Toward Participatory Gender: Trans Self-Determination and Movements for Social Justice
January 10, 2012 3 Comments
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
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.
Anti-Capitalism, Anti-Oppression, Cissexism, Community Organizing, Economic Justice, Feminism, Gender Self-determination, Gender Studies, Genderqueer, Identity, Intersectionality, LGBT, Sex Work, Social Justice, Trans, Transfeminism, Transgender, Transphobia, Transsexuality, Trans Liberation, Queer
Table of Contents
- Foundational Concepts
- Recognizing Transphobia and Cissexissm
- Forging Trans Communities
- Striving for Gender Self-Determination
- Centering the Intersections
- Beyond Trans Rights – Toward Trans Justice
- Chapter One: Silences Such As These: A Coming Out Story
- Chapter Two: Naming Ourselves: A Collective History
- The Medical Model and the Radical Roots of Transsexuality
- Radical Cis Feminism and the Transfeminist Resistance
- Umbrella Politics and Queering (Trans)Gender
- Chapter Three: Writing With Our Bodies: In Defense of Gender
- Chapter Four: What Gender Justice Means To Me
- Chapter Five: Trans Citizenship or Trans Liberation?
- Chapter Six: The State as Instrument of Cis Supremacy
- Chapter Seven: Trans Communities and the Prison Industrial Complex
- The Trans-to-Prison Pipeline
- Landscapes of Quarantine
- Legacies of Colonialism
- Chapter Eight: Against Hate Crime, Against State Violence
- Chapter Nine: In the Belly of the Beast
- Appendix: Terminology
- Notes / Works Cited
First and foremost, I thank everyone who has ever been involved in the DC Trans Coalition for inspiring me with their tenacity, introducing me to so much, making me feel part of a community, and filling me with hope for a better world. I also thank my advisors at Goddard College: Shaka McGlotten, Muriel Shockley, and Herukhuti Williams; for so much love and support (and many of the conversations that led to this paper), I thank Diana Vashti, Kay Lamothe, and everyone who ever lived with me at the Moot House and the Fireswamp; the writers and commenters at the blog Questioning Transphobia for endless thought-provoking; everyone I ever met at the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, the Vancouver Trans Forum, and my co-panelists at the Building a Strong Trans Movement Institute at the 2010 Creating Change conference; Latin@s en Acción, HIPS, SMYAL, Different Avenues, and all the other amazing service providers and activists in DC; and finally, Action Santé Travesti et Transsexuel(le) du Québec, the Prisoner Correspondence Project, and the radical queer communities in Montréal for helping me discover new possibilities.
Growing up trans is hard. I was homeless, an addict, and on the streets by the time I was 18. Like many others, I survived by building a shell to protect myself from the constant abuse of parents, teachers, peers, and strangers. But those shells can also make us feel powerless sometimes. My coming out as trans helped build bonds of solidarity and friendship with many other people who had gone through related experiences. These loving relationships, emotional conversations, and supportive communities have literally been crucial to my survival. Breaking out and finding community was also a process of creating power to counteract the many years I was denied it.
We shared stories and warnings about the first time we had the gall to go home from a dance party with a stranger who didn’t know we were trans, the anxiety and fear, the excitement and fun. We helped each other find out where to get our hormones and what to expect after we started taking them. We taught one another to love our bodies for the first time, we showed each other where to make money, and we watched each other’s backs as we did whatever we had to do.
Writing books, sharing information on the internet, sex, choosing new families – these things structure and shape our lives and our sense of being part of a community that cares about us. As marginalized people in a world that is violently hostile to us, forging these kinds of spaces of belonging can be just as important as changing laws or marching into the streets. As we share stories and advice, we shape our futures. We create communities. We reclaim our power.
But too many of the stories we share end in defeat, violence, anxiety, and despair. They become tales of suffering, exploitation, and exclusion. There are those of us who started hormones without a doctor because every one of them we approached called us freaks and sent us home. There are many of us who don’t survive that first date with a stranger. These stories are so repetitive in trans communities that one barely bats an eyelash at discovering another sister has been beaten by cops and locked up for “walking while trans.”
