Hey lovelies, I am writing because quite frankly the rent is too damn high and it would be great to get fucked by something other than my life. I have finally moved out on my own and it has not been easy. It was somewhat abrupt. I could’ve saved more, planned more, did more. But when freedom is…
Please support my dear friend Shayna in her time of need! We have to support each other to survive under these terrible conditions !
Audre Lorde Project Trans Day of Action 2014 Points of Unity
Initiated by TransJustice of the Audre Lorde Project, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two-Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color Center for Community Organizing. Friday, June 27, 2014
On Friday, June 27, 2014, TGNC (Trans and Gender Non-Conforming) People of Color (POC) and allies will take the streets of New York City once again and demand justice to let the world know that the Stonewall Rebellion is not over and we will continue fighting for justice and raising our voices until we are heard. We call on activists and organizers from all movements, both locally and nationally, to endorse this call to action and to build contingents to march in solidarity together on Friday, June 27, 2014. To endorse the Trans Day of Action 2014, send an email to email@example.com. For more information about the march send an email to Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact TransJustice at 212-463-0342 x 13.
This year we are excited to celebrate a decade of resistance, resilience and revolution as we call for social and economic justice, and raise awareness of the many pressing issues TGNC POC face. On this day, the 45th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, we will lift up and celebrate the legacy of the amazing TGNC POC warriors that have paved the way for our movements today. We will also honor and continue the struggle for justice, liberation, and recognition for all oppressed people across the globe.
We as TGNC People of Color (POC), recognize the importance of working together alongside other movements to create the world we want to see. We live in a time when oppressed peoples including people of color, people who are currently and formerly incarcerated, immigrants, youth and elders, people with disabilities, women, TGNC people, and poor people are underserved, face higher levels of discrimination, heightened surveillance and experience increased violence at the hands of the state. Let’s come together to let the world know that TGNC rights will not be undermined and we will not be silenced!
These are the points of unity, which hold together the purpose of this important march:
• We demand an end to profiling, harassment and brutality at the hands of the police. Like many other oppressed communities TGNC people are targeted, profiled and brutalized by the police. The NY Anti-Violence Project reports that Trans women are 4 times more likely to experience police violence than all other people reporting violence. We are in solidarity with FIERCE and their campaign to counter the displacement and criminalization of LGBTQ youth of color. We support legislation that would stop police and prosecutors from using possession of condoms as evidence of ‘criminal activity.’ We oppose increased policing, recognizing that policing doesn’t end hate violence against LGBTSTGNC People. As members of Communities United for Police Reform, we demand an end to the discriminatory “Stop and Frisk” and other “Broken Windows” practices of the NYPD and demand that they make amends.
• We demand justice for the many TGNC POC who have been beaten, assaulted, raped, and murdered yet these incidents continue to be silenced or misclassified. We also demand an end to non-physical acts of violence such as verbal harassment and gender policing. Instead of disrespecting the identities of TGNC POC, we call for media to address individuals by their preferred names and pronouns. The police and the media continue to criminalize us even when we try to defend ourselves. We know through AVP’s Hate Crime Report that 67% of hate crime murder victims are Trans women of color, and we demand that this end. Hate crime laws will not solve the problem but will give increased power to the state to put more people in jail. In striving for social justice, we recognize complacency as an act of violence and seek to find ways of holding people accountable, and hope to come to a joint understanding of how we can make our communities safer.
• We demand access to both public and private spaces without fear of harassment or brutality. Far too many TGNC POC have faced harassment, violence, and denial of usage of restrooms across New York City. We call for access and the agency to choose which restrooms match our gender identity and gender expression, and for the development of gender neutral restrooms, as well as accountability for staff and patrons of both private and public spaces when we face discrimination and abuse. We are in opposition to gentrification and the displacement of our communities.
• We demand the full legalization of all immigrants. We stand in solidarity with Indigenous-identified Two-Spirit people and the sovereignty of the First Nations, on whose land we now see the US attempt to enforce arbitrary borders. TGNC POC deserve the right to access competent and respectful immigration services. We demand that the consulates of all countries respect and honor our identities and issue passports and other documentation that accurately reflects who we are. We oppose the Secure Communities program, the guest worker program, the Real ID Act, enforcement provisions to build more walls and give greater powers to the Department of Homeland Security, increased barriers for asylum seekers, and other anti-immigrant policies. We stand in solidarity with the 3 million plus people who have been deported and we demand an end to such displacement.
• We are in solidarity with all prisoners, especially the many TGNC POC people behind the walls. We call attention to the under-reported accounts of violence and rape that our community faces at the hands of correction officers and other prisoners, in psychiatric facilities, and group homes. We demand an end to the torture and discrimination TGNC POC prisoners face. We demand that all TGNC POC prisoners receive competent and respectful healthcare. We oppose the continued growth of the prison industrial complex that continues to target our communities, yet we recognize that TGNC POC people need access to services and facilities that lessen our vulnerability to violence within the present jails and prisons. We call attention to the criminal injustice system that increasingly puts POC, immigrants, people with disabilities, TGNC POC and poor people behind bars - criminalizing our communities and our lives.
• We oppose the US “War on Terrorism” as an excuse to legitimize the expansion of the U.S. as an imperial super power and to separate our communities by fostering feelings of hate, xenophobia, and violence. We demand the immediate removal of all U.S. troops from all countries under occupation and demand an end of use of U.S. dollars to cultivate and sponsor wars against people in the U.S. and abroad.
• We demand accessible, respectful and comprehensive health care. In recognizing that Trans healthcare is not “special” healthcare, we are in solidarity with the Medicaid Campaign, led by the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. TGNC POC deserve the right to access quality and emergency health care and to be treated with dignity and respect while receiving necessary care. We demand that health care providers and insurance providers acknowledge this right and provide this service without bias and discrimination.
• We demand safety while utilizing public transportation. We celebrate that due to a court ruling, TGNC POC are now protected while utilizing public transportation in NYC and can take action against the MTA (NYC’s public transportation system) if it’s employees use discriminatory language. TGNC POC should be addressed by their preferred pronoun and should not be targeted by employees or harassed by other customers. We call on the MTA to insure the safety not only of TGNC POC but of women, children and all riders. However, as evident with the recent attack on the MARTA in Atlanta, GA, of Janell Crosby and Tyra Woods, we recognize that this is also a national issue that must be resolved across the country.
• We demand that all people receiving public assistance be treated with respect and dignity. We are in solidarity with all people living on public assistance. We celebrate our 2011 campaign work that resulted in establishing proper procedure for serving TGNC clients and a community developed training curriculum but we demand that the Human Resources Administration (HRA) and the NYC welfare agency fully implement this procedure, including culturally competent trainings for all employees that does not put the burden of education on the TGNC POC community.
• We demand access to respectful and safe housing. A disproportionate number of TGNC POC have been or are currently homeless, and experience violence and discrimination when trying to access shelters and housing programs. We lift up the legacy of Queers for Economic Justice, which as a result of the lack of support for the TGNC POC community unfortunately had to close its doors. We continue the demand that all Department of Homeless Services shelters provide adequate Trans sensitivity trainings for all personnel and enforce clear non-discrimination policies that respect the dignity and safety of all homeless people. We demand safe spaces for all TGNC people.
• We demand that TGNC POC people have equal access to employment and education opportunities. We are outraged by the high numbers of TGNC POC who are unemployed. Few TGNC POC have access to opportunities for learning in a safe school environment. TGNC POC demand that all employers and educational institutions implement non-discrimination policies that respect the rights of all workers and students and that they comply with the NYC Human Rights Law that prohibits discrimination against gender identity and expression.
We commemorate the memory of Islan Nettles, Kandy Hall, Brittany-Nicole Kidd-Stergis, and the many brave souls we have lost, who have struggled and lived their lives fearlessly, being true to who they were. They keep the fire of struggle burning within all of us.
“I’m tired of queers only caring about queer issues and other queer people. If queer is really going to be significant it needs to be about unhinging our solidarity politics away from people who are just like us. It’s about expanding the field of where we deposit our empathy to become even more vast. It’s about giving a shit about everyone in the world living in a decent life and recognizing that that change is only going to come around by terminating colonialism and capitalism. I wouldn’t be so bold as to suggest what tactics would best allow us to do this. But I can say that the first move in combating homonationalism is refusing to see ‘queer’ issues in isolation from continual legacies of racial and class domination.”—Alok Vaid-Menon BlueStockings Magazine Interviews DarkMatter
“It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we all can flourish. It is…
My name is Mahdi, and I am a Palestinian art student. I’m a refugee from a Palestinian city called “Al-led” which was expelled by the Israeli occupation in 1965. I live in Ramallah city with my family where I also study Contemporary Visual Art. I chose to study contemporary Art because it’s somehow new in the Palestinian artistic ground and it’s a bridge through which I can deliver my voice and opinions on both internal and external issues.
It might sound trivial but I always think that Art chose me. As a little kid I was pulled towards drawing and creating handmade things out of nothing. My need to express myself, which might be bigger than the political, social, and environmental reality, has attracted me towards adopting Art as an approach to express my needs and passions.At the start of my art studies I explored many different themes, and then I began to focus more on the question of what body means in my society. More recently I have been working on deconstructing masculinity.
