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)
As LiveJournal user labelle77 and Lisa Harney at Questioning Transphobia have reported, a certain radical feminist has been using a WordPress blog to post the pictures of trans women she reports to have entered the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (hereafter, MichFest) along with commentary that has a high probability of inciting some of her blog’s visitors to commit acts of physical violence against trans women. (Out of respect for trans women’s lives and well-being I will not be posting a link to the blog here.)

If you do not know already, MichFest is a music festival whose organizers have long had a policy of excluding trans women from the festival or, as they code it, of hosting a festival that is only for “womyn-born womyn”. There was a time when the organizers prevented trans women from entering. Beginning in 2006, however, the policy has been to put the burden of policing on individuals, asking interested trans women to respect that the festival is not intended for them but not denying them ticket sales. With this change many trans women began to attend the festival, but several outspoken people who attend MichFest continue to oppose trans women’s presence.

The woman whose blog is the subject of this entry is one such person. Having seen the offending post myself, I have a few observations. First, I believe it is, if anything, an understatement to say as Lisa Harney has that the post “practically incites violence against” trans women. At least one of the people leaving comments have has called for trans women to be bodily thrown out despite the fact that there has been no change in MichFest’s policy, and I believe that someone who already has misogynistic, transphobic inclinations would be inclined to do worse. Second, this is a matter that affects more people than just those trans women who choose to attend MichFest. The woman who was the radical feminist blogger’s original source of information has said she believes that two of the women listed in the post were not at MichFest, but the blogger has not removed any names. This suggests that any woman the blogger perceives as trans could have her name and picture listed on the web site and be made the subject of ridicule for failing to meet her standard of womanhood. (Of course, this would be a tragedy, even if the women already listed were the only parties who were affected.) My third and final observation is that by any reasonable interpretation of WordPress’s Terms of Service the WordPress staff should take action against the blogger. WordPress’s inaction when it comes to this matter is as deplorable as the blogger’s action.

And so I leave you with a question, dear reader: Where do I take Faithful Image now?
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)
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)
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)
This is an account of some of the experiences I had while trying to organize with the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC) in 2009. The main reason I am writing this now is the same reason that I participate in trans activism: I want to see the day when no new names are read at Transgender Day of Remembrance vigils. During my brief stint in CDMC I survived a number of instances of transphobia and misogyny, including the decision of one of the members to put me in a potentially life-threatening situation. Whatever else might be said about CDMC, I do not know any member of the collective who would deny this. Indeed a member of CDMC recently sent me an apology on the behalf of the collective. Even so, if anyone were to have visited CDMC’s web presence at any point during the nearly two years that passed before CDMC so much as apologized, they could have been excused for thinking not only that CDMC welcomed all trans people but also that trans people were part of the collective’s decision-making process. If CDMC’s words are not a narrative, they at least implicate a narrative—a narrative that has no room for a trans woman who was effectively driven from the collective and has yet to see justice. As long as trans people are at risk of entering CDMC unaware of its history, I cannot afford to remain silent.

My story begins on April 14, 2009. If this date seems familiar to you, faithful reader, it may be that you remember it as the day I came out to myself as a woman. On that day everything fell into place for me. The reason I had long felt inclined to call myself a lesbian was that I was a lesbian or, as I prefer to say now, a queer woman. Feeling celebratory, I wanted to find other queer women to express my pride with. The Dyke March was by far my favorite part of Pride Weekend (the weekend when ITAPBLGQ folks in Chicago and many other cities around the world commemorate the Stonewall riots, which mark the beginning of the modern queer rights movement), so I felt I would be a good match for the collective. I was not naïve, however. I knew that there had been a history of transphobia in Dyke Marches in general and the Chicago Dyke March in particular. So I decided to look at CDMC’s web site, hoping to find its policy regarding trans people. This is what I found on its Myspace page (and what can still be found on CDMC’s Facebook page and Wordpress blog):

Chicago Dyke March is a grassroots mobilization and celebration of dyke, queer, and transgender resilience.
Though I found this encouraging at the time, it was perhaps my first clue that CDMC had a structural problem. I might have just come out to myself as a woman, but I had known for more than four years that I was not a man, and so I had already long been involved in queer and trans activism. On at least one occasion the Queer and Trans Caucus of the Chicagoland Anarchist Network, one of the groups I worked with, had had a very visible presence in Dyke March. Despite this I had never once known a CDMC member to invite members of the groups I worked with to help with the planning. Indeed it seemed to me that the general perception among the activists I worked with was that the collective was only open to dykes. But with hindsight being better than foresight I quickly sent the collective an e-mail, asking to be involved.

Trouble arose almost immediately. The less severe of the two problems I had when I had first joined CDMC was that, well, I had not joined CDMC. Though my e-mail address was on CDMC’s listserv, available for all thirty or so subscribers to see, no one ever told me when meetings were held. The only reason I was able to attend my first CDMC meeting was that someone outside the collective told me the meeting time. So I went to the meeting, informed the members who were present of the problem, and I gave one of them my cell phone number. After this I continued to miss a number of meetings, because as before no one was telling me when they were being held.

