I have to say I'm disturbed by the latest profile on Susan Stanton. First off I'm really sorry that she's lonely. That sucks no matter what. And for someone who undoubtedly is ambitious (you don't get to be a city manager if you're not) applying for 100 jobs and not getting one of them has got to be crushing. And facing a massive loss of male privilege is a tough thing. But I've far more disturbed by this:
"…Susan has said all along that she’s not like other transgender people. She feels uncomfortable even looking at some, “like I’m seeing a bunch of men in dresses.”
Eventually, she decided it was too early for transgender people to be federally protected. People need more time, more education, she says. “The transgender groups boo me, now, when I speak. Isn’t that ironic?
“But I don’t blame the human rights groups from separating the transgender people from the protected groups. Most Americans aren’t ready for us yet,” Susan says. Transgender people need to be able to prove they’re still viable workers — especially in the mainstream.
“The biggest issue against the federal legislation is that politicians think the ladies’ rooms will be invaded by guys in drag,” Susan says, “instead of someone like me.”
I've heard from those who know Stanton that she's distressed by the article and feels that many of her remarks were edited or taken out of context. It's possible she was misquoted, and I'm willing to hear her version of it. But the thing is... she's said these sort of things before, albeit not as bluntly. She's been chided about the "men in dresses" comment before, and at a Human Rights Campaign event last month she defended Barney Frank pulling gender identity from ENDA, implying the community hadn't done enough educating.
At best Stanton appears to be woefully unprepared for the position of spokes-trans that she's intentionally put herself in. As a post-op acquaintance noted, much of what she's been through is typical for transitioning MTFs: the unexpected support and the unimaginable cruelty, the loss of work and marriage, the feeling (of various durations) that you want to be thought of different that those folks who give you the creeps. But the thing is... if you're going to be a "community leader" you've got to have your shit together. In my non-trans life I once led a major grass-roots lobbying effort and it's hard because in many ways you have be a Jackie Robinson -- always be calm, cool and collected in public; as well as always careful with your words (to minimize them being misquoted or taken out of context) and aware of their impact. And if you can't do that, then you don't belong in the job.
If I'm being harsh on Stanton, it's because having been a city manager she ought to have known that. (While city managers are careful not to outshine their city council members, they're definitely political critters who deal with the press and public regularly, and know the weight that their words carry.)
I'm sure she's well-intentioned -- and as I said earlier I'm sorry that she's having such a rough personal time of it. But there's a saying that you can't manage others until you're capable of managing yourself -- and frankly I'm not sure she's doing the latter at the moment. In other words, she shouldn't be trying to represent the trans communities until she's sorted out her own issues, including what appears to be a fair amount of self-acceptance issues that are getting projected outwards. So in suggesting that she needs to step out of the spotlight -- both for her own good and the communities' good -- I don't think I'm being any harsher than Stanton as city manager would've been on an employee whose personal problems were getting in the way of doing their job effectively.
At worse, Stanton could cause a lot of damage for the trans communities, given that she's reportedly being courted by HRC, who's seemingly eager to anoint a "trans leader" without bothering to consult the trans communities. Barney Frank has already said he plans to strip gender expression protections from the next ENDA because the American public (i.e. Barney Frank) finds trans people too icky and the last thing we need is Stanton giving Frank and the HRC political cover. But again, Stanton appears to be incredibly naive about LGBT politics and unwilling to listen to those who've been in the trenches.
I guess one of the things I find saddest is that Stanton doesn't seem to be reaching out to other trans people for support (nor other anyone else), nor listening to the advice of people who've got her best interests at heart. To be honest, I think she'd benefit tremendously from being part of a place like the My Husband Betty forums (even if she felt the need to do so pseudonymously).
BTW, I just finished reading Steven Seidman's "Beyond the Closet," which looks at gays and lesbians and the closet -- but which is applicable to trans people as well. Seidman notes that the gay rights movement has had two competing schools of thought: the assimilationists, who have typically framed things in narrow terms of civil rights; and liberationists, who've sought to change the system entirely. Seidman sees faults with both positions and advocates a blend of rights-based agenda as the starting point with a push towards changing society (since legal equality can co-exist with social discrimination). Seidman critiques the "we're virtually normal" argument made by folks like Andrew Sullivan:
A narrow rights agenda ignores the way ideas of sexual citizenship establish social boundaries between insiders (good citizens), and outsiders (bad citizens). And, while same- or opposite-gender preferences is surely one boundary issue, there are many other dimensions of sexuality that are used to separate the good and bad sexual citizens... In particular, a rights-oriented movement does not challenge forms of social control that sexual victims and outsiders of individuals who sexual preferences are between consenting adults. By narrow its agenda to gaining equality and integration, a rights-oriented movement leaves the dominant sexual norms, other than gender preference, in place and removed from the political debate.
The strength of a liberationist perspective is its understanding of hetrosexual dominance [as in being the "default"] as being deeply rooted in social life and as part of a broader pattern of sexual and social inequality... [A] rights agenda can't avoid being implicated in broader patters of sexual and social inequality; it should, then, be blended with a liberationist politic.
To which I'd add is that the "virtually normal" argument invariably leads to tossing someone over the side -- or at least distancing oneself -- in an effort to prove one is not like one of them.
I think it's worth noting that the article mentions Stanton was a "conservative man" before her transition. I'd be willing to bet she's still got a lot of self-acceptance issues, and her statements are all-too-reminiscent of the "we're virtually normal" crowd of gay conservatives.
Anyway, if you're reading this Susan, please step out of the spotlight for the time being, for your own sanity and for the good of your peers.