Last night, I struggled to go to bed. In light of the decision not to indict Darren Wilson for his murder of Mike Brown, I was sick with worry. Two people in particular rushed to the forefront of my mind, both of whom are Black masculine of center trans* people. I sat in absolute numbness while I remembered my friend Micah who, over the summer, posted an #IfTheyGunnedMeDown photoset. I remembered the panic and fear that photoset struck in me, and my sobbing uncontrollably due to the reality that Micah could not feel comfortable walking outside of their house due to the overwhelming presence of violent racism in this country. I remembered my helplessness, knowing I was over a thousand miles away from Micah, but then also in the same thought realizing that even if I was right next to them, I wouldn't be able to do much else but hug and hold them.
And I thought about a recent friend last night, too. I stayed up, worrying about zir, knowing ze was heading out to take part in a rally and march. The pain and the anger and the sheer overwhelming reality that the grand jury in Ferguson decided that it wasn't even worth having a conversation about a Black man's death was palpable, and I wasn't scared ze would do something, but I was scared the White people around which ze lives would. I felt small and helpless again, not knowing what it was I could do and worrying that much of what I had been doing was of little to no consequence.
I share this all not to elicit feelings of sympathy or messages of hope. To be honest, I am not sure what hope I have to cling onto right now. When I live in a world where Black life is not worth an honest conversation, when I live in a world where the Department of Homeland Security is providing massive amounts of heavy, military-grade riot gear for local police departments (like Ferguson) and suggesting they can use them whenever they like, when I live in a world where Black people are shamed by national leaders and those in control of the media for feeling anger and rage, when I live in a world where W.E.B. DuBois' prophetic statements about race seem just as prevalent today as they did when he first wrote them...when I live in this kind of world, I am not sure what hope there is right now. I am not sure how to move forward. I am not sure how to be present, or to show up as an activist-scholar.
But I do know that I woke up to my friends posting their rage on Facebook. And I do know that my friends who I mentioned above are facing another day. And I do know that more than ever, we need each other. I know that the police state in which we live will not keep up safe. I know that sometimes my holding someone, or bearing witness to hot anger, is good enough. I know that I have choices to make each day about standing against racism, and I know I will recommit myself to doing this today and each day forward. I know that all oppression is connected, and so I know one of my tasks is to talk about how all #BlackLivesMatter, including the lives of Black trans* people, and particularly Black trans* women, who are continually killed.
I know I cannot Solve Everything. I know I cannot change the course of history. But I also know, in the words of CeCe McDonald, if no one else is gonna do it, I sure as hell am. I worry too much for my two pals not to do something, not to be selfless, and not to be a risk-taker, and not to put it on the line and stand against the injustice that was at the very heart of the decision not to indict last night.
I woke up to the same world I went to sleep to last night. This racism was here well before Mike Brown, and White supremacy has shielded more people than just Darren Wilson. What is different is my eyes have been opened again. It's time to wake up. It's time to realize that racism, and trans* oppression, and sexism, and classism, and ableism--these are not new phenomena, nor are they abstract notions. These have real effects on real bodies. I know I cannot do much, but I can use the platform I have, and the space I have been granted as a White academic, to be bold, and to be a risk-taker, and to be selfless. I can use this space to agitate for change, and to speak truth to power, as so many have done before me.
This is not the world I want to be living in. But I know I have a chance to create a new world, one in which we marginalized populations look out for each other, and we love, honor, support, and see each other as we wish to be loved, honored, supported, and seen. I can't do something big, but in light of that, I will do the small things I can.
For if there is no justice, there will be no peace.
I was saddened to learn that on November 15, Leslie Feinberg passed away. Leslie's life and work was important to so many trans* activists, scholars, and people, including mine. Hearing of Leslie's passing, which is really the passing of an incredible trans* activist and icon, hit me hard. Leslie's writing (particularly Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue was hugely important to me when I was first coming out as trans*. Moreover, Leslie's utter defiance of normative gender in both scholarship and daily life was a relief for me as a gender non-conforming kid who constantly felt like I wasn't trans* enough if unless I decided to do hormone replacement therapy and/or gender confirmation surgery. Leslie was, and remains to this day, an incredibly important person in my own trans* history. And so I felt it only right to take some time to honor the life and work of someone who, to borrow some ball scene terminology, is a Legend.
