Saturday, April 23, 2011

Throwing my hat in the ring on:

I've been following the latest story making the rounds about the trans woman who was severely beaten by two cis teenage girls at McDonald's.. 

I really ought to stay out of the commentary on this one.  For me the wounds are still raw when it comes to this particular form of violence.  I already regret my comments on one blog.. tho they may not even be approved.

But I didn't want to lose the conversation so I'll repost what I had said at Women Born Transsexual in response to the following quote:

The attack is a horrible Hate Crime. I hope the video leads to the capture and successful prosecution of the perpetrators of this horrible attack and I further hope they are sentenced to many years within the Prison Industrial Complex and get to spend the rest of their lives regretting having committed this hate crime.

And it is a hate crime on several levels. It is an anti-transsexual/transgender hate crime. There is a racist element to the attack. There is a gang element to it as well.

The “Thug Culture” promoted by so much of rap music and popular culture is almost like an indoctrination program that encourages black kids to commit violent acts that will result in long prison sentences. Pop culture aimed at the youth demographic encourages both violence and a psychopathic disregard for the well-being of others.

Here was my response:

How exactly is it that you can ascribe the actions of these two teenagers to 'hip hop' music and 'thug culture? As if just by virtue of them being black they obviously MUST have been influenced but all the “gangsta” rap music that “black” people listen to.

The only apparent and obvious motives for this attack are transphobia and cissexism. The fact that the victim is (apparently) white may or may not have influenced the attack.. but only in so much as the victim’s (apparent) trans status marked her as wide open for a beating to begin with.

Excuse me while I get graphic and very personal here:

Make no mistake…. in the very earliest days of my transition I too was attacked in public on several occasions and with varying degrees of injury. I am black by the way. And I began transition at 16-17 and wasn’t deemed “passable” until I was 20. During this period I suffered extreme levels of harassment and violence that I’m still trying to recover from to this day. And my harassers varied in age, race, and class, you name it.

The very first time I was attacked in public, I was chased out of a Denny’s at 3am by a group of 5 black men and women, all college aged. They managed to rip out a couple of dreds before I jumped in my car and drove to safety.

The second time I was attacked in a mall by a mixed group of 6 black, white and hispanic men also colleged aged. They had a disposable camera they had procured for the occasion while following me and took turns holding my arms while they posed me with in the pictures and forced me to simulate sex acts for said photos. Mall security did not intervene for 20 minutes.

The third time it happened I was pushed off of a moving metro bus by three black teenaged girls because I wouldn’t answer them as to whether I was a man, a woman or “some kind of dyke.”

In all three of the above instances, it was clear they were doing this because they thought I was a “man trying to be a woman” or because I refused to clarify my gender to their satisfaction. Transphobia. Cissexism.

In all three instances, bystanders stood by and watched it happen and even cheered my attack on.

The only constant in those three examples was the youth of my attackers and the fact that I was readable as trans to my attackers.

The racism that IS driving this Baltimore story is the racist public backlash against black youth who OBVIOUSLY must be brainwashed by all their rap music to the point that they DARE to do violence to a white person.

Nevermind the fact that cissexist infrastructures will strip even the whitest body of all its privilege when that white body can be read as trans. No, let’s look to tired stereotypes about black culture and rap music to explain this horrible event.. let’s look everywhere but society’s accountability to the hierarchy of bodies that it has created.

As you can see... this incident hits really really close for me.   I wish I hadn't descended into personal anecdote in trying to make my point.. but for me I can't seem to talk about transphobic public attacks without including my own experiences. 

I just wanted to repost my comment here at my own blog because I think the issue of how Race intersects with this incident IS an important element to discuss.  But its only being discussed as if blackness itself is at fault for the attack on this woman.  The  REAL culprit... society's cissexist brainwashing of people to defend the arbitrary boundaries of assigned gender at all costs, up to and including homicide... is mostly being ignored.

If anyone is up for a sensible conversation about racism, cissexism and THIS incident, please comment here.   I wanted to create a space for  what I already saw lacking.... 

If nobody takes me up on it that's fine too.  But as a black trans woman, I just didn't feel comfortable letting white people and cis people control the discourse on this incident unchallenged.

ETA:  The victim of the beating speaks to the media.  Apparently her use of the restroom had little to nothing to do with the incident, and indeed the employees and patrons sat and watched and did nothing to intervene. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wherein I make excuses for my participation in dreadful things

WARNING:  Purely personal ranting and purging ahead.

This isn't really a continuation of my post on privilege, but it does have alot to do with my actual privilege.  And alot to do with being lucky as hell with no small amount of skill at manipulating others.

At the beginning of this year I was in a dead panic about my employment situation. I had just found out that my company was about to sign a client who'd require extensive background checks on everyone in my dept.   Being that I'm not out as queer at my job, let alone trans, I felt this was really bad news.   It wasn't that I felt that my work environment was especially transphobic or hateful... I just know how things inevitably change with cis people once they know for sure that you're trans.  They may have suspected all along.  They may have had no clue.  They may have known for sure in their hearts but were just being respectful of your privacy.  But once "yep, I'm trans" is on the table, suddenly cis attitudes and behaviors shift, and not for the more accepting.  Suddenly,  cis people start slipping up on pronouns where they never did before.  Suddenly cis people are reluctant to go to the restroom at the same time as you.  Suddenly cis people have all sorts of wildly inappropriate comments and questions about surgeries and body parts they never would have dared saying before....    It's exhuasting.  It's death by a thousand personal questions. Death by awkward silences when you enter the room, by catching unstealthy coworkers darting their  eyes away from you as soon as you glance their way... over and over again ....until you finally go away becuz you're so damned tired of being stared at and never seen.

