essays

Toward Participatory Gender: Trans Self-Determination and Movements for Social Justice

A friend asked to see my thesis, so I found a copy. I spent over a year and a half writing this in 2008-2010. Some of the writing was taken from pieces even older than that. This is the first time I’ve looked at it in a year or two, and I’m surprisingly still pretty fond of it! It’s especially kind of fascinating in light of my involvement in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and linking that back to my work with the DC Trans Coalition and trans-centric organizing more broadly.

I decided to share some of it, since only a couple people have read it so far (and I’ve promised to share it with a lot of folks but never followed up). Given that it’s a thesis, it’s slightly more academic than my usual writing, but I tried to write as accessibly as I could. Here’s the Abstract, and the Introduction and Overview (the first 20ish pages of the entire thesis, which contains a summary of most of the rest) are below the cut. The whole thing is around 250 pages. Perhaps I will eventually get around to sharing the rest someday! As I do, I will post links on the Table of Contents below. :)

Toward Participatory Gender: Trans Self-Determination and Movements for Social Justice

Goddard College
June 2010

Abstract

This paper explores notions of identity, gender, and social justice by delving into the histories and politics of trans communities in north america. The author explores how trans people have actively built communities around shared experiences, and how these communities both contribute to and benefit from engaging in struggles for social and economic justice. She urges broader progressive, radical, and feminist movements not to ignore how forces such as cis supremacy and transphobia situate oppression, and thus how we organize resistance to it. She passionately develops her own vision for a movement that is both capable of realizing a participatory gender system and grounded in a shared ethics of total liberation.

The author argues that academic studies of trans people have largely neglected trans people’s own agency in shaping our identities and communities. She claims that medical, psychiatric, feminist, and queer accounts of trans issues have all so far failed to critically examine the material conditions of trans people’s lives or recognize the diverse strategies we have created to transform those conditions. She reexamines these histories, with a focus on the participation of poor trans women of color and other marginalized voices, in order to give context to her own experiences of embodiment and political action.

The project also discusses how trans liberation activists will fail if they focus only on fighting “transphobia” without analyzing the ways in which other institutions and systems – such as the state and white supremacy – also shape trans experiences. The author argues that trans praxis must be grounded in our everyday lived experiences, and thus must also account for the ways in which differing privileges and oppressions intersect in our selves. She does this with detailed accounts of trans people’s interactions with policing and incarceration, the politics of hate crime legislation, her own engagement with doctors and government bureaucracies, the stigma of mental illness and sex work, and much more. Throughout the work, she blends personal narrative, theory, and research to explore the ethics of gender self-determination, her own identity as a genderqueer transsexual woman, and her involvement in organizing for collective empowerment in trans communities.

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Defending Addiction and Madness: On Psychiatric Disabilities and Choice

Before I posted my newest story (What’s Left When Coping is Killing Me?), I spent days editing it. I had to vividly relive the experiences I was writing about. Also, it was extremely hard to share those parts of my life — especially my recent drug use. Until that post, that was one of the few remaining things I wasn’t “out” about. On top of stress about housing, finances, and the continued spike in violence against trans women in D.C., my anxiety was off-the-charts.

I give off confident vibes, and I share most aspects of my identity/history freely. However, being so visible and exposed is extremely draining and occasionally terrifying. People recognize me on the metro. I’ve received death threats on my cell phone. I don’t live in a protected, academic bubble — I’m a crazy, low-income tranny punk and a sex worker. Being out has serious consequences.

Recently, when I admitted to my therapist that I had lost the desire to live, I was nearly hospitalized. It was a brutal wake-up call — both to how bad off I was, and how I am not immune to the constant threat of medical surveillance and even incarceration. After sharing my story about this, I mostly received praise and support. But a few folks recommended various ways to “get rid of my anxiety” or “cure my depression/addictions/etc.” I think it’s worth unpacking their assumptions.

