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Activist & Writer Monika MHz Lecture @ COCC Bend, OR on DV/IPV

Activist & Writer Monika MHz Lecture @ COCC Bend, OR on DV/IPV

This is a somber day of reflection and honoring those
who have lost their lives at the intersections of class, race, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny,
sex work, disability, religion, culture, region, and hate. A reflection on what it is that
makes our Latin and Black sisters across Latin and South America so particularly vulnerable
to trans violence. A reflection on the disproportionate burden of violence ALL Black trans people
face here in America. A somber but serious discussion of gendered violence, and how white
supremacy, classism, patriarchy and our cultural disdain for sex workers and women creates
an environment that is killing our sisters and imposing a culture of fear.
That was my first thought when someone asked me what the Trans Day of Remembrance was.
But the truth is, it’s none of those things. The truth is, the Trans Day of Remembrance
is a day of political grand standing, using the deaths of trans women of colour as a numbers
game to buy someone else’s pet project sympathy for votes, dollars, or attention. It’s a wholly
owned copyright of a single individual — yes you heard right, owned — who, at least in
reference to this event has been too silent on the impact of race, class, disability,
and sex work on the violence we so readily use as leverage to pass ENDA or get top surgery
funding. Frankly none of those things should be an after thought, they should be the things
that we lead with. But with our dominant narrative as innocent witnesses to transphobic hate
crimes, rather than allowing ourselves the necessity of destabilizing and complicating
the narrative to what it means to be a victim of violence in our community we can’t. With
transphobia as our sole and singular axis by which violence — and thereby membership
of the trans community — is recognized and validated, we implicitly erase other markers
and labels while forcing labels individuals may never have asked for. Effectively deracializing
and decontextualizing violence from the broader trends and impacts. To put it another way,
if our community spent half the amount of time talking about race as it did criticizing
trans men or saying “TDoR is about trans women,” we might be well on our way to finding solutions
and making radical change. I’m not saying those things aren’t worth our
time, but does it have to mean a serious and continuing conversation on race, class, disability,
and sex work are not? And we have to ask ourselves why is it we prioritize some conversations
and deprioritize others. Why do we interject and prioritize a narrative of transphobia
in the deaths of individuals? The folks behind broader TDoR narratives have said in no uncertain
terms that “not every person represented during the Day of Remembrance self-identified as
transgendered— that is, as a transsexual, cross-dresser, or otherwise gender-variant—[but]
each was a victim of violence based on bias against transgendered people. Indeed, according
to their analysis of the state of trans-ness in 2006 on their own website: “Over the last
decade, more than one person per month has died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice,
regardless of any other factors in their lives” Making it clear this isn’t an accident, that
it is by design that “transphobia” is isolated as the sole factor by which we are to witness
and analyze these atrocities. Sarah Lamble writes so much more clearly and
eloquently than be by saying in Retelling Racialized Violence, Remaking White Innocence:
The Politics of Interlocking Oppressions in Transgender Day of Remembrance in the Journal
of Sexuality Research & Social Policy: “By focusing on transphobia as the definitive
cause of violence, [we] do not fully contextualize incidents of violence within their specific
time and place, thus obscuring the ways in which hierarchies of race, class, and sexuality
situate and constitute such acts. In the process transgender bodies are universalized along
a singular identity plane of vicimhood and rendered visible primarily through the violence
that is acted upon them” As an aside, I have, in fact heard people use historical violence
as a means of authenticating ones trans-ness. But Trans Day. . .It’s a day where trans women
of colour have greater value dead than we do alive. It’s hard not to hear the call of
Mirha-Soleil Ross who denounced the whole day as a big, bold, and sickening political
fraud. We all too often hear that this day is a day
where we must not let the deaths of these women be in vain, but this just underscores
the transactional nature of these women’s deaths, most of whom fought no war. They lost
their lives not in valour, but only as a result of being women in a world filled with gendered
violence. They lost their lives because — all too often — our society casts out the disenfranchised
and marginalized, no longer calling the huddled masses and tempest-tossed to our communities
with heartfelt calls of liberty and virtue. We should gather to mourn the dead, not conscript
them into a battle they never had the privilege to fight while living. It pains me to stand
here and remind you that these deaths, of our brothers and sisters, that these deaths
are senseless tragedies that remain a black mark on society. These deaths are signs of
a systemic, institutional, social, economic, and political failure to care for our most
vulnerable and marginalized populations. But what may be worse, is the crude politicizing
of these deaths serves no cause more than that of the same vanity we decry. And, in
fact, in many ways serves to reinforce and reestablish the same social hierarchies and
systems that facilitate the means by which dominance is asserted via violence. My presence
on stage, and my living in a body with pale skin should serve as that stark reminder.
