This is the second in a three four part series. The first is available here and the third here. I’ll link to the fourth once it’s up.

So, last time I talked about the ways that using the concept of “ignorance” furthers racism, classism, colonialism, etc, and misdirects us away from the bigger issues. This time, I want to talk more about how the discourse of ignorance serves to let people off the hook once their transphobia has been called out.

Last time, we established that some people are culturally pre-defined (stereotyped) as ignorant, and others as knowledgeable. For those labeled “ignorant” with a broad brush, it’s a moral failing, a character flaw, a mark of deficiency, and a legitimation to dominate them–“backwards,” “illiterate,” “primitive,” “brutish,” “hillbilly,” “uncivilized,” etc. For them, then, using the concept of “ignorance” doesn’t get them off the hook, doesn’t forgive their actions, doesn’t make them seem OK, just bigoted. If their transphobia is rooted in “ignorance,” it becomes simply one more justification for marginalizing them.

However, for those defined as knowers and those one is otherwise unwilling to dismiss (e.g. family)–those who have no risk of being demonized as “ignorant and stupid”–the story is very different. Can you imagine the following being written about some “hick” who harassed you the other day, or the teenager who said “that’s a dude” about me last weekend?

THERE IS NOTHING TO FORGIVE WHEN SOMEONE DOES NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY ARE SAYING.

…If I’m right, that’s an example of transignorance: The assumption that despite my statements, I am female because that’s what they always thought; and that therefore, I should feel the same toward my body as they do about theirs. Consider the ratio of folks whose sex and gender do/not match and it’s a reasonable assumption, just incorrect.

So while ignorance as a systemic trait is despicable, ignorance-in-this-one-area is A-OK, because it’s non-essential knowledge, knowledge you *couldn’t possibly expect everyone to have already, or find on their own*.

Obviously, this ties into it’s-your-job-to-educate-us. Which brings me to the absurd example that drove me to finally write these posts that have been bouncing around in my brain since before I even started this blog. As y’all may remember, I’m in a Women’s and Gender Studies graduate program. This term, I’ve related trans issues, and/or being trans, to the issues at hand almost every week. The very first week of class, I mentioned how I hated the discourse of non-binary gender that goes “man, woman, transgender” instead of “man/woman, cis/trans.” I was talking to a classmate about something outside of class, and when I mentioned something that said I was trans, she said “I thought you were a woman!”

Yuh-huh.

Her justification? That she “didn’t know the discourse.” She told me that she was offended that I characterized her words as transphobic, because she wasn’t phobic, just didn’t know the lingo. She just didn’t know!

Yuh-huh.

In an unrelated incident, I’d been working at [retail establishment] for five or six months. A co-worker in another department had gotten my pronoun right all this time, seen other people get my pronoun right all this time, and thought nothing of using “she” until, after five months he found out I was trans and called me “he” to a customer. When I confronted him? He ‘didn’t know what I wanted to be called.’ Riiiiiiight.

They both knew. And they both had the tools to find out, if they really didn’t know, if they’d wanted to. But see, once you’re in the position to not be labeled ignorant, “not knowing” trans things is perfectly innocent. It’s totally optional, because any hurt you inflict in the mean time a)isn’t important, and b)will be washed away by the magic of intent. Except it’s not innocent. I would actually go further than Queen Emily when she says

The one thing ignorance is not is innocent, it is about having the power not to know and not to care… and we simply can’t afford to be naive enough to think otherwise.

It’s actually the power to know and not care.

There’s a widespread trope that trans people are super rare and new, that most people have never heard of us and thus can’t know what to say. And of course, “[y]ou can’t blame people for not knowing about something that they might never have encountered.” But here’s the thing: they have.

I don’t care that you’ve never met a trans person before, I don’t care that you’ve never had a women’s studies course before, I don’t care that you’ve never had a trans 101–you can find out what we want to be called from the worst transphobic screeds and jokes. Making fun of trans people is a widespread cultural trope, it’s not something you’ve never heard of: (warning, transphobia abounds in this section. Skip past the quotes if you need to.)

