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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

 

 

T100LogoWEBHeader-gold-final

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

23 Comments

  1. The Trans 100

    April 3, 2015 at 11:45 am

    We at The Trans 100 appreciate being held accountable and agree with much of what was said here. In part of our reflection on what happened, we have posted a public statement – online at http://thetrans100.com/the-2015-trans-100-community-accountability/ – regarding Lana Wachowski’s speech and how we plan to do better moving forward.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this, and for calling on us with such thought out and specific questions and demands.

    • The Trans 100

      April 3, 2015 at 12:24 pm

      To clarify, our statement was written in direct response to Lana’s speech and was drafted before we saw this open letter; both were published this morning, pretty much simultaneously. This open letter provides more issues to think about, many of which were not addressed in our statement.

  2. Jen Richards

    April 3, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Thank you to the authors for taking the time to issues a thoughtful, constructive, nuanced, and compassionate critique. This feels like calling in rather than calling out, and I’m grateful for such generosity of spirit. I left the Trans 100 and was not actively involved in this year’s list or event, but feel like I am ultimately the person who must take responsibility for its basic structure and legacy. I hear what you’ve said above and take every word very seriously. I can no longer speak on behalf of the Trans 100, but I personally apologize for the damage done and vow to do whatever I can to be accountable to, and in dialogue with, the community, and to mindfully grow and improve to better fulfill the mission to appropriately represent and honor all those making a positive impact. Thank you.

  3. Jordan Gwendolyn Davis

    April 3, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    Hi, on disability, I would just like to state that Feinberg is not the only disabled individual to be on the Trans 100 this year. I have been a public advocate for both disability and transgender rights, and have been open about my disability for a while. In fact, I was likely one of few people listed on the Trans 100 who is currently on disability benefits, although there might be others.

    But I do agree that Wachowski’s comments about people of colour were problematic in the extreme and that respectability politics often prevents trans people with disabilities from being able to reach their potential and to be acknowledged. Hope future conversation and actions can happen to ensure more diversity and to create a truly intersectional movement.

    Sincerely,

    Jordan Gwendolyn Davis

    Mixed race, two spirit, disabled, neurodivergent, lesbian transwoman and Trans 100 honoree.

  4. Catherine Mendonca

    April 3, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    Wonderfully thoughtful peice.

  5. curious

    April 3, 2015 at 11:09 pm

    You write: “What does it mean for events… to be sponsored by mainstream LGBT organizations who explicitly profit from the prison industrial complex…?”

    Can you tell me which organization(s) you’re referring to? I have never heard about this before.

  6. Charin Davenport

    April 4, 2015 at 1:00 am

    It is time for some of us to contribute to this discussion, not by talking, but by listening. Count me in. Namaste ~ Char

  7. Renate -Reeves-Ellington

    April 4, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    spot on. Trans people must speak for their communities in their own voices.

  8. Cathy Gale

    April 4, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    Jordan Gwendolyn Davis who was honored by the Trans 100 has a history of making racist statements.

    https://www.facebook.com/EqualityMD/posts/112608518905041

  9. Christina

    April 4, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    It took me a while to realize this wasn’t a parody. The nitpicking that a speaker is able to stand under the power of their own legs, that a trans visibility event wasn’t a disability visibility event… these attempts to find *anything* to undermine the purpose of the event itself… it had to be a joke, right?

    Unfortunately, no, it is all too serious. It’s things like this that keep me from ever calling myself a feminist, because I don’t want people to automatically assume I’m as petty as the label now implies. Sadly I can’t be certain whether this is the usual 3rd wave reaction to anything, or if it’s specifically an attempt to undermine trans visibility the way a great number who claim the mantle of “feminist” go out of their way to undermine trans women on a daily basis.

    Have we let a wolf in sheep’s clothing claim to speak for us? Because I am one woman that you most certainly do not speak for, if this is what you are going to say ostensibly on my behalf.

    • Karen

      April 8, 2015 at 5:45 pm

      I couldn’t agree more.

    • Kristin

      April 10, 2015 at 11:42 am

      Well said, though I’m still willing to call myself a feminist. I won’t let this misunderstanding of racism and tribalism expressed in this letter keep me from associating myself with the ideas of brilliant people like bell hooks and Janet Mock.

  10. Cathy Gale

    April 4, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    Jordan Gwendolyn Davis has made racist statements.

    https://www.facebook.com/EqualityMD/posts/112608518905041

  11. james

    April 4, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    we as the lgbt community must stand together strong
    and stand up and fight back because we are one together and the more we stand together as a team and gather strainth we will over come the opsatols in
    our way so lets raise our voices and say you will never take us down because we will push back and win

  12. Pingback: Trans 100 show cracks of divide, advocates demand organizers apologize | Opus News

  13. Cathy Gale

    April 7, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    Jordan Gwendolyn Davis’ racist comment seems to have been removed from the Equality Maryland Facebook page but here is a copy:

    https://www.facebook.com/EqualityMD/posts/112608518905041

    Equality Maryland
    November 29, 2012 ·
    Have you wondered what EQMD will do now? Don’t worry folks, this is just the beginning!

