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Here There Be Puppets: My Experience as a Delegate to the 2016 Washington State Democratic Convention
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NOTE: These remarks were delivered at AWP17 on February 11, 2017 in Washington, DC.
People ask, “What is trans literature? Is it literature about trans people or by trans people? Is it emerging? Is it literary or folk? Is it in vogue or invisible? Is it limited to a form or a genre or is it a post-modern queering of narrative?”
These questions miss the point. Further, this questioning enforces an authenticity of the poetic and the literary not demanded of cis writers or cis-centered literature. As many writers on the margins have pointed out, as Dr. Nafisi said to us Thursday night in her stunning rebuke of tyrannical, Western cultural norms that seek to delegitimize Iranian cultural production and cultural identity, the mainstream ideology never seeks its own authenticity, it can only, in a kind of Freudian compulsive repetition, work to pull down the provenance of marginalized literatures. Mainstream literary ideals continually misunderstand the value, the meaning, the quality, and the scope of trans literature.
Just last week the White House and its team of dementors and destructors floated language for a new executive order that would erase the legal foundation for trans civil rights in America. This horrendous mashup of reactionary illegal-ese written in the dungeons of the Family Research Council and the Heritage Foundation, if signed by President Hairdemort, would define for the first time, by any government in the world, that “sex is an immutable characteristic from birth.” At the exact moment that the United States is pondering the erasure of trans and gender nonconforming people from the legal landscape, we are facing an ongoing question in the literary world: “What is trans literature?” Read More…
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This was originally posted to my Facebook page.
To resist, we have to get over a few narratives that American neoliberalism and reactionaries have handed to us. Namely:
1. The idea of scarcity—that there is only so much energy to use in resistance, or that there are only so many opportunities for resistance, so we need to all agree on how to approach an action or campaign. This just isn’t true. AIDS activists didn’t move the NIH, FDA, White House, and general public on their cause by all working in lockstep to do the same thing, and they didn’t have only 1986 to do it. The ceaseless march of protests, the myriad of forms of resistance that included direct action, lobbying, negotiation, public relations campaigns, research, and so on, and that extended for more than a decade brought about change. In just three days of his presidency, Trump has seen leakers, philosophical arguments waged online, editorials from the press, rogue federal employees, and the largest global demonstration in history. There is enough room for all of us. Read More…
We began this week with the now-usual, unhelpful conversation about whether Donald Trump is a jerk for going on about a former Miss Universe and her weight and ethnicity. Lost in the noise around Alicia Machado’s value as a human being (Mary Matalin called her a “tart”), was the leering, grotesque womanizing personality of Trump, which Hillary Clinton framed for 100 million Americans in the first debate when she said:
And one of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest. He loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them. And he called they woman “Ms. Piggy.” Then he called her “Ms. Housekeeping,” because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name.
Here There Be Puppets: My Experience as a Delegate to the 2016 Washington State Democratic Convention
I have voted in every election since I came of age in 1988, with one exception in 1989 because I didn’t file for my absentee ballot by the deadline and I couldn’t vote in New York State as a college student. I’d never really considered myself very into the Democratic Party per se, but I’ve voted for progressive and left-of-center candidates my whole adulthood. I can’t say I have a primary issue because in my mind they all vie for attention—reproductive rights are very important to me, but so is ending the death penalty (if I’m being honest I’m a prison abolitionist but there are no candidates calling for that), and so are trans civil and human rights, and then I’d really like to see a sea change on green energy investment. See what I did there? I hate the welfare reform passed in 1996, I hate the 1994 crime bill, and I think the Affordable Care Act fell far short of what we need for all humans in the United States to access the care we need, no matter our legal status or which identity categories apply to us. Friends have said I am “left of Chairman Mao,” and thus I recognize that I do not fully fit into any party’s platform.
This year I decided to take the plunge and see what immersing myself into the Democratic Party would be like. I wasn’t excited because of the ruckus between the Clinton and Sanders camps, but I did support Hillary in 2008 and I did have to come around to Barack Obama, who has both delighted and significantly disappointed me (23,000 drone bombs just last year) since then. Still, I can remember needing to suck it up when Clinton conceded in 2008 and so I can sympathize with Sanders supporters now. It’s a difficult space in which to exist, especially after a primary as painful as this one has been. I’m ready to move on from the “Berners are all sexists” and the “Clinton supporters are not real progressives” reductivism of the past several months. Read More…
This is the transcript of my piece said during the vigil.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry that 47 years since the Stonewall Inn riots, 43 years since being gay was no longer listed as a mental disorder, and 13 years since the Supreme Court decriminalized being gay, that this tragedy at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando has occurred. I’m sorry that in the many years since Brandon Teena’s murder and Matthew Shepard’s murder and since Tyra Hunter was refused life-saving medical care, we are here tonight, mourning the loss of so many good people. I’m sorry because I thought that after the AIDS crisis where tens of thousands of gay men passed away while our leaders made inappropriate jokes, that we were moving through the worst of this hatred for us. I thought that the quiet anti-discrimination legislation enacted by more than twenty states, and that seeing marriage equality become the law of the land meant we were entering an era of acceptance. I thought my generation would be the last to face disparate levels of depression, suicide, unemployment, and harassment.