I suppose I’ve been trans in some sense for my whole life. I first came out as a girl when I was 13 or 14, later as genderqueer when I was about 18, and as a transsexual female around 20. It was then that I began this project. And so it was from the position of a lonely trans woman, a genderqueer transsexual just beginning to come to terms with new forms of oppression and the accompanying sense of isolation – and finding a community that supported me through it – that I undertook writing this project. By the time I finished, I had firmly established my roots in trans communities across the world, particularly with other trans women who are also sex workers and radical activists. Although I continued to live in poverty as an undocumented immigrant with disabilities and to struggle with severe mental health issues (both of which are heavily connected to my experiences as a trans woman), I finally felt loved and at home.
This work began with a deep pain and dissatisfaction with the world around me and a desire to change it. My writing is partly a reflection of my experience growing up as a queer youth and the emergence of my identity as a young trans woman. It is also a documentation of the development of my personal ethics and politics: I believe it is possible to create a world where we all have the material conditions and emotional support we need to lead fulfilling, healthy lives – and the autonomy to self-determine what ‘being healthy’ looks like for ourselves, in our own unique bodies and social positionalities. This desire arises from the great amount of pain that has been dealt to me and people I care about — but it is not just about unhappiness with the way things are. It is also about love, an abiding love for others and a yearning to see less misery in all of our lives.
In practically all recent critical literature written about trans people, there is a disproportionate focus on why we exist and very little to say on the stories we share with each other, the circumstances of our lives, the oppressions we face, or the communities we build. Although there are many postmodern, abstract books written about what our identities and our bodies “mean,” there is not much discussion about the material, tangible conditions of trans people’s lives and the ways we cope with, accommodate, resist, and transform those conditions.
With that in mind, my goal is to contribute to the growing body of work that is starting to turn this trend around.[i] I hope to turn our collective focus toward theorizing trans people’s lived conditions and how we might change them. I also seek to think critically about contemporary trans politics, especially our goals and the strategies we are using to accomplish them.
There are, to be sure, already thriving and vibrant communities of trans folks all across North America who are engaged in a variety of political struggles. My hope is to provide a theoretical perspective that can link these diverse, localized movements into a shared analytical framework; to bring us together where we have commonalities, without losing the importance of the face-to-face community building that is already happening.
I want to be part of building a movement: a radical movement for trans liberation and gender self-determination. I don’t want anyone else to grow up through the torment I went through. I don’t want any more families to be taken away out of hatred and fear. I don’t want anyone else to be killed, go hungry, or live in constant fear of both until trauma and stress eat away at our mental health. I envision, in place of this, a world where we all have the support and the means necessary to feel comfortable expressing who we are and to make autonomous decisions about our body, without coercion, stigma, violence, harassment, or poverty.
We have created frameworks to support and disseminate resources to one another — including one of the most powerful resources: information. We have also built communities, from nonprofit social services to legal defense clinics to informal affinity groups, to fight for change on a collective scale. Much has been done to make trans people visible and accepted. Over the past few decades, the focus of many trans activists has turned toward what we herald as a cultural revolution, a paradigm shift in the way we think of identities and bodies. We have fought to ensure that our local college gay and lesbian centers acknowledge trans people and provide support to students who need it. We have struggled to make sure our workplaces use the right pronoun for us and that doctor’s forms offer more than two options under the “check here” box for gender. We have fought tireless legal battles through the courts, and we have wheat pasted our artwork all over our city streets. We have carved out virtual communities on the internet, documented and protested the media’s exploitation of trans people, and much more.
And through each of these little battles, we are subtly and slowly changing our entire culture by broadening people’s imaginations, exposing them to new possibilities, and shattering expectations. More than a handful of pundits and commentators have compared this new awakening to the sexual revolutions of the 1960s. From the women’s studies professors in the Ivory Tower to the conservative preachers in the Bible Belt, they say that we have disrupted gender norms and deeply shifted social roles in ways not seen for decades.
