the philosophactivist

Sunday, February 27, 2011

RUCKUS performance Inspiring and Satiating

Well well,

RUCKUS was just too phenomenal for words. Ruckus is a queer/trans people of color reading and performance series that is hosted by Victor Tobar at the radical and feminist bookstore bluestockings in Manhattan. There was such a vast range last night and I was inspired by Kit Yan's poems about his experiences with sexual identity and cultural identity, Cristy Road's reading from her upcoming graphic novel SPIT and PASSION about "coming out of the closet and being obsessed with Green Day", Elisha Lim's excerpts from their book 100 butches, and Victor's poems and excerpts from personal stories. It was all like a dream, being surrounded by people who really cared about culture,gender, and other intersectionalities. And we all "got it." I am so inspired to take my work to the next level even though my mother actually actively discouraged me from continuing to read my poetry and work on the creative part of myself. I told her "Look mom, I need this to balance me out." I do so much "heady" writing for academics, I need to just..breathe. Free myself. Even if I am writing about anti-oppression and social justice. Sometimes I need to get out of my head and put my emotions on paper. Just process by pen, I like to call it.

I realize I'm multi-faceted and people don't get all my facets. But, this is the year well I let people see as much of me as they care to. And I'm not worried about what is indigestible to some. I decided years ago not to compartmentalize myself anymore to make people feel comfortable. All it did was lead to me not being truthful to myself and taking longer to fully process who I was becoming.

I am an ordinary superhero who wants to be involved in as much social change as possible. Whether it comes through academic papers or art. I don't exactly seek to educate. It's just something that happens. It's like a calling. I want people to understand and understand each other. I want people to do more than tolerate or relate, though. I want people to see each other. Know each other so these injustices will stop happening. I want to be part of movements. I want queer people of color to be seen and heard and not just have to be relegated to the spaces they create, though I completely am behind these spaces, of course. I think their voices are heavily needed in other queer circles, though.

We need to build more bridges. Stop burning them behind us. Have dialogue. Be compassionate to one another. We can't make this society better alone or in silos. We need to know each other's experiences so that we can know how to help each other. So we can lend whatever privilege we have to others who are marginalized in a way that we are not. We need to be allies and allies of allies. And yes, we can do that in many ways- especially art. Art is how we express ourselves, find voices, and heal. Art gets the unheard heard.

We all have the ability to heal others- physicially,mentally, emotionally. We may not think we do- but it's true. Even a kind smile is healing.

So as I said, I was both inspired and satiated. I was hungering for this space and didn't even know I wanted this dish that I had sat down at the table for. That is the best feeling ever.

**see the "Words" section for the poetry I read last night.

-Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Black Woman? Black Man? Neither or Both? Intersections of Identity and the Social Sphere

I have been grappling with the intersection of gender identity and race lately. I feel as if the concept of gender is entrenched in the black community- if not the pillar of it. Roles have been defined for black women and black men and the socialization of black women vs. black men is intriguing. As I've come out as genderqueer I have found it difficult to imagine disassociating myself from black womanhood. So much is tied to a black woman's identity. The Struggle of a black woman --the burden on her back--the solidarity in calling each other "my sister" is something I have come to own and appreciate, slowly but surely. I feel that in taking on the trans identity and calling myself genderqueer that I am betraying my sisters in some way. I also feel that I am rejecting the women's spaces which I felt so comfortable in for years and years. I am becoming an outsider to the community of women of color that I fought so hard in the past to understand and be a part of and protect through my academic writing.

As I was accepting the fact that I am genderqueer...that I am masculine of center. That I may not have been socialized as your typical female and had always seen myself as androgynous or leaning more toward the masculine spectrum-- I began to panic. Well...that means I'm a black man! OHhhhhhh great! !@#$%^& Not only do I face oppression on so many other levels, but now I've got this new added burden of being perceived as a black man, should I choose to transition or present myself as male *which I've done for years now. Now I would have to routinely see white women clutch their purses and turn up their noses, and white men feel threatened/disgusted by my very existence. I did not, do not...want to be a black man.

