This is the text of the author’s keynote address at the Fazendo Genero conference in Santa Catarina, Brazil, delivered today, September 20, 2013 at 6PM EST.
The author extends her thanks to Jasbir Puar, Christina Handhart, Tim McCaskell, for foundational influences and TL Cowan, Alexandra Juhas, Jasmine Rault, Michelle Pearson Clarke and Zab for textual suggestions.
Thank you so much for this incredible honor and opportunity to meet with you, to visit Brazil for the first time, and to share with you some of my experiences and insights on where we are now.
The given theme is “The Challenge of Feminism” and I have to ask myself “What isn’t the challenge of feminism?” Not only are we talking about how women live and feel, but we’re also – now- using the word to mean a value system, a way of doing things. So, when we look at the materiality of women’s lives across the globe, we see a continued exclusion from power. But also, when we look at human methodology, in general, we see an eclipse of justice from the governmental to the personal.
So, in the long period of preparation for this talk, I decided that I want to focus on the very dramatic transformations in the gay movement/the LGBT movement/the queer movement, in a very short period of time, and its relationship to feminism. How concepts and self-concepts have evolved that eclipse “feminism” – a system rooted in justice, equal opportunity, access and the value of both the individual and the community. Some of these ideas are already in circulation and some are new. Some are solid and some are tentative. I am grateful in advance for your attention and very much look forward to our discussion.
My life has been such that I’ve watched a fair number of people die. Close up and personal. It makes me a great party guest.
Being the youngest child of a rural family that loves alcohol and ambition in equal parts, I’m never wholly impressed with New Year celebrations.
You call that drunk? We puke up more vodka before 9 am than most people drink all day.
You call that planning for a New Year? My dad read us Brian Tracy’s “Seven Goal Setting Habits” in our cribs.
Of course, if you want to bypass the alcohol and go right to ambition, you’ve got to keep really really busy, so my wall is always covered with post it notes detailing my quarterly goals and foci no matter what time of year it is.
Adult children of alcoholics overcompensation notwithstanding, I’m a sucker for a good slogan and I’ve been thinking about one for this next year. I’ve decided on “just hit send”
“Just hit send” was a mini-meme created by the thoughtful Anne Elliott at the New York book release for Cheryl Burke’s My Awesome Place in October of this past year.
After graduating from the University of Texas in 2007, I entered one of the most complex periods of my life. Since childhood I had consistently felt more like a woman than a man, but growing up in a small town in rural North Carolina I had always been terrified to express this to anyone. By the time I entered college (still in North Carolina), I had some rough idea that maybe there was something I could do about the situation, but I told myself that obtaining my Ph.D. and getting a start on my career in physics should be my first priority.
However, deep inside what I really feared was that nobody would ever take me seriously as a trans woman in physics. I didn’t know any trans women in my own life— much less trans women successful in science— to whom I could look up as mentors. Not to mention that I had few reliable sources of information about my own situation in general terms; in fact, I wasn’t even familiar with phrases like “gender identity” or “trans woman” at the time I made that decision.
I want to preface the comments I’m about to make by acknowledging that our trans community (communitIES is really what I should say) is reeling from some events over the last couple of months. I think many of us are heartbroken, as we should be, over a series of murders of young trans women of color across the U.S. in the last month followed by the recent development that CeCe McDonald had few better legal options than to plead to 2nd degree manslaughter with a recommended 41-month sentence.
To make matters worse, the aftermath of the murders mentioned above recall the usual patterns of police dismissal and blatant disrespect from the media for the victims of racism and trans-misogyny. It is in this context that I think a lot of us feel, in addition to grief and frustration, plenty of doubt and uncertainty about where to head next. The solutions are not always clear, and I think we must avoid the trap of looking for easy answers.
In my heart of hearts, whatever the hell that means, I know that I am an outlaw.
