Violence, Racism, and Neo-Liberalism, or Why I’m not upset over prop 8
November 11, 2008
That’s right, I’m not upset about prop 8. Consider this a calling out, if you need to.
It’s not that I’m happy about it–I’m not–or that I don’t think it’s a bad thing–it is–or something that will have (at least in the short term) a lot of bad consequences for a lot of people–it will–or a setback to the “LGBT” (by which we mean CLGB) movement–it is.
It’s that last one, see.
I’m sick of the politics of racism and exclusion, the politics of classism and transphobia, the politics of privilege. I’m sick of the politics that lead to racist violence of any kind, but against black queer people? Fuck you and you privilege too.
I’m sick of the politics of a movement that lead to two white gay men trapping me against a wall and punching me in the face for being a trans woman*. I’m sick of the politics that told them they would get away with it, right in front of a gay bar, at a trans event with approximately twenty witnesses. By the way, while people did intervene on my behalf, and the perpetrators were clearly surprised by that fact and, ultimately, they *did* get away with it. I’m sick of the politics that told the bartenders & bouncer that they could pretend they didn’t see it, despite clear evidence to the contrary, so that they could avoid any accountability. Which they did. I’m sick of the organizers of the event getting praised for how much they did about it–putting out a statement a full three weeks after I’d asked them to, only in response to a bunch of cis people asking them on my behalf, only one week before the next dance, and deciding to do what they thought best without any real attempt to collaborate with me or my advocates to form a game plan. I’m sick of the politics that sets the bar so low for accountability, trans misogyny, and anti-violence work that that’s admirable. I’m sick of it.
Because these people, these events aren’t isolated. They don’t happen outside culture, they don’t happen outside politics, they aren’t random or uncaused. When a white gay male politician cut trans people from the ENDA bill, HRC didn’t hold him accountable, HRC looked the other way and even aided him covertly; ultimately he succeeded in getting us out, this year anyway. A prominent cis gay journalist justified kicking a masculine lesbian [of color] out of a women’s restroom, and referred to an abstracted trans woman as “a man who wants to cut off his penis, surgically construct a vagina, and become a woman”–…and, what happened, precisely? I mean, I know a lot of people hate on Avarosis, but the fact is that he’s still given a community platform when we know he’s going to use it for transphobic ends, without any accountability…and we’ve never seen this before.
So, what I mean is–in that kind of a climate, how could they not have expected to get away with it? Every indication they had said that there would be some protests and maybe they’d have to say they were sorry at the worst, but that in the end they’d walk away unharmed, their violence and/or negligence done with no need for punishment, restitution, or further scrutiny. And certainly, no one’s denouncing the organizers for, say, not having a plan in place to deal with potential violence before it happened, or claiming the party to be “For trans men and trans women and their chasers, queers and allies, movers and/or shakers”–with no consciousness of how that might impact trans women. No one’s denouncing the other attendees for not stopping to ask why a trans woman(ish person)* in a miniskirt and fishnets was talking to the cops–for not realizing that that ain’t happening if things are ok.
I’m sick of the politics of a movement where, when I speak of the attack to cis people, particularly white but also POC, they’re *shocked*, when I tell it to white trans people & trans male spectrum POC, they’re (generally) not shocked but they are surprised, and when I tell it to trans women of color they say ‘OMG ME TOO.’ OK, this is hardly a scientific survey, and it’s definitely an oversimplification. But there’s only been one group of people, about six people, I’ve met who expected it, who, when I told them, they told me stories about the (raced) trans misogyny they’ve experienced from the hands and mouths of cis gay men–to the point of saying that gay men were “the worst” and that where they got trans misogynistically harassed the most was in Boystown (a predominantly white, upscale, cis, gay neighborhood–which has the vast majority of Chicago’s queer resources) by gay men. (They didn’t mention racial dimensions, whether because I’m a white stranger (likely) or because they don’t analyze it that way or some other reason.)
