by DJ Freedman
Every Nov. 20 for a decade I have worked with members of the Ottawa community to mark the annual slaughter of trans women, mostly trans women of colour in Turkey, Italy, Spain, Brazil, and the United States. In addition to profound despair at the deaths, it just seems unsustainable for white trans women to mark the deaths of trans women of color.
But does this mean there is no purpose for a Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR)?
It is the only time of year when we get together to organize and reach out as a community. It is not a favorite because little stops the slaughter. All women endure violence on a continuum. It is, however, very difficult to explore the same continuum of (trans) misogynist violence against (trans) women.
What if someone forced (trans) women out of feminist collectives they helped create? Rather than abjection (a technical word, but more precise than exclusion), what if feminist collectives were originally created with us very much included and participating? And what if such possibilities became the inspiration for the universal inclusion and participation of (trans) women?
My spirit and practice as a queer social worker is mandating me NOT to accept what seems as the only necessary or, even possible, order of things. These institutions have been distorted.
Cristin Williams interviewed Sandy Stone, a trans woman invited to join a recording collective called Olivia Records in 1974 as their engineer. Five years after the Stonewall Riots, this was the era of the first, very definitely Gay Prides that were quite open. Julian Weiss, an academic, has pointed out that the twentieth century was far from being a community utopia for LGBT people. On the contrary, it was segregated, gay and lesbian on one side and bi and trans people on the other. She also points out how trans feminine spectrum people have been abjected during the century.
Olivia Records was one of the first feminist recording collectives, whose purpose was to spread the know-how to make and record music among women. “They mostly wanted to know if our politics agreed and whether or not I could work with a lesbian separatist collective. They badly needed engineering skills,” said Stone. She was open to them; in fact, they knew of her before they met.
“The collective was very clear that they considered me to be a woman,” Stone said. “We spent a long time – about a year, maybe more – in which we got to know each other and by the time that I actually joined the collective, we felt that we knew all that we needed to know about how we were going to get along together.”
The collective began receiving mail that seemed, at first, something of a caricature. “We’d get a letter and the letter would attack one of our albums because of the way that it was engineered and mixed,” Stone remembers. “There were very clear ideas of what constituted a ‘male’ mix and a ‘female’ mix, which nobody had ever heard of before. What it came down to was that ‘male’ mixes had drums, which was linked back to ‘throbbing male energy.’”
And then came the “death threats. They would let me know about the death threats after a while. The death threats were directed at me, but there were violent consequences proposed for the Collective if they didn’t get rid of me.”
Finally, it became unbearable. “We had organized this tour and we had gotten a letter telling us that when we got to Seattle that there was a separatist paramilitary group called the Gorgons. The Gorgons was a group of women who wore camo gear, shaved their heads and carried live weapons. We were told that when we got to town, they were going to kill me.”
Stone was finally forced, by the definition of political terrorism, to separate herself from the feminist collective of women with whom she had shared the intent of life and work. This trauma lives invisibly, gnawingly, and acidly in our present day society.
From this TDOR forward, I mark the difference between extermination (because that is what abjection intends) and solidarity, including the spirit. I also mark the differences between anatomy and intention and between hate and love.
I wonder at the demographics of feminist institutions in Ottawa that seem routinely to include trans masculine spectrum people but not trans feminine spectrum people over the same decade. And the rationalizing of such abjection (making it seem ‘normal’) is dependent upon the naturalizing and essentialist rhetoric centered on upbringing and anatomy.
I wonder why anatomy remains destiny. Even as Simone de Beauvoir has said, “One is not born, but becomes a woman.” Why do some feminist institutions still venerate the historic violent abjection of (trans) women?
I wonder how different Ottawa might have been over this last decade and how it might be in the future if this vicious history was confronted, challenged, and transformed. I wonder, too, what changes would emerge from an inclusive and militant feminism.
This article first appeared in the Leveller, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Nov/Dec 2014).