The reading of each mispronounced name — from mostly extra-continental locations — acts
as drop of emotional currency for the pimps feeding the masses hungry for misery pornography
to serve validation upon their fears. I want to be clear that all fear is real,
and I sympathize deeply with the way events like this, the general climate of fear, non-lethal
violence and the broader aspects of discrimination felt by our community can impact our lives
in real ways regardless of whether or not our risks truly match our rhetoric. But if
we are to move forward in creating the change, if we are to move forward in ending the lethal,
non-lethal, discursive, institutional, and cultural violence plagues our society, if
we are to forge a future where trans women of color’s lives are cherished and we don’t
find reasons to feel we must look over our shoulders every waking moment — then we
have to be willing to have a real discussion about the violence that faces our community,
why, and what factors affect our risk. This isn’t in order to commit a relative privation,
but to instead step back from the very real emotional reaction from the climate, and look
to the why. It’s become really in vogue within the so-called
radical queer and trans communities to spend a lot of breath criticizing trans men for
co-opting movements or violence. And in some spaces there have come the similar criticisms
of white trans women. I think such criticisms have their place at deconstructing some of
the extreme colonization that goes down, but I think they fall short in telling the broader
story about why trans women of color — especially Black trans women — are so frequently shouldering
this burden of lethal violence. Here’s what it comes down to for me: intimate
partner violence. I promise I’ll clarify later why and how this
helps us understand the lethal violence disproportionately affecting Black trans women, or it may reveal
itself so please bear with me. All trans people from genderqueer to trans
woman to trans man to gender non-conforming face horrifying levels of intimate partner
violence with the broader trans population facing twice or more the rates of the general
population. In preparing my comments tonight I spent quite
a lot of time staring at statistics and at numbers collected by various organizations
and working to break that information down to help us better understand this stuff. I
felt like I was going back to those statistics lessons my adoptive father put me through.
So full disclosure: data collection in regards to anti-trans violence is awful — hell,
trans anything — especially for lethal violence and non-lethal violence data collection tends
to rely on self-reporting, and even that is hard to track and interpret. But I was able
to track down enough numbers to begin getting a general idea, and that starts to paint us
a picture of the world all of us live in, and why that burden is so disproportionately
distributed to Black trans women and trans Latinas.
The Gay and Lesbian Taskforce’s: Injustice at Every Turn: National Transgender Discrimination
Survey. Voices Unheard: Domestic Abuse: LGBT Young People’s Perspectives, Gender Violence:
Transgender Experiences with Violence and Discrimination, The CDC’s National Intimate
Partner Violence Survey, Private Lives: A report on the health and well-being of GLBTI
individuals, Acción Mutua’s Transgender Latinas & HIV report, and the National Coalition of
Anti-Violence Programs: LGBT and HIV Affected Intimate Partner Violence in 2012 report were
all instrumental in what limited data I was able to come to. For the sake of the audience’s
attention spans I’ll refrain from citing every — though I will a few — instance I use
numbers and quotes, but I’ll be happy to answer specifics later during the Q&A.
