a relatable, humanizing champion

One of the things I’ve been talking about on twitter since the Bruce Jenner interview everyone is talking about, is some of the reactions I’m seeing from the trans community. Particularly, white trans women. On seeing my third story that essentially calls Jenner the relatable/human/champion the community needs, I feel like the time has come for a proper blog post about this. Because, well, white trans women are white women and white women have a really long history of silencing, exploiting, coopting, erasing, etc women of colour. White trans women are no different from this.

In another sense, this is going to be a post about celebrity, fame, and (hyper)visibility.

The first story I read was “Jenner Humanizes transgender cause”. This wasn’t written by a white trans woman, but one is attributed as saying “Jenner’s openness humanizes the issue” (the ‘issue’ being trans/gender).

The second story I read is by a white settler in new zealand who wrote an article called “we need a champion for transgender acceptance”. She writes:

Despite all the hype, Bruce Jenner has started the transgender community on the road to acceptance.

It has been going on for a considerable time with the stories of Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Geena Rocero and so many others, but we have needed a ‘champion’.

The third story, on the surface, appears much better since it mentions the reality of everyday trans people, also written by a white trans woman. She writes:

Life isn’t as bad for all of us as it has been for Ms. Diamond1, but it’s bad enough, for enough of us, that to call Jenner brave is like praising my cat for all her hard work in curling up on a warm cushion and sleeping all day. It’s not right that we’re so taken with him, so impressed, when so many others are forgotten or maligned or thrown away to die.

And yet, that’s exactly why Bruce matters so much. Yes, of course the public should care more about transgender people who aren’t white or famous or rich. But they don’t. That’s human nature. We sympathize better with others we perceive as being like us. For the white, middle-class majority, that’s someone like Bruce Jenner.

I hope that people are beginning to notice a pattern, here. During the same period as Jenner’s interview, Laverne Cox became the first trans woman to win an Emmy, for her documentary on trans youth. Big deal. Janet Mock also just got interviewed by Oprah. Again, a big deal. Ms. Cox was probably the most ‘famous’ trans woman before Jenner came out… but both her and Ms. Mock have been, as the second story notes, trailblazing for trans people for years now. Importantly, as I noted on twitter yesterday, they’ve done a great deal to educate the mainstream media on how to respectfully interview trans women.

In many ways, their work and selves create the ‘road to acceptance’ that Diane Sparks attributes to Jenner’s coming out.

All of this is deeply important for how the white trans community has been reacting to the interview. These three stories build a fairly clear picture that white trans people have been waiting for any given white trans person to overshadow Ms. Cox, especially.

Now, as I’ve also been saying, this isn’t about Jenner specifically. Part of the problem I have with how the (white) trans community is responding to this is that Jenner is being lauded as a hero, despite not have had the time or opportunity to actually shows us what kind of trans advocate/activist he is planning to be (or if he is planning to do any advocacy at all). We just don’t know. All we know is that he is a white, wealthy, republican trans woman who just came out. That’s it.

And, yet, it is Jenner who is the ‘champion’ who got ‘us’ started on the road to acceptance. He is the person who humanizes trans/gender. He is who the ‘public’ can relate to. This speaks to the general systemic issue that many Black women have to navigate. Jenner literally does nothing but be himself and already is more accomplished and praised than Ms. Mock and Ms. Cox. Their years of advocacy and work? Secondary to Jenner’s mere existence.

All of which is to say “Black trans women aren’t human” and/or “trans women of colour aren’t human”. This is what is fundamentally being communicated by this framing of Jenner’s interview. Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Geena Rocero are not champions, despite literally being the path Jenner (and these white woman) walk on. Janet Mock obviously cannot ‘humanize’ trans/gender despite having written a personal and beautifully written best-selling memoir. Laverne Cox also cannot humanize trans/gender despite how she talks about she isn’t reliably coded as a woman or her insecurity about her body and beauty. And these things can’t be related to by the ‘public’, so long as this ‘public’ is understood to represent the default cis, white, middle class human.

