Sunday, March 29, 2009

HRC Revisionism--from Washington Blade

HRC rewriting ENDA history?

HRC’s board released a statement this week affirming that it would not support a “gay-only” version of ENDA.

“It’s the policy of HRC that the organization will only support an inclusive ENDA,” says the statement. “In 2007 House leadership informed us that there were insufficient votes to pass an inclusive bill, so they decided to vote on a sexual orientation only bill. We made a one-time exception to our policy in 2007 because we strongly believed that supporting this vote would do more to advance inclusive legislation.

“We will not support such a strategy again.”

HRC spokesperson Trevor Thomas said the policy is not new.

“The statement is a reiteration of our current policy and should not be portrayed as new or a shift — this has always been our policy and is a clarification considering what happened in 2007,” Thomas said.

That’s not quite right. Back in 2007, HRC did the right thing in (tacitly) supporting an important piece of pro-gay legislation. At the time, HRC said it wasn’t supporting gay-only ENDA, it just was not opposing it. HRC was predictably slammed for its seemingly wishy-washy stance, but the reality, of course, is that this country has a long history of incremental civil rights gains and opposing a gay rights bill would have put HRC at odds with supportive lawmakers who were championing the bill.

More here.

My take: I'll believe it when I see it. And even then, there are a lot of organizations that are far more worthwhile to support. An acquaintance wanted to know which ones actually give a damn about helping people of color and fully inclusive legislation as well as championing those issues that are most important to trans people (and many of them also have some bearing on LGB-identified people as well, such as health care). I sent her the following brief list, and I do not claim that this is an exhaustive or complete list:

American Civil Liberties Union: Say what you want about some of their more controversial cases, the ACLU has been around for a long time and they have the added perk of, y'know, actually having a backbone. I suppose it's because they don't have any corporate overlords to worry about pissing off and they're used to pissing off people anyway.
National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce: Don't let the name fool you, they have consistently supported a fully inclusive ENDA and they are concerned about that little thing called intersectionality.
Lambda Legal: see above
National Black Justice Coalition: Very important organization, especially when one considers that whole intersectionality thing and many orgs' massive blind spot when it comes to trans and LGB issues wrt people of color.
Queers for Economic Justice: Admittedly, I had not heard of them until I posed the aforementioned query to a friend of mine who's been active for a lot longer than I have.

As for local, Mid-South organizations, I'm a big fan of The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, has done a lot more when it comes to POC and LGB & T issues than the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, who couldn't even be bothered to issue a press release after Leeneshia Edwards was shot. But their chili cookoff was such groundbreaking news that it was promptly included in their next weekly email?

To be fair, many of the people at the MGLCC mean well. The same could be said of the people in charge of the local Tennessee Equality Project chapter. But what they consistently refuse to concede is that class matters. It shouldn't, but when you're so goddamn afraid of the word 'prostitute' and sex work in general and you're so wrapped up in your belief that the police are always your friends, all they need is a little sensitivity training and everything will be copacetic and that because prostitution is illegal, prostitutes are just getting what's coming to them when they get arrested, it is more of a hindrance than any Republican politician around here. It's at least remotely possible to work around the Repubs. On the other hand, working with obstinately ignorant 'allies' is a lot like trying to drive to Alaska in a Pinto with a faulty radiator. After a few hours or days of stopping to make sure the engine isn't going to blow up, it becomes a lot more trouble than it's worth, even if nothing else goes wrong with the car. But it probably will because it's a POS car anyway.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

back (ish) after a long hiatus

This shit is fucking nuts and goes beyond ignorance, past irrationality, to the point of willful stupidity. I hate giving that douchewad Bil more hits, but it's necessary for educational purposes.

I totally get that violent hyperbole is potentially problematic and objectionable on a blog site. Lyssa, however, did apologize and, according to her, he claimed to accept her apology.

And then, the shit really hit the fan. More on that here, if you really want to know.

