Archive for April, 2013

April 30, 2013

the fallacy of scarcity

Just so you know, the theory of resource restriction on the basis of scarcity is that of my good friend Caylee, and I recommend you read their blog. Thus, they get the credit for planting the seeds of what this blog post is about, but the thoughts based on this observation are mine.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the logic of the transfundamentalist, and some recent events in my life have led me to attempt to pursue why some people who reject transfundamentalism in the trans community still perpetuate a creation of artificial scarcity in the trans community, especially when it comes to medical access and access to transcentric social space that is open to trans women. Artificial scarcity is what leads us to the threat of movies being put in the “Disney Vault” and rendered unavailable for the better part of a decade, a wonderful trick to boost DVD sales, or the frenzied flurry of activity that surrounds a sandwich known as the “McRib”, a formed pork patty which honestly tastes like pickles on wet cardboard to me.

Artificial scarcity may work fine with shredded processed pork or with the crime against animated deer known as Bambi II, but it just plum doesn’t belong in a situation where peoples’ lives are at stake.  Caylee, also someone who escaped fundamentalist Christianity, has remarked that much of this logic descends from Prosperity Gospel-type ideas, a particular strain of fundamentalist Christian thinking which proclaims that following faith will lead one to prosperity and health.  I grew up Mormon, which has a different take on the Prosperity Gospel theology but espouses most of the same things. It’s an ideal that unquestioning devotion will get you everything you want in life, often recreated in secular New Age twaddle like The Secret, which proclaims that thinking positive thoughts about money will make you have money by some unseen force. I’m thinking positive thoughts that the Mega Millions numbers tonight will be the ones on my ticket, but I know the odds of being mauled by a polar bear in Long Beach, California are slightly higher than the odds of my becoming a Mega Zillionaire. I know that no amount of thinking happy thoughts will bring me things; think happy thoughts because they’re authentic, think happy thoughts if you’re an optimist (and in places I don’t like to admit, I am one), or think happy thoughts because you’re happy. But don’t let the discourse become that any bad thing that happens to someone comes from “negativity” because people who are kept out may naturally feel negatively about those situations.

I’ll be the first person to tell you that treating people poorly won’t get you anywhere, and that having a truly negative attitude toward others based on your own fears really poisons things, often without your even realizing it. When you go up to a cashier at the supermarket screaming and yelling, I can guarantee you that transaction will go poorly. However, the enforcement of this scarcity may leave people in a position where negative thought comes into the situation. I’ll give you an example: grousing about not knowing other trans women in my city has led to three suggestions, namely that I should just suck it up and brave the awful support group because maybe it’ll be better this time, ask your friends to introduce you to other trans women (when you’re the only trans woman all your friends know…that’s not gonna work), or “create your own space”, which is kinda hard when nobody knows who you are and besides in the next breath the condescending “but there already is space…” always comes next.

Sure, there’s space. But the reason the support group is so hostile, the reason its capo is so vicious, is that the fallacy of scarcity is being enforced. If they let the “defective” people in, there’s no way that they can enforce this scarcity, and I, dear reader, am “defective” in the minds of these folks. Because in their gospel I am not worthy of being allowed, even if I’m willing to pay the $5 “mandatory donation”, and not willing to put up with what they may see as hazing but what really has an effect on a girl (sorry, calling me “it” is a real sore point), I am an outlier, a non-believer, a heretic.  Caylee is right: this is the prosperity gospel indeed.

But why do we accept this scarcity? Why do we choose not to be proactive about creating safe medical access for all trans women in the informed consent model for hormones and healthcare in a safe, shame-free environment when you go to the doctor for non-trans-related maladies? Why does our community refuse to share safe medical resource information with others where such resources exist?  Why do we give credibility to the idea that there’s one safe commons for trans women and that any unknown is inherently dangerous and bad? I could put an ad on Craigslist for a get-together over coffee one day a month for trans women, and I have serious doubts that it would ever get past people wanting to know who the hell I was. Yes, much of this is because there are any number of people with predatory interests, some cis and some trans, who believe that trans women represent a group of people who are easy to abuse and victimize. I’m pretty sure that this, too, is actually a product of the idea that scarcity means that we end up being vulnerable to these people. We have cults of personality who do destructive things within the community and go truly unchecked because of their “importance”, and they are able to gain frightening amounts of influence because they believe in their need to be the proverbial big fish in a small pond.

We need to stop accepting that this pond has to be small, and part of that is realizing that trans women come in all narratives, colors, shapes, looks, and sizes. You don’t have to be a transfundamentalist to enforce transfundamentalist rhetoric, and part of that is the desire to enforce this scarcity that permeates our community. The idea that this scarcity is necessary is actually something present in, for example, the rampant fatphobia in the “trans community”. When someone makes statements about fat people which imply we don’t deserve dignity or a wholesome diet, they’re actively pushing out fat people. When someone makes gross statements about people who are really skinny and shames their bodies, when half the skinny people I know would pretty much give anything under the sun to gain twenty pounds, they’re engaging in body-shaming and making generalizations about their bodies, too. And yes, the latter is a real problem, too. See also shaming people for choosing not to have facial surgery…and then shaming people who do who didn’t have it in a manner that satisfies someone else’s desire. These boundaries, this territorial spraying, is absolutely the behavior of people who believe that there is a very limited space which they must protect.

