The Case for Inclusion

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Groups like ours who are disproportionately victims of oppression and discrimination often get lost in our own self-pity. While we realize we are not the only ones being oppressed, stepping into the experiences of other marginalized groups is something that must be done with intention. In a time when we are gaining so much ground in the way of equality for ourselves as gay and bisexual women, we are also seeing an uprising of opposition. And most of us are using every bit of intention and purposefulness we can muster to battle our own enemies.

Although most wouldn’t fault us for doing so, I have higher expectations for us. There’s a relatively new buzz word circulating amongst queer people–especially queer people of faith–and I believe it’s time for us to learn it and to implement it into our culture. “Radical inclusion,” while pretty self-explanatory, will be difficult and uncomfortable for some. But, ladies, we’re going to do it. You heard it here first.

Radical inclusion does not require that we sacrifice the woman-centric culture we hold so dear. Queer women who came before worked tirelessly to ensure the generations to follow could have access to a community which contradicts the negative messages conveyed by the patriarchy–a community which holds women up and encourages us to create lives that foster real satisfaction and fulfillment within ourselves. And I don’t believe radical inclusion necessitates any sort of contradiction of these values.

While radical inclusion is a trend making its way through queer communities all over the country, many feminist circles are resisting and thereby closing themselves off even more so than before. I think we can all agree that establishing safe places for us remains an important tenet of our culture. Lesbian and bisexual women need spaces which belong to us and allow us a safe haven from a world that victimizes, oppresses, and objectifies. However, I do believe this can be accomplished while also exercising inclusion. Inclusion does not mean cis straight men are now granted access to our spaces to wield their control and mansplain away all of our experiences. It doesn’t mean cis straight women should be permitted in our world only to feign bi-curiousity and be “cool for the summer.” Admittedly, I’m no expert on the rules of inclusion, but the more I live and exist in the lesbian community, the more assured I am of one area in which we can and must exercise inclusivity–in how we relate to trans women.

When I first started going out to gay bars as an open lesbian, I remember seeing a trans woman at the local lesbian bar quite frequently. I’m confident there were other trans women that patronized the bar, but she was the one that caught my attention. She seemed young and uncertain, searching for somewhere to belong. I understand I’m placing a lot of labels on a person I never met; I’m simply sharing my perspective–right or wrong. I never saw her with a group of friends or on a date; she was always alone. The first time I noticed her, I remember being expressly told by other women I was out with, “Don’t talk to her; she’s desperate for friends.” The implication was that, if I even said hello to her, she would latch on and follow me around like a puppy; that’s how hard up she was for a community in which to belong.

I’d like to say that I was mature enough back then to exercise even the slightest bit of empathy. I wish I could tell you I corrected my friends and communicated to them that this woman being “so desperate for friends” was not a reason to avoid her, but that demanded we reach out to her. Not to earn trans ally status, not to be recognized as the nice, white lady that was kind enough to speak to the poor, little trans girl, but to welcome and connect with a fellow woman who knows what it feels like to exist in a world that doesn’t always embrace who you are.

During this time, I was honestly perplexed as to why a trans woman would want to patronize a lesbian bar. Clearly this declaration represents my ignorance with regard to what it means to be trans. I’m embarrassed to say I was one of those lesbians who thought all trans women dated men and all trans men dated women. More to the point, it never occurred to me that trans women and men, regardless of their sexuality, may simply desire to be in the company of others of their gender. It seems so silly to me now that I never considered this.

Of course trans women may want to build friendships with and be in a community of other women. Trans women are women as much as I am. I want and need to be surrounded by other women; I’m sure many trans women feel the same. It’s not rocket science. I never saw that young, seemingly unsure girl on a date or engaging in flirtation with someone, so I’d be willing to bet that, in spending time at a lesbian establishment, she was seeking company and friendships with other women in the safest place she knew of.

As women, building up walls (literal and otherwise), comes almost as naturally as eating and breathing. We learn from a young age how few people we have the luxury of trusting. This is only reinforced when we begin to identify as lesbian and bisexual; the number of people we can let in and be loved and understood by is greatly reduced. While I have also adapted to everyday life in this way, I believe it’s time for us to open our hearts to our trans sisters should they so desire. We must cease in the exclusion of trans women on the basis of their perceived lack of experience with “girlhood” or due to the advantages they may have experienced entering this world biologically male. These are the primary arguments I’ve heard from the mouths of trans-exclusionary feminists and the like.

There are, no doubt, more reasons for barring our trans sisters from queer women’s spaces. And I’m sure some, if not most, of these reasons are real and valid to the individuals from which they are expressed. But, with all due respect, it’s time to get over it. Most, if not all, justifications for the exclusion of trans women go back to the transgressions of the patriarchy. And, if you think trans women don’t experience negative repercussions at the hands of a male-dominated society, lady, you are wrong. So, can we all agree to stop blaming trans women for the bad behavior of men?

Trans women are women and deserve a place at our table. Are some trans women straight? Of course. But, we cannot continue to use this as a reason to exclude them from our communities. Regardless of their sexuality, trans women are experiencing daily discrimination and marginalization. Sound familiar? Yeah, exactly. Although their experiences with regard to gender, sexuality, and many other factors are potentially remarkably different from ours, I am confident that once we exercise real radical inclusion for our trans sisters, we will be surprised at how much we have in common.

Gender norms and expectations are issues we, as lesbian and bisexual women, must confront. Guess what? Trans women must do the same. Concerns surrounding rape and violence against women are an ever-present reality in our world. Again, the same applies to trans women. Matters as simple, yet dangerous, as unwanted attention and catcalling when walking down the street affect us and them. Essentially, trans women are women who deal with women’s issues, but that are too often not welcome among cis circles. And that’s reason enough for us to open our arms–even just a bit wider–to provide room enough for these women who, in many cases, are not that different from us.

I hope not to have my words misunderstood or mistaken as a way in which we as lesbian and bisexual women can provide outreach to the less fortunate. This is not an opportunity for us to engage in an act of charity; trans women aren’t charity cases. As a group, we are not smarter, stronger, or more capable than our trans sisters. My challenge to us to open ourselves up to bonds and connections with trans women is based on the belief that each of us (both lesbian/bisexual women and trans women) will have something to gain from these relationships. I firmly believe that, through the radical inclusion of trans women in our circles, we will find ourselves being more enriched and enlightened as a result of these connections. We will find ourselves being heard and understood by a community of women we may not have otherwise considered. We will find ourselves closing the gap between the “L,” the “B,” and the “T” in “LGBT” and thereby solidifying and affirming the foundation of a community that we hold so dear.

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyAMcGaughy

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