The year 1973 represented a great leap forward toward equal rights for the gay and feminist communities in America — including the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion, and the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a mental disorder.
However, the year also marked a regression in trans rights, exemplified by gay and feminist protests of trans speakers and performers at gay liberation events. Susan Stryker, associate professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Arizona, said in a lecture at Rackham Building on Tuesday.
Stryker’s address focused on how the trans community is in a similar oppositional position currently, and examined transgender history in an attempt to better understand the community today. The lecture is part of a Year of Conversions series of events that aim to engage in “yearlong conversation about transformation and its histories, politics, aesthetics, and social practices,” according to organizers at the Institute of Humanities.
In her lecture, Stryker said the anti-trans protests of 1973 symbolized a reversal of the direction things had been going for the movements, noting that American society post-World War II seemed especially hospitable to emergent forms of personal identity.
Stryker then chronicled the events of 1973 she thought were responsible for the gay and feminist abandonment of the trans community.
Principle among her list of events were the Roe v. Wade decision, the Paris Peace Accords — which ended U.S. involvement in Vietnam — and the declassification of homosexuality in the DSM.
Although she acknowledged the Roe v. Wade decision was a victory for women’s right to choose, Stryker said the case was argued on narrow grounds of a liberal right to privacy, rather than the more fundamental right to reproductive autonomy and freedom.
“Without the war to provide a common focus for leftist, third-world and countercultural activism, oppositional movements began to fracture,” Stryker added.
As well, with the end of the Vietnam War and thus the end of the draft, gay and countercultural men who had formerly embraced.
“Personal forms of anti-masculine counter-conduct” instead adopted “macho styles that are more consonant with conventional masculinity,” she said.
And although the removal of homosexuality from the DSM was certainly a victory for gay liberation, Stryker said, it allowed the gay community, now incorporated to a greater degree into society, to view the trans community as other.
The anti-trans sentiment in the gay and feminist communities wasn’t universal, Stryker said, but where it did exist, it took an intolerant tone. Speaking about trans activist Sylvia Rivera’s criticism of the gay community during the famous Gay Pride Rally in 1973 and its harsh reception, Stryker said a significant faction within the conference viewed trans women’s existence as the exploitation of women.
She ended the lecture on a hopeful note, pushing her audience to take action.
“We can’t undo the decades of estrangement that characterized the relationship between trans, feminist and gay politics,” she said. “But we have the materials for imagining a counter-history at a time when transgender issues are now experiencing unprecedented levels of visibility. We have a chance now, if we are willing to embrace it, to reactivate the best impulses of that earlier time, and bring those visions to bear our actions today,” she said.
LSA senior Ashley Burnside said she enjoyed the event, saying it gave her a better perspective of historical anti-trans movements.
“I enjoyed how she incorporated the video of Sylvia Rivera’s speech and the counter-speech,” Burnside said. “I had seen Sylvia Rivera’s speech but not the one that went after her, and I thought that was really interesting to see them both together like that and to hear her (Stryker’s) response to the two speeches.