Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tell the IAAF to stay out of Caster's pants!

From the great world of Twitter and the amazing minds and hearts of the National Sexuality Resource Center comes this wonderful and timely petition asking the International Association of Athletic Federations to stop their invasive and ultimately meaningless testing of Caster Semenya's identity.

Dear Friend,

Have you heard the news about Caster Semenya, the champion South African runner?

She’s got the world’s attention, but it’s not about her athletic ability – it’s about who she is, and who gets to decide her gender.

XX – why?! Why does Caster have to endure invasive tests just because she looks different? Why does the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) get to decide who she is?

I’m outraged. Are you? Then tell the IAAF to stay out of Caster Semenya’s pants:

Sign the National Sexuality Resource Center's XX-Why? petition now.

Now, if you want some uplifting news about Caster - South Africa's President Zuma has reminded her to "walk tall" in this Sports Illustrated news story (of all the places...).

Briefly - and this should be given the space it deserves - as much as this uproar over her identity is clearly misogynistic and transphoic, I have yet to see someone point out the inherent racism in the charge. Black women are at a particularly difficult spectrum of femininity where racialized gender policing informs that too feminine gives in to the stereotype of the Jezebel/Welfare Queen/Tragic Mullatta and too little femininity brings us to the point of not recognizing multiple identities and beginning to believe Moynihan Report fantasies about masculine Black women taking over the world.

There is an inherent fear in not being able to correctly gender a stranger, and there is an even larger fear in being a white person who can not correctly gender a Black woman.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Latex Ball TONIGHT in NYC

Just came back from an amazing time at the Audre Lorde Project's annual picnic! I didn't remember to post about the picnic but if you check this in time you can still attend the Latex Ball tonight!

239 WEST 52nd STREET

The Latex Ball is held by GMHC and co-sponsored by many many organizations - most of whom focus on issues prevalent in communities of color and LGBTQ youth such as the Ali Forney Center, Audre Lorde Project, APICHA, and many other New York City queer organizations. The Latex Ball is also presented by Ballroom CARES!, a partnership between the House and Ball Communities and service providers. It's a wonderful partnership that has as little judgement as is possible and promotes health and well-being. Ballroom CARES! program provides leadership trainings, empowerment workshops, and community events and activities, to support community networking, community mobilization, and to promote a healthy community.

I can say from my interactions trying to provide healthier and safer spaces to LGBTQ youth that having a sense of community drastically affects your sense of self and your ability to participate in a community. If you know that a core group of people who represent your values and experiences are caring about your health then you're going to be less likely to see incredibly risky behavior as worthwhile. Which is why Ballroom and House Communities have lasted so long - since at least the 1920s if not before! They give folks who have been kicked out of their homes, been kicked out of emplyment spaces, welfare offices, public parks, families, etc a space where they can be in all their fabulosity, tears, and strength. If you want to get involved you should email Luna Legacy at lunao at gmhc.org or Dominique Prodigy at dominiquec at gmhc.org

Submit! Gender Outlaw 2

Gender Outlaw 2: Call for Submissions

Call For Submissions

Kate Bornstein & S Bear Bergman, eds

Deadline: 1 September 2009

In the fifteen years since the release of Gender Outlaw, transgender narratives have made their way into cultural locations from the margins to the mainstream and back again. Today’s trannies and other sex/gender radicals are writing a radically new world into being. GENDER OUTLAWS: THE NEXT GENERATION (Seal Press) will collect and contextualize the work of this generation’s most forward-thinking trans/genderqueer voices—new voices from the stage, on the streets, in the workplace, in the bedroom, and on the pages and websites of the world’s most respected mainstream news sources. Edited by that ol’ original Gender Outlaw herself, Kate Bornstein and writer, raconteur, and theater artist S. Bear Bergman, GENDER OUTLAWS: THE NEXT GENERATION will include essays, commentary, comic art and conversation from a diverse a group of trans-spectrum people who live and believe in barrier-breaking lives.

*What we’re looking for*

GENDER OUTLAWS: THE NEXT GENERATION wants to collect work that represents a quantum leap forward in thinking and talking about gender and the gender binary, in the same way Gender Outlaw did almost twenty years ago. So blow us away. Bring the smart, bring the sexy, blind us with science, break the gender barrier, shine a bright light (or a disco ball) on the whole gender situation. Tell us about your future, what you imagine, how you want things to go and what you (and your friends) intend to do about it. Think big.

We’ll look at whatever you have for us – essays, graphic art, interviews/conversations, haiku, rants – as long as you’re thinking smart and fresh about sex and gender (and being an outlaw, of course). We will feel especially keen about your work if it adds to or advances the conversation about gender (as distinct from simply reflecting it, or lamenting it).