As a Palestinian living in the West Bank, my studies and my artist development are greatly affected by the occupation. My mobility is restricted so I find it difficult to exchange ideas and collaborate with other artists. Because of the occupation Palestinian people experience psychological repression, too. It is often difficult to create beauty here in all of the chaos but I am trying for my people.
THIS IS WHY I NEED YOUR HELP!
I was recently accepted to two programs over the summer, a residency in Norway (for a week) and immediately afterwards an exchange program in Sweden (two months). The Norway residency provided a full scholarship. The Sweden residency will not provide any scholarship. I have a place to stay with a friend in Sweden, but I will have to cover all living costs, which I cannot afford. Whilst in Norway and Sweden I want to work on themes of brotherhood and multiculturalism, exploring how orientalism and colonialism affect how we look at each other across cultures. Colonialism, both global and Israeli, and the way it affects access to opportunities, means that these themes are most often explored within the formal art world from a Eurocentric perspective.
Living under occupation you are always in a box, both physically and mentally, which you are always trying to step out of but you can’t. The occupation constantly closes off possibilities but this is an opportunity for me to explore life away from that and open my imagination. Please support me in this journey.
We want to close with some thoughts on the queer international—its construction and its political utility. As we have mentioned before, an important step for real solidarity activism is ending queer exceptionalism. We can’t just be in solidarity with other LGBT people, or people we mark as queer; we need to demand racial, economic, gender, and sexual liberation for everyone. In a way, we need to move away from a ‘queer’ international, and acknowledge the ways focusing on gender and sexuality exclusively masks our complicity in racial/imperialist violence against other peoples. ‘Queer’ can be a radical challenge to sexual and gender oppression, but only in localized contexts, not as a globalizing construct.
This move carries a few other important considerations:
1. Empathy cannot be the currency of our solidarity politics. Identity cannot be the basis of our connection.
During her keynote speech at the City University of New York in April 2013 queer Palestinian activist Haneen Maikey asked the crowd if they were in solidarity “with Palestine or with the queers in Palestine.” What Maikey was alluding to here is the ways in which Western queerness has inherited colonial feminism’s formation of allegiance based on assumed gender or sexual solidarity. Such an understanding of shared experience is problematic because it allows folks in the West to assume shared victimhood with folks in the Global South without actually owning up to the fact that Western queers are not actually part of the same community as Palestinian queers, but rather complicit in their oppression (our taxes literally fund state sponsored terrorism across the world). What happens with the queer international is that our queer identities become the only conduit of our solidarity. The idea here is that because we empathize with the queer struggle this should naturally be the work we’re doing. What we need to recognize is that our identification and our empathy are part of the colonial mentality we are trying to abolish. Solidarity work is not about us. It isnot about us being victims. Rather, it is about our complicity. It is about recognizing that our genders and sexualities are part of bigger systems of imperialism and colonialism which oppress all people regardless of their identification. Unless we abolish these very material systems we will never have queer liberation.
2. The surveillance/police state and the demand to be ‘visible’ or ‘out’ are interlinked.
The white and Zionist supremacist gaystreams want you to feel ‘safe’ because you can wear pink shorts in Tel-Aviv (and San Francisco). But collective liberatory politics is not about wearing or doing whatever you want; it’s about redistribution and dismantling oppressive institutions. It is also about negotiating gender and sexuality in various contexts of ‘hiddenness’. We might call it ‘strategic visibility’ or we might not name it at all, but roughly it encapsulates the thousands of practices variously oppressed peoples have used to maintain their safety and efficacy within imperialist, fascist, policed, and otherwise challenged contexts. It is not always about being out and loud and pink. In other words, the state’s surveillance and sexuality are informed by the same strain of politics. In a US context in particular, the Patriot Act and subsequent repeal of both Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) invest in the same, broader political strategy. That is, the state wants you to come out (and now, to come extra extra out by getting married) so it can surveil you. Carlos Decena elaborates on this point in Tacit Subjects, pointing to the ways coming out has become about regulation, rather than liberation.
Furthermore, the mechanisms by which Israel and the US surveil and police oppressed peoples are materially and culturally interlinked. The IDF, LAPD, Oakland PD, and NYPD share trainings, strategies, and technology. Prisons in the US inform torture and containment strategies by the US military and IDF abroad. This is, of course, while the IDF and US army both market themselves as gay-friendly and accepting.
3. Funding streams from the West are neocolonial, and do not match the needs of Global South sexual and gender justice activism.
Wealthy LGBT people in the West are looking for movements that look like ‘theirs’, and match pre-existent categories. This is also true of domestic movements who do not match mainstream gay strategies. This does a violence to activists who, by virtue of their contexts, are fighting very different liberation struggles. Activists often have to compromise their work to make it fit into the identity markers (often in English and type legitimate work sanctioned by philanthropy. This reveals how Western philanthropy is not necessarily invested in liberation but rather in maintaining Western dominance.
Furthermore, by virtue of international recruitment streams, Global South activists are often networked with bodies like the UN, rather than grassroots queer people of color activists in the West. Part of the ways in which capitalism divides is by pitting oppressed peoples against once another. In our contemporary funding climate queer people of color organizations in the US are losing funding in part because international queer movements are now a priority. There is little initiative to connect grassroots queer of color activists in the West to transnational activists to develop a shared analysis on criminalization, incarceration, and state violence.
4. The state is not a foregone conclusion.
Maintaining a ‘queer international’ also assumes the ‘international’ in the first place—that is, the pre-supposed existence of nation-states. While we acknowledge the multiple ways marginalized peoples have strategically taken from and interacted with the state, we do not ultimately think state validation is a radical demand. We view the state’s interests as incorporating and silencing, not liberating us. Our solidarity work cannot rely on state-given, imperialist definitions of borders and migration. This is not to say that the state – which has historically been responsible for creating economic and racial apartheid – does not have a responsibility to redistribute material resources to oppressed communities. It does. But this is to call for more reflection on why and when we turn to the state. What does it mean for the US State to say that it accepts LGBT folks and use its LGBT-friendliness to justify sending drones to the Middle East (because they’re ‘homophobic.’). As oppressed peoples fighting for liberation in a domestic context we cannot afford to view our political asks of the US State in isolation from the State sponsored terrorism inflicted on our comrades abroad. As Audre Lorde reminds us, “What does it mean to be a citizen of a country that stands on the wrong side of every liberation struggle on this earth?”
Increasingly we’re seeing Western politicians like Hilary Clinton call for LGBT rights on the global stage. Domestic LGBT organizations are now looking abroad as the ‘new’ site of work – as if things are wrapping up in the United States with the repeal of DADT and DOMA. Across the board the logic remains the same: the West figured it out and has successfully ushered in LGBT rights victories! David Cameron of the UK made this way of thinking most explicit when he called for the exportation of gay marriage across the world!
It’s kind of funny because these people actually like believe that Western LGBT rights are working and have brought about increased equality. Newsflash they have not.
Even though the white supremacist gay movement in the West wants to pretend that ‘it’s getting better,’ economic inequality in this country is actually increasing along with racialized state violence (in the form of surveillance, detainment, incarceration, torture, deportation, murder). What this means is that poor queers and queers of color are at increased risk of harm.
What becomes apparent is that those of us invested in queer liberation and racial justice in the West have to develop new models for our activism. Gay politics in the United States is stale and no longer useful. We are often totally and completely behind the times. Some of the most dynamic queer politics is being generated outside of the United States and we have not been attentive enough to it. Not only that, our countries are supporting policies and corrupt state regimes which systematically prevent these ideas from coming to us.
Specifically, on our solidarity trip to Palestine we met some of the most shrewd, brilliant, and critical queer activists and we realized that we had a lot to learn and reflect in our own US based organizing. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Here are some tactics and strategies that we could actually learn from and apply better in our own movements. These lessons do not come from one homogenous queer Palestinian movement – obviously there is dissent, departure, and disagreement. But these are some political strategies and tactics we particularly resonated with. We also want to note that learning these strategies is not a linear, copy-paste process—we have to make them relevant to our own contexts.
1. Our queer politics should be generated from our racial justice work.
Queer Palestinian activists often reject the idea that their struggle is about ‘gay rights’ or ‘acceptance.’ What organizations like alQaws are committed to is gender and sexual liberation in the context of Palestinian liberation. Queer Palestinians come at their work first with a commitment to ending the occupation. Gender and sexuality politics do not exist somehow in isolation from shared oppression as Palestinian people. There is a commitment here to an understanding of how all Palestinian people – regardless of their personal identification – are oppressed on the basis of their gender and sexuality by colonial pinkwashing narratives that depict them as backwards and repressed.
