faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
I have ended my hunger strike. Last night I started having difficulties apparently as the result of having my electrolytes out of wack. As the one health risk I was trying to avoid was electrolyte imbalance, I decided it was time to eat again.

This is not how I was hoping my strike would end, but I am not despairing. While it is true that my strike has not led the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) to make any policy changes, I have had a few small victories. For one thing CDMC finally got in touch with me. Granted, its response left a lot to desire: The collective failed to so much as acknowledge that its actions have been in any way sexist or misogynistic or that I have and need boundaries. However, CDMC did admit that it had once again disregarded my privacy, which is more than it had done over the previous three months.

It is also encouraging to see some of the community discussion that has come about as a result of my open letter. This is the first time many of the participants have talked about Shame Weekend or the surrounding incidents. What’s more, some of the participants have been people who do not readily identify as activists.

I am grateful for all the people who have supported me or expressed concern for me. This includes anyone who e-mailed me to say, “Don't fast.” I was putting people into a situation in which two principles—“Respect the autonomy of the oppressed” and “Preserve health”—came into conflict. I strongly believe that the former principle trumps the latter, but I know that the people who were acting in accordance with the second principle did so, because they cared about me. I am also thankful for the people who have supported my cause, understanding that the past two and a half years have been hell for me, and have written to CDMC or eaten with me at the last meal before my strike.

When I began my fast, I felt sorrow in part because I felt that there were few other people in Chicago who cared about all that has happened. I see now that this is not true, and this gives me hope that one day CDMC will be held accountable for its actions.

Strike!

2011-11-24 02:19 am
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
The first day of my hunger strike.

Yesterday at 12:42 PM I received a response to my open letter to the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC). Without CDMC’s consent I will not be quoting the e-mail at length or giving a point-by-point response. However, I can in good conscience disclose the following:

  1. CDMC has not conceded my demands.
  2. CDMC has made a counter-proposal in which it has offered to do less than it offered to do when I met with two of its representatives in May (despite the fact that it has caused more harm since then).
  3. The response has all the earmarks of a letter written at the eleventh hour.
  4. It is perhaps in line with the above that throughout most of the letter CDMC refers to me in the third person.
  5. The response left me feeling objectified.
CDMC’s response fell far short of what I was expecting, and I did not have great expectations to begin with. In reply I sent CDMC an e-mail that was brief (at least when compared to my original open letter) to inform the collective that I will be proceeding with my hunger strike.

faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Seven days before I begin my fast.

It has now been twelve days since I sent the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) my open letter, and it has been twenty-eight hours since the collective was supposed to have met to discuss my demands. Though a number of wonderful friends and comrades have written letters to CDMC, imploring the collective to avert the fast, I have yet to hear from CDMC. When will I hear from CDMC? A week ago I sent an e-mail to a CDMC member to find out; I never received a response to that either. Because I know as much today about what action, if any, CDMC will take as I did on November 4th, I recommend that folks who want to know the reason for the delay contact CDMC at dykemarchchicago@gmail.com.
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Edit: The CDMC member I had talked to before has just called to tell me that the collective will be meeting on Tuesday the 15th at 8:00.

Fifteen days before I begin my fast.

On Friday a member of the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) told me that CDMC would be meeting to discuss my demands and that she would call me Tuesday night to tell me what had happened. I reminded her that CDMC has a history of not getting back to me when it says it will. In the days that followed a number of you wrote to CDMC expressing that you would like them to concede the demands as soon as possible so as to avert my fast. Despite all this, I have yet to hear back from CDMC or any of its members.

If you are interested in contacting CDMC to find out why there has been a delay, the collective’s e-mail address is dykemarchchicago@gmail.com. I will not begrudge you, if you have already contacted the collective and want to send another message.
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Nineteen days before I begin my fast.

I have sometimes found it hard to explain the problems I have with the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC). The difficulty may lie partly in the fact that in many cities Dyke Marches explicitly exclude trans women, so some people initially assume this is the problem with CDMC as well. When they learn that CDMC members have long welcomed trans women, they figure I have sounded a false alarm and resume ignoring the voices that have been critical of CDMC. It does not matter if CDMC has allowed slurs to proliferate at Dyke March or repeatedly shown disregard for a trans woman’s safety, so long as the collective has extended an explicit welcome to trans women. (Apparently not everyone in CDMC has disagreed. After the privacy violation and the other threats to my safety that preceded Shame Weekend I left CDMC and told the collective that safety concerns lay behind my decision to do so. One member’s response was to tell me, “You are welcomed.”)

Should we even be making welcomes the focus of discourse about trans women’s inclusion? More . . . )
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
To: "Chicago Dyke March Organizers" <dykemarchchicago@gmail.com>

Chicago Dyke March Organizers,

I am writing in response to what the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) called in a rare moment of forthrightness the “transmisogynistic violence” it has perpetrated against me. My purpose in writing is to explain why I plan to begin fasting on November 24 and what it will take for me to avoid or stop fasting.

My Restatement of Grievances

I remember expressing concern in May of 2009, shortly after I became a member of CDMC—I was the only transsexual woman who was a member at that time—because the collective had received a complaint that performers at Dyke March 2008 used a sexist, cissexist* slur in the context of a cheer that fetishized women who face multiple oppressions. The other members could have acted swiftly to address the problem. Instead they dragged their feet.

