Transgender Living in Year Zero: what we can be to each other in the next four years

You can see some development of the ideas that I published in my Little Village piece here – I wouldn’t use the term “queer nationalism” anymore (I’d use either “material community” or “very gay marxists”). It lacks a degree of humility compared to what I’m actually talking about.

I originally wrote this last November.

TDoR

The week after the election, I was asked to speak at the local TDoR event at the Danforth Chapel. It was a conflicted moment for me – it was the first time I realized that I could be the sort of person who gets asked to speak at things, though it continued the pattern of my speaking career being mainly focused on commenting on tragedy – leaving for the event with Ash, I made a crack to her that I should get “professional queer eulogist” on my business cards. I took it down to the wire to put it all together – I think this speech managed to go through nearly ten distinct drafts over the course of the four or so hours I gave myself before the event to figure out what I was going to say. I knew, for better or for worse, that the (mostly trans) people that night would be there to mourn the end of the world that we’ve all been living in together – a world that, while indifferent to us at best, was at least one that we understood. In it’s own way, this speech was much harder to write than the Little Village piece, even though it’s largely derivative from it – with that, I imagined myself speaking to about anyone left of center, but here I was looking some of the people who stand to lose the most in this moment in the eye. The one saving grace that I had was the eventual realization that what the people in that room needed that night was what I needed – not a guarantee that we would get through this, because that would be an outright lie, but a re-affirmation of our ability to adapt, a reassurance of our ability to find value in life even when we experience a disproportionate amount of its strife.

Sitting in one of the front pews that night, I was not unaware of the irony of the setting – that night marked the first time I’ve sat in a pew for some years now, back when I lived as someone else.

What follows is the transcript of my speech that night, in full:

“Thank you all for coming out here tonight – I know, given this current cultural moment, where our bodies and spaces that we hold on to are acutely threatened, there’s a lot of people out there who wish to see us hidden away, isolated, or disposed of. Much like how we’re gathering here tonight to refuse to let the people on this list be forgotten, claiming space for ourselves is a necessary and important form of resistance.

This day comes in a time and place where a lot of us are scared, wondering what our lives are going to look like as we have to burn the script we’ve written for ourselves yet again. 

The typical thing to talk about and celebrate in this moment is resilience. Talk about how we manage to build lives for ourselves even when we exist in spaces that hope that they could forget us. Talk about how we manage to find the color and wonder of life in the spaces we make for ourselves. Talk about how we manage to widen the borders of these spaces inch by inch, day by day, not just for ourselves, but for everyone that we know as well.

But, in this moment, where so many things hang in the balance and general promises of perseverance can ring empty for so many people, simply reminding you all of our resilience isn’t going to do anything for us.

Rather, what we need now is imagination. We need to teach each other how to envision what effective support for one another looks like, and how to make healthy and effective community into reality inside this almost unknowable moment. Every single one of us needs to ask ourselves what refusing to let each other fall through the cracks looks like.

To me, it looks like checking in with people you know and people you might barely know. It means showing up, in whatever way that looks like to you. It means sleeping light at 3am, with your hand on your phone, waiting for the call of a friend in trouble. It means people crashing on your couch. It means sharing or raising money for hormones and medication when someone can no longer afford it, or sharing them directly when access is restricted outright. It means sharing money for groceries, or coming over to cook for someone when they can’t get themselves out of bed. 

It means building honest and material networks of support where none exist, and fighting to keep the ones that we have open. 

It means getting as loud and as angry as we possibly can whenever violence against us occurs, and it means reaching out to groups our own oppression is bound up with, and doing the same for them.

It means building community – real, actual community that is felt, and worked for every day by everyone involved, in whatever ways we can.

I’m not going to tell you that we’ll make it through this, because the horrible thing is that “who lives and who dies” is an uncertain calculus all of us are running in our heads right now. But what I will tell you is that there is no moment I’d rather be alive in than now, not because it’s better than any other moment, but because there’s an opportunity here for all of us, an opportunity to build a community that can endure adversity in a ways that couldn’t have been done before.

An opportunity to build something beautiful.“

The Trans Narrative in Year Zero

I very much think that the narrative of what we (trans people) are to each other is different from the narrative of what trans people are to the rest of the world – and more important. Of course, one narrative informs the other – the former ultimately can only be expressed with tools given from the outside, and “trans” as a category is only coherent when it has a cisgendered world to define itself against. But there’s a definite mythology to our communities that in some respects stands on it’s own – it’s the mythology of our community itself, what we mean to each other, our own take on the chain of causality of our history that led us to this moment. The “imagination” I refer to midway through the speech is directly referent to this – given the sea change we all bore witness to, and given the general immateriality of our community and that of the broader left leading up to this moment, we have a need to examine the ways that we think about each other, and envision a future where who we are to each other forms the basis of a community of strength and solidarity.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially from an outside perspective – the inside baseball of the moment was that I was trying to speak to a community plagued by self-doubt and internalized transmisogyny and convince them that we are not so far from the revolutionary queer history that we lionize, that we can be more than just a loose community based around shared trauma and the limits thereof. I don’t make that statement as an accusation of shared personal failure, or one that I’m not party to – rather, I had the sense that I was speaking to a specific iteration of the way late-stage capitalism leaves marginalized communities, speaking to the legacy of a turn towards assimilation fostered by the individualization and alienation demanded by capital. Faced with a gendered narrative that marked us as atomic individuals with some sort of tragic quality, I countered with a form of queer nationalism, and the promise that could hold.

When I say queer nationalism, I don’t refer to the sort of capital-N reviled sort of nationalism that asks subservience to some higher ideal without consideration of the human ends that ideal is supposed to serve (or asks high school grads to go die in Afghanistan). Rather, I wanted a group that could serve the material ends that the units of family or local community are supposed to serve, and yet so many of us are excluded from. I wanted to envision something that can look upon the history of queer and trans resistance, and interpret it in a way that was actionable, a way that could inspire us to build something that could weather the next four fascist-spray-tan soaked years. A narrative of transness that framed us to each other as comrades, a narrative of transness that framed us as a community whose collective end was the survival and ability to thrive for each and every one of us.

At the end of the night, several people – people whom I’ve never seen before, but knew that we were closer than we might think – walked up to me, and told me that they were grateful for the words I spoke that night. Everyone there was tired, and scared, but even in a space that surrounded the realities of the violence that we face, I think that night was cathartic for all of us.

I hope they’re all doing OK right now. And, if not, they know who to call.

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