Friday, December 19, 2014

A New Sensibea*lity, Pt. III

Finally, on healing.

In the wake of now many injustices in such a short time, fury rightfully inhabits many people.  The misplaced, racist bullets of more than a few stupid cops have rent families, friends, and lovers into incoherent parts.

It is a fury I know to a lesser extent, but nonetheless well: when I went to the Passport Office this summer or my University Registrar this fall and was forced to answer personal questions about my body and identity that were not other people's business, but because they had power over me I answered them anyway, despite the humiliation; when I touched back down in Chicago from Berlin on September 16th, and only a few hours later, endured in silence the prolonged and hateful comments of a woman who probably did not realize how much we had in common; or even just a month ago, now, when I stepped outside a cafe to take a phone call, and a woman walking by saw the person who was standing there and heard the person's voice, and her observations of these two things did not presumably coincide, and so she looked back at me three, four more times, to check. Am I really that nonexistent, I have to wonder, that I must so constantly explain myself or be punished for being unexplainable?

This fury runs deep.  It is the sense that everyone around you is walking blind to the wounds hanging open and bleeding from your dissimilar flesh.  How are minorities to be expected to live contentedly like this, in danger?

Maybe living contentedly for anyone who is not a straight, white, cisgender, able-bodied, middle-class-and-up male means letting go of expecting equality in the present.  As hard and as backwards as it is, maybe it means we accept the present as wrong but real, and take the extra, unfair precautions we have to take in order to keep ourselves safe, and we hope and strive for a better-looking future without hating the world and ourselves that we haven't yet gotten there.  Maybe it's balancing rage and patience and action and happiness, and fighting for what should be ours but remembering to come home, and to hug the people around us who fight too, and who also know that the fight is hard.

The rage is real and we need to let ourselves mourn.  But I for one don't like to envision a lifetime spent only ever furious and grieving.  I'm a still a human being, and even when I've been fighting the good fight and making some strides I still get overwhelmed, and need to cry, and collapse, and rest up, before I go at it once more.

So for the love of humanity let's scream in the streets and organize for the fallen and call government officials and write petitions and have conversations with the people who don't get it yet.  And when we're done for the day let's take care, of each other and of ourselves, please, in the name of healing and for the love of humanity.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A New Sensibea*lity, Pt. II

The protest at City Hall went well.  Around 150 people showed up, several news crews covered the event, and Black Youth Project 100, the organization that brilliantly staged the teach-in, led us in workshops of political discussions and healing.

I almost didn’t go down to the protest, because I knew police would be there, and as a trans person, the thought of getting arrested is especially scary because I wouldn’t really want to go to either prison, but especially not the one they’d probably put me in.

However, I also knew that this was one of those historical moments, the kind of things you read about in social science class in sixth grade and wonder how people were brave enough to stand up to these huge institutions, even in the name of justice.  I didn’t want to be a bystander.  I wanted to be on the right side of history.  Plus, it’s not like black folk get to choose when and when not they’re going to be unfairly attacked by the police, so who am I to choose when and when not to go to a protest?

But this post isn’t about what I, a white person, have done to fight the criminalization of blacks (answer: little).  This post isn’t about a benevolent martyr stooping down from her privileged position to lend a gentle hand to the dying masses.  BYP100 deserves the attention and credit in that respect.

In fact, despite having clear ideas about how to personally combat the pathologization of trans folk like myself—come out, educate, tell stories, keep a blog, “the personal is political”—as soon as we start talking about a different minority group, my mind goes blank. Outside of participating in others’ events, I’m often at a loss.  After all, how do I genuinely help a cause like the decriminalization of black folk when others might perceive my helping it as privileged (which it is and always will be) and thus problematic (which I’d like to think it doesn’t have to be)? Because I can and should go to protests, right, my physical, white body a present and breathing ally to the cause, but when I raise my hands and shout “DON’T SHOOT!,” as I briefly and unthinkingly did at the protest, I presume an identity I do not share.  So how do I stand in solidarity without overstepping my bounds?

And now I start to think: Hey, is this why stuff has been so slow going for the trans community?  Do people not know how to stand with us?  It is obvious that many do not want to, because doing so would serve as an admission that their antiquated gender schema is overdue for a makeover.  So maybe that’s it, I think: that uncomfortable feeling of Wow, I have it so much better than all of you that really sucks to think about, because acknowledging that privilege means acknowledging all this time I’ve spent doing nothing about it, selfishly, and I don’t want to be selfish.

