Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Monica's University Of Arizona Speech

TransGriot Note: This is the original text of the speech I'm delivering at this moment in the Gallagher Theatre on the University of Arizona campus.

Good evening University of Arizona students, faculty, alumni, guests and friends.  I bring you greetings from the Lone Star State, my beloved hometown of Houston and the communities I interact with.

I have to tell y’all that some of my friends were concerned when I announced I was coming to the UA campus because of what they’ve heard about Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  I told them to chill and I’d be fine because I would be amongst friends.   I pointed out that Tucson and Pima County is pretty much liberal-progressive turf and the home of Sheriff Clarence Dupnik and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

You have had a TBLG anti-discrimination law on the books for almost two decades now and the other reason I’d said to my friends was uh…uh….oops I forgot. 

Darn Rick Perry moments.   

With all seriousness, it is indeed an honor and a pleasure for me to be standing here in Tucson during this 2012 edition of Black History Month at the invitation of my sponsors the ASUA Pride Alliance, the Women's Resource Center, and African American Student Affairs. 

I’m also thrilled to be here tonight for another reason.  Dr. Susan Stryker, one of the preeminent trans historians in academia and a person I admire in the trans community is the director of UA’s Institute of LGBT Studies.

I want to thank Stephan
Przybylowicz for coordinating all the hard work behind the scenes that resulted in me being at the Gallagher Theatre to talk about Blogging at the Intersection of Race and Gender on the electronic pages of TransGriot.

If you’re wondering why my blog is named TransGriot, it’s because I love history and come from a family of historians.  My late godmother Pearl Suel wrote the African-American history curriculum for the Houston Independent School District and I was the person she tested it out on when she was compiling it.  My mom’s undergrad degree is in history, my baby sis has a psychology degree with a history minor, and as you probably guessed my parents made certain my siblings and I were immersed in our people’s history.
Griots are s
torytellers in several western African nations who keep alive the oral tradition and history of a village, their people or a family.   They are able to recite up to five centuries of that history from memory. 

Since I wanted a name for my blog that made it clear I was proud of my African-American heritage, being trans, and the fact I come from a history loving family, it was a perfect fit.  

When I transitioned in 1994, one of the things I was struck by and concerned about was the fact that ever since Christine Jorgenson stepped off the airplane at New York’s Idyllwild Airport to the glare of popping flashbulbs and a crush of photographers 59 years ago on February 12, the trans narrative has been overwhelmingly focused on my white transsisters and transbrothers.

I knew there were African-American transpeople who preceded me, but I rarely heard their stories or about their historical contributions to the trans rights movement.

When blogging began to take off in the middle of the last decade, there were hundreds of trans blogs written by, about and focused on my white counterparts and their dominant points of view about transitions, TBLG politics, and our rainbow community history.  

Conversely, when I surveyed the blogging landscape at the time I was pondering starting TransGriot there was not one discussing trans issues from an Afrocentric point of view or talking about our trans heroes and sheroes.

I was complaining about that one night to Jordana LeSesne in a phone conversation I was having with her in November 2005.  She’s a trans pioneer in her own right in terms of being a trailblazing transwoman involved in the drum and bass music and Afro Punk movements.  After patiently listening to me gripe about this situation, she calmly asked “So when are you going to start that blog?”

Since I wanted this blog done right, it was incumbent upon me to do it myself.  So a few seconds after midnight on January 1, 2006 TransGriot was born.  It has had for now six years the dual missions of not only discussing trans issues from that sorely missing Afrocentric point of view but also to make people aware of the fact that trans people of color have been major players in shaping the history of the trans community here in the United States and increasingly across the African Diaspora.

I must be doing something rights because I’ve either won or been a finalist for Best LGBT Blog awards and I’m closing in on 3.5 million hits.  For those of you who let me know you read it, I thank you for doing so.

But because of the overwhelming focus on my white transsisters and transbrothers over the last five decades, transpeople of color have either been erased from the trans community historical narrative or not discussed at all.   It’s even worse for Black transmen and that’s a nice way to segue into a part of that trans history. 