I’m white. I’m not trying to claim that somehow my white privilege hasn’t been playing out here, or to subtly identify myself as not-white or less-white. What I mean is that I can’t stand the ways in which white queers and cis queers, and particularly white cis queers, maintain a silencing denial about violence that is, frankly, endemic. Violence which they make possible through subtle means, like, say, putting all the LGBT resources in an expensive, white, cis part of town. No one should be able to say “me too” to that violence, but no one should have to be so excited about being able to talk about it, either.
Your “shock” is silencing. It says “your reality is strange and foreign. your experiences must be exceptions, isolated, one time experiences. your experiences aren’t something we could expect given other circumstances.” It tells us that we’ll be supported if we talk about violence coming from the “right people” but if it’s coming from the “wrong people,” then either you won’t believe us, or you will but you’ll be too caught up in your own shit to be supportive, and in either case you won’t understand yourself as complicit. Your shock makes my experience strange so you don’t have to interrogate your normal. Your shock says “violence happens out there, not here.” Maintaining the safety of your space requires my silence.
To return to the present moment–
I know, Truth Wins Out and PFAW put out statements condemning the blaming-of-black-people, and HRC, well, they linked it on their blog. Both statements put the racist violence out in the open and condemn it. The PFAW statement is actually quite good, and brings up the need for white LGBT activists to 1)do outreach to black communities, neither writing them off nor taking them for granted, and 2)to work for black folk as well, on issues like the minimum wage. But it doesn’t draw attention to the larger historical context of white queer betrayal of queers of color, and in particular trans women of color, or the history of the white CLGB movement’s use of racism and transphobia to achieve its ends, and the potential impact therein. The interplay between white and cis supremacy orchestrated by HRC in the formation of NCTE, for example:
Being that we were only a few months from the 2002 midterm elections, and the ALC was happening in late September, one of the provisos for our invite was that we keep it secret until after the event concluded.
The meeting concludes on a high note, we go back to Marietta to do the post mortem debriefing, cross check our notes, and we go back to Louisville to begin working on the most important Transgender 101 presentation in U.S. history.
But that Power Point presentation Dawn and I created for that Transgender 101 session is still on my computer because a Caucasian transgender leader leaked the details to her paymasters at HRC.
Once my tears dried, I began to get angry as I began to piece together the details of what happened and who leaked the info that killed the transgender community’s best chance to wean itself from dependence on the gay community and HRC’s control.
A few weeks later I got my answer. The Caucasian transleader who leaked the details of that meeting to HRC announces the formation of NCTE.
I say that this is an interplay of white and cis supremacy, rather than just white trans racism, because HRC was so clearly playing white trans people and black trans people against each other through, basically, bribery, to maintain its power. I’m angry at the person-who-Roberts-doesn’t-name-so-I-won’t-either’s racist and short sighted betrayal, a betrayal of every fucking one of us, the kind of betrayal that makes me shake if I let myself feel it, but it’s still only a result, and only one result, of HRC’s divide and conquer strategies.
This post is getting kind of long and convoluted for the thread of my argument, but it’s this: winning on 8, with the same strategies, with the same people, without both outreach and accountability to POC, would have been a hollow victory, and I’m so over our strategy of pursuing a specific goal at all costs, what Tobi callswinning to lose. The whole post is worth reading, but I’m just going to pick out an out-of-context tidbit:
Word came down from above that we were not allowed to use the words “bisexual” or “transgender,” or even the term “same-sex marriage.” The focus groups had shown that swing voters respond better to phrases like “gays and lesbians” and “gay marriage.”
As huge as they were, I didn’t feel that the potential short term gains were not [sic] worth the long term implications of perpetuating biphobia and transphobia. Indeed, I saw concrete results of that strategy just a couple years later. We were preparing to get gender identity non-discrimination, but were aware of a well organized opposition. Calling out to our base – the no on 36 voters – we found a disappointingly small proportion were supportive of and aware of the issue. I can’t help but see the connection between the decision not to mention trans people in previous LGBT campaigns, and the lack of awareness our electoral base had of trans people’s mere existence.
