Fuck Pride
Folks Died
2019

In those heavy days in June,
When Love became an Act of Defiance.

— Florence + the Machine, « June » ( 2018 )

Near the end of June ʼ69, the Stonewall riots of New York catalysed the United States gay liberation movement—acting out ( and, later, ACTing UP ) against a violent and discriminatory police state which sought nothing less than the annihilation of queer energies everywhere. The following year, marches commemorating the riots took place in major cities across the country—and thus was Pride Month begun.

Since, it has been 50 years, and the very same police department which caused the riots now partners with the parade. This year was made notable as the first ( and, in all likelihood, last ) in which the NYPD Commissioner, James OʼNeill, actually apologized for the events which led to the riots, a change in heart from the very same Commissionerʼs comments two years prior : I think thatʼs been addressed already. ( This in reference to the remarks of his predecessor : An apology, I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s necessary. ; Bill Bratton in 2016. Meanwhile, reports USA Today, LGBT officers have faced horrible discrimination working with( in ) police departments, including in recent years. )

But even as cops try to impose themselves upon Pride, Pride is not about cops—any more than the Amazon rainforest is “ about ” National Geographic. Pride is about queer lives, queer energies, queer liberation—yet despite the pomp and circumstance, the picture for these appears bleak. As a community, we are more divided than ever, marked by a distinct lack of organizing which has led some to believe that—with gay marriage—the queer liberation movement is, in fact, over. ( Is it ? ) And Pride exacerbates this confusion, locating the site of queer resistance perpetually in the past, a celebration ( celebration ! ) of the struggles, sacrifices, and deaths of countless queer individuals which were required to bring us to the present day—instead of pushing for reparations ( no­‑cost treatment of STIs and related health complications for the innumerable people harmed by a lack of—and sometimes direct opposition to—safer sex education and resources ; compensation for the jobs and homes lost as a result of a failure to pass nondiscrimination policies in favour of queer individuals ; compensation for the lack of appropriate medical care resulting from the same ) and a real continuätion of their legacy of resistance.

And yet—The fight is not over. So this June—also happening to mark my 25th birthday, including 5½ years of conscious trans identification, and 3 years with my current personal name—I want to focus, not on Pride, but on Resistance, Remembrance—and, perhaps another R which begins like Reverence and ends with Dissolution. This Journal entry is a step inside that process, taking a critical look at the queer landscape of today, with an eye—not to the past—but towards a struggling future.

Fuck Pride,
Folks Died so I could tell you my name ;
Just living my life,
Only « Yes »—not a Maybe in sight—
—Except maybe that I May Be right ( yes ! ).

— Pase Rock, « Yes » ( prod. Nujabes ; 2011 )

« Queer Toxicity »

But first, rewind to 2016. Obama was president ( remember that ? ), gays had only recently been granted the right to marry ( the previous year ), and I was finishing up my senior undergraduate thesis for my Gender Studies degree. Also, there was this show on the telly called Steven Universe. Among ( post‑ )millennial lesbians, it was kind of a big deal.

Well. By 2016, Steven Universe was two seasons in and over two years old. Word was that its dedicated fandom had grown, in a word, “ toxic ”. And within the small world of indie { comix, animation } Twitter, this led to something of a watershed moment, in which ( what I remember as ) a number of people, many themselves queer, came forward to share their own experiences with bullying and harassment in LGBT spaces—with the conclusion ( these were mostly urban, nontrans, white artists ) that the hardships they had faced in those spaces—supposedly “ their ” queer community !—were generally more severe than those they had faced in straight white spaces or from any of the straight white people in their lives.

And… yes ? This was not news. Gail, in remarks to Madeline H. Wyndzen, Ph.D., over a decade ago : I've not posted to this list ( TRANSGEN ) because it really seems like all they really do is bicker with one another ? Madelineʼs response : Itʼs so sad, but I know youʼre going to hear a lot of mean­‑spirited things if you spend much time in ‘ trans­‑world.’ [ … ] Lots of transsexuals reach this happy point [ where they donʼt need external validation ] too. But most transsexuals abandon the transgender/transsexual community by then because they canʼt stand the bickering anymore. I canʼt deal with it either which is why Iʼm no longer on any transsexual/transgender mailing lists like TRANSGEN or Trans­‑Theory.

