Why the ACLU’s #IPeeWithLGBT Campaign Erases the T

The ACLU has recently launched its “I Pee With LGBT” campaign, which is meant to address and combat the looming Texas Senate Bill 6, known simply as SB6, Texas’s incarnation of an anti-trans bathroom bill much like the one passed in North Carolina last year. Essentially, the campaign is meant to encourage people to contact state representatives about the bill and to support the ACLU in the form of purchasing branded #IPeeWithLGBT merchandise. The campaign even has a nifty filter that one could add to a social media profile pic in support of the cause.

While any and all support for the trans community is necessary and welcome, the ACLU is missing the mark with this hashtag. The big swing and miss for me is the fact that SB6 is an anti-trans bill that specifically aims to single out trans feminine individuals, regardless of sexual orientation. That means transgender women, amab nonbinary femmes and femme-presenting intersex individuals are the ones at high risk of being discriminated against through the language of SB6, and are the ones who lawmakers are hoping to hurt, alienate and imprison.

Yes, it will affect trans men, it will affect butch cis women, and it will affect femme cis gay men as we’ll see more and more gender policing when it comes to public spaces should such a bill pass. But when Dan Patrick and his merry band of conservatives sat down to discuss the wording of the bill, I guarantee you they had some warped version of a trans woman in mind as their primary target, hence the vilifying rhetoric they continue to feed to their constituents.

We are the ones that conservatives are daring to call men in dresses, we’re the ones that have to face direct physical and systemic violence for living publicly in spite of misconceptions, and yet we’re the ones they claim are out to molest and assault unsuspecting (cisgender) women and children, despite there being zero evidence to back this up. So we have every right to be prioritized in this fight as opposed to this being treated as a blanket LGBTQ issue.

The ACLU glossing over the fact that this is a matter of transphobia with its semi-catchy slogan follows the pattern of LGBTQ issues often being painted as equally affecting all facets of our community. It’s like putting someone in a full body cast when only their right arm is broken; the idea is there but it’s not focused enough on treating the immediate problem at hand. How can I as a trans woman feel like SB6 is being taken seriously if advocates won’t even call it an anti-trans bill, instead opting to place it in the larger scope of an anti-LGBTQ agenda? How can I feel like allies are fighting for my rights when they’re erasing my identity from the center of the issue?

Make no mistake, bathroom bills and the rhetoric that fuels them are rooted in transphobic ideologies, and these damaging sentiments aren’t contained to gendered spaces; rather, they permeate through nearly every aspect of our society. The fact that trans people are so frequently discriminated against through not only policy, but also through everyday acts of violence, microaggressions and invalidations reveal why the fight doesn’t begin and end with bathrooms.

The work to dismantling transphobic rhetoric is never over and thus cisgender allies of all sexual orientations need to stand up for the trans community, and that starts with focalizing us when we have conversations about these so-called bathroom bills. And while “peeing with LGBT” is great, cisgender allies have much greater responsibility to the trans community than just being bathroom buddies. They need to show that they’re willing to take concrete actions to help trans people, especially when we’re the ones who are being specifically targeted.

If allies want to show trans people that they mean business, they need to step up and fight for us.

Allies need to start calling out transmisogyny and transphobia rather than being complacent in it. If you hear someone being purposefully misgendered and you are able to safely interject, please do so. There’s no room in our political climate for this “free speech for transphobes” bullshit that’s been seemingly more prevalent lately. If you believe someone’s hate speech is more important than a trans person’s safety, you’re not an ally. Call transphobic remarks out directly if and when you can, even if it’s just online, because it is so much more dangerous for trans people when we have to defend ourselves.

Avoid engaging in cissexism. This means putting forth a conscious effort to include trans experiences in everyday speech rather than speaking as though we do not exist. Cissexism often occurs when someone speaks about something in gendered terms, and it was highlighted recently when large numbers of cis white feminists reduced womanhood to a particular set of genitalia via signs, chants and pussy hats at the recent national Women’s March.

