Gender Free For All: Let's build from the ground up! - A letter from Katey Pants

Katey Pants for Diesel Femme. Photo by Kina Williams

Community member, DJ, and femme fashionista Katey Pants has never been a qPDX contributor per se but this is at least the second time I’ve asked to borrow her erudite thoughts that she has publicly posted in other forums. Girl’s got a lot to say and I hope we all have a lot to say back.

Take it away KP!

In August, 2009, city officials in Multnomah County Oregon declared August 1st-8th Transgendered-Americans Week. In conjunction, organizers held a Gender-Free –For-All rally in Portland. I was not part of the organizing of the rally but an attendee. I also consider many of the organizers to be close allies and some friends. The march started with a celebration of the enactment of the Transgendered-Americans Week and a number of speeches, made predominantly by Portland politicians. From there our short and permitted march went through a neighborhood in NE Portland, led and surrounded by police.

The entire rally was weird and unlike any other that I have attended. This is because when I have done work in the streets it has been with those that are most marginalized in our world and I have never been in a march where the police were actually invited. In an effort to articulate my weirdness about the prioritizing of police and politicians- I took a step back for the past couple of weeks and engaged in some self-study, dialogue with my friends and allies, and decided to write something. I hope this piece can provide some talking points about the profound implications of prioritizing politicians and police presence over those that are directly affected by state and police repression for a queer movement. This critique comes from wanting to see my queer/trans friends and allies everywhere engage in strategic political work that encourages fresh visions for securing justice, freedom, and democracy. This also comes from a political and emotional commitment to create a world free of heterosexism, homophobia, and compulsory oppressive gender relations. I want to be part of movement that also serves as a challenge to a dehumanizing status quo of state violence and capitalist bloodshed.

I want to start out by talking about the hyphenated American and its political relevance. Historically, the state acknowledges oppressed groups by tacking “American” to the end of their title, i.e.; African-American, Asian-American, and now, Transgendered-American. Celebrating the incorporation of the trans-gendered American is problematic for many reasons. Historically, queer and trans-people have been direct recipients of state violence. One need only look at incarceration rates, access to dignifying health care, and life expectancy for evidence of this. This is certainly exacerbated for queer and trans people of color. By adding the -American to queer, Transgendered or gender-queer people, the state removes itself from taking responsibility for the damage it has done on the bodies of queer and trans folks. Transgendered-American week as prescribed by Multnomah County does not address the targeting of queer and trans-folks by the police and moreover, it does not offer a solution to the intense injustice done to queer and trans-folks. Also, the incorporation of hyphenated American implies that those who are American deserve rights simply because they are American as opposed to deserving respect and dignity because they are alive. Hence, it places the deserving American above those considered undesirable and invisible in the United States. What this does is alienate queers/trans people who are immigrants, those who are in prison, those who are sex workers, and those who are simply rendered outsiders of hegemonic American society.

When attempting to build a movement for Queer and Trans freedom, it is of the utmost importance to be engage with those from below and not at the top. We should place our organizational priorities on building relationships with people who are the most oppressed as opposed to placing our organizational energy in building relationships with those already in power. Liberation can not be achieved by employing the powers that so often serve to oppress, alienate and brutalize queer, trans, and gender-queer people. The liberation struggle for queer and trans-folks can and should be connected to the struggles of oppressed peoples everywhere. This connection is not only politically relevant, as it insures that Queer and Trans people do not engage in short sided reform projects that in reality secure neither freedom or justice; but is also necessary if we are to remain true to building a better society of all queer and trans people.

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