“Why Go on Living?”

2011 September 10

Dear Transgender Sibling,

I have noticed that today you found my blog after using this search query:

transgender “why go on living”

There are a lot of reasons someone might input this search phrase, but I am going to risk erring and assume you are a transgender person who is asking yourself a question I have asked myself countless times before: “Why go on living?”

I do not know about the specifics of your situation, but I can tell you a bit about mine. When I first told my mother that I was a girl, I encountered hostility, and that was only a preview of things to come. When I came out to the family member I thought was the most likely to be supportive, she ended all communication with me. I have survived abuse at the hands of a partner who used misgendering as an instrument of pain. I recently had a painful reminder that even a close friend and ally can fuck up in an inexcusable way. I am currently worried that I will lose a source of income once I come out to an institution that has in the past paid me for my work. If it seems that I am trying to make this all about me, I am sorry. That is not my intention. Rather the point I want to make is that when I say, “I know being transgender is hard,” I am not (entirely) full of shit. I know being transgender is hard.

So why go on living? I am not presumptuous enough to know what the answer is for you, but I can tell you what it is for me: Love. I do not mean the love cisgender people have for me. Perhaps you can relate when I say that cisgender people’s love is elusive, and it seems it is always on vacation when I am at my lowest. I also do not mean the love of other transgender people. There are a number of factors, including the structures in the cissexist society we live in, that have by and large kept me from establishing close relationships with other transgender people. When I say that love is the answer for me, I mean my love for transgender people. Looking back, I can say without hyperbole that the people who have inspired me the most over the past few years have all been transgender. More importantly, I love transgender people for the resilience we show when we refuse to deny our gender identities and our gender expressions when most of society or even our very bodies seem to mock us for it—resilience that you no doubt understand, my transgender sibling. I seldom say this, especially here, because I created this blog in part as an act of resistance against people who thrust me into the position of being the person who is transgender above all else, when quite often what I want to do is organize around women’s issues or queer issues. But when it comes to women’s issues, I am most passionate about the issues that affect transgender women, and when it comes to queer issues, I am most passionate about the issues that affect transgender queer people. The cisgender people I love most know that if they ever lose sight of the fact that they are your and my oppressors, they will lose whatever place of significance they have in my life. No matter what I do transgender people are never far from my mind.

If I were to off myself today, I would no longer be able to play a role in preserving a record of the contributions transgender people have made. I would no longer be able to talk about Sketch, the Chicago artist I had the privilege of meeting shortly before ze died in 2005 and who is often frequently misgendered and misnamed in cisgender people’s accounts of hir life. I would no longer be able to call out the cisgender feminists who say that transgender women have no place in conversations about reproductive rights and remind them that it was a transgender woman—namely, Kinsey AKA Genderbitch—who gave us one of the most cogent and widely-known defenses of the pro-choice stance. I would no longer be able to commemorate the transgender people of Stellar—people who surmounted a number of personal challenges to resist the Chicago Dyke March Collective’s cissexism in 2010. Cisgender people, especially those who are actively involved in our oppression, typically do not record our history for us. Like it or not, if we want these memories preserved, we will have to be the archivists.

Sometimes my love for transgender people manifests itself as rage—rage for the people who hate us or hurt us. There are people who say that nothing constructive can come from anger. I say, “Fuck them.” Many people have channeled their anger into constructive outcomes. And why this sweeping dismissal of everything that is destructive? The society we live in has a wide array of irredeemably cissexist structures that are unworthy of nothing more than being smashed to bits. There are people who say anger is a negative emotion. I say, “Fuck them.” If in my anger you, my dear transgender sibling, are the only person who sees that there is someone in this fucked up world who gives a damn, no emotion has ever served me better.

I go on living so that I can go on fighting. I fight to help build a world where no transgender person has to die in a hate crime or has to feel that they have nothing to live for. And don’t think for a moment this doesn’t include you. The first time I went to a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil I was still pre-ho (i.e. still infused with emotion-suppressing testosterone), but I nevertheless fell into inconsolable sobbing when the names were read—names of people I had never had the opportunity to meet. The next time I read that a transgender person has committed suicide, I will likely respond in much the same way. It is not at all unusual for people who believe they have no influence in their lives to affect people profoundly in their deaths.

