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.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Britney Spears and Disability Rights

I don't follow celebrity news very much, but the Britney Spears saga got more interesting when her father was granted control of her financial and personal affairs after her well-publicized mental meltdown. The courts just made the conservatorship permanent. This is after he got a raise; he was getting $10,000 a month of her money and now they've increased that to $16,000 a month. The change is actually retroactive, to make things worse.

Why do I care about this? Because it is indicative of the fact that people with disabilities in our society can have their rights taken away from them all too easily, if they were ever lucky enough to have them in the first place. As is the case with a lot of people, too often we are willing to accept an inferior solution for problems that affect those who are looked down upon in society. Thus, we have the existence of what has aptly been termed the Disability Gulag that traps those who have the misfortune of being poor and disabled or those whose families don't want the "burden" of caring for them. Disability and poverty have the unfortunate tendency to coexist, especially if the disability impedes or totally precludes the ability to find and keep employment that pays a living wage and includes benefits. If one can only work part-time, good luck finding a job that gives part-timers benefits at a reasonable rate. I can only think of two companies that offer part-time employees benefits: UPS and FedEx. And if you have something like fibromyalgia or CFS, loading and unloading trailers and standing on your feet for upwards of 4 hours at a stretch may not be the best line of work. At this point, many people would think, well there's SSDI, right? Wrong. Tennessee may have the highest rate of SSDI denials, but the rest of the US isn't exactly progressive when it comes to assisting the disabled. When the payments do come, they're scant (in 2005, the average SSDI payment was $896 a month) and often don't start coming until several months after the initial application was made. Lawmakers get so obsessed with the few who somehow manage to scam the system that it makes life difficult for the majority who actually need it. There is something perverse about a system that ties access to health care to employment; it's a twisted version of John Smith's famous admonition to the Jamestown settlers, "He who will not work will not eat." I suppose a more modern wording would be "he who cannot will not work will not have medical care...but there's always the ER."

For people who wish to enter the workforce, there is something called the Ticket to Work program. Unfortunately it fails to serve the mentally ill when it comes to finding and keeping employment. In that sense, Britney is lucky in a twisted way. She has employment and her family is willing to take care of her, even if they are milking her for every dime and will continue to do so for the rest of her life. But that luck comes not with strings, but with chains attached. She has to do what Daddy Jamie says or he could put her back in the hospital and she'd have no recourse at all because she's considered a child (or arguably a non-person) under the law. It doesn't matter that by all accounts she has been stable and responsible and it won't ever matter unless he somehow decides to give up his conservatorship (and all the accompanying moola) or she can manage to get the order overturned (but if you can't even hire your own lawyer, good luck getting that done).

The idea of an independent person with a disability is anathema to the societal view of the perpetual child, literally and figuratively. In mass media, people with disabilities, visible and invisible are few and far between. They're usually trotted out for the PSA-style episodes and then magically disappear, never to be seen again. Gods forbid that there should ever be a show that has a disabled person as the main character or that a "mainstream" show should ever include a disabled person as a regular character. While things like television portrayals seem superficial, when seen as part of a greater scheme, it becomes quite clear that it is societal and even systemic abuse that drives the shafting of the disabled.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rick Warren: Why it Isn't 'Just a Prayer'

Just to be clear, I'm not one of those who is braying about how absolutely betrayed I feel that Obama would have Rick Warren at his inauguration. I'm not surprised. Nor do I feel that he should be given a pass just because he's a Democrat. He should be held accountable for kowtowing to the basest of the evangelicals because he considers that "reaching across party lines".

That said, Rick Warren is not a moderate. At best, he's Jerry Falwell with a kinder, gentler facade. At worst, he's Fred Phelps with a suit and some pretty words to proffer. Either way, he is most certainly not a moderate. Jimmy Carter is an evangelical moderate. Rick Warren is not.

