On selective enforcement

I’m amused at seeing that a Fox News person commented on how ‘nobody’ seriously believes that the DREAMers are going to be deported en masse.

What I want to illustrate is how full enforcement is not actually the regulatory point of mass de-legalization measures and immigration regulation in general, any more than it is the point of a 40-page terms of use agreement for a website, or marijuana being a maximally illegal drug in federal law.

 

The service of undocumented immigration to the country has been the creation of an exploitable underclass. It has served as a system in which any ‘good citizen’ – an employer, a roommate, a police officer – has the looming shadow of deportation and lack of legal standing to leverage against an undocumented immigrant.

This is much of why the system of people in desperate limbo has developed – perhaps more accurately, was federally created in recent decades.

The status quo is not an accident; the intermediate state of selective enforcement against ‘illegal immigrants’ benefits those in power, maintaining an ‘un-American’ underclass of America for political, racial, and economic benefit.

(Side note: It’s also a way for malignant narcissists to make vulnerable women their wives.)

 

The beauty of DREAMers was their having moved away from a life of danger and insecurity to an intermediate state in which they could actually live freely. It was a state in which the government promised them that they would not be deported, and in which they could live like human beings worthy of legal rights and respect.

This is what has been taken away.

 

To argue for what is legal in the context of undocumented immigration is to be sociopathically disinterested in human beings existing in relation to forces that can buy the law or lack thereof, as well as the country’s history of racial discrimination and dehumanization enshrined into law.

It is not a coincidence that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the overseers of the corrupted edge of the nation’s laws, physical boundaries, and economic needs, is more horrible and fascist than most people would like to imagine could exist in the ‘land of the free’.

Their job is to enact the violence necessary to keep things profitable for corporations and racist for white people.

The violence of ICE is the foreseeable outcome of the formalized neglect and exploitation of undocumented folks, born of greed and racism, that is older than I am.

 

And now, DREAMers are being told that, despite their lovable and impossibly perfect efforts in seeking to be treated with dignity and respect, they deserve to be thrown to our American wolves.

If they piss off the wrong ‘good citizen’, of course.

Because in the shadows, they can be useful;

they can be used.

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Some hearsay about Donald Trump

I happen to have spent a significant amount of time in poker rooms in my life. This has led to a variety of, let’s say interesting, conversations and interactions, but given that the Trump/Russia scandal is coming to fruition, I felt moved to make a note of this story about Donald Trump that I overheard from the winter of 2015-2016, when his campaign existed, but was still primarily perceived as a humorous sideshow.

(One is more inclined to believe a story about Donald Trump to be true when overhead in a poker room than in most other places that are accessible to ‘common folk’.)


 

The story is that Donald Trump was being asked about his tax returns.

The question was: did he cheat on them?

Donald’s answer was reportedly, to the best of my recollection:

“Of course! I cheat at golf, I cheat on my wives, of course I cheat on my taxes!”

 

It felt like a true story, not least because I was in a reasonably upscale poker room, where that sort of thing would be treated as funny.

I am given to writing about what happened in Charlottesville last weekend.

I am going to do that by articulating my disgust with (the vast majority of) white liberalism.

 

Let’s start with liberalism as a political philosophy.

To be a liberal is, most briefly, to believe that freedom is a very good thing and to be prioritized in political dilemmas, with the balance that people are in some fundamental way/s equal. The whole idea of ‘freedom’ as we understand it in the US of A is an articulation of this premise; our nation’s ideals are pretty well in parallel with France’s national motto from the French Revolution, which translates as “Liberty, equality, fraternity/brotherhood”.

Liberty is the freedom for everyone to do what they want; equality is everyone being legally equal to one another, in opposition to a formal royalty; fraternity is group unity in love and solidarity. This pretty well outlines what it means to be an American, given that the French Revolution was a sibling of the American one.

 

I tend to focus on how, because the USA is a settler nation and doesn’t have ancestral roots on the land it exists on, we are pretty fucking serious about being a nation of ideals and values. France certainly has those values, but it also has a cultural ancestry and history extending thousands of years. Meanwhile, the United States of America is the product of genocidal colonization and enslavement of people of African ethnic extraction.*

Put frankly, we don’t really have a cultural right to be here except with some amount of ‘might makes right’.

