In education, the voice of the educator is important. The lessons we learn are shaped by those who pass them on to us, just as they are shaped by the writers chosen for curricula. It’s telling, then, that as an undergraduate, I never had a single professor of color–but also telling that I didn’t realize that until recently.
I was thinking about my undergraduate education, and how I didn’t really start reading many works by people of color until law school, and didn’t start to tip the balance of my reading more towards a 50/50 split between white authors and authors of color until much later. This was my own fault, but I also noticed when thinking about the books I read at that time that I couldn’t think of a single undergraduate professor of color. When I went systemically through all the classes I took, I realized that there wasn’t one.
My university (UMBC) was a medium-sized public school in Maryland that emphasized diversity in the sciences, in particular. Our university president was a brilliant black man who was a frequent guest on NPR. But in the humanities and dance, all my professors were white. I never took an “ethnic studies” course, but I also never had a professor of color for any “mainstream” subject. In law school, I had three professors of color out of maybe twenty.
I wonder how common this experience is for white folks, and how many of us don’t even notice. I’m certain my classmates of color were noticing. So if you get a chance, white folks who attended an undergraduate institution, think back and see if you can recall how many professors of color you had. Let me know in the comments.
I guess it’s no surprise that my expectations for friendships in my thirties are different from what they were in my teens. But in thinking about how my friendship norms have changed over time, I notice some patterns that might have been alleviated by better education around friendship at a young age — a kind of relationship that’s prioritized much less than romantic relationships in the collective imagination, but is actually more important for many people.
When I was a kid, my primary models for friendship were my mom’s two best friends–one woman she’d known since high school, and another she met while pregnant with me. This idea of close, lifelong friends stuck with me and was definitely an aspiration. As a kid, I was always looking for a “best friend,” and fantasized about growing up and attending college together. I was desperate enough for a BFF that my closest friendships tended to have a cost, either of manipulation and borderline abusiveness in the friends who took advantage of that need, or of a neediness that I found overwhelming in friends who were just as desperate.
Readers, I cannot express how much I appreciate your sticking with me through the past ten years for all my blogging pursuits and other creative and activist endeavors. As you know, the content I create has always been free and will continue to be so. In addition to providing free content, though, I wanted to come up with a way for those who have the desire and the ability to support my blogs as well as some future projects I’ve been working on (did someone say game design? YouTube?)
So today I’m launching a Patreon campaign! You can follow the link to make a small recurring contribution that not only supports my work but also gives you access to awesome patron perks. Want to know more about what I’m working on each month? Want to be able to request blog topics or receive a monthly message just telling you how awesome you are in this messed-up, capitalist hellscape of a world we live in? Well, all you have to do is go to my Patreon page, choose a reward level, and sign up for exclusive content and more! And if you can’t contribute, but want to spread the word, shout-out Tweets are the best.
Thanks so much for your support over the years and keep reading and commenting!
In case you haven’t received the memo, in the United States at least, we’re living in a capitalist heteropatriarchal society. And when those two elements combine, one of the results is that it’s a citizen’s capitalist duty to literally produce people — to reproduce within a heteropatriarchal family structure. But what about the queers? Does being queer and anti-capitalist mean being opposed to production as a concept? Well, not necessarily.
I think queer creative production provides an interesting theoretical alternative to the capitalist heteropatriarchal ideal of production through reproduction. Sure, some queers make babies, but more interesting I think is another way we produce, through our creativity. Most of us don’t prioritize popping out kids to make the nationalist economy function, but a lot of do prioritize another kind of production.
Queerness has long been about producing love, producing connections, producing art and health and survival. I believe that to be queer is inherently to be making, creating, re-forming, and yes, producing. I love the way queers often form pastiches and remixes by creating on top of one another’s work, by rethinking ideas, by questioning and challenging. We get creative because we have to in order to survive, sometimes making our own alternative economies and family structures. We figure out how to survive through wit and connections and creativity. This is especially true for QTPOC and indigenous queers, for those whom society has left behind. Queerness is in this way, opposed to capitalism but also inherently generative.
Just a quick thought from me today: does the whole “Protect [identity here] Lives” meme bother anyone else? I keep seeing these great graphics focused on a particular subset — black trans lives, queer Deaf lives, queer sex worker lives, etc. — of people that I care about, and want to support. But the “protect” message feels super paternalistic and condescending. Particularly on lines of difference where I have privilege, I don’t want to be the creepy protector or savior, I want to tear down the institutions and conditions that are harming people that don’t have privilege. Why not celebrate lives or honor lives? Even support lives feels slightly better than “protect,” with its connotations of parental authority or a paternalistic possessive boyfriend. The only place where I really feel comfortable with that word is when we’re explicitly talking about younger people that legitimately need protection, as in “Protect Trans Youth,” and even then I think there’s value in using “support” to recognize the fact that youth can also act for themselves. Then again, I suppose “Dismantle the Conditions That Contribute Systemic Racism and Transmisogyny and Therefore Interfere with Black Trans Lives” doesn’t really fit on a graphic.
I don’t know about y’all, but when I was growing up, massage was always something rich white ladies did. Sometimes kids I knew would pool together their money in multi-sibling families and get their mom a spa appointment for Mother’s Day, but in general I thought of massage as being part of another world, one I wasn’t likely to ever have access to. I associated massage with fancy hotels, spas, and all-inclusive resorts, and never thought of it as healthcare.
