The Politics of Visibility

Last week’s Trans Day of Visibility saw a surge of critiques of the phrase’s dubious politics on my Facebook wall. Created in 2010 by the transgender Michigan activist Rachel Crandall, Trans Day of Visibility was meant to be a positive twin to the Trans Day of Remembrance. A celebration of the living, as a counterpart to the remembrance of the dead. However, the articles on my Facebook newsfeed also reminded me that visibility often puts trans people in harm’s way. One’s visible trans status, especially in the case of trans women and trans women of colour, often leaves trans people vulnerable to transphobic and transmisogynist violence.

In this article, I’m not trying to restate what others have so eloquently said. I want to ask a question about the origins of the politics behind TDOV’s name.

When I reposted a picture (below) celebrating TDOV, I paused at the word ‘visibility.’ It seemed an odd choice of word to me. For me, it seemed a word that might be more commonly used, or useful, in the case of celebrating lesbian, gay or bisexual identities, than trans identities.

trans day of visibility
Trans Day of Visibility

Identity politics requires the coherence of the group in question. When the identity of the group might not be visible, as is potentially in the case of some sexual minorities, members need to ‘come out’ as belonging to that group. To come out is to claim belonging. For kickass academic theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, this “epistemology of the closet” has come to structure gay identity as we know it today. It is by coming out that lesbian, gay and bisexual subjects come into being.

When I was studying at McGill University, I was a member of a group called Allies Montreal. We would visit local high schools in groups of three and facilitate workshops on homophobia at school. Our workshops would always start the same way: with our coming-out story. By telling our coming-out story we were situating ourselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual subjects. The story told the students we were the ‘real gays,’ come to educate them on gay stuff. We were legitimized as authorities on gay things. It allowed us, in a way, to speak.

Transgender Day of Visibility relies on a similar language of visibility politics. This may reflect trans’ status as an addendum to the pre-existing LGB. Although now commonplace, T was only a recent addition. And for many trans activists, piggybacking on gay acceptance isn’t that beneficial to trans rights. After all, does a group who advocates for sexual minorities and a group who advocates for gender minorities have much in common? This joining of causes may have been encouraged by the prevalence of trans people in many lesbian and gay communities and our political unification under the umbrella ‘queer.’

We are bound to talk about our identities in certain ways. LGBT activism has asked for identity recognition as access to power. In this sense, TDOV is asking that trans people be recognized as trans in order to access the language of equal rights that identity politics provides. Identity politics necessitates engaging in visibility politics –if one’s identity gives one access to power, then you need to be seen as that identity, you need to be recognized, in order to access power.

All this is to say, perhaps visibility isn’t the terms on which trans people should be fighting for their rights. It looks like we need to develop new languages and new ways of acknowledging trans people’s rights. I’m sure many others are far ahead of me.

On being 32, queer, and not pregnant

Why being a grown-up is hard, being an older queer is harder, and my feelings on discovering my brother is pregnant

Happy Family Day Canadians in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan! Happy Viola Desmond day in Nova Scotia and also Louis Riel day in Manitoba! Phew. Why can’t all of Canada agree on the same bloody holiday? That’s what this girl from a island that fits into your country, like, 40 times over (I calculated it) wants to know. What better way to celebrate the (I feel, rather patriarchal sounding holiday) by oversharing my conflicted feelings about aging, babies, careers and being a queer lady who is not pregnant, nor has easy access to sperm.

My little brother, who used to be small enough for me to pick up in my arms before he grew into an oversized human, is going to be a Dad. He FaceTimes me on the way to a dinner party with the ‘Amy is pregnant and we’re engaged!’ bombshell. Cue slightly maniacal laughter from both of us about the prospect of him being a Dad, my predictable outburst “I’m going to be the coolest feminist auntie ever” and my also predictable sinking feeling that he will now definitely be my parents’ favourite child.

I immediately call my partner and discuss where we can get some gay sperm to knock me up. I can get very competitive.

Fuck that biological clock
Fuck that biological clock

I spent the whole of yesterday in a weird daze, having given myself some kind of half concussion by dropping a glass pot lid on my nose, and having found out that I am going to be an auntie. Within a couple of hours of my brother’s we’re-having-a-baby-and-we’re-getting-married,-surprise! bombshell, I found out a dear friend of mine is engaged. This follows on the heels of finding out my best friend is pregnant a couple of weeks ago and a literal baby explosion among my straight friends in the UK.

It seems like all of my friends are having babies and getting married.

I, on the other hand, had spent a good part of last week trying to convince my partner that we should move to the prairies for my PhD program and had finally resorted to the manipulative outburst “I’ll marry you if you do.” Well done, Laura, you win romantic proposal of the year award. No thoroughly planned replica of our original date for me, oh no, just a desperate attempt to have my cake and eat it too.

Apparently, now we’re pre-engaged, or whatever that is. I prefer betrothed, as it sounds more Jane Austen-y and less nineties romcom or whatever.