Similarly in the United States political organizing on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity makes little sense for those of us invested in racial justice. What does a rich white gay man gentrifying a neighborhood in Brooklyn really have in common with a poor black lesbian who lives down the street? Similar racialized narratives continue to shape people of color sexualities in the United States: where Asian American women are hypersexualized, African Americans are seen as sexually perverse, etc. People of color experience gender and sexual oppression due to white supremacy and settler colonialism. The very framework of LGBT identities is a continuation of settler colonialism. These terms are not actually bases of real and meaningful solidarity. Coming at our work from this perspective means like issues like marriage equality will never really be on the table when many of our peoples are currently incarcerated, surveilled, detained, and/or living in poverty – conditions and institutions that actually create gender and sexual oppression. White LGBT folks should view their movement work then in a way that is aligned with racial justice – recognizing that the oppressions they might experience on the basis of their gender and sexuality result from a loss of white power. That the political platforms white LGBT movements often make are actually about ascension into this white power, not actually abolishing it.
2. Visibility politics are overrated. Coming out no longer means liberation in a context where when people come out on the streets they are thrown into jail.
Many queer folks in Palestine are not actually invested in ‘coming out’ or being ‘visible.’ Movement emphasis does not prioritize the ritual of ‘coming out’ and does not pressure Palestinians to ‘come out’ in order to be involved with movement work. People are critical of the idea that there even is a ‘closet’ let alone how the West associates being a ‘bad’ queer with being closeted (repressed) and a ‘good’ queer with being out (liberated?). What is more, coming out narratives rely on the personal choices of individuals — a framework that largely does not make sense for Palestinians who may see themselves as part of a larger family and community structure.
Similarly, coming out as an imperative has a fraught relationship with communities of color and other oppressed peoples in the United States. Whom have we isolated with our emphasis on visibility politics in the US? Has this actually been advantageous for the majority of poor folks and other queer folks of color? What narratives of hyper visibility do is erase the very real and important work that gets done on the interior and in private – the slow work of building community and generating ideas and resistance. Who are we asked to become visible to in the US? The State? So they can count our numbers on their census and then throw bombs across the ocean because they accept gay people here right? (even though they throw low income people of color in prisons, in shelters, and criminalize us walking on the streets). In the contemporary racist state refusing visibility can actually be a radical strategy of resisting state violence, resisting state appropriation, and resisting our own country’s imperial agendas.
3. Art should be an integral part of any queer movement. Supporting queer art is a radical political-culturalinvestment.
AlQaws recently launched a project called “Singing Sexualities” which gave a platform for Palestinian artists to produce songs about gender and sexuality in Arabic. The organization created an album, hosted concerts, and distributed this CD across Palestine. Most of the songs were recorded in participant’s homes and private spaces. The idea here is that legal policy and state recognition aren’t actually going to change peoples hearts and minds. Art has a unique way of tearing at the fabric, and reweaving, of culture.
Meanwhile in the US we see a largely professionalized NGO sector invested in doing the “real” work of lobbying politicians, passing laws, and writing reports. At the same time thousands of queer cultural workers find it difficult to get anyone to seriously engage with their work. We’re not actually going to eradicate heteronormativity unless we create media that breaks through formality and gets at the core of hatred and prejudice – envisioning new ways of loving, relating, and being in community.
4. We don’t actually need more money. Our communities already have everything we need to change the world.
One of our favorite moments in Palestine was when our friend came over with his grandma’s old sheets, a couple of cheap makeup sets, a lamp he borrowed from school, and his cell phone camera and set up one of the most elaborate and queer photoshoots we have ever been apart of in our apartment. In US professionalized organizing spaces we’ve become so obsessed with applying for grants and amassing more that we don’t take the time to actually acknowledge and evaluate the resources we are already surrounded by. If we build meaningful relationships with one another and don’t feel afraid to ask how different would our work look like? Our first question should not actually be about where the money is but rather: what do we already have? Capitalism makes us organize with a logic of scarcity – that we never have enough – rather than one of abundance. This is not to romanticize not having resources — we definitely need a radical redistribution of wealth and resources in this country – but this is about being more real about how we can make the best of our situations and do radical work with them.
5. What we call the LGBT community is often rhetorical and not actually real.
In the US we like to throw the idea of an ‘LGBT community’ around all the time. But what becomes evident in a lot of places is that this is just political and rhetorical solidarity. Where is our so-called community when we experience sexual violence, find ourselves terminally ill, or processing depression? Community only appears to be there at the clubs and on our sex and dating apps – not actually there day to day. In Palestine the type of family and commitment among queer folks wasn’t actually just some trite “alternative kinship politics–it was about cooking for one another, driving one another, giving a place to sleep. What would it look like in the US if we really practiced the community we pretend to have? Would queer homeless kids still be on the streets? Would queer people be confined in mental institutions? Our community can’t just congregate for the good times – we have to learn how to hold one another more ferociously even if it is boring or painful.
6. We need to reframe what it means to be ‘political’ and to be an ‘activist.’
One of the violences the non-profit industrial complex has done in the West is it has professionalized activism. Now one can become a ‘professional queer’ or ‘gay for pay’ and live a life that’s about doing activism from 9-5 and then going home and being ‘off time.’ This is ridiculous. We all can resist power. Every moment in our lives is political. In Palestine we witnessed an unprecedented commitment to politicizing the personal. In one of our workshops one of our participants declared: “If I’m attracted to an Israeli woman I will suggest that she leaves my land and we can meet up and have sex in another country!” No part of our lives – no matter how intimate – are outside of our politics. This doesn’t mean that ‘politics’ has to look like participating in a protest every day. Politics can also be laughing and building community. Our humor and joy can be part of our collective healing as bodies often disregarded by mainstream society.
7. We have to reject the borders and divisions created by our oppressors.
AlQaws is one of the only organizations to work with Palestinians both in the West Bank and in ’48 (Israel). The idea here is that these borders are colonial imports meant to divide Palestinian people amongst one another rather than unifying to fight the enemy.
Breaking borders also means that we need more of an emphasis on immigration justice in our queer organizing working in solidarity with undocumented queers to challenge the arbitrary marriage between ‘citizenship’ and heteronormative relationships. It means abolishing deportation and detention centers. It means challenging immigration justice group to account for queer family formations, and challenging queers to find solidarity with all immigrants.
8. We need a queer movement against gentrification.
In Palestine queer activists have organized against apartheid drawing our attention to the ways in which Israeli occupation relies on a pinkwashing narrative that it is more friendly for LGBT peoples. What this narrative masks is the forced displacement and state violence against all Palestinian people regardless of their gender and sexuality. Similar dynamics are at play in many urban centers in the United States around issues of gentrification. Gentrification relies on a narrative that it is making neighborhoods ‘safer’ for LGBT folks and women. What this narrative erases is the resistance of black and other people of color queers, increased (police) state violence against people of color, and the forced displacement of poor people of color. We need similar political movements in the US that include queer people refusing the ways in which our identities and politics are appropriated in service of systemic racism and displacement. The queer movement must challenge security culture and the very notion of ‘safety’ – drawing attention to the ways in which narratives of criminality have always relied on racist and classist tropes and unquestioned ideas of ‘safety.’
In our previous piece we discussed how part of the goal of our solidarity trip to Palestine this summer was to interrupt the White queer domination of anti-pinkwashing work, and to dialog about the same. Here we want to turn some of that analysis inward, and bring out some of the self-critical lessons we learned—hopefully with the aim of also talking about how colonial genders and sexualities are carried out also by bodies of color like ourselves. What we hope this thought piece will do will allow us to expand our analysis of white supremacy beyond white bodies to discuss how certain bodies of color across time have been strategically utilized to do the actual labor of implementing white supremacy.
1. Not all people of color are uniformly disenfranchised. To maintain this is to perpetuate a white supremacist distinction of ‘white people’ and ‘everyone else.’ We have to be more explicit about when we use the term ‘people of color’ and why.
The multiplicity in our experiences often gets lost in political communities built around supposedly shared identities like ‘queer’ and ‘person of color.’ We want to articulate some of the specific privileges that enabled our travel to Palestine, and the work that we were able to do there. We acknowledge that these privileges do not exist in a political vacuum: we have these privileges because other brown and black people do not. Unless our work is about creating the material conditions to increase access there is absolutely nothing radical about our politics.
Though, as South Asians, we are sometimes profiled as ‘terrorist’ bodies through an Islamaphobic lens, our Brahmanical Indian Hindu heritage in particular enabled easy passage through Israeli security. This is largely because of the extensive political/military relationship shared by India and Israel.
Because we both can pass as male/masculine people, we experience significantly less sexual violence, harassment, and other patriarchal tactics of violence and erasure in any kind of travel.
Due to our own class upbringing and its attendant access to elite educational institutions we had access to a significant network of middle and upper class people from whom we were able to crowdsource funds for our trip.
What becomes apparent is that we are some of the most, shall way say, ‘tepid’ people of color to be doing this solidarity work. Really transformative solidarity would involve brown bodies regarded as more ‘threatening’ than us: we’re talking about Muslim Americans who face surveillance and criminalization domestically and abroad, our comrades in the Middle East who are barred entry to ’48, and Black/Latino/Native queer activists who experience the brunt of systematic racism and settler colonialism in North America. What we want the solidarity movement to think more about is what kind of people of color are allowed and able to do solidarity work and why?