The fact that privileged straight white folks can be nicer, friendlier, and more accommodating—to those bodies that they deem acceptable, and really, oneʼs ability to pass in straight white spaces without harassment should be a wake­‑up call about how privileged one really is—than queer folks who are literally in a fight for their lives is so well­‑documented that it is almost not worthy of noting here, except for the fact that it seems to keep beïng a source of surprise for aforementioned privileged gays. There is this mainstream conception of “ the queer community ”—which Pride promotes—as this big happy ( white, monogamous, American ) family built around the ideals of love and acceptance and easily marketable fashions and branding. The actual queer community looks very different. The actual queer community is not built around love, but survival.

And I encourage every queer person to look more into this—into how the United States and other countries have—historically, and in the present day—depleted minority communities of resources, and set them in a fight for survival, as a way of then characterizing them as “ toxic ”, as “ unsafe ”, engineering unhealthy spaces ( among queers, by depriving us of healthcare, employment, families, and social networks of the kind enjoyed by our straight peers ) and then blaming the residents of those spaces for failing to uphold them to straight, white standards of cleanliness and order. What one will quickly discover is that toxic queer spaces are no accident ; they are an intentional structural component of heteronormative patriarchy, serving not only to inflict further harm upon queer bodies, but also to turn them from one another, disrupting queer solidarity by incentivizing privileged queers to side with their straight “ allies ”—and straight power structures, and spaces—over other queer comrades and friends.

One definition of “ privilege ” might be the ability to displace vulnerability away from certain bodies and onto others. I think that privileged queers—and their straight allies—need to do a better job of accepting vulnerability for themselves, for the purposes of displacing it away from the already marginalized, and for the purposes of building up our communities as a whole. Sometimes, doïng the right thing means putting yourself at risk. Sometimes, doïng the right thing means working within “ toxic ” communities in order to build them up instead of leaving them in the dust.

Or, so the story went in 2016, anyways.

Queer Labour

Fast­‑forward a year and it is 2017 and I am hard at work on the GlitchSoc fork of Mastodon. The period from June 2017 to June 2018 was a somewhat exceptional time for me, because it is one of the few times in my life when I was actually wholeheartedly behind Pride—and this was largely due to my work with GlitchSoc. We were, at the time, a successful, notable, trans­‑run, trans­‑developed fork of a significant piece of social media software on a level that I ( admittedly not an open­‑source software buff ) had never heard of happening before. It was… mostly just me doïng the work ( I was the only one able to commit to the project full­‑time ), but it still felt at least a little bit historic. That accomplishment felt like something worth being Proud of.

In retrospect : We werenʼt paid, our work was exploited, and the actual lasting impact of the fork on queer self­‑determination was minimal. I have come to recognize this as part of a larger pattern within queer and disadvantaged communities : the ways in which manufactured need and toxicity can be a form of labour extraction, in which the survival work of queer bodies—to build relationships, solidarity, community—can be monetized and plundered—through fees, social media advertising, and ( indeed ! ) open source development—to the profit of the very structures responsible for that need in the first place. Consider how a government which endangers queer people—and, for that matter, Patreon, which certainly isnʼt our friend—takes taxes on our attempts to keep each other alive. Consider how antigay hatred and the stifling of public homosexual affection has led to the rise of the monetizable gay dating app. Queer people, literally forced into paying straights just for the chance to talk to one another.

And we talk about Pride ?!

Pride is—itself—a massive exertion of queer labour, organizing, and energies, resulting from decades of oppression, now pulled into service to generate capital for the very corporate and state interests which originally endangered—and yet still endanger—queer bodies and queer lives.

It is an oft­‑noted feature of the intersection of labour and patriarchy, how ( straight ) men are able to profit—by refusing to labour themselves—off of womenʼs ( general ) refusal to neglect their children ( and similar trends have been noted in elderly care ). Women disproportionately make sacrifices in their lives and careers to care for others, knowing full well that if they donʼt, the work will never get done—and men reap the benefit by focusing on their own self­‑fulfillment and jobs. But the solution to this problem is not for women to stop taking care of young ones or the elderly, and hope that men grow a conscience. The solution to this problem is to organize for labour rights and abolish patriarchy.

