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.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.