“If It Isn’t Healing, It Isn’t Justice:” What If Solidarity Meant Healing for Us All?

healing justice, solidarity

Content note: general discussion of oppression, trauma, death

Source: https://www.alliedmedia.org/news-tags/healing-justice

I want to start by saying that I love you.

It isn’t easy, always, to love you or anyone else. Love is hard work.

But I do.

It’s just in my being, like my breath—at least when I remember it’s there.

Other times, it feels like there is no love left in the world from or for anyone.

This movement we’re holding, it’s about love. It’s about us living full, healthy, yes, loving lives. It’s about all of us having the chance to hold each other better, to access the fullness of life more fairly and more deeply.

We can do those things now. We may not be able to change all the structures today or stop all the microaggressions today. We will do what we can with those things, as we can. We always can remember love, love for ourselves, love for each other. We always can be rooted in deep living and joy, even in the face of terrible odds for survival.

It’s not easy, always, to be rooted in this way. It’s hard work, sometimes, and other times it comes as easily as the beating of all our hearts. But it’s how we’re going to get through.

What does a healthy relationship with community look like? What does a healthy relationship with ourselves look like? When some of us have so much and some so little, and some in between and in all sorts of ways, when there is such a rocky terrain of difference and having and not-having, how do we still hold each other in this reality?

“It is no sign of well-being to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

“My job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

What is going on with these ideas? Why is it that we all must be disturbed and unhappy to be good movement members? What happened to healing? What happened to love?

What about: “My job is to love the disturbed and love the comfortable.”

What about: “Let’s figure out how to heal, love, and hold each other in this profoundly sick society.”

We have deep heartbreak, loss, death, every day. It’s survival only for many of us. Why does that NECESSITATE removal of love? Why does that NECESSITATE removal of joy?

Miss Major talks about not letting all the BS of life take away your joy. She should know about that.

What if, in addition to having space for anger, we had space for trauma, we had space for grief, we had space for loss… and we had space for a big old party where truly everyone was welcome and held the ways they needed to be? We had space for little and big moments of appreciation—for everyone, and we held open space for the possibility of abundance even when everything seems scarce?

That would probably stick it to the man. The man is definitely most happy when we’re busy judging ourselves and each other so much that we don’t even have room to hold each other’s sadness, let alone our joy.

As Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha says, “If it isn’t healing, it isn’t justice.”

This must mean healing for all of us—healing for the direct oppression we face, and healing for the bigotry we’ve been taught as privileged humans.

So let’s talk about solidarity in the age of one right kind of activism. Solidarity where we all show our love for each other as best we can. Solidarity where that love means we care for both ourselves ad each other. Solidarity where we all are working towards healthy relationships, not only with society, but also in our communities, also in ourselves.

I’ll say what you know: oppression hurts us. It hurts us all, and it directly and deeply and immediately hurts the oppressed person. That pain is different from the pain that comes from bigotry enveloping privileged communities.

It is different because while it seems more dire, and certainly has more immediate and direct consequences on material life, the pain of the bigoted is just as deep. Trauma inflictors and trauma survivors both have deep healing to do. This is on an interpersonal and institutional level.

Remember the words of Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha: “If it isn’t healing, it isn’t justice.”

Now, what that pain manifests as and what the process of healing becomes may end up appearing very different for privileged and oppressed folks—or similar, who knows. Healing always requires deep listening to self and community, then following where that compass goes. There are paths from others’ journeys to learn from, but no map for yours, for ours.

You job when working in solidarity is not to heal us. Not directly. Only we can do that.

Your job is to heal yourself. Your job is to heal your community.

It may not seem as life-or-death, it may not seem as important, but it is. Heal yourself. Heal your community.

Only you can do that work.

Of course you will feel things about the oppression your loved ones face. Of course it will pain you to witness them hurting. Of course it will break your heart when shared community turns their backs on the very people who have no other community to go to.