Now, I’m not saying you have to welcome in people who behave in disrespectful or problematic manners. Anne Lawrence, for example, should be excluded from our spaces because she’s a fucking rapist. (tw: rape, medical abuse)  There need to be some boundaries, but boundaries should be based on real actions and not fear. Personally, I’m pretty sure some of my problem is that I’m disabled and it’s really easy to throw around demonizing rhetoric about disabled people based on completely false rhetoric. For example, the idea that disabled people are violent, a stereotype that just isn’t true. In fact, a disabled person is fifty percent more likely to be a victim of violent crime than an able-bodied person. (It’s higher than 50% for women, by the way.)  Oh, and while we’re at it, we’re far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. Yet the unexplained and severe phobia of disability permeates the “trans community”. Why is this? I feel that we are considered to be a safe group to target and exclude because we don’t fit the transfundamentalist vision of perfection and we often literally cannot. You’re still going to be able to tell I’m disabled from looking at me, and there’s no amount of surgery that can change that, nor do I have any desire to have it.  And guess what? In fundamentalist religion, we are held up as being both “inspiration” and subhuman wretches at the same time. In fiction, we are plot devices, from Helen Burns in Jane Eyre to Beth March in Little Women. We exist in public often treated by people like a living, breathing zoo exhibit. But if our actions aren’t problematic, why keep us out?

Well, it’s best explained by the difference between what happens when a child asks me what’s wrong with my face and an adult does the same thing. When a child does it, it’s out of curiosity, not understanding the situation and needing more information.  When an adult does it, it might well be out of curiosity, and when they take the honest answer and walk away or learn from it, great. But the sneering, angry “what’s wrong with your face” or “what happened to you” that comes from some mouths is never innocent, and it’s important to recognize that, because these people are playing into the idea of scarcity, too. My presence in their world confuses them because a “defective” is in their space, and I will tell you that I hear that tone far more often when doing things that indicate I have some responsibility in society, like minding children or doing public-facing work. Maybe someone who looks ‘normal’ should be doing that instead.

In other words, I know that the “trans community” is merely parroting patriarchal values and standards in enforcing scarcity, and that we’ve given people a free pass for unquestioningly upholding these patriarchal values as a way of devaluing people the patriarchy doesn’t like. It’s time to stop letting this be an excuse, though…being a footsoldier for the patriarchy after you’ve had it, repeatedly, pointed out to you what you’re doing means you’re accepting those patriarchal values or you’re too scared to question them, and either way you’re hurting people on behalf of the patriarchy. If we can transcend gender and birth assignment, why can’t we transcend the idea that some people are disposable? The people the “trans community” considers disposable are largely members of other minorities, generally racial minorities, but things like disability play into this also. We believe we have to enforce this scarcity with no proof that it has any benefit other than “things must be kept from those people.”

I’m one of those people. I refuse to believe that I must be denied a place at the table because of race, class, disability, and the mortal sin of being a size 22. When one enforces this artificial and completely unnecessary scarcity or act in complicity with it, it’s saying I am lesser, and that, dear readers, is what we call “fucked up” where I come from.

April 18, 2013

trans activism as it stands: where do we go from here?

I’ve had one hell of a case of writer’s block for about the past three weeks. I’ve got about five half-finished blog entries where I just lost interest and decided to go in another direction, and I think that’s because there’s something nacent going on in the world of trans activism: I think we’ve gotten about as far as we can on the Internet.

Don’t get me wrong, the Internet is a valuable tool for everything from playing MMORPGs to sending pictures of cats to each other. It’s a vastly powerful information delivery tool…and I’m sounding like a bad 1990s AOL commercial at this point. But the Internet can only go so far, and I’m beginning to think we’ve hit Peak Internet Activism within the trans community. Unfortunately, much as the world lacks a plan for Peak Oil, we haven’t got a plan for Peak Internet Activism. We have tremendous barriers to organizing, and in many cases we are precluded from basic participation within the larger trans community in many locales for a number of reasons, from transfundamentalists controlling space  to the fact that it’s still kind of dangerous to be a trans woman, especially a trans woman of color.  So we have barriers to entry into activism that are somewhat high, and these barriers end up keeping us out and because we don’t organize, things don’t change. Add in that we don’t have organized activist groups in many places or that you have to know someone in the group already (a friend of mine remarked that this is “fucking Friendster”) and this presents an additional barrier.

