Yes, she's strange and different...but not THAT different.

11 January 2006

Community?

There has been a lot of discussion out on the WWW about the transgendered community, but no one has really stated what the term “community” means to them. That got me to thinking about what it means to me. Dictionary.com has several definitions for the word “community”. The first one defines a tangible, physical community: “A group of people living in the same locality and under the same government” and “The district or locality in which such a group lives.”. I’m going to skip over that one since I’m pretty sure that it really wasn’t what was being discussed. There are some pretty sizable transgendered populations in various and sundry cities around the world, but I don’t think any of those populations has set up their own community … yet.

The second and third definitions, however, are more abstract and virtual and much more likely candidates for the meaning I was seeking. They are:

2. a. A group of people having common interests: the scientific community; the international business community.
    b. A group viewed as forming a distinct segment of society: the gay community; the community of color.

3. a. Similarity or identity: a community of interests.
    b. Sharing, participation, and fellowship.

The problem with these two definitions above is that they are pretty much opposites in meaning. Definition 2 is about a group that is separated based on differences; definition 3 is about a group that has its basis in similarities. One definition is EXclusive and the other is INclusive. But which one is being used when people discuss the transgendered community?

Personally, I think folks have a tendency to utilize the exclusive definition in their own notion of a community and that’s really too bad. We have a tendency to want to include in our “community” others most like us and yet also different from everyone else. But if that is carried to its ultimate conclusion, you end up with a whole lot of communities of one. No one is exactly like anyone else. We’re all different, but I think we all have a lot more in common than our differences.

I realize that I might not have a lot in common with a drag king. Oh, wait … that’s not a good analogy: we both dress up as guys every now and then. Well, how about not having a lot in common with drag queens? No, the fact that I’ve been flamboyant and over the top on occasion are too well known for me to say that. Surely, the FtM boyz? No, we both know what it’s like to want to live life as a different gender. And I know that I obviously have plenty in common with crossdressers and transvestites, too. Maybe the exclusive definition, definition 2, doesn’t fit me when it comes to the transgendered community. Maybe it doesn’t fit anyone, if you stop and think about it.

How about a bigger community? Can we stand apart there? How about the larger Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer community? Depending upon your definition, the time of day, phase of the moon, what I’m wearing, who I’m with and/or how I feel I may at any given time fall into the general category of any (or maybe even several) of those components. So, maybe that’s not very exclusionary for me or for others, either. And ironically, isn’t one of the included components of LGBTQ, Transgender? (... and can we GET any more initials in there?)

Yes, we who have a gender that is not in congruence with our biology or our societal roles are different. We are not the same as the majority of society, but there are a whole lot more of us than might be apparent. I think we spend too much time trying to sort ourselves out as being a part of this group or that group - or community - and then trying to figure out if others belong in that same group with us. We dwell on definition 2 above when we should be concentrating on definition 3. I believe we should put our efforts into figuring out who else we can get to join with us because they might be like us in some way, however remote that might be. The more people who join our community (and joining is voluntary), the bigger our community will become and the more power we will wield.

So, what do the folks who have been posting stuff on the WWW mean when they speak of the “transgendered community”? I don’t know - my telepathy hasn't been working well lately. However, the next time you hear or read that term, you might want to ask the person who uttered it or wrote it what it means to them.

  • On 1/13/2006 12:21 PM, Blogger Jen said…

    "The more people who join our community (and joining is voluntary), the bigger our community will become and the more power we will wield."

    I think about this issue often. It is obvious why someone who is a transsexual would care about obtaining legal protections inclusive of gender identity, for example. But what about a gay person who is not gender-variant (I realize that some folks would say being gay is a form of gender non-normativity)? Does he have a stake in whether or not trans people get protections in, for example, employment? What about a straight, gender-normative, disabled person who is told by her boss essentially that her body does not conform to the way the workplace has been set up, so she cannot be "accommodated" adequately or "reasonably" as the statute (ADA) goes?

    This is where I think about coalition-building among groups that do not have power. It always makes me think of this quote:

    First they came for the Communists,
    But I didn't speak because I wasn't a Communist.
    Next they came for the Jews,
    But I said nothing because I wasn't a Jew.
    Then they came for the Catholics,
    But I remained silent because I was a Protestant.
    Finally they came for me,
    But by that time there was no one left to speak."
    -Martin Niemoeller

     
  • On 1/13/2006 2:34 PM, Blogger DeniseUMLaw said…

    I wrote an article similar to this subject many years ago entitled "Alphabet Soup" wherein I lamented the trend to exclude people rather than include them. Certainly, there is value in creating community around some exclusive measures (just as the extreme of 1 person communities is ridiculous (one which I also used in my article, by the way) so is the other extreme of a community of 6 billion). Still, as it relates to the trans population, I favor inclusiveness over exclusiveness. Hell, I even accept you weird people who aren't real because you haven't had surgery (this is an inside joke between Jami and me, don't throw stones!). :)

     
  • On 1/13/2006 3:34 PM, Blogger Jami said…

    Hey, I've had surgery; I've had several, surgeries, in fact! OK , I haven't had THAT surgery but then again, I haven't made up my mind about a lot of other things in my life, either.

    And please, y'all, don't pick on Denise - I laughed at her remark. For a long time, I had vanity plates that read "WEERD". I revel in being different.

    And if I did plagarize you, Denise, it was totally unintentional, and I do apologize. I probably took your message to heart and made it my own because it was so in line with my own belief system. We just tend to believe in a lot of the same things and it shows.

     
  • On 1/14/2006 5:48 PM, Blogger DeniseUMLaw said…

    Heck, Jami, I never meant to even remotely imply that you may have plagarized me! I mentioned the article only to show again how alike we think in some things!

     

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