Archive for November, 2012

November 27, 2012

i’m a “fake trans girl” and i hope you are too

so i’m sitting at a bar in a nondescript Pacific Northwestern city drinking a large jar of something very pink and laden with bourbon, chatting with a few friends, including Caylee (whose blog you really ought read) amongst others…and i had one of those “eureka” moments as we were discussing why the “trans community” is so inherently and openly toxic: the fear of outsiders and otherness is about as serious as it is amongst geeky folks, and the resulting fear is to keep out difference and claim that this difference is because someone isn’t “good enough.” in other words, much like the abject horror and open sexism that is the war against “fake geek girls”, a war based on a delineated and clear fear of women entering spaces like cons and gaming venues, there’s a war against “fake trans girls” here within our community. it’s based on the same baseless fears and enforced using the same ridicule and othering, and much like the war on “fake geek girls”, the war on “fake trans girls” needs to stop.

i’ve been called a “fake geek girl” even if not exactly in those words. this is particularly hilarious because i am not especially conventionally attractive and was just there to play Magic: The Gathering, a rather addictive tabletop turn-based card game that i used to be pretty involved in. because i relocated, i needed to find new people to play with. this became a circus of humiliation: unlike most games, i do actually know how to play M:TG, and i was actually pretty good. however, on all three stops i made, i got told various things about how they didn’t have space for any new people that night (while at least one gent was waiting to play), that the open game night announced on the store’s website was “private”, and, oh yes, that “you don’t look like you belong here.” when there’s 23 guys and you, ladypeople, and you’re the one being told you don’t look like you belong there, i think we all know what’s going on. of course i don’t look like i belong there when everyone there fits a monoculture…but that doesn’t mean i don’t belong there, goddammit. so because i had no one to play with, and nobody answered my Craigslist ad seeking people to play with, i gave up on playing Magic: The Gathering about six years ago. is this necessary and central to my life? no, no it’s not. but it reminded me that solely because of my gender, i have no place in geek space because of some unfounded fear that i was there to laugh at people…when my presence was there solely to make them taste the wrath of my blue-white deck. i’ve been cleaning up lately, and when i clean, i see my endless amount of M:TG cards and not only is it a reminder that i miss playing the game, it’s a reminder that a structural barrier got in my way of being able to enjoy something that brought me fun…because someone who didn’t even know me saw me and assumed that either i was going to laugh at them or that i would be incompetent…based on my gender.

the feminist critiques of the “fake geek girl” fabrication have been pretty scathing and deservedly so. the article i linked above from the always amazing Devin at Badass Digest is a fine example of a reasoned criticism of the misogyny behind the “FGG” designation and Susana Polo provides some constructive criticism of the trope, but there have been writers like Tara Brown who have shamelessly played into the sexist concept of the “fake geek girl” while all the same venerating almost all the elitism that makes geek circles inaccessible to those of us who come from lower classes, even once we have the cards and know the rules. there’s Joe Peacock’s fiery rage of sexism and woman-fearing that he splattered all over the CNN GeekOut blog, a particularly nasty and hostile piece which reminds most of us womenfolk that in a world run by bro-culture we’re never going to be let in even as guests, because nothing we can do is good enough. Peacock sets out one of the greatest fallacies in treehouse culture: “i deserve to be here, but I get to decide whether or not you’re good enough.” hint: you’re never going to be ‘good enough’ when the person deciding is scared to death of you, regardless of the reason. it’s me and my Magic card case wandering into the game store looking for someone to play all over again. no matter what excuse you give, the end result is that the myth of the “fake geek girl” is advanced to keep all women out of the geeky pursuits. 

so maybe i don’t know who directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier or the reasons behind the worship of Wil Wheaton and i certainly don’t read the “right” comics though i do treasure my signed copy of Hazelnuts #0 and i can give you a nuanced and detailed critique of the comics distribution system in the US and Canada and how it helps preserve independent comic shops and keeps the chains from getting in on the action as easily as they do in many other forms of media sales. i know my credentials are going to come up short on some level, but i have a feeling that Joe Peacock’s will, too…it’s just that as a function of entry into space, his credentials aren’t questioned based on his gender.

and this is what dawned on me over that giant pink Mason jar: i’m a “fake trans girl.” i don’t have the credentials to be allowed into trans space without being questioned and called insufficient. i’m never going to be able to claim that i have legitimacy and cite how much money i’ve spent on surgery as a justification and i don’t have anyone already inside the space to vouch for me. i’m an outsider, and the guardians of trans space, generally unquestioningly enforcing transfundamentalism, believe that this space must be protected from outsiders at all costs. the possibilities are just as narrow when it comes to trans circles as it is within geek circles: you’re either scared i’m there to laugh at you or that my assertion of gender is inherently insufficient. is my femaleness inherently insufficient? well, of course it is because that’s how it is for all women. consider the levels of body policing and shaming that patriarchal culture dispenses toward even cis heterosexual white women like Romola Garai, claiming she’s “too fat” for fashion and Hollywood movie roles and airbrushing her curves away in still photography. now, Ms. Garai and i are the same height, but she’s probably about 6-12 inches smaller around than i depending on which body parts we’re discussing.  the fact that her body is shamed and hidden has everything to do with the trap all women find ourselves in…because we live squarely under the thumb of patriarchy, no woman’s body will ever be “good enough”. in other words, by dint of presenting as female, we’re all already not good enough and the transfundamentalist kapo merely enforces whatever their own biases entail to say some trans women aren’t good enough, blithely ignoring that many people they do let in don’t meet the standards they cite as “necessary to keep the group functioning.”