Many of the experiences Leslie shared with us as an audience speak to the painful realities of how gender operates as a discourse to delimit and foreclose many basic human rights and needs. From not getting adequate healthcare to being unable to find employment, Feinberg knew well the realities of trans* oppression. Although these realities are still omnipresent for trans* people today, it was Leslie's work as a pioneer in the area of trans* rights that helped galvanize the trans* movement. Leslie did not start the movement, but there can be no denying that Leslie was an incredibly important part of furthering and expanding it.
In my mind, one of Leslie's most important contributions to ongoing trans* activism was the focus on intersectional praxis. Leslie's last words are a subtle reminder of this: "Remember me as a revolutionary Communist." Leslie fought for worker's right, resisted capitalistic notions of rugged individualism, and truly believed in being active in common causes that united the most marginalized people across identities. Leslie's life and work were not solely about being trans*, or about workers rights, or about anti-capitalism. Instead, Leslie showed me how to work across identities to build coalitions as a means to what Dean Spade (2011) has termed "trickle up activism." From this lens, by focusing on the most marginalized, and by building coalitions that unite rather than divide, we as activists and scholars (and activist-scholars) can seek justice and rights that invariably "trickle up" to other marginalized groups and populations. Yes, Leslie did not coin the notion of intersectionality, but Leslie lived it in a way that has provided a roadmap for how I, too, may do it throughout my life.
Leslie's legacy will undoubtedly live on. Future generations of trans* people will run into Leslie in a variety of ways, perhaps most notably through reading Stone Butch Blues. Among the moments I will most remember was a talk Leslie gave in which a reference was made about an old law that required people to wear three pieces of "gender-appropriate clothing" or else face the prospect of being hauled to jail. As someone who rarely passes this test (and has extreme issues with the notion that clothing is gendered in and of itself), I often find myself reflecting on this particular insight that Leslie shared while I get dressed in the mornings. I know I will not be hauled off to jail for my clothing, but still, there is much work to be done, and many assumptions to be deconstructed regarding how gender is mapped onto our bodies as well as the effects such gender mapping has for the livability of our lives as trans* people. In this sense, I find I spend a small portion of most of my mornings with Leslie, and in doing so, I am able to recommit myself continually to the project at hand: resisting genderism in all forms.
Thanks be to Leslie Feinberg, one of my fearless and defiant trans* kin, for providing a roadmap for truth, power, resilience, and intersectional praxis. Yours is a life I will not forget.
I was recently invited to write a blogpost for my friends over at the Feminists in Student Affairs blog. The #SAfeminist bloggers have been doing great work highlighting feminist praxis in higher education and student affairs, and I was honored to be able to contribute to their efforts. Below is my post, which focuses on how trans* identities can enhance feminist praxis. Also, be sure to head over to the Feminists in Student Affairs blog so you can follow what the #SAfeminist bloggers are up to -- I know I will be!
This morning, while scrolling through my Facebook feed, I happened across a post that brought a smile to my face: it now appears that Simmons is the third Women’s college to openly affirm its stance on accepting transgender (herein referred to as trans*) students (Rocheleau & Landergan, 2014). This announcement follows those made earlier this fall by Mills College and Mount Holyoke, signaling what I hope will be a sea change for not only Women’s colleges, but for all institutions of higher education. I agree thatall institutions of higher education need to be considering trans* students more seriously, and have even mused why Men’s colleges have yet to publicly address the inclusion of trans* students. However, I think there are important questions to be addressed by the recent increase in attention on trans* students (lack of) inclusion at Women’s colleges, most notably, how does recognizing and affirming trans* lives shape the future of feminisms?
Previously, I have written about how Trans* Studies as a field enhances Women’s Studies. My thoughts on this subject are certainly not new, and are directly informed by the writing of scholars such as Janet Halley, Gayle Salamon, and Anne Enke, among others. However, for this post, I am more interested in thinking about how the recognition of trans* students on college and university campuses can inform the work we do as feminist student affairs educators. I take this focus not as a way to suggest there is not, should not, or cannot be overlap between academic departments and student affairs divisions. Much to the contrary, there is, should be, and can be more overlap.
My intent in focusing on student affairs practice in this post is two-fold. First, my decision is partially about audience, as I am assuming most people who follow this blog consider themselves feminist student affairs educators. Secondly, I want to focus on the doing of feminist praxis, or how feminism shows up in our work. As an academic myself, I very much consider the thinking and teaching I do to be work. However, I also think there is an everyday approach to feminism that I know I am sometimes guilty of overlooking when I enter into these conversations. Hence, the focus on student affairs praxis will serve as an important reminder for me not to stray.
