Sunday, April 15, 20007

That's Funny! You Don't Look Like A _____.

Now, when I hear about how transpeople are supposedly out to take over the world, starting with all the places that lesbians like to hang out, it just makes me shake my head because this mentality just doesn't reflect reality. I am so tired of it.

If I hear these bigots trot out The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival one more time as proof of some vast transgendered conspiracy, I think I'm going to just rip my eyelids off and stuff them in my ears. Yes, there are some people who have refused to just stand by and watch as these bigots actively seek to exclude them. No one has denied that.

Of these activists (which includes many gay, straight, bisexual and transgendered women), there is a small coterie of transgendered people who have chosen to take action and engage in civil disobedience on the festival grounds alongside the other gay, straight, and bisexual women who are also doing the same thing. But who do the festival supporters complain about? Just the transgendered advocates. They conveniently ignore all of the festival performers who have openly and actively supported equality for transgendered people even from the stages at Michfest. They ignore all of the women who attend the event who have publicly stated that they support the inclusion of transgendered women. When it comes to transgendered people, these actions are called "attacks". When other women do it, it's not even worth mentioning. What makes the difference?

When Michfest gets brought up--and it inevitably will in any conversation where folks want to prove that transgendered people are out to destroy womankind--I've seen a few people use a variation of a very old argument, a very old and illogical argument. So, it goes something like this: Someone points out that this event that claims to be for all women is hypocritical because it really doesn't welcome all women. The anti-trans bigot counters with the idea that many women agree with their stance which is why so many women attend this event and it has grown so much in the past thirty years and its growing appeal is proof that they aren't really anti-discriminatory.

I'd hate for those who are logically-inclined (and therefore recognize how ridiculous this asserion is) to think that this is a strawman argument, so you can check out Kactus' thread Friendship Sucks to see an example of what I'm talking about. The entire thread is worth reading because it's on the topic of the exclusion of transwomen from women's events and the impact it can have on friendships. However, the argument I'm referring to is in the comments section (posted by a reader named AmazonRage). I could point out some more examples on a few other blogs but it might seem like beating a dead horse to even spend another post using those individual's words as examples of anti-trans bigotry.

Anyway, this use of the fact that Michfest is over thirty years old and has experienced many attendance increases is problematic for several reasons. I think these are worth addressing because...well, because I'm tired of hearing about the damned MichFest everytime some so-called feminist wants to spew anti-trans garbage and I'm going to do everything I can to help others who encounter bigots making arguments like this.

First, let's address this idea that the festival's growing attendance levels is proof that it's doing something positive. Well, let's apply that logic to the growth of other organizations. At the beginning of the century, when the second Ku Klux Klan was formed, it's membership went from zero to over a few million in the period of one decade with more people attending their rallies than MichFest has ever experienced. Are we going to say that the Klan ability to draw lots of people to their events, this proves that they are a positive organization?

Often, I've seen some events at MichFest used as an excuse for the conspiracy theories about transgendered people. For every MichFest (attended by aroung 4,000 people in 2004) that anti-equality advocates like to bring up, I can note an event like Southern Decadence (attended by over 120,000) where gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are all welcome.

Incidently, I've heard the argument made that an event like MichFest could not have survived so long if it didn't appeal to many women. To that assertion, I would argue that the fact that it is so exclusionary explains why it has not grown at the same rate that Southern Decadence has. More women attend Southern Decadence each year than the combined number of women who have attended Michfest for the past few years. Both events are around 35 years old, yet one is obviously more appealing to women than the other.

To me, it seems very easy to just refrain from questioning people's womanhood. It's just a non-essential activity. What's the point of that? When I see things like that, I have to think to myself, is that the same way this person would talk about people with disabilities or people of color?

I can't tell you how many times someone has decided that regardless of how many times I let them know that I am multi-racial, they are going to just pick a race for me to belong to and refer to me as that while denying all of the rest of me. It's like, they'll refer to me as "the girl who says she's multiracial". I guess it would just be too much for their bigoted brain to handle dealing with the fact that I have brown skin AND I'm Irish AND I'm Native American. I guess because it's just impossible for them to have to share a racial category with someone who someone like me.