Yes, there we go again, cis people making fun of the dumbed-down explanation we made for them as though it was the depth of our thought. “Woman trapped in a man’s body,” hur hur hur.

But you know what? You know that person who says that (to use language I *hate*) “identifies” as a woman. And you know that invalidating someone’s self-concept isn’t nice.

Even Paul Scott knows what we want to be called, and knows that he’s invalidating our identities–and even from him, you can figure it out:

“It’s a social values issue. If you are born a male, you should be known as a male. Same as with a female, she should be known as a female,” he said.

…He said his mandate would be in place even for those who had completely undergone sex reassignment surgeries.

“That’s who you are. You can have cosmetic surgery or reassignment surgery but you are still that gender,” he said.

The clear implication? That we disagree. There’s no other way this makes any sense. And as Zoe Brain notes in the comments on this article (scroll down)

Because he’s not just ignorant. It’s not that he hasn’t been told about intersex conditions. Comments have been made on his blog by biologists and medics – which he’s deleted so they don’t get seen. E-mails from scientists and educators on this area have been sent. He ignores them. He just needs a scapegoat to demonise, and this group is perfect for the job.

Or take this transphobic blog post:

Two decades ago, Chastity Bono, the daughter of Sonny and Cher, announced to the world that she was a lesbian. … But last week, she announced that she was no longer a lesbian, but a man and would undergo surgery to change her female parts to male parts.

…Apparently, Chastity’s gender confusion has confused her and now she realizes that she has been living a lie. She wasn’t really a lesbian, but a Sonny trapped in a Cher’s body. So, after a little plastic surgery, a shave, and a haircut, Chastity will no longer be Chastity the lesbian, but Chaz the artificial man. The gender “experts” tell us it is perfectly normal and that anyone who would question it is not normal but hateful, judgmental, and intolerant.

Could it be any more clear what Chaz wants to be called? Could it be any more clear that Richman, like Scott, is familiar with “the lingo”? And if right-wingers like these know what we want to be called, and if even five minutes listening to them will tell you what we want to be called, then you knew, too.

You may not know the ontology behind our claims to reality, you may not know what the word “ontology” means, you may not know our critique of the sex/gender distinction or of biology. But you know how we see ourselves, you know that implying we’re not really women/men is offensive, and thus that claiming to be more real (in any of the myriad ways that cis people do this) is offensive.1 At some point, almost all of you made a conscious choice to disrespect us. Misgendering and ungendering1 transsexual folks has nothing to do with terminology, and everything to do with expressing contempt towards us and superiority over us–no matter how strongly one denies it.

Since you’ve seen us ridiculed and objectified all over the place, and there’s easy internet access, you’ve had the prompt to go check on how to be respectful, and the means to do so. And clearly, my readers, you have chosen to do so, but I suspect that most of you, like me, and like the country at large, had a long history of acting dismissive and superior before you did so.

Trans education so often focuses on glossaries and definitions. A lot of cis people are hungry to know the right language, but they want it not because they don’t actually know the terms or couldn’t look them up quickly and painlessly, but because they want to be able to pass themselves off as not transphobic without doing any of the soul searching that would reveal their transphobia to them. They want to look not-transphobic, whether because it has social value or because it makes them feel better about themselves, or maybe even because they don’t want to hurt people/to be tolerant, but they have no desire to decenter themselves, lose their ontological privilege, and eradicate transphobia inside themselves and in society.

Framing the issue as ignorance has allowed cis people to ask for more glossaries, more definitions, more trans 101–and to silence challenge and accountability. It’s played along with privileged cis people’s delusions of innocence, it’s let them get away with their history of complicity, at the same time that it has justified their sense of superiority over other oppressed groups. It’s kept up the demand to “tell our stories,” and tell them depoliticized, it’s heaped cis people’s work onto trans people. And it condones cis people’s ongoing transphobic acts, even when they clearly knew better.

It’s time for a new frame.

Up Next:

Part 3: Cis Denial, Self-Knowledge, and Sexist Epistemology

Part 4: Transphobia as Authoritative Knowledge Claims

1: edit 3:30 CST.
EDIT 2-24-10 to account for addition of a fourth part to series.