This is a victory, and we must celebrate it. But let’s not settle for these things. I don’t mean to imply that these changes aren’t important political priorities. I have certainly suffered a great deal in my life from both a lack of access to resources on college campuses (especially rural ones) as well as the devastating lack of self-esteem that comes from constantly hearing employers and the media refuse to respect my identity. And I firmly believe that we should continue disrupting the status quo and subverting the cultural hegemony of normative gender roles.
But we shouldn’t stop there; we deserve so much more. We deserve everything: food, housing, freedom of movement. Let’s start demanding it. We need more than a cultural revolution. We need a political, social, and economic revolution, too. Our capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal, ableist society teaches us to value some bodies over others and to consider some lives more valuable. It teaches us to fight against one another, to compete for resources and jobs. It privileges some, while creating institutional barriers that trap others in cycles of poverty, violence, mental illness, fear, incarceration, precarious documentation status, and constant threat of death or deportation . It’s not enough to play with gender; we need to change the very foundations of this society.
Where I currently live (Washington, D.C.), almost every night, if you go to one of the strolls where trans sex workers – mostly women of color, including many immigrants and refugees – hang out at night, you can watch us get harassed or even attacked by police. It’s not uncommon to hear the police mock our appearance or call us worthless tranny whores.
These scenes almost always are set against the gentrified landscape of fresh condo buildings and glimmering office towers. Here you can quite literally watch as different institutions like the police, government policies like the criminalization of sex work and immigration, programs of urban ‘revitalization’, racial disparities in who is affected by violent crime, and economic forces like skyrocketing unemployment all converge in the lives of these sex worker communities. The extra bit of vitriol spewed at us by the police, the refusal to treat our identities as real, and the disgust at the sight of our bodies is a visualization of how transphobia and cissexism are heavily interwoven with economic, gender, and race-based oppression.
Our job, as activists, is to build a movement that can connect the dots between cissexism, gentrification, our societies’ over-reliance on policing, the hatred of sex workers, racism, and the many other systems of oppression at work in stories like this one. We must do this by combining an analysis that does not ignore our identities, but one that also is rooted in a broader ethic of liberation.
As an organizer with the DC Trans Coalition, an all-volunteer collective of policy-focused grassroots activists in the District, we have managed to bring people together and build political power based around our shared identity as trans people. However, we organize around issues that touch our lives – issues like police brutality, unemployment, inaccessible health care, lack of identification documents, immigration barriers, endless cycles of incarceration, and rampant poverty. In other words, while we draw our base from the trans communities in DC, we do not build our movement solely around the arbitrary shared identity of being trans, but rather around the actual circumstances of our lives.
Through confronting these issues, we run up against many of the institutionalized systems of oppression that make all of these various inequalities possible. For example, many of the trans people we work with might be forced to leave home because of transphobic parents, but then they have to deal with poorly run and underfunded social service agencies . Or they might lose their job because of transphobic bosses, but they wouldn’t be in this position to begin with if they didn’t also have to deal with the precarious economic positions of low-wage workers. Thus, it is not just individual bias, or some abstract idea of “transphobia” that is ruining their lives: it is the institutions like government privatization, unfair labor practices, and so on that operationalize and make possible our collective, institutional oppression. It is these systems which turn transphobia into cis supremacy – prejudice into control, poverty, inaccessibility, and violence.
By organizing around concrete, tangible issues grounded in trans people’s daily lives, we are able to call attention to the ways in which multiple, primarily economic, oppressions and institutions structure trans people’s experiences. In other words, it is not only ‘transphobia’ which impacts our lives, but also institutions like the state, psychiatry, religion, etc. Thus, if we want to improve our lives, we cannot limit ourselves to fighting against transphobia. Our efforts to secure trans people’s human rights and basic safety needs are tied to resistance to actual institutions – institutions that can be confronted, and changed.
