I remember the lead-up to last year’s Women’s March on Washington. I had bus tickets purchased. I remember feeling the enormity of it all, the significance of the moment of history.
I remember, as a transwoman, waffling over whether I would go, even after I bought tickets I could not afford to use, tickets I certainly did not have the luxury discarding. At the biggest stand against the bigotry, misogyny and racism of the day, I still wasn’t sure if I was welcome.
There’s a spotty history of exclusion of trans voices in women’s movements, an exclusion which borders on violence when it comes to TERFs. I remember how HRC, one of the nations largest glb ‘t’ lobbying groups, ditched us faster than Republican Leadership abandons state rights when they have national power. HRC threw trans people under the bus with ENDA, perhaps in the view that more bigots would be okay with gay rights if they specifically excluded trans rights.
So I did what any crazy activist would do. I researched. I read the WMW Unity Principles. I annoyed people up the chain of command in the march as far as I could take it. “Are there trans speakers? Are we represented? Is it real this time?” I was assured that we were represented, even while not being told by whom.
Still skeptical, I went to Washington, DC, along with over one million others who were disgusted with the overt bigotry being expressed in those who would call themselves leaders.
I needn’t have worried, even though my skepticism was (is) justified. The WMW came through in words and action. The rights of several minorities were clearly defended, and supporting those most vulnerable in society was the stated goal of the March. Trans women, women of color, women in minority religions, and, yes, white women, worked together in organizing the March, in creating the principles and ethos of the March, and in representation on stage. The Women’s March didn’t pretend at inclusiveness; it actually was inclusive, and at all levels In it’s planning, rhetoric and execution, the WMW gave us all a blueprint for building a truly broad-based coalition of leftists.
At the March, I secured a location elevated above the crowd, and waved my rainbow flag for all to see. Not only did I not hear one word of criticism, many people around me were telling friends to meet them ‘at the rainbow flag.’ From my vantage point, I could see a good half a mile down the street behind the stage. What I saw was a sea of pink hats, all cheering for speaker after speaker, black, brown, immigrant, trans, and others. I saw a sea of pink hats ‘say her name,’ after Janelle Monae brought relatives of police killings onto stage and honored those fallen to the inexcusable culture of institutionalized racism that permeates every institution, including the police.
Including us. More on that coming up.
The Pussy Hat, Then and Since
Back then, the hat meant unity. Unity against the racism, against the Islamophobia, against the lies about immigrants, against the dis-empowerment of women, against the unmitigated attacks on trans rights. Unity in dedicating ourselves to fighting the man, yes, but also the structures, the culture that allowed such a despicable man to gain such power. This was the stated purpose behind the hat, and the stated and executed purpose of the March. I wore my hat with pride and unity with anyone who was willing to work for a better world for all of us.
No one, repeat NO ONE, playful name aside, claimed that the hat was a specific representation of their genitals, nor anyone else’s. This was not a symbol adapted from the alt right to promote pride in pink pussies only. This was not a symbol devised nor worn to exclude those who did not have pussies, nor whose pussies might be different colors.
For the record, my own genitals have more than one color, none of which is the bright, bubble-gum pink of my hat. If this was supposed to be an accurate representation of my privates, it failed. Maybe I should have it re-knitted with hairs poking out.
Not long after, I got called a ‘vagina walker’ by a Trump supporter, and accused of tearing babies to pieces by the same critic. From the way she dropped the line, it felt like she was echoing someone else’s talking points, although the sentiment was all her own.
Thus began the sexualization of the pussy hat. The left made it about values. The right made it about parts.
One year later, those of us wearing the hats were taken to task because the pink pussy hat seemed to exclude those without female genitalia, and women with different color genitalia. Those who still wore the hat, those who ever wore the hat, those of us in the Women’s March were categorically labelled racists and transphobes for wearing the hat or participating in Anniversary Marches. Because the hat, allegedly, is all about genitals now. The hat has been compared to the “Confederate Flag of the Women’s March,” because, you know, the fascists who marched in Charlottesville to start a race riot are pretty much indistinguishable from those who oppose fascism, if they are wearing pink hats.
That’s right, we are being held accountable because our symbol, as redefined by conservative trolls as being explicitly, reductively genital, did not match the genitals of everyone being oppressed.