See, internet-based activism, much as the old guard has slagged and mocked it (while maintaining an Internet presence themselves) has been a way that dissenting, different, and otherwise excluded voices have had a way to speak up. My being disabled, fat, or not that pretty has no real bearing on my ability to engage in discourse and dialogue online, but it keeps me out of traditional trans spaces that are open to trans women. So it’s especially hard for me to have to consider that internet-based activism has run its course, as it gave me my first platform to speak to other trans women and identify myself as such.  Hell, I get mocked and put down as an “Internet Activist”…on the Internet. (The irony, it burns.) This past weekend, I did a panel where I sat in front of a room with a moderate number of strangers and identified myself as a trans woman. I’ve never done that before, and believe you me, I was completely terrified. I spent the entire bus ride over in silence kind of staring off into space and battling to stay in control, to stay in charge of my thoughts and emotions in hopes that I would be able to overcome the urge to jump off the bus at the next stop and run as fast as I could. And yet, it was pretty liberating once I said it. Because someone had invited me to speak, and because it was space for queers of color in general, I didn’t have to worry about the kind of thing that tends to happen to someone who is “other” within the trans community. I didn’t get interrupted, yelled at, or told that I’m an ugly man.

Trouble is, this was a once-a-year event, 180 miles away. It was a bubble, no more no less. And then I went back home, as I always do, and it was right back to my only outlet being, you guessed it, the Internet. Now, I did pwn some n00bz in Arathi Basin and there were certainly cat videos, but mostly I sat in front of a blinking cursor trying to get my thoughts down on something: growing up trans in the LDS Church (promise you that’s coming…eventually) and I ended up Googling on the pressing issue of Jack in the Box “tacos” for a solid 20 minutes. (The filling is beef and soy. You’re welcome.) The problem with the Internet is that we’re using it to discuss things, but we’re not using it to create spaces in the real world where we can actually accomplish things. We’re often railing against the lack of these spaces, though, because so many of us who are perpetually outside want to no longer be outside. I don’t want to be outside anymore.

Now, I know that there are some reasons people can’t participate in real-world spaces. For example, you might live in a town with 54 people in it in Wyoming. You might not be able to be out at work. You might have a disability that affects your ability to participate, though spaces should always take care to be accessible and yes…that’s more than just wheelchair access. You might not play well with others. And that’s fine and that should be taken into account. Just like Peak Oil doesn’t mean no more oil, Peak Internet Activism means we need to reserve the social space provided by this type of activism for people in these situations. We need to center voices who don’t have access to a commons, who don’t have access to activism.

But what I’m not sure about is how to make this possible. Sometimes I have a lot of questions and no answers, it’s just part of Being Erica, as my life has been defined by questions I can’t find answers to, and oftentimes when I do find answers, they’re either horrible or just lead to more questions. But this isn’t about me, even if I’m egotistically using myself as an example: we need real talk about how to create organized change for the trans community. We need to create an actual community and not just a “community.” We need to stop the casual and active racism that pervades our discourse and we need to accept that trans women come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and narratives. No narrative is less or more valid. No sexual orientation is more or less valid. And goddammit, failing to meet Caucasian heterocentric beauty standards doesn’t make you less of a woman, no matter what Jennifer Usher (aka “Just Jennifer”, which you Google at your own risk!) says.

We’re making great strides in terms of rights and visibility, and the rising tide is lifting some boats. Trans women of color are still openly considered disposable by much of the community, but that has more to do with how race and color affect media in general in North America. And recently the truly awesome Trans 100 project dropped a list of real people and what they’re doing in our communities…you’ll note how there are a lot of communities absent, because there’s still no access to community for many if not most trans women in a lot of places. But what we need is what we’re constantly demanding of the rest of the LBGT community: unity. I’m not silly enough to think we agree on everything, or facile enough to believe there won’t always be tyrants within our midst, but we ned to establish goals and work to demand them. We need to work to spread access to accurate identification, to outlaw discrimination both in fact and by policy, and to be outraged about every one of us killed every time it happens, not one day a year. We need to uplift those who fight for all trans women, like Janet MockCecilia Chung, Mia Tu Mutch, or Trudy Jackson (too awesome to be contained by a website) and talk about these folks. And how about trans guys who have our back all the time like Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler or Shannon Minter while we’re at it?

We’re making progress, people. We’re creating change even with the constraints we have! Do you realize how far-fetched it would have been had you found me in high school and told me that someday I’d be telling strangers I was trans? I would have stuck my chewing gum in your hair.  You can say what you will about the Trans 100, but it’s an instrument of visibility, acceptance, hope, and love…and at least 80 out of 100 of those people are people leading the community forward.   But you know how we can really move forward? Quit policing who is and isn’t allowed in “the community.” If you can be respectful of others and you’re trans, you belong in the community. If you want to keep cutting others down at the legs, you can stick to your angry little island. I’m sure “Just” Jennifer Usher and her 54 sock puppets would love the company.

I just wish I could wave a magic wand and make this happen, and it breaks my heart that none of us can as things stand. So for now, I’m going to go get four of those awful not-exactly-taco things ($1.98 for a full stomach, the poor girl’s best friend), spend 30 minutes wandering around either Wikipedia or Azeroth aimlessly, and go to sleep. And maybe, just maybe, you can tell me where do we go from here