Part 5: Some Groups and Organizations that Center/Include Trans People of Color

#blacklivesmatter, activism, ally, cissexism, non-binary, non-binary people of color, racism, solidarity, transgender, transgender people of color, transphobia, white supremacy

TRIGGER WARNING: racism in queer and trans communities, prison-industrial complex

See this post (“White Silence and Black Deaths”) for an introduction to the many parts of this post. I feel almost embarrassed to be signal boosting these rad organizations on my blog–they already have so much wider of an audience. However, if you are able to monetarily or otherwise support these organizations, or to signal boost for donations (especially during this month that’s often so focused on fundraising)–please do! And, of course, if you don’t know about these folks already, you should check them out!

Audre Lorde Project:

“The Audre Lorde Project is a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color community organizing center, focusing on the New York City area. Through mobilization, education and capacity-building, we work for community wellness and progressive social and economic justice. Committed to struggling across differences, we seek to responsibly reflect, represent and serve our various communities.”

Black and Pink:

“Black & Pink is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other. Our work toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex is rooted in the experience of currently and formerly incarcerated people. We are outraged by the specific violence of the prison industrial complex against LGBTQ people, and respond through advocacy, education, direct service, and organizing.” Find an incarcerated LGBTQ pen pal—the waiting list is long!

Black Transmen, Inc.

“Black Transmen Inc.® is the 1st National Non-Profit Organization of African American transmen solely focused on acknowledgment, social advocacy and empowering transmen with resources to aid in a healthy female to male transition. Black Transmen Inc. programs provide all female to male transmen and SLGBTQI individuals with necessary tools to secure identity and equality within our society regardless of race, creed, color, religion, sexual identity or sexual expression.”

Body Image 4 Justice:

“Formed in 2013, BodyImage4Justice (BI4J) aims to bring the LGBTQ community together through the common cause and interest of body image, health and wellness. We focus on empowerment and social justice for the trans community through events, workshops, political action, advocacy, and other activities that further our mission and support the health and well-being of community members. BI4J recognizes the complexity of our community, and the way that multiple identities impact our experience of health, body image, and wellness. We are building collaborative relationships with other LGBTQ organizations to support our mutual goals and improve awareness of and access to health care and health-promoting resources. We work to make the connection between body image and health explicit and visible in our communities.”

Brown Boi Project:

“We work for Gender Justice, which means we are not satisfied with the traditional expectations of masculinity and femininity; they tend to box us in and make embodying femininity negative in our culture. Instead, we are fighting with others to build healthy and affirming ideas around gender. We are talking about our responsibilities and privilege as masculine people, and we are working hard to change the power dynamics in our relationships, families, and communities. We believe that by investing in the lives of feminine-identified people – especially womyn, girls, and trans folks – we will shift the balance of power. We are striving for the day when all brown bois can embody non-oppressive masculinities rooted in honor, community, and empowerment of others.”

Brown Grrlz Project:

“The Brown Grrlz Project brings womyn together regardless to class, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, sexual identification, religion or culture. The Brown Grrlz Project is dedicated to challenging the way that hegemonic society defines and oppresses womyn of color. We do so by creating intentional spaces where we act as authors of our own experience and are valued and recognized, by affirming and sharing science and knowledge. We also provide support for traumatic outcomes of oppression through community building, community based education, creating healing spaces and hosting skill shares. We affirm our value through creating spaces for us to celebrate ourselves and our dedication to building a society beyond exclusion.”

Sylvia Rivera Law Project:

“The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine their gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination, or violence. SRLP is a collective organization founded on the understanding that gender self-determination is inextricably intertwined with racial, social and economic justice. Therefore, we seek to increase the political voice and visibility of low-income people and people of color who are transgender, intersex, or gender non-conforming. SRLP works to improve access to respectful and affirming social, health, and legal services for our communities. We believe that in order to create meaningful political participation and leadership, we must have access to basic means of survival and safety from violence.”

Trans Justice Funding Project:

“The Trans Justice Funding Project is a community-led funding initiative supporting grassroots, trans justice groups run by and for trans people.”

Trans People of Color Coalition:

“The intersections of race, gender, sexuality and class impact the lives of transpeople of color in complex and unique ways. Our voices have often been ignored, appropriated, marginalized, or silenced. TPOCC seeks to break that cycle and empower our community by building a pipeline of activists and advocates to engage and connect with one another to create a holistic movement of support, resources, and education by and for transpeople of color.”

