Mad Trans Dreams

Visions and Resistance from outside Norms of Gender and Mental Health

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Floating over borders and action item roundup

I have been in Mexico City this week. It was an eerie experience coming here. I entered the country without advanced permission. I stood in line for customs, and the Mexican officials quickly and courteously admitted me to the country after looking at my passport. The contrast between that experience, and the experience of people seeking to enter the United States from Mexico without advance permission, boggles the mind.

A lot has happened back in the U.S. since I arrived in Mexico City Sunday. Another Black transgender woman in Jacksonville Florida, Cathalina Christina James, has been murdered. Antwon Rose, a Black teenager murdered by police, has been buried. An extreme anti-trans bill introduced in Ohio last month has gotten more attention. The Supreme Court upheld the Muslim ban. The Supreme Court struck down a law designed to protect people seeking abortions from being misled by anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers.” The Supreme Court also struck a serious blow to public sector unions, holding that those who benefit from the agreements unions negotiate no longer have to pay union dues. A federal court ruled in favor of a facility that gives electric shocks to disabled people in an attempt to change their behavior. And Kennedy announced his retirement, which means we have every reason to expect the Court will somehow get even worse.

Good things happened too. A court ordered ICE to reunite parents and children. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won. Ben Jealous won. Williamson County in Texas voted to end its contract with an immigration detention facility.

Shortly, I will return to the United States. Although I am a Muslim, I will be allowed in, because I was not born in one of the countries targeted through the Muslim ban. I will probably not even be subjected to “enhanced screening,” detention, or harassment as a Muslim, because I’m white. And although I am trans, I have an M on my passport, and cis strangers typically read me as a cis guy in person, so I do not expect to be held or harassed over my gender either.  While I may not feel especially welcome in the United States right now as a transgender Muslim, functionally, I am welcome. Racism and nativism say that I am still “okay,” that I can cross borders with impunity while others cannot.

I don’t have any particularly profound thoughts about this barrage of injustice. But here’s a roundup of some calls to action I have heard about, plus a few I just personally think would be a really great idea. As always, I am very open to feedback from people who notice ways these strategies might actually cause harm and think I should take them off the list, and people who have more ideas that I should add on.

Crowdsource truth

  • Crisis pregnancy centers are pro-life facilities that often mislead pregnant people into believing that they are actual medical facilities with actual healthcare providers (they usually aren’t) and sometimes also outright lie to people who come to them for services to prevent them from getting abortions. The Supreme Court just said that states can’t force these facilities to tell the truth. Okay, but they can’t (yet) keep us from telling the truth. I strongly encourage everyone to look up every crisis pregnancy center in your state, go to yelp, and leave reviews with accurate information about what that facility does and doesn’t do, and provide links to places that actually provide comprehensive services including abortion. And maybe also see if any of those places that actually provide abortion need escorts or donations, and help out if you can.

Pressure Congress

  • Demand Congress urge DHS to re-designate and extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to people from Yemen. There is a petition, but I recommend also contacting representatives and senators individually.
  • Demand Congress end the Muslim ban. They can do that. There is a petition, but I recommend also contacting representatives and senators individually.
  • Support progressive candidates for office.

Take direct action

  • Mobilize to stop ICE. Mijente has called for a national mobilization in San Diego on July 2, and there is a national day of action June 30.
  • Show up for the Seventh Annual Trans Latina march in Queens.
  • Get involved to fight incarceration in Pennsylvania.
  • Demand fair treatment for Ashley Diamond. Ashley, a Black trans woman and community leader in Georgia, was recently arrested and is now incarcerated at the Floyd County Jail. She is being held in a sallyport, which is in essence a solitary confinement unit. She is also being subjected to daily mistreatment by officers who are openly biased against LGBT-persons. Call: (706) 291-4111, then dial ext 8889, then press 4, and demand that Ashley:
    1. immediately stop being subjected to assault and anti-LGBT harassment by officers at the facility;
    2. be transferred out of the sallyport to the medical unit where she can be properly monitored given her health conditions and recent assault;
    3. receive hormone therapy and all other medically necessary care she needs
    4. be treated with dignity by jail staff and be referred to by the proper pronouns (she her) or simply addressed as “inmate Diamond”

