the philosophactivist

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Not Really Creating Change


Creating Change recently canceled a discussion with ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) officials because of pushback from organizations like Not1More, Familia: the Trans and Queer Liberation Movement, the Transgender Law Center, GetEqual and the TransLatin@ Coalition in Florida. A petition and hashtag (#IceOutOfCC) were created. It has since been shared through social media 2,600 times. It seems just a few days was enough time to put pressure onto the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force that hosts the yearly event.

From the petition page:

Is Creating Change a safe haven for all of the LGBTQ community or isn’t it? 
That’s the question we are left asking when we saw that representatives of Immigration and Customs Enforcement were invited to hold a caucus at the conference. 
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the agency that oversees the detention centers where 1 in 5 trans detainees will experience sexual assault and is in charge of deporting us to our potential deaths. Our families and community continue to be terrorized, deported, and separated by ICE, just this month ICE raided many homes and deported over 100 Central American children and women.
But right now that same agency is an invited presenter at Creating Change. 
ICE has no place at a conference that, at its basic principle, should be about providing a safe home for all LGBTQ people. 
The National LGBTQ Task Force fails in providing that sanctuary if it provides a platform to the agency that allows the physical and sexual abuse of trans undocumented women inside detention and at the same time refuses to meet with trans undocumented organizers to hear from the most impacted. 
Our families and community face ICE’s terror on a daily basis, we shouldn’t also have to face it at the conference where we come together to create change. 

Please join Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, GetEQUAL, Not1More, the Transgender Law Center, and the TransLatin@ Coalition/Florida in demanding the National LGBTQ Task Force and Creating Change affirm that the conference is a sanctuary for all LGBTQ people by denying ICE entry and a platform and for ICE to instead meet with trans undocumented women and grassroots organizations off-site to discuss how to make real change and end the inhumane detention and deportation of LGBTQ people

Here is the response from the Task Force:

"Sue Hyde here. I am the director of the Creating Change Conference. In early Fall, we received and reviewed a proposal from three ICE officials to convene a caucus for the purpose of engaging attendees about ICE detention policies. As we reviewed the proposal, we perceived that ICE officials would get important and critical feedback and input that might lead to improving policies on detention of LGBTQ people in ICE facilities. Creating Change seemed an important gathering for ICE officials to hear from advocates on these matters. Then came the recent wave of deportation raids. We took action to cancel the session, which was completed today, Monday 1/11/16. I apologize for the original error of accepting the session. We should not have done that. The presence of ICE officials, whether uniformed or not, poses a threat to undocumented attendees at Creating Change. I have heard, loud and clear, that this was a breach of trust and one that I very much regret."

Why they can miss me with all of this

I'm perplexed. They have so much whitesplaining to do...

Unless ICE is planning to completely put an end to deportation and detention centers completely and not just get ideas for how to better detain Queer and LGBT people (of color!)- I'm not really sure why a conversation is necessary. What dialogue is there to be had in a space that's supposed to be safe for the very folks they are hoping to "engage with". Of course they want to "engage" with the immigrant activists at the conference to get some ideas to take back to headquarters. Why this was acceptable is beyond me. This was a huge misstep that deserves some accountability. Someone on one of the discussion forums mentioned they should have a panel on why this happened. I agree. Obviously folks are out of the loop on the realities of immigration and detention and also on what it means to be a safe space for those undocumented folks in our community. This eminds me of the collaboration with police in Austin for QueerBomb and the fallout around that. Just because law enforcement doesn't pose a threat to you as a privileged white person of middle class standing doesn't mean that everyone has that experience. If you are going to say you are a safe space for "The LGBT Community" you have to think about these things. There are no excuses. And saying "Well we've learned from this now" is not enough. You've violated a lot of folks trust. If you had more undocumented immigrants and folks of color in your organization or organizing your conferences, perhaps this debacle would not have happened.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

New Beginnings, Same Old Struggle for Existence

Here I am, sitting in my new place in the DMV (DC/MD/VA) thinking of how I got to this place after all these years. Six months ago I was in Puerto Rico living a life of struggle but trusting that the ancestors would give relief. And they did. I spent the latter part of the spring and most of the summer back in Austin recuperating from all I witnessed and experienced in la isla del encanto. I was disenchanted with many ways that things transpired over in that colony but so appreciative of the friends that were there to help me when I needed them most.

Housing insecurity has been something I have been coping with for the last few years and it is definitely not a big secret that many folks of color, especially queer and disabled folks of color, deal with this frequently. So- now I'm sitting in an apartment in the DMV grateful for shelter though largely disappointed in the management company hopefully is not preying upon low income folks by offering subpar housing to those of us who have no other choice because we don't have the best credit due to our economic insecurity. Our survival is of no consequence to many management companies. We are just a piece of another fat paycheck.

I'm sitting here freezing in my living room where the heat doesn't work and during late summer, the cold air wouldn't circulate. They just had to knock down a part of the wall to fix the piping that was leaking and had the wall rotting. And don't even get me into other aspects of this place. We spent the first month and a half of living here with maintenance in and out of our apartment for repairs that should have been done before we moved in.  Lots of times management companies expect us to appreciate that because at least it is semi-affordable and they accept section 8 and guarantors. These are some of the only apartments that seem to have open doors to us low-income folks, so those of us without many choices must put up with it. I've been in conversations over the past month with different managers and higher ups and I will write about that soon- especially about the issue of my limited ability as a person with chemical sensitivities and an autoimmune disorder and their blatantly misleading residents to believe they are a smoke-free community. Disability injustice. (**update: though management says they sent out a notice to everyone about not smoking in common areas, we didn't receive one in our mailbox and there are no signs to indicate that there are smoke free areas or that this quadrant is smoke-free, which I discussed over a month ago with the manager).

