The institutional system that has evolved to allegedly serve trans women in fact keeps us from effectively organizing. I say “evolved” because the idea of trans people networking hasn’t always been as controlled or exclusive as it is now, and also given that the rise of the Internet has led to a dismissal of need for community space when internet spaces are often equally exclusive and aren’t available to everyone.
But first of all, a little history. I hear quite a bit from trans women about “why don’t we organize like trans men do?” …and, well, the answer is that history. See, once upon a time, support groups were children of the “gender center” model which provided one outlet for where you went if you were trans. The support group was pretty much the free therapy outlet for peer support and also would “instruct” the trans woman in various matters of clothing and “comportment.” Well, at some point trans men ended up in these “gender center” systems and were treated like absolute shit. The support group component wasn’t optional, and oftentimes the people who anointed themselves as gatekeepers of womanhood didn’t know how to deal with someone traveling the Gender Superhighway in the opposite lanes.
In other words, the gender centers really sucked for trans guys. The insults and exclusion came with a desire to network outside the gender center, to go against the direction to never talk to another transsexual outside the gender center, and to overrule the ridiculous hoops that they were required to jump through. This modern concept that trans men only grouped “because they used to be lesbians” is both incorrect in its assumption and completely wrong in its execution. Trans men grouped up to get away from the gender center and work around it. Their exclusion and shitty treatment by those gender centers were part of what contributes to the wide gulf between trans men and trans women, though there have been many actions by trans men since they gained a position of hegemony that they’ve returned that pain hundredfold.
Unfortunately, trans women have stuck to this model: the support group is the one solution for everything. Sure, the rules are a little different, you’re allowed to talk to other trans women now and you don’t have to have the gender center’s blessing, as gender centers have largely become symbolic…but the support group seems to retain a position of supremacy. I live in Seattle, home of the Ingersoll Gender Center’s “support group”, a term I use loosely. The support group is basically your one-stop shop for having judgment passed on your existence and a volley of unsolicited “passing tips” and measurement of how well you fit a 1950s Stepford Wife model of femininity…and if that’s what you’re going for, great. If you’re not…well, I was told that I’d never be happy unless I purged, called “he” by their facilitator, and informed that I apparently have, wait for it, ‘masculine eye folds’ by a member of the facilitator’s retinue.
People like that facilitator at Ingersoll and every trans woman who sees other trans women as nothing more than a paycheck or their dedicated fanbase are nothing more than misery pimps. As someone who’s been pimped out, I feel quite justified in using that word, and these people are indistinguishable from pimps in that they promise you one thing and then there’s an endless list of conditions you can’t actually ever satisfy because the game’s rigged and that’s how it’s designed to be. And if you speak up, the consequences are swift and severe: you can’t be part of the group anymore or you will be shunned if you try. It’s the “You can’t sit here” (think Mean Girls) of trans discourse. And if you’ve ever dealt with the business end of the pimping transaction, “you won’t get (something) unless you behave” is a central and frequently repeated part of how control is exercised.
Now, some pimps are worse than others, but there’s no good pimp. The system is by its very nature exploitative, and the conscious choice of control that is exerted by the misery pimp ensures that people will comply or they won’t get information, they won’t get access to the one space where it’s socially proper to network with other trans women, and they will be excluded. Ingersoll itself has lost much of its importance as it’s no longer host to all the professionals you need to see, but if you’re looking for information about safe electrologists, doctors, or the like, that’s where you’re directed. It still occupies a central place in controlling information and networking with other trans women. You still have to deal with it if you need a primary care physician (or take your chances with the phone book, which hasn’t worked yet for me) or you’re trying to network with other trans women when you don’t magically know other trans women like you’re “supposed to.” My life doesn’t come with a lot of contact with other trans women…I’m not seeing y’all at the playground when I’m nannying, and y’all don’t live in the hood. The support group and its incorporated misery pimps control the opportunity to connect and access to information. It’s all about control.
The logic the ruling class used in England to justify their position of sovereignty was that their crown was a right extended to them by God, quite literally Dieu et mon Droit, a system that allowed the royalty absolute right to do whatever the hell they wanted. I mean, is there any proof that God gave them the right to rule? No. Similarly, there’s no proof that society will collapse if trans women share information and network outside the judgmental and hateful support group, but for some reason that’s Just Not Allowed. I’d like to know why.
I think it’s the fear of what the Misery Pimp will do if they find out. I’m free of my pimp in the literal sense these days, and the world hasn’t collapsed on itself and the horrible consequences I was warned about did not come to pass. Though I had that terror, that terror isn’t real. It’s time to start organizing spaces that don’t appoint leadership based on exclusion and maintaining power at all costs and to begin make space for all trans women, not just some of us. It’s time to stop making our community be about exclusion and about being for all of us. It’s time to stop giving the Misery Pimp power out of some hope that they won’t turn on you the same way they turned on that other person…that’s not going to help liberate us as trans women, and it’s going to exclude many of us from the movement over petty things like “masculine eye folds.”