Recently, in a Facebook group, someone asked this question, which I feel is okay to share, because it’s a pretty universal one that I think a lot of organizers struggle with. This person is contemplating taking on more of a leadership role in various projects, after having been in support roles for a long time:

What do you think about when organizing or helping create a space to happen? What makes you feel welcome? What do you do to make others feel welcome? How can attendees be made to feel it’s their space to create?

Here’s what I wrote:

"This is a really interesting question, and I don’t know everything about everything, so I’m just going to speak from my own experience here. I think the answer sort of lies in the question: it’s important to find good mentorship, and to take a backseat role for a really reeeally long time. 

I have done support/been-delegated-to/just-shut-up-and-do-this/find-ways-for-us-to-get-money-or-a-good-deal type work for organizations that work very, very hard to make events inclusive for many years. I have often done this work in coalition with communities of which I am not a part (specifically QTPOC). This is not about bragging about my “activist” resume or to pat myself on the back, but to say I have had the opportunity to watch the process in action, and to see things go horribly wrong and spectacularly right. It’s a process of training wheels — not only reading all the right books or whatever, but putting the theory into action and getting your hands dirty.

One of the main thing I’ve learned is like, just be honest. Not every space can accommodate every body; and sometimes, when people have issues with a space, the more information they have, the more opportunity they have for communication with you around what would make for an accessible space.

For instance, I am part of a collective that runs a community arts + activism space that is up a short flight of stairs with no lift. I am up-front about that. There’s nothing I can do about it — I don’t own the building. And if I choose to throw a fundraising event here (which I sometimes do, because not having to rent out a someone else’s space keeps overhead down and raises more money for the org), I let people know what the deal is. Also, being honest is partially about *not* making assumptions about other people’s needs, giving them the autonomy to figure out their own needs, and providing the opportunity to have a conversation *beforehand* about accessibility issues.

Ultimately, I think often, people would rather know exactly what they’re getting into, even if it’s imperfect (again **no space is safe and perfect for everyone**) than have something bill itself as an ALL INCLUSIVE ANTI-EVERYTHING-IST FAIRY WONDERLAND and have people come and find out it is *definitely not that.*

Oh, and final advice: YOU WILL EVENTUALLY FUCK UP AND FUCK UP ROYALLY. This happens to everyone. Take responsibility for it, don’t get defensive, and do everything in your power to be accountable and help rectify the situation. For me personally, this has involved everything from going to the ER with someone for six hours, to driving 15 miles into cell phone range to call an ambulance, to providing court support for someone at 9am on a Monday morning. Don’t get defensive. Learn the right way to apologize — “I’m sorry you feel this way” is not an apology. Acknowledge your own exhaustion and hurt feelings if you experience them, do whatever “self-care” you need to do, but do it *privately,* or with trusted friends.

I know all this sounds scary, but the thing is, when things do go right, it is the best feeling in the world.”

Recently, in a Facebook group, someone asked this question, which I feel is okay to share, because it’s a pretty universal one that I think a lot of organizers struggle with. This person is contemplating taking on more of a leadership role in various projects, after having been in support roles for a long time:

What do you think about when organizing or helping create a space to happen? What makes you feel welcome? What do you do to make others feel welcome? How can attendees be made to feel it’s their space to create?

Here’s what I wrote:

"This is a really interesting question, and I don’t know everything about everything, so I’m just going to speak from my own experience here. I think the answer sort of lies in the question: it’s important to find good mentorship, and to take a backseat role for a really reeeally long time.

I have done support/been-delegated-to/just-shut-up-and-do-this/find-ways-for-us-to-get-money-or-a-good-deal type work for organizations that work very, very hard to make events inclusive for many years. I have often done this work in coalition with communities of which I am not a part (specifically QTPOC). This is not about bragging about my “activist” resume or to pat myself on the back, but to say I have had the opportunity to watch the process in action, and to see things go horribly wrong and spectacularly right. It’s a process of training wheels — not only reading all the right books or whatever, but putting the theory into action and getting your hands dirty.

One of the main thing I’ve learned is like, just be honest. Not every space can accommodate every body; and sometimes, when people have issues with a space, the more information they have, the more opportunity they have for communication with you around what would make for an accessible space.

