This blog does not adequately represent the work I’ve been doing over the past few years or the views I currently hold. A site in progress for the organization I am currently working towards co-founding is at Em and Em Peacebuilding.
My new CD entitled, “In Progress”
Breaking Cycles of Violence Against Transwomen:
This Is About You Too.
by Emmi Bevensee
The current socio-political situation of trans-women globally, and specifically in the U.S., is a great travesty but, it is also a source of intense political and social revolution and healing. To address and embrace this concern I began to do intensive research into the question of “Breaking the Cycle of Violence Against Transwomen”. This process resulted in my writing of a field reader and ultimately in my compiling/creating of an infobase related to this rich complex of issues. Using this base substrate I led a series of workshops, panels, and discussions to engage directly with the public about these issues and as well to learn what the hot-button pursuits are in the different communities most directly affected or in relative power. From this place of entrenched inquiry I was able to find a point of reference to confront the power structures I see most prominently and directly responsible. I found that the most direct structural culprits are neo-liberal global capitalism, colonialism, and unrestricted/inhumane globalization. Together these processes mark an imperative turn in the conversation such that the lives, struggles, and freedom of cis(non-trans)people, marginalized, and trans people alike are intricately interwoven and interdependent. I have found that two of the most direct lenses to study these phenomena in the United States are through the Prison-Industrial Complex and its resistors as wells as Indigenous queer decolonization, theories, methodologies and tactics. From all of these threads of praxis I have surmised four basic and imperative points:
1. The situation for transwomen, especially those who are additionally marginalized(ie. also facing racism, ableism, classism, etc.), is currently terrible.
2. The situation for transwomen intersects and is relevant to the experiences and oppressions of cis(non-trans) people as well.
3.Our liberation through and beyond repressive systems such as capitalism, colonialism, and globalization is interdependent and we urgently need each other.
4. There are varieties of movements and organizations already happening that need support and connection.
I am a white, transsexual, transgender, gender-queer, queer/lesbian individual. I have lived in a variety of socio-economic situations from complete poverty and homelessness to the bourgeois lifestyle of the United States upper middle class. I came into an interest in this work around violence and repression within trans communities due to a personal and political crisis of meaning wherein great portions of my community as well as myself were being pitted against constant and actual threats of violence; whether at the hands of themselves, another individual, group, political/power force, or the the state. From this point of entry I found a world of great healing, resiliency, political change, and social reform. Amidst my astounding community of peers and elders their stands a great legacy of transcendence through inhumane boundaries and barriers. The goal in this paper is to research, be open and humble to the results, and act as objectively as possible, while still maintaining and recognizing my experiential subjectivity as a valid and valuable point of entry.
The methodology in my research has been mostly through pilot qualitative research and analysis. My primary mode of research was through participant-observation (Silverman, 2010). This was conducted by holding a series of dialogues with communities that are affected(ie. trans people) and people in positions of “power”(ie. therapists). After these sessions I also gave participants the opportunity to write about comments, questions, things learned, and critiques. There are both physical and media examples of this amassed material. In this form of embedded praxis I was also engaged in a form of activist ethnography(Graeber, 2009) in that I helped to give a great many people from underrepresented communities a chance to have their story heard and recognized publicly or privately by one or many other people. This storytelling allows for socio-political representation and personal healing to advance as can be seen in the experiences of those working within Restorative Justice(Sullivan, & Tifft, 2006) and through the work done by Dr. Crystallee Crain in the Truth Telling Series(2012). I was also able to develop and reframe my theoretical analysis from within and with the communities most affected. As opposed to imposing my theoretical framework down onto participants, I was able to listen and get greater insight into the ways my ideas were right and wrong and find deeper paths to pursue this work. To this angle of accompaniment I invest great gratitude in Zapatismo as a practice, philosophy, and way of living.
The rich is history of transwomen is rich and of a depth of historical relevance and significance yet it is largely missing and non-existent. A few transgender scholars such as Susan Stryker and Leslie Feinberg have picked up the slack by helping to archive our history. This erasure is no political accident, it is a historical form of invisibilization and cultural denial used to continue stigmatization. The phenomena of being sexually or gender diverse long predates the language we have invented even to describe gender in general. An oft-cited memento of trans history is the often misrepresented and contested example is the legacy of Herculine Barbin who was a French person in the late 1800’s(Barbin, & Weil, 2008) whom we would now likely consider to have been intersexed. Herculine’s story is both tragic and intoxicating in it’s conglomerations of life in nunneries, exile, transitions, migration, stigmatization, political confusion, and ultimately in Herculine’s suicide. Herculine has been written about by such prolific scholars as M. Foucault, J. Butler, Kate Bornstein, V. Wolf, and several others. Although this is not a specific example of a transgender woman it shows how the history of trans and intersex people is often either non-existent or skewed towards a lens of sensationalism, “otherness”, or freakishness instead of as a phenomenon of existence, authentic expression, and humanity.