So, we all know the 1 in 4 statistic on domestic and intimate partner violence against women,
and for trans women that statistic grows and grows to a frightening 3 in 5. The broader
research shows that domestic and intimate partner violence faced by trans women is at
a rate of 60%, and with trans men facing such violence at 50% higher rates than their cis
counterparts. Additionally these numbers come absurdly close to the rates of sexual assault
in our community, though the evidence suggests that the rates of sexual assault against female
assigned at birth trans folks might be much higher than initially reported, and closer
to 50% reporting some sort of forced sexual act not specifically described as sexual assault.
On top of those numbers 22% and 15% of trans women and trans men reported facing domestic/intimate
partner violence as a direct result of anti-trans bias. And these numbers explode as we include
things like sexual assault and violence at the hands of authority figures like police
officers, bosses, and teachers. The point of interest I have, however is how
the rates of violence faced by trans people generally, and trans women specifically increase
as it intersects with other marginalized communities. In the number provided by Injustice at Every
Turn, we see how those same numbers regarding domestic/intimate partner violence as a result
of bias shifts, with Black, Latino, Asian, and Multi-racial trans people reporting at
nearly twice the previous numbers, and nearly half of Native or First Nations trans folks
reported such violence. And of course income, and Educational level
intersect quite well into these numbers in exactly the way you’d expect.
So, what’s the point right? Well, they’re not just scary numbers, but they work to tell
us the pattern of violence in our community and they tell a story quite similar to the
story we see in domestic and intimate partner violence across many other communities.
A trans Latina is far more likely than any other trans person to not have a high school
diploma, likely to make under $10,000 a year, more likely to have participated in underground
economies — we’re often talking about sex work here — and more and as a result if
we pick out any random trans Latina the chances that she’s experienced extreme violence are
obviously quite high because of the chances she carries with her extended risk factors.
It’s important to note that people with disabilities in the United States are significantly more
likely to have bodies of color — specifically Native and Black. And disability, while incredibly
wide ranging, also brings with it a wide range of risk factors for domestic and intimate
partner violence. With reported numbers ranging from 14-68% depending on disability there’s
no way to say “this is the risk factor,” but it’s important to recognize as a frequent
factor in complicating risk for trans folks with bodies of color.
Because racism, and anti-trans bias, as well as misogyny have extremely broad economic,
institutional, and social effects it stands to reason that such impact ripples out.
All right, I promise I’m done with all the numbers.
But what I’d like us to understand is how these numbers mirror each other so well from
trans to cis. And the motivating factors involved in both are rooted in control and misogyny.
Just like trans women, cis Black women face the disproportionate amount of such violence
and, it turns out, at almost exactly the rates we’d expect respectively —remember that
twice as likely number. I really don’t want to spend too much time talking about how the
other half lives, but it’s absolutely essential we form context I’m sure you social justice
veterans are real bored thinking in your heads “well, come on Monika, of course. Because
intersectionality.” And yeah, you’re right. In many ways I’ve spent my time up here explaining
in detail why intersectionality matters when talking about violence. But I’ve found, that
my words have so much more impact if I tell you why things matter, rather than just telling
you they do. So all this comes back to the why. Why do
Black trans women carry the heaviest and most disproportionate consequences of violence
in our community? Because domestic violence and intimate partner violence against women
is a way of establishing dominance both on a personal level and a socio-political level.
This should clarify why Black women, and Black trans women in particular face such disproportionate
violence, often resulting in death. Because white-patriarchy establishes it’s dominance
on both a political and personal level through the hands of abusers.
But that’s it. That’s all I can say on that specifically, because frankly at this point
I feel like I’ve come to that line that bell hooks described.
“Even if perceived authorities writing about a group to which they do not belong and/or
over which they yield power, are progressive, caring, and right-on in every way as long
as their authority is constituted by. . . the absence of voices of individuals whose experiences
they seek to address. . . the subject object relationship is maintained and domination
is reinforced.” I’m not a Black woman, and the most I can
do is walk us up to the line of why we need Black women, trans and cis side by side to
be the authorities, to be the leaders, and to be the voices we cherish. Because on this
factor, in America. On this specific factor, without Black trans women face the greatest
consequences of our failure as a movement. And I’m not simply speaking about those women
from the US on the list this year. I’m talking about all the Black women we fail day after
day after day by exclusion, or simply because we deem their voice unimportant.