And it doesn't end there. So, I have bleeping cancer. My cancer isn't just some run of the mill crappity-crap-crap that you can have a little radiation and be done with. No, I have $%*&#! bone cancer smack in the middle of my chest. It's incurable. Unless they find the cure to cancer or I get hit by bus or something like that, this shit is going to kill me. However, I'd be richer than Bill Gates if I had a dollar for everytime someone has had the nerve to tell me that I'm not really all that disabled based on the fact that when they look at me I'm not missing an arm nor am I covered in open sores or something like that.

This ties into why I think that it's quite significant that the majority of these people (who have no problem with showing their anti-trans bigotry) belong to the same demographic as those who have historically been at the forefront of oppression directed against people of color and people with disabilities. Behind it all, the oppression of all three groups, is a sense of entitlement on the part of those who think that they are the ultimate arbiters of what other people really "are".

They do not view their own actions as anything other than justified because they alone have the right to make these decisions on behalf of us all. However, when the rest of us make up our minds that we see no reason to go along with the decisions that other people make about how we should live, then it is labeled as attacks.

Friday, April 03, 2015

The Problems with Adoption

I am a person who looked into adoption after I found out that I wouldn't be able to have another child. I desperately desired to raise another child, to have a sibling for my child, to give all of the economic advantages that my partner and I had to offer. First we looked into adoption overseas. We found out that this is an industry where children, the vast majority of whom are people of color, are often needlessly taken out of their communities and extended families and sold to affluent people around the world (mostly in white-dominated Western nations that are responsible for the social conditions that lead to families seeing no other choice than to give up their children). So, that was just too unethical for me to participate in. I couldn't justify taking a child out of their culture just to satisfy my own desires for my life.

So, we started looking into adopting here (Turtle Island aka "The USA"). Well, it turns out that the same thing is true here. It's an industry. Children are shuffled around for the sake of personal and corporate profit. The racial aspects of it are just horrific. As a Black Indigenous woman, I have seen how quickly the state will take a child of color from their family, even when there are plenty of extended family members who would gladly care for their kin. This happens while white families are given multiple opportunities to keep their children even when abuse has been proven. Those who do lose their children usually have multiple chances to get those children back. The same can not be said for families without white privilege. The majority of kids in foster care aren't orphans and the majority do have family members outside of the system. The same money used to warehouse and incarcerate them in "group homes" and "foster homes" could be used to keep kids in their own family. Of course, the state doesn't have anything to gain by that, nor do the other organizations and businesses that depend on this corrupt system of child trafficking.

The Lakota People's Law Project is doing excellent work to address this issue. They are a great starting point if you want to learn what's going on.

You know, something I've admired is the way that many majority-Muslim countries deal with these issues. Even when kids are taken care of people outside of their immediate family, they keep their names and identities. They still have the same rights of inheritance, which means you don't wind up with situations where a person gives up one child who ends up poor and then leaves everything to the children they keep.

I also prefer community solutions. If a person really cares about children, there will always be children they can care for. There's no limit on the number of people who can love and care for a child. We really don't NEED to remove them from everyone they know in order to share in the joys of raising them. In my faith tradition, we have "godparents". Even adults who are baptized into the faith are given godparents. These godparents are responsible for both the spiritual AND emotional and physical well-being of the person they are committing to. It creates family ties instead of destroying them like adoption does. My child's godparents have no children of their own. They dote on hir. If there is anything going on in my child's life, they are there. They are whiter than the driven snow, but they have made themselves an integral part of my child's life. I no longer have to worry about who would look out for my child if something happened to me. I don't have to worry about if my child needed something but didn't feel comfortable turning to me. With me, they ensure that my child will NEVER lack for somewhere to live, food to eat, loving arms to turn to no matter what's going on.

The thing is, all of these things can be done without the religious aspects. There's no reason why we can not create family ties that increase the support systems that children can rely on. There's no shortage of kids who have parents who would welcome extra mommy and daddy figures in their child's life. I don't know a parent in the world who wouldn't want an extra reliable and responsible adult in their life who can be trusted to watch the kids, have them visit over the summer or weekends or for no reason at all, make sure someone is there for open house night as school, join the cheering section in the audience when the child stars in the school play or football game, help with buying school supplies or just pretty trinkets that the kids these days like to have.

