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Author Archives: AB Silvera

On Coming Out and Existing; or, Resentments to the theme of Materiality

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Note: This is my response to this post.
I am six years old.

I play with Transformers toys, a burgeoning passion for toy robots which will continue until adulthood. I also enjoy playing with  my cousin’s Popples and My Little Ponies. I know better than to ask for my own. Not because of my mom, she loves me dearly, but because the kids are already bullying me for being ‘girly’. They add an ‘a’ at the end of my name to signify female-ness, they mock me for crying a lot when I’m bullied. I cry easily and a lot.

 

I am eighteen years old.

I say goodbye to my friends in Ezeiza airport, We’re all crying. I’m emigrating. I still cry about this sometimes.

 

I’m nine years old.

I act out in school and get in trouble. I’m confused by a media that tells me women are weak when I’m surrounded by women who work, raise kids and are professionals.

 

I am twenty-one years old.

I’m sitting in a living room in Edinburgh, Scotland, telling my then best friend that I want to be a girl but I’m sad because I wasn’t born one and thus it is impossible. She’s confused but warm and loving. We commiserate on our woes as we have done countless times.

 

I am eleven years old.

I occasionally think about being a girl, but quickly stomp on those feelings as they arise. I present a fake nerd boy swagger that gets me punched in the face. I play Super Nintendo a lot. I see travesti women on TV. Everyone makes fun of them. I make fun of them. They are considered the lowest of the low in our society.

 

I am twenty-three years old.

I’m still trying to find my footing in what ‘boy’ is and I settle for ‘leftie boy with a beard who goes to demonstrations and has tedious opinions about obscure indie rock’. I meet a like-minded girl and we start dating. A friend of mine tells me her ex-girlfriend is now a boy. I hear the word ‘transition’ in reference to this trans boy. Suddenly I realise this is a possibility. I stomp down on it.

 

I am thirteen years old.

I’m enthralled by anime. In Saint Seiya, Shun is an effeminate boy who represents Andromeda. His armor is pink and has boobs. Everyone looks down on him for being a pacifist. He’s the first boy on TV I’ve felt was anything like me. I watch Sailor Moon. Usagi is bad at school, messy and easily distracted but with a heart of gold. She’s the first girl on TV I’ve felt was anything like me.

 

I am twenty-four years old.

My girlfriend introduces me to DIY feminism, as I had lacked any feminist perspectives in my very lefty education in Sociology. I join a pro-choice group. I start reading zines about all sorts of things. I quickly learn that as I’m a straight boy (nobody’s using the word cis yet) I should shut up and learn. I do. I learn ‘active listening’, which is about really paying attention to what each other is expressing with an open mind, to dismantle the aggressive, competitive ways in which patriarchy and capitalism teach us to communicate. I learn humility, I learn that I’m often wrong, diametrically opposed values to my entitled middle-class upbringing (that my mother had fought against). I learn of the word ‘genderqueer’ and start using it to describe myself. My girlfriend gets me a pair of leggings.

 

I am thirty-two years old.

I tell my girlfriend that I’m terrified, on the eve before I have bottom surgery. I don’t feel like this is a massive spiritual moment or that my life has been building up to ‘correct nature’s mistake’. I just know what I need, medically. What if it’s a mistake? But I know it’s what I want. I go in circles like this, she listens.

 

I am twenty-five years old.

I break up with my girlfriend over a number of things. I attend my first Ladyfest, in Cork, then my second, in Berlin. During the Lesbian Arts Festival in Dublin, and old man calls me ‘young lady’ and makes my day. My encouraging new American friend gets me to visit her in Berlin and try out ‘living as a girl’ away from the pressures of friend and family. Berlin is community, queers, women, art, squat parties and punks walking big dogs. I don’t want to leave and go back to my boring office job.

Then I come out. I come out to friends and to my parents. My mom cries. My anarchist feminist pals invite me to their publishing collective. They don’t care what my body looks like, at a point when I am half a year away from hormones and eight years away from surgery. It doesn’t matter. I live my life as a woman, they see me as one. I will sadly learn that this perspective is not common in feminist movements outside of Ireland.