This country, and its non-indigenous American citizens, are here because of morally bankrupt white people who were really good at killing indigenous people in their way, and enslaving Black people, for God and money.

Which is why white Americans can get pretty… intense about what a great country we are.

(* – Make no mistake, chattel slavery is as essential to this country’s existence as colonization of the land. Black enslavement was fundamental to the British colonies’ existence more than 100 years before the Declaration of Independence; Black blood was the fuel of our rise to a global power; racism in general and anti-Blackness specifically remain the most fundamental engine of our national wealth. This country exists in a form that we would find recognizable because of the subjugation and violent abuse of people of the social class now referred to as Black.)

 

I say all that as preface to saying this:

White liberals, please know that the events of this weekend in Charlottesville were a product of the political and economic systems that were created for your benefit, set forth in light of the ideals you value and hold dear.

Nazis and white supremacists are allowed to promote their ideals and values because free speech.

Nazis and white supremacists around the country are allowed to organize a meet-up in a Southern town that they don’t actually give two fucks about because freedom of association.

They’re allowed to file for official permits and be guarded by police, who may or may not do anything about them beating the crap out of counter-protestors, because freedom of assembly.

And when one of them kills someone with his car, that neo-Nazi has the right to argue in court that, no, actually, he was just so helpless and scared that he had no choice but to run dozens of people over, and Heather Meyer’s death, while tragic (*cough* fat, useless slut *cough*), was the result of understandable and acceptable actions by the defendant that were in no way criminal.

 

Though apparently it’s from a July white supremacist rally (who can keep track of them all?), this picture is a reflection of liberal values in practice:

black cop KKK.jpg

To white liberals:

Are you okay with that?

Are you okay with that man being in danger for his physical health and life if he isn’t wearing a police uniform?

Because, unfortunately, I don’t see your political values doing much to make this situation go away.

Hell, faith, and rap, part 1

I am a trans woman.

I am also a survivor of early childhood sexual abuse.

Both these traits have made it so that my life has been lived in a parallel universe to other people – one where I can’t connect to the experiences of other people, and struggle to understand how other people function, feel, and relate.


 

One aspect of my survival experience has been finding the importance of faith – that faith is a deadly necessary thing to live my life.

For me, faith is a very literal experience. When I’m triggered, I lose track of what I did two seconds ago. And despite being a math genius, I am unable to do basic reasoning at the level of simple addition.

And I don’t know whether someone being nice to me is caring about me, seeking to entrap me in a fate worse than death – or both.

Being able to write these words is the product of over 11 years of psychological, emotional, physical, and spiritual torture that leaves me very grounded about the nature of hell.


 

Since before I knew it was I was seeking, my life has been devoted to finding fellow-travelers in life-altering and unjust suffering.

This has led me to a passion and love for African-American culture, especially music.

African-American culture speaks to a depth and vastness of suffering – a genocidal oppression, inherited for centuries, with experience and wisdom passed on in word and deed with love, faith, and hope for a better future – that I can imagine much more accurately than most White folks.

On one side, my traumatic experience was bounded to my individual experience; on the other, my experience as a gender-variant person situates me in a realm of experiences of searching for self and meaning throughout human history, and facing social judgment and ostracism with parallels across many – but absolutely not all – cultures and societies.

In any case, my journey has led me to seek the qualities of game-changing creative power, faith amidst strife, and authenticity.

And in the USA’s popular culture, I find those things most deeply in rap music.


 

My introduction to rap culture was through Girl Talk’s Feed The Animals – an album mixing rap verses with instrumental samples from across popular music. Though my exposure was mediated by a white artist’s musical aesthetic, hearing the words and raw emotion of then-modern rappers as well as the classics was a transformative experience.

Some of the verses were disturbing and highly triggering; some were too pained, emotional, or white-guilt-inducing for me to process. Most were moving and affecting on a level I had not ever previously experienced, alongside instrumentals and beats that I loved whether or not I knew where they were from.

It’s not an understatement to say that Feed The Animals changed my life for the better at a fundamental level.