With the tenth anniversary of his untimely death being this year and my statuesque behind standing inside Pima County I cannot start this conversation about the intersection of race and gender without mentioning a trailblazing transman who lived right here in Tucson, Alexander John Goodrum.

Goodrum was born in Chicago in 1960, and not long after coming out as a lesbian in 1979 at age 19 testified in favor of a gay and lesbian rights ordinance being considered there.  That was his first taste of activism and being the voice of a community that didn’t have one. 

He subsequently joined the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force to work on youth issues.  After moving to San Francisco and taking a respite from activism to transition, he helped organize the first FTM conference in that city in 1995 before moving to Tucson later that year

In 1998, he took on the role of being the voice for a community that didn’t have one.   When then Tucson mayor George Miller held a community  meeting in the wake of the Matthew Shepard killing to discuss ways to prevent a similar hate crime in Tucson, Goodrum and transman Jerry Armsby were left off the invitation list.  They showed up anyway, shouted ‘and transgender’ every time the people in that room only spoke about the gay and lesbian community and took the opportunity to educate the GLB people gathered at that meeting about trans issues. 

As Goodrum and Armsby spoke, the GLB community leaders present wisely realized they didn’t have a clue about transpeople, our lives and our issues.  That led to Goodrum’s participation on the M
ayoral Task Force on GLBT Issues, the proto organization which is now known as the City of Tucson Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues. 

As the co-chair of the Social Services Committee he was instrumental in getting gender identity added to Tucson’s non-discrimination law in 1999.  

So yes Tucson transpeople in the audience tonight, you owe the inclusion of gender identity in your local non-discrimination law to a trailblazing African-American transman.  

I had the pleasure of meeting Alexander at the 1999 Task Force Creating Change event that was held in Oakland and liked him the instant I met him.  And yeah, the brother was handsome too.  

We shared the same philosophy in terms of rainbow community activism that not only did African-American trans and same gender loving people need to be intimately involved in it, trans people should not be separated from the struggle for rainbow community human rights.        

In addition to serving on the
Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues Goodrum was the founder of TGNet Arizona, served with the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance and was a highly respected activist nationally.  But what many of us didn’t know about Alexander was that he was struggling to overcome a debilitating mental illness   

We lost this pioneering transman in September 2002 due to a tragic suicide. In the wake of community concerns about the lack of mental health access for gender variant people,
The Alexander John Goodrum Transgender Mental Health Advocacy Project was founded.              

But Goodrum is just one of the African-American transpeople who have blazed trails in Arizona.  Just up I-10 from here in Phoenix Regina Gazelle founded an organization in 2006 called This Is H.O.W. 

dedicated to the betterment of the lives of Trans (transsexual, transgender, and gender variant) persons experiencing crisis situations such as homelessness, substance abuse, familial abuse, and transition related difficulties and does education efforts on trans issues.  It is now run by transwoman Antonia D’orsay who herself is beginning to get respect and attention as a national activist.

Since this particular Black History Month was focused on the contributions of women to our history and we are about to move into Women’s History Month, I do need to touch on some of the transwomen who have helped make it. 

There were transwomen such as Lucy Hicks Anderson, who was born in 1886, was raised as a girl in pre Depression era Kentucky and left in her 20s to migrate to California via Texas.  She found herself on trial in 1944 after she married Reuben Anderson because the Ventura County
district attorney discovered she’d been born biologically male and decided to prosecute her for perjury.  

He asserted that Anderson committed perjury when she signed the marriagelicense application and swore that there were 'no legal objections' to the marriage.

Of course Lucy had a dissenting opinion. "I defy any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman,” she told reporters in the midst of her perjury trial. “I have lived, dressed, acted just what I am, a woman.”  The jury convicted her of the perjury charge, but the judge sentenced her to ten years probation rather than send her to prison.

The story of history making African-American transwomen extends to the 1965 Dewey’s Lunch Counter Sit In and Protest in Philadelphia which was the first trans protest action in the nation

There was Lady Java, who in 1967 fought LAPD bullying struck the blows that eventually took down the odious Rule Number 9 in Los Angeles that made it illegal for performers to 'impersonate by means of costume or dress a member of the opposite sex' unless you had a special permit issued by the LA Board of Police Commissioners.  

