[Ed. note: We are delighted to welcome Monica Maldonado to our crack team of contributors here at Cisnormativity! This is also her debut essay as a trans activist.]
|||| Monica Maldonado
Sitting back and watching the last several months has been an incredible journey.
Frustrating examples of discrimination, oppression, transmisogyny, and transphobia have littered the news cycle more than in previous years. While much of this is simply increased news and social media exposure of trans* issues in the last year (many of these events have been occurring for years), much of it is also backlash against a rise in political awareness of the trans community and social justice workers.
Beyond the backlash, there also has been an awareness which has allowed CAMAB women and GQ people especially to begin standing up in the face of the intersectional oppressions we face. That awareness has been turning a corner, and in just the last few months it feels like the clouds are parting and we can begin seeing the light peek through.
From my perspective, it feels like the time to fight is now. Now more than ever, we have a chance to not only change the world to make our generation’s lives better, but also for the next and the next.
Over the last decade of watching the trans* community, I’ve seen a feminist awareness and our collective social justice awareness increase (no doubt in part due to the involvement of CAFAB men and GQ people). That language has begun to let us talk beyond issues of legislation, and it has let us look to issues of the complex oppression we all face.
The politics of social justice in a trans* context have made these last several months a force to be reckoned with, and it has given me hope. It’s a hope that we can not only be more than just disjointed pockets of transition and self-acceptance support groups, but that we can also do real activism work and make remarkable progress. It’s that the terror I felt (and that many CAMAB women and GQ people across the world feel) is coming to a head, and we are on our way to something big.
My turning point this year was motivated by specific events, and sometimes even just an amazing piece of writing that had me shouting “yes!” Because these events made me turn a corner in my own life, I thought I’d share with you how these last ten or so months have affected my perspective.
Chaz Bono released a documentary on his transition and spent much of May 2011 promoting his film. He was often treated by cis journalists as an authority on trans* issues. Because of his fame, and his newfound position as something of an ambassador, Bono found himself in a unique position to teach the western world (and especially North America) about his own trans experience and expose them to new ways of thinking.
And while some of his story did that, many cringed at the times (which were quite often) he spoke in ways that reified cissexist standards and even sexist attitudes. While Bono’s presence might have been fascinating to the media, and while it went a long way toward raising public awareness on trans* trans issues (especially the oppressive dialogue and invisibility of CAFAB male and GQ issues in the mainstream), his problematic language ended up representing in my mind the post-2005 era of CAMAB exclusion in queer and activist spaces. It’s a frustration which was and is beginning to boil over among queer CAMAB women and GQ activists.
People.com editor Janet Mock disclosed publicly as a trans woman of color in May 2011 in Marie Claire. She not only provided a much-needed woman of color on the public stage for trans women, but she also brought some wonderful news to a frustrating month. Although Mock’s presence in the new cycle was dreadfully short — as it is for many trans women of color — she still made my heart flutter. More women of color proudly (and safely) living openly as trans can only be a good thing for us all.
Shortly after the Trans March in Toronto, Morgan M. Page told us to just call her Hunter. Discussing what Drew DeVeaux would later coin as the “cotton ceiling”, Morgan discussed the hyper-sexualizaton of trans men in queer circles and the modern, post-2005 domination of CAFAB narratives, experiences, and presence in queer and activist circles.
To some extent, Page discussed the CAFAB appropriation of CAMAB experiences and narratives to further their own objectives. She provided a more down to earth exploration of what happened after the predominantly older, white, and white collar trans women (who long dominated the trans conversations) were outshone by CAFAB activists. The resulting conversation has been remarkably important in the lives of queer CAMAB women and GQ people, and it is a conversation I’ve been ecstatic to have.
NO MORE APOLOGIES
This conversation carried into the new year as Page and others in Canada organized an event called “No More Apologies,” a conference designed to specifically address and discuss the inclusion of queer trans women in queer women communities.
Evidently, from reports by people who attended, the event was punctuated by — even there of all places! — a discussion on trans men inclusion in queer women communities. All the more, it revealed the need to have more of these conversations between cis queer women and trans queer women. To the extent to which those conversations took place (I can’t say since I did not attend), it does seem troublesome that trans men could be such a prominent topic at a conference designed specifically to talk about trans women’s issues in the queer women’s community.
TRANS CHILDREN ON NIGHTLINE
In September, ABC aired in the U.S. a documentary on trans* youth. This documentary sparked a national conversation on the medical ethics regarding the treatment of trans people.