now, as for the thinking i’m there to laugh at you part…i don’t even know what to say there, but increasingly i fear that might be part of how transfundamentalist enforcement works. i mean, when there’s no other explanation, Occam’s Razor pretty much suggests to default to base human instinct and around trans issues that seems to always be fear.  transfindamentalists cling to a pathological need to enforce borders but there’s no real foundation for the enforcement of these borders…the differences in trans women that Ashley Love, Just Jennifer, TS-Si and their ilk rage against are completely ethereal things that cannot possibly be grounded in reality and which sound much like the “feminine essence” argument many people from the MichFest boards use to justify excluding trans women. (since MichFest “prunes” their boards to remove all trans-related discussion, i regret i can’t provide you with a link. got screenshots? send ’em to inchoaterica at gmail dot com!)  when the argument is identical from someone who says all trans women are invalid and someone like Just Jennifer who says most trans women are invalid, you start to notice that they’re chasing identical wisps into the woods of transmisogyny, and i think we all know what happens when you chase wisps into the wood. the same fate invariably befalls every traveler who is unwise enough to give chase to those mysterious lights…

heck, an open invitation to transfundamentalists to explain their position garnered no actual responses, here or on any of the various messageboards these posts end up reblogged on. so let me tell you this plain and simple, HBSers and your sort: no outsider trans person is there to laugh at you, and the suggestion that we would implies that all of us have the same base instincts in your hearts that you do in excluding. if you believe this, you surely buy that Magneto was right and that humanity is beyond saving…i guess maybe that’s the real difference between us, as i subscribe fervently to that Dumbledore was right, in that people may well be different but a common uniting cause should be enough to bring us together. We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open. (from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling)

so you’re enforcing borders that have no foundations in reality and clinging to them…i had thought that the reason was to be mean, but now i realize that transfundamentalism clings to these borders because it’s terrified of what happens if it doesn’t. in other words, the transfundamentalist lashes out first out of fear of how the outsider will treat them, ascribing the worst intent to the outsider without giving them a chance.  the Just Jennifers of the world are so scared of how other trans people  will be seen by cis folks to the point they destroy other trans people for what amounts to shits and giggles to preserve their illusionary safety  that they believe they’re “good enough” to be provided by cis people. at the heart of all these things, though, it’s all wired into fear. fear preserves monocultures and keeps the dread outsiders who don’t perfectly match your monoculture out, producing the monocultural idea of One True Way.

when you’ve never tried anything else and believe there’s One True Way, you get things like the idea that there are “fake geek girls” and “fake trans girls” alike. we can go on at length about why these standards are used to judge women and how all this does is reinforce kyriarchical-patriarchal ideas that keep us all down….but it’s time to reclaim the tar being thrown at us by people clinging desperately to their sinking lifeboats because they’re too scared to imagine a world populated by people less terrified than they. i reclaim my being a “fake geek girl” because it’s always going to be leveled at me if i try to put my nose into geek space, and i reclaim my being a “fake trans girl” because it obivates the ludicrous nature of deciding who is and isn’t a “real” transsexual based on unquantifiable, imaginary criteria which are enforced whenever someone feels like it.

so yes, i’m a “fake trans girl”…and a member of Dumbledore’s Army while we’re at it. we are only as strong as we are united. 

November 17, 2012

you just build to destroy…

two things are weighing heavily on my mind this morning, and as i put on another cup of tea, i think i’m going to try to write them out. i had started a post on racism within the trans community and some myths about passing that often seem linked to them, but as muses are wont to do, doing research on that to find some gallingly racist quotes led me to something else entirely…go figure.

first of all, Kiira Triea/Denise Tree/Denise Magner has passed on at age 61. there’s a number of reports out there on the Intertubes about her passing, but Kiira played some role when i first peered out of the closet in the early 00s…i had not suspected she was perpetrating a hoax until much later when i was presented with clear and complete evidence that this woman, along with her many sock puppets, lied to me along with other people i consider dear. Kiira was the kind of silver-tongued liar who had a story that constantly changed as her life went on, and though i sympathize with what probably led her to do this, her choice to use sock puppets and her willingness to use other people led to her much-deserved undoing. Ms. Magner often advanced theories toxic to trans women, from intersex primacy to the most fervent transfundamentalism i’ve ever seen. i have refrained from linking to the truly acidic content about Ms. Magner’s passing, as you can find it yourself with some work and because as bad of a person as she was/chose to be, i prefer not to speak ill of the dead. additionally, Ms. Magner died of cancer, which is pretty much the most likely thing to get you when you’re intersex/ed, something we don’t really talk about and something that underscores why all trans and/or intersex/ed and/or gender-nonconforming people need access to safe healthcare. i am very conflicted about Ms. Magner, her position as Alice Domurat Dreger’s sycophant, and the lies she told, but i confess i still cried a bit because i hoped one day maybe we’d get the whole story…because i have no doubt her real story was meaningful and maybe she’d even renounce her transfundamentalism.

