Sunday, March 1, 2009

International WOC Day: Monica Speaks

March is womens history month and in honour of International Womens day for the next 8 days I will present a series of interviews I conducted with 8 different women.  As part of our celebration I believe it important that we critically engage with each other about the issues that are currently facing women. Today we shall begin with the ever brilliant Monica of Transgriot.

Intro: Monica Roberts is a long time transgender activist, writer and lecturer on gender issues who transitioned in 1994 and is the creative force behind the award winning TransGriot blog.  In 2006 she became the third African American transperson to win the IFGE Trinity Award, the US transgender community's second highest honour for service..

1) It is my understanding that you don't identify as a womanist or feminist, would you share with us some of your reservations for not owning either label?

My major reason for not claiming the feminist label was the anti-transgender attitudes still prevalent in much feminist thought and discourse, especially the radical feminist end of it.  I also didn't like seeing the way feminists have disrespected women of color, so why would I try to identify with a movement that hates me on two levels?   

As for as the womanist label, it appeals to me since as an African descended transwoman, it speaks more to my own core beliefs of not only uplifting the race but all people.  But I haven't totally embraced it because at times I feel like I'm still not part of the sistahhood and haven't done enough to be worthy of the legacy of Audre Lord, bell hooks, and other pioneering womanists. .

2) What if any positive changes have occurred in terms of including the concerns of trans women in feminist/womanist circles

The changes I see are more on the womanist end of the scale.  Feminists, and particularly  the radical feminists are still clinging to the 'hate on transwomen'. screeds uttered by Janice Raymond, Germaine Greer, Mary Daly and others.    I see womanists as being far more willing to accept and embrace us as friends, get to know our issues. and intelligently realize that we have many things in common.   Womanists in many cases are more tenacious about speaking up about our issues and defending our right to exist than some transwomen are.

3) As a transwoman and a woman of colour do you find that you are often asked to choose between your identity as a trans woman and a woman of colour? Which if any do you consider to be your primary identity and why? 

I made that choice a long time ago, so I don't get asked as much since I made it quite clear to the transgender community where I stood.   I'm a proud African descended transwoman that also feels comfortable with the woman of color label as well.   One of the reasons is that when I'm out and about, they see 'Black woman' long before they see the 'transwoman' part of my identity.

4) What would you like to see allies do to bridge the differences between trans women and cisgender women?

One is form friendships with transwomen.  You'd be amazed how much you do have in common with transwomen and how much we desire to be full partners with cisgender women.   It's a win-win situation that does wonders to break down the wall of mistrust, hurt feelings, misconceptions and anger on both sides.   You gain a loyal friend, and it helps us gain confidence that we can be the types of women you expect and want us to be.

Two, realize that many transwomen take our transition into our new gender roles seriously and want to be seen as compliments to womanhood, not a joke or detriment to it.  

5) During your transition what differences did you notice in how you were treated? What came as the biggest surprise?

The most glaring one was not being treated as a criminal suspect.   Since I'm 6'2", the other was not being asked by whites the annoyingly stereotypical 'if I played basketball' question.   That got replaced with 'Are you a model'  until the WNBA cranked up in 1997.   

Biggest surprise had to be discovering that I now have a doubled risk for breast cancer and have to do breast exams and mammograms on a regular basis.   Next biggest was discovering how fast my intelligence was devalued.   It only took three months of living full time before as I sarcastically complain,  that I lost 15 IQ points once I transitioned. .   

6) What do you feel should be the major organizing drive of the trans rights movement and why?
Passing ENDA (the Employment Non Discrimination Act) and Hate Crimes.   It sends the message that transgender people are valued members of our society. 
The two bills if passed will do wonders to reduce the violence perpetrated against transwomen.  If a transwoman is employed in a good job at good wages, they don't have to do sex work to pay the bills, which puts them in a position to become targets for people that seek to harm transwomen.. 

7) When reading the list at Remembering our Dead, it became clear that the majority of the victims were POC. What kind of support has the black community offered to end the violence against our brothers and sisters? In what ways would you like to see our efforts increase?

Sadly, it's not enough and it's inconsistent.   While some like the womanist community and our lesbian sisters have increasingly become more vocal about it, the religious community is deathly silent.   I heard no major megachurch minister or mainstream AA org outside of the NBJC (National Black Justice Coalition) comment on the Duanna Johnson beating. 

Too many of our people are wilfully in denial about the fact that transpeople of African descent exist or hide their fears and hatred of transpeople behind Biblical scripture.   Our legislators are starting to get better about our issues, but the church, orgs like the NAACP and other orgs/sororities that have Black women as their major constituency need to step it up.

8) Considering that many of the victims of violence are WOC, do you feel that racial issues get enough attention in trans activism? If not, what are the greatest barriers to conversation and what can allies do to encourage conversation.

I've been involved in transgender activism on a national, state and local level since 1998, and like the feminist and GLB movements, the same lack of respect and attention paid to issues of people of color is glaringly evident.  Because of white privilege, when you try as a POC to express those concerns, the defensive deflector shields go up and whatever attempts at constructive conversation are attempted degenerate into angry shouting matches.   They leave POC’s feeling they aren't wanted, respected or needed, except to provide melanin for photo ops to show how 'diverse' they are.

As to what will help solve the problem, actually having POC's involved (and not Clarence Thomas or Condoleezza Rice clones) in white dominated orgs at the decision making agenda level would help.  It would also help if leaders of those orgs would simply listen and act on our concerns.

9) There is much talk about the “T” being silent in the term GLBT, what issues do you feel are specifically being ignored and how is the erasure of the trans community being justified?
The transgender community is being ignored in terms of its shared history with the GLB community and the violence being directed at us.  The T community kicked off the Stonewall rebellion 40 years ago which started the modern GLBT movement.  
The erasure of trans people is being justified by the BS meme that we aren't part of the GL community or have nothing in common with them.  GL peeps fail to realize that some transgender people are also gay or lesbian in their sexual orientation.

10) What long term goals would you most like to see the trans community achieve and why?

I'd like to see us participating and contributing our talents as full partners in all aspects of society.   We are part of the human family, and we deserve to be able to live up to our full potential and make our dreams come true just as any cisgender person has the opportunity to do.   

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