Folks, be careful when you are apartment hunting and you find apartments that seem to be a steal. I will keep you updated on the saga and be looking out for an article on housing justice and the experiences of our community and similar situations in a few media sources.

In other news,

I have been writing a zine entitled Survival and Sustainability as required reading for the Food and Urban Change class at the University of Texas at Austin and I am really loving doing research for new essays. This weekend I am finishing up the last of the essays. One is entitled TransVisibility, Survival and Solidarity and speaks about economic insecurity and food insecurity within Queer and Trans communities. The other is entitled Sankofa, Survival and Sustainability and speaks mostly about the African diaspora, our agricultural legacy and white supremacy within the sustainability movement (especially the food justice movement). It has felt amazing to be writing again after so many months of struggling to survive. My job right now is pretty soul sucking but it is paying the bills and I have shelter which allows me to focus a bit more on writing about the injustices black and brown and QTPOC communities face. Being here so close to the capitol (and cradle of colonialism) just deepens my commitment to voicing the Truth about what we deal with day to day. Finding a job that sustains me here in this astronomically priced place has been sobering. I've been so close to being hired and I can't help but wonder if my trans identity, or my natural hair, or my blackness, or my resume with so many organizing jobs is what keeps me from having a paycheck that actually signifies my true worth. Or is $11 an hour is what they think I'm worth?

I'm working at this job where I get misgendered and called by my birth name all day every day, which is violent. I'm being subjected to air fresheners and toxic cleaners even though I've said I have chemical sensitivities. I sit for sometimes 12 hours a day with no true breaks, though this is against labor laws and I have talked to my supervisor about my limited ability due to my lupus diagnosis. This is America folks. The marginalized have fewer choices every day. I could choose to be housing insecure again. I could choose to only write and do what I believe in...but that would also be choosing to struggle to pay for my life-sustaining medicine and to feed myself food that won't exacerbate my autoimmune disorder, like I had to do in Puerto Rico.

Every day I wonder if there is a better way. If I am doing something wrong. And every day, the answer is still the same...I was born brown and gender non-conforming in a white supremacist, homophobic and transphobic country. My ancestors were the first capital in this capitalistic nation. My marginalized life does not matter and my existence is inconsequential to the running of this country. Audre Lorde said that we were not meant to survive and every day that I had to eat only one meal or lived near a grocery store with food I couldn't afford or a clinic I didn't have access to, I felt her words. Every time I go for a job interview, I know the deal. I know what it means to not be a good "cultural fit" for these non-profits, and NGOs. I know there can only be one token and I'm tired of fighting other trans folks for the few trans jobs where I can be all of me. And they keep encouraging women and QTPOC to apply for these jobs, yet expecting all these years of experience and master's degrees or doctorates, even. It's a joke. They don't really want us. They want the thought of us so they can appear "progressive". They want our voice only if we are saying what they want us to say and if we can get our communities to nod their heads along to their agendas.

Caring about sustainability in the face of not being able to survive or exist- you have to laugh. I have so much more to say. So much more to get off my chest. But, be on the lookout for a few new zines over fall and winter for those words.

And check out Queering Herbalism and the Herbal Freedom Schools. I've got a few new volumes coming out soon.

Healing and Justice,


**Update 10/27/15**

I spoke with some folks in management and admin. They came to our apartment and heard us out and promised to fix what needed to be repaired- starting with the AC unit. For the past few weeks they have repaired things little by little as we have had to coordinate schedules. It is unfortunate that we spent the first month dealing with repair after repair but we are glad that management has taken notice and this is being taken seriously. The heat is working (though the vents make a weird noise and my vent is still not fixed) and there are some seriously drafty windows in my room that, I kid you not, make it 10 degrees cooler in my room than the rest of the house. I have two quilts on my bed now to deal with it on the colder nights. We are waiting to hear back on scheduling the last of the repairs (a few not mentioned here) and on the rent situation. We haven't seemed to hear back on the latter, though we were told that the situation would be taken care of. I guess we need to wait for November's statement to confirm that they've kept their word on the decrease. I'll keep you posted. I hope to collect some feedback from a few residents. One of my lyft drives was lamenting about living here when he came to pick me up and my co-worker shook her head when I mentioned that I lived here...we had a long conversation about the experiences of her friends living in this complex.

Once again, a housing justice article has been in the works for a few online media sources!

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Struggle in Paradise

True, transitions are rarely easy. At least in my case, they haven't been. People don't normally associate an island full of sea, sand and sun with the other S- word, struggle. When people think of Puerto Rico, they think- tourism. Salsaing on the sand. Eating fried foods from the kiosks and drinking creamy pina coladas and watching the sunset. Relaxing. Hiking in the rainforest, etc. People (other than Puerto Ricans) rarely think of this little isle (actually an archipelago) of paradise- La Isla de Encanto- as a colony. An actual colony with pseudo-autonomy, political prisoners, a tragic history of quelled resistance, racism, colorism, U.S. dominated commerce affecting everything from agricultural export and imports to the cost of shipping or if a businesses will even ship to you because you live in a " U.S. territory." Hmph. I learned this the hard way. Associated free state?

The struggle for basic needs- like affordable fresh food not from China and other countries thousands of miles away, land to grow said food, a decent education, decent housing- and most of all EMPLOYMENT are so very real. The U.S.' dominance, paternalism (or is it imperialism...), and control under the guise of pseudo-autonomy is much of the reason for the strife here. "Manifest Destiny" has shown itself to be a sentence of poverty for those colonized by the decree.