Never mind the fact that in 1962 the California Supreme Court had struck down anti-crossdressing ordinances in the state.   Her courageous fight against the unfairness of Rule No 9 eventually led to it being struck down in 1969.

The first person to undergo SRS in the gender program at Johns Hopkins Hospital was African-American transwoman Avon Wilson. 

It includes Stonewall veterans Miss Major and Marsha P. Johnson, A Dionne Stallworth, who was one of the organizers of GenderPac, the trans community’s first political PAC.

It includes Dawn Wilson, myself, Lorrainne Sade Baskerville, Dr. Marisa Richmond and the African descend transwomen who have made history but we haven’t discovered it yet.  It also includes all the transwomen whose names are lost to history as well and our deceased ones such as Lois Bates, Dana Turner, and Roberta Angela Dee, the trans writer whose pumps I walk in.     
I also can’t forget the women who are making history as I speak such as Janet Mock, Isis King, Tona Brown, and Laverne Cox or the unknown ones who are currently matriculating in secondary schools, or our nation’s college campuses.  

So why haven’t you heard about this history?  As I mentioned earlier, the dominant narrative is focused on my white trans brothers and transsisters.   As I’ve said on the blog and elsewhere, the GLBT community is a microcosm of society at large.  

Translation: all the ills and isms present in the parent society are also embedded in our little subset of it.   So yes, race matters even in the trans community.

Before any person of color can even begin to deal with the issues of a gender transition, we still have to deal with the issues or being non-white people in a vanillacentric privileged society.

And then we get the happy happy joy joy experience of how to deal with navigating that society in a feminine body and how race and class affect that gender transition differently from my white counterparts. 

As an African-American transwoman, I have to not only deal with the same old same old racism, bigotry, prejudice and microaggresive behavior aimed at me before I morphed into this body, I have to deal with sexism and the unwoman meme aimed at Black women whether we are cis or transgender.

I’m noticed for the color of my skin first.   That means the centuries old baggage of that comes into play before the trans issues even enter the equation.  There are trans issues unique to being a person of color on top of that we have to navigate in our own communities.    

And that’s before I even get started discussing the hatred aimed at trans people from the radical lesbian separatists ranks since the late 70’s, some gay and lesbian people and our self hating transsexual separatist transphobes  
The rainbow community needs to be better than our oppressors. Sadly in some cases they aren’t, especially when it comes to being fierce advocates for the human rights of trans people.  

Sometimes gay and lesbian people along with radical feminists have been more virulent opponents and oppressors of trans human rights than fundamentalist right wing conservatives have been. 

Because the issues of trans people are intertwined with gender politics, probably need to segue into that for a moment and bring Alexander Goodrum back into this conversation. 

In 2000 he was quoted as saying,
“When transgendered people are denied rights, it's often the because of the perception that they're homosexual. With gay people, it's often as not because they're perceived to be violating gender norms. It's the same fight against the same enemies.  GLBT people have to realize that in order to move ahead.”

He’s absolutely right on those points, but yet you still have people on the GL side saying we aren’t part of ‘their community’ and we have some on the trans side saying we need to cut the GLB folks and forge our own civil rights path. 

Um, no.  Transpeople have invested too much time, energy and blood into building the rainbow community to simply walk away from it.   We’re part of the GLBT community because some of us actually are gay, bi, or lesbian.   We trans people also blow a Mack truck sized hole in the gender binary the GLB community grapples with.

Something else GLBT people need to realize is that in order for the entire community to move forward on human rights issues, they will need the help and major input from trans and same gender loving people of color as well.    

And some of what we have to say and what we persons of color consider as policy priorities will not in some cases neatly line up with the aspirations and goals of a vanillacentirc privilege laden GLBT movement with a senior leadership that is overwhelmingly white and upper middle class.

This nation is increasingly becoming a majority-minority one.  There are four states, Hawaii, New Mexico, California and my home state of Texas that are majority-minority.   Two of those states are solidly blue, New Mexico is a swing state and only the 2003 Delaymandering has kept Texas from going that way.   