I was wrong. I am sorry.
I stand here tonight shocked—again—at how easy it seems to take away dozens of lives in the manner of a few minutes to a few hours. I stand here, wondering which of the hateful things I’ve heard over the past two decades may have lead to this moment. Was it the refusal by extremists to sign marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples? Was it the preacher who interprets scripture to mean that killing LGBT people is a holy mission? Was it the lawyer who argues that discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people is simply an act of religious freedom? Was it the national organization that insists transgender people in bathrooms are a danger to the public and to our children? Was it the candidate who called immigrants rapists and refugees a threat to national security?
I am angry and inconsolable that people who expected they could be themselves in the confine of a nightclub, traditionally a space where LGBT people could find temporary sanctuary, died there. And yet we see triumph even in that hell—the mother who, dancing with her gay son, saved his life with a final gift by blocking bullets with her body. The Indian American former marine who helped 70 people survive by breaking open an exit door. The young Latino man who used a bandana to staunch a neck wound of his friend. Stories will continue to emerge about our strength in the midst of tremendous pain, and this is how I understand our collective journey.
All of us are stronger than hate. All of us are more resilient than a lobbying organization. We reject the false narrative of abomination and perversion and we embrace our pride, our community, and our shared journey.
We are determined. We insist on ending garbage pronouncements about what LGBT lives mean for our society or our morality. We are determined to make this world better for our youth. To our youngest LGBT members: your elders and your allies sincerely care about you. We see you and we know there is a lot of chaos and pain that comes your way. We are here for you, just as we are here to honor the people we have lost. We will find our way together, in solidarity. Peace to you all.
Vote NO on Initiative 1515!
In just the last two months we’ve gone from the hurried lawmaking that pushed through North Carolina’s HB2 that halted Charlotte’s city ordinance against discrimination of transgender people, to a moving speech by the Attorney General suing the Governor over the law. But just to recap, here is a quick overview of the moments between those points:
- Wednesday, March 23: HB2 is introduced in the chamber, debated for approximately 90 minutes, voted on and passed, and that evening, signed into law by Gov. McCrory. [Eleven Democratic representatives voted for its passage; all of the Democratic senators walked out of the chamber refusing to vote at all, so it passed the senate chamber 32-0.]
- Friday, March 25: The NBA releases a statement saying it may move future playoff games from the state if HB2 is not reversed or voided.
- Monday, March 28: The ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal, and Equality NC file a lawsuit on behalf of three transgender and queer people who are employed by the state government, against HB2. The Governor goes on local news outlets to support the new law.
- Thursday, March 31: The list of businesses and organizations coming out against HB2 grows to more than 300.
- Wednesday, May 4: The Department of Justice sends a letter to Gov. McCrory telling him not to enforce HB2 or face further action from the federal government. The letter gives North Carolina until Monday, May 9, to show it will not enforce the law.
- Monday, May 9: The Governor’s office sues the DOJ, in North Carolina’s eastern district of Federal Court, insisting that its interpretation of “sex” (e.g., sex assigned at birth) is correct, and not the federal government’s interpretation (gender/sex identity and expression)
- Monday, May 9, about six hours later: Attorney General Loretta Lynch and head of the Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta announced that they had filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Governor Pat McCrory, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina.
Much of Ms. Lynch’s remarks spelled out not just the legal foundation of the government’s case, but also the Obama Administration’s stance on ensuring civil rights for all transgender Americans, a series of sentences that had never been so clearly expressed in the history of any country towards the transgender community:
Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself. Some of you have lived freely for decades. Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead. But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. Please know that history is on your side. This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time. It may not be easy – but we’ll get there together.