One thing we do know however is that the historical standing of this complex of issues around transwomen specifically is that is deeply entrenched in a peculiar discrepancy of violence/exploitation as well as in resilience/resistance. Transwomen have been long since relegated to dangerous and disproportionate(compared to a cis-normative world) positions of servitude, genocide, assault(physical, mental, sexual, emotional, economic, etc.) and repression within the United States and abroad(Bevensee, 2012)(The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 2012). The evidence for this disproportionate violence is incontrovertible and comes in volumes despite the tendency towards research to stray away from issues related to transfolk. There are also cultures that have traditionally revered who are now sometimes identified to be ‘transwomen’. These traditions have often seen ‘transwomen[sic-’transwomen’ contestable as ‘western’ queer colonizer language]’ as simply people that are often great spiritual leaders, healers, and story-tellers/keepers of stories(Eleneke, 2012). Capitalism, colonialism, and corporate globalization is largely at play in these discrepancies of violence and poverty witnessed in many of marginalized communities and traced to the dilemma of transwomen, native sex and gender diverse populations, and transwomen of color in particular. The same trend can be seen as well as the invisibilization of spiritual and socially respected roles of trans identified people within native communities with increasing trends towards colonialism and global capitalization.
When I speak of Capitalism in this context I am talking of a free-market economic system where control of people’s sustenance and livelihood is controlled by a select few who have, or can access/leverage money. Most people in this economic system do not control the means of their own livelihood. The state also largely does not control the economic markets. So if one begins to ask “Cui bono?” or “Who benefits?” one begins to see that within this paradigm it is those who have money that benefit and control money(read: power). The regulatory power is largely in the hands of corporations, banks, and those involved with trade which are the same conglomerations that the regulatory power most directly benefits. Capitalism is an economic system that demands a constant growth in order to exist. It is in this way unsustainable due to finite access to resources within any closed system. Capitalism lacks in a true power source for human power and any ideal of democracy because it depends on the exploitation of those whose lives it controls. Their can be no democracy in a growth based economy with a centralized source of power(Phōtopoulos, 1997). The historical setting of the brutal transition and birth of this paradigm can be seen in the destruction of the “commons”, or shared agricultural, cultural centers of Feudalism in the 14th and 15th century through the rise of capitalism and cementing of its practices through the 16th century and mirrored in the global economy today(Federici, 2004).
Capitalism as an economic system has also expanded to become the dominant global economic paradigm of power(globalization) as can be seen in the policies of such organizations as the World Bank whose United States Executive Ian Solomon directly said in a skype conversation with my cohort that ‘Subsistence is not a goal of the world bank(Solomon, 2012)’. Within this line of reasoning communal wealth(the commons), social welfare, and human rights can and will not have an appropriate seat of power and influence. This can be seen time and time again in the path of destruction in countries such as Argentina, Jamaica, or Mexico that have been structurally adjusted or ‘given aid’ in entering a competitive and massively stilted global economy and then were left in tatters with as a result of this ‘aid’. In all of these programs of “development” indigenous and native peoples lives are largely destroyed in a nearly irreversible manner. Even though the World Bank claims(Different name same game?) not to be doing structural adjustments anymore(Solomon, 2012) they are still encouraging practices like insidiously leveraged micro-loans to those with little knowledge of the associated risks in third-world countries.
In this untempered dogma of constant growth there is another huge and imperative incongruence; colonialism. In global(and localized) capitalism there is an increasing need for resources because it is an economic system driven by expansion. Colonialism then is the byproduct of capitalism which can be defined here as the stealing/conquering of people, lands, resources, etc. outside of a country, main municipality, neighborhood, or personal space by that more privileged force. In this context we can look to the remnants of conquest of Indigenous people in the United states or to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade both of which grossly tainted the human legacy with the unfixable traces of imperialism. We can then more currently look to the forces of economic colonialism that do comparable levels of damage in the name of “growth” and “development.”
Capitalism has stolen our livelihoods. Trans women are disturbingly often forced into the most dangerous and impoverished neighborhoods and occupations such as that of forced sex trade/trafficking(Independent Television Service, 2005). Colonialism has destroyed many indigenous sex and gender variant people’s lives and cultures(Driskill, 2011). Globalization continues to cement these practices of homogeneity, “othering” of difference, and exploitation/destruction of marginalized people into a global paradigm of corporate-political neo-liberalism and autonomous, subsistence-economy rape via global capitalism(Mies & Bennholdt-Thomsen, 1999). This trace can be followed all the way into incidences of dynamic rebellion such as the Compton Cafeteria Riots(Independent Television Service, 2005) in August of 1966. This revolt was a cataclysmic result of the utter degradation of largely queer/trans communities of color and sex-workers in the urban ghetto Tenderloin District of San Francisco. I mention this incidence due to its locality to the populations with which I have worked most directly. Overall the historical context of pluralistic and intersectional trans struggle is rich in it’s complex diversity and tragic in many of its realities. This is but a glimpse into a world which cannot be contained by language.
The most basic thread of inquiry that I was asking and being asked by trans women was basically, “Why are we so poor? Why is there so much violence?” To look into these rich varieties of topics I realized that my theoretical gaze could only truly be grounded in the lived experience of transwomen if it was also(in addition to scholarly research) to be based on people’s direct experience. To accomplish this balance I gleaned insight from scholarly peer-reviewed research and theory, personal blogs, conversations, propaganda(example attached), outsider research, community discussions, activism, pamphlets, and self-investigation. From this jumping off place the theoretical entry point into this work was primarily from the realm of critical theories such as queer theory, trans theory, and feminism. Upon digging deeper into the questions and issues of violence I was exposed to another angle which is the importance of post-colonialism/decolonization theories, post-capitalist frameworks of analysis, and queer/trans globalization/neo-liberalism critiques. As I began to look and listen beyond my relatively privileged position within trans communities(as white person, able-bodied, citizen, etc.) and look past the largely white, upper-class, and cis-centric narratives of queer theory, I began to see a deep intersectionality of a variety of different conglomerations of repressions manifesting in a spectrum of ways in the lives of all transwomen.