Many of us know how expensive it is to be poor. Creditors prey upon you, making their money off your struggle. You pay more for interest on your house, credit cards and other loans. You pay more for gas in your neighborhood due to lenders charging more to gas stations because it is a higher risk area. And here in this particular colony, since 90% of food is imported- the cost of shipping is shouldered by the consumer, seriously affecting those living in poverty. With so much being imported, things are really expensive. Folks pay a lot due to monopolies on gas, electricity, water.

There are many who talk negatively about the number of Puerto Ricans on the island receiving public assistance. Those who do, fail to see that a)the percentage is not correct b)systemic causes c) classism. classism. classism. (which is closely tied to colorism/skin color here.)

My Struggle in Paradise

I got here fully aware of many of the circumstances. I knew of the economic struggle and colorism and in just 2 months my awareness deepened. It started when I got sick with the chikungunya virus. Then when I tried to shop for healthy food and when I tried to get holistic medicine and later when I tried to get medicine shipped to me from online since it was difficult to access.  Then there was the inefficient transportation. I heard the U.S. actually tore up the tracks to a train that used to connect major cities all around the island so it could build highways and later, tollroads.

My biggest struggles have been with health issues, access to healthy, affordable food and have housing security-- the struggle of many folks of color, especially queer folks of color. I've been houseless for a few months now, but not without shelter. I didn't expect my economic situation to magically change when I got off the airplane but I guess I expected my connecting with healing and spirituality to ground me through the hardship and make it less of a struggle.  It is true that it has lessened some of the hardship. Constantly I have tried to focus on the fact that I have all I actually need but it never really did feel secure or stable being in someone else's house with so much of life so up in the air.

I came here to live my values and write about the history of this island, connect with my beautiful surroundings and with buena gente but rapidly I became distracted with trying to exist.  Self-doubt, questions of worth, negative self-talk would wrack my brain sometimes. My health  throughout my time here has fluctuated. The virus has come around for a second bout. One day all these light splotches appeared all over my face and my joints hurt really badly on top of my lupus symptoms. It' was extremely hard to reach out and I didn't want to burden folks- because hey, folks think I'm in paradise, right?

I thank the universe and ancestors for my handful of created family who sent me wellness care packages as I struggled with lupus symptoms and heinous viral symptoms. So many times I sat in gratitude with calendula oil on my face, sipping a mixture of papaya and mango leaf tea and wondered how people without herbal knowledge were faring with the virus. A few times I made medicine and  housecalls for those who had been afflicted.

I chose this path. Or did it choose me? I chose to walk the road less traveled. I chose to walk alongside my ancestors. Healing does not always feel good. Sometimes we must bare our wounds, re-open our wounds, constantly before we can be healed and in order to help others to heal.

Exploitation and Resistance

When you don't have much money, you must compromise a lot with your living situations. I was a seriously exploited domestic worker, I lived with mushrooms and black mold growing in our walls, I lived in situations where there were environmental triggers for my lupus symptoms, I lived in a situation with a substance abuser. Why? Because I didn't have a lot of options.

You see, in Puerto Rico there are two faces. One face is the one that the ricos and tourists get to see. They have money and can afford decent housing and a car/rental car and to shop at the expensive grocery stores and see the sights of the island yet close their eyes to the struggle. Sometimes they stay around in beach towns and flip and rent out houses or build condos or start businesses that cater to other ex-patriates, tourists and ricos.

The other side of Puerto Rico is the side where folks are seriously struggling to survive. They live in neighborhoods with lots of stray animals, there is no transportation, maybe there is crime on their block, and existence is just hard. People work two and three jobs, share food, and rely heavily on family and friends for support through the hardship. I didn't have a lot of friends in Puerto Rico so I was vulnerable to those who seek to exploit volunteers and WOOFers (farm volunteers) and interns. Many times I got different prices or quoted higher rent because I'm not from here and they thought I was just another rich tourist from the States.

At some point I had no choice but to start standing in my power and not letting exploitation happen. During one housing exchange, when I was suffering through emotional violence and exploitation from a person not even from the island, my ancestors spoke up loud and clear. They said that if I continued to let people walk on me, that I was letting those people walk on their legacy. That changed something in me. I began to see that in trying to be my authentic self and my values, that it was about more than just me. It was also about the integrity and struggle of all those before me. If I lived in fear and let myself be exploited, I wasn't respecting all the courage and resistance of  my ancestors and predecessors. So from that day, I stood up for myself in ways I never had before. I found my voice in the most triggering and traumatic of situations. I left situations that were unhealthy. I left situations where energy was seriously imbalanced or where I felt that the person was not authentic or true to themselves or the community. I also learned that I couldn't hold that against some folks, because they really weren't aware of what community actually is or what a collective looks like or what co-healing looks like. The colonial mentality is really real. Our minds start to be colonized at really early on and actual decolonization doesn't just happen from going to a workshop or hanging out with anti-authoritarins and anarchists or anti-oppression organizers. It takes an actual shift in consciousness, an internal shift and collective action.


