Valentine’s Day approaches quickly. I love the day—or at least the created, romantic notion of it. A day saturated with the open expression of love appeals to my sappy side. It pains me, then, to think that here and now some groups must still struggle with identity and acceptance, for the basic ability to express and personally accept the manifestations of their love without fear. Perhaps this will be a more contentious point than I take it to be, but no one deserves to feel isolated or hopeless on Valentine’s Day.
But how can they feel otherwise? The transgender, transsexual, and intersexual communities are still fighting for basic rights like housing and employment. And, in the case of BDSM practitioners, many groups, like our own Conversio Virium, maintain a strict confidentiality clause for attendance—as much for fear of the ostracism and personal damage that could result from misconceptions about the lifestyles as for respect of personal privacy. The extraordinary secrecy these misconceptions create results in small public events and a low profile for most groups representing sexualities off the beaten path, ironically making them more mystic and fearsome to the vanilla majority (full disclosure: I am quite vanilla).
The secrecy and relative youth of those groups make them that much harder to find or approach for those going through the paralyzing turmoil, racking doubt, denial, and pain involved in understanding a controversial identity. Those in the worst need may remain lost.
Yes, support exists for many, if not all, sexual variations on this campus. Conversio Virium is the oldest BDSM student group in the nation, and people like Miranda Elliot, CC ’10, have done much to expand the awareness of trans issues over the past two years. Yes, we are extremely fortunate in this respect. But no, this is not enough.
Credit must be given where it is due. Elliot’s GendeRevolution, Trans Week, and GenderFuck have done much to bring trans issues to a greater audience. While the increasing publicity and visual presence of such events have helped to alleviate some of the stress on the trans community, adequate support from larger organizations just hasn’t appeared.
Many, like Elliot and Liz Lamoste, CC ’10, of GendeRevolution, have noted that although one might think LGBT groups would be a natural and strong ally of the trans movement, they have traditionally failed to deliver. One previous event held by GendeRevolution to map locations of current and possible future gender-neutral bathrooms, despite support from LGBT groups, received only two participants from these groups and poor overall attendance.
The LGBT groups have made noble efforts to expand their programming—Third Thursdays focuses on off-the-beaten-path issues of sexuality. However, the focus of these groups remains on marriage rights movements and rarely strays into any area that could address issues for other “kink” or “fetish”—both words that pack a certain unfortunate connotation—practitioners.
I would argue that LGBT groups should consider spending more time and energy on helping trans, BDSM, and other groups to gain the same increasing, hard-earned respect and acceptance that gay, lesbian, and bisexual groups have won. I would argue that many are being left in the dust. However, I also recognize that the battle is not over for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, that their battles are valid, and that they have limited resources to expend on such efforts.
So how do we give these groups the support they need without forcing undue pressure onto groups with their own struggles? The College Democrats’ April 2009 trip to support legislation for trans rights serves as a good example.
Religious, political, ethnic groups—all can form a plausible bridge between themselves and the marginalized, such as BDSM and trans individuals. Let’s go ahead and build those bridges. To all groups: make the effort to use your power and pull to support those who need it. Slyly expose your members to a world they may not have considered. And, by doing so, help those in the shadows to no longer fear the glare of the light beyond fear and doubt and secrecy. Even to this paper: address these issues outright and professionally in a widely read format. Our coverage has been woefully minimal.
By writing this column, I do wish to urge groups to tastefully explore sensitive issues and aid those struggling for acceptance. More than that, though, I wish to say this—to those who feel alone, you are not. We are here for you, and we care for you. We could really do a better job of showing it. But speaking as one who needed to hear this many times and never did, this Valentine’s Day, know that, no matter how much you doubt it and fret over it, you are loved.
Mark Hay is a Columbia College sophomore. Unusual, Unseemly, or Unnoticed runs alternate Fridays.