Post the Fiftieth or On Actually Keeping Queer Queer

On Actually Keeping Queer Queer

A Critical Response

            Cherríe Moraga’s essay entitled, Still Loving in the (Still) War Years: On Keeping Queer Queer, is a two-part essay that was first published in 2009. The first part is a brilliantly critique on the mainstream gay rights movement’s focus on marriage equality. The second part is a misguided and misinformed attack on the trans*A community in general and the transmasculine community in particular. Moraga is well known within QTPOC activist circles and the purpose for this response is to facilitate an inter-generational dialogue that is both effective and salient. I want to bring our best to the table by continuing to challenge and critique, while at the same time to honor and recognize those that have come before. In short, I want to be as effective as possible in my work to transform, elevate and liberate queer/trans* people of color. The only way to do this is to work together.

In the first half of the essay, Moraga outlines how the gay rights movement is flawed in its mostly white, single-issue politics. She says that the movement is “prompted by the entitlement of race and class” which the mostly white queer proponents of the movement possess.  In other words, she states that the contemporary gay rights movement seeks not to challenge those systems of power that keep people oppressed, which is what it’s original aim was, but instead desires to assimilate into those very systems- both as individuals and as a movement.  Moreover, she argues that the movement fails to recognize the way white queers are implicit in the cultural imperialism involved in transnational adoption and “the support of immigrant rights for gay couples but not for migrant workers”.

She contends that the originating goal of the queer rights movement was to create a world in which queers could build and create the kinds of families that they chose, which may or may not have been the nuclear family of Middle America. However, the movement has become one of assimilation and not resistance, due to the co-optation of the movement by middle-upper class white queers.

Essentially, she calls the contemporary gay rights movement racist in all but name.

And I agree with her. Nowhere is this clearer then when Proposition 8 was passed in California. Shortly after it passed, the Human Rights CampaignB (HRC) released advertisements and articles accusing Black people for Prop 8’s passing.1 This is, of course, stems from the racist assumption that not only are there no queer people of color but also that all people of color are homophobic.

Moreover, when the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was in Congress, the HRC was willing to drop inclusion for trans* people from the bill in order to get it passed. By pushing for a trans* exclusive ENDA they were basically maintaining that they only serve the interests of the moneyed, white gays and lesbians.

The other thing that makes it clear that the HRC is a single-issue lobbying group that represents only upper class white queers is their Corporate Equality Index (CEI). The CEI surveys many of the Fortune 1000 publically traded companies in America. It evaluates companies based on four criteria which are as follows: “provide equal benefits for same-sex partners and spouses, end benefits discrimination for transgender employees and dependents, demonstrate firm-wide organizational competency on LGBT issues, and demonstrate firm-wide public commitment to the LGBT community.”2

The problem here is that many of the companies, like Goldman Sachs, Apple, Bank of America, Nike, and Sodexo, have committed acts that have violated people’s human rights. From the factory cities3 that Apple has, to the billions5 that Bank of America has invested in mountaintop removal to mine for coal, to the child labor that Nike6 uses, to the mortgage crisis that Goldman Sachs7 helped start, to the labor practices of Sodexo8, the list goes on. What this means is that if companies that have such horrible business practices can achieve a 100% on how much they respect human rights, then the axis of evaluation is both singular and shoddy.

What, then, does this say about the HRC and its CEI? I would argue that this, above all, demonstrates that the HRC are not trying to challenge and subvert the systems of power and oppression that makes the lives of poor people, people of color, trans* people, queers (who aren’t rich and white), women and people who are disabled, so hard.

To expand Moraga’s argument further, the HRC, and by extension the mainstream gay rights movement, is participating in what is called homonationalism. Homonationalism is the process by which rich, white queers appeal to an individual rights discourse at the expense of the collective rights of the community9.  They seek inclusion into the dominant paradigm instead of attempting to subvert it. However, when those rich, white queers are given access to that paradigm, it erases the human rights violations that the state, and corporations, commit against queer people of color, poor people etc.

Instead of creating equality, this actually causes more injustice. This is not the part of her essay that I take issue with, however.

In the second half of the essay, Moraga endeavors to present a well-reasoned critique of the trans* community. The critique ends up falling flat, however, because her assertions are wrong and they are inconsistent with the first part of her essay.

