I received a review copy of Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex (coming out this month from AK Press) at the perfect time. I’ve been frustrated by the growing focus in recent months on two of the things I care least about when it comes to queer rights, the two things that the mainstream LGBT movement seems most adamant about: marriage and the military. It’s impossible to get away from those two topics if you’re following LGBT news, but this book also turned my focus to another problem–that the most-covered “alternative” issues, those focused on individual rights, are still not the most important priority. Employment and housing discrimination are important but they focus on the middle class. Hate crimes are a problem, but the kneejerk response of hate crimes legislationtries to solve that problem by using the same harmful official system that terrorizes queer and trans people on a daily basis.
I would recommend this book to any activist, but especially to white, middle-class activists in the “LGBT movement.” The pieces in this anthology encourage us to get away from the white, middle-class idea of “safety.” Strong sentences for hate crimes don’t make us safer. Nor do most of the priorities of LGBT rights organizations. It is only from a privileged position that we can even believe that there might be a safe, mainstream, assimilated place to work and live.
Conservatives and moderates in the movement, and outside of it, want you to feel safe. It’s another story of us versus them: it helps those who are disgusted by trans people of color, by poor queer youth, by public queer sexualities, to tug the most powerful and heavily funded segments of the LGBT population away into a zone of “safety” and assimilation. Of course, many queer and trans people don’t have that luxury, and it’s foolish to think that any of us really do. Queer and trans people in prison, juveniles in the child “welfare” system, immigrants, sex workers, the homeless, and other marginalized groups are often victims of a cruel and unusual system that targets minorities and encourages oppression.
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