I’m black, I’m a transfag, I’m disabled, and I’m a survivor of violence and abuse. I’m also a proud kinkster and active member in the BDSM/fetish community.
Yet I’ve heard BDSM be accused of perpetuating racist stereotypes via kinks such as race play. Many trans folks rail against the BDSM community as a place where we are exoticized as kinks and not seen instead as kinky people. BDSM spaces can often be extremely alienating and inaccessible for disabled folks, neuroatypical, and chronically ill.
More than anything else though, I am bombarded with the implication that my participation in BDSM is somehow a self-retraumatization, that I am re-living my abuse, and that myself and those I play with are abusers and abusees alike.
In fact, any one of these identities can be seen as a conflict with my love of BDSM, and I do not disagree that these spaces can do harm as easily as any other space. Neither do I wish to invalidate the stories of those who feel the ways I’ve described above.
However, today in the wake of yet another murder of a black man, I thought about my BDSM community. In the mess of trans erasures (particularly trans women/femmes), the glossing over of violence against black women, the ignoring of the higher rates of violence and genocide against Indigenous Peoples, the silencing of the queer voices that created and lead the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the perpetual inaccessibility of anti-racist actions that is sure to follow this latest act of violence, I thought about my BDSM community. In the wake of so much ongoing Islamaphobic violence, attacks against the sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples, deportations of undocumented folks, constant racist actions taken by the prison industrial complex, and so much more violence besides, I thought about my BDSM community.
I thought about my BDSM community today because they are where are go for healing. They are where I go to be seen in all my racially oppressed, gender non-conforming, crippled, and violated glory and to share in a group release of the constant pain we are so thoughtlessly, casually bombarded with daily.
When i say this, so many people ask me how that is considering all the points I’ve brought up and more besides. The fact is, one of the ways I view BDSM is as a particular kind of therapy.
In Somatic Therapy, one focuses on addressing the symptoms of trauma by focusing on body sensations (or somatic experiences). Physical and mental tensions can remain after a traumatizing incident is long gone because our bodies unintentionally hold on to the energy that makes us want to fight or flee the source of our trauma, leaving us physically frozen in that moment. Somatic Experiencing teaches that this tension can be released through experiencing small amounts of similar distress at a time to give release to that stored tension without retraumatizing us (among other strategies).
In other words, controlled consensual releasing of our desires to fight or to flee our hurt, actually heals us. When put that way, somatic healing sounds very like BDSM play.
The fear, rage and powerlessness I am holding on to every time a cop harasses me, or a community member is jailed or killed, is slowly released with each swing of my riding crop against the body of a willing partner. The terror, helplessness, and distrust caused by a childhood peppered with abuse gently gradually melt away through setting boundaries for myself, using safe words, and experiencing pre-negotiated domination from a responsible and caring partner that I am actually in control of. Giving and receiving after-care with partners who share so many of my intersections grounds me in the present and lets me breathe, cry, and finally let go of so much of the stored negativity we worked out together in our session.
So when I think of how folks like me navigate and live through each day in a world that we were never meant to survive, I think of how BDSM is one of the many beautiful, powerful tools in my arsenal against our oppression. I think of how those who try to shame me for this and those whose micro- (and macro) aggressions I am forced to endure regularly are often the same people, and that is telling. I think about how every time I come together with all my lovely brown, broken, striving, struggling, loving, faggy, glitter-coated kinky unicorns, I AM HEALED. Each time I am healed. Maybe not completely, but a little more every time.
I know this is not everyone’s narrative but it is mine and I wanted to share this for those who feel similarly but may not have the words, the access, or the freedom to say so. And also to say Thank You to my entire kink/fetish/BDSM trans, intersex, two-spirit, gender non-conforming, non-binary, queer, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, lesbian, and gay community of color for living out loud, encouraging me to do the same, and sharing space with me. You mean more than you will ever know.
As a person who is mad, disabled or chronically ill, some things that able-bodied folks take for granted like taking a romantic stroll through the park or going out to dinner or even having the energy to leave the house can be stressful to nearly impossible for us. We want to spend intimate time with each other, go on dates and be cute in this normative way that we’ve been socialized to desire but that is often hard to do. Because of this, I got together with some buddies of mine to create this list of crip-friendly ideas to show love to and romance each other in cute ways that still honor our bodies.
Try one out for your next date night!
1) Nap Date – Are you and/or your partner(s) often bedridden due to pain or fatigue? A cuddle and nap date might be just the thing you need to honor your body’s need for rest while spending that quality intimate time with bae. Grab a blanket and a heating pad and get some spooning in without sacrificing those other spoons.
(Pro-tip: Discuss your dreams before hand. If they’re the last thing you both think about, you might have a shared dream. How romantic!)
2) Picnic at Home – Love the idea of enjoying a romantic meal in the park but can’t do the park part? Just leave it out! Spread out a blanket on your living room floor or sofa, make some hypo-allergenic treats together, pack your snacks in a basket, and crack open a bottle of wine (or sparkling cider).
(Pro-tip: Open up a few windows to get a breeze going and sit amongst your houseplants for that outdoors-y experience.)
3) Movie Night – Get the theater experience without the anxiety (and cost!) of watching it in a giant room packed with strangers. Pop in your favorite cult classic and snuggle up together on the couch. Or if you’e not as old as me and don’t still have physical films in your home, log in to your Netfix or Hulu account.
(Pro-tip: Get that authentic movie-going experience by popping a bowl popcorn and turning all your lights.)