Moraga begins by stating that she is scared that “…the transgender movement at large, and plain ole peer pressure, will preempt young people from residing in that queer, gender-ambivalent site for as long and as deeply as is necessary.”(pp. 184) The assumption here is that young people are incapable of making decisions for themselves and that social pressures will force them one way or another. This claim has two problems. First, it is inherently adultist. By making the claim that the transgender movement and peer pressure that will cause young people to transition invalidates their lived experience. Young people, just like adults, are the experts of their own experience and can come to conclusions and make decisions on the path that they want their lives to takeC.Certainly there are influences that effect those decisions, as is true of adults, but the decisions are ultimately theirs to make. In other words, her argument erases the self-determination that young people have. Second, this statement reduces the trans* experience to that of those just transitioning. It erases all of those trans* identified folks who are pre-op or non-opD and who do exist in that space. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Moraga goes on to state that, “…accepted models of transgender [expression], especially for transmen, influenced by a generation of the commodification of Black and Brown masculinity, may not offer young people of color the opportunity or option to draw from their own “unmarketable” cultural traditions and histories in framing their gender identities.” (pp. 184) So in other words, Moraga claims that the narratives society gives to men of color, that Black and Brown men are brutes, sexist, oppressive, criminals etc., are accepted without question by transmen of color. This is, however, not the case. Numerous queer people of color organizations across the country are attempting to define masculinity, and femininity, for themselves, from the Brown Boi Project10 to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project(SRLP)11 to FIERCE12. The Brown Boi Project in particular focuses it’s framing of Black and Brown masculinity within the contexts of anti-oppression and gender justice and works towards community wellness. SRLP, on the other hand, focuses their gender justice work around legal advocacy and support.

Moreover, Moraga’s assertion fails to recognize that people of color in North America are the byproducts of numerous diasporas. Because of this, many of us are so disconnected from our cultural roots and traditions that we do not have access to them and more, do not even know what they are. We don’t know where to begin. One of the legacies of colonialism is that most Black and Brown do not know where their ancestors come from. This makes it difficult, then, for those people to construct their genders based on cultural traditions. We do the best we can with that tangled skein of linage and tradition.

Moraga then asserts that, in many ways, all queer people are transgender. (184) And while this might have been the case thirty years ago, that is not the case today. The mainstream gay rights movement, which Moraga harshly criticizes, has made it clear that queer people and trans* people are decidedly not the same. The definition of those identities today is clear. If that were not the case, the mainstream gay rights movement would be advocating for the concerns of the trans* community.

Put in another way, pre-StonewallE gay people and gender non-conforming folk needed to stick close to one another because of the desperate intensity of oppression that queer people were subjected to. Heteronormative patriarchy, in those days, made no distinction between a tranny and a faggot. At that time, gays and lesbians might have been able to claim the identity of being transgender. That is not the case today, however. Not only that, but by Moraga saying that queer people are transgender, she is conflating the ideas of sexuality and gender. While it is obvious that the two influence each other, it is not the case that they are one and the same or that they are even dependent on each other. There are many transpeople who don’t identify as queer and its obvious that many queer people don’t identify as trans.

Aside from all that, however, is the fact that she contradicts herself. She does this by identifying herself as a part of the community and at the same time denying transmasculine people of color the ability to choose for themselves their own identity. One cannot be part of a community and still deny that community its right to exist. And I would argue that is what Moraga is implying. By saying since transmasculine folks of color can’t, or shouldn’t, be trans* she is denying their right to exist.

Moraga goes on to give an account of how she perceived her gender identity when she was younger. She says that she felt like a boy trapped in a girl’s body and that if she had been born in 1982 instead of 1952, she would have come out as transgender (185). This is, however, a reductionist account of the trans* experience. Not all trans* people feel like they were trapped in the wrong body, although some do. The trans* experience is as varied and complex as the experience of a queer woman or a queer man.

She says also that she is grateful for the lesbian feminist discourse that was active when she came of age because it allowed her to construct her identity and desire within a critical political framework. The underlying assumption there is that there is no critical political discourse today to help queer people of color construct their identities. If anything, the discourse has become more nuanced since the 70s and 80s and is better able to account for all of the beautiful diversity of experience. The reason for this is because our community is constantly challenging itself to be as radically inclusive as possible. It’s clear that the contemporary discourse is informed and built on the foundation laid down by lesbian feminist of color thought.

Moreover, whether one is being influenced by the discourse of lesbian feminism of color in the 80s or the contemporary trans*, anti-racist discourse, the influence remains the same. We cannot help but be defined, in part, by the context in which we exist; to claim that one is superior to the other is the wrong assertion to claim. Rather, we should see the progression of thought as a necessary thing and it is all built on what has come before. The trans* people of color discourse could not be what it is today without the foundation of what came before. However, that does not mean that what came before is superior. Rather, it means that the current discourse is an expansion and clarification of the previous discourse.

Moraga states that she “… [does] not want to keep losing [her] macha daughters to manhood through any cultural mandates that are not of our own making.” (Moraga 186) Unfortunately, this argument is very similar to those made by homophobic people of color who posit that queerness is something that belongs to whiteness, therefore queer people of color don’t exist. If queerness is imported from white culture then queer people of color construct their identities from cultural mandates that are not their own. This is something that Moraga, as a Chicana lesbian feminist, clearly does not believe. Why, then, would this argument apply to trans* people?

