Filed under: Analysis, Critique, Queer, The State, Trans, US, War
We empathize with the feelings of pain, dissonance, and isolation within our transgender communities across the United States. We recognize that threats of “45”’s new policy comes a loss of access to resources like education, healthcare, and security that many of our low-income trans siblings rely on. “45” may consider us (trans people) a burden, but having our rights taken away is the true encumbrance. No one should feel like their identity is a catalyst for the dehumanization and marginalization of others, but such is the legacy of Western colonialism. While it may seem like a dark cloud hovers over our existence, we have a window of opportunity to pave the way for true liberation. The more this system robs people of their dignity and right to life, the more opportunities we have to expose it for what it really is and create change.
45’s statements on the costs of healthcare for trans people in the military in fact serves to crystallize the global function of the US military, a function often obscured by liberal inclusive military service rhetoric. The Washington Post reported that annual trans healthcare costs would range from three to eight million dollars annually. This is under 10% of the cost of a single F35 jet fighter – priced at 391.1 billion dollars. The military-industrial complex has never cared about the wellbeing of people, to the point that the wellbeing of even its own fighters is of laughably negligible importance compared to the construction of its brutal war machines. American soldiers have been duped by their country into believing that the state gives a damn about them.
The fallibility of this belief can be seen in the treatment of its veterans and VA hospitals, where shortages of medical supplies and equipment are due to its low priority from government funding. As agents of the imperialist war machine, veteran lives are of minimal importance compared to the US military’s real agenda; i.e. to ensure profit, to establish colonies, and to destroy global resistance through murder. That transphobia would run rampant in such a brutal, dehumanizing system is unsurprising, especially since the military as an institution cares more about control, hierarchy, and conformity above all else.
Even if a different politician or a different party had won in November, we would be no closer to any sort of meaningful liberation. Democrats and Republicans both support capitalism and dominance by the American empire – the only difference being in scale and frequency of war. Politicians are simply the agents of the capitalist imperialist system, a system that prevents trans liberation. Capitalism only succeeds (if we may even call it success) when groups of people are cast as an underclass – usually those characterized as “minorities” in terms of race, ability, creed, and sexual preference. Underclasses are targeted due to their vulnerability – a minority is often overwhelmed by the majority, after all. Because of the inherent nature of capitalism and statism, climbing the socioeconomic hierarchy always comes at the expense of someone else. A state powerful enough to give you everything you want or need is also powerful enough to take it away.
Feminist movements have been fighting for decades, and still the structures that constitute patriarchy remain in place. Why? Perhaps because liberal, bourgeois feminism primarily aims to establish rights via the state, such as women’s inclusion in the draft. This is marked as a victory. Liberal politics have dominated the conversation around transgender lives for decades. White feminism has taken on the role of creating marketable trans people, socially framing us as characteristically thin, white, passable, and intriguing. Caitlyn Jenner is a prime example. We have been rebranded as gatekeepers of fragmented American values. These actions have completely and utterly failed to create any concrete change–only a false sense of security. With the stroke of a pen, all of the “gains” that liberalism has achieved have been reversed. The liberal way of creating spaces for marginalized groups is tokenization, turning marginalized groups into a marketable trend that one can refer to when a defense for or against an opposing ideology is needed.
This is not meant to criticize feminist movements that are radically intersectional, as debuted by Kimberlé Crenshaw, and underscored in various Marxist, Indigenous, or Anarchist feminisms, but rather to call attention to ineffective mainstream movements. We simply need to find a better, more comprehensive way to secure our rights and lives, away from hierarchal institutions and ideas. There are possible solutions out there already, such as the local level neighborhood councils and defense groups in Rojava that prioritize feminism and decentralization, or the newly formed Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army (TQILA) committed to fighting queerphobia and transphobia through those advances made by the Kurdish women’s revolutionary movement. However, as we celebrate the progress of these movements we ultimately must look toward our own experiences to show us which methods work in our communities. With that said, it is important to note that there is no one-size fits all solution; the work must come out of honest reflection of our own shortcomings and the unique makeup of our communities.
The gender binary is societally constructed. It is a means of securing from the people a docile, capital, and friendly understanding of their personal identities, in ways ranging from their sexuality to their “civic duties”. This in turn maintains the socioeconomic control of the rich over the people writ large. The binary demonizes the gender non-conforming, third-gender, and trans community, once powerful respected healers, leaders, and Earth protectors of indigenous tribal communities.
Colonialists destroyed that existence. Even the term transgender is a colonialist way of defining that which is undefinable: i.e. it erases pre-colonial histories of people of color all over the world and devalues and replaces terms that contain unique meanings and histories, like hijra (India), mahu (Hawaii), muxe (Mexico), wakashu (Japan), and the asog babaylan or transekswal (Philippines), with the rhetoric of a single English word. Most aboriginal nations would not consider that being transgender is neither playing into masculine nor feminine roles but rather is the sacredness of having a body with more than one spirit. That is to say, the body, like the land, is a relation and therefore deserves the physical and spiritual value of any other creation. Therefore, if we are to truly participate in the fight for queer and trans liberation, we need to decolonize our bodies and minds by forming an allyship with indigenous land.