Queers are always eager to write and talk about themselves whenever the opportunity arises, and I’m no exception. Also, queers love themes. Theme nights, theme songs, and especially, themed readings. So when Kelli Dunham, esteemed comic and host of NYC’s reading series Queer Memoir, announced that the theme of her next event was “Inlaws and Outlaws,” I immediately signed up to read something. Quickly thereafter, I realized that I don’t have any inlaws, and that I didn’t know what an outlaw was. I was fucked. And much to my dismay, not literally. An outlaw made me think of some guy with a handlebar mustache who swaggers into a bar, making white bosomed women in corsets drop their drinks and cry for the county sheriff. It also made me think of Babeland’s notorious VixSkin “Outlaw,” because it’s the biggest one. If I wanted to learn what outlaws were about, I needed to read some stuff. Through some haphazard googling, I learned that Robin Hood is frequently cited as the most famous outlaw. I couldn’t really remember if Robin Hood was the same thing as Waterworld, or if he was Braveheart, or if he danced with wolves, so I googled “Robin Hood” and learned that all of the above is true. Wisegeek.com also taught me a thing or two, all of which lead me to the following realization: I am outlaw-idenitified.
Now, I may not be a cartoon Disney fox in a cropped green shirt, or wield a bow and arrow as I dash around the woods in a small, fitted jacket, and obviously I’m not that guy who saunters into bars with his jeans and his big hat, but I am someone who doesn’t really “do” rules, and who sometimes, in a way, steals from the rich to give to the poor, and for all these reasons and more, must live on the periphery of most cultures that are counter enough to begin with. In other words, I’m “other.”
“Love and Death,” in addition to being the title of a Woody Allen movie, seems like a pretty good summary of what our lives have been about during the past week. This was the week that my eighty-six year old mother-in-law (okay; not quite “law”) died, my partner and I celebrated our Holy Union, and she then went to Florida for her mother’s funeral without me. As I write this, I am alone in our Brooklyn apartment and will be alone for another four days. The silver band she placed on my finger is still there (along with the silver, sapphire-set engagement ring that matches the one I gave her). The two red roses we carried as we walked down the aisle together are hanging on the kitchen wall, bound by a green ribbon from one of our gift boxes, waiting to become sentimental keepsakes of this bittersweet time. And I’m seeking solace in this computer, as I do far too often…
Freshly minted from liberal arts college, in the dawn of my first “real” relationship, and eager to explore what gay adults do, I curiously and skeptically walk through the doors of The Faultline. My slender frame, young face, social anxiety, and colorful clothes stand out here. For anyone that has not patronized this particular establishment, The Faultline is an old-school gay bar in Los Angeles that features all the traditional iconography of the bars that came about in the early ‘90s that focused on bear and leather culture. The interior features a pole for furry dancers to cozy up to, black walls that ease facial crevices, and a “test your strength” arcade game.
“I assumed that all gay spaces would be a ‘safe haven’ for gay men…”
A few steps away, the patio reveals a comfortably sized space for socializing and casual groping, though with enough light to dissuade heavier petting. Two stripper poles flank a stage that, to my knowledge, has been occupied only by what I recognize as the geriatric homosexual equivalent of a village idiot. Glazed eyeballs drift around his skull while he dazzles the crowd with his limp limbs and syncopated dance abstraction. Stout men with migrating hair, overtanned raisins in worn leather chaps, eagle-eyed chickenhawks with discreet baseball caps, and the more testosterone-fueled Silver Lake glitterati all chatter and glance about the space. The bathroom reveals a more lecherous set, where frequent trips allow for maximum cruising potential. Lining the channel between the patio and bathroom are stacks of gay publications, a bit tousled but largely untouched. Therein lay stacks of advertisements for gay liposuction, gay lawyers, gay plumbers, gay sex clubs, and gay bars that would appear to be replicas of the simulacratic situation that I am finding myself in at this very moment.
Most of my time is spent around queermos, trans folks, lefties, and feminists, people who spend a lot of time talking about oppression and privilege, social justice and anti-capitalism. People who try to make themselves aware of how things like racism, misogyny, classism, and transphobia work in the world and in themselves.
It really raises me up to be around people like this, and I listen intently to what people say about these things, both formally and casually. Engaging in these discussions teaches me so much about the world and the privileges that I carry around it, but almost every time I end up leaving the conversation frustrated. For all the anti-oppression talk that goes on, people seem to feel entitled to get their hate on about one subject: religion.
I get where it comes from. Growing up in cultures based around Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, can be tough for queers, trans folks, women, especially in more socially conservative places. And when these religions are used as justification for the erasure of your identities or for the enactment of violence upon your body (in all the myriad ways that queers, trans folks, women, and people of colour experience violence), it’s hard to not just throw up your hands in frustration at “religion,” hard not to paint it all with the same brush.