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This is the first in a three four part series. The second is here and the third here. When the fourth is posted and written, I’ll link it here.

“Ignorance.” It’s one of the most commonly cited “roots” of homophobia and transphobia*, and other “prejudices”/-isms/stigmas as well.

But what does it mean that this–“ending ‘ignorance'”–is our battle cry?

“Ignorance” calls up two images. The first image is of homophobia and transphobia, hate, bigotry, etc.–the one intentionally referenced by HRC, NGLTF, GLAAD, et al. OK. But what about the other image, or other part of the image, raised by the word–of the uneducated, elderly, rural or working class, poor, people of color or (to use the busted, racist and classist logic of the image) “white trash,” Fox-News watching Red-staters or people from the “third world” who need to be “civilized” (to, again, use the logic of the image).

Huh. What about that?

These are, of course, the people hegemonic liberal discourse teaches us to assume are homophobic, transphobic, racist, etc.–not health insurance executives, doctors, therapists, the police, Women’s Studies PhD’s, queer theorists, anthropologists, biologists, journalists, cis LGB folks, or (to be US-centric) policy wonks writing the REAL ID act, the FDA, the Social Security Administration, the State Department (in charge of passports), etc. Not the people with a lot of knowledge, education, and power. That is to say, not the people in charge, not the “good people,” not, oh say, you.

I’ll be honest–the people who transphobically harass me on the street are, by an overwhelming margin, young cis black men culturally pre-defined as “ignorant”. I’m not making that up, I can give you numbers if I have to. But the people who’ve harassed me at work, the people who’ve trans bashed me, and the people who’ve groped me (because I’m trans and female, not those who presume I’m cis) are all white (and cis) to a person–not all male, not all straight, of varied educational, class, and regional backgrounds, but all white (and that’s not representative of the demographics where I’ve worked). Any number of people from my educational institution have said highly transphobic shit to me or in my hearing–that is, all highly educated, socially pre-defined as knowledgeable, generally middle/upper class–and who does that is not strongly distributed by race, age, or whether they’re prof or student.** But the people who make the decisions and form the arguments that fuck with my life the most have a disproportionate amount of privilege, education, and power.

Targeting the ones that get culturally pre-defined as “ignorant” might be tempting, because their offenses are frequently the most highly visible, and (relatedly) least culturally sanctioned, but it’s those culturally pre-defined as “knowledgeable” that do me the most damage, and thus, through a privilege+power rubric, are most transphobic. Who’s worse, the most “ignorant” “redneck” (supposedly) embodying every awful anti-rural stereotype, or J Michael Bailey, who has a PhD and sits in the halls of knowledge?

So when we construe transphobia as about “ignorance,” not only have we engaged with classism, racism, and colonialism, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot and let the worst offenders off the hook.

Up Next:
Part 2: How Could You Have Known? –You Already Did.

Part 3: Cis Denial, Self-Knowledge, and Sexist Epistemology

Part 4: Transphobia as Authoritative Knowledge Claims

*Interestingly, NCTE seems to mostly eschew the use of this word–a google site search turned up only 5 results, compared to 94 for HRC, 96 for NGLTF, and 46 from GLAAD. Good for them.

**My program is so overwhelmingly female that an accounting by gender is impossible; the majority of the comments come from (cis) women, but that’s who’s in the program.

EDIT 2-24-10 to account for addition of a fourth part to series.

Seeing Red

July 16, 2009

I cannot stand it when people make me choose between their white and someone else’s black
But when they tell me it’s all shades of gray,
I see red.
I do not live in the demilitarized zone between male and female—
that place is armed to the teeth
and I have chosen sides.
I am not between, I am Other, I am deserter,
And for that they will hunt me to the ends of the earth,
They will ask me if I practiced sounding like a woman and yell that I am a MAN,
        As if saying it would make it true,
        As if these combat boots would ever march for them,
        As if they didn’t know that.

I speak “shibboleth,” fording the river of our tears and our blood,
But when you outstretch your welcoming arms, will they have bayonets?
Will you assuage the guilt of stabbing my sisters by treating my wounds
        Or by casting me out?

