Punk Prayers

#30daysofsocialjustice 17: Cultural Appropriation

CONTENT WARNING: LABELS, SPEAKING TRUTH to POWER

Cultural appropriation happens when a person outside of a culture
assumes an aspect of that culture without fully comprehending what it is
they are doing. Typically, this is when a member of a dominant culture takes on something that is considered to be unique of a marginalized culture.

For instance, I’ve been watching The Great Food Truck race. One of
the food trucks involved was called Spice It Up. The theme of this truck
was curry and Indian-inspired flavors. However, the three women who ran
this truck are white. It could be argued that they had appropriated
Indian culture for the purposes of making a profit. But for all I know,
these women could have loved ones who have “adopted” them into this
culture and shared it with them.

And therein lies one of the differences between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange.

I’ve heard it said that non-binary, gender expansive white persons
should not use the phrase “two-spirit” to describe themselves as this is
appropriating Native American culture. Yet a two-spirit Cherokee
medicine person who had been designated female at birth once described
me as two-spirit. This was exchange from their part, but I do not take
this title for myself. Similarly, at Gender Spectrum in 2012 I met a
bigender white person who had been designated male at birth who also
called themself two-spirit. This was because they had been adopted into
the Navajo nation and had been consecrated as a medicine person. Again,
this was cultural exchange on behalf of the Navajo who adopted this
person and conveyed this title open them.

Where it can get a little muddied is with white persons such as
myself who are of mixed European ancestry. I’m half Italian, a quarter
Irish, and the remaining quarter a mixture of English, Welsh, Scottish,
and Dutch. It has been suggested to me that it would be wrong for me to
adopt aspects of Irish culture for myself as it’s been too long since my
familial ancestors had actually lived in Ireland. On my mother’s side,
my great-grandparents were born in Italy. They immigrated to the US in
the early 1900s, and that’s more recent than when my other European
ancestors arrived here.

In some ways, I feel it might not be proper for me to write on this
topic. What might seem like cultural appropriation from the point of
view of a casual observer might in fact be cultural exchange, depending
on the life experiences and ancestry of the person being observed. It’s
not so uncommon to encounter persons who are multi-racial and,
therefore, multi-cultural.

#30daysofsocialjustice 16: Multiplicity/Multi-identity

CONTENT WARNING: LABELS, SPEAKING TRUTH to POWER, Q-word

The topics of marginalization, oppression, and privilege would be so much easier to discuss if any give person had but one trait by which they could be identified.

But it’s not enough to say a person is marginalized for, say, being
black. Black women encounter both racism and sexism. If those black
women are not straight, they encounter heterosexism. If they are gender
expansive, they encounter cissexism. If they aren’t able-bodied or
neurotypical, they encounter ableism. So, a disabled, queer, trans woman
of color could encounter five types of oppression.

By contrast, I am a queer, trans woman who is white. That’s two forms
of marginalization and one form of privilege. Yet, there are other
queer persons who marginalize me because I identify as panromantic and
pansexual. First, differentiating between romantic and sexual
orientations is one way be the target of the “slings and arrows” of
others. And also, multisexual persons like me are often the recipients
of verbal abuse from homosexual in addition to heterosexual persons.
This becomes an interesting double-dilemma. In my first marriage when I
appeared to be a man married to a woman, I was a queer who could pass
for straight. Now that I’m a woman married to a woman, I’m a multisexual
queer who passes for a monosexual queer, thus becoming “Queerer than
thou.” My orientations lead me to be both marginalized and privileged,
depending on one’s point of view.

As far as being trans, I don’t pass for cis. This leads to me being
marginalized by some trans persons who do pass for cis who tell me I’m
“not doing enough” to blend in and end up confusing the issues of what
it means to be trans. If I say I’m pre-op, I can find a certain amount
of tolerance
as it implies I am unfinished. If I say I’m non-op, I’d better be able
to give reasons why surgical transition would be medically
contraindicated otherwise I get told I’m not really trans. One
unfortunate advantage to being pre-op/non-op with a somewhat deep voice
and remnants of facial hair is that I can still pass for male, which can
afford me a certain level of safety when passing as my true trans self
could be risky if not downright dangerous.