The most evident form of this to me was the way in which colonization often impacts the sex, gender, and sexualities of native peoples by repressing, othering, destroying, and stigmatizing traditional sacred beliefs as well as continuing this trend by defacing native heterosexuality and masculinity with the stigmatized labels of queer or effeminate(Driskill, 2011). The flip side of this being the long history of native resistance to settler sexualities and gender roles(Morgensen,2011) as can be seen in the current practices two-spirit organizing tactics which often center in decolonization and emphasize the spiritual and political role of those who are two-spirited(Driskill, 2011).
Within post-capitalist paradigms I began to see the trends of repression and exploitation exposed within capitalism and the ways in which certain people and groups resist this seemingly faceless phenomena. One particular way I see this is within prison abolition critiques and struggles. The prison-industrial complex(PIC) is in Angela Davis’ words, “Complex actors and institutions working systemically who benefit [read capitalism/post-capitalism] from ensuring the entrapment of people in the penal system (Davis, 2012).” Within the communities of transwomen, the cyclical and often inescapable phenomenon of being funneled into the prison pipeline is even more disproportionate in communities that are also black, brown, or native(Smith & Stanley, 2011). In San Francisco there is an organization called “Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project(TGIJP, 2012)” that is a firmly abolition stanced organization that meanwhile(while doing additional abolition/policy work) fights for the rights, humanity, and decreased recidivism of primarily transwomen of color. They are run mostly by transwomen of color, many of which have direct and/or personal experience with the PIC. Organizations such as this work with what they have to be able to make the difference they can. Their work is imperative in uprooting and revealing the failures and tragedies of capitalism and global capitalism within trans-communities and in creating pathways to new possibilities. Accountable alternatives to the PIC exist in many other realms such as those of Restorative Justice(Sullivan & Tifft, 2006) which is increasingly being pushed for and put in place, especially wherein Indigenous people are concerned, in certain places such as Canada(The Gladue Report), New Zealand(Circle Processes), and Oakland, CA(Oakland Unified School District).
Globalization and neoliberalism finally work to cement these types of processes of exploitation and repression into a homogenous global paradigm of corporate, monetary, and trade based power structures; all the while ignoring the humanity of those incarcerated(literally or figuratively) by its politics of dominance with notable discrepancies towards those who are transgendered(Spade, 2011). Another simple and often overlooked form of post-capitalist and critical-globalization struggle is the simple and complex act of engaging in community building. In a capitalist system where the commons are destroyed in favor of a neoliberal, individualistic, pressurized approach to economy and power, one of the most powerful acts that can be done is to simply know ones neighbors and to respectfully attempt bridge this connection into communities of which one is not a part(all the while being mindful of humility and appropriation). This is especially true in the most marginalized communities where power dynamics work to destroy community solidarity in order to prevent subversion of dominant paradigms and maintain the status quo. The last thing slave masters want is for the slaves to remember how many slaves there actually are and how few slave masters.
I spoke with this one boy who had been in the penal system since he was 13 years old at one of the events I spoke at. He told me that he never would have committed the first crime he was convicted of if he had support from his family(chosen or biological) and his community. This simply goes to show the deep fractures that colonialism, capitalism, and globalization create in order to keep people docile and unquestioning in our pursuit of our own survival and solely those of which we closely associate. To do work from any angle that addresses this healing of community (personal and political being inseparable) is a revolutionary act.
My Main Presentations, Workshops, and Dialogues Recently Completed
1. Creating and Sustaining Peace Conference- My talk/discussion was on “Resilience and Resistance in trans communities” in the Humanist Hall, Oakland, CA- Nov,18. 2. Graduate, MFT, Multicultural Counseling Class in the Integral Health Counseling Program- My talk/discussion was on “Transwomen and a therapeutic context” and addressed common issues of trauma and violence found with transwomen as well as the role of a therapist in conjunction with this. This took place at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA. 3. Larkin Street Youth Services- I led/facilitated a client dialogue around safe spaces, community, and respect at a queer, homeless/at-risk, youth, drop-in meal night. 4. California Institute of Integral Studies- “Postcapitalism, Prison Abolition, and Transwomen” I organized and spoke in a public panel discussion with the, “Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project”. In this event, myself and two other women mainly spoke, in addition to our facilitator Crystalle Crain. One was a native/indigenous Hawaiian Mahuwahine(also transwoman identified) person. The other was a formerly incarcerated Black American transwomen. Both of these powerful speakers do major socio-political work and healing now through a variety of angles. In order to make this event happen I did, fundraising, applying for funds, advertising, created literature, outreach, planning, structuring, planning my own talk, and general organizing necessary in conjunction with a few other individuals who supported me. Over 65 people(with more coming in) were counted at one point in attendance. -Video clips at http://www.truthtellingseries.org/events.html Of all of these events, I collected information of comments, critiques, and learning from the event in the graduate therapy class as well as in the panel discussion done with TGIJP. Of these comments I realized a few important facts. The first is that there is a huge shortage of awareness into these issues. The second is that, at least within this area, there is a desire and pulse of activism seeking greater awareness. The third, is that people need help with all of it. These conclusions were come to after much analysis and dialogue from both of the classes and the comment cards as well as within the discussions that were had in and outside of all of the events. The critical comments of my work have said things such as [within the therapy talk] that people wished I had talked more about my personal experiences as a trans women in therapy because this was the most impactful moments. This is definitely valid and yet contradicted by those in the same class who appreciated the theoretical and quantitative analysis. I seek to approach this delicate balance with greater scrutiny in the future while also being aware of my own personal need for safety within the context of intimate sharing. I also got a critique in the panel about access to the building and that security was requiring state id which I completely agree is outrageous and unacceptable and discriminatory towards immigrants and others without access to such leverage. The only other notable critique I got was in the panel discussion in which someone said that, “the white panelist[me] talked way too much” and another who was concerned that I was positioned so as to answer the questions first before Melanie, the other main speaker from TGIJP. These concerns are very important and insightful. In the future I will organize my panels to create a greater symbolic and practical power balance. In speaking directly with Melanie she didn’t share the emotions and felt grateful(as did I) for the opportunity and experience we all shared. Regardless I would like to address these concerns by stepping back so that others relatively less privileged than I may step forward in my future engagements of this manner.