There is much to unpack in this part of her statement, not the least of which is whether the rule of law is adequate to support an emancipatory or even radical politic for transgender people. I wouldn’t ever expect a federal institution to call for radical change, because that would be like expecting a snake to eat itself. What this statement does do, however, is make direct reference to earlier civil rights struggles, a tumultuous legal and social history that depending on one’s textbook, might not be covered in primary or secondary school. It’s a government looking at itself and its role in supporting all Americans, and in a polarized, political environment like we have right now, in which the Republican Senate leader can somehow decide to not do his constitutional duty to confirm a Supreme Court justice, in which all it takes is one senator to decide Flint residents shouldn’t get the federal emergency funding they need to remedy their catastrophic municipal water problem, and in which more than twenty states have come out with legislation that basically calls transgender women sexual predators despite all evidence to the contrary, such a statement is incredibly important. If we can agree that a law like HB2 puts trans people who are on the edge at risk of suicide and harassment, then what do we make of a statement, bald and assertively pronounced, that the government is standing behind those vulnerable people?
I make of it that it is life-saving. I really do. I have known—I have been—people who needed a sign that they weren’t an incarnation of wrecked evil or humanity. That they, we, have a purpose. That being trans isn’t a horrible disease. That it can in fact, be wonderful, or mundane, or present us with fascinating opportunities, or help us become better people because we are more us.
It is a commonly held belief within the broad LGBT contingent that these anti-trans bills are an intentional backlash and attempt by the far right that is still licking its wounds over losing the same-sex marriage fight. It’s easy to call this fight intentional, as it is clearly financed by the same organizations that fueled the push against marriage equality. And while the reactionary push against trans civil rights is well funded (even if it turns out to ultimately be futile), several LGBT equality groups shut their doors after the SCOTUS ruling. This has left much of the support for trans rights to transgender groups and to non-LGBT allies who work on civil rights. But what work they’re doing—with today’s two events shoring up even more support for the trans community.
This morning, the Obama Administration made two announcements: first, the President sent a letter to every public school district in the country (wrap your mind around THAT mailing) that they must let transgender students use the rest room and locker room that comports with their gender identity, or face a revocation of federal education funding.
There are more than 14,000 school districts in the United States today.
The scale of that statement boggles my mind. But then later this morning, another declaration came out. The Administration directed health insurers across the country that they could no longer reject coverage for people simply because they are transgender.
Conservatives are ranting across hyperspace, in social media and on right-wing media outlets, but they do not have the force of law behind them. This ally work from the highest office in the land means something very important even if it is not revolutionary. It is still affirming, validating, critical, systemic, and a clear kick in the pants to the wave of legalized harassment that we’ve seen in the way of “religious freedom” and “bathroom bills.” It means something huge that the trans civil rights movement has had these broad statements made three times in three days, in a time when the top court in the federal system is missing a deliberator.
I cheer these moves from the President and his staff. And I turn to our allies within the LGBT coalition and say, what will you do now to help the trans community?
Dear Friends and Readers—
My publisher, Booktrope, is folding as of May 31, 2016, and my books will be (hopefully temporarily) out of print. I do have two works in progress: a follow up to my memoir with the working title of Bumbling into Baby, and the second in the Time Guardians trilogy, Intermediate Time Travel. The latter is further along than the former. I’ll be speaking with some colleagues in the publishing industry about my options for these two new titles and when I have an approach for them I will let everyone know.
I have no ill will toward Booktrope and I have to say I am honored to have worked with some very fine people, especially the senior team at the hybrid publisher, my editors Jennifer Munro and Danika Dinsmore, who are incredibly talented writers in their own right. (Right? Or rights? See, I need good editors.) Thanks also to Christy Price for helping to publicize Bumbling into Body Hair; I’m sure I’m still a nobody author but I was REALLY a supremely nobody author in 2012.
My plan is to republish the memoir with perhaps an author’s forward and a new cover. Expect that later this summer. Regarding the novel … well, I have to talk to a few people in the industry and see what my options are. I don’t want to leave readers hanging from the first book, although perhaps it could stand alone.
Yes, I have other projects. They’ve been on the back burner for the last six months as I’ve been working on Intermediate. If you could put in a word to the universe for something like a MacArthur Fellowship for me, feel free. (I know, it’s never going to happen. *cough cough GENIUS GRANT cough cough*) But my time is limited; I’ll discuss possibilities and then do my best.
Often, it’s all we can do. Be well, friends, fellow authors, editors, publicists, proofreaders, and cover designers extraordinaire. See you in the pages of the next project.
It was a good idea, Ken and Katherine. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.
Quick Thoughts Regarding Our Political Morass, or Why the HRC Needs to Get into the Anti-Trans Legal Fight
1: It seems anathema to a supposed democracy that the death of one conservative should shift our nation’s highest court toward such a more liberal position. The consequences of the court’s rulings have such far-reaching effects it terrifies me a little that out of 300-plus million people in the US, the seating or not of a single jurist should make that much of a difference. Of course there’s a much larger judicial system underneath this court, and I understand that the rule of law has been designed with a final decision point of a supreme court, but given what it debates—civil rights, reproductive freedom, our basic rights to assemble and speak—Scalia’s presence or absence to tip the balance on these critical points is frightening. And so on this level I can understand the Republican Party’s fear that the court will liberalize away from their priorities. They should be afraid, as Scalia was holding together their agenda for the entire judiciary and it is not as easily rigged as say, their games with voter suppression and gerrymandering.
