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This talk presented 2/13 at Pecha Kucha Buffalo, Western New York Book Arts Center.

I am a game designer, theorist, and hacker. You might say that game design is my artistic practice. But I don’t really want to talk about games tonight, because I spend a lot of time talking about them in other venues. Instead, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about a more personal aspect of my practice, one which is based upon my complex set of social identities — compiled into a single identity that we might call cyborg identity. This is the first and foremost way in which I am a hacker.

We are all cyborgs in a Harawayan sense. We are amalgamations of complicated histories of violence, socialization, and the internalization of the oppression that surrounds us. In her 1989 “Cyborg Manifesto”, Donna Haraway writes about the ways in which feminism has failed women of color and women in the Global South. She neglects to mention the group which has been failed most violently by feminism, transgender people. Feminism has a nasty history of erasing transgender people: denying the humanity and womanhood of trans women, fetishizing and degendering trans men, and rejecting legitimacy of all people who queer gender. This is a topic for another talk entirely — what matters tonight is that Haraway is not trying to squeeze all non-men into a certain framework. She is trying to pull apart the tangle of identity.

The interesting thing about Haraway’s exclusion of transgender identities from her discussion of cyborgs is that we are perfect examples of cyborg praxis. By that I mean, we have bodies mediated in complex, meaningful ways by technology which, in many cases must be separated into component parts (and we are often examined as medical curiosities and rarely treated as holistic people); we have a preoccupation with the technologies of writing and language; and regardless of the complex gender identity we claim for ourselves, we represent an embodied experience of dissonance, language-play, Deleuzian multiplicity, and mediation. Trans people are living rejections of a dualism that separates the mind from the body: by virtue of our trans-ness, we refuse that there is any division at all.

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For the past couple days I’ve been traveling around with my friends Bilal, Jordan and Paul, who are working on the Two Hands Project — a documentary about hackerspaces across the U.S. and Canada. One conversation I’ve been having a lot is how to engender more diversity at hackerspaces. I think it’s interesting that a lot of the hackerspaces I’ve seen so far have been more diverse than the stereotype of a hacker might imply, but there is a lot of concern about including women and people of color. However, a lot of times when the folks at these spaces talk about diversity, they talk about diversity of background and skill sets, and balancing between men and women. But there’s a huge amount of other diversity that they might be missing — especially because gender diversity often just means parity between men and women, and nobody seems to want to talk about race, socioeconomic status, or queer diversity.

The remarkable thing is everyone we’ve met so far has been hugely nice. They’re very committed, energetic, smart, socially involved, and want to start a movement of people who are self-motivated autodidacts. I think that there’s a culture of being very welcoming and tolerant here, but maybe that’s the problem. There seems to be the assumption that because they’re welcoming and tolerant, diverse people will come to them. But I think that thinking is where the problem is, for several reasons. First, tolerance is not enough. Acceptance is essential. Second, because the majority of hackerspace members are white men, it’s less likely due to social segregation that they will have as much facetime with queer people, people of color, and people of different socioeconomic statuses. As a result, outreach is something that they need to start focusing on. Third, I think many people do like to think of themselves as progressive, and like to find a way to sweep their subconscious or socialized biases under the rug.

For starters, I think that the idea that tolerance is important is very limited. Tolerance means that we can live in the same community, but acceptance means that we embrace each other with open arms. Tolerance is a bare minimum, but we’re at a point that we should demand acceptance of diverse people and points of view. Acceptance means that all are welcome, not just afforded.

We also tend to deny the fact that we do self-segregate. I know a lot of extraordinarily committed, nerdy, creative people of color and queer folk. I think that not all of them would immediately think that a hackerspace is somewhere they can do work and find community, and part of that is the fact that the community seems very homogeneous at first blush. Self-segregation means that the word-of-mouth recruiting that hackerspaces employ is limited to similar people. It does, whether we like it or not, perpetuate certain social divides. So, it’s imperative that we start thinking about other ways to recruit.