For instance, I am part of a collective that runs a community arts + activism space that is up a short flight of stairs with no lift. I am up-front about that. There’s nothing I can do about it — I don’t own the building. And if I choose to throw a fundraising event here (which I sometimes do, because not having to rent out a someone else’s space keeps overhead down and raises more money for the org), I let people know what the deal is. Also, being honest is partially about *not* making assumptions about other people’s needs, giving them the autonomy to figure out their own needs, and providing the opportunity to have a conversation *beforehand* about accessibility issues.

Ultimately, I think often, people would rather know exactly what they’re getting into, even if it’s imperfect (again **no space is safe and perfect for everyone**) than have something bill itself as an ALL INCLUSIVE ANTI-EVERYTHING-IST FAIRY WONDERLAND and have people come and find out it is *definitely not that.*

Oh, and final advice: YOU WILL EVENTUALLY FUCK UP AND FUCK UP ROYALLY. This happens to everyone. Take responsibility for it, don’t get defensive, and do everything in your power to be accountable and help rectify the situation. For me personally, this has involved everything from going to the ER with someone for six hours, to driving 15 miles into cell phone range to call an ambulance, to providing court support for someone at 9am on a Monday morning. Don’t get defensive. Learn the right way to apologize — “I’m sorry you feel this way” is not an apology. Acknowledge your own exhaustion and hurt feelings if you experience them, do whatever “self-care” you need to do, but do it *privately,* or with trusted friends.

I know all this sounds scary, but the thing is, when things do go right, it is the best feeling in the world.”

XOJane It Happened To Me: I WAS A TRANS WOMAN WHO WENT TO MICHFEST

A reporter recently interviewed me about going to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in 2008, and here were my answers to her questions. I just thought I might pass them on, as they might be of interest, given that we’re in Michfest-arguing silly season.

What was your general state of mind going in to Michfest for the first time?

I went to Fest after having been an organizer at Camp Trans for five years. I had been hearing that more and more trans women were “out” on the land, and so I thought, well, maybe it’s not a bad idea to check out first-hand what it is we’ve been protesting for the last ten years. I went in emotionally guarded, but with a very open mind.

As a trans woman, did you feel welcome on the land? How was the experience overall?

In some ways I did, and in some ways I didn’t.

I was shocked about how many people I knew there, personally, who welcomed me with open arms. I grew up in the Midwest, and to this day have many lesbian friends who are perrenial Festival-goers. I felt like I had a crew of pals as soon as I showed up, and I genuinely felt like they had my back.

That said, there were other complicating factors. I was there with my butch partner, who had just started testosterone. Many people don’t realize this, but many Fest-goers don’t approve of butch-femme relationships, of BDSM, sex work, or any number of other things. There are a lot of nice people there, but there are a lot of Debbie Downers, too.

So, occasionally we got some stank-eye. Was it because we were a butch-femme couple? Was it because one or both of us were being read as trans? Was a worker giving us the stank-eye just because she had had a rough day and was in a bad mood? Eventually, I had to stop attempting to read people’s minds and just try to relax.

But, on the positive side, for every nasty look we got (and really, there weren’t that many) we got just as many, “Hey sisters! Welcome home!” enthusiastic greetings. There are a lot of women who love that land, and are effusively welcoming, especially of newcomers.

I definitely felt like I had to mind my P’s and Q’s. A couple of my friends who are party animals tried to convince me to take ecstasy and acid with them, and I said no, even though it would have been fun to have a psychedelic experience in those beautiful woods. I cut myself off after one beer, because I was afraid if I did something even accidentally stupid, it would not just reflect badly on me, but on ALL TRANS WOMEN FOREVER. I felt pressure to be on my best behavior at all times in a way that I think many women who are not trans do not have to worry about. Supposedly, this festival is about being able to let go and be your authentic self; I had my armor on the whole time.

Also, as a side note, I really like folk music. Aleah Long’s performance was especially powerful that year. And the Festival is a beautiful space, on beautiful land. I loved Camp Trans and I love many of the people I have met there over the years, but if you compare the two, let’s face it, Camp Trans was always kind of a shit show. CT had probably about 2% of the budget of Michfest, so going to the Festival after having camped at CT for so many years kind of felt like being at Disneyland. The DART vans (which are wonderful and provide women with disabilities with transportation) even kind of function like a monorail, taking both disabled and non-disabled people from place to place.

