Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Today's Trans Day of Action in NYC - What Racial Divide?

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | June 25, 2010 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Audre Lorde Project, NYC, Trans Day of Action, TransJustice

Today at 4pm, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color and allies will take to the streets of NYC once again and demand justice to let the world know, that the rebellion is not over and we will continue fighting for justice, raising our voices until we are heard.

This Trans Day of Action for Social and Economic Justice was initiated by TransJustice of the Audre Lorde Project, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two-Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color Center for Community Organizing, located in Brooklyn, New York.

I am excited to go this march today, which will start at City Hall Park, at Broadway, Park Row & Chambers Street, New York City. I plan to march with my synagogue, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah.

Beyond the importance of demanding justice for trans and gender non-conforming people of color, my academic mind is curious about something: how many white allies will be there?

There's been a lot of talk about the racial and ethnic divisions within the trans community, and why they exist. A lot of the speculation that I hear from white friends has to do with people of color not showing up. But do the white trans people show up at events initiated by people of color?

We shall see today at 4pm. I have my suspicions about what I will see. One white friend of mine noted that the TransJustice call to action for the march was about immigrants and Palestinians and everything else and, oh yeah, trans rights too. And some of these radicals opposed hate crimes law, because they tend to affect mostly offenders who are persons of color. The TransJustice "Points of Unity" call to action, with my analysis, after the jump.

From the 6th Annual Trans Day of Action website:

The 6th Annual NYC Trans Day of Action for Social and Economic Justice

Points of Unity

We call on our Trans and Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) community and on all of our allies from many movements to join us for the 6th Annual Trans Day of Action for Social and Economic Justice. We as TGNC People of Color (POC) recognize the importance of working together alongside other movements to change the world we want to see. We live in a time when oppressed peoples including communities such as people of color, immigrants, youth and elders, people with disabilities, women and TGNC people, and poor people are disproportionately underserved, face higher levels of discrimination, heightened surveillance and experience increased violence at the hands of the state. We are in solidarity with communities in Arizona organizing to fight the ongoing policing of our identities as they resist and oppose SB-1070 that legalizes unchecked racial profiling by police of anyone they "suspect" is undocumented.

Well, here it is in paragraph one. Working alongside other movements. Do I support this?

When I was a baby trans-person, just after coming out ten years ago, I had some strong opinions about discrimination against trans people. I had lost my job, my family, my friends and my housing. I had major problems getting a job, and no money. I eventually found housing in a multi-cultural neighborhood in Brooklyn. Multi-cultural might be a misnomer. Me and my roommate were the only white faces there. There were lots of sirens, vacant lots, and urban decay. There was a robbery in the fried chicken place across the street, and someone was shot. I got mugged, and was thankful after a visit to the police station, where I saw people who had been stabbed and shot.

I began to think that "discrimination" wasn't the right word for what I was seeing. I thought to myself that there wasn't just a level or two below my previously privileged status; there were more like a hundred or a thousand levels, and I had fallen most of the way. But I was wrong in that; I had probably only fallen a dozen or so levels. I didn't yet understand that my ability to get a job as a secretary had elements of privilege. And when I learned to pass better, I didn't attribute my ability to get another job as a lawyer to privilege. But I was still privileged in many ways that I only dimly comprehended.

My first thoughts were about laws to address social prejudice. No surprise there, given my background as a lawyer. I began to realize what discrimination really felt like, something I had never understood before. I began writing a law review article with the working title "The Gender Caste System," in which I theorized that being trans was similar to being part of a caste system (although it has differences as well - it was just an analogy). I was interested in something I had heard of called "critical race theory," although I didn't know much about it. When I look back now, I see that my thinking was too much about "rights" -- a concept dependent on privilege -- and not enough about society.

That's why I support the TransJustice Points of Unity. The struggle of a tiny minority called transgender people is not a struggle about transphobia or heterosexism. It is a struggle about a large number of people who are relegated the bottom, for whom "rights" are relatively useless because they are embedded in amber and only accessible to those who have money, class and influence. The easiest example that springs to mind is the situation of the 2.5 million incarcerated in America. They have the right not to be subject to cruel and unusual treatment enshrined in our national constitution, but very few of their complaints are allowed to reach the courts, and the ones that do are treated with contempt by our court system.

I just recently read a wonderful book called My Queer War, about a gay man in the military during World War II. In it, he graphically describes the brutal American military treatment of POWs and DPs -- "displaced persons" -- in Europe military. He tried to alert the International Red Cross to what he saw, and he was told by them to keep quiet. He let it go. What was one man to do? What are we to do about the brutal treatment accorded to the unprivileged in America, when there are so many to say "keep quiet, they're just prisoners, or the unemployed, or illegal immigrants"? When our ability to change the system is stifled by layers and layers of red tape and ingrained prejudice?

I remember once seeing the NYC cops beating a homeless man on the street. He had done nothing, yet they kept hitting him with nightsticks on the shins on a Manhattan street. I stopped to look and say "what are you doing"? I was told to keep moving by a cop or I would be arrested. I moved on, deeply ashamed of myself, but reluctant to tangle with the system, knowing the damage it could to me. I vowed never again to let this happen in my presence, a vow I have repeatedly broken.