Even if we can pass all the legislation in the world it will still not stop police killings, sexual/physical violence, and imprisonment of the trans community – all of which are result of systematic bigotry. The deaths of Jesse Hernandez, Jennifer Bolina, Maya Hall, Kayden Clark, India Betty, Islan Nettles and the 15 more trans folks of color killed this year alone is a reflection of American society, perpetually unwilling to accommodate itself, requiring violence against others in order to maintain power, wealth and prestige. This colonial logic also manifests itself in international affairs. American arrogance and toxic cis masculinity has caused the deaths of women like Jennifer Laude, a Filipina indigenous trans woman killed by US military personnel member Scott Pemberton. These events are driven by western colonial ideals of rigid identity and existence. Her death will always be a reflection of our country’s transphobic perspective and its toxicity bleeding out into the rest of the world.
Let us also never forget:
Mesha Caldwell, 41, a black transgender woman from Canton, Mississippi, was found shot to death the evening of January 4. The murder is still under investigation and no suspects have been arrested.
Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, 28, an American Indian woman who identified as transgender and two-spirit, was found dead in her apartment in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A suspect, 25-year-old Joshua Rayvon LeClaire, has been arrested and charged with murder and manslaughter in connection with her death.
JoJo Striker, 23, a transgender woman, was found killed in Toledo, Ohio, on February 8. Striker’s mother, Shanda Striker, described her as “funny and entertaining” and said her family loved her deeply.
Tiara Richmond, also known as Keke Collier, 24, was fatally shot in Chicago on the morning of February 21. A transgender woman of color, she was found dead on the same street as two other transgender women that were killed in 2012.
Chyna Doll Dupree, 31, a Black transgender woman, was shot and killed in New Orleans on February 25. Chyna was a much-loved performer in the ballroom community who was visiting friends and family in New Orleans at the time of her death.
Ciara McElveen, 26, a transgender woman of color, was stabbed to death in New Orleans on February 27. McElveen did outreach for the homeless community. As of February 28, 2017, HRC has tracked at least nine murders of transgender people in Louisiana since 2013.
Jaquarrius Holland, 18, was shot to death in Monroe, Louisiana, on February 19. One friend, Chesna Littleberry, told Mic that Holland was “like a younger sister” and had helped her learn to accept herself.
Alphonza Watson, 38, was shot and killed in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 22. Watson’s mother said her daughter was “the sunshine of our family,” a “caring, passionate” person who loved cooking and gardening.
Chay Reed, 28, a transgender woman of color, was shot and killed on April 21 in Miami. Reed’s longtime friend told Mic about their longtime friendship — describing her as someone who was full of life and beloved by many.
Kenneth Bostick, 59, was found with severe injuries on a Manhattan sidewalk, he later died of his injuries. Few details about Bostick’s life have been reported, he is believed to have been homeless at the time he was attacked.*
Sherrell Faulkner, 46, a transgender woman of color died on May 16, of injuries sustained during an attack on November 30, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Police are treating the assault as a homicide. No arrests have been made at this point.
Kenne McFadden, 27, was found in the San Antonio River on April 9. Police believe she was pushed into the river, which runs through downtown San Antonio. A high-school friend of McFadden described her to local media as assertive, charismatic and lovable. No arrests have been made, but police said they have a person of interest in custody.
Kendra Marie Adams, 28, was found in a building that was under construction and had burns on her body on June 13. Police have charged Michael Davis, 45, with Adams’ murder. Adams also went by Josie Berrios, the name used in initial media reports on her death.
Ava Le’Ray Barrin, 17, was shot and killed in Athens, Georgia on June 25 during an altercation in an apartment parking lot. In an online obituary, friends remembered Barrin as a “social butterfly” and an “amazing girl” who “loved to make people laugh.”
Ebony Morgan, 28, was shot multiple times in Lynchburg, Virginia, in the early morning of July 2. Morgan was transferred to a local hospital where she succumbed to her injuries. Authorities have named Kenneth Allen Kelly Jr. as a person of interest in the case.
As we continuously choose to assimilate and consent to the capitalist way of living, we endanger our community at the same time. So long as we choose to define our civil rights by our participation in the Amerikkkan state, including our right to join the police and the military, these civil rights will come at the cost of trans people’s lives around the world. Within this corrupt system of the state, you can only have freedom at the expense of someone else, possibly leading to their death, by satisfying your urge for capitalist domination over one another instead of reflecting on the implications of targeted assimilation. The cost of maintaining the American dream will always be the imposition of our colonial values in societies that neither want nor need them. Violence against trans women and men, especially of color, will always exist in a narrative driven by colonial western standards, setting a suggestive precedent for other countries on how the trans and queer community should be treated.
