeople are misrepresented is often needed, but a lot of the bickering and judgments we make of each other are unnecessary and distracting. I’ve read letters sent to newspaper editors, journalists, and the Lambda Literary Awards people that horrify me. Do we need to be righteously angry and insulting in order to get our point across? I’ve read exchanges on message boards that are more full of hate than I’d expect from my worst enemy. I understand anger, as I’m a punk rocker at heart, but are we really going to gain allies and educate the larger community by telling everyone they’re insensitive idiots? Must we use full-blown, dramatic rhetoric every time someone gets a pronoun wrong, or refers to a transsexual as transgender?
The question is whether or not we want to be heard beyond the trans ghetto, and if we do – what we need to get there. The community needs to be a place of support and power, a place that we go back to, to recharge and energize ourselves for the larger work of educating the general public. Time spent arguing about semantics among ourselves is time not spent coming up with creative ways to represent the trans community to the rest of the world in a positive way. Confronting each other instead of calmly suggesting a mistake makes it harder to collaborate in the future. Our words matter, but our attitudes matter more: the goal is tolerance by larger society, not who wins points on the message boards for telling a fellow transperson what-for.