One of the most disheartening aspects of Moraga’s analysis is the failure to mention transwomen and how they fit into Moraga’s claims. She mentions them only twice in passing and both times she mentions them because they were murdered. How can Moraga offer a critique the trans* community and fail to address transwomen of color? It seems to me that this is just another manifestation of the transmisogynyF that is so rampant in the lesbian feminist discourse. This transmisogyny manifests in areas inside academia but also in areas outside academia. From the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which has a policy of only allowing women-born-womenG in their festival to the near invisibility of transwomen of color narratives and theory in the academy to the profiling and criminalization of transwomen who are street-based sex workers13, transmisogyny is everywhere. And while the manifestation of transmisogyny is not overt here, it is still one of omission. By excluding transwomen in her analysis, she perpetuates the myth that transwomen are not real women. Since transwomen were assigned male at birth and their genitals are not the “correct” ones, they cannot be real women or experience womanhood. This argument, however, is in complete opposition to one of the main tenets of feminism, namely that biology does not equal destiny. Our genitals do not determine who we are or what we can do. Except, of course, when transwomen are concerned. Just as white feminism universalizes the experience of middle-class white women as “The” experience of woman, so to does feminism in general universalize the experience of cisgender women as “The” experience of woman.

We cannot win the struggle for liberation if we are leaving people behind. We cannot lose sight of the fact that the whole reason we fight is so that we can live our lives free. We fight so that we can control and shape our own destiny and determine for ourselves who and what we are. This will never be possible, however, if we ignore and discount whole sections of oppressed peoples. We must do our utmost to not make the same mistake that the mainstream gay rights movement made. We need to do our utmost to provide inclusion, not diversity. By focusing on inclusion, we can avoid causing injustice while fighting against it.

Ultimately, Moraga’s essay questions where the real site of queer resistance remains; if the mainstream gay rights movement remains preoccupied with serving in the military and getting married as a way of assimilating into a white hegemonic culture and her queer “daughters” are becoming men, who is left to resist? She is afraid that “… Ameríca wants to defrock us of our queer powers.” (Moraga 188)

I would argue that the only group that wishes to erase our queerness is the mainstream gay rights movement and that to assert that both the gay rights movement and trans* people are trying to erase queerness is contradictory, hypocritical and transphobic. This is because being trans* is by definition the queerest space that one can exist in. The site of queer resistance exists most obviously resides in the trans* body. This is because being trans* challenges every assumption that heteronormative patriarchy possesses. Being assigned male at birth and then relinquishing one’s male privilege to live a fully actualized life is one of the most radical things that one can do. Being assigned female at birth and choosing to transition out of that in order to redefine masculinity is one of the most radical things that one can do. Those actions challenge on a very deep level what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a man, and flies in the face of the gender binary. Trans* people smash and obliterate the assumption that there are only two genders (and sexes) and that one must live within the constraints of that binary. And this is why trans* people are so threatening and challenging to society. Society cannot place them and so it retaliates against them. And this manifests in spaces that are supposedly inclusive and queer friendly.

And it is because of the aforementioned reasons that most trans* people need to fight tooth and nail against the dominant paradigm just to stay alive, especially transwomen of color. In other words, queer resistance exists most strongly within the trans* community because it is that resistance that is so necessary for their survival. And it is through this fight that communities and families grow. The trans* community has had to define and redefine what it means to be a family. From the Houses of the drag scene in New York City14 to the bklyn boihood15 there are trans* people coming together to support and love each other the ways families do. It is these life saving communities that keep us able to continue to resist. It is these families that give us the strength to live, love and grow. And we need our elders but how can we have them if they deny us? How can you ask us to listen to you when you refuse to acknowledge and listen to us?

Moreover, to make the claim that in a generation the trans* movement will erase queerness is completely unfounded. Unless there is a completely radical transformation in the minds and hearts of U.S. Americans, and the world, trans* people will remain queer. When 1 in 5 trans* people are at risk for homelessness16, there just isn’t any way that they can erase queerness. They don’t have the agency or the power. Put in another way, trans* people don’t have enough influence to disassociate themselves from queerness.

