When I started to read Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s newest collection, Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? (AK Press), I had an idea of what to expect. There are plenty of examples in the trans/queer blogosphere and Twittersphere of queer, trans, and/or non-binary individuals critiquing femme erasure and femme invisibility. Usually these individuals are young, white, college-educated, and politically radical. They (we) critique a mainstream gay culture that attacks or erases femme expressions of gender, is bothered or even disgusted by trans queers, and deifies masculinity.
Some of the contributions in this volume come from this group, but the collection as a whole takes on a different tenor, one that is sorely needed in our communities. Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? focuses on brown bodies, on AIDS, on colonialism and nationalism, and on the intersections between these themes. These essays are about love and fear–the potential of queer creativity and the impact of a faggot-coded epidemic.
This volume asks us to question our fears–not only of femininity but of brown bodies, trans bodies, poverty, drugs, open sexuality, terrorism, and AIDS. The essays engage explicitly with sex, linking queer desire to ideas of nationality, safety, and acceptability. The authors ask us to build a political discourse around sex and desire and to see the potential in brown, femme, and/or diseased bodies that the collective mainstream gay imagination fears and has forgotten because of the terrifying possibility of death.
Some of the most controversial essays challenge the idea of “safe sex” and ask us to consider barebacking as a sexual practice. How do we pose bodies and sex as dirty or clean? The public health discourse around AIDS jibes well with a national rhetoric of individual responsibility–you are either safe/clean or you are not, you are a citizen or a terrorist, you are with us or against us–and if you cross the line, it is your fault.
“The ‘risk reduction’ we practiced often meant avoiding intimacy with the very people we needed in order to overcome generations of internalized shame; we ended up limiting the types of connections that had historically led to personal health and community well-being.” –Chris Bartlett, “Levity and Gravity”
Some of the authors in this volume suggest solutions to the status quo that are wrapped up in sex, desire, cruising culture, creativity, and femininity. These solutions also challenge the white, middle class, masculine gay norm. Ali Abbas, for example, tells the story of a white colleague accusing him of “playing into” his own Middle Eastern culture while simultaneously ignoring the queerness of some Middle Eastern cultures. Masculinity here is linked to nationalism and citizenship, which in turn is linked to the mainstream gay American culture’s focus on marriage (a right linked to citizenship) rather than human rights, immigration, sexuality, or poverty.
Several essays challenge the assumption of norms, usually presented in a “good vs. bad” binary, around desireability and sexuality. CA Conrad wants to know why fat men are assumed to be undesireable, while Philip Patston asks the same thing about disabled bodies. Patston’s story of going to his therapist and initially assuming, when told that things would be different for him because of his disability, that gay men would see him as a rare and desireable potential partner, challenges the assumption that normal desire focuses on able bodies–or on white ones, thin ones, cis ones, or masculine ones. Discussions of creativity in the early AIDS movement and of the good things about HIV-positive sex challenge readers to consider whether even an “infected body” is necessary less desireable. The gay community is used to the idea of collective trauma (ie, AIDS) vs. collective Pride, but why does Pride have to be found principally in middle class white bodies? Why not in a community of “Others”–brown, trans, pos, disabled, queer faggots?
I agree, at least in part, with the criticisms of the mainstream public health response to AIDS. There are no “good gays” and “bad gays.” The community, such as it is, would be a better place if we consciously engaged with disease, with sex, and with the creative potential of our fringes. I agree with Patrick “Pato” Hebert that our power lies in sex and storytelling, and that these things are linked. “We make ourselves through storytelling. We reproduce the queer power of ourselves through our sex.”
The narratives in this collection are a first step in looking at ourselves as sexual, positive, worthy wholes and as a powerful potential community of activists and artists. As Nick Clarkson explains in his story about a gay cis man who is unwilling to go home with him because of his trans body, we are not solely defined by our histories. It is important to recognize queer people both collectively and individually as a whole–through our histories, our identities, our bodies, and our stories.
First, I have to do a quick apology for the radio silence around here! Rest assured that I have quite a backlog of ideas to write about on this blog, I’ve just been very busy with a number of different projects and events. In January, I attended Creating Change, which was a fabulous experience, and my workshop on ambiguous identities went quite well. I also launched QueerFeminism.com, which is already featuring two great posts on service in BDSM and femme/trans identities. If you’d like to write about what feminism needs to do better in your community, please suggest an idea! Along with that, I’m now a staff writer at Gender Across Borders, where I’m writing a lot about international trans issues, and I’m collaborating with Kyla Bender-Baird on a really fun column called Body Politic at Girl w/ Pen that focuses on queer bodies, law, and policy.