Part of the problem is ‘audience’ and/or ‘public’. Maybe trans people can relate to Ms. Cox and Ms. Mock, but cis people can’t.

But, of course, the notion that a wealthy, white, conservative is more humanizing, relatable, and a champion compared to (hyper)visible Black trans women isn’t something that a lot of people seem ready to explore. But also how these white trans women project onto the public how they perceive the interview. By their own framing, they are not the ‘public’ as trans women. And so, because they find Jenner more human, relatable, and champion-material, thus so must the cis, middle class, white ‘public’.

I also pointed out on twitter that the reason I care about this, is because of how history is currently being written. With Jenner’s interview being placed on the same level of historical significance as Elle’s coming out, we are currently in the middle of history being re/written. This is just the beginning. From this point on, regardless of Laverne Cox’s 2014 TIME magazine cover with the headline “The transgender tipping point” (already being appropriated to talk about Jenner’s interview), Jenner’s interview will be treated as the ‘tipping point’ for trans ‘rights’.

Within a week of the interview, we are already seeing how white trans women are working to diminish and erase the monumentally important role that Black trans women and/or trans women of colour have had in reshaping modern transgender discourse. This is exactly what white revisionism looks like. And, sadly, I know that this one blog post and my recent tweets won’t make much of a difference. White supremacy is a powerful thing and, regardless of Jenner’s own actions, it has an important investment in him and how the trans community perceives him.


  1. For those who don’t know, “Ms. Diamond” is Ashley Diamond. She is a Black trans woman incarcerated in Georgia who just won the right to access (some) trans-related health care. This link will take you to a video of her talking about her case, TW for assault, rape, medical abuse 

umbrellas, reclaiming slurs, and community

Inasmuch as I’m not really interested in having a discussion over the edge cases of ‘queer’, I find myself — after a nice sleep — troubled by certain elements of the shit that went down on tumblr over this post.

The most troubling assumption was, especially amongst the teens who were arguing against me, that ‘queer’ isn’t a slur… because it has been reclaimed. And, thus, even if you aren’t, have never been, and will never be a target of the slur, you can use it to identify yourself.

This is false.

Queer is a slur. Yes, it has been more widely reclaimed than many other slurs, but it is still a slur. This isn’t even an historical argument (ie, it’s violent past). It is used hatefully and violently today. There are people properly under the ‘umbrella’ of queer who are actually triggered by the word and do not want anyone (including other queers) using the word in reference to them. You are denying the lived experience of these ppl when you act like ‘queer’ is no longer a site of violence, but rather something aspirational.

The next troubling aspect is people equating ‘lgbttqia+++’ with ‘queer’ as if both of these things refer to the same thing.

They don’t.

Here’s a great example:

asexuals are usually excluded from LGBTQ groups. it’s hard to find sanctuary with other queer people because

‘Queer’ and ‘LGBTQ’ aren’t interchangeable. They don’t refer to the same set of individuals.

Saying someone doesn’t have the right to reclaim a slur, is not the same as saying someone isn’t under the ‘lgbtqia++’ umbrella1.

Why isn’t ‘lgbt’ the same as ‘queer’? This leads into the third thing that is something I’ve talked about a lot:

There is no ‘lgbtqia++’ community.

It is an umbrella acronym that refers to distinct (but overlapping) communities. Each of those letters stands for a community with its own experiences and its own needs.

It is a terrible mistake to think that there is a general ‘lgbt’ community that exists and that people can join. Terrible on an individual level because it leads to nothing but disappointment and disillusionment when you find out that, for example, cis gay men literally do not give a fuck about anyone other than themselves but hold most of the power and wealth. And that most of the national/large ‘lgbt’ organizations really only cater to cis gay men and their needs2.

It is also a terrible mistake on a inter-community level. Acting like we are all one community elides and erases the fact that our distinct communities actually have different needs and different priorities. It also, importantly, prevents any real movements towards solidarity between communities.

