“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
— Audre Lorde.
This blog is a ancillary site to ctTransArchives.org. The intent of this blog is a place for myself and others to Reflect on the society, the environment we live in, identity, race, class, intersectionality, radical politics, capitalism and so on.
Your comments and post contributions are welcome and encouraged.
In 1999, Gwendolyn Ann Smith started the Transgender Day of Remembrance to memorialize the murder of (transgender woman) Rita Hester (a East Hartford Native) in Allston, Massachusetts. The TDOR has slowly evolved from the Remembering Our Dead Names list started by Smith into a national and then an international Remembrance and day of action.
In 2002, Ct TransAdvocacy (It’s Time, Connecticut) held Connecticut’s first Transgender DOR (Click here to view the 2002 event on CtTransArchives). In that year we remembered 15 US transwomen brutally murdered, many of them trans women of color. Including the brutal murder of Gwen Araujo, a 17 year old who had been living in their preferred gender role for approximately a year and a half. During a house party, she was revealed to have been more a male. After this revelation, at least three individuals allegedly beat her, dragged her into a garage, and strangled her, before disposing of her body in a remote location 150 miles away.
Yesterday the NYTimes ran an article with the title:
18 Transgender Killings This Year Raise Fears of an ‘Epidemic’
The killings, many of them against transgender women of color, have deeply disturbed groups already familiar with threats to their safety.
According to this article, the AMA is declaring the alarming rate of Trans Murders an epidemic. In the United States this year, at least 18 transgender people — most of them transgender women of color — have been killed in a wave of violence that the American Medical Association has declared an “epidemic.” The killings, which have been reported across the country, have for some prompted a heightened sense of vigilance.
And of course we must note that statistics do not capture the full list of Trans murders since many go unreported, dismissed as a murder of a sex worker, not to mention the many hate crimes other than the ultimate crime of murder. A well known example is the highly probable murder of Marsha P. Johnson. (per wiki: Shortly after the 1992 pride parade, Johnson’s body was discovered floating in the Hudson River. Police initially ruled the death a suicide, but Johnson’s friends and other members of the local community insisted Johnson was not suicidal and noted that the back of Johnson’s head had a massive wound.)
I had never thought that on that day of November 20th, 2002, that we would be remembering AT LEAST 18 brutal US Murders in 2019 ~ Twenty Years after the first Official Remembering Our Trans Dead!!!! We need to continue to remember each year, if not each day, and say Presente! for each of our trans comrades who have been brutally murdered simply for being who they are. BUT we must do more than just remember, since for far too many years, even preceding 1999, we continue to loose our families due to Hate and insensitivity to sex/gender fluidity. I recall that after Gwen’s murder, we had discussions that the community needs to work with our youth to empower them to learn how to be Out and assure they maintain safe surroundings, especially when having sex. Though we know the issue is much deeper and more complex than that simple view. I do view this in two lenses:
Hatred towards those of us who transgress the gender/sex boundaries, resulting in harassment, job/housing losses, brutal beatings and many other Hate related actions. Hopefully the more we are Out, Visible and Advocating for our Communities, in time we can overcome this societal Hate. Though I do fear that peoples ignorance and acceptance to us who transgress sex and gender, will not be overcome anytime soon. Though I do agree things are somewhat better for us today, generally, than it was twenty years ago.
The other lens is that when we analyze the murders, many are of trans women who are sex workers. Some may be sex workers for it is their choice and for others it is a means of marginal economic survival. If we look at the statistics, we know that unemployment (especially among trans women of color) is extreme. Below are the statistics from the National LGBTQ Task Force and National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC):
Black transgender people had an extremely high unemployment rate at 26 percent, two times the rate of the overall transgender sample and four times the rate of the general population.
A startling 41 percent of Black respondents said they had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, more than five times the rate of the general U.S. population.
Black transgender people lived in extreme poverty with 34 percent reporting a household income of less than $10,000 per year. This is more than twice the rate for transgender people of all races (15 percent), four times the general Black population rate (9 percent), and eight times the general U.S. population rate (4 percent).