When we expose your prejudice, when we won’t shut up,
        will you plant your guns in our hands?
        will you make believe we threatened you with our flesh?
        as you did to Diana Courvant and the women who didn’t actually shower at Michfest?
Will you do it on the same day you pull a knife on my friend for being on the land
        and tell her you can’t control yourself?
Or will it be the day you watch me trapped against the wall
        and punched in the face?
Will you reproach your friend for getting in the middle of a fight,
        while you look on?
Will you praise the words of those you saw “not see it happen”
        And ignore my rescuers and advocates, those who were there?

Will you be “shocked!” that gay men, that white men, would do this to me?
Will you reproach my anger at black men’s harassment while disbelieving white men’s fists?
When HRC lobbies for transphobic discrimination,
Will you still tell us to focus on the people who do real violence?
When I, passing, duck behind my bike from a black woman swinging her shoe at my head
Will you still insist that violence against oppressors is righteous?
Will you, the white anti-racist in a white neighborhood in a white city
quote statistics and tell me it was a fluke?
Or will you insist that everything is shades of gray, that it’s complicated,
And ask what if my body, my presence, my existence was triggering for [real] survivors?

Will you ever see our blood, our tears, our scars?
Will you ever see our lips, our blush?
Will you ever see the blood on your own hands?
Will you ever see the wounds from your righteous, “friendly” fire?
Because until then,
I’ll be seeing red.

Last time around, not having read The Man Who Would Be Queen except for exerpts/quotes, I wrote about how the two type/Blanchard-Bailey-Lawrence (BBL) theory is misogynistic/regulates female sexuality. I stand by everything I wrote there, but I’m pissed at how much discussions of the book hinge only on the autogynephilia part, and neglect the ridiculous racism/classism of the “homosexual transsexual” (by which we mean straight trans women) section.

Seriously, it’s so bad it’s hard to even talk about. But, among other things, he says [straight] trans women are mostly [W]OC with below average IQ, and are trans (rather than being gay boys) because they come from lower-class non-white broken households and don’t have enough ambition or family support to ‘defeminize,’ and there are more Latina trans [women] because of machismo.

I SHIT YOU NOT.

He’s yet to come out and say that black/Latin@ and lower-class people are bad parents and should have their kids taken away from them, but he does seem to think that 20% MOC in his gay boy sample is a perfectly standard percentage for Chicago residents, whereas 60% TWOC needs remarking on.

From Wikipedia:

As of the 2000 census,…The racial makeup of the city was 41.97% White, 36.77% Black, 4.35% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 0.36% Native American, 13.58% from other races, and 2.92% from two or more races. 26.02% of the population were Hispanic of any race. 21.72% of the population was foreign born; of this, 56.29% came from Latin America, 23.13% from Europe, 17.96% from Asia and 2.62% from other parts of the world.[4] The 2007 community survey for the U.S. Census showed little variation

Some examples:

Alma has also noticed, as I have, the large number of Latina transsexuals. In Chicago, there are several bars that cater to Latina transsexuals. About 60 percent of the homosexual transsexuals [sic] and drag queens we studied were Latina or black. The proportion of nonwhite subjects in our studies of ordinary gay men [sic] is typically only about 20 percent. …Another transsexual, remarking on the same phenomenon, attributed it to ethnic gender roles: “My culture is very macho and intolerant of female behavior in men. It is easier just to become a woman.”

J Michael Bailey, The Man Who Would Be Queen, 183-4.

(It might be argued that he’s not endorsing the claim about machismo, because the next line starts “I am not sure of about the validity of all of Alma’s observations, much less her theories”–but it wasn’t Alma who made that statement, thus the statement isn’t disavowed by the disclaimer, which constitutes tacit endorsement.)

Ken Zucker…tried to predict which boys with [GID] would still have the disorder when they become adolescents. Adolescents with GID are much rarer and presumably much closer to being transsexual. Zucker found several predictors of adolescent GID: lower IQ, lower social class, immigrant status, non-intact family, and childhood behavior problems unrelated to [GID].[‘Coz IQ tests are totally unproblematic.]

ibid 178-9.

