There’s been a rise of late of a new wave of separatism amongst trans women. Now, I’m not talking about having a once-a-week gathering that’s just for trans women, helping each other improve our skills in a safe environment, or occasional cultural events for us by us, all of which are good and necessary…I’m talking a wholesale concept of separatism that requires our removing cis people and many other trans people from many parts of our lives.
Unfortunately, a lot of the same tired old community divisions come hand in hand with this New Separatism, and the end result becomes much like the old-school HBSer separatism: you end up with a bunch of white people of a specific set of experiences, almost all of whom are able-bodied, almost all of whom have similar narratives. In other words, it’s replacing one prison with another. It’s time to do something different rather than fall back into the same patterns that only injured us and placed us in a position to be left behind, and it’s time to be more than any brand of separatism.
Now, I know you’re sick of invites to surgery fundraisers for privileged white trans dudes. I get it, I’m sick of them too. I know you’re tired of hearing from your cis friends about how they’re going to Michigan to “change things from the inside” and all they do is wear a t-shirt saying TRANS WOMEN BELONG HERE and they expect to be absolved. I get this, I feel you, and I know it’s frustrating to be constantly shoved out and shoved around by cis queers and CAFAB trans people and genderqueers who believe it’s fine to throw trans women under the bus whenever it’s convenient. It’s unfortunately pretty damn common in the queer community, and there’s no excuse for it. But the solution isn’t separatism, it’s not creating a new exclusive group, it’s saying that yes, we have a right to be here in dyke space and no, you don’t get to guilt me for telling you to F off over sending my poor ass an invite to your $50 a head surgery fundraiser. It’s saying that yes, cis feminists who claim to be our “allies”, you need to collect your trash when it comes to transphobic fauxminists claiming the mantle of feminism. It’s saying that yes, cisgays, you have to stop treating us like shit and second-class citizens. We as trans women and CAMAB genderqueers have to stand up and say no more, not take our ball and run home. The big bad cissexist world is still there whether or not you hide from it, and you can hide from it, or we can work together to change it.
The white radical politics “card check”
New Separatism runs around a system which holds up white radical politics as a required condition of entry. Now, hi, I’m pretty radical too, but the way white radical politics are enforced often brings together the worst of radicalism and the worst of white suburbanism. The idea that it’s better to exclude anyone who thinks differently, even if the reasons for thinking differently are differences related to class or ability, is very much buying into that white suburbanist idea that “safety” is achieved by keeping people who are other out. There’s also a significant vein of ableism in white radical politics on top of the inherent racism involved, but more on that later.
We have a lot of common ground, and to move forward we need to focus more on that common ground than the issues that divide us, especially when those issues don’t relate to furthering our push for safe employment, fair housing, shame-free medical access, and bodily autonomy for all people all the time. Having a difference of opinion about watching football, whether or not it’s okay to date cis people, or whether or not you eat meat really aren’t critical to whether or not you believe in trans liberation, whereas people who believe medical access should only be allowed to the “deserving” are against the ends of trans liberation. Rather than choosing the white radical politics card check, we need to focus on what we have in common in terms of liberation. This is the equivalent of pushing deckchairs around on the Titanic…we have a big task, why are we focusing on small things and petty squabbles? Why are we engaging in this proverbial “card check” when we have real enemies to fight?
You gotta know people to know people…
By emphasizing closed systems of interaction, New Separatism is parroting one of the most toxic features of Old Separatism: you have to already have been connected within the ‘trans community’ to have a foothold amongst the movers and the shakers. I’m an outsider…the name of my blog means something. I’ve spent my adult life being a ‘fake cis girl’ and my connections to other trans folks are pretty random. New Separatism has emphasized something that ties into the White Radical Politics idea mentioned above, that you have to participate on its terms to really be participating. Similarly, it requires you to know the right people in the right places; you can be well-connected in another city, but that Just Won’t Do. You can be well-connected with the cis queers, but that’s only used to claim you’re a traitor.
And, of course, when you’re locked out from participation on specific terms because you can’t afford to do something, can’t get into a private meeting, what have you, you’re thus locked out even further. I live in Seattle, which is allegedly quite a good place to be trans. Trouble is, we have one not-so-supportive support group, and that’s how you’re supposed to ‘network’ in the community. Which, as a fat mixed-race trans woman, will result in my exiting in tears after about 20 minutes of unwanted “passing tips”…it’s not a place for me, so I stay shut out of the community because I’m not willing/able/good enough/whatever to survive this hazing ritual, and don’t fool yourself for a second, it’s a hazing ritual, and at that a hazing ritual run by white people. It’s designed to tell you you’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not white enough…and to stay out.
So when you’re shut out, you can’t show up at any of these events you’re supposed to be showing up at because you don’t know they exist. It’s not like my cis friends on Facebook are going to know what the current required-attendance event is (not too long ago it was a clothing swap…in a disability-inaccessible location not convenient to public transit) so it ends up leading to the idea that you don’t care because you didn’t show up. Separatism builds on the idea that only people who show up are good enough, and when you’ve ruled out disabled people and people who ride the bus (hi!) you’re automatically creating an exclusive class.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: you’re not one of us, who the fuck are you? And, well, “who the fuck are you” isn’t meant to induce introductions, it’s meant to tell you to go away. Because I’m that foolish girl who, when asked that question, tries to introduce herself…and gets mocked for trying.
It’s not about money, it’s about…well, money, actually.
I don’t think it takes a genius to realize there’s significant inequality of opportunity in America. Failure to understand that in terms of any movement inherently dooms the movement, and New Separatism is indeed completely lost on this matter. I’ve got a decent education, but my theoretical immersion doesn’t go much past Foucault, and similarly my ability to afford to travel to go to conferences is nonexistent. I envy people being able to afford spendy things like the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, and similarly I have some envy issues around scholarship that includes complex theory. But neither of these things makes me any less of a person, and in the New Separatist world, they’re both moral failings. Maybe if I’d budgeted better, I could have gone to PTHC. (Okay, let me not eat…or pay rent…) Maybe if I’d just read more…yeah, maybe I could get deeper theory. Or maybe I can just affix the blame for oppression where it belongs (the patriarchy) rather than burying it in layers of Derrida and…uh, some other theorist. I don’t need complex solutions to simple problems. I know what the problem is, I don’t need 23 paragraphs of flowery prose and literary allusions to say it. New Separatism, folks, is elitist.
And, well, I know what I call a bunch of able-bodied white people who hide behind closed doors and talk about how much better they are than the hoi polloi: a country club. If you need a ringer for doubles, call me. Until then, screw your country club.