Toshio Meronek

Queers Shouldn't Ask to Sit at the Table

Filed By Toshio Meronek | October 07, 2011 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Captive Genders, Eric Stanley, Jennifer Worley, Miss Major, Nat Smith, politics, TGIJP, Vanguard

Vanguard-sweepers-top.jpgIt's hard in there for a queer. The relative number of LGBT people in prison is higher than that of straights, and queers behind bars experience abuse more widely than their straight counterparts. Eric Stanley and Nat Smith collected stories from prisoners, academics and activists for the new book Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex. Former political prisoner (and lesbian) Angela Davis says the book "traverses the complicated entanglements of surveillance, policing, imprisonment, and the production of gender normativity." Here's an excerpt from an interview I did with the editors for SF Weekly.

Why do you believe there are more LGBT people in prison, per capita, than heterosexual people?

Smith: Queer people, women-identified people, people of color, poor people, and immigrants are the majority of people who are in prison. We are all in prison because we are the people who are most policed, who in being kept poor, jobless, homeless, and imprisoned ensure the ruling of everyone else and the power of those in control. We are in prison because the LGBT movement is more interested in who can get married, not who is allowed to work, or what kind of work we are allowed to do. We are in prison because we are Other, and Other is not allowed participation, nor are we allowed to challenge the tenets of what participation forces us to do -- marriage, the military, policing each other, playing by the rules of the state.

What are some ways that prison life is tougher on queer and trans people than others?

Stanley: Prison is a materialization of degrees of "unfreedom," but for many trans and queer folks, they live this unfreedom as horrific expressions of daily violence from other prisoners as well as from guards and prison staff. A number of the authors in this book point to the use of solitary confinement, also called "ad seg," for "administrative segregation," as a means of disciplining gender and sexuality. If a trans woman refuses to cut her hair she is often placed in ad seg, which means she must spend 23 hours a day alone, in total isolation. Ad seg is also used as a form of "protection" for trans and queer prisoners. So, many folks are forced to choose between two unlivable situations.

Why do we hear so much about issues like "don't ask, don't tell" and same-sex marriage, yet so little about this issue?

Smith: Because it is an issue of mainstream belonging. These are issues of fighting for more state control, and they have, frankly, nothing to do with justice. We shouldn't need or want a piece of paper from the state to be able to love and be loved, to be able to get access to health care, or be allowed to stay in this nation. We shouldn't be asking to sit at the table -- we should be dismantling the table. Fighting for marriage, fighting to be in the military, fighting for hate-crime legislation to criminalize and imprison more people -- these are not solutions to the day-to-day issues we face of poverty, violence, or lack of respect as community members. These reforms actually work against us, strengthening this system rather than weakening it.

Stanley: The politics of neoliberal citizenship now have a terrorizing rainbow facade. Captive Genders is in part working to undo the power and centrality of mainstream LGBT politics by showing how many of these projects, like hate crime legislation, paradoxically work to harm trans and queer people while reproducing state violence.

Do you have any examples of queer people organizing against this system?

Stanley: Yes. In the book there are many examples of folks organizing historically and today. Jennifer Worley has a great piece on Vanguard, a group of queer and trans street youth that organized in the mid-1960s in the Tenderloin [see photo]. There is also a really powerful interview with Miss Major, a veteran of the Stonewall Riots who is currently the executive director of the Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project, which is based here in San Francisco. The project works on organizing with formally incarcerated trans women of color.

You can read the full interview at SF Weekly's site, and order Captive Genders via AK Press.


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I'm happy you've brought up this issue and book, but it honestly bothers me that you're minimizing the extent to which the book is about TRANS WOMEN, not queers, not trans men, not even necessarily LGBQ people, but rather TRANS WOMEN. Many trans women (especially those of color) do not identify as queer. It's very likely the vast majority of trans women in the prison system are heterosexual in orientation. So stop it with the queer, queer, queer because they don't deserve to be defined by how society views them nor co-opted by the queer community whenever they need to get brownie points for oppression (then tossed aside when it comes to leading queer orgs or marginalized when attending queer events).

Wait, so "queer" now means "LGB" and definitively NOT trans? When did it stop being an umbrella term?

Ugh, I can't keep up with all this changing terminology.