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PART 3: Alok Vaid-Menon, Janani Balasubramanian, and Darkmatter

#blacklivesmatter, activism, ally, cissexism, colonization, coming out, imperialism, non-binary, non-binary people of color, racism, solidarity, trans people of color, transgender, transphobia, white supremacy

TRIGGER WARNING: racism in trans and queer communities, eating disorders (specifically anorexia), colonization and imperialism, coming out to unsupportive families, talking about unsupportive families with racist queer people

See this post (“White Silence and Black Deaths”) for an introduction to the many parts of this post. I feel almost embarrassed to be signal boosting these rad people on my blog–they already have so much wider of an audience. But they are wonderful people to learn from. If you don’t know about these folks already, you should check them out!

Alok Vaid-Menon:

“…[A]s queer South Asians we navigate a complicated cultural landscape where we often are not afforded control of our own narratives. Our telling of personal violence often gets swallowed by white supremacy in the service of its racist and imperialist agenda. This is because the cultural logics that help maintain structural racism are stronger than our individual stories.

When my white peers would hear about the queerphobia I experienced from my people it would give power to a larger imperialist narrative that immigrants and people of color are traditional and conservative and therefore need to be educated or saved (read: occupied and exploited). … They would ask me why I was still in contact with them, why I didn’t just cut my connections….

What white queers don’t understand is that the entire mandate of racist assimilation in this country is about us being forced to give up our culture, tradition, and families. Assimilation has always been about us hating ourselves and feeling insecure in our bodies, families, and cultures. White folks do not understand how so many of us are not willing to leave our cultures for our queerness – how so many of us carry more complex identities than just our genders and sexualities….

My experiences returning to South Asian spaces have allowed me to understand the ways in which white queer politics relies on the expression of liberation as an individual and not collective process. The narrative goes that we are supposed to ‘come out’ (read: leave our blood families) and participate in the ‘movement’ (read: public visibility) and join ‘alternative kinships’ (which are necessarily supposed to be more radical and more supportive than our families of origin). Both understandings of ‘queerness’ and ‘activism’ often rely on us leaving our cultural homes in order to participate in the ‘movement.’…

Janani Balasubramanian:

Like most people on this list, they have so much good work. Here’s a sample of a piece from Black Girl Dangerous.

“I remember being hugely troubled by the language many of the speakers and health educators would use about their experiences: that ‘eating disorders were about power and control, not beauty’.  As if this were a dichotomy. As if beauty were something other than a system of control and domination.  There is nothing shallow about beauty; I have drowned in it. My anorexia had everything to do with affluent white womanhood, something not available to me, but that I was systemically surrounded by.  It had everything to do with heterosexuality: an aspiration for ‘proper and dignified’ white womanhood – that is ultimately desirable to white masculinity.

“I’m willing to wager that the majority of eating disorders are experienced by folks with multiple marginalized identities.  It’s likely that a lot of us aren’t able to talk about it because we’ve been denied representations of ourselves, and been denied in society.  It’s also likely that if we came full circle and really stirred up some conversations about this painful experience in our communities, we would find mirrors in each other.  It’s not that I want doctors to start diagnosing us left and right.  Most of the medical industrial complex isn’t competent enough to deal with our bodies.  Rather, I want us, and our communities, to figure out ways to nourish and hold each other, to make space for our truths.  For whatever ways that race, gender, poverty, disability, sexuality, and whatever else make us too complicated for dominant eating disorder narratives.  If for no other reason, than that we don’t need yet another way to mark marginalized bodies for shame and death.

Darkmatter:

Darkmatter is Vaid-Menon and Balasubramanian’s speaking/performing pair. They say: “DARKMATTER is a trans south asian art and activist collaboration comprised of janani and alok. using poetry & polemic, tweet & tirade DM  is committed to an art practice of gender self(ie) determination, racial justice, and movement building. DM has been invited to perform and facilitate workshops across the world.”

Here are some of their rad videos.

Part 2: Monica Roberts, Dr. Kortney Ziegler, and Black Girl Dangerous

#blacklivesmatter, activism, ally, appropriation, cissexism, ftm, mtf, queer people of color, racism, trans people of color, transgender, transphobia, white supremacy

TRIGGER WARNING: racism in the trans community, violence against trans people of color, criminalization of trans people of color, cultural appropriation

See this post (“White Silence and Black Deaths”) for an introduction to the many parts of this post. I feel almost embarrassed to be signal boosting these rad people on my blog–they already have so much wider of an audience. But they are wonderful people to learn from. If you don’t know about these folks already, you should check them out!

Transgriot:

Monica Roberts on racist attacks within the trans community against Janet Mock and Laverne Cox in her article “Why You All So ‘Scurred’ of Black Trans People Owning Their Power?”

“We have been asking for years to be included in trans leadership ranks that look like a Republican Party convention and you keep ignoring or dismissing our concerns and requests to do so.  We are suffering with a 26% unemployment rate in Black Transworld and near genocidal levels of anti-trans violence being aimed at us that needs to be dealt with now, not 5, 10 or 50 years from now.

