Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Personal & Professional Update

Dear Friends,

I'm making some big work/life changes this year. I’m writing to update you about them, to ask your help with some of them, and to let you know my travel schedule so that we might be able to connect when I’m in your town.

A few months ago, I left my job as Director of the Coro Fellows Program in San Francisco. I’m now on “sabbatical,” taking the next year or so to commit myself to projects that I can learn and grow from, whether or not they pay much. So far I have many ideas and few concrete plans, but some of the main possibilities include
  • publishing a booklet and card game about cross-class communication, 
  • expanding my trans* inclusion work to be more globally relevant and translatable, 
  • developing and Advanced Ally Training curriculum for people who want to ally themselves with trans* rights and trans* communities, 
  • writing a lot about health, illness and community
  • ... and so much more. 
As a person who’s always had to work one or more jobs to support myself financially (including both while I was a student and during times when I was too ill to be working), it feels like a huge risk and luxury to be voluntarily unemployed. It also feels like an invaluable opportunity that I shouldn’t pass up. Now that nothing’s stopping me from exploring my less-marketable interests, I’m not going to let myself be stopped! I’m supporting myself through this sabbatical year mostly with savings, and also by doing occasional, part-time consulting and training gigs – especially gigs that are fun, that I can learn from, and/or that help me travel to a place I want to visit.

Here’s how you can help:
1) Connect me with a gig, or potential gig, in your town. I want to be travelling this year, and to be (re)connecting with you all, and to be bringing my new and less-new work to organizations and schools that need it. If there is someone in your organization or network who might be interested in my work, please connect us, and/or pass on the information below.

What I can provide includes custom trainings for students, professionals, and community members, as well as short-term organizational consulting on trans* inclusion, classism and cross-class dialogue, facilitation skills, collaborative decision-making processes, and more. I’ve worked extensively with student groups, educators, human service providers, grantmakers, and community groups. You can learn more about my work at www.thinkagaintraining.com.

2)And while I’m there, let’s chat – about work, about life, about those projects that we’re not sure count as “work” or not, or whatever. This is my “work” this year – to think and dream and most importantly think with other smart people and see what emerges.

3) By summer 2014, I will probably need to get a "real job" again, and my first choice would be to work in a community college setting as an instructor and/or advisor. I am moving toward this by meeting with people who do diversity-related work in community college settings, to learn from them and explore how I could best use my skills in a community college workplace. If you know about community colleges, let's talk! If you know someone I should talk with about this, please connect us!

When will I be in your part of the world? Here are the trips I’ve planned so far. Beyond this my schedule is open, and I’m happy to plan a trip around a gig as well as plan gigs for my already-scheduled trips. (My home base is in Oakland, CA.)

Portland, OR: December 22-26, 2013
Mid-Hudson Valley, NY and Pioneer Valley, MA: January 24 - Feb 8, 2014
Asheville, NC: March?
Seattle, WA: April? 
Your Town: ???

I hope to see you soon!


Friday, August 02, 2013

On why Transmysogyny is Mysogyny

Lots of people say it, but  Gus says it really well:


Monday, April 15, 2013

Asking about Gender on Application Forms

Check out this handy new resources at Think Again Training: A 3-page guide to best practices for asking about gender and sexual orientation in program application forms.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

On Actually Keeping Queer Queer

A critique of a critique, worth reading for it's attention to the complexities of trans* PoC identities. Check it out at xqsimagazine: On Actually Keeping Queer Queer

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Warren Blumenfeld on The Media, Suicide, and Homophobia

The Media, Suicide, and Homophobia
A Commentary by Warren J. Blumenfeld

What can clearly be referred to as a continuing epidemic, within only the past few weeks, a number of gay young men have taken their lives by all indications as a result of the unrelenting homophobic taunts, harassment, and attacks they had to endure by their peers: Seth Walsh, 13, hung himself from a tree outside his California home; Billy Lucas, 15, hung himself in Indiana; Asher Brown, 13, from Texas shot himself in the head; Tyler Clementi, 18, first-year student from Rutgers University took his life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. And though we are not yet certain of the precipitating factors, now we hear of the tragic suicide of gay student, Raymond Chase, 19, from Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.