In entwining with this work I have had to address many of my own prejudices and limits of awareness. I have also been more able to see violence against transwomen head-on for what it actually is. Being challenged is the gift of following this thread of collective trauma and engaging with it’s growth in whatever direction it takes me. Moving forward I plan to continue to organize, do more thorough and in-depth research, and do direct action into these complex and rich paths of inquiry and praxis. I will continue to work with TGIJP in whatever context I can, conduct/attend discussions, research, and continue writing. I also plan to pursue greater anti-racist/unlearning white liberal racism trainings and life practice to increase my ability to be an ally to the communities of color with whom I work. I am also heading to Chiapas to learn more about what it means to be an ally to indigenous communities and individual people while all the while seeking to undo the colonized wiring of my own mind to an ever greater degree.
Throughout this intensive work, the main points from the introduction have remained pervasive and clearly ringing. In simple terms; transwomen are in a dangerous socio-political plight. Trans and cis(non-trans) people are interdependently enmeshed in repressive structural systems/forces such as capitalism, colonialism, and inhumane globalization. There are great undercurrents of change rippling among us that need support. Decentralized human centered political power can and is increasing diverse minority representation and voice for transwomen and others in post-capitalist alternatives. Decolonization can and is working to break down the oppression of difference that destroys and divides trans, indigenous, and disenfranchised communities(think Zapatismo). Globalization can shift from a push towards ever centralized economic repression to a heart-grounded gathering of the world and its genders, sexes, and sexualities in all of our complex diversity. Following these emergent realizations has been a hugely humbling and simultaneously empowering experience. My hope is that myself and others can find the similarities and connections in each others’ work and dreams so that together we may bridge the gap between us and work to promote a greater liberation and basic human rights for trans-women as well as all marginalized people.
Barbin, H., & Weil, A. (2008). Mes souvenirs: Histoire d’Alexina-Abel B. Paris: La cause des livres. Bevensee, E. (2012). Breaking the cycle of violence against transwomen field reader (1st ed.)
(This information grab piece is included in report or available by request.)
Crain, C. (2012). The truth telling series. Retrieved December, 2012, from http://www.truthtellingseries.org/index.html.
Cruz, A., & Manalansan, M. F. (2002). Queer globalizations : Citizenship and the afterlife of colonialism. New York: New York University Press.
Davis, A. Southern california library glossary. Retrieved November/26, 2012, from http://www.socallib.org/events/?q=juvies/abt/glossary
Driskill, Q. (2011). Queer indigenous studies : Critical interventions in theory, politics, and literature. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Federici, S. (2004). Caliban and the witch. New York; London: Autonomedia; Pluto, distributor. Graeber, D. (2009). Direct action : An ethnography. Edinburgh ; Oakland: AK Press.
Independent Television Service., KQED-TV (Television station : San Francisco,Calif.), & Frameline (Firm) (Producers), & Silverman, V., Stryker, S. and Walsh, J. (Directors). (2005, ?]). Screaming queens: The riot at compton’s cafeteria. [Video/DVD] San Francisco, CA: Frameline.
Eleneke, M. M. (2012). In Bevensee E. (Ed.), Personal communication and panel discussion with Melanie from TGIJP(also check http://www.truthtellingseries.org/events.html for video clips).
Feinberg, L.,. (1996). Transgender warriors: Making history from joan of arc to dennis rodman. Boston: Beacon Press.
Mies, M., & Bennholdt-Thomsen, V. (1999). The subsistence perspective: Beyond the globalized economy. New York: Zed Books.
Morgensen, S. L. (2011). Spaces between us : Queer settler colonialism and indigenous decolonization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Phōtopoulos, T. (1997). Towards an inclusive democracy: The crisis of the growth economy and the need for a new liberatory project. London: Cassell.
Silverman, D. (2010). Doing qualitative research: A practical handbook. London: SAGE.
Smith, N., & Stanley, E. A. (2011). Captive genders : Trans embodiment and the prison industrial complex. Oakland, CA: AK Press.