We're really only limited by our willingness to sacrifice our own preferences for the sake of children growing up with more love in their life. I've found it very fulfilling to work as a caregiver for two young people who are disabled. This satisfies that part of my heart that still wants to play a mothering role even though my own child has grown up. You can have what you want without participating in the exploitation of kidnapped and trafficked children.

Gender Stories

Today, someone in my social circle shared this article: I Was a Transgender Woman

Here's a different "story". It's just as real. It's the story of my family.

My kid always loved being naked as a kid. That kid would take off hir diaper or anything else the second I wasn't looking. When ze did have to wear clothes, ze would wear any combination of clothes without any concern for their intended use or targeted consumer. Because I loved my child, ze was allowed to wear what made hir happy except for when we went to religious services 3 times a week. This unwillingness to make clothes something we fought over made it possible for my child to make hir artistic flair apparent from very early on.

In Louisiana Creole culture, girls are expected to look like baby dolls. I preferred to let my child get hir hands dirty catching frogs (and returning them to where they were found), making frybread, using my fingernail polish to "dazzle up" everything ze could get hir naughty little paws on. I refused to limit my child's ability to explore the world around hir for the sake of other people's ideas of what a girl was supposed to do. I taught hir that girls could do ANYTHING. We have women in our family who are doctors, attorneys, politicians, teachers, stay at home moms, nurses, et cetera. In fact, the women tend to have more formal education than the men. Women play a very significant role in our Indigenous cultures and girls are prized and pampered.

Since Indigenous women are so often sexually assaulted, ze was guarded like a hawk. My mother had been assaulted as a child and so had I. We wanted to make sure my child never experienced that. Thankfully, we were successful. I never had to leave hir with strangers until ze was old enough to talk and once ze could talk, ze was armed with strategies for dealing with adults that made hir uncomfortable. We lived in a wonderful neighborhood in a four bedroom house in the suburbs as an extended family, so my child was surrounded by aunts, uncles, and grandparents who doted on hir. Ze went to a very exclusive and expensive preschool. Ze went to school with children from around the world and ze was allowed to express hir creative desires. Ze went to one of the city's most exclusive elementary schools where ze had French lessons and swimming lessons and plenty of play time. Even in the schools ze went to, ze was in both the Gifted and Talented programs which meant that ze received the very best that these schools had to offer. Ze starred in community plays, had hir art exhibited in state buildings and galleries across our region. Ze was a professional artist starting in middle school.

In other words, ze has had the life that many parents in this country wish they could provide for their child. With this sort of background, gender wasn't really a limiting thing. Being a girl didn't mean ze couldn't do anything ze wanted, because whatever ze wanted to do, you can be sure that my politically connected and financially comfortable family could make it possible. I'm not bragging, I'm simply stating the truth. So ze never grew up with the idea that it was a hindrance to be a girl. I made it clear from when ze was young that I was having none of that nonsense about girls not being good in math or that girls can't achieve anything. My dad was a math professor and I was proof that these ideas were false. My kiddo also showed a great deal of aptitude for math (better than mine, actually). In other words, there was never a point where ze had a reason to prefer to be something other than a girl.

At certain points, my kid expressed some worries about the idea of growing up to be a woman. I thought it was because ze didn't like the idea of menstruation and ze'd absorbed some negative messages about it from the outside world. Over time, it became clear that this wasn't hir issue at all. Ze never had an issue with those natural processes of the body. Ze simply did not relate solely to the identity this culture refers to as "girlhood" or "womanhood". I had no language to describe such feelings, so like most folks I just ignored it and figured it was some passing whim. Only, it didn't go away. Ze would go through long periods where ze could not be induced to wear "girly clothes" no matter how much I cajoled and bribed. Then ze would go through long periods where ze wouldn't leave out of the house without super fancy eye shadow styles and would use her pin money to buy cosmetics that I'd never even heard of (What the heck is BB cream?).

