History nerd that I am, I came across a letter Emma Goldman wrote to Magnus Hirschfeld in 1923. I’m not sure how I managed to miss this before, but its a gem.
For context: Emma (n.1869 – 1940) is possibly the most famous north american anarchist. She was also a Jewish immigrant, feminist, birth control advocate, anti-war activist, prison abolitionist, supporter of free love (polyamory), labor organizer, midwife, atheist, and a damn good speaker/writer. She helped extend critiques of capitalism and the state to include all forms of hierarchy and oppression, including in interpersonal relationships. She has been an inspiration to me and one of my favorite political thinkers since I was 13.
Hirschfeld founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, the first-ever known organization to advocate for the legal rights of homosexuals and transvestites. He is credited with inventing the terms transsexual and transvestite. (He didn’t, actually. But he did contribute greatly to their modern meaning.) His clinic, the Institute for Sexology, employed many self-identified transsexuals and transvestites before it was burned down by the Nazis. There, they pioneered modern hormone replacement therapy and performed the first ever modern vaginoplasty for a transsexual woman.
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.