What does "queer" mean now?

A lot of (but certainly not all) trans people don't consider themselves queer (not to mention members of the gay community who still don't like the term). Before you use queer as an umbrella term you better be careful about your audience is and to whom you're referring. In this case, Toshio is talking about a book which is overwhelmingly about trans women, not some vague queer people. And he's seen fit, in his SF-hipster-queer way, to pretty much homogenize those mostly hetero-ID'd trans women of color out of the equation (except that, like a lot of LGB orgs, they still want the murdered trans women and trans women in prison to be there when it comes time to make big points about "queer oppression."

My last comment seems to have disappeared, so I'll make this short, especially in light of the derailment that is so classic here, particularly on posts that even mention the word "trans": Does no one on this site even bother to read original posts, leave alone take on the task of actually reading the interviews referenced? Am I the only one here who can see the phrase "queer and trans" being used over and over, just on this post alone?

And seriously: "they still want the murdered trans women and trans women in prison to be there when it comes time to make big points about "queer oppression."

That's just an appalling statement to make. Let's even put aside the years of prison abolition work these people have done and just focus on the ghastly politics of this statement. You really think they WANT to see trans women murdered and in prison? Really? Could you be more misleading? Criticise them on their points, if you can, but let's not make up bad politics just to make a point.

And yes, to what AJ said below about "queer." Let's not assume that everyone here can speak to the experience of all queer and trans folk. I'd understand if "queer" were used to malign someone, but it's not - and lots of words, including, yes, "tranny," "transvestite," and "crossdresser" are used (and not by self-loathing people) as well as rejected by specific groups. Let's stop dictating word choice out of context.

But, really, most importantly, let's show the writers here the basic courtesy of just reading their pieces more thoroughly. Open the link. Read the interview. They have some truly interesting things to say about queer and trans folk in prison. (Full disclosure: I have a piece in the anthology as well.)

I read the post and the linked article, and my assessment stands as stated. I was initially happy to see "trans and queer" used not so happy to see where this ultimately became a "queer/gay/lesbian" issue.

"You think any one of us doing this work actually WANTS people murdered and in prison for ANY reason?"

I think the larger movement and non-activist population is perfectly happy with trans women bearing the brunt of murder and incarceration. It plumps up the numbers, makes for compelling stories, and doesn't really have to be addressed - because after all its "just trannies" and to so many gay men and lesbians we don't actually belong in the first place.

Like I said, if there wasn't a history of using trans violence, unemployment, etc. to resolve LGB issues without actually addressing trans people, the reaction may have been much different.

My first post seems to have been eaten as well :(. Yes, I did read both this article and the linked interview before my comments. My assessment stands. I was pleased with the use of "queer and trans" - not pleased with how it ultimately became about LGBQ.

Had there not already been a history of using murdered, beaten, impoverished trans women to provide statistic bumps and compelling stories to get grants or pass laws or make points about oppression that don't actually include trans women in the resolution, perhaps the reaction would have been different.

Wow, this is just too bizarre. I have acepted that the LGB doesnt want to have anything to do with trans women (other than those who came from and remain associated with the gay community), but this is the first I have seen them erase trans women to this point! I mean, a book about trans women's experiences is used to support some gay male agenda? Really? REALLY?

And maybe the book is about trans women who are part of the gay male community (such as trans sex workers), so I may be way off track, but how does a book with the word 'Trans' in the title get to be a cause for 'queers'? (which I take in this context to mean 'swishy gay guys') You know, some trans women may consider themselves queers (I used to when I thought of myself as a lesbian), but not all queers are trans women, so it just looks like using someone else's suffering to promote the gay cause.

I thought I had gotten to the point that the level of trans-related cluelessness would never surprise me, but I guess I was wrong.

I thought I had gotten to the point that the level of trans-related cluelessness *on this site* would never surprise me, but I guess I was wrong.

corrected

I didn't know that we all didn't want to have anything to do with trans people, but if you say so, I guess if that's the way things are, I'll do my best to comply...

I also didn't know that "queer" also means "swishy gay guy". I figured "gay" covered that, but maybe not. "Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and swishy gay guy". LGBQ.

Wait, but here you say that using the term "queer" is supposed to support the "gay" cause, so maybe they're the same thing?