Solomon, I. (2012). In bevensee e. (Ed.), Skype conversation with US world bank executive ian solomon.
Spade, D. (Ed.). (2011). Normal life: Administrative violence, critical trans politics, and the limits of law . Brooklyn, NY: South End Press. Stryker, S., & Whittle, S.,. (2006). The transgender studies reader. New York: Routledge. Sullivan, D., & Tifft, L. (2006). Handbook of restorative justice: A global perspective. London: Routledge. TGIJP.TGI justice. Retrieved November/26, 2012, from http://www.tgijp.org/ The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. (2012). Hate violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected communities. (). 240 W. 35th St., Suite 200 New York, NY 10001: New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.
Additional Resources and Indirect Sources
Barnard, I.,. (2004). Queer race: Cultural interventions in the racial politics of queer theory. New York: Peter Lang.
Bettcher, T. M. (2007). Evil deceivers and make-believers: On transphobic violence and the politics of illusion. Hypatia, 22(3), 43-65.
Butler, J.,. (1993). Bodies that matter: On the discursive limits of “sex”. New York: Routledge.
Césaire, A. (1972). Discourse on colonialism. New York: MR.
Cruz, A., & Manalansan, M. F. (2002). Queer globalizations: Citizenship and the afterlife of colonialism. New York: New York University Press.
Driver, S. (2008). Queer youth cultures. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Fanon, F. (1967). Black skin, white masks. uniform title: Peau noire, masques blancs. english. New York: Grove Press.
Foucault, M.,. (1990). The history of sexuality. New York: Vintage Books.
Guter, B., & Killacky, J. R. (2004). Queer crips: Disabled gay men and their stories. New York: Harrington Park Press.
Halberstam, J.,. (2005). In a queer time and place: Transgender bodies, subcultural lives. New York: New York University Press.
Hawley, J. C. (2001). Postcolonial, queer: Theoretical intersections. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Johnson, E. P., & Henderson, M. (2005). Black queer studies: A critical anthology. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Lynd, S., & Grubacic, A. (2008). Wobblies & zapatistas : Conversations on anarchism, marxism and radical history. Oakland, CA: PM Press.
California Institute of Integral Studies., & Trans Clients Speak (Firm) (Producers), & Lonestar, P. (Director). (2009). Trans clients speak: Transgender educational panel for psychotherapists, mental health practioners & allies. [Video/DVD] California]: Trans Clients Speak.
Mokonogho, J., Mittal, S., & Quitangon, G. (2010). Treating the transgender homeless population: Experiences during residency training. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 14(4), 346-354. doi: 10.1080/19359705.2010.504422
Puar, J. K.,. (2007). Terrorist assemblages: Homonationalism in queer times. Durham: Duke University Press.
Schmidt, J. (2010). In ebrary I. (Ed.), Migrating genders: Westernisation, migration, and samoan fa’afafine. Farnham, Surrey, England, Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Pub. Company.
Serano, J. (2007). Whipping girl: A transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press.
Sycamore, M. B. (2008). That’s revolting!: Queer strategies for resisting assimilation. Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press, Distributed by Publishers Group West.
Queering and Decolonizing Post-Colonial/Capitalist Queer Theory:
Sex, Gender, and Sexuality on a neoliberal landscape
Aimé Césaire says at the end of his earth shaking text “Discourse on Colonialism”(1972), “It is a matter of the Revolution—the one which, until such time as there is a classless society, will substitute for the narrow tyranny of a dehumanized bourgeoise the preponderance of the only class that still has a universal mission, because it suffers in the flesh from all the wrongs of history, from all the universal wrongs: the proletariat.” This powerful quote is both far-reaching limited in its reach. It is bound, like all critiques by the narrative of its time. In this same way, queer critiques of post-colonial, post-capitalist, and globalization can often come up short and with many perspectives erased. Césaire ended this famous essay with a battle cry reminiscent of the Marxists among his companions and also of his own interests in Marx’s work. Although it is impossible to know exactly what Césaire meant by his use of the historically loaded term, “proletariat” it would still seem that this is a limited call to action compared to the diversity and richness of his entire critique. This is a parallel of a phenomenon that is both impossible to entirely avoid and imperative to confront within a large bulk of current “queer” studies of post-capitalist, post-colonialism, and globalization and their mysterious shortage of issues related to gender diversity. However, within decolonization queer/trans movements, the issues of gender diversity and modernity are confronted more head on possibly due to the greater space for gender diversity within many indigenous traditions and movements. Although post-capitalist, decolonization movements, post-colonialism, and critical globalization studies/actions are not the only solutions to a dense range of issues and questions I will here critique the shortages and offer an addition to these lines of inquiry.
To engage this query around the apparent shortages of trans/gender diverse critiques within these fields of study and to offer another possible thread I first ask, “What is it about the trans-body or the transitivity of gender that is so offensive? Why are trans women, and especially trans women of color, murdered, abused, traumatized and brutalized at such disproportionate levels?” Trans-people and trans-women in particular are by our very nature illegal. We defy the rules of capital so we are, in a sense, post-capital. We cannot help it. In our world of modernity everyone is told that individuals exist and that the root of our happiness is our ability to rise to the challenge. What then of those who have a greater rising to do to meet that challenge? What about those to whom the challenge itself is by all means beyond reach?