No I didn't want to go thru any of that, not again... not with me only now getting  life back on track financially, not with me finally feeling like I could live life as a human person and not a moral fugitive with a terrible secret.   But I didn't see any reasonable way to hide my assigned past during a federal background check.  So I started to hunt for another gig.

Ever practical, I also kept my ear to the ground at the workplace for other opportunties.  It was a long shot but I thought, maybe if there wasn't an easy way out, there might be a way ... up?

Well, there was, apparently.

To make a very long story short, I am still at the same place of employment I was before, but  promoted to a position of some authority, and with HR clearance.  Not to mention a huge raise to boot, the largest raise I've ever personally heard of anyone getting for the kind of work I do.     All of that and control over my own employee documentation too.  =|

And oh....  To get this position I was forced to challenge the person who hired me for HER job and I won.  (To be fair, she really wasn't very good at key parts of the job... like not being an openly racist snob.  I mean she SUPPORTED the idea of the AZ "Papers Please" Bill, so that should tell you a few things.... ).   She was demoted. I was promoted.  My gain, her loss.

But  yeah even if somebody wanted to do a background check on my entire dept, it is actually now MY responsibility to carry out and report the details to the HR manager.  I am much more confident that I would be able to keep any "troubling" personal info confined to one or two sets of eyes in upper management only. 

If you know anything at all about the way trans people are routinely undone by background checks, Social Security no-match letters, and accusations of insurance fraud, you'll know that I'm lucky as hell.   To have that kind of harm reduction built into my job is a privilege I can't afford to take for granted.

I wasn't only worried about being "outed" tho.   For the last two years I've been in a precarious financial way all around, being the sole income source for two adults, living entire paycheck to entire paycheck, with zero savings and zero ability to save.    This coming on the heels of WA State Disability declaring war against all its enrollees making Mr. Laplain's situation even more dire than just my own.  But thanks to this new job, I am doubly confident that if he were to lose his benefits altogether, we'd still be able to get by... maybe even better than that.

Oh and here's the funny thing.  I've since come to the conclusion that I actually DON'T care about being outed at this job anymore.  Yes, part of it is security in my new position...  maybe even most of it.. considering that I only came to this conclusion AFTER i realized my chances of being outed were much reduced.  Still that  initial scare set me on a period of reflection, wherein I began processing a few unhealed wounds.

The fact is, I can't and won't go back to living with that level of paranoia anymore.  During my first marriage,  I lived stealth for about 5 years.  5 years of hell.  I was married (or so i thought), to a closeted, wannabe social climber type.  I was his exotic arm candy for office parties, republican fundraisers and political rallies.  I was his "inside joke" on his ultra conservative circle of friends and frenemies, whom he simultaneously despised and longed to be like.  It was the most confusing, demoralizing, confidence draining period of my life.  I gave up everything I thought mattered to me for the security of my husband's racist/classist/cissexist facade.   This would be a long post for another day.  The point is, the thought of going back to a life where I'm worried who knows about me and who merely suspects and what harm they can do me....   well I can't and I won't do that ever again.

So.  Hooray for phases of spiritual growth.

Let me be real tho.   Nothing is guaranteed in this world, and with this particular gig, all these shiny new hopes will disappear overnight if my company doesn't survive this first stage of rapid growth with the new client we signed (not the creepy background searchers... they got paranoid and backed out at the last minute, go figure!)  I  may be out of the poorhouse, but I ain't out of the woods yet.

So why do I feel so damned proud of myself then?  Why do I feel like I really accomplished something to be crowed about?  What did I do exactly?    I brought two adults who were living right on the poverty line and dangerously close to homelessness ... well into lower middle class, YEAH!   I jumped the gates of the poorhouse and landed in a Honda Accord.

What I did accomplish was what I always seem to in the end... I survived.  In this case survival meant I successfully took advantage of my various educational privileges, schmoozed the right execs, then gambled and won on a longshot promotion.  I "played the game," as it were. 

 I do feel guilty for surviving where others have perished.  I mean even literally in the here and now.. I am now my boss's boss! What the hell???   But mostly I feel guilty for not feeling more guilty.  I feel like I deserve to do whatever it takes at whoever's expense to survive if I have to.  I feel like the world I live in has made it very clear it would rather see me die, fail,  disappear.  I know that this is because the world is built on many interlacing systems of oppression and that it is nigh impossible to experience advantage without causing someone else somewhere to experience disadvantage.    I want to feel something when I sit down and take stock of my complicity in  these systems of oppression and inequality.  Yes, I now line my pocketbook while my peers do without.  But I feel like I've "paid my dues"...   I feel like ME  benefiting from unfair systems in any way can't really be so bad.. because look at all I had to go thru to get to here.

I try not to think about all the people who went thru all I had to go thru and more and didn't make it. I don't want to think about the basic unfairness of this world. I just want to survive it.  I want to stop the suffering.  MY suffering.

I know it is this attitude that keeps otherwise good people from making meaningful changes in their social environments.

But even so, I am angry because I feel the need to apologize for having survived, for having known ANY pleasure or advantages in life.  It's like... so you wanted my life to be nothing but hardship and lack??  Like my friend Carmen's or Shandra's or Alexa's??  Well they're all dead now.    And now what?  What does their being dead mean other than they are no longer suffering in a world that never wanted them?  What does my being alive matter in a world that never wanted me?  And if it doesn't matter, how does it matter if I'm suffering or I'm complacent or blissfully unaware?

I have no idea what this post is about.  Forgive me.