Trans Woman of Color Erasure & Objectification
September 30, 2008
(so, this might seem weird, but in addition to its actual content, this post is laying the groundwork for an analysis of the silence surrounding the recent anti-muslim terror attack in Ohio (see also. h/t to Cheshire Bitten. More of the groundwork will be done in a post to follow.)
How often do you see trans women of color speaking in their own voices? On the blogosphere (that is, user created media), there are quite a few: Holly, Tobi, Little Light, Mia Nikasimo, and Monica Roberts, who in turn highlights the voices of Marisa Richmond and Claudia Charriez, as well as (to a lesser degree of self determination) Isis Tsunami, Bulent Ersoy, Leang Sothea.
In non-blogosphere media (that is, media filtered through an organization), there are any number on the Being T documentary (whose names I don’t know)(h/t Monica), and the deceased Marsha P Johnson (who is rarely shown speaking for herself, almost always reduced to ‘activist and murder victim’) and Sylvia Rivera. Seriously.
In Chicago, one friend of mine is a labor organizer, and acquaintances of mine work at the Broadway Youth Center, and Howard Brown. In Minneapolis I met and briefly worked with women from The African American AIDS Task Force, The Indigenous People’s Task Force, District 202, and All Gender Health.
I make this long, long list not because it’s exhaustive (it’s not, please comment if I forgot you), but in order to make it painfully obvious that there are lots and lots of trans women of color speaking, saying and doing important shit.
And if you’re white and that’s what you think of when you hear “trans woman of color” (etc), I’ll eat my shoes. My hat, too. Hell, if you could name 5 accomplishments by trans women of color I’ll be impressed. But not because they aren’t accomplishing them. Because they’re not being reported.
Media visibility for trans women of color (scanty as it is) goes to 1)objectifying portrayals of sex workers, and 2)murder/hate crime victims. The white trans community seems to have replicated this pattern–while Becoming a Black Man1 and Still Black may have achieved some popularity, and Whipping Girl has spread like wildfire, almost all of what I see reported in transnews and on the blogosphere at large that covers TWOC is focused almost exclusively on their victimhood, and the commentary limited to that & dissection of the fetishization.
Of the top twenty hits googling “trans woman of color”, only two were definitively not about that person being a victim (or survivor) of racist trans misogynistic physical violence, one of which was a comment by Little Light in response to transphobic hate speech included in the 59th Carnival of Feminists; 7 of the first 10 results for “trans women of color” are about transphobic violence (though one does have a positive unrelated story), and the other three are about Isis and Lavergne on reality TV. By contrast, not one of the first 10 for “trans women” focuses on physical violence, and only three out of ten for “trans woman”. Neither “trans man of color” nor “trans men of color” turned up any results obviously violence related (though the “Becoming a Black Man does relate to violence, it’s not in such an objectifying way.).
Say it with me now: trans women of color are not objects. They are not (only) victims. They are not the people you can push the pity party onto when you’re tired of dealing with it yourself and want to be seen acting to change shit. Yes, they are at vastly greater risk of violence than the rest of us trans folks–and just because you bring that up when transphobic/trans misogynistic violence is being talked about does not make you a “good ally“. Their deaths do not define their existence. Yes, many are sex workers because of economic marginalization–and this does not define their lives. They are more than points in a power struggle between multiple groups of white trans activists and cis feminists.
As Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha writes in “The Femme Shark Manifesto”:
FEMMES ARE LEADERS IN TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS/ DEFENDING OUR QUEER AND TRANS OF COLOR COMMUNITIES.
WE USED OUR STILETTOS AS WEAPONS AT STONEWALL
WE WERE THE TRANS[ ]WOMEN WHO FOUGHT BACK AT THE COMPTON CAFETERIA
WE’RE THE GIRLS WHO STARE DOWN ASSHOLES STARING AT OUR LOVERS AND FRIENDS ON THE SUBWAY….
WE REMEMBER OUR DEAD- SAKIA GUNN, GWEN ARAUJO, AND MANY OTHER QUEER AND TRANS POC WHO DIED BECAUSE OF RACIST, HOMO/TRANSPHOBIC VIOLENCE. NOT AS A POLITICAL STATEMENT BUT AS WOMEN WE LOVED IN REAL LIFE WOMEN WHO COULD’VE BEEN US OR OUR LOVES.(link) (note–this piece is about queer femmes of color, not specifically trans ones. And you should read it.)