Pride: Not mine

Pride celebrations have begun in the township I live in, Belfast, a place where a brand of ignorant homophobia pervades the largest local political party. In a deeply divided society with enduring scars of conflict, sectarian division and antagonism, there is a great deal of ‘territoriality’ about all things progressive. Those who purport to present themselves as the forerunners of LGB and Trans activism, just like activists in many other sectors, are very keen to claim ownership of LGBTQI issues, and sideline voices that are different to their own, or coming from people who do not fall within their careerist agendas. Across the world, Pride is a highly commercialised event in which businesses seek profit. Many organisations try to benefit from Pride by flying the rainbow flag and pretending to be supportive of LGBTQI people. Pride is also an event with a past marked by racial and transphobic discrimination. Very few pride events across the world care to remember and honour the memory of Marsha P. Johnson, a trans woman of colour, who pioneered the Stonewall riots. What we know as pride today is an event dominated by cis white gay men, who think they are entitled to draw boundaries and lines, and exercise control over everything LGBTIQ. This arrogance was clearly apparent, for instance, at the 2015 Pride reception at the White House, when Jennicet Guttiérrez, a trans woman of colour and a leading activist at Familia TQLM, interrupted Barack Obama’s all but hollow Pride speech. The largely white audience booed Guttiérrez, and she was forcibly removed from the event. This year, Guttiérrez was not invited, and the White House pride reception included people of colour, also trans women of colour, who, as opposed to the very courageous Guttiérrez, do not cross boundaries put in place by the establishment, who do their activism in a way in which white supremacist arrogance and discriminatory practices are not called out or held accountable.

A transfeminist take on Pride in Belfast: no pride as yet?

Pride in Belfast, when one looks at things from a Transfeminist eye, is far from a time for celebration. Instead, it is a time for fierce activism. To this writer, a trans woman of colour and a strong advocate of Transfeminism living in Belfast, the local pride celebrations verge on the offensive. A transfeminist perspective involves critical engagement with issues affecting cis and trans women, trans, queer and other gender-plural people. In the local context of Belfast, there is no way pride could be a reason for celebration when women, especially young cis women, trans men and gender-plural people from not so privileged backgrounds face state control over their bodies, by refusing them a legal and safe termination when they so require. This is an issue that does NOT affect women who are from wealthy backgrounds, who can access relevant treatment in mainland Britain or elsewhere without a problem. The issue at hand is one of life and death, one that completely transforms, and in many cases ruins the rest of a young person’s life, and no transfeminist activist can afford to dance around and celebrate when a patriarchal and misogynist establishment denies some of the most vulnerable cis women, trans men and other gender-plural people their fundamental right to bodily autonomy. Pride in Ireland, north and south, is profoundly misogynist. Why can pride not be used as an occasion to strongly challenge, discomfort, and scar the patriarchal political establishment and zoom in on a cis woman’s, trans man’s and other gender-plural birth giver’s right to bodily autonomy? Why is Pride not adequately used to highlight the fact that reproductive justice is not something that only affects cis women (which appears to be the premise of many pro-choice groups)? No, pride is our day of celebration. The ‘abortion stuff’ is a ‘women’s issue’ managed by ‘women’s groups’. Some trans activists even go to the extent of calling upon pro-choice lobbies to take the first forward steps, which, in a context in which pro-choice groups are faced with tremendous challenges, amounts to venting one’s privilege and lack of sensitivity. This misogynist tendency to marginalise an issue of life and death (and in the local context of Northern Ireland, the tendency to consider equal marriage as important as full reproductive justice) is ample proof that the patriarchal and cisnormative attitudes in society also hold sway within the apparently diverse, pro-equality and progressive LGBTQ community. To set the record straight, #ReproJustice is an absolute priority, and urgency, and is much more important than extending the 2013 Marriage Act to Northern Ireland.

A profoundly Transfeminist take on issues affecting [cis and trans] women and queer liberation involves a policy of caring and solidarity, of standing for the rights of marginalised groups, and of making their struggles one’s own. Audre Lorde’s timeless statement “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own”, strongly embodies active and engaged Transfeminist activism.

Pride for gatekeepers?

There is no pride in LGBTQ activism that is not intersectional-feminist (and consequently, profoundly Transfeminist). There is no pride in glamorous LGBTQ events that exclude marginalised women and people from migrant backgrounds. There is definitely no pride whatsoever in pride events that serve to inflate the egos of a handful of individuals who present themselves as LGBTQ community ‘leaders’ who have a gatekeeper’s approach to LGBTQ advocacy, and whose primary target is that of promoting their own personal agendas. This is also an issue in the specific sphere of trans activism, where a small number of trans people (in the context of Trans advocacy groups in Europe, near-exclusively white folk, often from not underprivileged backgrounds) try to control trans lobbies, determine the parameters and organisational dynamics of Europe-wide Trans events, and deploy their Western, white and European privileges to present themselves as experts on trans issues. This way of functioning systematically excludes and seeks to obliterate trans and queer people of colour who are systematically marginalised (especially when it comes to trans/queer issues-related employment opportunities), who are forced to deal with arrogant and Trans-unfriendly immigration systems, who have no choice but to work in jobs that they are overwhelmingly overqualified for, and who are told in no uncertain terms that they are not welcome in apparently ‘trans support’ and ‘trans advocacy’ groups. The supreme irony comes to light when such trans advocacy groups organise panel discussions and seminars on intersectionality, blindly borrowing the term from black feminist scholarship, and using it to promote their petty agendas. Some LGBT and trans lobbies’ use of the term ‘intersectionality’ provides a perfect example of what Sirma Bilge calls ‘whitening intersectionality’, or blanchiment de l’intersectionnalité.