This all will hurt. And the cost of staying by our side is deep and real. You will never lose your privilege, and it will never hurt the same way as it does when it’s lived reality. But, yes, it will hurt, and there will be prices to pay. Solidarity isn’t free.

Solidarity isn’t free, but it should be healing. (“If it isn’t healing, it isn’t justice.”)

Remember that, no matter how much you stay by our side, no matter how much a price you pay within your own community for speaking out, the pain we’re experiencing is not your pain.

The pain we’re experiencing is not your pain.

And thank God for that! I don’t want any more people to face what I’m facing.

Let me say that again: I don’t want you to have to deal with the shit I deal with every day. How is that justice? Are we looking for more people to deal with more BS? Is that our movement? Or are we looking for more people’s trauma to be lessened?

I don’t want you to experience this, at least not firsthand. I’d love it if you could be a shield, when you are able. I’d love it if you did all you could—within your privileged spaces—to prevent such things from happening in the first place. Not that any one person is responsible or any one person can change it all. But you can do something.

But I don’t want you to hold the pain of oppression I hold every day. There’s more than enough of that going around. Besides, that’s some kind of sin-based, punishing ideology that says the only way we deal with Bad Things is by suffering more.

Nevermind that it would be pretty weird if you tried to say my pain was your own. It really wouldn’t work out too well. Messy emotional boundaries and all that.

What if the way we dealt with Bad Things, in addition to holding space for trauma, was through joy?

Ohh, a celebration, a lovefest, a party of epic proportions that held everyone well and deeply, and the way they needed to be held. (Even if sometimes that meant not being physically held at all!)

Besides, you have your own pain from being trained since birth to enact trauma upon us. Your community has that pain. It hurts you all and closes off your souls in ways you don’t even know yet, ways you don’t know because you are preoccupied with trying to feel our emotions.

Empathy doesn’t mean swallowing someone else’s pain. It means holding space for it. It means doing your best to understand.

You can’t feel our emotions. You haven’t faced the same thigns. Feeling our emotions would be weird, appropriative even.

But you can feel yours.

And the more deeply you are connected to your own feelings, your own emotional process, the more you will be able to help your community overcome the things that are leading them to produce such trauma for others and themselves.

The more you approach yourself with compassion, the more you will be able to approach them with compassion.

And that is vital. Because you are the best person to do that healing work with them. We can tell them our stories, cry out in pain, but we can’t reach them in the same way.

One other thing: it’s OK to rest. Wait—YOU MUST REST.

You can’t do it all—not all the time, and not on your own. You are not a lone hero.

How will you heal without rest? Yes, we are dying every day, and no, we don’t get a break from the direct onslaught. Yes, you have the privilege of being able to retreat sometimes.

Use it.

Of course, be conscious of how and when. Communicate with us so it doesn’t feel like yet another betrayal, another loss.

But none of us will heal this stuff—our communities, our selves—without rest.

So give yourself a break sometimes. Be accountable, for sure, but accountability doesn’t mean 24/7 duty. That’s, practically speaking if nothing else, unsustainable. And we need you for the long haul.

Because as shitty as this stuff is, it won’t be over tomorrow. It won’t be over next week. It’s not like a final exam week where if you study extra hard and push through you’ll pass at the end of the semester. If you keep pushing that hard forever you will die or you will disengage from movement spaces.

It’s not going to be over next year, either. Many more people will die. We will keep on holding and healing all of our suffering until, hopefully, things get a little better.

That’s what we’re here for. To hold each other as best we can. To help each other heal, in the smallest gestures and the biggest actions.

That’s justice.

Guess what? Discrimination is more awkward.

#LeelahAlcorn, agedner, ally, cisgender, cissexism, genderqueer, non-binary, resilience, suicidal ideation, transgender, transphobia, youth rights

MASSIVE TRIGGER WARNING: suicide, transphobia, cissexism, discrimination, #LeelahAlcorn

Why do our babies have to die?

