Victims Or Villains?

(Reprinted from briannaaustin.com)

Too many times the TG community gets dumped on. Whether it is by an internally frustrated homophobic alpha male, a catty gay man, a mean spirited Lesbian woman or just a clueless tourist, the community does endure more than it’s share of crap. But, are we perpetual victims? Do we need to be?

This past September there was quite an incident at East of Eighth, a neighborhood bar & restaurant at 254 West 23rd Street in New York City. I know the place quite well. I used to co/own, promote and host a trans-party there once a month. We would convert the upstairs restaurant into a trans-party that usually drew between 100 – 160 people on the 2nd Saturday of each month. The party often spilled into the down stairs bar where Jack was pouring drinks, and it was a great time.

My friends and I would go to the downstairs bar every week, usually Friday and/or Saturday to start off our evening, before heading into the night for clubs unknown. We liked the staff, management, and clientele, and they liked us. Word began to spread and before long we started seeing more and more girls coming there to have dinner or party at the bar.

I used to joke that when they built East Of Eighth, my friend Jamie was already sitting at the bar. She was a regular and got along with everyone. On this particular night, she leaned into the bartender and said, “wow, Jack, it looks like tranny central in here!” Without warning Jack exploded into a verbal tirade loud enough for all the girls to hear. His words made it obvious that they were no longer welcomed there. His frustrations, which had been apparently brewing for some time, included that the girls, 1) were tying up the two bathrooms to change and do their makeup, 2) using the bar as a meeting area, but not ordering anything (some girls even brought there own) 3) not tipping appropriately, 4) and lastly, coming in such numbers that the good paying gay customers were staying away. They should have read my article “How To Survive the Gay Bar.”

The outrage from the T-community was swift and harsh; calling for Jack’s job and lawsuit. The emails were flying around the community and everyone was jumping into the fray. Some called for calm while others suggested negotiations and bar-wide conditions be set. Then there was those still on the warpath calling for staged protests.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. When the dust settled down the protest idea was losing steam, but the conversations about getting the bartender fired and a possible lawsuit were still quite potent. Another suggestion was for the bar to change some policies; suggestions were offered. These included putting signs in the bathrooms to remind people to limit their time there, and start a bar-wide 2- drink minimum.

I’m sorry did I miss something? Would you go to a restaurant as a man and use their bathroom to shave? Would you bring your own liquor with you? Are we children? Do we need signs to tell us how to act like grown ups? Unfortunately a few T-girls lacked some common courtesy that caused this mess, but the community jumped in on the “We’ve been discriminated on” bandwagon. Although some of the suggestions -- in the heat of battle -- had good intentions, we as a community need to understand that by making those suggestions we are actually saying, “we are different, treat us differently,” while we chant, “treat us fairly, we’re just like everyone else.” The trouble is you can’t have it both ways.

East of Eighth was a bar that welcomed the t-community for years with open arms. For some t-girls it was their first steps into the mainstream. The bar didn’t just decide to change their position against the t-community without cause. This incident should be a wake up call: If you choose to go into the mainstream you have to act accordingly. If you can’t then you hurt your fellow sisters, so stay home in the closet!

We have to stop playing the victim and continually using the trans discrimination bandwagon: or we will wear out the wheels. There are real discrimination cases across the globe where people loose jobs, face mental and physical abuse, and in some cases die. What happened at East of Eighth was tranny stupidity, pure and simple. So here’s an action we can take: “Get a grip, grow up and get over it!” But, most importantly, learn from it.