but this reminds me of something, an admission i’ve long been waiting for some way to make: i used to be a transfundamentalist. i believed the line that there were good trans people and bad trans people, i believed that your worth was directly related to how well you passed, and that being trans was something to be terribly ashamed of and something you should hate yourself for. whilst i didn’t engage in controlling access to common spaces or hiding resources, i did engage in many things i’m not proud of, from mocking people online to at least twice inadvertently saying really horrible things to someone’s face about their passability, or whatever commodity i had bought into. i feel awful for all these things, and i am very sorry to have been so reprehensible. i would blame the fact that i was pretty much psych medicated into a haze…during those years of being medicated so i won’t remember stuff, [TW: rape, incest, violence] i used to be an asshole, but at the same time i know i freely chose to enforce transfundamentalism in the belief that maybe it’d buy me some safety.  my early explorations of a world beyond the trans closet after a decade-plus in it were unfortunately steeped in transfundamentalism, and i have to be accountable for that. if i hurt you, if i laughed at you, if i invalidated you, i’m sorry…and i know, sadly, i did all these things. i am ashamed, i am horrified, and i understand that i probably lost a few people out of my life who i deeply regret losing because i was a transfundamentalist.

this is why i get the transfundamentalist mindset: i really believed that maybe if i cut down my sisters at the ankles that i’d buy myself some safety and maybe i’d be thought of as less threatening than, you know, those people. while i never got into the “transgender vs. transsexual” shit, i sure did buy that my chromosomes made me better and that my age at transition meant i wasn’t affected by all those meanie-pie things Bailey, Lawrence, Zucker, and Blanchard (BLZB) said about autogynephiles…i mean, if you dealt with it before 18, it magically didn’t apply to you! oh, lord, i really believed that autogynephilia made a difference? i feel so horrible for believing this shit, but i should also talk about how i let the construction of whiteness into my life that i believed i had to follow, too.

i have spent most of my life trying to pass for white. yeah, as i’ve discussed before, i’m pretty pale, but between my features, hair, social class, family, etc…i would have to do some work to be able to maintain consistent passing as Caucasian. i once thought this, too, was something i was supposed to do. i have bought more Black Opal Body Fade Creme Maximum Strength Plus than i really want to admit, fighting the hell out of my skin as it darkened in puberty. “Apply over areas of discoloration of the body…” the label advises, and did i ever…from my nape to my feet. even in places on my arms and torso where i’m literally pretty close to see-through, i slathered myself in it. i straightened my 3B/3C (depends on the day…) curls into this dead, lifeless curtain that would hang over my face. i tried blue contact lenses for a while, colored my hair every color under the sun, and though i would rage against the white man in private, in public i found myself trying to figure out if this shit was really working. i mean, after all, i went from an ugly, misshapen sometimes-regarded-as-boy to what most of the world seems to agree is female, why not power through my race and leverage that my skin wasn’t “discolored” to my advantage?

because, well, it’s bad for you. my hair was a lifeless curtain because it broke; i grew it out once with the help of so much weave it actually stayed…kind of…straight. i tried putting it in dreadlocks when it was long…don’t dread your hair when it’s half-weave. $200 every two months to make your hair have that special “it’s relaxed!” look, carrying a flatiron with you everywhere…and that Black Opal shit…it’s a tube full of lies. see, hydroquinone will lighten your skin…a bit. it will take out those weird discolorations we get on our knees and elbows (ASHY KNEES!) but a good moisturizer will do that, too. and from a look of horror i gave my hairdresser one day in 2011 when she told me to give it up and go natural to today, i have grown to love my curls and all the weird things they do. a little fluffing, a little humectant, and boom, out the door. that thirty minutes i spent every morning in my quest for Caucasian approval? i spend it sleeping now. the funny part is that i know i am a whole hell of a lot better-looking this way…the past couple of times i straightened my hair, i gave up after two days and started wearing a hat for the rest of the week, covering the shame from hurting my precious locks. since i got back on hormones about a year ago after a three year lapse, i don’t even look like my driver’s license picture from 2010 anymore, and i think that’s a wonderful thing. that person hated herself, and whilst i don’t exactly love myself now, it’s better.

so i understand you, transfundamentalists. i used to ascribe to the impossible standards you uphold, i used to want to be in your circle and pursuing the same illusory safety that you believe you’re finding. i used to think i was better than other trans people, and now i know that i’m not. i scream about your poison because i drank so much of it. i drank Ms. Magner’s poison, from her sockpuppet “Janelle” who carefully copied my entire fucking life story to Kiira herself talking about intersex/ed rights and organizing and how we were going to make ISNA relevant again, etc etc…it never happened. like everything Ms. Magner did, like everything transfundamentalism does, like trying to be a race you’re not, it’s all poison in the end regardless of your intent.

