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


Vigil Attendees Implore City To Recognize Not All Balls Are Fun

2010 December 29

CHICAGO—People ordinarily take the expression “Have a ball” as an exhortation to celebrate, but no one was celebrating last night when nearly one hundred Chicago residents gathered outside Wrigley Field to hold the first annual Vigil in Memory of Flesh-Toned Balls. According to Stephen Stone, one of the planners, “This is a new event, but we’re trying to address an old problem: blue balls.” Stone planned the vigil with the help of Saul Sachs who said the pair deemed the event necessary “due to increased media sensitivity to women who turn down men’s advances without presenting the other side of the story”.

Stone said, “I wanted to make this vigil for men like me.” He then recounted his own story: “There I was in a local bar, and a woman refused to come home with me, so I asked, ‘Why would you accept my offer to buy you a drink, if you didn’t want to have sex with me?’ Then her friend said, ‘Maybe she just wanted the drink, dumbass,’ and they both laughed. How could anyone think it was a laughing matter when my balls were as blue as Jokey Smurf?”

Sachs is also no stranger to blue balls. “I got tired of living in a country where a woman can say, ‘Your freedom ends where my “no”s begin,’” he said. “Sexual interest unrequited is a tragedy as awful as a serial killer murdering a hundred people, a nuclear bomb destroying the city, or the Chicago Bears failing to go to the Super Bowl. I knew Steve understood that. That’s why I was happy to lend a hand when he said he wanted to host a vigil for men who don’t have the balls that they once had.”

blue ball

This is not a happy, fun ball. It is a visual metaphor.

In preparation for the vigil Stone and Sachs took their message to the streets. “It has been an uphill battle,” said Stone. “We stood on the street corner, distributing flyers while dressed as a couple of blue testicles. Some people were receptive, but most of them looked at us like we were nuts.”

“People don’t understand our predicament,” Sachs added. “There is a dearth of resources for people like us. Take the Internet, for example. You can find guides for everything from how to knit a hat with bunny ears to how to make a strawberry–rhubarb pie. But where are the web sites for men looking to relieve their sexual frustration?”

At the vigil Stone and Sachs unfurled a banner that read, “Women, it is time for us to chat balls out!” Abigail Glick, a passer-by from the nearby Boystown neighborhood, shouted into the crowd, “Cisgender, straight men aren’t the only people who get blue balls!” Sachs asked, “What? Do you expect us to invite gay dudes?” Stone expressed his own concern: “If we let a gay man with blue balls come to our vigil, he might want me to be the one to relieve him. Why can’t people understand that a man’s discomfort doesn’t outweigh my right to refuse to have sex with him?”


On Genderqueer People’s Struggle

2010 December 21

Two nights ago I dreamed that I had recently started dating someone; I will call her Amy. Amy and I seemed to be hitting it off, but I was anxious, because I had yet to disclose my gender identity. While I was trying to find the least awkward way to disclose that I was a woman, Amy got kidnapped by the Joker. At that point it seemed prudent to put revealing my gender identity on the back burner.

While I am sure this dream has something to do with my current relationship anxieties (I am a woman who looks like a man, as far as most people are concerned), I think it is more a reflection of anxieties I had before coming out as a woman. You see, in the preceding years I had identified as genderqueer. Genderqueer people are trans folks who fall outside the gender binary; they are not men or women, male or female. Though I would now disclose my gender identity before dating someone, this was not easy to do when I thought I was genderqueer. After all most people are not familiar with the concept of genderqueer. I often had to have ongoing conversations with the people I was dating, because I was not sure they understood; often they did not. In more than one relationship I was afraid that once my partner got it she would want to leave me. (As for the Joker, I have no idea what he was doing in my dream. I welcome your speculations.)

This seems as good a time as any to share some of the experiences I had when I thought I was genderqueer. I do not claim that my experiences make me an authority; only genderqueer folks are authorities on being genderqueer. Rather, I am writing about the difficulties genderqueer people face for much the same reason cisgender folks should write about the difficulties genderqueer people face: It should not always be genderqueer folks who shoulder the burden of educating us. (As my aim is to help, please let me know if I get something wrong.) Also, in the past people have used the narratives of people like me—trans women and trans men who at one point identified as genderqueer—as “proof” that genderqueer people are confused about their gender identities. Of course, all it demonstrates is that I, a trans woman, was confused about my gender identity. There are also people who spend quite some time identifying as trans women or trans men before coming out as genderqueer, but for some reason no one ever presents this as evidence that trans women and trans men are confused about our gender identities. My experiences might give me a perspective on what it is like to be genderqueer that cis folks do not have, but it would be wrong to cite them to dismiss the first-hand accounts of genderqueer folks.

