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Monday, April 21, 2014

Intersectionality and Trans* Immigration

by eliza dyer

So I’ve been so excited by the success and messages coming from “QPOCS!”’s Queer People of Color Visibility Week on campus, particularly their Intersectionality 101 Workshop. Which, has gotten me thinking about how the queer struggle that I participate in can be more intersectional and better link itself to the struggles of racism and classism. One of the most illustrative examples of intersectionality (the concept that loosely means that we all carry all of our identities with us at all times, and those identities can’t be examined separately) that I like to use is the experiences of Trans* Immigrants. Their immigration status is directly linked to their ethnicity and directly linked with their gender identity which is directly linked to their class status.
This is because their immigration status affects their educational and employment opportunities while their gender identity affects those opportunities in a different and compounding way. This means (particularly undocumented) trans* immigrants are more likely to be economically vulnerable and potentially need to resort to survival crime like sex work to survive than either cisgender immigrants or trans* citizens. Trans* immigrants who are of particular ethnic origins are even more likely than other trans* immigrants. Transwomen who are immigrants are more likely than those with other gender identities. To make this even more complex, this is all important because economically vulnerable people are more likely to come into contact with law enforcement, which exponentially raises the chances for detainment and deportation. This is just to show how useful intersectional analysis is because trans* immigrant individual experiences are directly situated in each identity status.
For us visual learners, this is a super useful graph from an awesome organization, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project:

This shows step by step how legal institutions criminalize particularly trans* people and how trans* identities can prevent people from accessing legal immigration status. This includes how trans* people have less access to secure employment, but that most documented forms of immigration require secure employment of a certain wage OR family members to vouch financial support which is much more difficult for trans* immigrants than cisgender immigrants statistically. This graph shows how criminalization and barriers to documented immigration compound to create disproportionate detention and deportation of trans* people, but also that that process for them is much more dangerous for them. This is in part because of the lack of proper medical attention in detention centers and in countries of origin, because of the disproportionate levels of violence faced in detention centers and countries of origin.

The importance of recognizing these intersectional experiences is that we can recognize how all of our oppressions are connected and the extent of the change that is necessary for the equitable treatment of everyone in our communities. For trans* immigrants, we need changes police practices, legal procedures, fund allocation to detention centers, amnesty processes, legal protection based on gender identity, and so on. Trans* immigrants have a strong and unique perspective into the systems that oppress us and we can’t get anywhere worth going without them. We can use this analysis to understand the importance of immigrant organizing and representation to our struggle as queer and trans* people, the importance of the organizing for sex worker rights, the lack of universal experiences in the community we try to represent. This is just one small look into how intersectional analysis works and what trans* immigrants must navigate, but I hope it makes the case of much farther we can go if we acknowledge that our experiences aren’t like everyone else’s and of how much farther we can go when we incorporate that into our activism and world views.

Friday, April 11, 2014

What Does a Feminist Relationship Look Like?

Love and Feminism

                The feminist fight takes on many forms, politically, globally, and personally, but I feel as feminists, we forget to take care of the home front. What I mean is our romantic relationships.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the issues that garner the most attention and publicity like reproductive  rights, marriage equality, and the gender wage gap—all very important and necessary—but are we failing to challenge patriarchy and oppression in our homes? Are our dating, mating and marriage practices in alignment with our feminist principles of equity, collaboration, and the dismantling power and privilege? What I hope to examine in this blog is what a romantic relationship look like when we practice feminist principles. My disclaimer is that I can only speak from my own experiences in a heterosexual relationship with a male identified man who also is a feminist. I am sure I will not be able to create a complete picture of what a feminist relationship is but I do hope to at least begin by sketching out what I have tried to achieve in my own partnership.

                Acknowledgement of Sexism and Patriarchy

                I think we can all agree that sexism and misogyny is a huge problem in our society and in the world. Nothing gets me as a feminist and as a woman more frustrated and dare I say angry when people—men and women—deny that sexism is a problem. That sexism as a systematic whole doesn’t really exist and that it’s some people who may have sexist beliefs but we as a society are not oppressive to women. A feminist relationship acknowledges that we are in a patriarchal society that values one gender over another, that rape culture and the wage gap does indeed exist. That this society and most of the world holds patriarchal values that keeps masculinity and men’s experiences as the standard or norm and anything else as other.  Without this acknowledgement, a relationship cannot be based in feminist principles, nor does the partner align with feminist values. And sometimes, the hard truth is we may be feminist and fighting the good fight, but our partners can be ambivalent non-feminists or worse anti-feminists who find the women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights movement a threat to their core values.