First comment: I didnt say trans ppl, I said trans women.

Next: I meant 'in this context', not in general. Just you missed the context of my point.

Finally: See above.

I think the important take home from Carol's comment is the use (again) of trans women to make a point about "queer oppression". While this isn't necessarily incorrect or wrong in and of itself, the erasure of trans women is. If this didn't play into the long history of trans women being simultaneously used to plump up examples of "queer oppression" and removed from the discussion of this oppression AND the resolutions to this same oppression we'd probably be having a totally different set of reactions.

When I read the article, my first thought was "wow he actually remembered to name trans women specifically." My second thought was "Then we get into how this relates to gay men and lesbians as the actual important part of this book."

"I didn't know that we all didn't want to have anything to do with trans people, but if you say so, I guess if that's the way things are, I'll do my best to comply..."

- been to Queerty, Joe.My.God, Towlerod, and GLAAD action alert that has anything to do with trans representation, or The Advocate.com? Not to mention RadFem Hub and the MWMF boards - is it any wonder that trans women feel like we are only useful to the movement when we are killed or unemployed?

I never heard of MWMF, but you left out what is in my experience the pinnacle of hatred toward trans women, GenderTrender. Though they on rare occasions cover something related to what most of us think of when we talk about sexism, the primary goal of the site and the dozen or so ppl who post there is to trash trans women.

http://gendertrender.wordpress.com/

You know, I was going to ignore this thread as a classic example of the sort of derailment that goes on here, especially when the word "trans" is even mentioned.

But, what the heck: Seriously: did anyone actually read the interview? Okay, let's forget the interview, let's just try this post, right here, which consistently uses the phrase "queer and trans". Which is to say, the post is careful not to conflate the two.

Even putting aside the fact that much of what is passing here for discussion is, well, arbitrary and simply assumes to speak for all trans and queer people - could we just, on occasion, at least, please, just read first?

And, yes, as AJ put more delicately: let's stop assuming that we can dictate what words people are entitled to use. It would be one thing if the writer were using queer as a slur to deliberately malign pepople, but that's not the case here. And I'd remind people that there are lots of other words, like "crossdresser" and "tranny" and "transvestite" and "drag queen" which are openly embraced by some (no, they're not self-loathing) and rejected by others. At the very least, we might consider intent.

And, really, "they still want the murdered trans women and trans women in prison to be there when it comes time to make big points about "queer oppression."? Can we make our points without so severely maligning activists who've actually been working on the awful effects of prison on LGBTQ populations, without even reading their work on knowing anything about them? That's a fairly ridiculous statement to make. Seriously? You think any one of us doing this work actually WANTS people murdered and in prison for ANY reason?

Could we at least read an interview or, here's a thought, the many pieces about this exciting new book (in which I have a chapter, I will disclose)?

Happy reading, everyone!

Yes, I did read the post. At least a couple of times. No, I did not go read the link. In my opinion, if someone is making a post, they should make their point clear in that post. I shouldn't have to go someplace else to sort through whatever their bigger points and intentions may be. To me, the links out are if I find the topic interesting and want to learn more about it.

I made the comments I did b/c based on the content posted here. From what is written here, it seems to me that the experience of trans women was used as a segue to another agenda, and the trans women who had suffered were pushed to the side in service of that agenda. If I got the wrong impression of what the book is about, or whatever other projects Toshio has done to help trans women, I can't really see that as being my fault. I based my opinion on what Toshio wrote right here.

A couple of other things. First, I was not denigrating the ppl who wrote the book, or the book. I was commenting on what I saw as Toshio's bootstrapping on other ppl's suffering.

Another thing. I was not attacking the use of queer toward trans women. Honestly, I don't much care what ppl call trans women anymore. To me, it's like racism and the use of the N-word. Using polite language doesn't change how ppl feel, it just gives cover for ppl to claim racism is dead. My issue was the other way around. I was attacking the use of one group of extremely maligned ppl to support the issues of a much-less maligned group, when there isn't much help flowing the other direction (again, I have no idea what great things Toshio and his friends have done for trans women in prison or otherwise, just what he wrote here).