In the last 7 months I have had to be more creative than I have ever been to survive, whether to secure housing, food or my life sustaining medicine.  I began to realize that some folks will never understand the struggle. Some folks will never understand what it's like to not know if you will have a meal one day. They'll never understand what it's like to not know where your next meal is coming from or where you will find shelter tomorrow or next week. Some will never know what it's like to not know if you will have your life sustaining medication.  They will pass judgement on how and why you are where you are at as if  it is your fault or you deserve it. Why? Because we live in a meritocracy. Here you work hard and you get what you deserve, right? But my story tells otherwise. If I was a white (cisgender) male with my same qualifications- education and experience, I would have a lucrative position at a non-profit or I'd have my own business with financial backing. Instead, because I am a brown, gender non-conforming person who lives life authentically and doesn't f*ck people over to survive, I am in a precarious situation. Check out these links to see how trans folks of color like me are experiencing economic justice:

I have such gratitude for those friends who rescued me from some intense situations, housing me, sharing meals with me and being of emotional support. Ya'll were key to my survival and your support has meant life for me in some life or death situations. At a time when we were all struggling to survive, ya'll came through and I appreciate you.  I realized early on that in a colony such as this, when you don't have money to secure your situation, you need family or friends to survive. Ya'll were my created family. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Afrovisionary Economic Justice 

As an act of survival and resistance in the face of our capitalist economy built on the currency of black and brown, queer, trans and disabled bodies, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Instead of continuing to be chronically underemployed due to circumstances beyond my control (being brown, visibly genderqueer, and chronically ill), I decided to create my own (community-supported) job using my skills, knowledge and experience. I call this the Afrovisionary position. In my new job I create new writings, skillshares and workshops for contributors and communities. The first campaign raises 6 month's salary.

It took a while to post the campaign for a number of reasons. One, some people close to me were also starting fundraisers for survival and I wanted to wait until they were close to their goals. Yea. I know that is really buying into the scarcity model. But I do feel like folks think "Well I gave this much to so and so, so that's enough..." I wanted to avoid that. Also, I dealt with major issues around self-worth and being vulnerable to so many by voicing my struggle and asking for monetary help. So many of my queer friends of color are struggling, too. But I knew I had to be courageous and try. There was no other choice.

Besides, this community-supported salary is a healing affirmation that my life and work matter. My voice is important. My work is important. I am important. And my inheritance is more than these carrots they dangle in front of us hoping we will assimilate. It is more than broken promises for an American dream always on credit that I could never qualify for or afford,. My inheritance is more than false notions of survival from a society composed of multiple systems with no intention on helping me, or folks like me, to ever to thrive.

The Afrovisionary Economic Justice campaign is at:

Please, if you are able, contribute to my act of resistance to a capitalistic, transphobic, ableist society that invisibilizes QTPOC and devalues our knowledgebase, work, and lives.

And please share widely with your communities.

Yours in Truth,  Power and Healing


Check out my short film, Survivin', that was created at the QWOCMAP Film and Freedom Academy

Survivin' cinepoem:

Click below to check out what I was up to in Puerto Rico:

Queering Herbalism 2

Resistencia: Sangre - Puerto Rico video

Friday, November 28, 2014

Shutting it Down Without Shutting Down

So, it's the holidays. You just want to sit down and spend time with the fam/loved ones/ yourself and not have to think of cities burning, police violence...injustice. You turn off Facebook, the TV, and stay offline for self-care because remembering hurts. Seeing so blatantly that black lives don't matter to many with institutional and positional power, the power to make many decisions that affect our day to day lives and well-being, shakes you to the core. And deep down you already knew this, you knew this before you were born. It is part of our DNA.

Those of you who are retraumatized by all that is happening, I hope and pray you find balm for those deep psychic wounds with friends and created family and in community.

Those, like me, with chronic illness perhaps sitting at or being pushed to the margin of these movements because you can't physically be on the frontlines , know that you are enough and you are doing enough. Your healing IS part of these larger movements.

Another way that those of us not having the mental, emotional or physical capacity to be in the streets can take part, besides in taking care of ourselves and our loved ones, is to not shop today. One day. No matter how great the sale, it is not worth the cost.

Help those putting their bodies on the line to shut places down- cities, stores, highways, by simply not purchasing a single thing today.

Help #ShutItDown

It's part of the healing this country needs.

For more on trauma and DNA:

Historical trauma and microaggressions:

Healing collective and multigenerational trauma:
Info on Ferguson:


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Trans* Day of Remembrance/ Resistance/Reclamation

This is a speech I gave at City Hall in Austin, Texas last year. It is printed in the zine Philosophactivism 2 and can be found HERE.

Audio coming soon...

Trans Day Of Remembrance/Reclamation/Resistance
City Hall Austin,TX

November 20,2013


Tired of survivin’/strivin’/ bribi’n …you to see my potential/credentials/my mentals/tired of survivin’/strivin’/to stay alive when/some peeps got this privilege/and all I got’s my soul to give/never thought about sex work til the economy tanked and went bisserk/became comfortable in my gender/inhabiting spaces/places/you wouldn’t wanna be/havin’ brown skin and bein’ queer/you can’t see me/invisible/and divisible/my community -is…

tired of survivin’/strivin’/hard to stay alive when…all you ever hope for is to take another breath/that you don’t catch your death/no time to worry about cultural theft/bereft/of heritage/society’s no longer sparin’ kids/so why me? You buyin’ beamers a schemer with an HDTV and all I wanna do is breathe/some fresh air/eat food with no toxicity/complicity/you blame us for/but this capitalism is pimpin’ you/yep your the whore/and …my people…are…

tired of survivin’/strivin’/to stay alive when you got ends and wealth/but we have to live our lives in stealth and assimilate/to keep food on our plate/fork and knife/we get tired of life/strife/ all these signs/the confines/bein’ on the grind/ and you can’t see the injustice/ of the majority of brown men bein’ in the prison system/ and you pushin’ for the expansion of ‘isms/