                Commitment to Equity and a True Partnership

                I believe everyone has a “list” of what characteristics they want in a life-long mate. My deal maker and deal breaker was the fundamental ideological belief that I as a woman was the equal to my partner.  This seems simple enough and maybe obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many nice young men I’ve dated who balked at the idea that I was equally accountable, important, hardworking, smart, deserving etc. as them. I can’t really blame them with the way we raise boys and girls to devalue everything that is associated with being female. Of course, my insistence on equity was going to blow their mind and threaten their long held beliefs. And for clarification, when I say I demand equity in a relationship and in society, I am NOT saying I am the same as a man. I am saying I deserve the same respect, value and opportunities as a man.  And maybe that’s where many feminists get snagged in these types of conversations with family, friends, and strangers is because  people assume feminism is saying women are better than men (which they aren’t) or by having gender equality under the law and in practice is saying women and men are the same. A feminist relationship acknowledges women’s value as just as important and significant as men’s. A feminist relationship is a true partnership of equals. Not a parent/child relationship or any of the pretty metaphors we have heard to justify placing men as the sole leaders and controllers of relationships; remember My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s famous line “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.” Sure it sounds empowering but it still supports the hierarchal component of patriarchy. If we as feminist want to end hierarchal oppression of groups with privilege over those without we need to confront the hierarchy that has been traditionally structured our romantic relationships.

                Confronting Privilege (In Ourselves and in Our Partners)

                As a white, cisgender, college educated, able-bodied woman, legally married to a white, educated, able-bodied man we have a lot of privilege. As feminists it’s our obligation to acknowledge our privileges, as uncomfortable as that may be, and use our privilege to help those who are not privileged like the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, the disabled etc. Confronting privilege takes the form of calling out our use of language. Saying “that’s so gay”, “that’s retarded”, “That test raped me” or the use of the “N word” in jest are all products of privilege. This could be hard, nobody likes to be corrected by their partner, and it could be interpreted at criticism. It could have easily been a slip, but it’s so important that we as feminists keep ourselves and our partners accountable. I have been called out by my partner and I have told him to “check your privilege”. This can be done in a gentle, joking manner without berating and lecturing your partner. Male privilege can make it especially hard for a male identified partner to understand or see the struggles of sexism and patriarchy, there may be defensiveness, denial, and maybe guilt that comes with being part of a privileged group. This is where the work of feminism and relationships can be especially frustrating but ultimately, if he is willing to listen, and if she is willing to speak of her experiences with sexism and discrimination, rewarding. There can be understanding even if he still doesn’t agree with her completely.

                Negotiating Gender Roles

                This I feel is going to be super obvious and some feminists may wonder why this is it even being addressed. As feminists we know that gender is socially constructed and we know that women should be able to work outside the home and men be stay at home dads, without their gender being compromised and yet, the reality is that gender roles in hetero relationships play a huge role in the way couples interact with each other.  A real world example would be the division of labor between men and women.  Women are working in the labor force, at the same hours, doing the same things, yet they are still doing most of the housework. Some women still expect men to not express too much emotion, or to communicate about their feelings. A feminist relationship isn’t asking that women not stay at home with their children and do domestic work or men to not be the bread winner; it is also not keeping people in these confined boxes. A feminist relationship requires us to question are own motives and expectations of our partners. It could be the expectation that your male partner will take out the trash, not because you asked him or he volunteered but because that is the traditional male chore. Having conversations and collaborating together about how the house should be run and what kind of expectations, while being aware of how gender is influencing these expectations is important in a feminist relationship.

                Valuing and Celebrating Each Other’s Contributions

                A feminist relationship, however the division of labor is arranged, who works, who makes more money, who cares for the children, all the contributions to the relationship are celebrated and valued. We have a tendency in this society to put a higher value on contributions that have monetary value. That’s why childcare and domestic work is undervalued but not because it is less work. It doesn’t make income and is easily dismissed. Any good relationship values the partner and their contribution and that is especially true in a relationship based on feminist principles. When we value the work that doesn’t bring in the cash we are redressing the balance of power that tends to give the partner who makes more money more control in the relationship. Celebrating a partner’s contribution is one of the best ways to demonstrate love, and by loving and valuing a partner we have a healthier, happier relationship. 


                Relationships are hard and a lot of work, and trying to root a relationship in feminism will be a lot more work; but if we expect our homes and relationships to be based on equity, respect, dignity and value, we start a precedent for our children and these principles will no longer be a theory or a lip service, but will be an actuality. We will then be paving a way that will lead the future generations to social justice and reproductive rights, marriage equality, and the gender wage gap won’t be these massive battles for our children to fight, or if they are, they are equipped with the tools to continue our work.