What a lot of people don’t know about Michigan is that it is VAST and HUGE, and is comprised of many different neighborhoods, all with their own vibe and culture and ethics (again, to follow through with the Disney metaphor, it’s like Tommorrowland versus the Enchanted Forrest, but instead it’s The Zone versus Bread and Roses.) The Zone is generally where the younger, hipper, more trans-positive party people congregate.

Would you return to Michfest?

I would not return to Michfest. There are just other ways I’d rather spend my time and energy. Many people talk the reasons they go to Michfest as wanting “queer intergenerational connections” — I can get that right here in New York City, where I am a volunteer at SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay and Lesbian Elders), a GLBT senior center. I’ve made some great friends with older queer people there. Believe it or not, there are older lesbians right in your own city who probably could use a friend.

Do you believe change is happening on “the inside” at Michfest?

I do not. Take a look at newsletters in the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Park Slope, and you will see that we have been having these exact same arguments about this issue for the last thirty years.

Many academic researchers have done sociological and ethnographic research on people’s attitudes towards trans women inside the Fest. Over time, the results of these studies have not changed at all. About a third of the women are like, “No! Keep them out! Womyn-born-womyn only!” About a third of the people are like, “Sure, why not? Trans womyn are our sisters! Let them in!” And, about a third of the people are like, “I don’t care about this issue at all, this is my vacation, leave me alone.”

The Festival has lost an entire generation of women through sheer stubbornness and refusal to move forward with the times: what used to be a symbol of feminist liberation has now become a symbol of transgender oppression. At this point, Festival’s WBW policy (or “intention,” or whatever) has lasted longer than the US Military’s Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell policy. I do not believe they will ever recover from this decades-long public relations debaucle.

I believe that Michigan is a lost cause. As trans women, and people who care about trans women, I think we need to abandon it and move on to more important issues.

I know this is The Way Things Work Today, but something about gay teen suicide as a “branded corporate sponsorship opportunity” strikes me as pretty grotesque.

“The pill became a lifetime drug for women. What is happening with AIDS research is that they are also thinking of consumers who can become lifetime consumers. This is how the pharmacopornographic regime works. The disciplinary regime would basically tell you not to have sex outside of reproduction. They would say, Do not go out and have sex in that back room. The pharmacopornographic regime says, No, no, you can fuck as much as you want, but be sure you take your pill.”

odofemi:

brynkelly:

odofemi:

THOUGHTS ABOUT PrEP AND WHY IT ISN’T THE ANSWER (YET)

So, there’s this thing that everyone is really excited about called PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), which is an HIV prevention treatment that consists of taking Truvada, an HIV treatment med. It’s really exciting, right? You could just take a…

I read Morgan’s article with interest, for several reasons:


1) I am queer and live in New York City, where I have many friends who are HIV+, sex workers, or both; as well as having many friends who are at risk for contracting HIV….

Bryn is super smart, and her points are spot on.

However, I disagree with the point about the effects it may have on sex workers. I’m going to preface this next bit by saying that I am a former teen street-based sex worker and current sex workers’ rights activist engaged in work with sex workers across various parts of the industry (primarily street-based, massage parlour, strip clubs, and escorting).

Yes, totally, lots of workers do offer BBBJs and no condoms. This is in response largely to market pressure. While some workers are totally comfortable doing this, many are not. It creates a market where condom negotiation becomes much harder, particularly for street-based workers. In my own experiences, I was never able to get a client to use condoms, despite attempting to negotiate it.

I think Bryn’s discussion of the early effects of the Pill is really important here and goes to further my point. While PrEP may be really useful for some people, in some situations, it’s still experimental in many respects. There are very few studies about it, and, as I originally mentioned, most are only for short term exposure windows. Sex workers are being targeted as a “risk group” to introduce PrEP to, and I do worry about the human guinea pig aspect of that, and it’s effects on the lives and bodies of sex workers.

Another interesting point is that clients of sex workers are not being targeted as a potential risk group. This leaves an unfair power dynamic where sex workers are expected to bear the responsibility of potential health consequences, while clients do not have to. I think it would be really interesting for more client-based prevention strategies to be looked at (dear governments and corporations, please send $$$$ for piloting client-based prevention to Morgan M Page at …).

