A few weeks ago I had the wonderful pleasure of building community with folks from around Eastern Iowa, facilitated through the equally wonderful and fabulous Trans* Oral History Project. This event was organized by TransCollaborations and we had many joyful new partnerships with the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, the Digital Studio for Public Humanities, and continuing ones with the Women’s Resource & Action Center, and LGBT Resource Center.
More and more our little rascally group of trans* folk and cis allies are reaching out further to seemingly unlikely partnerships that make for holistic and beautiful programming that builds reciprocity into the core values of the events.
In opening up events to the public we always do so with some hesitation. It has been a frequent enough experience that someone will derail conversations and spiral us back to a 100-level dialogue when the event is scoped as specifically moving beyond that. Or there was that one time when that person stormed to the front of the room during a panel and everyone jumped back because they thought the person was going to physically assault them (she didn’t).
These past few weeks I have been reflecting on really big questions about power dynamics, bringing folk from different social positionings into common community spaces, and notions of privilege, voice, and space.
I think that sometimes unintentional but harmful practices can ensue, when some people enter into collaborative community spaces. For the most part, in my experience, most people are really respectful and intentional of their positioning within space. But I wonder if it would feel better for everyone if we all continued working on being mindful of what we as individuals bring into community spaces. For those folk in particular, who take up buckets of space, this is particularly difficult for the rest of the group to negotiate. There is a certain tension between wanting to invite everyone into a space and meeting folks’ needs, and leaning into one person’s way of being in the world and putting all of the energy towards them.
One of the (many) joys that I have as a trans* person is finding some amazing people with giant hearts, ridiculous senses of humor, a playfulness to everyday life, and at the same time also extremely serious about social justice work, equity, and developing rich relationships with others.
I have learned an incredibly great deal being within trans* communities and people who are fierce about safe space, leaning into community building, and taking people as they come.
So it becomes difficult to navigate situations where in a community space there are some folks who embrace these values, and others who simply wander in and have no awareness of, or willing to own, the amount of space they are taking up.
I’m not writing here about folks who need communities of support to embrace them because they are isolated or uncertain about where they fit in the world, in a new self-understanding place around their identities or trying to gain a greater awareness, or want to work on being better allies to trans* communities. That feels different. I think this is more specifically in the instance where someone somewhat parasitically takes from communities but never offers anything in return in a reciprocal way – whether that is an idea, sharing a story, creating an affirming feeling for others, helping to organize events, etc.
I think that mindfulness around what we bring to spaces, and instilling reciprocity into daily practices are two extremely important areas to continue working on – particularly in social justice communities. I am certain that this is not a trans-specific issue but that perhaps these are giant questions that folks working within other social justice communities have to navigate as well.
To me it seems like a basic etiquette and social justice principle: in any space it is really important to be intentional in how you are in that space – the power dynamics that operate and the privileges that you may carry into that place. This seems key to being either a community member or working within processes of being an ally. And if you are a member of a community that is organizing something, owning that that doesn’t give you a ‘free pass’ for taking up all the space. Because otherwise, you are perpetuating power dynamics that continue to oppress people and undermine the very space that you enter into.
Attention Iowa City folks who missed the April 19th – 20th Trans* Oral History Project events. The multimedia installation will stay up in the LGBT Resource Center (125 Grand Avenue Ct) through May 6th. Come on down and check it out. Featuring 4 decades of trans* oral histories from the project collections plus an interactive gender web (don’t be shy).
The Trans* Oral History Project Installation and Workshop
April 19th – 20th 2013
Hosted by TransCollaborations
All events are free and open to the public.
OPENING & INSTALLATION
Friday April 19th 5-9pm @ The UI LGBT Resource Center
Event Description: On Friday April 19th, the Trans Oral History Project will set up a temporary multimedia installation in the UI LGBT Resource Center (125 Grand Avenue Ct). The installation will portray four decades of activism through videos of trans activists and zines from the time period while constructing a narrative of political change and cultural contradiction.
Join us at 6pm for opening remarks. Trans* Oral History Project members will reflect on the process of the project, strategies to counteract trends in mainstream media, ethical dilemmas involved in creating public histories, and notions of authorship (who gets to tell stories and what that means for transgender communities). Participants will be able to check out the exhibit, watch videos, and take zines from trans* authors before and after the discussion.