Obviously this conversation is always framed under a cissexist notion of protecting cis people (from what exactly?), but the renewed fascination and discussion is important for us to have — especially in our advocacy against the torture of young people with transsexual bodies. This of course was punctuated by the documentaries inclusion of anti-trans activist, Charles Kane.
Shortly after, a young trans girl was denied acceptance into her local Colorado chapter of the Girl Scouts of America (GSA). The national office wrote her a letter informing her that she was, in fact, welcome in the GSA, that the troop had been talked to, and that she was welcome to join her local troop at any time.
The resulting backlash from conservative groups was predictable, but what wasn’t predictable was the call of support from LGBT groups and a campaign of support, not only for Montoya, but also for the GSA in their non-bigoted position on trans* members. The outpouring of support surprised not just me, but many other people, and it was certainly not something that would have happened even a couple of years ago.
This carried into the new year as shitlords called for the boycott of Girl Scout cookies over the acceptance policy of Girl Scouts (as well as some trumped-up lies about the GSA being a shill for abortions and homosexuality). Again, the outpouring of support was heartwarming. For me, it marks one of the greatest feelings of warmth and acceptance I’ve ever felt from the greater cis community.
PUTTING THE T-WORD OUT TO PASTURE
News media found the trans* community (and a few LGBT groups) standing up to celebrities like [trigger warning] Kelly Osbourne; [trigger warning] Neil Patrick Harris; and Lance Bass for their derogatory use of slurs against trans women.
This trend — tied up with outcries against the cissexist cross-dressing “comedy” Work It on ABC, as well as cissexist ads from the Libra tampons in New Zealand — led a few cis people to begin fighting against the trans* community. In addition to Dan Savage, Joe My God, John Aravosis, [trigger warning] RuPaul, and Rob Salerno (WTF is a “trans uproar?”), these included Lance Bass’ non-apology regarding his use of the T-word slur, complaining over the “over sensitivity” of trans people and how they were “misdirecting their anger.”
This sparked another meta discussion on the systemic, institutional cissexism and oppression against trans* people — CAMAB women especially — by cis gay men and a kind of “Gay, Inc.” This has led to more and more people speaking out against such activity we as trans people may have once tolerated in the past. This was the case in Maryland, with the ridiculous, cissexist MD HB 235. Our friends over at TransGriot covered that story wonderfully.
Some of these cis public figures and cis queer journalists took their cissexist grudge out on the trans* community to such a degree that it bled into a complete abuse of news media power. The non-consensual public disclosure of Lexi Tronic’s dead name by Xtra! Canada editor Danny Glenwright was one glaring example. The resulting controversy was wildly inappropriate and shocking — especially Xtra!’s and Glenwright’s refusal to make a public apology for the outing. Morgan M. Page’s subsequent boycott and critique of how the outing was mismanaged inspired many trans people, and gave a sense of empowerment that the trans* community is not accustomed to feeling.
HERE WE ARE TODAY. AND TOMORROW?
Resistance is what the last twelve months have been about.
The trans* community — particularly CAMAB women and GQ people — are building agency and power through a slow coalescing of activist and social justice communities within our own ranks and through our allies.
And I certainly would be disingenuous if I didn’t say that I’m seeing much of this remarkable work coming from Canada and the UK. People like Morgan M. Page, Drew DeVeaux, Natalie Reed, and Paris Lees have inspired at an international scale.
There are so many more things I could list and talk about, but these are the events I remember when I lie down with a cup of tea. These are the things I think about when I smile about the last year. Why? Because regardless of how frustrating and how awful so much of what we’ve seen has been, I feel stronger than I ever have. It’s no wonder that Time magazine declared trans* rights the new civil rights frontier. It’s even a sentiment which the U.S. courts are beginning to heed, as we saw in December with a recent decision in Glenn v. Brumby, which stated that the equal protection clause does apply to trans* workers.
What were the events which inspired you? Do you feel as much as I have like we’ve turned a corner? And what will be this generation’s Compton’s Cafeteria riot?
ADDENDUM: A reader very familiar with what happened in Toronto wrote to us pointing out a key omission on how the Xtra! boycott came about: this boycott was largely the collaborative work led by Morgan M. Page. It was our mistake to neglect mentioning the sacrifice many people made during the boycott and the group effort involved. We also wanted to make sure we linked to Lexi Tronic’s own account of what happened for sake of thoroughness. We regret our error.