Until Next TIme,
Get out, be safe, have fun and always .... think pretty!
Brianna Austin

Comments

Joni_G said…
Right on, Brianna! The euphoria of being out and about in all our femme glory does need to include a considerable amount of common sense. The sign on the door "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone" is usually NOT a disclaimer for discrimination, but often an attempt to keep enough order in the shop to ensure decent service to as many customers as possible. Understanding the reason for Jack's outburst is a good start in developing better relationships with local businesses.
Anonymous said…
Hi Brianna. I found what you wrote about East of Eigth very interesting. It seems that there are always a few in society - no matter which society - that take advantage and ruin a good thing for the many. We CDs and others in the "T" community should be even more aware of what constitutes "good manners" than society in general. Hugs, Carole
Re: Victims or Villians, by Brianna Austin


Thank you Brianna for this interesting post. I was not aware of the controversy you speak of, although from your explanation it is sure to be a hot topic! I can see many valid points coming from either side. I admire your boldness in taking a stand which is surely outside of the status quo. Rather than being biased by fear of trans-discrimination, you are looking at the situation objectively, and I praise you for speaking your mind on this issue.

One thing that people so often forget is that business owners are at liberty to decide who is welcome at their establishment. People seem to think it's their god-given right to frequent a certain place, without realizing they are "guests" and should behave courteously. It seems to me from what you are saying that some of the tgirls really took for granted their welcome at this place, and even abused their hosts in the process. It sounds like they failed to show appreciation for a good situation. For anyone to bring their own booze to a licensed establishment is really rude and in poor taste. I imagine it was probably just a few isolated people who caused that problem, yet unfairly it reflects upon the entire group of tgirl patrons.

As for the washroom difficulty, it surprises me the place only has two stalls for women. I suspect they mustn't have many GG customers. Any bar/club with such a tiny washroom for women would likely run into the same problem, whether catering to GGs or TGs. It is customary and common for women to linger in public washrooms longer than men, to touch up makeup, even to socialize. In situations with a tiny washroom and many others waiting, obviously we keep the time to a minimum. However if tgirls were actually using the washroom to full out change clothing, that's absolutely rediculous! Again, horribly bad behavior on the part of most likely just a few people.

No matter what the details that lead to the conflict, the lesson is the same. Transwomen you have a duty to your sisters to conduct yourselves in a way that brings credit to the community. Society at large is just starting to form impressions of transgender people, and quite often your behavior will be interpreted by common folk as representing "all" transpeople. That's not right and it's not fair, but it's reality. Your bad behavior reflects poorly on others, whereas your good behavior has a positive impact. If there's any one thing you can ALL do to help the cause, it is to simply shine your BEST light!

Lots of love,
Michele
Alysyn said…
Often in politics we see that the discontent of a minority creates changes which the majority finds itself forced to endure. While this sometimes is good, too often the majority suffers for the poor decisions or behavior of a minority. I agree with you, Michele, chances are there were a few who were poorly representative of the whole on a consistent enough basis, and made such a deep impression on the bartender that he became embittered and disillusioned with the whole.

I congratulate you, Brianna, on your sense of balance.

Love,
Aly
Erica said…
Hey Brie, I sure remember going to Eof8 many times as you described it. I especially remember a Moulin Rouge theme event that was a blast.

I used to think how amazing it was for these folks to let us "transform" their regular restaurant into a tranny haven. It's a shame what happened there, I guess that all went down after I stopped coming to parties there. But I agree with you people should have more respect and common sense.
BTW, to Michele Angelique, the bathrooms there were really small, this was a small place in Manhattan, and treating it as a locker room is way off base.
Hugs,
Erica
annette said…
Commentary on Brianna Austin's post: Victims or Villains

Having seen this "stuff" happen around here, I have some rather strong opinions about this sometimes stormy management/patron relationship. Yes, it is true. Tgirls and patrons sometimes behave badly and management has every right to remove them. It is also true that management also behaves badly and in that case, the offended parties should take action should they feel the necessity.

There is a small group that meets every Friday outside the Boston area (Gurlsniteout or GNO). The gals get together for a drink or two and head into the city trying out various nightclubs/restuarants. Usually the group moderator (Ashley) gives a little report about what a great time everyone had. In this instance, however, the doorman at the club they went to refused to let them enter. According to Ashley's account, the doorman let several other parties into the club while disallowing Ashley's group. Eventually they left and went to another venue.