Enforce good policies and change bad ones

  • If you have some sort of influence with an employer or organization, make sure that people can get off for Eid ul’Fitr, Eid ul’Adha, Rosh Hoshana, Yom Kippur, Diwali or whatever else on the same terms they get off for Christmas. And don’t schedule major events during iftar in Ramadan (unless it’s an iftar). And make sure the restrooms are all gender. And work affirmatively to decrease barriers to accessibility for people with disabilities. And make sure there is some space set aside for people who want/need privacy to rest, pray, pump, or whatever else. And support unions.
  • If you are in NYC and you see a broken or missing curb cut, or a single-occupancy bathroom that is nonetheless gender segregated, contact 311 right away to report it.
  • Support an end to money bail in Cook County (Chicago).

Invest in change

  • Donate. By all means, give to the groups fighting these injustices. I recommend checking out the organization you are considering donating to, and if it looks like it is not led by women of color, trans people of color, queer people of color, disabled people of color, Deaf people of color, people of color living with HIV, or (preferably) all of the above, move on to another organization.
  • Interpreters are being asked to do a lot of work for free lately. Interpretation is an advanced professional skill that requires substantial training and experience. And it is unbelievably important. If you have money and are not an interpreter, consider finding qualified interpreters who would like to answer some of the calls for volunteers but are stretched a little thin, and paying them to help out in a way you cannot.

Avoid harm

  • Stop killing trans women.
  • Stop sexually assaulting people.
  • If you are white and considering calling 911, ask yourself these questions before you do. One–does someone appear to be in imminent physical danger, and does calling the cops seem like it will do more good than harm? If no, don’t call the cops. Two–If the same situation were unfolding but the people involved were of different races, would you still think someone was in imminent physical danger, and would you still think calling the cops would do more good than harm? If no, don’t call the cops. Three–can you think of any other way you or others nearby might be able to address the danger without involving the police, and have you not yet tried all of those ways? If yes, don’t call the cops–try the other ways first.

Survive and thrive

  • Listen with your whole heart to those most affected by these injustices.
  • Create art, or support those who do.
  • Take joy in what you can, without guilt. Hold tight to one another.



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Written on the Body

I haven’t read the new Written on the Body  yet, but I’m intrigued:

An anthology of powerfully honest and intimate letters written by trans and non-binary survivors of sexual violence, offering support and guidance to fellow survivors with additional resources for allies and professionals.

If I had heard of it before it was published, I might have submitted this.

To My Breasts: A Love Letter

When people saw me as a woman, they thought you were for them. When people see me as a trans man, they think you are not for me. But you are a part of me. And here’s the thing: I rather like you. The people who have grabbed you against my will have not tainted you. You do not make me any less me. Let’s grow old together.

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Emancipatory Islam in English: A Bibliography

I included books on this list that I think offer something relevant to justice and compassion in Islam. I have read some, but by no means all, of them. None are perfect, and some have serious problems–a work with some valuable perspective on poverty and imperialism may  devalue women; a feminist interpretation of the Quran may play into heterosexism and cissexism; a work on progressive interpretations of Islamic texts may tacitly embrace anti-Blackness. This list is also imperfect in other ways, not least because it only scratches the surface of works that could be included, and reflects my own limitations. But all the same, I hope it reveals some jewels that readers hadn’t already known. Feedback and suggestions are welcome.


  • Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak by Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur
  • Arab & Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence, & Belonging by Rabab Abdulhadi
  • A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America by Leila Ahmed
  • Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate by Leila Ahmed
  • Feminists, Islam, and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt by Margot Badran
  •  Sufi Women of America: Angels in the Making by Laleh Bakhtiar
  • “Believing Women” in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an by Asma Barlas
  • Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women by  Khaled Abou El Fadl
  • The Scimitar and the Veil: Extraordinary Women of Islam by Jennifer Heath
  • Women of Sufism: A Hidden Treasure by Camille Adams Helminski
  • Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War, Faith and Sexuality by Sarah Husain
  • Untold: A History of the Wives of Prophet Muhammad by Tamam Kahn
  • American Muslim Women: Negotiating Race, Class, and Gender Within the Ummah by Jamillah Karim
  • Women in the Quran: An Emancipatory Reading by Asma Lamrabet
  • Aïcha ou l’Islam au féminin by Lamrabet, Asma
  • Educating Muslim Women: The West African Legacy of Nana Asma’u 1793-1864 by
    Beverly Mack
  • Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women by nura Maznavi
  • Forgotten Queens of Islam by Fatema Mernissi
  • The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam
    by Fatema Mernissi
  • Islam and Gender: The Religious Debate in Contemporary Iran by Ziba Mir-Hosseini
  • Mother of the Believers by Kamran Pasha
  • First Among Sufis: The Life and Thought of Rabia Al-Adawiyya, the Woman Saint of Basra by Widad El Sakkakini
  • Sufi Narratives of Intimacy: Ibn ‘Arabi, Gender, and Sexuality by Sadiyya Shaikh
  • Inside The Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam by Amina Wadud
  • Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective by Amina Wadud
  • Women & the Holy Quran: A Sufi Perspective by Lynn Wilcox

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans inclusive (usually not all four)

  • Sexual Ethics And Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence by Kecia Ali
  • Islam and Homosexuality by Samar Habib
  • Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World by Shereen El Feki
  • Allah Made Us: Sexual Outlaws in an Islamic African City by Rudolf Pell Gaudio
  • Illegal Citizens: Queer Lives in the Muslim World by Afdhere Jama
  • Queer Jihad: LGBT Muslims on Coming Out, Activism, and the Faith by Afdhere Jama
  • Living Out Islam: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims by Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle
  • Desiring Arabs by Joseph Massad
  • Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy by Ayesha Mattu
  • Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History, and Literature by  Stephen O. Murray
  • God in Pink by Hasan Namir
  • Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800 by Khaled El-Rouayheb
  • On Loving a Saudi Girl by Carina Yun

Black-centered and anti-racist

  • Black Mecca: The African Muslims of Harlem by Zain Abdullah
  • Muhammad Ali: Unfiltered
  • Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas by Sylviane A. Diouf
  • Women of the Nation: Between Black Protest and Sunni Islam by Dawn-Marie Jamillah Karim Gibson
  • Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering by Sherman A. Jackson
  • Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward the Third Resurrection by Sherman A. Jackson
  • Islam in American Prisons: Black Muslims’ Challenge to American Penology by Hamid Reza Kusha
  • Malcolm X: The Last Speeches
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  • Islam in the African-American Experience by Richard Brent Turner
  • Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk by Delores S. Williams

Progressive and politically engaged

  • Qur’an, Liberation and Pluralism: An Islamic Perspective Of Interreligious Solidarity Against Oppression by Farid Esack
  • Blue-Eyed Devil: A Road Odyssey Through Islamic America by Michael Muhammad Knight
  • Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism by Omid Safi
  • Reasoning with God: Reclaiming Shari’ah in the Modern Age by Khaled Abou El Fadl
  • My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices by Lila Azam Zanganeh

Mystical / Sufi /Spiritual with liberatory potential

  • Gatherings of Illumination: In Sending Blessings upon the Best of Creation ﷺ by Samar al-Asha
  • Fasting for Ramadan: Notes from a Spiritual Practice by Kazim Ali
  • Journey Through Ten Thousand Veils: The Alchemy of Transformation on the Sufi Path by Maryam Kabeer Faye
  • Dhikr: The Remembrance of God by M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen
  • Enough for a Million Years by M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen
  • Asma’ul-Husna: The 99 Beautiful Names of Allah by M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen
  • Rab’ia of Basra: Selected Poems
  • Doorkeeper of the Heart: Versions of Rabi’a
  • The Illuminated Rumi by Jalaluddin Mevlana  Rumi
  • The Rumi Collection: An Anthology of Translations of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi
  • The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry by Peter Lamborn Wilson

