How a Viral Tweet is Changing the Narrative that Divides the Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Community from Trans Folks

Former star of Homicide Life on the Street and out bisexual actor Tim Baylissam took to Twitter June 1st, to beg the collective LGB community to not say, “shit like this: Lesbians and gay men can and do date trans people and have sex with them.”

It was a volley that is exploding virally and that deals with an issue that is often not talked about in public. And its rapid, viral deployment into the public dialogue reveals it may be one of the most pivotal issues that will both change and shift the conversation around Trans Rights in America.

Lesbians don’t like dick and gay men don’t like pussy.

“Cis lesbians who are willingly dating trans women, and cis gay men who are willingly dating trans men. you personally being averse to certain genitals is fine, but don’t act like all people are. there’s men with vaginas dating straight women, there’s women with penises dating straight men, there’s men with vaginas dating gay men, there’s women with penises dating gay women, get the hell and fuck over it already.”

Moments before he had just retweeted a post recognizing him as one of the first bisexual characters on a major TV network in honor of Pride month.

“Making broad statements about genital preferences erases gay men who date pre-op trans men and lesbians who date pre-op trans women people who can’t read: Look at this crazy #TRA trying to force homosexuals to date the opposite sex.”

Among the ideas that Baylissam underscores is the incredible pervasiveness of how genitalia determine gender and sometimes sexually identity, and certainly influence the way that we categorize transgender folks.

The remarkable thing about his Tweet is both the fact that it’s gone viral and the incredibly polarizing sentiment it has engendered.

As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Stone Wall Uprisings, which ushered in what we now know as contemporary Gay Pride celebrations, it’s important to recognize that while LGB citizens in this country have seen remarkable progress since 1969, the transgender community, while more visible than ever, finds itself in a quagmire of sorts.

For many years, two of the transgender leaders of the Stonewall Rebellion, as it was known at the time, Marsha P. Washington and Sylvia Rivera continued to remain marginalized following the rebellion and both were widely erased from the nascent history of LGBT life in America.

Last month The New York Times reported that the City of New York is finally erecting statues commemorating Washington’s and Rivera’s contributions and roles not only as leaders, but as catalysts of change.

Marsha P. Johnson, picketing Bellevue Hospital to protest treatment of gay people and the homeless. CreditDiana Davies, via New York Public Library

Part of the vitriol stems from the fact that conversations about gender and sexuality are inherently fraught, as gender and sexuality are irrevocably linked in most people’s minds. Baylissam’s posts also reemphasized the need for new, more understanding language around trans issues.

I became acutely aware of the schism in our community when I met a cutie named Josh out one night. After a few drinks, and a quieter moment at the raucous bar we were at, I suggested that we head out and hang out at my apartment. Josh looked at me quizzically and said, “I didn’t know you were into gay guys like me.”

Joshua Powles

Thinking I misheard, I asked him what kind of gay guy he was exactly.

“I’m trans,” he said.

Without missing a beat, and of course when there was a quiet lull in the bar, I shouted back across the table at him, genuinely not comprehending what he meant, “What do you mean? Trans fat? Trans Am? Transmetropolitan?”

“Transgender,” he answered quietly.

Josh had, I later learned, “passing privileges” a phrase that means virtually the same thing it did when it was last widely used in the 1920s and 30s for Black folks who “appeared to be white.”

The 1949 blockbuster Pinky touched on the subject matter.

Josh and I dated for the next year, wherein I got a crash course in trans life in small town America. There were the nights that I couldn’t sleep because Speedway, the gas station chain that Josh worked at, had put him on closing shifts for the remainder of the summer.

The store that Josh worked at was smack dab in the middle of his hometown of Hyde Park, where he’d faced intense bullying, attacks, and general disdain from many of his classmates while at school there.

One night, Josh alone in the store near closing time, texted me to tell me he was frightened because one of the kids that had viciously bullied him in junior high, had spent the last 20-30 minutes wandering around the store serving him menacing stares. Although he had since transitioned, he was sure that his former tormentor recognized him.

Finally the kid bought a 16 ounce Dr. Pepper, and then demanded a receipt. Josh hadn’t finished the paperwork to change his legal name, so the receipt listed the cashiers’ name as Jessica.

“I knew it was you, you fucking freak!” the man yelled before marching out. At the the door he turned back, made a gun sign with his hands, and said Josh had better watch his back.

While I was knowledgable about trans issues, I had lived through my ex-boyfriend’s brother’s transition ten years earlier, and certainly as a senior editor at The Advocate magazine, before my relationship with Josh, the thoughts and articles I’d penned and read about transgender murder rates were ultimately, abstract. But, I can’t quantify the anxiety that I lived with whenever I didn’t know where Josh was, knowing that murdering someone who is trans is so routine, that the idea he could be murdered coming home from work was very real.

Josh faced significant headwinds in life, from coming out as a lesbian and having his father threaten to murder him, to coming out as transgender while attending his first year at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

Powles mother who had made peace with him coming out gay, refused to abide his determination to come out as transgender. His mother and guardian drove to Washington and “liberate” Josh as they were certain that his identity had something to do with living in that large cosmopolitan urban city.

Our relationship was tumultuous to say the least. I was ill equipped to support and adequately empathize with his body dysmorphia, which led to spirals of anxiety, depression, and drinking on his part.

I’m gay and haven’t slept with a woman since high school, but we had the most amazing sex ever.

I also admit that there were moments and an undercurrent of mild existential anxiety, that would cross my mind about what our relationship meant vis a vis my sexual identity. When I went to friends or confidants to talk about our relationship, I was deluged by a wave of some of the most banal, prejudicial language, and jokes that I’d ever heard.

Straight friends often toasted me with their Coronas and said things like, “Damn Son, we always knew you were straight.”

Then there were the just silly but mean, and misogynistic responses from gay friends, all which can be summed up as some variation of, “wait, he has a pussy?”

Which invariably garnered, a loud, “eeew gross.”

Most identities are based on an amalgamation of stereotypes and cursory impressions repackaged as a science of sorts, but it’s really not.

In the ensuing years, my co-worker and mentee Cole Hayes, a trans actor and writer from Seattle, talked about these issues at great length eventually culminating in our proof of concept for our trans boy band docuseries, Born Stars.

One of the critical emotional touchstones for us and the show was to redefine the often rocky relationship between cis-gendered gay men and trans gay guys. It was a conversation that a year ago was invisible in the national LGBT dialogue.

I posted the Tweet from Baylissam on our Facebook page for Born Stars on Monday. It’s result in more comments than any post I’ve seen, and in less than four days been viewed nearly half a million times and counting.

I believe this is sufficient evidence to describe Baylissam’s comment as not only disrupting, but relevant. The post and its language are obviously resonating.

Happy Pride, y’all!

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