Finally, I am pretty much used to the Marie Antoinette approach that gays and lesbians take toward trans women. I usually am not one of the 'angry trans women' who are posting attacking the GL communities in every thread. I didn't even really comment on this one, was more replying to Gina than anything, as I consider clueless GLs pretty much beyond bothering with. Yes, it was a derail away from the immediate topic. However, to me the medium was more the message here than the content.

Yasmin... I'm referring to Toshio's framing of it, not the book. Using the word "queer" to globally refer to trans women is NOT the same as a drag queen calling themselves a crossdresser (which I've never heard anyone consider slang in that context). Calling all straight trans women queer is, in effect, removing their womanhood. It's a way more fundamental slight when used by people outside our community. And I suspect there are MANY words lesbians or women would be called that you would find offensive as well. So nice you're able to dismiss our concerns since it... you know, really doesn't involve you.

I have NEVER criticized people who are doing work with trans prisoners— that's projecting your own issues onto it. But when people use terms like "trans people" or "queers" when they really mean trans women, then that needs to be called out. It's a bit like saying 'people get raped' and not expanding upon who that really is.

Toshio uses the word queer a couple of times, and in both cases the use is a perfectly legitimate one. I think AJ and others have already addressed this issue, so I'll defer to them here.

As for, "So nice you're able to dismiss our concerns since it... you know, really doesn't involve you." I see your sarcasm, but no, I'm not dismissing any concerns, and they do, actually concern me just as much as, well, any issues concerning queers in general - whether or not you identify as such - should concern you. If they don't, well, those are the politics on display here, and we'll leave it at that.

Constantly insisting that any view that runs contrary to one's is a dismissive one or an erasure does nothing to move a conversation forward. As for identifications: I'm not required to perform an authentically certified identity every time I want to speak up for or even, yes, be critical of the communities I work with and for. If I were, well, I would just give up and keep lobbing dismissive comments at anyone who dared speak up.

And actually, there are lots of trans people in prison who identify in more ways than as women or men, straight or gay - part of the point of the OP and the book and the interview is that the prison industrial complex treats all gender non-conforming, trans, queer, gay, and lesbian prisoners with particular brutality precisely because their bodies defy and threaten categories. And it is especially brutal to those who "won't take a side," as the popular logic goes.

Yes, we could see this in terms of numbers and find that most trans people in prison in fact identify as women (I see that as the basis of your comments) - but we might also find, years down the line that, in fact, say, gender non-conforming people (which is also how trans people are often categorised, even if not in such terms exactly) are most under threat, or that male trans people are the most brutalised: there are strong cases to be made for all these suppositions.

The point of the pieces is that a perceived "deviance" from sex/gender categories puts one's body at risk - should trans women care less if it turned out that, in fact, trans men suffered the most? That seems to be where you're heading, frankly.

No one here is erasing straight trans women - and I know lots of straight trans women and straight cis women who do identify as queer: I know, I know, it's just shocking - why do they persist in confusing us so??? If anything, I'd argue that your refusing to read the piece in any kind of context actually erases the complicatd experiences AND identifications the pieces are trying to discuss. And your constant use of, frankly, somewhat overwrought language that tries to make a point by using the worst examples - like rape and murder - do a disservice to any serious discussion we might have here.

And, really, are we going to seriously start arguing about who gets raped? There are lots of sociological and cultural reasons to see who might be disproportionately raped, but numbers often lie/are tweaked and, to put it bluntly, while we ought to care about WHO gets raped for all kinds of good reasons perhaps, at least in our activism and advocacy, we ought to care, dare I say, MORE about rape itself and what it says about power.

But, you know, please do carry on.


I don't even know how to respond to a lot of this at the moment. Believe it or not, trans women in prison has a LOT to do with rape... but I know in virtually all your past articles about sex work, you've found it convenient to mostly leave violence against trans women out of your theories. Hmmm, wonder why?

