The double-edged sword of political representation
On June 28th 2016 history was made when not only one but two openly transgender candidates won their respective congressional primaries. The victories were even more momentous given the current climate and opinions about the way that trans folks should live their lives. Whether it is about which restrooms they use, the protections they do or don’t have or their general safety, everyone seems to have an opinion about transgender people and the way we should behave.
Winning these primaries does not put either of these candidates in congress by itself but their victories are still impressive. Both candidates who are, coincidentally, named Misty, won as Democratic candidates. With Misty K Snow winning in Utah while Misty Plowright achieving victory in “one of the most conservative districts in Colorado” and proclaiming herself the “anti-politician”according to the Washington Post.
Oddly though neither of these candidates used their own gender identity as a primary focus to rally around. Instead they used proposals seen in the Bernie Sanders campaign such as the minimum wage and getting “money out of politics”. Both of these ideas aren’t particularly new and don’t do much to challenge the existing system.
For instance, getting “money out of politics” is a very short-term goal that misses the fact that politics and money have always gone together. For as long as the state has drawn institutional breath there have been others to siphon off its basic existence for their own benefits. Whether it comes to corporations taking subsidies in the form of intellectual property rights, tax benefits and other regulations that they can buy off, the state has always had money heavily involved in its affairs, often to negative effects.
Still, these wins are historic and hopefully show greater general support for transgender folks. Allowing more access to public institutions for the transgender community is one way to showcase that transgender folks are just normal people who deserve the same respect and acceptance that anyone else does.
Even so there are drawbacks to these sorts of victories and there are perhaps better ways to reach those same goals. Putting more individual members in certain public institutions may help in some ways but they can also hinder.For one thing, putting more transgender individuals in office could simply reinforce the message that the best way to change the system is from the top-down. And especially for minority groups like transgender folks, this seems like a dubious proposition given the current cultural climate.
This is because these aren’t minority communities by any set of coincidences. There is and has always been active oppression on the part of the state to limit the ability of people of color, youth, transgender folks and others from participating meaningfully in society. The current rates of homelessness, suicide, discrimination and so on reported by transgender community members isn’t something that has randomly popped up. Instead, it’s been propped up by a history of marginalization and exploitation on the part of a ruling class that feeds off dividing up what is “normal” and what isn’t.
Given this history it seems unlikely that Snow or Plowright are going to make significant differences within a nearly unanimously cisgender institution. In addition, the process of politics tends to make people downplay what is most important and personal to them if they don’t feel it will help them at the polls, regardless of its general importance.
This seems to be the case where transgender individuals are making reformist demands instead of joining in the many other transgender organizations, communities and with other individuals in challenging state authority over our lives. We need to encourage everyone of all abilities and belongings not to work from within but create sustainable solutions outside of it that will challenge and ultimately displace state power.