Moraga’s essay is contradictory on the deepest level because she states, “… in the AztlánH that I imagine, our queer bodies, as they were born, will no longer be marked by society.” (Moraga 187) This, however, fails to see the point. This is because all of our bodies would cease to be queer if they were not marked. We can only define ourselves as queer in opposition to that which is not queer, namely straight and cisgender. Thus, our bodies are marked. However, if that distinction ceased to hold meaning then there would be no such category as such. That, then, would lead to assimilation and homogenization. Which is exactly what Moraga is working against. This marking, however, does not need to be a negative thing or something caused by oppression. Rather, we can see this mark as being just that. We are different from straight and cisgender people. That is a fact.  And while this difference stems, in part, from our experience of oppression, that is not the only thing that makes being queer different. Being queer is different from being straight just as apples and different from oranges. The point here isn’t to change that mark but rather to recognize it, embrace it, celebrate it and remove from it the part that results from oppression.

Additionally, the assumption as Moraga has it, that if we were not marked we would not have to transition or change our bodies is transphobic because it erases those people who feel that need. It is basically saying that trans* people would not exist if those things that marked us, namely heteropatriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism, did not exist but that other queers, namely lesbians and gay men, would.

If we are to make a world where power and resources are shared equitably, then the interests of the most vulnerable must be put first. We must fight against those forces that keep us alienated from each other. We must resist those influences that would seek to co-opt us, silence us, and assimilate us. Above all, we must constantly be examining our privilege. We must constantly examine how we are implicit in our own destruction. And we must constantly be grounded in the material reality of life today so that our theory can change, adapt and reflect the lived and embodied experience that our theory attempts to capture.

If we are going to use our collective power to elevate and liberate queer/trans* people of color then we must engage in intergenerational dialogue. I call upon our queer elders to share their wisdom with us. Your wisdom is essential if we are to succeed because of the history that you hold. You can tell us where we come from and that is invaluable. But I also challenge those same elders to expand and learn from us. I challenge those elders to let go of definitions and theories that are no longer salient. I also challenge the young people to seek out and learn from and honor our elders. We stand upon their shoulders and that is important to recognize because if we don’t, we fall.

Never forget: we are all in this together.

————-

Bibliography: 

1. LAGAI. (2008, December). Marriage and racism and queers, oh my. Retrieved from http://www.lagai.org/marriage_and_racism.htm

 

2. Towle, A. (2008, February 25). Hrc defends position on enda as trans groups picket outside. Retrieved from http://www.towleroad.com/2008/02/hrc-defends-pos.html

3. Fidas, D., & Cooper, L. (2012, January). Corporate equality index. Retrieved from http://sites.hrc.org/documents/CorporateEqualityIndex_2012.pdf

I use this source to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the HRC and how they have failed as an organization to represent all queer communities while at the same time purporting to do so.

4. Ahmed, B. (2012, February 07). Chinese labor practices sour apple consumers. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2012/02/07/146466331/chinese-labor-practices-sour-apple-consumers

I use this and other news articles, not only because they support my claims, but also because authors in my field use real-world examples to back up their theories. Ultimately, our theory reflects the lived experience of those we are talking about. Thus, it makes good sense that I would cite real-world happenings.

5. Sartor, A. (2011, July 28). Bank of america, the bank of coal. Retrieved from http://understory.ran.org/2011/07/28/bank-of-america-the-bank-of-coal/

6. Loann. (n.d.). Businesses: Nike. Retrieved from http://library.thinkquest.org/trio/TTQ02189/nike.htm

7. AP. (2010, April 16). Goldman sachs charged with subprime mortgage fraud. Retrieved from http://www.nypost.com/p/news/business/goldman_hit_with_subprime_mortgage_CG9zDEiuE6C9wkdTVU8fEL

8. Lee, N. (2010, October 31). Commission of inquiry report concerning the labor practices of sodexo in colombia. Retrieved from http://kickoutsodexo.usas.org/files/2011/04/20110413_commission_of_inquiry_report_concerning_the_labor_practices_of_sodexo_in_colombia_10_31_10_1.pdf
9. Kouri-Towe , N. (2012, January). Trending homonationalism . Retrieved from http://nomorepotlucks.org/site/trending-homonationalism

I used this source because it has information of one of the concepts that I introduce in my paper.

10 Brown Boi Project. (2010, March). Brown boi project: Mission and core values. Retrieved from http://brownboiproject.org/mission_core_values.html

11 Sylvia Rivera Law Project. (n.d.). Sylvia rivera law project: About. Retrieved from http://srlp.org/about

12 FIERCE. (2000). Fierce: Mission and history. Retrieved from http://www.fiercenyc.org/index.php?s=84

13 Houston, A. (2011, November 09). Trans sex workers still most vulnerable. Xtra!, Retrieved from http://www.xtra.ca/public/National/Trans_sex_workers_still_most_vulnerable-11058.aspx

14. Highleyman, L. (2007, February 21). What is the history of drag balls?. Retrieved from http://www.gmax.co.za/think/history/2007/070221-dragballs.html

15. bklyn boihood. (2010). bklyn boihood: About. Retrieved from http://www.bklynboihood.com/about-bbh/

16. Ray, N. (2006). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth: An epidemic

of homelessness. (pp. 58) New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy

Institute and the National Coalition for the Homeless

I used this source to support my claim that trans* people experience forms of oppression that are both desperate and that the gay community hasn’t felt since before the Stonewall riots.

