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Earlier this month, the Advocate published a piece from long-time trans activist Riki Wilchins titled “Transgender Dinosaurs and the Rise of the Genderqueers.” While Riki has a long history of trans activism, this piece has not been received very well by more than a few in the trans communities. Jake Pyne quickly put together a strong critique of Riki’s Advocate piece that appears at prettyqueer. I wrote part of my own response as a comment on Jake’s piece, but I decided after the fact to extrapolate my thoughts a bit and post them here.
In her recent piece, Riki Wilchins speaks of a first meeting with a young, beautiful trans girl of 13 years who will have the opportunity to obtain androgen blockers to delay the onset of puberty, which will give her a better opportunity to make decisions about her medical future when she is ready down the road. Riki comments that since her transition so far has been supported so well, she didn’t recognize this girl as the person she had intended to meet (she assumed that the young lady must have been cis).
It’s probably understandable that Riki might have expected to meet someone that she more immediately recognizes as trans, however from this point Riki proceeds to make a bizarre assertion: it’s not simply that she failed to recognize the young woman as transgender, it’s that the woman in question simply isn’t transgender at all. Indeed, she explicitly states this claim.
Further, Riki quickly tangles up this question she has created about the young trans woman’s identity with her own narrative as a lifelong trans activist. She states:
Following is the approximate text of my comments at the 2012 Trans Pride Toronto rally that took place 29 June. Before my formal remarks, I drew attention to the news from earlier that day that Pride Toronto’s Dispute Resolution Panel had concluded there was no basis for the claims from Israel lobby groups that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) should be excluded from the parade, or any other part of Pride week. Members of QuAIA and Dykes and Trans People for Palestine were proud to participate afterwards in the trans march.
Sisters and brothers, friends and lovers; I think we are experiencing an important moment in the evolution of the placement of our community in relation to wider society. In the last few years in particular I think trans people have begun to take on larger and more visible roles that society had previously denied us. Simultaneous with that however has come a backlash, which has taken many different forms, both explicitly and implicitly violent.
In my home country of the United States we saw a wave of violence against trans women of color in the last few months. While this phenomenon is unfortunately nothing new, it is a stark reminder that violence is very real, and if often acts as the final act of silencing.
Furthermore, it calls attention to the often-overlooked fact that not all of us in the trans community are equally vulnerable.
Indeed, it is a sad state of affairs that the fact that trans women, and particularly trans women of color, sex workers, and those living in poverty, are most vulnerable often passes without comment, even by those who stand up, generically speaking, for “trans rights.”
That has to stop, and we all should commit ourselves to trying to build a trans community with more representative leadership of the community as a whole.
Further, there is the critical issue of prison justice here in North America that is often overlooked. Perhaps these issues are best exemplified by the case of CeCe McDonald, a black American trans woman who was attacked along with a few friends by a group of anti-trans white supremacists one year ago in Minneapolis.
When this gang of thugs hurled racist and trans-misogynistic epithets at her, CeCe stood her ground. And when one person in that group started a fight by slamming a glass across face, lacerating her salivary gland, CeCe stood up for herself and her friends and fought back. And in the end she killed an aggressive man with a swastika tattoo on his chest in self-defense.
And that’s when the system stepped in to reinforce racism and trans-misogyny by charging CeCe despite the fact that the County Attorney’s office had previously declined to press charges against other people under similar circumstances. While the charges were at least dropped to manslaughter at a later point, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that CeCe has been punished for surviving her attackers.
Further, there is the fact that CeCe is now forced to inhabit a men’s prison, where she is potentially vulnerable to coercion and abuse, and further largely forced to live cruel conditions under solitary confinement. Of course, this is not unique to CeCe as this is the situation for countless trans women, particularly trans women of color, across North America. We must begin to have a serious conversation around these issues.
And finally, I want to make a small statement that the reason for fighting, for standing up for ourselves and for others who are even more oppressed than ourselves, is not because victory is assured. If you are here because you believe victory is assured all I can say is I think you don’t understand the meaning of honor. Victory is never assured, and if it were it would not be worth fighting for.
The reason we fight is because it is the process of standing up for ourselves that we obtain our dignity, we stand up and we take our honor. And I want to emphasize that our dignity does not come from Pride Toronto. Our dignity is not given to us by the federal government, the provincial government, the city or any other such entity. Our honor does not come from the government or society’s acquiescence; rather, it comes from our demand.
Our dignity is not give to us by anyone other than ourselves. We bestow upon ourselves our own honor in the act of standing up as individuals and as a community for ourselves.
Free CeCe! Free Palestine!
Update: Here is a short video my friend Cathy made of the Dykes and Trans People for Palestine/QuAIA contingent at the Trans March:
My recent article at Pretty Queer focuses on leadership, politics and support for trans women within the trans community:
I want to preface the comments I’m about to make by acknowledging that our trans community (communitIES is really what I should say) is reeling from some events over the last couple of months. I think many of us are heartbroken, as we should be, over a series of murders of young trans women of color across the U.S. in the last month followed by the recent development that CeCe McDonald had few better legal options than to plead to 2nd degree manslaughter with a recommended 41-month sentence.
To make matters worse, the aftermath of the murders mentioned above recall the usual patterns of police dismissal and blatant disrespect from the media for the victims of racism and trans-misogyny. It is in this context that I think a lot of us feel, in addition to grief and frustration, plenty of doubt and uncertainty about where to head next. The solutions are not always clear, and I think we must avoid the trap of looking for easy answers.
In the aftermath of CeCe’s plea bargain, PrettyQueer’s Tom Léger conducted an interview with Dean Spade, a well-known trans activist and Assistant Professor of Law at a Seattle law school. I’ll note from the outset that criticisms of Dean have been surfacing in recent years; the criticisms primarily focus on his relationship (both professionally speaking and as an activist) with trans women.
For the rest, check out the full article at Pretty Queer here.