For the last 61 years the trans narrative has centered on whiteness.  The transfeminine one has like in the parent society, white transwomen being the penultimate in beauty and femininity while Black transwomen are belittled, denigrated and murdered along with our trans Latina sisters.

“…I am Black first, trans second.  If I had any doubts about where I stand in that regard as a member of the trans community, I get a reminder of it every time I call out the bigoted and racist bull feces that occasionally pops up in our trans community ranks and you angrily hiss back I’m ‘angry’ or ‘playing the race card’ for simply for being willing to call your unacknowledged white privileged behinds out.

“…It was past time for Black transpeople to close ranks, lift each other up as white transpeople have done for the last six decades, have those trans conversations in our Black SGL and cis communities, and do the education because we are the people best suited to discuss trans issues in our community.

“…If you fear the rise of the New Black Transwoman and the New Black Transman because of your unacknowledged privilege, have several seats.  You can #bemad and #staymad about it.

“We would rather work together to build community with our white trans brothers and sisters and our cis, bi  and SGL allies to advance our common goal of human rights for all.  

“But we Black transpeople will no longer do so as a disrespected junior partner that you throw under the bus every time our opponents wave an opportunity in front of your noses to get your lost platinum white privilege levels back.
Dr. Kortney Ziegler:

He has his own blog (linked above) and here is an article that was also published on The Advocate. It’s called “The Peculiarity of Black Trans Male Privilege:”

“Although I’m less likely to be sexually assaulted because of the ways in which I present my gender, this privilege is in exchange for becoming a visible target of racist practices designed to police young black manhood. Policies such as “stop and frisk” and the sanctioned citizen killings of young black men like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis have forced me to learn new ways to manage my body to attract the least amount of attention. I am constantly learning new social cues to present myself as less threatening, less aggressive, and less criminal, to challenge the irrational fear of black masculinity that can literally end my life.”

Black Girl Dangerous

This is on Black Girl Dangerous, which posts articles by queer and trans people of color. From a conversation between Mia McKenzie and Janani Balasubramanian…

Mia: “At that moment I sort of realized how much queerness is blackness, and the ways that we express queerness, that’s a Black vernacular.  That’s a way that’s very very connected to Black culture, and the ways that queer culture has just sort of taken as it will from Black culture without a lot of acknowledgement of Black culture, just completely appropriated from it.  And not only without acknowledgement of it, but without even respect for it.  You can have the same person, like a Black woman in the inner city saying something or dressing in a particular way, having a certain way of expressing herself. You can take that exact same expression and put it on a white gay man and it’s so much more acceptable.”

Janani: “And marketable.”

Autostraddle (signal boost):

Also, Autostraddle has an article that highlights 50 zines by queer (and trans) people of color: http://www.autostraddle.com/50-zines-by-queer-people-of-color-184692/

Part 1: White Silence and Black Deaths

#blacklivesmatter, #Ferguson, activism, agender, ally, Eric Garner, genderfluid, genderqueer, media justice, non-binary, non-binary people of color, solidarity, trans people of color, transgender, white silence

TRIGGER WARNING: police brutality, white silence, racism in queer and trans communities, racism in suburbia

Another grand jury says that there is no possible way a police officer can be guilty after strangling an African-American man named Eric Garner on videotape. The person who filmed the murder, however, has been indicted.

Children are dying, and somehow there is no way, no possible way, that those who are killing them can be guilty. Adults, too, are dying, and although our society likes to think it, there isn’t some arbitrary age upon which guilt settles onto the shoulders of black men in this country. Yet—this is how our “safety” officials act. (At least the UN is looking into human rights violations by the United States.)

I am hurting, and I know that it can be nothing like what many people of color are experiencing right now. In addition to the latest manifestation of state violence in a country that has never allowed humanity for people of color, I am also hurting for my silence, and for the silence of my communities. I am hurting for the people who are saying nothing right now. I am hurting for the people who said nothing until now.

I am hurting for all the times that I have stayed silent in my own immediate self-interest, stayed silent to keep my job or to keep some white supremacist “peace.” Stayed silent because I’m “always” that angry one, because do I always have to bring my interests to our family home, because of that time when my dad asked when I’d disown them because our segregated white suburb was too white for me now that I’d become so high and mighty. (Although sometimes that last one spurs me to speaking more, and louder.) Sometimes I’ve stayed silent out of guilt.

I’m stating these reasons not to cry white tears or to say these are good reasons not to speak when lives are on the line, but because I want other white people reading this to think about their own reasons in the times they’ve stayed silent.

I’ve stayed silent at times even though I’m proud to speak out against this BS. Stayed silent even when I know firsthand how desperately solidarity can be needed.

I am hurting from biting my tongue, from the accumulated responsibility and pressure of time after time letting things slide.

