The Challenge

The queer radical community is one that I have long identified with. Ever since I came out as queer, and later as trans*, it has been this community that I have been consistently drawn to. Regardless of what city I’m living in, I always seem to find the radical queers. I have organized with and marched along side with radical queers. From facilitating a workshop on queer activism to marching at Queer Bomb (in Austin) or the Dyke March (in Boston) to staffing a drop-in center for queer youth, I have done a lot of work with the queer community and I hope to continue. Not only because I am queer but also because these are my people and I want to work with them.

Which is why it’s so frustrating, not to mention problematic, when I’m the only trans woman of color in radical queer space. Over and over again, I find myself in a room full of cis queer women and trans men. Over and over again, I find myself in a room full of white people. The radical queer community positions itself as representative of all queer people and advocates for the needs of the queer community. It supposedly fights against those systems of power and oppression that keep all queers oppressed. And yet at the same time, trans women of color are nowhere to be seen; even though they are the most vulnerable in our community.

One has only to glance at the case of CeCe Mcdonald to see all the worst intersections and manifestation of white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. She was arrested and is being charged with second-degree murder, the same charge as George Zimmerman, for being the victim of a hate crime and fighting back. She is being charged, basically, for being a poor, black, trans woman. And while there has been a very strong movement of people organizing to free her, this is the exception to the rule.

The last 20 reported cases of trans* murders have all been trans women of color. What, than, does this say about the radical queer community when we are not centering the needs of the most vulnerable in our organizing? How can we purport to create a fully equitable world if we are not making space for them?

The reason for all this is that transmisogyny and racism is rampant and often unchecked in radical queer spaces. From TWoC lack of presence to their lack of “desirability” to their outright exclusion, it’s clear that the radical queer community is not accountable to us. They assume that since white cis queers are oppressed, they couldn’t possibly be oppressive themselves. Somehow, they think that people’s queerness excuses or erases the other ways in which they are privileged. But this is a myth that needs to be constantly challenged. The radical queer community needs to be aware in the ways that they are being oppressive, especially when it is unintentional. They need to know that there are reasons why trans women of color don’t show up to their functions or their rallies. And its because you don’t represent us.

How many black and brown trans women need to die before you put our needs first? In April alone, there have been 3 reported murders. 3 women killed in a community that is already small and nearly invisible. Coko Williams, Clay Paige, Brandy Martell. And if these are the reported murders, can you imagine the number of unreported murders? The unclaimed bodies and forgotten names?

So I challenge you, dear radical, to put your money where your mouth is. If you are really committed to this work, put us first. Be aware of our struggles, of our triumphs. Hell, be aware of our existence! Don’t just mourn us when we are murdered, but celebrate and work with us in life. Actively participate in making this world a safer place for us.

But most of all, I challenge you to see us. To know us.

 Morgan is the latest in a long line of fierce warriors. She is walking in the footsteps of Audre Lorde, Sylvia Rivera and her own mother to achieve the collective liberation of all peoples. She maintains her own blog, www.atriptothemorg.wordpress.com, and has been published in xQSí Magazine and The Urban Resistance among others. Morgan hopes to go to graduate school for writing and to use her poems, essays and stories to challenge, inspire and incite radical action. She also really enjoys Thai food.

The Cotton Ceiling Is Real and It’s Time for All Queer and Trans People to Fight Back

The blogosphere is fired up over the cotton ceiling today, a term porn actress Drew DeVaux and other queer trans women are using to challenge cis lesbians’ tendency to support trans causes generally but draw the line at sleeping with trans women or including trans lesbians in their sexual communities.  Some cis lesbians have responded in outrage to the term (trigger warning on link for heavy transphobia), claiming that it implies sex with cis women without their consent, perpetuates rape culture, and reveals trans women’s patriarchal motives to break into their bedrooms as they presumably have broken into their bathrooms.

This spectre of rape that cis lesbian “radfems” habitually raise, centered around the supposed inherent threat of the phallus, minimizes the appalling rates of physical and sexual violence committed against trans women, particularly trans women of color and sex workers.  It also twists the picture of systemic violence to make it look like trans women are a huge, systemic threat to cis lesbians when in fact trans women as a group face incredible systemic barriers in almost every aspect of life.

Certainly there are individual cases of interpersonal violence that one could bring up involving a perpetrator of any description.  But, although I may not be 100% comfortable with the mental image of panty-ripping, I find it ludicrous to suggest that trans women, in pointing out their exclusion from lesbian sexual communities and the relationship between common lack of cis lesbian desire for trans women and the structural problem of cissexism/transmisogyny, are threatening rape of cis lesbians or perpetuating rape culture.

At one point in my life, I identified as female and as a lesbian.  I was early to feminism and I had been through some difficult heterosexual experiences.  I’m ashamed to admit that I sympathized in some ways with the radfem position.  I want to be clear in my argument here–I’m not ashamed of the fact that at that time, I wasn’t interested in PIV sex or in touching a penis. That’s a legitimate sexual preference.  My shame comes from the way I looked at trans women at that time without examining my prejudices or educating myself, and the fact that I assumed a preference for cis women was a natural preference that I didn’t need to mention aside from identifying as “lesbian.”

I pinned a misogyny that at the time I attributed to almost all men onto trans women, as well.  I assumed that sex with a trans woman would be penetrative and violent, that I wouldn’t have the camaraderie with a trans woman that I felt at the time with many cis women, that female history was somehow very important.  I didn’t think about what a trans female experience might be like, or what a trans woman’s relationship to her body might be.  I was pretty naive about sex.  I put a lot of stake in body parts because I was fumbling with my own gender, body, and sexuality.  I said that I was against transphobia but knew no openly trans people.

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