second, i’m dealing with a lot of criticism that all my blog ever does is, well, criticize. there’s multiple examples of this not being true but i do know that much of this stuff that gets spread all over is critical. i recently discovered that the local TDoR people actually do have planning meetings, but an email about a month and a half ago to the published address for information claimed that, you guessed it, there’s no such meetings and that you can get involved through the simple universal leader of all things around here, your gender-appropriate support group. i feel badly, because i now know there’s at least one woman of color working in this structure that looks all-white from the outside, and i really don’t want to criticize other trans women of color for existing and i feel awful about, well, what i’ve had to say on the matter. but at the same time, i don’t know how to be involved since that door isn’t open to me. i am sure this is not a personal vendetta, but instead the usual bullshit about “the way things work” and “the way things have always worked.”  the TDoR people didn’t blow me off because i’m Erica, they blew me off because i’m a generic outsider.

this is the central question i have about how to stop always criticizing and start doing.  criticism is important (i mean, Statler and Waldorf are the best Muppets and not just because y’all know they’re an old gay couple…) but i think there’s got to be some development past criticism. but how do you develop past criticism when you’re outgroup? i feel like this is kind of screaming in a vacuum, and while i am deeply honored and touched that 41,000 (whoa!) of you have read this stuff, i don’t know how to take it to the next level. i don’t know how to navigate this world of closed doors, of “leadership summits” with hefty price tags i can’t afford, and of living somewhere other than the Bay Area, New York, or Chicago when it feels like all trans activism that has transcended the boundaries of closed-door secret meetings and support groups (at least in the US) is in one of those places. because activism has transcended those boundaries there, there’s more opportunity to try to work to find a place that you fit. and yes, there’s something to be said for trying to build something like that, but i can’t do it alone and that’s eternally frustrating, and until there’s some sea change moving away from the idea that the support group is what you use to vet people, well…nothing’s going to change.

but i want, i so badly want, to figure out how to start doing. and maybe, for now, criticism is all i have for that doing. and if that makes me seen as a mean person or an asshole, so be it. i freely admit i am envious of the level of access some people enjoy and some of us do not have, but i can’t think of a proactive solution to change things, and for fuck’s sake, i don’t want your pity, i want your ideas. i want to know why things that work in other places can’t work here, or in Los Angeles, or in Peoria for all i care. i want to be able to show clinics that no, trans women are not all opposed to informed consent healthcare (which the local nest of transfundamentalists  is, medical access info and being an entry point to the community is how they keep their power, keep taking grants for “trans health” and doing nothing to advocate for us…) and yeah, that we can live in a world where trans women come in all shapes, colors, sizes, forms, and types. i want to know how you stand up to tyrants, because what i see in comic books isn’t the truth and what i see in the movies sure as hell isn’t, but our society, for all its tall tales about “the King’s tyranny”, has stood up to tyrants only when it’s convenient to do so. our society encourages us to sit down, shut the fuck up, and let the tyrants have their way.

speaking truth to that might be criticism, yes, but for now the only tool i have is criticism, and that’s what i’m doing. if that’s not right for TDoR, your “organizing meetings”, or your “leadership summits”, maybe you ought think about what you’re doing in not including those of us who criticize. i know it’s making me enemies, but increasingly i just don’t give a fuck about the feelings of tyrants. now if i could only stand up to them…

November 12, 2012

using whiteness-as-default to silence trans women

much like Schroedinger’s Cat, i’ve always felt a touch superpositioned on matters of race: i’m half Black and half white, and that’s an interesting place to be in American society. i have pale skin, but my features are a pick-and-choose riot and my hair is as nappy as what they call a diaper in England. i might be able to pass for white some days, but the realities of my life and my refusal to erase my family and throw my Black siblings, literal and metaphorical, under the bus often puts me in this weird, uneasy place. i live amongst Black folk, but when i go into the outside world usually it’s into places where the Caucasians dominate. i feel like my race changes subtly on some of the bus rides i take, to school or to work.  when i nap on the bus in the morning, i go to sleep a hoodrat and wake up an academic.

some days i look whiter than others, much like some days my disability is more apparent than others. some days i’m just a lukewarm mess. most days i’m Erica, who just is and walks the line between her halves well…and yeah, some days i just know plainclothes security is going to attach itself to my ass the second i walk into a national chain retailer, because you gotta support xenophobic policies that come down from “on high”, whether that’s Chicago, Boston, or Dallas, all places where racism and policing of the interracial identity manifest differently. here, there are more interracial people, that’s just how the West Coast rolls, and i don’t feel like a freak so much, though heavily Caucasian spaces, like deep suburbia or the queer community, feel sort of like walking on the moon. i feel like i am Erica who doesn’t belong here but they let you in anyways, which is better than not being let in at all. i feel like a chameleon sometimes, because it’s obvious if you know what you’re looking for but i blend in to some degree on both sides of the color line. it just feels more like the white folks are looking for the lizards in their midst, you know.

