Monday, February 10, 2014

Redefining Advocacy

TransGriot Note:  Been too damned long since I've had a guest post from Denny Upkins here and it's past time to rectify that.  In this one Denny discusses his journey and thoughts about becoming a trans ally



"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I know nothing about the trans experience or trans issues. As an ally I strive not to know a single thing and I remind myself of this daily.

Allow me to explain. When I state that I know nothing of trans issues, it isn't because said issues aren't important. In fact, quite the contrary. By reminding myself I know nothing of trans issues, it is a personal reminder that as an ally, I am a student and it is imperative that I humble myself and be willing to listen to understand, learn to be an asset to my trans siblings.

In my experience Ive found that a willingness to do the right thing, a willingness to listen and  learn and healthy display of compassion, humility and respect, goes a long way with those who I stand in solidarity with. The shorthand: don't be a dick.

Social justice isn't rocket science, not the core concepts of equality and human rights anyway, but in my younger years it often seemed that way.

My education in being a trans supporter began several years ago on Livejournal. I was still trying to find my way having recently come out as a cis-gendered queer person of color. At the time I belonged to an Interracial forum where I met my good buddy, we'll call her Deanna and her girlfriend. I initially didn't know that either of them were trans women but I soon put two and two together as we continued to converse on the regular. Deanna was a riot and a fellow comic book geek. A woman of color herself, we connected on many levels and I was privileged when I made other friends through her.

I soon began to feel guilty because we were growing closer as friends and I realized I knew next to nothing about being a trans person and what they have to face in their day to day. I realized that if I was gong to be in Deanna and my other new friends' lives then I owed them and our friendships the proper respect to educate myself and be knowledgeable of their issues so I could provide support and be an asset, if they needed me.

Even though I had been active in social justice both online and in 3D space, the fears set in. What if I make a mistake, what if I get information mixed up when calling out transphobia and do more harm than good? What if—

And at that point, my reflection stepped out of the mirror backhanded  me, instructed me to get over myself and stop being a punk.

I first began reading Questioning Transphobia which is maintained by the amazing Lisa Questions. I rarely commented as I didn't want to disrupt their space and I was there in a learning capacity.

Soon thereafter I had the pleasure of meeting our very own Monica on Jasmyne Cannick's blog.

Time passed and eventually I became privileged to count both Lisa and Monica as not only mentors but friends as well. I also sat in on trans meetings at a local LGBTQ Youth Organization I volunteered for.

Too often I was heartbroken by the horrors trans folks survived and then amazed at what many of them have accomplished in their lives in spite of the obstacles and the dangers. Over time, I became more aware of the casual transphobia and microaggressions that I witnessed in the media and in society. See bigotry isn't always grandiose, it can be subtle and coded but a marginalized person has to be aware because it can literally make the difference between life and death.

However, as I've learned time and time again, not all bigots are that sophisticated or clever. In fact, to quote my buddy Paul Pogue, some fools are always trying to vacation in Chernobyl.

A few years back, I was a moderator for a popular comic book forum known as Scans Daily. The other mods claimed  they were wanting to take the forum into a more progressive direction and thought my experience and expertise in social justice would be a huge benefit. Trial by fire doesn't even begin to cover it but one of the worst incidents happened one day when a commenter started discussing how women are drawn in comics and proceeded to spew some transmisogynistic bile. A female commenter, a young trans woman herself, understandably outraged and hurt and read him the riot act. I also stepped in and made it abundantly clear that he was out of line and I was going to personally see to it that he was severely reprimanded for his actions. And of course the pushback commenced from other (white) members. My actions were tyrannical, we don't need politics in comic books, the female commenter should be punished as well for being angry and lashing out because calling out bigotry is worse than the actual bigotry. I won't mention all the flattering things I was called.

The next day I posted a video on the forum where a young black trans woman recounted a situation where she was violently attacked, and when she went to to the police for assistance, she was nearly arrested. It was my hope that the video would appeal to the forum's humanity. I was hopeful they would realize that transphobia isn't some abstract offshoot theory of political correctness but a real cancer on our society that is claiming lives. And hopefully by hearing this woman's story we would strive to be more sympathetic and respectful of one another.

That's when all hell broke loose.

That post broke the record with over a thousand comments. Half the forum stood tall and applauded our efforts to making the forum a safer space for minorities and the other half wanted to lynch yours truly, the uppity Negro for harshing their white comic book fanperson squee with political correctness.