People of any identity are encouraged to submit work. This means you – yes, you!

We intend to privilege non-normatively gendered/sexed voices in the book but will include all the good stuff we can, regardless of current identifiers of the author.

*The Details*

Deadline: Sept 1 (early submissions are encouraged). Submissions should be unpublished; query if you have a reprint that you think we’ll swoon for. While we hesitate to list a maximum, please query first for pieces over 4,000 words. If you have an idea and need help writing it out, contact us to discuss an interview-style piece or other accommodations.

Submit as a Word document or black/white JPEG (no files over 2MB). Please include a cover letter with a brief bio and full contact information (mailing address, phone number, pseudonym if appropriate) when you submit. Submissions without complete contact information will be deleted unread. Payment will be $50 and 2 copies of the book upon publication in Fall 2010. Contributors retain the rights to their pieces. Send your submission as an attachment to genderoutlawsnextgeneration@gmail.com.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Helen Boyd: gender and love

A few nights ago Helen Boyd, author of She's Not the Man I Married, and My Husband Betty as well as author of the blog (en)gender, spoke at the 5th installment of "Transgender Voices & Visibility" at the Long Island GLBT Community Center. Back when i was working there as the Transgender Services Coordinator I created this symposium as a way to spotlight the voices and experiences of transgender people...and those who fall under our ever-expanding umbrella! [photo: Helen Boyd and myself at the LI GLBT Center. We are standing against a yellow wall, Helen is on the left in a black tank leaning against a green chair. I am on her right smiling goofily and wearing a green V-neck.]

Helen Boyd has long held a wonderful fascination for me as she embodies a somewhat elusive combination of literary accessibility and academic rigor. Her talk embodied several intense concepts focusing on love and gender which are generally glossed-over in the more published realm of trans studies. Yes we discuss family acceptance, how gender is separate from sexuality, and how gender fluidity can change our experiences of sex...but professional trans scholars/writers/organizers rarely talk about intimate relationships with any sense of seriousness. Perhaps this comes from an internalized idea that we are naturally unlovable, or perhaps this comes from US culture teaching us that relationships are of no real value compared to our ability to produce results as workers (I want to write more about this soon...). [photo: Helen speaking before an audience at the LI GLBT Center. It is a small room with yellow walls and the beginning of rainbow panels across the back wall. About 8 backs of various listeners are visible and Helen can be seen in the background, sitting in a green armchair and speaking.]

However, I hear relationships discussed as the second most common topic in transgender discussion groups. After hormones and surgeries we tend to bemoan the often abusive relationships we are in and ask if we can be truly loved by people outside the queer communities - and often by people inside the LGBTQ communities too! Helen and Betty's story answers these questions beautifully, and Helen has proven herself more than willing to share her own path and her further evaluation of this path with others.

At several points in her recent talk she asked for audience participation in order to discuss our own interactions with gender and love. A particularly interesting conversation was had about couples who experience a shift in gender roles. Helen discussed how early on her wife Betty desired to fully live her femininity by participating only in traditionally "female" household chores, to which Helen responded "just because you're now a woman doesn't make me a man!". Which I think is a wonderful summation of the pressure spouses feel when one part of the couple shifts in their gender identity and gendered expression. My partner and I have often discussed this as well, particularly my fascination with carrying out masculine tasks despite my smaller size and lack of muscles in comparison to her.

Because I am worried about my genderqueer presentation I often seek masculine tasks that affirm my male sex. I often carry too many groceries causing my fast-walking girlfriend to stop and wait for me as I shift bags on our walk home, I often feel very upset at my lack of handle on money issues and household affairs, and I pride myself on remembering "gentlemanly" actions. All of this, to a certain extent, irritates my partner who thinks it would be perfectly fine for us to carry groceries equal to our abilities and for us to carry out household chores equal to our abilities. And she's right. That would be just, sensible, and economical. But I can't let go of these sexed activities as seemingly easily as she does, and neither could Helen or Betty. There has to be a whole discussion: "just because I'm mowing the lawn does not negate my identity as female" or "I enjoy cooking your favorite meals and am happy to do so, none of which negates my masculine gender identity."