So the topic of this post actually comes from a conference I attended this weekend at American University, Lavender Languages. It was a really great conference–I was actually pretty skeptical when I read the panel descriptions, wondering if it’d be too theoretical and out of my depth. I’m a language nerd, but I haven’t really been immersed in that kind of academia for a while. As it turned out, almost all the presenters were very easy to follow, and raised a lot of ideas in my mind for future blog posts and maybe even academic work. My own discussion group on non-binary language also went very well, and I wish we’d have more time!
One theme that kept coming up that is of particular interest to me is the notion of purity and “clean” bodies in queer discourse. This was either explicitly stated or implied in a number of talks. For example, a paper on blue collar gay pornography considers how working class men, and particularly men of color, are coded as “dirty” or “greasy.” Another presentation on the idea of the gold star lesbian in the Portland community touched briefly on the concept of virginity/purity, and I was interested in how the “gold star” definition positioned trans female bodies as contaminating while trans male bodies might still be “pure” (and transmasculine identities therefore erased).
There was also some talk about colonialism, capitalism, and citizenship, and I would be interested to get into how the purity narrative plays in there. This isn’t a one-way effect–I’ve noticed that the language of some African and Asian leaders, for example, invokes the image of Western homosexuality and transgender identity as an infecting force (juxtaposed with AIDS) to corrupt traditional cultures. At the same time, the fantasy of gay male erotic tourism places black and brown bodies as both “dirty” and “exotic,” a thrilling danger zone where privileged white men can use their American dollars or Euros to spend some time in the muck.
I wonder if any readers know of some related reading that might be helpful to me in negotiating this discourse, or if you’ve heard similar themes in your communities? I’ll definitely be coming back to specific points on this topic in future posts.
Listen up, white feminists.
We have a problem. I’m including myself because none of us are immune from this problem. We all fuck up. And you can say “fucking up is natural,” and that’s true, but it’s time for us to start identifying our fuck ups, and not just learning from them, but acknowledging the hurt they cause other people.
We need to acknowledge that we cannot know what it’s like to be an oppressed racial minority. Cannot. The end. Period. We don’t know because we’re queer, because we’re disabled, because we’re Jewish, because we were the nerdy kid in school. These things may have hurt us severely, but we need to stop playing Oppression Olympics and acknowledge that when we’re talking about race we Do. Not. Know. No more metaphors.
When I started out with polyamory, I didn’t really feel comfortable with the idea of “open.” Part of that was that it seemed rather chaotic and haphazard. I didn’t think that there was any reason to limit romantic relationships to just one, but the word “open” gave me a mental picture of extreme promiscuity and I think especially, a lack of control.
Without really thinking about it, though, I’ve ended up in an open, poly situation and I’m happy with that. It was mostly accidental, because I had no interest in setting rules about sex and dating, outside of the important safer sex questions, of course. I still think of myself primarily as a “polyamorous person,” even though I’m only with one person right now, because polyamory has become a lens through which I view the world, rather than a simple way of describing what’s going on in my love life.
Read the rest of this entry
I haven’t said a lot about Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement generally because I haven’t quite decided where I come down. It would seem that this movement is tailor-made for me. After all, I’ve been waiting for the (peaceful) revolution for a while. I don’t believe that we can solve our problems through voting. I’m an enthusiastic student of Howard Zinn, and I’m frustrated by how the myth of economic prosperity has been used to blame and shame ordinary people, to turn natural allies against one another by tapping into our Puritan ideals of “it’s my fault if I don’t succeed.” I think this country needs a drastic paradigm shift.
The occupy movement addresses this myth in some ways, by pointing out through the 99% concept that ordinary people are struggling, that often it’s not your fault in this country if you don’t succeed, because its structures and its politics do not support you. I support this tactic. I love the “we are the 99%” blog, and how it tells the diverse stories of people who are struggling. I also love tactics like closing big bank accounts, staging teach-ins, and donating to a big library of radical books so that everyone can learn about feminism, homophobia, racism, etc.
But the movement is not perfect.
