Femme FATale


homonormativity, negligence, and duanna johnson

i’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging over the last week or two because of these exams of mine coming up that will pretty much determine whether or not i can/will continue with this ph.d. program and move on to (finally) beginning my dissertation research. i have a set of three “publication ready” papers due next monday and then the oral exam, which terrifies me, on december 8th. but my blood pressure is not the topic of this entry. all of this is to say, instead, that i haven’t been writing not because there’s nothing to write about or because I have nothing to say. in fact, there is so much to say that i’ve been dying to put out here, but that my workhorse way of life right now has not been allowing me. i realized this morning when i woke up, unplanned, at 7am after only being able to fall asleep at 3:30, that maybe i at least need to get this one post out of me that has been aiding in my insomnia, especially this past week. i might catch a lot of shit for this entry, but since I’m in major-exam-fighting mode these days, bring it.

i’ve acknowledged on this blog and offline to friends and family too, as many of us have, that november 4th was an exciting and historical day for the u.s. electing barack obama, but a disappointing day in terms of the myriad of anti-affirmative action and anti-queer rights ballot measures that passed, including of course, the number of bans on gay marriage. i’ve been surprised to watch, between coffee breaks and citation searches, this unification amongst members of our “queer” communities to rally in support of gay marriage. (sidenote: i’m purposely putting “queer” in quotes here because of the, seemingly, changing definition of this word recently. one that i used to acknowledge as being tied to a particular, transgressive kind of politics that now, in light of these recent events, seems almost remiss) surprised not because marriage rights are not important to many gay people and their allies, and not because i doubt the ability of folks in these communities to organize around such an issue; the hrc, amongst other organizations, has been telling us to do so for the last 5-10 years after all and we are certainly a community of ralliers. i’m surprised, more so, because over the past week i’ve watched my queer friends across the country, people who are part of my “radical” queer community, that have for so long been outspoken about homonormativity, about the monopolization of the gay marriage debate, and about the negligence paid to more pressing issues like trans rights, queer p.o.c. rights, and hate crime legislation, organize against prop 8. and i worry, is this the new “queer” politics?

let me clarify something before i, unintentionally, wind up devaling the efforts of folks who came together since november 4th and, especially, those who turned out nationally in most major cities across the country on saturday. i don’t think going out and rallying against prop 8 this weekend was a bad thing. at all. i think that, in light of what just happened, national organizing and public disavowal of anti-gay rights ballots in all of the states that passed them, not just california, is an important thing. no doubt the number of demonstrations and, what jointheimpact.com is counting as, over one million people protesting across the country is exciting and shows incredible solidarity.

my concern is that in all of this outrage over prop 8, in all of the organizing, what has “queer” politics left behind? why, post-november 4th, is homonormativity, and all that it overshadows, not still one of the queer community’s biggest gripes? and if you want to tell me it still is and that the outcry against prop 8 since election night doesn’t change that, how and why did we not organize and demonstrate over the recent murder of duanna johnson, a black transwoman of memphis, tennessee? how did we, the people who claim to be so attune to what national gay rights conversations consistently leave out, allow gay marriage to trump issues of transphobia and racism right under our noses? in the midst of all our rallying over the *institution* of marriage (and yes, i support all of us having that option even if i’m *institutionally* opposed to it), we obscured a woman’s, a member of our larger queer community’s, death.

duanna johnson was brutally beaten by memphis police in a hate crime incident that occurred in february of this year when she was arrested for prostitution. last sunday, the 9th, she was found murdered, shot to death, with last i read, no suspects in custody. how do so many of us queers still, a week later, not even know her name, let alone what happened to her? the queer community i’ve been so proud to be a part of was one that would have spread duanna’s name from coast-to-coast in order to raise awareness around this incredible loss and around issues like the intersection here of gender, sexuality, race, and class; hate crimes; police brutality; transphobia; and violence against sex workers. and all of this while simultaneously calling bullshit on organizations like the hrc that continually make marriage the locus of their attention and financial support, while programs that look at more marginalized groups within queer communities, and the issues that pertain to them, are consistently overlooked or cut altogether in the name of producing a white, affluent, normative image of what gay looks like. this is the queer community i love and support and that doesn’t require quotation marks to qualify its meaning.

i worry about its survival and i worry about what else, who else, we’ve failed to see in the past few weeks and whether or not this is what “queer” is truly at risk of becoming. in the meantime, this thursday is the international day of transgender remembrance where, surely, duanna johnson’s life will be honored and represented amongst the many other folks whose lives have been lost in the struggle that it is, not to marry, but to just live.

you can check out events happening all over the world and, hopefully, in your area at www.transgenderdor.org

also, because i’m 100 years behind in my blog reader, check out jack’s (of angry brown butch) post from earlier this week about this exact topic.

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6 Comments so far
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hello. i think i love you. but what am i so afraid of?

haha….

yes yes yes yes yes.

Comment by givemespacetorock

Yes, this is some sad mess.

Comment by whatilike

nodding all the way through this. at the boston rally there was a considerable amount of attention paid to trans issues (less to race) including a very moving speech by one activist on the intersection of ‘trans’ issues and ‘gay’ issues (hugely paraphrasing here). maybe that was because we have a pending bill about discrimination on the basis of being trans/having a different gender expression in this state. but it did make me hope that maybe this reaction will be part of taking the ‘marriage’ campaign away from hrc et al. and turning it into something broader and more inclusive, something about equal protection and a general civil rights platform.

good luck on your exams. i strongly suspect you will rock. i have never been as stressed as i was in the weeks around my own phd exams, not before or since or i hope ever again!

Comment by leo

The election results gave us plenty to be happy about as well alarmed by. Definitely a mixed bag. I think over all, any kind of energy spent promoting rights — true ones, not the right to discriminate some hold so dear — will benefit all. I agree that at times, some issues get better marketing, appeal to a larger audience, and do overshadow other important issues, and that’s a frustrating fact of life.

The right to choose marriage is just one part of the right to live our lives. Obviously, we have a long way to go before the right to live is really protected for all in this country.

We have homophobia within our own communities and those folks want desperately to blend in. I don’t like it, but I can understand it. What’s frustrating is that those of us who don’t feel the need to blend in and play by the rules, don’t get that understanding from homophobic folks.

sigh.

Comment by Kyle

Thank you so much for this. Focusing only on homonormative issues is just as discriminatory as focusing only of heteronormative issues. Thanks for the posting.

Comment by Vallan

Great post. Your points about Duanna Johnson are right on, and bring up crucial issues about race, class and gender in the mainstream gay rights movement. I may need to jump into the fray and write my own post on this, too!

On your oral exam, I was terrified too. But when it finally came time to do it, I discovered that it was actually *enjoyable.* No joke! It’s really a great opportunity to have a dialogue with smart people about the questions and problems that matter to you. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve already proven yourself. Trust yourself and your own sense of intellectual discovery and you’ll be fine.
xo
Sf

Comment by sublimefemme




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