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TransActive: The Transsexual Taliban

| Jan 11, 2010
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christine_beattyFanatics of every stripe are pretty much a bummer to hang out with after awhile. . . unless you’re a fellow fanatic. They tend to be shrill, angry, single minded, self-righteous, unhinged, unable to absorb reason, unwilling to examine their beliefs, repetitive to the point of agony and they don’t know how to shut the hell up. A brutal portrait, perhaps, but anyone who’s ever encountered a true fanatic will corroborate this description.

Some of the worst and most harmful fanatics are those fanatical about religion. Clearly the worst are the psychopaths who strap on high explosives and detonate themselves amid innocent bystanders. While American fundamentalists aren’t quite that extreme, their insistence on imposing their values on the rest of society hurts people. Conservative “Christians” often spearhead the assault on gay rights and transgender anti-discrimination laws, harming hundreds of thousands if not millions of people.

Then there are the folks whose cause is like a religion to them: it’s always on their mind, they can’t shut up about it, they can’t be reasoned with and they’re often very Angry. No  group describes this better than the tiny clique I call the Transsexual Taliban.

While I have probably written more on the topic of Elitism than any other, most recently my October TransActive column, the Transsexual Taliban — or “TT” for sake of brevity — goes far beyond the superiority and separatism that Kate Bornstein and I discussed over dinner some fifteen years ago. The TT outright vilifies the transgender community, constantly attacking it and anyone who identifies with it, and they are not above some fairly low blows. Some of them even eschew the term “transsexual” and profess to have “Harry Benjamin Syndrome.”

Last month I tangled with the Transsexual Taliban over a recent suicide. I must confess I was at first tempted to name names, but my purpose here is not to incite a pitched battle but to warn others about this clique. As I discovered, character assassination is the TT’s stock in trade — which may “fulfill” the person doing the attacking but it’s a lousy form of activism because it accomplishes nothing while it alienates people. I support their right to believe in maximum stealth and even separatism from the transgender community, but when they vilify people who don’t believe as they do and spread misinformation then it’s time to address the topic.

The other reason I avoid naming names is because it’s pointless to debate the Transsexual Taliban in the handful of blogs and forums they inhabit; they cannot be reasoned with or shamed for their low tactics. However, whenever they spout their dogma in public forums, it may prove useful to counter their wild claims so the general public doesn’t get the impression they speak for most transsexual women.

While I’d previously encountered the toxicity of some TT members in the snakepit of usenet — a place I bolted when I found better forums for support —  I’d not realized until 2008 the TT was actually organized. I believe it was first a comment on an Autumn Sandeen column in the popular LGBT blog pamshouseblend.com that led me to a Transsexual Taliban forum. After a day or two of trying to reason with them and encountering their gang of linebackers method of group attack, I realized this was a group best given a berth as wide as, oh, say, the Chernobyl radiation zone.

I forgot all about them until soon after the death of Christine Daniels (formerly Mike Penner), a Los Angeles Times sportswriter, around Thanksgiving. One of the many commentaries on that tragedy was a hate-filled blog on a “men’s movement” website called The Spearhead where the author went to great lengths to pathologize, ridicule and otherwise vilify transsexual women. Given the right-wing patriarchal bent of that site I expected no better, but what caught my attention was a hateful comment from one of core members of the Transsexual Taliban.

Woven into her hateful screed was “Transgender is a political myth. It’s a lie. 99.9% of everyone you see held up in the media as a ‘transsexual’ or ‘transgender’ in the media. . . is exactly who you think they are; unbalanced crossdressing men, [emphasis added] whether straight or gay. . . I see that someone has discovered Bailey’s ‘work’, and while I have little regard for his writing as science, he has outlined the two types of ‘transgender’ males that exist, not that it takes a genius to point out the obvious. There are fetishistic transvestites who have decided its better to pretend and live ‘full time as women’ rather than face their fetish, and there are somewhat smaller number of gay men who either can’t face being gay, or they play in the margins while they are young and can get away with it.”

Fortunately (I suppose) there was a link to this person’s blog where I discovered something ever more outrageous: she blamed Christine’s Daniel’s death on our community: “I believe transgender dogma contributed to the suicide of Mike Penner. Now why would I say something so awful? For a true transsexual, the advice given by the TG ‘community’ is a death sentence. This is another one of those things that they will never understand about this condition. Using the gay paradigm to ‘treat’ the transsexual condition is a recipe for disaster. This business about ‘coming out’, being ‘honest’, living ‘openly’, and all the rest of the rubbish is a death sentence for a woman.”

Setting aside the argument of “stealth” versus out — because I believe those are personal choices to be made individually and not to be judged for making — the outrage of the above statement is for placing blame for Christine’s death on transgender women instead of on the society that tries to crush our spirit and to force us to live in the bodies and/or gender we were born into. As I noted in last month’s TransActive, in the mid-Eighties social pressure first forced me into an underground existence, and then into detransition and the daily suicide of heroin addiction. There was no transgender community to speak of until a decade later, so it’s false to blame our self-destruction on us.

But wait, the outrage is just beginning.

According to the TT’s dogma, a “true” AKA “real” AKA “classic” AKA “high intensity” transsexual wants no part of the transgender community. She does not want to be out as a transwoman or allied with the gay community. She transitions early, dresses primarily in jeans and Tee tops, and walks entirely away from the families, lives and careers built up over a lifetime. This means abandoning even friends you make in transsexual women’s support groups, such as this forum. One of the TT claims that forums such as these amount to “Support of your being a harmless man who has this odd thing of pretending to be a woman. . . That is not now and never will be any sort of support.”