I cannot tell you why you should go on living. This is something you will need to figure out for yourself. As I said, I can only tell you why I go on living. I hope that you find something of value in what I have said. If you should want me to clarify or expand on anything I have written, please write to me.

Yours in the struggle,
Veronika

E-mail: faithfulimage@gmail.com

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Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

2011 July 8

A number of bloggers have recently shared their experiences or the experiences other people had at a Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) meeting that was held in Boystown on Wednesday. I believe their accounts raise vital questions about the sort of “safety” the police officers of the 23rd district and “concerned Lakeview residents” would bring us, if they were given the opportunity to do so.

Gender JUST youth leaders respond to increased policing and profiling, racist attacks, and harassment after recent incidents violence in Boystown/Lakeview
Among other concerns Gender JUST writes about the racist and classist rhetoric employed by some people at the meeting. (Full disclosure: Though I did not contribute in any way to this press release, I am a member of Gender JUST.)

How to Report an Oriental Criminal
The Angry Asian Man writes about racist language used in a publication distributed by the Chicago Police Department at the meeting.

White Lakeview Residents Turn Out in Droves to Claim Their Territory
thecuntcrusader writes about her experience of the meeting, including being assaulted.

The Youth of Color in Boystown Don’t Call Me “Faggot” or “Tranny”

2011 July 5

Recently members of Gender JUST protested a “positive loitering” organized by people whose stated aim was to “take back Boystown”. (Full disclosure: Though I was not present at this event, I am a member of Gender JUST.) The reason for the protest was that members of Gender JUST saw it as the latest in a series of efforts to intimidate working class queer and transgender youth of color who come to Boystown. According to Kate Sosin of the Windy City Times several members of the “Take Back Boystown” page have blamed youth of color for recent criminal activity in posts that make claims like the following:

These trannys are bringing their homey G boyfriends into the neighborhood courtesy of The Center on Halsted. You can tell who they are by the way they act.

According to Sosin, Rob Sall, the organizer of the “positive loitering” event, conceded that the Facebook page “is extremely racially charged”. The racist, classist, ageist, cissexist rhetoric is not new. On 2009 September 2 the Windy City Times published a letter by someone identified only as “a concerned Lakeview resident”, who blamed “Center on Halsted youth clients” and “transsexual prostitutes” for Lakeview’s “crime issues”.

What do I have to say about this?

On the day of my first direct action in 2004 it was not youth of color in Boystown who arrested three queer rights activists, kicked one of them, and called him a “faggot”. It was one of the officers policing the pride parade.

It is not youth of color in Boystown who have been making transmisogynistic comments in letters to the editor or on Facebook. It is the people who have been scapegoating them.

I have been sexually assaulted twice in Boystown. I do not have a single young person, a single person of color, or a single transgender person to lay the blame on for either of these incidents.

“Concerned Lakeview residents”, if you want Boystown to be safe, stop threatening the safety of young people. Stop theatening the safety of people of color. Stop threatening the safety of transgender people. Stop trying to “take back” Boystown from working class queer folks, when Boystown was the community of working class queer folks before the businesses and the middle class gays moved in. If you want Boystown to be safe, stop threatening the safety of me and my friends.

2011–07-07 Edit: I have substituted the word assaulted for the less accurate term accosted.


Donzell Francis Will Not Face the Death Penalty

2011 June 3

Donzell Francis, the San Francisco man accused of raping and killing Ruby Ordenana, will not face the death penalty.

Francis has already been sentenced to eighteen years in prison for the sexual assault, beating, and robbing of a transgender sex worker. He now stands accused of attacking two other transgender sex workers, including Ruby Ordenana, who was found dead on March 16, 2007. (All three of the sex workers were female-presenting people of color.)

According to an article in The Examiner District Attorney George Gascón will not be pursuing a death penalty conviction, reserving this for cases that are “very heinous”.