Which is why I’ve begun to realize that maybe we can use the same small, interpersonal ways that we slowly change a culture over time to recognize trans folk as viable and worthy of love to also change a culture with respect to people of color, particularly black folk.  Maybe it’s a matter of listening first, of trusting black people to tell their own stories instead of speaking for them, because as we've seen time and again when cis people try to speak for trans people, most of the time we just end up moving backwards.  Maybe it’s a matter of smiling more, of not crossing the street when a black person approaches, of creating a space in which so many black people did not have to turn to criminal activity as the unique livelihood by which they could live, in which the aspirations they have for themselves could be the same aspirations as those that white people have, in which fear and wrongdoing were not things that they learned from the looks that we gave them, but rather things they experienced with the same frequency as the rest of us; in which kindness; in which respect; in which love.

If that’s still too general for you, try here.  Remember: inaction in the face of violence and oppression, regardless of its target, is consent to that same violence and that same oppression.  I am not pleased with the job that I have done thus far, and I pledge to do better, and hope that all of you do too.  The big-scale political stuff takes time to change, but we can change our attitudes and actions today.

So let’s begin.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A New Sensibea*lity, Pt. I

Once, in high school, I was hanging out with two poet friends of mine I had only recently made, both of whom are black.  We were eating at a Panera Bread in downtown Chicago, when right outside the window, a police vehicle pulled over an SUV.  All the police officers were white, whereas the driver of the SUV and all the passengers were black.  The officers made all of the civilians sit down on the curb as they combed the car for at least ten, fifteen minutes.  Although we could not hear them from our vantage point, nor could we presume the initial reason for pulling this particular car over (a glimpse of the color of the driver, perhaps?), the police certainly appeared to use an unnecessary amount of effort to get to the bottom of something that was quite possibly founded entirely on conjecture and prejudice.

One of my friends began to record the incident on his phone, prompting one of the police officerswho was not only white, but also a manto enter the establishment and demand that he erase the video.  My friend refused, and my other friend joined in the argument, which escalated quickly, as things often do when white cops get mad at black people.  It's been a few years now since this occurrence, so I don't remember everything too clearly at this point, but I do seem to recall the police officer trying to take my friend's phone and another officer coming into the Panera to back up the first guy.  I don't remember how the issue resolved itself in the end but it eventually did, probably with my friend deleting the file from his device, or at least pretending to do.  I also remember my friends stopping a black cop on the street a few minutes later to ask if it was, in fact, illegal to record police business, thinking the answer might be different coming from him instead.  At the time, it was illegal to do so, but that law has since been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Throughout the whole, suddenly intense episode, I sat quietly.  I kept to myself.  I didn't really know why my friends were so upset over some SUV but from their fervor I believed that they were in the right and I supported thembut only so far, of course, that it didn't put me at risk.  When the cop was on our side of the glass, I shut up.

Last week, during the Chicago protests against the dehumanizing decision reached in Ferguson regarding the murderer of Michael Brown, my same friend, Malcolm London, was roughly detained by Chicago Police while he was simply jogging across a street.  I should mention that Malcolm has enjoyed widespread success on account of his socially conscious poetry in the years since I've known him: he's performed internationally and has even done his own TED Talk.  But when his dark skin streaked across a street at night, the police were blind to any of his accomplishments, to any of the wonderful and mundane things that make him a charismatic, passionate, flawed human being.  Instead, they threw him against a car, they twisted his arms painfully behind his back, they went through his things, they took a photo of his identification, they laughed at his carefully articulated evocations of his rights, and they told him they did not care about black lives.

Politically speaking, as a white person, I benefit from the subjugation of people of color.  This is what privilege is. Privilege is having grown up feeling comforted by the presence of law enforcement, is people telling me that I am worthy and should follow my dreams, is getting a job, is going to college, is coming from a family that loves me.  Although I suffered a significant drop in privilege with the advent of my transgender identity, my whiteness nevertheless renders me safer and more capable in many arenas in my life than a person of color would be, especially a transgender person of color.

However, having seen the utter disregard for the transgender community on behalf of nearly everyone else, even (particularly?) the same gay community that shares our acronym, and having felt that deep rage when other human beings have refused to recognize me or my community as human beings, only aberrations, I could not in good conscience sit idly while a minority group—even if it is not my own—endured an atrocity of a “trial” that emblematized the systematic oppressions they face every day.