But- unfortunately, I don't have much choice in the matter. And I'll explain what I mean- I am not a woman. I have the body of the woman but anyone who knows me or gets to know me will quickly find out that ...well, I'm not. I was not exactly socialized as a girl as a kid. My mother was this strong alpha-female who never said anything about people wanting to hold me back for being a black woman. She climbed the rungs of the police department slowly, steadily. In short, my mother was a warrior who did not let her femaleness identify her. She didn't revel in femininity, she didn't talk about feminist fact, she wasn't especially feminine except when she went undercover some nights.

I always saw myself as a boy. By the time I was around 6 or 7 and it was socially unacceptable to do "boy things" I started keeping this to myself. I let people call me "she" and "her" -- but it never really fit. Everyone assumed I was a tomboy. My stepfather and mother tried their hardest to make me dress like a little girl. I was actually punished by my stepfather for whistling among other things (which he thought was what boys do) and wasn't allowed to wear certain boyish outfits. They tried really hard...but, all that happened was that I repressed this and felt really disconnected from girls. I never really felt like a girl. I mean they told me I was a girl- and I tried to accept it. I tried to do the things that girls do...I always felt like I was in drag when I wore dresses. I just did the "girly" thing to fit in-- but in my senior year I chucked all that to the side and started wearing my flannel and plaid and corduroy and boy shoes...I have always felt more comfortable--read:more ME in men's clothing. It took me a while to realize that this was not just me trying to "genderf*ck" (once I learned this terminology) but that I, in fact, was genderqueer.

I let people tell me that I was a lesbian. I never really owned that label though, it just didn't fit though I found solidarity with female-bodied people who liked women. It took me a decade to realize that something was up with the fact that I thought women were ridiculous for not dating me because I'm "not a man". (chuckling to myself.) Let me try to explain that further. In my head- I was a man. Men accepted me as this mixture of male/female in the banking/financial industry that I worked in for 6 years. I grew into not wanting to wear the woman's dress code relatively quickly, since I felt like I was in drag and they accepted this and thought of me as one of the "boys". In my head...I was male.male.male. So when these straight women would flirt with me and then say "But I don't date girls." In my head this didn't compute. I mean, did they see what I was wearing?? I wasn't a girl! I was a strapping, handsome, young boi. And if they'd only date me, they'd figure this out. Well, they weren't buying it. I had no penis and as far as they were concerned---I was no man. Sigh.

In my lesbian relationships--I didn't take on a butch role. Read: I am not a butch or a stud or an AG. I really don't embody any of that particular type of masculinity. I just am a boi. I am devoid of femininity, except for my facial features,long eyelashes and tiny hands. (shrugs). I guess by the way I dress, people don't expect me to be a high femme. I'm not exactly oozing with femininity while wearing ties,vests,men's dress shirts, men's hats, and men's shoes. And when men hit on me- I honestly wonder what their deal is.

Anyways, sometimes people make assumptions about me being female- this is understandable. I mean, my face is feminine. Thinking waaaaay back, I started to wear more masculine clothes because a) I didn't like male attention b) it felt more like me and c) it balanced out my feminine face --thereby making me feel more like ME.

So back to assumptions. As I was coming out as genderqueer I wondered--well should I take hormones, should I get chest surgery? I didn't want to- but it seemed the only way that people would accept me for how I felt. Even though I don't feel like an FTM (female-to-male). Let me explain, I don't really trust this whole gender binary thing and I feel that if I own the label FTM that I am somehow owning this whole twisted social construct that is the gender binary. In doing that I would be saying--- well I am that M and not that F. I wholeheartedly accept what inkling of femininity I have coursing through this body. While I'm indifferent to my female parts- I do not reject or resent them, though I do sometimes feel guilty for binding them and stuffing objects in men's boxerbriefs to mask them (packing). But I only feel guilty for a second- then I feel empowered because I am being authentic. I am being ME.

