On WordPress and Hate Speech

2011 September 15

As LiveJournal user labelle77 and Lisa Harney at Questioning Transphobia have reported, a certain radical feminist has been using a WordPress blog to post the pictures of trans women she reports to have entered the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (hereafter, MichFest) along with commentary that has a high probability of inciting some of her blog’s visitors to commit acts of physical violence against trans women. (Out of respect for trans women’s lives and well-being I will not be posting a link to the blog here.)

If you do not know already, MichFest is a music festival whose organizers have long had a policy of excluding trans women from the festival or, as they code it, of hosting a festival that is only for “womyn-born womyn”. There was a time when the organizers prevented trans women from entering. Beginning in 2006, however, the policy has been to put the burden of policing on individuals, asking interested trans women to respect that the festival is not intended for them but not denying them ticket sales. With this change many trans women began to attend the festival, but several outspoken people who attend MichFest continue to oppose trans women’s presence.

The woman whose blog is the subject of this entry is one such person. Having seen the offending post myself, I have a few observations. First, I believe it is, if anything, an understatement to say as Lisa Harney has that the post “practically incites violence against” trans women. At least one of the people leaving comments have has called for trans women to be bodily thrown out despite the fact that there has been no change in MichFest’s policy, and I believe that someone who already has misogynistic, transphobic inclinations would be inclined to do worse. Second, this is a matter that affects more people than just those trans women who choose to attend MichFest. The woman who was the radical feminist blogger’s original source of information has said she believes that two of the women listed in the post were not at MichFest, but the blogger has not removed any names. This suggests that any woman the blogger perceives as trans could have her name and picture listed on the web site and be made the subject of ridicule for failing to meet her standard of womanhood. (Of course, this would be a tragedy, even if the women already listed were the only parties who were affected.) My third and final observation is that by any reasonable interpretation of WordPress’s Terms of Service the WordPress staff should take action against the blogger. WordPress’s inaction when it comes to this matter is as deplorable as the blogger’s action.

And so I leave you with a question, dear reader: Where do I take Faithful Image now?

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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.


Was 2011 a Good Year for Transfeminine People at Dyke March?

2011 June 26

Having been one of the participants of Dyke March 2011, which took place yesterday, I thought I would write about two aspects of the march that no news source has yet reported on, so far as I have seen—the presence of the Trans United Contingent and the apology issued by the Chicago Dyke March Collective.

Along with other community groups, such as SWOP Chicago, Invisible to Invincible, Genderqueer Chicago, and Gender JUST, participants in the Trans United Contingent congregated at the start of the route and joined the Dyke March. (Full disclosure: I was in the Trans United Contingent, and my membership in Gender JUST is pending.) As I remember it, everyone in the contingent was in high spirits. Personally, I was quite pleased by the number of transfeminine people present; I cannot remember being at a public event where I strongly felt my identities as a trans person and a dyke affirmed. The Trans United Contingent invigorated many of the other march participants, who could not help but join in our chants of, “Trans people united will never be divided,” and, “Hey hey, ho ho / Transphobia has got to go.” (My new voice got quite a workout; I had to remain silent for most of the last 15 minutes or so of the march.) Considering the passion of another contingent that had a significant number of transgender people, Gender JUST’s contingent, I believe Dyke March would have been impoverished, had there been no trans folks present.

This brings me to the other topic of this post. In the rally after the march Mika Muñoz read an apology in which the collective said that I, “Veronika Boundless”, had “experienced . . . transmisogynistic violence”* at the hands of the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) in 2009. Mika went on to say, “We acknowledge this occurred and commit to the process of responding to what happened and to doing all we can to make sure nothing like it happens again.”** One of the other march participants asked me what I thought of CDMC’s apology. I said, “It’s a start.” According to the participant apologies are easy and make a collective look good; the real test will be to see what actions follow.

*Because I had difficulty making out what Mika read (as did, I am surmising, the vast majority of the people who stayed for the rally), I am relying on an electronic draft of the apology that I was privy to before the march. As far as I know, what was actually read did not differ (significantly) from the electronic version.

**In the electronic draft the word and is emphasized.


Bread and Purple Flowers Too

2011 May 30

Purple Flower

One of the purple flowers that lines the street outside my apartment.