Trans-women are against the law, in one sense because we cannot help but deny capital. Our often spectrally gendered landscapes cannot be adequately controlled by the measures of exploitation and commodification that capitalism demands. We are given unequal access to the tools needed to succeed(and be exploited) and then we are punished for our inability to be adequately exploited.
How can this be? Since trans women cannot, in good liberal posture, be outright genocided we are instead extinguished through largely hidden mechanisms of structural control. The real and confusing thing about this is that being trans in and of itself is not a harm to anyone. If anything, we offer alternatives to the riddles of subversive and concrete gender roles mandated against cis(meaning: non-trans)-people as well. We say to people that they exist in a web of cultural and political interactions that demand that you do not question your gender and sex. Instead though many people see either a threat to be destroyed or something foreign and exotic to be controlled and made to feel “other” or less than(colonialism). The deeper catch to the truth that being transgender is inherently harmless, is the fact that it is not even us that people are often trying to destroy; It is the idea of us.
I do not seek to promote an over simplified “bad apple” approach to the problems and questions of trans-violence. Instead for this talk I would like to refer to a range of largely structural phenomena that play a part in the genocide that is happening right now around us all. I talk of being trans as post-capitalistic and against the law. This is not meant to be taken as a literality but an angle into a deeper idea. Everyone is in some way immersed in the web of global capitalism, colonialism/neo-colonialism, and globalization. I do not mean that trans people are not accomplices in this cycle of exploitation, but rather that we are largely forced into a position where in order to subsist and live with an eye, ear, and heart towards our own authenticity, we must circumvent the mandates of these policies of control. I refuse to say that these three ideas(post-capitalism, decolonization, and globalization critique) are the sole crux of any dialog against violence against trans-women I am simply shining a light on this thread that I feel goes largely untouched.
There exists a huge underground economy of sex work in the communities of trans-women of which I have been a part. Not because we are ‘so sexually devious’ as a prevailing and transphobic mythos would have it, but rather because we are denied opportunities to play in the game of local/global economy and are then shuffled and funneled into the prison-industrial complex so that we(our bodies and our sex) may be more effectively taxed. Since many of us are non-(child)reproducing (whether by hormones, choice, sexuality, and/or surgery) we are not able/choose not to help in the recreation of a new labor force. Therefore our sexualities cannot be easily commodified by the production of labor forces. An extension of this issue of how trans women are an affront to the capitalist and globalization powers is that we are largely not able/choose not to uphold the nuclear family model of religious, capitalist, and globalization wedlock. Especially those who are non-operative and heterosexual cannot get legally married in most states because of difficulties in changing our gender/sex on our federal forms of identification. Gay marriage is not the solution to this problem even though these heterosexual unions are often classified as homosexual domestic partnerships. Since there are so many of us not reconstructing the colonial and capitalist reproductions of a nuclear family, we can be a wrench in the illusion that this is the only way to live, even if some of us may actually desire little more than equal access to be a part of that very same dangerous system of inequalities and exploitation.
In “Caliban and the Witch”(2004) Sylvia Federici evokes a powerful incantation and critical feminist analysis of Marx’s idea of “primitive accumulation” and the missing story of sexual, social, political, and physical repression of women throughout the period of “transition” between feudalism and capitalism. She describes the witch hunts as a massive destruction of all things related to women and womens’ power such as cultures and wisdom(ie. arts and mid-wifery) and the lives of a great many women who were murdered. She also compares this to the sweeping waves of neo-liberal policies enacted in our current process of globalization and colonial capitalism. Her argument also applies, if not purposefully, to the situation of trans women in globalization. There currently rages a witch hunt against trans women. In some places loudly, in others more subtly, but destructive and murderous either way. Globalization erases us, our values, and our livelihood. Colonialism makes us into the “other”. Capitalism bleeds our blood until every last vein is dry and seeking breath.
In the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco there is a store on the corner of Castro and Market called Diesel. It is primarily an Italian jeans store. To commemorate the Castro’s role as a hub for the ‘queer’ community(what is actually largely white, cis, gay men due to its gentrification) they have posted a rainbow colored version of their primary ad. The image itself is a roughly Native American looking caricature surrounded by text reading, “Only the brave- Diesel”. On asking the employees, I found that this text means that “you have to be brave to where Diesel jeans and that it’s therefore a compliment to Natives.” I am guessing however that they do not mean that you have to be brave because you are promoting a company that uses colonialism, sexism, homophobia and racism to sell a capitalist commodified product. This image seems to flaunt a patriotic reverence toward an unspoken history of genocide. The reading of this representation is further complexified by the rainbow coloring of the Native’s face. So now there is not only a representation of genocide but also of the subsequent colonialism and impact on indigenous views on sexuality and gender with a ‘Western’, “settler sexuality(Morgenson, 2011).”