I say all of this as a multi-racial trans Latina. I say all of this as a survivor of
domestic and intimate partner violence. I say this as a survivor of what some would
certainly describe as transphobic violence at knife point. I say this as a survivor of
sexual assault. I say this as a woman who cannot see her body in the mirror without
seeing the signposts reflecting back violence and abuse in the scars I wear.
So what do I think all of this means. Intersectionality matters, Black women matter, Black trans women
matter. And that domestic and intimate partner violence as it intersects with transphobic
violence are the cross-roads by which the cis white patriarchy makes it’s stand, and
exercises it’s domination and desire to subordinate and keep as a class all women, trans women,
trans women of color, but particularly Black trans women in the far reaches of society.
Because all of us are to exist only at the pleasure of those who dominate. Whether that
means our hyper sexualizaton, coerced sexuality, all of it is enforced by the hand of violence.
But it isn’t just intersectionality that matters. When we say that word it’s good as a means
of understanding that we must complicate the narratives from the singular focus of transphobia
and the perverse pornographication and spectacle of the reading the circumstances of the murders
of people we presume trans. That, instead we think about the ways that these roads don’t
just intersect, but the ways in which they interlock. My Latina self is inseparable from
my Trans self. And we are incapable of isolating those from each other such as we are incapable
of isolating the circumstances of violence I’ve experienced from each other. All of me
was the target, and all of me was the victim. To summarily describe violence that’s been
enforced on my body as racist, or transphobic, or misogynistic is to ignore all the other
parts of me. But we must, instead see us, forgive me, holisticly, and as whole people
whatever that means. It means refusing to simplfy the narrative of people who no longer
have a voice, but fighting to complicate that narrative. Because to not do so means upholding
those systems by which we oppress, and continuing our complicit arming of that system. If we
refuse to complicate the narrative, we are no longer innocent witnesses but leveraged
oppressors I think more than anything our way forward
is by forging alliances with those who fight against domestic violence, especially women
and organizations of color. We have to take the charge that it is our necessity, it is
our debt, it is our RENT for living on the planet earth to fight for the lives of the
women who light up our lives and make living here worth it. Trans women of color are worth
it, Black trans women are worth it. I hope that each of us makes a serious and somber
effort to make the consequences of, the prevention of, and the long term post-care of domestic
violence, a priority. It’s not just bathrooms, and employment, and dance parties. Our call
is broader. Those things matter too, it’s true, but we mustn’t let ourselves forget
the very real mortal consequences of leaving domestic violence, HIV, and the prison industrial
complex away from our core priorities as a community.
Instead of laying our focus on how to send more people, usually back men, to jail, instead
of laying our investment in the state to graciously commit justice on our behalf, I believe we
must focus on community efforts to broaden the support of victims, victims’ families,
and to prevent such violence through education, programs, and a continuing discussion.
Doing something about this violence. doing something about this violence that takes so
fucking many of us and has had it’s grip on far more is going to require all of us. We
must all remember yesterday, fight for the present, and forge the future together. A
future where none of us loses another sister who carried us when we couldn’t carry ourselves.
Remember trans women today…but remember us tomorrow, and the next day, and the day
after that. And never forget that fighting for trans justice is fighting for social justice.
And just the same, fighting for economic justice, disability justice, and racial justice are
fighting for trans justice. Reflecting on those whose lives were senselessly
lost at the intersections of violence and injustice is one of the most important and
sobering works we can do as a community. But it can’t be all we do. And until we rise
to the occasion; until each of us rises to action; until we meet the very real challenge
of dismantling domestic violence, misogyny, racism, transphobia, ableism; until we do
better, we’ll keep meeting here each year, reading this ever-growing list of names of
those who lost their lives at these intersections of violence and injustice.
It’s true. The trans day of remembrance is not what it should be, at least not yet. And
being trans in this world is not what it should be. Not yet.

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