My thoughts on the potentially harmful effects of Truvada are mainly influenced by the conversations I had with workers and the presentations I attended at this year’s Desiree Alliance Conference. People did not seem thrilled with it and raised most of the points I raised above.

I do definitely think some people may benefit greatly from PrEP. But I don’t think it’s the right answer for everyone yet, and I am worried about the significant harm it could cause by creating an illusion of safety.

Also, Bryn brought up that early contraceptive trials were done in Puerto Rico. In case you were wondering, most of the research I have seen about women on PrEP is currently being done in South Africa (ie, tests using placebos vs. real drugs) on the bodies of Black South African women.

While we may disagree on a few of the particulars on the advantages and disadvantages of PrEP, Morgan makes a truly excellent point here, which is that:

YOU KNOW WHO NEEDS TO BE ON PrEP? MOTHERFUCKING CLIENTS, THAT’S WHO.

For the following reasons:

1) They tend to have more financial resources/insurance coverage and thus can afford the price of Truvada as it stands now; and

2) They tend to lead the kind of lifestyles that allow them to adhere to treatment with greater regularity (stable housing, regular employment, etc.); and

3) THEY ARE SO MOTHERFUCKING PARANOID ABOUT “DISEASE.” If you have ever taken a look at the “Am I at risk for HIV?” forum on TheBody.com, 90% of posts are from johns who are like, I made out with a Brazilian trans sex worker once!! Do I have AIDS now?????? Like, chill out dudes.

odofemi:

THOUGHTS ABOUT PrEP AND WHY IT ISN’T THE ANSWER (YET)

So, there’s this thing that everyone is really excited about called PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), which is an HIV prevention treatment that consists of taking Truvada, an HIV treatment med. It’s really exciting, right? You could just take a…

I read Morgan’s article with interest, for several reasons:


1) I am queer and live in New York City, where I have many friends who are HIV+, sex workers, or both; as well as having many friends who are at risk for contracting HIV

2) As an HIV activist who has volunteered at organizations like ACT-UP NYC, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Gay Men’s Health Crisis and SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay Elders), these issues are very much being discussed among our constituencies, and

3) I like Morgan, consider her a personal friend, and am very interested in her ideas.

However, I take a different view than some of the opinions expressed in her article. Namely:

The jury is still out as to whether the consequences of non-adherence to and long-term use of PrEP are quite as dire as Morgan has characterized them. Truvada is already a medication used for the long-term treatment and management of HIV. It keeps viral loads down, which reduces the over-excitation of the body’s immune response, which it is hoped will prevent many of the inflammation diseases (dementia, heart disease) endemic to people who have been living with HIV/AIDS for a very long time (including seniors.) Truvada is a very good drug. And, of all the HIV drugs on the market, it has the lowest measured side-effect profile.

Many people living with HIV take Truvada every day. The official literature says that it requires 99% adherence (meaning, you can only skip one dose about every three months), but in clinical practice — ask any doctor who has many HIV+ clients, and they will tell you that this drug is more forgiving than its labeling would indicate. It is my suspicion that the extreme adherence requirements expressed on the drug’s labeling are a way of covering Gilead (the maker of the drug in the US)’s ass.

Speaking of which, it’s true: the price of HIV drugs are outrageous. But, they don’t have to be. In India and Thailand, for example, the public health ministries of these countries refused to issue patents for certain HIV drugs, citing their high cost and inaccessibility for their citizens. It is our job as activists to demand fair access to these drugs. A wise activist once taught me this fundamental rule of social change: ain’t nobody gonna give you nothin’ if you don’t ask for it.

Also, Morgan’s point about sex workers’ clients expecting them to be on PrEP and thus being more adept to demand unprotected sex is a valid one, especially for street-based sex workers. However, in my experience, I am not so sure this bears out in practice? A casual glance at Backpages.com lists dozens (if not hundreds) of girls advertising BBBJs and “no condoms needed.”