Throughout the past week, I have attempted to monitor the media to determine any themes in the way they have represented these tragic incidents. For many of the news outlets, it appears they are portraying these events as some sort of new trend they have deftly unearthed.

In reality, however, the media and our society generally suffers from a collective memory loss. This issue has arisen numerous times over the decades, but then appears in the media from time to time as if it were a unique and previously unrecorded development.

Back in 1989, for example, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued its "Report on the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide," which found that "A majority of suicide attempts by homosexuals occur during their youth, and gay youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people.  They may comprise up to 30 percent of (the estimated 5,000) completed youth suicides annually.” [U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Gay Male and Lesbian Youth Suicide," by Paul Gibson, in Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide, ed. Marcia R. Feinleib, Washington, DC, January 1989.]

The report recommended that "mental health and youth service agencies can provide acceptance and support for young homosexuals, train their personnel on gay issues, and provide appropriate gay adult role models; schools can protect gay youth from abuse from their peers and provide accurate information about homosexuality in health curricula; families should accept their child and work toward educating themselves about the development and nature of homosexuality"

The causes for these suicides have also been known and documented for decades as well. For example, Kevin Berrill, Director of the Anti-Violence Project of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force at the time of the 1989 report’s release stated correctly pinpointed the societal impact:  "The increased risk of suicide facing these youth is linked to growing up in a society that teaches them to hide and to hate themselves.” 

Initially, however, the report was suppressed by the George Herbert Walker Bush administration under pressure from right-wing groups and by conservatives in Congress.  After the findings, William Dannemeyer, who was at the time a conservative Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California, called for then-president Bush to "dismiss from public service all persons still employed who concocted this homosexual pledge of allegiance and sealed the lid on these misjudgments for good." HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan wrote in a letter to Dannemeyer that the study "undermined the institution of the family." [Quoted in Chris Bull, "Suicidal Tendencies," The Advocate, April 5, 1994, p. 37.]

The findings of the report, however, were leaked to the press and finally released. 

Other studies confirmed these findings.  Gary Remafedi, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota, and author of Death by Denial: Studies of Attempted and Completed Suicide in Gay and Lesbian and Bisexual Youth, found in a 1991 study of 150 gay and lesbian youths in Minneapolis, more than 30% said they had attempted suicide at least once as a teenager. 

“The youths who are at the greatest risk for suicide are the ones who are least likely to reveal their sexual orientation to anyone. Suicide may be a way of making sure that no one ever knows. It's homophobia that's killing these kids.”  [Gary Remafedi, quoted in Bull, Chris, "Suicidal Tendencies," The Advocate, April 5, 1994, p. 38.]

Some media recently have labeled the high profile suicide of Tyler Clementi as a national “wake up call” to the problem of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender suicide.

Don’t blame me if I’m cynical, but didn’t we hear the same warning back in 1998 after the brutal homophobic murder of Matthew Shepard. Hundreds, maybe thousands of LGBT people have suffered vicious attacks, many ending in murder since 1998. Why then do the media not continually cover these incidents. If they did, our nation would not need a “wake up call.” We as a society might remain awake and vigilant.

I suspect in a week or so, even as the suicides and homophobic assaults continue, the media will move onto its next so-called “trend.”  In a few years, maybe ten or so, they will issue yet another “wake up call” and (re)discover homophobia and its impact on the lives of our youth all over again.

Instead, we as a society must not depend on the media to alert us to the realities. As a society, we must take responsibility for the consequences for our inaction. More importantly, we must take responsibility for eliminating the stigma and the stereotyping of anyone and any group along the complete spectrum of human diversity.  
Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld, Associate Professor of Multicultural and International Curriculum Studies at Iowa State University. He is co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States.

         Permission granted to forward or publish this commentary. Any editing must be cleared by the author: wblumen@iastate.edu

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An Open Letter to My Friends Who Go to Michfest

By Annie Danger
(Feel free to share widely, just credit where appropriate) (To Annie Danger! Not to this blog!)

Dear you,

I want to talk about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Rather, I’m feeling like I have to bring up this conversation and push it forward and I’m pretty frustrated with that because, well, I don’t want to have to talk about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. I understand and respect that it is important to you. I know you love it, and I am asking you to do more loving, not less.