4) Co-Bath/Shower – Another great idea for folks with pain is to enjoy a nice co-soak in the tub. Fill your bathtub with bubbles and gaze at each other lovingly as your hurt melts away. Although, if you are a person of size and mobile like me and my partner (or if you have multiple partners), you might wanna try the shower, lest your bubble fest leaves you trapped in a slippery tangle of chubby thighs.
(Pro-tip: Add some Epsom salt and your favorite essential oils to the water to turn the soothing power up a notch.)
5) Co-massage/Acupuncture – Does you or your partners’ situation require a professional touch? Treat each other to deep tissue massages or make a shared trip to your local acupuncturist. Try to get your tables put close enough together so you can hold hands romantically during the treatments.
(Pro-tip: If one of you is having a better day than the other, turn this into an in-home spa day with one giving the other a full-body massage.)
6) Indoor Camping Trip – Looking for a way to camp-in instead of camp out? Trade your camping tent in for a blanket fort and rough it indoors. You’ll get all the fun of sharing a sleeping bag and none of the bug bites!
(Pro-tip: As it gets dark, use your gas stove top to make gluten-free s’mores & tell each other your best scary stories by flashlight.)
7) Couch Party – Are you and your boo dance floor divas but the club an inaccessible mess? Throw on that new mixtape you got from some guy on the sidewalk (or make a playlist of your favorite tunes), call over all your crip buddies, throw on your slinkiest and most glitter-covered outfit and rock out on your couch!
(Pro-tip: A party’s not really a party unless you take selfies so all your friends can see the great time they missed on Instagram. They’ll be so jealous!)
8) Reading Date – This is the perfect date for the introvert in your life. Pour yourselves a couple (dairy-free) chai lattes and enjoy some non-interactive together time.
(Pro-tip: If you’re feeling a bit more social, try picking titles from poets you love and reciting your favorite poetry to each other. Bedroom eyes optional.)
9) Play Video Games – Wanna show your competitive side but not able to participate in a physical sport? Take that game of hoops to your TV set on your favorite gaming console. Nothing says “I dig you” like virtually dunking in on your date and then shouting, “IN YOUR FACE.” Trust me on this.
(Pro-tip: If you want to keep the spirit of competition without rubbing a brutal loss in your date’s face, invite some friends over and team up against them.)
10) Bed Karaoke – Who says you need to leave bed to have a good time? Pop open your laptop and surf YouTube for your favorite songs. Use a Google search to find the lyrics and perform a duet of your favorite love songs.
(Pro-tip: Find a couple of free YouTube Channels like The Karaoke Channel and choose from a list of popular instrumentals with lyrics already added to the video.)
BONUS PRO-TIP! – Any of these dates can be done via Skype or Google Chat, for those with things like environmental allergies or certain mobility impairments that make it tough for one or multiple partners to ever leave the house (or even if you’re just having a particularly shitty chronic illness/mental health day). Online dates are also awesome for long distance get-togethers. Try sharing a meal together, playing an online board game, sharing holidays & rituals, or even sleeping together for some more unique online options.
Here are some of the wonderful folks who helped create this listicle. Click their names for links to their blogs!
As December is drawing to a close and January looms near threatening to bury all of our indignant rage under a pile of tax refund dollars and unfulfilled resolutions, I feel that tugging urge to remind you of all the legitimate reasons white feminists have given us to stay pissed right on into the new year.
Since last year’s list was such a hit, I’ve decided that I can think of no better way to round off my country’s annual season of over-consumption than to present you with the gift of my second annual Year in Review: The Top 10 Most Racist/Privileged Things White Feminists Did this year. Here’s how our white feminist allies decided to show their solidarity in 2014:
1) Black women have been under assault all year, giving white feminists plenty of opportunities to use their extensive resources and privilege in allyship with them. Alarmingly, the white feminist bloggersphere has been so quiet about so many assaults on black women this year, I almost thought I heard an echo.
One such incident involves Oklahoma City Police officer Daniel Holtzclaw who has been charged with 32 counts of rape, sexual assault, stalking and sodomy against 13 victims, exclusively targeting working class black women with histories of sex work. He was released on bail on Sept 5th with the help of Judge Tim Henderson who reduced Holtzclaw’s bail from $5 million to $500,000. Adding injury, Holtzclaw, who is already on paid leave, has become the hero figure of a social media campaign with over 800 Facebook supporters, t-shirts being sold at $25 a piece, and a GoFundMe page which raised more than $7000 for the rapist.
Perhaps they didn’t hear about it?
2) Speaking of silent white feminists, it seems they also didn’t hear that Django Unchained actress Danielle Watts was racially profiled and illegally detained by racist police officers who assumed she was a sex worker. They got their tip from a baseless 911-call from an even more racist office-worker (I too was shocked that someone could be more racist than the LAPD) who saw her sitting on the lap of, and making out with, her white boyfriend in their car.
But a blurry set of photos from the bastion of journalistic integrity known as TMZ, (that still confirmed that her upper body was not exposed and that she was fully dressed), was somehow all some folks needed to turn their backs on Danielle.
White feminists, however, required even less “proof” than that, having never stepped up to defend Danielle in the first place.
3) Continuing the sexual assault trend was this year’s mass web-based sexual assault wherein the nude photos of hundreds of female celebrities where stolen, shared, and viewed online by thousands of sex offenders* (and, yes, you read me right, I am calling everyone who seeks out and intentionally views or shares these photos without the explicit consent of the women in them, sex offenders. EVERYONE. INCLUDING YOU. Moving on.)
