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No, the Gay Movement Did Not Spawn the Trans Movement
In fact, society was more ready to accept sex changes than same-sex marriage
For many people, the modern trans movement seems to have come from nowhere. One minute, we were celebrating the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the very next, we are talking about “trans kids” and learning that male rapists are being housed in women’s prisons.
To the casual onlooker, it appears that the slippery slope was real after all. We let those dastardly gays get married and now look.
Yes, the massive gay rights advocacy and lobby apparatus, especially in the United States, did need a new goal once the pinnacle of gay rights, same-sex marriage, was reached, and yes it settled on “trans.”
But the trans movement and its nonsensical ideas regarding legal sex changes, self-identification, and outright sex denialism did not suddenly spring into existence in 2015. It was brewing all along, very often quite separately from the concerns of everyday gay and lesbian people. In some cases, the legal strides made by the trans movement even came well before any type of recognition for same-sex couples.
The trans movement has its own history and has always had its own concerns. The trans movement is not our movement.
Male Transvestites Begin Organizing (1960s & ‘70s)
Before anyone could possibly see the events of Stonewall coming, the first issue of Transvestia magazine was published in 1960. A publication for mostly white, heterosexual male crossdressers, Transvestia was the creation of Virginia Charles Prince (born Arnold Lowman). The magazine was sold through adult bookstores and featured stories and letters from other transvestites.
Prince is considered to be one of America’s pioneering trans rights activists. He also founded an international crossdresser organization called Tri-Ess (Society for the Second Self) in 1974.
Prince’s influence extended across the pond as well. One day, a UK crossdresser named Alice Purnell came across a copy of Transvestia and was delighted by the discovery:
This was a magazine produced by a Dr Virginia Prince, who was an American pharmacist, and she had organised a thing called Phi Pi Epsilon, very American, which stands for Full Personality Expression. And the essence of her thesis was that you could be a woman, though male. So the goal of her organisation was to try to maintain marriages or relationships between men and women when one or the other, usually the one that was officially male, gender migrated by cross-dressing or by being what eventually we came to know as transsexual.
In 1966, Purnell became one of the founders of the Beaumont Society, marking the beginning of the trans rights movement in the UK. Today, the organization bills itself as “help and support for the transgender community.” According to prominent UK trans activist Stephen Whittle (a trans-identified woman), its initial target demographic was, unsurprisingly, the same as the men who read Transvestia:
There were no transsexual groups at that time. There was the Beaumont Society, a group that was ostensibly a heterosexual male transvestite organization. I joined the organization as a trans man in 1975 and became the co-editor of the Beaumont News.
Sex Changes Prompt Court Rulings on Marriages (1970s)
By the 1970s, before there was so much as a whisper of the idea of same-sex marriage, “sex changes” were already happening and prompting court rulings on marriages involving people who had gone through them.
The first such case was Corbett v. Corbett, which was decided by the High Court of England and Wales in 1970. The case involved the marriage of Arthur Corbett and April Ashely, who had been born a man but had undergone hormonal and surgical transition treatments. The judge ruled that because Ashley was immutably male and incapable of consummating the marriage using his “completely artificial cavity,” the marriage should be annulled.
The ruling also led to the Nullity of Marriage Act 1971, which was the first time that marriage was explicitly defined in British law as between a male and a female.
Many subsequent rulings agreed with the decision in Corbett v. Corbett. However, in 1976, the Superior Court of New Jersey significantly departed from the ruling with its decision in MT v. JT, which also involved two men, one of whom had surgically transitioned.
The court ruled that the marriage was valid, stating “we must disagree with the conclusion reached in Corbett that for purposes of marriage sex is somehow irrevocably cast at the moment of birth, and that for adjudging the capacity to enter marriage, sex in its biological sense should be the exclusive standard”. In reaching this conclusion, the court explained that it had a different understanding of sex and gender. It defined gender as “one’s self-image, the deep psychological or emotional sense of sexual identity and character”. In short, when an individual’s “anatomical or genital features” were adapted to conform with a person’s “gender, psyche or psychological sex”, then identity by sex must be governed by the congruence of these standards.
The book also states that:
Even as US States have increasingly provided statutory instruments that make it possible to recognise a change of sex on birth certificates and other identity documents, courts have refused to recognise such marriages as valid, perhaps out of fear of condoning same-sex marriage.
I found it interesting that whether a court decided that these marriages were valid or not hinged largely on the avoidance of creating same-sex marriages. It certainly seemed like less of an issue for someone to change their sex than to enter into a same-sex marriage. “Sex changes” appear to have been more palatable to law and society earlier on than same-sex unions.
In fact, same-sex marriage was not even at the forefront of the gay movement until 1987, when the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights added legal recognition of gay and lesbian domestic partnerships to its list of demands.
Then, it wasn’t until 1989 in Denmark that same-sex couples were granted any sort of legal recognition in the form of “registered partnerships,” and it wasn’t until 2001 that the first full same-sex marriages became legal in the Netherlands.