These troublesome discussions about coupledom and domesticity bring us full-circle back to feminism and the negation of our multiple backgrounds. After all, not all of us come from a two-parent heterosexual white middle-class family in suburbia...but our schooling, advertisers, and national news media sure want us to think that we do! So that anything that falls away from that created "normativity" brings about intense feelings of shame and self doubt. So, as always, we need to return to our roots and our communities who have been struggling with these issues for generations and learn from our Elders and next-door neighbors. We need to realize that gender non-conformity within couples is all around us and we need to open the discussion and shed light in on how fabulous it is!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Using our Anger

My partner is now in a similar position to the one I as formally in. For part of her job she has to stay up-to-date on all the queer, gay, and msm/wsw outputs on our issues. This makes me extraordinarily jealous because even though my ob should require me to stay in constant contact with queer news I often find myself failing behind. However, I recently had some extra time to catch up on blog reading and I found a (very very old) post over at Questioning Transphobia.

Now, I'm not part of the bilerico community although I have certainly used their news items and comments to find more and fascinating news and people. And I have great admiration for bil's activism around Taysia Elzy's awful murder. I have also seen his site used as a way to showcase an amazing group of queer activists, writers, and community members talking about their identities. So in writing this blog I'm not debating the situation, I just want to focus on one exchange of comments.

"Nick" a bilerico commenter wrote about the "expression of complete frustration, exhausted rage" that was expressed and how that rage "can be an inspiring" tool for social change. "Energizing and comforting". To which many commenters hauled out the old non-violence line about how "true social change" is non-violent. And it can be. The movements of classic non-violent resistance are a wonderful teaching tool on the multiple ways that change can be made. However, for every non-violent movement that was successful (or even unsuccessful) there were other movements happening simultaneously. Movements that worked within stems of oppression, movements that resisted with violence, movements that focused more on artistic expression as resistance...US schools end to teach our history as being succinct, boxed, and compact. But none of these movements for change existed one-dimensionally. The struggle for gender equality (which I see transgender rights as an integral part of) can not be boxed into "this will happen non-violently" as we are coming from too many different places for one rule to unite us.

Nick went on to quote from David Wojnarowicz's Close to the Knives, and I feel that this quote perfectly respects the occasional feelings of so many people I love and respect.

"And I am carrying this rage like a blood filled egg and there's a thin line between the inside and the outside a thin line between thought and action an that line is simply made up of blood and muscle and bone and I'm waking up more and more from daydreams...and all I can feel is the pressure and the need for release".

When I was a junior in college I attended a summer anti-oppression program directly related to environmentalism. We played a game called "the wind is blowing" where everyone stood in a circle and ram to take someone else's spot should the saying be true for them. One man said "The wind is blowing anyone who believes violence can be a form of resistance". And I stood for a second while everyone else ran. I don't think violence is good. And I don't think it creates justice or equality. But I have been in a bathroom and been hit and pushed for my identity, and I have heard too many stories from my friends about their abuse at the hands of authority members to truly rule out violence as an option. So that day, back in the summer of my junior year, I decided that I do support violent actions for change. Because I can not tell anyone else how to survive, and that is ultimately what so many of us are still fighting for - survival.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor and Identity as Experience

A few weekends ago my mother forwarded me a list of 10 reasons why Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was a good choice for the Supreme Court. My lawyer brother responded to each point with a reason why the point was irrelevant, missing the facts, or simply defensive in nature. He clarified at the end of the email that he wasn't saying Judge Sotomayor wasn't qualified - just that the current "messaging" around her focused on saying she was not liberal and she loved white people. One of which is disgusting, and the other of which is a point of alarm (or, actually they are both those things). In short, he ended the email with "where's the change I voted for?". As these things tend to happen, that evening I watched a clip of Rachel Maddow where she echoed this same sentiment. I actually felt incredibly well-informed after watching her coverage!

So it may be true that Sonia is actually not a "liberal activist judge" that the Republicans claim her to be. But I found myself leaping to defend her because of the nature of the attacks against her. Her identity as a Latina from a working-class background, and her clear refusal to negate that identity, has become the sole focus of most attacks. Moreover, the not-so-subtle Othering of her identity - calling her "Maria", tripping over her name, asking "Is she Puerto Rican?" - reinforces the notion that she would not be in this position as Supreme Court nominee if she was not Other. In the clip below, Rachel sums up some of the more egregious "errors".

One of the many things being called into question is her quote about how women, people from low-income backgrounds, and people of color are in a particular position to make judgements. Rachel discusses this more in the clip below:

Again, as it always seems to happen, the next day I read an article in the NYT Magazine that perfectly matched the feelings invoked from such racist and sexist lack of understanding about how the world works and the hierarchy of race and sex in the US. The NYT article was called "The Case for working with your hands" by Matthew B. Crawford. Since reading this, I have heard others comment that it should be titled "the case for workers autonomy" as the freedom the author experiences in his repair shop have a lot to do with education, whiteness, and access to resources. However, this quote still captivates me:

"In the boardrooms of Wall Street and the corridors of Penn. Ave, I don't think you'll see a yellow sign that says 'Think Safety!' as you do on job sites and in many repair shops, no doubt because those who sit at the swivel chairs tend to live remote from the consequences of the decisions they make. Why not encourage gifted students to learn a trade, if only in the summers, so that their fingers will be crushed once or twice before they go on to run the country?"

