Letter to the Editor

| Nov 11, 2019
Spread the love

This open letter is one that I hope makes you mad. But it’s from the heart.

Years ago, I took the advice of JoAnn Roberts and Angela Gardner of CDS Publications to seek out transgender support groups. At that time, this was a very good idea.  But unless I’m working with a therapist in a legitimate group therapy setting, I no longer do support groups. Neither do I do social media. Both issues, I believe, have worked together in a past constructive phase that’s no longer constructive, but even dangerous to transfolk, speaking broadly.

It isn’t that I’m against trans friends getting together. Far from it. But here’s the deal:

1.       Consider the case of Transgender San Francisco, one of the great granddaddy groups in the nation. It was huge in its heyday. If you count its size today in terms of how many are connected on Meetup.com, you’d think they’re bigger than ever, yet they can’t keep positions in the Executive Committee filled like they did in former years. TGSF declined in the mid 2000’s after years of its budget falling into chronic red ink by investing heavily in an annual beauty pageant. With Internet on the rise, more and more members asked what the point of being a member even was. For years, the club became a “shadow of itself” to quote the  former editor of its newsletter. After a hiatus to concentrate on transition and career I opted to put in a membership in TGSF again. After some months of hearing nothing from TGSF except an automated message acknowledging receipt of dues, I e-mailed the officers. One responded: their Treasurer who stated that TGSF no longer has memberships and no longer has a newsletter.

Holy stinkin’ mackerel!

I answered, stating that I will count my dues as simply a donation, but because their website advertises memberships, they’re falsely advertising if those memberships don’t exist. http://tgsf.org/membership/donatejoin/

So, what the formerly dynamic organization of TGSF has become is little more than an online info-board for socials and maybe attendance at local events, which is less like an organization and more after the manner of a flash mob gathering periodically to dance the Polka for 10 minutes at Fisherman’s Wharf.

2.       Consider the case of Spokane Trans People which came together about 2010 as a circle of friends. It grew so that its Facebook group now shows over 400 members. How many now show up at a meeting? Maybe 5, if anybody shows up at all, and I was stood up multiple times.

However, it has become plain that unless one maintains a Facebook account (I got rid of mine a year ago… more on that later), one need not show up anyway. What are the people doing at meetings? Dead silence reigns at times when Facebook account holders have their noses stuck in their smart phones, communicating in Facebook, which is not only silly but downright rude to all who drove miles to connect with like-minded people face-to-face instead of online.

Worse yet, the people aren’t even like-minded. At least 1 officer resigned every month. One constantly sneered when not engaged with his smart phone, and rarely spoke to me except to insult efforts I might make, even something as simple as baking a loaf of bread. Another bragged about how easy it is to break into people’s houses. Clearly, these aren’t the kind of people I would feel comfortable inviting to my home for dinner and even if I did invite them, I doubt if any would come… except maybe the one who breaks into houses just to find out where I live.

So, Spokane Trans People is clearly set to self-destruct. A fellow member of the Inland Northwest Business Alliance (an LGBT Chamber of Commerce) told me that this has been the cycle in Spokane for many years. Somebody starts an organization, it grows, and then breaks up after a few years. Then again, the memory of that member didn’t go back before the Internet fostered the kind of trans organizations it has.

3.       Consider the case of the Countessa’s Girls, formerly in Studio City CA. Their heyday survived the demise of the Queen Mary Showlounge and The Lodge, both venues frequented by transpeople. Membership was contingent on 2 things: (1) approval by fashion designer Countessa Alexander and (2) membership in a dedicated Yahoo! Group.

There were many very good things that Countessa did for the local trans community, especially in terms of coaching in feminine arts, fashion sense, and deportment. She even hired help from the trans community, even providing medical insurance with transition benefits. But she has overstated her accomplishments to tootle her own horn. She claimed to have come up with the idea of transition benefits in the first place, but in truth, the City and County of San Francisco was doing that before she did.

She has also been one who thought to pontificate whether one should stay in a relationship or not, even displaying panties in her window with a taunting “Dump Him!” in sequins to emphasize her decision. I know because she tried to do this with me, warning me also, “Don’t cross me.” Not only did I cross her, I refused her increasingly bellicose phone calls and resigned from the group. I married the man who helped me through my most dangerous years of transition. He died last year, leaving me as his sole heir. I think I made the right decision.