DAMN I’m JUST tired of survivin/strivin’/to stay alive when all you can think about is amassin wealth and gettin benefits/when the only benefit I get is grime and grit/and my will to uplift/my people/to awaken sheeple and zombies/but you want to be wearin’ abercrombie/and handin’ us your truth/ while poisonin’ our youth…

Man I’ma survive/stay alive/fight with each breath til the day that I die/for justice/and the end to your privilege/and white-given birthright/til the day we all know we’re descendants of kings and queens/and our spaces reflect this/til poverty and inequality/we wreck this/check this…you got a powerful enemy…but if you wanna work through this you got a friend in me…cuz we will survive! And with each death we cultivate the will to stay alive/your foot won’t be on neck for long/ we’re gonna right all these wrongs/ this isn’t rhetorical/or metaphorical/ this sh* is going to end/the patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia, racism, will fall…it’s up to us brown folks to pick up the phone …answer the call Get involved, get this sh* solved..we barely survivin’ but without comin’ together we can’t run…but crawl.


Tonight, I want to talk to you from a place of Power.

Perhaps many of us know that surviving….waking up day to day is a miracle in itself. It’s our resistance as folks who are found carefully tucked away or perhaps violently shoved into the margins. Some of us know it’s a revolution when we can still find ways to support others when we ourselves are finding it hard to smile or eat or sleep or make it through another day.

Trans* people of color have disproportionately higher rates of incarceration, unemployment, and homelessness. We receive poorer quality health care (if any) due to multiple levels of discrimination and we are often victims of police brutality, domestic and street violence. Transwomen of color are murdered at a much higher rate.

Victims. The media, grant writers and fund developers always paint us as victims…what about those of us survivors? What about us trans folks of color who are living, ordinary superheroes who sit invisibilized in this movement 364 days of the year? Resisting behind the scenes, at the frontlines of your movements but at the margins of your minds and policies, inching ever so slowly toward our liberation with the few organizations that exist that are willing to make our needs, hopes and dreams a priority- like allgo and the Audre Lorde Project, among a handful of others.

Now, I said I was going to talk to you from a place of power but it’s important to begin by giving the proper context for this state that we’re in now. It’s also imperative to actually name the institutions and systems in place that are constantly trying to render trans folks, and more frequently, trans folks of color, powerless. Such as the legal system, institutions of education, foster care agencies, law enforcement and immigration, health care institutions, etc. And lets be more specific- the people in these institutions, holding up these systems.

It’s important to acknowledge that race further complicates this picture we paint of transphobia. Skin color further limits access to numerous systems we now need for every day survival. And many behaviors and interactions displayed by individuals and groups within the LGBT and queer community further lead to us trans folks of colors’ subjugation, exploitation and dehumanization and make it harder, and many times, impossible for us to survive.

Now that you have that background from the poem and intro…

As a brown, genderqueer I’m going to tell you what I know of my ancestors…your ancestors…our Trans* and queer predecessors because I feel it’s important for us to know who and where we came from if we are going to move from surviving to thriving. It’s important for us to understand our legacy so that we can better understand our power and purpose.

Remembrance is a form of resistance.

So let me tell you a story. Not his story not her story…but OURstory.

First Nations Elders tell of a people who were gifted among all beings because they carried two spirits, that of male and female. Some say that these individuals were looked upon as a third and fourth gender in many cases and in almost all cultures they were honored and revered. Two-spirit people were often the visionaries, the healers, the medicine people, the nannies of orphans, and the care givers. They were respected as fundamental components of our ancient culture and societies not just in the Americas, also in South and East Asia, the Pacific Islands, Africa and many other places around the world.

Many tribes were aware of the existence of two-spirit, gender-variant people and many still have a name in their traditional language for them.

There were rituals that determined if a child was two-spirited. Children of both genders would also spend time with healers, who were often two-spirit people. A Two-spirit child’s childhood was marked by acceptance and understanding by the whole tribe. Two-spirit folks were known to be able to 'see' with the eyes of both biological men and women. They were often called upon to be healers, mediators, interpreters of dreams, and some devoted their lives to the welfare of the group.

Two-spirit, gender non-conforming, and gender variant folks were revered for centuries. We had the gift of prophecy. We were messengers of the Creator. Keepers and teachers of spiritual principles. We were called upon to conduct burials, bless unions and births, and perform many, many other important ceremonies. Prosperity and even existence as a people depended on us and we were considered sacred.

Because we had both maleness and femaleness/masculinity and femininity totally entwined in one body, we were usually presumed to be people of power. Because we embodied both Mother Earth and Father Sky, and held both a masculine and feminine heart within our souls…two spirits…we were perceived as having twice the power.

As beings that transcended gender, we were thought to be better able to be fair. We were thought to be able to see into the hearts of both males and females. We were called on to be mediators. We were seen as bridges. Mediators between two worlds- that of Spirit and the human world, as well as mediators between partners, tribes and nations.

In older world religions the gods and goddesses in-between genders were viewed as whole-gendered and balanced.

Some say that two-spirit people are an affirmation of humanity’s pre-gendered Unity, the representatives of a form of solidarity and wholeness which transcends the division of humans into men and women. A third gender.

When people operate from a dual gender perspective, upholding the gender binary, one can only imitate the behavior of one the given two genders leaving no room for authenticity for those of us who don’t identify with either of these genders.

Transgender and Gender variant folks transcend conformity and in this patriarchal society set on two genders and the dominance of one over the other, we pay the price.

European colonialism has had a harmful effect on many transgender traditions all over the world. Occupation and religion has erased and destroyed a lot of our history and we have been forced to assimilate into a social construction that does not work for us. Will we continue to perpetuate it at the expense of being usurped of our power?