We might find out a lot of things in future, but right now, I would imagine the overwhelming number of trans people in prison, as you acknowledged in a purposely low key way (perhaps because to connect to the reality of it pretty much contradicts all you're saying), are women ID'd. And I would like that fact put front and forward because I honestly because there are specific issues which trans women face which other non-trans woman queer-ID'd people don't face. And I would also like it said that most of these (not all, but...) are trans-Latinas and black trans women and they are also in the slammer due to specific issues those populations of women face which are unique to them. Yes, there are also gay men, sissies and drag queens who are incarcerated and face rape and marginalization, but there are issues those trans women face both on the outside and inside which those men don't. So no, I think calling them all queer is a lousy idea and a lazy construct which I believe has more to do with plugging them into academic social theories than really listening to those women and hearing what they have to say about themselves.

And, btw, I, as a trans woman, support the right of all trans people to ID themselves as they wish and feel most comfortable... can you, as a non-trans woman who is heavily invested in us all being viewed as queer, really say the same?

I'll just say this about the cheap and easy rhetorical strategies employed here: they score points on comment threads, with their emphasis on calling out people for imagined grievances. Most of the strategies used here amount to: "Are you trans? If not, don't even THINK of speaking about trans issues. If you don't say x, you want to MURDER us and put us IN JAIL FOREVER." Yes, that is exactly how most folks, responding to anything trans-related, here and on other sites, sound.

As for my past articles and putting aside the charge of authenticity - which would, technically, mean that none of us have a right to even think about matters that don't directly affect us, so, really, I should only write about queer Asian-American women with curly hair and an obsession with knitting - what were their subjects, exactly? How many were even trans-related? (Oh, no, I admitted to that - now I'll be castigated for NEVER writing anything trans-related - I just can't win, can I?)

And, let's face it: given what so many people here do to anyone who DOES try to address trans issues, isn't there a strong likelihood that they would pop up and insist that the article was useless/irrelevant/phobic towards straight trans women etc.? As so many comments here on TBP have demonstrated, writing/discussing trans issues is a no-win situation unless one can first prove, with a certifiable bio... oh, wait, no, that's not even really the test, is it? The only test is: Can one pass the peculiarly Kafka-esque requirements that certify one as qualified to speak/write on trans issues? Which is to say: a no-win situation for all.

To top it all, most here can't be bothered to look closely at the interview or the book, it seems.

I'll take my struggles to the street, where such strategies would result in nothing but complete isolation. Trans discussions on TBP end up doing nothing but personalising everything, and making ridiculous arguments that would never stand the test of real life organising. And, at this point, they don't even make for decent online discussion, so weighted are they with spite and knee-jerk responses.

We should all hold ourselves and each other accountable for our politics and our actions: someone who is not trans has a responsibility to those who are, and vice versa, and we have to consider the complexities of our identities AND consider that we are responsible for each other NO MATTER how we identify. And if we base our politics on nothing more than a test of authenticity, we're doomed.

All that has to be based on a mutual respect and understanding that we do, at the end, really have each others' backs. Spite and invective and silly, personal disparagements ("And he's seen fit, in his SF-hipster-queer way") do nothing to forward any cause.

I'll make one last suggestion before I depart: Figure out who the real enemies are.

Funny Yasmin, I've read dozens of postings by Alex Blaze, a non-trans gay man, writing about trans issues and not once, ever, complained about what he's written. In fact, I've routinely complimented him on his objective and empathic understanding of the trans community. I've read a great many blog entries by Peterson Toscano, a gay non-trans man, writing on the subject of trans issues and routinely complimented him. Bizarre no? I've regularly complimented Steve Rothaus, a gay man who writes about LGBTQ news in South Florida about his excellent coverage of trans issues. I've heard a number of statements by Kate Kendall about trans issues and thought she was right on the money. Funny how I wouldn't ever think of doing the same for you?

"cheap and easy rhetorical strategies employed here: they score points on comment threads, with their emphasis on calling out people for imagined grievances. Most of the strategies used here amount to: "Are you trans? If not, don't even THINK of speaking about trans issues. If you don't say x, you want to MURDER us and put us IN JAIL FOREVER."

Speaking of cheap and easy rhetorical strategies, excoriating someone for something THEY'VE NEVER SAID might be another one of those? Would you care to to tell me where I've ever said I think you want to murder you and throw you in jail? Once instance, please.

By all means continue your activism Yasmin. But I'm very well aware that what your activism is built on is speaking for trans and gender variant people, not actually listening to us as equals.