2. Not all white supremacies are the same. Though white supremacy is a global system of domination it operates in localized ways. The US and Zionist settler homonationalist projects are simultaneously mutually informing and distinct.
Similar to ’48, the United States also uses gay rights to make itself appear more progressive. An important moment happened this summer while we were in Palestine as the Defense of Marriage Act and the Voting Rights Act were repealed in one swoop. The Supreme Court made it extremely explicit: LGBT rights are en vogue but anti-black racism will always be upheld. What good is same sex marriage really when people of color are still losing the fundamental right to vote? While it initially felt appropriate to link these domestic phenomenon to Zionist pinkwashing we soon realized that these systems – while similar — are not actually the same. The US carries different legacies of racial slavery and migrant labor than Palestine.
US racism is not a copy-pastable system into the Palestinian context. There are racial politics at play in Palestine too, but Palestinians are not united by race or by the label ‘people of color’, and instead by their indigeneity and claim to right of return. This is where we continually tripped up, because so much of our creative work is related to our US understanding of whiteness. This US understanding of whiteness has been shaped by histories of anti-black racism which have linked whiteness to a property often associated with phenotype. In other words, white supremacy is for white people.
What we realized in our trip is that not all white supremacies are the same. Zionism is entangled with, but distinct from Euro-American white supremacy. Though Ashkenazi (white appearing) Jews economically and culturally dominate Zionism and the Israeli state project—and the Israeli underclass is largely non-Ashkenazi peoples—Zionism is still rooted in Israeli supremacy over Palestinian sovereignty. While some Palestinians might appear white-passing in a North American context, in Palestine having lighter skin, though it affords certain privileges, is not relevant to the settler/colonized dynamic. This revealed the limitations of the ways in which we had been theorizing and writing about white supremacy in the past – we need a way of articulating race that acknowledges the very real and material privileges possessing lighter skin has but one that also is culturally, spatially, and locally contingent – one that invites history and ancestry and manifests itself perhaps less visibly but just as violently.
3. Queer people of color are not always innocent and can actually be complicit in the ongoing colonization of other queer people of color. White supremacy has historically relied on the binary between ‘good’ native informants and ‘bad’people of color.
Our (brown, queer) bodies were and continue to be also complicit in Western and white supremacist LGBT politics which emphasize hyper-visibility. We are not white, but we are US people with access to urban centers, and many spaces for a flamboyant, individualist type of queer visibility. Our clothing, manner, and approach to gender and sexuality reflects this. This is not to say those spaces and expressions don’t exist in Palestine, but only that, as foreigners, and as folks with US passports, we could ‘get away with’ much more.
The reason that gender-variance becomes a tricky point is that it brings up challenging questions around visibility, loudness, and outness. Whereas privileged framings of gender and sexual liberation often focus on the individual (me, and my gender expression), in imperialist and fascist contexts, and resistance thereof, the safety of the collective becomes increasingly and materially important. While it is by no means the onus of the trans or gender non-conforming (gnc) solidarity activist from the West to individually shoulder their own safety, it is important for them to have those discussions with their group (including Palestinians and foreigners alike as to how strategic presentation might better ensure safety and mobility for all, and how their individual safety as a trans/gnc person can be supported by the group. This is not the place for trans/gnc activists with significant citizenship privilege and access—such as a US, EU, or Israeli passport—to insist on the same treatment as they receive in their home contexts.
Partly, the reason for this negotiation is indeed material safety. The intention here is not to apply a new layer of trans-specific pinkwashing (eg ‘you can totally wear a dress in Tel Aviv, but not in the West Bank’) but to acknowledge to local contexts, and shift the focus away from individual, neoliberal forms of queerness and gender liberation, to ones that re-center Palestinian liberation and anti-imperialist strategy as central goals. These negotiations are also informed by respect for gender-variant bodies who by virtue of citizenship, imperialism, fascism, class, etc may have differential access to visibility and outness.
Coming to terms with not only the limitations but the violence of our queer visibility in Palestine has influenced the ways in which we conceive of our gender presentations as brown queers in the US settler colonial project. There is a reason the fascist police state in our gentrified neighborhoods in Brooklyn do not profile us. As appropriately classed brown queers we are allowed the privilege of our individual genders. Our genders are imagined as a sort of private property, much like our iPhones, that the police are there to protect ‘us.’ This means that we need to name the specificity of anti-black and anti-poor racisms. Who really gets criminalized for queer visibly and why? What is really radical about demonstrations of queer visibility in a political climate where visibility for many brown and black people includes increased state surveillance, criminalization, and exploitation?
4. While it is often convenient to blame white settlers, people of color can also participate in settler colonialism . We have to name our privileges as settlers and attempt to operate in solidarity with indigenous peoples in order to do transformative work.
Another fabricated parallel between our work and queer Palestine was the common enemy: white homonationalism. This is simply not the case. Queer Palestinians are fundamentally fighting a decolonization struggle where the political ask is for the actual unsettlement of foreign peoples and the right of return to land. It was easy for us to agree with this demand in Palestine, and yet harder and more necessary for us to approach North American queer politics with unsettlement as a mandate.
Our class- and caste- privileged Indian families came to this land for economic opportunity. In other words our families benefit from the spoils of centuries of genocide and anti-black racism. Rather than challenging the systematic racism that allowed our families to succeed and obtain economic progress in this country, our families remained silent and continued to succeed on the backs of other people of color. As Asian Americans we have previously narrated our diasporic stories only through the lens of loss, trauma, and a sense of displacement. What this does is distract away from our mutual complicity in violence against Native Americans and African Americans who were involuntary brought to this context. As privileged diasporic people of color we have to reframe and rearticulate the ways we narrate our immigration toward mutual accountability. We must not only see ourselves as ‘oppressed,’ but also perpetrators of settler colonial and anti black violence. This means that we must come at our queer of color domestic activism from a position of allyship in similar ways to the transnational work that we participate in.
DarkMatter – a queer South Asian artist and activist collaboration — spent the majority of Summer 2013 in Palestine (both the West Bank and ’48). We were hosted by alQaws, a queer Palestinian organization that focuses on cultural and social change around gender and sexuality in the context of the Palestinian liberation struggle. With alQaws, we conducted writing/performance workshops around gender, sexuality, and imperialism, and performed in various cities across West Bank and 48.
The original intention of our trip was to advance broader conversations around the ways in which Western queer solidarity work in Palestine is dominated by white queer bodies and ideologies. We were both concerned by how many queer people of color we organized with in the United States did not have access to an analysis of Palestine, let alone transnational imperialism/colonialism. We trace this to a carefully curated strategy to de-radicalize racial justice in this country by curtailing it as a domestic issue. Thus the racial distribution of solidarity activists is not innocuous but results from the dynamics of white supremacy and imperialism in the state, NGOs, and media
In this first thought piece we want to unpack how white supremacy has influenced solidarity work around Palestine and how that negatively impacts movements for Palestinian liberation. We use white supremacy to signify a form of privilege built from legacies of colonialism, enslavement, genocide, and other acts of terrorism and oppression committed by people with access to whiteness against other peoples. White supremacy includes psychic, cultural, economic, and social supremacy.
We trace the domination of Western queer solidarity work with Palestine by white people to four major roots in the material and social realities of White supremacy:
As a result of (settler-) colonialism and systems of enslavement, white people dominate most material resources and institutions in the West. They frequently have the most access to capital, time, and networks to participate in solidarity work abroad.
White bodies are generally less scrutinized by states, police, and settlers (including Zionist settlers). They are more easily able to pass through airports and other borders and to be visible without fear of racialized state violence.
The impulse of white people to ‘help’ the foreign Other comes from a long legacy of a colonial mentality. The ‘white savior complex’ is prevalent throughout social sector work, especially global development and NPIC (non profit industrial complex) work.
White folks (and folks with access to various white privileges) frequently displace systems of oppression and power struggles to the non-West, ignoring the struggles—in which they are more materially complicit—in their domestic spaces. We believe North American queer solidarity work with Palestine, for example, is bankrupt without both an analysis of the histories of settler-colonialism and indigenous genocide in North America, and of criminalization and exploitation of black people and people of color through institutions like the prison.
Furthermore, the work that white queer bodies do (by their very presence) is reinforcing the notion that queerness most genuinely ‘belongs’ to Whiteness. This is in the political context of a gay and lesbian movement that increasingly serves the needs of elite white gay men in the West. Over the past decade we’ve also witnessed unprecedented support for a global LGBT rights movement. Several prominent Pride parades have made ‘WORLD PRIDE’ the theme of the week — discussing the rampant homophobia occurring across the world in Uganda, Iran, Vietnam, Russia, etc. The Obama Administration has allocated millions of dollars to the US State Department to fund emerging LGBT social movements abroad. Hilary Clinton declared to the United Nations that “Gay Rights are Human Rights.”