I remember making myself vulnerable to members who were using CDMC’s private e-mail discussion group, confiding that I had heard the aforementioned performers use the same slur at Dyke March as far back as 2005. The other CDMC members could have—indeed, as self-declared allies, should have—respected my privacy. Instead a CDMC member forwarded my message, including my name and e-mail address, to the parties who were responsible for using the slur; other members were aware of this but did not tell me.

I remember calling out the cisgender members of CDMC for their inertia. They could have taken the opportunity to educate themselves and grow as activists. Instead they responded with fear-mongering, tone-policing, derailing, and gaslighting.

I remember deciding that avoiding Dyke March 2009 would be safer than attending. CDMC members could have recognized the tragedy in excluding a trans, queer woman from attending Dyke March on the weekend of the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots and held a moment of silence for me and the other transgender people who had been silenced over the previous forty years, as I had suggested. Instead they held a celebratory “moment of noise”, making what should have been a weekend of pride a weekend of shame—Shame Weekend, as I have come to call it.

I remember contacting CDMC members, trying to find a win–win solution to problems they and other members caused before, during, and after Shame Weekend. They could have taken the opportunity to organize with me to find a mutually satisfactory resolution. Instead they failed to maintain contact with me, if not failing to respond altogether.

I remember sitting down to talk about Shame Weekend and surrounding events with two CDMC members on 2011 May 25—one day short of being two years after the collective received the complaint about the slur. CDMC could have used the following months to make good on the agreement the collective’s representatives made with me. Instead the collective resumed foot-dragging.

I remember discovering in August that CDMC had once again shown disregard for my privacy and writing to the collective about this and another concern, expressing that I wanted another opportunity to talk to CDMC members. CDMC could have taken the minimally decent step of listening. Instead the collective has not so much as replied.

Since the events leading up to Shame Weekend, I have for the most part avoided queer spaces, as I have no way of knowing whether the people I was snitched out to are seeking revenge or what Chicago Dyke March organizers will do to hurt me next. Because I contacted CDMC for the first time on the day I came out to myself as a woman, CDMC has effectively robbed me of queer women’s community before I ever found it. I did recently find something in the way of queer community, an organization that was initially attractive in part because no CDMC members were in it, but a member of the collective has entered this space as well. When allies fuck up, they tend to concede space to the oppressed people they have hurt. CDMC, on the other hand, has not so much as given me the opportunity to talk to its members about boundaries.

In the two and a half years that have followed my initial attempt to organize with CDMC it has failed to take an approach that is survivor-centered or focused on the oppressed. CDMC has taken advantage of the fact that because I am a trans, queer woman, I am already prone to being pathologized as a “narcissist”, putting that much more pressure on me to remain passive rather than assertive in the face of oppression. While the intersection of sexism and cissexism is a matter that concerns my well-being and even my life, it is a matter that CDMC, as an institution, has been able to treat as less than urgent or even ignore with little consequence.

This ends now.

My Direct Action

I have designated November 24 to be the day I begin a fast, which I will avoid or end only when Chicago Dyke March organizers meet my demands. These can be found in the following statement:

Demands for Reduced Harm

The survivor, Veronika Boundless, issues these demands. In this context Chicago Dyke March organizers means everyone who has the privilege of voting or participating in deliberative decision-making at Chicago Dyke March organizing meetings and everyone who has served as a marshal at a previous Chicago Dyke March and intends to serve as a marshal at a future Chicago Dyke March.

1. Because Chicago Dyke March organizers have not made a clean break from past violence, they will at least give other organizations fair warning. Thus, they will not collectively partner with another organization or join a coalition that another organization is a part of without first disclosing to the organization that over a period of at least two and a half years the Chicago Dyke March Collective perpetrated violence against a trans woman.

2. Further, Chicago Dyke March organizers will do less preaching of what the Chicago Dyke March Collective has failed to practice. Specifically, no one will, while remaining a Chicago Dyke March organizer, serve as guest speakers or authorities at forums organized to discuss verbal abuse, emotional abuse, or sexual assault.

3. Further, Chicago Dyke March organizers will concede some space to survivors of violence. Specifically, no one will, while remaining a Chicago Dyke March organizer, join or remain a member of another group other than CDMC, if it is part of the group’s primary mission to end verbal abuse, emotional abuse, or sexual assault or offer support to survivors of verbal abuse, emotional abuse, or sexual assault.

4. Because no one deserves to join Chicago Dyke March organizing without knowing what they are in for, Chicago Dyke March organizers will make these demands accessible to every person who attends an organizing meeting.

5. Chicago Dyke March organizers will acknowledge the violence against trans women found in their history using at least two of the following four media: Chicago Dyke March organizers’ most widely read public Facebook group, Chicago Dyke March organizers’ most widely read public blog, the Chicago Indymedia web site, or a full-page ad in the Windy City Times; this acknowledgment will be in no way cisnormative, reductionist, minimizing, or survivor-blaming.

6. Using the same two media that Chicago Dyke March organizers select while conceding Demand 5, they will explicitly concede these demands.

7. Chicago Dyke March organizers will honor these demands until they or their representatives meet with the survivor on her terms and reach a mutual agreement with her or until 2019 September 1, whichever comes first.