Therefore, following both the grave injustice wrought in Ferguson as well as the one that slammed my friend hard into a police car, I felt a determination to act, to not only advocate with my blog, but also with my body.  I did not want to be left behind as a bystander once more, which is why when I saw Malcolm's tweet about a protest the following morning, I decided to go to City Hall.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Bea*flection, or: That I Keep

Although I find the origins of this holiday as utterly disgusting as the next girl (colonization, genocide, lest we forget, against the many and diverse tribes of what we grouped together under the generalizing and problematic term “Native Americans”), I nevertheless find the annual opportunity to step back and recognize the good to be a good and healing one.

For me, and I suspect for many of you, the daily doldrums (the stresses, repetitions, world-shattering problems we forget about once they’ve passed) too often enrapture me in their seductive embrace, such that anything outside of this moment, hour, day, even week or month, maybe even year but definitely not beyond—anything bigger, anything more important—flies skyward into the unseen ether, becoming invisible.

And lately, the big things I have actually remembered haven’t been good ones: following first the Trans Day of Remembrance and then the Ferguson decision (more on that soon), there has been this overwhelming sense of the vast majority (or at least those in power) not caring remotely about the rest of us, minorities, those of us closer to the ground.  Which terrifies me and saps the fight right out of me: I could write the best blog ever, I could perform poetry in the most prestigious of competitions, I could produce my plays and thus change people’s lives, but what would it matter?  If even after all of that I go walking down the street one night and pass someone who instead of what makes me sees something less than human, and kills it, what good have I done?  Which I guess is a call to do as much as I can while I am here, to leave behind the best legacy possible, but it isn’t a thought that gives me much hope.

Which is how last night, en route to a gathering of old friends, I began making a list as I drove: Things They Can’t Take Away From Me.  It is not a long list, but a good one.  It goes like this.
  1. Relationships.  Fortunately for me, embodying my transgender identity did not necessitate a forgoing of my blood family, when for many transgender people it does. But I have other families too: my friends, my transgender and queer siblings, my lovers (past and future).
  2. Knowledge.  As I have written about before, whenever it is not possible to disclose a queer and/or trans identity to someone—usually for safety’s sake—it is frequently a demeaning experience: denying an integral part of ourselves that has already taken a long enough time to materialize in our thoughts and in our bodies.  However, the most important person who can know already does, that person being each of us in such situations.  So despite the erasures and impossibilities, we are still here, and we know who we are, and there is a dignity in that.
  3. Dignity.  Look at a transwoman of color—easily one of the hardest lives to lead on this planet—who makes her living in sex work, as many must, and do you not see her dignity?  Do you not see that regardless of the hardships her identity has brought upon her, she knows who she is and has made that knowing real?
The list stopped there but I hope to add more soon. It’s nice to remember the good stuff for a change.

I got to my friend’s house, feeling a little more hopeful but still pretty down. And as the night wore on, with memories of things that have already grown distant and laughter at what has not changed and conversation over what has, it made all the doldrummy shit seem so stupid and small, and I was glad to be there, and happy, with friends, and thankful for what I still had.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

If the best defense against atrocity is memorbea*, how can I forget? [TRIGGER WARNING]

Today is Thursday, November 20th, 2014.

Ukrainians might remember today as the anniversary of becoming a republic in 1917, whereas their neighbors might remember it for the death of famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy in 1910. The Vietnamese might remember it as an annual opportunity to honor their teachers; cinephiles for Estelle Parsons, who was born eighty-seven years ago today; Bill Gates for releasing Microsoft Windows 1.0 in 1985, revolutionizing the coming world.  Many of you might remember it as the day you realize you should probably go shopping for Thanksgiving dinner.  I do not remember today for any of these reasons (although they sure seem like good ones).  No, I remember today as a day to remember, as the day to remember, to commemorate, to release into the everlasting ether, to remind myself of my own resilience. I remember today as the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

* * *

Rita Hester

Gwendolyn Ann Smith, activist, started TDoR in 1999, one year after the brutal murder of fellow transwoman Rita Hester on November 28th, 1998 in Allston, MA (just 47 days after the death of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man whose murder became an international headline and unstoppable engine for the gay rights movement).  Around 250 people attended her candlelight vigil and march that December 4th, and the following year's vigil held in San Francisco is considered to be the first annual TDoR.  Now, the day has grown to international recognition.  As of 2010, it was observed in more than 185 cities in over 20 countries.

