Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Some Trans People of Colour Are More Equal Than Other

No ones likes talking about privilege. I get it! Oppression Olympics! Why can't we all get along! What about the men!? Lol. But seriously. When it comes to trans people of colour I think a certain amount of self reflexivity is not only useful, but essential, to moving forward as a community.

If we are to regard 'trans people of colour' as a homogenous category, a catch all term, then we are implicitly arguing that someone like me (a very light skinned FAAB trans person with a ton of white privilege) has the same experiences, the same struggles as say, CeCe McDonald (a young black trans woman who was incarcerated for defending her own life against a group of racist, transmisogynistic attackers). And that's, quite frankly, a repulsive comparison.

In an attempt to avoid all that, I thought it would be useful to break down some of the nuances of how I can both be super duper privileged AND be a trans person of colour.

I really hope this is useful, obviously I don't have all the answers, so please don't take my word as gospel. I've just been feeling incredibly uncomfortable with people thinking I'm like the 'ultimate' in oppression. I mean, yes, I have experienced some horrible things. But I still have certain advantages that so many other trans people of colour do not have.

I'm not being noble here, I'm just being honest.


Soo let's get to it! 


Transphobia v Transmisogyny + FAAB Privilege

Being female assigned at birth (FAAB) is basically when the doctor sees you at birth and says 'it's a girl!' Now in a misogynistic society, which so often conflates female assigned with female identified, that might not seem like much of an advantage in life, but hear me out, k? In a culture that presents masculinity as the neutral (as in androgyny=wearing men's clothes) and when the folk devil of 'transsexuality' is not a trans man, but a trans woman (hello horror movies! a thousand side eyes to you!) I can consistently not pass (as in wear men's clothes and not be read as a dude) in a transphobic society and not live in fear of my life. Know why? Cos so often when we say transphobia (the systematic hatred and discrimination against trans people) we actually mean transmisogyny (the systematic hatred and discrimination against trans women-specifically trans women of colour).



Stop trying to make transmisandry happen, it's not going to happen


Trans men and FAAB trans people can, and do, experience discrimination (though not in the same way as trans women) both as a result of transphobia and misdirected misogyny and homophobia (as in being read as a cis lesbian and being discriminated against accordingly). Butchphobia and the vilification of female masculinity can also be misdirected in the general direction of trans men (the confusing of butch women with trans men is so messed up tho-especially as hello trans women can be butch!). However, one thing trans guys don't have to worry about is transmisandry. Sure, everyone (regardless of gender) can be jerks sometimes. But, in a patriarchal society, there is no pre-existing structure of oppression set up to discriminate against men y'kno? o.O



You don't have to identify as a man to be a misogynistic jerk


I live...somewhere in the trans male side of town, I'm not being intentionally evasive here. It's just to quote Tavi: "I'm still figuring out". And that's okay! That's more than okay! Whilst I have struggled with dysphoria and my gender identity since I was a child I do not strongly identify as either male or female. And whilst no one should feel pressure to identify as one or the other, we can still accept accountability for our actions.


By that I mean even if you don't straight up see yourself as a trans man, if you are a female assigned trans person you can still perpetuate misogyny, against both cis women and trans women. This does not mean that you are a misogynist simply by virtue of being a FAAB trans person. Of course not! But I think the realisation that you have the power and potential to oppress others is the first step to deconstructing these very systems of oppression.



Just because you experience racism doesn't mean you can't perpetuate misogyny

I saw a really weird ranking thing which placed black trans guys as more privileged than white cis women. Now, these formulas obviously don't work. But I still think it's possible to think about the intersections of race and gender without erasing the struggles of trans men of colour. The expectations of African diasporic manhood is exhausting and when coupled with being read and, subsequently objectified as a woman of colour, it's easy when someone calls you out to be all 'shut up white girl you don't know me!' (Even if they're not actually white.) This is unproductive and hurtful. We need to focus on healing ourselves, reflecting on womanist teachings and centring the stories, the voices, of trans women of colour, so we can better understand the intersections of racism and misogyny in all of our lives. 

And not all trans people of colour experience racism in the same way

Whilst, I think person of colour is a useful and necessary term, sometimes it's necessary to be specific about why certain people are suffering more than others, are hated more than others. If we don't name the oppression how can we break it down? I feel like this is particularly important in the case of anti-blackness. Appropriating the suffering of black trans women under the guise that 'we are all trans people of colour' is ridiculously messed up. I mean seriously. Wtf people? 

Education and Structural White Privilege

I am from a working class background, I have learning difficulties, but I'm also a student at a ridiculously fancy pants university, and am also a graduate from an equally snooty art school. This gives me structural advantages in so many ways, because let's face it the British education system is built by and for privileged white people. It's important to realise when certain voices are favoured more than others because they are seen as more acceptable, 'more white'. And we need to avoid ridiculous convoluted queer theory in favour of real talk. 

I think of the words of Mykki Blanco who says: "I have a lot of problems with the academic queer community because it's a community that exists completely removed from reality....Those kids who are selling their bodies on the West Side Highway, on Christopher Street, they don't even know what the fuck queer theory is."