I feel like I have to bring it up because I feel pretty shitty that so many of my friends attend and how they do or do not talk to me about it. Perhaps you are one of those friends?

To note: I do not want to start a fight. I am making a request for greater engagement with the curious politics of coalition building and alliance. I understand this is a complex-feeling issue with a lot of history. This may be a call out, but it is with a revolutionary ethic of love that I send it. In this ethic, I do my best to drive my activism and my life with a difficult and powerful combination of respect, recognition, honest and open communication, affection, commitment, and trust for all people in this world. Especially my allies.

This letter comes from trying to put my years of resent through this filter of loving: I feel hurt and I am writing because want to trust that you have my back as a transwoman. I am having a hard time separating your attendance of MWMF and your silence with me about this issue from your level of respect for me; for my body. I don’t want to feel this way and I am willing to do the work to let go of a decade of resent, but I need your help. Will you help me?

I have spent a lot of time trying to make this letter driven by more than anger and resent. When you go to Michigan, I push you away. I keep you at arm’s length as an ally of transwomen. As an ally of me. What I hear is that the festival is a powerful and welcoming other planet where women’s lives, pains, struggles, and hopes are more commonly understood. This is allegedly a place of healing based on welcoming. A harsh toke for me: This is a place where I, on a body level even more than a political one, am profoundly unwelcome.

There is no place I’ve ever been where my body and my experience of gender feel safe, wanted, welcome, supported, normalized, trusted, trustworthy. There is little or no safe space for transwomen. Not even at queer land, where we are often wanted in the abstract but not so much welcomed in practice. People don’t seem to know how to think about transwomen. And for us to make a squawk about our treatment often runs the risk of being called out as misuse of the male privilege we were raised with. To be woman enough to share womyn’s spaces, we must be good girls—we must be quiet.

So here we are, 35 years into the MWMF and nearly 11 years into my life as an out, hormone-enhanced transsexual. I have spent this decade- plus fairly actively turning my back on the arguments around Michigan because it was simply not my fight: I cannot imagine going there and feeling safe. Even the naming of womyn with a ‘y’: I respect and understand the place from which this nomenclature comes. But it must also be said that it drips gender essentialism in its disassociation from male language, tells me I am not important there, not a priority.

So I disengaged. There are a lot more pressing issues, in general or specifically about trans-inlcusion and the safety of transwomen, than trying to get a bunch of terrified separatists to let me pay them to camp in their woods and attend their party. And when more and more friends kept going, and when you proceeded for years to forget that it is an issue for me—to chat all about it like it was just someplace I didn’t happen to go; to tell me you wished you could get me there and never go much further than that; to discuss my absence while at the festival but not much of why—I proceeded to turn my back in small ways on you, too. Just the tiniest, most pernicious ways: silent distrusts, people held so close, but at arm’s length when it comes to recognizing and caring for my life, my struggle as a transwoman, or my body. And now I feel pushed, finally, to say something because my lover is going. My love. And because of this, I am struggling to believe she really sees and loves my trans body because of it.

I am also speaking up because, in only the most technical of senses, I could finally go: I can purchase a ticket as an out transsexual woman (though one cannot find that information on the MWMF website). I have considered going. I have had hours and hours of conversations recently—with decade-long Michfest workers, with transwoman friends and their lovers, with women’s-movement organizers who have never been to MWMF, and with those who know me best—about this possibility and I have come to a very solid conclusion: I have no moving reason to put myself through that emotional shredder. I cannot go there and not interact with this issue of trans-exclusion. It is on my body. To go and try to have fun, to do anything but loud and firey activism about this issue would be to leave my body. To disassociate further from a body I fight daily to be in.

And, yes, this issue of my friends at Michigan is a trigger point for a whole world full of transphobia. I feel your attendance with all the weight of a decade of distrust around trans issues. My experience of transwomanhood is one that runs a baseline of distrust: I do not tend to expect anyone except for other transwomen (not genderqueers, not my queers, not trans men) to really see or make room for trans women. But I do hope they would. I am asking for help: I want to build this trust. I am tired of crying alone and feeling like I have to take care of transwomen because no one but transwomen is willing to really take a stand for us. I want to build this coalition. I want this tired old issue to move in new, healing directions. I want to let go of all this resent. I want us to be a stronger, smarter community. But reaching a hand out on my end requires so much clear, concerted effort on your end. Show me you are as committed as I am to justice around this issue. I am tired of ignoring this issue.