I haven’t always let things slide. No. There are also times I address the big and small microaggressions I see, when I’ve worked on campaigns, when I teach about racism, when I work towards institutional change.

I don’t always let things slide, but there are times that I do. And I can’t tolerate myself for that anymore. I can’t tolerate my communities for that anymore. I’m going to speak out every time I can, and I’m going to push myself to do it more. I’m going to fight back with everything I have.

If you’re white and you’ve been silent, too, for these or other reasons, I am asking you to use what influence you have—your voice—and speak out. If you are uncertain, if you feel you don’t have the right to talk about this—you’re right, you don’t have the right. Not to talk about it as if it is your own pain or oppression. Not to make assumptions about what it is like to live through a collective trauma you’ve never experienced.

But you have the absolute responsibility to speak when you hear injustice, even if you aren’t certain how to defend it or what’s wrong about it. Read more and learn if you are uncertain–and you never should be entirely “expert” on another’s oppression. Amplify the voices of people of color—the varied, beautiful voices that exist out in the world.

Don’t only read and reblog—speak out against this BS in your real, actual life. It’s completely fucked, but people listen to white voices more. So use your voice, not to put yourself in the limelight or to preach your opinions on oppressions that are not yours–but to amplify the voices of people of color who are speaking their lived experiences already, and who are fighting back already.

Because white silence is what’s killing people. More than the few who are directly killing people of color, white silence in the face of injustice is killing people every day.

And it starts in our own communities. It starts in my segregated, too-white hometown that my dad thinks that I think I’m “too good” for. It starts with my queer community (stop with the mohawks and fauxhawks and the appropriated African American vernacular already)!

It starts, too, with my trans community. Gender is not essentially white. Constructions of gender are not essentially white. Talking about shifting out of stereotypically white constructions of gender and into other ones, as if there are no other experiences of gender, is erasure and it is colonialism. Appropriating “sass” is racism. Appropriating so many things that many of us white trans people take on as parts of our gender experessions is racism.

Here is a whole long thread about various examples of racism in the trans and queer community. And, for some people, being trans isn’t their sole or defining experience of oppression. Remember that, if you are a white trans person who is privileged in other ways.

I know that I can’t speak to this intersection really at all (and what I’ve been saying already has come from what I’ve heard other people say). What really needs to be heard more is the voices of trans people of color.

So over this coming week, I’m going to highlight some blogs and organizations for trans people of color, in the hope that it will help anyone reading this blog gain some more awareness about what the specific reality of this intersection of oppression looks like. These folks are super rad, and you may already know of them! If not, I hope you enjoy learning about some fab activists and writers.

In particular, I’m going to focus on non-binary people of color, because I know that their voices are heard even less often, and because so many of you who read this blog are non-binary. But you’ll see some binary-gendered folks on this list too.

I’m thinking back to my early days of gender-figuring when someone was asking on a white non-binary person’s blog for some links to blogs of non-binary people of color, and the blogger responded that they had no idea. Here are some responses! Stay tuned…

Non-Binary Social Transition

"passing", activism, agender, cissexism, coming out, dehumanization, dysphoria, gender fluid, genderfluid, genderqueer, misgendering, non-binary, pronouns, transgender, transphobia

TW: transphobia, binarism, coming out

You all, being out is exhausting some days. It is a hard, long, heartbreaking slog. I remember when I was first finding words for my gender and reading about how rainbowgenderpunk wore name and pronoun tags everywhere, insisting that people respect their gender identity.

I was completely impressed and astonished at how rainbowgenderpunk went out into the world every day, insisting on being recognized for themself. Some trans people do not have this choice–some trans people simply do not pass as a cis person of either binary gender. They can’t revoke their own passing privilege with a nametag–they just live it, every day.

I pass as a gender-non-conforming cis woman, most of the time. It’s a wrong assumption, but it’s what people see when they see me: a queer woman. Just typing that makes me feel dysphoric. Coming out has meant dismantling that assumption whenever I am able/comfortable. And, the longer I am out, the more I clarify my gender in a larger amount of places and with more people. The longer I am out, the more I have the courage and confidence to insist on my right pronouns with people who already know them.

Now that I have been out publicly for a whole… hm, 3 or 4 months, I have to say that the excitement has worn off. The glow, if there was any, is gone. The apprehension and anxiety of “Will they accept me?” has changed to the apprehension and anxiety of “Should I be the ‘good trans person’ or the ‘angry trans person’ today?” The question is never, “Will my voice be heard and respected today?” This has become my real life, and it’s hard to swallow.

A friend of mine asked me this weekend, “Do you want to fight?” I said “no” with the core of my being. No, I do not want to fight. I do not want to fight for a space in this world where I can be myself. I do not want to fight, but I have no choice. I must fight, in almost every space I am, every minute of every day. I have some havens, unlike many trans people. I have friends who are totally affirming–I’ve ditched the ones that aren’t. But outside of that small circle, the world erases my existence over and over, and I am pushing so hard to keep myself intact.