White feminists lost their collective shit about heroine Jennifer Lawrence’s violation, occasionally making cursory mention of a number of other famous white women whose photos were also leaked and/or had commented on the leaks.
However, they conveniently forgot to support or even mention numerous black celebs who were hacked, most notably Jill Scott who was the subject of a particularly brutal Twitter-based attack taking jabs at her body size and shape that was going viral while white feminists focused on chastising folks not to look at JLaw.
The snub didn’t go unnoticed by black celebs either.
In fact, Emma Watson received more support from white feminists than folks like Jill Scott and Gabrielle Union did and photos of her were never actually even released. Because, I mean, obvi the threat of an attack is WAY more serious than an actual attack. Especially since Emma is a new white feminist darling.
4) Apparently Emma Watson is a “game changer” for feminism just by being white and saying stuff vaguely related to the feminisms. This is in spite of the fact that she offers zero analysis of the intersections of race (or trans and gender-non-conforming identities, class, and disability for that matter) with feminism at any point during her entire 11-minute speech. Even when she briefly referenced her own privilege, she somehow failed to mention how her existence as a white woman specifically colored her experiences.
Why weren’t UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka’s or UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri’s speeches on innovative ways to empower women-of-color survivors of sexual violence in conflict regions and engage them in the dismantling of said conflict regarded as game-changing?
Could it be because intersectional and well-researched commentary from even the most well-informed women-of-color will never outshine a pretty affluent white girl’s “My First Feminism” moment?
5) In other “across the pond” news, noted UK-based feminists like Tracey Emin and Kirsty Wark as well as liberal and labor party leaders Harriet Harman, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have all been spotted in the “This is What A Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt that is so trendy, it has even graced the pages of Elle UK.
The shirt, which is made in a Mauritian sweatshop by Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Indian and Vietnamese migrant women making around $1.04 an hour, is selling for around $70, or over a week’s salary.
The workers, who apparently “don’t feel like feminists” and see themselves as “trapped,” don’t seem to understand how empowering it is to share sleeping accommodations with 15 other women for 4-straight years while simultaneously not being allowed contact with their families.
I mean, talk about girl power.
6) On the topic of girl power, it’s become a favorite pastime of white feminists lately to draft exasperatingly ridiculous think-pieces on the newly columbused AAVE (African American Vernacular English) phrase “basic bitch” honoring the basicness of white girls everywhere and even going so far as demanding respect for the already highly respected.
The thing is, aside from their obvious lack of awareness of when and how the term actually came into use (hint: it wasn’t because of the Mean Girls movie franchise OR Kreayshawn), white girls actually have the definition completely wrong. Basic was not introduced as a slur directed at trend-thirsty middle-class white girls because real people don’t actually create slurs around your privilege.
So what does “basic” or the less endearing “basic bitch” mean anyway? It’s the opposite of a bad bitch. It’s someone who ain’t about shit. It’s someone who is mistaken about how fly they actually are. It’s someone whose point of view is not to be respected. But most importantly, it’s generally used in reference to a black girl by other black people. It’s a nuanced and varied word that is one of a surprisingly large lexicon of black euphemisms that white feminists, and let’s face it white folks in general, have
stolen..um, adopted while simultaneously having no idea what’s going on.
Basic was never intended to reference your damn pumpkin spice latte addiction.
So, the real reason white feminists and their friends should stop saying basic is because you appropriated it in the first place, not because it backfired in your faces and is now being used by other people like you to critique your bourgeois existence.
7) Who better to help us through a segue about cultural appropriation than Katy Perry, who missed the list last year in spite of that Geisha
crap um…homage she whipped together for the American Music Awards…
…and a desire to literally skin japanese girls & wear them…
…because it wasn’t until this year that she openly admitted to viewing herself as a feminist (though some would argue that she still seems pretty confused as to the definition).
And she was just in time because her decision to include big booty mummies with giant red lips reminiscent of black face caricatures in an already appropriative “Egyptian-themed” set on during her world tour is a classic example of Katy’s special brand of cultural “appreciation.”
8) In other celebrity news, Feminist Icon ™ Lady Gaga played Tel Aviv in September despite ongoing protests calling for a boycott of Israel and Israeli-made goods by the Palestinian community who has been subject to their ongoing genocidal attacks and apartheid-like policies.
Although, considering her ticket price of $107 for nosebleed seats sitting in the grass, who wouldn’t want to spit in the face of a few thousand dead Palestinians?
Not that this is new for Gaga, she has a history of disregarding boycotts for racial justice. In 2010 she played a concert in Arizona despite repeated calls to cancel her concert there because of an unconstitutional immigration law encouraging the use of racial profiling to detain suspected undocumented immigrants.
9) Those weren’t the only boycotts white feminists ignored. Suey Park’s brilliant #CancelColbert campaign, which began as a reaction to a racist sketch performed by feminist comedian Stephen Colbert (that was ironically intended to be a satirical commentary on racism), was not only ignored by white feminists but provoked a months long attack against her. Numerous articles were penned, more invested in protecting the privilege of a white male comedian than understanding how damaging Orientalism is, while Colbert fans inundated Suey’s Twitter with racist and misogynist slurs and death threats. Any white feminists who weren’t participating in the attacks themselves refused to comment on them at all.
(Though that’s probably because as soon as the attacks started and they realized they were on the same side as the bigoted bros and web bullies section of the internet they knew they had done something wrong.)
