Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In Memory of Sean Bell: Action & Change

"Black male lives are meaningless in America," a female friend just texted me, and what can I say to that? Who's going to help Nicole Paultre Bell, Sean Bell's grieving fiancé, explain to their two young daughters that the men who killed their daddy are not going to be punished?" – Kevin Powell in The Huffington Post
Many other bloggers have written on the immoral and degrading release of all three of Sean Bell’s murderers. I'm not going to tell you why it’s wrong – because you already know why it’s wrong – and I'm not going to say I am shocked - because we know the history of justice in regards to people of color. Instead, I'm taking a page out of another blogger's book and I'm going to list rallies and events that may help to make a difference.

The People’s Justice Coalition has planned some amazing events, and will be planning more!

NY Faith & Justice has a rally planned for tonight in conjunction with the Latino Pastoral Action Center.

Break the Chains
has captured photos from previous rallies, and I think they'll be posting more protests and information in time.

The Brecht Forum
in conjunction with Mahina Movement is planning an amazing event:

A Call-Out to all poets, MCs, dancers, painters, & musicians to respond to the outcome of the Sean Bell Verdict

***please forward this far and wide***

When: Saturday May 3rd, 2008
Time: 7 PM sharp - 10 PM
Where: The Brecht Forum
451 West Street (near West Side Highway)

*This will be a Free Event and All Performances are Voluntary. First come bases, once we have all 50 Artists the list will end.

***If you are interested please submit your name, contact info and a brief description of the work you would like to perform to or call Gabreilla Calleder: 917-325-1699

I will post more as I get more information. Bringing together community to rethink how we interact and react to the justice system is incredibly important.

Ally Lessons

I seem to be always writing entries at least a weekend after events happen.

Last Friday was The National Day of Silence – a day when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth and allies attend high school and college in silence. The idea is that their silence (our silence I suppose) allows the world to not only feel the lack when queer voices are silenced but also to encourage ally voices to speak up for instances of homophobia, transphobia, and heteronormativity when they occur. This promotes awareness of pervasive violence and silencing of queer people and the need for allies to not just wear pretty rainbow ribbons but to take action on behalf of their ally identity.

Personally, I have always felt my voice is better speaking than silent. The one time I did participate in the Day of Silence was my junior year in College. On that day my class “Gender, Sexuality, and African American Communities” was discussing racist sexism-based homophobia prevalent against lesbian and bisexual African American women in the 1930s. On such a day the voices of the queer people in the class (which was a good 2/3 at least) were silent. While the other students – all intelligent, all with good intentions – debated these issues what was needed so desperately was for the queer kids to speak up and add their voices to the discussion. For everything was flat, without depth or intense discussion. There was no understanding of nuanced identities or economic strain. What hurt me the most, however, was that the students speaking up about these issues seemed to think that they had had a fantastic discussion.

This memory was brought back to me recently when I was told that I speak up too often for other people. The person telling me this meant to inform me that I need to trust that other people’s voices are as strong and ready as my own – and this is a good point. I do need to remember to back down and to give everyone an equal chance to defend themselves and their beliefs before I say anything. I have always known that I could benefit from remembering to step back and not dominate conversations, making space safe(er) for other voices. That said this particular remark was about my advocating for full affirmation of transgender identities. When another transgender person remained silent after a rebuff I spoke up advocating for our full and equal inclusion. While either of us could easily have said the exact same things I felt it was better to address the issue at the very moment as opposed to later in the week. It is easy for me to look at this instance and say that I understand the silence this other transperson chose to use. Because I can imagine these same affronts on myself it was an easy – and I still believe defendable - action.

My complainant reiterated that I should allow for every voice to speak, and seeing that I was losing an argument to someone who has some control over me, I let the subject drop. I worry now that I did not fight for the importance of ally voices, that I did fully explain how exhausting it is to state your identity and your background time after time. I worry that I justified silence as an acceptable tool for an ally. Does my justification lead one to conclude that if a person can’t identify with a situation that they should be quiet until the offended or oppressed party speaks up? While I worry about white voices overpowering voices of color and able voices having more access than the voices of people with disabilities I also know that it is not the duty of a person of color or a person with disability to constantly critique and speak up about a situation. Part of the point of the Day of Silence is to teach allies how to use their voices when LGBT people aren’t in a position to speak. In my previous post, White People & Racism: Speak Up!, I note that a white person should have brought up the critiques that were in my partner’s head, that she alone wasn’t responsible for Everything Black. I called on white people to point out racist actions - but clearly not at the expense of voices of color. I am still concerned about the balancing act of identifying and speaking up against privilege and the importance of supporting other voices that are historically ignored.