Funny, Gina, I immediately thought of Alex as I read Yasmin's post. Alex always seemed to get it just right for me when he discussed trans-related topics, and without seeming to strain at anything.

The really weird thing is, until this thread, I always thought Yasmin *was* trans. Interesting to learn otherwise.

Does the word "sound" mean nothing to you, Gina? And thanks for effectively proving Every. Single. One. of my points.

Whaa??? I always thought Alex was trans.

It doesn't matter what Alex is except that he, you, AJ, Carol, all the trans women in prison and I are all queer because Yasmin says so. And she 'wins' this thread because she says so.

Om Kalthoum | October 11, 2011 2:11 AM

Gurlz plz. Does it always have to get personal?

I sometimes wish "homosexual" would come back in vogue. Gay men and lesbians would have done well to re-appropriate that one. It's a perfectly good word.

I do think that when all the currently self-defined "queers" hit a certain age (50? 60?) that most of them will have left that moniker far behind.

Om Kalthoum | October 11, 2011 2:25 AM

Oh sheiße. I forgot I wasn't supposed to be responding to you. LOL.

"Even putting aside the fact that much of what is passing here for discussion is, well, arbitrary and simply assumes to speak for all trans and queer people - could we just, on occasion, at least, please, just read first?"

Amen, Yasmin.

Perhaps I'm a glutton for punishment, because I know that every time I read an article in any way connected to trans people/issues I'm going to also be subjected to the blatant generalization of LGB's as "anti-trans." Get this straight, once and for all, just because somebody has the time and resources to put up a blog and allows their/their-readers anti-trans opinions to be published, it DOES NOT translate that all LGB's are transphobic.

Has it never occurred to the rabid portion of the Trans community that their generalization is part of the problem? I know for my own part that it certainly dampens my enthusiasm to support the Trans community, and that alone puts a definite cramp in this old drag queen's panties. Speaking as someone who's been fighting since before the "T" became part of the "community" (and don't get me started on that misnomer), I've been brought to the point where - when I see this rant from the same three or four people - I reflexively think "bitch, whine, piss and moan..." and then scroll on for something intelligent in another post. Thank you Yasmin for giving me that.

Can we please now focus on the fact that there are a ton of problems with our prison system? And that the treatment of anyone non-hetero, gender-variant, or whatever the terms are this week (I'm too old and weary to keep up) make up a particularly ugly part of it?

Wilberforce1 made an excellent contribution to this discussion - and I'd, frankly, like to see more of it. I'd suggest that until our society learns to value its members as individuals, and celebrates their diversity - instead of demanding conformity to a heterosexist, misogynistic, monotheistic contrived "norm" - we will never see our society mature as a just, fair, and respectful one. So long as the items heterosexual, white, rich, male, monotheist make up the "ideal", the hope that honest, honorable, respectful, intelligent, humble will supplant it will die aborning.

For myself, if I make a mistake, call me out, please!

You should never use the term 'queer'. It is highly offensive.

When dictating to others how to talk, you should never use the word "never" -- for exactly the same reason.

So, sometimes you should use the word 'never'? ;)

What I mean is ... for any rule you can formulate, there is always a creative exception. It may be a good idea to avoid n-words and f-words and q-words in normal, day-to-day conversation -- but writers and poets sometimes use words paradoxically or ironically or oxymoronically, turning a word that normally indicates prejudice or bigotry into a protest against that bigotry. And when we attempt to ban true artists from such exceptional usages, we also ban ourselves from the benefits of their genius.

My shorter way of saying this is my trademark motto: Context is everything.

Ummm, I was joking! :)

(hence the little winky emoticon)

I agreed with what you mean, it was just that what you said was kinda ironic and funny. It reminded me of the statement:

There are no absolute truths.

(smiles)

What A.J. said. I'm a transgirl, and I don't mind being referred to under queer as an umbrella term, seeing as I'm both transsexual and pansexual, but that doesn't mean that everyone will be alright with being referred to as queer. As a transgirl, I've had plenty of experience with explaining the simplest of terminology to people that talk to me, such as using the right pronouns. Even if it seems a bit awkward at first, the best policy is to just ask what terminology/language the person you're talking to or about is comfortable with. If they don't like being called something, don't call them that, but at the same time, don't try to censor all words due to some perceived negative connotation. Appropriating words that were originally used to offend is something the LGBT and other marginalized communities have done for a long time. For example, if someone were to refer to me as a tranny, I would be offended, I hate being referred to by that term. At the same time, however, a good deal of my trans friends are alright being referred to by tranny, and often call themselves trannies. Anyways, I ramble; point is, don't just censor, find out what terms people are okay with, and go with that, and if a word does generally have negative connotations, don't use it unless you KNOW the person is okay with it.