I have recently been contemplating an unexpected state of affairs. It started on May 13th when my doctor doubled my estrogen prescription, but first it might help to understand what I experienced when I first started taking estrogen back in October. Along with increased emotional sensitivity and ineffable changes to my perceptions I experienced euphoria. However, it was not long before I felt myself return to my usual depressed state. So when I started taking more estrogen on the 13th I was hoping to effect changes I would see in the long-term—increased breast growth, for example. It did seem that the estrogen had lifted my spirits, but this time the feeling was brief and not so pronounced, and it soon became a memory tucked away in the attic of my brain. However, after some days had passed I started noticing differences. One was that flowers captivated me like never before. Throughout most of my life I cared about no flowers besides red roses and carnations, but suddenly the purple flowers that line my street made my turn my head like they were Amber Heard. This change, while welcome, was nothing compared to the change in my emotional experience. It was not the euphoria I experienced in October, but my mood was noticeably elevated independent of external influences. Before it was as though I was hearing a continuous series of dissonant sounds that was always present, no matter how favorable the circumstances were. Now a symphony has replaced the dissonant sounds, and the harmony has soothed me even when I am at my lowest. I feel as though for the first time in my life I know contentment.

It will be a rare post in which I substitute discussion of my delight over purple flowers with my usual rage over social injustice. For one thing I think long-time readers would think my blog had been hijacked. More importantly, my happiness is all the more reason for me to fight the oppression of trans women. I should not have had to wait thirty-three years punctuated by self-injury and hospitalization for depression to experience what most cis women will know their whole lives. What’s more, for various reasons many trans girls and women who would benefit from hormone therapy have not yet started receiving it. Maybe they live in fundagelical Christian homes, where their parents hope to “pray away” their daughters’ gender identities instead of giving their children the respect they deserve; maybe they are locked away in one of the vast majority of US states that deny trans prisoners hormone therapy; maybe economic circumstances prevent them from buying what ought to be freely available; or maybe transphobic feminists have convinced them that they are infiltrators or worse, if they transition. Whatever the obstacles are, we cannot smash them too soon. Every woman deserves to have the emotional stability that I have now.


An Open Letter to SlutWalk Chicago

2011 May 16

Dear Slutwalk Chicago,

I am writing to ask that you remove my blog, Faithful Image, from the list of allies currently available at your web site. Though I did request information from you regarding opportunities to volunteer and help spread the word via my blog, I have never expressed a desire to be an “ally”. The more I learn about both SlutWalk Chicago and the SlutWalk movement that flows from Toronto, the more I have concerns about both. In all likelihood I would have requested removal sooner, but it was only recently that I learned that you had added my blog to your list. This is the sort of matter I ordinarily like to handle in private, but because you have without my consent implicated that I have aligned my mission “with the mission of SlutWalk Chicago”, I feel the need to make my objections public.

As you say on your web site, SlutWalk Chicago’s mission statement is “adapted from Slutwalk Toronto’s satellite guidelines“. Even outside of any context these guidelines raise some red flags. One is that though men are mentioned three times, apparently to make sure men do not feel excluded, many people who face multiple oppressions are not mentioned at all. As a trans woman, I find the lack of any mention of trans status to be significant. There are at least four reasons why actions aimed at ending sexual violence in North America should explicitly include trans people:

  1. Trans people are at higher risk of sexual assault than our cis counterparts.
  2. The popularity of the stereotypes of the transsexual prostitute and the stealthy deceiver play into the slut-shaming of trans women and transfeminine people.
  3. It was only within the past five years that a serial rapist–killer in North America was targeting sex workers of color who were trans women.
  4. The feminist movement has a history of saying that through our feminine presentation trans women and transfeminine people invite rape; accusing us of the rape of cis women simply because we express ourselves as women; and excluding us from social justice movements by violent means or, short of that, calls for our violent deaths.

If it seems that I am reading too much into SlutWalk Toronto’s silence, I think we only need to look at its recent response to Aura Blogando to see that it has not paid adequate attention to the concerns of people who are the targets of multiple opressions. Aura is the woman who wrote the critique “SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy”. Though I feel the post is worth a read, I believe it would be a detour to defend it. The point I want to make here is that whatever the accuracy of Aura’s piece, I find little to commend and much to deplore in SlutWalk Toronto’s response. This response began with “SlutWalk is NOT all white and not white supremacy at its finest”, a piece that reaks of white privilege and a sense of entitlement. Rather than attempt to improve on greatness I will refer you to the response found in Struggling to Be Heard. Because I initially sought to participate in SlutWalk Chicago without raising critical questions about its inclusion of women of color and other people who are targets of oppressions that I benefit from, I cannot claim to hold any moral high ground. However, I do not believe that this sort of negligence is something I should strive for, and now that the SlutWalk Toronto’s reactionary stance is manifest, I have no desire to be a part of an action led by people who desire to follow its guidelines.