Most people I know have multi-identities, especially considering how
this society seems to break the population down into “demographics” of
race, sex/gender, orientation, physical ability, and mental health just
to name a few. With this multiplicity in mind, it seems to me that even
privileged persons can find themselves in situation where they will be
marginalized and oppressed.

#30daysofsocialjustice 15: Dominant Culture

CONTENT WARNING: LABELS, SPEAKING TRUTH to POWER

I think it’s safe to say that in the US, the dominant culture is
owned by those persons who are white, male, straight, and cisgender.
During the time when I appeared to be all of these things, I was
considered to be part of that dominant culture. I could find examples of
myself just about everywhere in the media.

Or, could I?

Boys and men were usually the heroes in books, TV, and movies. But,
those boys and men still weren’t like me. They were athletic, none of
them stuttered, they were strong and assured victory in all manner of
combat. Who were my media role models before I realized I was trans?
Characters like Brian Johnson from The Breakfast Club or Ducky from Sixteen Candles.
These weren’t the guys who had their love interests fulfilled. They
were the lovable runner-ups, and the media of the dominant culture was
telling me that was my due as the beta (more like omega) male. I used to
say, “You’re my hero, Charlie Brown.”

Though I had been seen as a man married to a woman for twenty-three
years, it didn’t change the fact that I was (as I thought of my
orientation at that time) bisexual. I was told by homo- and heterosexual
persons alike that I couldn’t possibly be bisexual because I had only
one sexual partner and said partner was of the “opposite” sex. This was
marginalization by erasure. I now know that the proper terms for my
orientations are pansexual and panromantic. Persons like me are rarely
portrayed in the media, unless one turns to the online world of fiction,
and often its sub-genre of fan fiction. Then, pansexual/panromantic
persons can be found without too much difficulty.

Until recently, if transgender persons appeared in the media we were
portrayed as deceptive persons seeking sex or as the butt of jokes. To
be sure, we still are portrayed that way but it is beginning to change.
Programs such as Orange is the New Black and Transparent are two that spring to mind. Biographical programs such as I Am Cait and I am Jazz
are two more such examples. But even at the beginning of my transition
just four short years ago, such programs would not have been embraced by
the dominant culture.

So what changed? Simple: the dominant culture decided that we, those marginalized for our genders, were marketable.

And this is just my experience as a person who’s crossed the
boundaries of sex, gender, and orientations. Others have lived all their
lives without ever being a part of the dominant culture. My
experiences, though jarring to me, are mild compared to what others have
lived through and continue to strive against.

I’m a writer, both of young adult fiction and fan fiction (as Lady CAMo and Cam’buir).
Readers from the dominant culture might not find much representation
for themselves in my work. Being one of expansive sexual and romantic
orientations as well as of gender, I will represent persons with these
characteristics in the main roles. Is this any different from what
writers of the dominant culture do? I don’t know. I haven’t met all such
writers, and I know that there have been (seemingly) cisgender authors
who have written very convincing trans and gender expansive characters.

I use my fiction primarily to entertain and tell stories. But, I also
use it in an effort to counterbalance the dominant culture.

#30daysofsocialjustice 13: Tolerance

CONTENT WARNING: LABELS, SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER, Q-word

In the early 1990s, I read an article (in the SF Bay Guardian, but I
might misremember) about some influential lesbian activists. One of them
said, “I don’t want to be tolerated. Tolerate is something you do to a
rash.” Her point seemed to be that tolerance is not quite enough
sometimes.

For those who are marginalized,
tolerance is only the first step. We seek acceptance and eventually
welcome as well. I know what it’s like to be merely tolerated: it’s only
slightly better than dismissed. Yet, it might be that tolerance is all
that some can bring themselves to do.