a few months back, Cathy Brennan decided to jump to her typical set of poorly-informed conclusions and conclude that about every trans woman she could think of was white and at one point passed for a heterosexual male (TW: Brennan, misgendering, whitesplaining) based on their current sexual orientation or what Ms. Brennan has assumed it is. aside from the issues of bi/pansexual erasure in there and the fact that one’s sexual orientation may very well change during HRT, the thing Ms. Brennan was really going for was to say that they’re white. and you know, that’s okay, some of my best friends are white…but the illusion that all trans women are white is used by “trans-critical” scholars. also, the really galling fact, Ms. Brennan was incorrect about the race of at least three of the people mentioned in the list. that’s okay, Ms. Brennan, i know how hard it is working every day for a law firm that has a huge clientele of subprime lenders/payday lenders…it’s rough checking facts and all, and you know damn well LEXIS PeopleSearch doesn’t tell you someone’s race when you’re using your corporate resources to out trans people.  it’s totally cool…btw, i never called you a “Christian” as you so claim i did, but i would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for working to get Measure 6 passed in Maryland…guess we do agree on something. also, thanks for totally never getting back to me regarding a letter i sent you a few months back, under my real name and all, asking you to speak out against the shackling of pregnant inmates during birth; for some reason, this is still permitted in Maryland. i figured someone who styles themselves as a feminist and a lawyer would care about showing such basic humanity toward inmates…it’s curious one of your handlers (or you) threw it in the recycling bin.

but maybe i’m being too hasty to blame Ms. Brennan…the “trans community”, after all, is a Caucasian beauty-worshipping monoculture.  it enforces the idea of whiteness as default about as well as the Republican Party, and even with about an equal number of token people of, i think we’ve well established that the “trans community” doesn’t speak for all trans people, but it does occupy space, resources, and political mindshare amongst cis people when these folks claim to speak for everyone. so, yeah, i can see how this might be a little bit confusing, but i think we can establish that, for example, actual lesbians don’t look like the ones you see on The Real L Word (bring back Saj Golde, please!!!) but represent a more diverse array than that. so what’s different about the “trans community”? well, the monoculture is a little worse than it is with lesbians, rappers, or baristas, and i think that’s part of it…but there is this reality that the exploitation of monoculture is the tool of the basest bigot. it’s like reducing that awkward, gawky girl who sits in the back row to her acne just because her acne’s awful…i was that awkward, gawky girl in eighth grade, and watching adults do the same thing makes me wonder if they’ve outgrown that middle school mindset. just as little Erica was more than my acne, trans people are more than just a monoculture, even if the monoculture is all some people think we are. some days, i still think i am my acne, and i’m sure anyone who hasn’t seen me since eighth grade only associates me with it…but i was never at any point just the pile of zits on my face.

see, much like the bullies went at my pimples, transphobes go at the monoculture…they’re just using an excuse to try to claim a moral high ground.  just like the kids in middle school didn’t know what to do with this weird, gay, messed-up-in-the-head girl-creature, transphobes attack the very existence of trans people, especially trans women. little Erica was problematic to the worldview of the 8th grade world and trans people are problematic to the views of the patriarchy and its foot soldiers. rather than bothering to list off their objections to the presence of trans people, transphobes tend to seize upon one thing and go at it mercilessly, and that’s “omg trans people exist.” there’s often little more nuance than that other than the time-honored ‘peak trans’ BS that a trans person was mean to you once (i mean, shit, y’all should see my spam comments, trans women are mean to me like three times a week) or alternately an endless obsession with genitalia, the idea that there is some societal interest in knowing what’s in someone’s underwear, which is what the agents of patriarchy from TERF to MRA demand…that sounds an awful lot like opposition to a fundamental right to privacy, and in my eyes that *is* rape culture. and, well, i suggest you consider that most agents of patriarchy are in fact transexterminationists, which ads a creepy wrinkle past just the rapey nature of thinking you have a right to know what my genitals look like.

don’t get me wrong, i want the monoculture to change either way. it’s about taking it to the streets that toxic mindsets such as those advanced by TSRoadmap and Susan’s Place online and by the transfundamentalist control structure of the commons in the “trans community” offline are not the entirety of the world of trans people. this makes it harder for the transexterminationists to make the monoculture argument, but it does something else more important: it brings more people who are trans into common spaces for trans people. i idly imagine what could be done if we shared information and resources freely and were open and honest about things like how hormones don’t work the same for everyone, or what to expect from certain doctors/electrologists/whatever without keeping these whispered secrets. i wonder how much we could work together to reduce the shame that cis people insist on imposing on us, with the assistance of transfundamentalists, around many things in the process of life before, during, and after transition. and i definitely know in my heart that transexterminationists would have a harder time picking us off one by one if we only banded together. remember what i said about how i go from hoodrat to academic in the course of a bus ride? we might not always stick together effectively as Africans, and just because you’re African doesn’t mean you’re my friend, but we have stuck, politically, to a group of core values in modern America as Black folk.