The occupiers may be challenging the economic prosperity myth, but at the same time we’ve seen racism, transphobia, and sexism in the camps that shows many occupiers are buying into a different myth about power structures. Just as the idea that America is a great, prosperous country has been used to shame those who don’t succeed, the support for the ideas of white, straight, able-bodied cis men in this country often keeps these Americans from seeing their own faults. Radical liberals who have these traits tend to dominate discussions and challenge the perspectives of more marginalized people, rather than listening up, or, as Tumblr gleefully terms it, “taking a seat.” There are reports of rape and anti-trans violence in the camps. The entire movement suffers from its blind spot regarding the fact that this is already a colonized country, and all us white folks, for richer or poorer, the colonizers.
Beyond these problems, which others have blogged about at length, I have further difficulties finding a place in the movement. Of course, the “occupy” tactic mostly works for those who don’t have jobs, or those who are able to quit. I am employed at a wonderful organization that does work I care about, and I have no interest in leaving to join the revolution. I believe that the work we do is revolutionary–maybe not all of it, but certainly some. And as much as I believe in revolution, and realize that a revolution needs bodies to take place, it’s hard to tell, in the middle of a movement, whether this is The One. I still find myself more comfortable writing about change, giving talks, and having conversations than I do waving a protest sign or putting my body in the way. I believe strongly in a revolution of ideas, in change through education. That, to me, is the beauty of the occupy movement, and that’s the part in which I feel most comfortable participating.
Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance, where we take time out of our day to remember those we’ve lost–too often to violence and suicide. As we mourn those who have died this year, it’s important to remember who we’ve lost and why. A few thoughts:
- As a community, we cannot abandon those at our margins. It is crucial that we focus on violence against poor transgender sex workers of color, a community where many of the murders take place. How can we support sex workers as a community, and how can we adjust our attitudes to recognize ALL transgender people as our brothers, sisters, and friends?
- The prison-industrial complex is not just a term of art. It is a violent, oppressive system that is killing our community. Police who have no training in cultural competency aren’t just rude towards transgender people, but frequently violent and abusive. Prisons don’t know how to handle transgender prisoners, who are often housed in the wrong facilities, confined in solitary, denied medical treatment, and particularly vulnerable to rape. We cannot forget those who are “lost” to the system, and must be their unwavering advocates.
- The problem of suicide is a personal one to me, and difficult to address because I struggle with depression myself, often related to gender dysphoria. It is difficult for me to conceptualize how others might help. However, this is a serious problem that claims too many lives, and beyond the general work we need to do to increase acceptance of gender variance in our culture, there are some solutions to make transgender and gender non-conforming people feel less alone. Therapists, other medical professionals, and suicide hotlines that support trans* patients and have experience working with trans* people should advertise this and make themselves known in their communities. Even for those of us who have the resources to seek professional help, the crippling fear of transphobia in the medical establishment can be too much to overcome without some sign that a provider will be understanding. And of course, ordinary people, friends and family, can do a huge service just by listening, asking how to help, and not judging those who suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts.
I had a thought about transphobia, particularly the kind of transphobia that involves cis males freaking out because the idea of a “gender change” is so wrong and unnatural to them. When this kind of transphobia comes up, I think part of the problem may be that the kneejerk reaction is a sense of wrongness that the perpetrator feels when he imagines himself wanting to be, or turning into, a woman. A common response is to critique that sense of wrongness, challenge the sense that femininity is wrong or less than masculinity, talk about gender fluidity, etc. And while that’s not a bad approach–certainly, the gender essentialism and sexism should be addressed–I think it might be more effective to instead latch onto that sense of wrongness and affirm it by explaining that many trans people feel a similar sense of wrongness before transition. If we ask the hypothetical man to imagine instead being born into a female body, knowing that it is “wrong,” he might actually start to think about the transgender experience in a more sympathetic way.
Every day, a new piece pops up on my radar screen describing positive steps towards women’s rights in an Arab or Islamic context. (Here’s the most recent as I’m starting this article, from Brian Whitaker on Tunisia.) At the same time, the Islamophobes keep spouting the same tired rhetoric about how Muslim women are oppressed, using this oppression as a justification for Americans to fear and hate Muslim men. Recently, I wrote at Gender Across Borders about how shari’a is perverted by the Islamophobes to argue for draconian laws and treatment of Muslims in the US, and why that’s ridiculous. This fuzzy logic goes far beyond the creeping shari’a argument, however.