Let’s consider the topic of orientation. I never chose to be the type
of person who can experience sexual and romantic attraction to all
genders (pansexual and panromantic). There are those who welcome me into
their midst while fully recognizing my orientations, there are those
who will accept my presence, and those who will merely tolerate it. To
me, these all seem like forms of orientation. Sure, there probably are
those who, for political or religious reasons, have chosen to not
welcome or accept but only tolerate me. But at the same time, it’s
possible that my orientation causes an unconscious need to keep me at
arm’s length. This, to me, seems related to orientation. Why are some
persons unable to stay with their partners in the event of a gender
transition? Is it an intentional act of cissexism? No. It’s that these
persons are monosexual and monoromantic and cannot welcome or accept the
idea of being in intimate relationship with a person of the “wrong”
sex/gender. But, they could tolerate (or even accept or welcome) the
idea of a friendship with such a person. Some cannot tolerate an
intimate relationship with a trans person because of the anatomy that
the trans person was born into. While these situations are hurtful to
trans persons, I think it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that orientation can be fluid for some persons.

It seems to me that orientation governs far more than romantic and
sexual interests. Friend and family relationships can be affected, too.
How does this relate to tolerance? When a person comes out as queer or
gender expansive, it often comes with great personal risk. Tolerance, at
the very least, is needed by those who come out. My experience would
suggest that there are some whose platonic and familial orientations
cannot permit them to tolerate those who are queer and/or gender
expansive.

At the same time, those of us who are marginalized for our
orientations and genders are told that we must show tolerance to those
who not only don’t tolerate us, but use their political and economic
power to actively harm us. So, I struggle with being told to show
tolerance to those who call themselves friends and family while at the
same time opposing same-sex/same-gender marriage and supporting laws
that would restrict which public toilets I can safely use. They will
even support politicians who condemn me and mine will condemning
politicians who offer their support. No, my friends and family, you are
not showing tolerance to me under these circumstances, and you cannot
say that you are on my side.

Is this me being intolerant? Not really. I’m still offering tolerance
to the persons even as they seek to deny my equal treatment under the
law. It’s the limiting of my civil right that I won’t tolerate.

#30daysofsocialjustice 12: Stereotypes

CONTENT WARNING: LABELS

No, not the entertainment devices but rather what Merriam-Webster describes as, “to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same.”

I was once told, “Stereotypes have their basis in truth.” Being a member of various marginalized
groups, I know for a fact that this statement is not true. It seems
that a more accurate statement would be, “Stereotypes have their basis
in observation, and observation relies on point of view.” This might be
easier to understand when one is subjected to stereotypes on a regular
basis. We, who are in the groups being stereotyped, can more readily see
that how others describe us is from the points of view of outsiders.

For instance, I’ve been criticized for not turning enough to
conservative or libertarian points of view in my activism and ministry.
Yet, from those points of view I encounter stereotypes about trans and
queer persons that are simply not true. If these voices can get simple,
easy-to-verify facts about people like me correct, why would I turn to
those voices for anything else? Furthermore, these voices are often
quick to gaslight voices like mine, assuring me that my experiences
haven’t actually happened the ways in which they did indeed happen.

Perhaps there are some traits that are common in various groups.
Where stereotypes come into play is when those traits become caricatures
of the groups themselves. A common stereotype of trans women is that we
are hyper-feminine. The stereotype continues as if to say that we are
overdoing feminine presentations in order to be taken seriously. But,
trans women as a group as just as varied as cis women as a group. For
whatever reason, this seems to be ignored and the stereotypes reign
supreme.

Stereotypes should always be questioned, at least that’s my feeling.
As I know that stereotypes of the categories I can and have been
assigned to are often completely wrong, it’s simply right and proper to
reflexively question stereotypes I encounter of other persons and
groups. No, it’s not being politically correct, unless by “politically
correct” you mean “treating people the same way I want to be treated.”

#30daysofsocialjustice 11: Privilege

CONTENT WARNING: LABELS, SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER

Few words can upset people like the word “privilege.” Persons who
have undoubtedly struggled in their lives will debate or reject the idea
that they’ve had privilege. In a way, they’re right. But at the same
time, they’re wrong.

