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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solidarity is (not)…
October 29, 2008, 1:40 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

i know that this can’t be a phenomenon with merely my friends because i’ve noticed the same thing going on with friends of friends of friends – you know, people who are, like, three times removed my friend. halfway-to-kevin-bacon sort of people. and at least amongst the people i know who are doing it, it’s all the more shocking because of the fact that these are folks i usually consider pretty righteous when it comes to their politics, i.e. they’re “progressive,” people – queer or queer-friendly, anti-racist/classist/sexist/sizeist/ableist, you name it. so what’s the grave offense?

i have, at present, several facebook friends who have changed their names to be as follows: [first name] hussein [last name]. before you roll your eyes at me over the fact that this post is about facebook, take a look at it. need i mention that all the folks doing this are two things: 1) obama supporters and 2) white folks with western european and/or american ancestries? what this means, in my opinion, is that while all of these people claiming the middle name “hussein” are undoubtedly doing so in an act of “solidarity,” they are simultaneously appropriating not “just” a name, but one that is tied to very particular histories and cultures that are not theirs. cultures which have been dominated, colonized, invaded, and oppressed by this country and other western european countries for hundreds, thousands of years.

while these people then also go and try on “hussein” as a middle name for the sake of the election season, in an attempt to shed light on the fact that links between barack obama and any sort of “scary”, middle eastern culture are ridiculous, they wind up playing cheaply and dangerously, putting colonized cultures at risk. because for black, brown and mixed folks in this country and abroad, as well as middle easterners cross-culturally and across region and religion, they don’t get to step away from the bullshit ignorant westerners have attached to the name “hussein” once next week comes and goes. for white supporters of obama to take this on for the sake of solidarity is to ignore an entire complex history of oppression and suffering that white people are responsible for.

your cultural appropriation is not cool. it’s irresponsible and it wounds. show your solidarity by voting. not by coopting something that does not belong to you, something that has been unjustly and negatively inscribed by the very culture you live in every day.