Sunday, November 16, 2014

Dearest Leslie Feinberg

Originally posted to facebook on the day of Leslie Feinberg's death.

Dearest Leslie Feinberg,

There a thousand things I want to say to you. Where do you start when someone who has saved your life passes on?

I mean this in multiple ways. Maybe in the way that many people often tell authors that they have saved their lives... Reading Stone Butch Blues saved my life, yes. It validated me, my trauma, my responses to trauma, my gender, my sexuality, and my struggle with those things. It also gave me hope that no matter how bad it was, there can still be good found in this life.

But, it is so much more than that...

When I say you have saved my life, I mean you really have saved my life. Literally. You've made this world safer for me. Your work, your activism, your writing, your existence, your perseverance, and you merely leaving the house each day has made this world safer for me. Because of you, and others like you, trans gender folks and folks of many other oppressed groups from my generation are more likely to get the medical care we need, are more likely to walk the streets safely, are more likely to have our basic needs met, and are more likely to be seen as human. Because of your work and that of those like you, I have doctors who are tender and sweet and care about me as a trans person, a masculine female, a working class person, a disabled person, and an all around weirdo. Because of your work I feel a little safer using public restrooms even with the risk of harassment or violence. Because of you, I can work and go to school and go grocery shopping and go to restaurants. Because of you, I feel like I can risk all of that. Because of you, I know how important it is for me to be visible each day. That that alone is an act of courage.
Because of you, I value what and who I am as something part of a larger struggle. Because of you, I know I am not alone in seeing these intersections. Because of you I feel more confident not being a "single-issue" activist. Because of you, I keep speaking out and continue to avoid hiding.

Because of you, I am not only surviving this world, I am living it in, with faith that it will continue to grow.

I began writing this love letter months ago. I could feel you approaching your time to leave us behind and I was afraid. What would we do without you? I knew that you were struggling with illness every day. While I am devastated by your passing, I am happy to hear that your struggle is over. And I know that even though you are gone, you are always here, in your books, your speeches, and in the changes for the better that you have left behind. We will continue the struggle with you in our minds.

Thank you. Because better words don't exist yet.

Love, always,
Corvus

In loving memory of Leslie Feinberg
September 1, 1949 – November 15, 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dear White People

Originally posted on a private website

Hi, white people, I’m white, too. You may be feeling nervous already, I’ve called upon you by race. If you’re feeling anxious, hang in there. This is important for your well being and that of everyone around you.

About a week ago in Ferguson, MO, Mike Brown was shot by police. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/09/ferguson-teen-police-shooting_n_5665305.html)
Mike Brown was someone’s son. A human being. He was an 18 year old black male youth. Walking down the street. And now he is gone forever.

Police in Ferguson unleashed violence at protests and vigils leading to days of rioting. People in Ferguson and surrounding areas are defending their homes, their town, their lives. Sometimes with violence (https://twitter.com/zellieimani/status/498700754577010689), sometimes by holding space passively, sometimes by speaking out, sometimes by remaining silent.

Frankly, I believe that when police kill kids and youth and anyone for being black and outdoors, they should fear that the city will burn.

I am asking you, white people, to imagine a world where your brothers, fathers, sons, cousins, friends, lovers, and family are at risk of murder by the state for existing within a certain race. Where your schools, pay checks, access to medical care, and daily safety are all inadequate, degenerating, or nonexistent due to your race.

I am asking you not to make excuses or use respectability politics as the media (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/14/media-black-victims_n_5673291.html) and police (http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2014/08/things-stop-distracted-black-person-gets-murdered-police/) have attempted to. It does not matter if this kid stole cigars (even though the officer who murdered him admits he did not stop Brown on the street for suspicion of robbery (http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/15/us/missouri-teen-shooting/index.html)). I don’t care if he stole cigars every day of his 18 years of life. It does not matter how he walked, talked, what time of day he was out, what he wore, or who he associated with. There is no reason why police should shoot unarmed black youth with their hands in the air. And they do (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/13/lapd-suggests-mentally-il_0_n_5675782.html). Every day.

I am asking you to realize that this is part of a larger system. A system you are part of. So, speak out against police violence and brutality, but don’t stop there. Please call your white friends and coworkers out when they say racist shit. Use your white privilege (http://occupywallstreet.net/story/explaining-white-privilege-broke-white-person) to make space for people of color. Challenge your own internalized racism. We all have it. Acknowledge people of color, talk to them, listen to them, say fucking hello. Shake hands. Challenge the racist assumptions you are taught to make about black men or black women or black trans people or any people of color. Unlearn that shit. Because we’re part of this. It is OUR responsibility to dismantle this. To make space for people of color. To rip this racist system to shreds.