You don't have to look like a man to have male privilege

So I hardly ever pass. (And that makes me sad!) But it might surprise you that I still have male privilege. What? Why? How does that work?! Well your gender identity isn't magically activated the moment you start hormones, or start passing right? You are that person already, that gender already, you always were, it's just the rest of the world has some catching up to do, y'kno? Now that's cool in a 'we are the world' kinda way but for people on the trans male side of things this means we've been internalising the message that we are 'literally the best thing ever' since well, forever. And when misogyny gets directed at us our indignation is often more on the lines of one of those obnoxious male celebrities yelling 'don't you know who I am?!' at a bouncer when they're refused VIP treatment.


Trans men (and FAAB trans people) get more access to women's spaces than trans women and that literally makes no sense

Because I am often read as a cis girl I sometimes get invited into 'women only' spaces: to which my answer is a polite 'no thank you'. It just doesn't feel right to me. It saddens me that similar invitations are not offered to actual women. I have participated in female identified art projects in the past, at a time when I did wholly and sincerely identify as a girl (or at least thought I did? Gah! Identity y u so confusing?) But now I try and utilise my FAAB privilege to point cis girls in the direction of awesome trans women of colour instead. Similarly if I get an email from a cis feminist, who runs a women's publication, asking me to contribute a piece on 'trans people of colour' or something vague like that, I will use it as a platform for the voices of trans women of colour. Again not being noble here. It's just, um, there are more important stories to be told than 'I rewatched (500) days of summer the other day and it made me sad that I wasn't as cute as Joseph Gordon Levitt'.


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I hope this was helpful, I am still learning, still growing, but I will update this accordingly!

I hope you are well and happy,

Love Bethany

XOX

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Trans Rights Are The New Civil Rights. Wait What?

Sooo.  Ahem. *Clears throat* There is something I want to talk about. 

I mean...if that is okay with you? 

'The Trans Rights Are the New Civil Rights' narrative. 

It's just. 

I dunno. 

It makes me sort of uncomfortable

I was reminded of the narrative by this recent Policy Mic piece only last week. But this is not a 'new' story. It exists in various incarnations, and in various pockets, of LGBT and queer communities in the so-called 'Western' world. 

For instance, it has been a continuous thread in the push towards gay marriage, as explained by Alok Vaid-Menon in this piece for the Daily Dot.

"[Perez] Hilton’s appropriation of language from black women is symptomatic of a larger cultural theft: the gay movement’s hijacking of the black liberation struggle. In 2008, an Advocate cover asked, “Gay Is the New Black?” That headline is a perfect distillation of the recent trend of activists calling the gay struggle the new civil rights movement, as if the “old” civil rights movement were over. Take, for example, Attorney General Eric Holder’s frequent remarks that the fight for marriage equality is a continuation of the civil rights movement: “Just like during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation's struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher.” In Arizona, publications like Gawker and the Seattle Times were quick to equate the state’s discriminatory legislation to Jim Crow."

The trans struggle is of course distinct from the cis (non-trans) gay rights movement. And the situation for trans people in so many cases is so urgent, so dire, that to bicker over rhetoric might seem silly. 

But there is a difference between fighting for trans people's civil rights, between seeing it as a civil rights campaign, and conflating it with the civil rights movement. By that I mean the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960s. The fact that the most vulnerable individuals in the trans community are trans women of colour reminds us, not only that race and transmisogyny are not separate, isolated, systems of oppression, but that racism, particularly anti-black racism, is so far from over that to speak of a 'new' civil rights movement is comical at best. 

Furthermore, to speak of trans rights as the 'new' civil rights, forgets that the foundations of the LGBT community, of trans rights, has been built on the backs of trans women of colour. Black and latina women who were fighting for the safety of their sisters in the 60s. I think of Miss Major, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P Johnson. To declare this a 'new' movement is to forget them, and to whitewash trans history under the appropriated rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr et al.

I am trans. I am a person of colour. These parts of my identity are not separate, they live in conversation with one another, a conversation that has been living, thriving, long before I was born. 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

THOUGHTS ON ANDROGYNY

Androgyny is a funny thing. In theory it seems pretty rad, in the same way white people writing impenetrable critiques on working class trans women of colour is marked as progressive-I see you Judith Butler! Yet, with each passing year I find myself, as a trans person of colour, growing increasingly cautious of the external markers of gender presentation, cultivated for and by cis people, and consequently used to either confirm or deny trans people’s existence. In this sense masculinity and femininity live as unwanted houseguests in my wardrobe, unpleasant, irritating creatures, who I am forced to make small talk with on a daily basis.


Androgyny exists as a close relative to passing, the idea that to exist as you are is to eradicate all that you are. Assigned sex characteristics are an obscenity, body hair does not exist in male assigned androgyny, nor hips, breasts in the female assigned model. Androgyny makes me dysphoric and that’s no fun. Masculinity scares me (I’m a survivor of child abuse). And I choose Kim Kardashion over Tilda Swinton any day. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu over Casey Legler.