In a similar vein, the straight world is able to profit off of queer peopleʼs willingness to love and take care of other queers—by first increasing, and then displacing, the costs of queer survival onto the queer communities themselves. And the solution to this problem is not to stop loving, or to stop caretaking. But at the same time, simple gestures such as these are not enough to achieve justice. So long as queer communities remain exploitable and expendable within a heteronormative sociëty, the labour we do to build them up will be exploited—and eventually undone.

« Queer Trauma »

One of the biggest lessons of 2018 for me was coming to understand what the phrase “ intergenerational trauma ” really means. And specifically, what it means for queer communities, whose members are disproportionately, and to a great extent, inflicted with and affected by trauma and abuse, and often at a very young age. What this means when those people age, when those are the people who become our role models, and our community leaders, and—in some cases—our surrogate parents and caretakers.

It absolutely shapes a community, absolutely and irrecoverably, to have a leadership which is so affected by trauma—and in the best of situätions, it shapes it to be more compassionate, sensitive, and attendant to peopleʼs needs. It is no mistake that some of the greatest work on combatting violence, abuse, and oppression has come from the people and communities so affected—of course it has—of course. With adequate peer support networks in place, shared trauma can make way for shared vulnerability, and shared vulnerability can lead to community, solidarity, and commitment to a cause.

But, as all of us who have lived through trauma know, it does not always give us the allowance of operating in the best of ways. And when it is not grieved, processed, brought to clarity, trauma is isolating ; it divides us and inflicts further traumas, like aftershocks, on ourselves and our surroundings. It has lasting effects on the kinds of relationships we form—the kinds of relationships we can form, I say, having taken in 2019 a sabbatical from romantic engagements of any kind.

I am not an antiviolence advocate casually.I am an antiviolence advocate because I have seen, firsthand, the sort of lasting impact that violence can have on a community.

Trauma needs to be mourned—it demands it. And yet, for queer people, this process can never fully be completed, for the simple fact that our trauma is never fully over. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, in that essay I just canʼt stop citing, Queer and Now : This history makes its mark on what, individually, we are and do. One set of effects turns up in the irreducible multilayeredness and multiphrasedness of what queer survival means—since being a survivor on this scene is a matter of surviving into threat, stigma, the spiraling violence of gay‑ and lesbian­‑bashing, and ( in the AIDS emergency ) the omnipresence of somatic fear and wrenching loss. It is also to have survived into a moment of unprecedented cultural richness, cohesion, and assertiveness for many lesbian and gay adults. Survivorsʼ guilt, survivorsʼ glee, even survivorsʼ responsibility : powerfully as these are experienced, they are also more than complicated by how permeable the identity “ survivor ” must be to the undiminishing currents of risk, illness, mourning, and defiance.

« Queer Debility »

I want to be clear about this point : The way in which queer energies are attacked, and the ways in which queer bodies and spirits are abused, is one manifestation of a nationwide ( and international ) programme of debilitation whose aim is precisely to incapacitate, if not outright annihilate, queer lives as much as possible. Trauma is debilitating. How many times have I heard a trans person say, “ I wish I could do $X like I used to—but now every time I look at it, I burst into tears. ”

( If you have never heard a trans person say this, you have probably not listened to very many trans people. )

When an entire community is traumatized to the extent and degree that the trans communities which I have belonged to have been—and, to be clear, I have been adjacent to some of the most privileged, least oppressed trans communities in existence—it is no accident. Emotional trauma is not as blatant or outwardly visible as bodily mutilation—although, let us not forget that involuntary medical procedures against intersex people and forced sterilization of trans people are both very real contemporary concerns—but it is no less disabling. I will never have the kind of social access, mobility, and stamina available to my straight parents or my straight peers. And emotional trauma is only the beginning. Let us not forget the AIDS crisis, and the contemporary price­‑gouging of HIV medication. Let us not forget the decades of medical malpractice and discrimination, including a persistent refusal to provide medically­‑necessary hormones or surgery. Let us not forget, just this last month, the current US administrationʼs rollback of protections against discrimination for transgender patients. These are not accidents. Queer people are hurt, we are sick, and we are blocked from the means of getting better. This is what a programme of willful debilitation looks like.

