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On making room for all women

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
On making room for all women

By Madison Foster

I speak from the perspective of an abled, white, queer, trans woman. I am a settler who is attempting to unlearn my own white supremacy and become a better ally to trans women of colour & indigenous people, and I wish to speak primarily to other white people today.

There is an epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women in our country. Over 1,200 women are gone. I am a white colonial settler despite the fact that I am 20 generations removed my original settler ancestors, and all white people, as settlers, bear individual and collective responsibility in Canada’s public choice to allow our government to continue ignoring and supporting this campaign of colonial genocide. There is no checkbox on the official reports for trans or two-spirit, so we do not even know how many of those missing and murdered people were actually trans or two-spirit. Indigenous trans and two-spirit people are subjected to greater levels of gendered violence, not the least of which is our binary system of gender which states that there are only two sexes or genders. This is colonial gender, and it is one of the strategies of genocide which white people have used in our historical and continuing conquest of indigenous territories, indigenous communities, and indigenous bodies. I wish to speak specifically about trans women of colour today, but I want to be clear that our political movement must be similarly centred on indigenous trans and two-spirit people.

Since the beginning of feminist movement, women of colour have been telling us that the idea of a universally shared sisterhood is a myth. Our collective image of a trans woman is that of a white woman. When we speak of violence against trans women, we are therefore choosing to centre our politics on white women only. We quote the statistic that 72% of all LGBTQ homicides are trans women. This is actually false because white trans women account for only 8% of these murders, while trans women of colour account for a staggering 65% of all LGBTQ homocides.

The reason for this monumental disparity is that these women exist at the horrifying intersection of misogyny, transphobia, and racism. These women are much more likely to experience profiling, discrimination, and physical and sexual violence at the hands of police. Police routinely use anti-sex work laws to profile and target trans women of colour who have committed the crime of “walking while trans.” Example: police see a trans women of colour, initiate a stop-and-frisk, an illegal search, and then make an arrest when they find she is carrying a condom in her purse. That is an exact recounting of events. They are over-represented in our prison system, where they are thrown in jail with men and suffer further abuses. They experience extreme rates of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. They may also be migrant women, which further blockades them from economic and legal security.

They are over-represented in sex work; Canada’s new and draconian laws about sex work endanger and further marginalize all sex workers; however, trans women of colour will experience the most severe effects from these laws. They are exposed to HIV and intravenous drug use at much higher rates, then face increased discrimination from shelters, transition houses, and medical providers. Because these women are over-represented in sex work, trans exclusionary feminism IS sex-worker exclusionary feminism IS women-of-colour exclusionary feminism. Did you get that? Trans exclusionary feminism IS sex-worker exclusionary feminism IS women-of-colour exclusionary feminism.

The only way to prevent the violence against these women is to place these issues at the top of our political priority list. For example, the backlash against Bill C-279 does endanger white trans women, but not anywhere near the extent to which it endangers trans women of colour. Are white feminists discussing and centering this reality in the fight over the so-called “bathroom bill?”

A political movement centred on "trans women" is a movement for white trans women only. Does that sound familiar to anyone? These women fade out of view and white women then appropriate this racialized violence for political gain. The only way to conduct political movement for all women is to always focus on those most marginalized and vulnerable women. Any political action which prioritizes the experiences and needs of trans women of colour will also address the needs of white trans women. Any political action which only focuses on trans women in general will benefit white women while leaving behind women of colour.

A white trans girl commits suicide and our social media is inundated with a viral blossoming of compassion, sorrow, and rage. A continuing campaign of extermination is waged against trans women of colour, and these women flicker briefly across the internet’s B-Reel.

We humanize and empathize with a single white trans girl, while trans women of colour are still “the 2/3 of all LGBTQ homicides.” We retell the story of a white trans girl and collectively rage at the parental & societal hatred which drove her to take her own life. Trans women of colour are dehumanized as we speak only of the violence and death which they experience.

We can all name Leelah Alcorn. I can picture her face as we speak here today. I see Leelah. But do I see Bri, Penny, Taja, Yazmin, Ty, or Lamia? These trans women of colour have all been murdered in the last 3 months. Can we picture their faces as we can Leelah's? We tell stories about Leelah, while we tell statistics about Zoraida Reyes and Islan Nettles and Sumaya Dalmar.

We will make room in our hearts for a white trans girl while a procession of trans women of colour pass before our eyes as if they were accidents on the side of the highway.

We choose to not see these lives of these women. We choose instead to only see the horrendous & violent actions of the perpetrators of these crimes. These women are not their deaths. These women are not the violence which was perpetrated against them. These women might still be with us today if we had chosen to see them while they were still alive.

There are trans women of colour who are still alive today. Their lives depend on mainstream feminist movement making a commitment to listen to these women, actively give space over to them, centre their issues, and amplify their voices. Our feminism will be a racist feminism until the lives, not just the deaths, of trans women of colour are central in our political movement. Our feminism will be a racist colonial-settler feminism until the lives, not just the deaths, of indigenous women and trans & two spirit people are central in our political movement.

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