WASHINGTON, D.C.Remember the days of "We're Here, We're Queer, Get Used to It"? As the co-chairs of propaganda for Queer Nation in Los Angeles a decade ago, my girlfriend and I were in charge of disseminating fluorescent crack 'n' peel stickers with in-your-face messages like that one. Or the popular "Stop Heterosexism," "Safe Sex Slut," and "Assimilate My Fist." One sticky motto was always my favorite: "Fuck Your Gender." On the surface a bold celebration of same-sex eroticism, but with another meaning, too: a call to mess with the M or the F you're supposed to check off on the questionnaire of life.
Hearing the sayings out loud, they sound so 1990s. The spirit of those stickers may still have significance today, but what they representradical, direct-action politicsis about as fashionable today as a faded ACT UP T-shirt. Once rooted in loud, unapologetic marches and chants, the gay, lesbian, and bisexual movement has mainstreamed itself into polite task forces and lobby groups like the Human Rights Campaign Fund (with a name so closeted you can't even tell it's gay!). And some of our transgendered friends are following suit.
When trans people began to have a voice in the political arena (first as part of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual movement, then breaking out on their own), the first wave of activists wanted to raise awareness of what lay beyond M and F; specifically, to educate people about male-to-female (MTF) and female-to-male (FTM) transsexuals. From there, "transgender" was born to include people who crossed gender boundaries without necessarily having surgery or legally changing genders. Some members of the movement want to transcend "trans" altogether, and focus on just gender (just genderhow loaded is that?).
So it comes as no surprise that a blinding pink square with the thick and blatant "Fuck Your Gender" has been replaced by an understated white sticker that reads, "Gender Rights Are Human Rights." This radical-yet-digestible phrase (I mean, who's against human rights?) is the mantra of Gender PAC, a national advocacy organization at the forefront of the newly made-over "gender rights movement" (www.gpac.org). Gender PAC presented its First Annual National Conference on Gender and Sixth Annual Gender Lobby Day in Washington last month. More than 400 people attended the three-day conference that came complete with a congressional gala and corporate sponsors. That's right, American Airlines is the official carrier of gender rights. And in this kinder, gentler gender movement, as a fucker of genderfuckers, I learned that I am no longer a tranny chaser, I am a "trans ally." So much more civilized, don't you think? (So, what does that make the transsexual woman who hit on both my genderfucking dates at the gala? Trans ally, my ass.)
Like any other minority movement gathering, the conference brought forth numerous tensions. The absence of significant transgender activists (and their recent defection from Gender PAC's board of directors) who openly boycotted the conference symbolized a growing schism in trans politics. Some believe that the rights of transgendered people are being diluted or erased by Gender PAC in favor of an amorphous, more mainstream and marketable "gender agenda." Certainly, having a broader scope beyond "transgender" can incorporate all forms of gender identity and expression into the mission. And money from corporate America can buy us a seat at the big boys' table. But how did genderfucking go from radical to just rad?
The media representation of gender crossing has come a long way in its diversity and acceptance. Jack of TV's Will and Grace can swish about like a fag at Banana Republic. Our mayor can dress in drag for laughs. RuPaul can have a new series next season (on the WB network) about taking care of a rich guy's children called The Tranny (proving that the network isn't just after black viewers, it's after black tranny-chaser viewers, too). Crossing over from blue to pink is now acceptably cute in the media. (From pink to blue is a little more unsettling, and forget about being in the middle.) But look away from your television screen for a reality check: Genderfucking constitutes a serious offense in our society.
Dana Rivers was a beloved and award-winning teacher in California before she lost her job for transitioning from male to female. In a New Orleans suburb, Peter Oiler was teased by coworkers who labeled him gay and pressured by his supervisor. He revealed that he wasn't gay, though he was a cross-dresser in his personal life. He was fired. After working at Harrah's Reno Casino for her entire adult life, Darlene Jesperson was told she had to wear makeup to work every day; when she refused to comply, she was let go. What do the three have in common, besides being unemployed and pissed off? These accidental activists are among the thousands of people who face harassment, discrimination, and violence every day because of their gender identity or gender expression. They are why we need to organize, to educate people about gender identity, and to fight to change the institutions that breed the bigotry that leads to bad attitudes and even worse behavior. They are why Gender PAC's work is undeniably important, even though their stickers are still too quiet for me.
Not quiet at all is a new breed of young people who prove that genderfucking can still be in-your-face. This second wave is hell-bent on creating their own labels: baby butches, tranny boys, girlfags, genderqueers, pansexual girls and bois. They eat Judith Butler's cultural theories for breakfast. Some of these exceptional specimens of the future of gender were at the conference, and they give me hope. Many of them say "Fuck Your Gender" and mean fuck gender altogether. The I-don't-identify-as-anything-but-me generation wants to toss out the baby, the bathwater, and especially that silly blue bonnet. Can't wait to see the stickers and the riots they create.
PS: That right-wing bastard Fred Phelps (of God Hates Fags fame) is protesting at the graduation ceremony of Krystal Bennet, on June 9 in Ferndale, Washington. She's the lesbian high school student who was elected prom king, whom I wrote about in my last column. Supporters of Krystal can pledge money for every minute that bigoted crap spews from Phelps. Donations will be made to a scholarship fund administered by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (www.pflag.org). E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Visit my Web site: www.puckerup.com
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.