Thursday, November 13, 2008

Helping Duanna Johnson's memory

First off, via Questioning Transphobia, Duanna's family needs money for funeral expenses:

"The balance for Duanna Johnson’s funeral is $1195 and the funeral home is requiring Mrs. Skinner (Duanna’s mother) to pay it by tomorrow (11/14). The cost is a hardship, so we are asking anyone who can to donate. Please send any donations to:

N.J. Ford and Sons Funeral Home
12 S Parkway W
Memphis, TN 38109
(901) 948-7755.

Please forward this to as many people as you can!! Thanks!"

Also, I found this press release from the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center beautiful:

"Duanna bravely confronted the Memphis Police Department officers who brutalized her while she was in police custody. At great personal cost, Duanna was the public face of our community's campaign against racism, homophobia, and transphobia. There was no justice for Duanna Johnson in life. The Mid-South Peace & Justice Center calls for justice in the investigation and prosecution of Duanna's murder."
Also, several organizations are carrying on Duanna's memory such as the Memphis charter of Stop Police Brutality.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In Memory: Duanna Johnson

[Image Description: a color photo of Duanna. We see her from the shoulders up, she is resting her head on her hand, making direct eye contact with the viewer. She is wearing a bright red shirt with matching red nail polish. She has shoulder-length black hair.]
As many of you already know, Duanna Johnson was found murdered earlier this week. Duanna was a beautiful Black transwoman living in Memphis, Tenn. She had the courage to speak about a brutal beating by local police that occurred earlier this year. She was beaten by two cops who assailed her anti-transgender and anti-gay slurs, clearly linking her beating with her transgender identity. Duanna made national headlines for her refusal to believe that she deserved to be treated in that manner because of her transgender identity.

Monica, over at Transgriot, has more on her murder. Apparently, her lawyer will continue with the lawsuit against the Memphis police Department. I hope that the lawsuit overhauls the way the MPD treats transgender people, and commemorates Duanna's bravery in speaking out.

This has been an incredibly brutal year for transgender people, and Duanna's death is overwhelming.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Refuting Medical Claims on Transgender Identity

Pop science sources have been slowly buzzing with the news that scientists may have found a link between transgender women who seek sex reassignment surgeries and their genes. This follows on the heels of a highly popular theory that the brains of transgender people are washed in either extra testosterone or extra estrogen while en utero.

Many people are excited about this, and I can understand why. In many ways, to have a biological basis for your identity makes it theoretically more difficult to discriminate. It suggests a fundamental physical proof of identity. Being transgender can no longer be seen as a choice, and medical access should no longer be denied due to the “cosmetic” nature of hormones, surgeries, or therapy. We can prove that we are who we say we are, and that our lives are pre-determined.

However, before we get too excited I’d urge transgender people who might not be as directly involved in these groups to recall the struggles of folks in disability communities and in LGB communities. We might belong to both these groups, but for trans folks who don’t know these histories as well, it could be prudent to review them.

Certain folks with disabilities have the physical proof of their disability readily available, yet that doesn’t mean that folks with disabilities have an easier time when dealing with medical procedures, in fact from what I’ve come to understand most folks have a more difficult time as doctors are resistant to doing any more than the bare minimum to ensure health and comfort. Moreover, medical professionals are inundated with the idea of “normal”. Many try to “fix” things that might not actually need to be touched, resulting in multiple surgeries for an issue that isn’t an issue for the patient. Folks in the disability rights community can show trans folks (who can of course belong to the disability community too) that relying on science to justify your existence is a dangerous and stigmatizing route.

LGB rights advocates suffered from the search for “the gay gene” back in the early 2000s as studies began to suggest that pre-natal searching for this supposed gene might result in targeted abortions. In the end, any possible gain of proving we exist by finding a gay gene was dismissed by the potential of seeing the gene as either an unfortunate detriment or a reason to target pregnancies.

Moreover, for me at least, I dislike this emphasis on scientific “proof” of transgender identity as it implies that out mere existence isn’t enough, the world needs proof that we are who we are. It takes our stories and puts them in the hands of other people. I understand the immense privilege that comes from working for an LGBT organization. I don’t need to justify my existence quite as often. I don’t need to hide who I am for fear of violence. I still need to constantly educate and correct. I still fear for my job, as many people don’t seem to understand why my position is important. I worry about what is said behind my back, and I grimace at the complete lack of understanding most of my colleagues have on transgender issues.