Finally, I think that everyone I’ve met is amazingly kind, generous, thoughtful, creative, and smart. But, like most people, they don’t necessarily like confronting things like their social privilege or ways we can deal as a group with the oppression others experience. As people who care about the communities we live in, we don’t like thinking about situations where others in our communities are not our equals, or that the systems that keep us apart are also socialized into us, personally. Encountering that within ourselves is important to making social progress but it’s hard. It’s painful. We tend to avoid it unless we’re forced to confront it.

I’m thinking about ways in which we can solve these problems without tokenizing the members of hackerspace communities who are minorities of some kind; I’m wondering what role I can have in supporting potential allies in hackerspaces in my region. I’m thinking about how we can work together to make hackerspaces into microcosms of the way the world should work. Because of the nature of hacker communities, I think there’s a huge potential there to model truly diverse communities working together for sustainability, education, and social action.

What kinds of ideas do you have for hacker communities? What kinds of support systems do you think should be in place?

I’ve been struggling the past week or so with this short piece that I’ve been working on for a book.  I just can’t seem to write anything that comes out making any sense — or doesn’t sound totally grandiose and weird.  I really just want to write a few pages about where love belongs in the academy, and the role of forgiveness in learning — not just about social identity but about everything.  Maybe I’m trying to tell too complex a story.  This is a function of my reflection on the past few years, the fact that living in this town means the past knows where I sleep at night and can come bother me at all hours of the day.  I’d really like to spend some time away, take a vacation from myself.  It’s not to be.  Some parts of me wish there were more people here for me to be around, some parts really want to be alone with the task of reconstituting the most insane four years of my life so far in ways that make sense and are completely translatable into a series of vignettes and anecdotes.

Writing is, at the moment, being alone.  I am trying to write about the schism in my experience at Michigan between being a philosophy major and being a dialogue practitioner — the kinds of inconsistencies that I began to detect in my junior year and weren’t resolved until this past semester.  I am trying to write about how dialogic pedagogy doesn’t need to be reserved just for social justice education, and how what I learned about being an educator at Michigan is going to apply not just to my continuing education but also to my life.

I think that part of the reason radical pedagogy really resonated with me was because I had been feeling pretty alienated by a lot of things that go on at the university at large.  I disliked being asked to check my identity at the door, even though leaving behind “identity” didn’t mean that I wasn’t expected to answer prying questions about who (what?) I am/was/will be.  I was irked by the refusal to recognize the weight of human experiences and identities in society in the formulation of philosophical disciplines, especially ethics.  While I imagine it would be easy to chalk up a good deal of this to the fact I’ve been working in a heavily analytic department, but I notice it in other places, too.  On the other hand, I found anything that smacked of “applied philosophy” to be uninteresting and kind of petty.

What’s interesting is that in the past year I’ve been shown or been figuring out ways to use radical pedagogical models to teach subjects other than social justice education.  Working with Jennifer this past semester was kind of revelatory in this way — I discovered that the principles still held in her classroom.  Her transparency about her goals, plans, and pedagogical choices was refreshing.  I felt invested-in, challenged, and also supported and affirmed in ways that I generally don’t associate with academic coursework.  She’s also been very supportive of my own linking of my subject to a kind of Freirean praxis.  Maybe I am off on the right track.

On the other hand I’ve always been troubled by the lack of intellectual rigor in a lot of social justice education.  I think that intellectual rigor is really important to me not just because of my academic background but because I have always thought that way.  (I have been cleaning out my old bedroom at my mom’s house and reading some of my early philosophical writing and, damn, boi knows how to construct an argument.)  I dislike engaging with people who are unwilling to engage on the minimum level of not changing the premises of their argument spontaneously, fallacious lines of argument frustrate me to no end.  I resent skepticism about people who are well-educated, well-spoken, and well-read.  I don’t see why we can’t enjoy both rigor and love in our academic and social justice work.  This is another thing that I saw in action in Jennifer’s class.  For a while I didn’t think it was possible, but under the right circumstances it really allows people to flourish.