Love it!

There is even a quote from the iconic Angela Davis, one of my heros, along w/ Bernadette Devlin.

It always amazes me how much of a prediscursive sex essentialism underlies all the queer/gender theory discourse. As queer as Jasmin, Angela or Bernadette might or might not be, when anyone of them address any one of these issues, which are so important, they address them as women. I am equally amazed at how much queer/gender theory really prevents intelligent discussion that would involve a person of transsexual history in any intelligent discussion about gender or about issues such as the prison industrial complex in general. Unless one is able to enter the discussions as one who is completely stealth, every insight offered by such a person will be dismissed out of hand.

I am sitting here thinking about the trans/queer association, wondering how much the two have actually been conflated. Instinctively, I am opposed to "trans"/"cis" dichotomies. Dichotomies are human logical constructs that have little to do with with the reality they attempt to describe. But, hell, trans/queer? Why not? "Trans", as in "transgressive", as in "transgressing gender norms", while leaving one's "essential sex" in tact. Why not? For other people, I mean, not me. I remember the sixties and early seventies. I have never been "straight". That word had such different meaning back then. "Gender norms"? Fughedaboutid! But the transsexual thing, no. Not any kind of a construct, at all. Impossible to deal with without doing something about it. To be thought of as transgressive, as a "gender transgressive", goes completely against who I am.

No, the issues spoken of in this post go way beyond "trans" and "queer" issues. I know many people who have been in prison, doing serious time. Most are white, some are immigrants and people of color but most are white. Some of them are into kink, on a certain level, but I can't think of any of my gay friends and acquaintances who have been to prison. The people of color I know, certainly have been the object of racial profiling, to one degree or another but poor people are targeted, in general, using criteria that appears to be objective, like car maintenance issues that have gone unattended as a result of one kind of economic pressure or another.

What is being discussed here is very complicated. Certainly, anyone who does not conform to a bourgeoise norm whether it is some inherent trait, like racial difference, or acquired as the result of economic oppression. As far as people who insist on "identifying" as "trans", I wonder how much you should be complaining about the "queer" tag if it is all about "gender nonconformity" to you. This is the gripe any person who is post transsexual person has who takes the time to think about what they know and feel at the core level. Post transsexual people only belong L B or G among the LGBT, if they belong at all, which should include "I" for intersex and maybe, Q, too, if it is insisted the "T" is so necessary. There really is no place for a heterosexual post transsexual person among the LGBT. Inclusion is certainly as hegemonic as it is dismissive. The dismissiveness is insidious and in the extreme can be a dismissiveness that has violent results.

The prediscursive assumptions made when these discussions are raised are what is so infuriating. It is an obstacle that prevents intelligent discussion of some very important social issues. I read the entire interview. Not once did I see anything that indicated concern for the need for access to transsexual medical care for people born transsexual nor did I read anything about intersex.

Hi Edith! I really wish you would expand on the following:

"I am sitting here thinking about the trans/queer association, wondering how much the two have actually been conflated. Instinctively, I am opposed to "trans"/"cis" dichotomies. Dichotomies are human logical constructs that have little to do with with the reality they attempt to describe. But, hell, trans/queer? Why not? "Trans", as in "transgressive", as in "transgressing gender norms", while leaving one's "essential sex" in tact. Why not? For other people, I mean, not me. I remember the sixties and early seventies. I have never been "straight". That word had such different meaning back then. "Gender norms"? Fughedaboutid! But the transsexual thing, no. Not any kind of a construct, at all. Impossible to deal with without doing something about it. To be thought of as transgressive, as a "gender transgressive", goes completely against who I am. "

Maybe I haven't had enough caffeine to get all of my decrepit gray-matter firing, but I lost you somewhere in the middle of all that. And bless you for the point about dichotomies!