In Arizona, the non-Latino white population has fallen below 60% Hispanic as it has in Maryland, Nevada, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Louisiana and Mississippi.  

So if we are looking at the short and long term political goals of trans human rights and rainbow community rights, we need to build an inclusive movement that takes this information into consideration and ensures that we don’t fall into the trap of building a movement that ignores the lived reality of much of its constituents. 

According to the Task Force-National Black Justice Coalition NCTE  National Transgender Discrimination Survey, Black transpeople face an unemployment rate of 26%, four times the general population and double what the African-American community faces and the trans community as a whole at 14%.    34% of us reported living in extreme poverty, which is a household income of less than $10,000 a year.

The numbers from the NTDS survey for Latino-Latina transpeople are just as alarming.  The unemployment rate is at 20% and the number of Latino transpeople reporting living in extreme poverty is at 28%

Those number point to why many rainbow community persons of color don’t see marriage equality as the end all be all number one priority as a GLBT political organizing issue.  We are the ones disproportionately getting brutalized by hate crimes aimed at this community and facing crippling unemployment or underemployment, so it stands to reason we need to have those issues dealt with first before we can even think about getting married.    

It’s hard to get married when it takes money to not only support your spouse, but it takes a steady cash flow to purchase the wedding license, the wedding ring, the wedding gowns, and the hall for the wedding and the reception and honeymoon afterward. 

And if some misguided people have the jacked up attitude that it’s open hunting season on transpeople, what’s the point if we’re not going to be around to enjoy it? 

We trans POC’s see it as instead of pushing same sex marriage which only benefits a few people in the rainbow community, the emphasis on community organizing should be on getting ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed and on President Obama’s desk for him to sign. 

It’s why Kylar Broadus founded TPOCC, the Trans People of Color Coalition in 2010 to ensure that our voices were heard in these policy discussions. TPOCC is in the process of conducting a series of town hall meetings around the country to talk to groups of transpeople about what our needs are and what they think TPOCC should be focused on.    

Not that we don’t know that already.  Here’s a hint Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.   Number two is slowing down the HIV/AIDS infection rates in my community along with stopping and reversing the near genocidal levels of violence aimed at non-white transwomen so they can live long enough, prosper and help build the trans community like I’ve been able and blessed to do. 

The trans people in this generation are the most tech savvy and the best educated generation in our people’s history.  I have no doubts if given an opportunity to do so they will be the ones who will etch their name on our nation’s history books as the first congressmembers, mayors, judges, open athletes, models and parents getting married and raising kids as they do their parts to uplift the African-American community inside and outside the trans and SGL community. .   

But for this to occur, one thing that will need to happen in the cis community straight and gay is the realization that the genitalia you possess between your legs does not always neatly line up with the gender identity between your ears and your gender expression. 

Being transgender is not an excuse for cis people gay or straight to oppress us, pimp a regressive political agenda, or a reason to deny our human rights to make you feel better as men and women in our ciscentrist society.   

We transfolks are human beings who are part of the diverse mosaic of human life and that madness needs to stop.  

As former South African President Nelson Mandela once said, “What challenges us is to ensure that none should enjoy lesser rights and none tormented because they are born different, hold contrary political views, or pray to God in a different manner.”

I’m a Black transwoman who is proud to be both.  Those identities are not mutually exclusive, nor are they disqualifications from me participating in the greater society and doing my part to make my community, my state, my nation and the world a better place to live.

It’s past time we realized that transpeople of color have much to offer our various communities in terms of our leadership skills honed by having to constantly fight oppression aimed at us and wanting to be a contributing part of the greater society.   We are closing ranks now to be better able to do that, but we will also need help from allies to do so as well          

will continue to do what I can with every fiber of my being to make trans human rights happen in my lifetime.  I will educate and empower my African-American community and any others willing to listen about my trans brothers and sisters and facilitate the ongoing race, class and gender conversation as I do so.

The challenge of ensuring that transpeople enjoy first class citizenship is one that we will need maximum effort from all parties concerned to make this a reality in the rest of this decade and beyond. 

And I look forward to seeing that happen.

1 comment:

crys said...

man. that girl is SMART.