For the SGL and trans people of color out there who are proud that there finally is one of us in the White House, please keep in mind that Rick Warren has some significant connections to Peter Akinola, one of the leaders of the religious drive to augment the pre-existing laws that criminalized homosexuality in Nigeria in 2006. Where before it was "only" sex acts that were criminalized, the draft legislation Akinola and his cronies supported would have penalized same-sex couples for showing any displays of affection, getting married even in an informal ceremony, and even prohibited SGL/gay activism and affirmation as well as the existence of societies, organizations, and clubs that affirm SGL/gay people. By their own admission, the bill's purpose was to criminalize same-sex relationships. The punishment under this law ranges from 5 to 14 years in prison, and if one is unlucky enough to live in the parts of Nigeria where sharia applies, death. Rick Warren is quite open about his support of the (not-so) good Archbishop Akinola. Nigeria is not exactly the safest place for SGL/gay activists, be they Christian or not, and Warren has made it clear that he does not disagree with the Archbishop's stance on this law. This is what he supports doing in a country that very few Westerners care about or pay attention to. It is not that far a stretch to assume that he'd gladly support such a law here in the United States. It probably will not get to that point within the next four years, but keep in mind that giving him a pass is indirectly giving a pass to Western support for crimes (this law contravenes international law and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights) that affect people who are our kinfolk, however distantly. Were it Bush or McCain doing the same thing, we would be all up in arms about how he neither of them give a rat's ass about SGL/gay people of color. One would think that the grinding poverty in Nigeria would be a bigger concern of both Akinola and Warren, but I suppose the pesky gays are a nasty scourge responsible for killing 14% of children (warning: PPT file) before the age of 5. Oh, wait, that's poverty.

And before you say it can't happen here, it's already happened once. Luckily, that law was rescinded after word got out nationally and internationally. Rhea County may be in the middle of bumfuck, but those ideas are not, as Rick Warren amply demonstrates. This is a man who has compared gay people to pedophiles, zoophiles, and incestuous couples morally and with regard to how we should be treated under the law. I don't even want to think about what he would like to have done to trans people.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

culture, class, and grassroots activism

Contrary to the probable beliefs of the HRC and similar local organizations (namely the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center), any progressive movement that leaves out those who are most vulnerable is not at all progressive nor will it be as effective as a movement that is committed to inclusion in word and deed. It takes mass participation, and not just the expectation to come out regardless of the personal consequences or just to vote the way one is told to vote by the HRC, but active participation and contributions. For all the appropriation of minority movements that the upper middle-class gay rights movement likes to do, they have a penchant for neglecting the most important parts of the struggles of the 50s and 60s. The most powerful movements do not look at laymen and the working class as mere numbers to be rallied, but as active participants who have something to contribute. Just as the members of DuBois' "talented tenth" such as Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King, Jr. contributed mightily to the cause, so did those who lacked formal education—people like Fannie Lou Hamer, who did not have half the formal schooling of the aforementioned leaders but her famous words "I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired" in her powerful speech to the delegates of the Democratic National Convention are as prominent in the cultural lexicon as the first few words MLK’s "I Have a Dream" speech. Yet MLK and Thurgood Marshall are more widely known than Fannie Lou Hamer...but that's a whole 'nother topic.

My point is not to talk about race here, but rather class and culture. The expectation that those of us who do not live on the coasts or in any of the 10 largest American cities, whether or not by choice, should look at those places as an ideal to aspire to is inherently classist and an example of how inferior or nonexistent results are considered desirable when it's not that target demographic of upper middle-class gays who are affected.

Duanna Johnson, Tiffany Berry, and Ebony Whittaker had as much a right to a fulfilling life as anyone in San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, or anywhere else. They did not get that chance. Moreover, we have a right to our culture. There is no one right way to be gay or trans and there are many here who wouldn't live anywhere else even if we were given the chance. We like our gritty, working-class, raucous, barbecue-soaked, kinda sleazy city. We like the close-knit community here that results from not having hundreds of thousands of gays and trans people. For us, smaller is not necessarily worse, and bigger not necessarily better. We have families here, both chosen and natal, that we don't want to leave for our own safety, nor should we have to. We know that California is not the land of milk and honey, that it has its own issues. Contrary to the stereotype of Southerners, not all gay and trans people have hostile families, and we all don't walk around barefoot fucking our cousins and siblings. Not all white people here are racist, and there are quite a few white gays outside the south who are. There are progressive individuals and organizations to be found in the unlikeliest of places; my own experience has taught me that. The organizations that one thinks are progressive often aren't. The MGLCC and TEP certainly are not progressive by any stretch and they are guilty of "not getting it" more times than not on trans issues relating to race and class. I have experienced that first-hand. The grassroots "radical" organizations, on the other hand, tend to get it more often than not. It is with them in mind that I suggest that truly progressive people of all gender identities and sexual orientations stop supporting organizations like the HRC and their local analogues. If the leadership will not listen because they have their paymasters to appease, we should take direct action on our own as much as we could and look beyond the obvious allies. That is my philosophy on activism because even the most well-meaning individuals and organizations are too stubborn and thoroughly entrenched in their own privilege to ever bother to "get it". The one thing I want to be a part of before I go back to school this fall is to help start an organization for trans people in the Memphis area. To use an example, MGLCC is just that: primarily for gay men and lesbians (in hierarchical order, too) and trans people have to educate and explain their own existence to those who claim to be allies. And all the good intentions in the world alone will not change that.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Another Trans Woman Shot

