Originally published on the aforementioned date.
On Trans Day of Visibility, 31 March 2017
It can be said that the aspects of life a culture hold most dearly are reflected in the dates they hold in high regard. Holidays, days of observation, and the like, mark in a people’s broad, long memory, events of consequence, people “worth” remembering, and lessons learned through struggle, oppression, and triumph. Yet with the cultures of trans people in the so-called Western World, therein lies a certain contradiction that we have yet to fully unravel. Our days of importance, many of which are the anniversaries of consequential events, are set alongside apparent abject dates, the 20th of November, and 31st of March. Transgender days of remembrance (TDOR) and visibility (TDOV), respectively. While TDOR was initially founded to memorialise the murder of Rita Hester, a black trans woman in Allston, Massachusetts, it has become an international day of action and mourning for those of us who still persist, bearing the memories of our siblings on our backs. By contrast, TDOV exists to, if I may, “give us roses while we are still here.” While the dangers of existing while transgender are still seemingly insurmountable – infinitely more so if one is a transgender person of colour, and/or disabled, working class, holding an “illegal” occupation, homeless, living in poverty, or any combination of these factors – , it is important for us to drink in these moments of celebration, where we may perhaps make ourselves believe that there is no need to be afraid, upset, or discouraged for want of a better world. There is no shame in owning that want, but it begs the question of “what are we going to do for and about it?” And, to this end, I would pose a question: what does it mean to be visible?
It is essential that TDOV be nothing short of an internationalist, solidarity-based event. To this end, I would caution those of us living in the so-called Western World against the kind of chauvinism we are wont to do when our siblings in far more repressive conditions than ours cannot afford the same visibility we in allegedly “progressive” countries have begun to exercise. Additionally, I would caution us against applying the same to those oppressed groups within our own communities and borders. For our undocumented transgender siblings, visibility means deportation, incarceration, and potential deadly violence in home countries far more dangerous than their current homes. For our sex worker transgender siblings, visibility means incarceration, violence, and death. For our intersex transgender siblings, visibility means derision and condescending pathologizing. For our indigenous transgender siblings, visibility means violence and repression from colonising governments which should not have authority over the myriad gender experiences of the First Nations, yet entertain the idea that they do, with great force. But it has not always been this way, and neither should we accept it as a “fact of life,” or the “norm” by which we should expect to live.
We must understand, first and foremost, that the material conditions of our oppression as transgender people has come from the synthesis of a myriad of forces stacked against our very beings. Matriarchal societies gave way to patriarchal, and so too did increasingly negative stances on sexual and romantic relationships, as well as gender relations and “acceptable” manifestations of gender. Colonisation brought on repression of indigenous peoples whose genders are manifest in countless ways, and whose sexual and romantic attractions were so foreign to the European settlers that they thought it best to subjugate, burn, and eradicate such “aberration.” Feudalism, with its merging of state and church forces to further subjugate and control, deemed such “aberrations” to the “natural order” capital offences to the order, and used such repression to maintain and further divide the labour force. It stands to reason that, in Germany, Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible lit a fire under a powderkeg of class warfare that had been stewing for many centuries, since every day people without an education in Latin could fully comprehend that not only are all humans created in the image of the divine, but that creation has within it all that can sustain life, and that there is no reason any person should suffer for the greed of another. Capitalism developed in more pervasive and insidious ways and, with it, Atlantic chattel slavery and the final birthing labour of what we would come to know as white supremacy. The creation of whiteness, and the varied gender roles within these artificial constructs, further divided labour forces and effectively eliminated any potential solidarity between the impoverished European immigrant, and the indigenous worker, and enslaved African farmer. This was purposeful so as to encourage a sense of “your boss has your best interests at heart,” which is most certainly not the case, as we can see here.
Violence against queer and transgender people, enshrined and codified, was and is accepted as a fact of life, but such forces were only birthed into existence to further solidify bourgeois class rule and reinforce nationalistic chauvinism. It is because of these factors that, even today, it is ingrained into our culture to divide and conquer those whose very lives may be, and are being, exploited. Indeed, transgender (and queer) oppression is bound up with colonialism, capitalism, white supremacy, and the contradictions of so-called Western society. Yet it is not a transgender person who is the aberration, rather it is white supremacy that is the aberration; it is colonialism that is the aberration; it is nationalism that is the aberration; it is capitalism that is the aberration; it is trans antagonism and oppression that is the aberration.
As with transgender communists, socialists, and anarchists calling for TDOR to be renamed “Transgender Day of Resistance,” there is a significant critical undercurrent of the dominant, often neoliberal and silencing narratives we see during events such as this. These undercurrents call into question what “passing” means, and, if transgender liberation is what we are striving for, then why do we want to become indistinguishable from cisgender people? Or would some content themselves with throwing we ne’er-do-wells under the perennial, metaphorical “bus” of history, as cisgender queers did with the founding mothers of our movement, and with the late Leslie Feinberg, may hir memory be a blessing. The answer that one might receive from our elders in the movement(s) is that passing is equated with survival. While there is truth to this material reality, and I would never shame a sibling for wanting to go “stealth” so as to avoid the violence which plagues our very existence, I would push up against this pervasive thought and instead pose the following: what good is a day of visibility if our best and most realistic goal is assimilation into the capitalist, patriarchal, white supremacist, cissexist, settler-colonialist, and exclusionary white picket fence that the ruling classes enjoy so well, and that our cisgender gay brothers have in many ways embraced for want of a more comfortable existence? What does this say about those of us with absolutely no interest in “passing” – what role do we play in the movement? It is not possible to “pass” as a non-binary transgender person, because there are countless ways to be non-binary. Therefore, what is the standard for us? What progress are we making if our goals are mere concessions – a dust to spurn, not the prize? What good does it do to further enforce the white supremacist standard of aesthetics by which all races are unfairly judged? What liberty and life is gained by throwing our lot in with the lion’s den? Whose siblings are we, when we fool ourselves into thinking that a meager concession, obtained by appealing to the inclinations of the imperialist juggernaut, is one which is shared by transgender people in Palestine, in Syria, in Cuba, in Russia, Haiti, India, Pakistan, and in every “developing” country which the US contents itself to bomb into the salt of the earth? Hell, what about in Mobile, Alabama, or Hattiesburg, Mississippi, or Detroit, Michigan, or St. Louis, Missouri? We are no-one’s siblings in that regard, for we are the orphan with blood on our hands, and black and brown bodies at our feet.
This day is one of celebration, yes, but also one of deep dignity. We are not merely fighting for our own right to be unafraid, to be VISIBLE in radical, revolutionary, militant ways, but for all of our siblings the world over to do the same. To not just be visible, but to be unapologetic. To be aggressive. To be violent. To be angry. To be joyful. To be the firebrands this world needs. To make manifest a future that is worthy of our dreams, and to triumph over the forces of repression which would see themselves with a boot on our throats, and a bullet in our chests. We have enough martyrs, my siblings. Now is the time to be revolutionaries, and to declare war on the world that would have no part or sum of us in it. It is selfish and ineffectual to think that the beast can be changed from the inside-out, for it isn’t “not working,” rather, it is working exactly as intended. Instead of asking “how can I best fit in,” I would instead declare: “if I am not wanted in this world of theirs, then my only course of action is to build its funeral pyre and birth a new world from the ashes of the old.” Let us rally, my siblings, and foment the blaze of our coming age.
All my love,