What people really communicate when they say that the lgbt community is a ‘community’ rather than a collection of communities, is that they want admittance to Gay Inc, which claims to represent and BE the ~community~ but actually serves the interest of a select few. All of this built on the backs of trans women of colour.


  1. And, yeah, I was around when the alphabet soup acronym was first being used… unfortunately, the ‘A’ did, originally, stand for ‘allies’. And I’m so fucking glad that it doesn’t any more. Asexual ppl belong in the umbrella, allies do not. 

  2. See also: homonationalism. 

defending the right to oppress…

Days later and I still find myself irritated by this exchange on twitter:

defend-cis-womens-transmisogyny

I’m not surprised how that person decided to explain their defense of ‘women’s right to be transmisogynist’ via ‘free will’ (I had blocked this person by this point and only saw the explanation just now).

But do you see how explanation is disingenuous and displays a real lack of understanding of power and oppression?

In the first response, we see that they “defend cis women’s right to be inclusive or not”. Then I ask them straight out ask if they really mean they defend cis women’s right to be transmisogynist. They concur.

Now. The greater context for this twitter exchange is my post about free loaders/bad actors and legislation being written to exclude trans women from accessing gender appropriate public accommodations. So, to be clear, we are talking about real and actual policies and legislation. The context for this is actual stuff happening in the real world that has a material impact on how trans women (of colour) are marginalized.

And then…

Suddenly I’m indirectly being accused of being the ‘thought police’ and we are talking about ‘opinions’.

When in reality, the thing we are talking about is stuff like Vancouver Rape Relief and the cis women there excluding trans women from accessing the service. When you “defend cis women’s right to be inclusive or not” this is what you are talking about. This isn’t theoretical or just about people’s opinions and thoughts. Sure, the person says they don’t have the right to act on this…

But again: this demonstrates a dangerous misunderstanding about power and oppression. Transmisogyny isn’t an ‘opinion’ but a system of oppression. Cis women excluding trans women from institutions, spaces, etc. is a part of this system of oppression. Indeed, they are enforcing and perpetuating it. Happily participating rather than passively supporting.

No one has the ‘right’ to be oppressive. End of story.

And acting like the ideologies people subscribe to has no actual impact on the real world is both contrary to fact and a way to elide the responsibility oppressors have to STOP OPPRESSING PEOPLE. Ideologies structure and determine how our actual institutions and social structures. They have real world impacts and lead directly to things like Vancouver Rape Relief and the exclusion of public accommodations in Bill C-279 bc of the supposed danger trans women pose to cis women.

Cis women have no right to be transmisogynist.

White women have no right to be racist.

Able women have no right to be ableist.

Etc and so on.

No such ‘right’ actually exists. Even in the most liberal of shitty discourse, there is no right to oppress. And, no, trying to back peddle and make this about ‘opinions’ while evoking 1984-esque ‘thought crimes’ is fucking bullshit. You’re bullshit.

bad actors, the freeloader problem, and transmisogyny

I’m writing this post, in part, because I haven’t seen too many trans women talking about it and I think that trying really really really hard to pretend like the case of Christopher Hambrook doesn’t actually exist1 but, sadly, it does. We can’t ignore that this happened because it is a real world case that confirms for every conservative and radfem out there that their dire warnings about passing public accommodation laws for trans women will allow predators access to vulnerable people.

(tw: I’m going to talk about what happened in non-graphic language but this does deal with rape and sexual assault)

Basically. The facts are these: a previously convicted sexual predator name Christopher Hambrook assaulted two women at a women’s shelter. He was staying there because he lied about being a trans woman in order to gain access to the shelter. In the link in the footnote, it mentions that there was no law on record (at the time) saying that the shelter had to accommodate self-identification, rather the shelter had its own policy for this.

Now, I have actually read at least one radfem who referred to this event as a way to critique current legal movements towards enshrining the right to public accommodations for trans women. And, in the link, we can see that conservatives are also using this documented incident to directly impact policy and the law.