By paying attention to the specific ways that oppression touches us as trans people and ensuring that our work is directly relevant to us as trans people, the DC Trans Coalition has been able to bring more trans people into social justice movements. It is our job to help trans folks recognize oppression in their lives and help create an awareness of affinity with other marginalized people who are seeking to transform their living conditions and build a healthier world for all of us. But it is also our job to bring attention to transphobia to the forefront of these broader movements for social and economic justice, so that we do not ignore or leave behind trans communities as we build that world.
While we’re out smashing the world’s gender expectations, let’s not forget to smash patriarchy, racism, ableism, and the rest while we’re at it. I don’t want a world where some trans, the ones who can pass, the ones who are willing to accept the prescribed narratives, are able to escape violence while the rest of us are still the freaks and outcasts. I don’t want a world where some trans people – white, wealthy trans people – are able to assimilate into a society that is dominated by capitalism and white supremacy while the rest of us continue to be marginalized and left behind. We can’t let trans people with relative privilege dominate our communities or set our political priorities. Even when we cannot see it, racism, ableism, classism, sexism, colonialism, and other forms of oppression are being played out in trans communities. We would do better to acknowledge this and commit to the sustained work that is needed to eradicate oppression from ourselves, our communities, and the world. We can’t ignore them.
I want the trans liberation movement to see ourselves as part of a wider coalition of social justice activists, each working on bringing down oppression from our own unique perspectives and positions, but united in a common desire to build a better world. And I want the broader social justice movement to recognize and respect the distinct experiences and contributions that trans people have to offer. We have much to teach one another, if we are willing to engage in this dialog.
The title of this work itself is a reflection of the possibilities that emerge from fusing the ideas of social justice and trans liberation. I have always been inspired by progressive and radical ethics like ‘participatory democracy’ and ‘participatory economics’ – the idea that we all should have a say in the decisions and social structures that impact our lives. Gender, like democracy and economics, is essentially a social system for organizing people and resources. I believe that, just as important as transforming our political culture or our workplaces, we need a new system for making sense of our bodies and our genders. We need a radical ethic of ‘participatory gender’; a vision and a strategy for a world where each and every individual is involved in the collective process of building gender. In order to achieve such a world, to make self-determination a truly accessible reality for everyone, we must be ready to liberate one another from all forms of hierarchy – whether based on class, race, ability, immigration status, occupation, age, sexuality, or otherwise.
I am deeply invested in this struggle on a personal level. It isn’t just transphobia that has left its scars on me. I’ve also had to contend with the stigma of mental illness, the moral condemnation of sex work, the absolutely despicable way in which our society treats those of us who are living with poverty and homelessness, and the violence enacted by borders and immigration restrictions. The problem is not just transphobia; the problem is a world that continues to value some people over others. And I want them all – every inequality, hierarchy, and oppression – off my body.
This work is a collection of research, essays, and personal narratives. I start by mapping out some of the histories that have been forgotten or unrecognized while charting the emergence of trans identities in Part One. In Part Two, I move on to explore a few key issues and struggles which those same new identities have enabled. Together, I hope these sections give readers an idea of the many ways in which trans people and our allies are actively organizing to improve our lives.
In each essay, I explore both the potential and the flaws of our diverse approaches to social change. It is my hope that my writing might add to and facilitate existing conversations that ultimately make our diffuse movements for trans liberation and self-determination stronger and better equipped to continue the crucial battles that are already underway in North America and beyond. While my study focuses on trans politics, my ideas could also be applied similarly to many other communities and struggles. I hope that my methods and conclusions might be useful to readers who are not trans or involved in trans communities, but who have their own communities and their own work for justice.
Given the multiple (often competing and contradictory) definitions that circulate within both our wider culture and within trans communities, I begin by laying out some Foundational Concepts. I give an overview of the theoretical perspectives underlying both my academic research and my broader vision for the world. I outline and define a few key concepts that tie together the disparate themes found throughout the rest of my work: cis supremacy, trans community, gender self-determination, intersectionality and trans justice.