So, the next time you hear an excuse for why it was ok for a white cop to shoot another black kid or black man or to beat another pregnant woman of color or to murder another trans woman of color, ask yourself what reasoning would be good enough if it was your family, your partner, your community, or you.

Unlearning racism and white supremacy is liberating for everyone, including white people. Make the world better for you and everyone else. Racism affects you, white people. And you can help stop it.
Want to read more about racism and white supremacy and how to unlearn it? Here is a good place to start: http://wwhatsup.wordpress.com/study-group-readings.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What "Real" Allies Look Like

Originally posted to a private website.

My Love and I went to an Indian restaurant for dinner on Saturday. At this restaurant, though we love the food, we often found ourselves to be a sideshow, or worse, from customers (though the staff were always lovely). We were approaching the place expecting this to be the case.

This day was different.

We were pleasantly surprised to see other queers present: An older white butch, lesbians of color, trans folks, and so on mixed amongst the other folks. The place was packed.

But, it actually wasn't "my people" that changed me that day. It was a white normative woman with a kind voice and two kids. Now, I say normative knowing I could be wrong. Maybe she's a queer trans weirdo like us, but I tend to think my radar for these things is fairly good. It has to be for survival purposes.

As we approached the door, she was allowing her children to open it using the button one at a time. I smiled, but kept my distance. In general, het folks are intimidated by me, or weirded out, or just don't know what to do. She looked up at both of us and genuinely engaged me. "You can go ahead if you like. He is waiting his turn to hit the button- which is a big deal when you're two." She smiled and was talking to me like a human being, something I am not always accustomed to in public spaces.

"Let the ladies pass," she said to the two kids.

Yes, ladies. Being called ladies, while very insulting for many transmasculine folks, is kind of a complement for my partner and sometimes me, as long as it means I am safe. It means I am being seen in a way. But also, can often show that someone doesn't understand the diveristy in queerness and gender that I experience. It sends immediate shocks to my brain as well that choosing a restroom will be more difficult than I thought. But either way, I felt seen by this woman, not in danger.

I said "Ladies," and smiled at my Love. We continued into the restaurant and ended up seated next to this woman and two children.

We remarked frequently on what a kind mother she was, and how nice she was. She also engaged us a few other times (it was a crowded buffet). I felt, strange. This was unusual- being treated like a human seemingly effortlessly for this woman. Her interactions were not forced, fearful, or rude. I felt grateful, but still, you know, on guard as usual.

Then, something magical happened. At least for me. she walked over to the table and whispered, "Oh, and I'm sorry about earlier for referring to you two as ladies," we both stammered as we are used to assuring her it was ok, "You never know how people self-identify, so I apologize for that."

"Thank you." we said.

I was stunned. This woman engaged me and apologized (and not the kind where she pushed all her guilt on to me and took up space- a real apology) and treated me like a person. I felt like I was going to cry. I started thinking about how that kind of apology never would have occurred decades ago. It was this reminder that the queers that came before me had changed so much and had not only created a world where I was more safe from being beaten- but more likely to be seen as human.

My partner thanked her again as she left for the apology and she shrugged it off and said no problem.

Basically, I am writing this to say two things:

1. Sometimes what we work for actually does get out to people. Things do change. Places become safer.

and

2. An ally is not someone who gets things right all the time. An ally is not someone who knows exactly what to do in every situation (there are very masculine butches and dykes who really prefer she as a pronoun and transmasculine folks who may share physical features who prefer he). An ally is someone who treats those they are allied to like HUMAN BEINGS. Who can look them in the eye, interact with them, share space with them, and apologize or check in when something seems not right.

This woman was more of an ally in that moment than any hetero person who had studied queer theory and who would have perhaps known to refer to us as "folks" while simultaneously being afraid to look us in the eye or stand near us.

Sometimes it's just about being kind. And real. And human.

And giving us hope. And a place to feel safer out in the world for a moment.

So if that's you, thank you.



Addendum: This has gotten far more attention than I expected (on the private website.) There is something I want to add as I've been thinking more about this writing. This woman was also an ally because I felt like she carried this behavior elsewhere. I felt like she would teach it to her children. I felt as if she understood her privilege. I felt as if she had educated herself on queer, trans, and likely other issues. I felt that she would likely stick up for others when her straight friends made shitty comments or oppressive actions. I felt like she would stick up for me if I was in danger in that moment.

I do not want to create an idea that being an ally is simply being nice. Nor do I want to create the illusion that this means the fight is over. Being an ally is about understanding. It is about not usurping queer identity when it serves one's needs, then stomping on it when it doesn't. It is about fostering our visibility and allowing us to take up space more safely. It is about unlearning oppression we are taught from birth. It is about using our privilege to fight oppression and to create a better world for everyone. And actions like this woman's are a huge huge part of that.

Thank you, everyone, for the attention, loves, and shares.