Up to and including now, a lot of trans women have taken the tactic of saying ‘there is no incident of trans women assaulting cis women in washrooms/shelters/etc’. And this claim is still true but ultimately meaningless. The thing is, is that radfems and conservatives do not see a difference between trans women and predators like Hambrook.

In a lot of the stories/articles I’ve read in relation to this people make a lot of the fact that being on HRT or doing GCS is a way to determine which trans women are ‘real’ and which aren’t. Except, given that we are talking about a homeless shelter in this particular example, are we really expecting a homeless trans women to have access to hormones and the money for surgeries? This is literally an impossible requirement. Even in a context like Ontario, where the crimes took place, it is impossible. Hormones for HRT are not covered by the state prescription insurance provided to poor ppl (I know bc I’m on this plan). Yeah, surgeries and the like are covered, however the only surgeon in Canada is in Montreal and homeless people just don’t have the money to travel AND the ability to spend weeks recovering from major surgery.

However this doesn’t actually address the real problem. Nor does trying to rely on stats and whatever to say “trans women don’t do this” when, to those who hate us, there is no qualitative difference between us and a man pretending to be us. As awful as this is to think about, this is the reality we are dealing with. And it we must grapple with this because it has real, material impacts on our rights (I mean, again, that link is about a senator who referred to the case as a way to amending a bill to prevent public accommodations for trans women).

The actual problem with all of this is a problem that is a constant thorn in social/ethical/political philosophy for a long fucking time (which is why I get that most people simply have been content to ignore it). This is the problem of ‘bad actors’ and/or ‘free loaders’ (the latter if we are talking about economic policy).

In general, the problem here is that if your policy/ethics is oriented towards the inclusive and humane, it becomes difficult (or impossible) to distinguish between genuine people and those pretending to be so.

The problem of free loading is pretty much exactly why most social services continue to be either cut or have increasingly greater barriers towards accessing them. In visceral racial terms, this is the spectre of the ‘Welfare Queen’ (who, in America, is always coded as Black). It doesn’t matter how many times actual facts and statistics are used to disprove this myth, it remains omnipresent and relevant because it hits on this problem of free loaders. The people who, yes, game the system (or try to). And the difficulty of systematically distinguishing between those who are in genuine need and those who aren’t.

And as we can see with how this plays out in welfare and other social assistance policy, the general ‘solution’ to this problem is to create more and more barriers to access it. To set up more gatekeepers and more stringent rules for access.

What you almost never see is anyone advancing the thesis that the free loader ‘problem’ isn’t actually a problem and that blaming the existence of bad actors/free loaders on the system rather than holding the individuals themselves accountable misses the point. Ultimately, there really isn’t a way to have a broad, inclusive policy or ethics without admitting the possibility of abuse.

Why? Because the choice to abuse a system can’t actually be influenced by the system itself. People who behave unethically will do so and there isn’t, ultimately, anything anyone can do about it. Which is why they and not the system are responsible2.

In trying to understand how this plays out in the real world, we can talk about this shelter and its policies. How could the shelter have prevented this from happening?

Well, they could’ve done a criminal record check… but that also takes weeks and he was homeless right now. But also, from what the stories say, Hambrook gave no identification other than a self-identification as a trans woman.

This means that, their other, best option of preventing this from happening is having a ‘womyn-born-womyn’ policy.

Ok. But what of the actual homeless trans women who need shelter? They can just safely go to men’s shelters, right?

You see what the problem is here? There isn’t any actual solution to this, but people pretend like there is and this is why we end up with Senator Plett saying that legally preventing public accommodations for trans women is the solution. This is also the favourite solution for radfems.

But. There is no solution. Or, at least, no good solution has been found. The problem of free loaders has been a major issue in philosophy for a really long fucking time.