I wish I could choose when to turn on my fight, at least, but that is not an option. I wish I could find a job where I was physically and mentally safe. Maybe that will happen. Settling into non-binary social transition means apprehensive faces on the people that have heard about you, but don’t know what to do with you. It means faces that have turned from friendly warmth, from asking how you are doing and how your job is going, to an “Um, hi.” Coming out means being seen as angry when you ask for people to call you by the right words. Coming out means no matter how good a worker you are, how fancy your resume, you will be unemployable.

Because coming out as non-binary means coming out as a revolutionary. There is no other option. I am radical, and I care about our movement, but I want to take off the cloak once in a while. I want to just be me.

Here, though, we are revolutionaries, day in and day out. We are revolutionaries when we insist on respect, over, and over, and over. We insist daily on what others have for granted. We are revolutionaries, too, when we simply keep on breathing. We are revolutionaries by being here in this world, this world that has erased us over and over into dust, still stuck in rubbery threads to the page. We are revolutionaries when we stay stuck to that page no matter how they try to brush us off. When we slowly, slowly, piece ourselves together from the indentations that were left by those that came before.

We are, too, revolutionaries if we never come out. Coming out–and then being out–is the hardest shit, sometimes, a lot of the time. Being yourself and alive inside of your skin–no one even knowing–that is a radical act. Because once you are out, you can never stop fighting.

Who are you when you transition to “neither” or to “both”? What are the social expectations for non-binary people? We talk about transitioning to male or female and what the jarring disorientation of that looks like–but what happens when we insist on non-binary gender?

Our experiences vary even more widely than for binary social transition. Please feel free to share your own stories, here or on your own blogs. Keep on going, keep on going, whether you only live on the private insides of your skin or you wear a nametag every day or you wake up fully visible as trans or non-binary. You are giving love to yourself and love to your community every time you wake up.

Thank you. The world does not thank you, but I do. Thank you for sticking tight to the pages of the world, and filling in the painstaking drawings of our lives, again and again and again.

…And stay tuned for Part II, where we get out of the downer end of things and into some highlights of my own coming-out process. AKA “In Which Coming Out Is Actually OK Sometimes.”

“Women’s” Colleges, Trans Inclusion, and Non-Binary Invisibility

"passing", activism, agender, ally, cissexism, dehumanization, gender fluid, genderqueer, non-binary, privilege, trans men, trans narrative, trans women, transgender, women's college

TRIGGER WARNING: cissexism, trans exclusion in “women’s” spaces, binarism, suicide statistics

Cis women do not have a monopoly on gender-based oppression.

Let me say this again, louder: CIS WOMEN DO NOT HAVE A MONOPOLY ON GENDER-BASED OPPRESSION.

One thing we talk about is how any oppressed group has a “dominant”–a more discussed–subset. In the case of gender-based oppression, it can be tricky to determine who has the most privilege. There are all sorts of gender-based privileges: cis passing privilege, the privilege of passing as your actual gender, binary privilege, cisgender privilege, male privilege, masculine privilege. Many or most people who experience gender-based oppression also hold one or more of these privileges.

What is very clear, however, is that the movement for gender rights that has the most institutional power is the movement for cisgender women’s rights. I’m not saying they have a lot of institutional power. I’m not saying they have it as good as cis men. I’m not saying any of that. I’m not trying to say that sexism against cis women is unreal. All I’m saying is that they don’t have a monopoly on gender-based oppression–yet they have a near-monopoly on the resources and spaces to combat it.

There are times when any and every subset of people that face gender-based oppression need their own space, or their own moment to speak out against wrongs done to them. Closed spaces are important. However, there are times when closed spaces become exclusive spaces. There are times when that closedness is oppressive.

It is oppressive many of the times that cisgender women close their doors to anyone else facing gender-based oppression. The exclusion of trans women from closed women’s spaces is egregious. It is vital that they are included in closed women’s spaces. I fight for that right whenever I can.

What hurts, though, is when people don’t recognize this fact as well: women–trans and cis–don’t have a monopoly on gender-based oppression, either. It’s not solely trans women that are struggling to gain access to the resources and support that the cisgender women’s rights movement has long hoarded to themselves. And it’s not solely a dichotomy between trans men and trans women, too. (Although trans men and boys also need access to empowering resources and space.)

We exist, you all. We exist and we are a part of this conversation. We are non-binary, agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, A/G, genderfuck, bois, grrlz, birls, pansies, and everygender else. We experience gender-based oppression for our gender identities (or lack of gender). Womanhood is not the only gender identity that is oppressed. We are so marginalized that our existence doesn’t even occur to the wider societal mind.