 

I am twenty-eight years old.

I have sex with another trans woman for the first time. I keep finding I know less than I think about things I haven’t experienced, like physical disability or sex work or the experiences of my friends who are people of colour. I learn, and re-learn, to shut up and listen. On the way to a gig, someone shouts ‘are you a boy or a girl?’



I am twenty-six years old.

I’m one of possibly three people in Irish feminist communities educating people around trans issues. I read a fuckton of zines and books and blogs. A lot of them are about body acceptance. I never find ones that quite fit me, as I haven’t yet found sex-positive, feminist trans women community. I consider myself the equal of cis women and expect to be treated as such.

 

I am thirty-three years old.

I’m denied boarding on a flight to Canada due to a mismatched passport. This is because changing gender in Italian documentation is a long, complex process. When I inquired over the phone, the representative of the Italian consulate laughed at me.

 

I am twenty-seven years old.

I leave my office job, a mixture of extreme stress due to early transition and numerous other issues. My mom and I attend a joint therapy session, a year after she broke down over the phone and called me ‘monster’, a manner of speaking nobody can ever believe came from my mom, but confusion and despair make us do and say weird shit. At the leftie social centre, a ‘comrade’ asks me if I’ve had ‘the surgery’ yet.

 

I am twenty-nine years old.

I want to move away from Ireland. I have friends and my parents there, but I need a change. I try for a job with a London company. They’re keen, but they accidentally find my heavily trans, feminist political writings online. They tell me in no uncertain terms discussion of politics in the workplace is not tolerated. I agree completely. I don’t get the job.

 

I am twenty-seven years old (again)

I travel to the United States and spend over a month surrounded by queers/trans people. I go to punk gigs, political convergences, music festivals in the woods. I give voice to my migrant identity. I keep trying to listen and to learn. Combining strength and confidence in my cultural background with being humble about what I don’t know is hard, but I work at it every day.

 

I am twenty-nine years old (agaaaaaain)

My mom gives me leggings for christmas. She uses ‘she’ a lot now. We start telling close friends and family. The reaction is positive. My mom shows me a video about Florencia de la V, a trans woman actress who was now a mother. I had made fun of Florencia when I was a kid and saw her on the TV. I am so happy for her now.

 

I am thirty-three years old (again I guess? Who knows even)

I still try to listen for intent.

I still find being employed difficult due to the discrimination that abounds.

I allow myself and others to fuck up.

I sometimes generalise about men because I keep getting street harassed and it does my nerves rotten.

I form bonds of solidarity with other trans women, to build each other up in similarities and differences. I form bonds of solidarity with cis women in much the same way. I fight every day to love myself and express solidarity to all my sisters.

Coming out and transitioning has been extremely difficult. I’ve lost friends, good ones. I’ve been harassed, I’ve been discriminated against. But I make sense. I make some sort of sense instead of none at all. I try to uplift other people. I get to just *be* instead of living constantly afraid of not measuring up. The sacrifices were steep but the rewards have been plentiful.

I had to come out. Because I could, and that is fortunate. But because of the tangible. The material realities.

I believe firmly in a quote from a Cat and Girl comic:

“Thoughts that don’t lead into action don’t exist.”

I have clinical depression, which has severely hampered my creative projects and much of my life, and I’ve been succesful in slowly fighting it off. My depression tells me to stay in my thoughts. Stay fantasising about being a writer, or other things. For many years it told me existing as a woman in this world was just something to indulge in as a fantasy.

But the same depression wants these things to stay as thoughts. To not exist as an action. Action, living and breathing and existing in the real world are the enemies of the funeral envelopment of depression*.

Of course, depression is in part a defense mechanism. Because when a thought becomes an action in the real world, it has to exist in the world with everyone else. Where other people might reject it. Where they might mercilessly tear it down. In part, depression is trying to protect me from that after way too many instances of being torn to pieces for what I am or what I want.