There are a lot of different contexts to this issue, so many needs to meet, so many ways to talk strategy, so many enormous feelings to unpack and source, and I know I have work to do here, too. But under all the complicated ways to have this discussion, I keep feeling horrible about your support of this institution. I don’t want to. I respect that it is powerful and I do my best to remember that it is powerful in ways I simply cannot imagine. I know you do some sort of work on behalf of trans issues while inside the festival, but I do not know what it is and I see no results. What I do hear is all the fun times, amazing things to learn, deep connections, healing, and fucking that happens. You are much better at letting me know that part. I hear from you your defenses but not your explanations. I am writing this because I want more. I want you to actually show me that you have my back.

I understand that change is slow. That, technically, there are changes afoot. But I am writing to remind you that in the meantime, you have to actually show me that you respect the very real issue of transwomen’s lives.

I am not, necessarily, asking you to not attend. I am asking you to answer, with action, this: How is this more than just a party in the woods? What does it mean that you can go and I cannot? I cannot forget that my body is not valid there. You cannot remain silent with me about this and expect me to trust you.

I am asking you for proactive communication. I am saying that by the simple act of going to this place, you are engaging this issue of trans inclusion. So please stop feeling funny and being mostly quiet about it. Please restrain yourself from feeling defensive and instead engage me on this before I have to engage you. That may not involve calling me to discuss this. I am asking you to show me you are my ally. I am asking you to speak up. I am asking you to make transwomen visible in this place where we are made invisible. I am asking you to be loud and loving and creative. I am asking you to rock the boat.

I hear many people who attend are in support of trans women attending, but I do not feel welcome. The culture of separatism amongst the organizers and the legacy of this bigotry are much stronger than the words “I really think most people would want you there.” This is not your fault, but if you are going to go there and remain close to me, I am requesting that you make it your issue in a much more visible way. Please do things while you’re there that show me that you really respect my body. My life. My womanhood. Please let me know about them. Please be willing to push a little harder. Please show me I can trust you to have my back. Please, if you’re willing: stand up, step it up, and be a louder ally. I am asking you to love me as much as you love this festival.

Annie Danger

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Identity is Strategic

“… the use of any word for myself—lesbian, transperson, transgender, butch, boy, mister, FTM fag, butch - has always been/will always be strategic…”
-Dean Spade, in “Resisting Medicine, Re/modeling Gender,” Berkeley Women's Law Journal, Volume 18, p.15 (2003)

On May 17, I went to Sacramento with Transgender Law Center for the first ever California Transgender Lobby Day. I memorized a list of talking points and prepared to have three nearly-identical 15-minute conversations with three different representatives.

After a day of very thorough preparation for my first every lobbying adventure, I realized there was one question not yet answered. How was I supposed to introduce myself? We wanted our representatives to know that we were a group of both trans people and cisgender allies there to express our concern about issues of importance to our communities (including healthcare access, employment, mental health access for youth, and inclusive data collection). So of course we wanted to introduce ourselves by saying something about who we were and our relationship to the community.

At first I thought I’d say, “My name is Davey and I’m a transgender constituent ….” The problem with this straightforward approach is that people often get confused when I keep it that simple. If I say I’m transgender to someone who doesn’t really know any transgender people, they tend to assume I’m a trans woman. Oops.

The obvious alternative was to say, “My name is Davey and I’m a transgender man ….” The only problem with this is that it’s not true. I don’t identify as a man. The word transman itches me almost as bad as the word woman. Hmm.

Of course most legislators are unlikely to understand MtF / FtM, if only because acronyms are confusing.

What I’d like to say, if it has to start with, “I am a [one word identity],” is that I’m genderqueer. But that word does not go very far with legislators, or most people outside of trans communities. And, I reminded myself, we don’t need legislators to “understand” us, we just need them to do the right thing.

I decided to tell the legislators a label they could recognize, even if it wasn’t a perfect (or even good) reflection of how I understand myself. I bit the bullet and told them I was a transgender man. They seemed sympathetic to our requests. And after each meeting I quoted Dean Spade to myself: … the use of any word for myself … has always been/will always be strategic….