What I’m trying to write about is the path to an inclusive, supportive, but intellectually and personally challenging classroom.  I don’t think it is by any means easy, but I do think it’s possible.  Incredibly, there are people out there doing this kind of work already, but I don’t think they get the credit they deserve at all.  I also really want to write about how important it is to change the game in this way.  This is about institutional diversity at the broadest but also the most personal level.

I guess I didn’t realize until now how alienating I found a lot of the experiences I had my freshman and even my sophomore years at Michigan.  Not just in the typical ways, like campus housing and having to explain myself to faculty, but also in the sense that so many things didn’t make any sense to me, and I wasn’t allowed to work those things out.  I didn’t find out until years later why they didn’t make sense and I’m kind of angry — or maybe disappointed — about the whole situation.  It’s a lot of stuff for two or three pages, but I can’t seem to get past framing this in terms of education being an act of love.

I’ve been a busy one lately, and I know it’s really not a very good excuse for not blogging, because if anything, I should be posting more because I’m always looking for something to do that isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing.  I haven’t been feeling ready to write anything lately, which is another kettle of fish entirely, but it is somewhat related to my preoccupation.

This past weekend was the University of Michigan Social Justice Conference.  I actually had a pretty good time, learned a great deal, and met some excellent humans.  It was a good space for me to meet some people I wouldn’t have met normally due to our different interests in different sectors of social justice, and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything they had to say, I think it was a good experience for me to get outside my IGR-insulated comfort zone.  I had a hard time with a lot of things, though, including the issue of diversity of groups and individuals involved.  For a conference examining community growth and coalition-building as well as personal development as activists, I felt very out-of-place and disconnected from much of the conference.  Like I said, I found the conference largely beneficial.

Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling of alienation.  I couldn’t help feeling isolated from time to time, like I was watching other people doing things.  It wasn’t until our breakout session when we brainstormed challenges for the future that I felt really connected to anybody else at the conference.  I think part of the root of this feeling was the acute knowledge of being regarded in a certain way because I was the only out transgender person at the conference.  The number of queer folk seemed pretty small in general, and the number of people of color was a bit disappointing to me, too.

Looking back I can kind of see why this was the case.  I don’t think that queer political movements were integrated into the conference the way others were, and perhaps that is merely emblematic of the personal interests and priorities of the group who were most influential in organizing the conference.  (An important observation at our large-group session toward the end: we might never come to a consensus about what to tackle and how!)  I just took a look at the poster again on the blog, and the only social identity groups whose fight for civil rights is not characterized as a rights struggle are queer folks and women.  I have other social justice priorities, interests and passions, too, but my struggle for equality is not about my gender “issues.”  It’s about my rights to be fully enfranchised as a human being.

The representation at the conference of LGBT-related organizations began and ended with LGBT Commission.  While I respect the work LGBT Commission does, it is, undeniably, dominated by white, upper-middle class, cisgender gays and lesbians.  I’ve never felt like LGBT Commission had my interests in mind.  I suppose I can’t make assumptions about whether or not other groups were reached out to or invited and, possibly, declined to offer a workshop or input because of time constraints, but it kind of left a feeling of uneasiness with me.

Let’s also consider the keynotes and panelists, with the exception of Shanta Driver and Hector Aristizabal, were white men.  And that the closing plenary, Derrick Jensen, while interesting and entertaining, is also a deeply divisive figure.

In order to build the broad-based coalitions we talked about at the conference, we must address these things.  It didn’t take me until now to really articulate some of these specific things that caused my feelings of alienation and unease.  That said, I do think that UMSJC 09 was a great step in the right direction.  I’d be really happy to see more events and activities like it to continue on this campus.  I can’t help but care deeply about U-M even though I’m leaving in four months.  (Still seems incredible.)  This is, in a big way, my home, and I love it.  I hope we can take these critiques to heart as serious ones, and continue to build greater solidarity.