They [straight trans women] are outcasts as children because of their extreme femininity. They mostly come from poor, broken families, and family rejection is common.

A feminine boy from a middle-class or upper-middle-class family (such as Danny’s) has more motivation to “hang in there” until he normalizes his gender role behavior, because he has a good chance at a conventionally successful future. Defeminization might also require more ambition and family support than some homosexual transsexuals possess.

ibid, 183,4.

Their customers, of course, are not gay men. They are either unwary straight men or men looking for she-males.) This kind of prostitution is dangerous, especially for transsexuals, whose customers sometimes do not know what they are… The rate of HIV infection among transsexual streetwalkers is very hight, partly due to the high rate of intravenous drug use. [while injection HRT is the same as recreational IV drugs for HIV risk, the implication is pretty offensive.]

their taste in clothing is much more expensive than their income allows… In female impersonator shows, transsexuals often wear designer gowns, which are widely believed (by other transsexuals) to have been acquired via the five-fingered discount. [yep, it’s totally that those irresponsible black/Latina/poor people just want to live beyond their means, not an occupational expenditure…]

ibid, 184-5.

This is wonderful.

I am *so* glad that the jury understood that killing trans women is wrong, that killing individual trans women to threaten/do violence to the entire community is wrong, is *worse* than a non-bias murder, not more-acceptable.

That it took the jury only two hours makes my relief even greater. For once, it wasn’t (that) hard for people to acknowledge that we deserve to live our lives–that Angie Zapata deserved to live her life–to refute the message that crime was intended to send. In that this action holds Andrade in-some-way-accountable, in that it affirms Angie’s humanity after it had been so brutally stripped from her, and after the defense attorneys continued to deny it to her–I am clichéing with joy over the ruling. To be honest I didn’t really have that much faith in cis humanity. Well done.

What I’m iffy about is the repetition that this is “justice.” That ‘punishment’ and ‘retribution’ posthumously help Angie Zapata.

In the framework of the criminal legal system–and that’s the only framework we’ve got right now–this is ‘best’ outcome we can get, this is what “justice” is, what “justice” for Angie Zapata is. But I can’t help but have misgivings about a “solution” that supports the PIC (prison industrial complex), that rallies support among trans and queer people for an institution that routinely victimizes us, an institution we should be critiquing and finding alternatives for.

I mean, think if one of the components of his sentence was to have to apologize in person, individually, to all of her family, all of her friends, and (not individually, but a large number of small groups) the whole community affected state-/nation-/world-wide, and have to listen to everything they/we have to say. What if one of the components of his sentence was to help erect a building that would be a center for trans people, or to toil at making a monument for her–rather than building Wal-Mart’s (that victimize the poor, and trans folks are disproportionately poor), operating a call center for the GOP (ditto), and making military supplies (supporting the military’s trans exclusion, hypermasculinity-which-breeds-trans-misogyny, sexism, rape, violence, killing untold numbers of brown people all over the world, and supporting US imperialism)? What if we had a vision of justice that didn’t include getting excited about raping people you think ‘deserve’ it? A vision that doesn’t support the very institutionalized violence that victimizes trans people–particularly but not only trans women, particularly but not only of color?

What kind of “justice” furthers the very violence it attempts to punish?

EDIT: Also, WTF is this, Lurleen & Mirelle? …Thank you to the rest of the commenters for not taking the derail bait, (I mean, really, how bald can you really be about it?) but I think I’d’ve moderated that out.
EDIT #2: Apparently this was a person’s signature rather than the comment itself; my WTF was about suddenly-making-it-about-marriage.

h/t Sable_Twilight.

Three trans women [of color] have been killed (presumably by hate violence) in the two weeks since the election. That’s three too many–any is too many–but our sisters are dying at rates much faster than we normally see.

Cross burnings. Schoolchildren chanting “Assassinate Obama.” Black figures hung from nooses. Racial epithets scrawled on homes and cars.

Incidents around the country referring to President-elect Barack Obama are dampening the postelection glow of racial progress and harmony, highlighting the stubborn racism that remains in America.