Losing on prop 8 denies real rights to real people, and keeps the political debate at an unacceptably low bar. But ultimately, I have to wonder if success might have denied more rights than a loss in the long run, compared to alternative strategies of the sort proposed by Beyond Marriage. As Nancy D. Polikoff writes in the Utne Reader,
The most contested issue in contemporary family policy is whether married-couple families should have “special rights” not available to other family forms. Excluded families include unmarried couples of any sexual orientation, single-parent households, extended-family units, and any other constellation of individuals who form relationships of emotional and economic interdependence that do not conform to the one-size-fits-all marriage model. No other Western country, including those that allow same-sex couples to marry, creates the rigid dividing line between the law for the married and the law for the unmarried that exists in the United States.
I propose family law reform that would recognize all families’ worth. Marriage as a family form is not more important or more valuable than other forms of family, so the law should not give it more value. Couples should have the choice to marry based on the spiritual, cultural, or religious meaning of marriage in their lives; they should never have to marry to reap specific and unique legal benefits. I support the right to marry for same-sex couples as a matter of civil rights law. But I oppose discrimination against couples who do not marry, and I advocate solutions to the needs all families have for economic well-being, legal recognition, emotional peace of mind, and community respect.
I’m sick of politics about marriage that ignore the neo-liberal capitalist domination inherent in US marriage law–
from the historic Massachusetts marriage decision, Hillary Goodridge, et al. v. Department of Health:
Without question, civil marriage enhances the “welfare of the community.” It is a “social institution of the
highest importance.” French v. McAnarney, supra. Civil marriage anchors an ordered society by
encouraging stable relationships over transient ones. It is central to the way the Commonwealth identifies
individuals, provides for the orderly distribution of property, ensures that children and adults are cared for
and supported whenever possible from private rather than public funds, and tracks important
epidemiological and demographic data.
Tangible as well as intangible benefits flow from marriage. The marriage license grants valuable property
rights to those who meet the entry requirements, and who agree to what might otherwise be a burdensome
degree of government regulation of their activities.…ejecting claim for equitable distribution of property
where plaintiff cohabited with but did not marry defendant);…(government interest in promoting marriage would be “subverted” by recognition of “a
right to recover for loss of consortium by a person who has not accepted the correlative responsibilities of
Marriage is not always good for people. It is not always chosen freely. It is not always being prohibited, or discouraged–frequently it’s a government attack on women of color:
Healthy Marriages Grand Rapids received $990,000 from the federal government in 2003 to “facilitate the understanding that healthy marriages between parents is [sic] critical to the financial well-being of children, …increase the number of prepared marriages among low-income adults, and decrease the divorce rate among low-income adults.” The program coordinates local public media campaigns plugging marriage as well as relationship counseling classes, many offered by faith-based providers.
It is precisely this emphasis on marriage as a cure for economic woes that worries many welfare recipients and advocates. According to Liz Accles at the Welfare Made a Difference National Campaign, “Marriage promotion is problematic for many reasons. It is discriminatory. It values certain families over others. It intrudes on privacy rights. The coercive nature of this is lost on a lot of people because they don’t realize how deeply in poverty people are living.” Accles says that adequate educational opportunities, subsidized child care, and real job skills and opportunities are the answer to the financial concerns of women on welfare. She joins many domestic violence counselors in saying that marriage education funded by government coffers and administered via faith-based providers and welfare case workers is at best a waste of taxpayer money, and at worst pushes women deeper into abusive relationships that may end in injury or death.
