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)
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)
One of the quotes that inspires me most as a blogger is one attributed to Mother Jones: “My business is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” On this day when the US federal government observes the birth of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I thought I would share a quote from the civil rights leader that is not likely to be among the quotes we hear on mainstream radio and television throughout the day. Though its connection to feminism and queer liberation may not be immediately apparent, I believe the quote is much in the spirit of afflicting the comfortable:

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

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.
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
I recently started watching the PBS series Dinosaur Train on a somewhat regular basis. The show is obviously aimed at a younger demographic, but I was drawn to it, because, well, dinosaurs are awesome, and when was the last time a show all about dinosaurs aired almost daily? Of course once I started to watch the series I noticed sexism, some of it subtle and some of it not so subtle. Because I wanted to be sure that the subtle sexism wasn’t all in my head, I thought I’d analyze five episodes to see if my suspicions about the show’s trends were confirmed.

The show focuses on the family of Buddy, a young tyrannosaurus rex. The rest of Buddy’s family is made up of pteranodons—Mom, Dad, Tiny, Shiny, and Don. In a typical cartoon members of the Pteranodon family take the Dinosaur Train to meet other animals from the Mesozoic era. While on the train, a troodon called Mr. Conductor tells the family members all about the animals they’ll be meeting. At some point Buddy will say, “I have a hypothesis!” After each cartoon Dr. Scott, a paleontologist, interacts with children, and he expands on what they might have learned from the cartoon. During the Dr. Scott segments there is often a man who suddenly bursts through a door to make an announcement that begins with, “Point of fact,” and usually ends with a denial of one of the obviously fanciful elements of the show, such as, “Therizinosaurus did not practice the martial arts.” (Yes, martial arts. I’ll say more on this later.) Each episode consists of two cartoons and therefore two Dr. Scott segments.

Though it isn’t of much social consequence, there is something I see in every episode that bugs me: In the introduction a song recounts Mrs. Pteranodon’s experience of finding Buddy in her nest. According to the lyrics she explains why Buddy belongs in the family by saying, “You may be different, but we’re all creatures. / All dinosaurs have different features.” Pteranodons aren’t dinosaurs, dammit. Now I know there’s been at least one cartoon in which a character says that pteranodons aren’t dinosaurs, but when it’s insinuated at the beginning of each episode, it’s bound to create confusion.

With that out of the way I can get on with the meat of my review (which is available for everyone’s digestion, not just carnivores’): Even after casually watching a few episodes a few problems become immediately apparent. Though the show seems to offer something approaching gender parity—the Pteranodon family has an equal number of males and females, and there are a lot of girls represented among the children Dr. Scott interacts with—it is nevertheless male-dominated. Buddy is obviously the main character of the series, not only because t-rexes are more recognizable than pteranodons but also because he is the only character who always takes the dinosaur train. (This contributes to a problem with the PBS Kids block: When different characters appear during station breaks or on the web site to represent different series, there are often no girls among them.) Mr. Conductor, Dr. Scott, and the Point of Fact guy are also all males/men. Though the show welcomes girls to enjoy dinosaurs, it sends the message that it’s mainly boys who get to hypothesize and speak about them authoritatively.

Upon closer examination the show reinforces gender roles in other ways. In the episodes I watched Mom alone took the kids out in four cartoons, Dad alone takes them out in two, and Mom and Dad take them out together in one. (The other three cartoons did not have Pteranodon family members leaving the nest.) Dad only went out when he got to play the role of the great outdoorsman, as when he took the children out to go fishing and look for dinosaur tracks. On the other hand Mom’s primary motivation seemed to be that she was always eager to please the children. The one exception is when she has the opportunity to get the autograph of a cryolophosaurus patterned after Elvis Presley. It’s hard to see how the writers might justify this. I don’t know what the current scientific consensus is on pteranodons’ child-rearing tendencies, but this scarcely matters. The series already makes a number of departures from reality in an attempt to appropriately socialize children (I always have a very hard time suspending my disbelief when Buddy nonchalantly tells a herbivore that he eats meat and the herbivore doesn’t show a hint of fear). Why can’t we have more females/women actively involved in learning and teaching about biology?

The cartoon I found to be the most irritating was the therizinosaurus cartoon and not just because Mom’s expression of support was so over the top. (Mom is in the background, silent and motionless until one of the kids suggests to Buddy that they visit the therizinosaurus family “today”, and Mom suddenly leaps into action to say what a good idea it is.) Throughout the episode traditional Chinese music plays, and the viewer finds that the therizinosaurus family practices a martial art that looks like Tai Chi Chuan. Why? Well, often in the series a dinosaur will have attributes associated with the people who currently live in the land it was discovered in. For example, Archaeopteryx was discovered in Germany, and Arlene Archaeopteryx has a German accent. The therizinosaurus practice a Chinese martial art and are accompanied by Chinese music, so where was therizinosaurus discovered? That’s right, Mongolia. Wait, what? Yes, apparently the show’s writers find Chinese culture and Mongolian culture to be entirely interchangeable. I must confess that I was blindsided by this racism, which probably says more about my white privilege than the likelihood of its inclusion.

If it weren’t for the therizinosaurus cartoon, I’d be a lot quicker to endorse Dinosaur Train. There aren’t enough shows that teach children about a subject they’re already enthusiastic about. To the extent that gender parity is present in the episodes, it’s encouraging. Though the females of the series aren’t very well developed, the same is true of the males. I suppose some adults would gag on the simplicity and cutesiness of the cartoons, but I for one appreciate the occasional escape from heavy topics. I just wish there were less sexism and racism in the series; I prefer that my escapes be not so short-lived.

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