From California to Maine, police have documented a range of alleged crimes, from vandalism and vague threats to at least one physical attack. Insults and taunts have been delivered by adults, college students and second-graders.

There have been “hundreds” of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.

Emphasis mine. Huffington Post, via Anxious Black Woman

There’s been a hell of a lot more than one physical attack.

White trans people, cis people of color, white cis people: being trans does not strip you of other identities and oppressions. When white trans people forget about the racial dimensions of transphobic–trans misogynistic– violence, we lose perspective on why they’re happening and what to do about it. For our survival as a community those of us who are white need to join ranks against violence with people of color (cis and trans), and start remembering racism at the Day of Remembrance and all year round. We need to speak out against the increase in racist violence, because racism is killing our sisters every bit as much as trans misogyny is. We need to remember their deaths, because they’re an attack on all of us.

And white cis people, get your act together. HRC, NGLTF, I’m looking at you. How many emails have you sent out in outrage about our people dying–about the police refusing to investigate? Hell, white trans guys, you too. (“I’m not tied to the case at all and therefore really don’t have that much interest … to do all the research.”)

EDIT: Some problematic language fixed. edited again 11-20.

What the title said. From their email:

The Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference committee is currently seeking workshop, panel, and symposium proposals for its 2009 conference. Providers Day [June 11, 2009] programming seeks to provide medical providers, mental health workers, social workers, clergy and educators with the tools that they need to provide inclusive services to transgender individuals and their families. Community Days [June 12-13, 2009] programming seeks to provide community members, families, partners and allies with the tools that they need to succeed and thrive within our community and within their daily lives.

We are committed to providing comprehensive and diverse programming. Our 2009 theme is “Different Paths… One Journey.” In an effort to enhance our offerings at Providers Day this year, we would like to host at minimum two symposiums and two panel discussions.

* Symposiums are geared towards individuals who would like to present information about their relevant research projects. The type of research presented can include: dissertation studies, bachelor/master level theses, need assessments, NIH funded projects, etc.

* Panel discussions are more general in nature and consist of individuals with experience both personal and professional who would like to explore an open dialogue about their experiences, ideas and perspectives with others.

Provider’s Day workshops are two hours in length.

Community Days workshops are 75 or 90 minutes in length.

Now, some of you may remember me complaining about the conference this year (before this blog was started). I can go on, at length, about last year’s trans misogyny, and I know multiple people who girlcott it/have done so in the past. I find a number of the organizers obnoxious, and for all that it has going for it, the organizers have more than their fair share of trans misogyny and racism.

That said, the people who go are amazing, and if there’s any trans space that’s ripe for revolution, it’s this one. I’d never met a non- trans woman1 who had more of a chip on hir shoulder than me about trans misogyny before. The conference is free, AND they’ll try to set you up with free community housing if you need it, so all you have to pay for is food and transportation. So, submit your workshops against racism, trans misogyny, assimilation, medical model bullshit–whatever–and if they fuck with us we’ll fuck shit up.

1: I mean a person who’s not a trans woman, (hence the space) but apparently even when I specify this people go right back to assuming I mean cis woman–I DON’T. Is there a better way to make that clear?

Form available here.

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)

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.

A few great videos:

First, from Julia Serano:

I do have to disagree with Serano on one important point, which is that voter suppression *is* trans related.

On that note, remember intersectionality?–

“Remember Santina Gibbs? She’s actually Darnell Nash.” –transsexuality = false presentation, femininity = artificial/untrustworthy, blackness = criminality, black transsexual femininity = voter fraud. Action News’s advocacy for voter suppression depends on the construction of the deceptive, fraudulent trans black woman as a representative of moral decay that must be stopped. It’s important to note that she is a figure used precisely because her right to vote, like her rights to sexuality and to live, is seen as optional/unimportant compared to cis anxieties about her deception.

Then there are two MSNBC videos Monica Roberts posted yesterday:

I don’t have too much in the way of comments about these two, other than that I’m not used to news coverage being either as decent politically or as in depth as what I see from Maddow and Olbermann. I keep expecting it to be some kind of spoof.

(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.