Friday, September 19, 2008
A. Dionne Stallworth Interview
TransGriot Note: When I started the Transsistahs-Transbrothas Yahoo discussion list on January 1, 2004, all I was trying to do was provide a place for transpeople of African descent to have thoughtful discussions on the various issues that affected us.
Little did I know that I'd not only meet some wonderful people, but learn about some of my history makers as well in the process. One of the joys of founding this list has been getting to know and call history maker A. Dionne Stallworth my friend.
This was a recent interview conducted on September 14, 2008 by Genaro Urso with Dionne at www.stoppingthehate.com.
Dionne Stallworth has been a longtime advocate and activist concerning issues of mental health, homelessness, people of color, and equality for all LGBTIQ people.
Among her many accomplishments, Dionne was one of the original founding members of GenderPAC, a former officer and board member of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association, founded and ran the first organization in Philadelphia dealing with the issues of transgender youth of color, and one of the founding members and original co-chair of the Philadelphia–based Transgender Health Action Coalition.
Dionne is currently the Resident Activities Coordinator for In Community, a housing program run by the internationally known and respected non-profit organization, Project H. O. M. E. Part of her responsibilities include aiding in the development of educational and entertaining activities for program residents, including direct oversight of an interactive film series program called “Community Night at the Movies” – which recently celebrated its 1st anniversary. She is a public grant reviewer for the National Institute of Mental Health and is working on the development of a pilot transgender-specific shelter project.
What do you think the most perplexing issue facing transgendered people is?
I think the biggest issue we face is how we see ourselves and how we define ourselves. Unlike most other movements, we have never defined ourselves and as such, we become defined by others who are not us. It separates us from would be allies and each other. Without that definition, we can't even begin to have a conversation about what we need, what we want, or what we want the future to look like for ourselves.
Over the last year there has been a deep seeded division between the trans community and the GLB community. Do you think it is better served to redefine the trans role with the HRC or should Trans people seek their own organization to lobby Washington?
Someone so much wiser than me said: "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it." That being said, historically, LGB organizations have failed miserably to recognize the fact more often than not - issues of gender-variant people are more theirs, than the other way around. At the peak of the dot com boom, I chose the online name of "A. Dionne Stallworth" as a political statement and as an active form of protest against that type of bigotry and lack of vision. LGB people for a long time have been called "children of the rainbow;" Gender-variant people are "children of the prism."
We are crystal by which all of them have become visible. As for the 2nd part of the question, about forming our organizations, our organizations need to meet and agree on a definition of who we are without clinging to other people's definition of who we are. Until that happens, we are like Jews who were lost in the wilderness for 40 years. Another wise person said: "The only way to have freedom of the press is to own the press." We will only come to our destiny if we define who we are and not before.
What is the biggest misconception you feel faces transgendered women?
I think some of us think because of our experience we experience everything a genetic or biological woman does. This is not possible. It is a fact. We will never know what is to experience menses or giving birth. Most of us will never know what it means to grow up female in a patriarchal society. This has left its scar upon us and why so many of us have a hard time during transition. Male privilege is hard to shake, especially for white men. This does not negate our femaleness, but it makes our experience different and we should recognize it. We should embrace it.
Another big problem is feminism. Not so many years ago, women were saying that we are not defined by our vaginas and our ovaries. In the last 15 years, I'd say that is how women are redefining themselves - which make that harder for us as women of a trans or intersexed experience as women of ...etc.
Many of the stereotypes facing Trans people from what they see on TV and the movies how do those stereotypes play out in corporate America?
I think western women are beginning to embrace the power of the imagery of sexuality and sensuality. The problem is how does that power translate itself into economic and social power. As I said previously, the mark of male privilege is upon us. As intersexed or transwoman, we are versed in corporate warfare on an instinctual level because these are the social cues that were imposed on us. I still find it surprising that women who are in business have no knowledge of Sun Tzu (The Art of War) or The Prince and still have no idea what is being perpetrated upon them.
As for the stereotypes of us, we see.... my agreement for self-definition is never more applicable.
What do you feel the biggest advancement has been in the GLBT community over the last 40 years?
The same thing that caused LGBs to make gender-variant people the flavor of the millennium and killing us at the same time - HIV/AIDS. As the 1st three waves of the disease hit them and destroyed most of our part in their history, they discovered that we were the means to keep their attempts at dealing with the epidemic funded. This epidemic is forcing down a lot of the old barriers to working together, but racism is still a big part of who we are as a country and as a culture. When we can get past it, maybe there might be hope for all of us as a species.
Even within the trans community there is some separation between non op, pre op and post op . Do you think the ties that bind you are more important to the physical difference?
I think the explanation of how women see themselves exacerbates this divide. That being said, we exist in a gender binary and despite the people who transcend gender as a political statement or the scientific truth that we are all a combination of both genders - this is the way our world sees gender and sex.
Where do you see the GLBTIQ community in the next 10 years?
Unfortunately, I think we will probably be about where we are right now. There is nothing in current events to suggest to me otherwise. Wish I could be more optimistic, but that's how I see it.
What areas do you think would best serve in bringing unity to the GLBT community?
I think the answer to this is relatively simple;however, the actualization is a
lot more complicated. I think the 1st thing that needs to happen is the
acknowledgment on the part of LGBTIQ leadership that gender-variant people are equal partners in our collective history and our impending future.
I also think that the spectres of classism and racism will have to be fought on all levels. Presently, I don't think the status quo has the courage and vision to make these adjustments. So, we will continue to fight each other and watch as our political foes threaten our very existence while the bigots and hate mongers continue killing us in even larger numbers. While this not true of all the leadership, it is far too prevalent - which is my answer and outlook is rather grim.