anachronisms, agency, and legacies
April 14, 2014
some ppl tried to get at me, yesterday, for saying that flattening out the progenitors of the current lgbt movements (ie, the stonewall rioters) along either a gender or sexuality dimension is the same kind of violent historical erasure.
my points are this:
- how the ppl ID”d themselves is important. it is an act of their own agency that absolutely must be respected. it is massively interesting to me that ppl today, radical/etc/so on, are able to recognize the critical importance of self-identification as the primary means to understanding a person, and yet deny this same level of agency to the ppl of the past.
Like, okay. at times it is useful to analyze historical figures from a contemporary lens. but there is only limited value in so doing this. and if you do it as a way to apply ahistorical, anachronistic conceptual frameworks, then it ceases to have any useful explanatory value. it matters that, at one point in history, ppl who might today call themselves ‘trans women" called themselves transvestites. it is important to understand the historical processes that not only led to a point in history where ppl regularly used this rather awful medical/psychological term to describe themselves, but also to understand what happened _after_ this historical moment that ppl stopped using the word.
- the colonial dangers of anachronism when they involve iaopoc are that (quite frequently) contemporary colonial frameworks and values are projected into the past and, thus, reified as ahistorical realities.
what i mean by this, is that the claim that Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and the other amazing tfpoc rioting at Stonewall are either/only ‘twoc" or ‘drag queens"<sup id="fnref:1"><a href="1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> reifies the (white) notion that gender and sexuality are two discrete ontological realities. what is more absurd about projecting this particular recent invention is that this assertion, this schism in the community, is literally something that happened _because_ of stonewall. it literally happened _to_ Sylvia Rivera within the gay liberation front, something that set a precedence for cis gays and lesbians to throw ‘trans women" under the bus (in this case ‘tranvestites and drag queens"). like, rarely can the schism in a community be definitively identified, but the events in 1971 are likely what widened a rift that has now become ‘reality" for most white ppl (cis or trans).
- and understanding all of this is critical for understanding the legacy of stonewall and the ppl who started the riot.
interestinly, the legacy of it is such that ppl like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson and Mama Rene have _no_ place in today"s communities. like, their very existence and what they worked towards challenges some of the fundamental organizing values at work within many of the communities. and, unfortunately, it is unclear that (as things stand) that we could get back to where they were (without decolonization). one of the things i mentioned is that drag queens (particularly white ones) are not what they once were. which is why i get why many ppl shy away from calling Sylvia Rivera et al ‘drag queens" — and this is something i understand too and would only say it with a lot of qualifications and explanation. but this is exactly my point: we can"t talk about the legacies of the past without talking about history. it is easy to forget history and make the dead say whatever you want, since they can no longer speak for themselves, but much more difficult to grapple with the complex (and slippery) historical processes that not only shaped these important historical figures but also their legacies and how they shape our current realities.