While such support might seem ‘progressive,’ with further scrutiny we realize that a global, homogenous, delocalized gay movement does not serve the needs of most sexual and gender minorities (who are not white, not financially privileged, etc). And actually, such a ‘global gay’ identity further distracts from Western imperialist and racist violence. We saw a connection here between the radical queer people of color activist movements we aligned ourselves with in ‘North America’ and queer Palestinian activism not in our shared oppression but rather our shared resistance to a white supremacist neocolonial agenda. Indeed, such a movement actually serves the interests of the colonizers: in Palestine Israeli settlers on Palestinian land and in North America white and brown settlers on Native American land.
Among Israel’s colonial strategies is ‘pinkwashing’, in which the state of Israel uses gay rights (everything from Prides to advertisements for asylum to gay tourism campaigns) as a distraction from its occupation. The result of the overrepresentation of whiteness in Palestine solidarity work has a few effects on the efficacy of anti-pinkwashing and queer solidarity work:
Pinkwashing is about defining a consolidated queer/gayness as a ‘modern’, ‘progressive’ artifact from the West in comparison to the backwards Rest. The overrepresentation of white US queers in anti-pinkwashing movements perpetuates this narrative.
The colonial impulse to ‘save’ queer Palestine is one that reinscribes the victim narratives about queer Palestinians that actually service pinkwashing. Further, it makes pinkwashing appear as a single-issue device (that only oppresses queers), where in fact pinkwashing is a tactic of occupation that oppresses all Palestinians, of all genders and sexualities.
Anti-pinkwashing is not a ‘queer issue’; it is an issue of Palestinian liberation. We wanted to envision and practice a transnational queer solidarity that is not dominated by white people, is also not complicit in single-issue politics, and is self-reflexive about the racial and class violences that operate in solidarity activists’ domestic contexts (for us, the United States). The erasure of race and class violence and suppression of race and class warfare by gay rights is not an Israel-only phenomenon. Ultimately, though, the goal is to shift the focus away from white and Israeli settler queer bodies, even as ‘allies’, towards sexual and gender justice for all currently and formerly enslaved and colonized peoples.
"What I love about being a poet vs a politician is I can dream and ask for the ideal, I can say “this is what’s right and this is what’s wrong and this is what’s needed.” I can hold onto what is precious about our ancient and push society forward to evolve and become less violent, less harmful, more loving, more accepting, more magical."
“All marginal groups in this society who suffer grave injustices, who are victimized by institutionalized systems of domination (race, class, gender, etc.), are faced with the peculiar dilemma of developing strategies that draw attention to one’s plight in such a way that will merit regard and consideration without reinscribing a paradigm of victimization.”—Refusing to be a Victim: Accountability and Responsibility (bell hooks)
I am writing to ask for support in my travels to the Allied Media Conferece this year. My workshop “Radical Queer Sobriety” has been accepted and I am preparing to return to this fertile conference for more inspiration about liberation. I’m asking for help because I will be graduating this June, have no job lined up (am looking) and have just enough budgeted income from gigs to make ends meet but not enough to make it to the AMC.
Fabian Romero is a Two Spirit Queer Chicano poet, blogger and artist. Their sincere poetry and stories stem from their experiences as an Economic Refugee, speaking two languages, Queerness and survival as a agricultural migrant laborer. Fabian was born in Michoacán, Mexico and came to North America when they were seven years old. Since 2007 they have performed poetry and facilitated anti-oppression and self care workshops throughout North America. Their poetry and stories have been published in several zines and publications including Uproot zine, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics and To The Exclusion of All Others: Queers Questioning Gay Marriage. Currently they are pursuing a BA at Evergreen State College with a focus in writing, social justice and film and are a part of the Brown Boi Project.
About the Workshop:
In this closed space for self identified radical queer sober folks or those considering sobriety, this workshop will help build or hone skills for navigating queer spaces that are often centered around drugs and alcohol. My goal as a facilitator is to have participants walk away with more understanding of how addiction is connected to ablism, how to set boundaries with people we love and how to take care of our needs to maintain our sobriety. I’d also love to build connections and friendships.
Thank you for considering this. Thank you for your support. I value each and every bit of it whether you donate a little or share this link.
In Solidarity, fabian romero
i’m more than half way through my goal! thank you all for your contributions and support. i have been touched deeply by your generosity and kind words. please continue to share this, i just need $335 to make my goal! muchisimas gracias con todo mi corazonsito de nopal xx fabian
Fabian is seriously one of the most amazing people, an incredible poet, writer, and activist with a BIG heart of gold. If you are looking to donate money to someone, do this.
repeat after me: 1. our immigrant families are not just ‘homophobic’ they are also ‘colonized.’ 2. our parents have histories, genders, and sexualities, too. 3. they are just as broken as we are (but we have the words — i mean the english — to say it) 4. the diaspora responds to racism with heteronormativity 5. trauma seeps through generations
“This is not an appeal to expand the category of the settler, as I have argued before Black slaves and descendants of slaves are not settlers. However, the processes which make Black bodies fungible flesh, a form of terra nullius, and embed their bodies in the land as settled-slaves needs to be theorized as modalities of settlement. Settlement needs to be retheorized along the contours of the bodies that it renders materially and socially dead. Scholarship from Marxist geographies, cultural landscape studies, anthropology and the emerging field of settler colonial studies is useful for helping us think about space, however, it does not help us think about the ways that the process of settlement also materializes Blackness as an ontological position. Native studies and Black studies enable a discussion of how the production of Settler and Master or Settler-Master subjectivity comes about due to its parasitic relationship to Native death and Black fungibility/accumulation (social death). When we think about the Settler-Master as parasitic we can also begin to think about their process of settlement as one that also requires the making of ontological categories occupied by the dead. The process of settlement allows the Settler-Master to become a human with spatial coordinates because the Native dies and the Black becomes a non-being (a settled-slave).”—
Tiffany King, from her dissertation In the Clearing: Black Female Bodies, Space, and Settler Colonial Landscapes.
As some of you know, I recently graduated from Dartmouth—a very tiny, very white school in Middle of Nowhere, New Hampshire. I’ve written a bit here and there about my experiences as a black woman in that space and the extent to which I was profoundly scarred by some of the gross injustice that was allowed—no, enabled and encouraged—to fester there.
Today I’m proud to stand in solidarity with a group of brave, brilliant students who are refusing to back down until they get answers from a president who claims in every interview that Dartmouth “has no greater priority than diversity and inclusion” while standing silent as the most marginalized students continue to face disproportionate structural and interpersonal violence.
Know any amazing young people in need of radical South Asian community? EAST COAST SOLIDARITY SUMMER (ECSS), formerly known as DC Desi Summer, is a weekend-long youth leadership and empowerment program. ECSS provides a radical and inclusive space for youth of South Asian/Desi heritage (including those of mixed heritage) to examine key social justice issues and take action! The ECSS is scheduled for August 8-10 in New York City.
“I used to believe that the hostile reactions to calling out settler colonialism could be avoided depending on how the message was delivered. I am no longer ‘tricked’ into believing this. The fact that we are conditioned and made to worry about how to deliver a message that is so intimately connected to our humanity is ludicrous and speaks to the acceptance of settler colonial violence. I am also no longer ‘tricked’ into believing that there is a ‘right time’ to disrupt colonial comfort and complacency. The right time was yesterday.”—"Refuse to Live Quietly!" - by Jana-Rae Yerxa (via indigenousnationhoodmovement)
I’m thrilled to have written the introduction for this issue of In Solidarity put together by my brilliant co-worker Gabriel Foster.
In Solidarity is written for and by mostly incarcerated trans and gender non conforming people, so it was especially amazing to have CeCe come to our office to introduce this issue. It features essays and artwork by incarcerated members of the SRLP’s Prisoner Advisory Committee, writing by Janet Mock, a 1970 interview between Sylvia Rivera and a trans person incarcerated in Bellvue Hospital and more!
Perez Hilton is at it again. After his online fight with Azealia Banks in January, the blogger caused controversy with recent tweets claiming that “inside every gay man is a fierce black woman.” Then he defended himself by comparing black women to Hitler. Via Jezebel:
"I AM genuinely hurt/saddened. Go back to your superiority complex and overreacting,” “I didn’t attack. They did,” “The whole overreaction has really bummed me out. :-(,” “I only apologize in life if it’s with sincerity. I’m not sorry,” “I’m not racist,” “They should probably just ignore me and/or stop reading my tweets then,” AND, ahem, “Some present logical arguments, but then Hitler attempted to justify the holocaust too.”
According to Hilton’s black feminist critics, like Crunk Feminist Collective’s Eddie Ndopu, these caricatures “reinforce dehumanizing narratives … about black femininities.” In an essay for Feministing, Sesali Bowen writes, “We shouldn’t need a white male body to legitimize our experiences or expression…we’re not going to accept this as a compliment.” Even white gay men joined the backlash. Christopher Carbone, a writer for Slate and the Guardian, responded with the hashtag #NotYourSassyGayFriend to call for the end of racist gay tropes.
While I agree with the many critiques that have surfaced in the weeks following his Twitter meltdown, I think we need to push the conversation further to really understand just how deeply racism is entrenched in gay communities.