One day, my kid showed me a tumblr page ze had created. In the part about hirself, I saw that ze had put that ze was "bigender". I thought ze was a bit confused and I told hir that I think ze meant "cisgender". Ze informed me that ze knew quite well what ze had written and that was the proper term for hir. I wasn't exactly sure what the heck "bigender" meant so I just politely backed off and googled it.

I'd heard of transgender folks and I thought it basically meant someone who didn't think the body they had matched what they knew about themselves and needed surgery to feel comfortable with their body. I'd never heard of trans* folks who were quite comfortable with the bodies they were born with and had no desire to change them. I'd never heard of people who considered both "girl/woman" and "boy/man" to be terms that didn't describe them. Even trans* folks were either one or the other, I believed.

Around that time, I was making the effort to preserve and pass on my child's rich cultural inheritance. I wanted hir to know hir French aristocratic roots and hir privileges as a descendant of the Gens de Couleur Libre, and a member of Indigenous nations that had been proudly matriarchal for thousands of years. Because we are so matriarchal and ze was (thought to be) the oldest girl in that generation of our family, I'd been grooming my child to value keeping the family together and being the bearer of our history. Ze loved it. Ze has never dealt with confusion about who ze is or where ze fits in racially. Ze decided that ze fits in wherever the heck ze wants to. That was as I wanted it. I wished I could have been so certain about these things during my childhood as a person of mixed heritage. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that ze was also just as certain about who ze was with regards to gender.

In the process of learning more about our matriarchal Indigenous roots, I came across information about gender. Of course, in our cultures there's a "nobody left behind and everything has its place" commitment that I already understood. But I'd never had any reason to focus on our gender roles, identities, and expectations. It turned out that there was a very long history of people like my child. There were still social prohibitions about who such folks could and couldn't marry, but they were also extremely prized and it was/is considered a great blessing to have such a person in your family. They are often turned to for advice about relationships because they are both a part of and outside of the most common gender identities. They saw the world as we often can not and had the role of helping others find their place in the world. My child's identity wasn't something new. It wasn't something foreign. It was lovingly appreciated.

Over the years, my child and I have been able to connect with many others like hir. This isn't a novelty for our people as it is perceived in Western cultures. This isn't something that I "raised my child to be". This isn't some disorder or dysphoria. This is my child as God, the Creator of All Worlds, made hir. We aren't some people out there fighting for "gay marriage" or to make some point about lifestyles. This just is.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Suicide and Survival as a Black Indigenous Person in a Settler Colonialist System

Racism at Core of Teen Suicides in Pine Ridge

The first time I was committed to a "mental hospital" I was fourteen. I'd already tried to commit suicide several times. I felt such despair that while I was in the hospital, I carved the word HATE into my thigh. It wasn't even a really conscious thing. I felt so numb from the horrors in my life that maybe my mind was looking for some way to finally be taken seriously, finally find some way of expressing what I felt about myself.

The second time I was committed, I was twenty-one years old. My white doctor had ignored my medical history and prescribed medication that exacerbated the schizophrenia I've had from childhood. I'd found ways to survive with the schizophrenia. I'd learned to try to keep it from being detectable. I often failed and the world around me never missed an opportunity to remind me that I was "nuts", "insane", "acting out" et cetera. The medication, a steroid known to cause exacerbation of neuroatypical "symptoms", was given to me and then the dose was quadrupled. With no support system and no medical establishment that gave a damn about me, it became unbearable and I attempted suicide again. Having caused an interruption in the daily routine of being sufficiently productive in the eyes of settler colonialists, I was instantly punished by being committed.

After that period of punishment was over, I was released into the world almost no different from when I came. The medicine was out of my system. I made the proper assurances that I would not make another infraction. And I went back to the world that was poisoning my spirit.

To be honest, I don't even know how I survived. I think it was the cancer. The cancer hardened me. It forced me to become a survivor. I had a kid that needed to be protected from the sexual assault and neglect that many/most neuroatypical Indigenous children experience. I don't think I survived for my own sake. It was the determination to try to prevent at least one child like the one that I had been from going through the horrors that I can never forget.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In the Drug Wars, People With Disabilities Are Often Collateral Damage

"Oh, you want heavy narcotics strong enough to kill an elephant? Okay! But first let's make sure you aren't using anything harmful like marijuana."