Today, a friend of mine just provided me with a wonderful example of an ally voice. He teaches a writing course at a school and occasionally I come in to help him. The class has many LGBT students in it, and they have talked throughout the year about homophobia and transphobia. Today one the students asked me if I was a real man. I said yes, I am a man. The student then repeated “but I mean, are you like a real man?” I have to admit that I was stuck. For about half a second I just stared at the student not sure if I should continue to adamantly claim the identity I hold dear or if I should explain that I am transgender. Mostly, I was worried about all the questions that would follow. My friend looked straight at the student and clearly said “ ---, don’t be ignorant”. The student looked at him, then me, and said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude”. The subject was dropped until later when I thanked my friend. I told him that I had been stuck as to what to say and I appreciated how clearly he had ended the questioning. His response was “well, I had to say something. We’ve talked so many times about trans-ignorance, --- should know better.”

My friend allied with me eloquently and appropriately. He did not sit silently by while I tried to maneuver myself around the situation, nor did he put words in my mouth about how to discuss identity. He saw me being hurt and he stood up against it. Allies are truly needed when a person least expects to be affronted. I can handle myself and advocate for transgender people any single day of the week. But when my mind is elsewhere and a fifteen year old asks me out of the blue who I am – that is when I need someone to be ready to stand up with me. Not all of my ally questions are answered, but I now have an example that I will never forget.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Menstruating in the Men's Room

This week I am experiencing yet another aspect of transitioning that may confound a binary mind. I am menstruating in the men’s room. If it was up to me I would never menstruate - I think more than a few women who menstruate would agree with me on that one - but on occasion it happens. While there is no disruption in my perceived gender identity while menstruating I know that the presence of bloody pads in the men’s room garbage boggles more than a few minds. Indeed each time I have to change my pad at work or in a public restroom I am confused.

Where the hell is the discrete little box on the inside of the stall?

Every time I change my pad I forget that I will have to leave the stall still holding it. True, I could fight for transgender visibility and proudly march out of the men’s bathroom with my red flag* held high, but instead I always get incredibly embarrassed and wrap my old pad in as many layers of toilet paper as I can. A few months ago I bumped into a co-worker on the way to dispose of my pad. By the quick aversion of his eyes and his awkward smile I think he knew what I held in my hand, luckily he is incredibly trans-friendly and managed to get us both out of the bathroom in a graceful way.

Despite that incident I still am nervous about changing pads in the company of other men. Add menstruating in the men’s room to the long list of things men supposedly don’t do. Judging by the recent controversy over pregnant transmen the list of male-approved activities is incredibly short. All of this makes me glad my sense of male identity is in no way tied to ideas of patriarchal masculinity or else I’d be in real trouble.

*Twice I got in trouble at college for using Judy Chicago’s image on posters. The first time I was appalled at the way people reacted to a monthly activity for over half the planet, the second time I did it because I knew it made the administration upset.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Reflections on Earth Day

Yesterday was Earth Day.

There was a time in my life when that day would be synonymous with the end of an incredibly difficult period of organizing, planning, and discussion around the Earth Week celebrations at Macalester. For the past six years holistic environmental work has consumed me. The group I worked with, E-Fünk!, was dedicated to examining the environmental movement and looking at the class and race-based sanctions and assumptions the movement made. We educated ourselves about race and class and made the activities and programs we planned accessible for all income levels and pertinent to multiple communities. Our most successful Earth Week was one where we discussed the “isms” of the environmental movement, the history of “back to the land” movements that pathologized native peoples and women, the racist sexism prevalent in scientific studies that leave the work done by women out of environmental degradation equations, and the lack of collaboration and listening done between predominantly white college-educated environmental leaders and the communities most affected by environmental degradation - poor communities of color.