Islamophobic pundits have been in the news a lot lately, after the Center for American Progress released its Fear, Inc. report. These right-wing commentators are doing a lot of harm in a lot of ways, but I’d like to focus today on how they use the idea of a Muslim “Other” to obscure the appalling US record on human rights for women.
If you’re a white middle-class person who was raised in the US, there’s a good chance that a soft form of this Othering rhetoric made it to your ears at some point while you were in school. We see it all the time in visual depictions of Muslim women for NGO ads as veiled, sad, and repressed. The veil is used as a powerful rhetorical tool to equalize Muslim women, nevermind the many women who wear the hijab by choice, nevermind the variety of traditions, schools of thought, and types of covering that exist under the broad umbrella of Islam. Islam is portrayed as an anti-woman monolith, and Muslim women are portrayed as being in great need of benevolent Western help.
Let’s get a few things straight:
- Islam is not a monolith. There are several main schools of thought, and many, many interpretations of specific points within those schools. Islamic jurisprudence and study is a vast body of work that you can’t even begin to crack with a casual glance. The interplay of faith, law, and policy is also not identical to the way these things work together in the West. Nor can you assume that the relationship between Islam and the state, or between the state and the people, is the same in every country.
- Islam is not inherently oppressive of women. Islamophobes do a great disservice to living, breathing women when they make broad claims about how women are being oppressed in the Muslim world without digging deeper. There are Muslim women who are scholars of Islam and of shari’a. There are Muslim women in government and politics. In fact, in some cases, women have more involvement in the public sphere in an Arab country than they do in the US. Muslim women are doing great things while holding a tremendous faith in the face of difficult challenges. Many Muslim women who do live in oppressive situations are using Islam as a tool to fight against their oppressors. This, by the way, includes Muslim women fighting oppression right here in the United States.1
- He who lives in a glass house should be really fucking careful about throwing stones. I could go on for days about how dangerous it is for fundamentalist Protestant Christians to speak on the oppression women face under another religious system. Instead, I’m just going to link one of many examples, and also recommend the book Quiverfull and the blog Are Women Human? An Us vs. Them mentality on women’s rights, where fundamentalists in the US claim the high ground, is frankly ridiculous. It’s also important to note that the US has typically lagged behind when it comes to support for international human rights, including women’s rights. Instead of trying to be the world’s savior through our imperialism, perhaps we should turn inward and look at how women are being oppressed right here at home.
It’s always a good idea to be suspicious when a pundit paints an “Other” with a broad brush, whether that’s Muslim women, black mothers, immigrants, “LGBTs,” or any other group. It’s convenient to use “do you know how they treat their women over there?” so-called humanitarian statements to pull the spotlight off abuses at home. As activists, we need to be alert for these claims and quick to provide examples of how they harm rather than help.
1It would be impossible to list all the amazing Muslim women and organizations that are doing work in the US and in the Arab world. However, I thought it would be helpful for this post to crowdsource a list. Here are just a few people and groups, some picked by me, some suggested by others, to illustrate the points made above (alphabetical by country):
Dr. Sima Samar, chair of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Sudan, founder and director of Shuhada Organization in Pakistan.