And I, for one, and many others that I know, are tired of being excluded from the conversation. I am tired of my gender not being listed when we are talking about inclusion in “women’s” colleges, in girls’ after-school clubs, in every space that is a closed women’s space–but that holds institutional resources or power I cannot find elsewhere. Yes, there are times and places for all specific subsets of people who face gender-based oppression to have closed spaces. But when one particular subset holds most of the institutional power (in this case, cis women), they gotta share a little. Given that there are no educational institutions that support trans people of all genders, women, men, and everyone else (and those without genders as well)–“women’s” colleges need to take a good look at their resources and stop being such bigots. Given that there are few to no other institutional spaces for trans people specifically, certainly not at the (small, not enough) level there is for women and girls (trans and cis, although trans women and girls are often excluded or only have lip service paid to them), all spaces that provide resources solely to women need to look at how, why, and if that is necessary.

Given that there are ZERO schools that provide a closed, safe space for trans people, I say that “women’s” colleges and other exclusive “women’s spaces” have a feminist/civil/moral responsibility to step up. I am so tired of this conversation having no nuance.

We need to distinguish between identity and expression. Where do we draw the line? Why is it that FAAB transmasculine genderqueer people aren’t allowed in some rubrics, but cis women with a masculine expression are? Both are claiming masculine expressions, which, by some estimations, shouldn’t be allowed at a “women’s” college… at least if they aren’t on a woman. But genderqueer people face so much discrmination based on their genders, so why can’t we share this space? What about someone of any birth assignment who’s almost a guy, but not quite? What about someone who’s genderfluid? What about a trans guy who doesn’t medically transition or who doesn’t pass? What about MAAB non-binary people? Their bodies and voices belong in this space. They face so much oppression and censure. And if some of those MAAB non-binary people don’t physically transition, then there are typically MAAB bodies on campus that may never become more “feminized,” even if trans men aren’t there. What about trans men who do physically transition, but have feminine gender expressions? Why would we allow a MAAB non-binary person but not a femme trans man, given that their treatment based on gender perception might be similar? Where do you draw the line at, not kicking someone out, but at judging them for being at a “women’s” college and asking for basic recognition and respect?

I say, you don’t. You don’t draw the line at judgment. You say, you all are dealing with severe gender-based oppression, in different ways. You all, or many of you, also have various privileges from your gender even as you are being oppressed. We can process that in a community that’s committed to gender justice. I would like to say that “women’s” colleges are one such community, but they clearly aren’t, given that MAAB trans people of all genders (or lack thereof) aren’t part of the conversation, and given that FAAB trans people of all genders (or lack thereof) are marginalized when they do attend. What’s the bigger evil? Of course—it’s not even being allowed to attend. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t work to do to make our schools inclusive as well. Both things are important; including MAAB trans people of all genders (except cis male, of course), and agender people is the priority.

Of course supporting trans women is important and vital. I’m just saying that supporting non-binary people is vital, too. We’re killing ourselves at a higher rate than the general trans population; we face higher rates of most other forms of oppression as well. It’s time to count us. It’s time to include us. It’s time to recognize us as part of this movement. Use words for us when talking about gender equality and trans inclusion. Say the phrase, “trans women and non-binary people.” Say the phrase “all gender-oppressed people.” Say, “all forms of gender oppression”–and mean it and include it in all the work that you do.

It’s time.

Letter to Former Therapist #1

ableism, activism, agender, ally, cissexism, coming out, dehumanization, disability, dysphoria, gatekeeper model, gender fluid, genderqueer, mental health system, mental illness, misgendering, non-binary, privilege, saneism, suicidal ideation, therapy, trans narrative, transgender, transition, transphobia

TRIGGER WARNING: Cissexism/transphobia in therapy, saneism, suicidal ideation

This letter is pretty self-explanatory, but I want to give a brief introduction. I had been seeing this therapist on and off for six years, and it was only after we stopped seeing each other, mostly for reasons unrelated to the content of this letter, that I realized the full extent of what had happened in that office in terms of my gender. This is something that is still very painful for me to process, but I am sharing this (slightly edited) letter with you all because I hope that sharing my story will help other people in similar situations, or other people who are considering therapy. If any providers are reading this post, take this post to heart and consider if any of it applies to you. If it does, make changes to your practice now.

Written: 5/1/14

Sent: 5/17/14

Dear [Former Therapist #1],

I have realized in the past few weeks that there is something more I need to say to you. Feeling both anger and loss, caring about and valuing much of our therapeutic time together while realizing how you hurt and utterly failed me in this way–it isn’t an easy combination of feelings. When someone has both given so much and also deprived me of something so important, the emotions are not easy to navigate. I know that you have always had good intentions for me, but good intentions and positive effects are, as you must know, not the same, often. I am going to give you some feedback here that I hope you will take to heart, so that you can have a positive impact and a practice where all clients are treated equally. Although I am angry about this, and I wanted to show you that impact in this letter, I also wish you the best in implementing these changes. Please get in touch with me if you need further input, or if you otherwise want to respond.