16. Moraga, C. (2009). Still loving in the (still) war years: On keeping queer queer. (pp. 175-192). Durham, NC: Duke University Press

This is the source of the original essay that I am critiquing.

Notes

  1. The usage of the asterisk is to indicate the entire gender non-conforming community instead of just the transgender community.
  2. The Human Rights Campaign is the largest lobbying group for gay rights.
  3. For a more encompassing definition of youth empowerment, please refer to http://www.milcahferguson.com/MEF/Home_files/CriticalSocialTheoryYouthEmpowerment.pdf
  4. Pre-op, post-op and non-op is short hand used by the trans* community to communicate where they are in their surgical transition. Non-op refers specifically to trans* people who have no intention of going through any sort of surgery. Non-op can also refer to genderqueer or third gender people who don’t identify as either male or female and do not plan to transition physically.
  5. The Stonewall Riots were a four-day riot that started the gay rights movement. It occurred in the Stonewall Inn, which was, and still is, a gay bar. For more information, please refer to Trans Liberation by Leslie Feinberg.
  6. Transmisogyny is a hatred of transfeminine-identified individuals.  Just as misogyny is a hatred of women.
  7. “Women-born-women” is a concept that is meant to exclude transwomen from women-only spaces. For more information of that please refer to http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2008/02/06/reconsidering-women-born-women-space/
  8. Atzlán, in this context, means the most perfect society in which there is no injustice. In a broader context, Atzlán is the traditional country of the Native Mexicans, namely the Aztecs. It is used by the Chicano movement to show how much land needs to be repatriated. This land extends as far north as Nevada. It is also used as a philosophical idea of a land free from oppression.
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About witchymorgan

I'm a 22 year old womanist, sex positive, pansexual, polyamorous, queer, bruja, transwoman. Social justice activist by day, social justice activist by night. Fun! View all posts by witchymorgan

15 responses to “Post the Fiftieth or On Actually Keeping Queer Queer

  • Ginger

    I wish you were back here in Austin. She spoke at UT last Friday and it was both awe-inspiring (describing the queer woman’s experience and her relationship with Gloria Anzaldua) and really painful for young trans* folks in the room as well as for people that have spent a lot of their lives trying to make space for young trans folks of color when there is none in mainstream society and none in white gay cis culture. She called young people defensive and used condescending language in describing how they relate to her as daughters, children, and offspring. It was frustrating for all of the young folks in the room who are still fighting for space to live and exists and for activists that are really more her young coworkers than offspring to be controlled in defining queer and creating space by the generations that came before them. I wish you had been here to debrief everything with us.

    • witchymorgan

      I so wish I could have been there too! I’ve heard some stories from other folks in the room and it was pretty depressing. I really wish I could have taken her to task in person and been like, “Yo, you need to cut the transphobic shit out. We are your contemporaries not your wayward children.” Argh! I just hope that she reads this and gets it.

  • Donna

    Beautiful piece, Morgan!!! Positive, well thought out, well written… an A+ in my book!!!

  • juanra

    witchymorgan:

    I want to start by saying that I am not trans and I will never understand the trans experience. I am a Latino immigrant, feminist man, and gender bender (among other things), finishing one graduate degree in Women’s and Gender Studies and starting a PhD in sociology. I have class and male and sexuality privilege, and have had to understand and come to terms with my complicity in reproducing the heterosexist, white centric, capitalistic systems of oppression in this Eurocentric country. Along my academic journey, Gloria Anzaldua and Cherrie Moraga have been extremely influential in my work and inform my main theoretical lens, as well as a more practical lens when working with undergraduate students of color. Moreover, they have been great influences in my personal journey to decolonize myself, get beyond essentialist notions of gender and sexuality and bodies and race, not get trapped in the limitations of postmodernism and eurocentrism in academia, and painfully yet only fleetingly liberate my mind. That is my position, and I hope it somehow contextualizes what I am going to say next.

    This is not a debate, but a conversation I would like to join. You accuse Cherrie Moraga of many things, among them that she is reductive with the trans experience and does not see how complicated it is, that she does not understand the context from which you and others like you are coming from, and that she is in essence transphobic and paternalistic. You have done this, though, by isolating selected sentences from her essays and assuming a lot about the direction in which she was going without taking into account the rest of her book, let alone her entire career. You have, indeed, decontextualized everything she has said, while accusing her of not taking into account your context. Moreover, she was not trying to deny anyone of their trans experience, nor identified as trans herself, but rather opened up and made herself vulnerable to share her own experience and hypothetical feelings, no one else’s. What you have done is taken her words and denied her of her experiences and the value of what she had to say.