Here's what I see:

I get that using violent hyperbole and imagery, especially in response to a guest blogger, is inappropriate no matter how often it's used in other places. By the way, DIAF (die in a fire) and similar expressions are pretty damn common on teh intarwebz.

However, it isn't just mere hypothesizing when people are bothered by his threat to report Lyssa to the police. Police violence is an unfortunate, ugly, and real fact of life for trans people, especially trans women of color. Also, HRC has a history of using police force to silence those who protest their overpriced circle jerk self-aggrandizement dinners (the ones where even the volunteers have to pay!).

Picture a hypothetical scenario:

Cis man attacks trans woman. The police are called. Guess who gets hauled away?

If you guessed the trans woman, give yourself a pat on the back and a cookie.

But there's another twist to the story. It's NOT hypothetical at all.

Also, Bil's insistence in seeing how a trans person would take issue with the HRC and our 'refusal' to see how they really do care--but only when soliciting donations--speaks volumes in and of itself. When it comes to, y'know actual legislation that requires the backbone to stand up to that asshat Barney Frank and his rumblings about 'women with penises in showers and bathrooms' and acknowledging and apologizing for the Elizabeth Birch years, they and he are surprisingly silent. Their referring to people who take issue with our would-be overlords saviors as Projectors (the twitter link is somewhere in that first link I posted), thereby dismissing these concerns that have been festering for years, not just in the trans community, but also among people of color, and those who don't fit the image of lily-white (with the occasional white-POC relationships to show just how rainbow they really are!) gay men living in suburbia or a 'fashionable' part of town, with cushy jobs in corporate America. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with being/doing any of those things. I myself work for a corporation. But the obstinate refusal to recognize basic shit like the higher poverty rate among lesbians, especially lesbians of color, the astronomical rate of unemployment among trans people, especially out here in 'flyover country', the issues of LGB and T people who live in urban (and by urban, I mean not the gentrified fancied-up 'fashionable' areas) and rural areas, and HRC's insistence on taking credit for the efforts of those who were actually on the ground are all very problematic and insulting. Unless they actively make an honest effort to acknowledge and truly address these problems, the protests will only swell in number, frequency, passion, and, yes, anger.

What is even more infuriating, however, is their expectation, nay, their DEMAND that we as good lil' transgenders continue to support legislation that does jack shit for us and if we don't, we are called intransigent, uppity, uncooperative, ungrateful (after all, they don't actively wish for our deaths and they did 'keep tabs' on the Duanna Johnson situation last summer (but they were rather silent when she was executed at a bus stop when she was about to leave the city of Memphis)), coattail riders, usurpers, etc. And those are just the nice terms. Their refusal to see how we may take offense to this, even those of us trans folk who do identify as L, G, or B (yes, we do exist), is disheartening and infuriating as well and the issue WILL NOT GO AWAY unless the aforementioned steps are taken.

Nothing structurally or culturally has changed about the HRC. They couldn't even get their halfassed attempt at tokenization right (witness the resignation of Donna Rose in the wake of Solmonese's lies about ENDA). The only thing that's changed are the talking head meat puppets running the joint.

Fuck the HRC. Solmonese, Samir, and co. can just GDIAF. Yes, I said it. Y'all gonna come after me, too? Bring it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Holy Self-Righteousness

Let me preface this by saying that I am thoroughly irreligious. I truly cannot fathom belief in a higher power; I can understand participating in religious customs and traditions because that is the culture one comes from, but I can't understand participation out of a fervent belief in whatever the ceremony at hand is trying to accomplish or recognize. I understand that religious traditions truly do work for many people; there are many former addicts for whom their deeply held convictions are the strongest things that keep them from relapsing. I understand that religion and prayer truly do soothe many souls and that belief is the only thing that keeps many from collapsing under the pressure of living and working under unjust conditions (whether man-made or just plain bad luck). I understand that it has generated and continues to generate mobilization and organization for social justice.