Cherifa Kheddar, outspoken president and founder of Djazairouna Association, which provides support to victims of the Algerian civil war, and 2009 winner of the International Service Human Rights Award for the Defense of Human Rights of Women
Waris Dirie, Somali-Austrian women’s rights activist and former international supermodel, best-selling author, appointed UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation, founded several organizations including the Waris Dirie Foundation to raise FGM awareness, builds awareness around the fact that Islam does not require FGM
Amira Al Hussaini, journalist and Regional Editor for the Middle East and North Africa at Global Voices Online
Sheikha Hasina Wazed, Prime Minister of Bangladesh and president of the Awami League, focused on poverty reduction, daughter of the first president of Bangladesh
Mahinur Ozdemir, Europe’s first hijab-wearing minister of Parliament, member of Christian Democrat party
Rebiya Kadeer, de factor leader of the Uighur social justice movement, formerly a successful businesswoman, now in exile in the US and publicizes the plight of the Uighurs in the US and Europe
Jihan Al Halafawi, first female political candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood (ran for Egyptian Parliament in 2000 and 2002—the Muslim Brotherhood has long accepted women as members, but more recently has made gender equality a major concern)
Ethar El-Katatney, award-winning journalist and author, former staff writer for Egypt Today, promotes dialogue between religions and cultures
Dr. Tuti Alawiyaah, former Minister of Women’s Empowerment, current dean of As Syafi’iyah University, one of Indonesia’s oldest and most prominent Islamic educational institutions, prolific preacher who appears on almost all TV channels in Indonesia
Siti Musdah Mulia, chair of the women’s branch of the enormous Indonesian Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama, Muslimat Nahdlatul Uluma, first female professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (1999), helped produce the Counter Legal Draft, which would have revised the Islamic legal code to ban polygamy and child marriage
Lily Zakiyah Munir, founder and director of Centre for Pesantren and Democracy Studies, which educates Islamic boarding schools about human rights and political participation, only woman and only Muslim to serve on Monitoring Commission for the Afghan elections
Hajjah Maria Ulfah, internationally acclaimed reciter of the Qur’an and first woman to win an international Qur’an recitation competition, popularized Egyptian style of recitation, director of women’s department at the Institute for Qur’an Study in Indonesia
Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, founder of Children’s Rights Support Association, supports rights of women and children and lectures on human rights in Iran, has a liberal view of Islam that many Muslim feminists appreciate
Dr. Masoumeh Ebtekar, first female Vice President of Iran, founding member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front and has been at the center of the revolutionary movement in Iran since 1979
Faezeh Hashemi, Iranian politician and social activist, Majlis representative, advocate of relaxing the dress code in Iran (though she wears the chador herself), and younger daughter of powerful politician and former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
Zahra Rahnavard, author, political advisor under Khatami, first female chancellor of Alzahra University, staunch critic of Ahmadinejad, and first woman to campaign in Iran (with her husband Mir-Hossein Mousavi in 2009)
Sharifah Zuriah Aljeffri, artist and curator who incorporates Chinese brush style with Arabic calligraphy, also outspoken social activist who founded Sisters in Islam to focus on gender issues and increase respect for women
Zaynah Anwar, executive director of Sisters in Islam, journalist, and author of a book about Islam in Malaysia
Aminetou El Mokhtar, human rights lawyer, president of L’Association des Femmes Chefs de Famillie, and chair of the African Democracy Forum
Fatema Mernissi, feminist writer and sociologist; has done sociological research for UNESCO, the ILO, and Moroccan authorities; currently lecturer and research scholar at Mohammed V University of Rabat, her work is lauded by Muslim feminists
Nadia Yassine, head of the women’s branch of Al Adl Wa Al Ihssane (the most powerful Islamist movement in Morocco), has promoted the movement in Europe, recently prosecuted for criticizing the monarchy in a weekly newspaper
Naima Zitan, playwright and drama teacher in the Faculty of Education and Professor of Animation at the National Museum of Science and Archaeological Heritage, president of Theatre Aquarium (organization that publicizes role of Muslim women in Moroccan society), and advisor to the Global Fund for Women
Dodo Aichatou Mindaoudou, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, and African Integrity, has written extensively about economic development and women’s issues, one of the most senior women politicians in West Africa
Mukhtaran Bibi, aka Mukhtar Mai, founded the Mukhtaran Mai Women’s Welfare Organization to educate young girls about women’s rights and honor killings after her own publicized sexual assault, which brought media focus to the issue of women’s rights; author of a best-selling memoir; featured in a documentary on sexual violence
Dr. Maleeha Lodi, journalist and diplomat, previously served on the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Affairs and as ambassador to the US and Britain, received President’s Award of Hilal-e-Imtiaz for public service
Tanveer Kausar Naim, director of Science, Technology Research and Training Institute of the OIC standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH), member of UNESCO Gender Advisory Board and UNESCO International Advisory Board for Reform of Higher Education and Science and Technology in Nigeria
Khouloud El Faqeeh, first female judge in Palestine and one of the first female judges in the Islamic world for a shari’a-based court
Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, advocate for women and children’s rights, was the driving force behind Education City and Al Jazeera Children Channel, wife of the ruler of Qatar
Muna Abu-Sulayman, executive director of Alwaleed bin Talal Foundation, founding co-host of a popular TV show, and first Saudi woman appointed a UN Goodwill Ambassador (2005)
Norah Abdallah Al Faiz, deputy minister for women’s education and first woman to serve on the Saudi Council of Ministers, former principal of a girls’ school and director of the women’s section at the Institute of Public Administration in Riyadh
Wajeha Al Huwaider, feminist author, poet, and journalist who is a staunch critic of Saudi policies on women and was banned from Saudi media in 2003; she has led high-profile human rights protests including against the driving ban
Lubna Olayan, Saudi Arabia’s top businesswoman, leading investor in the Saudi economy, and CEO of Olayan Financing Company; one of the most influential businesswomen in the world
Hibaaq Osman, Muslim and women’s rights activist, Special Representative to Africa for V-Day, founder of Karama, founding CEO of the Arab Women’s Fund, and founder of the Center for Strategic Initiatives for Women (CISW)
Houda al-Habash, subject of an upcoming documentary, founded an operates a women’s Qur’anic school in Syria that empowers women intellectually and socially
Hayrünnisa Gül, first Turkish First Lady to wear the hijab, appealed to the ECHR in the 1990s to overturn Turkey’s hijab ban, most visible headscarf-wearing person in Turkey
United Arab Emirates
Princess Haya bint al Hussain, wife of the Prime Minister, has developed initiatives in humanitarianism, sports, health science, culture, and business and advanced the Millennium Development Goals on hunger and poverty
Dalia Mogahed, director of the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center and Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think
Nimco Ali, co-founder of Daughters of Eve, a campaign and support charity dedicated to ending gender-based violence and female genital mutilation
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, British writer and commentator acclaimed for her blog spirit21, influential in British media as a commentator on religion and gender, author of popular book Love in a Headscarf, which demystified Muslim life to a non-Muslim audience as well as being very popular among Muslims
Irene Zubaida Khan, first woman and first Muslim to serve as Secretary General of Amnesty International, initiated a campaign against gender-based violence, also served in high positions for the UNHCR in Macedonia and India
Ruwayda Mustafah, British-Kurdish feminist freelance writer and contributor to the Huffington Post, writes on Kurdish rights as well as women’s rights and religion
Assilmi Amina, president of the International Union of Muslim Women, was involved in a custody case that resulted in a change in Colorado state law to keep individuals from being denied custody based on religion, lobbied for an Eid US stamp in 1996
Sabina England, Deaf punk Muslim playwright and performer
Mona Eltahawy, award-winning columnist and international speaker on Arab and Muslim issues (website)
Suheir Hammad, Palestinian-American poet and performer (described by the person who recommended her to me as “Kick. Ass.” Clearly you should check her out!)
Dr. Merve Kavakçi, barred from Turkish Parliament in 1999 for refusing to remove the hijab, is a symbolic figure for the headscarf issue in Turkey and an adovcate for Muslim women’s rights, lecturer on culture and international affairs at GW, has memorized the Qur’an
Irshad Manji, founder and director of the Moral Courage Project at NYU, creator of the Emmy-nominated film Faith Without Fear, and an advocate for reform within Islam
Ingrid Mattson, first woman and first convert to be president of ISNA, the largest Muslim organization in North America, also director of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program and professor at Hartford Seminary
Dalia Mogahed, executive director and senior analyst at Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, director of the Muslim-West Facts Initiative, appointed by Obama to serve on the Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think
Robina Niaz, executive director of Turning Point for Women & Families, active participant in interfaith and women’s rights events in New York
Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities, charged with executing Secretary Clinton’s vision for engagement with Muslims worldwide
Asifa Quraishi, legal scholar specializing in comparative Islamic and U.S. constitutional law, writes on shari’a and feminism, former Public Delegate on the US delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women
Nadia Roumani, co-founder and director of the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute (AMCLI) at USC
Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York, Advocacy and Civic Engagement Coordinator for the National Network of Arab American Communities (NNAAC), and community activist on issues including immigration, women’s issues, domestic policy, and the Middle East
Ilyasah Al Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X, president and trustee of the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial, Educational, and Cultural Center, involved in New York community service and has a position of authority among black Muslims
Amina Waudud, an imam (Muslim scholar) who led an assembly of mixed-gender Muslims in prayer at an historical service and has done extensive work on gender studies in Islam (Wiki)
Thursday, September 22nd, has been deemed the Day of the Girl. Focused on girls’ empowerment, girls and adults around the world will be taking actions today to remind everyone about the issues facing girls around the world. I wanted to write a brief post to focus on something that doesn’t affect all girls, but should be a concern of all adults.