The rest of the work is divided into two major themes. Part One deals with the historical development of politicized trans movements and consists of Chapters One through Four. Over the past several decades, there has been an active and intentional transformation of theories that seek to define and control trans people. This process has resulted in new ways to conceive of ourselves, as well as new ways of relating to each other and building communities with each other. In other words, to paraphrase postcolonial theorist Franz Fanon, new kinds of people were born. Throughout Part One, I try to tease out even a very basic understanding of what this metaphorical birth might have looked like.
These changes have had very deep, personal implications. Following the feminist praxis of beginning with my own experience and moving outward, I start with a personal narrative in Chapter One: Naming Myself, A Coming Out Story. Here I attempt to situate my experiences in hopes of highlighting the very intimate aspects of trans politics and the struggle for gender self-determination. I also do so in hopes of giving readers a sense of the personal history behind my own words and ideas. Throughout the entirety of the work, I maintain the spirit of blending the personal and political, the individual and the collective, the private and the public by weaving my own narrative in with the other essays.
Although trans culture is saturated with autobiographies, few attempt to consciously situate personal experience within political movements, institutional power and cultural change. Additionally, cis supremacy has made space for certain prescribed narratives that portray (overwhelmingly white, middle class) trans people as “fascinating” spectacles to be consumed by cis audiences, while erasing the great complexity and diversity of trans people’s experiences.
It is important to pay attention to small, personal changes as well as large-scale collective ones. Change happens at the level of collective action as we form communities and movements, but also on the individual level as we create and develop our identities. By starting with my own story, I hope to demonstrate the very concrete consequences of trans political theorizing, to contextualize my individual experience, and finally, to challenge the stale and repeated hegemonic narratives that have, until recently, been the only trans stories allowed to be published and told.
From this, I move outward in Chapter Two: Naming Ourselves, A Collective History to provide an outline of contemporary trans politics. Chapter Two lays out a summarized history of debates in medicine, feminist, and queer theories that have shaped trans ethical claims, political movements, and identity formations. I use a genealogical approach drawn from Foucault in an attempt to trace the emergence of trans identities and the shaping of trans bodies over time. Chapter Two is divided into three sub-chapters: (1) The Medical Model and the Radical Roots of Transsexuality; (2) Radical Cis Feminism and Transfeminist Resistance; (3) Umbrella Politics and Queering the (Trans)Gender Paradigm.
I am not at all interested in proving or disproving any of these theories. I’m not even convinced that it is possible to prove any of them. All of the ideas about trans people that I outline can be used both to oppress and liberate trans communities, to some degree. However, it was precisely through engaging these debates that many trans folks first began creating their own spaces, cultures, and political ethics. I do not stake a claim in any particular side of these debates, but rather attempt to document them and analyze the ways in which the debates themselves have shaped trans politics and communities.
With this in mind, I explicitly focus on the ways in which trans people were actively involved in dialectically shaping these debates. I challenge the idea that trans medicine was simply created by patriarchal doctors and then forced upon us, or that we were simply objects of discussion between cis feminists. I hope to document previously ignored histories that are just beginning to be remembered for the first time – histories of trans people actively working alongside sexologists to develop early trans medicine, forming networks to help each other bypass the doctors who attempted to control access to that very medicine, organizing militant resistance to police violence and segregation, defending the rights of sex workers, actively shaping cutting-edge feminist theory of our own, creating strategies to fight the spread of HIV, and much more.
In Chapter Three: Histories Written on Bodies, A Defense of Gender, I bring together all of these histories back into my own life and concretize my personal response to some of the medical, feminist, and queer theories I outline in Chapter Two. I wander through the dense realities of living as a trans person in a fiercely cissexist world and attempt to navigate these muddy waters with messy results and conclusions that mostly lead to more questions – in other words, it is intentionally set to mirror my own real life experience of gender. In the end, I conclude that developing an ethical commitment to justice and respect for all of our lives is much more important than offering any explanation of why we are the way we are. Chapter Four: What Trans Liberation Means to Me is intended to be a bridge between Part One and Part Two. I discuss intimate reactions to acts of hate violence, painfully attempting to tie together my own emotional development of gender and acceptance of my trans identity with larger histories of violence and collective resistance.