Speech delivered March 11, 2009 for BAMN’s first public hearing on campus climate.

We’ve all come together in this place in good faith, as people with progressive ideas.  We want to see our campus reflect an ideal society where the individual has the right to be who we are without risk of harassment or violence.  We’ve got a long way to go, but I want to take a step back and examine some of our assumptions.  Before we begin to work out what we need from the people who aren’t in this room, I want to ask what we need from each other.

While I can’t and won’t assume what others need from me, I can take a stab at what we need as a group, considering some experiences I’ve had over the past four years in progressive action and education here at U-M and elsewhere.  I believe that our progressivism has fallen prey to collusion and internalized prejudice.  We have given into the dominant narratives that describe our identity groups as monolithic.  We have forgotten what it means to form real working alliances.  These are ideas that make me uncomfortable, but it’s high time we started being a little less comfortable with each other.

I hear a lot of prejudiced ideas get thrown around in our progressive communities.  Whether or not they’re glib doesn’t matter.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop being taken aback by a gay rights activist who accuses another of “not being gay enough,” or a feminist who accuses transsexual women of “not being real women.”  I don’t think I’ll ever stop being hurt by white allies telling me I’m not a real person of color because I’m multiracial, or by trans rights activists who tell me my gender non-conforming friends who choose not to physically transition are “breaking up the movement.”  I find the idea of accusing someone of not fulfilling the stereotypes attached to their identities incredible, as if it were a bad thing that we’re all our own unique people.

This is ridiculous and it’s something that I’ve seen happen consistently here at U-M.  This is not something that has to do with the administration of this university.  It has nothing to do with liberals versus conservatives.  It has nothing to do with people who are content to ignore inequality in our society.  It has to do with me.  It has to do with everyone in this room.  What are we expecting from each other?  What assumptions do we approach each other with?

We need to change the way we think about identity communities if we are going to make a change on this campus and in the world.  By accusing of someone of not living up to the expectations of them due to their personal identity, we are colluding with the dominant narrative of a society that seeks to systematically marginalize us because we are people of color, gender minorities, sexual minorities, religious minorities, or refuse categorization.  But this is a symptom of a deeper problem.  The dominant social narrative says that minority groups are monolithic – because I am transgender, I have the same interests and wishes as all other transpeople, even though there is vast diversity in experience and expression in the trans community.  By constructing minorities as faceless “others,” the dominant narrative is effective in denying us access to power, freedom, and equal opportunities.  And sometimes, we internalize this oppression by placing unreasonable expectations on ourselves.

So, the fruits of collusion are alienation.  I know plenty of other people on this campus who have been driven away from activism by the actions – not the beliefs – of the activists.  Though we’re supposedly a liberal campus, what does that liberalism represent if only certain identities and kinds of expressions are allowed by the campus liberal establishment?  I was a latecomer to trans activism, even though I’ve been out of the closet since my senior year of high school.  I rejected my role as a gay rights activist after coming to U-M, which is incredible considering that, under my tenure as president of my high school’s gay-straight alliance, we established an unprecedented inter-high school GSA council.

There is nothing wrong with our ideals.  There is nothing unjust about our struggle.  What is wrong, though, is our willingness to submit to dominant narratives.  I believe this is the case because submitting to the dominant narrative is the path of least resistance.  It is easier for me to blame others than myself.  I find it easier to accept that I may not receive tenure in the future as a professor due to my race and gender identity, and fault a biased institution, than it is for me to challenge my colleagues and myself: what would I do when faced with a similar decision about someone very different from myself?

