YES! I still watch TV shows and read magazines and enjoy things that have problematic aspects, but that doesn’t make me any worse of a feminist. Feminism doesn’t require you to become an ascetic about all media. It just means acknowledging that things are wrong and could be changed.
PREACH! PREACH! PREACH!
By Guest Contributor Rob Fields, cross-posted from Bold As Love
There’s still things black people don’t talk about in 2011 and, to our collective detriment, mental illness is one of them. I mean, for a people who have survived colonialism, the Middle Passage, slavery, Jim Crow and institutional racism, it would be surprising if we perfectly fine mentally and emotionally after all of that. And many of us are alright. But there are just as many who aren’t.
I’ll say upfront that I don’t know Bassey Ipki (above) personally. What I know about her is that she’s a respected poet, writer, performer (multiple Def Poetry Jam appearances, to say the least) and a fierce mental health advocate who’s been bracingly honest about her own struggles with depression. We’ve had a few short Twitter conversations, and that’s about it. Just knowing this about her, I thought the launch of this effort made perfect sense. But I found out the impetus was something beyond her. It was the suicide of a friend’s 15-year-old daughter. Here’s what Bassey wrote about it:
Over the summer, I wrote about Siwe Monsanto, the amazing, beautiful, talented 15-year old daughter of my friend, Dionne. I wrote about what a wonderful human being she was. I wrote about how funny she was. I wrote about what a wonderful mother Dionne was. I wrote about how sad Siwe was at times. I wrote about how she took her own life. Since Siwe’s death, I’ve been struggling with ways I could do more as a human being and someone who loved her. I’ve thought about ways that I could use what few talents I had to do something more to honor Siwe’s memory and to prevent deaths like hers. In August, just 2 months shy of Siwe’s death, I came up with the idea of The Siwe Project, a global non-profit whose aim was to spread mental wealth awareness and education in the global black community. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. I’m only a writer. I have no admin experience but I knew it needed to be done so I began talking to some people.
The project had a kickoff event this past Wednesday in DC. Bassey goes on to say this:
This is just a soft launch, we will be sharing our mission and plans for the future. We will announce our slogan and photo campaign. We are starting small in order to stay focused and on task but we hope to do big things. We need to erase the stigma of mental illness from our communities. We must learn to love and cherish our mental health as much as our physical health. We must encourage and support those with mental illness so that they may manage and seek treatment without fear or shame. These are imperatives. Too many of us our dying or the walking dead. This isn’t about pushing medication or specific forms of treatment on anyone. What works for me, may not work for you. But find something that works. Face it. Treat it. Then live.
The promo video is a version of her poem “Choices,” which chronicles her struggles with mental illness. It was directed by the very talented Pierre Bennu:
A great closing thought from Bassey: “Mental illness is not who you are. It’s what you have.”
This weekend, I’m participating in a project called Re-Frame: A Gathering at Links Hall. Tickets are available here. I’ll be one of the featured performers on Friday, 12/16, and a supporting artist on Saturday and Sunday. For those of you who can’t make it, here’s the current draft of what I’ll be performing.
All enter, chanting, Rebecca leading call-and-response. Chants include:
Everyone but Rebecca fades off to the sides
I’ve been following the Occupy Wall Street movement with some interest. I have friends who live in New York City who are pretty involved. I have friends in Chicago who are regularly across from the Federal Reserve Building at Jackson and LaSalle, as part of Occupy Chicago. And I love the concept of the Occupy movement: of grassroots democracy, of consensus building, of acknowledging the wealth and income disparities which have been growing in the United States for years.
Chanting, alone: We are the ninety nine percent!
Sort of embarrassed at being alone: It’s easy to justify not being an active participant, to justify watching from the sidelines. I’m busy. What does one do at an occupation, hour after hour? And – as the Occupy movement continues into the winter – the ever-dropping temperatures and ever-growing threat of cold rain and snow.
And always in the back of my mind, the question: As a queer, transgender woman, what’s my place in the Occupy movement? Where do I fit in the ninety nine percent?
In some ways, the Occupy Movement makes me think of the uproar surrounding invasive screenings by the TSA at airports:
Brief scene of Rebecca being stopped by an embarrassed worker – “The scanner showed an…um…anomoly around..um…” (gestures to crotch) – while everyone else walks by without incident
Minorities – transgender people, the disabled population, women wearing burkas, anyone who looks too ‘ethnic’ – have been getting singled out by security for years. The TSA specifically put out a notice to be on the lookout for people whose documentation didn’t match their ‘perceived gender.’ Sure, it could pick up those rascally cross-dressing terrorists, but it was more likely to impact people like me.