It also led me to the second verse of Wu-Tang Clan’s “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”:

It’s been twenty-two long hard years, I’m still strugglin’
Survival got me buggin’, but I’m alive on arrival
I peep at the shape of the streets
And stay awake to the ways of the world ’cause shit is deep
A man with a dream with plans to make cream
Which failed; I went to jail at the age of fifteen
A young buck sellin’ drugs and such, who never had much
Tryin’ to get a clutch at what I could not…
The court played me short, now I face incarceration
Pacin’, goin’ upstate’s my destination
Handcuffed in the back of a bus, forty of us
Life as a shorty shouldn’t be so rough
But as the world turned I learned life is hell
Livin’ in the world no different from a cell
Every day I escape from Jakes givin’ chase
Sellin’ base, smokin’ bones in the staircase
Though I don’t know why I chose to smoke sess
I guess that’s the time when I’m not depressed
But I’m still depressed, and I ask: what’s it worth?
Ready to give up so I seek the old Earth
Who explained workin’ hard may help you maintain
To learn to overcome the heartaches and pain
We got stick-up kids, corrupt cops, and crack rocks
And stray shots, all on the block that stays hot
Leave it up to me while I be livin’ proof
To kick the truth to the young black youth
But shorty’s runnin’ wild, smokin’ sess, drinkin’ beer
And ain’t tryin’ to hear what I’m kickin’ in his ear
Neglected for now, but yo, it gots to be accepted
That what? That life is hectic

After hearing this, I didn’t understand how someone else could hear these words and not be moved to profound empathy, compassion, and commitment to ending anti-Black racism and the carceral state by this articulation of (not quite) unimaginable torment and suffering.

I still don’t.

“Independence”, negative peace and complacency

As a person of mostly but not only White heritage, as an immigrant to Atlanta, and as a Capricorn, Martin Luther King, Jr. is a figure close to my heart.

One aspect of his values and philosophical views that is dear to me is the notion of a “negative peace”:

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season…”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Much of my life is lived with respect to the constant presence of lukewarm acceptance. I face it on an uncountable number of fronts; my gender identity and presentation is a prominent source of a ‘giant sucking sound‘ in my emotional and social life, but there are greater and lesser ones throughout my life experiences.

One aspect that has gained recent prominence is the notion of ‘independence’. I’ve hearing of it as relates to my journey of life, health and activity lately, and it’s becoming a rift between me and several comfortably positioned folks of privilege in my life.

My life, as it presently stands, is of mixed situation. I am healthy and pursuing the good life that is in reach. But right now, I’m unemployed, and my life is focused on working through personal health issues mentally, physically, and spiritually. This leaves me dependent, financially and otherwise, on my family, almost entirely my parents.

I am living more happily than I have for over a dozen years. I am also facing new challenges each day as I become more active and engaged – losing cherished friendships, making and deepening other ones, trying new activities that sometimes don’t go as well as hoped, and developing my ideas, pursuits, and dreams for what comes next.

And in the midst of this, unresolved trauma looms constantly, needing release and some kind of expression, in both times of solitude and rest and times of connection and social engagement.

Throughout this, the notions of independence I have learned become more and more irrelevant and hollow.

‘Independence’, in the way it is suggested to me, is not an actual option. It hasn’t been available except as a path to isolation, despair, and self-harming activities and behaviors. It depends on conceptual and emotional capacities I don’t have.

‘Independence’, as others suggest it to me, depends on some function of self-sufficiency that is wrapped up in the same problems that have tripped me up my whole life.

To encourage me to ‘independence’ without required emotional and spiritual supports and interventions is to invite me to chart a path of self-destruction, loneliness, and despair.

So why is it done?

Partly because I can do more than I expect of myself. I have more capability and self-sufficiency than I’ve come to expect of myself – nowadays.

But it’s funny how the communal experiences I’ve sought out and embraced are the greatest source of that recent growth.

It’s funny that people like to tell me that I am personally empowered to achieve something for myself, while the best things for me are group experiences.

And it’s inescapable to me that the people that encourage this have a sense of security that makes them different from me as a trans woman and as a survivor of acute personal trauma from both early age and young adulthood.

