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?


Donzell Francis Will Not Face the Death Penalty

2011 June 3

Donzell Francis, the San Francisco man accused of raping and killing Ruby Ordenana, will not face the death penalty.

Francis has already been sentenced to eighteen years in prison for the sexual assault, beating, and robbing of a transgender sex worker. He now stands accused of attacking two other transgender sex workers, including Ruby Ordenana, who was found dead on March 16, 2007. (All three of the sex workers were female-presenting people of color.)

According to an article in The Examiner District Attorney George Gascón will not be pursuing a death penalty conviction, reserving this for cases that are “very heinous”.


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.


Visibility or Bust

2011 March 17

Last night I accompanied two members of Bisexual–Queer Alliance Chicago (BQAC) to a meeting of Chicago’s LGBT Advisory Council where they would submit the report Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations. One of the two was Brother Michael C. Oboza, a co-founder of BQAC. During the public comment portion of the meeting Michael gave each of the present council members a copy of the report and shared some of the information from the report, much of which brings sexism as much as monosexism into the open:

  • Thirty-five percent of bisexual men and forty-five percent of bisexual women “have attempted or seriously considered suicide”. This rate significantly exceeds the rates for straight people, gay men, and lesbians.
  • The portion of the bisexual male population living in poverty is greater than the portion of the gay male population living in poverty by more than fifty percent. The percentage of bisexual women living in poverty is more than twice the percentage of lesbians living in the same state.
  • Contrary to what their lack of visibility suggests, bisexual people make up the largest portion of the TBLG community.

In regards to the report Elizabeth Kelly, the chair of the LGBT Advisory Council, said, “This is very important.” Michael committed to sending an electronic copy of the report to the council members who were not present, and among the members there was talk of endorsing the report at the council’s next monthly meeting.

Edited on 2011 March 19 for the sake of factual accuracy. I had originally indicated that the report made comparisons regarding the number of bisexual people living in poverty, when it really presented percentages, which is more significant. I am sorry for my error.


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


Review: Bob’s Burgers

2011 January 10

Last night I decided to watch the pilot episode of the newest animated series in Fox’s Sunday night line-up, Bob’s Burgers. The series is produced by Kimberly Smith, which told me nothing, because up until this point Smith has mostly worked on children’s shows, which these days I only watch if they are especially good or about dinosaurs. The fact that the show would air on Fox was no more helpful; this is the network that gave us Futurama, which I love (or loved—the episodes that have aired since the move to Comedy Central have left a lot to desire), and Family Guy, which I disdain. Thus I went into Bob’s Burgers ready to experience one of either end of the passion continuum.

Bob’s Burgers is about the misadventures the titular character’s nuclear family has while running a burger joint called Top Notch. No—you got me—it’s called Bob’s Burgers. The other family members are Bob’s wife, Linda, and his three children, Gene, Louise, and Tina. Though it is by no means a great indicator of sexism or the lack thereof, I always like to look at how closely a show approaches gender parity. Bob’s Burgers throws me for a loop by having men provide the voices of Linda and Tina. Even if I did not care about feminism, I would question this odd casting choice. Kristen Schaal, whom I first became acquainted with in Flight of the Conchords, provides the voice of Louise, and she gave the stand-out performance of the first episode. Why wouldn’t the makers want to give other women an opportunity to breathe life into the family at the focus of the series?

Some viewers, if they did not determine that the show was sexist upon noting its casting choices, might have reached their conclusion about a minute in, when Tina discloses that she has a crotch itch. I have not yet figured out if this offends me as a feminist, but I will say it was annoying as a running gag. The introduction of the plots was hardly more promising. The A plot concerns the fallout of a rumor that Bob’s Burgers uses human meat from the mortuary next door. In the B plot Bob is feeling inadequate as a husband, because Ricky forgot Lucy’s anniversary—no, wait, Bob forgot Linda’s anniversary. The plots are linked together when Hugo, a health inspector who dated Linda before she and Bob were married, capitalizes on the situation by requiring Bob’s Burgers to display a sign saying that the burgers may contain human meat.

Lest you come away from this review thinking that I have taste, I found the cannibalism allegation to the be funniest element of the episode. I smiled when it became apparent that Louise was the one who started the rumor, even if the smile faded when a flashback told me what I already knew. Was the show trying to tap humor from repetition, or was it condescending to me? I smiled again during the plots’ resolution, when Hugo relents and decides to give Bob’s Burgers a clean bill of health only to have Bob shush him, because he has found clients that want to try human meat for fifty dollars a burger. Unfortunately for the show, capping each end of a plot with funny moments does not make it any more interesting.

I was not at all impressed with the show’s other attempts at edgy humor. When Bob leaves Louise to run the store, she changes the sign to announce that the burger of the day is “the Child Molestor”. In another scene the writers try to generate laughs by having Gene and Louise taunt Tina with the suggestion that she is autistic. I did not notice any homophobic content, but if the pilot is an indication, the series will offer plenty to offend viewers concerned about social justice all the same.

As for the characters, Linda, Gene, and Tina are mostly forgettable (or perhaps I would just like to forget Tina’s contribution to the episode). If there is any hope for the series, it lies in Louise and her relationship with Bob. Louise is easily the most intriguing character—and not just because we never see her without her pink bunny-eared hat. She pulls shenanigans in territory where Bart Simpson fears to tread. Unlike Bart, however, she has a father who instead of responding by strangling her gives the most understated responses imaginable. Of course, making her more central to the plot could lead to other problems. This character needs to remain an enigma to work, and too many unvaried responses from her father would be dreadful. I do not envy the writers who will be doing the tight-rope walk required to keep the show fresh.

Of course, the above presupposes that the show can be kept fresh. Personally, I found Bob’s Burgers to be rank after the first viewing. And even in the absence of the humor I found offensive I have little incentive to watch a show that never made me laugh and only made me smile twice. Bob’s Burgers falls far short of the heights that sitcomes like Arrested Development soared to on the same network. If I know Fox, this is a sign that Bob’s Burgers will be around for a long time to come.