Benefits of the Fight for Marriage Equality in Changing a Homo/Bi/Transphobic Culture

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The fights like marriage equality, which, on it's surface, seems really heteronormative, have the benefit of creating a halo effect and changing a homo/bi/transphobic culture. It makes queer people visible, it brings to light unequal treatment and starts a societal conversation that can and should be taken advantage off.

Sometimes the things you are fighting for aren't really the things you were fighting for and sometimes they're not the things you even end up winning. Sometimes, they even better.

The fights like marriage equality, which, on it's surface, seems really heteronormative, have the benefit of creating a halo effect and changing a homo/bi/transphobic culture. It makes queer people visible, it brings to light unequal treatment and starts a societal conversation that can and should be taken advantage off.

Eilís - Sometimes the things you are fighting for aren't really the things you were fighting for and sometimes they're not the things you even end up winning. Sometimes, they even better.

Folks are going to have to excuse me for being a bit North American centric for a few moments, but I want to talk about some activism I've been involved in. My activism around this is so old that it can legally drink in every state of the United States. I'm really excited about this even though the link to marriage equality will seem tenuous because it means I don't have to ever ever talk about it ever again in public.

If you don't know about the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, it's a 40 year old, women only music festival in Hart, Michigan. In the early 90s they kicked a trans woman, Nancy Burkholder, out of the festival, in the middle of the night. Her crime was not being “woman born woman”.

About 18 years ago, I helped kick off a boycott of bands that played festival and helped kick off what became the second incarnation of Camp Trans a protest camp outside of festival that took place for about 15 years. After years of protest around this, just this week, Lisa Vogel, the founder and owner of the festival, announced that she was shutting it down, that it was no longer financially viable.

Some segments in the trans women's community are counting this as a win for us. I'm not one of them. The festival decided that, after years of pressure, that could have been resolved with a simple policy change, that they would rather take their ball and go home. To me, that's not a win. It's a failure. It's a good thing that admission to a festival was never what I was really fighting for.

Some context. In the United States and other places, the admission of trans women to women's spaces has been, historically, a contentious issue. Trans women have been, for the past 45 years, purged from women's communities. From Beth Elliot and the Daughters of Blitus, to Sylvia Rivera and the predecassor to today's NYC pride parade, the inclusion of trans women has been spotty at best.

And then the protests against Michigan happened. And it changed a culture.

Today, while it's FAR from perfect, the inclusion of trans women in women's culture in the US and Canada is more often considered a given, rather than something that must be debated. This has real, concrete, effects. In the US, the non-profit industry is a bit “queer”. From homeless shelters, domestic violence programs, women's health initiatives, queer afab people, are highly represented. And a lot of them dictate policy. And a lot of them went to MWMF and drank up a culture where trans women were considered less than.
And then things changed.

I want to read something that my baby trans sister in the States wrote. She's an abortion provider in the Pacific Northwest.

“I just want to give my profound thanks to everyone who gave so much of themselves in this fight. I know MWMF closing was not what you wanted and there's a profound saddness that Vogel would choose to close rather than change. Unfortunately, there are always people in the world that would rather burn down the plantation than share. Progress just has to go on around them. I am a trans-woman and the medical director of The Feminist Women's Health Centers. We are an activist non-profit founded by second wave feminists in 1980, and we still hold very close to that tradition. We now have a trans-health program with over 150 patients. The culture change you've created around this issue, is what makes that possible.”

I talk about this because the fights like marriage equality, which, on it's surface, seems really heteronormative, have the benefit of creating a halo effect and changing a homo/bi/transphobic culture. It makes queer people visible, it brings to light unequal treatment and starts a societal conversation that can and should be taken advantage off. Because while the involvement of the state in my person relationship horrifies me as an anarchist, if I can utilise the fight to broaden the conversation to something beyond marriage, I will.

Now. That said. I'm going to shock some of you by saying something. I'm recently become somewhat of a fan of traditional marriage. Before I get booed off stage, I want to read something and see if anyone knows where this comes from.

“If my husband were timorous, neither would it be fitting for us to be together, for single-handed I am victorious in battles and contests and combats, and it would be a reproach to my husband that his wife should be more courageous than he, but it is no reproach if they are equally courageous provided that both are courageous. If the man with whom I should be were jealous, neither would it be fitting, for I was never without one lover quickly succeeding another.”

This is the pillow talk chapter from the Táin. So, I'm kind of a history dork, especially around the law and culture, and I've always found the phrase, “traditional marriage” especially in an Irish context, somewhat hysterical, considering that divorce, temporary marriage, polygamous and polyandrous marriage was codified in early irish law up until 1605.

When the folks at that institute I'm afraid of calling homophobic because who knows, I might get sued, go use the phrase “traditional marriage”, I have to ask. Who's tradition?

Certainly not the litigants in Hassan & Another v. MJELR Hamza, A Lebonese Irish citizen whose tradition allowed polygamous marriage. The Irish high court ruled that his marriage was invalid for the purposes of immigration law.

It's certainly not even the tradition of the catholic church which has a documented history of performing same sex marriages. I want to read something else, that comes from D.H Binchy Corpus Iuris Hibernica, which is a huge 6 volumn set that contains all of early irish law. It comes from a section of reasons a woman could validly, without paying a fine, divorce her husband and it's from 700AD.
a woman who is cheated of bed-rites, so that her husband prefers to lie with servant-boys when it was not necessary for him ;

When. it. was. not. necessary. for. him. So, really, when they spout off about tradition, are they talking about the tradition where, hey, sometimes it's ok to sleep with the servant boys and hey, sometimes it's ok to have multiple partners? Whose tradition are they really talking about?

Not their own, certainly.


This text was given by Eilís Ní Fhlannagáin to the ‘Voting for Marriage Equality while being critical of Marriage’ session at the Dublin Anarchist Bookfair 2014.  You can watch a video of this session

About the speaker - Eilís Ní Fhlannagáin has been active in radical trans women's circles for the past two decades. Her activism focuses on trans women, their access to quality health care and employment, poverty, and transmisogyny within feminist communities. Her work has been mentioned in Mimi Marinucci's "Feminism is Queer: The Intimate Connection between Queer and Feminist Theory", as well as Sybil Lamb's "How Not To Have A Sex Change". She currently lives in Dublin where she is writing a book about starting an underground orchiectomy clinic. She blogs, very infrequently at http://hacklikeagirl.wordpress.com/

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