Certainly in the areas where this debilitation intersects with the medical­‑industrial complex, this programme is quite lucrative. Lucrative enough that many straight people are starting to see the utility in keeping queer people around.

And we talk about Pride ?!

It is time we organized around this topic. It is time we organized together around the issue of queer trauma and queer debilityincorporating, yet moving beyond, the mere issue of queer medical access—in the same way that queer people in the past have organized around previous attempts at queer debilitation—like the crisis of AIDS. And by “ organize ”, I mean : Demanding recognition of the problem ( “ Awareness ” ). I mean : Working to bring an end to the widespread infliction of trauma against queer people, and in particular queer youth ( “ Antiviolence ” ). And I also mean : Securing support and resources for the many survivors among us, who at present are often lucky to even be able to afford therapy, much less have a trustworthy therapist locally available who is cognizant of queer issues ( “ Reparations ” ).

Because we cannot organize without organizing around trauma. Because we are too overworked, too busy, too tired, too hurt, and too in need of recovery to possibly have any hope of finding solidarity otherwise. We cannot keep ignoring this issue ; we need to bring it to the forefront ; we need strong, trauma­‑informed peer networks ; and we need a politics that puts our own needs—and not just our rights—into focus.

« Queer Disability »

In Jasbir K. Puarʼs The Right to Maim, a book which highly influenced this Journal entry, Puar critiques the Americans with Disabilities Actʼs exclusion of transvestitism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders from its definition of disability, remarking : It is not simply that the ADA excludes GID and, by extension, trans from recognition as potentially disabling. Rather, transsexuality—and likely those versions of transsexuality that are deemed also improperly raced and classed—is understood as “ too disabled ” to be rehabilitated into citizenship, or not properly disabled enough to be recoded for labor productivity. Given that the ADA establishes accessibility requirements for public buildings and workplaces, the specific exclusion of transness from its definition is an exemption for those spaces from having to make themselves accessible to trans bodies.

Thus, it is surprising to me, with all of the present discourse about trans bathroom access and accommodations ( or the lack thereöf ), about spaces ( airports, medical institutions ) beïng designed for certain ( cis ) bodies and not others ( intersex, trans ), that the disability framework for approaching trans issues has been so thoroughly disregarded. That there is such a persistent attempt to characterize transness as a mere acceptable variation within normative neurotypicality.

What if we left neurotypicality behind ?

Remembering, of course, that for many trans people, neurotypicality is denied from the start ; in particular, a disproportionate number of trans people are somewhere on the autism spectrum. A trans justice which depends on a neurotypical definition of transness is not trans justice. But I am left wondering whether neurotypicality is even a saliënt concept within the trans context—whether there is such a thing as a “ typical ” trans mind—and whether the trans justice movement would not be better served allying itself with other neurodiversity movements rather than spending so much energy contorting itself to fit within ableïst norms.

Bringing us to the question of queer justice and disability justice movements more broadly. If we accept that the current state of the queer community is that of a debilitated population, it becomes hard to imagine these as anything but inextricably linked. And this is not simply a matter of two distinct movements with intersectional points of affinity : The queer movement is ( or, more appropriately, must become ) a disability movement ; it is impossible to achieve its goals without first obtaining just treatment for the many { debilitated, disabled } members it incorporates. Disability activism, then, is queer activism as well.

And queers are far from the only population which have been targeted for debilitation in this manner ; it is a condition shared, and compounded intersectionally, by both indigenous and black communities in the United States, as well as—in a most extreme fashion—Palestinians living under occupation by the State of Israel. Recognizing the shared elements of this struggle is essential for building a movement which transcends these simple boundaries ( of neoliberal, marketing­‑style identity categories ) and which seeks justice for all.

In solidarity.