I hate having to remind people that trans bodies exist and that we are just as valid as our cisgender peers, and yet, I seem to do it pretty much every single day. That is why using language of specificity is so important to addressing nuanced issues from an intersectional perspective. For example, when you talk about women, are you identifying which women it is that you’re talking about? Are you making a generalization about all women? Could you use more precise language to better communicate your statement?

Help make every space safe and trans inclusive as well as inclusive to those who do not align with the Eurocentric gender binary. Because it’s not just about bathrooms; legislators are slowly working towards excluding us from being in all public spaces. And this idea that the world is better off without trans people existing publicly only serves to embolden misguided cisgender folks to harm us physically. Again, call transphobia out and stand up for trans people who are being bullied or targeted, especially trans youths, and make sure that when you’re organizing an event or a hashtag movement that you are encouraging the safe participation and involvement of trans people. After all, there wouldn’t be an LGBTQ movement without transgender pioneers like Marsha P. Johnson who rioted at Stonewall.

Educate yourself on trans issues instead of exhausting your local trans person as a free resource. Some of us are happy to clarify things here and there, but many of us are quite literally trying to survive day-to-day. Youtube, Google and even Wikipedia are great jumping off points for learning the basics about what issues, like job discrimination for example, that affect trans people. There are also organizations, including ACLU and Lambda Legal, that have infosheets and educational material available online for free.

Now, I’m personally okay with answering some questions if I must, but the person asking them needs to use the knowledge you gain from me to implement some kind of change, either personally or at a community level. Otherwise, you wasted both of our time and my emotional energy. Trans people can’t drop everything to give a Gender 101 class for well-meaning cis folks, but I’m sure some of us would reconsider if y’all are trying to pay us.

Stop entertaining ideologies that reduce trans people to anomalies. This includes trans-exclusionary radical feminism, biological essentialism, and the false notion that being trans is a mental disorder. We notice when you post a trans-exclusionary article or when you use terms like “male-bodied” to describe trans women. How you approach the topic of transgender rights speaks volumes to whether or not you are a safe person to exist around online and in person. Whether it’s putting trans people on a fetishistic pedestal or referencing outdated medical terminologies, your politics make a difference. FYI, certain infamous gay white supremacists are not authorities on trans issues and should be avoided at all costs.

Allow trans people to tell their own stories. Speaking over or talking for trans people is not the same and standing up for us. We obviously know our experiences better than anyone, so if an opportunity arises to bring trans issues to light, our voices should be uplifted first and foremost. Prioritizing trans voices when it comes to something like a bathroom bill serves to portray an accurate account of the trans experience as well as to humanize us in ways that we’re often not in this overarching conversation of trans exclusion. At the very least, trans writers, activists, artists and so on deserve to have a platform to address our own marginalization before a cisgender person tackles our problems. Work with us, not in lieu of us.

Contact your representatives to tell them that you’re not going to stand for anti-transgender legislation. The ACLU got this one right when they included a form on their #IPeeWithLGBT website for people to email their legislators. We all need to be aware of who represents us from local, state and federal levels of government. These proposed laws will contribute to systemic violence and marginalization that trans people already face, and they will only lead to more direct forms of abuse, so it is up to the people to hound our reps for fair and just representations for ALL. And to my fellow Texans, and everyone honestly, please get out and vote if and when you are able to do so. It might seem futile when the political climate lends itself to corruption, but we owe it to our marginalized communities to at least try to get some of these conservative goons out of office.

Not to be cliche, but this is just the tip of the iceberg here. There are endless things allies could do to make the burden of fighting for trans rights less difficult on trans people. While some folks are down to be bathroom buddies, and that’s totally valid and necessary, there is more work to be done interpersonally and at a systemic level. The fight doesn’t end after we wash our hands, and for a lot of us, it never does, so dedication to promoting justice and inclusion of the transgender community is crucial if any progress is to be made.

Polly Anna Rocha is a 24-year-old queer transgender writer, journalist, musician, poet and activist of color born and raised in San Antonio, Texas.

Polly has written 2 articles for us.

38 Comments

  1. Thank you thank you thank you for this. I watched this the other day and was pissed (though not surprised) that the only stated trans person in the video was a white man. The campaign is a great concept that totally misses the mark.

