I had the best of intentions.
I intended to focus purely on a quartet of aging rock stars, and their anti-trans statements, made all the odder by the gender-transgressive history of many of them.
You see, KISS co-founding lead guitarist Paul Stanley, decided last May to share his deep thoughts on gender identity. Little did he know he would be the first to bring transphobia to the 1970s rocker set.
At the time, he likened minors struggling with their gender identity as merely “playing dress up” and that it would all lead to a “sad and dangerous fad.” Stanley later walked back his statement, claiming his words weren’t clear, and that he “support[s] those struggling with their sexual identity.”
Dee Snider, the frontman of Twisted Sister lept in, adding, “You know what? There was a time where I ‘felt pretty’ too. Glad my parents didn’t jump to any rash conclusions!” As a result of this, San Francisco Pride disinvited him, and changed plans to theme this year’s Pride event after Twisted Sister’s biggest hit, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
Snider, too, has backtracked, sort of, in a statement saying, “I, Dee Snider, will continue to support the Transgender community and their rights even if they reject me and moving forward, I am open to educating myself so I can be a better ally.”
I had assumed that this trend had died down before pride, but more recently, Alice Cooper joined the fray, going much further than his rock ’n’ roll compatriot.
“I’m understanding that there are cases of transgender, but I’m afraid that it’s also a fad and I’m afraid there’s a lot of people claiming to be this just because they want to be that,” Cooper said in an interview with Stereogum.
As a result, Cooper lost a makeup collaboration with Vampire Cosmetics, a woman-owned, LGBTQ-friendly cosmetics brand.
There have been others as well, with Carlos Santana sharing an odd statement that finished with, “Whatever you wanna do in the closet, that’s your business. I’m OK with that,” which he later recanted, then apparently recanted further.
Again my intentions were to just talk about these aging rockers, who have used their platform to spread misinformation about transgender and nonbinary people’s lives.
Then, in the midst of all this, a longtime friend of mine shared much the same on Facebook.
Now, unlike the above celebs, my friend is not a household name. He’s just someone I met three decades ago, who was there when I was in the midst of transition. He has always been a gentleman, and was an ardent supporter of me when I came out. His support has always meant the world to me.
He does have a tendency to repost a lot of the usual sorts of things one might find on Facebook: A lot of nostalgic memes about the good old days when we all drank from leaden pipes and weren’t glued to our cell phones.
Now, I personally find those a bit baffling. Yes, sure, we did survive those days — but not all of us did. More might survive now thanks to, oh, better safety regulations. And while I may not have had a cell phone back then, I surely had a Game Boy and, long before that, Mattel handheld games.
The meme he shared the other day was an older one, complaining about millennials when people still called them “Generation Y,” but the meme itself wasn’t the issue. Above it, my friend had noted that at least the millennials, “had no problems figuring out what gender they were, what bathrooms to use.”
This was an icy dagger. A friend, who was there when I was “figuring out what gender I was,” and having to deal with the politics around even a single-sex stall at work, made a statement this broad.
Now, I’m sure he didn’t think that, when he made that statement, he was including me. After all, I’m his age, the age of someone that may have listened to Alice Cooper, KISS, and, yes, Twister Sister. And yet, this was still very much about people just like me, who are now much more visible than I was all those years ago.
I realized that my friend has a lot in common with those old rock stars. Everyone is busy recalling a world that was. We knew what the world was then, and now things are different. One of those differences is in trans lives. We’re no longer a quiet minority, punctuated by your experiences with friends and close family. Now, we hear about trans people in a much wider way, and it is easy to lose sight that everyone who is trans is going through these same experiences.
More than that, there are a great many invested in scapegoating transgender people right now, portraying us as either sinister predators or witless victims of outside forces, the “transgender lobby,” or “big Pharma” or what have you.
Some of those who are scapegoating are also more than happy to see old rock ’n’ rollers — and longtime friends — get caught up in it all, and not quite realize what they may be saying.
So I am going to have some compassion, both for Stanley, Snider, and Cooper, and Santana — as well as my friend. They, too, have been played by falsehoods, and sold lies about transgender lives. Nostalgia can be a trap, especially when it causes you to lose sight of what’s really going on.
I hope they can escape that trap, and look at things with fresh eyes.
Gwen Smith may lose a dear friend over this column. You’ll find her at www.gwensmith.com.