What I cannot understand is how some religious beliefs are considered so sacrosanct as to be untouchable and others freely ridiculed at best and viciously persecuted at worst. This hypocritical stance is at the heart of many a cis-supremacist/heterosupremacist's defense of his/her beliefs after the other reasons have been eviscerated: it's against his/her religion, therefore all criticism of that is A Bad Thing™ and an unforgivable sin.

For example, among all fundamentalist Christian sects, women are supposed to be deferential to men. When people bring up the inevitable problems that causes and worsens, the "religion" argument is supposed to halt all debate as one is directed to consult the (translation derived from King James' edict as opposed to original) Bible as some sort of final authority on the matter. There are even websites that sell "chaste" clothing for women. But in the US when one brings up the importance of the headscarf to many Muslims, the first impulse is: 1. to think of the all-encompassing burqa and 2. to talk about how backward Muslims are for oppressing women. This fails to take into consideration that many women choose to wear the headscarf, much like many choose to wear long skirts and even cover their heads, and that in many respects the Muslim world has a history of female leaders, a trend that continues to this day despite the attempts of fundamentalist sects to revise their own histories to excise this inconvenient fact and blame Western society for the presence of such "uppity" women. The fundamentalists' attacks on schools that educate girls and young women in the Muslim world are decried and pointed to as an example of the barbarity of Islam, yet the fact that there are whole religious organizations that have an iron-clad ceiling on the roles women can occupy and that actively discourage women (as well as men, to a certain extent) from pursuing "too much education." The definition of "too much" varies from denomination to denomination, but the double standard still exists. This is seen as somehow sacrosanct and immune from criticism, lest one be called anti-Christian or *gasp* a feminist! The practice of female circumcision is barbaric, yet the Western (or is this primarily an American thing?) tradition of male circumcision during infancy is hygienic in the secular world and a holy ceremony in Judaism. Suicide bombing and IEDs directed toward American troops or American interests are terrorism. Bombing abortion clinics and gay clubs is not, in the non-words of the GOP VP candidate in '08.

To take another example, the issue of gay marriage inevitably leads to "it's against MY religion" and "this will curtail MY freedom of religion". The majority of Americans probably believe that marriage in the religious sense is always between a man and a woman and always has been. Historical inaccuracy and Eurocentrism aside (the Catholic Church at one point did recognize same-sex unions), when one brings up the fact that there are Christian churches that do recognize same-sex unions, that is ridiculed and those churches accordingly called "manipulative," "not Real Christians™," and worse.

Getting away from gay things, because even (or especially) Western left-leaning folk fall into this trap, it's interesting that, say, Mormons are considered cultish while calling Catholicism a cult is verboten. In the wake of the Prop 8 vote, there were many protest signs mocking their style of dress and history of polygamy, many of which were outside Mormon churches. I'd bet my life that if it had been an Orthodox Jewish synagogue they'd been protesting and the signs had been mocking yarmulkes and invoked a few offensive stereotypes, more people would be horrified, for good reason.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

three open letters

Dear Pres. Obama,

While I was happy and proud that it was even possible for you to be elected and live past your swearing-in, I must admit that I am concerned about the possibility that your administration will be Clinton 2.0. We just got done with Reagan 2.0, and that basically finished what Reagan started over 20 years ago and what Bush and Clinton aided and abetted. I understand the need to have advisors who know how Washington works. It's just the sheer number of them who served under Pres. Clinton that's worrying. A lot of them had roles, be the direct or indirect, in the current mess we're in.

Also, it is good that you at least profess concern for LGBs and trans people. However, talk is cheap; action requires the use of political capital. Are we worth that cost to you? Bear in mind that the last attempt to "help" got us Don't Ask, Don't Tell (they always do forget the last two parts of that: Don't Harass, Don't Pursue) and an increased number of discharges of LGB people due to a tenuous and vague definition of what exactly "telling" is. In the middle of two wars and in an era of heightened tension with the Arab world, discharging several dozen Arabic translators for having the nerve to not be heterosexual is not only mean-spirited, it's effectively cutting off your nose to spite your face. When it's perfectly acceptable to allow more convicted criminals, members of white supremacist groups, and people without GEDs or high school diplomas than a highly qualified gay person with no criminal record into the military, that is indicative of a fucked up hierarchy. I still think the selection of Rick Warren, a man who supports government-sponsored oppression of gays and their allies (I don't even want to know what you'd have done to trans people) and the request by your people not to air Gene Robinson's prayer truly demonstrated your lack of concern about LGBT people. I would like to think that those decisions were not made with regard to the implications. After all, with an economic implosion, who has time to vet the entertainers at the inauguration to make sure they're not bigoted assholes who'd cheerfully support the oppression of all that is not heterosexual and cisgendered/cissexual?