You can see the elitism of our education system still present in that thought process however the quote contextualizes Judge Sotomayor's removed-from-any-context quote. She has had her fingers crushed and she realizes that people on the margins of the normative middle (those not elected to the Supreme Court) live the effects of her rulings. If the white male judges* that predominate the legal world were to experience the outcomes of their rulings in the intense and real way it may result in some very different decision making.

*Clearly being white and male doesn't hand you privilege on a plate. No essentialism of Identity here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


INCITE! has saved my sense of self and my confidence in social justice more times than any other organization. In 2007 I read Color of Violence: the INCITE anthology on my meal breaks at the restaurant I was managing at the time and after-hours in my never-heated apartment in St. Paul. These essays exposed a system I had suspected and been taught to recognize in my classes. However unlike the texts and discussions of the classroom, these essays exposed the system through intense personal stories that told not only the truth of these systems but the lived affect of these truths.

Moreover, these stories gave me strategies and examples, testimonials and history lessons that taught me all about the methods of anti-violence that addressed all of our multiple needs. I learned about Sista II Sista/Hermana a Hermana, Transjustice of the Audre Lorde Project, CARA, and other amazing people and movements that have managed to address issues of race, class, immigration, identity, sexuality, and state violence without going under or being forced out of organizing. Color of Violence was my introduction to INCITE!, and after that I was sent a gorgeous poster that read "Stop Police Violence Against Women of Color & Trans People of Color" featuring wonderful art by Christy C. Road - this of course has traveled with me from job to job. (To the left: Copy of poster "Stop Police Violence Against Women of Color & Trans People of Color". It is bright orange with lots of text, a group of younger people stand in assertive poses facing the viewer. One individual has her hand out in the universal "stop" pose.)

Finally though, I read the book The Revolution Will Not be Funded: beyond the non-profit industrial complex which I put off reading for nine months as I could not bear to learn the truth of the organizations I was/am working for nor the truth of the career path I have placed myself on. I, like so many Liberal Arts students, am geared and trained professionally towards non-profit work...and it is precisely that work that is tearing apart our communities and keeping us oppressed.

And I knew this. I felt this in my gut and in the ever-rising anger and irritation at the constants placed around me and my community "for our benefit" - but I didn't want to face it. Because facing the truth about the irrationality, capitalism, and bureaucracy of the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC) would mean I'd be obligated to address it and change my interactions with the NPIC. This is akin to a recent incident I had with a co-worker who ranked above me hierarchically. After I told him that his inaction towards trans-inclusion was unacceptable he began to yell at me about an unrelated event. Not ready to face his own gender normativity and transphobia he attacked me for bringing it to his attention - forcing him to become aware before he was ready.

At any rate, I was finally ready to learn more and become accountable in March. And I'm glad that I did because the book is astounding. Each essay tells another story about how to survive in a world that is supposed to nurture and empower your community, but ultimately fails at some fundamental level to truly empower the actual community. For instance, a community-based non-profit might be doing amazing work revitalizing he community but if all the money comes from a foundation of people who have never been anywhere near your community then how dependent have we become relying on the very system we're fighting against to fund our fight against them? Or, alternatively, an organization is set up to create comprehensive systems of care for Indigenous populations living with HIV/AIDS, but despite the desire from within the community to see this work done the entire organization is staffed by people with degrees in non-profit work non of whom are either Indigenous or living with HIV/AIDS. So where is the community empowerment? how do we learn from each other in a communal sense and grow stronger together if the people making change come from the same privileged backgrounds they always do? This is something of incredible interest to me as I blogged about previously. I want to create change and it's difficult for me to find a venue for that change.

The most important thing I took away from the book was creating systems of accountability. Constantly checking in with the direct community to see how they feel about you and your work. Are you addressing their/your needs? Are you active in other community organizations and/or events? Is there transparency in every thing you do - can community members voice their opinions and make suggestions or give alternatives? For more and better suggestions you can also go to the INCITE! web page dedicated to Resources Beyond the NPIC and you can learn strategies your own non-profit can follow, or strategies you as an individual looking to make change can follow.