But when invasive screenings began to impact straight, white, able-bodied men, suddenly there was cause for concern. There were extensive news reports and investigative stories. There were congressional hearings.
Where was my congressional hearing?
Back at the Occupy movement, the mainstream financial and employment sectors have always been targeting minorities for discriminatory treatment. A disproportionate number of transgender women turn to sex work because we aren’t seen as fit to employ.
And yet, I can’t help but feel giddy at the Occupy movement: people taking to the street, making their voices heard to authority, calling out the injustices built into the very foundation of the American economy. How could that not be exciting? And from people my age! And younger! A population seen as apathetic, on FaceBook instead of making face-to-face connections, too lazy to be activists.
Everyone comes back for more OWS chanting. Everyone but Rebecca leaves through the main entrance.
The Occupy movement has reminded me what it means to work within a system, versus protesting it entirely. I’m hoping Occupy figures out how to balance those extremes, and that it finds a way to turn general sentiments of dissatisfaction into lasting political change. At the same time, the tools The System gives us aren’t always that useful.
I’m currently trying to get a new passport. My old one, which I received in 2007, has my old name, a really old photo, and says – in big bold letters – MALE. But under the Obama Administration, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it’s become (relatively) easy to get a new, corrected passport. You need court documentation of the name change (check) and a letter from a doctor saying you’ve met certain criteria (easily acquired). So I put everything together – my old passport, my name change documentation, the letter from my doctor, and the passport application itself – and sent it off to the passport office in New Hampshire.
Things are never that easy.
A week or so after sending my application, I received a letter from the passport office.
Read the letter. Well, part of the letter. Mostly just the ‘physician’s statement must include’ part.
Except I knew all that going in. I’ve seen the letter my doctor wrote – it has all that stuff!
So I called the passport office, assuming (foolishly) that this would be easy to clear up. They need certain things, I sent those things. Simple. Of course not.
The people you can reach by phone don’t have any additional information beyond what’s included in the letter – that I didn’t supply everything I needed to in my application – and the people who have the information I want can’t be reached by phone. So I ask the office to have someone knowledgeable call me. Can do! But if I miss the call, or they call while I’m in rehearsal or at a meeting and my phone is on silent (which they’ve done twice so far) they won’t leave a voicemail. Privacy concerns, presumably, but who knows. So I need to call back and start the whole process over. The fun part being that, for those same privacy concerns, they can’t acknowledge the letter I’ve been sent and jump into the conversation. To have a conversation about it, I have to read it to them. In its entirety.
To give credit where credit is due, everyone I’ve spoken to has been very polite and professional. I don’t think I’m being singled out because I’m transgender, I think bureaucracy is an equal-opportunity spreader of misery. But why do I need a doctor’s note in the first place? I wouldn’t need one simply to change my name. But gender is dangerous and terrifying and society must be protected from those crazy gender-shifting freaks.
A little over a year ago, in October 2010, I was fired for being trans. For being a transgender woman. Transsexual. A she-male. A chick with a dick, as it were. Dangerous, apparently, to children. Bringer of “uncomfortable conversation.”
I had been hired to teach a once-a-week theatre workshop, but after the first class I got word that I was being asked not to return after some of the kids at Neal had asked their teachers about my “big hands” and “deep voice.”
In telling this story, this is the part where everyone tries to sneak a look at my hands to see if they’re freakishly huge or something. They’re not, as far as I can tell. (Show the audience)
But the teachers had gone to the administrators with the students’ questions about me. The administrators had decided my presence might bring up “uncomfortable conversation.” (That’s the actual quote, I’m told.) The school asked the Piven Theatre Workshop, who was my direct employer, to send another teacher. So Piven was tasked with the unpleasant responsibility of telling me I had been fired, because I was transgender. Because I wasn’t “womanly” enough. Because my very presence in a classroom would apparently prompt “uncomfortable conversation.”
Piven, to their credit, said “Well, we actually sent a really great teacher. And if that’s a problem, I guess we have to cancel the workshop.” In that, I’m a rarity among trans folks: my primary employers have stood by me through coming out, transitioning, being an out trans woman. Piven did everything they could to fight for me. But they couldn’t get me un-fired. They couldn’t prevent me from being the target of bigotry and fear.