When I was finally added to CDMC’s listserv, it seemed that I had hurdled the obstacles to my involvement just in time. A discussion arose about the Radical Cheerleaders, who had been unfurling an unwelcome mat for trans women and transfeminine people by various means, including the use of the slur chicks with dicks in one of its cheers. Though some red flags were raised during our initial conversation, I left the following meeting feeling that, if nothing else, everyone who had been present at the meeting understood that it is only for trans women and transfeminine people to reclaim transphobic, misogynistic epithets. What I did not know at the time was that one of the members present at the meeting—I will call her Rose—had already forwarded the entire listserv discussion about instances of transphobia at Dyke March, including my name and e-mail address, to two cisgender members of the Radical Cheerleaders. It would be weeks before I knew the extent to which my initiation into Dyke March was a baptism of fire.

Even while Rose hid her indiscretion, it quickly became apparent that problems remained. It turned out that the inaction I encountered when I had tried to join CDMC was not isolated. Any time a trans woman contacted CDMC turn-around time was slow. I developed a strategy for those occasions when a trans woman reached out to us: I asked the other members what the collective’s policy was regarding the issue at hand, waited twenty-four hours for a response (which I would never receive), and then act unilaterally to address the problem. But when I was the trans woman with a concern, who was there to help me? Finally I called out various members for their cissexism; backlash ensued. After reading the content of Rose’s response I felt the need to point out to her that tranny was a transphobic, misogynistic slur, even though I had already done so not long before. I went to the next meeting thinking that we would discuss cissexism, but the double-than-usual turn-out was more interested in discussing me. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to disclose that she had betrayed me, Rose talked about the cis woman tears she had shed. It was in this gaslit setting that I agreed to take a step back from criticizing members of the group. If I have only one regret from my time with CDMC, it was that in that moment I sewed shut the lips of the only member of the collective who was transgender and the only member of the collective who had consistently taken initiative in confronting cissexism and sexism.

After the meeting a week passed before Rose finally disclosed her betrayal. The revelation was not to be found in an apology or in an expression of sorrow but in a message to the collective’s listserv in which Rose blithely announced that the Radical Cheerleaders had found a replacement for the term chicks with dicks—namely, tranny chicks. Only one member bothered to respond; she proposed that the matter of the privacy violation be dealt with in a closed committee meeting where neither I nor any other transgender person would be present. Out of concern for my safety I left CDMC.

I have seen some stellar displays of solidarity since Chicago Dyke March 2009. However, other Chicago activists have distinguished themselves by supporting CDMC, even after it had repeatedly shown that it was more interested in being actively involved in trans people’s oppression than in our liberation. Affinity allowed CDMC to use its space to prepare for Chicago Dyke March 2010. Since then the Creative Justice Coalition has had a fund-raising event for CDMC. I wrote to a prominent member of Affinity on March 23, 2009 to inform her of the threat CDMC posed to trans people’s safety; I never heard back from her. I wanted to ask members of the Creative Justice Coalition why they were enabling my oppressors, but an extensive search for any contact information the group might have has left me empty-handed. I can only conclude that many Chicago activists have a long way to go before they can rightly call themselves allies to trans people.

As for CDMC, it remains to be seen whether the collective’s actions will follow its words. Fortunately not everyone in Chicago has been content to wait two years for justice. This is another story that needs to be told.

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)
Lately I have been thinking about the value of trigger warnings. Writing about the use of the phrase trigger warning to indicate that content triggers others, Katherine of The Body Electric writes, “It rests on a massive set of assumptions about what might trigger survivors.” As someone who often finds it empowering to watch depictions of violence that would trigger others but can be triggered by seemingly innocent phrases, I could not agree more. Katherine also points out that trigger warnings have been used to “infringe upon the rights of others”, referencing a post in which Lisa Harney notes that trigger warnings have been used to justify barring trans women from women’s spaces. Taking all this into consideration, it is obvious that there is a problem with the way I have been handling triggers so far.

With that in mind I have decided to draft a new policy on potential triggers, based so much on Katherine’s that I am rejoicing in the fact that copyright law only protects content and not ideas:

  1. I will write the first paragraph of each post in such a way that the reader can easily determine the content of the rest of the post.

  2. I will construct hyperlinks in such a way that the reader can easily determine the content of the resource I have linked to.

  3. I will follow the internet convention of letting the reader know that material is NSFW or contains depictions of violence.

  4. I will tag or categorize all satirical content as such.

  5. I will not hold commenters responsible for content that is potentially triggering. However, I will hold commenters responsible for abusing or insulting me or other commenters.

  6. I will leave it to the reader to determine whether content is potentially triggering before they proceed.

  7. As I strive to make this an accountable space, I will welcome comments that let me and commenters know when we have said something insensitive.
Edited on the 29th to fix a typo.