If this is the situation then what are the alternatives? Many answers lies in indigenous decolonization movements and queer indigenous decolonization movements. To this end I promote Zapatista philosophies of autonomy and decolonization espoused so eloquently in, “The First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle” written by EZLN(Marcos, 2001). Here they resound, “But today, we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. We are the inheritors of the true builders of our nation…….Therefore we ask for your participation, your decision to support this plan that struggles for work, land, housing, food, healthcare, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace. We declare that we will not stop fighting until the basic demands of our people have been met by forming a government of our country that is free and democratic.” This revolt was a direct action to confront the terrors of globalization enclosing upon their means of livelihood. In another particular diversity the successes of the activism of Two-Spirit people can be a gauge by which we measure the success of queer movements in general. Especially in Queer movements’ inclusion and at least respects towards native needs and a different outlook on the binaries of hetero/homo, man/woman, sexual minority/gender minority. The extent to which us non-natives can recognize the role of decolonization, become allies, and take into account Queer Indigenous Critical Theories in our analysis of post-capitalism/colonialism, and critical globalization is simultaneously the extent to which we are actually able to embody and enact a broader movement of queer solidarity with greater efficacy(Driskill, 2011).
Queering and decolonizing the deeply entangled worlds of post-capitalism and post-colonialism is a start in the complex struggle of building a new world within the poorly fitted outfits of current and past trends in globalization. I do not claim to offer a holistic solution to this dense range of drives however, I do posit that even within the critical queering that is happening in these realms, there is a great need to decolonize and diversify non-native, white, gay(cis-male)-centric narratives; and to enjoy, bask, and revel in the pools of vibrant solidarity that can happen together.
Césaire, A. (1972). Discourse on colonialism. New York: MR.
Driskill, Q.-L. (2011). Queer indigenous studies: Critical interventions in theory, politics, and literature. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Federici, S. (2004). Caliban and the witch. New York: Autonomedia.
Marcos, ., & Ponce, . L. J. (2001). Our word is our weapon: Selected writings. New York: Seven Stories Press.
Morgensen, S. L. (2011). Spaces between us: Queer settler colonialism and indigenous decolonization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Capitalism, Colonialism, and Being Trans:
Why we’re broke, Occupy sex, autonomy, and the underground economy
“Why are we so broke and why is there so much violence?” This is the main question I see trans communities asking if not in so many words. This paper is framed within the post-capitalist(and global capitalism) and anti-colonialist(decolonization) movements in order to find backbone of solidarity and a places for people concerned to see living examples around them. Global capitalism and colonialism are inherently structural projects of violence against the many to protect the few. Colonialism targets those that are “different” or “othered”. Capitalism targets those that don’t have enough access(classism) to be successfully exploited and supports anyone who exploits each other. Capitalism and colonialism enmesh in specific and general ways that exacerbate existing problems within these systems in the lives and experiences of trans women. Movements beyond these systems are happening now and affect not just trans people and trans women in particular, they also affect everyone. Transwomen represent a particularly vulnerable minority that can, if you pay attention, help to show the ways our struggles are connected. Nearly everyone is exploited by capitalism and colonialism so this has to do with everyone. This is because gender is the all encompassing sea of assumptions and expectations with which everyone grapples. The discrepancy of violence against trans women is simply one piece of a larger puzzle that includes racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, classism, and all other forms of repression of marginalized peoples and non-marginalized folks alike. Together we can claim and create what is our birthright; basic and truly equal opportunity for contentment and life.
Some of the largest difficulties that trans-people face are issues of poverty and violence. Capitalism and colonialism create the soil in which these issues thrive due to their inherent compliance with the violent exploitation of all different types of labor(not just men and ableists) and the suffocation of minorities. Trans movements needs to become more firmly seated in the post-capitalist and decolonizing action and dialogue because our struggles are not isolated. We face often similar issues as many people in our communities. For this reason, developing a broad base within the framework of existing movements and working with the solidarity of momentum surrounding these movements, can unite our communities while radicalizing and galvanizing our perspective and actions towards a more meaningful and strategic direction.
To begin to demonstrate my perspective I will first tell a short story. Recently I went to a rally and march in Oakland. It was for and around Middle Eastern Solidarity and occupy. Eloquent Iranis and Afghanis spoke in powerful dialogue with a large crowd of supportive and diverse participants. From this place of firm seatedness within the dialogue against colonialism and capitalism the rally then turned into a march. It was then that the largely white-skinned (although not completely) and anarcho black bloc(or should I say largely white bloc..maybe a little touch of middle class entitled rage?) began to emerge and within a few blocks the stay-aways(those already banned from Oscar Grant Plaza- an enclosed commons for social organizing and community sharing) met up as well. Several streets got shut down with people or barriers. Within minutes me, a friend, and two prominent local organizers and anti-repression activists were surrounded by the sheer spectacle of destruction. At first banks in every direction were getting destroyed. The sound of plexiglass shattering reverberated through the night. Then the fervor began to turn to individual citizens things such as cars and privately owned cafes. Regardless of how anyone, including anarchists, feel about private property, these types of things such as cars, people’s houses, and private businesses are definitely people’s livelihoods. These people are involved in the same exploitation of which we are all a part. Citizens terrorized in a cafe does nothing to help the plight of Afghanis stigmatized in the states. If anything it promotes the kind of terrorist stereotyping we are fighting to destroy. The main complaint I hear about occupy from locals goes something like, “Who the fuck are you? Go smash up your neighborhood.” My heart was conflicted. The anarcho and diversity of tactics strategies have their place but it must be within an ongoing movement and careful strategizing. The trans movement then as well needs to radicalize and be strategic in its outlook. We need to learn from the mistakes and successes of our fellows in revolution. We will at some points need the support of the community and it is essential that we not alienate them even if our tactics require doing things not commonly supported. This simply creates a deeper rift than we are trying to solve.