Africa is a big, diverse place. my Black half comes from West Africa, and though the colonial governments drew lines over Africa generally, many of us have managed to trace our ancestors to what tribes we came from. frankly, even the term “tribe” is a root of colonizers but we’re going to let that one go. i live in a neighborhood that’s mostly Southern African, folks who came here from Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa. we’re from worlds as different as Panama is different from Canada, but we have things in common. the drugstore down the street has a nice big “ethnic hair care” section because we have the same issues with our hair, even though our hair isn’t all the same…we vote for people who care about the well-being of the Black community, even if it’s not always embodied the same. we work together to make sure the murals in the local public art project reflect people we should care about and we might not be in each other’s business but when we’re threatened, when people come pushing harmful drugs into our community, we work together. we have learned from the past, the ravages of crack in our community and the parallel ravage of meth in rural poor white communities and how there was a mass outbreak of concern about meth and how nobody really cared outside the communities ravaged by crack, other than to make the legal penalties more severe. i express caution at people likening racial issues to anything else, but i know pan-Africanism, an invention of the civil rights movement as it rose in the 20th century, boosted all Africans.

so why can’t we work together? why do we further a monoculture which is complicit in handing transphobes ammunition to claim the existence of monoculture and excluding on no rational basis? (i mean, other than enforcing transfundamentalism, which seems to be the ultimate “because we said so”…)  why don’t we understand that just being trans doesn’t mean we’re automatically, or even likely, going to be friends but that we have a common enemy of transexterminationists in all forms? why don’t we get that we could build a strong, cohesive community and lobby for our rights the same way that the LGB-no-T movement has done in many places, sometimes deigning to bring us along and sometimes throwing us off/under the bus? why don’t we make our events more inclusive and our organizations broader?

because the talking heads you see, the “trans women” that supposedly represent you and i…they’re almost exclusively white, with a token exception hither and yon. these tokens often viciously hold their ground and try to discredit other trans people of color because of how whiteness-as-default works, by the way…but that’s for another time. these talking heads are not driving our cause for equality, inclusion, and basic respect forward, or if they are they’re doing it on their own terms, with limited exceptions. we need a bigger tent, a place where more people are included with a place at the table, women of color like Janet Mock, Monica Maldonado, Nyux, Ami Angelwings and, well…maybe me, too? by extension, the white folks who have our back who are excluded from the monoculture for telling uncomfortable truths can come along, too. and maybe, just maybe, we can become a big quilt of all kinds of trans people and experiences…or we can keep failing the way things are going right now.

November 7, 2012

i’m a “one-issue voter”

i admit it: i vote, more than anything else, for reproductive rights and the Roe v. Wade Constitutional “right of privacy.”  i am shamelessly and proudly “pro-choice” in that i believe that people should make decisions about their own bodies and what they do with their own bodies. i believe people have an absolute right to that freedom without exceptions or quibbles…as a woman who grew up in a state where the right to privacy was enforced by Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike, i can tell you something: reproductive rights and the right of privacy in reproductive decisions changes lives.  i learned about how to not get pregnant and how to avoid STIs in high school; i know that when my friend got knocked up that her access to a legal, affordable abortion when she was 17 made all the difference in her life.  i know that access to sexual health information and freedom of reproductive choice is so critical and important that, yes, it’s my “one issue.”

i’ve held my friends’ hands through enough pregnancy terminations that i am sure that some people believe i’m going to hell. friends, haters, lovers…i can tell you that none of those friends came to that decision lightly. i can tell you that even with “abortion on demand” there is a level of hemming and hawing that makes me grateful i’m sterile. i can tell you that even the best care for people seeking abortions still fails them; it still fails to remember that part of the freedom of choice is, well, choice. it fails to mind that accessible, affordable, safe abortion isn’t really that common. in 87% of US counties (and 97% of non-metropolitan counties) there is no “identifiable” abortion provider. the 3% of “non-metropolitan counties” are almost exclusively in New England and on the West Coast.

“but Erica,” you say, “you’re trans so why do you give a shit?” well, the war against abortion is primarily a war on women; most people, though obviously not all, who have uteruses are women. and, well, i want y’all to know something: if they take away abortion rights/access, the next thing is going to be whatever else hinges on the Constitutional “right of privacy”, you know, stuff like birth control, the right to impound birth records in states that have extended that right, the right to consensual sexual activity in your own home, the right to medical privacy generally…in other words, all things that matter to trans people. once upon a time, “sodomy” was a felony. most states considered everything from anal sex to fisting a form of “sodomy”, and until Lawrence v. Texas, a queer rights case that leaned directly on Roe v. Wade, almost everything i do in bed was a felony. hell, dilating was probably a felony…seriously, though, our freedom to consensually fuck as queers descends directly from the “privacy rights” enumerated in Eisenstadt v. Baird, Griswold v. Connecticut, and Roe v. Wade.  that alone should matter on top of the reality that women’s liberation is impossible without safe, shameless, affordable, and legal access to all reproductive rights services, including abortion. in the United States, persons have been given the right of privacy via the Constitution to manage the affairs of their own person, so it means leaps forward under the law for women, people with disabilities, queers, and so many more protected classes whose lives benefit from a penumbra of privacy being extended to their medical and social affairs under law, from issues of parenting to issues of self-sufficiency.