Black transgender people were affected by HIV in devastating numbers. More than one-fifth of respondents were living with HIV (20.23 percent), compared to a rate of 2.64 percent for transgender respondents of all races, 2.4 percent for the general Black population, and 0.60 percent of the general U.S. population.
We MUST address the Economic Justice for all communities, but we in the Trans and Gender Fluid communities, as well as our Allies, must do much more to address the barriers to Economic Justice for our Black Trans comrades!!
And I cannot simply just write about this and NOT do something to address this economic inequality. This is one reason I created CT TransAdvocacy many years back and we did a lot of one on one Advocacy to address access to employment, training, education, housing, etc. After nearly twenty years, I was getting burned out and felt I needed to spend time with my life partner Anja and heal myself. Well after a few years of Hiatus, I have rested enough and like Mother Sylvia who also took a respite after Pride 1973, came back full Sylvia throttle with the Amanda Milan murder. I am not Sylvia, she was a force of her own, but her work with queer homeless youth and oppressed communities and her outrage to a system that keeps their boot on our necks should be an inspiration to all of us!
I know we have some amazing folks like Ethan, Tony, Dru and Teo, as well as others, have been relentless in their advocacy and activism and it is time we all work to address the systemic causes of these horrific murders, not by just passing laws that assure convictions post their murders, but to go to the root cause and address the Economic and Social Injustices our community suffers!
It has become very clear to me over the
years that a key tenet to Trans Liberation lays within the liberation of ones
self from the tyranny of the State, Religion and Society; and equally important
from our own self-imposed tyranny. And with that said, viewing Trans
Liberation within an anarchist lens has proven an invaluable vehicle for my
analysis. As Emma Goldman so eloquently
states in her 1911 essay “Anarchism: What It Really Stands For”
Anarchism is the only philosophy which
brings to man the consciousness of himself; which maintains that God, the
State, and society are non-existent, that their promises are null and void,
since they can be fulfilled only through man’s subordination. Anarchism is
therefore the teacher of the unity of life; not merely in nature, but in man.
The essence of this point was reinforced at
a recent demo protesting the hypocrisy of HRC, where one of the chants included
the words Fuck You to
HRC. Several people, though one in particular asked with all seriousness
“Are we allowed
to say that?” Then when the first police car came, they were
convinced that the police were called because of our using the words Fuck You. And in reality
the cops didn’t really give a fuck what we were chanting about. Clearly
on the surface this is all kinda silly and a nit; except for the fact that the
reaction and fear of this trans person typifies the implicit warnings of Emma
Goldman. That the tyranny, or fear of such tyranny, by the State has such
a profound impact on our actions and our behaviors. And this clearly ties
in very closely with our goal of achieving true and complete Trans Liberation.
We who defy societies the precepts of
gender identity and expression challenge at its core societal, (many) religious
and state demands and constructs. Yet sadly I fear that we as a truly
radical community will seek the safe route of assimilation as our gay and
lesbian brothers have done before us. Yet through serious self
reflection, political analysis and dialogue, particularly through an anarchist
lens, we can avoid the same reformist road that the majority homosexual
movement has been trapped in. To this
point, I have remarked over many years how ironic it is that the transsexual
person in their essence defies society’s definition of man and woman, yet at
the same time many in the community work so very hard to subscribe to a binary
system that we in our essence defy. Granted this is a complicated
analysis and many reasons for so strongly subscribing back to the binaries (a
major component safety), though at the same time it is something that we as a
community and individuals must challenge.
If we are to liberate society and ourselves
from its tyranny against those who transgress gender and sex, we need to, no
actually we must, liberate ourselves from the mental and physical constructs
that manipulate us into subordination for the benefit of the “greater
Speaking to the issue of safety, I have
lost my job, lost access to my children, been severely beaten and so on simply
for being who I am. And so I fully understand the need to integrate, or
more accurately assimilate into our society. However, over the years I
have become more aware that my, and our communities, assimilation is simply
subordinating our identities and our essence to the State. In return we
are allowed to live in the margins of this society. I must admit that
many of us, especially those of my age, struggle with a 1950’s societal
mentality that was engrained within the deep recesses of our brains as we were
young. Yet I also feel and know that I will not be truly liberated in my
gender identity until I personally can liberate myself from subordination to
society and to empower my individuality.