We Were Stellar: A Story of Trans and Trans-questioning Resilience

2011 April 24

Today is the anniversary of the first meeting of Stellar, the group of trans people, trans-questioning people, and allies who organized to resist cissexism at the 2010 Chicago Dyke March. As I recounted in yesterday’s post, I faced a potentially life-threatening situation and other challenges when I became a member of the Chicago Dyke March Collective in 2009. This was not because of anything I had done but because I was a trans woman. Some Chicago activists were less than ecstatic when they heard about this. I cannot hope to do justice to the story of the amazing people who overcame obstacles to organize with me, but I feel compelled to share my version of the events anyway, because it is a story that everyone who has an interest in social justice ought to remember, and the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) is not going to record our history for us.

According to the bylaws we adopted on April 24th Stellar was a group that welcomed “everyone, regardless of race, class, age, trade, religion, nationality, immigration status, trans status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or physical or mental ability”. Of course, as I learned in 2009, there is a world of difference between saying a group is inclusive and being inclusive. For its part Stellar implemented a number of structures to make the group widely accessible. For example, our bylaws specified a group decision-making process, and these bylaws were automatically sent to everyone who was added to our listserv, while hard copies were available at meetings. As trivial as this was to implement, in every organization I have tried to be involved in since obtaining the bylaws (or the equivalent document) has been like pulling teeth, leaving me on the outside of the organization’s decision making. Stellar recognized that paying attention to little details had the potential to make a big difference in the lives of marginalized people.

If you know that the Chicago Dyke March is always held on the last Saturday of June, you might be wondering why Stellar did not convene before April 28th. The reason for this is that as late as February of 2010 it was not apparent that there was a need for resistance. Though efforts to communicate with CDMC as a collective had failed, I thought there would be some benefit to engaging individuals, starting with a member I will call Daisy. By the time I had left CDMC Daisy was the only person in the collective I counted as an ally, so I approached her with what seemed to me to be a win–win proposal: Together we would organize a teach-in entitled “Making Spaces Accountable to Trans People” and invite the other members to attend. Initially Daisy seemed enthusiastic, but her response time increased with every message I sent her. Eventually she started broadcasting comments insensitive towards trans women via Google Buzz. I took this as a sign that I would not get a response to either of the last two e-mails I had sent to her (my conclusion would turn out to be correct). It was already March 23rd when I sent a letter to various transgender individuals and TBLGQ rights organizations warning them of the threat CDMC posed to trans people. By that time CDMC had been preparing for Dyke March for months.

But it was not just a shorter time-frame that put us at a disadvantage. The time between Dyke March 2009 and Dyke March 2010 was a rough year for me—and not just because memories of what went down in 2009 were keeping me up night after night. In December a couple of young men stopped me on the street, punched me in my face twice, and stole my cell phone. When Dyke March was about a week away and Stellar’s membership was frantically making last minute preparations, my laptop malfunctioned. Despite all this I cannot say I had it worse than anyone else in Stellar; we all had our struggles. For example, most of the people actively involved in organizing had to deal with a death or a serious illness in the family. As if to pour salt in our wounds, The Windy City Times published a fluff piece about CDMC, as it does every year, while it failed to report on our organizing. There were days when I wondered whether we would have a presence at Dyke March at all.

Two Stellar members and one non-participant

Two members of Stellar and one very welcome non-participant after a meeting.

During the course of our organizing we decided it would be a good idea to march at the event both to acknowledge what CDMC had gotten right—namely, organizing an event that was open to working class people and people of color—and to prevent CDMC, which then consisted only of cisgender people, from co-opting trans and trans-questioning people’s pride. But we also decided to use the event as an opportunity to educate people about what the cisgender members of CDMC had done in 2009 and how cisgender people could be allies to trans people in 2010, so a number of us contributed to a leaflet whose title was Marching United. We also knew that we had to keep our own house clean, and to that end we discussed combating racism. I introduced Stellar to a piece I had written entitled “Five Things White Activists Should Never Say”, thinking others in the group might want to use it as a jumping off point for our discussion. My friend and fellow activist Darrell Gordon, who was a member of Stellar, helped me revise the document and proposed that we distribute it at Dyke March along with the other flyer. (Apart from a few typographical changes the version we distributed at Dyke March was no different from the version that is currently available at zinelibrary.info.)

