A lot of people refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people (and occasionally queer, intersex, asexual and other people) as a “community.”
There is a lot of utility in referring to these groups as a whole. We have a lot in common, and we have all been engaged—to varying degrees—in a sort of collective bargaining for our right to exist in the world. The prejudice, discrimination, and hate directed at us by various narrow minded individuals and groups has made us natural allies. Our alliance is built on some degree of shared experience and strengthened due to overlap in our “subgroups.”
For example, I feel an affinity for gay men due to the fact that like many gay men, my gender expression did not align with cishet expectations of “real men” as an adolescent. As a result, I was targeted by peers growing up for what they perceived to be “gay” behavior.
Now, I would never claim to “know” what it is like to be a gay man in our society, because my experiences are not those of a gay man. However, because I have some experiences in common with many gay men, I feel a certain closeness to them.
In addition to this affinity, I am a member of two other subgroups. I am a twofer. I am a woman who is exclusively (or near enough) attracted to women and therefore a member of the lesbian subgroup. I am also a female that was assigned male at birth, and therefore a member of the trans subgroup.
The result of this dual-citizenship is that I have a personal stake in both lesbian and trans issues. I am not overly rare in having this sort of “dual-citizenship”—particularly in the trans community.
I could also talk at length about the ways in which it makes sense to me to be affiliated with the other groups that find a home under the “LGBTQIA+” umbrella. However, despite my love for, and feeling of closeness to all the subgroups under the “LGBTQIA+” umbrella, I have come to a sad conclusion of late: we are not a community.
When I say that this was a “sad conclusion,” I mean it. I desperately wish we were a community, and strongly believe that we ought to be a community, but we’re not. Continually repeating the phrase “the LGBTQIA+ community” or “the queer community” or just “the community” isn’t going to change that fact.
Now, I could go on a rant about how trans people were (and often still are) abandoned by cis queers in the name of “expedience”—though transphobia is the real driver in our abandonment. I could also go on a rant about TERFs, and the exclusion or marginalization of trans women in lesbian spaces. I could talk about how othered I felt at Denver’s pride parade this last weekend—how I felt just as alone and out of place in a sea of cis queers as I do when surrounded by cishet people.
However, focusing on these things only serves to drive additional wedges between us, and further pretends that community is only an issue when talking about the overarching “umbrella” and not the subgroups themselves. This is because the issue is not one of subgroups not embracing other subgroups. The issue is one of individuals not embracing each other.
I cannot speak for gay men, cis lesbians, bisexuals etc. However, I can say with certainty that the trans subgroup is no more a “community” than the umbrella is. Hell, “trans women” aren’t even a community.
We are, as a group, wrapped up in our own divisions and infighting. We divide ourselves up based on whether we are “passing” or “visibly trans;” heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual; old or young; gender conforming or nonconforming; “early onset” or “late onset;” white or of color; low-income, middle class, or upper class; femme or butch; “pre-op,” “post-op,” or “non-op;” etc. The list of ways in which we self-segregate—even in our tiny little corner of the universe—is long and full of insecurity, pain and marginalization.
So, when I talk about the various LGBTQIA+ groups not constituting a community, I do so with the knowledge that my own subgroups struggle to form communities for largely the same reasons: we are so tied up in our own insecurity, pain and marginalization that our love for and closeness to one another has taken a back seat. We act as if we are totally different from each other, and we are so good at it, we start to believe it.
So, we hold a big party once a year in the name of “pride,” and then we retreat back into our own little corners—as if the energy required to sustain a community can only be mustered for a weekend.
I’m not entirely sure where to even start in trying to change this fact. All I often feel capable of is posting these little “message in a bottle” essays with the hope that someone gets them, recognizes their own feelings in them, and then chooses to share those feelings with others. In that way, I hope to make some minor impact—at least through prompting a discussion.
However, because that is ultimately out of my hands, I’m committing to a general principle: embracing other individuals under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella as I would have them embrace me—not by erasing the lines between us, but by recognizing that we share so much. It is a position derived both from the “golden rule” and from a recitation that a former colleague of mine started her classes with called In Lak’Ech.1 It reads:
Tú eres mi otro yo.
You are my other me.
Si te hago daño a ti,
If I do harm to you,
Me hago daño a mi mismo.
I do harm to myself.
Si te amo y respeto,
If I love and respect you,
Me amo y respeto yo.
I love and respect myself.
The community I dream of is based on this sort of mutual love and respect. We just have a ways to go to get there.
1With a bit of digging, I found out that her practice was inspired by Luís Valdez reciting it before his Mexican American Studies classes.