Over the past thirty or forty years, people have spent lots of time and energy unearthing missing or obscured histories. The re-discovery of history that had been invisible or mis-reported has changed our perception of the world we live in. This has been especially true of the history of marginalized peoples. Watching how this process unfolds makes it clear why and how it’s important that we do what we can to ensure our history is recorded accurately. This is especially true if we are members of marginalized groups.
A little while ago, I got an email announcing that Lynnee Breedlove would be the featured performer at a local open mic event. I have lived in the same queer community as Breedlove for more than fifteen years. The email included major pieces of the bio on Lynnee’s website.
All such bios are self-serving, and I have no issue with that. Not all such bios include outright distortion of history, and I do take issue with that. Reading this one made me think about the way that this common technique is used to distort our understanding of the world we live in.
The bio says:
The founder and frontperson of the first American out dyke punk band Tribe 8, which has always stood for queer, transgender, multiracial, and working class visibility, Breedlove has toured Europe and North America with Tribe 8 as well as Rise Above: The Tribe8 Documentary.
The truth is a little different. When Silas Howard (a member of Tribe started testosterone, there was quite a ruckus. There was talk of the band breaking up. There was talk that Howard would be kicked out of the band for no longer being a Dyke.
The bio also describes Breedlove as “a vanguard of the queer/trans community.” In the mid-1990s, I worked as a messenger. While I would have loved to work at Breedlove’s Lickety Split messenger company, I was not welcome because I am a trans woman. Instead, I worked at one of the traditional macho asshole messenger companies where I got harassment rather than community. Lickety Split messengers wouldn’t even talk to me on the road.
Lisa Vogel, founder and operator of the Michigan Womyns Music Festival, uses her own rewritten history to justify her ejection of trans women from the festival. She claims that the festival was always a “womyn born womyn”. This term was invented in 1991 when a trans woman was ejected from the festival. Vogel has since declared that the festival’s intention was always centered around the shared experience of girlhood. Many people (including me) believe that the category “womyn born womyn” is questionable on its face, and simply a strategy to legitimize trans women’s ejection from the festival. That issue aside, the phrase was never used to describe the festival between 1976, when it was founded, and 1991.
When Vogel says that this was always the policy, she frames the issue as though trans women had never been there before and that they suddenly began seeking permission to enter “womyn’s space” that had never been theirs, despite evidence of trans women’s participation in the queer women’s community at least as early as the late 1960s.
Rewriting history is commonly used to portray opponents as undoing the way things have always been. The view that is falsely portrayed as part of “always” is given the smell of being somehow inherent in civilization’s structure.
The National Rifle Association has been quite successful in fabricating and advancing a version of early American history in which everyone owned a gun. The truth is otherwise, but this fake history frames gun control as the removal of a right that has “always” existed. I’m a gun owner and believe that gun ownership is a critical defense against the tyranny of our own government, but that doesn’t mean I likes the NRA.
Bottom line, when someone tells you how something has always been, it’s frequently a clue that they are full of shit. See also: Faith Sentence