But I have to live in the world that is material because to attempt to do otherwise is to not exist. I have to live in the world and I am, indeed, a material girl, if you pardon the reference. I’m fortunate that the only thing I’m scared of, more than anything else, is death and the inertia that leads to it. This spurs me into action and it’s been my saving grace. I don’t know what’s yours, whoever you are. But others cannot read our minds. They cannot see who we are unless we express it in some way. And they can only make assumptions based on what they see or hear in the only world we share: that of material reality.

(*: yes I have assigned depression attributes of an infectious disease or semi-sentient virus, it’s how I’ve chosen to engage with it, silly and possibly unscientific as it may be. I invite you to, if you haven’t already, find different avenues through which to engage with your own demons so as to keep them at bay.)

 

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Marriage is not Equality: Thoughts on #MarRef from a worried radical queer

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This article is based heavily on the script for the 15/05/15 episode of my radio show, 30 km/s, which airs live online every 2 weeks on www.subcity.org

I also recommend reading this compilation of writings put out by Aidan Rowe, one of the many people in Ireland eloquently providing a radical critique of the very concept of marriage equality, as well as other real problems with the Referendum campaign, from an anarchist-queer perspective.

It’s been with interest and trepidation that I’ve been observing the campaign for the Marriage Referendum from afar, desperately wanting to be there. Between the overt homophobic abuse spouted by the ‘No’ campaign and the rather horrid effect of single-issue liberal politics and policing of identity from the mainstream, acceptable parts of the so-called ‘Gay’ community, I’ve felt quite homesick for Dublin, where I lived for 11 years.

While I’ve resided in Glasgow for the past couple of years, I came out as a trans woman and a lesbian, and began transitioning, in Ireland. I was heavily involved in the LGBTQ community/ies, both with the mainstream and the more radical elements. I’ve been a member of numerous LGBTQ organisations, such as TENI, and the late Queer Spraoi and PinC, and was the content editor for the defunct BoLT magazine, a magazine by and for LGBTQ women and trans people of all genders. I am still a strong part of the community with numerous bonds of friendship and solidarity with my LGBTQ friends living there, and I try to make it over at least a few times a year (especially for my fave Pride festival, Northwest Pride, when I can manage it!).

However, I feel the referendum has brought out some of the worst aspects of Irish society, both the homophobic, bigoted, misogynistic right-wing elements (church-led and otherwise) as well as the assimilationist, clean-cut ‘we are just like you’ part of the gay community, which seems more focused on adapting to a cishet norm than actually fighting for queers in the streets. To the extent of advising people to call the police on LGBTQ people who take down and vandalise the homophobic posters put up by the No campaign.

Let’s start with the basics. If you’re in Ireland, do I think you should vote yes, no, or abstain?

Vote yes. Clearly. Obviously.

Voting no is simply objectionable. Voting yes grants LGBTQ people rights that we should already have. If you’re a particularly politically minded LGBTQ person, abstaining should not be an option, considering the rather ghastly politics that make up the No side, from the homophobic and misogynistic Iona Institute to other typical right-wing, antifeminist elements in Irish society. And for many people, the rights granted are crucial and life saving: Adoption, citizenship, visitation rights in hospital, etcetera are all sorely needed. The state declaring that same-sex relationships are equal in the eyes of the law can have a strong effect on other parts of society as well.

Are we cool on that? Because from this point on, things get complicated.

Let’s start with the institution of marriage. If you’re in love, committing to someone for life, if that’s what you’re both into, that’s rad! Go ahead and do it, more power to you. But why do we need the state to get involved?

On a practical level, the issues around rights I’ve highlighted above are an obvious answer. But I ask you to take a step back and ask yourself: Why does citizenship depend on marriage? The fact of the matter is, historically, the state are heavily invested in regulating who comes and goes from their countries, and how family units are organised -a cursory look at the last 30 years of Irish history is proof of this. At different points in history, states will encourage immigration or discourage it through policies as well as promoting xenophobia, like we have seen in recent years. So I pose another question: why are our rights limited by whether or not we get access to a specific state-sanctioned form of relationship? What if we need those rights but we do not want the state involved in our affairs? What about the other things we have a right to but are often marginalised in? Housing and homelessness, unemployment, poverty, which studies in Ireland, the United States and UK show LGBTQ people overrepresented in those categories in proportion to the general population? Not to mention many other areas of discrimination in every day life I couldn’t hope to cover. Check out the following studies and reports that show marriage isn’t the only, or even the central, issue:

Ireland

List of publications by the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (I couldn’t link just one they’re all bloody important)

United States

Injustice at Every Turn – A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey

New Patterns of Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community

UK

An Examination of Poverty and Sexual Orientation in the UK

Debunking the ‘Pink Pound’ – LGBT Poverty and Place in Scotland

One answer is that marriage equality is something that is achievable within our lifetime. All of your radical ideas about no borders, abolishing capitalism, etcetera, are all well and good, but they are unrealistic and impossible to achieve, the argument goes.

But let me ask you: would we have gotten to where we are now in terms of achieving same-sex marriage in many countries, if people had not fought for that specifically? The interesting thing is that back in the late 60s, when queens and dykes and faggots were being beaten up by police in New York, incarcerated and abused in my native Argentina, when the revolutionary voices of Stonewall and so many other places rose up, were they calling for a seat at the table of mainstream acceptability? Were they asking for marriage equality?

No. They were saying the table rests on the back of people like us. the poor. the disabled. the ones who are not acceptable faces of a marriage campaign. The migrants, the sex workers, the people of colour, the people with mental health issues and physical disabilities. Not to mention the majority of people who live in poverty. In the face of this, Gay Liberation was a call to arms for us who were considered deviant by society due to breaking gender and sexual norms, for us to reform society from the ground up for a radical concept of equality. Not equality based on a single law, a single yes or no question, but rather on true equality for all.

My problem isn’t with marriage per se, but marriage does not exist in a vacuum. The fact is that same-sex marriage will change absolutely nothing for 99% of queers I know. I accept that is a biased sample, but most of the LGBTQ people I know fall under one of the many following categories: Disabled with either physical or mental disabilities; people of colour; survivors of abuse; migrants; with experience of homelessness; sex workers.

What does marriage do for us? We are poor. We are kicked out of welfare systems designed to keep us in poverty. Trans people are frequently targeted to be kicked out of social welfare system due to conflicting documentation.

We have an asylum system in both the UK and Ireland that is despicable in its utter dehumanisation of people. And if you add to that the extra scrutiny afforded to LGBTQ asylum seekers, the picture is grim.

Sex workers struggle with the violence of a state that will deny the right of vulnerable people to try to make a living, often in really difficult situations.

Racism in Ireland and the UK is an everyday occurrence, as is xenophobia, ableism, misogyny.

And let us not forget the elephant in the room: how marriage equality does nothing for those members of the LGBTQ community that need an abortion and are not able to get one in Ireland.

We can’t address all of those issues at once, of course. But is ticking ‘yes’ on a box all we can really do? Is our political imagination so constrained? Why must we accept reducing everything we are and all we live and suffer through to whether this referendum passes?

Here’s where the rub comes in for me: the famous saying that a society or community can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. Let’s not kid ourselves: the Irish LGBTQ community as a whole has an appalling record in this regard. Racism, misogyny, ableism, and even transphobia have been rampant and unchecked for a long time within it, and not enough has been done to fight this. The mainstream LGBTQ community does precious little work for asylum seekers and people of colour. There’s virtually no campaigning around LGBTQ people with disabilities and/or in poverty.

So, with all of these issues, I have more questions to ask: Why are we campaigning for marriage now, instead of working to help the vulnerable sectors of the LGBTQ community in Ireland? Where is the money coming from for all the signs, vans, etcetera? And after the referendum, if it’s a Yes, where will all that money, energy, door-to-door canvassing, go to? If Ireland follows precedent, all that political mobilisation will vanish overnight. If we’re lucky, it will help mobilise for gender recognition for trans people as it did in Argentina, but even that will not fix all the other problems I’ve mentioned.