    You have also said that ‎”We can only define ourselves as queer in opposition to that which is not queer, namely straight and cisgender,” which is a very essentialist, Eurocentric (binary logic) claim, working within the very paradigm that reproduces systems of oppression against sexual, racial, gender minorities. So I don’t understand why you’re saying that Moraga is being reductive and not understanding your complexity, when you yourself are reducing the queer experience to a more mainstream and safe, but ultimately neat and essentialist, view. Along the same line, you claim that “the current discourse is an expansion and clarification of the previous discourse,” but discourses are never this neat. They are messy, painful to digest, hard to understand, and rarely linear. Moraga is one to get beyond these ways of thinking and understanding the world, but this is something that took a lot of self-reflexivity, self-criticism, experience, empathy and sympathy to achieve on her part. Most of us do not practice this, and thus fail to see (and sometimes adamantly refuse to see) how we ourselves are indeed part of a racist, heterosexist, classist, ableist society, and these discourses will work through us and will inform our understanding of our experiences and our identities. Your experience is very valuable, it’s a position that begs to be heard and many will welcome it (I am interested in hearing what you and others in your position have to say), but it is not the end-all, be-all of combating oppression, nor is it free of reproducing the very systems of oppression we are all fighting. This is part of what Moraga wanted to talk about in those essays, what she wanted us to listen to.

    Witchymorgan, Moraga talks about really complex ways of knowing, looking at the world, queering the world, breaking free from colonialism, etc. Her words can at times be scary and very hard to make sense of, given how enmeshed we as young people of color are in the hegemonic discourses of this US society (capitalistic, heterosexist, white supremacist society). Many of the things she says will bother us and challenge us, and it will be easier to just pick up Eurocentric, essentialist, heterosexist and capitalistic discourses to make sense of our lives and our place in this society at this point in history. This is what Moraga fears and is trying to communicate through her essays, and she does this with a very clear understanding of her positionality as a lesbian from her time, acknowledging her limitations and seeing herself in relation to others, including young people. She never attacks anyone or denies anyone of their experience, but rather asks us to slow down and be more self reflexive about our lives and how our current discourses are never divorced from anything else, including mainstream oppressive discourses as well as the discourses that opened the door for your contemporary discourses to exist now (like Chicana feminism).

    You respond to Moraga as if you already know everything that Moraga meant with your understanding of how hegemonic discourses (including hegemonic LGBTQ discourses) work. At the risk of making too big of an accusation, this is an arrogant stance that you are taking, and thus can reduce the impact of the good points you raise. Your arguments are defended from a binary and Eurocentric (valga la redundancia) paradigm, reproducing what Moraga was trying to warn us about. Where are all the self-reflexive analyses of the people who got pissed off by her, including you? How do you, who respond to her in such an incendiary (and disrespectful) way, reproduce the very paradigms Moraga and Anzaldua tried to liberate us from (or that young queer people of color claim to fight)? This conversation and response to her essays can be done in a much more respectful and self-reflexive way that can yield better results if these questions are taken into account.

    Like Moraga, though, I’m not trying to shut down this conversation or all the arguments in this blog post. I’m encouraging more self-reflexivity before firing away and taking away the importance of the contributions of Moraga and Chicana Feminism in general.

    Por favor, respira hondo y conta hasta diez antes de responderme si lo que te dije te enoja! Also look up pictures of cute cats. I welcome your responses.

    In solidarity,

    juanra

    • witchymorgan

      juanra,

      Thank you so much for reading my article and contributing to this conversation. If we are going to dismantle those systems of power and oppression that keep us alienated from one another and destroy our families, then we need to have these conversations. Like I said in my essay, we are all in this together. We need to work together.

      I didn’t make this clear enough in my essay; I have great respect and admiration for Cherrie Moraga’s work. He art and her writing have inspired me, challenged me and helped me grow as a person. I know that my understanding of what it means to be brown and queer would be much less defined if it were not for her work. I recognize that I stand on her shoulders and that I owe a lot to those that have come before. And it is because I respect her and admire her that I critique her. If I didn’t care, I just wouldn’t write this. That being said, it’s hard for me to hear people demand, without knowing where I come from, that I respect those that I feel don’t respect or recognize me. It’s clear that Moraga wouldn’t see me as a woman or respect my identity as a woman so forgive me if I take issue with that and, as such, state that forcefully.

