Trans Invisibility in LGBT Spaces

One month ago I went to see The Trouble with Harry, written by Lachlan Philpott and directed by Alyson Campbell. Based on a true story, it tells us about Harry, a person with a physically female body who lived life as a man called Harry Crawford. Much of the debate up to this point regarding this story has been about whether Harry was a lesbian or a trans man. Certainly, such terms were not in common use in language at that time, but the depiction of Harry in the play seemed to me, at least, to be of a trans man.

trans male

Harry Crawford

It was brought to my attention recently, however, that the director herself referred to Harry as a lesbian in the brochure about the play. It might be worth mentioning at this point that both the director and the writer are gay. Is it, therefore, understandable that they might see Harry from their own viewpoint? At what point do we include the T in the LGBT?

I have heard, from lesbians, cries of disappointment when a particularly attractive, seemingly butch ‘lesbian’ transitions to a man. I am aware of certain feminist circles that intentionally exclude trans women. I have heard views that ‘trans women couldn’t possibly understand female issues because they were socialised as male’. None of these viewpoints are helpful or, more importantly, inclusive of the trans community. I have never understood why people who are themselves discriminated against by society, would discriminate against others who differ from them.

But back to Harry. Why, when it seems quite clear that Harry presented himself to the world as male, would the director write about Harry as a lesbian? The excuse of ‘drawing on her own experiences’ is not adequate enough to excuse this oversight. Indeed, neither the director nor the writer mentions gender at all in the brochure for the play. If we look at lesbians and trans men throughout history, there is very little evidence to draw upon that tells us who was which. Some argue that, if the term did not exist, then that to which the term refers also did not exist. I believe this to be a fallacy. We will never know how people saw themselves without written evidence. At the same time, claiming that all such people were lesbians is a typical example of how the lesbian community, in particular, can make invisible the presence of trans men.

There are precious few representations of the trans community in the media and the arts as it is. We cannot afford the mis-represention of those stories of trans people that are told. Although the LGB refers to sexuality while the T refers to gender identity, there is an overlap between the two communities that should allow for understanding and respect of each individual’s identity.

Interestingly, the bisexual community is, from my experience, the most inclusive of the trans community. Perhaps this is in part due to the relative exclusion (and distrust) of bisexuality in the lesbian and gay communities. Perhaps it’s simply that people who exist along the sexuality spectrum, neither gay nor straight, are more accommodating and more understanding of those who exist along the gender identity spectrum, or who are born into a body that does not fit their gender identity. It cannot be denied that both groups are excluded and discriminated against at times by the lesbian and gay communities.

I know this piece is written in such a way that I have grouped all lesbians, all gay men, all bisexual people and all trans people into communities. Such homogeneity does not, of course, exist in reality. But for the purpose of this blog post, I have written in this way. I know also that there are many people who do not hold such prejudices, and who do not discriminate against those in the trans community.

Finally, I am aware that have written this piece by focusing on sexuality and questioning the exclusion of gender diversity within this. These are separate issues much of the time. Yet gender diversity has always been present within the LGB community, and Trans allies should not be forgotten. We have made so many steps forward regarding the acceptance of sexuality diversity, but we must not forget from whence we came. The LGB community is guilty of pushing the Trans community in the background. The brochure for The Trouble with Harry is case in point. We need to make the invisible visible. This can start within the Queer community, with greater understanding of, and recognition of, trans experiences.

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