This incident is not just about Perez Hilton; it’s about the gay movement as a whole. We cannot afford to view appropriation as an isolated incidence—racist appropriation is an underlining component of the contemporary gay rights movement.
Racism is not just about individual actions; racism is a system. The rest of us—even those of us involved with LGBT activism—are complicit in anti-black racism. This incident brings up larger questions about the status of gay rights in this country. This is about the “progress” of gay rights and gay marriage in a moment of unyielding anti-black racism, leading to mass incarceration.
Hilton’s appropriation of language from black women is symptomatic of a larger cultural theft: the gay movement’s hijacking of the black liberation struggle. In 2008, an Advocate cover asked, “Gay Is the New Black?” That headline is a perfect distillation of the recent trend of activists calling the gay struggle the new civil rights movement, as if the “old” civil rights movement were over. Take, for example, Attorney General Eric Holder’s frequent remarks that the fight for marriage equality is a continuation of the civil rights movement: “Just like during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation’s struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher.” In Arizona, publications like Gawker and theSeattle Timeswere quick to equate the state’s discriminatory legislation to Jim Crow.
What such comparisons do is create the illusion that anti-black racism is over in this country. But just like Hilton’s superficial nod to black women, what is violent about this appropriation is that the way it operates is not actually about real collaboration and solidarity—it’s about exploitation and greed. Perez Hilton, like the gay movement itself, is not actually interested in ending racism—both are interested in exploiting blackness to get ahead.
When gay men like Hilton use black women’s language they are celebrated as “fierce” and “sassy,” but low-income black women are too often shamed for being themselves—called “welfare queens.” the gay movement has been successful in using the rhetoric of the civil rights movement gaining unprecedented legal victories, such as the recent repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, but in the same political climate, black activists have been unable to garner support for racial justice issues.
In Florida, a black woman named Melissa Alexander is now facing up to 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot into the ceiling for her abusive husband; Alexander is having difficulty fundraising for her legal expenses. Where was the gay movement when CeCe McDonald a black trans woman was thrown into prison after defending herself from racist and transphobic attacks? Where was the gay movement when Assata Shakur, one of the most influential black feminist activists, was the first woman added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list. Gay organizations have not come out in support of the countless black people in this country who are being targeted, criminalized, and incarcerated unfairly. Where is the solidarity now?
What becomes evident is how gay rights organizations are quick to use the language of the black struggle but not actually support black people themselves. This is how appropriation works: black people are reduced to a concept, a history, an idea—something able to be contained in a gay man’s body. Black people are not respected as thriving people still resisting virulent state criminalization and violence.
What is so violent about appropriation is that it gives the superficial impression that oppressors are somehow supporting the people they oppress. I’m sure that Mr. Hilton genuinely believes that he supports black women; I’m sure the gay movement believes it’s helping all people of color.
However, what becomes evident is that appropriation really only benefits people with power. Appropriation is manipulative: It strategically steals to get ahead. Both Hilton and the gay movement merely give lip service to black people: using their language, but not actually supporting them. We have to own up to the fact that not only the success of gay celebrities like Perez Hilton but also the “success” of the gay movement is on the backs of black people in this country.
An editor of THEM would be expected to read through submissions, involve themself in decisions regarding direction of the journal, copy editing, and to represent the journal as situations demand.
As a literary journal of trans* writers applicants must in some way exist in variation and resistance to the Western assigned-at-birth, gender-binary model, regardless of if they claim the word ‘trans*’ or not. THEM is especially interested in supporting the voices of people whose narratives are often marginalized within queer and trans* writing spaces, for example, femmes, people of color, and folks with disabilities, as editors and writers.
THEM is not for profit, thus the editorial position would be volunteer-based, but would include free copies of the journal and other relevant materials.
If interested in the editorial position, please send an email to email@example.com, with subject “EDITOR APPLICATION”.
THIS IS THE STORY of Brown. How it travels over state lines, oceans, and lips to feel beautiful. This is the story of beautiful — of learning the parts of us that cling on too hard for us to scratch them out, of the failure of human heart to desire more boldly. This is the story of a brown too bold to be beautiful, or too beautiful to be brown, or, in other words, a boy who no longer tries to use English to tell his story. This is their story.
My senior year of college I had enough. I took off the Fall semester from school and moved to Bangalore, India to organize with the queer Indian movement (read: find myself). Let’s call it a naïve desi romanticizing the homeland. Let’s call it a cliché. Let’s call it foolish notions of finding Love and finding Brown and not being able to tell the difference.
The story begins something like this. At the peak of its empire they say that the British controlled almost 85% of the world’s landmass. India was the crown jewel — that place of tea, and mystique, but mostly sex. Colonialism they tell us was a project of benevolence. The civilized white people of the world were there to help us — we the brown, the abject, the queer. When they came to our lands, they talked about how sensual our women were, how our beauty was not gendered, the familiarity of our bodies with one another and the intimacy of it all. They brought words like “sin” and “homosexual” to describe the rhythms of our people, stifling our songs with sodomy laws and penal codes; they wanted to make us more pure for God and for profit. (Is there a difference?) And at some point, we began to believe them. We stopped speaking about sex, we ignored the thousand-year old- temples with gods of all genders fucking, and we threw the hijras on the streets and on our backs in secret. The Brits blew us so hard that we scattered like dandelion seeds across the world — English branded on our tongue, white branded on our heart.
My parents somehow landed in Texas. When you fly into the two-plane airport of College Station, the first thing you’ll see is a sign that says: “Home of the George Bush Library.” I was in elementary school when they opened the behemoth — that destination of every fourth grade field trip and that thing that finally put us on the map. That year, my teacher asked me to come to school wearing “traditional” clothes. When they would ask me who my favorite President was, I’d always say George Bush; he was the man who not only led the country when I was born, but held me — and the rest of the world — in his lap. There is a photo somewhere out there on the Internet that will prove it.
History repeats itself. When you exit the airport, go down Highway 6, turn onto Rock Prairie Road, and then I’ll meet you at Arroyo Court — that house where Google Images first taught me the word “gay” (read: white). Then I’ll take you down the road to my elementary school where I grew up developing crushes on white men with names and politics much like George. I’ll show you the rooms where I used to write love letters to the white boys in my classes and sign them “from Crystal,” hope that the swirl in the “L” would give me away — like the way I smiled too hard while we played truth or dare. This is the park, this is the school, this is the street, this is the town where I grew up loving white men and hating myself. This is where I grew up wanting to sleep with the very men who called me faggot, called me terrorist and noticed me.
It took me years to come out not because I was afraid, but because I didn’t want my family to know that I was becoming white.
Growing up in Texas, I developed a bad case of white fetish. I could show you the porn I used to jack off to, and I could show the boys I fell in love with. I could tell you how the only representations of homosexuality I consumed were white, but in some ways that’s only part of the story. You see, white fetish is a condition that’s only partially about sex. For Indians white fetish is in our blood. It’s why we moved to America, it’s why we work hard to get in the best schools, it’s why we buy skin lightening cream to feel beautiful. White fetish is ancestral violence inscribed in our bodies; it’s a condition that describes the ways in which we are ready to be penetrated by America. Give us your racism, give us your Orientalist media representation, give us anything, and we will say thank you and keep quiet. We will check you in your hotel rooms, and we will hand you your groceries, and we will be your second-in command, and we will dress our kids in J. Crew and make them only speak English so we can be like you. And sometimes we think you believe us.
Pack all of your bags as fast as possible, dash back to that small goddamn airport and catch the first flight out to Houston, then connect to San Francisco, then run to Stanford University and I’ll show you the classrooms where I learned fancy words like “decolonize,” the poorly lit dorm rooms where I shed tears and cloths and cum and tried to do it by letting white men inside of me when they told me they were “different from the rest.” I’ll introduce you to the first boys of color I met — the ones who called me beautiful but I didn’t believe them because they did not have names like George.
So I told my parents I wanted to go back to India for a while. My Mom didn’t get it, “Why would you want to go back?” I didn’t really have the words for it at the time, but I felt the tug. I bought a ticket across the ocean and ran.
Bengaluru Airport is nothing like College Station’s. Outside there are a couple of fast food restaurants that all mean “food poisoning” when translated into English. Swarms of men smelling of that combination of sandalwood soap and sweat will ask you if you need a taxi. Push past the chaos with your luggage, button down shirt, and slacks. Your accent will mean that they will rip you off, undoubtedly, but they will listen.
The taxi will take you through the outskirts. Marvel at the billboards with faces that look like yours and gawk at the Ganesha at the mantle, the foreign made familiar. When the driver asks you where you are going, show him that chit of paper to your uncle’s place near Abbas Ali Road, shukria. Move out as fast as possible. Find your own place. Oops, that bougie apartment in Vasant Nagar where there’s even an interracial white/African couple and their boisterous child — complete with a gym! Do not tell your friends how much you are paying; remind all of your Skype calls back home that the currency rate is in your favor. Breathe in the salt, the sweat, the indigestion of India. Make home out of the leftovers Padma the cook leaves for you, that stray puppy you picked up from the street, and the contemporary art you plaster all the walls. Do not think twice before you cross the road, just leap out. The eighteen lanes of traffic will mold around you. This is India.