We have to continue to resist being othered. Resist marginalization. Question those boxes that we were not born to fit in.

We have been awakening to our Truth. It is imperative for us to continue reclaiming our cultural and spiritual roots even though our histories and our ways have been suppressed or, in some cases, completely destroyed during colonization and assimilation. We must continue to resist. We must refuse to be erased. We have to assume our rightful place as teachers, healers, and leaders.

Though I am a Trans* person of color, I am not a statistic. Though this day is about remembering those who have not survived, I am alive and already fully aware of the hardships that we face, through my own life experiences. I don’t need to read articles or theorize about what barriers I face. I live this every day.

Allies who are listening. Allies who have been deemed allies by the trans community, if you want to be a better ally…if you want to “help” us…help us to rediscover our legacy. Help us to rediscover our spiritual inheritance. Help us to stand in our power. Programs and services are great but they are not about autonomy. They are not about sovereignty. Help us find ways to develop our own leadership skills and abilities so we can reclaim our place among the leaders and healers of today. Help us to celebrate our cultural roots. Help us to acknowledge our predecessors . Help us to create a more just and equitable world no longer based on the colonizer’s ideas of acceptable gender roles and presentation. Challenge and smash the binary daily with your actions and remember us every day…whether we’ve passed on or if we are alive. Remember us invisiblized survivors that walk amongst you every day.

Queer and Trans* family. Let’s lift each other up and support each other. We need to be in solidarity. We need to take part in community/communal healing as self-care. Not that covertly individualistic happy hippy kind. The kind where we are patient, acknowledge and honor our struggle and pain. We need to work through our internalized transphobia, internalized sexism, internalized racism and other types of oppression. We’ve got to respect our bodies and honor ourselves. Share our stories and histories and nourish each other’s spirit in good company. Audre Lorde once said that self-care was not a self-indulgence but a form of self-preservation which is an act of political warfare.

Self-care is survival. Self-care and community care is resistance. 

And we need to survive. We need to rediscover our power and reclaim our birthright. We are beautiful beings. Powerful beings.

And white queer and trans* folks, acknowledge your privilege in this movement. See that your brown siblings, are suffering and take action to help them take steps toward their own liberation and autonomy.

No one can live with ease while others suffer. There can be no liberation while anyone experiences subjugation or exploitation.

We queer and Trans* folks cannot know our own complete histories without acknowledging those of our siblings. We cannot be whole without realizing we are only a part of the whole. A drop in the sea.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Queer. Brown. Economic Sovereignty.

For years and years the struggle has been all too real when searching for employment due to my genderqueer presentation and, well, being black/brown in the south. Being bilingual has always been a saving grace- or well, it used to be before my gender expression changed. Recently, as I've been trying to sell my books and zines to get into a stable living situation and take better care of my health, I've been thinking about queer and brown communities and our constant struggle to sustain ourselves and not only keep steady employment but actually get more than our foot in the door (and not as a consumer/customer or at a cash register or serving a table). I am loving the move to train our communities to have the skills necessary for green jobs, tech jobs and jobs as holistic healers (such as the few doula and qtpoc birthwork projects that exist). It's a revolution. Though there are some QTPOC entrepreneurs that have been successful, there are a whole lot more of us hustling and on the grind and barely making ends meet. Sometimes it is due to lack of skills and trainings, other times it may be due to lack of education (if we've had to drop out of high school, for instance). And I'd venture to say that a lot more of the time it's due to other people's ignorance and discrimination which can lead to the aforementioned reasons.

So naturally it would make sense for us to take our skillsharing to another level so we can go ahead and start that business or be in a management position or develop that product. A lot of times we're forced to just take what we can get and we are not the charters of our economic destiny. Sometimes sex work provides a bit more independence, oftentimes it doesn't. Selling our art may pay the bills, oftentimes we're still on the grind. So anything that will put us in a better economic position and not cause us to have to take out tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans is something I can get behind.

Sovereignty. Economic autonomy. It feels so good just typing that. I want it for everyone.

Some projects, organizations, and groups committed to economic sovereignty for our communities

I want to just briefly list some projects, organizations, and groups committed to economic sovereignty for our communities. They are providing opportunities for training, education and skillsharing:

We shift the ways trans*, gender non conforming, agender and non binary people live by creating technology that economically empowers, improves access to social services, promotes gender safety and community sustainability, while bringing visibility to trans* tech innovators and entrepreneurs.

Trans Tech is a revolutionary social enterprise seeking to empower the Trans community through education. We recognize the unlimited potential for growth in what we offer, how we offer it, and who we offer it to.  Our trainings are delivered on-site or online.  Our curriculum focuses on empowerment, education, and employment

Lesbians Who Tech  have a summit and they are a community of queer women in or around tech who seek to be more invisible to each other and others, to get more women involved with technology, and connect lesbians who tech to LGBTQ and women's organizations who are doing incredible community work.

The LGBT Technology Institute is a tax-exempt not-for-profit organization conducting cutting edge research at the intersection of LGBT communities and technology and creates resources, tools, and programs to support LGBT communities.

Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP) promotes the creation, exhibition and distribution of new films/videos that address the vital social justice issues that concern queer women of color and our communities, authentically reflect our life stories, and build community through art and activism.
We actively invest in, develop and nurture the creativity of emerging media artists who are Asian/Pacific Islander, Black/African American, Chicana/Latina, Native American and Mixed-Race lesbians, bisexual, queer and questioning women in the Bay Area.
QWOCMAP provides training, screening opportunities and resources free of charge to guarantee full access to our traditionally underserved community, particularly low-income and immigrant queer women of color.

