Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Trans Rights Are The New Civil Rights. Wait What?

Sooo.  Ahem. *Clears throat* There is something I want to talk about. 

I mean...if that is okay with you? 

'The Trans Rights Are the New Civil Rights' narrative. 

It's just. 

I dunno. 

It makes me sort of uncomfortable

I was reminded of the narrative by this recent Policy Mic piece only last week. But this is not a 'new' story. It exists in various incarnations, and in various pockets, of LGBT and queer communities in the so-called 'Western' world. 

For instance, it has been a continuous thread in the push towards gay marriage, as explained by Alok Vaid-Menon in this piece for the Daily Dot.

"[Perez] Hilton’s appropriation of language from black women is symptomatic of a larger cultural theft: the gay movement’s hijacking of the black liberation struggle. In 2008, an Advocate cover asked, “Gay Is the New Black?” That headline is a perfect distillation of the recent trend of activists calling the gay struggle the new civil rights movement, as if the “old” civil rights movement were over. Take, for example, Attorney General Eric Holder’s frequent remarks that the fight for marriage equality is a continuation of the civil rights movement: “Just like during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation's struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher.” In Arizona, publications like Gawker and the Seattle Times were quick to equate the state’s discriminatory legislation to Jim Crow."

The trans struggle is of course distinct from the cis (non-trans) gay rights movement. And the situation for trans people in so many cases is so urgent, so dire, that to bicker over rhetoric might seem silly. 

But there is a difference between fighting for trans people's civil rights, between seeing it as a civil rights campaign, and conflating it with the civil rights movement. By that I mean the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960s. The fact that the most vulnerable individuals in the trans community are trans women of colour reminds us, not only that race and transmisogyny are not separate, isolated, systems of oppression, but that racism, particularly anti-black racism, is so far from over that to speak of a 'new' civil rights movement is comical at best. 

Furthermore, to speak of trans rights as the 'new' civil rights, forgets that the foundations of the LGBT community, of trans rights, has been built on the backs of trans women of colour. Black and latina women who were fighting for the safety of their sisters in the 60s. I think of Miss Major, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P Johnson. To declare this a 'new' movement is to forget them, and to whitewash trans history under the appropriated rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr et al.

I am trans. I am a person of colour. These parts of my identity are not separate, they live in conversation with one another, a conversation that has been living, thriving, long before I was born. 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014


Androgyny is a funny thing. In theory it seems pretty rad, in the same way white people writing impenetrable critiques on working class trans women of colour is marked as progressive-I see you Judith Butler! Yet, with each passing year I find myself, as a trans person of colour, growing increasingly cautious of the external markers of gender presentation, cultivated for and by cis people, and consequently used to either confirm or deny trans people’s existence. In this sense masculinity and femininity live as unwanted houseguests in my wardrobe, unpleasant, irritating creatures, who I am forced to make small talk with on a daily basis.

Androgyny exists as a close relative to passing, the idea that to exist as you are is to eradicate all that you are. Assigned sex characteristics are an obscenity, body hair does not exist in male assigned androgyny, nor hips, breasts in the female assigned model. Androgyny makes me dysphoric and that’s no fun. Masculinity scares me (I’m a survivor of child abuse). And I choose Kim Kardashion over Tilda Swinton any day. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu over Casey Legler.

You see, existing as a trans person, in a world which 1. Thinks trans people suck and 2. Has its own secret made up language about what men and women ‘should’ dress like is pretty fucking complicated. In getting dressed I try to blank out all the noise, wear things that will not give me a panic attack. Skater skirts? Wayyy better at hiding hips than preppy chinos. And boxy dresses provide a far more boyish silhouette than a three piece suit. Because if you are 5’3 and the first response when people meet you is more “you’re so cute!” than “are you a male model?” compromises have to be made.