But I have to ask what gives someone like that the right to pontificate in the details of their clients’ lives? Nothing I can see. When this level of iron-fisted control happens through a business, a group has crossed the line from support group to corporate cult.

It’s an exploitative thing, designed to exalt the leader, and it backfires sooner or later. Countessa’s shop has long closed down. An online site continues, complete with the Congressional proclamation her adoring members petitioned the local politico to extol Countessa’s virtues. Is Countessa herself still alive? I really don’t know. If she is, I doubt if she would even want to be in contact with me.

4.       Cultism takes other forms as well. Consider BeingMe, operating through what is now the LGBT Center OC in Santa Ana CA. For years it operated as a discussion group for those M2F, led by one individual connected with the center before it was relinquished to a transitioning person from the outside who also moved the members who wanted to stick around to a local restaurant after every meeting. Her presence was intimidating to say the least. When she locked eyes with mine, I often felt like she was ready to punch me out.

When she left, another girl from New York City took over who proudly admitted to being a control freak and who also claimed to carefully screen her members. She pretended to conduct the discussion group like a therapist but obviously had no credentials as such. She went around the room prying into details of members’ lives, demanding also that they respond in terms of how they “feel”, refusing to accept any philosophic approach. My response to her, “Then I have absolutely nothing to tell you,” and walked out, never to return.

In which case, BeingMe has become a cultlike entity as well, not in the corporate sense, but in the sense of falling under an imperious leader who pretends to be what she is not.

Seeing this paltry level of diligence, service, and opportunity in trans support groups, I can no longer vouch that any of them support anyone as they claim to do.  If an organization doesn’t want to be anything more than a get-together for games, so be it. Let it be a gaming group. That’s their privilege and decision. But that’s not a support group. If a group takes the form of a cult of any kind, that’s not a genuine support group either.

It means, it’s time to look for other avenues by which to offer meaningful help and mentoring for upcoming generations of people with variations in sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.

By now we’ve arrived at a horrible period in trans history. It’s bad enough that the rights of transpeople been so much under threat in the current political climate, so much so that Brynn Tannehill http://www.brynntannehill.com/http://www.brynntannehill.com/ looks for a complete reversal and return to oppression. But we’re experiencing much worse: the subversion of the laissez faire social consciousness we had known as transpeople in the 1990’s when Riki Wilchins, Holly Boswell, and Sandy Stone had re-energized the community. For some years we had hope of a unified trans community, transcending the Phil Donahue stage that JoAnn Roberts so successfully made use of to advance the cause of heterosexual cross dressers in the 1980’s.

But that’s not all. The trans community has increasingly relied upon online social media. For many, that’s where the trans community is. While attempting to bring us all together, social media has actually produced an entirely different set of accomplishments designed to exploit members, as various writers have cited:

1.      Providing a medium where people hurl insults at one another with impunity, fostering an increased crudeness in daily life.

2.       Cross-cultural evidence of promoting body image issues and self-objectification, most particularly in adolescents, leading to a host of psychiatric problems.

3.       Using “like” systems to foster a disproportionate drive for approval and to commoditize social status, causing people to actually buy followers and “likes”.

4.       Providing an illusion of control over one’s life while keeping the user addictively engaged.

5.       Facebook, and to a lesser extent, Twitter and Instagram have oriented their platforms to marketing instead of connecting people.

6.      Personal data is routinely bought and sold to the highest bidder. Facebook got called out in the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018. But further abuses have been cited, despite Mark Zuckerberg’s “testimony” to Congress that Facebook will do better. How about that clickbait that regularly appears on Facebook feeds including idiotic “tests” to keep you engaged while a company harvests your data like a thief.

7.       The posting of online data has advanced a sub-culture of doxxers. Sophia LaBelle of Assigned Male is only one victim of many.

This has created the toxic universe in which responsible members stand no chance against the diatribes of the hateful and may even die as result once their personal information is released. When Facebook included identities other than “male” and “female”, it was hailed as an advancement. But there’s clearly a dark side to this. While one may appear online as “transgender”, that person risks exposure to hostile elements, even if that person uses a blocking feature.