But there are bigger things to worry about, and I'm willing to bet that most of the white gays who were crying foul about Rick Warren know as little about the situations in Nigeria and Uganda as you do.

While I voted for you, I am not all that hopeful. At best, your administration will curtail some of the bleeding. At worst, it'll be a whole lot of misguided efforts to "help" everyday people that end up screwing over the most vulnerable and worst off. Your ideas about rebuilding the economy from the bottom up are good, but I'll believe you when I see things happening.

All that said, I must admit that I was proud to see my people truly excited and hopeful about politics. At work, I see people of all ages wearing shirts with your picture on them and hats with your name on them. It's not often that you'll see black people my age and our elders agree on something so strongly. Even in my cynicism there is a glimmer of hope that someone will be inspired by your example and aspire to something greater than a GED or high school diploma and a job with the temp agency at the nearest distribution center. I don't believe that your administration will rescue us from the deep grave we've dug for ourselves with the assistance of corporations and CEOs, but I do believe that the example you've set will rescue at least a few people from my generation and younger from the belief that their background precludes a career in law, medicine, politics, or even community organizing.

And please remember that just because there's a D beside your name does not make you exempt from being held accountable, contrary to what many of the apologists have been saying.


Dear ABC,


One of your inaugural parade commentators actually said "And Rick Warren is a very open-minded person...he and Melissa Etheridge have invited each other to dinner, and he took the anti-gay stuff off his website" and later added "Plus, Obama did invite the gay bishop Gene Robinson".

Revisionism != progressiveness
Tokenism != progressiveness

What is this "open mindedness" of which she speaks? Changing a website takes all of two minutes, if that. It's not exactly a long process. The same cannot be said of changing beliefs.

And this is the same Rick Warren who supports a man (archbishop Peter Akinola) who has pushed for the Nigerian government to jail gay people and not "just" those who have gay sex, but also gay people and their allies who organize. Another Warren crony in Africa, Ugandan minister Martin Ssempa, has crippled HIV/AIDS prevention efforts by publicly burning condoms, distributing literature claiming that condoms are flawed and can't prevent HIV, and effectively silencing those who promote the ABC (abstinence, be faithful, use condoms) method of prevention, all the while trumpeting this crap as "HIV prevention". This is the same Rick Warren who used Hitler and Mao as examples to aspire to.

And it is interesting that your commentator never brought up the fact that Robinson's prayer was not broadcast on either HBO or NPR; currently HBO and the Inaugural Committee are pointing fingers at each other.


Dear apologists for Rick Warren, et al.,

I have a feeling that you wouldn't have been so charitable toward Bush or McCain had either of them done this at an inauguration. See my note above about party status not exempting someone from accountability.

And keep this quote in mind:

"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction"--Blaise Pascal

In Annoyance and WTFery,

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

District Attorney Asshat Announces Candidacy for Governor

Bill Gibbons will be running for Governor next year. Bear in mind that this is the same guy who refuses to prosecute Bridges McRae, the unreconstructed uniformed thug who beat Duanna Johnson on camera last February. When I emailed the DA's office last November inquiring about whether McRae would face any charges, I got no reply. There has been no indication that he will be charged. What makes this really interesting is that the feds have filed charges against McRae. Given that the burden of proof for federal charges is extremely high, it is odd that someone who is running for governor with crime as one of his main issues would decline to pursue justice in this case. It certainly is not for lack of evidence; the beating was videotaped. The only logical conclusion is that he really doesn't give a damn about the safety and wellbeing of all citizens, not just the cis, hetero, middle-class, and white ones.