No matter how much weight I lose, how much hair I cut, or how much money I throw, I will never look like Elliott Sailors or Erika Linder. And that’s okay. But as trans people if we are ever to find atonement in ourselves, it is necessary to go beyond cis-centric ideals of masculine and feminine bodies, and find a new language so we may express our own identities on our terms.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Ghost Photographs

tw: child abuse, rape

"Like if you grew up in our neighbourhood the idea was you weren’t supposed to show any vulnerability, the one place that you were permitted to show vulnerability was in a women’s bed. Which, you know, lead to all sorts of behavior, The other thing was that a lot of the guys I grew up with,there had been a lot of sexual abuse, there had been a lot of incest, I mean, you know, a lot of the guys had gotten raped, usually by family members and a lot of the, kind of, compulsive fucking around, I think, was powered in part, not only by masculine privilege in a culture that doesn’t punish guys if they fuck around, but was also powered by these, kind of deep traumas. I mean one of the reactions of being raped or being, you know, sexually assaulted is hyper sexualization. And you think about the way masculine culture works that encourages hyper sexualization, it’s no accident that a lot of guys who had been sexually attacked, who had been raped, you know, who are incest survivors would, sort of, deploy that as a way of compensating, as a way of dealing, as a way of, sort of, trying to contain the pain. So, I guess, for me that also was one of the big things, you know. A lot of the cheating that went on in my friends groups, we victimized so many people because of it, you know, and I think that simultaneous to any traumas that we experienced the truth is we also victimized a ton of people. You know? You have got to be able to hold both simultaneous, you can’t be like, “Oh boo-hoo-hoo me.” Because you know it sucks, but a lot of us who had been victimized spread that misery out really far man. So, you know, it’s funny because I have written three books and in each book Yunior comes to revealing that he was raped but never comes out and says it. And it’s, sort of, like the way boys, the difficulty boys have in integrating that into their identity, especially a guy like Yunior who doesn’t want to abandon, sort of, this kind of classic masculinity that has given him so much privilege. You know? You come close and close but you don’t… I am thinking maybe by the next book I will be able to have him deal with it."
-Junot Diaz, Facing Race 2012 

Ghost photos by Angela Deane



Passing as cis is very easy as it requires cis people to confirm my invisibility. They are very good at doing this already so it works out nicely for both of us. When I say passing I mean being read (intentionally or unintentionally) as one’s assigned sex. That is passing. You cannot ‘pass’ as your chosen gender: that is called being.


Passing as white is neither easy, nor hard, it just happens sometimes. I don’t have to do anything to get read as white or called a coon. (Ah happy childhood memories.) I just have to stand around and see what happens. I used to straighten my hair for forty-five minutes each morning so my PE teacher could identify me from the one other ‘ethnic’ girl. That is real passing I suppose. Nella Larsen passing. Imitation of Life passing. I don’t do that no more but a girl on a bus stop said I was a total Zooey yesterday, so I’m pretty sure white-looking and white-passing is still in the same ball park or whatever.

Even if I am not always read as white, per se, I’m generally tolerated, allowed to eat at their table, laugh at their jokes, wear their peter pan collars. And if I dressed as Suzy Bishop at a white girl party I don’t think they’d see it as straight up sacrilege. A dog attempting to walk on its hind legs perhaps. Funny. Creepy. Stupid. But not a real actual threat. This is what Dorrinne Kondo talks about in her book ‘About Face: Performing Race in Fashion and Theatre’: Not white? Not quite. My high yellowness is a nasty kind of mutilated whiteness. And my foundation’s name is warm ivory but perhaps rotten milk would be more appropriate.


Passing as an able bodied person is super easy. I just have to avoid backless dresses and insist the reason I’m shaking so violently is because I’m cold. Even if it’s July. Especially if it’s July.


Passing as a neuro-typical person is super hard. I have stopped making animal noises in public (a sad loss for the Piccadilly line) but I am meant to stop dressing “like a retard”.  I am not sure how to do this. And I don’t want to stop wearing bright colours that comfort me, stimulate me, textures that calm me, shapes that hold me, but do not choke me. Wearing these clothes is like being a tortoise, I can carry my home on my back.

But oh, I suppose I really ought to stop, Hadley Freeman said that women who wear animal hats are, who dress childish, are bad women, embarrassments, backwards creatures that need to grow up. So perhaps that would ruin my cis-passing act. Or is that reason enough to continue?