There was a time when I was incredibly invested in the way people spoke about, organized, and viewed the Earth. In the last two years, however, environmentalism has caught on and anyone with money who is hip to the consumer market is focusing on technological changes to improve the “greenness” of their building or company. Now that being green is synonymous with success any interest in collaborations between mainstream environmental organizations and communities of color or shifting the focus of environmentalism away from the idea of consumer choice is no longer appealing. With that I went out the door as well choosing to focus my work on allying myself to LGBT organizations, feminist organizations, and anti-racism/anti-white supremacy organizations. While I still make an effort to buy locally, compost, recycle, and reuse, I no longer spend time agonizing over mainstream environmental movements such as those chronicled in last weekend’s NYT Magazine.

Instead, this Tuesday instead of participating or organizing Earth Day celebrations I spent time with my friends, almost all of whom work for non-profits through the organization Avodah.* Although not Jewish, I was invited to celebrate Passover with a Liberation Seder that reminded us to remember the history of the liberation of enslaved peoples and to celebrate our abilities to speak for what we believe and to struggle alongside others. What I love so incredibly much about Seder is the constant reminder to not celebrate or ignore the pain of others - we take out a drop of wine for each of the ten plagues placed upon the Egyptians to symbolize that we do not enjoy the suffering of our oppressors. Also, there is recognition of the suffering still prevalent in the world today and wine was taken out again for the plagues of racism, sexism and homophobia, xenophobia, poverty, gentrification, war, and many other issues. This Seder inspired me in the holistic way these young Jewish activists viewed their work and their collaboration with the communities they participated in. Despite the fact that many Seders do not look like this one these activists continue to celebrate identity while recognizing current suffering and historical oppression and approaching these issues from a prospective of positive change. I was inspired to reevaluate my interactions with environmentalism and to give myself a new Earth Day Pledge.

This Earth Day pledge is to continue my work – writing, advocating, teaching – in a holistic manner that address multiple identities and issues never placing one above another. I also will continue to point out instances of environmental advancement that continue to benefit a privileged few while marginalizing the majority of U.S. peoples. However I will not defame the importance of environmentalism in that our interconnectivity depends on caring for the Earth as well as for each other and supporting all movements for liberation and civil rights which includes the right to be healthy and live in a healthy environment. I will not allow environmentalism to represent only the privileged few nor will I allow environmentalism to be denied as unimportant in the places where I work and live.

Happy Earth Day and Happy Passover!

*I don’t know anything about Avodah except that everyone I know who works with them is incredibly happy and fulfilled. I’d be very interested in hearing other reader’s remarks on experiences with Avodah.

Friday, April 18, 2008

This Weekend! Zami Like Me

Pictured: The Logo for Zami Like Me, a hand-drawn image of a tree whose trunk resembles a woman’s body. The branches look like her arms, and the roots look like her feet. The area around her head is much darker than the furtherest branches and this could easily represent an Afro. Underneath it reads “Zami Like Me: Queer Womyn of Color CipHER

"Does our sexual or racial identity compel an activist intersection with such a horrifying status quo or not? Is it sexual or racial identity that will catapult each of us into creative agency for social change? I would say, I hope so." – June Jordan

Zami Like Me is a social, political, activist, artistic, educational and entertainment two day event that will serve lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, non-conforming, and two-spirited women of color and allies in celebration of our multiple identities, works and talents. It will be a two day women’s cipHER, a sharing space of skill, wit, talent and gifts that will run full circle with love and support. In reaching out to the New School community as well as the outside community, we will bring together artists and academics, youth and elders, to join in these events to educate and learn about the issues that are prevalent to these women.

Please join us Saturday April 19 from 5:30-9 pm and Sunday April 20 from 6-9pm.


3 Film Screenings:

- black.womyn.:conversations with lesbians of african descent by tiona.m.
- I Look Up to the Sky Now, created by Barbara M. Bickart and 11 young queer activists.
- Like a Boy, Like a Girl by Ash. S. Tai and Cleopatra N. LaMothe

Followed by 3 small ciphers and then 1 larger cipher led by Kaila A. Story, Audre Lorde Chair and Asst. Professor at Louisville, KY.


Art Exhibition by LGBTQTS Womyn and Allies!

Live Performances!

Live Art by the Agytators!
$5 to $10 suggested donation will be requested at the door. All proceeds are going to the Audre Lorde Project and the Youth Enrichment Services (YES) at the LGBT Center. NO ONE WILL BE TURNED AWAY BECAUSE OF MONEY. There will also be a raffle for a gift bag of goodies!