HI Scotti B,

I don't think this is the place for me to go further into what I meant. I am very sympathetic towards what Yasmin has to say but I get lost in all the talk of "gender" and "identity". I made a mistake in what I wrote about intersex not being mentioned, however. It was mentioned in relation to the concerns associated with Miss Major's focus.

I get lost in all the assumptions being made about gender, however. The focus on the discourse is always gender, gender expression and identity . There is an underlying sex essentialism that is implied in just about all the discourse.

The focus on the discourse is always gender, gender expression and identity . There is an underlying sex essentialism that is implied in just about all the discourse.

I think you explained quite well with this alone, Edith. Thank you. The problem I have with so much of the discourse is that same underlying assumption - that is, if I'm thinking of "sex essentialism" in the same way.
Perhaps I'm finally too old and jaded, or perhaps the wisdom of my ancient forebears is finally sinking in... but, for lack of more florid prose, my beliefs in this matter are simple:

There is one race: human
There is one sex: as often as possible, and it is only a "sin" if you fail to celebrate it for the joy it is.
There is one gender: it is expressed in your soul, not by your flesh.

Some will say that I over-simplify it, others may accuse me of trying to make myself into some new Gandhi. Whatever. Perhaps it's also at the core of my difficulty with these discussions, giving rise to my urge to bitch-slap some and bear-hug others. But it's my belief, and it has blessed me with the discovery of many delightful friends and loved ones these many years.

I don't want to be overly clever because, at the moment, I find it necessary to be succinct but I believe there are many variations on two themes and here is the radical thought that people have a real difficulty trying to accept - it is possible to change SEX. Gender is a different matter, altogether, not unrelated but not to be confused with sex or used to confuse or patronize when the matter at hand is sex. There are overlapping concerns here that have been obscured by focusing on one without regard for the other.

What Yasmin said in this thread is spot on.

A book titled "Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex." One could be under the impression that an interview about the book would, I don't know, center on trans people's experiences in prison. Instead we have lots of "queer, queer, queers... and trans being singled out... but so are QUEERS!!!..queer..and it's an issue gays and lesbians should pay attention to because it's about them."

Again, if there wasn't history of trans women being used as examples but not included in the resolution, perhaps it wouldn't be so easy to suspect that at least Toshio's intention wasn't to participate (unintentionally?) in the first part by making sure that it is clear that all trans women are queer (and let's understand that queer = more or less gay to most people who use it).

Ultimately, I don't think the issue is the word "queer". It is the pretty common tactic of using trans people's (women's) experiences to make points or underscore issues without centering the discussion or the resolutions in ways that actually benefit trans people. In this case "queer and trans" was the vehicle. (Not to mention that "queer and trans" is often used to imply that trans women are not included, but trans men are - so it is kinda touchy in its own way though I don't get that intent here at all)

Wilberforce1 | October 9, 2011 4:55 PM

I'm not sure I understand all of this, especially the squabbling over labels.
But it seems that the book is saying that many trans people are denied employment, forced into prostitution and other crimes, then caught in the prison system. If that's the case, it seems that we could make a strong public argument about this.
Gay men and lesbians also might be able to fund services for trans folk, as we do for hiv people, and as we're starting to do for LGBT homeless.
And we should be able to demand that the government help trans people, as they do for welfare recipients. No?

"Figure out who the real enemies are." - Funny how and when this line keeps coming up within the LGB bolgsphere. I think a MUCH more relevant question to ask trans women is who can be counted as allies.

As long as:

Trans woman is beaten = "anti-gay violence"
Trans man is raped = "lesbians are targeted for sexual violence"
Trans people have high rates of unemployment = pass SONDAs
Trans women are routinely placed in solitary confinement or raped in prison = queers need justice

As long as these things are true, the needs of trans people (women) routinely get glossed over when discussions about how to fix/mitigate these issues come up. When "LGBT", "Queer" and even "queer and trans" dog whistle to mean everyone BUT trans women - how are we supposed to react Yasmin?

Assuming inclusion, even when specifically stated, in ALL LEVELS of activism within the movement has resulted in surprising levels of harm or simply frustrations and further marginalization for many trans women. What are we supposed to presume here Yasmin?