honestly? this is a prime example of how white trans women frighten me sometimes.
May 1, 2013
so i just read this repost of Autumn Sandeen’s ‘why transgender activism’. And, it is pretty terrifying in its implications and the unabashed use of hegemonic discourse while making a massive disanalogy to the ‘API’ community and to the Black community.[1. note: I’m not going to say much about her analogies to the Black community in this post, since that is best handled by someone of that community]
she mentions in the preamble to the post that it was posted before but ‘the hypothesis of this essay is still true and bears repeating every now and again’.
Now. It is massively unclear what, exactly, the hypothesis she is talking about actually is.
From what I can tell these are her main points:
- There is a transgender umbrella
- There are activists working for the rights of the people under that umbrella.
With the conclusion that:
Transgender activism exists because people in groups that fall under the sociopolitical, transgender community umbrella have common issues that can be addressed by common legislation and regulation. Transgender community members who fall under the sociopolitical, LGBT community umbrella have common issues that can be, and should be, addressed by common legislation and regulation that protects LGBT community members.
Now, beyond the extreme us-centrism of the post (which I don’t actually mind, exactly, since she is american and is largely talking about american laws and activism in the american context), it does reveal one of the weaknesses for her analogies to the ‘API’ community, since just north of the border – in canada, i can tell you that there isn’t an API community of activists working for the benefit of all ‘API’ people in canada. It doesn’t work like that here. The race-hyphen-canadian identity isn’t really something people do here. Most people simply ID with their country or ethnicity of origin. As in, I grew up with an understanding that I was Filipin@. Not Filipin@-Canadian. Not Asian-Canadian. Just, Filipin@ (well, and French Canadian but that is because my mom is a Quebecer – and usually only in the context of people asking me what i ‘really’ was when Filipin@ wasn’t enough).
The other reasons why this analogy fails (well… now that I think about it, she might actually be purposefully invoking this aspect of race discourse via her analogies), is that racial IDs are meant to be hegemonic and oppressive. The very existence of ‘Asian’ as an identity is a function of white supremacy. It is based off an arbitrary division of the world based on white colonial interests. It’s entire purpose is to reduce individual differences and create an homogenous identity out of a vast diversity of people and cultures. And while Asian American activists have, indeed, made use of this to create coalition-based activism in the states, we can also see the damage that this has done to the more marginalized communities putatively ‘under’ that umbrella (see how the coalition politics have done little to make a substantive difference for Cambodians in the us).
And, nope, not even going to touch upon how little awareness this essay appears to have regarding the intersection between the two umbrella communities. Since it gives the impression that API activism in the states is… unrelated to trans activism. Despite the reality that the trans Asians who are put off by the white supremacy of the trans community and are working, instead, within the Asian community are, still, trans activists. In the sense that she appears to be understanding that ‘trans activism’ is solely defined by people who work for trans issues… which essentially leaves us with the implication that racism isn’t a trans issue. Except that it is. A trans Asian working to dismantle white supremacy is a trans Asian working on trans issues. To understand race and gender as distinct areas of oppression and identity is white supremacist.
Of course, more chilling is this statement of hers:
Sociopolitical umbrella communities still exist even if individuals who could define themselves as members of a sociopolitical umbrella community choose not personally to step under a particular sociopolitical umbrella.
This is almost breathtaking in its hegemonic and colonial implications. Because making this statement without an clear examination for why sociopolitical umbrella communities exist in the first place is kinda… scary. Because, the implication here is that your agency and right to self-determination will, by necessity, be subsumed under these umbrella politics, whether you like it or not. Note how above I mentioned how and why the ‘sociopolitical umbrella’ term ‘Asian’ came to exist [2. Not even going to talk about ‘API’ as such, since this would also require a discussion of the us census that i’m not about to have].
More to the point… there is no understanding shown here for all the ways that umbrella politics actually works to benefit the privileged members of the community over the less privileged members (again, see the above mentions of Cambodians in the us). Another clear case of this is in a different racial umbrella meant for political solidarity working: person of colour. For this read Kil Ja Kim’s essay “Does Asian American + POC = AntiBlack?”. We can see how Asian American communities – regardless of whether or not they also use ‘PoC’ – leverage the fulcrum of white supremacy in ways that allow them to benefit while participating in the oppression of Black people.
There are parts of the essay that I agree with (and actually, give the first coherent explanation for why gender expression is so necessary an inclusion in human rights codes that I’ve seen in a while. So kudos for that, really). I just also don’t understand her conclusion.
The transgender community, as a sociopolitical umbrella community, is here to stay. Its community activists are here to stay too.
She has an understanding that there are some of us who have little desire to identify as transgender. Yet, apparently, believes that those of us who do not are somehow also attempting to prevent the work of trans activists.
That these transsexual people don’t want to align themselves with transgender community activism won’t stop transgender activists from working on transgender community issues; it won’t stop transgender community activists from working on LGBT community issues.
Sure. Fine. But why are you saying this? I don’t get it. Unless she is targeting the transsexual separatist camp with this. Which is about the only sense I can make from these statements. I do understand how my life is somewhat improved by the efforts of trans activists. I also understand how my life is somewhat harmed by trans activists.
Because the other implication of Sandeen’s statements here is that trans activists represent my interests. Which is only partially true. It would like be wholly true if the only axis of oppression I experience was related to either my gender ID or my gender expression.
Trans activism that does not have even the most basic understanding of how hegemonic claims of community and representation like this puts me off as a transpinay, can never truly represent my interests.
The way that she is defining and discussing the trans community here is exactly why I failed to understand myself as a (possible) member of that community. A community based ID so total in its exclusion of its putative members should be far more carful about who it claims to represent. Because you are doing something wrong. And digging in your heels, like this article, without any clear understanding that you are doing something wrong only perpetuates the problems.
I still don’t know what her hypothesis actually is for this essay. The best I can discern is:
- (white) trans activism, as formed underneath the (white) trans umbrella, is here to stay and we will continue to exclude you while claiming to represent you