Power. This was an issue for me---because well, I'm an anti-oppression facilitator and activist. Not to mention a feminist and womanist. Was I really buying into this whole power from masculinity thing?? This really tortured me for a long time. Was I subconsciously considering men to be worth more than women?? Deep down did I hate being female because of society's view on females and the oppression faced by females? Well- this takes me back to talking about the solidarity present between women of color. This also takes me back to all my friends that are women healers, curanderas,homeopaths,naturopaths,etc. who have tapped into their feminine power and use it daily. I don't hate that. I love that! And this is what has really, really made me sad. I don't want to leave those women's healing circles, drumming circles...etc. I don't want to be an outsider. I was watching the film "Still Black" (a film about black transmen) and I cried when one of the men said he visited women's spaces for a year --kind of as a goodbye. Yes, unexpected tears came down my face. I am so tied to women's spaces. I never wanted to give up the power inherent in being a woman.

And - sigh- I don't want to be a black man. Either way I will struggle. And skating the ice between the two genders seems like it will get me in trouble in some spaces as well. The transmen want to know why I still have breasts, why I don't take hormones--why am I so *gulp* feminine looking...why do I still identify with women of color...healing women. The feminists want to know why I pack...why I bind...why I consider myself masculine of center. The men want to know- why I even hang out with the women when I am so obviously one of them (male). Why I don't buy into (some) of their hypermasculinity. Why I don't like talking nonsense about women. I am an outsider to them too because I can identify with their (women's) plight and am intuitive and know why their girlfriends,wives,sisters are feeling what they are feeling. But this goes both ways because I have always understood men's thinking patterns (no matter how irrational it may seem at times) and while women have appreciated that I can do this- it has really put me on the outskirts when I myself do not possess the same ways of communicating and thought patterns and "socializing tendencies" of a woman. I just can't go there...I don't get it, if you will.

I am not completely any of them. I am not LGBT...I am not a woman...I am not a man...I flirted with the idea of being bigendered but then there goes that whole gender binary again. Agendered---meh. Andro-- but I'm masculine of center.

Basically there is no label for who I am ...except Toi. And maybe I feel guilty for being this unlabeled entity that moves through these circles with my fluidity. Now let me explain, I feel guilty because they all want me to take up allegiance to them and I am their ally but I am not exactly completely "them." In short, I belong to all and none at the same time. (Which reminds me that I need to blog about religion and spirituality soon---same tune).

Sigh. So I will continue to support women's spaces, hang out with men/transmen, and the queers who understand me the most, even knowing that I might be mistaken as one of "them"...I will purge this guilt in my heart. I will try my best to explain what I have explained to all of you who are reading this blog and to every single person that asks and is confused. I will try to keep an open heart and be full of compassion when clearly people think that I am an anomaly, a freak, a weirdo, not one of "them" any longer.

This is all I can offer:
Dialogue. Compassion. Authenticity.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Origins of My Activism

So, today I had this realization. I had a really great conversation with one of my close friends and I was thinking about organizing and writing this bio for an event that I will be a feature at and the wheels in my head started turning. I got to thinking about what I'm doing and where it came from. When did I become an activist? Was it Sarah Lawrence? Was it AmeriCorps? Was it unemployment? The law firm? Pre-Med? Community Service? My mother? And it hit me really hard. I studied Latin American History. I was talking to my close friend and we were talking about Mubarak and I asked who was going to take his place and we talked about the military taking his place until real elections could be held and then I compared this to Peron...and she knows a lot about Peron and Argentina and...and...and. Then I was like, how do I know this? OH yeeeeah that was my major in undergrad! That was my passion. Studying about the opressed and the uprisings that happened all over Mexico, Central America, South America and Cuba. I loved those classes. Ate, slept and would breathe those classes. It was the only thing that kept me going when I became jaded with pre-med. I connected with the oppressed. I understood what it was like to be voiceless and to need a revolution, albeit on a much smaller scale. (Maybe one day I'll post about my childhood).