From Gibbons himself:

As governor, I will place priority on two issues - crime and schools - that pose big challenges to our state and that we must address if we are to achieve a better future for Tennessee.

Through safer communities and better schools, Tennessee will be positioned as a state where people want to live, raise their families, work and retire.
The very first sentence of the very first section of our state constitution notes that state government exists to provide for the peace and safety of the people. As our next governor, I will take the leading in making changes to fix Tennessee's criminal justice system because I believe we must not surrender a single street, neighborhood or community to crime.

Tennessee has the second highest violent crime rate in the nation, and it is a statewide problem. Over the past ten years, we have not shared in the national downward trend in violent crime. Law enforcement throughout Tennessee is doing a good job with the tools we have
(ed. note: ha! riiight...), but Tennessee's criminal justice system has deep flaws. (no shit, Sherlock!) As district attorney in our state's largest jurisdiction, I see those flaws up close, every day. We must change the system.

We must do a better job of holding serious offenders accountable by keeping them off our streets and in prison where they belong. At the same time we must address the underlying problem of drug addiction that drives so much of our crime. We must address behavior among juveniles such as truancy that too often results in even more serious consequences. And we must make sure that our state law enforcement agencies, such as the Highway Patrol, develop and maintain a level of professionalism their employees and the citizens of Tennessee deserve

The emphases and snark are mine.

I'm curious to know if he will do anything about the bullying problem that prevents so many students from finishing their basic education, especially since the worst of it largely stems from perceived or actual sexual orientation or the worst slurs are related in some way to sexual orientation or gender presentation. Oh, there I go again, thinking that trans people and gay people are citizens.

Monday, January 12, 2009

really, MGLCC? WTF?

Can somebody please explain to me how the MGLCC can find time to send an email about the fucking chili cookoff your team won and ask for money, but you can't be assed to send an email about a hate crime? And y'all really want people to believe that you actually give a damn about trans people and people outside the yuppie havens of Cordova and the gentrified parts of Midtown?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

On the Co-Opting of the Term 'Two-Spirit'

There's a discussion going on about this topic on a Yahoo! group for trans people of color. And because I'm ridiculously anal about researching things like this before I open my (electronic) mouth, I did some digging around and came up with the below post. If it appears weird, my apologies in advance; Yahoo! formats things in a funny way and I've tried to strip as many of the strange line breaks as possible.

Given that the term originally was coined as an anti-colonialist move to reject the now-pejorative term berdache (from Arabic, which originally referred to an anally receptive male prostitute but was used by European colonialists to refer to Natives who didn't fit the prescribed gender binary), it is extremely ironic that that term would be co-opted by non-Natives/non-Aboriginals the way it has been, an irony that hasn't gone unnoticed:

'There is deep, epistemological irony, for example, in the term, "two-spirit people." The term was originally coined by Native American gay activists in the early 90's who wished to distance themselves from white, gay male culture, but was quickly appropriated by the white gay community as a symbol of freedom from oppression (Jacobs, 1997).Whatever the motives driving the curiosity of non-natives, the romanticization of Native sexualities obscures the harsh realities experienced by contemporary sexual minority American Indians. Gutierrez (1992) asks, for example, "How do we reconcile the ridicule and low status the berdaches had in Zuni society with the high status and praise others [especially non-Indian gay males] lavish on them?" (p. 66). Jacobs (1997) captures this incongruity in the following quote, "The irony is that as the "bedarche" became an honored figure in the reconstructed romantic history of Native American cultures, lesbian, gay, two-spirit, and transgender people of various American Indian heritages were being beaten, disowned, and disavowed on their reservations" (p. 22). '

In a sense, it's a lot like the sexual exotification of black men (i.e., the Mandingo complex that permeates popular culture) and the mammy/whore dichotomy thrust upon black women (i.e., the popular view of black women being primarily restricted to being a mammy or being a single woman with many kids by several men, which violates numerous social mores in Western society). I think that perpetuating the appropriation of this term does a disservice to ourselves as people of color because we've already been victimized by the same thing. Hell, we still are affected by it to this day.

