EDITORIAL: Hitting a soft reset button on our trans activism.

|||| Patience Newbury, Editor

[ spoken audio of the editorial ]

OK. I don’t quit.

I’ve been thinking a lot since revisiting this declarative. Originally, it was simply, “I quit.”

When I was swayed back to this trans conversation just over a year ago, I felt pretty hesitant. This hesitation was not formed in some vacuum. This hesitation was informed by my own history of experiential knowledge — a battery of bad wisdom which nearly did me in. I still don’t talk publicly about those experiences, and for a very good reason. It makes up part of a narrative which can never really be heard contiguously so long as I’m alive.

In this trans activism, what I ran into back then, time and again, was a clamouring by some to emerge as a big fish in a very tiny pond. Egos blossomed with hubris. Cults of personality were born. No longer was our push for social justice and human rights about a collective effort to move us all forward so much as it was an exercise — a kind of veneration of idolatry for those who craved the attention.

For some reason still lost to me, some people really want to be mini-superstars within their own clique, if not in their own mind. People I once respected and even admired were no less immune to it. People like Kate — yes, Aunty Kate — came to mind. These were people with whom I no longer found myself associating. I felt that once these people were mostly listening to their own voice, they seemed to stopped hearing us. Then they started speaking for us. When this happened, our kindredness suffered. I felt in that in their mind, this push forward for our humanity stopped being about a selfless social justice in its most rudimentary sense. I felt that in their mind, this started being about their own celebrity and the desire to be desired — and to be desirable.

In my past experience, it was when this emerged when our collective movement to move ourselves forward as trans people began to hobble itself. Despite intense scepticism and doubt, what gave me a new sense of hope this time were a few changes.

Highest among them was the ability to finally start seeing trans people listen to one another, rather than solely talk over one another. That was a great step forward, and for that, I felt gratitude.

But it’s been the decentralized, ego-neutral energy of this ongoing Occupy movement — and the non-violent principles for which it advocates — which seems to engender a core value missing in our own struggle as trans people. It doesn’t really matter who moves us forward — it’s simply that we do move forward.

As with the Occupy movement’s 99 per cent being long spoken for by the 1 per cent in power, we as trans people understand the uphill challenge which that 99 per cent faces — except for one small problem: our numbers make up probably 1 per cent; cis people make up the other 99 per cent, and cis people? They have the power. So given how finite we are, this is really the last place and time we need big names and bigger egos.

In the past year, what I have been witnessing are new egos repeating the same old pitfalls of hubris and even narcissism. Both online and in my locality, where I had hoped I could safely disclose myself — I am instead lamenting the coalescing of newly-found clusters of people moving towards what appears to be closed exclusivities.

I know this hasn’t been just in my imagination, because this time I started seeing people not only take what I was writing seriously. They also started to draw themselves closer to me and even look up to me. They wanted to place me on a pedestal. At first, I thought this was just new territory and that it was happening with everyone who was speaking these days.

But it wasn’t. What I’ve seen instead is a repetition of the old: new faces maintaining old social hierarchies. As with the last time I was placed into the service of activism, I didn’t want to be pedestalled or lionized or revered so much as regarded as an equal to others, as approachable, and as someone who really doesn’t want to take any credit for what belongs to all of us. I only wanted to bring more people together (and believe me when I say I’ve known a quite a few people who could benefit all of us from them getting to know one another).

So this is where I fall short: I could be that big fish in a very tiny pond. I could probably, given my own peculiar history, be a giant bluefin tuna. But I don’t want it. I thought I could bring new people together, and it seems I might have succeeded on some level.

What I wasn’t expecting was what felt like new, exclusive cliques of popularity to begin emerging. It reminds me a lot of high school. The cliquishness was what precisely what drove me away from the community before. They were what drove me to disappear into the cis world for many years. The big difference compared to then is that back then, no one took my portents about where our community was headed all that seriously. They were more obsessed with me as some kind of object, as a symbol. I felt that because of this, we lost a lot of valuable years of growth as we spent more energy swooning over certain names in our community while others, with really brilliant minds, were largely unheard — including some of us who being swooned over but were expected to look pretty and say very little.

This time, many of the same people (along with new ones) are sort of taking what I’m saying seriously. In spades. I’m not used to this. Maybe this is because I can ruefully claim an old age — that in the minds of many people, maybe age begets wisdom, and wisdom is what must be heard (but here’s a hint: getting old does not beget wisdom). And here lies the rub: what I knew then is pretty much what I know now, except with a bit more grey hair and a lot more day-to-day fatigue.

For the work produced so far for the Cisnormativity project, I hope it continues being useful for others. If there’s something I wrote which made sense, then that’s great. I will say this now: you don’t need to give me attribution for what I post. In fact, I’d rather if you didn’t. It matters less who’s saying it and more that it’s getting said at all.

If you still want to give a nod or tip of your hat, do so by just trying to make sure other people come to know those what was said. And pass it on. And so on.

This is what I mean by selflessness: we shouldn’t be concerning ourselves with individuals who rapidly boost themselves to little celebrities — but big by our community’s standards. When this happens, that’s how and why we continue to move glacially when our social justice is at stake. Again, by stepping back and worrying less about who said an important thing and worrying more about that it’s getting said at all? This is how we should be mobilizing our very finite, very limited resources.

I’m sorry to disappoint anyone. I just can’t wilfully be complicit in reconstructing the systems which held us back in the past. I just don’t have the fortitude to go through with that again, only to see our same mistakes happen. That would be insanity, right?

So what I’m going to be doing is something different. I’m going to be re-evaluating how I can be useful in service to our community. I haven’t yet put that together, and for the near term, I have other things to tie together first.

In any event, I think I’ve said enough here. My hope is that one day soon, we as a community can acknowledge our propensity for cliquishness and how that hobbles us. I want to be one of the many shared voices. But I’d rather be part of a chorus, not a lead.

Having gone through this twice, I’m not so sanguine. So prove me wrong.

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One thought on “EDITORIAL: Hitting a soft reset button on our trans activism.

  1. Pingback: communities built on exclusion — the essay and what happened at KinkForAll « a heinous butch

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