      That being said, I do think that she is missing some points in her analysis. I don’t think I decontextualize her. Rather, the way that my essay is structured is where I take each of the parts of her arguments and analyze them separately. At the end of my essay, I evaluate her argument as a whole and offer my critiques. Not only that, but she doesn’t mention transpeople even once in any other part of her book. I am not critiquing her book. I’m am critiquing her final essay in her book. Further, I understand that she exists within the context of second-wave feminism and the woman of color feminism that arose in the 70s and 80s. Second-wave feminism has never been a friend to transpeople and that is a fact. And because of that, it is worthy of critical analysis.

      Like I said in my critique, one cannot at the same time claim a community and then invalidate it’s right to exist. Because that is what Moraga is saying very subtly. The tone of her critique speaks to a paternalistic desire that we would just disappear. In other words, we challenge her conception of what it means to be brown and queer, woman and man, and, at least as I interpret it, her reaction is to wish us away. It would be easier for her if we didn’t exist. Her critiques of the trans community are just unfounded and hurtful. You say that we need to respect her experience but why must I respect that if she denies my right to exist? If we shouldn’t respect the experience of a racist or a sexist, why then would we do that for someone who is transphobic? And while I understand that Cherrie Moraga might not see herself as transphobic, neither do many racists and sexists. That is because what matters more are the reactions and feelings of the target of racism or sexism. Since they cannot ever escape or ignore that part of their experience, they have much better knowledge of what that oppression looks like and it’s many manifestations, great and small. In other words, while Moraga might not see herself as transphobic, the fact that transpeople see her or interpret her as such means much more. My partner, who is a black transman, was recently at one of her book readings where she read parts of the essay in question and he felt unsafe, hurt and voiceless. Are we to prioritize the experience of Moraga, who in this case is in a position of greater power as a speaker, professor and with more influence, or prioritize the experience of the person who is in a position of lesser power as an attendee? Are we sure that we aren’t just doing this because of her reputation? And if that is the case, what does that say about our own communities and discourse?

      The way we define ourselves by what we are not is a fact. If this was not the case, then there would be no such thing as identity. We would all be the same, homogenized. However, this inherent aspect of identity does not necessarily need to come from a place of otherness or oppression. If the goal here is to create a fully equitable world where we would have the power to self-determine, then we would still have to determine what we are and what we are not. What it means to be straight and queer is completely malleable by us. There is no objective reality of what those things mean and it’s clear that it has changed over the last 40 years. We must define ourselves for ourselves but we cannot define ourselves by ourselves because we exist in a social medium. As it is today, many aspects of this is a result of oppression but it does not have to be. Further, Moraga herself says that we are the shadows that challenge and critique white, capitalist, heteropatriarchy. Shadows, however, are only cast and do not exist of themselves. The definition of the shadow is only given by that which casts it. In other words, we can only critique the mainstream by being apart and away from it. And this is a good thing. Because otherwise, we would be unable to have the vision of a fully equitable society nor understand how to realize it.

      Just because the progression of discourse is messy and painful does not mean that the progress is not there. Like I said, I stand on the shoulders of those who have come before. The relationship I have to those people and ideas are complicated and messy. But the fact that I am here, writing these words, speaks to a progress that was achieved, however messily, by those visionaries who came before I did. I think that second-wave feminism, and feminism in general, is a failed project which did not take into account the complexities of race and ignored the concerns of transpeople. However, I understand that the dialogue that we have today is made possible by the dialogue that they had yesterday. The messiness does not invalidate the progress.

      The only thing that bothers me about what Moraga writes is her invalidation of transmasculine experience and her erasure of transfeminine experience. All of her other thought is brilliant and, I think, valid. Just because I am critiquing part of her thought does not mean that I buy into the discourses that promote white, capitalist, heteronormative patriarchy. The only way that I’ve been able to write any of this, and even survive this world, is by reflecting on myself, my own privilege and my position in this world as a brown, queer transwoman. Is my theory perfect? Absolutely not. There is a lot of room for growth and I need critique’s like yours to see that. But tell me exactly where I wrote something that was oppressive to another group of people? What did I write that would cause harm to another person? Do I even have that kind of agency? Moraga does and did. The affirmation and defending of the trans experience doesn’t oppress anyone.

      One of the things we need to move away from is putting people on pedestals and thinking that just because they have a long history means that they necessarily have the truth or the right way of seeing things. Moraga, in her critique of transpeople, is wrong. That is what I feel and that is what I believe. Despite Moraga’s long history, she is not the grandmatriarch of queerness. No one is. She has no right to tell us to “slow down” because she does not have that kind of authority. She does not “know better” by merit of her age or experience. Put in another way, self-determination means that we determine for ourselves and if that is something that Moraga believes in, why is she legislating that we should “slow down”?

      You might not be intending to shut down the conversation but intentions are not magical and what matters are actions and how they effect others.