I am writing now to give you plenty of notice; I am not confident the body of someone who has my health problems will hold up as long during a fast as the body of someone who does not. Even so, I am prepared to carry out this fast to the end, whatever form the end might take.

With a fiery love for every trans woman and transfeminine person,
Veronika Boundless

*Cissexism is prejudice against transgender people plus the power cisgender people—that is, people who are not transgender—have over us.

faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Dear Transgender Sibling,

I have noticed that today you found my blog after using this search query:
transgender “why go on living”
There are a lot of reasons someone might input this search phrase, but I am going to risk erring and assume you are a transgender person who is asking yourself a question I have asked myself countless times before: “Why go on living?”

I do not know about the specifics of your situation, but I can tell you a bit about mine. When I first told my mother that I was a girl, I encountered hostility, and that was only a preview of things to come. When I came out to the family member I thought was the most likely to be supportive, she ended all communication with me. I have survived abuse at the hands of a partner who used misgendering as an instrument of pain. I recently had a painful reminder that even a close friend and ally can fuck up in an inexcusable way. I am currently worried that I will lose a source of income once I come out to an institution that has in the past paid me for my work. If it seems that I am trying to make this all about me, I am sorry. That is not my intention. Rather the point I want to make is that when I say, “I know being transgender is hard,” I am not (entirely) full of shit. I know being transgender is hard.

So why go on living? I am not presumptuous enough to know what the answer is for you, but I can tell you what it is for me: Love. I do not mean the love cisgender people have for me. Perhaps you can relate when I say that cisgender people’s love is elusive, and it seems it is always on vacation when I am at my lowest. I also do not mean the love of other transgender people. There are a number of factors, including the structures in the cissexist society we live in, that have by and large kept me from establishing close relationships with other transgender people. When I say that love is the answer for me, I mean my love for transgender people. Looking back, I can say without hyperbole that the people who have inspired me the most over the past few years have all been transgender. More importantly, I love transgender people for the resilience we show when we refuse to deny our gender identities and our gender expressions when most of society or even our very bodies seem to mock us for it—resilience that you no doubt understand, my transgender sibling. I seldom say this, especially here, because I created this blog in part as an act of resistance against people who thrust me into the position of being the person who is transgender above all else, when quite often what I want to do is organize around women’s issues or queer issues. But when it comes to women’s issues, I am most passionate about the issues that affect transgender women, and when it comes to queer issues, I am most passionate about the issues that affect transgender queer people. The cisgender people I love most know that if they ever lose sight of the fact that they are your and my oppressors, they will lose whatever place of significance they have in my life. No matter what I do transgender people are never far from my mind.

If I were to off myself today, I would no longer be able to play a role in preserving a record of the contributions transgender people have made. I would no longer be able to talk about Sketch, the Chicago artist I had the privilege of meeting shortly before ze died in 2005 and who is often frequently misgendered and misnamed in cisgender people’s accounts of hir life. I would no longer be able to call out the cisgender feminists who say that transgender women have no place in conversations about reproductive rights and remind them that it was a transgender woman—namely, Kinsey AKA Genderbitch—who gave us one of the most cogent and widely-known defenses of the pro-choice stance. I would no longer be able to commemorate the transgender people of Stellar—people who surmounted a number of personal challenges to resist the Chicago Dyke March Collective’s cissexism in 2010. Cisgender people, especially those who are actively involved in our oppression, typically do not record our history for us. Like it or not, if we want these memories preserved, we will have to be the archivists.

Sometimes my love for transgender people manifests itself as rage—rage for the people who hate us or hurt us. There are people who say that nothing constructive can come from anger. I say, “Fuck them.” Many people have channeled their anger into constructive outcomes. And why this sweeping dismissal of everything that is destructive? The society we live in has a wide array of irredeemably cissexist structures that are unworthy of nothing more than being smashed to bits. There are people who say anger is a negative emotion. I say, “Fuck them.” If in my anger you, my dear transgender sibling, are the only person who sees that there is someone in this fucked up world who gives a damn, no emotion has ever served me better.

I go on living so that I can go on fighting. I fight to help build a world where no transgender person has to die in a hate crime or has to feel that they have nothing to live for. And don’t think for a moment this doesn’t include you. The first time I went to a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil I was still pre-ho (i.e. still infused with emotion-suppressing testosterone), but I nevertheless fell into inconsolable sobbing when the names were read—names of people I had never had the opportunity to meet. The next time I read that a transgender person has committed suicide, I will likely respond in much the same way. It is not at all unusual for people who believe they have no influence in their lives to affect people profoundly in their deaths.

I cannot tell you why you should go on living. This is something you will need to figure out for yourself. As I said, I can only tell you why I go on living. I hope that you find something of value in what I have said. If you should want me to clarify or expand on anything I have written, please write to me.

Yours in the struggle,
Veronika

E-mail: faithfulimage@gmail.com

2011–09-18 Edit: Comments on this post will be screened and will remain private.
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
A number of bloggers have recently shared their experiences or the experiences other people had at a Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) meeting that was held in Boystown on Wednesday. I believe their accounts raise vital questions about the sort of “safety” the police officers of the 23rd district and “concerned Lakeview residents” would bring us, if they were given the opportunity to do so.
Gender JUST youth leaders respond to increased policing and profiling, racist attacks, and harassment after recent incidents violence in Boystown/Lakeview
Among other concerns Gender JUST writes about the racist and classist rhetoric employed by some people at the meeting. (Full disclosure: Though I did not contribute in any way to this press release, I am a member of Gender JUST.)