I think Satvika Neti put it best saying, “satire, as history has taught us, is supposed to mock the privileged classes, not the minorities. Satire is supposed to punch up at the oppressive social structure, not down at people who continue to be oppressed.”
The very reason The Colbert Report didn’t use the N-word and a joke about blackness in the sketch is because it would have been all too obvious in a post-civil rights era U.S. that that kind of satire is not amusing and in very poor taste.
South East Asians likely seemed like an easier target because their U.S. rights movements have been publicized less and their leaders less prominent than those of the Black community. Both Stephen Colbert AND those attacking Suey know this but admitting it would expose some very real racial bias and even a little self-hate inside of a lot of folks who aren’t quite ready to look at themselves in the mirror.
Well, you don’t get to be pissed at Suey Park because your “progressive” ass laughed at a racist joke and she broke your little world by calling you out on it. Do better.
10) I thought it might be prudent to finish this list off with an example of how you “do better”.
In yet another instance of white feminism gone awry, the good folks at Hollaback, an anti-street harassment movement, commissioned the heavily critiqued PSA above highlighting the experiences of a white woman walking through New York City. The problem is, in the 2 minute video, which contains excerpts of a 10-hour walk through a city that is itself 44-45% white, the only individuals who seem to be shown as harassers are black and latino men.
Fortunately, Hollaback followed up with a timely response and apology regarding the over-representation of men-of-color in their video.
Women-of-color demanded more, however, bringing up the lack of representation of trans and cis women of color in the video as a major issue especially considering their extreme vulnerability and danger in situations involving street harassment (especially trans women of color).
So they created this response video, detailing some of the ways that the intersection of gender and race informs their stories.
And do you know what Hollaback did? They apologized again, incorporating what they learned from this video into a more thorough response. They also committed the over $10k in donations brought in by the original video to create their own, more diverse video series.
Now THAT is how you gracefully accept a critique of your historic racial missteps and make yourself accountable to the communities you claim to serve. I hope you’re all taking notes on this, it’s definitely going to be on the test.
11!!! I’ve decided to add a little spice to your new year (because I hear white feminists don’t use very many spices), and mix the list up this time with a BONUS ENTRY!
It may surprise you to know that you don’t actually have to be white to be a White Feminist ™. People-of-Color who espouse white feminist principles, even to the detriment of their own culture and identity, can be White Feminists too! So without any further ado, I present to you, the Non-White White Feminist of the Year!
Pharrell “New Black” Williams decided this year that he is, indeed, a feminist after some speculation on his part as to whether or not a man can even be a feminist (trust me, Pharrell, you’re not the only unsure party in that debate).
Aside from coining new phrases to express his self-hatred while simultaneously implying that black folks “blame other races for our issues”, (a comment that makes one wonder why Pharrell thinks “Uncle Tom” is a “New” kind of black) Pharrell also showed his dedication to black uplift by calling recent victim of Fergurson, Missouri police violence, Mike Brown, a bully. Pharrell also said that the 18-year old, whose murder has prompted nationwide campaigns and protest amongst the black community and their allies, was asking for trouble.
This phenomena should really surprise no one, especially considering the already interesting ways he’s honored other people of color this year, namely his alleged Indigenous American heritage, by donning a war bonnet on the cover of a fashion magazine.
With that kind of track record, one might wonder how Pharrell will be able to top this in the coming year. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Until then…
* A friend brought to my attention that, “sex offender” is specifically a criminal legal term and may give the wrong impression. While I advocate the extreme shaming of those who think their curiosity (or any other reason they give themselves) is a valid excuse to violate the bodies and privacy of the women discussed herein, I want to make it clear that I do not and will never advocate for the ever expanding prison industrial complex as a solution to any of humanity’s many problems.
This weekend at a conference, a black person said to me that their biggest take-away from the actions taking place in Ferguson, MO was that we need to stop wearing black. A cop had told a group of protesters that the reason they were arrested was because they wore black as a symbol of mourning, but that a group of protesters in black had also rioted in a local retail establishment, leading police to arrest them for suspected involvement.
This person suggested, that deciding on a color to distinguish our movement would prevent peaceful protesters from being confused with “criminals”.
They said we should wear neon green hoodies.
Aside from the obvious problems inherent in coming back from Ferguson with a report-back that has NOTHING to do with the state-sanctioned violence being used against black bodies there is one over-arching problem with this point of view and others like it:
OUR RESPECTABILITY WON’T SAVE US
It has never been a sufficient shield from the dangers of white supremacy and anti-black violence and its track record of failure has remained consistent to this day. Here’s why:
1. You’ve probably heard the oft quoted, “MLK was in a suit when he died.” That’s true, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated because of his ability to mobilize an amount of people for the cause of Black american rights so great that nearly every american movement that came afterwards would use the Black Civil Rights movement as a framework. He was not killed because of a black hoodie. But I don’t want you to get it twisted thinking that respectability ends with what you wear.
The same folks who claim that you can’t build allyships with them if you insist on yelling every time you’re mad [at the murder of people who look like you] are the ones who won’t comment on or pay attention to your story until no less than 50-thousand people are shouting in the streets blocking traffic. Their silence is due to lack of concern of black bodies, not because of your tone. If anything, they refuse to hear you until your tone becomes disruptive and then they only want to shame you into silence.
The same folks who criticize black rioters are the ones who are more concerned with the protection of inanimate business assets than they are of the living breathing black people being murdered by the police at a rate of one every two days.