Morgan makes another good point in her article, too: THE COMPARISON TO PrEP TO BIRTH CONTROL IS AN APT ONE, but I’d like to explore this analogy a little further…

Lots of people fuck up taking all kinds of meds. I, myself, was conceived while my mother forgot to take the pill for a few days. It should also be considered that combined oral contraceptive pills were only legalized in the United States in 1960, and during that time, they contained a much higher dose of hormones than they do today — it was a matter of (frankly, unethical) experimental titration for toxicity that left many women with reproductive health issues for the rest of their lives. I have suspected that the higher doses of hormones used in the early days of the pill may have contributed to my own mother’s reproductive health issues later in life; and yet, using the pill gave her control over her own reproductive choices, which allowed her to graduate from college (despite being married at age 15), greatly increasing her socioeconomic life chances. Many life choices require risk evaluation. Sometimes, it’s a trade-off.

(It should also be noted that prior to 1960, these experiments were conducted in Puerto Rico in inhumane conditions that left many women permanently sterilized.)

The march of progress for allopathic medicine has at times been a long and cruel one, and has claimed many bodies, lives, and spirits. And yet, today, birth control has given women control over their bodies and the ability to plan their families in a way never before imagined in human history. And sure, people still fuck up! My mom, of course, being a perfect example, but then, had she not, I probably would not be writing this article. (And hey, depending on what research you chose to believe, were she not all pumped up with these exogenous neonatal estrogens, I might not even be trans. And wouldn’t that be a shame!)

And — this is the point on which I feel most passionately — though perhaps the long-term health consequences of PrEP are unknown, you know what is quite well known? The long-term health consequences of living with HIV/AIDS. If these can be prevented in any way, I say, go for it.

When I was at the Lambda Literary Retreat this summer, I spoke with a brilliant young queer femme queen of color who was debating going on PrEP. In the city where he lived, it was free. Though I am excited about the possibilities of PrEP and encouraged him to explore its possibilities, there’s certainly no way I can say what the right choice for him is.

At the end of the day, though, I’m glad the choice is his to make.

MY TRANS BODY, MY TRANS SELF

tw: reality check

image

On July 19th, 2009, Scott Loren Moore, one of the lead editors of Trans Bodies/Trans Selves, smacked me around pretty bad. At the time he was my boyfriend, and what occurred on this night was part of a larger pattern of intimate partner abuse. He has consistently sought to avoid any accountability for this behavior.

Scott is currently raising $50k via some kind of crowdsourcing scheme which will *allow* Trans Bodies/Trans Selves to be published by Oxford University Press. Why? It is unclear.

The original Our Bodies/Ourselves was published for $0.38 per copy. The point is, it might be worth it to give some thought about where your money is going, and whose ideals it is supporting. Read more about this ongoing conversation here.

There are a lot of really smart people involved in this project, and I’m not trying to shade them. I’m just sharing my part of the story. Decide what you want to do for yourself.

 If there was a movie and they needed to cast the transgender assassin, they’d probably cast me. You know, I wouldn’t play the housewife or… like Annie Danger in the show we did, she’s like, “You are the drill sargeant!” I’m like, really? Okay. Who else could do it? Probably nobody, in that cast. Because you have to just scream at this human being for eight minutes straight. And that’s all I think of now when I think of Bryn (Kelly) – in my mind it’s like, you stupid little bitch, every time. I’m sure she’d love that.

TRUE

laraweibgen:

The “YES” and “NO” lists on this poster were compiled in collaboration with twelve close comrades involved in anarchist and left radical political, intellectual, and arts circles in New York City and on the internet. All of the contributors to this project are women and/or trans, almost all are queer, and about two thirds are people of color.

For the “NO” list, I asked people to send me the names of “cis men, living and dead, who make [your] blood boil: misogynists, paternalists, abusers, rapists, rape apologists … people whom you find toxic, people whose physical presence or intellectual influence in left spaces … hinders or forecloses our collective possibilities for transformation, liberation, and making total destroy.”

For the “YES” list, I asked people to send me the names of “women and trans people, living and dead, whom [you] find inspiring;” “your role models and soul friends;” or, in the words of a friend, “people who exude something, often irreducible to any one of their activities, that makes things possible.”

All of the names that were sent to me have been included.

someone thought of me for a thing! how nice of them

my YES list would include:
akihiro miwa
marsha p johnson
sarah schulman
kate huh
laverne cox
janet mock
reina & che gosset
and the entire cast of the FFC, each individually stunners in their own right