How to Report an Oriental Criminal
The Angry Asian Man writes about racist language used in a publication distributed by the Chicago Police Department at the meeting.

White Lakeview Residents Turn Out in Droves to Claim Their Territory
thecuntcrusader writes about her experience of the meeting, including being assaulted.

faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Recently members of Gender JUST protested a “positive loitering” organized by people whose stated aim was to “take back Boystown”. (Full disclosure: Though I was not present at this event, I am a member of Gender JUST.) The reason for the protest was that members of Gender JUST saw it as the latest in a series of efforts to intimidate working class queer and transgender youth of color who come to Boystown. According to Kate Sosin of the Windy City Times several members of the “Take Back Boystown” page have blamed youth of color for recent criminal activity in posts that make claims like the following:
These trannys are bringing their homey G boyfriends into the neighborhood courtesy of The Center on Halsted. You can tell who they are by the way they act.
According to Sosin, Rob Sall, the organizer of the “positive loitering” event, conceded that the Facebook page “is extremely racially charged”. The racist, classist, ageist, cissexist rhetoric is not new. On 2009 September 2 the Windy City Times published a letter by someone identified only as “a concerned Lakeview resident”, who blamed “Center on Halsted youth clients” and “transsexual prostitutes” for Lakeview’s “crime issues”.

What do I have to say about this?

On the day of my first direct action in 2004 it was not youth of color in Boystown who arrested three queer rights activists, kicked one of them, and called him a “faggot”. It was one of the officers policing the pride parade.

It is not youth of color in Boystown who have been making transmisogynistic comments in letters to the editor or on Facebook. It is the people who have been scapegoating them.

I have been sexually assaulted twice in Boystown. I do not have a single young person, a single person of color, or a single transgender person to lay the blame on for either of these incidents.

“Concerned Lakeview residents”, if you want Boystown to be safe, stop threatening the safety of young people. Stop theatening the safety of people of color. Stop threatening the safety of transgender people. Stop trying to “take back” Boystown from working class queer folks, when Boystown was the community of working class queer folks before the businesses and the middle class gays moved in. If you want Boystown to be safe, stop threatening the safety of me and my friends.

2011–07-07 Edit: I have substituted the word assaulted for the less accurate term accosted.
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Having been one of the participants of Dyke March 2011, which took place yesterday, I thought I would write about two aspects of the march that no news source has yet reported on, so far as I have seen—the presence of the Trans United Contingent and the apology issued by the Chicago Dyke March Collective.

Along with other community groups, such as SWOP Chicago, Invisible to Invincible, Genderqueer Chicago, and Gender JUST, participants in the Trans United Contingent congregated at the start of the route and joined the Dyke March. (Full disclosure: I was in the Trans United Contingent, and my membership in Gender JUST is pending.) As I remember it, everyone in the contingent was in high spirits. Personally, I was quite pleased by the number of transfeminine people present; I cannot remember being at a public event where I strongly felt my identities as a trans person and a dyke affirmed. The Trans United Contingent invigorated many of the other march participants, who could not help but join in our chants of, “Trans people united will never be divided,” and, “Hey hey, ho ho / Transphobia has got to go.” (My new voice got quite a workout; I had to remain silent for most of the last 15 minutes or so of the march.) Considering the passion of another contingent that had a significant number of transgender people, Gender JUST’s contingent, I believe Dyke March would have been impoverished, had there been no trans folks present.

This brings me to the other topic of this post. In the rally after the march Mika Muñoz read an apology in which the collective said that I, “Veronika Boundless”, had “experienced . . . transmisogynistic violence”* at the hands of the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) in 2009. Mika went on to say, “We acknowledge this occurred and commit to the process of responding to what happened and to doing all we can to make sure nothing like it happens again.”** One of the other march participants asked me what I thought of CDMC’s apology. I said, “It’s a start.” According to the participant apologies are easy and make a collective look good; the real test will be to see what actions follow.

*Because I had difficulty making out what Mika read (as did, I am surmising, the vast majority of the people who stayed for the rally), I am relying on an electronic draft of the apology that I was privy to before the march. As far as I know, what was actually read did not differ (significantly) from the electronic version.

**In the electronic draft the word and is emphasized.
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
On May 17th you, dear readers, sent me a message, perhaps without ever meaning to. After I posted my open letter to SlutWalk Chicago my blog received more hits within an eight-hour period than it had on any entire day prior to the 17th. The letter is currently the most visited page of my blog. This is so despite the fact I wrote the letter with a sense of urgency and did not spend as much time proofreading it as I would have liked to. I can only conclude that the matter of inclusion at SlutWalk is a matter important to many of you. Because I feel that what has become apparent regarding SlutWalk since the 17th is more significant than anything I included in my letter, I suspect you will want to know what I now know.