Just because we are liberals, we are not absolved.  Just because we are progressives, we are not absolved.  Just because I am a socialist does not mean I am absolved.  Just because I am a member of one of the most marginalized groups in our society does not mean I am absolved.  I’m a transsexual postgender queer atheist person of color, and I still get it wrong.  I step on people’s toes.  I make assumptions about others based on their social identities.  Occasionally I say things that are racist, sexist, or ableist.  And I don’t always have the courage to say so.  Making the mistakes is alright.  We’re human.  But failing to examine them isn’t.

I realize I’m calling us out.  I’m calling myself out.  There’s something wrong with the way the progressive movement has handled the politics of personal identity in this country, and we need to re-evaluate.  Hybrid identities are the reality – in fact, I would argue the norm – in this modern world.  We are complicated creatures.  I am not defined by my transsexual identity.  I know that nobody is defined by any one identity.  We all know that.  It’s time to stop acting like we think otherwise.  We can’t forget that our own prejudices are part of the campus climate.  We must to start considering that, as people who stand for the equality of all people, those prejudices need to be examined and dismantled.

All I’m trying to say here is that we have the chance to reject identity politics.  As a group, we can reject the expectations imposed on us by dominant narratives of race, gender, age, ability, sex, sexuality, and religious identity.  We can improve campus climate by improving the climate of our progressive communities.  In order to do that we must form a new progressive alliance.  What does that mean?

A new progressive alliance recognizes individuals as the most valuable components of building the future.  In an alliance, it’s assumed that there will be disagreement.  Allies must recognize that they’ll have to clearly communicate their needs and priorities, and negotiate with others in order to realize their goals.  They must be as willing to give as they are to take, and they must be willing to walk a mile in their allies’ shoes in order to get anything done.  They must cease making assumptions about the others at the table.  They need to be courageous in challenging others, but more importantly, themselves.  They need to know what is most important in their mutual struggle.

We owe it to each other to create a progressive alliance that has the interests of all in mind, without passing judgment on the individual.  We owe it to each other to be more progressive than simple identity politics.  As long as we accept our status of other-ness, we will fail to improve this campus’s climate for minority students.  In order to do that, we must examine our movement.  We owe it to ourselves to realize a future where we don’t just call into question the things we’re taught, but call into question the things we’ve learned.

Many people who know me were surprised to learn that I am running for MSA. They were more surprised to find I am running with the Defend Affirmative Action Party. I think it’s worth knowing why, because my run is based mostly on the symbolic significance of my presence in the race and any contention for an MSA position.

I believe that MSA elections have historically been ignored due to a lack of candidates who distinguish themselves in the eyes of the student body as new, unique, and interested in actually doing something with their positions. It might come as a surprise to some, since I am a graduating senior, that I care very much about what MSA does. In fact, I hope to introduce very specific resolutions before the Assembly in the short period I am seated, with eyes on creating a more egalitarian campus. In some ways, I feel as though being elected will mean I have extra responsibility to my constituents to work on the projects they put me in office to work on.

My primary goal in MSA will be the passage of a resolution putting pressure on Rackham to allow graduate students filing Ph.D.s to license their works under a Creative Commons license instead of a traditional copyright license. Creative Commons was developed by Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig to better serve the needs of a digital community of thinkers, writers, and artists. I believe that this is an important step that students themselves can take to address the rising costs of education.

Currently, Ph.D. candidates are required to file their dissertation with UMI Dissertation Services, which is a division of ProQuest. ProQuest automatically licenses the dissertations under a conservative copyright, which is all rights reserved. Ostensibly, this is so newly minted Ph.D.s can make money on their hard work. In reality, the only people who make money in this system are really ProQuest, while also increasing the costs of re-printing dissertations. If I wanted to include your copyrighted dissertation in my anthology, I would be paying an absurd amount of money, mostly to ProQuest, in order to do so.

Creative Commons, on the other hand, is a some rights reserved license. Creators get to pick how much redistribution and reuse others get when they choose their license. The version of the license that makes the most sense for academics is the noncommerical attribution license – essentially it says that you are free to take my work, adapt it or reprint it, so long as you aren’t going to be using it to make money and so long as you attribute what’s mine to me. In an academic world that relies increasingly on digital publishing, Creative Commons makes more sense. And, in the long term, it will help drive down the costs of textbooks and maintaining library subscription services to academic journals.