    Equality Maryland sets post-marriage agenda
    Transgender rights bill, HIV/AIDS, immigration among issues on which organization hopes to work
    WASHINGTONBLADE.COM

    Like · · Share
    


26 people like this.



    

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‪Jordan Gwendolyn Davis‬ How about investigating yourselves for vote fraud. There was absolutely no way in hell Baltimore City (majority black) and Ann Arundel County (military, and votes Republican in prez elections) could have voted yes on 6.
November 29, 2012 at 4:00pm · Like







    

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‪Beth Morgan‬ Oh, geez, Jordan, don’t go there. Don’t speak for black people like that saying they’re all against gay marriage. Just don’t.
November 29, 2012 at 4:04pm · Like · 2







    

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‪Jordan Gwendolyn Davis‬ No, I am just saying that, from other votes on the marriage issue, that black communities almost ALWAYS vote against marriage equality. I’m not saying all blacks oppose same sex marriage, but a majority of them do.
November 29, 2012 at 4:07pm · Like







    

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‪Jordan Gwendolyn Davis‬ See: Prop 8
November 29, 2012 at 4:07pm · Like







    

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‪Beth Morgan‬ Yeah, Dan Savage posted that same crap, and I’m pretty sure everyone debunked that.
    The times, they are a-changin’.
    And even if the majority of black people in Baltimore City had voted against 6, you also have to remember Baltimore City usually has a v…See More
November 29, 2012 at 4:09pm · Like







    

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‪Jordan Gwendolyn Davis‬ It
November 29, 2012 at 4:12pm · Like







    

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‪Jordan Gwendolyn Davis‬ s not just Baltimore City, it’s Anne Arundel County that should not, by any means, have voted yes on 6.
November 29, 2012 at 4:13pm · Like







    

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‪Jordan Gwendolyn Davis‬ And if you throw me under the bus, I will cut the brake cables and we will all go off the cliff together.
November 29, 2012 at 4:13pm · Like







    

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‪Beth Morgan‬ That’s the difference between you and me. I’m not going to throw everyone off the cliff just because some asshole organizations supposedly representing me (LGBT) want to throw my friends (T) under the bus. I’m not a bitter, hateful person. I want trans…See More
November 29, 2012 at 4:16pm · Like · 1







    

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‪Jordan Gwendolyn Davis‬ Even if you are cis-LGB, sexual orientation non-discrimination (already a reality in MD, but not here in PA) is a human right, lack of marriage is just an inconvenience.
November 29, 2012 at 4:22pm · Like







    

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‪Sean McGovern‬ Personally, I would like to see some clarity on the adoption issue in Maryland. Same-sex couples right now are afraid to use any state family court outside of Baltimore County for adoption finalizations. Some are saying that the marriage question’s passage cleared that up, others say no. As a prospective adoptive parent, I would like to have the state clearer on this issue now.
November 29, 2012 at 4:33pm · Like · 1







    

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‪Lourdes Ashley Hunter‬ I love when non blacks talk about what’s important to blacks…
November 29, 2012 at 4:34pm · Like · 3







    

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‪Rianna Patrice Matthews-Brown‬ @Lourdes I couldn’t agree more. My partner and I volunteered at the polls on Election Day…in a predominately black neighborhood in baltimore. We received so much love and support from the community. Ignorant and racists folks will not steal my joy!
November 29, 2012 at 5:01pm · Like · 3







    

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‪Starlene Joyner Burns‬ I’m proud of all our brothers and sisters who supported marriage equality. I voted yes. And I worked super hard when the house was in session to get this bill passed. Many Black clergy came out in support of marriage equality, including our Presiden…See More
November 29, 2012 at 6:04pm · Like · 3







    

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‪David Egan‬ @Jordan: As frustrating as it might be that the job is not completely done, now is the time to stand together in solidarity and celebrate this incredible victory in Maryland! I can understand that from where you sit in Pennsylvania it’s hard to read th…See More
November 29, 2012 at 6:13pm · Like · 1







    

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‪Jj Nolis‬ Merry Christmas to all those that are working for all Americans to finally be equal. God bless you all.