For many reasons, I am a strong believer of
civil disobedience and direct action, when the cause and reasons are
just. However the fear of challenging the State as a non-operative trans
woman (and some) was a significant challenge and barrier to putting my beliefs
into actions. Yet my heart and soul told me that my not acting upon my
beliefs was simply allowing the State to control me, as with so many others,
from rebellion to the system. I actually needed to go through a year or
two process of dealing with this conscious and subconscious fear of being
arrested and so allowing myself to be subjugated. And it turned out
through a long and convoluted process, I was able to put my individual needs
ahead of those of the State. Oddly, one night before I and a group were
to risk arrest shutting down a Government
Building in New York, a dear friend and I saw the
opening of V for Vendetta. And for me the transformation of Evey Hammond
was so pivotal to my personal transformation. For those not familar with
Evey’s transformation, I paste the following from a wiki on V:
In her cell between multiple bouts of
interrogation and torture, Evey finds a letter from an inmate named Valerie, an
actress who was imprisoned for being a lesbian. Evey’s interrogator finally gives her
a choice of collaboration or death; inspired by Valerie’s courage and quiet
defiance, she refuses to give in and is told that she is free. To her shock,
Evey learns that her imprisonment was a hoax constructed by V, designed to put
her through an ordeal similar to the one that shaped him. He reveals that
Valerie was another Larkhill prisoner who died in the cell next to his; the
letter that Evey read is the same one that Valerie had passed on to V. Evey’s
anger finally gives way to acceptance of her identity and freedom.
Richard reminded me of an old Queers Without Borders flyer we did for PRIDE back in the Bush administration. This flyer is below
Sadly rather than making any Fundamental Change of the State, we as a society seem to have taken many steps backwards from these demands. Yeah you can say some of the progressive politico’s are talking about some of these items though we know if they did get elected, the System will simply put its proverbial boot on their necks and little if any progress will be made.
Let’s reflect on some of our demands back from the Bush/Obama Administrations and ascertain if the System has moved to any Fundamental Change. And following that discuss how can we reconfigure our process to be more effective in achieving as near as Fundamental Change as possible, given our learning’s over the years.
Universal Health Care
Obama did pass the Affordable Care Act, which was a step in the right direction, despite the Republicans objections and had major provisions such as no denial due to previous conditions and coverage of up to age 26 for all family children. However, Obamacare is not universal health care. There is currently dialogue by some of the 2020 Presidential Candidates for a type of universal health care called “Medicare for All.” This would be more Fundamental change in our Health Care however, will the Political System ever allow this to pass into law?
Access to a Free and Equal Education, regardless of Race, Sex or Class
This was one of the key demands of Queers Without Borders. A paper on the Equality of Education noted that
Educational opportunities for children ought to be equal. This thesis follows from two observations about education and children: first, that education significantly influences a person’s life chances in terms of labor market success, preparation for democratic citizenship, and general human flourishing; and second, that children’s life chances should not be fixed by certain morally arbitrary circumstances of their birth such as their social class, race, and gender.
President Obama did sign a law providing $100 billion in additional funding for education. Most of that money went to states to protect teaching jobs, support low-income and special needs students, and provide college grants, $5 billion was set aside to drive reform and innovation, and another $3 billion for turning around our lowest-performing schools. Though this was a positive step, it was simply a small step in Reformational change though had little impact on any fundamental change in the Equality of Education, regardless of Race, Sex and Class!
In addition to Equality in Education, let’s consider some of the factors that contribute to racial inequality. From Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States “The black-white gap is not immutable: black youth who move to better neighborhoods as children have significantly better outcomes.” And that “environmental conditions during childhood have causal effects on racial disparities, demonstrating that the black-white income gap is not immutable.”
