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An Open Letter to Trans Communities and our Co-Conspirators – The Feminist Wire

An Open Letter to Trans Communities and our Co-Conspirators

 

 

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In the wake of this year’s Trans100 event, we write this letter with grave concern for the current state of the trans movement, with the intention to address issues that hinder its progress and growth.

The Trans100, to quote co-founder Jen Richards, “is an intentionally curated list of out trans people who are working on trans issues in the United States and having a positive impact.” Often unacknowledged and invisibilized, this is an important occasion for many of us to be held, reflected, and affirmed. While this attempt to bring visibility to the trans community is noble and necessary, we—a group of concerned trans and gender non-conforming people with varied ethnicities, racial and class identifications, abilities, and geographic locations; a group of organizers, artists, scholars, change makers, and everyday people who seek liberation from all systems of oppression that confine our bodies and our living —charge that this year’s visibility was not enough.

This year, many of us were harmed and further silenced under the guise of trans visibility. In accepting the honor of being named in the Trans100, we understand it is our duty to remain critical. We understand this because we know that our appearance on this list is based on our politics and not solely our identity as trans and gender non-conforming people. We know that representation and visibility without action are not enough, and this was made abundantly clear at the 2015 Trans100 event.

On the evening of Sunday, March 29, a hundred trans and gender non-conforming people were recognized from the podium of the Mayne Stage in Chicago and live-streamed internationally. From this very same podium, Lana Wachowski, a famous, wealthy, able-bodied white American trans woman, gave an offensive and poorly-conceived speech that detracted from the impact of the event.

She began with her experiences of traveling globally and being exotified in her travels, where she was often touched and asked to pose for photos, due to her culturally appropriative faux locs. Her failure to address her privilege that affords the abilities to travel, was exacerbated by her racist comments that followed.

She proceeded to specifically name African Americans as a barrier to passing gender neutral bathroom legislation, appropriated Two-Spirit/First Nations/Indigenous community language, stating, “We are the one tribe that’s a part of every tribe,” conflated trans identity with racial/ethnic identities and compared the African American Civil Rights Movement and its hardships to the present day trans movement.

This speech was the very “eradication of otherness” she attempted to discuss. Her anti-Black statements were not only disrespectful, but also tarnished the award for Black recipients and non-Black recipients of color; poor and working class recipients; recipients with disabilities; and all recipients who live intersectionally.

In addition to Wachowski’s speech, seating for those with various bodies, disabilities, and needs was not clearly designated, and the ASL translation was not visually accessible by the community it meant to serve. For those watching the event online, the livestream was not captioned. The only public disabled sick trans person acknowledged in the Trans100 was Leslie Feinberg, a white, working class activist, sick and disabled queer, who was honored posthumously. These elements of the event call into question whose bodies are valued and awarded in the transgender/gender non-conforming community.

The violence and erasure we observed at the Trans100 event forces us to question the intentionality of the organizers, and is indicative of the larger issues in the trans movement.

We challenge all of our communities to engage with the following concerns and questions:

  • How do we create events for trans people that are inclusive for all people regardless of their age, class, citizenship status, and/or ability?
  • What does it mean for our transgender and gender non-conforming community to host events that denounce “normalcy” but have little to no accessibility for people with disabilities and chronically ill people?
  • What does it mean for events, especially those which honor the activist work of Black & non-Black trans people of color, to be sponsored by mainstream LGBT organizations who explicitly profit from the prison industrial complex and support police responses to hate violence?
  • How do we urge trans organizations to continue to invest in social justice and invite activism and political dissent at their events?
  • How do we engage trans celebrities who will strengthen the movement, while holding accountable those with status and influence whose words and politics harm the work being done?  Our movements are strong enough to hold public figures accountable and not give them a free pass because of their fame.
  • How do we eliminate appropriation of images, language, customs, and traditions of indigenous communities by white trans movements? Contrary to Ms. Wachowski’s comments, trans people are not a “tribe”; we are all very different and that is our strength. We ask that white trans movements recognize we have fundamentally different identities and struggles.
  • What does it mean for white trans movements to simultaneously appropriate from the legacy of the Black liberation movement in order to construct their political identity while also demonizing Black people for being the most cissexist? The Black liberation movement is not over. Many queer and trans movements position themselves as the “next frontier of Civil Rights,” erasing the continued reality of anti-Black violence. For many, these movements and identities are not mutually exclusive, but are happening concurrently.
  • What does it mean for trans identity and trans struggle to be discussed as something separate or distinct from racial justice? We notice that this whitewashes trans identity, in which Black and non-Black trans people of color are erased from the conversation.
  • How do we eliminate the tokenization of Black and non-Black trans people of color by white organizations and movements to give the illusion of doing racial justice work without investing in our communities?
  • How do we impress upon white trans movements the destructive nature of conflating the trans liberation movement and the civil rights/Black liberation movement? We inhabit communities divided by race, ability, citizenship status, and class difference. The experiences of a working class Black trans woman are very different than those of a wealthy white trans woman. The conflation of these struggles erases intersectionality, and omits nuances crucial to these histories and experiences.

 

Moving forward, we have three specific demands:

1) We demand that the leadership of Trans100 release a public apology denouncing the racist remarks made by Lana Wachowski and work to hold her accountable.

2) We demand trans communities and organizations across the country move forward to address anti-Black racism in their work.

3) We demand the end of tokenization by white trans movements and organizations, with the understanding that the mention of a few trans and gender non-conforming people, whether Black or non-Black people of color; poor and working class; living with disabilities, does not suggest inclusion. We want a trans and gender non-conforming movement that is truly intersectional and committed to racial and social justice work.

Sincerely,

Concerned Trans100 Awardees, Community Organizers, Artists, Scholars,
Change-Makers, and Everyday People

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