    Merry Christmas. From. Jj Nolis
November 29, 2012 at 10:24pm · Like







    

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‪Jj Nolis‬ I moved from the hamptons after 26 years to be with my future husband. Maryland Rocks. !!!!
November 29, 2012 at 10:28pm · Like







    

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‪Dan Goff‬ National Marriage
November 30, 2012 at 12:46pm · Like







    





  14. Cathy Gale

    April 7, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    Jordan Gwendolyn Davis accused Equality Maryland of voter fraud because she knew that black people didn’t vote for marriage equality.

  15. Karen

    April 8, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    I must have attended a different Trans 100 event than the one described here.

    Seriously, I found Lana Wachowski’s talk, rather than detracting from the night, one of the highlights of the whole event (as was Tiq Milan’s wonderful speech). I can see how her noting of opposition to LGBT rights within the African American community could have been worded differently, but to call it an “erasure” of all black trans activists and to call it “violence” is over the top and unjustified. She obviously was not accusing anyone there that night of being a barrier to gender-neutral bathroom legislation. Was it racist to call out the African American community specifically? I don’t think so. She was not claiming that all African Americans oppose bathroom legislation, nor that only African Americans do. Rather, she was noting the irony of some members of one oppressed group not being supportive of another, given that they do have a unique perspective on the matter. It’s worth mentioning that she also called out the LGB community for sometimes not supporting the trans community, and we aren’t seeing a similar outrage coming from there.

    As far as the use of the word “tribe”, I fail to see how that is appropriative. “Tribalism” refers to a provincial way of thinking, in which fear of the other overrides the greater good. It does not necessarily refer to actual tribes of people. Tribalism can exist between groups of high school kids, different religions, or even groups of engineers at different software companies. Her speech was a call to move beyond this kind of limited thinking, which sadly is all too well represented in this letter. The letter writers seem to be making the case that trans people of different backgrounds cannot understand each other and either cannot or should not work together. If you do believe that, say that, and make a case for what you would like to see and how you think it would work. If you don’t believe that, please clarify your letter. But to simply attack Wachowski for making the very valid point that trans people are in all communities does not move this discussion forward.

    I also don’t see how the letter writers can accuse her of failing to acknowledge her privilege. It was one of the first things she said, and she acknowledged it repeatedly in her talk.

    This is an attempt to find any aspect of Lana Wachowski that can be used to other her, and to discredit her message without having to address the points she raises. I find this divisive and particularly ironic. To what end the letter writers are doing this I can only guess, but it makes the Trans 100 organization look fractured and amateurish. This will not help you attract good speakers in the future, and it will make future Trans 100 events more narrow and limited.

    Lastly, criticizing her for wearing her hair the way she likes to is just silly.

  16. Kristin

    April 10, 2015 at 11:39 am

    I agree with Karen. The writers so badly missed the point. And it’s very unfortunate that the organizers of the Trans 100 took a similar position and then closed comments, thereby killing the dialogue. The tactics of these writers are much like those of people on Fox News. They try to discredit the person’s character rather than really looking at the issues. Calling her comments racist? Were they listening? Her hair? Really? Also, the misunderstanding of tribalism is embarrassing. The Trans 100 event was so well put together. It’s hard to believe that the writers of the letter on their page (where comments are closed) were the same people who did so. Precious handled things so beautifully that night. What the heck happened? I left Trans 100 feeling so affirmed and was devastated to find a week later how fractured and confused the group is. Tiq Milan was incredible. Lana Wachowski was extraordinary. Precious and Miles were fabulous. The performing artists were as worthy as any performer that has graced the stage in that venue. And then this? It wouldn’t be so bad if the organizers didn’t seem to share the same inability to comprehend what community building really is.

  17. Cathy Gale

    April 11, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Jordan Gwendolyn Davis responded to my writing that she made a racist accusation on Equality Maryland’s Facebook page.

    http://opusnews.com/2015/04/05/trans-100-show-cracks-of-divide-advocates-demand-organizers-apologize/#comment-398

  18. Cathy Gale

    April 12, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    Here is another example of Jordan Gwendolyn Davis making racially inappropriate comments about minorities.

    In a February 5 letter on EPGN Ms. Davis called Anthony Williams, a respected African-American Pa. state legislator who is running for mayor “nothing more than a voucher pusher, a puppet for white hedge-fund managers on the Main Line who want to privatize education.”

    http://www.epgn.com/opinion/letters/8452-feedback

    About Nelson Diaz, a Puerto Rican attorney with a distinguished background she said “Nelson Diaz? Who? Basically, we know nothing about this guy, and while he may be able to benefit from ethnic voting, he may take votes away from Kenney, who has been endorsed by PFUN, whose organizations include many Latino/a interest organizations who are working against ICE.”

    This is Nelson Diaz’s biography from Wikipedia.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nelson_Diaz_(lawyer)

  19. Pingback: The Trans 100 | transplained