It was only when gay rights began gaining popularity that the T began trying to attach itself to the LGB.
Prior to that, the trans movement was busy laying the groundwork for the reality-denying demands that today seem to have come out of nowhere.
San Francisco Leads the Charge (1994)
Is it any surprise that some of the wackiest ideas of the trans movement were first promoted in San Francisco? In 1994, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission published a report called “Investigation into Discrimination Against Transgendered People” that contained the type of language a person only passingly familiar with this issue would think is a recent invention.
For example, the commission recommended that the city amend the Human Rights Ordinance by adding “gender identity” as a protected class. Jurisdictions all across the West have since done exactly that.
It also noted that the term “transgender” is an umbrella term for:
male and female cross dressers, transvestites, female and male impersonators, pre-operative and post-operative transsexuals, and transsexuals who choose not to have genital reconstruction, and all persons whose perceived gender or anatomic sex may conflict with their gender expression, such as masculine-appearing women and feminine appearing men.
In fact, the report even had an early version of the “Transgender Umbrella” to illustrate this expansive definition.
Here is a sampling of some of the report’s recommendations:
That the San Francisco Police and Sheriff's Departments use terminology that is appropriate to an individual's gender identity on departmental forms and police reports.
That employers, businesses, and public agencies not restrict the access of transgendered persons to public restroom facilities that are appropriate to the person's gender identity.
That the administrators of homeless shelters, battered women's shelters, substance abuse treatment programs, rape crisis centers, and other providers of social services in San Francisco ensure that their staff is trained in transgender sensitivity, that their program eliminates forced disclosure of transgender status as a requirement for receipt of services, and ensure that transgendered persons are not disqualified from receiving services based upon transgender status or identity, or upon perceived transgender status or identity.
That the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual communities educate themselves concerning transgender issues and experience, and encourage their political clubs to more actively fight for transgender rights, and that Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual businesses and organizations affirmatively encourage the participation of transgendered employees, clients and members.
Already in 1994, we are seeing the trans movement push for language control, for access to all women’s spaces—from public restrooms to rape crisis centers—and for a central position in the gay community.
International Bill of Gender Rights (1995)
1995 saw another step forward for the trans movement with the adoption of the International Bill of Gender Rights during the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy in Houston, Texas.
Though the bill had no legal authority, it introduced many “rights” which have since been adopted all around the Western world.
The rights as enumerated at the 1996 meeting were:
The Right To Define Gender Identity
The Right To Free Expression Of Gender Identity
The Right To Secure And Retain Employment and to Receive Just Compensation
The Right Of Access To Gendered Space And Participation In Gendered Activity
The Right to Control and Change One's Own Body
The Right to Competent Medical and Professional Care
The Right to Freedom From Involuntary Psychiatric Diagnosis and Treatment
The Right to Sexual Expression
The Right to Form Committed, Loving Relationships and Enter Into Marital Contracts
The Right to Conceive, Bear, or Adopt Children; The Right to Nurture and Have Custody of Children and to Exercise Parental Capacity
The bill was largely the creation of two activists, both crossdressers, Joann Roberts and Sharon Stuart.
Roberts is the author of a 2004 book called “Coping with Crossdressing,” which “looks at crossdressing from both sides of the relationship, discussing issues that arise for both partners. Then, using these issues as a basis for understanding, the author suggests positive ways for both partners to cope with the behavior.”
In 2015, Stuart, who has been involved in trans activism since 1967, described himself as “a Bi-gendered Transgender person.” He further explained that “to be Bi-gendered is to have a feminine presence and a male presence with pretty much equal value and stress on both. So I’m comfortable as a man, and I am comfortable as Sharon… I spend most of my time as Tom, because I am male, biologically; I have had a feminine identity and a sense of myself as a feminine person since I was very young.”
These are the men responsible for one of the foundational texts of trans activism.
Ontario Human Rights Commission Tackles Gender Identity (1999)
Canada was not to be outdone. In 1998, the Canadian Task Force for Transgender Law Reform was founded with the purpose of amending the “Ontario Human Rights Code, provincial and federal legislation, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
It specifically sought to guarantee the following “rights and freedoms”:
freedom of gender expression;
freedom of movement;
the right to enter into marriage;
the right to parent children;
the right to self governance;
the right to therapeutic care, and
the right to appropriate health care.
Then, in 1999, the Ontario Human Rights Commission published a discussion paper titled “Toward a Commission Policy on Gender Identity.”
Like the San Francisco report, this paper begins by establishing a large transgender umbrella:
Over the last two decades, there has been a growing societal awareness of people whose gender identity is different from accepted social norms. These people include pre- and post-operative transsexuals; transgenderists (transsexuals who have chosen not to pursue sex reassignment surgery) intersexed people, cross-dressers, female impersonators, and others who blur traditional gender lines.