2: We are so acclimated to fear tactics in general that it is simple to deploy them against transgender children and young people. In what other context could we watch grown men scream about the safety of women as if they are their priority and rant about the dangers posed to public safety from children themselves? The entire game would be exposed were it not for the hatred America holds toward trans women, gender nonconforming people, and queer people. And still I see this as a last gasp from the right to reassert control in a country where more and more areas have affirmatively voted in LGBT protections. They won’t give up without a fight, but trans people will ultimately prevail.
2a: However, the battle over trans bodies is certain to enact violence against gender nonconforming people who are more on the margins, like trans women of color, trans folks who live in poverty, trans elders, and trans youth, especially those dealing with primary and secondary education systems, where there is a judicial precedent for certain infringements into privacy and speech. There is a good reason why the spate of hateful anti-trans legislation targets students, because they are subject to things like locker searches without a warrant, to controls like detention and suspension, and they are under constant surveillance from adults who can easily control things like bathroom access.
2b: This is why I think the Human Rights Campaign needs to step up and take head-on the anti-trans hate wave. It sounds unreasonable at first, but think about it: they’ve already designed themselves to identify issues within the court system across the country, they’ve already amassed a team of lawyers who know how to write amicus briefs in their sleep, and they have just “completed” a decade-plus-long struggle to win marriage equality in the United States. They won. THEY WON. I and many people of my queer generation never thought we’d see legal same sex marriage, and yet, here it is, despite Justice Scalia’s protestations and rhetoric, no less. Further, the HRC owes transgender people a debt after their earlier resistance to including the trans community in the LGBT equal rights bill in Congress, a bill that has still not come back to debate in any meaningful way. HRC has the deep pockets to fund the push against anti-trans legislation, the knowledge of the adversaries, since they’re largely the same groups who funded the anti-equality marriage fight, and the national contacts. They ought to take this on, and they have to get rallied quickly because it won’t be that long before a number of states have bills, referenda, and laws to contend with as part of the general election. And yes, they need to get trans women and gender nonconforming people involved, at all tiers of their leadership.
3: We are losing al-Jazeera America and that is a shame because they took pains not to be an echo chamber for a major political party, and not to be as devoid of substance as say, CNN. Too many of our media outlets are slanted toward one or the other political pole, and this has become a real problem for understanding what is happening in this primary election cycle. We’ve walked away from the journalistic standards that structured how facts were identified apart from opinion for nearly a century, in deference to ratings and the constant stream of sound bites. Paris is bombed and the media vomits speculation as news. Trump says something ridiculous and reporters feed it to us as if it is anything other than garbage—it certainly isn’t presidential. Web sites pretending to be media outlets Photoshop pictures and reports about coin tosses and it takes an entire news cycle to parse the reality out of the fantasy. I’m not telling the kids to get off my lawn, but we need a reckoning here because our current international conglomerate owned news food chain is full of pulp and no substance, and it is hard enough figuring out what the consequences of each Representative seat’s election could mean for their constituents. We need a consumer-driven change to the industry.
Everett: Okay, Danika, first let me thank you for serving as the editor on my own novel which shall not be named—you did a great job, despite what reader Debbie said on Goodreads about there not being enough “pauses” in the story, which I suppose I should just be accountable and own as my personal failure, I mean honestly there was only so much you could do with that manuscript. I really appreciate your work!
Danika: It was a pleasure to work creatively with you, Ev. I really do enjoy story editing and wish I had more time for it. And to all possible future story editors of Ev’s out there – you would be lucky to work with someone as eager and amenable as he is. (The mutual admiration society now adjourns.)
E: So as a writer I on occasion have a story idea or a character or a scenario wander into my mind, and then an urge to explore it and write about it grows from there. Can you tell me how you came up with the idea for the faeries, or Narine, or the world they’re in?
D: Characters definitely wander, pop, float, push, tickle, and cajole their way in. I like to fall in love with characters, especially if I’m going to spend any amount of time with them. To fall in love with them they have to feel real, which to me means complex.
About 13 years ago (previous to the MG/YA fantasy explosion), I was assisting in a lovely shop full of things like incense, divination tools, Renaissance wear, dragon statues, crystal balls… At one point I realized I was surrounded by faeries. I blame it all on them, because I suddenly had the urge to write a quest story featuring faeries. But I didn’t want a Tinkerbell story. I wanted the faeries to be as complex as humans are. I wanted them to be believable.