April 10, 2012

A few notes on getting PoC to participate in a movement (specifically the trans* one)

I participated in a very special episode of #transchat (on twitter) a few weeks ago. The topic of this very special episode? Trans POC Experiences & Priorities. From what I understand, a few trans chatters had noticed that there was a distinct lack of PoC involvement in this bi-weekly event.

While I’m not sure that this occurred to them… but this lack of engagement is extra strange since it takes place on Twitter. A majority of the participants are in the USA. This is important because, according to these stats, 19% of Latin@ internet users and 25% of Black internet users are using Twitter. Compared with 9% of white people. Very, very interesting, no? Given this very significant ratio of PoC Twitter users versus white users, you’d think that #transchat would not be a predominantly white space.

Not so much. And so. At the point I entered people were wondering where all the PoC were and if anyone had invited us. I only stumbled onto the conversation by accident myself, since a few people I follow were participating and tweeting about it. So. From what I gather a few TPoC were contacted but not much more outreach than that occurred.

The topic, noted above, was too broad. The topic was changed to (until the conversation was hopelessly derailed by privilege denying white people) the barriers for TPoC involvement with #transchat. Here are some of the comments I made bundled into a handy how-to list for engaging PoC. I think this advice can be generalized beyond just the trans community.

1. Engage us where we are. Why is it that I always see these white communities expecting PoC to come to them? Why are are we always, always expected to engage white people in their spaces and according to their agendas?

Because if you think that we aren’t doing anything for our communities you would be wrong. Very wrong. So wrong in fact that you should really, really rethink your approach to activism or life. Whatever.

2. Do not, I repeat, do not simply expect that a few tweets, callouts, press releases, whatever, will encourage us to come to you. Because one thing that many, many activist groups/communities appear to forget is that we don’t actually need targeted advertisement.

If you think that any of us PoC are unaware of what white people are doing (activists or not) you are failing to understand that one of the key white privileges is visibility. We know what you are doing. We know what is going down and what is happening. If we are not showing up, it is more likely that we have made a decision not to participate, rather than being unaware that an amazing opportunity to educate white people is awaiting us.
As I said during #transchat: you may not see us, but we see you.

3. Treat us like human beings. We aren’t your personal tutors, we aren’t your token, we aren’t scary, and we aren’t monsters.

One person kept asking me: “How do I approach PoC? How do I stand in solidarity with you?” My only answer was: treat us like we are human. How hard is this? You want to engage PoC? Try approaching and saying, ‘Hi!’. This isn’t complex mathematics or particle physics.

We are human beings. Treat us as such and you’ll get far. And asking for some sort of programmatic way to approach all PoC is a failure to recognize our individuality and our humanity. There can be no magic formula. We are individuals.

Some might mistrust you. Some might trust you. Some might wish to educate. Some might not. Some might hate you. Some might love you. Some might be friendly. Some might be cold.

The list goes on. But you will never know which reaction you’ll get until you take the plunge. Until you check your privilege and approach with humility and an ear prepared to listen, you will never know us, see us, or build a community with us.

March 10, 2012

A more expanded apology

I’ve been very busy and sick this past week. But I still want to expand on my apology for the whole misogyny in the gay community post. The trans* community definitely deserves a better and more complete apology than the quick one I gave when the post sort of exploded over tumblr.

Beyond the terrible cissexism and erasure in the post, I’m further troubled by some terrible parallels I can see with what I wrote and stuff like the vagina monologues. And, thus, I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ve added to the ammunition of white cis feminists. I’ve given them further weapons and tools to use against people like me… Sigh. One of those moments where you wish you can go back into the past and change what you do.

To a certain extent, I still think some aspects of the discussion are worth having. But how I framed it completely destroyed the point and ended up being massively oppressive to a great deal of people I think are super important. Because, after all, it is about impact and not intent.

Like, it could have been valuable to examine the denigration of vaginas by cis gay men and how that feeds into the problems I’ve seen trans* gay men experience with the cis gay community. Or to examine how disgust for the bodies of trans* women has to do with transmisogyny.

But I didn’t do any of these things. Instead… I ranted about gay men and their hatred of vaginas/women. When I should have specified cis gay men, so as not to erase trans* gay men. When I shouldn’t have conflated vaginas with women, thus erasing trans* women.

I also didn’t consider how some people may have compelling reasons to be disgusted with vaginas (i.e., dysphoria seems like a valid one).

I was trying to draw connections between disgust and moral judgements. And how, within a cissexist view, disgust with vaginas can lead to misogyny. Tried… But failed. Because this is how I should have framed my discussion but my actual articulation of this notion was damaging and did little good.

So. I’m sorry. Very sorry.