Thursday, 27 March 2014


"Bodily identity is the sole criterion of personal identity"
-Sidney Shoemaker, Personal Identity and Memory

(so i'm screwed)

Karborn | TumblrEvidence of Time Travel IV, 2014, Things With Faces,'Hand grasping a beautiful young woman's long, dark hair. 'Bromide print, Circa 1910

Saturday, 15 March 2014


When reading Tavi Gevinson's interview for Bitch Magazine on a rainy Sunday afternoon I was struck by this quote: "My arch nemesis at school would like to tell me that Rookie is for a first-world girl.” First world girl? What. No! The dismissal of Rookie, the teen girl magazine that Tavi founded, edits and art directs, as 'first world' made me so sad (and mad!). It’s a criticism I’ve heard before. Not to say that Rookie is perfect. But this statement in particular really says more about so called 'Western' countries ignorance towards the so-called 'developing world' than it does about that site. Oh and possibly my long-standing irritation towards the whole #firstworldproblems outlook (the hash tag, the phrase, just everything. I never said I was easy going okay?!) The misguided belief that simple pleasures, like pop culture, silliness and cuteness, are contained within the borders of rich, white nations is an insidious sort of ugly I’m keen to avoid.
It’s the ‘stop talking about Miley Cyrus people are dying in Syria’ attitude. The brand of ironic colonialist back patting that is all over my Facebook newsfeed and makes me feel funny. To divide issues into silly and serious ignores that everything is part of well...everything. Power manifests everywhere, and we can learn as much about the history of these power structures in the VMA’s as whatever humanitarian crisis of the month The Onion is pretending to care about. I’m saying this as a real life Syrian girl that wrote a whole term paper on Miley by the way. This stuff really does co-exist and to say otherwise denies the complex contradictions of being a person of colour from a developing country in the 21st century.
Pop culture matters. The ghoulish spectre of slavery cuts through the institutionalised racism and cultural appropriation of American pop music. And what about the supposedly hash-tag-less ‘East’? Here, seemingly 'first world' motifs are reconstructed to signify the political identity of the Arab World. Sponge Bob Square Pants has become an icon of Tahrir square while Mickey Mouse is a Hamas children's TV mascot. Tell me, is that a third world problem or a first world one?
I think of the movie ‘The Last King of Scotland’, which subverts the white saviour narrative by telling the fictional story of a white doctor’s destructive relationship with Idi Amin, the president of Uganda. This quote by Amin to the white doctor, is especially important, contrasting the fantasy of ‘Africa’ with the reality of Ugandan life under Amin. He says:
“Did you think this was all a game? 'I will go to Africa and I will play the white man with the natives.' Is that what you thought? We are not a game, Nicholas. We are real. This room here, it is real. I think your death will be the first real thing that has happened to you.”
Because we are real, and perhaps the most troubling part of the #firstworldproblems mind set is its erasure of the lived experience of so called ‘third world’ people.  In reducing big parts of the map to homogenous blobs of ‘sad brown faces’, you forget that the rhythm of day-to-day life, its annoyances, it banality is universal.
In this sense, for white people, for ‘first world people’, to even attempt to see the inhabitants of the so-called ‘third world’ as human, they must actively work against what the novelist Chimamanda Adichie describes as “the single story”. The single story is a pre-set narrative, which forces a shallow tale of imagined suffering onto people of colour. Writer Jenny Zhang nails this, in her essay ‘Style=Substance’ for Rookie Magazine. And yes, that was the ‘first world girl’ magazine we were talking about before. She writes:
“Here’s what I wish I knew back when I was in high school and so proud of myself for being the exceptionally compassionate, caring person I believed myself to be: focusing only on the pain and degradation of any oppressed group of people does another kind of damage to those individuals. It turns them into stereotypes of pain and damage and ignores everything else about them, including whether they’re funny, or stupid, or weird, or brilliant, or irreverent, or stylish, or creative, or boring, or selfish, or anything else that people are capable of being. It takes away their complexity and vastness and reduces people to one-dimensional figures.”
You see, the thing is, even when I was at my lowest #thirdworldproblems point I still cared about 'stupid' stuff too. And to quote to, once again, quote Jenny’s beautiful essay: "we contain multitudes". Yes! We. Contain. Multitudes. We contain so much more than you think us capable of. And I’m not talking about epic poems on genocide, terrorism, civil war. I’m thinking crushes on cute boys, cat’s eyes in liquid eyeliner, late night talks with best friends, idealistic daydreams and everyday disappointments. And whilst real bad stuff like war is perhaps more 'real' to me (whatever that means) than to some people, I still have room in my head to worry about whether my hair look cute or throw a grump that my blackberry isn't receiving emails. I know it may not seem ‘authentic’, but it's true.