With Texas governor Greg Abbot making moves before the midterms to try to make being trans a crime, I’m shaken. One important thing to remember is that this is not contained to one “red state” and that the solution is not as simple as, “move out”. This is all happening in connection with wider efforts described by journalist Melissa Gira Grant as part of wider conservative efforts around “parents rights”, which has been concocted in to ban books, censor history and pass laws forbidding teachers from teaching Critical Race Theory. Critical Race Theory is a subset of legal scholarship reserved for law students, but it has since been used to refer to any kind of education that teaches about slavery, gender discrimination, sexism, and other topics to the left of conservative media figures like James Lindsay and Tucker Carlson.
When I say that this is not in isolation, I’m not just talking about the wider and entrenched media that Grant observes. There have been signs of activists on the ground being ill-equipped at best to deal with these systemic problems due to a belief that it is better to talk about what we love than it is to talk about what confronts us. This sentiment, when harnessed, doesn’t just create media that’s saccharine yet smug, reassuring the reader that through consumption they are being made into better people. This affects even how people conceptualize and organize around politics. I saw the effects of this during the time I spoke at the Women’s March in San Diego.
It wasn’t my first time at the Women’s March, this was my third time. Before I joined people in marching, selling trinkets to fundraise and even joined fellow marchers while yelling at anti-abortion counter-protestors one time. The time I spoke was in January 2020, in front of a civil building at Waterfront Park, by Little Italy in Downtown San Diego. All of this was before COVID-19 cases began to emerge in the states. I was an active organizer at the time. Worked in over a dozen events, spoke at a few, and more as a member of a branch of an American Marxist-Leninist organization (if you know, you know). I’ve talked about this before with people I know within these circles. What I haven’t mentioned publically is that I wrote a speech urging for trans rights which explicitly describes transphobia and the scapegoating of trans women as serving the interests of patriarchy and capitalism. About a day before the march I was told to remove the word, “patriarchy” because doing so, and replacing it with simplier words, would help “ease people” into what I had to say, along with other changes to make the speech shorter. And so my speech at my last Women’s March is thus:
I’ve been out as a trans woman for only a few years, but since I was a child I’ve always known I was a target. The media treated me like a joke, and my religious community threatened me with poverty and death. People think that since we’re getting exposure and advocacy by other Black trans women like Angelica Ross that things are better. But no matter how many celebrities come out or say they support us, we’re still dying.
We are singled out as, “invaders” of womanhood when we try to get a job, and as, “deviants” when we make our own work as sex workers and artists. Then we get treated as pawns for cynical party politics before getting tossed back into poverty and exploitation. Gender nonconforming Black people face a double-jeopardy of being scapegoated as products of “white brainwashing”, despite history saying otherwise. And our best and brightest are relegated to just being of objects of hatred and exploitation by everyone. We should not be left alone to fight this exploitation and violence!
You need to include all women, especially right now! Because right now, America is waging war on multiple countries, and the media is talking about how regressive the rest of the world is. As if women aren’t being murdered here right now. As if women aren’t left in prison without health care or food, and that’s happening without any economic sanctions on us like we’re doing to Iran and Venezuela! And while bills are being drafted to keep trans women out of bathrooms and healthcare, millions are being victimized without access to shelters, which politicians defund while claiming that they’re protecting you! Fighting violence against women means stopping the violence this country enacts here and abroad, against trans women, Black women and women of color, including immigrants and the homeless!
If you really want to do something about violence against women, let’s start with how you treat trans women here. We have been standing alongside you, but bear the brunt of the violence of gender norms as a reminder to others to stay in your place. Patriarchy upholds gender with violence, as a way to tell women not be too loud, or break too many barriers. And one can’t just namedrop Silvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson or Chelsea Manning without mentioning their brave anti-war stances and radical politics. But Silvia and Marsha died in poverty because we failed them, in the name of respectability and indifference.
You need to ask yourself: how can I better include trans women in this movement? Because this is a space for all women. When reproductive rights, housing, voting rights and dissent are under attack, we can’t afford to limit our care to a narrow idea of what a woman is. Does your idea of a woman include the immigrant trying to avoid border patrol and the violence of war upon her home country, while looking for work? And does your idea of a woman include the trans woman who has to defend herself from catcalls, while the men who victimize her get no scrutiny? These women have long fought in isolation, believing that no one else is gonna stand for them, and that is what the enemy wants. And we need to prove them wrong!
I’m saying this because I’m tired of having to advocate just for myself, trying to prove how much of a good or, “productive” person I am, like I have to be exactly like you to matter. Shrinking myself just to make sure other people aren’t uncomfortable with my existence has not stopped the violence. And when there are other women who are being targeted, the last thing they need is meekness towards that which harms us, like its gonna stop after we say, “Please”.
Trans women have been diverse, smart, creative and hardworking for decades, if not centuries. But the words used to describe us, like, “transgender”, don’t even begin to contain the splendor of our lives or our expressions. I grew up being told that the women who dared to take charge for themselves, challenging conventions of sexuality and gender, were the enemy. I was told that I could never be anything but what birth assignment, racism, poverty and patriarchy say I am. Those women I witnessed proved them wrong, and their strength got me here today, angry but ready to fight alongside other women. We need you to unite with us and show up for other women worldwide, so they can go from inspiration to revolution!
