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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Misogyny Comes in Many Forms

by Beth Maples-Bays

Today I went to the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Web site in search of a map of marriage equality states. I was elated yesterday when I learned of the Supreme Court’s ruling that increases the number of states that will legally-recognize same-sex marriage. When I linked to the site, one of the articles caught my attention immediately.

The article, posted two days ago, is Chad Griffin’s account of “Speaking to Southern Comfort 2014”. His remarks included the high rate of violence against transpersons, comparing it to an epidemic.  He also pointed to the numerous examples of HRC’s efforts to include transpersons in activism and projects in the fight while vowing to ramp up the fight against transphobia.

Since coming out in 1978, I have made womyn a priority in my life. Whether distributing “The Amazon Spirit” in Western Montana in the late 70s or acting as the East Tennessee Bureau Chief  to Out and About Newspaper in the 90s, my push for LGBT equality has always included Radical Lesbian Feminists front and center. Most people who have read my writings were reading news from East Tennessee’s LGBT community. The operative word here is news. Without a lesbian feminist community in the entire region, my opportunities were few. I did what I could.

My partner and I have been a monogamous couple since April 17, 1991. That’s 23 years for those who can’t do math without a calculator. My partner, Sam, has been a stalwart supporter through a devastating autoimmune disease as well as breast cancer in 2012. As a lesbian feminist couple living in an area predominated by evangelical Christians, we have struggled at times to live up to radfem values in every possible way.

We have travelled many miles, handed out many fliers, staffed tables at events, and reached out to lesbian and LGBT communities in Upper and Lower East Tennessee. It’s a slow grind to raise awareness to a population that has had a 2009 Tennessee Constitutional Amendment passed to prevent the overturning of the 1996 law against marriage equality. 

We have had some fighters in our midst who have waged successful battles against the homophobic powers that run this state. I am thinking of Abby Rubenfeld from Nashville, who along with Jackie Kittrell, saw the sodomy laws overturned in this state. Ms. Kittrell is the mother of a gay son. 

Our few lesbian-only events have given way to LGBT gatherings. What does this have to do with transphobia and Chad Griffin’s speech to the Southern Comfort 2014 event in Atlanta? The glaring omission of a lesbian advocacy community has weighed heavily on my soul in the last several years. The demise of our local lesbian-only dances and newsletter gave way to alphabet soup events that do not speak to lesbian lives. 

Please remember that I have dedicated most of my adult life to lesbian and women’s causes.

In 2001, my primary relationship was in its tenth year. Most of those years were spent in doctors’ offices and hospitals. I have never gone to a doctor’s appointment or hospital stay alone. Sam was there. Every time. As I sat on the side of the bed one day, s/he brought me some printed material from an event for those who identify as trans and their partners. With much gratitude in my heart, this radical lesbian feminist looked up and said, “I am not able to help you right now, but one day I will feel better. Then I will help you.”

Our household went online in September of 1998. I researched radical lesbian feminist, Goddess sites, butch-femme groups, and female-to-male transition in that order. In May 2001, Sam began transitioning. He was 45 years old. He came out as a lesbian at 15 years of age. He had lived as a lesbian for 30 years.This resulted in an existential crisis for me, but that is another story for another day.
We attended Southern Comfort 2007 (SC07).  The only thing we really enjoyed was the tour of CNN, an event unrelated to Southern Comfort. Attending a “partner’s gathering”, I discovered that I was the only lesbian there. As a matter of fact, I later learned that in all probability, I was the only lesbian at the convention. Later still, I found out why.

Having read female-to-male (FTM) mailing lists for years, participated in support groups for transfolks and their partners, holding (briefly) office in an organization for transgender veterans, I can say unequivocally that the trans community is rife with lesbophobia. We are seen as “the enemy” by transpersons as a group and by many individuals. There is much animosity toward gay men, especially those associated with LGBT organizations such as HRC and The Task Force. The pointed hatred that I saw on my PC monitor was both disheartening and a source of confirmation for stalwart radfems that have noted this hatred for years. The facts show that the folks who identify as trans-warriors actively hate lesbians. In fact, they hate all women as a general rule.

I have to say that the most mind-boggling aspect of SC07 came to our awareness gradually. The overwhelming majority of the folks we met were heterosexual couples in which the man liked to cross-dress. I have to say that was truly unexpected. We thought we were attending a trans-convention.

In 2011, I attended the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MichFest), riding with friends from my community. I entered a world centered on womyn – singing, drumming, dancing, guitar-strumming, artist, supportive womyn. They respectfully ask that only womyn-born womyn attend the Festival. This is not a policy. It is the intention of MichFest organizers. Year after year, their intention is ignored as male-to-female transsexuals (MTF) show their disrespect by attending MichFest anyway, ignoring the mutual respect of the intention. Camp Trans gathers outside the perimeter of the Festival, proclaiming their opposition to the intention. By placing themselves outside The Land, they have at least enough respect not to enter.

Sam respects the intention, regardless of overwhelming support from those in the LGBT community who do not adhere to the values behind the Intention. Despite this, I was silenced by those who would not listen to my perspective. The minute they heard the word “trans”, they would shut down. Most assumed I was partnered with an MTF. They simply would not listen. My arguments were that my work in the community over the years, my love of the Goddess, and my entire life actively loving womyn point to the fact that I am the genuine article radfem. My reasoning was dismissed. I was very sad the whole week, despite enjoying the workshops, including the two I offered. Wonderful festival. Womyn should be allowed to attend a private event on private Land, without the stress of worrying about some pervert who thinks exposing himself is funny, without feeling violated once again.

I must say this has been a wild ride. As those who know me well can attest, I have been a hyperactivist with strong emphasis on womyn for many years, organizing, participating, and just generally showing up. I have been relatively quiet these last four years. I still feel sad about MichFest, but not so immobilized as in the beginning of this quiet period. I will always love my sisters, honest disagreements notwithstanding.

Amazon womyn rise!

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