      En la Lucha,

      Morgan Robyn

      PS If you think this is inflammatory, you really should have seen my first draft of this paper.

      PPS Telling me to breathe and look at cats before I respond is condescending and insulting. Its the same thing that white people say, “I can’t hear you because of your anger.” to POC.

      • Juanra

        Thanks for your response. I’m sorry about the last comment about breathing and he cats. It was my awkward and wrong way of trying to break the ice. I’ll think about what you have expanded on here before a longer reply.

  • Santana Mendesa

    Very interesting points you have observed, thank you for putting up.

  • Karari Kue

    Brilliiant! Thank you, mil veces thank you.

    I credit Cherrie for my awakening as a queer Chicano/Mexicano/Latino. It was La Güera that introduced me to a world of possibility where being queer and brown was possible.

    However, I have also begun to learn about how our current definition of queer (namely cis monosexual homosexual) shapes the discourse of queer identities. Bi folx are not queer enough and trans folx are somehow “becoming straight.”

    I am so happy to see that you are addressing the cissexism head on. We need to help bridge that gap BEFORE Cherrie is no more with us.

    That said, I would love to have this posted as an op-ed on the magazine where I serve as editor. If you woudl be interested, please let me know.

  • Rowan

    I think that I agree with the core of what you have to say, but there are parts of your argument that I think I disagree with. Also, I’m white and I’m not very familiar with a lot of theory you’re talking about, so I might just be saying a bunch of bs, in which case I promise I won’t get all angry and defensive if you tell me that I have no idea what I’m talking about.

    Is this a fair description of your view of Moraga’s argument?
    “Trans men are trying to claim male privilege (and often heterosexual privilege), are refusing to defend their position as (often queer) women, and even if some of them aren’t trying to do that, they implicitly frame their experiences in such a way that pressures other queer people somehow and encourages them to abdicate those identities.”

    In that case, it’s clear why she would not be motivated to talk about trans women, because it’s much harder to claim that they are trying to move to a more privileged place.

    I agree with you that it is wrong to frame trans identities as purely the manifestation of some external cultural narrative. I think that it’s possible to acknowledge both essentialist and social constructionist factors – transgender narratives and the specific cultural context that trans identities exist within influence the way that people frame their experiences of gender, but they don’t simply “create” trans people entirely out of thin air. I guess what I really mean is that, yes these cultural frameworks have a huge impact, but that doesn’t necessarily signify the absence an underlying essentialist aspect of trans experience. I don’t know if you would agree with that, though.

    For the sake of argument, one could even entertain the possibility that Moraga is right that some trans men only identify as trans because of the increased awareness of trans identities, and even that systems of oppression somehow encourage the taking up of those identities. Even if all that was true, what then? The alternative – scorning trans people as a whole, sweeping trans identities under the rug, discouraging people from identifying as trans – is simply unconscionable, it’s not even an option. Trans people are not the source of that problem, if such a problem even exists – the intersecting systems of oppression are the problem.

    Trans people still need to be critical of their own privilege, whatever form it may take (for example, the male privilege of trans men). But that is a very different approach from the one Moraga seems to be suggesting, hers being one that is intrinsically critical of trans identities.

    • witchymorgan

      The problem with that quote is that it is treating all trans men as a monolith. I know many trans men who are really, really feminine and other trans men who do not plan to physically “transition” meaning that they will not get those male privileges. Further, trans men of color often receive no male privilege if they are read as male because black masculinity is under constant scrutiny. For a black or brown man to be masculine, or overly masculine, is to invite white supremacist reprisals.

      We all need to be critical of our own privilege but being critical of it and attacking a whole set of oppressed people’s for being themselves is not the same thing,

  • Toi

    Hi Morgan,

    I heard tell from an activist at El Mundo Zurdo that some folks had written an open letter to her about her bigotry and that she’d responded back thanking them for pointing this out and pulled books off the shelf to be revised. As far as I can see…the books have the same inflammatory statements but that’s just from a peek into the books at google books etc. Do you know anything about this?

    Toi
    Afro-genderqueer/Genderqueer Street Philosophactivist

    • witchymorgan

      Hey Toi,

      I haven’t heard anything about that. I know that she has gotten a lot of feedback and, from what I’ve heard, she refused to change her postion. She mentions in the footnotes that she is grateful for the feedback that she has gotten at several readings and that it did adjust her postion but it still seems pretty transphobic to me. But other than that, I haven’t heard anything else.

      Thanks for reading my blog!

      En la Lucha,
      Morgan

  • Cisnormativity Constructed as Respectability Politics « TAL9000

    […] is temporally and culturally contingent. The temporal contingency has been addressed, briefly, in this article (“And while this [all queer people being transgender] might have been the case thirty years […]

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