Salamon (2008) wrote, “Feminism … has not been able to keep pace with nonnormative genders as they are thought, embodied, and lived” (p. 115). Far from locating this as an issue just at Women’s colleges, Salamon’s point suggests all feminist student affairs educators need to take seriously the trans* students, faculty, and staff in our midst. Furthermore, as Dean Spade has suggested, feminism is ultimately about gender equity, an issue of which trans* inclusion, justice, and recognition is very much a part. Therefore, recognizing the human dignity and worth of trans* students’ lives and incorporating trans* people and perspectives into one’s work are essential components of any intersectional feminist praxis.
In fact, thinking about what one means by uttering the word “woman,” or what it means to “be a feminist,” or how these words, phrases, associations, spaces, and identities (e.g., Women’s Center, woman, feminist, womynist, “this is what a feminist looks like”) are the very questions we need to be asking ourselves as feminist student affairs educators. By doing so, we make space at the table of feminist praxis for people of color, trans* people, people with disabilities, poor people and people with lower socioeconomic statuses, and people with a variety of religious, spiritual, and faith backgrounds.
Although I am loath to use the metaphor of waves within the feminist movement (a blogpost for another time), there is a conceptual link that can be found from the movement from “second wave” to “third wave” feminism. Put another way, just as “third wave” feminists insisted on the inclusion of race, class, and various other social identities as important positionalities to think about to recognize that a plurality of feminisms existed rather than there being just one unified version of feminism, so too is the bright potential of trans* identities and people to our work as feminist student affairs educators.
But, at the end of the day, what does this really mean for us as feminist student affairs educators? How does this happen “in real time,” or “on the ground” of college and university campuses? In other words, what is it we can do with this knowledge as feminist student affairs educators? What I suggest is that we need to change our outlook and approach to feminist work on college campuses. What I mean by this is rather than instituting additional programs (which is itself a noble goal and something that could be considered), we think about how we ourselves think about gender as well as how gender organizes the work we already do. In this sense, we will not be working more, but working smarter. To highlight what this all means, I offer some suggestions, questions, and areas for further exploration.
Nicolazzo, Z. and Harris, C. (2014), This Is What a Feminist (Space) Looks Like: (Re)conceptualizing Women’s Centers as Feminist Spaces in Higher Education. About Campus, 18: 2–9. doi: 10.1002/abc.21138
Rocheleau, M. & Landergan, K. (2014). Simmons College welcomes transgender students. The Boston Globe. Retrieved fromhttp://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/11/07/simmons-college-becomes-women-college-announce-will-accept-transgender-students/znajJvxnxnt84Q0F9tCMiJ/story.html
Salamon, G. (2008). Transfeminism and the future of gender. In J. W. Scott (Ed.), Women’s studies on the edge. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Spade, D. (2011). Normal life: Administrative violence, critical trans politics, and the limits of law. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
Yesterday, I received a question on one of my Facebook posts about how people can support trans* women of color. Immediately, a few simple ideas came to mind; however, instead of rushing to type out a fast (and underdeveloped) response, I wanted to write a more thorough list with some explanations. So, here goes...
1. Talk with trans* women of color.
It may seem axiomatic, but all too often people who consider themselves to be "advocates" or "allies" are not even in touch with the communities on whose behalf they are attempting to advocate. Even as someone who is trans*, it is my responsibility to reach out and talk with trans* women and trans* people of color. I say this for a variety of reasons, one of which is that my Whiteness allows me to navigate social spaces and institutions differently than trans* people of color (read: I do not face the same scrutiny due to my Whiteness).
Trans* women of color know what they want and need to be safe; they know what changes they want to see at a micro- and macro-level. Not talking with them and rushing to do whatever we as "allies" or "advocates" think should be done further silences and marginalizes trans* women of color. It reproduces the same sort of oversight and violence trans* women of color may experience regularly. Instead, we need to be talking with trans* women of color to hear what they are experiencing, what they need, and how they envision getting what they need.
This may be hard. You may not know where to go, to whom to turn, or what to say. That's okay. You don't need to say anything most of the time; you just need to listen, and do so in a genuine way. Once you establish a pattern of listening and caring, you will create good relationships with trans* women of color and can then begin to work alongside each other. Oh, and one last thing -- don't barge in to spaces created for trans* people of color until you ask for permission. Again, there are so few spaces for marginalized populations, so jumping into these spaces without seeking permission, no matter your good intentions, may also feel like a further act of aggression. Seek permission, listen deeply, and create lasting relationships so you can hear what trans* women of color are thinking, experiencing, and wanting.