I believe there is another matter we need to consider: Even if SlutWalk Chicago renamed itself and distanced itself from SlutWalk Toronto, would the voices of people who face multiple oppressions be heard? I do not have enough information to give a justified answer to this question, but I can speak to my own experience. When you gave the call for committee “leaders”, I told you that I could not lead, but I volunteered to sit on one of the committees. I never heard any response to this. If a leader was chosen for the committee I volunteered to be on, I was neither given an opportunity to cast a vote nor so much as told who was chosen. If SlutWalk Chicago or any of its committees has ever held a meeting where trans people can express our concerns, I was never invited, and my voice has never been heard. This is not for a lack of time or resources; I have received several announcements from SlutWalk Chicago, always telling me what I can do to help the walk. If SlutWalk Chicago’s aim is “to engage” me “in dialogue”, the onus for insuring this dialogue occurs has rested entirely on my shoulders. So while I do not claim to have absolute certainty, I am not confident that SlutWalk Chicago, as it is currently organized, leaves enough room at the table for women of color, trans women, and other people who face multiple oppressions.

I believe most people who get things wrong have good intentions, and this belief has not been challenged by recent events. I believe most people involved in SlutWalk Chicago, including its leaders, are acting out of a desire to confront sexual violence and sexism, and I can only hope more people will come to share your concern. I also have another hope, which is that anti-sexist activists in Chicago and elsewhere will ask people who face multiple oppressions what we are already doing to confront sexism before creating yet another institution that includes us only as an afterthought.

Veronika Boundless


My Dyke March Story: A Trans Woman’s Narrative

2011 April 23

This is an account of some of the experiences I had while trying to organize with the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) in 2009. The main reason I am writing this now is the same reason that I participate in trans activism: I want to see the day when no new names are read at Transgender Day of Remembrance vigils. During my brief stint in CDMC I survived a number of instances of transphobia and misogyny, including the decision of one of the members to put me in a potentially life-threatening situation. Whatever else might be said about CDMC, I do not know any member of the collective who would deny this. Indeed a member of CDMC recently sent me an apology on the behalf of the collective. Even so, if anyone were to have visited CDMC’s web presence at any point during the nearly two years that passed before CDMC so much as apologized, they could have been excused for thinking not only that CDMC welcomed all trans people but also that trans people were part of the collective’s decision-making process. If CDMC’s words are not a narrative, they at least implicate a narrative—a narrative that has no room for a trans woman who was effectively driven from the collective and has yet to see justice. As long as trans people are at risk of entering CDMC unaware of its history, I cannot afford to remain silent.

My story begins on April 14, 2009. If this date seems familiar to you, faithful reader, it may be that you remember it as the day I came out to myself as a woman. On that day everything fell into place for me. The reason I had long felt inclined to call myself a lesbian was that I was a lesbian or, as I prefer to say now, a woman. Feeling celebratory, I wanted to find other queer women to express my pride with. The Dyke March was by far my favorite part of Pride Weekend (the weekend when folks in Chicago and many other cities around the world commemorate the Stonewall riots, which mark the beginning of the modern queer rights movement), so I felt I would be a good match for the collective. I was not naïve, however. I knew that there had been a history of transphobia in Dyke Marches in general and the Chicago Dyke March in particular. So I decided to look at CDMC’s web site, hoping to find its policy regarding trans people. This is what I found on its Myspace page (and what can still be found on CDMC’s Facebook page and WordPress blog):

Chicago Dyke March is a grassroots mobilization and celebration of dyke, queer, and transgender resilience.

Though I found this encouraging at the time, it was perhaps my first clue that CDMC had a structural problem. I might have just come out to myself as a woman, but I had known for more than four years that I was not a man, and so I had already long been involved in queer and trans activism. On at least one occasion the Queer and Trans Caucus of the Chicagoland Anarchist Network, one of the groups I worked with, had had a very visible presence in Dyke March. Despite this I had never once known a CDMC member to invite members of the groups I worked with to help with the planning. Indeed it seemed to me that the general perception among the activists I worked with was that the collective was only open to dykes. But with hindsight being better than foresight I quickly sent the collective an e-mail, asking to be involved.