No, I don’t accept the attacks. I don’t accept the blanket accusations against everyone wearing a pussy hat, nor against everyone working for the Women’s March. Such attacks, such indiscriminate lumping together of people, is exactly what I marched against. It’s wrong when the right does it, and it’s wrong when it comes from the left. It’s time we transcend it all.
Nonetheless, the critics have a point, and it’s an important one.
Racism is Alive and Well on the Left. So is Transphobia, Homophobia and Misogyny.
We have a problem. Several, in fact.
While I deny blanket attacks on people, I cannot deny the point the critics are making.
No, those on the left don’t generally practice the out-loud, blatant racism of the right. It’s a lot more subtle, and may not even be intentional, but it still exists.
The left practices its bigotry and racism through exclusion. Barriers to participation, barriers to leadership, barriers to having our voices heard. Comments about the US being post-racial. Statements like, “I don’t even see a person’s color!” while still clustering with the other straight, white activists. Conditioned blind spots that will not brook discussion. Calling out minorities for being so angry. For not following the strictures of well-off white culture.
I have been in several groups, religious, political, and issue-oriented. Groups full of wonderful, caring people. Groups full of mostly white, straight people, who sit around and scratch their heads about how to get minorities interested in their wonderful group. Groups who wonder where all these minorities are, exactly, and why we don’t flock to them for succor.
Racism and other forms of bigotry do not simply go away by proclaiming that we aren’t racist. It doesn’t go away by feeling wonderful about ourselves, no matter how wonderful we genuinely are. Bigotry ends when we work together. When we listen to others’ ideas, even when it hurts. When we raise minorities into leadership positions and accept that this means we may end up with a little less power, a little less say, but that the group as a whole is stronger for it.
And you know what? This burden is on us. You. Personally, as a white transwoman, I’m all over the map in regards to privilege. As a white person, I bear the responsibility for my own conditioned racism, despite my better intentions. As a transwoman, I also bear the burden of transphobia, but the responsibility for making movements more open to trans people falls on the cis folks coming around and accepting us as not merely human, but intelligent, skilled individuals with something to offer.
I am part of the leadership group of the Women’s March on Washington in Connecticut. I know we have worked hard to achieve this goal. We have minorities in leadership, we support a large variety of groups representing diverse interests, and we strive at our own events to bring a diverse range of speakers. Is it perfect? No. Could we do better? Probably. Is it a step in the right direction? Definitely. I’m proud to be involved in my state chapter, and proud of the work we’ve done, even while we question ourselves on how to do better.
Sadly, this does not seem to be the case all over. In some groups, black, brown and trans lives are not given such consideration, are not given a seat at the table. Supporting the most vulnerable populations is the single principle upon which the WMW was founded in the first place. This has to mean more than lip service and rhetoric.
I admit it. I’m a true believer. I love the original principles upon which the March was founded. It’s time we live up to them as completely as possible. Not as a group of well-off white women coming to save those in distress, but in respect for those outside our normal demographic. With other groups, not with other groups under us.
Anyone in the Women’s March who is not trying to address this issue is, in fact betraying the original intent.
Understand, progress forward MUST include all of us. Otherwise, it isn’t progress. Otherwise, we devolve into our separate columns of self-interest. Otherwise, we weaken our movement by being less than we could be.
Going back to how it was in 2015 is not sufficient. Plenty of us suffered under racism, misogyny and trans/homophobia back then, even with legal protections, even with a black president. What happened in 2016 did not come out of the blue. If we ignore the problems of racism, misogyny and trans/homophobia within our own movements, how are we to tackle them in the country at large? Going back to 2015 will not save us. We need to do the work to make it better than it was. That’s how we create a legacy, something that lasts beyond us, something that creates a foundation that fascists cannot shake.
I suggest we meet people where they are. Join and support organizations outside our demographic, humbly, under the leadership of those who look different than we do. Give them time, give them money, and listen to what they have to say.
Even if it hurts to hear it. Especially when it hurts to hear it.
We are doing many good things, but we can do better. Let’s answer to our higher angels. Let’s remember what the real enemies are: pride, fear, anger, hate, mistrust, selfishness. Let’s do our best, as the country devolves into hate and division, to live in love and walk in kindness.
It may be the most radical thing we do.