I am assuming most people who may happen across this blog know who CeCe McDonald is. If not, the short story is she is a trans* woman of color who was imprisoned (in a men's prison facility) for 19 months for defending herself against transphobic violence. The night she was arrested, she and other friends she was with faced racial profiling from a police officer who stopped them without provocation.
Since her release from prison, she has continued to be a vocal activist for prison abolition and trans* rights. Along this front, she has partaken in some brilliant dialogues with Dean Spade, the critical legal scholar and founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and Reina Gossett, Membership Director for the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and Activist-in-Residence at Barnard College's Center for Research on Women (how cool must that gig be?!), which specifically address themes of prison abolition, community development, and community love.
As I have written about in previous posts, I have been spending some time this summer listening to all the interviews I had with the lovely trans* students with whom I am engaged in my dissertation study. During these conversations, one of the things we kept coming back to was the notion of community; how to develop it, what it meant for us, and how community allowed us to navigate our multiple environments. Furthermore, we talked about the importance of developing and maintaining community (and the difficulties associated with doing so) in light of our living largely in environments that are not welcoming to us as trans* people. And, because colleges and universities are microcosms of the larger social environments in which they are embedded, these difficulties do not stop at the edges of campus. Instead, they are present for the many trans* people who bump into transphobia on a regular basis; as CeCe did. Or as Jordan Henderson is when thinking about how she will vote in Kansas given the new voter ID laws, which will likely lead to many people, including trans* people, being turned away at the polls for not having names, gender markers, and/or appearances on their identification documents that don't match their current lives and realities.
In light of these complexities, I found this short clip of CeCe McDonald talking with Dean Spade and Reina Gossett so incredibly compelling. In it, CeCe makes several important points. First, she highlights the absolute imperative to come together as a community of trans* and queer people. She rightly points out that police, prisons, and other regulatory institutions are not out to 'protect and serve' trans* populations. Because of this, she states we need to come together, stating emphatically, "We keep each other safe." She also makes a compelling case for setting aside the respectability politics and trans*-normativity that keeps us from coming together as a collective in the first place. She argues that we shouldn't ostracize our fellow trans* comrades because "they don't have this surgery or that surgery," but instead, we should all come together to create a coalition based on safety, care, and love. In her words, "We as a community ... need to put our pride to the side" and come together to look out for one another.
If you don't know of CeCe or haven't heard her speak, you should take the time to do so. She is a brilliant activist who has so much love for her trans* family, and her words are a real beacon of light at a political moment when identities have the ability to be just as divisive to some as they are meaningful to others. As she stated toward the end of the above video, "Prisons don't help; cops don't help. None of this is actually helping our communities. ...We keep each other safe."
This blog is a space where I engage with ideas, concepts, and research that seeks to increase life chances for trans* people.