And YOU endorse this politic when you spend more time trying to prove that Black protesters in Ferguson didn’t set fire to police cars, than trying to explain why violent protest shouldn’t be condemned. You endorse the politic of respectability when you attend and support rallies that don’t center the voices of the youth and non-academic masses that started this movement. You endorse the politic of respectability when you try to convince others not to riot because “we shouldn’t tear down our own neighborhoods” while not acknowledging that most of the businesses and property in these low-income black neighborhoods isn’t black-owned. You endorse the politics of respectability when you criticize actions boycotting black Friday and the Christmas shopping season as being harmful to working class retail workers when working class black people are the ones demanding boycotts and other actions.
2. Our criminalization is a lie and you support it when you try to distance yourself from so-called “criminal activity.”
Where is the proof that Mike Brown robbed a store or Eric Garner was selling loosies? The fact is, black folks are criminalized after their murders to justify their murders.
What danger did Trayvon Martin actually pose to his vigilante neighbor Zimmerman? The fact is, black folks are criminalized to justify white fear of black bodies.
What crime did Duanna Johnson commit for which the legal punishment is to be held down and violently assaulted by two heavily armed policemen? The fact is black women, especially black transwomen, are specifically criminalized for daring to claim sovereignty over their own bodies.
Why did Renisha McBride and Jonathan A. Ferrell’s attempts to get help after car accidents end in their deaths? The fact is, black folks are criminalized because there is no such thing as a black victim in a white supremacist society.
How did the help that Tanesha Anderson and Shereese Francis‘ families requested for their mentally ill family members end in their murders? The fact is, mentally ill and disabled black folks are criminalized for daring to need assistance in a society that has already deemed their lives as not worth that assistance.
How could 12-year old Tamir Rice be shot for playing in the same park he plays in daily? The fact is, black children are criminalized because black innocence cannot exist alongside black demonization, even when the victim is a child.
3. They will drag you no matter what you do. They will find a way to criminalize a 12-year old boy with a toy gun. They will criminalize a senior citizen whose Life Aid alert necklace was accidentally triggered. They will even criminalize a man who SAVED THE LIFE OF A TODDLER and then played the baby gospel music to soothe them while their parents were found.
So, your respectability doesn’t prove our humanity, but that’s not all. Your respectability likely won’t even prove there are exceptions to the dominant racist narrative of our inherent criminality. So what does it do?
Respectability politics act as a tool to keep oppressed black folks from creating real change. And as long as we are more concerned about what white people will think of us than about their oppression of black people, white supremacy as a justification for murder will go unchallenged.
You claim to be an ally of the trans* community or even a friend of an actual trans* person or two. Still, you have your concerns and, rather than use Google like the rest of us, you think to yourself, “why not use the wonderful and bottomless educational resource that is my very own trans* community?” Why not, indeed. Unfortunately, some of those so-called “concerns” are really your unwittingly transphobic beliefs couched in a seemingly innocent desire to learn from or worse, to “help” your trans* comrade. So, before you embarrass yourself and possibly lose a friend in the process, allow us to help you understand why some statements are better left unsaid.
1) “What’s your ‘real’ name?”
– “What’s the big deal?” you ask. You’re just curious after all. And yet, when you meet a woman introducing herself as Mrs. So-and-so you probably don’t ask her what her “real” name is. You don’t ask her this in spite of knowing that there is a high likelihood that So-and-so wasn’t the name she was born with. You say Mohammad Ali’s name in the face of readily available evidence that his mother wanted him to be called Cassius Clay. In fact, it is possible that you have no idea what your favorite rapper’s name is at all. This is because you not only have the capacity to respect adults’ decisions (and in the case of Soulja Boy Tell’em, teenagers’ decisions) to decide what they’d like other folks to call them but you’re also fully capable of calling them exactly what they tell you to call them without being side-tracked by your curiosity.
So then, the real issue is that you are having trouble accepting this trans individual as the person they say they are. When you view a person’s identity as a costume or charade, it is only natural to want to get to know the “real” them underneath the mask. The only problem with that is that in this case, unlike in the case of Soulja Boy, there is no mask. The person you were introduced to by whatever name they were introduced to you is who they are and you need to accept that and stop trying to uncover hidden mysteries that aren’t actually there.
2) “Gender is a social construct anyway, why can’t you just be a butch girl/femme boy?”
– I find it terribly interesting that the folks who mention that gender is a social construct never consider the possibility of operating outside of that construct themselves. For instance, why don’t you identify as the opposite gender or as no gender at all? It’s because “social construct” doesn’t mean that something is imaginary, it means that we’ve collectively agreed to call a certain set of behaviors/traits/phenomena by a name (in this case, gender) and to treat people with variations in those traits certain ways. Within this social construct, some of our actual genders do not match our birth-assigned gender. Outside of this social construct, trans*folks wouldn’t be different, what people called them would be different.
3) “Did you get ‘the surgery’?? / what do your genitals/boobs look like?”
– Remember that time when you initiated a conversation with a complete stranger by talking about how you were uncircumcised so your junk sort of looked like it was wearing a flesh-toned turtleneck sweater most of the time, but it was ok because the ladies didn’t seem to mind? You don’t? Why not? Would that be weird to have a in-depth conversation about how your sex organs look with a person you don’t know (or even with a person you do know relatively well if that’s not the type of relationship you have)? Oh, ok then.
4) What kind of sex do you have? / What do you do in bed?
