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.

from where we find strength

last night, i went to bed with a full heart and mind over the success of president-elect, barack obama, only to wake up with feelings that are bittersweet because of the passing of several ballot iniatives that proffer hate and discrimination – gay marriage bans in california, arizona, and florida, a ban on gay couples adopting children in arkansas, and a ban on affirmative action in nebraska and, possibly, colorado.

as a queer person who, institutionally, finds marriage unappealing, but who very much supports the rights for everyone to make that decision for themselves, to articulate relationships in any way they see fit – whether that be through an “official” marriage ceremony, sworn commitment amongst only one another, living together in relationships or couples of two, three, or twelve folks – i am heart heavy. again, as a queer person, but also as a white person, a woman, a fat girl who works diligently to engage with her own privilege – race and other, who works to promote anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-ableism, etc., in her communities big and small, who is overwhelmed with joy to have a young, more progressive, black president, i can’t help but be crestfallen over actions taken to eliminate access to education and employment that have been so improved by affirmative action.

for the sake of delineating what is at stake, i describe these ballot initiatives to ban the rights of queers and affirmative action as separate incidences, but they’re not. difference, whether it be racial, class, sexuality, gender, ability, size, etcetera, is in the cases of these ballot initiatives as well as beyond, under assault collectively. barack obama may be our next president, but colorado, a state he won last night by 7%, may be, as i write this, overturning affirmative action. california, notoriously progressive, which obama won by 24% of the vote, passed proposition 8. while we hugged and cried on the shoulders of strangers in the streets last night, and as we watched eagerly the writing of history as our first black president gave us his victory speech, a lot of us missed what else was happening until we woke up today. as queers, as persons of color, as part of any marginalized group(s), it is imperative we see the links between each other’s oppression in order to draw strength across issues in our moments of success and defeat; moments like today where both are so present.

i am thrilled about the results of last night’s presidential election. i am for, probably, the first time in my life, honestly proud of saying i am american. i love that voter turn out amongst people of color and young people and young people of color was unprecedented – i read a statistic today that 4 million more youth voters participated in this election that in 2004. that’s huge and nothing to sweep under the carpet. we deserve to continue celebrating this victory even while we mourn our losses and what they mean to us personally and beyond. we are not “just” queers or people of color or queers of color who, last night, were wounded. we’re a nation of “other” people, people who are different across a whole host of identities and in this there is so much present and so much potential love, warmth and strength. that is, if we continue to, and in many other cases figure out how to, harness it.

November 5, 2008, 1:23 pm
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what a beautiful family, our new first family.