Last Monday I helped organize a town hall about race, class and transmisogyny in queer performance in Austin. The weeks leading up to it were stressful and frustrating. We, as the organizers, were getting a lot of push back and critiques on how we were organizing the event. And often times, we were down right harassed and called names. It was hard for me to continually get updates from the Facebook event page with mostly negative responses.
But we pulled together and really carried each other through each moment. It was a very intense bonding experience and I have grown to appreciate these people in ways that are profound. I know I would not have been able to get through it if it were not for them.
Something that really struck me through this entire process was the amount of social capital involved in creating this event and in calling out the folks who were being fucked up. Social capital is loosely defined as the relationships and networks that people have that allow them to do certain things. Conversely, it talks about the way that the social networks that we have allow us to avoid doing certain things, like survival sex work etc. It also defines the ways in which certain folks have access to social capital and social support and what that access looks like. And in a lot of ways it talks about who gets a pass on certain kinds of behavior and who doesn’t.
Of course, we as organizers had access to social capital in order to organize this event and get people to show up. We definitely reached out to our friends and networks in order to mobilize folks to come and to speak. The fact that we were the organizers gave us a measure of power over how the event looked like and what was gonna go down.
However, on the Facebook page for the event, there were constant demands for transparency in the organizing team. Those folks with greater social capital in the community came for us about our accessibility, what our intentions for organizing this event were, and who we were. There were even calls to postpone our event so that full community accountability and participation could be achieved.
Don’t get me wrong; I think community accountability transparency and participation is hella important. And in many ways, we as organizers strove to be all of those things. My issue, however, is that other organizations and events, and even the person who was posing most of these questions, are not being held to such a rigorous standard. Nobody was asking the organizers of Poo Poo Platter or Queerbomb to be fully transparent about their intentions, who their organizing team is, to ensure complete safety and community participation.
The other thing that was occurring was that the folks that we were calling out, the folks who had racist or otherwise fucked up elements in their performances, were being commended for their bravery. They were commended for the fact that they were present. And while I definitely recognize that it takes courage to show up to something you know is going to be uncomfortable and challenging, I can’t help but wonder how much of this adulation is actually deserved. When I step on someone’s toe, I don’t get a special award for apologizing or being present for someone else’s pain. This is just what decent human being do when they have harmed another. So why are they praised so highly for doing something that should just be expected?
The answer to this, I think, is their access to social capital. As prominent and well liked performers, they are going to have access to much more social capital then we have. As folks with more community power, they are going to be able to get away with much more than we would. Moreover, as mostly white or light-skinned folks, they are going to be seen in a more sympathetic light than we were.
The other thing too was that we were painted as divisive. We were the ones who were causing the trouble. While at the same time, it was the fucked up performances that started these conversations and isn’t that so great? The feats of intellectual acrobatics to hold both of those things is rather boggling. We are at the same time held as the source of the problem and the ones reacting to the problem.
I was also amazed that through this whole process I was, arguably, the most fiercely attacked of all of the organizers. Detractors were calling me out by name, saying how much of a liar I am, how I had an agenda against the folks we were calling out and how I should be removed from the organizing of this event because I am not a credible source of information. I was the only trans woman of color on the organizing committee and I got the most shit.
Over and over again, in the town hall, I heard white queers say, “If we don’t come together to have these conversations than nothing will change. If we stay segregated, nothing will change.” And it frustrated me because that again elides the fact that we are not on a level playing field. White and light skinned folks have greater access to all kinds of capital than people of color and dark skinned folks. Those in power will have more leeway and be able to dictate the terms of the conversation. We cannot come together to talk about these things without acknowledged the differences of access and power.
The biggest lesson that I learned through this whole process is that I cannot commit my energies to talking to white folks. I cannot focus on trying to change them because I can’t. And because it just creates more trauma for myself, for my partner and my community.
What I need to focus on is creating community with other queer people of color. Because in pouring my energy into that, I can begin to heal and start to form those networks that contribute to my survival and my flourishing.