I talked with you in one of our sessions a few months ago about my doubts and worries about us working together again. I told you that you had shot me down years ago when I had first brought up questioning my gender to you. What I didn’t do then is remind you what you had said to me.

I don’t remember every detail of those conversations we had when I was 18, but I do remember the traumatizing parts. I remember that, back in what must have been our first or second session, you asked if I wanted a penis. Uncomfortable, and confused as to whether this was the only measure of trans* ness, I said that I didn’t think so. Shortly afterwards, I think you must have concluded that I wasn’t trans*, or I must have concluded that I didn’t want to repeat that uncomfortable conversation, because we stopped talking about it for a while.

Later, maybe months or a year later, I worked up my courage and brought it up to you again. You said that you thought I had penis envy or wanted a grab at male privilege. (At the time, I was too clueless about feminism to know what you meant, so I mentally shrugged.) You said that I wasn’t trans*. “But you’re so feminine!” you said. (This was especially hurtful, given my current gender identity. I don’t identify with the word “feminine,” but me having some characteristics that get categorized that way doesn’t mean that I am a woman.)

I didn’t talk with you about it again until five years later, this current year, when my internalized transphobia and gender dysphoria (among other things) was making me suicidal. (Partly, I had buried it for some time, but I found a journal entry that showed that even in the midst of that fog, I was aware of my dysphoria. Besides, a lot of why I’d buried it was because I hadn’t been met with affirmation from you at all.) When I brought up my gender identity as one of my concerns about working with you again, you showed that you had evolved in some ways. You told me that you had been naive then, and that you were sorry. (But I don’t think you remember what you said! At least, I hope you didn’t, with that response.) You said that one of a therapist’s most important jobs is to eliminate their prejudices, and now you have no personal investment in your clients’ genders. You said that you understand that for people who don’t fit into the binary, trying to fit them into the opposite-gender box can be just as damaging. (Here, given that I hadn’t talked about my gender with you in five years, I felt you were subtly gendering me again.) Then you said, “Given all the evidence, I think it’s time for a reevaluation.”

This final sentence shows how much further you need to go. You do not get to evaluate my gender. You do not get to tell me who I am. Not any more than you get to tell your cis clients who they are and what genders they should be. Not only had you led me away from my true self for an extra six years, invalidated my gender identity, and used pathetic tropes to degrade who I am (trans men don’t just transition for a grab at male privilege! And the words “penis envy” should never be uttered with any kind of seriousness in a gender therapist’s office)–not to mention that you seemed to think inquiring about my thoughts on my genitalia was a good way to both break the ice and determine my gender–you now were judging yourself professionally fit to make those calls again! Instead of realizing the significant damage you had wrought on me (and probably many other trans* clients), instead of working tirelessly to correct that damage, you simply said that I might be able to convince you, the ultimate authority on my gender, that I am trans*–this time around.

As a first-year in college, I specifically sought out gender specialists so I could start exploring my gender identity. I naively thought that it was a safe space to do so, and foolishly bought into the idea that I could trust my therapist over myself. While I know that your statements don’t hold complete power over me, and, of course, they don’t determine my gender, your authority played a large role in squelching my shy early feelings of my true self, feelings I’d been conscious of as trans* since high school, but had been waiting for a place to show. It is true, also, that especially in the early stages of gender formation, we tend to listen to others over ourselves. You have a huge responsibility!

Had I received nurturing and competent care when I was 18, I might be in a very different place today. Many of my mental health issues would at least be different, if not lessened or resolved. I might have been exposed to less or different trauma. I might even be a few inches taller, if I’d decided that testosterone was the way to go! I’d already be myself. Maybe I wouldn’t have gone to the point of considering suicide to get here.

I think that you still don’t understand the gravity of what you did five years ago. You still don’t understand the danger of labeling yourself an expert on others’ genders, or the absolute destructiveness of the gatekeeper model of trans* care. In many ways, you taught me how to advocate for myself in therapy, and how to break down the barriers of authority between therapist and client. Yet you still cling to authority in this way. I shouldn’t have to convince you of who I am. I am certain that you don’t ask your cisgender clients to do so. I should be able to simply be, in therapy of all places. I should be supported in all ways to become more myself!