In Part Two (Chapters Five through Eight) I turn toward a more focused examination of the relationship between trans communities, struggles for gender self-determination, and state violence. While there are increasingly sophisticated discussions evolving around trans people’s relationship to psychiatry, medicine, academia, and the media, fewer writers have taken a critical look at how our experiences are mitigated by the state. While I do not think we should entirely abandon abstract theories or examinations of language and identity, I argue that being attentive toward concrete experiences of state violence can help us cultivate intersectional alliances to overcome narrow identity politics and work productively toward tangible goals that immediately improve people’s lives.
In Chapter Five: Trans Citizenship or Trans Liberation? and Chapter Six: The State as Instrument of Cis Supremacy, I narrate a few stories (including some of my own) and international case studies, each an example of an encounter between trans communities and the state, to flesh out an analysis of how trans people are affected by and resist state violence. I argue that we must pay attention to the complicated ways in which racism, capitalism, sexism, hetereosexism, ableism, colonialism, and other systems of power are interwoven with transphobia and cissexism to position different trans communities in different ways in relation to the state.
In Chapter Seven: Trans Community and the Prison Industrial Complex, I specifically use the example of the criminal justice system to bring the issue of state violence into sharper focus. By looking at some of the conditions that bring trans individuals into contact with the criminal justice system and confronting the onerous and horrific human rights abuses that often occur as a result, I hope to better understand the connections between cis supremacy, white supremacy, and other systems of power as they operate on the bodies of marginalized trans communities. For example, I look at how the state-sponsored criminalization of communities of color, First Nations people, poor and low-income people, migrants, drug users, and others are tied into the disproportionate policing and over-incarceration of trans individuals in North America.
I also chose to focus on prisoner struggles and prisoner solidarity efforts in order to demonstrate some tangible possibilities for more effective trans justice organizing and develop practical strategies to address the everyday violence inflicted upon many trans people. The chapter builds upon existing critiques of the prison industrial complex grounded in the daily lived experiences of trans prisoners and movements to support them, and looks at how activists involved in policy work and service-provision can intervene in such conditions.
In Chapter Eight: Against Hate Crime and State Violence, I use the example of Angie Zapata’s murderer’s trial to explore how certain trans activists have responded to the profound and agonizing forms of daily violence to which many of us are subjected and analyze unfolding debates surrounding state-based punitive/deterrent measures to prevent this kind of hate crime. The conviction of Zapata’s killer and enhancement with anti-bias provisions sparked intentional conversations about the goals and strategies of the trans movement. I took part in many of these debates.
At last, I end with Chapter Nine: Belly of the Beast. My conclusion returns to my personal life to draw from my experience working with the DC Trans Coalition to offer some examples of how all of these ideas play out in actual social justice activism. I hope to use the DCTC as a powerful model of what community organizing for social justice might look like, so that perhaps others can learn from our knowledge and emulate it in their own communities, whether trans or something else.
While demanding state recognition of our identities and finding legal means to redress the economic and political barriers trans people face when trying to live our lives, we must not only ask that the government grant us our ‘rights.’ What good is it to achieve legal equality, if our own lives lack joy, if we are still separated from one another and our families whether due to prejudice or immigration agencies, if we cannot find resources or communities to support us through dark times? State recognition will never alone promise a meaningful life – but through organizing ourselves in an effort to improve our lives, we hope to create the kinds of community and cultural spaces we need to transform not only our government’s policies, but also ourselves and the very conditions of our lives. We will not stop demanding rights until we have them, but we will not stop there either – we need more than rights. We will keep building our communities until all of us are treated with the respect, dignity, and love that we deserve.
[i] In her work, trans activist and theorist Viviane Namaste points out that this focus on identity and the ways in which trans people are ‘produced’ cannot account for the myriad ways that we are actually erased. Thus, the attention to the nature of our identities leaves us seriously lacking in solid theories about the violence which this erasure entails – such as the lack of representation on our own terms and the inability to access trans-affirming social services.