Understanding the privilege of being employed, and being employed in a mostly affirming environment, I still feel strongly that there is no true need for an explanation of transgender existence. Maybe our brains are washed in hormones. Maybe we are born with a gene predetermining our identity. Maybe it’s part of a supreme creator’s plan. Whatever. For me, the important thing is that we do exist. Folks who doubt our existence will not be swayed by science or theory as their doubts are based in prejudice and ignorance, not in any need for logic. From the 2008 book Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power:
“If geneticists find a variety of genes that they have been hunting for some time now – the genius gene, the criminal gene, the gay gene, the mothering gene, the super-athelete gene, the warrior gene – will this really put a smooth end to a variety of ideological and sociological debates..?”**
Until we are free from discrimination on the job, violence in the streets and at home, bigotry on all levels, ignorance and malice in medical establishments, and a lack of understanding or care in the criminal justice system, until all these things are carried away I really don’t care why I am the way I am. Moreover, I don’t need to justify it to anyone else. I don’t need to prove to you that I do exist, because I am right here in front of you. And hundreds of thousands of my people have stood here before me and will continue to stand here after me.

It’s tempting to desire a certificate of identity, a “proof” that our struggles are real, but we shouldn’t be looking for this acknowledgment outside of ourselves.

** Unger, Donald N.S. “Judging Fathers: The Case for Gender-Neutral Standards.” Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power. Ed Shira Tarrant. New York: Routledge, 2008. p. 210

Friday, November 7, 2008

Video Submissions and updates on the NJ4

As I say in my last post – electing Barack Obama isn’t the end of our work for social justice. Indeed, it is only the beginning. As you could tell in his speech it was less victory than an acknowledgement of the long roads we have ahead. In the spirit of struggle then, I wanted to give an update on Renata Hill. Renata is better known as one of the New Jersey 4 – four Black lesbians who refused the advances of men, and responded to their sexual and physical harassment by defending themselves, and subsequently ended up in jail. I posted about her trial about a month back urging readers to write to the District Attorney to let him know how we felt about the lawsuit.

I received an update recently informing me that over 500 people wrote to the DA. The retrial has been pushed back to November 20th, which gives her advocates more time to put pressure on the legal system to do the right thing. *

In wonderful news Venice Brown was released on bail on October 7th! Venice’s 21st birthday was a few weeks ago, and it’s wonderful to think of her being able to see the faces and feel the support of her family on her birthday. Her appeals will be sometime in November.

Patreese Johnson is still locked and facing around 9 years of sentencing. According to the blog freenj4, she is feeling very alienated. Please write to her and send her some much needed love and encouragement.

Patreese Johnson #07-G-0635
Bedford Hills Correctional Facility
P.O. Box 1000
Bedford Hills, NY 10507

Terrain Dandridge was released back in June – I heard she spent her first day out of prison visiting with Angela Davis…I don’t know if that’s true but I love the image!

In the spirit of continued activism, I also want to highlight this call for youth media producers from the Human Rights Watch and Adobe Youth Voices.

“The Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in partnership with Adobe Youth Voices seeks youth-produced media works on human rights issues for its second annual YOUTH PRODUCING CHANGE program to screen in our New York, London, Boston and San Francisco film festivals in 2009-10.

We are currently seeking film, video and animated works on human rights issues created by youth ages 19 and younger. For information on how to submit your film, please click here.

Feel free to be in touch with Jennifer Nedbalsky at 212/216-1247 or nedbalj(at) if you have any questions or would like further information.”

*November 20th is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I find this ironic as there is no doubt in my mind that the violence that causes transphobia is linked to the violence against Renata and the many other lesbians who refuse the advances of men. Violence against women often comes, I feel, from not confining to rigid gender roles regarding what a woman should and should not do. When these women defended themselves they defied our gender stereotypes, which many transwomen, transmen, and gender non-conforming people also do on a daily basis.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

After the Election

I keep finding myself in tears.

Which is ridiculous because I know that Obama is not the answer to all of our struggles. I know that government is not the answer to almost any of our struggles. But I can’t help but look at the news and find myself awestruck by what we achieved on Tuesday.