People who feel they have their ducks in a row are the most interested in encouraging me to become some wonderfully self-sufficient person in ways that I cannot be at this point.

And it starts to take on an atmosphere that they would rather see where they want me to end up than where I currently am.

In practice, the most destructive implication of their visions for me is that they want me to live in a liberal utopia.

A world where I don’t deal with discomfort and disgust from random passersby as I express my femininity in my clothing and appearance.

A world where any emotional connection with an officially recognizable healthy person almost always involves me balancing my vulnerabilities with the other person’s humanity, all while the depths of my stress and pain are unimaginably inconceivable to the ‘officially healthy’ person as a matter of general course.

A world where I don’t have to set aside time to cry and throw childish temper tantrums on a daily to hourly basis.

A world where I don’t get punished by people for affecting them in ways they can’t/don’t want to think about.

But that isn’t the world I live in. Because those things all really happen.

And it means that I must disrupt the peaceful lives and minds of folks who just so happen to not have to deal with this shit every day.

It means that, when I’m freaked out, I find more comfort and validation in spending time with a friendly stranger or homeless person than with a therapist or a spiritual counselor.

Because my life often gets unconsciously sorted into boxes that don’t serve me by people who care about me. And for me, resisting that means I disrupt their conceptual lives, as much as I am disruptive of the conceptual life of the person to whom my dress and painted nails are distressing and confusing, or the nice old lady at church who asked me ‘where I’m from’ on account of my having a non-WASP-y name.

If only there wasn’t something suspiciously self-serving about the whole exercise of someone sorting me into their boxes. Something that spoke to an instinct to sustain and preserve the moral validity of their established and secure lives…

To restate the words of Jesus of Nazareth, by way of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. – “I come not to bring negative peace, but a sword.”

A start to explaining ‘aesthetic warfare’

A few weeks ago, I started articulating one of the most central aspects of my experience as a trans woman: the notion of being an ‘aesthetic warrior’.

I want to start to unpack this concept.


 

Any given trans person, and particularly any given transfeminine person, is in a constant state of conflict with mainstream culture. This is, in practice, a conflict that I feel is best analogized to warfare, both by the precept that “all’s fair in love and war”, and that there are untold casualties of this conflict.

When it comes to integrating into Western culture as a transgender person, all are wounded by the forces of violence towards our very existence.

Many have died; many are dying; many will continue to die.


 

A brief history of Western gender-variant terminology:

For the first centuries of its collective existence, post-Enlightenment European culture denied that gender-variant people existed in any respectable, and/or respectful, sense.

We were deviants, nothing more.

Within the culture, we functionally did not exist, though we might find a place within a local gay subculture, such as at molly houses.

Eventually, the term “transvestism” was coined in 1910, by a German doctor-advocate that may well have performed the first known sexual reassignment surgery in Western history. The term was intended to be as broad as possible with respect to cross-dressing; it subsequently became a psychiatric diagnosis indicating mental illness, and the term carries the weight of that pathologizing to this day.

The most memorable historical marker for the change from “transvestite” to “transgender” is the name of the gay liberation organization STAR, started by revolutionary gay/trans activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Formed in 1970, the organization was named Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

At the same time as this organization was founded, the idea of “transgender” was being popularized in the more erudite, moneyed, and White corners of the discourse. This tension eventually led to transgender as a dominant terminology, with “transvestism” retaining its association with cross-dressing. Eventually, it came to be broadly understood that “transvestism” was something you did, and “transgender” was who you were.

When Sylvia Rivera re-formed STAR some years after the passing of Marsha P. Johnson, “transgender” was substituted for “transvestite”. I would guess that Marsha P. Johnson would have approved of this had she lived to see it, but I am also quite sure that she would also have had her own choice opinions to share about the matter.

It was no coincidence that the terminology of “transgender” came with increased access to medical resources for transition – access which was heavily informed by racial dynamics and classism. These rifts of the usage of “gay” (meaning specifically homosexual) and “transgender” identities led to radical reclamation of the slur “queer” among those opposed to the efforts at assimilation by people with relative privilege, leading to the memorable saying, “Not gay as in happy, but queer as in fuck you.”

