Created by the 2016 Trans Day of Resilience artists and organizers
As trans and gender nonconforming artists and cultural workers, we are in a unique position to imagine alternative futures and inspire change. Artistry has always been central to reimagining ourselves and envisioning a world that treasures us. This is a world that can never be defined by language and policy alone. This is a world that dreams beyond gender binaries, and even gender itself. A world beyond “acceptance” and exploitation. A world of trans liberation.
We understand art to be fundamental to all political struggles because it reconnects us to our deepest values, to what we hold sacred, and to each other. We reject the artificial and imposed binaries and borders drawn between “art” and “activism.” Too often, we find ourselves in political movements deprived of imagination and artistic spaces lacking political engagement. We feel pressured into silos and tropes: the creative thinker with no connection to social movements, OR the feet-on-the-ground activist dismissive of art and culture. We must invest in artistry as a means of survival, as a means of creativity, as a means of world making. It is through our art that we build the vision for the world we are trying to create.
Today we see a wave of trans visibility and political reform that seems to finally promise more freedom. But too many of these changes don’t benefit – and often harm – the most oppressed people in trans communities. Passing more hate crime legislation and building separate trans prisons strengthens the prison industrial complex that is torturing Black and Indigenous trans people at epidemic rates. It does not halt the quiet genocide we face. Trans military inclusion perpetuates US imperialism and kills poor trans and gender nonconforming people of color worldwide. How can we claim victories when Black and Indigenous transfeminine people—the very people who started our movements—continue to be murdered? We refuse to be divided or left behind. To win change that benefits everyone, we must fight for change that improves the lives of transfeminine Black, Indigenous and people of color first.
In what follows we have shared some of the politics that catalyze our project. These assorted ideas are part of a working “femifesto” that informs and drives our practice and our commitment to building TGNC movements that hold us all. Contrary to the dominant framing of trans politics as a “new frontier” or the “new civil rights,” we understand trans liberation as part of a 500+ year history of anti-racist and decolonial struggle. We situate the Trans Day of Resilience Art Project in this legacy of resistance.
Trans Justice and Liberation
As artists and organizers we are not interested in “trans equality” or “trans rights,” we are invested in trans liberation. Trans equality requires trans and gender nonconforming people to incorporate ourselves into racist, cisgender heteronormative systems. Trans rights require trans people to ask permission from cisgender society for dignity and safety that we are already entitled to – we understand our politics to be less about empowering trans people and more about dismantling a society that makes our wellbeing so impossible. Trans rights means gaining access to an oppressive system. Trans justice on the other hand is about centering the leadership of trans and gender nonconforming people of color and demanding that society as a whole shift its paradigms, politics, and ideas about gender and sexuality. Trans liberation is about creating our own reality on our own terms.
Undoing The Gender Binary
We understand that the gender binary is the root cause of our oppression as trans and gender nonconforming people. The gender binary is a system of thinking and policing that maintains that there are only two genders (“male” and “female”), and they are fundamentally oppositional. “Masculinity” and “femininity,” then have to exist as polar opposites and cannot co-exist in tandem. Those of us who transgress the binary are policed back into it at every level: by our families, by state-sanctioned identity documents, by police, by prisons, by violence.
The current gender binary was created as a system of social control, white supremacy, and colonialism. Enforcing white gender norms on Indigenous communities, and portraying Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color as “backward” with regard to gender norms, sexuality and family is central to maintaining exploitation and control. Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color are already gender nonconforming in a system where gender was created for and produced through whiteness and its constructed either/or binaries. Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color are already seen as parodies of white masculinity and white femininity regardless of gender— we are never permitted the status afforded to “real” white gender. Dismantling the gender binary, then, is fundamental to our aspirations of decolonization and racial justice. Gender self-determination is a fundamental to dismantling colonialism and white supremacy.
We understand transmisogyny to be at the heart of patriarchy, not a variation of it. Transmisogyny is the policing of “femininity” as something distinct and oppositional from “masculinity.” We know that people who display, affirm, and celebrate femininity when they are supposed to be adhering to masculinity are punished for it. Transmisogyny is how the gender binary is upheld: femininity is always policed as separate from masculinity and vice versa. Colonialism and Christian supremacy rely on the devaluation of everything feminine as “weak,” even though many cultures across time have understood feminine as divine strength.
Gender violence is inherently anti-femininity. The brunt of transmisogyny (murder, torture, sexual violence) is experienced by transfeminine people (people who are coercively designated “male” without their consent), but transmisogyny affects people of all genders to varying degrees. For example, many transmasculine people of color experience sexual violence because they fail to embody white cisgender masculinity. We are each encouraged to destroy our femininities and punish those who do not.
We push back against the tokenizing of “trans women of color” that puts us(them) on a pedestal without regarding our(their) full and total complexity. This tokenizing often requires transfeminine people to be fabulous, resilient, and beautiful to get basic access to safety and dignity, rather than challenging the very conditions that make our(their) lives so precarious. We aim to question and interrogate any representations rooted in historical colonial logics, erasure, objectification, and genocide. When we centering transfeminine people in our work, it’s not about political correctness, it’s about fighting for all of us to win.
Our Art, Our Dreams
Transmisogyny and racism shape what art is considered valuable, and who is allowed to make art. We dream of a world where all art is valued, all people have the housing, healthcare, and income they need to thrive and make art, and all people have the capacity and power to create and shape the world. We can embody that dream in the present by supporting trans and gender nonconforming artists of color now.
We dream of worlds before and beyond the binary. We dream of worlds where everyone is nurtured to make art and live creatively. We dream beyond gender. Join us in femifesting these worlds.