so that’s why i care about privacy rights. that’s why i am derided as a “one-issue voter”…because abortion matters to me more than anything else, not just because i believe all persons have a right to safe, affordable, shameless, and legal abortion should they demand but also because so many other rights are conferred by that Constitutional right of privacy that Roe v. Wade and its hangers-on created and that that right of privacy extends so far it covers almost every gender and sexual minority.

call me a “one-issue voter.” it’s simplistic, but at the end of the day it’s true, because that one issue is the dignity of every person with a uterus and every gender/sexual minority. that one issue matters too much to let a bunch of politicians decide, and i am gratified to report to you that one of the sneakiest, most funded attacks on the basic Constitutional right to privacy, Florida Amendment 6, failed by what we call a “country mile” here where i come from. amidst the glory and joy of President Obama’s victory and the hilarity of four more years of VP Joe “i’m a shaaaaark” Biden and the victory of multiple measures and amendments, Amendment 6’s stellar failure was the highlight of my night. maybe it’s my “one issue” but it’s an issue that covers so much ground that any attack must be rapidly thwarted. the populace of Florida choosing to “nix Six” despite uterus policing types pouring millions into the measure indicates something beautiful beyond that Florida’s Medicaid/Medicare system keeps paying for reproductive health: the fact that even in the conservative South, the beauty of the implied right to privacy is obvious to almost 58% of the state and that my “one-issue voter” heart was really happy early in the evening.

my “one issue” isn’t just abortion…it’s basic respect and recognition of the humanity of people with uteruses and what that means for all women and GSMs. my “one issue” is dignity, freedom, reproductive fairness, and having the back of everyone to be smart enough to make their own choice.  i thank you, Floridians, for believing in my “one issue” and i shall be proud to be a “one issue” voter until the dignity and basic respect of women and gender/sexual minorities is never put to a vote or reviewed by a court ever again, and i hope someday that shall be a reality so i won’t be a “one issue” voter anymore.

November 1, 2012

nihil de nobis, sine nobis: trans women of color and Remembering Your Dead

nihil de nobis, sine nobis: Latin for “Nothing about us, without us.”

as i’ve remarked before, i come from the disability rights movement, where we talk frequently about trying to navigate the map of inclusion at the table in matters affecting our basic rights and dignity, since we often find ourselves excluded from that proverbial table.  as trans women of color, we similarly are occupying a place of exclusion in something that deeply affects us: Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day which was unquestionably started with the best of intent but ends up with the worst of results, namely that it’s about us (trans women of color, the majority of the names being read), without us, because we are shut out from involvement in the “trans community” in life at every turn, but y’all have no problem claiming us once we’re dead.

it’s disappointing to see that there is little to no mention of race on the official TDOR site other than in raw statistics. trans women of color have met with everything from passive-aggressiveness to outright ignorance when attempting to deal with the folks who run TDOR. long ago and far away, Gwen Smith was unwilling to talk about the realities of race when it comes to violence against trans women back when TDoR was her one-woman show; the current volunteers are no different. (the extent of Ms. Smith’s involvement at present is unknown, but she is credited repeatedly as the “owner” of TDoR; see for an example) so this leaves no question as to why TDoR is so, well, uh, *white*; there is an unchecked/unquestioned monoculture at work. i’m sure the intent of the volunteers who run TDoR is not to create such a monoculture, but this is how it ends up, and the expectation seems to be that TDoR is by its very nature exempt from accountability for being such a monoculture, especially when most of the stories they’re telling, and too often mistelling, are about dead trans women of color.

i do understand that TDoR events are organized locally and can vary from place to place, and that this is the responsibility of the local volunteers. however, given that many trans women of color seem to express the same experience regardless of where they are, chances are that the local example of TDoR is probably pretty common, namely that an overwhelmingly white cadre of men is reading the names, with a token trans woman or two thrown in; make sure they’re always older and white, because when practicing that type of tokenism it’s critical to present trans women as all the same since that is what many transmisogynists, especially those within the queer community, use to justify their transmisogyny. when troublesome patterns seem to be repeated in many places, it points to two possible kinds of systemic failure: passive failure, where the result is unintentional, or open disregard, where the failure is intentional. i posit that this is passive failure in most cases rather than open disregard, but either way the end result is the same.

the organization of TDoR in every case i’ve ever seen or heard reported is done by a closed ecosystem; to be able to participate, you have to already be a known quantity; locally, for women, you must be previously known to the transfundamentalist support group, and for men to the local trans guy group, which is far less malignant in terms of who it lets in, but it is open only to trans guys, so that does no good for the rest of us, and it would be wrong to invade that space. i don’t know if the tokenized inclusion of trans women is intentional, because visibility is very dangerous for trans women, or because the transfundamentalists being given the ability to decide who can participate ends up self-selecting, but the end result remains that the people up there butchering the pronunciation of the names of a bunch of dead trans people, a group which is overwhelmingly trans women of color. how is this providing a fitting memorial to these people?