We learn however that radical educational changes alone will not improve the disparity of equal upward mobility and economic/social equality. As the paper on Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States notes, Our results show that the black-white gap in upward mobility is driven primarily by environmental factors that can be changed. Their research notes however that initiatives whose impacts cross neighborhood and class lines and increase upward mobility specifically for black men hold the greatest promise of narrowing the black-white gap. There are many promising examples of such efforts: mentoring programs for black boys, efforts to reduce racial bias among whites, interventions to reduce discrimination in criminal justice, and efforts to facilitate greater interaction across racial groups. We view the development and evaluation of such efforts as a valuable path forward to reducing racial gaps in upward mobility. Our results show that the black-white gap in upward mobility is driven primarily by environmental factors that can be changed. Also reference an article entitledHow America’s Structural Racism Helped Create the Black-White Wealth Gap. The overview of this article noted that the already large racial wealth gap between white and black American households grew even wider after the Great Recession. Targeted policies are necessary to reverse this deepening divide.
Real Wages that People Can Live On:
In May of this year, Lamont signed into law a bill that over a series of several years, Minimum Wage will gradually rise to $15.00 and then indexed to Federal Economic Indicators. What this translates to is from its current level of $10.10 to $11.00 on October 1, 2019; $12.00 on September 1, 2020; $13.00 on August 1, 2021; $14.00 on July 1, 2022; and $15.00 June 1, 2023. Since the current Federal Minimum wage is $7.25, Connecticut’s minimum wage is a 52% percent increase over the Federal minimum wage, but is only a 7% increase from 2018! Is this truly something to celebrate given the high cost of living in CT. You may say it is better than nothing, though it is simply the worker accepting crumbs from the system, while the hourly wage of the “elite” class is orders of magnitude higher! And clearly far from a Living Wage.
And to assess the Obama administration, it had inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Even if it had been the most effective and wage-focused administration in history, the actual performance of wage growth over the following years would have still likely been sub-par. A time when we gave One Trillion Dollars to the Banks and Financial institutions who simply pocketed most of their money in bonuses for the elite and nothing for the worker. Plus in the first two years of the Obama administration, when Democrats held the House, Senate and Presidency, they FAILED to pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a reform to labor law that aimed to re-level the playing field between workers who want to organize a union and employers that want to stop this. You could argue they failed to pass it due to lack of a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, but is this not again the failure of our System? Simply put, the Obama policy record on wages is strong. But the actual performance of wages over his tenure was extraordinarily weak, because the economy he inherited was a disaster and recovery efforts as well as useful wage-specific initiatives were thwarted by the politicians.
We can similarly go through the other demands on our list, though the above analysis of fundamental progress in these areas is simply minor changes, if any at all. And as we all know, with the current Administration in power, we are seeing many of these areas regressing back to the “good old white days.”
So what do we do to effect Major Changes in the System, if not Fundamental changes, relative to the mediocrity we have seen over the last 15 years!
In discussing this, I will reflect on my history of nearly twenty years in both Trans Advocacy/Activism as well as Multi-Issue organizing. Many years back, I worked on National Policy changes for Trans Rights at a Federal Level. Did all the things of attending lobby days, talking to politicians, engaged in national demonstrations, etc. Though progress was slow if not imperceptible. You can call me naive, though a comment made to me by a House Representative made me think, and altered my approach to effecting systemic change. The Legislator made the very simple statement “You are here at a Federal Level seeking legislative changes for the Trans community, yet there are no such changes at a state or local level.” Though this statement wasn’t 100% accurate, it was correct with several small exceptions. I also recall some of my local Trans peers around this time telling me that I can’t raise these issues for equality in Connecticut for we would lose our current rights. Sadly the only rights we had were crumbs, no laws, accessible only to the privilege who had access to money and knew the right people. A situation that most trans folks in Connecticut did not have. Not to mention the fact that most were not Out, for we were a highly closeted community at the time. However, those simple words the legislator spoke to me, changed my approach and from that day on, I abandoned most all National efforts and focused solely on effecting systemic change at a local State level.