Trouble arose almost immediately. The less severe of the two problems I had when I had first joined CDMC was that, well, I had not joined CDMC. Though my e-mail address was on CDMC’s listserv, available for all thirty or so subscribers to see, no one ever told me when meetings were held. The only reason I was able to attend my first CDMC meeting was that someone outside the collective told me the meeting time. So I went to the meeting, informed the members who were present of the problem, and I gave one of them my cell phone number. After this I continued to miss a number of meetings, because as before no one was telling me when they were being held.

When I was finally added to CDMC’s listserv, it seemed that I had hurdled the obstacles to my involvement just in time. A discussion arose about the Radical Cheerleaders, who had been unfurling an unwelcome mat for trans women and transfeminine people by various means, including the use of the slur chicks with dicks in one of its cheers. Though some red flags were raised during our initial conversation, I left the following meeting feeling that, if nothing else, everyone who had been present at the meeting understood that it is only for trans women and transfeminine people to reclaim transphobic, misogynistic epithets. What I did not know at the time was that one of the members present at the meeting—I will call her Rose—had already forwarded the entire listserv discussion about instances of transphobia at Dyke March, including my name and e-mail address, to two cisgender members of the Radical Cheerleaders. It would be weeks before I knew the extent to which my initiation into Dyke March was a baptism of fire.

Even while Rose hid her indiscretion, it quickly became apparent that problems remained. It turned out that the inaction I encountered when I had tried to join CDMC was not isolated. Any time a trans woman contacted CDMC turn-around time was slow. I developed a strategy for those occasions when a trans woman reached out to us: I asked the other members what the collective’s policy was regarding the issue at hand, waited twenty-four hours for a response (which I would never receive), and then act unilaterally to address the problem. But when I was the trans woman with a concern, who was there to help me? Finally I called out various members for their cissexism; backlash ensued. After reading the content of Rose’s response I felt the need to point out to her that tranny was a transphobic, misogynistic slur, even though I had already done so not long before. I went to the next meeting thinking that we would discuss cissexism, but the double-than-usual turn-out was more interested in discussing me. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to disclose that she had betrayed me, Rose talked about the cis woman tears she had shed. It was in this gaslit setting that I agreed to take a step back from criticizing members of the group. If I have only one regret from my time with CDMC, it was that in that moment I sewed shut the lips of the only member of the collective who was transgender and the only member of the collective who had consistently taken initiative in confronting cissexism and sexism.

After the meeting a week passed before Rose finally disclosed her betrayal. The revelation was not to be found in an apology or in an expression of sorrow but in a message to the collective’s listserv in which Rose blithely announced that the Radical Cheerleaders had found a replacement for the term chicks with dicks—namely, tranny chicks. Only one member bothered to respond; she proposed that the matter of the privacy violation be dealt with in a closed committee meeting where neither I nor any other transgender person would be present. Out of concern for my safety I left CDMC.

I have seen some stellar displays of solidarity since Chicago Dyke March 2009. However, other Chicago activists have distinguished themselves by supporting CDMC, even after it had repeatedly shown that it was more interested in being actively involved in trans people’s oppression than in our liberation. Affinity allowed CDMC to use its space to prepare for Chicago Dyke March 2010. Since then the Creative Justice Coalition has had a fund-raising event for CDMC. I wrote to a prominent member of Affinity on March 23, 2009 to inform her of the threat CDMC posed to trans people’s safety; I never heard back from her. I wanted to ask members of the Creative Justice Coalition why they were enabling my oppressors, but an extensive search for any contact information the group might have has left me empty-handed. I can only conclude that many Chicago activists have a long way to go before they can rightly call themselves allies to trans people.

As for CDMC, it remains to be seen whether the collective’s actions will follow its words. Fortunately not everyone in Chicago has been content to wait two years for justice. This is another story that needs to be told.


The Latest on Angel Johnson

2011 January 9

I found this information via Diamond Stylz and Transgression:

If you do not already know, Angel Johnson is a trans woman from Indianapolis who survived getting shot six times. As is the rule and not the exception for women in her situation, she has had to endure misgendering and victim-blaming from the media. Adding injury to injury, Angel’s landlord recently evicted her, making the absurd claim that she was endangering the safety of other tenants.

Angel’s story can be found on Diamond Stylz. Scroll down for the update on her eviction.