So how do you deal with the conservatives and radfems who constantly worry about this problem? Well… you can’t. Why? Because the problem is real and, as the Hambrook case demonstrates, it can happen. Worse, it’ll probably happen again in the future. The real problem here is living in a world where rape culture exists and is generally supported. The real problem, here, is that men exist in the world who are predators and will find a way to target and victimize vulnerable people. The real problem is that Senator Plett and his ilk do not consider trans women to be vulnerable women (or even people at all).

All of which gets you into arguing over the humanity of trans women. And… this is not a debate any of us should be willing to entertain.

I’m struggling with how to conclude this essay because… well, I have no real recommendations for anyone. Other than… choose your battles and choose your battlegrounds carefully. Getting sucked into a debate over the freeloader problem (especially if you accept the conservative/radfem framing) is a no-win situation because no solution to the problem exists. So too (as always) getting sucked into a debate over whether or not trans women are human is a battleground designed for you to loose, since entering the field at all is a tacit acceptance that the premise might be true.

But also… as a community, we can’t sit around and pretend like Hambrook doesn’t exist, not when he is being used as a weapon against trans women. We can’t pretend like pushing for trans inclusive policy doesn’t actually create the free loader problem. Our energy is best spent not in denying that this exists, but in trying to figure out real strategies of mitigation and (hopefully) prevention that can actually work in practice. Our energy and efforts are best spent in directly engaging the issues of rape culture and on creating a victim-centric approach to organizing.


  1. I’m including the link in a footnote bc I want to trigger warn for sexual assault, rape, and transmisogyny. Especially if you google the name. This particular link gives details but isn’t too sensationalist, please keep all warnings in mind. 

  2. I’m flattening out a lot of different things. But I’m purposefully speaking of ethics and not legalities here, since we know that there are a lot of social/environmental factors for which bodies are criminalized and treated as inherently unethical. 

recent tweets on the academy

twitter collection on who gets arrested for murdering Black trans women

twitter collection on trans day of visibility

on nordicism, racism, and white supremacy

who gets caught for transmisogynist hate crimes?

a few days ago on twitter, i pointed out that i’d noticed an interesting (but not surprising) pattern in the arrests made for murders of/violence against twoc (primarily Black women, since i’m talking about the US here). so the thing i noticed was that the only people i really ever saw getting charged, arrested, and convicted for murdering or attacking Black and/or Latina trans women were Black men.

To make how I can notice just a pattern clear: I curate news for @girlslikeusnews on twitter. I’ve been on hiatus to recharge my batteries and I’m just now trying to catch up on a month’s worth of news. But this means that I read and scan A LOT of articles. My google alert query is pretty fucking broad. And I’ve been doing this for a few years now.

A few… other observations. First. Very few arrests/convictions are ever made in these cases, most go unresolved. Second. Black men are arrested/convicted/incarcerated at highly disproportional rates in the US.

One of the things I wanted to know is why the police only seem to be able to find Black men in cases involving Black trans women. Is it because ‘Black on Black’ crime is that bad? Is it because the Black community is uniquely transmisogynist? Is it because people of other races don’t kill or attack Black trans women?

The answer, of course, to all of these questions is a loud and resounding “NO”.

What I think it is, and this should be fairly obvious, is that the police’s apathy towards the deaths and violence experienced by Black trans women doesn’t get in the way of their need to incarcerate as many Black ppl as possible. The police may not care about Black trans women, but they always care about incarcerating Black ppl. Always.

Where becomes a really big problem is in the case of Islan Nettles. Only last month was an arrest made in her murder. The police arrested one Black man when it was said that there were maybe seven people involved. But they also arrested him two years after her death. Which leads us to this article where he defends his innocence:

Police initially arrested another man, Paris Wilson, in connection with the killing, but on Aug. 20 2013 — the same day Nettles died — Dixon went to the 32nd precinct stationhouse and told investigators he attacked her, according to officials. Dixon declined to elaborate on what he said to police….