Older transitioners receive intense, generalized scorn from the TT. “It is difficult to watch men (particularly men of advanced age), having lived a life with children, careers, and no indicators of internal conflict, who then decide to transition. . . Although [transgender] activists won’t admit it, there is a certain amount of selfishness involved with those late-term transitioners. Which makes society as a whole balk when transgenders in those situations not only insist to be accepted, but ask for understanding and sympathy as well.”

Inflammatory invective presented as coolly as if polite conversation is common on these TT sites. For instance, “Transvestites inappropriately dressed in front of school children, or male rapists who declare they are women and then forced into female prisons? All good. Total acceptance on the word of the individual about what they are. Or at least feel like they are, for the moment.” And also, “Transgenders do not own transsexual. Those of us who were born with the condition have simply had enough of the fakes and the phonies pretending to be us.” And, finally, “the term ‘transgender’ . . . means fetishitic [sic] masturbator to me”

If you do not cling to this dogma as strict as any religious catechism, you are generally ostracized or at least belittled by these “true” transsexuals. So can you imagine how a transsexual woman who’s also a transgender activist (like myself) would be greeted in such a forum? Here, I’ll break the suspense…

After several exchanges with the group — requesting they honor the memory of Christine Daniels instead of using male pronouns, refuting the claim that “transgender dogma” killed her and suggesting that attacking the transgender concept was a sign of insecurity — the personal attacks began on me, first with my website and videos. The funniest one was when the blog owner, who knows I had SRS, said, “You know Christine, after watching your videos I think you are just a transvestite. . .Transgender is the same as man.” I guess she considers “transvestite” a massive insult. Pretty sad of her, really.

Three other non-“classic” transwomen and myself got into a debate with about seven of these TTs and the thread mushroomed from 15 to 166 replies in the space of a week. I opted out when I saw there was no reasoning with them and they kept ganging up on opposing points of view, making one of the dissenters so angry she went for a full-on flame war. I knew it was a pointless waste of time to continue, so I left.

So what is the point of this article? That there are extremists who hate the transgender concept so much they dedicate a significant portion of their life and energy to denouncing it? Well, that’s not really a major newsflash to anyone who’s surfed trans websites. That you can’t win an argument with a fanatic? Seems self-evident. That you should avoid the Transsexual Taliban as you would a leper colony? Well. . . maybe yes and maybe no.

Truly it’s a waste to debate them on their own turf, those forums where they daily bash anything transgender. However, when they do spew their dogma about being the only true transsexuals in other public forums, it may be worth a calm, matter-of-fact paragraph stating that the “classic” or “real” or “true” transsexual (or “Harry Benjamin Syndrome”) is the viewpoint of a miniscule minority of extremists. That’s all you need to say.

Evidence bears out that claim, too. Given the small number of participants who post on the even smaller number of TT blogs, it’s apparent their hardcore is perhaps ten of them with no more than a few dozen more who cling to their dogma. An excellent indication of their small numbers is an online petition to GLAAD to “drop the umbrella usage of ‘transgender’ from covering women of transsexual/intersexed history.” The petition has been up since July of 2008 yet has only 152 signatures. That speaks volumes.

Why do so few transsexual women sign this petition, much less participate on these extremist sites? I believe the TT style of discourse drives them away. Their hateful rhetoric, combative tone, gang-style attacks and unwillingness to debate repels those who might otherwise agree with them on some issues. These forums are a textbook example of the self-defeating nature of poorly reined anger. If they ever learned civility or diplomacy, they might actually gain some traction for their self-styled movement.

Therefore, if you find yourself on a website and see a lot of transwomen vilifying transgenders and touting “classic” transsexuals as the only “true” transsexuals, run do not walk to the nearest exit. Trying to debate them only ends up dragging you into the mud. However, if you encounter them in an open forum spouting their One True Religion of “classic” or “true” transsexualism, I suggest a short and sweet reply that theirs is a fringe viewpoint that does not speak for the vast majority of transsexual women. Then, when the TT responds with an ugly reply, they will only prove your point.

Sometimes the best form of activism is just to be a pleasant, calm and reasonable model. If your political opponent is unpleasant, agitated and unreasonable, then half of your work is done for you. She who keeps control wins. There is a time for anger in activism, but history has shown us that even then anger should be focused and controlled, and it works best in large crowds instead of one-on-one exchanges. Since my next column for the year will be “Activism 101” this month’s column is an excellent example of how not to advocate for a cause. Next month I’ll share what I’ve learned about activism over these last twenty-five years.

Happy 2010, everybody!

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Christine Beatty is a transsexual author and journalist, a longtime activist and musician. Formerly from San Francisco, where she co-founded the rock group Glamazon in 1994, she now resides in Los Angeles. Her personal web page is at www.glamazon.net.


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Category: Transgender Opinion

Christine_Beatty

About the Author ()

Christine Beatty is a familiar name to TGForum readers. In 2010 she wrote the TransActive column here, and she was featured in the Perpetual Change column back in 2001 as part of the rock duo Glamazon. Along with her musical endeavors, she is also a TG activist, an author and a poet. She has recently published "Misery Loves Company" and has had articles appear in such publications as Chrysalis Quarterly, Transgender Tapestry, Spectator, and TransSisters.

Comments (2)

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  1. says:

    Oh Yea! Logged on to one of their sites and was attacked just because! The Majority of the comments you have noted hit me in the first 10 min.! Have never been back! I go TT on HRC! Wish that HRC did not claim to represent ME or US Trans. people! Great Post By the way! It was very interesting!

  2. ronnierho ronnierho says:

    There are nutjobs all around us, aren’t there? Folks make themselves feel better about themselves by drawing lines in the sand and saying “you can’t play with us. You’re different.” People like this, I suspect, whether they’re trans or not, are, as you point out “insecure”. It’s a way of reinforcing that thin shell of identity that they’ve latched onto. And they go on the offensive, because they don’t believe their defense is very strong.

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