“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


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.


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


Two Questions Cisgender People Do Not Ask Me

2011 January 3

I recently wrote a post about cis feminists who misgender trans women (and more generally about feminists who marginalize women). This post is for cis people who say they understand trans people and in all likelihood sincerely believe that they understand trans people, but after talking to them for a while I have to wonder if they understand trans people.

When I enter a space I consider to be relatively safe, I am usually quick to disclose that I am a woman. Upon the disclosure cis people tend to respond in one of two ways. First, some cis people respond by asking creepy questions about my experiences as a trans person. They ask all about my sex life or, more commonly, my genitalia. They want to know if I am going to have “the surgery”. Offhandedly I can think of eight surgeries a trans woman might want as part of her transition, so I am put off when cis people make the surgery a homophoric reference to the one that involves a penis. But I digress. Other cis people respond by asking non-creepy questions about my experiences as a trans person. For example, they might ask me whether I have encountered discrimination on account of my trans status. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. In these situations my problem is not with the questions that are asked but with the questions that are not asked.

Can you, dear reader, guess what the lacuna is in cis people’s responses? What sort of question do you suppose I would hope to hear upon my disclosure that I am a queer woman? If I disclose that I am disabled or working class, do you suppose that I expect to hear people ask, “What is it like to be trans?”

There are two questions cis people do not ask me:

  1. What is it like to be a woman?
  2. What is it like to be queer?

If someone wants to argue that these are overly broad questions that no one would ask a cis queer woman, I would concede the point. But the trouble is that cis people do not even ask me more specific questions like, “Do you encounter sexism at such and such a place?” or, “Do you encounter heterosexism at that other place?” Cis people do not ask me, “Do you think our organization is falling short of meeting the needs of women?” even while soliciting my feedback on how well the organization is meeting the needs of trans people. Cis lesbians do not ask me specifically, “Doesn’t a woman seem so much hotter when you find out she’s queer?” even though I have known them to ask this question in other situations.

It is not for a lack of opportunity. There are people who have visited this blog, undoubtedly seeing the subtitle “A Queer Woman’s Blog”, and still only want to engage me in conversation about my trans status. There are often situations in which I find it natural to ask cis women about their experiences as women or cis queer folks about their experiences as queer folks, and they do not hesitate to answer. But they do not follow up by asking, “And what is your experience?” When an opportunity to ask me what it is like to be a queer woman presents itself, cis people are silent, and that silence speaks volumes.

Some cis folks might say, “Oh, Veronika, I do get that you are a woman. It is just that your experiences as a woman are so different that I do not know what to ask you.” I don’t buy it. Most cis folks know a cis woman who has to shave her facial hair, who does not menstruate, or who does not have noticeable breasts, and they still find a way to talk about their experiences of gender. Also, if it is a lack of common ground that keeps cis folks from talking about my gender, how is it that they have no difficulty asking me questions about my experience as a trans person—an experience that by definition no cis person has had? As I said before, a non-creepy question that involves my trans status is not bothersome in and of itself. So why don’t cis people ask, “What is it like to be a woman, when everyone around you insists you are a man?” or, “What is it like to be a queer woman, when everyone around you insists you are a straight man?” If they did, they might uncover differences that would help them better approach topics of gender and sexual orientation with me. Or they might find out I am not so different from cis queer women after all. Either way, they will have learned something about my experience as a queer woman.

And, yes, I am generalizing. There have been times when conversation naturally led to talk about my experiences as a woman or as a queer person; I do not remember now if these situations began with questions, but I felt that the other parties got it, so I will count them as exceptions. Also I do recognize when cis folks get it, even when they are simply making a statement. I was recently at a party where someone turned to me and said, “It is hard being a woman,” and I knew from her delivery that she was not saying this to inform me but because she knew I would understand. I get teary-eyed just thinking about this—this moment that would have been unremarkable, had I been a cis woman—because for me moments like this are so few and far between.

As you have probably guessed, if a cis person comments on this post merely to ask, “What is it like to be a woman?” or, “What is it like to be queer?” I will not answer. After all the point is not to take just one moment to ask a trans person a couple of questions, never to engage them on the matters ever again. My hope is that the cis folks who read this will make a continued conscious effort to recognize when they fail to seek input from trans folks, when they would seek the same input from other cis folks. I will believe cis folks are sensitive to me as a trans person, when they treat me the way they do other people who share my gender or sexual orientation. I will believe cis folks are sensitive to me as a queer woman, when they understand that they cannot know about every queer woman’s experience without asking me about mine.


A New Initialism for a New Year

2011 January 1

I have resolved to use a new initialism, ITAPBLGQ, to stand for intersex, transgender, asexual, polysexual or pansexual, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer or questioning. This replaces my previous abbreviation of choice, TBLGQ. (I am continuing my original practice of placing identities that are excluded or marginalized first.) Of course some readers will now have a question for me: Why have I waited so long to include the I, the A, and the P?

When it came to the P, I considered that people who are polysexual or pansexual are attracted to people of more than two genders, and I thought that queer expressed this adequately. In hindsight this was a terrible decision on my part. No one would ever include the P and the B while excluding the L and the G and justify it by saying that lesbian and gay folks can just identify as queer. The reason for this is that polysexual, pansexual, and bisexual folks are in many respects more marginalized, and this is precisely why we need to explicitly include them. Another problem with leaving out the P is that it plays into the view that there are only two genders or sexes. I now realize that I cannot justify excluding polysexual and pansexual people, and I am hoping the P remedies the situation.

My thoughts on the I and the A were a little different. Some intersex and asexual folks do not want to be lumped together with people who are oppressed because of their sexual orientations. Asexuality is related to sexual orientation only insofar as colorlessness is related to color. Intersexuality has even less to do with sexual orientation, if such a thing is possible. As someone who is sensitive to the way trans people—even straight trans people—are often lumped together with folks (even though I am queer and trans), I do not want to be guilty of reinforcing associations that intersex and asexual folks are trying to distance themselves from. However, in the end I decided that it was important to acknowledge the intersex and asexual folks who do want to be included and resist the efforts of some gay and lesbian folks in the mainstream who deny that intersex and asexual folks have common cause with those of us who are gay, lesbian, or queer.

What is our common cause? We are all in some way dominated by the heterosexual hegemony, the system that enforces the following dogmas:

  1. There are only two proper sexes—male and female.

  2. Everyone should be assigned to one of the two proper sexes.

  3. The two proper sexes are discrete.

  4. The two proper sexes are readily identifiable at birth.

  5. Males should be attracted to females and females only, and females should be attracted to males and males only.

  6. Females should be subordinate to males.

In one way or another each identity represented by ITAPBLGQ challenges the dogmas of heterosexual hegemony. Our oppressors know that if one dogma fails, the entire system falls, and so they fight to defend each one. This is why we need to work together.

Before I close I would like to point out that I have deliberately left allies out of our alphabet soup. I do this, even though I have seen variations such as LGBTA with the A representing allies and even though I have known queer folks who want to expand the definition of queer to include allies. The problem is that there will always be a difference between those of us who are oppressed by the heterosexual hegemony and the people who benefit from it. ITAPBLGQ folks have insight into the system that no one else does, because our lives depend on it. Therefore we cannot raise a banner that is equally inviting to our own and self-declared allies and must instead take an active role in identifying our allies. True allies understand that they already occupy a privileged position, thanks to the heterosexual hegemony, and will not attempt to gain prominence by assuming a false queer identity.