To get to work, tell the auto driver to take you to Infantry Wedding Hall. Dismount and walk across the street to what looks like abandoned house. This is actually your office. Push through the screen door (but make sure the kittens, puppies, and occasionally street children run out) and set your stuff down wherever you see a spot. Don’t bother to open your laptop: your boss will ask you if you want a cup of chai. Do not say no even if you don’t; they will think that you are rude as fuck. The trick is in changing the hand that holds the piping hot glass as frequently as possible in order to avoid burning yourself. Do not wince or seem disconcerted. Smile and sip as frantically as you can.
Before they ask me my politics, they ask if I have a boyfriend. The question arrives in different ways, always subtle. “So, are you single?” he asks, his eyes staring intently ahead as he negotiates all the traffic. It appears that the entire gay movement in India is polyamorous — finding ways to politicize their voracious libidos — so I try my best to fit in. I wear Bata chappals and over-compensate for the skinny chinos with an eager bobbling head and pseudo-accent (with a hint of cardamom). “Well, it’s complicated…I’m not really interested in physicality…I’m more invested in the idea of…romantic friendships…building affective solidarity?” “Does that mean you are single?” “No, no, I’m not, but I’m not sure if I’m necessarily looking, either.” I play my cards cautiously in this place where veins run slower than telephone lines, and secrets function as currency. Another asks me as I cling on to him as he speeds his motorcycle down MG Road.
Maybe it is something about the wind on my face, the Bollywood drama and desperation or the accidental intimacy of the embrace, but I feel more at ease this time. “Do you have a boyfriend?” “No.” “Why not?” “Umm…I don’t know…I just…” My voice is lost in the sound of traffic.
Another asks me out for dinner at a cheesy American-themed restaurant. (Drunk is a language that transcends borders.) He is surprised that I don’t fuck as much as him, “But we’re young, you know. It’s in our hormones!” So I try my best to tell him about racism in America — how white gays either ignore or fetishize us. I tell him about the first white boy I kissed — the one who told me that he always wanted to “be with a brown man because it makes him feel like he’s with a real man.” He nods his head in agreement but I think these are the lessons one has to learn in the flesh — seeing oneself as a Brown does not happen in India.
Oppression does not happen to me in India. I can’t claim any political marginalization: me, the upper-caste, upper- class, English-speaking, male-passing buffoon who stumbles across the streets lost late at night — always safe. In fact, I am learning what it must feel like to be a white man in the U.S.: the whole world bending itself backwards for me. The auto drivers always stop when I wave my hand, the waiters trip over themselves to lay the napkin on my lap, and the men, well, the men all want to fuck me.
I realize this first when I walk into a local support group for queer men. There are about twenty-five of us in attendance. I am trying my best to keep calm as I join a circle of men who look just like the family friends I grew up with. We go around and introduce ourselves.
All eyes turn to me. “Hi, I’m Alok. I’m visiting from America.” Their faces lighten up like diyas on Diwali. “Tell us more.”
I join them for dinner after. They are joking about me in Kannada, Hindi, Tamil, all the languages we are losing across the ocean. “We should hang out. What’s your number? Do you need a ride home?” Five of them escort me out to make sure I don’t get ripped off from the auto driver. My phone is buzzing all night with texts: “Hey.” “Wuts up?” “ ;)” (The language of horniness transcends borders.)
It happens again the next week when I am volunteering to teach English to a group of kothi sex workers. I start first with the ABCs and one of them blurts: “U is for underwear! Do you wear boxers or briefs?” They ask for my number, if I want a massage, where I live, what it’s like to live in America, fuck me America. Two can play this game: “A is for Anus, B is for Buttocks, C is for Cock.” They promise me they will come back next week.
That Friday I somehow direct the auto driver to this bar on the outskirts of Bangalore. Tonight there is some cheesy gay party my friends all tell me I must go to — with some theme like James Bond or AmericaTM. It is packed to the brim. Boys of all shades, smells, castes, regions and languages are actually dancing to the hybrid Bollywood/American fusion music. In the office we like to call the repeal of Section 377 — the British imposed sodomy law — the party law because all that can change is that gay men can now congregate in public. The city of Bangalore usually shuts down all parties by 11:00 (because late night dancing encourages prostitution). But for some reason, the gay parties keep booming until at least 1:00.
Everyone wants to know who I am. Everyone wants to dance with me. I have never felt more wanted and more desired in my entire life. And I know it’s because my skin is lighter than theirs and I know it’s because my passport is more American than theirs, but for a moment I feel beautiful and I want to believe that there is something in that. But then I notice the entire crowd stop moving. They are still dancing, but their eyes are turned to the entrance. Three white guys walk in and the entire pulse of the party changes. I notice the way we all continue taking to one another — but still glance back. I notice the way I feel that warmth in my body. I hate them so much, but I want to fuck them. We hate them so much, and that’s why we want to fuck them. I go home early.
My colleagues accuse me of having a bad case of diasporic angst. “America is so hard, why don’t you just move back here?” And it seems so simple, so doable for me, the foreign-educated rich Indian with U.S. dollars stuffed in his back pocket, the one who gets away with the nose piercing because the wealthy are excused from custom, excused from gender. And at first the prospect of it all seems so tantalizing: the food and the hospitality. But the white fetish is not gone.
Race finds a way to haunt me here. At the first queer youth social I attend, they berate me with questions: “Have you slept with a Latino before? I heard they have big dicks.” “How do you know?” “I saw it on porn.” “Have you slept with a white boy before? I heard they are cleaner than Indian men — more loving, more compassionate, more open, more tolerant, more accepting…” At the support group everyone talks about their dream of getting married: of having some white Fulbright scholar find them on Planet Romeo (Indian Grindr) and take them back to America. Leading gay activists aren’t excluded from this: “Americans just have…a better sense of culture.”
And I try my best to dull at the noise but at the end of the day I still believe them. I believe them as I use my high-speed Internet to watch Western porn of white men fucking each other. I believe them as I close the pop- up windows of Indian men — the first time I have ever seen bodies as hairy, as Brown as me on a screen. I believe them as I stumble on ex-pat parties with white boys at hotels that won’t let in my friends and hate the American boy who dresses up as a “Mexican” for the Halloween party but still wants to take him home.
So my roommate makes fun of me for it: Why haven’t you brought a single boy back with you after all the parties you go to?
I don’t have the language for it: the way the nice boy after the support group offers me a ride home on his motorcycle, the way the wind kisses our faces, the way he stops half-way and asks me for a drink and the way I sit on the steps of the road and I lie to him that I have a boyfriend.
How to explain to a body that it is Brown? How to explain white fetish in a country which has been fucked for years? To a city whose most famous landmarks are the cum stains left from the British? To a city with a commercial street where you can buy Adidas sneakers and watch Hollywood movies in 3D.
Pick up an auto from Mantri Mall and ask it to drive you to the Design School outside of Bangalore. Meet up with your friends at the liquor store and sneak the girls into the house. Sit in the corner as your friends dance to the Bollywood tunes your hips cannot comprehend. Pretend to act drunk, even though you are not drinking. When the bottle spins to your direction, lean across the circle. Do not think about it: kiss him as they gasp and clap. Wake up the next morning and realize that this is the first Brown boy you have ever kissed.
Fly back home via London. Heathrow Airport is much larger than College Station’s. Take the Tube all the way to his arms. Wait for him in the coffee shop in Queen’s Lane. Open your eyes and pretend that you do not see him like the way you have hidden that photo of you and George Bush. Pretend that he is just the Skype screen. Pretend that he is just the friend. Pretend that he is just the past.
Fuck him that night. Wake up and recognize that he is white. That you are Brown. That nothing has changed.
NEW YORK CITY 147 WEST 24th STREET / 3RD FLOOR THURSDAY MARCH 6 / 7-9PM FACEBOOK EVENT
being a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming and/or two spirited person of color means that we often have a lot of #feelings. feeling lonely? feeling angry? feeling depressed? feeling in need of community? in the midst of all this white supremacist snow with all of its train delays and missed connections…where do all the feelings go?
join ALP for a night of sharing our stories, thoughts, struggle, art, poetry, and more. we hope this will be a night of healing, rebirth, and honoring our resilience as LGBTSTGNC people of color. we will begin with an open mic where all folks who identify as LGBTSTGNC POC can share their truths! (to sign up and reserve your spot email firstname.lastname@example.org). after the open mic we will host some featured performers && have a Q&A.
need a new profile picture? we will also have a photoshoot going on concurrently to celebrate your beauty & resilience.
What’s R(ace) Got To Do With It?: White Privilege & (A)sexuality
In this series of pieces I hope to develop a new grammar to talk about asexuality outside of the ways in which it has been co-opted by neoliberal identity politics. I am interested in reclaiming and developing an analysis of (a)sexuality in our collective efforts toward racial justice and anti-capitalism. These pieces are motivated by an absence of dialogue around asexuality and all of its associated critiques from many queer spaces I’ve been a part of.