Today, the ‘alphabet soup’ era of acronyms such as “LGBTQ2IA+” has mostly resolved to “LGBT” in mainstream discourse, and “LGBTQ/LGBTQ+” among people ‘in the know’. Umbrella references to two-spirit identities of indigenous Americans (“2”) and non-Western conceptualizations of gender (much of “+”) have generally been colonialist and destructive; intersex folk (“I”) are generally excluded from most conversations on gender and sexual diversity as a bridge too far; and asexual folk (“A”) as a collective movement have been less than engaging, often with similar dynamics of privilege in relation to the LGBT community as the “transgender” vs. “transvestite” divide.


 

I give this overview of the history of terminology to make the point that the identity of “transgender” is living history within Western society.

The phenomenon of being outside the cisgender binary is not new – but the broader scope of acceptance and tolerance, and the accompanying terminology, is new. At the top level, things are much better in North America, Europe, and other places informed by post-Enlightenment values than they have been for anywhere from centuries to millenia.

That said, those same post-Enlightenment values give rise to the curious problem of aesthetic violence.


 

It is the Enlightment-based division of thought and feeling or being, most easily traced to the influential philosopher René Decartes, which allows for the  cognitive dissonance between political value and personal practice that devastates the hopes and dreams of trans folk.

Because many people believe that their feelings are not ‘real’ in the same way as their thoughts and conscious beliefs, most liberals don’t experience conceptual conflict when they cheer on the advancement of LGBTQ rights while remaining uncomfortable with the concept of trans people as neighbors, family members, and/or romantic partners.

The saying ‘not in my backyard‘ becomes something ranging from ‘not in my neighborhood’ to ‘not in my family’ to ‘not in my bedroom’.

And this disapproval, at the systemic level, is the greatest threat to the survival of transgender and gender-variant people that exists today.

It is why we are so vulnerable to interpersonal violence of all forms. It is why we can’t get jobs and pay our bills; it is the primary reason we kill ourselves.

It, as a whole, is the most central reason why this blog is [was] anonymous, and why I’m not making money off this post.

And it is the reason that you probably ought to find a trans person on the Internet – more specifically, a trans person of color – who is broke and unemployed, or financially trapped in a terrible and hopeless job or career, and send them some money.


 

How does one undo this at the systemic level?

By abiding by the tradition of the USA’s Founding Fathers, and not fighting by someone else’s rules.

By engaging in conflict with the bigotry of anti-transgender ‘personal preferences’ on one’s own terms.

By inviting battles that can be won, and avoiding ones that will be lost.


 

Every day I want to wear a dress, I have a choice: do I shave my face, or do I have facial hair?

This choice is, among many trans women, not a choice at all; regardless of their personal feelings, there is no possibility that they will find acceptance of themselves in the world while presenting with any obvious masculine features such as facial hair. Their face must be shaved and made up. The alternative is financial death, social death, or literal death.

The choice of a trans woman having visible hair on their body anywhere but their head is, most often, literally a matter of life and death.

I am fortunate enough to not have to live in that state of perpetual existential danger. I am able, within carefully chosen or carefully cultivated spaces, to present as I feel comfortable on that day – including with a beard. In those spaces, the worst affront I typically face is disconcerting and painful assumptions and confusion about my preferred pronouns.

Much of my ability to do this is reflective of my class privileges (particularly my educational background and familial resources), my racial privilege, and my quick silver tongue.

It is not easy.

It is not without danger to me, as well as to mine.


 

Each beard with a dress is a personal declaration of war against the culture that deems my existence an article of disgust and shame.

And it is a battle that I willingly fight.

Because the alternative is ‘the little-death that brings total obliteration‘.


 

I face my fears each day I put on a dress.

Sometimes I shave.

Often I don’t.

Sometimes, I just don’t put on the dress at all.

Every choice that I make in this is with a mind to the conflict I will sow by simply existing as a transgender person, a trans woman.

And each day, I choose courage – including the courage to avoid a battle that is better to not fight.

So that each time I alter the consciousness of another human being by presenting as a ‘man in a dress’, there will be a trans sister or brother who does not have to.

This is my battle.

This is my war.