Re-Frame: A Gathering
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.
OCCUPY WALL STREET
All enter, chanting, Rebecca leading call-and-response. Chants include:
- Tell me what democracy looks like / This is what democracy looks like
- The people united will never be defeated
- The whole world is watching
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.