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)
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)
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.

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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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