– I see what you did there. You thought that by modifying the question we wouldn’t notice that you’re still just trying to figure out the answer to number 3 above. If this is the case, ask yourself why you’re so concerned with what’s happening inside the underwear of a person who probably doesn’t want to sleep with you at this point.
5) “Why would you be trans if you still like [insert whatever is the opposite of your birth-assigned gender here]? Can’t you just be straight?”
– This question is sometimes accompanied by the similarly incorrect assumption that binary trans*folks are just super-gays, so gay that they have transcended traditional butchiness / femmedom into a whole other gender. While I won’t deny our unicorn-like amazingness, we trans*folks are hardly gay super heroes. In fact, being gay or straight has zero to do with gender. That can be hard to remember since the T is tacked onto the LGB as though they are all sexualities but you’ll have to do your best here. Just like knowing a person isn’t trans* doesn’t give you any clue about who they’ll be taking home tonight, being a trans-person doesn’t guarantee a hetero-normative coupling.
6) “I don’t get ‘they/them/their’ pronouns / they is plural and it’s grammatically incorrect to address a single person that way.”
– Some people, who may have otherwise been composing treatises via hashtag and who speak in mostly in text shorthand, become surprisingly huge sticklers for grammatical correctness as soon as someone requests that they use the gender-neutral pronoun “they”. In spite of this, trans* folks wanting to be called by the less common ze/hir pronouns get even less compliance. It’s not that it’s hard to understand that some folks don’t consider themselves to be men or women (or consider themselves to be some combination of both). It also follows that these folks would prefer not to be called he or she if there was another viable option. So what’s really going on in this situation? As it turns out, acknowledging that someone doesn’t fit into the two gender categories you’ve been taught your whole life is pretty uncomfortable, especially when it forces you to change the way you use language in order to communicate with and about them. But you know what’s even more uncomfortable than that? Being of a non-normative gender in a society that not only doesn’t acknowledge you exist, but also doesn’t come with language to talk about your existence. So get over yourself and try harder. (also, if you want to learn more about gender neutral pronouns, go here: http://transcendingboundaries.org/blog/153-a-crash-course-in-gender-neutral-pronouns.html).
7) “I still see you as a girl/boy.”
– When you were little, you thought the tooth fairy actually flew into your bedroom at night and carried off your gummy bear coated choppers in exchange for their hard-earned money from the tooth fairy factory or wherever those little suckers work during the day. I can imagine your shock at discovering that this mythical creature was no more mystical than your own parent, which I suppose could be kind of a bummer if you’re 8 and a half. Similarly, your friend/family member/co-worker/neighbor was never the gender you thought they were. They have always been the person they are now expressing outwardly to you and the rest of the world, you just didn’t find out until recently. The fact of the matter is, you were wrong and just like the tooth fairy situation, sometimes we need to grow up and accept that things aren’t always what they initially seem to be.
Once, when we were much younger, my dad threatened to hang me and my siblings out the window by our toes and, much to his chagrin, we laughed. We laughed and laughed. The reason we laughed is because my dad is the least violent, most cuddly teddy bear-esque (though possibly the most shit-talkinest) black man I’ve ever met. I say “black man” specifically because it is important to note that as a black female-bodied individual, I have been subject to a large amount of physical violence at the hands of men and those men have always been black.
I know that’s supposed to be a secret. I am not supposed to be allowed to say that most of the violence my body has known comes from black men and I know why. I know what people think about black men — white people, other brown people, even black folks — hell sometimes even black men themselves believe the shit we tell them about black manhood. I know that I am supposed to be on their side; I am supposed to protect black men from a world that is terrified of them and I am supposed to do so by keeping their secrets. I am supposed to do so at the expense of my own body, my own life, and my own sister’s lives. It’s supposed to be a secret that people like me, like us, are often hurt the most by the people who have the greatest access to us, the folks we sometimes even rely on for safety. How could it be otherwise? In a world that seeks to destroy the black man at every turn, we are just about the only people who they have no cause to fear. Because of this, we sometimes have to live in fear of them, and that fear OF them often sits side-by-side with the fear of what may happen TO them.
It means a lot to me that my dad was so gentle as to inspire unending bouts of giggles when he threatened a bunch of elementary school-aged children. It was important that my dad is a black man and that I was not and am not afraid of him. It is important that there are so many black men, young and old that I am not scared of, in spite of the abuses of other black men. It is important because there are a lot of people who have maybe never even been harmed by a black man who are terrified enough to kill one because in their minds, black men aren’t my father, aren’t my brothers, aren’t my best friends and allies, but are instead some monolithic and brutally dangerous animal.
So for this father’s day, I want two things. First, I want all the non-black (especially white) people who read this, who fear black men, in your large and small ways, in your trauma and in your socialization, in your privilege and in your oppression, to remember that my father is also black and so are many father’s like him. I want you to think about why you’re afraid and I want you to ask yourself if all the black men you are afraid of are putting you in danger. I want you to try not to be afraid so that our fathers can be safe.
Second, I want all the black men who read this to know that this is not a betrayal. I am not responsible for the ways you have been pathologized; WE are not responsible for that. But you ARE responsible for every time you hurt us and every time you don’t stand up for us when we have been hurt. Keeping your secrets won’t save you and certainly won’t save us. However, maybe having more black men around like my dad could.
Happy Father’s Day.
