Monthly Archives: July 2012

Post the Eighty-Third or On Where I Stand

The following is a bit of reflexivity that I feel I needed to own up to on my blog. I think its important that I articulate my social location because it affects what I see and where I am coming from when I write. I’ll probably repost this in my about page, as well. Enjoy!

I am a pansexual, Pagan, kinky, able-bodied, neuro-atypical trans woman of color. I am a first generation american. My mother emigrated here without documents from Colombia shortly before I was born and my father was born in Florida but raised in Puerto Rico. I was born into a working class family but have recently joined the middle class due to my mother’s employment at a bank. I suffer from major depressive disorder and I am a recovering alcoholic. I was born and raised in Boston.

I went to one of the best public high schools in Boston and got many scholarships to attend Northeastern.

I feel that I occupy a strange space within the classroom as well as in the world at large. I have been very, very fortunate. When I came out as trans, my mother did not kick me out of her home. I have a lot of educational privilege as well as class privilege. Thus, I have been able to escape much of the violence that my sisters are subjected too. I have never had to resort to survival sex work. I’ve never been homeless. I’ve never gone hungry. I’ve never been assaulted, although I have been frequently harassed. And I’ve had the time, energy and resources to pursue a college degree.

Because I have health insurance, given to me through my mother, I have been able to pay for the hormones for transition and have undergone some electrolysis. Three years into my transition, I read very well. The only ones, usually, who read me as trans are those who know what they are looking for; namely, other queers and trans people. Many of my sisters do not have that luxury.

I am also light skinned so while racism still affects me, I am treated much better than my sisters with dark skin.

My position as a queer, light skinned trans woman of color allows me to see the many ways that the various systems of power and oppression operate but my class and educational privilege allows me to mitigate the ways that they affect me. While I struggle against cissexism, racism, heterosexism etc, my middle class and educational privilege allows me some wiggle room. While it might be harder for me to get a job than a white man, I will still have the qualifications to apply. Because of my light skin and the fact that I talk “white”, folks with privileged identities are more likely to listen to me than they are to my sisters with darker skin and less access to education.

My experience is informed by my identity and my identity informs my experience. They are the two sides of the same coin. I cannot tease one out and say that one aspect of my identity as informed my experience the most. They are not separate strands of the same cord. Rather, I think that my identity and my experience are a multi-layered portrait. Its existence, and resultant beauty, comes from their unity. This is because I experience them all at the same time. The types of experiences that I have are, at times, a direct result of my identity. And my identity is a consequence of my experiences.

I think that my “purpose”, if you will, is to open the way for others like me to have their voices heard. I feel that because I’ve had the opportunity to study the work of feminist authors/philosophers/poets that have come before me, via my education, I am able to integrate their analyses into my cultural organizing. I want for other trans women of color to have a visible, articulated presence. I want to open the way for other girls like me to liberate ourselves and smash the systems that keep us oppressed. I want the radical theory, the radical vision for a new world to leave the academy and enter the hands of those who will use it to make this world a better place.

My job is not to educate or coddle white people, straight people, cisgender people. My job is not to convince would-be “allies” to “help” us. My job is not to be liked.

My job, as I see it, is to blaze a trail with poetry and art for a space for trans feminine people of color. My job is to work with other Q/TPoC and our comrades (whether straight or queer or PoC or white) to create a self-sustaining community that loves and affirms its own existence and struggles against all systems of oppression. My job is to hold people with privilege accountable. My job is to love myself and protect myself against those systems that would co-opt me, silence me and destroy me. My job is to surround myself by people who love me.

            My job is to struggle for the collective liberation of all people.

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Post the Eighty-Second or Burn

I burn

Darkly.

Opalescent

Flames dancing

On the tips of my eyes

Shedding shadows and shade

Across fields

Of white grass

That feed no one

They buried my heat

In a forest

of Glass and Steel

Hoping that I would

Fail to remember

The blood that kept

My ancestors hot

But even a cactus

Blooms

In the desert


Post the Eighty-First or On Risk and Good Will

So in this final semester of school before I graduate, I am taking a class called Feminist Perspectives. In a nutshell, it is a class that goes over the different types of feminist theories that have been developed since the first wave. The class also seeks to locate those different feminist theories and place them within their historical context so that we can fully understand where the authors are coming from.

And for the most part, I really enjoy it.

One aspect of the class that is particularly interesting is the execution of the feminist classroom as a style of teaching. This involves many different things, but the one aspect that I want to focus on here is the formation of agreements. Agreements are ground rules for the class that everyone agrees on and that help facilitate communication. One of the agreements that we all “agreed” to was that we would all enter the space assuming that everyone has good intentions.