Granted, I was able to mention some things. I was surprised I was even allowed to mention sex workers, but on top of me being a little green even at the time, everything I and a few other local activists/friends had to say were sanded down in the name of some generic idea of unity. One where people were represented but not necessarily heard. A friend of mine was much braver than I, speaking about Black women being banned from the Women’s March in Los Angeles while talking about how Black women and non-women were rendered disposable and obscure in the wider movements against Trump and systemic oppression. They haven’t been reached out to by people who worked within the Women’s March since, but I have (probably for the last time after this).
People began leaving to march into the streets a little earlier than planned by the time another trans woman finished speaking and a cis woman got on the podium to talk about another aspect of oppression (despite all efforts to make things snappy, we ran a little long). I didn’t have the best shoes or clothing for marching. As everyone else poured into the streets with banners, I sat by the very water fountain people gathered by to cheered myself and other speakers on. Moments after everyone left, a woman in a black and white “Adult Human Female” shirt took a selfie in front of the empty stage where everyone spoke. I don’t know if there are recordings of mine or other activist speeches from that year. I’m honestly afraid to look, I was terrible. But what strikes me even today is what I had to self-censor. If you get the impression that my speech is just me slinging around rhetoric just to shine a spotlight on things I and people in my corner care about while also trying to center my personal experience in a sympathetic light, that’s because it was made to be that way. I’ve worked with editors before, like I did with Jules Joanne Gleeson and Elle O’Rourke for my piece in “Transgender Marxism”. I’ve even been one myself for my org’s news publication, helping at least a few other writers along the way. But there’s honing one’s own voice while correcting grammar/pacing and then there’s having to squeeze oneself into a non-threatening shape in the name of unity. When using the word “patriarchy” is deemed to be too complicated or alienating at a march where people wear pink pussy hats or hold up drawings of uteri in protest, that’s a sign of something really bad.
Yes, people still wore those in 2020.
Like I said, I talked about this with other organizers. I even mentioned it to a room full of college students when I was invited by the Women’s Resource Center of SDSU to talk about Transmisogyny months after. Still, I wish I’ve been less afraid to be bitchy about this. In the name of not being a “wrecker” or sabotaging my org’s chances of further outreach with other mainstream activists, I chose to be cordial about it outside of the more radical org and activist spaces I knew. Since that day, I’ve gone between hating myself for not manifesting a revolutionary fevor through sheer willpower, hating myself for being a cringey third or fourth year trans woman being elected as a community spokesperson, and hating the circumstances around my transness which lead to the all-too common experience of being the presentable token. I’ve been out since 2016, with the help of other trans women in my life, offline and online. Days after Trump was elected, I wrote an e-mail to all of my supervisors at an old job giving them my name and pronouns. I didn’t need to mention the election to make one of them cry. One older trans woman in that same job came out to me to signal that I’m not alone.
Since then, I’ve worked with different orgs, talked with doctors, gone between jobs, went back to school and just tried to live life. But the sense of responsibility and guilt from being both exemplary and invisible gets me. Somehow I’m both a target and an idol. In what you can charitably call “discourse”, people online voice resentment and jealousy around trans women like me being a hypervisible demographic still subject to murders and poverty. As if the millions of dollars from people buying and streaming Sean Baker’s “Tangerine” gets donated to every tranny on earth. As if C. Riley Snorton’s observations in “Black on Both Sides” about Blackness being subject to transformative yet dehumanizing lionization, from the origins of Gynocology to present-day culture industries and gendered/sexualized life, aren’t affecting whether I’m seen as human even amongst other trans people. Yes, I’m not the only oppressed person. I’m not even the most oppressed person of my group, but its not fun having to play superhero all the time. I shouldn’t have to be Angelica Ross to live.
But even if I am the next Angelica Ross, it wouldn’t matter. What I and other organizers have observed throughout all of the Women’s Marches before COVID exemplify just how unserious the broader women’s movement is about tackling bioessentialism, transphobia or even TERFism. Sure, I’m not getting people interrogating me with Robin Morgan quotes when I go to the bathroom (yet), but I still have to fight alone. Everything about individual and even collective oppression gets included rhetorically, with a few of us qualifying to be spokespeople. Yet every action around that inclusion and acknowledgment has to be filtered through a sentiment of, “What if they come for us next?” before leaders even make canned statements about people dying now. Liberal establishments have had a problem with confronting fundamental problems driving shit like Abbot’s order even when millions were organized around getting Trump out of office. A person like Abbot even being allowed to move like he is under Biden is an extension of that cowardice. I should’ve been more brave when I went on the podium that day (maybe that would’ve gotten me to stop stalling and stuttering). I also should’ve had more people behind my back, even when I’m green, uncomfortable or “alienating” when talking about shit that threatens my life.
After years of “debate”, online doxing and people comparing trans women in dressing rooms to rape, now here we are with the governor of Texas calling Hormone Replacement Therapy child abuse to join fascists in the courts and other states at a shot in establishing Christian Dominionism. And using four or five-syllable words to describe what killing us (and you, too) is the problem? Fuck you.