Which was a particular slap in the face, because Illinois is one of the twelve states where it is illegal to fire someone for being transgender! But I was fired, legal protection or not.
Trans people are easy to discard. We’re so weird! So freaky! So different! Occupy Wall Street had a women’s-only tent at Zuccotti Park, as a way to allow female participants in the Occupy movement to feel safe. But the tent instituted a “womyn-born-womyn’ policy. (That’s “womyn” with a ‘y’.) This type of policy, most widely known for its use at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival every August, says the only ‘real’ women, the only women who are allowed in a particular space must have been born women. Trans women (who, according to this line of thought, weren’t born women) need not apply.
We are the 99%. Unless we’re not, apparently.
Chanting off, alone: The people united, will never be defeated.
By Daisy Nakato
3rd Regional Changing Faces, Changing Spaces Conference
May 4th-6th 2011
Feminist perspectives on sex work
Feminism seeks to obtain social justice by challenging oppressive social norms. Historically women in Uganda have been marginalised and oppressed. As women, we are considered and treated as subordinates to men. Consequently our sexuality has been controlled by men. It is believed that the woman is supposed to provide sex for the satisfaction of her husband whenever he demands for it. A woman who had sex for pleasure and not for reproduction was always branded as a bad or immoral woman. According to society when a woman has sex it is for reproductive purposes and to provide pressure for her husband and had nothing to do with her own sexual pleasure. However feminism seeks to change this by enabling women to have sex for pressure.
Sex workers have gone against the established social norms regarding sex. Sex workers have sex with men or women for financial benefits and occasionally for pleasure. We get to choose with whom, where, and when to have sex we set the rules of engagement while the man has very little control over the arrangement to have sex. This is a direct challenge to the patriarchal norms on sexuality. As a result of the refusal of sex work to be guided by the established social norms on sexuality we have been demonised. We have been called all sorts of names which include: Malaya, musege, muyaye, mad people, thieves, killers, prostitutes, husband snatchers etc.
As feminists we should extend this level of independence to other women if we want to achieve social justice and equality. Certain group of feminists have always been against sex work which they consider exploitative of women and degrading. they believe women are forced to do sex work. This group of feminists has always advocated for the criminalisation of sex work. However other feminists like me do not believe that sex work is exploitative. We consider it to be like any other kind of work whereby you offer a service in this case sex service in exchange for money. This kind of transaction is empowering for sex workers who are able to exercise control over their sexuality. Because we view sex work as any other occupation, we advocate for its decriminalisation and recognition of sex worker’s rights. We advocate for a conducive working environment for sex workers where we are safe and our rights are protected. In a decriminalised environment, as sex workers would assume control over our sexuality.
• Criminalisation of sex work
• Stigma and discrimination
• Access to health
• Arrest without trial, police brutality, extortion of money and sex in exchange for freedom
• As Sex workers we are organising, forming groups to enable us advocate for our lights
• More civil society organisations are coming on board that are vocal and supportive
• Other more civil society organisations should be encouraged to advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work.
• Feminist movement should mentor sex workers and build their capacity as feminists.
• The feminist charter should be translated in various local languages and its agenda should meet and adapt the various needs of women of various classes especially vulnerable women like sex workers.
[Daisy Nakato, ASWA’s Kenyan Coordinator delivered this paper at this year’s ‘Changing Faces, Changing Spaces Conference’, which convened at Nairobi, Kenya (4-6 May).
The conference brought together activists from the LGBTI and sex worker movements in East Africa, as well as health and legal professionals, human rights activists and organisations, and donor partners working in the Region (Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda).]
By Robyn Shepherd, ACLU
Last month, the Center for Liberty’s Louise Melling blogged about how street harassment shames and humiliates women, and is underreported because of the stigma attached to it. While that blog was making the editing rounds here at the office, I shared my own story of how I dealt with a particularly obnoxious harasser, and my esteemed colleagues suggested I share it. Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, after all, here it is. And there’s gonna be swearing. I’m really sorry in advance (Mom).
I was walking to work last April, listening to a friend’s CD and not thinking of much besides that I was a little late to work, and really ought to hustle to make my train. A dude passed me as I walked, and I didn’t think much of that either.