I was strongly considering not writing anything on black history this month. I’m anti-Black History Month and find that its celebration generally serves to reinforce the miseducation of black youth that is perpetuated year-round in the American education system. Below, I attempt to explain how:
When black children are taught our histories in the American public school system, we are taught that historically black people were “just” slaves. We are taught that there are centuries of history where whiteness is doing all the things that humans do, building civilizations and commerce, establishing scientific law, creating art and philosophy, and our history, black history, begins with “just” slavery. Additionally, we learn that, were it not for this benevolent whiteness that would eventually spread across America and save us, we would have stayed poor unfortunate slaves.
On poor unfortunate slaves: Since our lineage begins at slavery, we are rarely, if ever, shown any proof of what blacks can accomplish outside of the influence whiteness. Our whole history is of white folks instructing us on what to do and how to be in every area from skilled trades, to language, to behavior, to spirituality. It is as if we were just these animalistic creatures wandering bison-like through the lush fields of Africa the Country™ until whiteness gathered us up and taught us how to be people. That sentiment doesn’t seem to have gone away, with even the best of “good” whiteness believing we just need more training & saving (see: “at-risk youth” programs**, voluntourism in Africa the Country™, and the American food justice movement***)
On history beginning at slavery: Speaking of lineage, teaching black folks nothing about our ancestors’ existence prior to slavery makes it far easier for us to believe that we haven’t accomplished anything as a group. This combined with the smattering of post-slavery black inventors that we are given to review during black history month leads us to believe that black ingenuity is a rare moment, occurring only in the most singular individuals, who are usually only building upon what whiteness has already accomplished. Pre-slavery innovations and the diverse cultures that made them are left out of white history completely or are degraded; after all how valuable of a culture can you have if you sold each other into slavery and/or were powerless, uncivilized, and unintelligent enough to be captured like animals?
The worst result of this truncated lesson is not even our sometimes lifelong ignorance of our origins, but the fact that when we finally do research our roots, we are looking at them through a lens of whiteness. We disregard the rich tribal pasts of the west African peoples most black Americans actually hail from in favor of tales of more prominent African empires like Nubia and Egypt because we need our Africa to be impressive in relation to the kingdom of whiteness. The lives, culture, spiritual practices and deities of out actual ancestors aren’t as important as proving that Africans, and by extension black Americans, are just as important, just as clever, and just as powerful as whites. The only problem is, we have already relinquished our power by letting whiteness decide what power looks like for us.
Furthermore, we feel content to know anything at all about Africa, because it’s all one place for white America and by extension, many of us. We apply all of their/our stereotypes to entire continent & we apply any history we learn to the entire continent, and by extension, to ourselves. In the end we’re left with a hodge-podge of languages, religions, histories, and colloquialisms to slap together into our identity (see: Kwanzaa) but little to no real connection with modern-day Africa or the billion-plus people occupying it’s 56 countries.
On “just” slavery: However, the degradation of our slave history in itself is a travesty as it completely disregards that slave labor built the United States & many other nations besides. The free forced labor of black bodies enabled America to become an international superpower in an incredibly short amount of time compared to similarly successful nations. Money from the slave trade made fledgling financial institutions (like Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase) into multi-million dollar conglomerates, funded this nations government buildings still in use today and constructed by black hands, created cities that draw people from all corners of the world, and supported America’s entire system of agricultural production, which was the cornerstone of the U.S. economy. Black slaves not only fed the nation but also, very literally, nursed each of the members of the most powerful white families from our breasts. The 1% lives because we lived. This is our country. It seems that the only work that white America did to make this country what it is involves figuring out new ways to control black people.
On the white savior complex: Allegedly, white folks eventually saved black slaves from the evils of slavery. Not all white folks of course, but the “good” white folks*. At any rate, we have been saved and there is this prevailing sentiment that we are this poor sniveling thankless being. How can we complain about whiteness when whiteness saved us?
It’s as though our freedom wasn’t simply a casualty of a war about something else (namely the south over-compensating for their dwindling power owing to a rapidly urbanizing north by seceding from the union).
It’s as though this can’t be a “both and” situation instead of “either or”. As if we conveniently don’t remember the very same people who allegedly fought for our freedom would later not want us living in their neighborhoods, or going to their schools, or working beside them.
Or even drinking water from the same spout they drank water from.
But as we know, this same savior would later give us a Black History Month but then refuse to explain why black history wasn’t just incorporated into the curriculum the rest of the year.
– The Colored Fountain
*I think this historic mental monument whites have erected in their hearts to commemorate the goodness of this historic (and fictitious) white savior is what makes them so eager to remind us that not all whites are bad. If they can somehow link themselves to these good whites, they can more readily absolve themselves of the guilt of their ancestors’ history of violence against us.
**The “at risk” label is bullshit in the way that it labels & stigmatizes youth in lieu of the system that leaves them in danger. More on that in a future essay.
***I have things (so many things) to say about the food justice movement in another essay as well, for those interested in an elaboration.
In honor of the #stopblamingwhitewomenweneedunity hashtag (started via this Huffington Post article penned by the delightfully clueless Adele Wilde-Blavatsky) I’ve decided to put together a top ten honoring the many interesting methods white feminists employed this year to promote unity between themselves and feminists of color.
From refusing to defend feminists of color against attacks from the patriarchy (or from other white feminists for that matter), to deriding feminists of color for not being feminist enough, to blaming feminists of color’s oppressions on their own cultures (instead of, you know, patriarchy) white feminists sure have a funny way of expressing their desire for unity with feminists of color.