This is what I go through every eight weeks and that's when things are going well. When my body is in the middle of a lupus flare-up or some infection or another creeps in as a result of being immuno-compromised, I have to go every four weeks. I've been living this routine for the past five years, ever since I asked my oncologists to help me find a way to start taking less medicine. It's a bit of a pain (no pun intended) to be tied to this schedule. However, if it was just that straightforward, I wouldn't complain. Unfortunately, it's not.

You see they also tell you to drink lots of water before you come, because they won't give you a prescription for your meds unless you provide a sample for the urinalysis. Of course, if you DO drink lots of water, the hydrocodone may not show up in the test. If you don't have a "reasonable" amount of hydrocodone showing up on your test, it can be assumed that it's because you're not actually taking the medication and must be selling it on the streets. So the doctor may or may not decide to keep issuing the medication. If you have more than what they think is "reasonable", then they may question you about whether you're taking it as prescribed. The result of this is that, even though I don't use any illegal drugs, I still never know whether or not I'm going to run into a problem.

Today, I had to wake up before the crack of dawn just to get to the appointment on time because the doctor's office is an hour and a half away. So, I had to take my morning dose of narcotics earlier than usual. It's the only way that I can get dressed without being in an excruciating amount of pain. By the time that I got to the appointment and sat there for an hour past when they were supposed to see me, I'd had quite a lot to drink. So, I figured that was a good thing because I wouldn't have much trouble providing them with what they need for the test.

Unfortunately, since I've worked to decrease my dose to just the bare minimum that I can take and still function, the sample I gave them was so diluted that they couldn't really detect any hydrocodone in it. As a result, I had to sit there and plead my case and get grilled about what time I got up, what time I took my meds, what time I usually take it, what I ate and drank this morning, and how far the trip is from here to there. Thankfully, I was able to satisfy them enough to get my prescriptions refilled.

This is how they treat a person they know has a painful bone cancer in her chest and a completely separate, comorbid, progressive, and incurable disease that also caused undeniable damage and pain to the body. I shudder to think about how this would have gone if I was someone with a condition that isn't easily detectable and verified by several specialists in several branches of medicine.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

An Intersection of Ableism and White Supremacy Involving Autistic people

I participated in an online project testing social intelligence. It involved looking at a photo of someone's eyes and deciding which of four different words describe what you think the person is feeling. One of the things I noticed was that almost all of the examples involved white/white-passing people. They were taken from British magazines in the 90's. Were they REALLY unable to find any people who aren't lily white? It isn't measuring social intelligence at all. All it shows is a person's ability to determine what white people might be feeling. Am I the only one who sees that as flawed?

Then, on the end page, it explains that the test was developed as a part of research on autism. I guess only autistic folks who live among white people are worthy of research. To top it all off, it explains that this version of the test was described as a part of this study:

Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Hill, J., Raste, Y., & Plumb, I. (2001). The "Reading the Mind in the Eyes" Test revised version: a study with normal adults, and adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 42(2), 241-251.

"A study with NORMAL adults and adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism"

There is so much unethical and ableist about this that I don't even know where to begin with unpacking it all. It posits autistic people as abnormal. According to this, autistic people aren't just different. They are sick, disordered, diseased. This is why so many people reject the medical model of disability. Mainstream psychology and psychiatry shows an utter disregard for anyone outside of their enforced norms. It's no wonder that many autistic people avoid these two fields altogether. Psychologist and psychiatrists can't be trusted to even treat autistic people as humans. It can be downright dangerous to be an autistic person of color receiving treatment based on the results of these kinds of studies.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Creoles and Colorism in my Community

I feel like the discomfort that privileged people feel in conversations like this is something to be embraced. If talking to those who are marginalized (by us and by the community around us) isn't uncomfortable and messy and challenges what we believe about the world and about ourselves, then we are definitely doing it wrong. Solidarity isn't supposed to be easy or life-affirming. Solidarity is sacrifice.