the intersection of whiteness and trans identity is invariably part of the problem here. i’ve talked about the mechanics of exclusion/derision of trans women of color before; the “trans community” basically requires Caucasianness, tokenism, or importance to enter, and given that some of us arrived too late to be tokens, aren’t famous (…and don’t want to be), and aren’t white, you’ve got a recipe for how you can keep the monoculture going. you can keep all sorts of trans/genderqueer people of color out all the time, so why should TDoR be any different?

the reality is that though trans identity is not limited to white people, the hurdles that we as people of color are expected to be able to clear to be “trans enough” are higher hurdles. people who play the “trans enough” game almost always come from a position of financial privilege; much as it might seem to be pretty obvious, this is rarely acknowledged when it comes to the “trans community” and its enforcers. like many trans people of color, i transitioned outside any of these structures and don’t really understand things like being expected to talk forthrightly about what surgeries i’ve had when asked by a complete stranger inside trans space; this isn’t the kind of thing anyone asks me when i’m walking down the street or sitting on a train, but the changed spatial context means that i’m supposed to tell you about the butt lift i’ve never had? yeah, i don’t think so. most of us who are trans people of color, especially trans women of color, cannot clear the hurdles of “trans enough” and are thus disregarded by and excluded from the “trans community.” the fiction that there is some magic parallel universe for trans people of color, by the by, is just that: fiction. we might organize informally in small groups, but we don’t have secret meetings of the Black trans woman junta in the basement of the AME Church down the way.

because trans identity is so caught up in Caucasianness, a new problem emerges with both the claiming of dead trans people of color altogether: if we weren’t “trans enough” in life, why are we suddenly being counted by the same people who wouldn’t have us once we’re dead? it’s because the idea that it’s dangerous to be trans has to be sold somehow, given that cis people generally ignore violence against trans people regardless of what color we are, and i do have no doubt that it seems like a good idea to use all these names. the trouble is that when this happens without any discussion of race, class, and how violence is often linked to certain types of work, reading our names uncritically is appropriative and using the deaths of people you didn’t care about in life as a vehicle for activism in death. i get that this has to be sold as a concept because cis people are often willfully ignorant that we’re getting killed out here. thing is, there are ways to sell this concept and be conscious of the racial/class/social politics involved herein. i see what the point of TDoR is in terms of public relations, but it isn’t so invaluable that the problematic things about it should go unchecked.

i had initially set out to say we should boycott TDoR as trans women of color and our allies. but let’s be honest, we already aren’t there to start with, so a boycott is meaningless; we’re going to be tokens in TDoR at best no matter what until the trans community stops enforcing a standard based on Caucasianness on everyone. however, the reality is that TDoR needs to include more discussion of race, gender, and violence because what it’s talking about is people who are dead because of the confluence of race, gender, and violence. i suspect that the same reason the trans community is so viciously exclusive of trans women of color is the same reason this doesn’t come up: it requires discussing uncomfortable realities, especially given that the trans community is shamefully complicit in considering trans women of color disposable…until one day in November, when y’all care about us if we’re dead.

TDoR is hopelessly broken in how it fails trans people of color as it stands, but if you’re involved with TDoR, it’s time to seed some change. even in a monoculture, there are ways one can promote respect and accountability. mention how many of the people whose names you’re reading are dead trans women of color. try to get our names and pronouns right, something i can’t believe is actually a problem inside the trans community, but apparently it is…part of that is knowing how to pronounce a name before you read it. if you’re organizing an event, actually bother pointing out how overwhelmingly Latina and/or Black and female the names of the dead you’re reading are…and think about how to include on a more broad-based basis rather than letting it be run by closed social groups. be accountable for how racist the trans community is, and think about that doubly so when trying to include tokens rather than actually opening it up to all of us. don’t exclude people for who they are so long as they identify as trans (if you’re doing an all-trans reading; don’t exclude people at all if not.) don’t get huffy and angry when someone points out the reality of how TDoR works; rather than getting passive-aggressive or trying the “who the hell are you” angle, two things that are you telling that person their concerns don’t matter, listen and figure out what you can do to work with them, if there is anything that can be done. remember that what might seem like anger is often a direct response to the fact that we’re shut out wherever we go in the trans community, it’s not anger at you. add in that the people who organize TDoR nationally, volunteer or not, don’t want to talk about race at all, and we have a pretty good recipe for what’s happening.

we’re not looking for pity or to be placated with words that don’t mean anything; we seek sincerity and maybe someday inclusion. right now, though, November 20th is coming up, and i implore you to work for us even if you’re working without us and to think about how to break down the whiteness of the trans community…or don’t, and keep making it an othering experience for people you’re not even including and then wondering why we don’t feel welcome. nothing about us, without us indeed.