In Allentown, Pa., a program called the Family Formation and Development Project offers a 12-week marriage education course for low-income, unmarried couples with children. Employment services are offered as part of the program, but only to fathers. In its application for federal funding, the program set a goal of 90% of the participating fathers finding employment. No such goal was set for the mothers. According to Jennifer Brown, legal director at the women’s legal rights organization Legal Momentum, which filed a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services, “What we fear is that this kind of sex stereotyped programming–jobs for fathers, not for mothers–will be part of marriage promotion programs funded by the government.“
Experts at Legal Momentum are concerned that the administration is diverting scarce funds from proven and effective anti-poverty programs and funneling the money into untested marriage-promotion programs. They say there is little information about what is happening on the ground, making it difficult to determine what activities have been implemented.
Feminist economists point out that the mid-1990s welfare reform law served larger economic interests by moving women out of the home and into the work force at a time when the economy was booming and there was a need for low-paid service workers. Now that the economy is in a recession, the government has adopted a more aggressive policy of marriage promotion, to pull women out of the work force and back into the home. According to Avis Jones-DeWeever, Poverty and Welfare Study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “We are talking about putting $1.5 billion into telling women to find their knight in shining armor and then everything will be okay.” (link)
And people wonder why black folks might not all be in lockstep in support of (gay) marriage. Maybe because it’s a racist agenda in the first place.
Marriage discourse that focuses on the lionization of marriage in a climate where the federal government is trying to force poor (black) women into abusive marriages and out of the workforce, discourse that legitimizes the denial of economic benefits to unmarried poor women and women fleeing domestic violence is absolutely unacceptable. I think it’s possible to organize coalitions around marriage (around what Tobi calls relationship recognition, but the point is the white CLGB community isn’t doing it, because it would implicate them in racist and classist oppression.
Tobi writes about how the (now-overturned) California marriage system potentially victimizes queer survivors of domestic violence/IPV:
It’s widely reported that the recent marriage decision in California does not create a residency requirement to get married. That means that someone could travel to California, get married, and go home. However, California DOES have a residency requirement for divorce. That’s where the trouble is.
If you’re home state doesn’t recognize your new marriage, then chances are they won’t allow you to get divorced there. …”States with civil unions or comprehensive domestic partnerships… also may allow married same-sex couples to divorce, but each of those states …has a one-year residency requirement.”
So what happens if you don’t live in one of those states and you and you’re partner are ready to leave your California-made marriage? Without moving to one of those states and waiting a year to gain residency — YOU CAN”T GET DIVORCED.
This has some obvious and serious legal repurcussions. And recognizing that abuse does indeed exist in queer communities, one can imagine the difficulties of not being allowed to divorce your abusive partner. Not being allowed to dissalow your abusive partner hospital visitation, medical power of attorney, or other such benefits of marriage.
While I’m sure this was an oversight, it clearly demonstrates a lack of forethought on the part of those drafting the bill–and “lack of forethought” is not uncaused, natural, or blameless. Do you think that, say, INCITE would make that mistake? What does it say about white CLGB marriage politics that this went unnoticed?
Earlier, Tobi wrote about the transphobic limitations of Oregon’s Domestic Partnership law:
the domestic partnerships are only for “same-sex” couples only. Why? There are a number of bi and straight “opposite-sex” couples who would rather avoid marriage — either for financial, political, or ideological reasons — why deny them the opportunity to get a domestic partnership. Especially the many straight queerspawn who do not want to be married while their parents cannot. Now they have to choose between taking marriage while their parents are relegated to a separate and unequal institution, or having no relationship recognition while their parents get a domestic partnership.
Then there’s the whole other issue of creating a new government institution that is based on people’s gender. That means that there is one more place where the rights you can have will depend on your ability to prove that you are the gender that you say you are. And that puts transpeople in a vulnerable place. If your someone can “disprove” your gender, then they could annul your domestic partnership. And while that would also end up “proving” that you’re eligible for a marriage, it very well may be too late. A transperson would just be out of luck if their partner “disproved” their gender in order to annul their domestic partnership as a tactic in a custody battle. Of course, all of these things could happen to a transperson in a marriage. But why do we have to include all of the issues of institutionalized transphobia in the relationship recognition system that we wrote?