Transfeminist activism: the way forward

The only breath of fresh air comes from Transfeminist activism, carried out by trans people who are deeply committed to inclusivity and conscious of intersectional realities, who are unafraid to call out their own privileges, think outside the box, and forge new solidarities. Transfeminist spaces and activism are also heavily under-funded, as funders prefer the more superficial brand of trans-related work that is deemed more news-savvy and, in the age of a Transgender [pseudo] tipping point, marketable.

Insensitive to ethnic and racial diversity?

Returning to the specific case of Ireland, the entire island is fast diversifying, both north and south of the border. Ireland is increasingly home to people from a range of ethnic, religious and sociocultural backgrounds, resulting in a rich array of diversity. The entire LGBT activist lobby somehow appears to be oblivious to this reality. When their lack of diversity is called out, the so-called community leaders immediately get on the defensive, referring to such and such black or brown person they interacted with at this or that occasion. They may also brag about how they devour food or jewellery or whatever else from such and such culture. They simply do not seem to grasp the fact that having a black or brown face here and there, or being appreciative of cultures different from one’s own, or stuffing one’s face with ‘ethnic’ food (whatever that means) are all beside the point. What is crucial is that of putting in place a consistent policy of inclusion, intended at overcoming the racial hierarchies of LGBTQI activism, understanding, acknowledging and calling out one’s own privileges, and in making LGBTQI activism, advocacy, the strategic, human resources and financial priorities of LGBTQI organisations profoundly ‘intersectional’. Instead of such a policy prioritisation, living in one’s little bubble, calling oneself the ‘director’ of such and such body, and seeking to bask in individualism is what LGBT activism in Ireland today looks like. It is an activism in which alternative/critical/radical voices are near-non-existent. This is also the case in many other places, where gatekeepers rule, and committed activists, especially Transfeminist groups, are marginalised.

Critical Transfeminist voices: the need of the day

The controllers of LGBT work in Ireland make sure that they avoid critical engagements altogether, as their primary focus is their own selves, and not anything like queer liberation. More than any other time in history, Ireland and especially the LGBTQI lobby in Ireland, needs critical and radical voices. It is a lobby that ought to profoundly question its racial faultlines and its unwillingness to interact with the growing diversity of Irish society. There is a need to take stock of the fact that marriage equality legislation in the Irish Republic (just as in the USA and elsewhere) was not an act in favour of LGBTQI people, but a move that favoured a handful of rich cis gay men in influential positions, who, thanks to equal marriage legislation, can better manage their financial and property interests. It is not a piece of legislation that helps LGBTQI people from marginalised backgrounds or those from migrant/refugee backgrounds. When rich cis white gay men and a smaller number of wealthy cis gay women make marriage arrangements, LGBTQI people of colour and from migrant backgrounds spend hours and days and months grappling with patriarchal and misogynist structures of migration control. Trans and queer people of colour, and especially trans women of colour, in the meantime, are trying to survive, often with the bare minimum, in a world that summarily discriminates against them, denies them employment opportunities, dehumanises and devalues them. Cis women, trans men and gender-plural folk (including underage children) from not so wealthy backgrounds have their lives ruined, due to the establishment’s unwillingness to let them have full control over their bodies. While some white trans folk save up funds for their surgeries, many trans people of colour are forced to save money for their soon-t0-come funerals, or with some luck, to get urgent medical treatment for broken ribs and disfigured faces.

Conclusion: No activism is ‘local’ anymore

In sum, in today’s world, there is no such thing as ‘local’ activism. Struggles against injustice have shared objectives, and critical perspectives coming from one place cannot be considered as irrelevant in others. The very concept of pride is a cis white men’s appropriation of a struggle that began with a riot spearheaded by trans women of colour. It has been imported across the world to promote an imperialist and coercive agenda, most often controlled by cis white men who are very well versed in looking after themselves.

Pride, if any semblance of pride is to be sensed in it at all, should be an occasion to critically question and challenge patriarchy, raise discomforting questions, challenge the white supremacist racial hierarchies in LGBTQI activism, and to challenge and actively dismantle vicious cycles of sexual, racial and gender oppression.

Pride in its present form, therefore, is not mine. As a trans woman of colour living in Belfast, in the unceded counties of traditional Ulster, it is most definitely not mine.