Privilege, angst, and lack of strategy haunt the occupy movement and queer/trans movements yet, at the same time what is sometimes perceived as lack of direction can also sometimes be misunderstood as diversity of tactics and internal aims. Many people coming from different backgrounds and with separate dreams SHOULD have a diverse agenda. To not would surely be subjugation of someone. One person I met denounced the black blocs that were not strategic in their approach and claimed a “double edged sword of organizing” where he must choose between not wanting to condone violence(for fear of sedition/conspiracy/destruction of private property charges) yet not wanting to be against it for fear of silencing the revolt or dismissing diversity of tactics.
In “Caliban and The Witch” Silvia Federici describes a similar process of events coming to play in the ‘transition’(brutal enclosure of the commons) to capitalism from the 14th to 16th century in feudalist Europe. She describes, “In the middle ages, migration, vagabondage, and the rise of “crimes against property” were part of the resistance to impoverishment and dispossession; these phenomena now took on massive proportions. Everywhere—vagabonds were swarming, changing cities, crossing borders, sleeping in the haystacks or crowding at the gates of towns–a vast humanity involved in a diaspora of its own, that for decades escaped the authorities’ control”….. ”Meanwhile, the crime rates also escalated, in such proportions that we can assume that a massive reclamation and reappropriation of the stolen communal wealth was underway.” This is such a powerful reclamation and a striking comparison to Occupy. If we are in a recourse of history may we at least learn from it? In queer and trans movements capitalism and colonialism are not just the ghosts of our history. We must acknowledge our complicity with them and there violence in order to move forward. We must alter and supercede them for the social benefit yet along the way we cannot afford to dismiss what is actually happening in the here and now and work to reform it.
How does the underground economy and other stigmatized forms of relations relate to these issues of capitalism and colonialism? Are we coercively forced into the underground economy or is it just plain better money?
It’s easier to make a smash em up style march suddenly than to plan it with strategy outside of the action. This is why I frame my trans analysis within structural post-capitalist, anti-globalization, anti-colonialist analysis. One example of the tendrils of this claim is found in sex-work. So many trans people I know are either forced into sex-work non-consensually or don’t feel they have any other options. I have no doubt that not all sex-work is this exploitative however in the cases where it is, it’s useful to recognize the overarching systems that create this impulse initially.
As it is mentioned earlier, trans people are often less able to be successfully exploited by capitalism due to an initial lack of access. A lot of us(like a lot of non-trans people) don’t want to or can’t have children for example. This practice of refusal or inability to pay(hospitals and designer baby clothes) to be exploited and repopulate the labor force(ie. “You’ll grow up to be exploited in the workplace just like daddy!”) decreases our value to the GDP which denies the existence of all non-commodifiable,measurable, and/or controllable work. Sex work and other forms of recreational or non-culturally condoned practices and social-relations such as BDSM, polyamory, etc. are then subject to systematic destruction via removal of resources and access to individual and collective betterment. Sex workers and pro-dommes are often imprisoned for their choice or lack of ability to do other taxable and commodity generative work. Afterall good sex can’t be subsidized(by Capitalism). Poly families are often not recognized and given equal rights to raise children then the children suffer. Post-operative and non-child creating trans women are not recognized for their ability to reproduce(babies) in the way that society deems normal and are such ostracized and stigmatized despite the multiplicity of other ways than having a kid in which society can reproduce, reinvent, take care of, and better itself.
Ultimately society is(or at least can be) in charge of itself and yet doesn’t seem to know it. Occupy presents a single call to diverse unity and revolution and there are many more. Trans movements need to be invigorated and reclaiming of the commons is a profound way to do it. As access to community spaces and hubs of social power are further enclosed and commodified we become less able to access the means of our own sustenance except through a structurally adjusted and commodified trade in which we pay for our own exploitation. Debt is our prison. A slow costly death our sentence. There are however revolutionary, simple, and pure acts happening around the world. Horizontally arranged movements and internally generated autonomy are happening around the globe. Zapatistas do not demand that all women be subjugated and do not seek capitalist and colonialist power. In fact a huge portion of Zapatista ‘leadership’(in the “lead by following” sense of the word) are women and are often even young women. In certain African farming communities women have been found retaking WTO stolen communal land plots and farming them for themselves and their communities so that they don’t have to rely on catch-22, high interest micro-loans. Instead they are able to create and control their own savings(energy). A diversity of opinion and internal control over a communities own livelihood is a form of direct action. Trans people must practice and constantly reshape and evolve our strategies in this way in order to reclaim what is ours from the start; a basic happiness, wellbeing, and equally valued place within society(or the lack therein) in order to live and create our own way and escape from our treacherous and impoverished(not poor) landscapes. So as Zapatismo would have it, “Ya Basta!”- “Enough is enough!” and as some dude at the action would say “Don’t fake the funk!”
Federici, S. (2004). Caliban and the witch. New York: Autonomedia.
Federici-Talk given at CIIS
Pidgeons by Emmi B
In spontaneous eruption
the earth revolts/
A geode sits
by the thermal pools/
oceanic crevice blues,
and brimstone reds
confront our imposed
A black flag and a brick
through a banks window
the circuitous recourse
“How can we sit by when our benches have been stolen?”
refuses to speak/