We should remember that this bill doesn’t hurt “opposite-sex” couples and it doesn’t take away any rights from transpeople, but there’s absolutely no reason to leave them out….I and several other activists pointed this out to Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) two years ago, just before the last bill failed. We were told that this problem would be fixed next time, but aparently nobody took notes. By the time it was discovered this time around (i.e. I pointed it out, again), the bill language had been written
At one level, it’s an oversight. But again, if they’d been on it with their coalitional politics, it wouldn’t've happened. It didn’t slip past Tobi, it wouldn’t've slipped past me. It leaves open possibilities for transphobic discrimination that could easily have been closed, completely pointlessly.
I hope my point is clear: fixing relationship recognition is incredibly important, but this isn’t the way to do it, and if a setback were to cause us to change course, rather than dive headfirst into the same goddamn wall one more time, then I’m not shedding too many tears. This fight wasn’t about getting rid of discrimination–it was about getting one group of people into the privileged class.
Marriage rights are frequently equated to employment non discrimination. The irony is, of course, that there is a lot of similarity–last year’s defeat of ENDA was, paradoxically, a win for the queer community, or at least the trans community–a federal trans exclusive ENDA would have eviscerated the efforts of localities to institute trans inclusive ones, and thus passing ENDA would have enabled anti-trans discrimination. As bad as prop 8 is, killing it could have left a lot of people out in the cold, and shut the door–now, at least, there’s a chance that when we open that door and come inside, it will be all of us. As I’ve mentioned above, the tactics in use haven’t merely been about only helping middle-class white CLGB folks–they’ve done so by standing on others’ shoulders. It has to stop.
May it stop here.
There was going to be another part of this post, about how we need to get some perspective, about just how big Obama’s win is, how it’s far larger than just the Obama presidency but has implications for the structure of our “democracy” and the role of the Democratic Party; it has implications for who will be nominated in the future and how campaigns will be waged; it has implications for the possibility of the return of intelligent public political discourse which, in all reality, is a far greater necessity for overturning hetero/cis supremacy than defeating prop 8. And, frankly, I think to be focusing on a decision primarily involving white CLBG folks in one state instead of a 1)monumental and historic moment in black history, and 2)potential freedom from the political nightmare of the past 8 years, especially the unmitigated emphasis on wars, wars, and more wars killing almost 100,000 innocent brown people and reinstating known war criminals as the new Afghani puppet government1 and facilitating Wahhabist takeovers of Islamic countries–I think it’s more than a bit racist to be saying that we’re upset about the election.
1: I know, Obama’s in favor of redoubleing the war in Afghanistan, but I think that a potential for change is possible under Obama that would never have been possible under Bush McCain or Palin. (in part due to the whole “intelligent discourse” thing, and, judging from the way he ran his campaign, a much more open and inclusive process and one less prone to the abuses of power so endemic under Bush, e.g. the fake news reports and spying and misuse of security forces…) Maybe I’m overly optimistic, who knows. Regardless, Obama is *less* militaristic than B/C/P have been and would be.
EDIT: In case I’m wrong, sign sign this petition against Larry Summers.
*At the time, I was not ID’ing as a trans woman, though obviously I was seen as such by my assailants (though they’d use different words…), and was generally positioned as such by others in ways that weren’t super cool. But, you know, as of yesterday, I am publicly ID’ing as a woman as well as trans & gender fluid/genderqueer/gender variant. (it was more a matter of realizing my identity had already shifted back than that it changed yesterday, but whatev.)
EDIT: Tobi made a related, simultaneous-ish post: If Not Marriage for All How About Marriage for None?
FURTHER EDIT: Looks like Dean Spade was thinking the same thing at the same time, too.