In the end Stellar did have a presence at Dyke March. As is often the case with direct action, assessing what went wrong is easier than assessing what went right. I believe our biggest loss was that the printing of the Marching United leaflets did not go according to plan, so we were not able to send any to the members of CDMC before the march, or distribute as many at the march as we would have liked to. The most obvious success is that I and other trans people marched without suffering injury. However, I for one found it triggering to have my steps marshaled by people who had been actively involved in my oppression, and to leave a war zone unscathed is to leave a war zone, just the same. I think one easily overlooked benefit of working together was that we had multiple witnesses for every incident. When the march had ended, three members of CDMC, perhaps hoping to save face after we had protested their event, approached me and another transgender person in Stellar and said that they would be in touch with us to talk about what they could be doing better. Knowing that I had not been the lone witness, I felt confident when I later called them out for failing to follow through. All things considered, I believe Stellar’s action was a success, and I am grateful to have had such an inspiring group of people to march with. What’s more, I am thoroughly convinced that the day will come when Dyke March 2010 is remembered not for those who marched lockstep with the people who had shown no regard for the well-being of trans women but for those who marched to resist the oppression of the most marginalized members of our community.


Visibility or Bust

2011 March 17

Last night I accompanied two members of Bisexual–Queer Alliance Chicago (BQAC) to a meeting of Chicago’s LGBT Advisory Council where they would submit the report Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations. One of the two was Brother Michael C. Oboza, a co-founder of BQAC. During the public comment portion of the meeting Michael gave each of the present council members a copy of the report and shared some of the information from the report, much of which brings sexism as much as monosexism into the open:

  • Thirty-five percent of bisexual men and forty-five percent of bisexual women “have attempted or seriously considered suicide”. This rate significantly exceeds the rates for straight people, gay men, and lesbians.
  • The portion of the bisexual male population living in poverty is greater than the portion of the gay male population living in poverty by more than fifty percent. The percentage of bisexual women living in poverty is more than twice the percentage of lesbians living in the same state.
  • Contrary to what their lack of visibility suggests, bisexual people make up the largest portion of the TBLG community.

In regards to the report Elizabeth Kelly, the chair of the LGBT Advisory Council, said, “This is very important.” Michael committed to sending an electronic copy of the report to the council members who were not present, and among the members there was talk of endorsing the report at the council’s next monthly meeting.

Edited on 2011 March 19 for the sake of factual accuracy. I had originally indicated that the report made comparisons regarding the number of bisexual people living in poverty, when it really presented percentages, which is more significant. I am sorry for my error.


What Coming Out Means for Trans and Trans-questioning People

2011 March 10

I just spent a lot of time composing a reply to a post entitled Dyke March Diaries: Coming Out on the IMPACT Program’s blog before realizing that it does not allow comments. So I thought I would post my comment here instead:

This is a very well-edited video, and the people in it are so inspiring! I am glad you and other folks are doing the vital work of recording the experiences of people in our community.

If I were to add anything, I would highlight the adversity that some people aligned with the T faced at Dyke March in 2010. In 2009 I, a transsexual woman, had tried to be involved in the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) and found the collective to be hostile towards trans people, especially those of us who are women or who have a feminine presentation. In response to this a number of trans folks, trans-questioning folks, and allies joined me in going to Dyke March to both celebrate our pride and resist CDMC’s marginalization of trans people. It is excruciatingly difficult to find queer “community” after facing rejection from mainstream society, only to find out that the “community” rejects us well. Despite this and a number of personal hardships, the other members of Stellar took a stand in 2010 and showed me what real community looked like. If Dyke March is a safer place for trans people this year, we will be indebted to the people who have been standing with us all along. Thank you, trans folks, trans-questioning folks, and allies, for the amazing demonstration of resilience!

I will be posting more about Stellar in the next month or two. For anyone whose interest I may have piqued I will at this time just link to a press release we sent before last year’s Dyke March:

Stellar calls for resistance on two fronts at Dyke March