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.

2 Responses to “using whiteness-as-default to silence trans women”

  1. Here’s a clue: Trans women of color aren’t the assholes harassing lesbians. The assholes harassing lesbians are “white heterosexual men” (sic). There’s a world of difference between those communities. But if you want to claim “rapey white heterosexual males” (sic), please do.

    (Edited for accuracy. -e.)


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