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Note: The following contains my proposed strategy that the trans community might follow in demanding that the formal Trans Pride Toronto March route next year incorporate Yonge Street.
Also, it may be worth mentioning that I wanted to post this as I was leaving Toronto in mid-August… however, due to preparations for an academic conference and some other things just as I was moving, I didn’t get a chance to finalize it until today.
It has been nearly three years since I arrived in Toronto in early October 2009, and I have to say that I’m much more sad to be leaving than I had expected.
During this time I’ve gotten close to so many amazing people, including many wonderful members of Toronto’s queer and trans community, and I’ve further had the opportunity to work with some great people in my field at the University of Toronto. I also feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to be a part of this city and to be involved in activism and community organizing here (in particular, I think it was an interesting time to be in Toronto!). I feel like I’ve learned a lot and grown through those interactions and the organizing I have been involved here.
Indeed, looking back it almost seems a bit odd that I showed up in Toronto when I did: back in October 2009, just a few months before what turned out to be a pretty massive confrontation around the Pride festival and the participation of the activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) (or as I like to think of that confrontation: the Israel lobby’s perpetual storm of self-defeat). I joined up with QuAIA shortly after I arrived, and in my part in the ensuing debates I ended up having to learn my way around Toronto’s queer community pretty quickly.
And I have to say I’m pretty proud of how all that turned out. Somehow, a handful of grassroots queer activists managed to push back against the massive, well-funded Israel lobby, and beat them over and over again. (And after all, what business does the not-particularly-queer Israel lobby have telling queer activists what they can and cannot say at the Pride Parade?)
Not only that, but in coalition with the wider queer community (primarily through the Pride Community Contract group and the Pride Coalition for Free Speech) we compelled Tracey Sandilands, the corrupt executive director of Pride Toronto, to resign.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is that following the debacle(s) around the 2010 iteration of Pride, the Pride board was compelled to institute some form of accountability to the queer community, which took form in the Community Advisory Panel (CAP). As the CAP consultation process developed, it became clear that one of its constituent communities that Pride could no longer afford to ignore was the trans community. In fact, it became clear that previous to 2010, Pride Toronto had done little to empower or explicitly include the trans community as a whole, and that this would no longer be acceptable.
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.
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.