Consider this: if social media is so ready to sell us out to marketers like Facebook did with Cambridge Analytica, how much more readily will it provide information to a hostile regime like Trump/Pence who actively seeks to destroy the lives of transpeople? While Snopes.com: https://www.snopes.com/news/2017/10/19/mike-pence-hang-gay-people/ spoke of a remark that Pence wants to “hang gay people” (presumably speaking about all LGBT) being a joke, we have already seen the seriousness of White House “jokes” as a continuing pattern of disinformation… and yes, Snopes stood by the story.

If indeed Trump is re-elected, Brynn Tannehill’s fears may be realized. If our lot is to become so precarious, then I’d say that anyone is a fool who thinks it’s good to devote so much time and energy every day to social media. If you think social media is safe, then you’re taking corporate America’s longstanding pattern of blarney at face value like a child often does with an abusive parent a-la-Stockholm Syndrome or like a commoner does with George Orwell’s fictional Big Brother.

This is madness. The trans community is fragmenting, and social media is at the very center of that fragmentation, despite what one may intuitively expect. Trans experience has been subjugated from the Perceptionism that fostered recognition of the rights of transpeople in civil rights law to a Subjectivism more gross than that the cultivated Existential Subjectivism of Søren Kierkegaard, even in the image of an infantile Madonna who says in wickedly sultry tones, “I want my MTV.”

I mean, just look at what has happened with even defining the community. “Transgender” has returned to the usage as coined originally by Dr. John Oliven in Sexual Deviations (1965) in opposition to Holly Boswell’s “umbrella term.” Transitioning peoples have been given full reign while alienating cross dressers who had given so much for so many years. Drag performers have also been ostracized as “transphobic” for using slurs as in-your-face castigation of stereotypes. The broad-spectrum of gender non-conforming peoples often display deep resentment of those who transition, often not wanting to talk to us at all. On top of that, intersex people formally decided to go their own way in March 2017 as a “separate and distinct” community from transpeople through The Darlington Statementhttps://darlington.org.au/statement/

This action of this newly defined community was personally shocking to me. I had worked alongside intersex peoples when serving a San Francisco task force for civil rights. Transpeople have done a criminally poor job of articulating their concerns while devoting all energy to transition issues. Now I’m no longer a sister to intersex people. I can be nothing better than an ally.

So, I no longer participate in social media… period. I simply don’t trust it. I look at the fruit thereof and see a dung heap forgotten by a negligent sanitation department. What do I do now?

I’m returning to approaches that might be reminiscent of Jenny June and Louise Lawrence: old school to what’s now called, “old school.” Through mostly physical correspondence, word of mouth, I build my own open-ended circle of friends. I even have free-standing study space planned for next year, whether it’s to help families of trans kids with academic tutoring, a place for people to come and learn trans history, a place for working out individual spiritualities, or just to talk over coffee or tea to hash out their decisions about where to take their experience next, whatever that may be. 

It’s more basic, more grass roots than anything our current “grass roots organizations” are doing, and I’m engaging as far as my health permits, for I’m noticeably aging.

For I can’t throw up an organization or an Internet page and expect to change the world or even gain interest in a climate of information overload. I can only change myself and perhaps help the few I meet along the way; for the “greatest generation” is yet to come. I hope it comes soon. The planet will need it.

Lynnea Urania Stuart

Licensed Steam Engineer, Unlimited, City of Los Angeles, Certified Construction Estimator, SI Division 5 Specialist, Secretarial, Bookkeeping, Lapidary, Author
Member: Inland Northwest Business Alliance, International Gem Society, Spokane Rock Rollers

Like to make a comment? Login here and use the comment area below.

  • Yum

Spread the love

Tags: , , , ,

Category: Letters To The Editor


About the Author ()

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. MelissaD MelissaD says:

    I agree. I believe you discount the point that the “TG Umbrella” is not about us, but about creating a political cause. It’s the next “boogieman” for the two parties to fight over. The groups is to broad for a one size fits all approach. I believe if you look at it with political lenses, the SJW’s and the college kids protesting, it’s really more about politics. Gay marriage is now the law of the land, so now they are onto the T. The T was too small, so they started adding on groups. The Gay community tolerated us, but they also often through the T under the bus. Look at Mattachine Society’s message “We are Just Like You”. Trans didn’t fit that mold.

    We are but cannon fodder for the political machine. Nothing more.