  2. Thank you for writing this. I’m definitely going to share it. As a cis-woman I’m trying to learn to be a good ally to the T–and not just the LGB. I actually hadn’t see this hashtag yet (saw the article on Twitter and knew I wanted to read it) but I agree that it misses the mark. When the Supreme Court hears argument in Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. on March 28th, the issue is transgender rights in public schools (all T, no LGB, at the heart of the issue).

    I’m confused about why you called out the “pussy hats” though. They are cat-ear hats (the pattern pre-dates the Women’s March by years). Calling them “pussy hats” was because of 45’s comment about crotch-grabbing; the backlash motto was “pussy grabs back.” (Personally I would have picked grey over pink, but whatever.)

      • Is that actually an explanation for how pussy hats in this context are cis-sexist, though?

        We all know that it’s a play on words. As a play on words, it is equally possible that the hat is meant to be taken at a face value. “You say you grab them by the pussy (vulva), well this pussy (cat) grabs back.” The play on words could just as well make it inclusive of anyone without a vulva, regardless of how they identify. It may well be pink not as in labia, but pink as in—unfortunately—everything pertaining to women since the mid 20th century.

        I’m not American and not invested in the pussy hat symbolism. I know feminist movements have a tendency to be cis-sexist (amongst other things) and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if pussy hats are just the tip of the iceberg of the rhetoric I’ve missed by not being in the midst of it. I don’t really care to defend those ugly monstrosities, especially not if they might be cis-sexist, but I was very confused by this explanation.

      • We understand the play on words, but that doesn’t stop it from being cissexist. Also, not all pussies are pink. Many women of color are excluded from this as well. White cisgender women really need to pay more attention to who is centered and who is excluded by their actions.

    • this bill and bills like it are aimed specifically at trans women and trans feminine people, your comment ignored everything said in the article. it’s ok to focus on yourself when you’re being stabbed in the chest

        • Yeah, you do. Because if you concentrate your defenses on those who are explicitly targeted you deal with the rest as a matter of course. Not so if you spread your lines thin defending people who won’t be hurt hardly at all.

        • We don’t all get hit by the blast though. If you read the article, it is clear who is being targeted by this. It’s okay and it is NECESSARY to center trans folx, particularly trans women and ESPECIALLY trans women of color.

    • The pussy hats and most of the chants and signs involving vaginas,uterus,ovaries,etc. were directly related to Dump’s (I refuse to say his name) comments about grabbing women “by the pussy” and all of the proposed legislation that is aimed at the female reproductive system.He didn’t say “grab someone that identifies as a woman, regardless of her genitalia.” He directly commented on sexually assaulting women with “pussies”. I honestly don’t understand what’s wrong with pushing back against that rhetoric. Regardless of who it excludes, what other place is there to comment on his vile words if not the women’s? There are plenty of parts of feminism that exclude me because it doesn’t affect me but I’d never tell people not to comment on it.
      When the vast majority of women have vaginas, ovaries,etc. where else should these issues be addressed if not at a women’s march or women’s spaces?

      This isn’t directed solely at you but I keep seeing people (mostly on tumblr) do the most to silence women who want to talk about dump’s comments re: their genitals or people who say no uterus, no opinion” because it isn’t inclusive enough.

      • Okay so there is a really great article recently published (I think on crunk feminist collective) that talks about the place of pussies within a black feminism. I suggest you read it. I don’t think there’s a problem with recognizing that there is violence directed towards people with pussies – the problem is equating pussies with womanhood when not all women have pussies and not all people with pussies are women.

        As far as this comment goes: “There are plenty of parts of feminism that exclude me because it doesn’t affect me but I’d never tell people not to comment on it.” I have no idea what that means? White feminism or trans-exclusionary feminism is exclusive; intersectional feminism IS inclusive of all identities and oppressions — and that’s exactly what autostraddle is about.

        • Feminism within religious communities don’t exactly involve me because I’m not a religious person and I don’t go to church or any like environments. So, for example, women that have to fight to be rabbis or some elevated, more respected position in their church, have my support but since I’m not religious, this kind of feminism excludes me.