10. When 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, the young actress and Oscar nominee, was called a cunt by The Onion in a poorly thought out satire attempt, white feminists decided that not defending her made sense because cunt shouldn’t be a bad word anyway and whatever, it was a joke ok? Anyway, it’s not like white feminists are in the habit of defending other white women against gender-based comedic assaults. I mean, unless you were called a slut. Or if Seth MacFarlane sings a song about your boobs.
9. Lily Allen became a white feminist icon for pop anthem “Hard out Here”, a video in which she sings the lines “no need to shake my ass for you cause I’ve got a brain” over a backdrop of black women shaking their asses for you in a demonstration of how brainless they are. Clearly, this video would make any feminist proud, since intersectionality is not a real thing. Even so, this too ended up being an instance of a satire that went completely over the heads of women of color feminists, who mistook the video as a fully clothed white woman singing about her own liberation while using gyrating half-naked black women and hip-hop culture in general to illustrate her point about what empowerment doesn’t look like.
8. And in an interesting turn of events, Miley Cyrus is a also feminist icon for doing almost the exact opposite of Lily Allen, and reveling in her own booty-shaking scantily-clad glory. I say almost because she does this while accessorizing with black women and black “ratchet” culture in many of the same ways that Allen does, since that seems to be the only method white feminist icons know of to drive their feminist viewpoints home. White feminists rushed to defend her from scathing slut-shaming criticism but, once again, very few critiqued her minstrelsy (and even when they did give her metaphoric black face and cultural appropriation a cursory mention, it was only to say something along the lines of “this deserves attention” just not in this article).
7. Self-proclaimed feminist mouthpiece Lena Dunham also skyrocketed to feminist icon status this year when she won two Golden Globes for her hit TV series Girls, a show which Dunham believes represents any woman who hasn’t felt her voice represented in the media (to paraphrase her Globe acceptance speech). She has naturally decided to only use upper middle class, college educated white women as the stand in voice for women of a wide range of different cultural experiences, ethnicities and economic backgrounds and has based the show in some imaginary section of Brooklyn, NY where people of color appear to be almost non-existent. But don’t take that to mean that Dunham doesn’t see people of color because she absolutely does; just only when they’ve done something she doesn’t like.
6. Yet, somehow, Beyoncé missed the boat for white feminist icon this year despite the success of yet another album with a number of pro-woman anthems and finally officially declaring her support of feminism. Is it because she’s decided to promote her music under married name just like Lily Allen has? Is it because she posed half-naked for the same photographer Lena Dunham posed half-naked for? What exactly was she missing that they had? It’s hard to be sure but there’s been some speculation.
5. Then there’s Michelle Obama, who is apparently failing feminists nationwide through her startling inaction since the message she sends by starting the first organic garden on white house grounds is not activist enough. Additionally, using her platform as First Lady to preach good diet and exercise when blacks in America have the highest rates of diet-related illness is an obvious waste of her time, as is focusing on raising her children. White feminists want us to remember that motherhood, especially woman of color motherhood, especially black motherhood, is never radical or feminist.
4. In world news, white feminists continued campaigns against India this year provoked by what they perceived as “cultural attitudes” and backwards traditions, which have led to India’s recent rape “epidemic” which gained international notice late last year. It’s hard to say how Indian rape culture became the epidemic of choice over rape-culture in western nations while having a higher rape conviction rate (about 24%) than many western nations, including the UK (7%) and Sweden (10%), and despite America not only topping the global list of reported rapes per year (including having college campus sexual assault statistics that would seem to make a woman equally as safe in an American dorm as in a Delhi public bus). What we do know is that there is no need to fear; white savior is here to bring women of color salvation from their savage male counterparts.
3. Speaking of international feminist attitudes, the Ukraine-based feminist group Femen staged what they called a “topless jihad” this year, allegedly in support of Amina Tyler, a Tunisian woman who was arrested after posting topless photos of herself with feminist slogans painted on her chest. They provided their “support” in the form of a full-scale attack on Islam, and showed their solidarity with Muslim women by calling Islamists “inhuman beasts” and by producing images of themselves profaning Islamic spiritual practices and customs among other forms of encouragement. White feminists then patted themselves on the back for a job well done.
2. Although women of color have been attempting to bring Hugo Schwyzer’s racist antics to the attention of white feminists at least since his defense of a white woman’s plagiarism of a Chicana blogger’s work in 2008, white feminists seemed to mostly ignore them (and in certain cases even defended him) until he himself broke down and admitted his bigotry earlier this year, proving that a white man, even an attempted murderer and admitted sexual predator, is always more reliable than a black woman. The incident, along with the support Schwyzer received from bloggers at popular feminist sites Feministe, Jezebel and Pandagon, resulted in the creation of the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag by Mikki Kendall. The hashtag and accompanying tweets were promptly reposted on the very site they’d been created to critique in an effort to encourage dialogue, though it slipped the poster’s minds to advise their readers that the hashtag was about them.
1. Last, but certainly not least, feminist folk-singing icon and Ani DiFranco chose to help black feminists workout their history of slavery issues by making music and good vibes for them on a former plantation (and inviting them to do the same for the low price of $1100-$4000 a head). When large numbers of ungrateful women of color expressed outrage at this move, and when DiFranco stayed silent in the face of said outrage, DiFranco supporters took to Facebook in her defense, with one even going so far as to create a fake black online persona to defend their position. Luckily said persona used enough bastardized Ebonics that black feminists were finally able to successfully understand and accept white feminists educated and enlightened viewpoints for what they were. Unfortunately, it was too late to save the retreat from being cancelled.
Oh well, there’s always next year! Until then…
The Colored Fountain