Fast forward to today, I’ve been getting semi-regular massage for over a year now. Shout out to Aviva Pittle at Freed Bodyworks in DC, who is amazing. The whole business is super awesome, and much more inclusive-feeling than what I used to imagine. I only started even thinking of massage as a possibility when I saw the Freed business card with its emphasis on all bodies and being friendly to trans and other marginalized folks.
On the other hand, I’ve had to work through some guilt about doing this thing for myself—a thing that is pricey, and sometimes feels frivolous. Am I just one of those wealthy white ladies (ok, people) now? Is this a justified expense?
Here’s how I’ve decided that the answer to the latter question is “yes”:
It’s been several years since I spoke openly about my birth assignment. I stopped doing it, initially, because it’s none of your g-d business. It also confuses a lot of cis people not to have a birth assignment to work with. They need to know “which way” you’re trans, to fit you into at least a birth assignment binary, and that feels shitty to me. This not only doesn’t serve non-binary folks like me, but it also is an imposition of a colonial white binary gender system on lots of people whose gender never was assigned to that system. It erases gender diversity on all sorts of axes. And I get really uncomfortable when even trans people start talking about ourselves more along “AFAB/AMAB” lines than in terms of our actual genders.
But despite that, there is some relevance to birth assignment, particularly when we’re talking about transmisogyny. When I stopped talking about my birth assignment, I enjoyed that not everyone could guess it correctly, particularly those who hadn’t met me in person. It made it more difficult to lump me into a preconceived trans pile. My hope, I think, was that in the confusion someone might trip, fall, and land on my actual gender, but of course that rarely happens. Most people couldn’t pick my gender out of a lineup, because I don’t fit a lot of scripts. I don’t present in a way that consistently announces my femmeness, nor do I spend much time hanging around with assumed-female-at-birth white genderqueers. I don’t identify as transmasculine or androgynous. But I do benefit from the privilege of being assumed female both at birth and in most of my life. I don’t experience transmisogyny or the potential violence that my assumed-male peers do.
How many “minor health aggravations” do you need before you become an official Person with Disabilities?
I’ve been identifying as such for a few years, but I always feel like a total impostor. Not because of the reactions of other PWD: everyone I’ve met in the disability justice community has been amazing about inclusion, and folks within the community tend to be aware of invisible disabilities. But I still wonder to myself: do they assume I’m sicker than I am? Do I really have a right to be here?
Health care is so broken in this country, but so is culture. I’m only now, in my early thirties, starting to realize that there are a number of health problems I have that I shouldn’t “just accept.” At first, it was the looming spectre of the pre-existing condition (I can’t even bring myself to acknowledge that said spectre is back, I just can’t). Then it was the feeling of “hey, I’ve been ‘fine’ with this for years, it’s no big deal.”
My turning point was an issue with energy that sometimes put me in the position of sleeping 14 hours at night, then needing a 4-hour nap in the middle of the day. In other words, I wasn’t able to convince myself to seek medical help until I reached the point of a serious threat to my function, something “disabling” enough to affect my work hours. Once I hit that point, I realized that I couldn’t just keep “dealing with it.”
Whenever I’m talking with other white millennials about race, I’ve noticed that a key (and probably the most personal) anxiety that comes up is around gentrification. A lot of young white folks living in urban areas with limited funds end up in historically black and brown communities, and those who are aware of their role in the systemic force of gentrification tend to be uncomfortable about that and at something of a loss for what to do about it.
In a lot of ways, I get that anxiety. If you’re priced out of other neighborhoods, and you need to be in the city to work, then it’s understandable to move into an affordable apartment in an area that’s either largely non-white or in the process of gentrifying. But what does make me want to call my peers in is a tendency to want to make their new neighborhood more like where they came from, to blame black and brown residents for being “unfriendly,” or to use racially coded language when talking about urban geography.
I’m sure there are good arguments for white people not moving into these neighborhoods at all, but most of what I’ve seen is not telling white folks not to move in–a lot of residents just want these folks to respect the history and culture of the community and tamp down on that white entitlement instinct. It’s not just about physical movement, it’s about who gets to own a community’s character, and who has the right to change that character. So if you’re a white person concerned or unsure about gentrification, here are a few pieces of unsolicited advice:
I’ve said before that I don’t really have a sexual orientation based on gender, that I’m attracted to queer people of all genders. But what about people who aren’t queer? Well, sometimes I’m attracted to them too, but much more hesitant to hook up or start a relationship. Why? Because I’m sick of people, typically cis men, making the assumption that I’m a “safe” choice because I’m not too “obviously trans.”
I used to say, essentially, “don’t worry, being with me doesn’t turn you queer. You get to pick your own identity, as long as you don’t try to misrepresent mine.” But you know what? No. I’m tired of protecting cishet identities. I’m tired of fragile masculinities. I’d rather say I will turn you queer. That queerness, like a glorious disease, will spread from my body to yours and that you cannot share intimacy with me and stay “safe.” You don’t get to have those two things simultaneously. I’d rather be a threat than silent. I’d rather be scary than fearful.
For the most part, that means that I don’t want to be intimate with those who aren’t queer anymore–or at least not with those who are terrified of queerness, who are uncomfortable with queerness. I can’t sacrifice my survival for someone else’s comfort. If you’re in my life, the queer will rub off on you, at least a little, and that’s a deal breaker.