It was like a lightning bolt struck me. I am so passionate because I studied this before in my "former academic life." How could I have forgotten all those books and papers and videos? How could I have forgotten my one true love- Latin American History? I mean I mention it maybe every couple of months to people who ask me what I studied and it's just this fleeting moment that I don't really connect to but today was different. Today there was a massive connection and a realization that this has been a long time coming. This is my path. I was swayed from it from 6 years in some kind of corporate interlude but once I had a shift in ideology and did AmeriCorps - I was ba-aaaack.

Wow. This has really got to be my path. It feels so right every time I organize. I've got my rheumatologist/immunologist concerned for my health because I just---I keep organizing. I keep activisting because it makes me feel alive. It is more than a passion. It is me. I am of the People. When I am doing this work I forget about my own physical pain and trivial worries and remember that I am working for the greater good. I am speaking or channeling the voice of the voiceless. It is humbling.

But then I think about the classroom at SLC. I think about who those students think I am. I think about the comment that a woman in class made the other day when my computer beeped really loud and she said "Your computer is louder than you. You're so quiet." And I thought- if you only knew the revolution bubbling in these veins or the closeted radical that you are sitting next to, shrouded in silence. In that classroom for almost 2 years I have been voiceless due to the priorities of the privileged. I have been voiceless because they are not interested in what is at the core of me. Because they don't understand that I see the intersectionality of race, class, sexuality and health care disparities in a way that they probably haven't had to deal with. This makes me an outsider. I felt utterly alone for that first semester until a few professors who were organizers took me under their wing. I owe my sanity (for the lack of a better word) to them (and my best friend and true ally- Shout out to Josh aka Schattsneider!). I owe nothing to the repression felt in that classroom. Speaking out is alienating --but I kept on. Is it the oppressed's job to educate the oppressor? Maybe. I've done what I can...but I have better things to do in the larger scheme of things. I cannot single-handedly change the minds of a privileged people who are not willing or ready to take that step. I've got to devote my time to people who are ready. That is not to say that I will just give up on the others (are they really "Others?" we're all connected)'s just that I can't spend the majority of my time educating them. I will do what I can but my outreach belongs to people who are ready for the revolution...

that is all.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Thoughts on Being Radical, Queer, and Of Color and other musings

So- obviously there's some dissonance in just the terms radical and "of color". Hm. Some people don't see that and it's a little disturbing. Some people think that it's something else- that people of color aren't committed or don't back the so-called revolution. Not many really step back and critically analyze the situation---people of color cannot be overtly radical without being trampled upon. I mean- hello...did you see what happened during the civil rights movement? Who was sprayed with fire hoses? Whose churches were bombed? Who was hung? Who were humiliated? Why would a marginalized people try to make themselves visible in the way that a radical would? It doesn't make much sense. So is it that they are not committed or that they are using common sense? People of color must use other tactics. They must be subversive and cannot afford to be seen as radical or against the system. White privilege in radical circles must be analyzed. Oppression within radical circles must be analyzed. How can we find ways to racially integrate these circles? How can we find ways to start a conversation between people of color who are creating social change and radicals who are creating social change? How can we get dialogue going? I suspect that it's going to have to start with anti-racist dialogue because the experience of a person of color must be understood. The experience of being white...whiteness...privilege must be understood and deconstructed. Then we can move on to class and anti-classist politics,etc.