Shortly after I sent my open letter to SlutWalk Chicago I wrote another letter, this one private, to a member of SlutWalk’s organizational board in the belief that she would be interested in dialogue. In this letter I did the following:
  1. I told the organizer that in view of a variety of circumstances, some of them unique to present-day Chicago, SlutWalk Chicago has an obligation to be conscious of the ways in which different communities view the Chicago Police Department.
  2. I expressed an interest in discussing my concerns in a forum, so long as it were possible for me to participate without appearing to endorse SlutWalk.
  3. I said that it appeared to me as though SlutWalk’s organizers were a small group of self-appointed people appointing others to leadership positions in an entirely top-down manner.
  4. I explained why the language then (and currently) on SlutWalk Chicago’s home page and in its mission statement is not trans-inclusive, and I offered concrete suggestions on how to make it so.
What has been SlutWalk Chicago’s response? As some of you already know, May 17th was also the date when SlutWalk Chicago decided to make a blog post entitled “SlutWalk Chicago on Inclusivity, Diversity”. Since then Jessica Skolnik, a member of the organizational board (who is not the person I wrote to on the 17th), has made a related blog post entitled “About being an ally, privilege, marginalization, naming, and SlutWalk’s place in feminist activism”. Because no one in SlutWalk Chicago has yet acknowledged its critics by name, there is no way of knowing for sure whom they were responding to. (What the fuck, SlutWalk Chicago? Even SlutWalk Toronto, in its massive fail, had the decency to mention Aura Blogando by name.) In any case, SlutWalk Chicago has talked the talk, but what has it done so far to walk the walk? In a word, nothing. I will use the remainder of this post to expand on some of the problems I currently have.

1. Apart from the forum SlutWalk Chicago might hold after the march the organization has not announced any opportunities for dialogue concerning oppressed groups’ relation to the police.

When I read people’s concerns regarding the SlutWalk movement, I feel that it is only a matter of time before they mention the police. TJ’s friend notes, “Most women still do not report sexual assaults to the police.” Aura Blogando questioned the idea of inviting a police officer to speak about safety to begin with. While critical of many of the other points Aura makes, Little Red Henski says this about one of the aims of SlutWalk Toronto:
OK, so SlutWalk organizers are really bummed they can’t think of the police as friends anymore and they really want to work with them to repair their relationship. I’m with Blogando on this 100%. Boo fucking hoo. Granted, I don’t know what the police in Canada are like. I hear things are better up there in a lot of ways. It could be that Toronto police aren’t a repressive internal military force designed to violently preserve what is itself a violent racial and economic order. I’m inclined to think they’re more or less the same as police in the US; but, if they aren’t, SlutWalk organizers need a reality check before crossing the border and telling us how to be free. Their failure to deal with the police as an institution is damning evidence that the organizers are inadvertently reifying white supremacy.
When it comes to the police, is Chicago in any way exceptional? Marginalized people have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the Chicago Police Department. I cannot hope to give an exhaustive list of the reasons here, but I hope this non-representative sampling will give my readers some idea of the threat oppressed folks face:
Despite this marginalized people have not had the opportunity to express their concerns regarding the Chicago Police Department to SlutWalk Chicago in a public forum. This cannot be attributed to a failure to consider police presence or involvement on the part of the organizational board. In a registration form SlutWalk Chicago tells prospective volunteers, “Your job will be to keep people out of the street, keep crowds from getting unruly, and generally encourage enthusiasm! Police will be on hand to assist with these tasks, so you will not be responsible for any sort of physical intervention in the unlikely event that such an action is required.” It looks as though SlutWalk Chicago will be very welcoming to anyone who has enough privilege to equate the police with safety.

2. SlutWalk Chicago does not use trans-inclusive language.

When I wrote to SlutWalk Chicago, I figured that the organization would do what so many other social justice organizations have done: Modify its words while doing little to back them. As it turns out, the organization has not even done that much. In this matter I feel conflicted. On the one hand, SlutWalk Chicago has failed to make a minimal effort to help trans people feel included. On the other hand, it has avoided making trans people tokens. While I try to resolve my inner turmoil, I would like to note that there is a preferable way to go about avoiding the tokenization of trans people: Include us both in word and in deed.

3. The only dialogue SlutWalk Chicago is having with various communities is limited and on SlutWalk Chicago’s own terms.

The above might not be so problematic if SlutWalk Chicago were flexible. However, in the ten days that have followed the letter I sent on the 17th the SlutWalk Chicago organizers have not bothered to correct my view that all major decisions regarding SlutWalk are made by an unelected board. Skolnik might have hoped to quell this concern when she wrote, “We need and value your input! There are only five of us on the organizing team, and we in no way want to be the figureheads of a movement (what kind of egalitarian movement has figureheads, anyway? We’re all leaders!)” But how can there be a community-based dialogue regarding marginalized people’s concerns if not so much as a forum will be held until after the march? And what incentive will there be for the board to start taking oppressed folks’ concerns to heart, if we have neither voting power nor access to the board’s deliberations? If “we’re all leaders”, why do so many people who were initially interested in participating in SlutWalk now feel alienated by the board and its process?

While SlutWalk Chicago’s organizational board may have in some important sense the right to organize in an undemocratic fashion, if it wants to, it is rather disingenuous to do this while claiming that it wants our “input” and “does not endorse tokenizing minorities”. I find it telling that SlutWalk Chicago has told the readers of its May 17th post that it is “making SlutWalk Chicago an inclusive event” by making its words accessible to marginalized people (as by “putting together a Spanish language flyer”) but without telling marginalized people how we can overcome barriers to contact them or have influence over the decision-making process. Currently it does not appear that SlutWalk Chicago will be a march for people who believe in grassroots organizing.