2. Learn about trans* women of color.
It's true that trans* people, and in particular several trans* women of color, have garnered more media attention lately. Laverne Cox became the first trans* woman of color to grace the cover of TIME magazine, Janet Mock's memoir was released and has led to an extensive book tour, and CeCe McDonald has been speaking across the country. However, you don't need to wait for any of these three amazing women to come to your area before you learn more about trans* women of color...nor are these the only trans* women of color you should learn about or from whom you can learn.
It is up to us as people with more privilege to seek out our own information about the experiences of trans* women of color, and trans* people of color more broadly. You can do this by seeking books, articles, Facebook pages, and following Twitter hashtags about trans* women of color. There are also several national reports about the experiences of trans* women of color that may be helpful in gaining a sense of what some trans* women of color confront regularly. Injustice at Every Turn is a comprehensive (and incredibly chilling) report documenting the experiences of trans* people in the U.S. It has breakouts based on race and various trans* identities, which makes it a pretty complete portrait. For people who are on Twitter, check out the backchannels of #twoc (trans* women of color), #girlslikeus, and #TransLivesMatter, among others. These hashtags are good ways to learn about and connect with trans* women of color.
You can also check out videos of trans* women of color speaking online, like this gem by CeCe McDonald. Trust me, it's worth the hour and 17 minutes, and she makes some amazing points.
I would also be remiss if I didn't mention Dean Spade's book Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law. This book is amazing, and very much highlights the experiences of trans* people of color as well as various other intersecting identities and how social institutions and opportunities are foreclosed to many based on these identities. It's admittedly a bit more of an academic read, but is also highly approachable for someone looking to stretch a bit. Eric Stanley and Nat Smith's Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex also has some amazing, and highly readable, chapters focusing on trans* communities of color.
3. Support organizations working alongside trans* women of color.
There are many amazing organizations doing great work alongside trans* women of color and trans* people of color communities. Some of these groups are very well known, such as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the Audre Lorde Project, and FIERCE. There are plenty of other groups across the country, too, so do some exploring in your local areas. Even if the organization is not solely focused on issues related to trans* women of color, that's okay; if there is a focus on trans* women of color, or good attention paid to the concerns of trans* women of color, see how you can support them.
"Support" can mean many things, too. Volunteer your time, mentor trans* youth of color, write letters to trans* women of color who are enmeshed in the Prison Industrial Complex simply for being trans* women of color (Black and Pink can hook you up with a penpal), post things on Facebook and Twitter that you are learning, offer financial support if you can (any amount helps), and talk to your friends, family, and colleagues about what you are learning. These are all ways you can support trans* women of color and the organizations working alongside trans* people of color communities to increase their life chances.
4. Talk to people about what you are learning/doing.
You know, that last point about talking to other people about what you are learning and doing is hugely important, so I am going to pull it out and put it right here. Don't keep this stuff to yourself. Share it widely with others. And when people ask why you care so much, tell them what you know. Speak from the heart, and let them know that violence against some is never justifiable. Ever. And that you will not stand for it.
5. Believe in the journey.
Working toward justice for trans* women and trans* people of color is hard (unfortunately), complex, and something which needs to be addressed over time. If you are waiting for a Big Win as a measurement of your progress, then you may be in for a rude awakening. Big Wins don't often come...in any social movement. I mean, they can, but if that is all you're looking for, or the measuring stick you use for determining success, then you may be setting yourself up for something less than success.
I don't say this to be a downer. In fact, I share it to point out that being in community, solidarity, and situating ourselves alongside others is itself an important "outcome" of activism. The journey of activism, the work we do engaging, living, loving, and learning about/from/with each other is hugely important. As CeCe McDonald has said, "We keep each other safe." Rather than waiting for politicians, police, or other social institutions to protect us (in fact, these are often the very institutions that continue to perpetrate violence against trans* women and trans* communities of color), we need to think about how we can come together, be in community, and keep each other safe. It's in the journey that this happens, not necessarily only in the arrival.
There are lots of other steps that folks can take, lots of steps I still need to take. I would love to hear other thoughts, comments, and suggestions from folks, so feel free to comment if you have them! Let's build this list together, and continue engaging in the important work of resistance that recognizes that all trans* lives matter.
This blog is a space where I share my thoughts on trans*-related issues. I also will share my own research as it develops, including papers, presentations, and the development of my dissertation study with trans* college students.