          Feminism revolving around d refugees doesn’t include me because I’m not a refugee. I can support the things that they are fighting for and listen to their voices but their fight excludes me because it is not my fight.

          Feminism revolving around motherhood doesn’t include me because I don’t have kids, nor do I plan on it. Their fight for maternity leave, childcare, etc. excludes my voice because I don’t have those needs.

          Trans issues in as hormones, therapy, surgeries, etc. don’t include me because I’m not trans.

          So on and so forth. Not everything can include everyone. People have different struggles and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that and letting them fight their own, specific, fight.

      • No one is saying not to comment on issues regarding ovaries, uteruses, or vaginas. But “grab her by the pussy” is about sexually abusing women. Trump is a person who would conflate having a pussy with being a woman, but that doesn’t make it right. Trans women are women and are disproportionately affected by sexual violence. If they are telling cisgender women that our rhetoric is divisive and harmful, we need to listen, point blank period. Trans women aren’t silencing us by asking us to think about how we can root out cissexism.

        Also, there is no “female” reproductive system. That reinforces the notion that your genitals define your gender. Same problematic language as saying “female-bodied.”

      • I think the pussy hats would have been way less gross if they hadn’t become The Symbol of something called “the Women’s March” (that term always bothered me anyway because I think white feminists are still refusing to consider that most white women voted for Trump, but that’s another thing). Like if it had been, idk, “the justice march” and a contingent of the protesters wore pussy hats it wouldn’t conflate “woman” with “pussy” and would potentially have read more inclusively.

  3. Thank you for this, didn’t realize it missed the mark. I am fortunate to live in California, but what can us trans folks in the more inclusive states do politically? Like, I frequently tweet and call my congresspersons(work and home are repped to by two different people) and both senators, but I know that’s not enough.

  4. THANKyou. Clear communication is so hotly needed. Now, but of course always. When you want to understand, but miss it because you didn’t see it for yourself, it stymies action when you feel yelled at. The way you write–I feel informed, thank you for that!

  5. “It’s like putting someone in a full body cast when only their right arm is broken; the idea is there but it’s not focused enough on treating the immediate problem at hand.”

    This is such a great way of putting it. So many articles are calling this a “gay” issue, when gender and sexuality are two separate entities. GREAT article.

  6. It’s hard not to think that this campaign is a way of making trans rights palatable to the mainstream who might have accepted that being gay is ok but still feel leery or confused about trans issues. It would have been great to see a campaign focussed on breaking down myths and mainstream narratives about trans people, specifically including the ‘trans women are a threat to cis women in women only spaces’ bullshit.

    Also as a butch cis woman, I do feel anxiety about using public toilets sometimes and have been challenged on my bathroom use. This experience pales in comparison to the shit my trans sisters have to put up with and the threat of violence (personal and state sanctioned) that they face. This is completely about trans women specifically and to deny it is pure obfuscation.

  7. Can I just say that focusing on my mention of the “pussy hats” is missing the point of this entire article?

    If you don’t understand how using a certain set of genitalia to represent ALL women is cissexist, you either didn’t read the article thoroughly enough or you are choosing to ignore the history of trans exclusion in women’s activism spaces.

    No one is saying your pussy can’t grab back, but generalizing womanhood as an experience only women with vaginas can have is cissexist, and that’s what a lot of cisgender women were doing when they used representations of their bodies to stand for the whole of women.

    I encourage ALL women to celebrate their bodies in all their beauty, but please remember that it is one representation of a wide spectrum of representations of femininity. Wear pussy hats all you want, but I’d bet money I would not receive a welcoming reaction if I showed up to a women’s rally or march wearing a dick hat to represent my oppression.

    It is very upsetting to me as the author of this piece, an article meant to educate allies on how to help the trans community, to see that people are honing in on something that wasn’t the main idea of the story, but alas, as a queer transgender woman of color, I should’ve expected as much.

    • I understand that it can feel frustrating when people are inspired to discuss something other than your very important main point, especially when someone latches onto something you personally found trivial.