For instance, let’s start with a group that is very privileged in
this country, a group that I myself am a member of: white persons. I can
turn to most media and find persons with outward appearances like my
own. The fact that I can talk about white privilege without being
accused of being racially biased
is a privilege in and of itself. But, being in a privileged group
doesn’t mean that I haven’t had struggles in my life. Becoming a teen
parent was one way in which I had been assigned to an underprivileged
group. It seems that even today, and even more so in the late 1980s and
early 1990s, persons who became parents at a young age will be reviled.
Without work experience or a college degree and at least one (possibly
unpaid) internship, getting work that provided a living wage was
extremely difficult. Yet, my co-parent and I were privileged to find a
daycare that had a sliding scale for its fees, and there was a time
during which we qualified for free childcare, allowing my co-parent and I
to be able to use our meager salaries to provide food, shelter,
clothing, and healthcare for our family.

I lived as a male till I was about 41-years-old, and between the ages
of 19 and 40 I was perceived as a (seemingly) straight, married man.
That’s three more forms of privilege in addition to being white: male,
straight, married. The reality is that I’m a queer trans woman. When I
transitioned I saw my male and straight privileges vanish. Being a
person who has undergone gender transition has given me the opportunity
to examine privilege in ways that many don’t because they always have
been either privileged or underprivileged. Many privileged persons still
don’t understand, and underprivileged (including at least one white
woman) have questioned why I would knowingly undertake any endeavor that
would decrease my privileges. In fact, the aforementioned white women
confessed to being angry with me for a time because of the privilege in
the employment world that I had given up by transitioning from male to
female.

The collection of movements that have often been called the LGBT movement often leave the B and T behind.
In fact, it can be difficult to determine which of these two are more
left behind. In spite of the history behind the liberation of persons marginalized
for their orientations and genders, it is the L and the G, and
primarily the G (especially white G), that have benefited the most. As a
result, gays and lesbians are among the most privileged of a group of
marginalized communities.

I could hold forth for quite a bit as to the problems with the
acronyms LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQIA+, and the like as these acronyms often
don’t fully encompass the truth about those who are marginalized for
their orientations, genders, and bodies (intersex persons, trans persons
of varying “op” status). I mention this here because it seems to me
that those who are most likely to say that adding more letters to
LGBTQIA+ or changing the acronym entirely is confusing, cacophonous, and
ludicrous have been in privileged groups among those under the rainbow
of persons Marginalized for their Orientations, Genders, And Bodies
(MOGAB).

#30daysofsocialjustice 10: Intersectionality

[This one is also a day late. Hopefully, I’ll get caught up soon.]

CONTENT WARNING: LABELS

What happens when a person can be oppressed in multiple ways, say the both racism and sexism affects women of color? This is called “intersectionality” as persons can find themselves at the intersection of multiple oppressions. If those women of color are not straight, then we can add heterosexism to the mix. If they aren’t straight but aren’t gay either, it might be racism + sexism + allosexism (oppression of asexual persons by lifting up allosexual persons) or racism + sexism + monosexism (oppressions of multisexual persons (bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, omnisexual) by lifting up persons who are attracted to only one certain sex).

Intersectionality describes addressing a particularly insidious group of oppressions, and the oppressions in question can vary from person to person. Generally, race is always a component of intersectionality. Something that I’ve seen a lot lately on social media is, “If your social justice isn’t intersectional, then what’s it for?” This is what I am striving for: bearing in mind that any one person can be oppressed in multiple ways and ministering to them accordingly.

With intersectionality in mind, we must be careful with how we approach social justice work. Any one person might need allies in multiple ways.

30daysofsocialjustice 09: Identity/Labels

[This one is a day late. Sorry.]

CONTENT WARNING: LABELS

I’ve written so much about identity and labels
that I need to add a content warning notice to the top, as there have
been persons who have objected most vociferously to my use of the
descriptive vocabulary that some call “labels.” But, how can we describe
our identities without the use of so-called labels?

What are some labels I use to describe myself?