LGBT SOCIAL MOVEMENT PUBLIC HISTORIES WORKSHOP
Saturday April 20th 3-5pm @ IC Public Library Room A
Event Description: Histories of LGBT social movements are populated with mainstream accounts of activists and issues and thus, only some stories are told. This workshop will attempt to work against the grain of mainstream accounts by challenging prevalent notions of who is a part of LGBT movements. The Trans* Oral History Project will work with our community to create a timeline in the workshop to highlight the famous people and events of LGBT movements, juxtaposed against participant’s experiences with LGBT movements. The workshop will challenge all of us to reflect on how our personal experiences are integrated with the common history and points of conflict and resonance within this narrative. Video footage from the Trans* Oral History Project’s archive will be shown in the workshop to highlight alternative narratives.
Be sure to check out the zine machine at the UI Main Library during the month of April for copies of zines from the Trans* Oral History Project’s collections. A permanent collection will be generated through this event, in collaboration with the UI Main Library’s Zine Collection. Contact Kelly McElroy (email@example.com) for more information on the zine collections at the UI.
This event was made possible by the support from: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, Digital Studio for Public Humanities, Women’s Resource & Action Center, Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, Executive Council of Graduate & Professional Students, UI LGBT Resource Center; University of Iowa Student Government, and the Main Library Zine Machine.
Everyone is encouraged to attend all University of Iowa sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact the Center for Student Leadership & Involvement in advance at 319-335-3059.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Hosted by RVAP
The entire month of April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP), as well as some other community groups, will be hosting events throughout the month to create spaces to talk about sexual assault, consent, and healing. Some events include a film screening of Boys and Men Healing; a social justice talk about portrayals of Asian American/Pacific Islander women in the media; and the annual Take Back the Night march. Check out the full calendar of SAAM events. SAAM 2013 Calendar
Zine Making Party
Saturday, April 6th from 4-7 pm
Hosted by RVAP and TransCollaborations
In honor of SAAM TransCollaborations and RVAP are coming together to host a Zine Making Party this Saturday, April 6th from 4pm to 7pm. It will be at the Iowa City Public Library in meeting room D. The zine will focus on queer communities dealing with issues such as consent, street violence, and healing from sexual assault. You can check out the facebook event here.
This evening I went to a drag show. I have found myself going to drag shows quite a bit (for me) over the last few months. There is something about the ridiculous, extravagant, and bold nature of drag shows that brings me lots of ambivalent feelings: joyful feelings of celebrating other people’s genders, the potential for political subversion in fucking with gender, and also discomfort in usually feeling like the only trans* person in the audience. I want to move away from a worn discussion of whether or not drag is for entertainment or political purposes as I believe it can be either or neither, depending on the drag performer. However, I do know that as a trans* person that is often read as masculine, in my body it feels like a mindfuck to be in an audience of some portions of queer (as catch-all) community that has tensions with trans* communities but simultaneously and so exuberantly applauds masculinity vis–à–vis drag kinging.
Tonite’s particular performance was intended to help raise money for a local organization that serves as a shelter for (cis)women and children who are survivors of domestic violence. It didn’t escape my attention, nor my friend’s, when the emcee consistently used binary language in the interludes in describing the services the shelter provides for “women, men, and children in Iowa.” In addition to a performance, the drag kings also did a short panel after the show to open up space for audience members to ask questions.
During the panel the kings were asked to share with us how they came up with their persona. It was within these responses from the kings that I find interstices for dialogue. I am continuing to unpack the various layers of complicated politics of the tensions between drag and trans* communities and larger questions of do we all really fit within similar communities and how can we build solidarity around expanding the parameters of gender for all folks.
One of the more playful kings responded to the question by describing drag as a way to access and extend childhood playfulness of dancing and singing. This king described how being in the troupe is fun, and also has a politics of performance in the intricate ways in which audience members respond to kings in that some ‘forget’ that kings are performing gender. I believe it is in those moments when (some) audience members are going through a translation process of making intelligible a king’s gender that makes me celebrate the particularities of drag shows. But the panelist then spiraled into a discourse of reminding us that he is really female, a woman performing in drag, and that he attempts to play with hyper-masculinity in an effort to bring the possibility of more fluidity in all people’s gender identities, but that he wasn’t a ‘real’ man. That is, he didn’t have balls.
I find this cissexist discourse of “real” any gender or sex extremely disappointing. That our genders and bodies are suddenly reduced to genitals is not new. It operates in a systemic manner that oppresses trans* and cis people alike in our genders and ways of relating to our bodies. The irony of the notion of tolerance for diversity within gender, spoken in the same sentence as real men having balls was not missed. The only response, in that particular moment, was to turn to my friend and say, “I think it’s time to go.”