Later, it continues:
Transgendered people have clearly identified that they should be addressed based on the gender they present. Male to female transsexuals, transgenderists, and cross-dressers who present as women should be addressed as women. Female to male transsexuals, transgenderists and cross-dressers who present as men should be addressed as men.
Also like the San Francisco report, this paper shows that the trans movement’s goal of changing society to suit the various identities under the trans umbrella rather than to help trans people assimilate into society was already in full swing by that point:
A growing number of people who are transgendered no longer consider sex reassignment surgery as a suitable option for them either due to cost, medical risks, medical barriers, or on principle. Many do not wish to assimilate into a society with rigid bifurcated standards of sex and gender congruence, but rather ask that society accepts and adapts to transgendered people.
It then makes a number of recommendations, particularly around the issue of accommodating trans people, namely trans-identified men, in their claimed identity, even when it comes to women’s shelters. Here are some highlights:
Transgendered people should be accepted in the facilities designated for their felt gender.
There is no reason related to public decency why a transsexual woman should be refused access to women's facilities. The use of facilities assigned to a person's felt gender should not result in a violation of the law as it relates to public decency.
The exclusion of transsexual women from shelters for battered women was another concern raised in the consultation.
It was noted that many of the transsexual women who require access to shelters are poor. These women are not in a position to afford sex reassignment surgery or to have electrolysis and so may appear male, although they identify as female.
Thought the idea of bearded and bepenised women was new? Well, now you know better.
The paper also highlighted the issues of marriage, showing that even Canada was more comfortable with the idea of sex changes than same-sex marriage at this time:
Married transgendered persons sometimes find that their marriages are annulled upon transition to one’s felt gender. Some cases have held that if both parties are of the same birth assigned sex, there cannot be a legal marriage.
Gender identity clinics often require that parties divorce, in part for reasons linked to their liability in assisting the transgendered person to transition. Where the transgendered person is still oriented to the same gender after transition, the union will become a same-sex partnership. Some medical clinics state that they cannot support the existence of same sex marriages, as they are not legal.
Stephen Whittle Presses for Change (2004)
Remember Whittle, co-editor of the Beaumont News? Well, by 1992 she had co-founded a UK trans rights organization called Press for Change. According to Women Speak Scotland, Press for Change was “pretty much solely responsible for the Gender Recognition Act being passed in 2004.”
The Gender Recognition Act of 2004 allowed trans-identified people to apply for legal recognition of their acquired “gender,” providing a legal framework to obtain a new birth certificate and change their legal name and sex on other official documents.
Press for Change purposely popularized the term “trans” to destabilize any distinction between transexuals and transvestites and help garner support for the act. Fellow co-founder and trans-identified man Christine Burns explained in the book Pressing Matters (Vol 1) that this was done with the eventual goal of championing self-identification:
Our successes as a campaign were grounded in progress made for people who fitted the clinical definition of transsexual. At the heart of this was a tacit understanding that people in positions of power might be persuaded to change laws for people with some kind of clinically underwritten status – something they couldn’t help being. This is why ‘Transsexualism – The Medical Viewpoint’ was seen as strategically important and why all the key court cases had rehearsed the developing scientific understanding of a basis for us being born or developing this way. It was also why the government would expect to include a medical definition of ‘transsexual’ in the forthcoming employment protections they planned to consult upon.
We knew in our hearts at that time that policymakers and judges weren’t yet sophisticated enough in their understanding to contemplate rights for people whose difference appeared self-identified or impermanent or maybe even optional. That didn’t mean we weren’t going to try where possible. There was a valid freedom of expression case to be made for people to be able to present in whatever way they wish. But we were also pragmatists, careful not to frighten the horses at this early stage.
Press for Change was successful, and the Gender Recognition Act 2004 came into force in 2005. At the time, the UK did not have same-sex marriage. In fact, if a married person applied for a gender recognition certificate, their marriage had to be annulled or dissolved before a full certificate could be issued to them.
Conversely, someone who received a gender recognition certificate could now get married to someone of the same sex, and that’s exactly what Whittle did, marrying her female partner once she was legally a man.
Not Our Movement
Whittle’s activism and personal life are an example of the fact that gay and trans activism really remained quite separate and distinct in goals until a fairly recent forced teaming.
For the past several years, trans activists have been demanding a central position in the gay rights movement, claiming that it was trans people who started the whole thing in the first place and who we have to thank for our rights, like gay marriage. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The two movements could not have more different origins. The trans movement began with and has been furthered all along by heterosexual men. Then, when sex changes began and started causing trouble in the court of law, one of the main concerns of lawmakers was that they did not accidentally allow same-sex marriages.
The gay movement did not spawn the trans movement. The trans movement attached itself to the gay rights movement in an effort to siphon the goodwill that gay rights activists had accrued with a message that said we just wanted to be free to love who we loved. It never helped us. In fact, it is now hurting us and squandering that very same goodwill.
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