More from the aforementioned article:

'The current fascination with "two-spiritedness" in the dominant gay community may be yet another instance of distortion, exotification, and exploitation of Native traditions by European Americans. European American travelers, missionaries, and anthropologists have long been fascinated with the sexual practices of Native Americans (see Jacobs, 1997 and Wright, Lopez, & Zumwalt, 1997 for more comprehensive discussion of discontinuities between Native and European American constructions of gender and sexualities). Thayer (1980), for example, illuminated the historical overemphasis on the sexual aspects of Native individuals classified as "berdache," "due, no doubt, to an obsession with primitive and sexual `odd customs'" (p. 293). Reductionistic Euro-centric classifications distort the wide diversity in Native American constructions of sexualities, and levels of acceptance of sexual diversity across tribes and over time. Little Crow, Wright, and Brown (1997), for example, contrast the Dakota "winkte" [not­woman] who was relegated to non entity status, forbidden to interact with members of his family or tribe, and considered dead by the community; with the Lakota "wicasa wakan" [healer, performer, wizard] who was revered and considered an essential member of Lakota society.'

Upon digging a little deeper, I found a couple of interesting things, including a journal article about this very topic. I can't access it at the moment, but it's titled "Two-spirited Aboriginal People: Continuing Cultural Appropriation by Non- Aboriginal Society" and it was published in the journal Canadian Women Studies in 2005 if anyone wishes to find it. I don't have access to a college online library at the moment or I'd be all over it.

I also found "We are Part of a Tradition: A Guide on Two-Spirited People for First Nations Communities," from which these two passages are excerpted:

"In 1988, contemporary Natives coined the term Two-Spirit. It refers to "a Native American who is of two spirits, both male and female." The term doesn't necessarily have a sexual meaning; some transgendered heterosexuals identify themselves as Two-Spirit but not as gay. Naming ourselves distanced us from colonial words like berdache. Based on histories from anthropologists and elders, we were able to gather stories of our roles in the indigenous cultures as healers, teachers, and leaders. Many of us embody this history through our work as health educators in Native communities. We still share this knowledge through an annual forum called the International Two-Spirited Gathering, which occurs in various locations throughout the U.S. and Canada. Indigenous Two-Spirit people come from all over the continent to socialize and share histories in a safe, sober, and healing environment. As we learn through these gatherings, our identities are constantly renewed. It is a process that binds us to each other and to our diverse cultures."
'The gathering is not an educational forum for learning about the Two-Spirit concept. It is restricted to Native Americans, due to infiltration by confused non-Natives searching for identities, and New Agers claiming to be Native in their past lives. Due to this sort of cultural theft, Anguksuar, a.k.a. Richard LaFortune (Yupik, Eskimo), and organizer of the first gathering, issues an admonition: "We are taking a risk in letting you know about our many diverse cultures.
While we hope that you can benefit from our knowledge, we are wary of cultural appropriation and we expect you to respect our place, as this continent is our home. This is your responsibility."'

In a sense, when we condone things like this, we're giving our tacit approval to continued cultural colonialism/imperialism and taking from others what is not rightfully ours in the first place. Just as I'd have an issue with a person of European descent calling himself a Zulu warrior (even if it was in a "past life", a term I think reeks of bovine excrement but that's neither here nor there), I feel it is incumbent upon me as a person of color to respect the struggles of other minorities and their right to keep what is rightfully theirs.

Arguably, use of the term by non-Native Americans constitutes a form of genocide in that it usurps a traditional cultural term and replaces it with a whitewashed, Anglicized, New Agey 'Dancing With Wolves'-esque definition.

I'll be posting more original material here in a day or so; I just cross-posted this (for the most part; the parts that only make sense in context have been excised) because I think I made my case pretty well.