I hope that in my posts I help my readers become aware of not only my views on SlutWalk but also the views of many other people throughout the world. To that end I will close by linking to other recent posts about SlutWalk:

“SlutWalk, Rape, White Supremacy”—The Chicago activist who gives us The Body Electric shares hir thoughts.

“Slutwalks v. Ho Strolls”

“SlutWalk: To march or not to march”

“We’re Sluts, Not Feminists. Wherein my relationship with SlutWalk gets rocky.”
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Dear Slutwalk Chicago,

I am writing to ask that you remove my blog, Faithful Image, from the list of allies currently available at your web site. Though I did request information from you regarding opportunities to volunteer and help spread the word via my blog, I have never expressed a desire to be an “ally”. The more I learn about both SlutWalk Chicago and the SlutWalk movement that flows from Toronto, the more I have concerns about both. In all likelihood I would have requested removal sooner, but it was only recently that I learned that you had added my blog to your list. This is the sort of matter I ordinarily like to handle in private, but because you have without my consent implicated that I have aligned my mission “with the mission of SlutWalk Chicago”, I feel the need to make my objections public.

As you say on your web site, SlutWalk Chicago’s mission statement is “adapted from Slutwalk Toronto’s satellite guidelines”. Even outside of any context these guidelines raise some red flags. One is that though men are mentioned three times, apparently to make sure men do not feel excluded, many people who face multiple oppressions are not mentioned at all. As a trans woman, I find the lack of any mention of trans status to be significant. There are at least four reasons why actions aimed at ending sexual violence in North America should explicitly include trans people:
  1. Trans people are at higher risk of sexual assault than our cis counterparts.
  2. The popularity of the stereotypes of the transsexual prostitute and the stealthy deceiver play into the slut-shaming of trans women and transfeminine people.
  3. It was only within the past five years that a serial rapist–killer in North America was targeting sex workers of color who were trans women.
  4. The feminist movement has a history of saying that through our feminine presentation trans women and transfeminine people invite rape; accusing us of the rape of cis women simply because we express ourselves as women; and excluding us from social justice movements by violent means or, short of that, calls for our violent deaths.
If it seems that I am reading too much into SlutWalk Toronto’s silence, I think we only need to look at its recent response to Aura Blogando to see that it has not paid adequate attention to the concerns of people who are the targets of multiple opressions. Aura is the woman who wrote the critique “SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy”. Though I feel the post is worth a read, I believe it would be a detour to defend it. The point I want to make here is that whatever the accuracy of Aura’s piece, I find little to commend and much to deplore in SlutWalk Toronto’s response. This response began with “SlutWalk is NOT all white and not white supremacy at its finest”, a piece that reaks of white privilege and a sense of entitlement. Rather than attempt to improve on greatness I will refer you to the response found in Struggling to Be Heard. Because I initially sought to participate in SlutWalk Chicago without raising critical questions about its inclusion of women of color and other people who are targets of oppressions that I benefit from, I cannot claim to hold any moral high ground. However, I do not believe that this sort of negligence is something I should strive for, and now that the SlutWalk Toronto’s reactionary stance is manifest, I have no desire to be a part of an action led by people who desire to follow its guidelines.

I believe there is another matter we need to consider: Even if SlutWalk Chicago renamed itself and distanced itself from SlutWalk Toronto, would the voices of people who face multiple oppressions be heard? I do not have enough information to give a justified answer to this question, but I can speak to my own experience. When you gave the call for committee “leaders”, I told you that I could not lead, but I volunteered to sit on one of the committees. I never heard any response to this. If a leader was chosen for the committee I volunteered to be on, I was neither given an opportunity to cast a vote nor so much as told who was chosen. If SlutWalk Chicago or any of its committees has ever held a meeting where trans people can express our concerns, I was never invited, and my voice has never been heard. This is not for a lack of time or resources; I have received several announcements from SlutWalk Chicago, always telling me what I can do to help the walk. If SlutWalk Chicago’s aim is “to engage” me “in dialogue”, the onus for insuring this dialogue occurs has rested entirely on my shoulders. So while I do not claim to have absolute certainty, I am not confident that SlutWalk Chicago, as it is currently organized, leaves enough room at the table for women of color, trans women, and other people who face multiple oppressions.

I believe most people who get things wrong have good intentions, and this belief has not been challenged by recent events. I believe most people involved in SlutWalk Chicago, including its leaders, are acting out of a desire to confront sexual violence and sexism, and I can only hope more people will come to share your concern. I also have another hope, which is that anti-sexist activists in Chicago and elsewhere will ask people who face multiple oppressions what we are already doing to confront sexism before creating yet another institution that includes us only as an afterthought.

Veronika Boundless
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Today is the anniversary of the first meeting of Stellar, the group of trans people, trans-questioning people, and allies who organized to resist cissexism at the 2010 Chicago Dyke March. As I recounted in yesterday’s post, I faced a potentially life-threatening situation and other challenges when I became a member of the Chicago Dyke March Collective in 2009. This was not because of anything I had done but because I was a trans woman. Some Chicago activists were less than ecstatic when they heard about this. I cannot hope to do justice to the story of the amazing people who overcame obstacles to organize with me, but I feel compelled to share my version of the events anyway, because it is a story that everyone who has an interest in social justice ought to remember, and the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) is not going to record our history for us.