Rita Hester's killer(s), like many of those who have murdered transgender people, has (have) not been found.  Police found her body in her apartment on November 28th, where she had been stabbed more than 20 times in her chest.  There was neither any sign of breaking in nor of theft, which lead many to the conclusion that it was, in fact, a hate crime, although this cannot be conclusively known.  According to her sister, Diana Hester, two men—one of whom Rita knew—followed her home from a bar that night.  Some speculate that perhaps one (or more) of her clients killed her, for she worked, as many transwomen must, as a sex worker, but no evidence supporting this claim has been made public.

One article describes Rita as “a popular, outgoing transwoman with ties to Boston’s transgender and rock-n-roll communities.” An acquaintance of hers, Charito Suarez, who knew her from several trans-friendly bars in Boston, said, “She was a very smart, bright young lady, and she was a shining star... Whenever she arrived at Jacques her presence would be noticed by anyone.  She was so elegant...and as beautiful as she was, she would not try to make anyone else look less.” Suarez went on to serve as the emcee for the Boston TDoR several years later, explaining, “It was personal.  I’m not talking just about another transgender person. I’m talking about a person I actually knew.  I knew her character and I knew her heart.  I’m doing it for her.  We must speak for her.”

* * *

A spreadsheet on the official TDoR website compiles a comprehensive list of all known people who have died on account of anti-transgender violence from March 7, 1970 to November 17, 2012.  The list does not include those who died on account of suicide or domestic violence.

Scroll through, and you soon discover a catalog of hatred: “shot,” “strangled,” “beaten,” “slashed,” “stabbed,” “raped,” “mutilated,” “machete wounds,” “decapitated,” “stoned,” “burned,” “tortured,” “thrown off roof,” “thrown out of moving vehicle,” “thrown in a ditch,” “thrown in a dumpster,” “dragged two blocks by a car.”

Some were murdered by strangers, others by their families, others by their partners.

There are seven hundred and seventeen people listed, and not all with names.

* * *

At the federal level, in October 2009, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (also known as the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act) added provisions for protection on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability, although many states still lack such provisions in their own right.  If you are a victim of a hate crime, you have the right to directly contact the FBI to take advantage of the federal law, but, as you might imagine, the process would probably go quicker if you could just call your local police instead—only, however, if the basis of the hate crime (gender identity, for example) is covered by state law. Thankfully, gender identity is covered in Illinois, even if problematically as a subset of sexual orientation.

Of course, even if every state did have hate crimes legislation that protected people on the basis of gender identity, it would not protect them from the hate crimes themselves.  TDoR thus becomes an exercise in much needed visibility, in reminding us of those we have all lost in order to better protect those who are still with us.

* * *

Until embarking on this blog post, I had never heard of Rita Hester.  I could not have told you who she was, what she was like, or why she was important.  The systematic silencing of transgender experiences is most violently manifested in transwomen of color, who face disproportionate percentages of violence in comparison to the rest of the LGBTQ community. One study found that in 2012, of the 25 LGBTQ people murdered in the United States, 73% were people of color, and 53% were transwomen.

Given the chronological proximity of Rita Hester's murder to Matthew Shepard's, and the enormous gap in the respective amounts of media attention afforded to each, it is painfully evident that this country, this world, more fervently values white people over black people, men over women, cisgender people over transgender people.  I in no way wish to belittle either what happened to Matthew or the amazing gay rights advances that followed in the aftermath of his murder, but I do wish to highlight the utter silence that hung around Rita in comparison and the comparative lack of trans rights advances.

As a translady myself, it is difficult to review so many statistics stacked against me.  Even now, as I write this blogpost from my best friend's couch, I look more butch than I would prefer, for safety: before leaving for his apartment on my bike, I first removed my bra and earrings, because I didn't want to travel at night too femmed up, for fear of misogyny, or worse (in my opinion, having encountered both), transphobia.  Both are awful, and more so at night, and so I have to balance my personal identity against practical measures of physical safety.  I fully recognize that other people—people of color or trans people who have physically transitioned to any extent, for instance—cannot so easily shed their minority as I can and sometimes do, but it can be an infuriating and demeaning ability to possess.  Just yesterday, even, at the gym, I went swimming, and had to use the men's locker room because they don't make spaces for my kinds of people, and so we have to subject ourselves to emotional violation if we just want to jump in a pool.