The fact of the matter is that marriage, in general, is a reform that is easy to attain and does not disturb the capitalist, patriarchal status quo. Marriage has always been, from the point of view of the state, about organising workers and property, determining who lives where and how. It is not a revolutionary institution and it will not bring about the change the most vulnerable LGBTQ people in Ireland sorely need.

Will the money and huge organising energy from the Yes campaign go to campaigns to abolish the direct provision system? Will money be raised by the big orgs to help out LGBTQ asylum seekers? What about campaigns to help improve the standard of living in local communities?

Ireland has a chance in this regard, because in all other countries, once they got what they wanted, these campaigns disbanded. They didn’t mobilise the LGBTQ communities over which they have so much sway to fight poverty, police violence, or for the decriminalisation of sex work. The system of global capital will still stand. Will the Yes campaigners stand with us?

An Open Letter to Roseanne Barr, From a Feminist Sister

Dear Roseanne,

My name is Ariel Silvera, I’m a latina from Buenos Aires, Argentina who has lived around the UK and Ireland for the past 11 years. I am also a feminist trans woman. Now that the election is over, I hope you’ll have time to take a look at this letter.

I’m going to admit I’m not as familiar with your work as I should be. I never watched your famous show, although a good number of my friends of mine swear by it. I’ve occasionally seen you say some quite brilliant things in terms of politics, and my perception of you until now has been one of a rather kickass woman. So, I’m writing this out of disappointment regarding your recent comments about trans women. From a feminist to another feminist.

I want to start with a reality check. I like talking about material reality, about things that actually happen, rather than conjectures and assumptions. This reality check is about toilets. In a heated twitter outburst, you wrote ‘if she has a penis, she’s not allowed in’, continuing with ‘women do not want your penises forced in their faces or in our private bathrooms’.

Roseanne, I honestly wonder, just what do you think I do when I go to the bathroom? I’m going to tell you exactly what I do when I go to a public bathroom. Don’t worry! I won’t be sharing any scatological details or talk about any gross poo stuff. Ick! Okay, so. My public bathroom routine is, more or less, as follows:

1. Enter bathroom, head to nearest cubicle (I’m lazy, what can I say), or, if there is a queue, join it and wait for my turn.
2. Once in the cubicle, I lock the door behind me. If there is no lock, or it’s broken, I try to find a way to hold the door either with one arm, or a leg, or a bag if I have any.
3. I do my business, and I get out of the cubicle. I head towards the sinks.
4. I wash my hands carefully. At this point, maybe eye contact is made with another woman. Maybe we’ll say hi or comment on the weather. You know, small talk.
5. Leave the bathroom in the knowledge of a job well done.

So, there you have it. This is what I do when I, a trans woman, a woman who was assigned male at birth and has transitioned to female, do when I go to the bathroom. I can imagine that you, a cis woman, assigned female at birth, have a similar routine. Maybe you make witty remarks if someone strikes up a conversation, after all you’re a very intelligent person who can come up with a better topic than the goddamn weather.

What I’m trying to point out here is that at no point did I:

1. Talk to other women or girls in the bathroom about my genitals and the status thereof, or
2. Show my genitals to other women or girls in the bathroom or generally expose myself.

I imagine you don’t do this either. Congratulations. You go to the bathroom in exactly the same manner I do, as a trans woman. And before you ask? No, I have not had sexual reassignment surgery.

In your tweets, you say that people like me should not be able to access women’s bathrooms. I imagine you expect me to go into the men’s toilets. Roseanne, are you aware of the violence statistics for trans people in America alone? The fact that a majority of young trans people report verbal and physical harassment, and a third of trans youth have considered suicide? Given the violent misogyny prevalent in American society today, that if someone perceived as ‘a man dressed as a woman’, or someone simply perceived as female or feminine, entered a male-dominated space, do you honestly believe they would not face violence? Did you know that there were 17 recorded murders of trans people in America alone in 2011?

We are just going to the toilet, Roseanne. We’re not there to molest kids. You’ve brought up NAMBLA, and how you fought against their inclusion under the Gay/Lesbian banner back in the day. Good. I despise NAMBLA. I’m glad you did that work and I’m thankful for it! But, I ask, why do you bring it up? Are you implying allowing trans women into women’s restrooms is the same as opening the door to child molesters, rapists and paedophiles?

