“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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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.


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.


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.


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


Reflections on My First Seventeen Months Out as a Woman

2010 October 5

I came out to myself as a woman on April 14, 2009, and when that happened all my confusion about my sexual orientation ended, and I realized I was queer. I came out to my friends two days later. By the time I came out I was already a feminist and a queer rights activist. I knew I would encounter sexism and heterosexism, but I figured I wouldn’t encounter much until I had started to take hormones and “pass” as a woman. Now that I’m on the verge of taking estrogen for the first time (I hope to have it on the 19th), I thought it would be a good time to write about how wrong I was.

One reason I was taken by surprise was that I failed to appreciate how much my social interactions were mediated by the Internet. In cyberspace nobody knows my trans status unless I tell them, so even people who would otherwise dispute my gender identity see me as a woman. This was most noticeable when I joined lesbian chat rooms. Upon entering I was inundated with private messages from men who were soliciting sex. Some of them didn’t even bother to pose as women. All I wanted was to find a supportive environment where I could talk about the struggles we face as queer women, but even when I devised ways to block private solicitations, there was little I could do about men’s disruptions in the chat room. I ended up giving up on using chat as a way to network with queer women.

Women also contributed to the problem. When I made the switch from the m4w to the w4w personals in the “Strictly Platonic” section of Craigslist, the homophobia came at me like a punch in the face. A number of women had posted ads that said, “No lesbians,” (if they weren’t using epithets) or, “Straight women only.” As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t a manifestation of heterosexism alone. If you take issue with women who form intimate, supportive relationships with other women, you are engaging in sexist behavior. The one small comfort I took from this was that I was unlikely to meet anyone who secretly hated me on account of my sexual orientation.

I also learned that while my male body might keep me from some encounters with sexism, it guarantees I’ll have others. Shortly after I came out as a woman I joined the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC). Apart from a few insensitive but ambiguous remarks I saw no sign of a pervasive tendency to regard me as something other than a “real” woman. On the contrary, the more time I spent in the collective the more I felt self-conscious about being a woman. I raised some concerns about how trans people were being treated in Dyke March, and I wasn’t the only trans person to raise such concerns. What became obvious almost immediately is that if anyone perceived that transmasculine people were being marginalized, the other members were quick to step in. It also seemed that trans men were the barometer by which other members of CDMC determined that they were doing okay in regards to trans people. But when I talked about the concerns of transfeminine people, trying to engage other members in dialogue was like pulling teeth from a badger. In 2009 the Chicago Dyke March Collective would have been more welcoming to trans straight men than it was to trans dykes. Considering that CDMC members have gone back on their promises to work with me and other trans people to improve the situation, I doubt much has changed since then.

I could mention other times I’ve encountered sexism and heterosexism, but I think I’ve made my point: Being a trans woman, even one who looks “pre-transition”, does not save me from being the target of sexism. Sexism hurts all women, as well as people who don’t fit in the gender binary. Heterosexism hurts all queer people. If we want progress, we need to stop fighting over who is more oppressed, and work to abolish the systems that oppress us all.