Put on by The CipHER Project and co-sponsored by the New School Women of Color Organization and OPEN, and the gay/straight alliance at The New School.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Importance of Listening: in the wake of bfp

I returned from the Race Sex Power Conference in Chicago with a great sense of wholeness. The presenters, attendees, artists, and volunteers who created the event inspired in me the desire to not only continue this blog but to make my feminist, anti-racist, anti-ablist, and queer-positive efforts more visceral. I returned wanting to go to law school to pursue a degree specializing in gender identity law, to volunteer with Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and to in all other ways support the voices of the people I love.

I also returned to find that one of my all-time favorite bloggers, the woman who inspired me to bring my thoughts to the table, has retired her site. BrownFemiPower, La Chola, Woman of Color Blog…a blogger who inspired so many people in her amazing resilience, beautiful prose, and commitment to speaking her truth to power.

I don’t know bfp personally. Maybe she’ll be back to blog again, or maybe we’ll see her collected works published sometime soon, I certainly hope so. I also don’t know exactly why she departed. I know about the surrounding circumstances but I could never speak to the exact and personal history of continued violence (and here I mean mental, emotional, and physical violence) that the voices of women of color face when they dare to mention their own strength and beauty. I know the damage that unexamined white people can cause in safe spaces for women of color, and I know the destructive ability of white women not listening. But I do not know the exact thinking in bfp’s head when she decided that enough was enough. The blogosphere became too violent and too unsafe for her to tell us in her own words. She could not be sure that white people listening in would be respectful and understand the circumstances. She could not be certain we - white folks - would actually listen.

I have also been a white woman whom did not listen, and I have been a white man who did not listen. I have assumed that everyone entered a conversation on an equal ground and that my presence was in no way threatening or violent. I was wrong to think those things, and I learned that by listening to the people of color around me. I listened and then read the articles they suggested, I listened and then didn’t attend when they told me I wasn’t ready, I listened and took time out to examine and learn about my history – the history of whiteness. Finally, I returned to conversations with people of color and I was able to keep listening and learning, but also to contribute and challenge.

The importance of listening cannot be underestimated. Last Wednesday my partner and I attended a Saul Williams concert. There were many amazing and inspiring things that happened at the concert but I want to write about one particular disappointing moment. Saul was reading one particular and amazing poem “Sha Clack Clack”* where the line “I am that nigga”** repeats in the chorus. A young white woman behind us was reciting the poem out loud and replacing that line with “I am the ‘n’”.

This poem is about the experiences and histories of black men in the U.S. If you feel uncomfortable saying a word in the poem it is because you are not supposed to say that word. You are supposed to listen. This one poem - it is not about you. Half of the history of poetry taught in U.S. schools is about being white (and male). But this one poem, this poem is about race and Blackness, and when it is being performed white people must listen. Don’t recite it in tandem, don’t hum or sway, don’t even think about checking your text messages. When a person of color decides to tell you about their life, lets you in on fictional or historical stories of race relations, you listen.

This is not to romanticize the stories of people of color. For every astounding artist like Saul Williams, there is a person who is better at math, or childcare, or creating sculptures. But listen anyway. Listen because another human is telling you something that is both unique to them and indicative of a larger social structure that you are a part of. Moreover, they do not need to tell you these things. There is no obligation for people of color to educate white people and there is no reason for them to share their work in a space where we – white folk - are present attending a Saul Williams concert and memorizing his poetry to repeat over his own voice does not impress on anyone that you are antiracist. It shows that you missed the importance of his voice telling his stories. Standing still and listening, now that is a beginning towards anti-racism.

Thank you so much, bfp. Good luck with everything you do in the future. You do not need me to tell you this, but you are an amazing, motivational, brilliant force who has inspired more people than you can ever know. Take care of yourself.

*This poem is included in the documentary The N Word that I have yet to see but want to very much. Also featured in the movie Slam.