Ph.D. candidates at the University of California at Berkeley have already set this precedent. Two dissertations were filed this year under Creative Commons licenses, and we have a chance to put our institution and our intellectual production in the vanguard of a new legal precedent for intellectual property. It just makes sense. It’s easy, it’s free, it’s practical, and the more scholars who take part, the less expensive education will become.

Above and beyond the work that I intend to do in the few weeks I would work in MSA, I believe my very presence sends an important message to everyone at U-M. First, that people who care can and should take part in student government. Second, that minority students at U-M deserve to and can have their own voices heard across campus. And third, that we are in fact living in a new progressive era, when service and clear thinking are valued above partisanship and identity politics.

I am running with DAAP as a gesture against the identity politics of the past, in hopes of taking steps toward the alliance politics of the future. Briefly, I think that identity politics, by virtue of its creation of monolithic identity groups, drives people apart. It alienates people with hybrid identities, and erases the important, unique experiences of the individual. We cannot afford that kind of thinking: we need the strength and expertise of each person and their specific experience.

I want to show that there is another way forward for progressives who care about diversity and social justice. It is time for us to start thinking of our movement as an alliance. In an alliance, we already know that there will be differences, disagreements, and negotiation. A progressive alliance has shared overarching goals: peace, justice, diversity, community service, and democracy are foremost amongst others. Yet we’re all individuals, with our own unique identities and styles and perspectives and strategies for success. There is no reason for us to stay isolated because of that. There is no reason we should be unable to stand together, and I am committed to serving in that spirit.

I am a long-shot candidate with big ideas. I am an idealist. I am a true progressive. I am also ready to give back to the university that has made me into who I am today, and I am ready to test the waters of public service. At the very least, I stand for change, and change deserves a chance.

It really breaks my heart when people who are full of good intentions as well as great passions and well-placed hopes for the future are simply not logistically gifted. In many of the progressive circles I’ve run in, this is just a fact of life. It doesn’t seem odd, as a result, that there are many perfectly reasonable people who pick on far-left progressives indiscriminately. I suppose I don’t blame them.

A common sentiment in IGR is: it’s social justice work. Shrug.

One place where this came up in agonizing clarity was during my work with the Farmington Hills School District on their youth dialogue program. While everyone I worked with was good-intentioned and passionate, I felt like we ran into stumbling blocks at every step. These included logistical problems (When are the high school students supposed to have dialogues? Which groups will be paired with which? What time are we supposed to leave Ann Arbor?) as well as somewhat more esoteric issues (Why haven’t we talked about gender, gender identity, and gender expression? How come we aren’t talking about White Flight and the role of race in the formation of metropolitan Detroit?). Sure, it was a pilot program, but it was also reaffirming of the view that progressives have poor planning skills.

I’m guilty of it too, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a trend that needs to be examined.

If we want to affect change, I think we need to make a change. Seriously.

I’m going to be speaking at BAMN‘s public hearing on campus climate on Wednesday, March 11.  The event will start at 6:00 pm and take place in Auditorium D in Angell Hall.

In general, I like to keep progressive political organizations at arm’s length because I think the change we need can be made through education and outreach, without having to ascribe a political message to our actions, but I’m starting to question that.  While focusing on education means focusing on broad-based systemic change, we need to alleviate conditions now, for our generation, as well as serve future generations.  I’m also experiencing a change of heart toward activism in general, especially activist outlets where I can actually present a thesis that’s more complex than “I want equality now.”

