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This past Wednesday, a likely well-intentioned, but ultimately off-the-mark article appeared in the Boston Phoenix penned by trans activist Gunner Scott. The article is a comment on the status of trans activism and the ongoing struggle to improve the lives of trans people today; it makes a note of certain types of progress that has been made in recent years and comments on future work to be done.
However, the article is problematic in several respects. For example, Scott acknowledges some recent advances that may impact certain trans women’s lives, saying
There have been some … recent successes … like the Girl Scouts’ decision to include transgender girls, and the rule change at the Miss Universe pageant, which enabled the first transgender woman to compete.
What’s weird about this statement is the use of passive voice rather than acknowledging the role that trans women themselves played in bringing these changes about. The fact is that Jenna Talackova, an indigenous woman from British Columbia, could have merely accepted being brought back into the Miss Universe Pageant after initially being kicked out based on her trans status.
But instead, she made the issue larger than herself by demanding a rule change that would allow any trans woman to compete in the pageant in the future. That was not a rule change that simply occurred out of luck, it occurred because a sharp, strong trans woman demanded that it be so in order for her to participate further in the pageant. She stood up, and she won.
(Now there are those who have tried to sideline this accomplishment, after all it’s true that it’s `only’ a beauty pageant. However, if women are the ones who compete in this pageant, Donald Trump’s initial instinct to kick a trans woman out makes clear his message: “She’s not really a woman.” Obviously this is totally unacceptable cissexism and trans-misogyny, no matter what the venue in question may be.)
In fact, the only trans people who are presented as activists in the entire article– Chaz Bono and Gunner Scott himself– are both trans men. Meanwhile, the only trans women who appear in the article are presented as passive victims.
The fact is that in the last decade or so, trans men (particularly white trans men) have come to take the lead roles in trans activism in many ways in many parts of North America. One result of this has been that trans women (particularly trans women of color) have often found themselves struggling to find space within which they could speak for themselves. By presenting himself and Chaz Bono as activists while presenting trans women of color as passive, Gunner Scott has unfortunately fallen into this trap by perpetuating the cycle in which trans women are denied agency, even while their stories are used to promote the “need for trans visibility.”
Indeed, “visibility” is presented as the primary concern, right in the title of Scott’s article. However, the fact of the matter is that this issue is often a primary concern for relatively privileged voices in the trans community; meanwhile, trans women of color often find themselves struggling to achieve invisibility just in order to satisfy basic needs like employment and housing.
However, after reading Scott’s article, I was glad to see that at least two amazing trans women of color took the initiative of writing their own response. Over at Transactivisty, Monica Maldonado criticizes Scott for his odd claim that
Some reporters are helping to show the humanity of those lost by including stories from friends and family about how loved and cherished [trans women] were, and how much they will be missed. This type of reporting is challenging the idea that transgender women are not valued.
This statement is almost bizarre given the sensationalizing, trans-misogynistic coverage appearing right in the New York Times of a trans woman who recently died in a fire. I strongly recommend that everyone check out Monica’s piece here for more in-depth analysis and further comments on Scott’s problematic presentation of the status of trans activism.
Another trans woman of color writer, Erica, also gives a quite different take on the status of trans activism and a critique of Scott’s article. Erica comments on the difficulties finding support that many trans women experience even within the trans community, as well as the fact that by generally having a very rigid framing of what counts as an `acceptable’ trans history or identity, many trans people are actually writing off those who don’t fit a certain narrative that largely internalizes both the trans-misogyny and racism that targets the most vulnerable among us.
Ultimately, Erica provides two specific recommendations to bring the community forward as a whole, and I strongly recommend that you check them out for yourself here.
On June 5th, 2011, CeCe McDonald and a fellow group of young queers of color were walking to the grocery story in a local neighborhood in Southern Minneapolis when the passed the Schooner Tavern. CeCe is a young black trans woman who has already survived numerous hardships in her life. Hence when a 47 year-old white man, Dean Schmitz (who was later found to have a swastika tattoo on his body), and two other white bar patroms began hurling racist and transphobic insults at their group, CeCe didn’t back down; she stood up to the bar patrons and confronted their ignorance and hatred.
In response, one of the white bar patrons smashed her glass against CeCe’s face, punctuating her cheek and lacerating her salivary gland. A fight ensued between the two groups, and in the end, Dean Schmitz was dead. And although multiple people were involved in the melee, when the police arrived CeCe was the only one charged.