But I am stuck with these questions, these broader questions, of how we can create space within our collective communities for all of us to fuck with or lean into or embrace gender in any way it manifests and feels good in the ways in which we want to be in the world, and simultaneously not regard “authentic” genders as being marked by having bodies that conform to assignments made at birth, and that relies on cissexism.
– Sunday March 10th 12:30pm @ WRAC (130 N. Madison St. Iowa City)
Discussion: Social Justice Projects in Iowa City
Over the last few months our group has quietly shifted from focusing on social support and gatherings to increasingly working towards social justice work in our town. While oftentimes we check in with each other about projects going on, and work as a group, other times we engage in this work independently. This meeting is to check in with each other about works-in-progress and discuss meaningful ways to push through some of these projects. Topics might include: Insurance Changes to having trans-specific healthcare; Restroom Revolution; Gender Affirming student housing options. Bring your ideas and updates.
– Sunday March 24th 12:30pm @ WRAC (130 N. Madison St. Iowa City)
Film Screening & Discussion: Let Me Die a Woman
Since last summer when we hosted the Trans* Medical Symposium there has been a lot of movement in our town to make healthcare more trans* affirming. This particular movie is quite outdated, and quite caustic, too. It seems like creating space to reflect on historical documents such as this video allows for reflection on where we have been, and the directions we are heading. The discussion following the screening can focus on: 1) the ridiculousness of the premise that providers were working from in the 1970s 2) the triggering aspects of the movie 3) what has changed since the movie was released 40 years ago 4) other assorted topics
– Sunday April 14th 12:30pm @ WRAC (130 N. Madison St. Iowa City)
Planning Meeting for: The Trans* Oral History Project visit to Iowa City
The Trans* Oral History Project is coming to Iowa City April 19th and 20th. We will use this meeting to finalize plans for the project’s visit, and brainstorm any topics that need to be discussed before they come. For example, oftentimes our public programs attempt to move beyond Trans-101, yet we consistently find that while as a group we are ready to ‘move beyond’ that conversation, many folks who attend the programs are not. How do we navigate this conundrum as a community to address these dilemmas so that we (or our guests) are not put into the ‘educator role’ but instead we can have meaningful dialogue and programs, and engage in the rich topics that we want to engage in?
TransCollaborations finally has a meeting schedule for the upcoming weeks. Consider stopping by, building community, and working on projects/events with us! All are welcome.
- Sunday January 27th 12:30pm at WRAC (130 N. Madison St. Iowa City)
bring a dish or beverage to share (if possible)…potluck to celebrate a new semester and new year of fierce and fun transactivism
– Sunday February 10th 12:30pm at WRAC (130 N. Madison St. Iowa City)
we will continue working on (and finalize?) the community art project from TransWeek! back in November
– Sunday February 24th 12:30pm at WRAC (130 N. Madison St. Iowa City)
Hooray it is finally here! Check out the bad-ass zine that our community put together on the last day of TransWeek 2012! Many many thanks to all of our contributors!
To view the zine on-line, click here: TransWeek Zine (web version)
Want to print some copies to share with your mom, your lover, friends, and other folk? Use this link to print it out (double-sided) your self! TransWeek Zine (print version)
Upcoming Meetings and Dates are now posted under “upcoming events” tab…
1. Sunday November 18th 1pm @ WRAC – for trans* identified people only (Topic: reflecting on TransWeek)
2. Sunday November 25th 1pm @ WRAC – open to everyone (Topic: reflecting on TransWeek (and even if you did not make any of the events, would love to hear your perspectives on why that might have been the case if intentional/chosen decision) and directions for future work)
Check out this page for a full schedule on this year’s TransWeek!
“Organizing Against Transnormativity” November 2nd – 5th, 2012 in Iowa City, IA
Transnormativity is an insidious aspect of the increased visibility of trans* communities. The concept plays out in the lives of trans* people where all of us who identify as trans* are expected to narrate our identities along mainstream understandings. We’re sure you know the common narrative – from an early age we knew we were different, our bodies don’t match our minds, we want to transition to “the other” gender. These are all myths associated with a transnormative narrative, and they simply aren’t true. We are much more complex and nuanced and there are many ways that trans* people narrate our understandings of our identities. This year, TransWeek! takes aim at transnormativity through many opportunities to engage in dialogue – through workshops and performance art – around the systemic problems associated with this aspect of trans* communities and dominant rhetoric.