Your discouragement took away six years of my life as myself. It likely took away many others’. Please look deeply into yourself and your practice to see what amends you might be able to make with other people you have harmed through your prejudice. You have a responsibility to your current and former clients to do so. If you fail to do this, you continue to fail the trans* community. Reach out to former clients and apologize, and ask if there is anything you could possibly do to connect them to resources or help now. Check in with current clients to be sure they feel affirmed. Never “evaluate” anyone’s gender again. Ask for accountability and feedback from the trans* community and other gender specialists (maybe them, but having met many of them, a lot of them seem as or more messed up). Please look deeply into yourself and your practice, in these ways and/or others (it is ultimately your responsibility to figure this part out) to make changes now for affirming, egalitarian care. You know the stats–lives are on the line

One more thing. I am telling you all these things, taking this time and energy, because I have seen you walk the walk of eliminating prejudice before. I hope that my trust that I have placed in you is not ill-spent. I have faith that you will take this feedback seriously and do your best to right these wrongs.

Your former client,

Still fucking known as,

[Birth name]*

*Since this letter was written, I have started trying [current name] and using they/them pronouns.

We are not useless. We are fabulous!

ableism, accessibility, accessible movements, activism, dehumanization, disability, privilege, saneism

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of ableism, classism, trauma in movement spaces

Just today I was talking with the person I am dating, who said, “I just wish I could do more of those things, be able to go to protests and organize and work on the things I care about.”

I know I have often felt this. I know many others feel this, this uselessness. If we do not have the energy to spend on what is often seen as activism, then we are not committed to the cause. Then we are not, actually, useful.

Supposedly.

I say, though, that the idea of people with disabilities as useless is an idea that stems straight from capitalism. Not all aspects of oppression stem simply from capitalism, but capitalism is all wrapped up in many forms of oppression. It finds different ways to control each group, to make each group expendable. In particular, we are expendable because we are useless.

But we are human beings, not dollar signs. We are human beings, not the products we put out. We have lungs and stomachs and hearts and brains, and they are churning and working and thinking, breathing and beating, making us live each day. They may not work the way we find most comfortable or efficient all the time, but they work all the same. Efficiency be damned! We are miracles!

We are most certainly not flat pieces of paper with writing on them that get passed from hand to hand in a frenzy of abstract value.

The very meaning of justice work needs to be changed. The idea of what constitutes activism or organizing needs to be changed. How many organizers have I known who organize at the cost of everything else in their lives—their own care, the care of their families, and, in a perverse way, even the care of their communities. While at a meeting, they didn’t give their friend a ride to the doctor. While at a conference, they missed helping their kid with homework. I know that for some organizers, this is their livelihood and they have to go to these events. For many people who do not have organizing jobs, they need to choose between work and caring for others as well. What I am saying is that ideas of what organizing is need to be expanded, both for paid and unpaid organizers. The movement not only needs an accessibility check–it needs a priority check. We bring more people in when they are cared for, when they are in community. Caring and creating community IS organizing work.

The agitating that organizers do is important and it can have results that make a difference in daily life. But I say that truly good results cannot happen without everyone there, and these results start with people living in a community where they care for themselves, their families, and the people around them. They care deeply. They show up. They cook food for each other. So much of this work is about improving conditions at an institutional level, and that is direly needed work. But it is not the only kind of improvement that is needed.

These movements do not include me when I cannot show up, and I may have “skipped out on the movement.” These movements do not include us when they are not accessible. What happens when we don’t make space for everyone? What happens when we are asked to show up at the courthouse to try to free someone from prison, and we do not support people with experience being incarcerated in the wholeness of their trauma? They should be heading this work, and we need to make space for that support. We also may need to wait to take to the streets while processing trauma, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t organize! What happens when the spaces we book aren’t accessible for people with mobility devices, or children, or a bus pass, or interpretation needs, or mental illness? Many people who are dealing with intense forms of oppression are just trying to survive, just putting food on their table with multiple jobs—or have no money because they can’t work. If the people most directly affected by an issue can’t show up, we know what kind of bad shit can go down. These are not the movements I want to be part of. We cannot leave anyone behind.

Let’s organize for communities of care. Organizing can look like making food for a friend when you can. I say organizing is hanging out and talking about these issues, or shooting the breeze about nothing in particular. I say organizing is slipping in these topics whenever you can. Organizing is watching mindless TV with a friend. Organizing is watching someone else’s kids—or your own. Sometimes, organizing is simply existing. Sometimes, simply existing is really hard; it’s a huge success in itself. Sometimes, organizing looks like lying in bed all day, and sometimes it looks like getting out of bed.

Some may say we are useless, but they need to expand their vocabulary. We are fucking fabulous, and we are existing every day, caring for each other every day. We cannot let anyone out of our net. Let’s hold each other in all our fabulousness and need, however we can, whenever we can. This is building communities of care. This is making the change we need. This is caring for anyone who’s left behind by a capitalistic model of organizing, or just plain oppression. Let’s hold each other fiercely.