When I read the little spiel in the yahoo group the next day I was a bit surprised. Ashley had done her homework and had already talked to the owner of the club and got his assurances that a group of tg women would not be a problem. What surprised me were the responses to her post. A few of the hardcore tg republicans in the group assumed that it was a case of "girls behaving badly" or being "inappropriately dressed." Whatever happened, it had to have been the fault of the GNO girls and every business has its own rules and regulations and those rules "must have been broken." Quit whining. End of story. Let's just say that they had a very pro-business stance on this issue. On the other side, some were convinced that the business in question was clearly discriminating against the tg community and that a lawsuit was the only way to go.

Not having been there, I wasn't about to say who was right or wrong. After reading several more posts over the next few days, I became convinced that it wasn't the gals who were at fault. Ashley had been very calm and polite throughout the whole ordeal. No one was dressing like a hooker, making loud noises or publicly intoxicated. Apparently while Ashley had talked to management, the owner hadn't talked to his workers and the fellow at the door probably just didn't feel like letting a group of "perverts" invade the place. I don't believe they went back after that.

While it's never pleasant to be rejected at the door it can be even worse if you've been a regular at a venue for awhile. Back in 1995, I used to visit a consignment shop once a month with the tg gals. The owner, CarolAnn welcomed us with open arms. She kept her shop open during the evening exclusively for us and let us pick and choose to our heart's content. Afterwards we would walk down the street to the Blue Buffalo restaurant for dinner. This had been going on for a few years with nary a problem. One evening, a gal was refused entrance to the lady's room. A bartender blocked the way. (He was quite homophobic) He also barred her from using the men's room. The irony of it all was that she wasn't even going to use the restroom. She just wanted to wash her hands after jump starting her car. CarolAnn, quite upset, had a long talk with the owner a few days later and he promised her he would be around when the group came the next month. Well he never showed up and we ended up eating at another place down the street. I stopped attending regularly but when I drove by the place nine months later, the Blue Buffalo was gone. Out of business. We sometimes had 20 or 25 tgals eating dinner there. A pretty good crowd for a Tuesday night in the burbs. (not to mention the very generous tips we gave the waitstaff) I would also like to point out that this was a very Betty Crocker crowd, the older, married with children type, the kind of people that you would like as neighbors.

Sometimes a change in ownership can affect how a business reacts towards the community. There was a very nice gay/lesbian bar that shut down recently, a home away from home. Friend's Landing had free parking, low cover charge, two large dance floors, a pool room with a large bar and a great deck overlooking the Merrimac River. As a semi-regular attendee since '97, I remember many a night where we would just hang out on the deck and enjoy the refreshing summer evenings. Throughout all this, I saw a number of people who were removed from the premises. Being too drunk and being too scantily clad were the major offenses. A lot of the "clubbing" tgals seemed to forget that this was just a regular bar, not a fetish/pvc bdsm "anything goes" type environment. They would complain that management was "too strict". Tensions flared a few times when a some lesbians complained about the "guys in dresses" using the lady's room. To some degree, I believe these complaints were justified as when the crowds got larger it seems a few tgals forgot how to act like ladies in the restrooms, the cardinal sin being to stand while using the stall. Around 2003 the bathroom issue flared its ugly head a number of times when the ownership changed. It was no longer a very friendly place. They only let us use the lady's room upstairs. Still, tgals showed up on a fairly regular basis.

That all changed in 2005. The St. Patty's day get together drew a huge local crowd, bigger than I'd ever seen before. Everyone was having a good time, that is unless they had to use the bathroom. A group of not-so-friendly bouncers were stationed outside each door demanding to see an ID of anyone who entered the lady's room(!). It put a damper on what was an otherwise very enjoyable evening. Later I heard a gal had been removed with the comment, "We don't want these f...ing freaks around here...". Businesses and institutions have rules which they are free to implement. I didn't necessarily object to the rules. I did object to the very rude manner in which we were treated. In all the dozens of times I'd been there I'd never remembered it being that bad. The message board was filled with complaints about the bouncers for the next two weeks. What happened? A number of gals, myself included, emailed the owner. Result: no response. The tgals boycotted the place for the next year. To my knowledge, very very few people went back there.