The reason for the delay in charging him for Nettles’ death was not clear, but investigators say they struggled because witnesses had difficulty telling Dixon and Wilson apart.

Okay… are you seeing what the problem is here? Like. Yeah. I want justice for Islan Nettles, but this? Does not look like it. My confidence that the ‘right’ man was arrested is about -1. The thing is, is that Black men are convicted of crimes on evidence this flimsy and investigations handled this poorly.

Leaving aside the transmisogyny he expressed in this story (“I can tell the difference between a man and a woman,” he said.), I’m just… yeah. Not convinced that the NYPD actually gives two shits about Islan and that their ‘investigation’ was anything more than perfunctory.

What I found interesting about this is that one day after expressing this, I read about another Black man being arrested for the murder of a Black trans woman — Gizzy Fowler. And so the pattern continues…

I have nothing really substantive to say about any of this, other than pointing out the pattern. The only real ‘solution’ to this is prison abolition. Especially when you consider what I realized the other day: the men who are convicted of transmisogynist hate crimes go to the same prisons as twoc. Think about that. This was confirmed by something Dixon said himself:

“There are transgender people here in jail and I get along fine with them.”

This is…. yeah. I guess I do have one last question for the trans*nationalists and homonationalists who’ve been pushing hate crime designations as a ‘solution’ for violence in teh community: does this look like justice to you?

The last frontier in sexual bigotry: transgender rights – LA Times

The last frontier in sexual bigotry: transgender rights – LA Times.

i have… so many negative feelings about this framework. i mean.

how can trans rights be the ‘last frontier’ of the movement/s started by twoc at stonewall?

there is a lot of violent erasure and historical revisionism necessary in order to make this headline coherent.

My conjecture was that transgender rights were being attacked because that was the last option for those inclined to sexual discrimination. In a world where gays and lesbians were increasingly accepted in society, in their families, and in popular culture, politicians hoping to solidify their standing among the more bigoted members of their base had few other victims to aim at. The transgender community was still sufficiently unfamiliar to the public, its voice seldom heard, so it served as an easy target for any office-seeker looking to ride the us-vs.-them wave.

yes. sort of. but not really. like. we can’t pretend like it was a specific political strategy of Gay Inc to push twoc out and into the darkness in order to achieve their precious homonationalist recognition.

and i’m seeing more and more of this type of claim. that trans rights are finally coming up and we too will be able to assimilate to the white supremacist settler state!

except.

except.

the issue is, is that there will be no large inter/national movement towards pushing trans ‘rights’ like our ability to access public accommodations. there will be no multi-million dollar funded organizations and advocacy groups. no one is going to mobilize.

you know why?

bc the problem facing the ‘trans rights movement’ is different than Gay Inc.

mainly because UNLIKE Gay Inc trans ppl deal with bullshit gender essentialist/reductionist shit from both the right AND the left. this article points out how conservative politicians are beginning to single out trans ppl in their platforms, but they never needed to pay much attention to trans ppl bc ppl on the left were already doing the most to ensure we lacked access to necessary spaces and resources.

like.

vancouver rape relief has been happily and legally excluding trans women from its beginning without the need of any conservative politician chiming in and saying that ‘biological males should be kept away from vulnerable people’ like REAL women. and transmisogyny on the left isn’t restricted or the sole domain of radfems. i’ve seen the same shit in the radical eco justice movement, the same in the socialist/marxist movements, etc and so on. indeed… as radfems show the more putatively ~radical~ the group the more likely they are to enforce and support transmisogyny. just as the more conservative the group the same.

the problem too is that we can’t rely on centrists to do anything because there isn’t really a centre any more. overall politics have become too polarized in either direction (but have overall shifted to the right).

basic takeaway: conservatives moving to enshrine in laws what is already practiced might be a new thing, but the transmisogyny and violence that motivates it isn’t and it is a shared quality of the left and the right.

and whatever gains teh ~trans movement~ is able to make will do little or nothing to actually address the problems that leads to the violent deaths of so many twoc.