Why do we live in a world where little trans kids want to die rather than live their lives?

Who is making it so unbearable for us to be alive?

We are just trying to be ourselves. We are just looking for respect, dignity, our true truths of ourselves.

We keep on dying for people to maintain their ideas, their boxes, their order of things, their wrong order of things.

They say, we would rather you die and us stay in our boxes. We would rather you die, because you don’t follow these whimsical Willy Wonka rules that never fit anyone anyway.

We would rather you die than us feel uncomfortable.

I want to live in a world where anyone, child, teenager, adult, someone who has thousands of wrinkles—where anyone realizing that their gender doesn’t fit these rules doesn’t want to die. Where every single person who realize they’re trans or something like it—where death doesn’t seem like a better solution than facing the trauma. Where it no longer seems like nearly everyone trans I know has thought about suicide, or attempted it.

When that has happened, it’s not a matter of an individual problem. Unless you think oppression is a series of coincidences.

I want to live in a world where we are welcomed and held with open arms by everyone, where our trueness of self is celebrated.

I don’t want us to die for the sake of cis people’s fear—their fear of discovering their own selves, their fear of toes getting over the line, their stupid fucking fear of gender being awkward.

Well, of course it’s awkward. It’s a coercive system that forces people into a rigid set of unnatural rules that governs nearly everything that someone does in order to maintain an oppressive hierarchy.

I’d call that awkward, maybe. Maybe discrimination is more awkward than your discomfort. Maybe suicide is.

If someone not fitting your idea of what their gender “should” be is awkward, just think about how it might feel when they’re dead.

Do you feel less awkward, now that we’re not in front of your face anymore?

This is why I can’t stop talking about trans deaths. I refuse to let us fade away. I refuse to let our deaths make us disappear.

We are here. We are here. We are here. We will be here, here, here until we rise like a glittery sun, until our fierce power and beauty spreads across the world.

We must keep on. We must move forward. We must get up every day and live, live. Because we are stunning. We are beautiful. We are handsome and dapper and kinky and funky and fabulous.

We give a gift to the world that they do not want to accept, but it is a gift nonetheless. It is freedom.

That discomfort they’re feeling? It’s the beginnings of freedom.

Of course, we aren’t here for them, though they should be grateful for us. We are here for ourselves, we are here for our communities, we are here for the glittery gorgeous right to be who we are and be safe.

Pride and love will keep us alive.

Source: http://randomflyingpigeons.deviantart.com/art/Tie-Dyed-Trans-Pride-275151732

PLEASE CALL the Trans Lifeline if you need it: 877-565-8860 in the US http://www.translifeline.org/

It’s not about you…

#LeelahAlcorn, agender, ally, cis entitlement, cisgender, cissexism, coming out, ftm, genderfluid, genderqueer, mental health system, mental illness, mtf, non-binary, parents of trans people, privilege, pronouns, saneism, solidarity, suicidal ideation, therapist, therapy, trans children, trans men, trans women, transgender, transition, transphobia, youth rights

TRIGGER WARNING: family abuse, suicide, transphobia, transmisogyny, #LeelahAlcorn

“I’ve watched as parents get supported for struggling, and failing, to cope with their child being transgender. I’ve seen parents talk about deliberately misgendering their child for months on end because it was too hard for them. Parents who used non-binary pronouns, despite not having a gender neutral child, because they didn’t feel ready to switch over to the pronouns their child preferred. One common thread through all these conversations is “I need…”

“You know what? It’s not about you!

“We don’t get to pick the kids we raise. We don’t get to choose their height, their hair colour, their IQ, their skills, their goals, or their gender. It’s that simple. I couldn’t pick singing skills and you can’t pick gender. And it doesn’t matter if you think you were raising a boy and instead, whoops, she’s a girl… or vice versa… or neither… or both.

“…The benchmark for being a good, supportive parent to a trans child is not “well I didn’t kick him/her/them out”. If you can’t manage to use your child’s preferred name and pronouns, you are not a supportive parent.