**Many white bloggers would choose to write “n*gga” instead but I think representing Saul’s words in their entirety is an obligation I have to him as an artist. One of my personal irks is when white people, when reading the words of other people, don’t fully say “nigger”. Without saying the word, I don’t believe the context of the harm of that word, or the reality of how ubiquitous it is in our culture can be understood. I don’t advocate saying the word joyfully or outside of quotations. I don’t advocate for it said in any other context. But when an artist chooses to use it, there is a reason for that choice, and when you want to impart the historical harm of the word you need to be able to say it.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Vigil for Sanesha Stewart

[Pictured: a slightly blurry photo of Sanesha Stewart. She is a young Black woman with long straight hair and a lovely smile. She is seated facing the camera and is wearing a bejeweled gray one-shoulder strap dress.]

This Saturday I, and many members of my community, will be in the Bronx remembering Sanesha Stewart. Sanesha was a 25 year old Black transgender woman who was brutally murdered on February 9th. After her death her memory and life was disrespected and defamed in NY newspapers and blogs despite a tremendous outpouring of support and grief that came from all over queer, transgender, Black, and feminist communities.

If you are in New York City this weekend please consider dropping by to pay respects to Sanesha’s memory and life. Her family is also accepting donations for the funeral, more information can be found through calling the numbers listed below.

Vigil For Sanesha Stewart
Bronx Community Pride Center
448 E. 149th St.
Bronx, NY 10455

[take the 2 train to 3rd Ave./149th St.]


From White Like Me to Zami Like Me

Yesterday I finished Tim Wise’s revised version of White Like Me. The book started out a little slow for me as Wise used the first chapter to lay out the fundamentals of white privilege. He discussed the passage of inheritance, land, accumulated wealth, alumni privileges etc through white families and introduced us to his experiences with anti-racism. All of this information is incredibly interesting and useful (no mater how far along a white anti-racist activist is it is always helpful to review the basics) but what I wanted to read was in the very back of the book. Wise had two chapters dedicated to white resistance giving us examples of how to align our beliefs with work being done in communities of color and how to endure knowing almost certainly that no quantifiable success will ever be achieved. Wise made it very clear that white anti-racists will face consistent failure not only in combating racism but also in truly understanding what we must do to dismantle white supremacy. Our failures, however, and our occasional inability to act correctly should not deter us. Wise reminds white anti-racists in the words of Desmond Tutu “You do not do the things you do because others will necessarily join you in the doing of them, nor because they will ultimately prove successful. You do the things you do because the things you are doing are right.” There is much more to the book than this but I am simply going to encourage reading the book as Wise is able to engage this topic with humor and honesty and years of experience.

The next book on my reading cue is Disrupting White Supremacy From Within, which I began reading on the subway this morning. I was beginning to worry, however, that I had been reading too many non-fiction works on identity, as I was not truly taking in the words I was reading. As I sat down at my desk this morning I began thinking of fictional works I could read to give my mind time to rest and recuperate. Just as I was thinking of this I heard on WNYC a discussion with Michael Eric Dyson on Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, and the racial makeup of politics. Wow. What an intelligent fully-formed and remarkable discussion that at 10AM on a Friday shook me up and made me excited to get back to reading about identity.

Most of these books, news shows, and interviews address race as a blanket experience. Issues of sexuality, sex, disability, age, gender expression, and class are often side thoughts if they are explored at all. There is a reason for this, a reason that I can support as opening the eyes of white people is incredibly difficult when discussing race alone, but when we separate our identities theoretically it suggests we can separate our lived experiences as well. In view of all this I am posting a reminder about Zami Like Me: a Queer Womyn of Color CipHER. The link is a myspace page so you have to sign in to see the event.

ZAMI LIKE ME: Queer Womyn of Color CipHER

3 Film Screenings:
- black.womyn: conversations with lesbians of african descent by tiona.m.
- I Look Up to the Sky Now by Barbara M. Bickart and 11 young queer activists.
- Like a Boy, Like a Girl by Ash. S. Tai and Cleopatra N. LaMothe

Followed by 3 Small Ciphers and then 1 Larger Cipher led by Kaila A. Story, Audre Lorde Project Chair and Asst. Professor at Louisville, KY.

Art Exhibition by LGBTQTS Womyn and Allies!
Live Performances! Live art by the Agytators!

$5 to $10 suggested donation will be requested at the door.
All proceeds are going to the Audre Lorde Project and the Youth Enrichment Services (YES) at the LGBTQ Center. NO ONE WILL BE TURNED AWAY BECAUSE OF MONEY.