So am I an anomaly? Sort of. I have gone to two liberal arts colleges. I grew up with class privilege. Though I feel voiceless in my classes a lot of degree gives me a little bit of leverage to at least open my mouth. I can seek out people with ideologies like my own which more often than not came from academia. Radicals are usually educated- whether self taught or whether they've been to college. There seems to be this vocabulary that is not accessible to non-radicals at times. Some would also argue that some radical spaces are inaccessible. Well, I can't speak on that--

but I've been thinking a lot. And I really want to come up with a good definition of what radical is because I feel like we toss the word around so much but that we all have different ideas. What makes an action radical? What makes an ideology radical? Is it just a word tied to race and class? Did Malcolm X call himself radical? Did Dubois and Garvey call themselves radical? Did Tubman,Bethune, Truth, Hooks,etc. call themselves radical?

And how do we begin to reconcile radicalism and incrementalism? Civil disobedience, non-violence and escalation? Anti-racist/anti-oppression philosophy and theory and the actual lived experience of this oppression? The radical's interest in distancing oneself from identity politics in order for utopia and the person of color's (or disabled person, or queer/LGBTTSGNC person, or woman's) understanding that there can be no utopia without the acknowledgment of identity and the subtle and overt oppressions caused by multiple layers of it?

food for thought.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

LGBT community vs. the larger Queer community. Irreconcilable differences?

There is growing tension between those who identify as lesbian,gay, bisexual and trans and those who identify as queer. Classifying oneself or being a certified card-carrier of the letters in the acronym LGBT seems to come with a little more security as far as acceptance goes. They are a little more mainstream and the "Gay Agenda" pretty much comes out of that camp. (DADT, Marriage Equality,etc.) Being one of these letters also sort of means you buy into the gender binary. Think about it. Lesbians are women who like women. Gays are men who like men. Bisexuals like both and trans identify as the opposite gender. The queer community is largely more amorphous. It is a blanket term inclusive of all LGBT acronyms but specifically inclusive of "everyone else." Meaning- genderqueers and gender non-conforming people, and well- everyone else who identifies with queer politics. Now what this label is *not inclusive of- is people of color who do not identify with this term. Whether it's because they have no allegiance to it or have rarely heard it besides coming out of white queer activists and theorists mouths. While some find the label "queer" liberating- others find it stifling. It is after all another label designed to be all-encompassing. Who wants that? Well, probably people who are tired of being called LGBT who don't identify with that.

Here is what I wrote to my professor who is teaching a course at Yale which teaches about "gender identities and the capacity for the LBGT community to actually rally around the trans population and their distinctive health and policy needs":

"Gender fluidity is interesting. I identify as genderqueer and I find that everyone I've met who identifies as such have all these different labels (andro, bigendered, masculine/feminine of center, gender fluid, gender non-conforming,trans,etc.) and it is so disheartening that the binary is still very much present. (Which creates tension between FTM/MTF--who identify as "the other gender and sex" and people who identify as genderqueer or gender-nonconforming). I find that the very people who enjoy being on the outside of the binary unintentionally perpetuate gender roles and expectations. It leaves me wondering if one can truly live a life devoid of these influences (especially after socialization and other cues in and outside of the community).

There is also tension between the LGB and the T which I just recently began to see within the organizing efforts (I saw it before but that was on a personal level). The issues for both are very different and can be divisive. I've seen some really hateful things said about how trans people just attached themselves to the LGB and that trans people are mentally ill,etc. There is not the same push to get gender dysphoria off the DSM V as there was to get being homosexual or bisexual off the DSM IV (of course for many important reasons- nobody wants to lose the chance to get transitions covered IF they have insurance). I actually wrote my ethics paper on transgender medicine.

The solidarity is feigned at best for different reasons.I find this to be less so in community organizations of color. the queer scene (which I think is distinct from the LGB scene) there is much more solidarity. LGB's are believed to have sold out---the queer scene has a lot of people with radical politics who are pretty frustrated by conventional LGB campaigns. They don't care about gay marriage or DADT nearly as much. They'd really like housing and economic equality. I see it as all important but,just like a lot of the queer population, I've got priorities and gay marriage isn't #1. I'd like to not get fired for wearing a tie to work and using different pronouns and have the law on my side if it did, in fact, happen."