Builders and Bombthrowers

TBB suggested I respond to a friend who wanted to know about protests against a feminist in the UK.
I wrote 800 words.

Trans is a very, very individual journey.

Gay men and lesbians come out because they want to hook up with other gay men or lesbians, so the desire to fit in, to please and be attractive to other gay men or lesbians pushes them to assimilate, to become one of the group.

Transpeople, well, we don’t grow up wanting to be trans.  We want to be a boy or a girl, a princess or a passer.   We have individual journeys.

The one thing we do share is the experience of getting shamed and stigmatized and abused into a closet and the need to find some way to claim our own life in a world where the best we are offered is to be warrant women or passing men, either hiding our past or not quite being accepted.

Transactivism today is based around the same social justice model which drives racial and feminist activism: rage at what we sense as oppression.  It taps into that experience we share of being treated as “less than” because of who we are seen to be.

The way to bring transpeople together is seen as coming together around shared oppression.   We come together to lash out at people who symbolize the thousands of tiny abuses that we have experienced in our lives, the call to hide, to play small, the times we felt humiliated and dehumanized, all those wounds.

It’s hard to get angry at a kindly aunt who cuts you some, even while trying to be “nice,” but it still hurts.  Those hurts add up, so when we can come together to confront someone who claims to have authority who is saying things that echo of the words that hurt us, well, it feels good.

There is a cost to the oppression model, though, no matter how comforting it feels at first.   In it we claim our own abjection, our own powerlessness, demanding that “they” somehow change to make us feel better, to give us power.   Our own power, we seem to say, only consists of demanding change, not of actually being able to create change in the world.

Creating change is hard, especially for young and marginalized people, because we have to take responsibility and work hard.   It can feel overwhelming and hopeless if you have no standing to build a life.

I know why organizers use shared oppression as connecting strategy.   What else can bring us together?   Sabrina created spaces where transpeople could come together to find empowerment, but with the internet, those spaces have now degraded into big closets where those who have blocks to coming out can go and play for a week.

I also know why real change comes from taking responsibility and working one-on-one for change.

We need people pounding the barricades to move the front lines along.  And we also need people like Sabrina who come in, live their lives, show themselves and make connections in the world, people who consolidate the gains and build the structures of lasting change with their own responsible actions.

Every African American person who is a pillar of their community also knows the experience of racism in the world.    They may not support all the actions of every protester, but the rage, the flame at the core of their pain is familiar to them.  Everyday they have to play their part in their communities, if that is employing people, speaking to others who are baffled, or supporting protesters.   They have to find the balance between assimilation and identity, between acting from anger and acting from building structures.

Ms. Greer’s words are intemperate and rude, deliberately provocative, even if she has truth in her argument.   She is bomb throwing against perverted men who are colonizing her womanhood.  She is coming from her own internalized victim identity and getting herself press and bookings in the process.

Is that going to stimulate protest?  Sure.   Ms. Greer has always been a bomb thrower as a feminist, railing against everything, so no surprise that she engenders protests that sound the same.

The understanding that systems of oppression exist are very different than feeling those systems on your own skin.   Liberation always starts with consciousness raising, understanding the stuff you have internalized and how you can claim better and smarter.

Transpeople need to find our common ground, need to swing the pendulum wide to get at the roots of the self-policing that keeps us small, broken and afraid.  We need breakouts in the world to make space for us to move in, sliding the boundaries of “normal” to include our experience.

And so, there will always be room for shouting down those who set themselves up as symbols and room for reasoned, compassionate discussion that helps find common ground and connection.

It’s all part of the same process, or at least that’s how I see it.