 Despite the harassing emails and the hateful comments, I kept griping to a minimum because this was nothing compared to what trans folks deal with every day and if I can bear the brunt to help my peeps, then so be it.

Unfortunately all of the progressive efforts with Scans Daily proved to be for nothing. As the other mods, all of them white, decided a year or so later that cis white fangirls and their fee fees take priority and they should have a space to be racist, homophobic and transphobic and there were plans to penalize PoCs and trans members if they called out bigotry with an improper tone. And with that I departed, with a middle finger proudly raised.
Despite the drama, the stress, the bigotry, the hypocrisy, and the gaslighting, I learned a lot. I learned that you don't have to the foremost authority on social justice issues to be a good ally, sometimes it's simply a matter of taking a stand and doing the right thing, in spite of the risks, in spite of the repercussions. Sometimes its not even about taking up arms. Sometimes it can be showing kindness and respect to a trans customer who comes into the bookstore you work at and shares your love for all things Xena. A small act of kindness like that can shame a bunch of snickering transphobic co-workers into realizing what douchebags they were being..

Too often you do have to kick some butt and take names because there are some things worth fighting to protect and preserve, such as the humanity of trans people, and make no mistake, society has waged war on them and other minorities. But if you know your history, then you know it's a war that's been going on for ages.

We credit the Stonewall Riots for being a key moment in the fight for LGBTQ rights. What the history books and most of Gay Inc (read: mainstream white queers)  doesn't want you to know is that it was PoCs and trans folks who were on the frontlines. I've previously stated that I believe that LGBTQ equality will happen in spite of the gay community and it will be the result of PoCs and trans folks in the trenches doing the heavy lifting. I believe that more than ever. It's always PoCs and trans folks on the frontlines and yet somehow we're erased from history and our humanity is denied.

When a minority's humanity is denied, it allows for cis gay activists to push for legislature and agendas that conveniently omits trans people from the basic rights Gay Inc is pushing for.
When a trans person's humanity is ignored white interviewers have no qualms about violating personal boundaries of black trans women.

When LGBTQs are facing job  discrimination, queer teen homelessness, violence against trans people, and high suicide rates, being able to register at Neiman Marcus should be at the bottom of the priority list, but white supremacy teaches otherwise. After all white supremacy teaches that some lives matter more than others. And privileged cis white queers being to marry most certainly trumps the fact that 53 percent of anti-LGBTQ murder victims were trans women or that 73 percent of all LGBTQ homicide victims were people of color.

 That is the legacy of a white supremacist society, because trust, no matter the marginalized issue, more often than not, it comes back to race. White supremacy teaches that in order for whites to thrive, they must step on others in order to be superior. There's a reason why white gays have been actively campaigning against people of color, most notably during the Prop 8 fiasco. It also explains why white fauxminists constantly throw women of color and trans women under the bus. It's also why many white gays are proud Log Cabin Republicans and supporting the very people who oppress us. See not everyone is fighting for equality, in fact many white minorities are fighting to regain their privilege and gain a seat at the oppressor's table.

Wanna know why most white minority leaders are so quick to compromise and negotiate with bigots. Because they don't like falling out of favor with other whites. Despite all of their denials, they understand white privilege is very real and they rely on it. This is why many poor whites will vote Republican even though the GOP is constantly pushing to deny the poor basic benefits and necessities. This is why a number of whites, cis and trans alike have all but waged war on Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, two accomplished black trans women whose only crime is actively working to attain equal rights for all trans people. But such is white supremacy. It has people go against anything that benefits them, betray their very self preservation just to enjoy white privilege and remain in the good graces of other bigoted whites.

The same dynamic that played out in Scans Daily is repeating itself here. Two extraordinary and accomplished black women are being attacked simply for wanting to better their communities and help change lives. And just as I stood tall to help defend the humanity of the SD forum member, and the bookstore customer, I'm standing with these ladies as well.

In these experiences I've learned one fundamental truth. True allies, true advocates, true supporters, are like family, or as I say your Ride or Die. They will fight to protect you no matter the cost, they will celebrate you and appreciate you as the gift you truly are. After all, you're family.  Thinking back on these past few years, the irony is not lost on me. I set out to educate myself (because I "knew nothing") to be a useful resource to my trans friends if they ever needed me to be so, and in the process, I'm the one who grew and evolved.

Imagine that.


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