Because I'm Fabulous

I remember being pregnant with my children, feeling as their gentle flutters progressed into full belly flops on my bladder and painful karate kicks against the backs of my ribs. Back then I had no clue what my children would be like; they were more like ideas than real people. I’d sit in my rocking chair with my hands clasped gently over my stomach and wonder who they’d be. Dreaming of children who loved singing as much as me; envisioning singing rounds, our voices weaving together in harmony.

Then they were born. Short, chubby, bald people who looked a lot more like Winston Churchill than either their Dad or myself. People that screamed randomly, pooped on themselves, and considered “gah” to be an entire conversation. I still had no idea what they were like except loud, messy, and highly uncoordinated. They slowly evolved into their own people. Emma was colicky and had a desperate need to be…

View original post 1,367 more words

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.”

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…

“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.

When the Dust Starts to Settle

agender, cissexism, coming out, dehumanization, dysphoria, gender fluid, genderqueer, misgendering, non-binary, transgender

TRIGGER WARNING: hopelessness around being trans (and hopefulness too), trying to make yourself be a gender you aren’t

I’m baaack! Last week I left my laptop charger in another state, so I didn’t have a computer on me. So so many blog post ideas have come and gone since then. I’m going to write tonight something very straightforward:

Hold on to hope. There will be a time, maybe more a moment, maybe an era, when you are settled in to who you are. There has been for me. Now I feel like it’s me that’s living in my body. I can look inside my ribcage and feel myself inside my heart, instead of walls imprisoning… what is it that had been inside? The shrunken, light-deprived prune of myself, kept locked and guarded from my mind. There will be a time, wild as it seems, when all of that self has grown and taken up nutrients and soil and it is full, in full bloom.

Yes, it is an uphill battle, many days, most days. Yes, there will be times it all feels like too much. But, as you settle into yourself, you will realize that you are living the life you never imagined possible. You are living life as yourself, even when you see so few others like you in your daily world. You are alive and surviving, sometimes thriving. No one said you could do that, not for the longest time, but here you are, living. I think, here I am, living my regular genderqueer life, and for a few minutes there, life felt normal. Life felt regular. We are told that we are so abnormal that this is never a possibility–but it is.

When I first started on this journey, I thought I’d never even fully hold myself, have my own full self in my heart and mind and body. It would flit in for a moment and feel like the sweetest settling in, the sweetest relaxation–then it would go. I can’t be that, I have to always force myself to be whatever they’ve said I am, whatever I’ve said I am, for so long. With the whole world whipping harsh wind on my real true self, it is easy to forget what was like, when I was hiding my gender from myself. But that is what I was for so long–a shadow. This is why I am carving a ledge for myself each day: this way, I am me.

Coming out is such a tumultuous time that it feels like life will never be regular again. But after that earthquake, grass begins to grow up from the broken earth. My world and shifted surroundings start to make sense. And this time, I find my feet in a way that I never did before–I am wearing boots that fit me now.

This is possible. This is real. Many days are hard for me. Many days are days when I can’t imagine my life being bearable for the afternoon, let alone next week or next year. But the days when life feels normal, life feels calm–those are gifts. They are gifts that, in my fear when first realizing who I was, I thought I would never have again. Hear this, please–yes, life is fucking hard, in general, let alone when you’re trans. But there can be days like this. There will be days like this. Some days you’ll be able to look around you and see your life as normal again.

I know that not everyone’s coming out story is the same, and that others’ oppressions affect this in different ways. This may not be true for everyone. But I can say that if you stay true to the course your gender lays out for you, it will eventually get smoother. Being yourself is often worth the struggle.

Hold onto those days, even if they haven’t yet come. Hold them close to your heart as you break down the walls that have held your true self in for so many years. Hold it close in your cells as you nurture them with the you that you have deprived them of for so long. They are honey in the bitter black coffee of the world.

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.