All of a sudden…WHAM! Dude WALLOPED me on the backside and ran off.
No one saw it happen. But the gentle denizens of the Upper East Side sure knew something happened, because I let out an unholy yell and a good, throaty “FUCK YOU!!” I turned to see the dude hustling away in his blue and tan jacket and tan backpack.
I hesitated a moment. Did that really just happen? What should I do? Just go on with my day? I’m not sure I want to do that. And I’m pretty sure that if I just let this go, and act like it’s no big deal, or it was “just a smack on the ass,” I’m gonna feel pretty rotten about it for a long time to come. And my butt was really sore. He really went for it.
So I ran after the dude.
It’s possible this guy was crazy. This was something I needed to determine, and also I wanted to get a description, since by this point I had decided that if I was going to be late to work pursuing this mofo, I was damn well gonna call the police. I caught up to him as he was going into the Citibank.
"Hey asshole!" He looked up. He was about 20. Clean-cut. Like he was on his way to school. He did not look crazy. I think he was surprised. I think he figured the five-foot-tall redhead in the sundress and Mary Janes would have just said "Oh my stars!" and scampered away. He does not know this five-foot-tall redhead.
"You think that shit is funny? You like hitting women, huh? You think that’s the correct way to act? Whatsamatterwityou?" All of a sudden, I was Joe Pesci. I swear a lot when I’m nervous. It’s a terrible habit. Perhaps you’ve caught on.
"Ma’am I don’t know what you’re talking about."
"You know goddamn well what I’m talking about. YOU DON’T HIT WOMEN, ASSHOLE." At this point I was screaming into the bank. The whole lobby was looking at me.
Dude got in my face. And this is where it gets kind of hilarious. “How dare you disrespect me in public?” he said. Oh. My. God. He. Did. Not. “I mean, call the police or something, but don’t embarrass me like that. Fuck you.”
It was now clear I was not necessarily dealing with a lunatic. But I was dealing with a moron.
"Good idea, buddy. I WILL call the police." I called 911 and told them about the incident and the coordinates.
While I was on the phone he got in my face again. “Fuck you, bitch.”
Me: “Fuck ME? Fuck YOU!!!…
Me (to operator: “I’m sorry, ma’am it’s just he’s antagonizing me.”
Him: “You calling the police?”
Me: “Goddamn right I am.”
Him: “Fine. Fuck the police. Fuck you.”
Me: “Tell ‘em so yourself!”
He started walking away after that. The 911 lady advised me to stay put. Good call. I figured I had enough of him without backup. The police came a few minutes later, and I told them the story. I told them I knew they dealt with bigger things than this. But if it doesn’t get reported, it will keep happening. And maybe we can scare this dude enough that that will be one less guy hitting women in the street. The cops had me ride around in the car with them to see if we could find them. (Incidentally, those squad cars? Absolutely no legroom to speak of. In case you ever need extra incentive to not get arrested. Not comfy.)
We couldn’t find him, but the cops (there were four of them by the end of this) took my statement and contact info. They commended me on my description. Which is good, as that validates a lot of Law and Order viewing.
I’m realistic. I knew they were never going to arrest this guy. But here’s the thing, and the point to this whole long, profane story. I know there are a lot of people who think it wasn’t that big a deal. But the truth of the matter is, what this guy did was sexual assault. “Forcible touching and harassment,” if you want to get specific.
Sexual assault doesn’t always necessarily mean something as horrible as rape. And too often street harassment is unreported, and douchebags like this think they can get away with it because the girl is gonna be too embarrassed or too meek to do anything about it. Or they think it’s “just a slap on the ass.” And that’s not right, you guys. I don’t know how other women feel about their posteriors, but you don’t very well get to smack the hell out of it willy-nilly because you feel entitled to do so. There will be repercussions.
To the NYPD’s credit, they did follow up, and the detective told me that if I really wanted to press charges, she would help me do that, even if it meant looking through a lot of surveillance tape and looking at lineups and all that stuff. I opted not to, figuring that they had this guy’s description, and if he did it again, he’d be in a lot of trouble. But something tells me he’s not going to. I think I scared him. Or as the detective said, “So you ran up and confronted him and screamed at him in a bank.”
I know what happened to me could have been a lot, lot worse. But someone doesn’t have to be raped to be humiliated, violated and hurt. Sometimes, all it takes is a smack on the ass.