Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Still Black


Briefly, this movie looks amazing...

[Visual Description: a pen and ink drawing of a Black man sitting in a bowl-like chair. He is bare-chested and wears white pants and lace-up sneakers. Tattoos are visible on his biceps and there are faint surgery scars across his chest. He wears large glasses and has a shaved head. From watching videos I believe this is a drawing of one of the men interviewed in the film. The words "still black" are written across his legs and "a visual portrait of black trans men" is written by his feet. ]

Still Black Film

New Job, New Life

Well, I promised for a while that this post would be coming. Uninteresting as it is, here is a life update.

I moved to Brooklyn at the end of December to live with my amazing partner and to find a job that was...well better paying than waiting tables and more fullfilling than working for a non-profit I don't believe in. So now I am working for GLAAD as their Transgender Advocacy Fellow. None of my posts, either past or present, reflect any of GLAAD's positions or views but mine alone. There, I said it. I am speaking for myself alone on this website.

The job is pretty amazing, I go in every day very excited which is a nice change from my former server job where I dreaded every day. I don't always agree with GLAAD, but I agree with their spirit that fair and equal coverage of LGBT peoples promotes better understanding and acceptance and leads to changes in law and medicine that protect our rights. There is some truly amazing work being done at GLAAD and I'm happy to be a part of it.

Speaking of which, one of my new jobs is to pitch a series of stories that GLAAD would like to see covered in both mainstream and LGBT press this coming year. I was thinking stories along the lines of the invisibility of transgender people of color (especially men) in mainstream press (i.e. the article would touch on racial and class-based issues as well as issues of transitioning highlighting how and why these men and women get left out of news stories), how to use gender-neutral pronouns and their history (more of a human-interest story), how ENDA affects everyone through its use of "gender identity"...i had a list but I left it at work. So, even though very few people comment on my blog I want to know what transgender interest stories you'd like to see...comment below!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

All About Choice

I learned from Helen Boyd's blog (en)gender that today is Blog-For-Choice Day. Which is very timely for me because of an incident that happened this weekend. I was with my partner at Bluestockings buying coffee and books when i decided to also buy posters with which to decorate my new cubicle. I had picked out posters from the Celebrate People's History Collective of Sylvia Rivera and ADAPT when I noticed a poster for Jane, the undergound women-run network of abortion providers in Chicago during the late '6os. I really wanted to get the Jane poster, too. It seemed fitting to me that I should have posters up about what we choose for our bodies. These choices aren't all ours, and some of us have more control over others whether that control comes through our race, class position, educational background, ability to communicate in verbal English, or geographic area. But we all need to have the choice about how our bodies get treated by medical, legal, and educational systems.

So I bought all three posters, which of course is nothing more than a consumer choice and an empowerment of capitalism...but it felt good for me to be a Transgender Advocate at a gay civil-rights organization and to have posters in support of the many choices we make for our bodies up on my cubicle walls. There's a common thread in transgender narratives recorded by therapists and other medical professionals that we are "trapped in the wrong body" and that we would give anything to have been born "normal". For some people, that's true. For some people that would be true even if their lives were not the terrifying ordeals they can become when daily facing transphobic employers, friends, and potential lovers. This divide often causes fights in the transgender community, but I do believe that there is nothing wrong or anti-trans when someone who has changed their body to fit their perception of it refuses to call themselves transgender or transsexual. That is a survival choice that must be respected and understood, likewise these men and women should not disrespect the choices of transgender and gender non-conforming people who love and celebrate their bodies.

For other people, the desire to be "normal" is more entwined with the transphobic, sexist, and classist organization of Western Medicine, educational systems, and employment practices that keep us away from the hormones, surgeries, and legal rights that we desire. We think that if we had been born with a deeper voice, breasts, no breasts, no adam's apple etc that we would not now have to face institutions that continually tell us that we do not matter, that we have mental disabilities, that we are confused and misguided. Facing this kind of oppression and invisibility we struggle to celebrate ourselves and, when feeling low, may perhaps wish for the "normality" we know does not exist.

One of the largest struggles I have right now as a Transgender Advocate is trying to speak towards and recognize the voices of gender non-conforming people. As someone who claimed a "genderqueer" identity for a long time I remember the struggle of trying to find genderqueer voices in the range of emerging transsexual and transgender voices. There are not many resources out there for genderqueer, gender deviant, and gender non-conforming peoples. So what does this have to do about choice? I left a pro-choice lobbying organization years ago as I was coming out because I was confused by what I was doing there. Issues of reproductive rights primarily have to do with cissexual women having sex (consensual or otherwise) with cissexual men regardless of how either party identifies sexually. This focus makes sense, it's the largest population needing control over reproductive rights. But there are other assumptions in that population...that the women are all white and able-bodied. That both parties identify as heterosexual or straight, are young and middle-class. Those assumptions don't make sense and I felt myself drifting away from any organization that saw the issue of "choice" in terms of whiteness, middle-class identity, youth, ability, and heterosexuality. Which is why I find that writing about genderqueer identity is writing about choice. Because beyond the choice of when, how, and if we are going to reproduce we also need to have control over who touches our bodies and how. Who decides the right medicines and procedures, who is allowed to love, touch, medicate and assign our bodies identities. Looking at choice holistically allows for more voices and more possibilities.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

In Memory of Alan Berube

Well, as many of you know I moved to Brooklyn before the New Year to be with my amazing partner and to find a job that more closely fit my ideals and paid my rent. The move has been amazing and I promise to post something thought-provoking on that and my potentially fantastic new job very soon. However, in the midst of moving and while listening to MPR, I heard that Allan Berube had passed on.*

I never met the man and I only ever really enjoyed one essay out of all the essays and books he published. Yet this one particular essay managed to touch me right at the point that i was coming into an awareness of my whiteness. That essay is titled "How Gay Stays White and What Kind of White It Stays" and it chronicles a short modern-day gay history ending with Berube's personal knowledge of the military cases surrounding homosexuality in the army, and the tactics of groups lobbying for the military to allow gay men and lesbian women into the military. That essay is packed up or I would be more specific in my detailing of it, regardless it was one of the first essays that pointed out what exactly is wrong with creating analogies between struggles for gay rights, civil rights, and women's rights. The essay created "white" as a tangible category and identity contrary to most writers who paint a normative whiteness out of which "brown" or "black" are forced to self-categorize.

This essay also prepared me with materials that clearly outlined how and why comparisons between race-based civil rights movements and gender/sexuality-based civil rights movements were inadmissible. This has become incredibly important as gay rights groups continue to use these analogies in order to address a wary public. Berube outlined how veteran gay rights groups failed at repelling "don't ask, don't tell" partly because of the offensive analogies drawn between treatment of gay military personnel and treatment of Black and Latin@ personnel. As I said before, I wish i could quote directly from this essay but I don't have it available. Regardless, Allan Berube's essay impressed me as a young white queer to be accountable to communities of color and to be aware of the harm words can do to memories and identities.

I wish this post could have been more timely after his passing, but the essay continues to be inspiring and his work will endure.

*There are accents on the "e"s I just don't know how to attach them.