Moreover, I think this is going to be a great opportunity to sound a call to arms to end the limiting, alienating identity politics that plagues so many progressive movements.  In the final chapter of her book Whipping Girl, Julia Serano calls for reform in the queer/trans rights movement.  Her vision of equality doesn’t rest on our specific identities — in other words, how “queer” we are — but rather on the idea that we need to form an alliance to work toward the common goal of eliminating second-class citizenship in this country.  This is an important idea, because, as she writes, alliances require the understanding that there will be disagreements within the movement and that those disagreements are simply to be worked with and dealt with as they arise.  There isn’t the assumption that any identity group is a monolith.

In fact, I think visioning movements as alliances are, in general, more beneficial, because it also prevents individuals from scapegoating their oppressed identities while ignoring their privileged identities.  One of my biggest pet peeves in the world of social justice activism are people who don’t check their privilege, and presenting a view of inequality and resistance that rests exclusively on our formulations of our identities allows people to ignore those parts of them that do give them privilege in society.  It’s people like this who are often the targets of conservative ridicule because they ignore the fact they’ve got privileges because they’re white or upper class or straight.  It’s important that we don’t forget that we’re complex individuals and those identities influence our interactions with others.

I’m actually pretty excited about an alliance with BAMN.  As part of my alliance with BAMN, I’ve been invited to run for Michigan Student Assembly on the Defend Affirmative Action Party ticket.  I’m still debating it, but the application for candidacy is due tomorrow, and it seems like a good move.  They need more LSA candidates and I have some star power.  Even though I doubt I’ll win and even though I’m leaving the U next year, I think it will send the right message.  And why not capitalize on the press I’ve gotten?

I also am ready to throw my previous caution to the wind regarding being a public figure on campus.  Maybe I waited too long, but also maybe I wasn’t ready yet.  I have long had an uncomfortable relationship with activism at U-M and in general.  Recently I’ve been coming to terms with the idea of activism, both in terms of practice and theory of the past, and developing practices and theory for the future.  I’ve been reading work by other gender, sexual and race radicals who are more complex than a slogan on a banner, and whose conceptions of activism resist the stereotypes and attitudes that dominate mainstream thinking about who activists are and what they stand for.  And this has all brought me to realizations about myself and my responsibilities to the causes I care about as someone who refuses to be put into a box as a true progressive, and someone who wants a sea change in identity politics in general.

This is important work and I’d like anybody who’s at U-M to join us on March 11 for the public hearing.  Anyone can walk in and testify, and we hope to be able to pass some resolutions and build some momentum that we will bring to MSA.  I’m kind of reluctant to run for MSA, but I do think that I can and should make a commitment to making a call for action.  I want to encourage you to make a similar commitment, even if you don’t want to speak at the hearing, your presence will be valuable.  See you on the 11th.

I said no more after that. On the way home from hanging out at the bar with my friends, a group of black students were leaving the Fifth Quarter, a pretty mainstream club that is no more than two blocks from my apartment. One of the women in the group looked me in the eye and told me, “you have to go, you’re gonna get your ass beat.” I said no more after that.

To me, what happened before that spoke so loudly to the problems I have with the liminality of my own identity. I am not white. In communities of color, I pass as white. The reason I opened my damn mouth in the first place is because the person in question said aloud (and loudly), “look at that girl! She is trying to look like a guy, but she is a girl.” Which was preceded and followed by declarations of hate for white people (oddly enough, I had been talking about how annoyed I’ve been with white people on campus not an hour earlier over beers with my friends — who are white…).

I couldn’t really help myself — maybe a function of my drunkenness, also certainly a function of my self-righteousness, and undoubtedly a function of the spirit of my evening. “You don’t know shit about me,” I said. “I’m not white. And you don’t know shit about my gender.”

One of the women in the group stopped me and pushed me, saying, “you don’t talk to my brother like that.”

You don’t talk to — and about — me like that, I wanted to say. Which was when the other woman intervened. I wasn’t looking for a fight. I am just so sick and tired of being sick and tired; so annoyed with the community of white cisgender academics I am surrounded with; so desperate for a community of allies I search for in the faces of virtually everyone I pass. Maybe I was looking for a fight — I wanted to fight the guy. I won’t lie.

