Guernica interviews Dean Spade, the first openly trans law professor, about his activism and work with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. It’s a must-read, but the lead particularly caught my eye: The average life span of a transgendered person is twenty-three years.
The whole interview is amazing, and do read it. A sample:
A lot of my writing is about trying to understand what role legal work has in strategies for transformative social change. Part of the reason that question is so important right now is that there has been widescale attacks on social movements over the last thirty or forty years in response to the very meaningful social movements in the sixties and seventies that had very transformative demands, that were seeking a redistribution of wealth and of life chances in really significant ways. What’s emerged in their place is a very thin national narrative about social change that often centers on the law and often says that groups that are marginalized or experiencing subjugation of various kinds should just win lawsuits and pass laws to change their lives.
But the hard thing is that few lawsuits actually have those effects. On one hand, a lot of laws are not enforced or never implemented. For example, in a lot of places it’s illegal to fire or not hire someone for being trans, but that happens every single day. Very little can be done about that in the current framework. The systemic homelessness and poverty many trans people face doesn’t seem to be sufficiently addressed by passing a law that says we shouldn’t discriminate against trans people. Law reforms declaring race and disability discrimination illegal haven’t solved concentrated joblessness, poverty, homelessness, or criminalization of people with disabilities and people of color. Often people who the law says should have equal chances at jobs still don’t have equal chances at jobs, and they’re still on the losing side of the severe wealth divide in the U.S. So how can we start to strategize for social movements that don’t believe the myth that changing the law is the key way to change people’s lives?
Another thing is that at times what law reform does do is put a window dressing of fairness on systems that are deeply unfair. Maybe some of the people, the most enfranchised in a particular group, will be somewhat better off through law reforms, because they have a lot of other kinds of wealth or privilege in terms of the overall system. Oftentimes, in that way law reform stabilizes a status quo; it stabilizes the existing field of maldistribution. Those people who are worst off really don’t see a lot of change, or may be further marginalized.
A lot of us are trying to look at what has really been powerful in the history of the U.S. in terms of changing people’s lives, and that’s been broad social movements led by people directly impacted by the issues. They often have demands that far exceed what the law could ever give, demands that are not going to be passed by Congress or won in courts. Those demands actually confront the things that America is based on, like white supremacy or settler colonialism. The law can be a useful tool to address certain needs for certain communities, but it’s nowhere near a silver bullet that will make people equal. That mythology is the part of the mythology of our nation, a mythology that people are often not willing to question if they are benefiting from existing conditions of maldistribution.