Initiatives and Funding:

Transgender Economic Empowerment Initative
L.A. Transgender Economic Empowerment Project

Brown Boi Project works to build leadership, economic self sufficiency, and health of young masculine of center womyn, trans men, and queer/straight men of color--pipelining them into the social justice movement

3rd Space Support - an initiative with the Audre Lorde Project
The 3rd Space Support program seeks to work with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two-Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color (LGBTSTGNC POC) who struggle with issues around employment, education, health care and immigration status. It is a place to give and receive sustainable support; where creation, invention and innovation will be practiced.  We will draw from our resilience to support ourselves.

Within this 3rd Space we hold on to the idea that LGBTSTGNC POC communities have always found ways to support each other and survive outside of systems.  The 3rd Space Support program hopes to encourage and create space for these organic methods of community support and community building around employment, education, health care and immigration status to continue.
At the same time, ALP acknowledges that LGBTSTGNC POC community members also engage within systems to find support and get their needs met.  Therefore, ALP will also engage with these systems to provide advocacy, resources and referrals for community members around the issues, employment, education, health care and immigration status.

Trans Justice Funding Project

Sustaining Ourselves Together

I'm certain there are many more informal groups and organizations that are working together to help each other survive. Since the beginning of time, wherever there is struggle, there are people coming together to support each other through it. I know in my darkest times when I've been searching for employment and dealing with discrimination I've felt very isolated in my efforts. Sometimes queer folks of color have access to spaces that have employment initiatives but that lack racial analysis and are racist. And sometimes other places are seriously transphobic or homophobic.   And when we get up the spoons to go to an LGBT resource center, we might still deal with racism or classism. Other economic projects might be underfunded. Or maybe we don't live in a queer mecca and don't have access to LGBT resource centers or the few visible economic empowerment initiatives. Maybe we don't have the desire or the resources to move to these metropolitan cities with these programs and initiatives.

So what can we do on a smaller (but no less impactful) scale within our smaller friendship circles to establish some sense of economic power? I've seen folks who are really innovative and who have night markets where folks who sell art, books, clothing, food, soaps, herbal medicine, etc. come together to sustain themselves.  I've seen folks who independently sell their work and wares- even plates of food from their homes.

What do I mean when I say economic power, anyway? I mean having control over our economic situation in tangible ways like being able to pay for our housing and health care and that of our family members. I mean, not being exploited by companies who give you the minimum pay while they get the maximum profit through your work effort. True, it's capitalism and many of us have no choice to engage with it. But economic power is about having the choice of how to engage with these systems, your work ethic not being exploited, and you feeling as if you can sustain yourself through your work effort. It's not being worked into the ground for peanuts and not being provided health insurance while your well-being suffers. For some of us it means finding ways to create our own positions and small businesses or side gigs and for others of us it means divesting from these systems completely in whatever ways we can.

I'd like to see more spaces created for groups to come together where we can talk about the ways we QT*POC can support each other economically like Audre Lorde Project's 3rd Space Support. Our ancestors undoubtedly had many ways that they came together for mutual aid. Collectives and cooperatives were born out of their struggle though we see less visible POC representation in them these days. We're still there though and POC collectives committed to sovereignty do still exist. Check out Dr. Gordon-Nembhard's book on the history of African-American cooperative economic thought and practice.

Visionary questions:

  • How will we find ways to sustain ourselves economically as individuals and communities? 
  • What's the work we need to do within ourselves and within our communities before we can build a more cohesive economic justice movement centering those who are the most marginalized?
  • How do we bring together organizations and community members dedicated to working on queer and trans* rights, racial justice, economic justice and policy and advocacy in substantial and more impactful ways? Do you already know some examples of this?

and most of all-

what is our vision for what it would look like for us Queer and Trans* folks of color to have economic sovereignty?

I personally want to see the creation of more access to holistic medicine paths for our communities. I want to see more accessible (by this I also mean affordable) trainings for birthworkers, herbalists, naturopaths, traditional chinese medicine and ayurvedic practitioners and even more access to our community members to sit at the feet of elder curander@s and other healers and spiritworkers.

I want us to have more access to training to be in positions to help our communities build worker-owned cooperatives and credit unions.
I want to see us get access to learning liberation permaculture and how to start organic farms and sell sustainable products and build sustainable homes and architecture.
I want to see us running our own free schools and universities.
I want to see us starting our own art programs and valuing art integrated with healing work.
I want to see us learning more about community organizing and training each other.
I want to see more of us doing work in technology and other innovative industries.
I want to see us helping to fund each other's education and businesses
I want to see us knowledge sharing and working together to help each other discover our power and let each other know that we are not alone in our visions of this work. We don't have to deal with racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism in the 'workplace'. We can create alternative economies and employment more representative of us, our work ethic and visions for the work we're passionate about and the changes we want to see for our communities.

Here's more info on the current economic situation for QPOC:
The State of Gay and Transgender Communities of Color in 2012
American LGBT Workers of Color Are Part of a Broken Bargain 
Injustice at Every Turn: A look at Black Respondents on the National Transgender Discrimination Survey
Black and Transgender: Still on the Margins
Why Centering Race in Transgender Advocacy is Key To Equality for All
Remember the closing of Queers for Economic Justice?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Puerto Rico: My Home

It's been 4 weeks and here I sit reflecting on the last few years of my life that have brought me to heal on the island of Puerto Rico. For the last few days I've been frequenting the beach- my confidant, my teacher, my altar. There is so much knowledge hidden deep in the warm, fierce waves of the Atlantic off the northeast coast of Puerto Rico where I now reside.