Most neurotypical people assume I want to or should change those aspects of myself. This ends up reinforcing much of the ableist ideologies that contributed to my being in that situation to begin with. A lot of this also had to do with judgement (outright or subtle) around the use of ‘hard’ drugs. I want to clarify/reinforce some of the things I was trying to say, and why I said them. So I decided to write about what publishing that story felt like. It evolved into a meditation about how I experience my mental illness — personally and politically — as a disability, and growing into my identity as a proudly mad, disabled person. I’m not necessarily glad to be so crazy; it makes my life very hard and has led to untold suffering. But there is a different between being glad and being proud.

I look at how ableism divides the world into “normal” and “disabled” people by making much of life inaccessible for people with physical and/or psychiatric impairments. I also explore the problem of countering false narrative of personal responsibility (“drug addiction is a choice”) with the need to value autonomous decision-making. Finally, I look at ways that being crazy can be a gift and a weapon that, when re-directed away from our selves, can destroy the social conditions which keep us from healing.
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An Anarchist in the Capitol: Thoughts on Identity Politics, Reform, Trans Liberation, and the Nonprofit Industrial Complex

I spent the past month or so working with the National Center for Transgender Equality. I helped coordinate logistics for their annual Policy Conference and Lobby Day. It was a wonderful (if at times stressful!) opportunity to gain useful skills while doing meaningful work with an organization I respect. I also met lots of great people!

I’m back to being marginally-employed again, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nonprofit industrial complex (NPIC — keep reading for explanation) and my involvement in it.

I didn’t enter “the workforce” until I was 21. Before that, I was mostly involved in black/grey market economies of various sorts. When I have been formally employed, it has mostly been either in service industries like making coffee or within nonprofit industries — first, as a case manager on the abortion hotline, briefly as a client advocate for sex workers, and then at NCTE.

While I am definitely part of and implicated in the NPIC, I have tried to remain critical about the strengths and weaknesses of the nonprofit model, and what nonprofit work can and cannot do. In short, nonprofit work can be valuable, but ultimately it can’t bring the truly revolutionary change this planet, and all of us, nees to survive.

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“The Best of Both Worlds”: Navigating the Porn Industry, Tranny Chasers, & My Own Trans-centric Sexuality

Content warning: Graphic discussions of sex, sex work, and transphobia

“The Best of Both Worlds”: Can a tranny whore also be a tranny chaser? Or: Toward a trans-centric sexuality. Or: How porn taught me to trust people and love my body.

This is dedicated to the amazing sex I had last weekend, and the beautiful women with whom I had it. Also, many thanks to Mira for clarity and critical thoughts.

Since transition, all but one of the people I’ve dated, hooked up with, or crushed on have been other trans women. I don’t care to reveal that number, but let’s just say I’ve gotten close to a lot of trans women.

Recently, I half-jokingly called myself a “tranny chaser.” My off-hand comment sparked an interesting conversation between me and a friend, who is a gay trans man. The heart of our discussion was this: I am a tranny whore.[i] Can I also be a tranny chaser?

Shemale Fan Clubs: An Introduction to the World of Being Chased

The term ‘tranny chaser’ is used primarily amongst trans women to describe cis men who aggressively seek out sex with trans women. It usually has negative connotations. The prototypical chaser is creepy and misogynistic.

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All Work Is Exploitation, Not Just Sex Work

I signed up for a workshop for sex worker activists tomorrow at HIPS presented with the Red Umbrella Project. It’s called “Personal Storytelling for Social Change” and encourages sex workers to tell our stories in the face of widespread ignorance about the realities of sex work. We are claiming space within a dialog that is overwhelmingly dominated by non-sex workers, especially white, middle class, cis christians and feminists.

So, I was thinking about what I would say about my experience in the industry. Then, my Facebook displayed an advertisement for an organization called “Porn Harms.” (Targeted advertising: fail! Usually I get ads for “socially-responsible” wedding rings and trans-male top surgery. At least those are trying to pay attention to my interests…)

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