This bothered me. It bothered me because for those in positions of privilege, there is no risk in assuming good intention. Straight white men don’t have to worry about being assaulted by microagressions or being subjected to language that is harmful. They can assume that everyone has good intentions because they are the least likely to be hurt in those situations. But for those in positions of less privilege, there is a lot of risk in assuming good intentions. I can’t assume that you are coming with good intentions because you, as well as I, have been socialized to act and think in ways that are oppressive and harmful.

People in positions of privilege will fuck up. It is inevitable. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that people in positions of privilege are inherently bad people. Its just that they don’t know any better. They’ve been given these scripts and there privilege allows them to take those scripts at face value even if they are really harmful. And they are harmful regardless of whether or not the person means it to be harmful. Intentions are not magical and if you say something oppressive, it is going to cause damage regardless of whether or not you didn’t mean it that way.

So there is a lot of risk if I assume that you are coming with good will because regardless of whether or not you are, what you say will affect me. Further, having good will doesn’t absolve you from the harm that your words cause. Because what matters is not whether you meant it to be hurtful or not. What matters is what happened and the consequences that result. If I run over you with a car, even if I didn’t mean too, you are still gonna be laid out. And I’m still held responsible for the action.

When discussing topics such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, cissexism and/or ablism, its super important that folks who are privileged in some or all of these areas check themselves. If you think it might be oppressive, think twice. And if you do say something oppressive and someone calls you out, listen. Listen and don’t do it again. These conversations need to be had, to be sure. But the needs of the oppressed must always be centered.

 


Post the Eightieth or Why “Oppression Olympics” is Problematic

In the relatively short time that I have been an activist and an organizer, I have often come across this concept of Oppression Olympics. Folks often say, “Let’s not make this a game at the Oppression Olympics.” The assumption here is that all oppressions are equal and that to compare them against each other is divisive and fails to the see the point. The point being here that we all need to work together regardless of the different oppressions that we struggle under because at the end of the day we are all the same. It is pointless to compare them or talk about the difference because they don’t matter in the work that we do.

This is problematic for two reasons.

The first reason is who often employs it and for what reason. In my experience, and in the greater context of the phrase, it seems that folks with relatively more privilege use it to silence the concerns of those with relatively less privilege. For example, I got into an argument the other day with some folks on accountability and the importance that allies be held accountable for unintentional acts of oppression. After the argument, someone that I really look up to said that we can’t be wasting our time with Oppression Olympics because there are more important issues to deal with. This really frustrated me because she, an older white lesbian, was basically telling me, a queer trans woman of color, that my concerns were not valid because they were divisive and they were divisive because they compared my experience with others. I felt silenced and put down. Because there are greater concerns, why are you bothering us with yours?

The second reason why this is problematic is because it ignores the very real differences between people and the oppressions they experience. It flys in the face of all intersectionality theory. It ignores the fact that folks exist in different social locations. Statistically speaking, people of color are poorer than white people (and yet are less likely to be on welfare). Statisically speaking, men of color are more likely to be gunned down by police than white men. Statistically speaking, queer and trans youth of color are more often homeless than white queer and trans people. Statistically speaking, trans women of color are more likely to be murdered than white trans women. In almost all cases, if the only difference between two people is race, the person of color will have a harder time of it. These are facts. And the different privileges that we hold mitigate the ways in which we experience oppression. So while a rich person of color might not have it as hard as a poor white person, that rich person of color still has to deal with being oppressed because of her race.

And yet the claim that we shouldn’t make something into the Oppression Olympics would seek to erase those differences. It would have us all believe that we experience oppression in the same way and that to talk about these differences lead to further problems. But as Audre Lorde said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Colorblind ideology does not work. Assuming that we are the same does not work. Assuming that homogeneity is the only catalyst for unity doesn’t work.

What does work is a frank and honest appraisal of where we all are. What does work is acknowledging that we are all different and that our experiences are informed by the space that we occupy. What does work is understanding that we all need to be accountable for the ways that we benefit from systems of power and oppression. What does work is understanding that theories of oppression need to be grounded in the material reality of the folks living those lives.

What does work is giving space for all voices to be heard.


Post the Seventy-Ninth or No Longer

My anger

Is

Spiritual

A glittering, iridescent mass of burning pain

That coats softer

Parts of my body

Yes it feels good

No you may not touch it

Yes it will maim you

Your ancestors claimed

A “divine” right to my

Ancestor’s land

I claim

A divine right

To be pissed about it

Monsters

Often have blue glass eyes

Watching

But failing to see

True colors

Their mouths filled

With dust

Projecting hated images

Onto bodies that are not theirs

As easily as an artist

Paints canvas

He said “Don’t look behind the curtain”

But I already knew I was being played

In kindergarden

I learned

Play nice

&

You will get yours

I’ll be damned

If I’m gonna wait

Any longer