cross-posted from my personal journal

I'm assuming most of y'all have heard about Leeneshia Edwards. If not, well, there's the link.

Two thoughts came when I was reading about this and the subsequent blogosphere aftermath:
  1. Not this shit again.

  2. Srsly, people are missing the bigger picture here, even though it should be fucking obvious

This is the third time in six months, and those are just the reported crimes. I don't want to even think about the untold numbers of more 'minor' assaults (i.e., ones that don't have to be reported by law) that have occurred.

That said, the hysteria about how Memphis is such a dangerous city for trans people (or even LGB and T people) is just that. People are missing the bigger picture here. Yes, it was because they were trans, but the class issues are also a larger part of the picture, and that is something that most people simply are not getting. All three women were African-American, trans, and had at least a history of sex work. Obviously, they did not deserve what happened to them because they were sex workers, but one cannot deny that the vulnerability of working in an (unfairly, if you ask me) illegal profession that is a modern-day scarlet letter put them at even more risk. They did it for survival.

It's a form of economic slavery because they had/have no access to the very institutions one needs for that much-vaunted upward mobility, or even just a life in livable affordable housing and employment that pays a living wage. Employment is an institution that not only serves to give people the means by which they can get the things that are needed for survival, it's also a means of participating in and literally being a valued part of society. After all, even the guy who makes $5.15/hr flipping burgers is considered more 'worthy' than the woman who has literally applied for hundreds of jobs only to be told that those are 'family-friendly' places, that 'their kind' isn't hired there, or just never given the courtesy of a call back. Being shut out of even the most menial employment is about as clear a sign as any that one is not worth anything in this society. And that is one thing that the (mostly white) trans women who look down upon the sex workers as being unworthy of basic medical care, employment, or even the label of human being has in common with the local authorities in the city of Memphis. And yet they are largely the same ones claiming that Memphis is Officially Unsafe for Trans People™. As a trans person, I do not feel like my life is in imminent danger if I don't pack up and drive far, far away. And I work late nights in southwest Memphis (out past Hickory Hill, which I drive through in the early evening and past midnight and sometimes even 2 a.m.) and have never been accosted. It could happen, but given that I'm a hell of a lot more privileged than the women who have been victims of these hate crimes, it's unlikely. I have a roof over my head, a job, a support system that enabled me to find housing after I got kicked out, a car, and I eat whenever I want to. I can afford medical transition (surgery excepted, but I'm working on it) and I can see a doctor whenever I need to.

The city of Memphis has a whole hell of a lot of things wrong when it comes to the treatment of LGB and T people who find themselves homeless, broke, and unemployed. Hell, there are a lot of things wrong with the way homeless, broke, and unemployed people in general are treated. At the very least, we need an accepting shelter, in truth we need a secular and progressive system of assisting the homeless, nearly-homeless, and those who were forced by bullying, familial rejection, or whatever else to terminate their educations early. As the only major metro area within 200 miles, it is an absolute travesty that even the most basic services aren't offered.

And if I could ask that douchewipe Barney Frank one thing (this is before I get dragged away by Secret Service or whoever protects Congressmen for spitting in his eye), I'd ask him if enough of us have been killed, maimed, raped, and otherwise traumatized for him to deign to include trans people in ENDA instead of removing those protections and then encouraging people to support the Baldwin Amendment to the bill.