Our actions here have consequences beyond domestic lines. We can’t allow ourselves to participate in the killings of our siblings here at home and abroad simply because we choose to prioritize our own civil liberties at the expense of others. A comfortable life created by assimilation is still a lie, a mirage in a dry desert.
The real issue here is the implication of narratives presented by the proposed ban. Such a motion in regards to transgender military service members is simply a cover for and side effect of being washed over by the system. Creating a situation that reduces trans individuals to an economic burden on the state at the expense of taxpayers paints the image that trans lives are not worth any economic cost, that trans lives are a direct burden to the state economically, where being trans (and LGBT civil rights as a whole) is framed as an ironic luxury that the state cannot afford, and that each trans life is being supported by a corresponding taxpayer. This creates an environment of direct hostility and contempt from cis individuals who would frame the existence of trans lives as something they have a direct say over. Trans lives are already in danger – this is the public equivalent of setting crosshairs.
When this happens, the rug will be pulled out from under the thousands of people who depended on it in order to secure housing, employment, and healthcare. Transgender individuals are already at the highest risk of suicide out of all social groups, and being denied healthcare makes it worse. Denial of healthcare is a form of violence, just like denial of any other essential that an individual needs to survive. Denial of SRS, and related services when it is essential to one’s mental well being is most definitely violent and potentially life threatening. This can also lead to the eventual denial of HIV medication to individuals in need, as the argument against “pre-existing conditions” is meant to blame people for getting sick, implying that they must’ve been irresponsible and thus its their own fault, which goes hand in hand with bigoted arguments intended to deny healthcare to queer and other marginalized individuals.
Interestingly, many trans men and women who join or potentially want to join the military say they do so or would do so because they feel more comfortable in a war zone type of environment than they do in general civilian society. Some in the trans community enlisted or sought to enlist as a method to escape poverty, attain higher education, or gain access to healthcare. Many before the repeal of DADT were exploited and betrayed as they found themselves discharged/separated. These people were sent back home (if they even had a home or supportive family) without benefits and set back where they started. But when we look at these decisions in a broader context, they share similarities with other vulnerable communities that are targeted by military recruiters.
Each are told that they can improve their lives if they’re willing to make a trade. The military promises to improve their lives at the cost of negatively impacting the life of someone else. The fact that people feel this way is very telling of how our society treats people, and how people turn to such institutions like the military in order to feel valid about their identity because it is denied to them by our society.
“We must decolonize to mobilize, to abolish and rebuild” beyond just the LGBT rainbow. We must allow ourselves to actively seek other avenues to sustain lives and work out alternative perspectives and solutions beyond what we have now in the liberal mainstream. We can’t afford to allow this political nonsense cloud our judgment in creating resistance beyond a hashtag, especially when countless members of our community will pay the heavy price when it all starts crashing down. We must allow ourselves to make efforts to secure trans access to resources and establish community empowerment to protect and aid those in need. We must have faith that in our radical unity we can provide security for our communities when the rest of the world turn has turned their backs on us. We can’t be fools in the dark and lose our humanity and values in exchange for faulty definitions of equality.
The essence of the trans liberation struggle CANNOT be mutually exclusive from the fight against militarization, industrialization, colonialism, gentrification, and all other forms of oppression and genocide. Transness must be defined outside the perimeters of capitalist and state motives and interests. Just because one individual, or even a few hundred, have successfully assimilated into this society, does not mean that liberation has been achieved. The Trump presidency provides us unique opportunities as anti-capitalists and anti-statists that a more moderate presidency would not. Most importantly, we see that trying to secure constitutional rights via the state is unreliable.
Though it may seem strange, we must not look at the proposed ban on transgender individuals in the military as a disadvantage, but rather as a victory. The blood of innocent people is not on our hands, family. While yes, the president’s statements set a precedent of constitutional and human rights violations and reinstate the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, these political actions, defined by the ruling class, have been set in a system that never possessed the potential for true liberation. We must understand that our safe passage does not have to be through assimilation and reform. A “democracy” founded in capitalism, colonialism, and militarist imperialism will never allow us to be truly free. Despite civil liberties written into the Constitution, oppression is built into America’s foundation and exists today in the inability of the country to acknowledge the day-to-day oppression that citizens of color face. Our so-called Founding Fathers owned African slaves and advocated for the genocide of indigenous peoples worldwide in the name of “Manifest Destiny”; America built its neo-imperialist empire at the expense of other nations in the name of this same toxic, arrogant ideology. This country, as it is, will never allow for the liberation of trans people. Abolition now.