I took the day off and called voters in Florida and Pennsylvania reminding them of where their polling place was and how to vote. Which, as one person I called put it, seems “pretty damn obvious”…except it wasn’t. On Tuesday, and this weekend when my partner and I went to Philadelphia to door-knock, we encountered a staggering number of voters who didn’t know how to vote. They wanted to, though. They wanted to stand in line for hours so that they could tell future generations what they did during one of the most crucial elections in our country’s history. I was so glad that Amanda and I were able to help them find their polling place, tell them how to use the machines, remind them of what IDs they needed, provide them rides, and even provide numbers to call should they encounter any discrimination. Volunteering for the Obama Campaign felt like community building… I haven’t really felt that since leaving Minnesota. (Image description: The Obama “Hope” poster. In deep red, pale blue, and a yellow cream color an artist has rendered a profile image of Barack Obama gazing towards the horizon. Underneath we see “HOPE” in large letters.)

Clearly a lot of other people felt that way as well. Amanda and I colored in maps of the US as we watched election coverage come in, and the streaks of blue we saw across the states filled me with a sense of community that shook a lot of my presumptions and prejudices. I was raised in Indiana, and I never thought I’d see it go blue, but as my brother put it in an email to me “we were always blue…it just took someone special to bring it out!”

I didn’t vote for Obama because he’s a man, or because he’s Black, or because he grew up in poverty. I’m male and grew up in a lower economic bracket than many of my friends, but that doesn’t mean I only want leaders who reflect my background. I voted for him because he took his experiences with racism, poverty, and male privilege and decided to do something with what he had learned. His policies reflect his understanding of how the majority of people live their lives, and how governmental policies can often oppress more than they uplift. I voted for Obama because he had substance behind his rhetoric, and because he surrounded himself with people who fit his vision for the US, not people who would give him political uplift.

Moreover, my vote wasn’t for or against any single issue. I looked at his overall plan and knew that issues I disagreed with could be dealt with individually. In a depressing series of discussions with gay co-workers and friends, many pointed to Obama’s lack of support for marriage equality as a reason not to vote. As if marriage was the only thing that mattered, or if a person’s lack of support necessarily translated into being against something.

Despite that, voters across the US connected with what Obama had to say…with the belief in the strength of grassroots organizing, of the value of individuals, of the need to respect and listen to all people. Overwhelmingly, despite the media’s insistence that Black voters voted for him because of his race, Black voters responded that they voted with him because he had the policies that would untie our country and help the majority of the people. Even in his acceptance speech Obama emphasized this, saying he would listen to the concerns of voters who had gone with McCain.

I believe he will. I certainly hope he will. After all, Obama’s presence in the White House is only one of many steps we need to take to bring across real change. At the end of the day, Obama is still a politician, and he is still just one individual. We have to work in our neighborhoods, in our local communities talking one-on-one with each other. We have to challenge Obama administration policies, push for appropriate visibility, and continue to work to overcome discrimination and prejudices. Obama’s presence may make some things easier as we see a House, Senate, and White House more open to acceptance and justice…but governmental justice can look very different than real justice.

But for now, for these next few days, I’m riding this flood of emotion. Feeling overwhelmed, awed, and impressed with my country I will be savoring these moments when I encounter, as I’m sure we will, opposition and prejudice in the future. I am bundling up this feeling of community so that I can unfurl it in darker days and wrap myself in its warmth.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Vote Tomorrow!

My partner sent me the first video of this, and it was terrifying enough for me to feel that I have to pass it on. You can send these videos to folks who might need to see them here.

In case you want to review the policies, Barack Obama has his entire Blueprint for America online as well. Which is something Obama has always been for, since his first days in politics - he has always advocated for transparency in government. That's just one more reason why I feel that my vote on November 4 is the first step in the increasingly active role I'll be playing in politics for the next 4 (or 8!) years with Obama as President. He's going to encourage us to care about what happens to our communities and our neighbors - both next door and around the world - in a more active way.

This is a thrilling time. But it's also crucial - please vote for Obama on November 4. If you are worried vote with a friend, or contact someone from the Obama campaign they'll drive you to the poll and insure that your vote will count.