According to the bylaws we adopted on April 24th Stellar was a group that welcomed “everyone, regardless of race, class, age, trade, religion, nationality, immigration status, trans status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or physical or mental ability”. Of course, as I learned in 2009, there is a world of difference between saying a group is inclusive and being inclusive. For its part Stellar implemented a number of structures to make the group widely accessible. For example, our bylaws specified a group decision-making process, and these bylaws were automatically sent to everyone who was added to our listserv, while hard copies were available at meetings. As trivial as this was to implement, in every organization I have tried to be involved in since obtaining the bylaws (or the equivalent document) has been like pulling teeth, leaving me on the outside of the organization’s decision making. Stellar recognized that paying attention to little details had the potential to make a big difference in the lives of marginalized people.

If you know that the Chicago Dyke March is always held on the last Saturday of June, you might be wondering why Stellar did not convene before April 28th. The reason for this is that as late as February of 2010 it was not apparent that there was a need for resistance. Though efforts to communicate with CDMC as a collective had failed, I thought there would be some benefit to engaging individuals, starting with a member I will call Daisy. By the time I had left CDMC Daisy was the only person in the collective I counted as an ally, so I approached her with what seemed to me to be a win–win proposal: Together we would organize a teach-in entitled “Making Spaces Accountable to Trans People” and invite the other members to attend. Initially Daisy seemed enthusiastic, but her response time increased with every message I sent her. Eventually she started broadcasting comments insensitive towards trans women via Google Buzz. I took this as a sign that I would not get a response to either of the last two e-mails I had sent to her (my conclusion would turn out to be correct). It was already March 23rd when I sent a letter to various transgender individuals and TBLGQ rights organizations warning them of the threat CDMC posed to trans people. By that time CDMC had been preparing for Dyke March for months.

But it was not just a shorter time-frame that put us at a disadvantage. The time between Dyke March 2009 and Dyke March 2010 was a rough year for me—and not just because memories of what went down in 2009 were keeping me up night after night. In December a couple of young men stopped me on the street, punched me in my face twice, and stole my cell phone. When Dyke March was about a week away and Stellar’s membership was frantically making last minute preparations, my laptop malfunctioned. Despite all this I cannot say I had it worse than anyone else in Stellar; we all had our struggles. For example, most of the people actively involved in organizing had to deal with a death or a serious illness in the family. As if to pour salt in our wounds, The Windy City Times published a fluff piece about CDMC, as it does every year, while it failed to report on our organizing. There were days when I wondered whether we would have a presence at Dyke March at all.

During the course of our organizing we decided it would be a good idea to march at the event both to acknowledge what CDMC had gotten right—namely, organizing an event that was open to working class people and people of color—and to prevent CDMC, which then consisted only of cisgender people, from co-opting trans and trans-questioning people’s pride. But we also decided to use the event as an opportunity to educate people about what the cisgender members of CDMC had done in 2009 and how cisgender people could be allies to trans people in 2010, so a number of us contributed to a leaflet whose title was Marching United. We also knew that we had to keep our own house clean, and to that end we discussed combating racism. I introduced Stellar to a piece I had written entitled “Five Things White Activists Should Never Say”, thinking others in the group might want to use it as a jumping off point for our discussion. My friend and fellow activist Darrell Gordon, who was a member of Stellar, helped me revise the document and proposed that we distribute it at Dyke March along with the other flyer. (Apart from a few typographical changes the version we distributed at Dyke March was no different from the version that is currently available at zinelibrary.info.)

In the end Stellar did have a presence at Dyke March. As is often the case with direct action, assessing what went wrong is easier than assessing what went right. I believe our biggest loss was that the printing of the Marching United leaflets did not go according to plan, so we were not able to send any to the members of CDMC before the march, or distribute as many at the march as we would have liked to. The most obvious success is that I and other trans people marched without suffering injury. However, I for one found it triggering to have my steps marshaled by people who had been actively involved in my oppression, and to leave a war zone unscathed is to leave a war zone, just the same. I think one easily overlooked benefit of working together was that we had multiple witnesses for every incident. When the march had ended, three members of CDMC, perhaps hoping to save face after we had protested their event, approached me and another transgender person in Stellar and said that they would be in touch with us to talk about what they could be doing better. Knowing that I had not been the lone witness, I felt confident when I later called them out for failing to follow through. All things considered, I believe Stellar’s action was a success, and I am grateful to have had such an inspiring group of people to march with. What’s more, I am thoroughly convinced that the day will come when Dyke March 2010 is remembered not for those who marched lockstep with the people who had shown no regard for the well-being of trans women but for those who marched to resist the oppression of the most marginalized members of our community.

2011–09–16 Edit: In the original location this post included a picture of a man and a transgender person holding a young child. The caption read, “Two members of Stellar and one very welcome non-participant after a meeting.”
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Last night I accompanied two members of Bisexual–Queer Alliance Chicago (BQAC) to a meeting of Chicago’s LGBT Advisory Council where they would submit the report Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations. One of the two was Brother Michael C. Oboza, a co-founder of BQAC. During the public comment portion of the meeting Michael gave each of the present council members a copy of the report and shared some of the information from the report, much of which brings sexism as much as monosexism into the open:
  • Thirty-five percent of bisexual men and forty-five percent of bisexual women “have attempted or seriously considered suicide”. This rate significantly exceeds the rates for straight people, gay men, and lesbians.
  • The portion of the bisexual male population living in poverty is greater than the portion of the gay male population living in poverty by more than fifty percent. The percentage of bisexual women living in poverty is more than twice the percentage of lesbians living in the same state.
  • Contrary to what their lack of visibility suggests, bisexual people make up the largest portion of the TBLG community.
In regards to the report Elizabeth Kelly, the chair of the LGBT Advisory Council, said, “This is very important.” Michael committed to sending an electronic copy of the report to the council members who were not present, and among the members there was talk of endorsing the report at the council’s next monthly meeting.