So, all this is to say, that I’m feeling a lot of pressure when it comes to the aging, queerness and career front. Having vacillated a lot on the babies question in my twenties, not least because it’s not so straightforward when you’re unlikely to be partnered with a cisgender dude, I am coming to the conclusion that I probably do want the babies. Problem is, I also want the career, am starting a PhD this year, have no money and, according to received opinion, my eggs will start drying up in a couple of years if they haven’t already started to do so.

Argh! I know, #middleclassproblems, right? I am also aware that getting to do a PhD is a huge privilege, I know that my parents will always bail me out financially if necessary and I can probably get the sperm from somewhere. As I get older, I realize more and more that a) time passes and b) there is no perfect time to do anything anyway.

Plus, I’m a feminist and sceptical of the ‘have babies now now now woman it is your job and your time is running out!’ patriarchal narrative, because, you know, the patriarchy has an agenda.

I’ve also been following queer femme Michelle Tea’s blog on getting pregnant and found it upsetting to read about her fertility problems as a 40-something-year-old. Luckily, those fertility problems were not insurmountable as she now has a cute gayby called Atticus.

So, I think I’m probably going to try to do babies and PhD at the same time. This will be a couple of years after getting my dog next year, because, I’m not completely crazy or anything!

Anyway, that’s my opinion on gaybys. Happy Family Day everyone! (Barf.)

Shamelessly Single

Howdy folks! Long time no everything! I’m back, and this time with a guest post I wrote for the Shameless blog. This mag for women and queer youth does awesome work here in Toronto and I’m proud to be on their site.

Part one of two on living single lives. Shameless reader Laura Brightwell examines what happens when you choose to be celibate in a community that defines itself by its sexuality

Sometimes people cannot or do not want to have sex. When I started to tell people, 3 years ago, that I didn’t want to date anyone, I was always afraid. I anticipated people’s judgment, much like I had anticipated their homophobia when I came out as a lesbian as a teenager. And yet, I still said it, because in my gut I thought it was important. I’ve always been stubborn.

Choosing to be single for the past three years has been one of the most empowering, self-loving choices I have ever made.

Three years ago in the Summer of 2010, I decided to go on anti-depressants. I also decided, at the same time, to be single for as long as it took to get my head back on straight. I arrived at this decision at a difficult time in my life. I needed to break out of negative relationship patterns and I couldn’t see any alternative route. This was my way out.

Growing up, my development steered by teen mags, TV and movies, I focused a lot of my energy on getting a boyfriend. My teenage years presented themselves as a list of milestones to accomplish 1) Kiss a boy (girls don’t count). 2) Have sex. My own enjoyment had nothing to do with accomplishing any of these sexual acts. Any bo(d)y would do. When I finally did kiss a boy, aged 16, I only did it for the social kudos. So that I could be one of the gang. When I had sex for the first time, it wasn’t special, or particularly enjoyable. But I felt a huge sense of relief. Finally, I’d done it. Now I could be an adult. Now I could fit in.

It’s sad to realize that nothing ever changes. Just as I felt the pressure to lose my virginity aged 16, in my twenties I still feel the pressure to be in a relationship. Never mind that the gender of the targeted sexual group has changed, or that my peers are mostly queers. Never mind being surrounded by a politics that is supposed to empower our individual sexualities and orientations. I am still told when to have sex (all the time), how to have it (in a kinky fashion) and with whom (masculine queers). My own desires still don’t count.

There is an enormous amount of social pressure around sex. I remember one conversation I had with a friend about this pressure. I told her I felt like an outsider because I wasn’t in a relationship. After chewing this over for a moment, she observed, “it’s as though being single is the worse thing you can be.”

It has been my experience that being single or celibate makes you an outcast in the queer community in a way that being in a relationship doesn’t. We live in a society structured around the couple and the nuclear family. So being in a relationship, even a same-sex relationship, heck, even a polyamorous relationship, is more tolerated than being single. If you are single, there must be something wrong with you. If you are single, you must be “looking.”

There is a huge stigma around celibacy. From a very young age we are told that being sexual is our raison d’etre; from the princess who needs a prince to rescue her to the action man who has a new girl in every city. No matter how successful you are, no matter your level of happiness, you will always be considered a failure if you don’t have a partner. I am sure that those of us who are socialized as women feel this pressure the most. Yes, you have a degree, yes, you’re a rocket scientist, but do you have a man?

The perverse effect of this pressure to date is that being single can make you unhappy even if it’s what you want.

My choice to be celibate in 2010 threw me into a state of confusion. As a person who hangs out in mostly DIY queer community-type spaces, I suddenly felt excluded from the main language of communication. If my connection with fellow queers wasn’t about sex, then what was it about?

When I published my personal essay “I Don’t Want to Have Sex” on my almost totally unknown blog in 2011, I didn’t really expect much to come of it. I thought that, like my other angry feminist rants, it would past the world by, smaller than a drowned gnat in the big pond that is the internet. I didn’t expect it to get 1000 hits in one day and spark a discussion about sex, sexuality and hypersexualization in the community around me.