I am sick of constantly keeping an eye and ear out for potential harassers.  I am sick of fingering the pepper spray in my pocket when I am sitting on the train alone.  I am sick of the target on the back of my transgender head.  I am sick of inheriting trauma. I am sick of wondering when someone will finally strike.

* * *

So on this Transgender Day of Remembrance, on this November 20th that many of you out there might know as other, more relevant days to the lives that you lead, I am pleading, urging, demanding all of us to remember those who have died, and to hold ourselves personally accountable for not letting it happen anymore. Because although they may be a small percentage of the entire, increasingly visible population, their deaths are the terrible materializations of a culture that is pitted against us. Every boy and man who we tease for expressions of femininity, regardless of his sexuality, every girl and woman who we ridicule for being too tough, regardless of her sexuality, every time we assume another person’s pronouns without asking them (her? him? hir?) first—these are acts of violence, these are reminders that people like me do not exist, these are permissions to murder us.

The spreadsheet will just keep getting longer and more graphic unless we do something about it. Change has happened to some extent on the legislative level, but that’s not good enough. We have to change ourselves, we have to create the culture that we want to live in, that we can live in, if were going to live without a constancy of fear. And it isnt up to the trans community alone. We cannot bear the burden of others ignorance and still live healthy and live safe. It is up to all of us, to the human community, to protect, support, and love ourselves, the human community.

By next year I want to abolish the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and I want a Transgender Day of Resilience in its place.

* * *

Sunday, November 16, 2014

That I Would Not Wish To Bea* Cis

that I would not wish to be cis
that I would not wish to fit in every job application or bathroom
that I would not like to be normal

that I would not like to walk down the street
and never be looked at twice
never the object of attention
be its cause curiosity
or hate
never feel completely safe

that I would not choose to be masculine
and manly
and butch
if I could
nor have breasts
and a vagina beneath
and thus match that
which I feel in a
way that would
make them happy
that I would not choose
if I could
to be happy

that despite the increased chances of a forthcoming gravestone
be it either by suicide or murder
but regardless too young

and despite the unlikelihood of climbing Mount Roraima
or bathing in the Nile
or marrying
or just going on a date

that I would never wish to be cis
that I would not wish to pack up my pearls
and suffocate inside of a windsor
that I will always choose trans

that I will ever always wish to understand life
from a position of less than
that I will ever want to watch the news and just
know why its injustices are unjust

that I will always fight upwards
that I will always work hard
that I will always forge families in unlikely living rooms
that I will always live true
that I will always be made strong by necessity
that I will always mend upon breaking
and that my porcelain cracks will always be
that which makes me beautiful
that I will know and feel this deeply
and forever

that I will

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bea*side Myself

Well, the assholes are at it again.

The following is a close-to-direct transcript of a conversation I just had with a white man in his forties on a dating app.  It is not a direct transcript because I blocked him at the conclusion of our talk, which thereby erased the conversation.  I will try to be as faithful as possible to what was said on both sides.

Again, as before, I will use A for Asshole and B for Bea.

A: You chopped off your dick so you could become a 50s housewife?

B: 1. That isn't how actually a vaginoplasty works, it's more of an inversion of the penis.

B: 2. You're assuming that I've had one.  Maybe I have, but it really isn't your business in the first place.

B: 3. I actually call it more of a 60s aesthetic.

B: 4. Last time I checked, my existence wasn't hurting you in any way, so maybe keep the hateful comments to yourself next time.

A: You're right, your existence doesn't hurt me at all, but it's killing your mother!!!

B: Funny, she just dropped me off and we had a lovely time.

A: She's crying inside.

B: Honey, my self worth is so much bigger than you right now. But since you apparently haven't learned how to appreciate human beings, I'm gonna go ahead and block you.

A: I always block your sick kind.

B: Well since you're seeking out "my sick kind," I hope you can do some self work and figure out what it is that compels you to behave in this way.

B: I'm gonna go keep my living my fulfilling life surrounded by people who love me.

B: Have a great day, it's really beautiful outside.

B: Bye.

It just boggles me that people go out of their way to be so hateful. What is going on in these people's personal lives that they need to lash out against other people minding their own business?  I don't know.

I vented about the encounter to a close friend, who reminded me that I never have to engage with these bigots.  I told him I knew, but that as long as I don't stoop to their level, hopefully it could be an actual learning experience for them.  Given their current levels of ignorance, it seems unlikely, but it's a nice thought, at least.

Oh, well.  This man ain't getting me down today!  Got too much goodness for that man to squander with his little bit of bad. Moving on and up!