But I kept walking. I kept walking as he laughed about my gender identity.

A few days ago I was part of a community panel of queer people of color. It was odd, being the only transgender and one of only a handful of multiracial people at the table. I had all kinds of things to say about passing, belonging and safety, but for some reason I wasn’t ready to talk about them there. Even with people who supposedly understand me. Who supposedly share my struggle. I said something about access to trans-friendly healthcare. That was it.

Passing is the most important — and least important — thing. Passing is not just about gender. It’s also about race. It’s about the privilege I get because I pass as white. The oppression I experience because white people know I’m not one of them. The oppression I experience because I’m “not” a person of color. Because even in communities which experience oppression I’m still not allowed to claim the identities that I know are mine.

Such are the difficulties of liminal identities: I’m not one or the other, but I’m certainly both. I’m neither white nor a person of color, but I slip from one identity to another depending on who I’m with. I’m neither a man or a woman, but I slip from one identity to another depending on who I’m with. I am still denied, regardless of community, the right to claim my own identities. And that is frightening. The fact I was about to get in a four-on-one fight over it is even more frightening. And more frightening than that? I wouldn’t have backed down.

After last semester’s (second annual) Transgender Day of Remembrance debacle, I was hoping I could ride out the rest of my senior year without being incensed by something the Michigan Daily printed. I guess it helps that I don’t read it much anyway, and that this semester I will be on campus only seven or eight hours a week, but the first friend I ran into today at the Union showed me the first issue of The Statement for the new year. The Statement is the Daily‘s magazine insert, published every Wednesday. I have in the past at least found the contents of The Statement interesting. Today’s cover took me by surprise.

Statement Cover

The cut-off text on my hasty scan reads “HIS APPLE. HER APPLE. ? APPLE.” The byline for the article is “Why singular pronouns aren’t as simple as a rule in the grammar book.” Already I could feel redness filling my face when my friend showed me this. The implications of the symbolism here are clear. People who don’t conform to the gender binary (and quite rigidly too — note the “man” apple’s huge stache and the “woman” apple’s pouty red lips) are incomplete people: monsterous and frightening.

What makes this image even worse is the rigidity of the binary gender system the cover expresses. The “man” apple is burly and hairy. The “woman” apple is made-up with mascara and lipstick. If this is what “men” are supposed to be and what “women” are supposed to be, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many “men” and “women” on this campus.

A greater affront is, after this negative protrayal of gender non-conforming people, the article goes on to only mention transgender issues curtly, in a single sentence. That sentence paints with a broad brush a stereotypical transperson.

In a more recent movement, “hir” and “ze” (pronounced “here” and “zee”) are sometimes used to describe transgender people — a contemporary challenge that confronts the idea of epicene English like never before.

This isn’t even an accurate representation of how many transpeople feel about gender neutral pronouns. The wording is all wrong. For an article about grammar and semantics, it sure is off the mark. A better construction would point out that some transgender-identified people prefer the gender neutral pronouns. Not all do. Nor do all gender-neutral pronoun preferers choose “ze” and “hir.” A little additional research here would have probably been helpful. I think that the lack of information here also bothers me because there is an implication that people who opt into gender neutral pronouns are “just” playing a language-game. It is kind of belittling, really.

And that’s all that the article says about transgender people. I’m not going to pretend like transpeople matter an awful lot to the vast majority of the Daily’s readership, but the issue to me is not that there isn’t any discussion, but the fact there are glaring missed opportunities and where the opportunity is taken, there is misinformation. We’re talking about confronting the gender binary, here, people. I live this. Give me a little credit where credit is due.

I’m pretty tired of raging against the Michigan Daily, but they really don’t give me any choice. Some of my LGBT Commission friends say the Daily wants to talk more about these issues, but it seems to me like the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Which happens. But that doesn’t make it permissible to portray my folk as incomplete monstrosities of people.


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