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Being an ally vs. just telling others how to be an ally

Commentary: Trans Progressive

Isis King

Most folk who aren’t part of the T of the LGBT community aren’t aware of the divides between some of those who identify as transsexual, but not as transgender, and those who identify as both transsexual and transgender. To me, the divide seems to be about whether or not one embraces diversity as a value or not.

And, this divide couldn’t be more visible than in model Isis King’s recent participation in American Apparel’s Legalize Gay advertising campaign – fifteen percent of all proceeds from the sale of the T-shirts benefit GLAAD’s work to share stories that build support for equality.

For those who don’t know, Isis King was a past participant in the reality show America’s Top Model. She didn’t win in the year she was on the show, but participation in that show arguably left her as America’s best-known transgender model.

And transgender she is: Isis identifies as both transsexual and transgender.

Isis was recently approached by GLAAD and American Apparel to be this year’s face for the Legalize Gay advertising campaign. Isis described how she became involved with American Apparel’s ad campaign in an interview with Fashionista.com.

“I got involved through GLAAD. We have worked together on quite a few things now – including the I AM: Trans People Speak video campaign, which aims to lift the voices of a diverse range of trans people – and they thought of me for this amazing opportunity. They told me what it was for and I knew this campaign would be a tremendous step forward for everyone, including fashion, American Apparel and trans women with a dream!”

Well, Media Advocates Giving National Equality to Transsexual & Transgender People (MAGNET) has attempted to organize a boycott of American Apparel and GLAAD over the advertising campaign. As MAGNET’s Ashley Love explains,

GLAAD and American Apparel are partnering on a Pride month campaign with Isis King (Tyra Bank’s Americas Next Top Model’s first contestant born with transsexualism) modeling T-shirts that read “Legalize Gay;” however, Isis is a heterosexual woman, not a “gay” man. Gender identity or a transsexual medical condition is not the same thing as sexual orientation. The word “gay” is not interchangeable with the word transsexual. The advertisements, perhaps unintentionally, send misleading and nonaffirming messaging about transsexual and transgender realities.”

MAGNET’s Ashley Love has told people she’s labeled as “Gay Inc.” that they need to learn to be “true allies” of transsexual people and engage in coalition building. In contrast, Isis King is a trans woman who’s building coalitions at community intersections: Isis demonstrated her support of her gay peers in the LGBT community by wearing pro-gay T-shirts in a pro-LGBT advertising campaign. To me, it’s the difference between being an ally versus just telling others how to be an ally to you.

I’m going to stand with those who are taking action to build intra- and extra-LGBT community coalitions; count me as standing with Isis King in her efforts toward embracing diversity and community building.

Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=26201

Posted by on Jul 5, 2012. Filed under Trans Progressive. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

10 Comments for “Being an ally vs. just telling others how to be an ally”

  1. GLAAD two years ago was the *only* national LGBT group to donate funds to ONE Bowling Green, which was formed to keep one expanded and one new non-discrimination ordinance on the books which protected residents on the basis of gender identity and expression/sexual orientation among other conditions.

  2. There is a major difference between being an ally of transsexual people and an ally of transgender people. This, I realize is lost on some, but transsexual people are not served by being linked to homosexuality for example. This just contributes to long standing ignorance. Nor are they served by being linked to people who are motivated by a desire to transgress gender, destroy binary gender, or who engage in fetishistic behavior.

    • Cristan Williams

      As a post-op transsexual woman who owes her life and her freedom to the trans community, I call BS.

      You can pretend that being transsexual is *JUST* a medical condition (like laser eye surgery) that doesn’t entail breaking just about every gender stereotype in Western culture if you like, but it’s a demonstrably spurious view to hold. I would be delusional if I chose to pretend that my biology, medical history and life experience doesn’t transgress gender stereotypes and/or that I’ve experienced discrimination based solely upon that transgression.

      • It is a medical condition and to make more of transsexualism is a sign of someone who doesn’t want to lead a normal life. Someone who prefers to lead a life that makes them stand out and feeds into the exhibitionist nature of many who are not well adjusted.
        Very much like having one’s testicles removed and proclaiming they are female when in fact they would never pass a visual inspection by a physician.

        Being cured of my transsexual birth defect was the most liberating thing in my life, I am normal and female and can marry in the state of California when I find the man I love.

      • Well, You can “call” whatever you want, and as usual, I will laugh at it. To be quite honest, I have no doubt that what you describe is precisely your experience. But that is the extent to which you can speak without sounding rather foolish. The problem is, you are insisting on imposing your opinions on people who not only donor agree, but find them offensive as well. So, while I would never insist that you were not motivated by a desire to transgress gender, you have no basis or right to insist that I was.

  3. I respect that some transsexual women do not identify themselves as transgender and does not wish to be linked to the diversity of the LGBT community.

    How can we be an ally to these women? How do we do so when there is discrimination and violence perpetuated on the streets, in the workplace and at home? How many transsexual women still walk the streets, have difficulty finding employment, or enjoy the comfort of a place called home? If a transsexual women who has successfully assimilated into society to enjoy these qualities of life, she has transgressed gender in the eyes of the largely cisgender world.

    The main problem here is not the division between and within the transsexual/transgender community but the continued discrimination and violence against ‘the others’ does not chooses between this divide.

    How do we become your allies if you continue to pick sides? What are the different ways transsexual women can serve their community? What are the different ways transgendered women can serve their community? At the end of the day, we make the best of our lives and in doing so, we contribute in our own way.

    • You might start by realizing that we really don’t want you to be our “ally.” You see, what you say here is extremely offensive. No, the simple fact is, I have NOT transgressed gender in the eyes of the largely “cisgender” world. For one thing, they are, by and large, not aware that I have a transsexual history. I simply live my life as what I am…a pretty much ordinary woman. I know that very likely gives you fits, but hey, that is what I am, and that is all I want to be. On the occasion that someone does need to know, or happens to find out, the reaction is usually along the lines of, “Oh, well I had no idea, and it really doesn’t change anything.” Why might that be? Because I act like pretty much an ordinary woman. I don’t wear silly outfits, or flounce around like a caricature of a woman. I simply dress and act like what I am, a pretty ordinary, middle aged woman.

      So really, just accept that we are NOT a part of your “community,” and that we really wish you would just leave us be. Stop trying to force us into your paradigm, and I imagine we might all be happier. Of course, that is too reasonable an idea for some to remotely accept, though for the life of me, I honestly cannot understand why.

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