Unfortunately, injustice does not end even there, as from this point the system took over in the enforcement of racism and trans-misogyny: from jail, in the late hours of the night, CeCe was coerced by detectives into signing a false confession, which she then recanted as soon as she was able. From that point, CeCe was then held in solitary confinement (which is a quite common abuse against trans women prisoners) supposedly for her own “protection,” but against her own wishes.
From this point, Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman charged CeCe with two counts of second degree murder. He has since refused to drop those charges, despite the fact that he has dropped charges in other cases this year under similar circumstances.
Fortunately, there has been an outpouring of support for CeCe, both from her local community and from many activists and allies across North America; she has also kept her own spirits high in the face of injustice. And a petition has been raised demanding that Michael Freeman drop all charges against CeCe (please sign the petition here).
Make no mistake, what CeCe is is being condemned for here is defending herself from bodily harm as a trans woman of color.
In other words, a group of people wanted to make clear that they view her physical body as inferior to their own white, cisnormative bodies, and when CeCe verbally resisted that violent designation, those people then resorted to physical violence to enforce hateful, white supremacist views. And further, when CeCe stepped up to defend herself from physical assault, the system stepped in to reinforce racism and trans-misogyny.
Again, here is the petition.
Update 2: Tabatha Southey, writing for the Globe and Mail, has put together a really insightful editorial on this issue.
In the last line of the articles she states
Let’s allow a transgender woman, for example, regardless of which private medical procedures she has undergone, to mark her passport “F,” and go on.
She is exactly right, given the present system that we work under. However I have to point out that ultimately I think the real solution is that gender markers should be removed from identification entirely. Otherwise, I think that problems like this will always arise, somehow or other.
Update: So it seems there are some scattered reports showing up of trans people facing hassle based on these regulations. I want to emphasize that the regulations should definitely go. I think it would be helpful though if we had all those stories together about people being hassled before taking everything public.
Yesterday a story suddenly broke in Toronto’s trans community: pre-op and non-op trans people would be immediately banned from flying! Indeed there is a quite troubling passage of Canada’s Identity Screening Regulations that reads
5.2 (1) An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if
(c) the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents;
When this came to light, social media went ablaze with stories that trans people would be immediately banned from flying. However, it turns out that this problematic section of the regulations was apparently added July 29th, 2011. Personally, I am a non-op trans woman and I have boarded multiple international flights from Canada since that time with no problem.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these regulations should not be challenged; in fact, we must challenge them. However, before making dramatic over-statements about the issue or drafting petitions over it, let’s take a moment and think about what’s really going on here.
I called the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) [1 888 294 2202] to ask about the regulations. The person with whom I spoke stated that CATSA checks an individual’s boarding pass and that the boarding pass does not have a gender marker on it, which is certainly true.
My suspicion about this type of regulation is that probably it’s the kind of thing that rarely gets enforced when a privileged white trans person like myself visits the airport. That of course does not mean that we should not fight it; on the contrary, if gender non-conforming individuals from vulnerable racialized communities are targeted under this law, then we should push back with everything we’ve got. The thing is, we don’t know much about how this law is being enforced at present. Maybe it’s not being enforced at all, I have no idea. And before we respond to it, maybe we should figure out what it actually is first and who it actually impacts.
Just a thought.
*okay, unless they’re Muslim too, fair enough.
In a shocking development, it has been revealed that a violent altercation occurred involving a gay Iranian student at the York campus of Seneca College on Friday, November 25. The incident appears to have been motivated by both homophobia and racism.
22 year-old Mojtaba has stated that while he was waiting for a friend on campus, another individual spoke to him in an aggressive manner before punching a telephone booth and leaving. Later, he encountered the same individual inside a campus building. Again there was a confrontation, which in this case turned violent.
Mojtaba states that the man called him ‘bitch’ and ‘faggot’ along with racist slurs, telling Mojtaba that he should “…go back to [his] fucking country.” In the end, the man allegedly pulled Mojtaba’s hood over his face and attacked him with his fists before finally pulling out an object and cutting into his throat. The object in question was apparently a pen as there was ink on Mojtaba’s neck, in addition to the wound itself.
However, I can’t help but think that this incident holds resonance with the fact that in recent years a great deal of racism has been unleashed against certain sectors of the Toronto queer community, both from the outside as well as from within the community itself (it doesn’t take much searching through the comments on the Xtra! website to find examples of this).
Clearly the queer community of Toronto must respond vocally to this disgusting incident, as well as redoubling the effort to root out racism both within and external to our community. This project is equally as important as the ongoing fight against transphobia, homophobia and misogyny.
Update: the original article on Xtra! has been updated to point out that the perpetrator of this incident is still free to walk about Seneca College campus. Indeed, Mojtaba himself reports that he had to pass by his attacker earlier this week.