I’m at the WAM conference in Boston, attending panels and networking with all kinds of awesome feminist activists. The current session I’m in: In/Out of Focus, Broadening a Feminist Lens: Gender, Non-Conformity and the Media, with Kate Bovitch, Miriam Zoila Perez, (Feministe’s own) Jack Aponte, Julia Serano. I overslept a bit this morning and just got here, but I’ll include some tail-end highlights:
-Deanna Zandt asks about naming — when we want to make sure that spaces are inclusive, does it make sense to use words like “women” or other potentially limiting terminology? Miriam says that we should use words that best reflect what we mean, but that language is ultimately going to be imperfect. We aren’t all going to agree on what “progressive women” or “feminist” means, and we have to be ok working through that. Jack points out that sometimes hyper-academic language can be alienating; that we shouldn’t sacrifice being accessible and non-elitist in order to use the perfect terminology. She adds that an inclusive mission statement can go a long way.
-One woman in the room who identifies as a queer Latina feminist asks about how we can include women of color in this conversation. Jack says that it’s key to combat the idea that communities of color are worse at being inclusive of queer and gender non-conforming people. It’s also important that a lot of the narrow gender roles that have been imposed on communities of color are a partial result of colonialism; many communities of color have pre-colonial histories where gender looked very different. Jack concludes with emphasizing the importance of having a diversity of faces representing queerness and gender nonconformity in the media — the face of trans people or queer people should not center around white college-age kids who just look a little “weird.”
Julia Serano adds that within the trans community, trans people of color are the most likely to experience violence and discrimination.
Miriam says that as a Latina, she’s been frustrated by the idea that queerness is a “white” thing, especially when colonialism is partly responsible for stamping out gender and sexual diversity in many places around the world.
Jack talks about her own family, and says that when it comes to communities that are disproportionately excluded from academia, we need to recognize that maybe the wording isn’t going to be perfect, but that isn’t what’s important. People can use perfect language and still be jerks; other people may not know whether to use the term “transwoman” or “transman” or may confuse gendered pronouns, but love you and care for you and look out for you — that’s what matters, and hang-ups about language can be unproductive in certain contexts.
-Mary from a feminist radio show asks about generational issues, and how Second Wave feminism has influenced this discussion and transgender activism. Julia responds that feminism has been crucial in being able to make the connections in how transwomen and transpeople are often the focus of demonization — why are there so many jokes about transpeople and men wearing dresses? Why are transpeople a punchline? Feminism has helped her to order her experiences.
Miriam says that in her experience in dealing with generational issues, she’s felt like there’s a narrative that assumes young feminists have not learned lessons from older feminists and we’re misguided. It’s true that a lot of what we talk about is how we want feminism to evolve, but to her it’s about building: The work that’s been done, the challenges that have been met and the barriers that have been broken down is what allows her to do her feminism.
Jack: There’s an ageist misconception that the younger folks “get it” when it comes to trans issues and the older folks don’t; but that has not been her experience and she doesn’t think that’s true. While there are generational aspects, it’s not as cut and dry as people make it out to be.
Question: How does blogging and new media fit into this conversation?
Jack: Blogging enables us to break down borders, and allows us to create communities and become allies to people who we normally wouldn’t interact with. It’s important to take that opportunity instead of using the blogosphere as a reflection of what happens in real life — segregated by race, class, income, etc. We need to make space for identity-based discussions as well as cross-community building.
Miriam: I get to decide what language I use, but I don’t get to decide what language other people use in discussions. She writes under the name “Miriam” and knows that many Feministing readers see her name and assume she’s a gender conforming woman, even though in her “real” life she lives more on the margins. So she has some level of control as to how she presents herself, but can’t control how she’s totally perceived.
Julia: This conference is neat because you can finally put names to faces; there’s something powerful there that isn’t explicitly talked about enough, especially with issues of gender and sexuality. Assumptions play a huge role — the assumption that if you meet someone they’re probably straight or they’re not trans, unless there’s something about them that tips you off. There’s a great possibility with the internet for people to more generally understand how marginalizing assumptions in general are. If you just look at someone, you know nothing about them. That could be used a little more explicitly, but there’s a lot of potential there.