A year later, we all met back there for a trip down memory lane, fully cognizant of what might happen should the bathroom police be in force. To our pleasant surprise, the (new) ownership welcomed us back and wondered where we'd all been. They even gave us free passes for future attendance. The atmosphere was not quite the same. The huge crowds of yesteryear had dwindled and it didn't have the hopping feel that it used to have all those Saturday nights. That was a shame because the Landing shut down a few days ago. Permantly.

So I guess the point I'm trying to make about all this is that yes, we should all use common sense when patronizing businesses, whether it be a clothing store or a dance club. And yes, sometimes management and businesses DO behave badly. They are, after all, staffed by human beings. If you feel you have been wronged in any way, get the word out. Let as many people as you can know. Boycott can be a powerful weapon. And (this can't be overemphasized) be prepared for the inevitable backlash from the pro-business faction wherever and whenever you step on your soapbox.
Samantha Leigh said…
Brianna,

It is sad to hear how things have gone at East of Eighth. I was there once two years ago with five other transgender couples for dinner; it was arranged by Helen Boyd. The place was small but charming. Those of us who arrived early waited in the bar, and ordered drinks before being seated for dinner. The food was very good as well as the service, I seem to recollect. The bathrooms were very small, but no one was guarding them. I do think there was a sign on the wall about not using it as a changing room.

I do think that many in our community do not know how to act in public; I suppose too much drinking by anyone does not enhance manners or behavior. Too many I think do not realize that Gays and Lesbians are real people too and treat them like an expansion of their personal closet, instead of part of society at large; I do not take their tolerance for granted.

A friend of mine had told me about their experience with a formals shop that would not let trans people try on dresses. When asked “why?” by my friend, they were told that a CD had, shall we say stained a dress once. Personally, as tempting as it was when I first went out and about to play dress up, I only try on clothes that I intend to buy if I like how they fit.

It amazes me how much crying there is over not being able to use the “Ladies” room, when it seems so many of us can’t excrete in a lady like manner. Will the recent victory won in the MTA restrooms; turn against us when CDs behave poorly. If you’re one of those folks who has a hard time remembering how to use the bathroom, please just wear depends before you go out 

With so few of us who go out in public, it is a shame that we will be judged based on those who behave poorly. I certainly do not “pass”, but I do go fairly unnoticed. Most of us who dress well and have manners will go unnoticed. People’s attention will be drawn to those that stand out, and those of us who were not noticed today will be judged according to what people did see.

Am I a victim? I don’t think so. If someone chooses not to know me because of how I look it is there loss. If a business chooses to discriminate, I firmly believe that they will reap what they sow. I have no great desire to do business with people who don’t like me anyway.

When it comes down to it, it is up to us as individuals to be examples. When we are noticed let it be for the quality of individual we are and transform attitudes one person at a time as they get to know us.

Peace and Love,

Samantha Leigh Rieth
Brianna said…
WOW, I never expected such a response; its nice to know people out there really read my posts LOL. Just as a follow up, shortly after the incident people would find the place listed on my website, as I have promoted the place for years, and I told them that if they went in and behaved normally that I was quite confident they would be treated accordingly. And that has been the case.
Stephanie Yates said…
It's a common phenomenon in any minority that the unruly subgroup in it causes the most damage. And often then seeks to rally the entire group under the banner of solidarity. I think it important that groups seeking greater public acceptance have a keen sense of a need to avoid covering up for the actions of a selfish few. In other words, solidarity is great, but shouldn't be used to cover the butts of people who don't deserve to have their butts covered. Thanks for reminding us of this in a very concrete way, Bri.

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