In the first 2 weeks of being here, during my artist residency at Patio Taller, I contracted a (mosquito-born) virus much like the dengue fever, called chikungunya. I was already beginning to feel lonely and having a hard time getting grounded and BOOM! I started getting these immense headaches, then the next day I threw up over and over and over and then the next day was a rash that started on 2 limbs and spread to all 4 and my face. I questioned the ancestors...WHY?! Already I was trying to adjust to being so far from my created family and then I get this disease with no cure. Luckily at Patio Taller there were a number of herbs and fruit trees that had anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. The chikungunya's symptoms are arthritic. So yep! I get a double dose of joint pain with having Lupus and this virus. Luckily (?) I am already taking pills for joint pain so I believe that with my pills and the copious herbs and fruit and coconut milk and mushroom tea,etc. that I've been able to have milder symptoms than some folks that have contracted it.

In reflection, having this illness brought me full circle to my love for herbalism. Well, even before the chikungunya, while being on the grounds of Patio Taller I began connecting with the plants and making teas right away thanks to Michelle (one of co-founders of the space) introducing me to local herbs. Within the first week I met a really awesome group of herbalists and healers and they invited me to table with them at a festival on Calle Loiza. I had a good time speaking with folks about Queering Herbalism and the Herbal Freedom School Zines and even sold a few.

After tabling there I decided that Queering Herbalism 2 will be bilingual. It will have both Spanish and English articles. I am excited about the themes for this one. Stay tuned for either a series or the entire guide.


I hope to meet Maria Benedetti soon! I'd love to be more involved with botanicultura and learn more about the plants here on the island. I've been studying up...TRUST. And I've even been making some of the folks in town remedies for the chikungunya and other ailments.

Other than my artist residency, the chikungunya, medicine making and ideas for a new Queering Herbalism, I have been meeting all types of artists, farmers, travelers, healers, visionaries and all around buena gente. Right now I'm staying in a town that is directly on the coast.

The house I'm living at is about 200 feet from the beach--the Atlantic is my backyard.

And from the front yard, I can see El Yunque Rainforest.

The other day I was torn about this situation. A paradise filled with poverty. So many people are struggling. Especially here. The struggle is so real. In Carolina I saw folks that some days just didn't eat. But I also saw neighbors who came together and shared their resources. Fruit from their fruit trees, fish that they'd caught themselves. It was true community and soooooo different than the so-called 'communities' I've known over the years. Though it is similar in sentiment to those of my created families.

You know...I've been thinking long and hard for months on this whole "community building" and "movement building" rhetoric. We need to reevaluate our definitions of community and get on the same page. If  folks aren't breaking bread together, watching each other's kids, concerned if folks are eating and housed or employed and staying out of detention centers and prisons, then it's not a true community, in my opinion. How can we build together if we aren't helping each other to survive. We need to be invested in our neighborhoods before we try to start movements in other states and countries.True, we can think globally and support our global community, but it shouldn't come at the expense of those suffering on our blocks and in our

I've also been thinking that there can be no movement without community or acknowledgement of those there before us and those working toward justice at the same time as us. I see handfuls of folks trying to create movements and maybe they'll make waves but in order to have a movement we have to realize the waves before and after us. The continuity. Our generation is bad about that. We talk of standing on shoulders when I believe we really should be walking side by side with those who have contributed to our foundation. There is no hierarchy of organizing based on a new decade and younger organizers. We are not further or of higher consciousness a generation  or 2 later with only a handful of knowledge from our elders. We should be advancing together not standing with our feet on elders and ancestor's shoulders, rendering their work static and in the past. A movement moves, changes, is transformed. In Sankofa we look back to move forward but it's never static. The wisdom is in the knowing that all this is not linear. We continue to learn and grow and our past is our future is our present. Nothing is ever done. We are never 'post-' anything and it's really hard to build on a shaky foundation with just a few architects and no true community co-operation.

More on that later...

So here I am in Puerto Rico- piecing together suppressed histories. Healing myself with mango teas, papaya leaves, lemongrass, oregano brujo, and other herbs that some have lost faith in or become disconnected from. I am thankful for herbalists like Maria Benedetti and curandera historians like Aurora Levins Morales. Healing justice is something we've got to step up and own if we ever want true freedom. Western medicine...the medical industrial complex...Big Pharma....the food corporations...the 'greenwashing" of the so-called sustainability movement, they are all exploiting us and at times working in conjunction. There are a handful of companies profiting from our demise. And it's just the truth. We need to own our healing.

                      So...back to the struggle...and the importance of   healing....

I struggled for years and years- economically, with my health, etc. And now here I am, in Puerto Rico meeting such awesome people and slowing my life down so I can heal and do what I'm here to do on this journey. I began to feel a bit of guilt as I stood knee deep in the Atlantic looking at the crystal blue, see- through waves. I wondered why everyone couldn't feel this. Just stop being on the grind...and feel this. And I became even more committed to co-creating a space where that is possible. A space where people can stop hustling and just BE and heal in all the ways they need to. Whether that be growing food, building their own home, learning about herbal medicine or birth work, or anti-oppression or their own internalized oppression. I've been talking to so many friends who want to create this type of community. I don't know how far off it is from now but I'm going to keep working toward it slowly as I heal myself from this virus and this autoimmune disorder.

Please send healing energy and good vibes as I continue to transition and walk this path. I look forward to keeping you posted about my research and writings- though I can't promise the frequency just yet!

Wishing you all healing and a sense of community and belonging,