You Belong

2010-10-10 12:17 pm
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
In the wake of tragedy an ad campaign has been launched to tell TBLGQ youth, “It gets better.” I think others (see Lisa Harney’s remarks at Questioning Transphobia, for example) have already done a good job elucidating what’s wrong with the ads. I will simply say that however well-intentioned the campaign may be, it would not have helped me when I was close to suicide, because I would not have believed that my situation would ever get better.

So why go on living? For me it comes down to this: I belong. I don’t mean that I’ve regularly had people close to me who tell me I belong—quite often I haven’t. And I certainly don’t mean that I find belonging in the cissexist, heterosexist society I’ve been forced to live in. What I mean is that I find belonging through the shared experience of being trans or queer. No matter how painful it becomes, there are people who know exactly what I’m feeling.

Have you ever felt so dysphoric in the body of the wrong sex that you thought it would be better to be dead? I’ve been there.

Have you ever felt so guilty about your same-gender attraction that you thought it would be better to be dismembered? I’ve been there.

Have you ever come out to a family member you thought would be understanding, only to find yourself estranged from that family member? I’ve been there.

Have you ever been in an abusive relationship and remained silent because there seemed to be no resources available to someone of your trans status or sexual orientation? I’ve been there.

Have you ever felt marginalized, even among oppressed people, because you’re queer or trans? I’ve been there.

Have you ever felt marginalized, even among other TBLGQ people, because you face oppressions apart from being queer or trans? I’ve been there.

Have you ever had a painful experience that seemed so typical of the trans or queer experience that you said nothing out of fear that people would say it was cliché? I’ve been there.

Have you ever had a painful experience that seemed so atypical of the trans or queer experience that you said nothing out of fear that no one else would understand? I’ve been there.

In saying this I don’t mean to suggest that any of the people who recently committed suicide are to blame for not understanding that they were not alone. It isn’t often that we’re told that we’re not alone. And perhaps they did know, but it wasn’t enough. Who are we to judge? There won’t be progress until we stop pointing fingers at the victims and start asking ourselves, “What could we be doing differently?”

I also don’t mean to suggest that the message I offer here is new or the solution to all the problems we face. I have no idea how helpful it will be in the grand scheme of things. However, it is something that has helped me, and it is something that I can say to you with all sincerity. You are not alone. You belong.
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Mainstream entertainment almost never depicts trans women who are unambiguously queer. A work might present a woman who begins transition while already married to a cis woman, but if anything is said about preferences, it will be that the two women have a love that transcends sexual orientation. After all, this is a message that will be more palatable to cis straight audiences. The only movie I know of that has a trans queer woman as a fictional character is Better than Chocolate, an independent film.

Why don’t we see more trans queer women in the media? I think we find the answer when we consider a couple of tropes that are common in our day. I’ll call the first Lesbians as Straight Men’s Fetish. This is pretty straightforward. If lesbianism is depicted, it is as a service to straight men. It is often the case that within a production there will be a man watching, acting as the surrogate viewer. And in an obvious case of fantasy wish fulfillment the lesbianism is temporary or superficial so that men in the audience can see lesbians who end up in committed relationships with men. (The possibility that the characters are bisexual women is never explored.) Lesbians in the media are prime examples of fetishization—objects of desire that exist for people who have absolutely no regard for the desires of the objects.

I’ll call the second trope Trans Women as Inauthentic. As many before me have pointed out, trans women are often depicted as stealthy deceivers or as comic want-to-be women. If a trans woman easily “passes”, it is because she is trying to trick a man. (In horrifying examples of life imitating art some cis straight men have killed their trans lovers and escaped murder charges by claiming that they’d been duped.) On the other hand if a trans woman is harmless, the production team will play up her masculinity or maleness in an attempt to get laughs. Because, you know, failing to blend with cis women in a society where trans women are singled out for violence is comedy gold. One way or another movies and television must say that trans women aren’t real women.

Trans queer women can’t be depicted in popular culture, because we challenge the heterosexism and the cissexism that are so deeply ingrained in our society. The target audience simply would not react the same way if a trans woman duped a queer woman or failed miserably at convincing a queer woman of her womanhood. Even if it did, presenting a woman as a deceiver or a failure would undermine attempts at titillation. If the mainstream media depicted trans queer women, something would break.

But this is not a lamentation, it is an exhortation. Let’s break things. Let’s create representations of trans queer women and put them where they can’t be ignored. Of course care should be taken when depicting trans queer women, just as it should be taken when depicting all members of oppressed groups. We don’t want to substitute new harmful tropes for the old harmful tropes. But I don’t think the possibility of getting things wrong should deter us from trying something that could go wonderfully right. For far too long we’ve been letting cissexist, heterosexist institutions tell us how to view trans women and queer women. Now is the time for us to stop viewing worlds we can’t relate to and start making a better world.

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