Edited on 2011 March 19 for the sake of factual accuracy. I had originally indicated that the report made comparisons regarding the number of bisexual people living in poverty, when it really presented percentages, which is more significant. I am sorry for my error.

faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
I just spent a lot of time composing a reply to a post entitled Dyke March Diaries: Coming Out on the IMPACT Program’s blog before realizing that it does not allow comments. So I thought I would post my comment here instead:
This is a very well-edited video, and the people in it are so inspiring! I am glad you and other folks are doing the vital work of recording the experiences of people in our community.

If I were to add anything, I would highlight the adversity that some people aligned with the T faced at Dyke March in 2010. In 2009 I, a transsexual woman, had tried to be involved in the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) and found the collective to be hostile towards trans people, especially those of us who are women or who have a feminine presentation. In response to this a number of trans folks, trans-questioning folks, and allies joined me in going to Dyke March to both celebrate our pride and resist CDMC’s marginalization of trans people. It is excruciatingly difficult to find queer “community” after facing rejection from mainstream society, only to find out that the “community” rejects us well. Despite this and a number of personal hardships, the other members of Stellar took a stand in 2010 and showed me what real community looked like. If Dyke March is a safer place for trans people this year, we will be indebted to the people who have been standing with us all along. Thank you, trans folks, trans-questioning folks, and allies, for the amazing demonstration of resilience!

I will be posting more about Stellar in the next month or two. For anyone whose interest I may have piqued I will at this time just link to a press release we sent before last year’s Dyke March:

Stellar calls for resistance on two fronts at Dyke March

faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Most people who know I am a queer woman will assume that I am ecstatic about recent legislation: The bill approved by the Illinois General Assembly making civil unions legal and the bill approved by the US Congress repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). However, people who have known me for some time might wonder. You see, I first delved into queer rights activism on Pride Day of 2004, when I joined a number of queer anarchists and allies in entering the Pride Parade, which we saw as a corporate sell-out, without a permit. A number of us commented on marriage, characterizing it as an oppressive institution. I do not remember whether we specifically addressed the issue of queer folks in the military, but people who saw the banner that read, “No war but class war,” might have inferred what the majority of us believed. We were not interested in reforming marriage or the military, we wanted to abolish them both.

Seven years have passed, and I am happy to learn about both pieces of recent legislation. Even so, I am not ecstatic. Though I am no longer an anarchist, I am still a radical. Marriage and the military have long been the primary concerns of white, cisgender, middle class gays and lesbians. Meanwhile organizations that have been in touch with the needs of working class queer and trans youth of color—organizations like Chicago’s Gender JUST—have tended to focus more on the systemic discrimination that is not codified into law, such as bullying in schools and the inequitable distribution of funding for AIDS prevention. When it comes to queer liberation, some of us have a longer way to go than the mainstream gay and lesbian rights organizations let on.

I am sincerely happy for the TBLGQ folks in Illinois who will no longer face institutional discrimination, but what about the problems it leaves unresolved? Even though the level of domestic violence in same-sex relationships is similar to the level of violence in straight relationships, the former is a lot more likely to be neglected. As the recent discourse regarding the accusations against Julian Assange shows, a ridiculously narrow definition of rape dominates in our sexist society, making it even more difficult for bisexual and queer women to be taken seriously. Considering that Illinois law formalizes a narrower definition of rape for victims whose perpetrators are their spouses, how attractive an option is marriage for those of us who survived sexual assault in same-sex relationships? As a trans woman who suffered abuse, including sexual abuse, at the hands of a transphobic woman who was my partner, I can tell you my personal perspective: The idea of being married is terrifying.

It is good that Congress has repealed DADT. Considering the rate at which black women were discharged under DADT, it was not only a heterosexist policy but also a racist and a sexist policy. However, repealing DADT will have no direct bearing on the fact that members of same-sex households are disproportionately more likely to serve. And why have they served? So that the US could destabilize Iraq to the point that it is arguably the worst country for TBLGQ people to be in? So that the party that is purported to be the party of “family values” could initiate a war in Afghanistan that has led to the daily death of 850 children? How does DADT—or any other legislation proposed by the mainstream gay and lesbian rights organizations—address the fact that it is straight folks’ war and queer folks’ fight?

If I could go back and relive my first day of activism, there is little I would change about my message. If I were to spend less time speaking out against marriage and the military, I would use the time I gained to speak out about the mainstream gay and lesbian community’s complacency when it comes to domestic violence and war. In the real world Illinois does not yet have equal marriage. Future generations will judge us based not only on our approval of reforms that would change this but also on whether we let focus on these reforms divert our attention from the plight of the most vulnerable members of our community.

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faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Veronika Boundless

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