For me, when dark-skinned/non-mixed race Black people talk about colorism, my first inclination is to want to believe that I'm one of them and not someone in the group they are talking about. I tell myself "After all, I'm not as light as SOME Black people that I know" and "Both of my parents have some Black heritage, so I'm not as mixed as MANY Black people". That is sooooo much easier than thinking of myself as someone who could be contributing to the marginalization of some Black people.

I want to believe that the ways that I embrace my Blackness are enough to make me no longer a part of the problems associated with colorism and racial privilege. It sounds silly to say it to other people, but in my mind I think, "I wear my hair in an afro and I personally believe that dark-skinned Black folks are gorgeous and make it a point to say so to others and I taught my kid to embrace hir Blackness. Isn't that enough to make me on the right side of this issue?" It seems legit to me. But, yeah, no.

I'm part of an extended family. We have definitely benefited from access to more educational opportunities back when most Black people in the West had none or very few. My immediate family was definitely poor compared to some folks in our Creole community. However, we weren't so poor that I wasn't able to spend my childhood raised in nice houses, in safe suburban neighborhoods, with decent area schools. There were many times in my life that I remember my mom getting certain jobs or us being able to get into even better schools and programs specifically because we could lean on our privileged mixed-race community, even though those were places where non-mixed race Black people were rarely to be found.

It's taken me years to own up to the fact that our inclusion was at the expense of darker-skinned people, because schools, employers, and programs could use us our presence to inoculate them from accusations of racial discrimination. We were "respectable negroes". It was easier for white people to relate to little light skinned kids with a father in academia and a stay at home mom. The way we spoke didn't confuse white folks nor was it associated with the Black community. We could be their Black friends or coworkers without them having to deal with those dark-skinned/non-mixed race Black folks who weren't as assimilated and/or whose unapologetic Blackness reminded them that the social hierarchy is changing to one where their whiteness won't keep them safe.

So, yeah. I'm a part of the problem of anti-Blackness and colorism. I figure it's never a bad time to start owning up to my privilege and it's probably even a good time to do it when my dark-skinned/non-mixed loved ones are saying that they're suffering as a result of these attitudes and behaviors.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Dating Patterns

Ebony magazine's website has an uplifting and engaging article on it called "Black Girls Only". What the author says in the last paragraph about desire comes as a sort of revelation to me.
"...I'm well aware that desire is different from love. Desire is definitely constructed around social influences and signifiers of what is beautiful and worthy of love. From body type to complexion we are inundated with messages about who should be wanted and who shouldn't. My choice to love black women only is revolutionary. It's a reflection of my radical politics.  It's my straight no chaser lust, love and worship of black femininity. Black girls are magic. From high yellow to blue black. And I love them all.
I've tried to understand my own dating patterns. I ask myself why, despite how much I love POC and try to emphasize my pride in my African heritage, have most of my partners been white or or really passe blanc. I know that it's not a coincidence. It's a pattern. I see beautiful Black people all of the time and there are many of them that I'd definitely be willing to date. But for some reason, the only people that I wind up getting serious with are those with euronormative features.

Perhaps this is pattern stems from my background in a culture where European features are preferred as a result of the advantages society confers upon those who have them. While I decided a while back ago that I would no longer date white guys, I haven't made up my mind to only date Black people. I can definitely respect those who do choose to love Black women, especially those who are also People of Color. Being white means that you have more leeway with regards to dating. Being with a Black woman won't really result in much of a loss in stature. However, A Black person with a white spouse definitely does reap some of the benefits of their partner's white privilege. A Person of Color who marries a Black woman, especially a darker skinned, kinky haired Black woman, will never benefit from that in a white-dominated society.

However, I can't deny that my dating pattern may also be influenced by who I'm around the most. Out here, I don't come in regular contact with a single Black person other than my two coworkers. I simply don't have the opportunity to meet people outside of work. So, it would be difficult for me to decide to only date Black people, because that would mean remaining single until I move or get another car. I don't think I need to make the same decision as the author, but I think that it does help me to formulate better questions to mull over during introspection.