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.

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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.


The Cost of Ignoring Intersectionality

2010 December 16

While preparing to revise a piece I wrote entitled Five Things White Activists Should Never Say, I read people’s comments on the original version, including criticism. (The revision, Version 2.1, is now available at zinelibrary.info. Some of the comments I read can be found at People of Color Organize!.) A number of people, mostly people of color, gave thoughtful criticism that was crucial to helping me fill in some of my blind spots. There were also a number of white people who attacked the idea that white privilege exists. There can be no white privilege, they said, because there are rich people of color. Because Five Things is a short piece that was never intended to be an exposition on the fundamentals of anti-oppression, I did not respond to this criticism in my revised version. However, I will give a response here: Privilege is relative. As people who do anti-oppression work often put it now, there are intersections of identities, and people live at these intersections. The criticism fails, because you are privileged as a white person and you are oppressed as a working class person are not mutually exclusive claims.

It is not only those activists who fetishize class who have failed to account for intersectionality. Feminists have been guilty of this as well. Second-wave radical feminists believe that women’s bodies, as they conceive of them, have preeminence over all else, and vestiges of this belief can still be found among third-wave feminists. As an aside, there is an enormous failure here that should be obvious but which for some reason seldom gets mentioned: If feminism is, as bell hooks put it in Feminism is for Everybody, “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression,” then it is wrong to make women the exclusive focus. Feminists must never forget that two-spirit people, intersex people, genderqueer people, and other people outside the gender binary suffer some of the most painful and violent expressions of sexism. Returning to the main topic, the problem with ignoring other forms of oppression, as Audre Lorde famously pointed out, is that discourse on the people who are oppressed in regards to gender ends up being centered on those who are the most privileged in other respects. Though second-wave radical feminists do not say it—indeed they may not even realize it—the abstracted womanhood of their discourse is a white womanhood (and for that matter a middle class womanhood, but I will save that for another time).

Let’s take a moment to look at some specific problems with this. If we ignore race, we cannot address the injustice found in the way that women of color are held to a beauty standard that demands that they straighten their hair, lighten their skin, or lose weight. (Though there are white women who experience pressure to do the same, there is a significant difference of degree.) If we ignore race, we cannot explain why it was a woman of color who not all that long ago was told she had to leave the lobby of a Hampton Inn. If we ignore race, we cannot adequately account for the murder rate of transfeminine people of color. In short if we ignore race, we ignore people, most of whom are are themselves the targets of sexist exploitation.

There is a flip side to failing to take intersectionality seriously. This is manifest when second-wave radical feminists and those influenced by them subsume oppressed identities under women’s identity. The accompanying idea is that in some way all women are the primary stakeholders when it comes to the matters of sex work, trans status, and rape. Because acknowledging that sex workers face an oppression distinct from sexism amounts to making a concession to intersectionality, second wavers must construe sex work as a manifestation of the sexist system that harms all women, casting women who do sex work as dupes contributing to sexist exploitation. Second wavers are similarly unable to offer a rationale for how oppression against trans women is oppression against all women, and so perversely invert the oppression, arguing that trans women are men who appropriate cis women’s bodies and in doing so commit rape (I could not make this stuff up). Finally, to focus on rape survivors would be to throw a monkey wrench into the project of rooting all victimization in cis women’s bodies—after all, not all survivors are cis women—so second wavers talk about statistical likelihood of being or becoming a rape victim to redirect attention to cis women. (To be sure, women are more likely to be raped than men. The problem here apart from the marginalization of trans women is that women who are not survivors cannot truthfully claim to be stakeholders in discourse on rape in the same way that survivors are.) When people ignore intersectionality, they end up twisting reality to maintain the appearance that they are the focus of all anti-oppression work.

And who suffers the most from this flip side of intersectionality denial?

  • When feminists make women who do sex work out to be dupes, it is women who take the blame for the oppression of sex workers. Indeed there was a time when some feminists curried favor with legislators in the US and convinced them to make laws that were tougher on sex work; the result was that more women were thrown into prison, while pimps and johns carried on as usual.

  • When feminists make trans women the targets of ridiculous slander, it is women who suffer discrimination. Consider that the Michigan Womyn’s music festival remains one of the largest institutions that tells women they are unwelcome because they are women.

  • When feminists make rape survivors a footnote in a narrative about people who are likely to rape and people who are likely to be raped, they exclude a number of people, including folks outside the gender binary, men, trans women, and women who are raped by women. One consequence of this is that often when activists decide it is time to discuss rape, they segregate their collective into two focus groups, one for those who are likely to rape and one for those who are likely to be raped, and invariably put trans women into the former group, even though trans women are statistically more likely than cis women to be raped.

To summarize, when feminists deny intersectionality, they either erase people who suffer sexist oppression or co-opt the oppressions they suffer apart from sexism. Either way it is the people who are oppressed under patriarchy who are the most alienated. Just as white workers have time and time again played into the hands of employers who use racism to divide and conquer the working class, feminists have all too often aligned themselves with patriarchy in its war on the most oppressed women. Feminists must acknowledge intersectionality, because if we do not, we will contribute to sexism.


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.


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.