It is critical that we unite and work together towards dismantling the transphobia, racism, classism, sexism, ageism, ableism, homophobia and xenophobia that permeates throughout our movements for social justice. Let's come together to let the world know that TGNC rights will not be undermined and together we will not be silenced! These are the points of unity, which hold together the purpose of this important march:

I think the question raised about these other prejudices is whether they are sufficiently related to anti-trans prejudice. I think the answer must unquestionably be in the affirmative. As a trans-person, the treatment accorded to me depends on a lot of factors other than my trans identity. First among these is passing privilege. In addition to my own, internal identity as a female, I can pass reliably as a female. My "gender attribution," as the psychologists call this, allows me to escape the routine prejudices against trans people. The fact also that I am a reasonably attractive female, and can present myself with a modicum of sex appeal "expected" of females -- that puts me into a certain category that receives benefits from "lookism," as some people call it. I do not appear "middle-aged," though I am pushing 50, so I escape ageism and the relegation of our seniors to the margins. I have no disabilities that trigger the pity or horror of the abled, dropped the disabled into the category of "unable." I am of the middle classes and look and sound like it, so my words and actions are surrounded with an aura of "authority" and "success."

My privilege in these areas are very similar to the privileges that mirror transphobia. Just as being trans, absent passing privilege, triggers prejudices that are largely untrue but equally unassailable, so too does being non-white, old, disabled, appearing to be an immigrant, etc.

The battle against trans prejudice -- which is much wider than simply the struggle to put gender identity in a protected legal status -- is inextricably linked to the larger issue of how extremely, deeply prejudiced our society is as a general proposition. The more I look at the barbarity to which we routinely expose those on the margins, the more I think about a hypothetical, ancient Jillian Weiss, living in the Roman Empire, hearing about crucifixions and other gruesome punishments, enslavement of conquered barbarians, repression of non-Roman religions, fights to the death between Christians and lions, and other horrors. "Sure," she thinks, "we have some issues that have to be addressed, but on the whole, Rome is one of the most enlightened civilizations in existence. After all, we have created many rights for citizens, and many governmental refinements over the law of the jungle. We're not so bad."

Well, "Jillian Weiss" of the Roman Empire, I some news for you. Yes, there are few good things, but on the whole, your "civilization" is an evil empire, and your "good people" are too entirely ready to sell out for a good life for themselves, and the hell with the rest, comforting yourself with platitudes that display only ignorance and barbarism.

The TransJustice Points of Unity also contain statements on employment, public benefits, immigration, prisoner's rights, housing, the "War on Terror," violence and police brutality. Well worth a read. It ends with calls for justice in specific cases. If you don't know who these people are, look them up. Don't wait for others to educate you, another point of privilege: "educate me; your job is to prove to me you deserve better."

We are in solidarity with the family of Sean Bell, who are still tirelessly working towards justice after the police were acquitted of charges. We are in solidarity with the Jersey 4, 4 Lesbian women arrested in the West Village for defending themselves from a man that assaulted them. We are in solidarity with Miriam, a transgender woman who was pushed out the window of her 4th floor apt and left for dead. We commemorate the memory of Amanda Milan, Sakia Gunn, Ruby OrdeƱana, Gwen Araujo, Erika Keels, Victoria Arellano, Lawrence King, Saneesha Stewart, Ashley Santiago, Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar, April Green and the many other brave souls we have lost, who struggled and lived their lives fearlessly day in and day out, being true to who they were. They keep the fire of struggle burning within all of us.

Is the fire of struggle burning within you?

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Well, it *is* called 'Trans Day of Action for Social and Economic Justice', NOT 'Day of Action for Trans Social and Economic Justice'.

Although a day for trans awareness would be great, that doesn't seem to be what these folks have in mind. Personally, I find it very cool that these Trans ppl are going out and protesting for *all* oppressed populations, and not just for themselves. I makes me think of how important trans ppl were to the beginings of the modern gay movement, with the most disenfranchised being among the most vocal about the horrid treatment and abuse by the authorities.

Thanks for the excellent article!

Carol :)

QueerMage | June 25, 2010 7:51 PM

I read this right before going to the march. In fact, it helped inspire me to go to the march after I realized none of my friends would be able to go. I would say that there were quite a few white allies there and many people who cared about the issues.

I hope you took lots of pictures to share with us!

I've been thinking along these lines a lot more recently as well. How much does our dependence on rights-based identity politics limit our ability to think about advancing an agenda that would actually help our quality of life, and how much does such thinking make us identify with people whose interests aren't related to ours at all? What we're facing goes beyond "prejudice," although that's a rather elementary way of understanding what we face. It's also about the distribution of wealth and power in our society, issues that the identity politics model is woefully inadequate at addressing.

I mean, why do I see queers out there talking about getting laws that they'll never benefit from passed (i.e. those people marching in LA earlier this year for an adjustment to Social Security rules that probably won't benefit them)? Why is it that when you bring up class discussions, even poorer people will step in and defend wealthy people's "right" to exploit everyone else? I think these two questions are related, and they both come down to how we enchain ourselves in our own minds, substituting the interests of rich people on our "team" for our own interests.

Rights talk is an easy way of telling people what they're allowed to have, as well as an easy way of making them accept that their needs can't be met. Identity politics just gets them to ignore their own unmet needs and concern themselves with the rights of wealthier people they think are like them. And if you point this out they tell you that you're full of shit, so what's the point. Maybe we should all just be looking out for ourselves anyway.

The trans-community in Florida is about 99% self-segregated as is the entire GLBT community. I'd say about 60% of the trans-community self identify as conservative Republicans.

Eeck! 60% identify as conservative Republicans??? That makes little sense in my book. Fiscal conservatives, though, Ricki, right? Not social conservatives, surely?