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.)

More later.

1: A rather (trans) misogynistic article at that–it does include trans women’s voices, but only as a means to further oppress them/erase their voices and further the subtextual point ‘black men have it worse than black women’. See also my performance piece, So Shut Up.

5 Responses to “Trans Woman of Color Erasure & Objectification”

  1. [...] Love 3)Woman-only space as a resource 4)Trans Women’s Childhoods 5)Continue series started at Trans Woman of Color Erasure & Objectification–i)post about valuing trans women of color’s lives and the activism done in support of [...]

  2. Lauren said

    Seems like most community leaders here in LA are trans women of color. A lot of this work doesn’t happen on the web, so these names are probably unfamiliar outside of California, but off the top of my head:

    Alexis Rivera – Case Manager, Children’s Hospital LA

    H.M. Queen Victoria Ortega – founder, League of Trans-Unified Sisters

    Bamby Salcedo – Transgender Harm Reduction Project

    Vivianna Hernandez – Bienestar

    Sabel Simone – spokeswoman for HIV Stops With Me

    Valerie Spencer – community activist

    Carolina Charm – community activist

    Drian Juarez – community activist

    Karina Samala – Imperial Court of Los Angeles

    Ashley Love – founder, Media Advocates Giving National Equality to Trans people (MAGNET)

  3. lorin lette said

    As a Trans’ sister of black and brown heritage I’m re-engaging in “our” community.

    While I’ve been gone “someone” has been hard at
    work laying a foundation for a new Los Angeles
    based “caring” community. I’m old enough and have been gone long enough to have a perspective on our emerging community.

    Our beauty was once measured by how well we “passed” or by; physical attributes, behavior or how much we earned. How we saw ourselves was determined too often by men who
    never valued or cared for us.

    I’m in awe of our crusaders who have rebuffed the role of mimicry and replaced imagery with inner conviction and caring action.

    Through the efforts of the women mentioned by Lauren and the agencies which they represent dark alley ways and self medication have been
    replace with alternative which seek to help us find 40 hour a week employment and medical care under the guidance of medical professionals.

    Further trans youth who often feel as they are of no valule and are cast aside have resources available to them which seek to reinforce their esteem as they struggle with gender identity.

    These things did not just happen they are the result of caring trans women of color and their colleagues who are nuturing in era of change.

    Nuturing is the essence of strength as it reaches out to others….in a sense these
    “Trans Women of Color” are the mother of new
    opportnity.

    We all should thank them for the change which they are making!

    Lorin

    Like Lauren

  4. Susan said

    more LA community activists:

    Kellii Trombacco in Los Angeles (Charles Drew University)

    Kimberly Scott – Minority AIDS Project

    Kim Hall, Tarzana Treatment Center

    Vivianna Hernandez, Bienestar

    Erika de la Cruz, Bienestar

    Maria Roman, community activist

    Elizabeth Mediano, Asian-Pacific AIDS Intervention Team

    Liz Mendia, Whittier Rio-Hondo AIDS Project

    Jordan “Asia” Blaza, CA AIDS Clearinghouse

    Brenda Gonzalez, Bienestar

    Tracie O’Brien from San Diego, community activist

  5. [...] media articles, that almost universally omit their voices and ideas. (see my 2008 post about this phenomenon.) The closest thing to an exception would be Paris is Burning–and if you’ve read Butler [...]

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