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The Gray Beauty of Christine Hallquist

Transgender, the non-binary and the Radical Center

Last Friday, I came across an intriguing profile of a particularly attractive woman, Christine Hallquist, the transgender Democratic Party candidate for Governor of the state of Vermont. She is running behind in the polls. Nonetheless, how she is running, as well as who she is, I find luminous.

“My whole life has been about understanding that most things are non-binary, including my gender… Some things are really obvious, but most issues are pretty complicated, and to be self righteous and believe that you know the answer does an injustice to the issue.”

On my terms, hers is a gray is beautiful sensibility . This is most obvious in her very being. After transitioning, she and her wife divorced. But they have since reunited, both indicating their Facebook relationship status as: “it’s complicated.” What intimate relationship isn’t? I wonder.

I specifically appreciate how this sensibility informs her politics. She avoids political labels. Instead of calling herself a progressive or a liberal or a socialist, she prefers “pragmatic, loving and decent.” Her commitments and actions rather than her assertions reveal her political principles. She supports a raised minimum wage, a paid family and medical leave law, and has a long standing interest in and commitment to innovative energy alternatives to avoid environmental disaster and to promote economic development and social justice. The interest dates back to her stigmatized child. The commitment includes more than a decade running an electric utilities company.

Along with her broad and principled political position, Hallquist pays attends to details. As is noted in the profile, her political stance is based upon “the marriage of wonky policy ideas — about taxes, infrastructure and economic development — and an unconventional sensibility that rejects labels and binaries.”

“My whole life has been about understanding that most things are non-binary, including my gender… Some things are really obvious, but most issues are pretty complicated, and to be self righteous and believe that you know the answer does an injustice to the issue.”

She opens my understanding. When it comes to the developing insights into the complicated challenges of gender and sexuality, I am far from the cutting edge. The world is changing (or at least the decent part of the world), as people are asserting their presence and dignity. I need to work to stay informed. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, and A-sexual and/or Allied: the LGBTQIA acronym grows as the formerly marginalized struggle against stigma, asserting their distinctive presence and their solidarity. I have observed this dynamic with appreciation, but also think it is generated by unresolvable tensions knitted into the fabric of social life, what I have described as the social condition .

Hallquist recognizes this. To the consternation of some transgender activists, she identifies herself as a transgender woman, and not simply a woman. It would be an injustice to women to do otherwise, she believes. And when her critics object, her reply, as reported in the profile, reveals a fundamental gray, non-binary sensibility: “They don’t like me saying this, but I am going to say it anyway because it is my belief… I tell the transgender community, ‘Hey, look have some tolerance. Let me be who I am.’”

Hallquist thinks for herself, as she hopes others also will. She is against clichéd thought and action. She knows the world moves beyond left and right, but also beyond the middle ground. With an extraordinary different experience than Adam Michnik, the former leading intellectual dissident, democratic social critic and newspaper editor, who first turned me on to the beauty of the gray, she and he come up with remarkably similar political orientation.

Michnik:

“Radical movements — whether under black or red banners — gladly use democracy in order to obliterate it. In the meantime, democracy is neither black nor red. Democracy is gray, is established only with difficulty, and its quality and flavor can be recognized best when it comes under the pressure of advancing red or black ideas. Democracy is not infallible, because in its debates all are equal. This is why it lends itself to manipulation, and may be helpless against corruption. This is why, frequently, it chooses banality over excellence, shrewdness over nobility, empty promise over true competence. Democracy is a continuous articulation of particular interests, a diligent search for compromise among them, a marketplace of passions, emotions, hatreds and hopes; it is eternal imperfection, a mixture of sinfulness, saintliness, and monkey business. This is why the seekers of a moral state and of a perfectly just society do not like democracy.”

When Michnik wrote these words, his mind was focused on the radical left, of anarchism (black) and communism (red), as a new democracy was being constituted in his country, Poland. These days his attention has shifted, as can be seen in his Public Seminar post, “From Velvet Revolution to Velvet Dictatorship.” He is now focused on democratic regression, the flight from complexity, the search for the simplicity of the clear black and white. And we now, in the United States, see this upon us, as it is present in Michnik’s homeland and among our neighbors: there in Europe and here in the Americas, and in Asia and Africa as well.

This is how I understand the Trump administration’s move to narrowly define gender “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable….Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth…The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

Halliquist embodies and politically works against such simplistic logic and rhetoric, which not only denies the experiences of millions, but also does not confront the biological complexities of gender and sexuality. It is the same commitment that informs her thoughts and actions on a broad range of issues, both personal and political. Indeed, her life eloquently demonstrates the wisdom of the classic feminist slogan: the personal is political.

In my last gray Friday post , I conceded that the ideal of a free public life supporting a democratic polity, as well as the university as a place for “institutionalized dissent,” (as Barrington Moore Jr. once put it), is probably more utopian than I had previously thought.

Today, on this cool crisp Friday morning in New York, I am a bit more optimistic, though cautiously so: more optimistic because Christine Hallquist can be the candidate for Governor of a major political party. I am cautious because of the forces she and we are up against.

After reading the profile of Christine Hallquist, I realized how the LGBTQIA rainbow coalition informs the radical gray project for a democratic center.

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Jeffrey C. Goldfarb

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