Now, I want to ask you to do something. Look up all reported cases of trans women raping minors in restrooms. Or of ‘men dressed as women’ doing this. Now, look up statistics of the violence faced by trans people in our society, and the way it maims and murders us for who we are (or, occasionally, when a black trans woman kills a white man, by accident, in self defense, she is sentenced as a mere murderer).

Ask any trans person, trans men, trans women, genderqueer & non-binary folk, and we will all tell you that bathrooms, for us, are TERRIFYING. Almost every trans person I’ve ever met (and being a long-time activist in the community, I’ve met a few from at least a dozen countries), has a horror story. That time they got beaten up for being in the ‘wrong’ toilet, whether it corresponded to their birth-assigned gender or not. The time they got shouted at. The time someone stabbed them. And this violence is mostly faced by those whom patriarchy, heteronormativity and a racist capitalism makes the most vulnerable: trans women of colour. 

You are asking us to face real violence because of the fact that a small percentage of us (just like a small percentage of ANY GROUP IN SOCIETY) may be rapists or paedophiles. There’s probably paedophiles or rapists in your own party, Roseanne, statistically speaking. By your own logic, we shouldn’t let members of the Peace and Freedom party into women’s bathrooms either.

You’ve brought the misogyny present in much of the LGBTQ movement into this conversation. I couldn’t agree more that this is a hugely important thing to address, and we need to continue to make LGBTQ groups understand that misogyny exists, that women are particularly oppressed in this patriarchal society. I think we can agree on this quite easily. I’m a long-time feminist activist, and have seen how misogyny tears movements apart, and how we must bring a feminist consciousness to bear on these problems.

Near the end of this blog post, you talk about vitriol aimed your way by members of the trans community. Threats and misogynist insults are unacceptable! But when you imply that an entire community is made up of rapists and paedophiles, many people are going to be angry and upset. And they may have very base reactions based on the fact that a massive percentage of us deal with massive self-hatred, and are made to feel alienated and suicidal by a society which, largely, promotes hatred towards us. A hatred we have to confront in the streets, every day, when we leave our front door.

Your reaction to the anger of members of a persecuted and marginalised community, which you ignorantly insulted, was this:

“The level of their misogyny is akin to racist fascism from the nazi’s in 1930′s pre war berlin-The GLBTQ community needs to confront this and challenge it.”

As a trans woman who is also jewish; as a trans woman who is also the daughter of parents who survived two military dictatorships (in Uruguay and Argentina, supported by America, might I add); as a queer feminist activist fighting for liberation, as a person who has seen her friends bleeding after being beaten up at protests, evicted from their homes, as someone who fights the good fight against oppression, just as you do… This is disgusting and offensive.

The anger and vitriol from a bunch of pissed off people with very, very little power is not comparable to the campaigns of terror perpetuated by the Nazis in the build-up to their ascension to power. And that’s just the key here: power. Do you think that trans people really have the institutional and societal power to oppress you? In the United States, trans people keep being murdered, keep surviving horrible violence and discrimination, particularly trans women of colour, as I said above. Do you really think that their communication of anger through twitter is the same as a bunch of german dudes beating up an elderly jewish shopkeeper? Is this it?  I eagerly await your compilation of tweets, which the blog post promises.

I don’t know how to end this, Roseanne. I was shocked to hear you treat trans people as if we are your enemies, as if we are part of the powers that be, which continue to keep people fighting against one another, in poverty and misery, fighting wars for profit and propagating patriarchal attitudes. I hope you read this letter, and that you consider my words in it.

I leave you with a link to a video of me giving a speech encouraging Irish LGBTQ people to become allies of the pro-choice movement, at the March For Choice, Ireland’s largest pro-choice demonstration in 20 years, only a few months ago. One of my main involvements in feminism for the past five years has been campaigning for free, safe and legal abortion in Ireland, something which I imagine you strongly support. We have a lot in common Roseanne. I hope you consider what I’ve written here today.

Regards,

Ariel Silvera