My decision to not have sex or a relationship for a while struck a nerve in my queer community. In a community that has historically defined itself by its alternative sexual and gender expressions, what is the place of the person who chooses not to engage in sexual relationships with others? Is the queer community only a place for sexually active queers, or can a space be carved for others too?

I am disappointed at the lack of sexual choice we are presented with as adults. Sex seems to be the way in which we orient ourselves in the queer community. Our desires and our differing genders define us against the “mainstream” world. They offer us legitimacy, but, increasingly, I am finding they offer me a very small box indeed.

Sex positivity is a buzz word in the queer community. Its intention is to remove the stigma from sex and queer sex in a homophobic, sexist and transphobic world. It wants to empower us to live full sexual lives. Yet, sex positivity also has to include being able to say no to sex. It has to include being able to express that, actually, I don’t want to have sex now, for whatever reason. I don’t want to be in a relationship, and that’s OK. As one of the commenters on my blog wrote, “Just no sex is OK too.”

I’ve learned a lot during these past years about judgment and happiness and self-care. There is one thing about human sexuality I now truly believe. We can never find our way to sexual empowerment until we accept our single selves. As long as being single is seen as something undesirable or abnormal, we’ll never be truly sexually empowered, feminist or queer.

Wanna write about asexuality for the Shameless blog?

hey y’all – Shameless Mag in Toronto and I would like to create a piece about the validity of asexuality as an orientation. We think it’s important that youth learn that there are other, non-sexual ways to be fulfilled and form relationships. As a non-asexual person, I am hesitant to create this article by myself. Is there an awesome person out there who identifies as asexual who’d like this opportunity to set forth their point of view either by co-authoring the article or being interviewed? Ta! Contact me via commenting here or emailing pinklab@hotmail.com

I’ve got an award!

wordpress-family-award2

Despite my erratic blogging and difficulty finding the time and self-belief to write, of late. a lovely reader has given me the honour of nominating me for a WordPress Family Award. As I understand it, this award celebrates the WordPress community and is a way of showing appreciation for each other’s work and words. Thank you so much Jenness Johnston for nominating me! I am so lucky.

Although I have always been a bit of a blogger-in-denial (that is, I love blogging but tend to throw my words out there while trying not to think where they will fall – something to do with writer’s block) and therefore have so much more blog reading to do, as part of my acceptance of this award I will nominate 10 inspirational bloggers who deserve to have their work read and appreciated:

1) Lipstick and Teeth. My close friend and political ally. The person who used lipstick in the title of her blog before I did and I was, like, ‘damn’! A person whose posts, although not frequent, are of such great quality that they always impress and inspire me. I highly recommend subscribing to her feed. Katherine, it’s you.

2) Another Visual Diary. A truly inspirational, never-relenting artist who keeps blogging and producing zines and charging around Leipzig and London on her long board. A fierce feminist and a beautiful person who has made me feel supported in my writing and inspired me to continue. Do check her photo diary out.

3) The Flannel Files is my favourite blog title yet. This butch lesbian approaches writing and life in a way that I really identify with.

4) Pankhearst is an independent writer’s collective with a dark sense of humour. I find it hard to summarise what it’s about and – you know what? – I don’t care. Each post speaks to interests I didn’t even know I had.

5) This one-woman SexEd blog is inspiring both because I admire its creator and because it has some truly fascinating and helpful information about sex on it. I love geeking out about these things!

6) A blog that addresses questions of being trans and/or queer, I like CN Lester most when they posts controversial material that sparks discussion between the gays. Like all these blogs, CN deserves this award for consistent, high quality, content.

7) OMG those feminists are funny! Your Monthly Periodical is a collective magazine-style blog that writes witty commentary on pretty much everything.

8) One of the first blogs I started following, I held Discipline and Anarchy up as a model of flawless writing and thought-provoking content. It doesn’t shy away from the controversial and I try to emulate that in Diary.

9) Sheesh! So much talent, such a big internet. Stop! Talking is another angry feminist blog that I just L.U.R.V.E.

10) Never afraid to shine a critical eye on the queer community, A Radical TransFeminist has some great info. I dare you to read it.

Butch Eye Candy!

OK, so I am so wrapped up in job and house hunting in my new abode of Toronto that I have completely neglected to provide you guys with a post. But never fear, butch eye candy is here! Here’s an awesome video courtesy of Time about a female model who models exclusively in men’s fashion. Although women modelling men’s clothes is not new, a woman signed exclusively to a modelling agency for men is. Without further ado, I present to you Thursday Butch Eye Candy!

(Disclaimer – this person may not actually identify as butch. But they’re hot, nonetheless.)

courtesy thegloss.com

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Hey dudettes, I know I’ve been absent recently, but that’s what working for the man does to you. I need to find a woman! To tide you over in times of need, I have helpfully linked a review I published this week on The F Word. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is the second autobiography by Jeanette Winterson, one of my fave authors, and it has taught me a lot about the connection between mental health and creativity. You can check out my review at this brilliant UK feminist website. Enjoy and CLICK ME!