At first this seemed like a fools errand for my community was not Out and there were no serious efforts seeking drastic changes to the laws regarding Trans protections in Connecticut. It was simply me, with no money, no power base, though a passion and determination that I was going to bring the Connecticut Trans community Out of the Closet and to effect major policy, legislative and educational changes in Connecticut. I will leave the details of how I undertook this for another post, though it is sufficient for now to say that I realized that I would need to build alliances with groups that had money, access to those who could effect change in policy/legislation/education. Though I also realized I could not simply go to their table of power and say “My community is oppressed and I need your help.” Be it women’s rights, racial justice, immigrant rights, etc they were all working to effect changes in their communities. I realized that I needed to offer my time and energy to their causes. One is because I believe in multi-issue organizing, though equally that we need to educate others on our issues (not just ask for help), understand their issues, etc. And in time, I found that they were than invaluable and extremely helpful in providing a single tranny access to Executive Directors of Domestic Violence Shelters, Homeless Shelters, Medical Professionals, Legislators and Lobbyists. With time we effected changes in the trans policies in the Shelters, Medical access, Legislation, Educating the Connecticut populace on the Trans community and its issues; and finally seeing the amazing growth and coming out of so many trans folks, both young and old, in Connecticut.
My motto for effecting systemic change was to “Think globally, act locally.” To consider the health and needs of the global communities yet to take action in my own communities and cities. I came of age in the sixties, before governments began enforcing environmental laws, and saw the impact of Rachel Carson, the mother of the Environmental Movement, in motivating individuals to come together to protect habitats and the organisms within their local communities. These efforts are referred to as grassroots efforts. They occur on a local level and are primarily run by activists, advocates and concerned citizens. The Environmental Movement invoked Fundamental Changes in the mindset and actions of Environmentalists. Consequently, we saw that the System set laws and regulations demanded by these Environmentalists. However these changes were relatively short lived and so with the other hand the system took these regulations away ~ as we see the Administration doing today.
What I am saying is that activism at the local level, with an eye to the global community, is much more effective in producing systemic and near Fundamental changes. We see many examples of this from the sixties and seventies such as Ralph Nader single handily taking on the Auto Industry, and not walking away once he accomplished some of his key goals. Or the Zapitista’s, a far-left libertarian-socialist political and militant group that controls a substantial amount of territory in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico. As wikipedia notes: a key element of the Zapatistas’ ideology is their aspiration to do politics in a new, participatory way, from the “bottom up” instead of “top down”. The Zapatistas consider the contemporary political system of Mexico inherently flawed due to what they consider its purely representative nature and its disconnection from the people and their needs. In contrast, the EZLN aims to reinforce the idea of participatory democracy or radical democracy by limiting public servants’ terms to only two weeks, not using visible organization leaders, and constantly referring to the people they are governing for major decisions, strategies, and conceptual visions.
Another example of thinking locally is Bioregionalism which asserts “that a bioregion’s environmental components (geography, climate, plant life, animal life, etc.) directly influence ways for human communities to act and interact with each other which is then optimal for those communities to thrive in their environment. An example of Bioregionalism put into practice is Cascadia. The Cascadia movementcontains groups and organizations with a wide range of goals and strategies. Some groups, such as the Cascadian Independence Party, wish to create a Cascadian Nation-State while others, Cascadia Now! and Vote Cascadia, seek to build a bioregionalist network as alternative to the Nation-State structure. There are several reasons why the Cascadia movement aims to foster connections and a sense of place within the Pacific Northwest region and strive toward independence. The main reasons stated by the movement include environmentalism, bioregionalism, privacy, civil liberties and freedom, increased regional integration, and local food networks and economies.
Though Queers Without Borders did a lot of local multi-issue organizing, we naively beat on the walls of the System to demand fundamental change. However, as we see from the above, change is in the hands of the people and not some bureaucrat or participation in a representative democracy!
After a respite for a few years from Organizing, I for one want to dedicate my time to effecting Fundamental change at a local level. I have learned that this is the best, and possibly only way, to seek and enact fundamental change. As we all know, the Indigenous peoples understood how to create communities.