There’s been a lot of news lately about transgender youth and treatment of LGBT youth in schools. Recently, Nightline aired a segment about Jackie, a 10-year-old transgender girl in Ohio (TW for misgendering by the host). Though not all trans* people claim their identities early on, it is obvious that there are girls in primary and secondary school who are treated by their parents and teachers as boys, as well as girls who may later transition to be boys, or may later determine that they are neither male or female. While some schools may address gay and lesbian people in their history or health curricula, few talk about the wide range of gender identities that exist.
It’s crucial that we recognize this detriment in our education systems and advocate for change. According to Injustice At Every Turn, 78% of kids who expressed a transgender or non-conforming gender identity in grades K-12 reported harassment. 35% reported physical assault and 12% reported sexual violence. 15% left school at some point (K-12 or college) due to harassment. 31% reported some form of harassment by teachers or staff. These numbers were higher for trans and gender non-conforming people of color. Over time, these negative experiences as a student can lead to outcomes including poverty, homelessness, drug use, and suicide.
What can we do? Anti-bullying initiatives are one step, but they can’t be the only one. Trans* girls have a right to an education, which not only includes safety in school, but also recognition of themselves as human. Curricula need to address the variety of gender and avoid gender essentialization and stereotyping. This would benefit all girls, of course, not only those who identify or later identify as trans*. Teachers also need to provide support and put themselves out there as available mentors for all girls.
When I was a girl, I had no idea that genderqueer people existed. I didn’t learn about transgender until I was a teenager, and when I heard about third gender it was only in an international context. No one ever suggested in school that gender identity can change over time, or that people don’t have to have a body that “matches” gender. When I was ten, I wanted to be a boy and was heavily ridiculed to the point of being physically assaulted by my best friend on the playground, with the backing of the entire fifth grade class. I’m just one example, and things were undoubtedly easier for me than for a girl who is considered to be a boy by her parents and teachers, but the example is illustrative. We need to do better. Today, as we think about the rights of girls, let’s not leave anyone out.
Radical Reading is a column where I review books of particular interest to a queer, feminist, radical audience. If you have a book that you would like me to review or would like to put me on the list of reviewers for your press, please contact me at judithavory [at] gmail.com.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I’ve been a huge fan of Melissa Harris-Perry since she first started appearing as a guest on The Rachel Maddow Show. She has a tremendous voice and is particularly agile at synthesizing complex information about politics, current events, and social science in an accessible way.
That said, I’m not surprised that I enjoyed her newest book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. The book uses a slightly different framework than usual for looking at black women’s struggles in the US: instead of focusing on simple unequal distribution of resources, Harris-Perry uses a lens of misrecognition throughout the book. Misrecognition, or failure to see black women as their full, authentic selves, is a denial of humanity that colors black women’s lives and prevents them from participating fully in public life. Harris-Perry uses this lens to show how black women are denied full citizenship when they are recognized only as familiar stereotypes–the Mammy, the Jezebel, the Sapphire, and the self-sacrificing strong black woman.
Of course, none of these ideas are really new, but Harris-Perry presents them in a way that is very relevant for 2011. She uses an interdisciplinary focus, blending polling data, her own focus groups, literature, current events, and politics. Though there is some feminist influence at work, this book reads less like works I’ve read by black feminist authors focusing specifically on the feminist lens and more like general non-fiction.
Hurricane Katrina is a theme that weaves throughout the arguments presented, along with the stories presented in literary classics like Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harris-Perry also looks at current events like the Duke Lacrosse scandal and media coverage of Michelle Obama, but blends these discussions with historical comparison. Black women’s history in the US is presented in a way that would be relevant for a high school or college student today, and I can see this book being used in the classroom.
The frame of misrecognition is particularly interesting, because it gets to the very humanity of the issue. I particularly liked how Harris-Perry tackles the ideal of the “strong black woman,” putting this self-sacrificing, superwoman figure next to other stereotypes and revealing the personal and political problems it creates. Though the strong black woman is a positive character, she too is a misrecognition, and Harris-Perry posits that this idea of what black women should be may lead some black women towards political conservatism through a belief in individual responsibility.
This isn’t a primer on black feminism, or a treatment of all the historical issues related to black women in America. But it is a particularly skillful treatment of some of the issues black women in America face today, seen through the lens of public misrecognition of their true, complex selves.