      But that people choose to discuss something you didn’t intend for them to discuss doesn’t mean that they haven’t heard your message or that they’re invalidating your argument. Asking questions about something that stands out but isn’t your main point doesn’t mean that your main point wasn’t heard, it simply means that there was no question about your main point. Possibly because your article was great (it is).

      Your reader is (generally) capable of doing more than one thing, and since no one tried to use questions about pussy hats to discredit you or your main argument it makes sense (at least to me) to trust that your reader is in fact doing more than one thing here.

      In fact, as long as it remains civil and genuine, isn’t discussing pussy hats also educating allies, especially since it’s apparently not as obvious to all of us (not all of whom are smack in the middle of American feminism either) as you feel it is whether or not said popular symbol is a statement about all women and what constitutes female genitalia.

      You’re entitled to feel dismayed and upset, and I’m sorry to have added to that. I don’t think two or three people asking questions isn’t necessarily as bad as you feel it is, but that’s easy for me to say from a distance when it’s not my article. I know that when it’s my articles, I feel pretty raw.

  8. This is nothing but semantics. They are not leaving anyone out as it does not just effect trans people. You have the “it’s only about me syndrome” when I’m sorry to tell you it’s not.
    They hit the market much better than you ever could with your one track mind.

    • If you believe that cisgender members of the LGBQ communities will be affected by this bill to the same degree trans feminine people will be, you obviously haven’t read the language of SB6 nor have you considered the increase in physical and lethal violence committed against trans women in the past several years. I make a point to talk about how this will affect other gender nonconforming groups, because I know that others will be affected. But just like I said in the article, de-centering the most vulnerable groups of people, transgender people, will only lead to more violence.

  9. Polly Anna, I’m a longtime reader of Autostraddle, and it makes me so, so sad that the members of the AS community who have showed up to comment on this article have confirmed your expectations. THANK YOU for writing this article, THANK YOU for sharing yourself with us. I’m so sorry that you have been disrespected here, in this space that is supposed to be working toward inclusivity.

    To the disrespectful commenters here – What the Actual Fuck? How dare you invalidate another woman’s lived experiences? How dare you invalidate what she and many others in her community know to be true about these incredibly dangerous bills that *clearly* target trans* folks, especially trans women?

    This is not the place for your #alllivesmatter bullshit. The rhetoric that the right uses to propagate these bathroom bills *explicitly* calls out trans women every. single. time. We all know, thanks to the coverage provided by trans women on this very website, that trans women are woefully, disproportionately targeted by violence.

    Does AS focusing on women detract from the experiences of men? Does AS focusing on queer women mean that shitty things don’t happen to straight women? (Hint: no and no.) Viewpoints from and/or about trans women DO NOT detract from your and my experiences as cis women. Don’t you expect men and straight people to sit down and shut the fuck up and LISTEN and UNDERSTAND when you call them out on their bullshit? Perhaps, then, you should apply your own expectations to yourselves.

    If you like the hashtag and reading this author’s viewpoint doesn’t change your mind, then fine. Use it. But, if you actually care about including the T in your LGB movements, then maybe you should feel grateful that Polly Anna took the time out of her day to call you on your bullshit and use the opportunity to learn and grow in your allyhood.

    • Yes and yes and yes to everything Sierra said. When someone is speaking of their experiences, LISTEN. Even — especially! — when it’s uncomfortable to hear.

      Thank you, Polly Anna, for this beautifully written and powerful piece.

  10. I am fully with you but must remind you as an elder not to leave the ‘I’, intersex, out if your discussion. I am all for being allies and having solidarity for trans feminine women being targeted. however, excluding *many* non-trans (*and* trans-identified) intersex people from your equation very nearly makes your other points about inclusion, and the dangers of omission and focalizing moot. if even you, who obviously have the life experience and brains to back up y/our analysis dont even see us (intersex afab and amab people who identify as trans, cis, or non-binary) as existing and don’t include us as humans deeply affected by this bill…what does that indicate? i thank you for these words and raise you one: *please* include intersex in your analysis. i am not even speaking just for myself but all of the marginalized trans feminine intersex individuals targeted with this violence. Things are not looking good for us here on the outside.
    Thank you ❤️
    love,
    an aging, white, disabled, non-binary intersex activist ally

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