Come out, come out, wherever you areTrans Progressive Thursday, February 16th, 2012
Commentary: Trans Progressive
“The Mayor of Castro Street,” gay civil rights activist Harvey Milk, said this in his 1978 speech, That’s What America Is:
“Gay brothers and sisters … You must come out. Come out … to your parents. I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives … come out to your friends … if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors … to your fellow workers … to the people who work where you eat and shop … come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene.”
And then there’s Bayard Rustin. He was a black and gay civil rights advocate. He was instrumental in creating the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; he was the key organizer for the March on Washington. Over his lifetime, he was arrested 24 times in the struggle for civil and human rights.
In an interview with Joseph Beam in 1987, Rustin stated this:
“[I]f people do not organize in the name of their interest, the world will not take them as being serious. And that is the chief reason that every person who is gay should join some gay organization. Because he must prove to the world that he cares about his own freedom. People will never fight for your freedom if you have not given evidence that you are prepared to fight for it yourself. Incidentally, that’s the reason that every gay who is in the closet is ultimately a threat to the freedom of gays. I don’t want to seem intolerant to them and I think we have to say that to them with a great deal of affection, but remaining in the closet is the other side of the prejudice against gays. Because until you challenge it, you are not playing an active role in fighting it.”
I belong to the one subcommunity of the broader LGBT community that people graduate from – the trans community. What I mean is that trans people tend to come out of the closet at the beginning of their transitions, receiving the assistance they need from the community and sometimes joining the struggle for trans people’s civil rights, but usually before four years have passed these folks drop out of the community.
It’s easy to say to my trans siblings, “Come out, come out, wherever you are.” But, knowing that when many come out that they are subjected to harassment and discrimination that they otherwise wouldn’t be subjected to, and knowing many trans people don’t want to live their lives being perceived as anything but the sex of their gender identities, it’s not an easy ask. Coming out of the closet may mean that a trans person may lose his, her, or hir friends, and perhaps lose their ability to obtain or keep jobs – the reality of asking trans people to be out of the closet is an extremely hard ask.
But, we are at that place now in the growing trans civil rights movement where what Bayard Rustin said about how staying in the closet is the other side of prejudice is true for trans people. Trans people can’t afford invisibility if we want antidiscrimination protections.
Even knowing what a hard ask it is to say trans people should be out of the closet and not choosing “stealth,” I’ll ask it anyway.
Come out, come out, wherever you are my trans siblings. Trans people need to be out of the closet not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of those trans people who come out after us – especially for those next generations of trans youth.
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