  • European American, White
  • Transgender, Trans, MTF, Trans Woman
  • Queer (I know this is a term that some find offensive), Pansexual (a type of Allosexual), Panromantic
  • Religious, Spiritual, Christian, Seminarian, Pagan, Wiccan, Witch, Priest
  • Liberal, Progressive

To me, these labels are harmless as I use them as nothing more than
descriptive vocabulary. When they are used with the intent to harm,
that’s when they cease to be identity identifiers and become dismissive
labels.

For instance, when I use labels such as cis/cisgender/cissexual or
heterosexual/straight or cis-het, there is no malicious intent. These
words are, to me, simply terms to describe persons whose internal gender
identity matches how they were described at birth, persons who
experience sexual and romantic attraction to the opposite sex, or
persons who are both. Yet, I’ve been told by persons in these categories
that it is offensive to be described with these words. To said persons,
I ask the following:

You’ve told me to avoid using “labels” as we’re all just people and
these words divide rather than unite. Very well, but consider this. If
all people are just people, you would be open to a romantic and/or
sexual relationship with anyone, right? After all, you’ve said that
there’s no need for labels. People are just people. Yet, it is often
(though not always) heterosexual persons who object to these terms. Such
persons are only romantically and sexually interested in persons that
can be LABELED as the opposite sex.

But, what is the opposite sex when refer to transgender, intersex, or
otherwise gender expansive persons? For many monosexuals, persons
attracted to only one specific sex/gender, the anatomy of their lovers
is of utmost importance. A person who could be described as a cisgender,
heterosexual woman is not likely to want a pre-op/non-op trans man or a
pre-op/non-op trans woman (even though she’ll still have her penis) as a
lover.

Labels are not just for nutrition information or clothing. These are
the ways in which we seek out and build our communities. But, I’ve been
challenged on that, too, specifically with my ministry including my
involvement in the Transgender Parents Support Group. Seriously, why
would cisgender parents want to be a part of this group unless they are
the partners of transgender parents. Cis parents in cis couples will
have completely different challenges to the parenting process. Our
support group is not exclusive so much as it serves a specific
marginalized community. Likewise with my ministry, which is focused on
persons who are marginalized for their orientations, gender, and body
types. It’s not that I won’t minister to straight, cisgender, cissexual,
fit persons. It’s just that queer, trans, gender expansive, intersex,
and persons of size are marginalized in this society and, therefore,
need extra support. I speak from experience.

While it’s true that labels can be used in harmful ways, they are
also vital for marginalized groups to call attention to our struggles
and build our communities.

It’s not exclusion, it’s survival.

#30daysofsocialjustice 08: Dialogue

CONTENT WARNING: LABELS

Dialogue can be a vital component to addressing social justice
issues. Dialogue allows the two sides to speak their sides with the hope
of coming to an accord. But, this will only work if a) both sides are
willing to both listen as well as talk and b) the empowered party is
willing to do more listening than talking. This might seem like there is
bias in use here. But really, it’s about addressing classism and oppression.

For instance, in dialogue surrounding gendered facilities it will be
the gender expansive persons who are in the oppressed group. Cis
persons, the group empowered by the ways in which our society holds them
up above gender expansive persons, should be prepared to listen more
than speak regarding who’s being mistreated. Our safety is at risk if we
are forced to use facilities that are not designed to accommodate our
genders.

Another example would be in dialogues regarding race. White persons
should be prepared to do far more listening than talking in such
situations.

There are times when all the empowered party in a dialogue will have
to say is, “I hear what you are saying.” No, this is not receiving a
lecture, though it could feel like that. And, it’s not being silenced or
oppressed. That’s why I used the phrase “empowered party.” In the US,
white persons as a group are an empowered party. Likewise for
heterosexual persons, cisgender persons, allosexual persons,
male-identified persons, able-bodied persons, neurotypical persons, etc.
There will be exceptions to these things at the individual level, but
at the group level this seems to be pretty much true.

I, as a person who is white, able-bodied, legally married,
neurotypical, allosexual, and Christian will need to listen far more
than I speak regarding certain issues. But even if all I say is, “I hear
what you are saying,” I’m still participating in the dialogue.