It is important for most of us to belong to the right group – one that privileges us over others in real and perceived ways. And within any group, there will be jockeying for the better position, even among those who belong to a marginalized sector of society.
In the book Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, Gwendolyn Ann Smith, transgender writer and activist, writes that those of us who belong to the LGBT community observe “a hierarchical order of who is acceptable and who is not.”
Let me break it down this way: some lesbians and gays feel that their issues are more important than transgender issues, because transgender people are freaks. Some transgender people – often, but not only, transsexuals – view transsexual issues as more important than the issues of say, cross-dressers. Some among the more genderqueer portions of our community look down upon those who opt to live in a more “normatively gendered” space. There are even groups that cross-dressers feel superior to: sissies, drag kings and queens, “little girls,” and so on.
The same distinctions and divisions can be seen within communities of color – among races and ethnicities, between native- and foreign-born, and among haves and have-nots.
Smith assumes that this “is some sort of human failing that makes us always need to shun someone who we perceive as ‘more different than thou.'” But she acknowledges that “this does not help move us further along in the world at large.”
We can argue about who is this and who is that, we can argue about who does or doesn’t belong. We can talk about how much more legitimate one or another of us is. In the end, we are all somebody’s freak – and basic human dignity is not a privilege of the lucky superior few, but a right of all or none.
As progress of civil rights is stalled by the nation’s current toxic and polarized political reality, it is crucial that those of us who are relegated to America’s social, political and economic margins – queers, immigrants, communities of color – fight the urge to divide ourselves and remain conquered.
There is after all strength in numbers and power in unity.
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