You see, existing as a trans person, in a world which 1. Thinks trans people suck and 2. Has its own secret made up language about what men and women ‘should’ dress like is pretty fucking complicated. In getting dressed I try to blank out all the noise, wear things that will not give me a panic attack. Skater skirts? Wayyy better at hiding hips than preppy chinos. And boxy dresses provide a far more boyish silhouette than a three piece suit. Because if you are 5’3 and the first response when people meet you is more “you’re so cute!” than “are you a male model?” compromises have to be made.

No matter how much weight I lose, how much hair I cut, or how much money I throw, I will never look like Elliott Sailors or Erika Linder. And that’s okay. But as trans people if we are ever to find atonement in ourselves, it is necessary to go beyond cis-centric ideals of masculine and feminine bodies, and find a new language so we may express our own identities on our terms.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Ghost Photographs


tw: child abuse, rape


"Like if you grew up in our neighbourhood the idea was you weren’t supposed to show any vulnerability, the one place that you were permitted to show vulnerability was in a women’s bed. Which, you know, lead to all sorts of behavior, The other thing was that a lot of the guys I grew up with,there had been a lot of sexual abuse, there had been a lot of incest, I mean, you know, a lot of the guys had gotten raped, usually by family members and a lot of the, kind of, compulsive fucking around, I think, was powered in part, not only by masculine privilege in a culture that doesn’t punish guys if they fuck around, but was also powered by these, kind of deep traumas. I mean one of the reactions of being raped or being, you know, sexually assaulted is hyper sexualization. And you think about the way masculine culture works that encourages hyper sexualization, it’s no accident that a lot of guys who had been sexually attacked, who had been raped, you know, who are incest survivors would, sort of, deploy that as a way of compensating, as a way of dealing, as a way of, sort of, trying to contain the pain. So, I guess, for me that also was one of the big things, you know. A lot of the cheating that went on in my friends groups, we victimized so many people because of it, you know, and I think that simultaneous to any traumas that we experienced the truth is we also victimized a ton of people. You know? You have got to be able to hold both simultaneous, you can’t be like, “Oh boo-hoo-hoo me.” Because you know it sucks, but a lot of us who had been victimized spread that misery out really far man. So, you know, it’s funny because I have written three books and in each book Yunior comes to revealing that he was raped but never comes out and says it. And it’s, sort of, like the way boys, the difficulty boys have in integrating that into their identity, especially a guy like Yunior who doesn’t want to abandon, sort of, this kind of classic masculinity that has given him so much privilege. You know? You come close and close but you don’t… I am thinking maybe by the next book I will be able to have him deal with it."
-Junot Diaz, Facing Race 2012 



Ghost photos by Angela Deane

THOUGHTS ON PASSING

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Passing as cis is very easy as it requires cis people to confirm my invisibility. They are very good at doing this already so it works out nicely for both of us. When I say passing I mean being read (intentionally or unintentionally) as one’s assigned sex. That is passing. You cannot ‘pass’ as your chosen gender: that is called being.

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Passing as white is neither easy, nor hard, it just happens sometimes. I don’t have to do anything to get read as white or called a coon. (Ah happy childhood memories.) I just have to stand around and see what happens. I used to straighten my hair for forty-five minutes each morning so my PE teacher could identify me from the one other ‘ethnic’ girl. That is real passing I suppose. Nella Larsen passing. Imitation of Life passing. I don’t do that no more but a girl on a bus stop said I was a total Zooey yesterday, so I’m pretty sure white-looking and white-passing is still in the same ball park or whatever.

Even if I am not always read as white, per se, I’m generally tolerated, allowed to eat at their table, laugh at their jokes, wear their peter pan collars. And if I dressed as Suzy Bishop at a white girl party I don’t think they’d see it as straight up sacrilege. A dog attempting to walk on its hind legs perhaps. Funny. Creepy. Stupid. But not a real actual threat. This is what Dorrinne Kondo talks about in her book ‘About Face: Performing Race in Fashion and Theatre’: Not white? Not quite. My high yellowness is a nasty kind of mutilated whiteness. And my foundation’s name is warm ivory but perhaps rotten milk would be more appropriate.

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Passing as an able bodied person is super easy. I just have to avoid backless dresses and insist the reason I’m shaking so violently is because I’m cold. Even if it’s July. Especially if it’s July.

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Passing as a neuro-typical person is super hard. I have stopped making animal noises in public (a sad loss for the Piccadilly line) but I am meant to stop dressing “like a retard”.  I am not sure how to do this. And I don’t want to stop wearing bright colours that comfort me, stimulate me, textures that calm me, shapes that hold me, but do not choke me. Wearing these clothes is like being a tortoise, I can carry my home on my back.

But oh, I suppose I really ought to stop, Hadley Freeman said that women who wear animal hats are, who dress childish, are bad women, embarrassments, backwards creatures that need to grow up. So perhaps that would ruin my cis-passing act. Or is that reason enough to continue?


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