Without further ado here are some of the experiences I had:

  1. When I started identifying as genderqueer, I stopped using my legal name and started using a gender neutral name. Much as is the case now, I met a lot of people, including people who undoubtedly considered themselves liberal or progressive, who were persistent in asking me what my legal name (or, as they liked to say, “real” name) was. However, I also got this from people who I felt would have gotten it, had I been a trans woman or a trans man. One person I had expected to be an ally made it a matter of contention, arguing that the name I had used before was just as gender neutral, and continued to call me by my legal name. As you might imagine, it is very disconcerting to wonder if you have a fight ahead of you any time someone asks, “What’s your name?”

  2. I once announced to someone that I had started dating a genderqueer person. The first thing she wanted to know was whether my new partner was assigned female at birth or assigned male at birth.

  3. When someone would propose splitting into groups based on gender, I would invariably be asked to join the men’s group and never asked to join the women’s group. On one especially infuriating occasion I was asked to join a men’s group aimed at helping men fight urges to abuse their partners at a time when I was in a relationship with someone abusive.

  4. As for the abusive ex, she was a feminist who, though she claimed to be sensitive to trans folks, drew heavily from second wave feminism when she wanted to justify inequalities in our relationship. In one of the incidents that opened my eyes to how crucial it was that I leave her, she sent me an e-mail written entirely in the third person, in which she referred to me as a man throughout.

  5. At a later point I joined a chat room that offered support to abuse survivors. When one of the chat moderators asked me what my gender was, I told her I was genderqueer. She asked, “Could you find a nicer way to say that?” I felt like asking, “Could you find a nicer way to say you are a woman?” But because I felt I needed the support the chat room offered, I remained silent.

I think that the first four of these experiences arise mainly from the fact that in many people’s minds genderqueerness is not real. Like trans women and trans men, genderqueer folks face an oppressive gender construct that does not acknowledge that someone can have a gender that no one assigned to them at birth. But genderqueer people face another difficulty: The same oppressive gender construct does not admit of any category outside male and female. Even when binary-aligned folks do acknowledge (to some extent) that genderqueerness exists, we tend to separate genderqueer folks into two categories—“male genderqueers” and “female genderqueers”. If we want to make our spaces trans-inclusive, it is not enough to acknowledge that some people have gender identities that are not aligned with the sex assigned at birth. We must also resist attempts to split what is whole.


The Unspeakable Dread

2010 September 17

Potential trigger: This post gives a brief description of an act of violence committed against a trans person.

It’s been hard to write for the past few days. On September 14th I read a report from Transgender Europe that said that from January to June of this year 93 trans people were reported killed. (I found the report via Helen of Questioning Transphobia.) This means that every other day a trans person is reported killed, which is pretty remarkable when one takes the small size of the population of trans people into account. Considering that a disproportionate number of the trans people who were killed were women or transfeminine, this should be of concern not only to those of us who fight for trans liberation but also to those of us who fight for women’s liberation. One reason I’ve been disinclined to speak is that experience has shown that no matter what trans women say, cis feminists by and large fail to acknowledge that our concerns are feminist concerns.

But mostly what’s been keeping me from writing has been dread—the dread of facing each day knowing that there’s a greater than fifty percent chance that it will be reported that someone like me has been killed. And who knows how many of us get killed without anyone hearing about it? It is difficult enough to think about just one of the killings. Consider, for example, the trans person who was killed in Chihuahua on April 3rd. Ze was decapitated while ze was still alive, and hir head was discarded one kilometer from hir body. What kind of hate does it take for one human being to do that to another? Thinking about the question leaves me feeling inadequate. I can tell you what happened, dear reader, but I can’t hope to express the horror.


Opening Words

2010 September 1

There are many queer women with blogs. I just happen to be the only one who has this blog.

Being a woman, I will use this blog to write about my experiences as a woman. Being queer, I will use this blog to write about my experiences as a woman who is attracted to people other than men. In accordance with who I am I will write about my desire for women’s liberation (I’m a feminist) and queer liberation. I will also detail my love of women’s culture and queer culture, writing everything from analysis to praise of movies I enjoy.

Though my primary purpose is to write about being a queer woman, I cannot be reduced to a single adjective and a single noun. So I will also describe what it’s like to be transsexual, disabled, and working class. Some people have tried to convince me that talk of this sort is a distraction from women’s issue, but I’ve noticed that society expects women to step aside and let the men talk about issues related to trans status, disability, and class. For this reason I see speaking out on these matters to be not only part of the struggles for transsexual, disabled, and working class equality but also an act of feminist resistance.

This is the place where I will share my thoughts, unrestrained. Welcome.