The first time I ever saw someone like me having sex was in a spam internet advertisement in India. “Hairy Mallu Boys.” And I may have followed the link. And I may have gawked at the spectacle of it all: brown hairy men fucking each other. I want to tell you about the validation, how affirming it was to finally see someone who looked just like me having an orgasm, but that would be misleading. I was too shocked to feel validated. Too surprised to see a body like mine fucking in this city where my gay Indian friends ask me if I’ve ever slept with a white men because “they are cleaner than us” because they’ve “seen it on porn.”
Growing up in the US I never really saw brown people engaging in public acts of intimacy. From a young age I remember feeling jealous of the Suzy, the Michael, the Patrick and their parents who kissed them goodbye. I remember getting jealous of the Tom, the Dick, the Zach and their parents who hugged when their child scored a goal at soccer games. My parents never touched one another in front of me. In fact, we never really spoke about sex. So I remember always thinking that sex was something for white people. I understood that our parents must have ‘done it,’ but I couldn’t imagine them enjoying it. Pleasure didn’t belong to us. That’s why we moved to this country, right?
When I looked to the media for representation of brown sexual boys all I got were spelling bee champions, gas station owners, and that one guy from Mean Girls – that archetype of the brown boy being forced to overcompensate to compete for the attention of white people. Indeed, the brown body was usually depicted as engaging in emotional, physical, or mental labor for white interests. And as I got older and the other male assigned people around me had voices that got deeper I witnessed the many ways in which they felt compelled to overcompensate – by either adopting the aesthetics of white patriarchy in all of its J Crew JP Morgan finesse or by adopting and exploiting blackness to seem more ‘cool’ and ‘masculine.’ The plight of the South Asian American male lied in his effort to grapple with a culture that did not, and continues to not, recognize his body as beautiful and worthy of receiving and transmitting desire.
Which goes to say that it has always been difficult to fantasize with sexual scenarios that involve my own body because I have never had a reference point for my own pleasure. Voyeurism here becomes less of a choice and more of a position of coercion: feeling like I’ve been set to watch sex occurring, always at a distance. Queerness here becomes less of a destination aspired toward, but rather one dressed on a body without its consent – a type of otherness that is not only about not seeing one’s face reflected on the screen, but about experiencing one’s difference inscribed on skin. Wearing it close and lethal, like a weapon.
Over the years I have stumbled on several words to articulate this distance: gender-non conforming to express an inability (and perhaps unwillingness) to identify with the masculinity I was assigned at birth and ‘asexuality’ to articulate an inability to feel authentically ‘sexual,’ capable and worthy of wanting. But these terms never really felt adequate to articulate that conglomeration of anxiety, power, histories, stories, and paradoxes that come to mind when I think of my gender and sexuality. Like all identity markers they are shorthands we have been prescribed to halt conversation: we can retreat into our identities like we retreat into our apartments not asking how and why we got there, who we gentrified to get there, not being able to have a conversation about how this place will never fit all of our idiosyncrasies.
And this ‘distance’ has been something I have been trying to reconcile for years: how to articulate that mixture of power, shame, desire, and fear that makes me uncomfortable thinking about myself as a sexual body. And, simultaneously, how to challenge the onslaught of dogma from so called ‘sex radicals’ who claim that we have just internalized ‘sex shame’ and that shame is something we can be emancipated from.
So when I talk about asexuality I don’t mean some sort of sanitized model of identity politics invested in being recognized and affirmed (by capitalism) – I’m talking about that distance. That absence of wanting. That anxious condition of not being able to differentiate trauma from truth – that peculiar position of never being able to divorce ourselves from the power that continues to shape our every want, desire, and action.
Why Asexual Identity Politics Isn’t Enough
As a queer South Asian I don’t feel comfortable ascribing the identity of ‘asexual’ to my body. Part of the ways in which brown men have been oppressed in the Western world is by de-emasculating them and de-sexualizing them (check out David Eng’s book Racial Castration). What then would it mean for me to identify as an ‘asexual?’ What would this agency look like in a climate of white supremacy? Can I ever authentically express ‘my’ (a)sexuality or am I always rehearsing colonial logics?
The dilemma of this brown queer body is its inability to see itself through its own eyes. The mirror becomes a site it which we view what white people have always told us about ourselves. Regardless or not of the status of my libido, I’m not sure I will ever feel comfortable identifying as asexual because it seems like I am betraying my people.
I am invested in South Asians and all other Asian Americans being able to reclaim, re-affirm, and be recognized for their sexual selves. I am invested in brown boys and brown gurlz being able to get what they desire. I am invested in the radical potential of brown (queer) love in a society where so many of us grow up hating our bodies and bending our knees for white men. I want to be part of this struggle. Sometimes I get angry at myself for not being able to eliminate the distance, not being able to join in solidarity. To fuck and be fucked, to publically claim and own my sexuality. I understand that there is something (as Celine Shimizu reminds us in her book Straightjacket Sexualities) radical about Asian American masculinities being displaced from patriarchal masculinities rooted in hyper-sexuality and hyper-masculinity and the reclamation of ‘effeminate’ and ‘asexual’ representations of our bodies as a political refusal of the very logics which have rendered those bodies numb.
But at the same there is a difference between theory and practice. Theories don’t matter when you find yourself always defaulted in the category of ‘friend.’ Theories don’t matter when you grow up being turned on by ghosts of all of your internalized shame. Theories don’t matter when you find yourself buying button up shirts and shaving your beard and trying your best to look more white so they will even have the courtesy to look back to you. Why do theories always put the burden of change on the oppressed and not the systems that oppress them?
There is some part of me that will never be able to overcome the desire for ‘more.’ I want to be able to be in a bar and to not just be the object of desire, but a subject of desire. Part of white supremacy as I understand it is the privilege of being a subject of desire: one who can feel in control of one’s desires and one who has more agency to act on said desires. The ‘distance’ I experience around my sexuality makes me often feel unable to be a subject of desire. This distance makes me feel out of control, jealous, and in a perpetual state of lack. It feels like I’ve just internalized white control of my sexuality and my body.
So when I read this piece about how folks involved with the asexuality community feel as if they are post-race I’m pretty well, flabbergasted. Asexuality has always been a carefully crafted strategy to subjugate Asian masculinities. Asexuality has everything to do with race. Which goes to say that what if the very act of articulating a public asexual identity is rooted in white privilege? Essential understandings of being ‘born’ ‘asexual’ and loving my ‘asexual’ self will never make sense to me. In a world that continually erases Asian (male assigned) sexualities I was coerced into asexuality. It is something I have and will continue to struggle with. My asexuality is a site of racial trauma. I want that sadness, that loss, that anxiety to be a part of asexuality politics. I don’t want to be proud or affirmed – I want to have a serious conversation about how all of our desires are mediated by racism and how violent that is. My pleasures – or lack thereof – are not transcendental and celebratory, they are contradictory, confused, and hurt.
I want to envision and build communities where we can discuss and heal together from the traumas inscribed in our flesh. I do not think that declaring an asexual identity is the best strategy for me to pursue this. What I am asking for is an acknowledgment among all people – not just people of color – of the ways in which colonialism has and continues to map itself on our bodies in different ways. My story of distance is only one of the legacies of the ways in which racism has shaped our desires. I do not mean to suggest that all South Asian male assigned people are asexual nor do I mean to suggest that asexual identity is necessary oppressive for South Asians – what I am sharing is the story of a body that has found and continues to find ways to cope. Which means that my ‘asexuality’ can never been seen as outside of the saga of racialized violence against people of color. I want a space where I can claim that with those folks and discuss the ways in which white understandings of relationships, intimacy, desireability, beauty, progress, and happiness have made us always feel a certain sense of lack and how we have built our entire lives constructed around that lack. For me sometimes I feel like escaping from asexuality would mean one way of escaping from colonialism – would mean finally having the ability to self-identify to really know who “I” (whatever that is) am.
The idea of an identity politics around asexual identity scares me in the same ways that any other single issue politics anchored around a (sexual) identity does. It operates in was that are racist, classist, and colonial. It assumes particular bodies with particular histories and particular political interests. What I am calling for is a departure away from asexual identity politics toward a frank conversation of trauma and sexuality. How can we move our understandings of sexual politics away from anchoring them in essential narratives that reproduce biological essentialism (born this way) to narratives that name specific moments of historical and personal trauma that inform our sexualities. Which means that I am not as interested in the words that you affix to your body – I am interested in the journey that it took for you to get there.
The irony of the colonial project is that the colonizer is envious of the native: jealous of the fluidity of her music, her beauty, her sex. The irony of the Christian fundamentalist project is that the savior is envious of the sinner: jealous of her fuck, her drink, her transgression. The white people want to go back into nature, into animality. But they will never be able to find what they are looking for because it is something deep inside of us. It is something that comes out without us asking. It is something that is always there for us. It is growing that goddamn mustache at 11. There is a radical potential in the most ugly and debased parts of us.
Check out this piece I wrote a few weeks ago for Sol & Res!