Against anti-Muslim bias, Orientalism, and Islamoracism

  • The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam by Akbar Ahmed
  • Terrifying Muslims: Race and Labor in the South Asian Diaspora by Junaid Rana
  • Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire by Deepa Kumar
  • The Muslims are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror by Arun Kundnani
  • The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims by Nathan Lean
  • Orientalism by Edward Said

Class, poverty, anti-imperialism

  • Islam and Development: Exploring the Invisible Aid Economy by Matthew Clarke
  • Islamic Liberation Theology: Resisting the Empire by Hamid Dabashi
  • Human Security and Philanthropy: Islamic Perspectives and Muslim Majority Country Practices by Samiul Hasan
  • Social Justice in Islam by Sayed Qutb

Miscellaneous memoirs, poetry, comics, and graphic novels

  • The Fortieth Day by Kazim Ali
  • Love in a Headscarf by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed
  • A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar
  • Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni
  • Qahera by Deena Mohamed
  • Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation by Eboo Patel
  • If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power
  • Wanting in Arabic by Trish Salah
  • The Bread of Angels: A Memoir of Love and Faith by Stephanie Saldana
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam by Willow Wilson
  • The 99 (Teshkeel Comics)
  • Buraaq (Split Moon Arts)
  • Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics)
  • Nightrunner (DC Comics)
  • Silver Scorpion (Liquid Comics)

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Gender Subordination and Privilege Questionnaire

This is a very unscientific questionnaire that you may use to help take stock of some of the ways you experience subordination or privilege based on gender.

It is not perfect. It may not reflect many of the ways you experience privilege or subordination based on gender. Your answers for some of the questions may say more about your experience of race, class, or disability than gender. But it should help you understand more about gender justice from a personal standpoint, which is its goal.

All these questions bring up serious gender-based issues. Many of these questions reference violence, including sexual violence, and one of them references suicide.

If you would like to “score” yourself, follow the directions at the top of each section and add your totals at the end. If you end up much above zero, it may indicate you experience a fair amount of gender privilege. If you end up much below zero, it may indicate you experience a fair amount of gender subordination. Don’t take the number too seriously, though. Gender privilege and subordination can come up in many ways. They change across time and context. They connect with other life experiences. No quiz can map it all, and no number can tell the whole truth.

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Responding to the anti-Muslim violence of the moment

Well, it’s been a little over a week since Trump came to office. Things were not okay for Muslims, immigrants, or people of color before he was in office. And things are worse now. In ways, shockingly worse. Many Muslim immigrants, among others, are already getting hurt–badly. I want to offer another post with ideas for action.

Again, to start, a disclaimer: I am one Muslim, and as a white U.S. citizen professional, born in the United States to U.S. citizen parents, I am one of the least vulnerable of all Muslims. Take my thoughts and suggestions as thoughts and suggestions from one person, not as truth, orders, “the voice of the community,” or anything else. But these are some of the actions that seem like good ideas to me, interspersed with ideas and perspectives from some of my Muslim friends and other community members. Suggestions for additions very welcome, especially from Muslims, people of color, and immigrants. And of course consider your own conscience, strengths, vulnerabilities, resources, and limitations in deciding which actions to take on.

  1. First and foremost, listen to Muslim immigrants in your own communities, and, if you can, do what they ask. Gently reach out to individuals you know and be willing to give whatever sort of support they want that you can handle giving, even if it seems “small.” This is really the most important thing. Tynan Power writes:

please don’t assume that all the Muslims you know are going to protests, leading organizing efforts, and eager to talk politics. I am witnessing many Muslims who are trying to just make it through the day, panicking, dealing with crises among family and friends, American citizens planning for how to safely leave the US if they have to. For many Muslims, the priority of the day is surviving and holding it together enough to get to work or school. Add to the stress we are under any intersectional identities: as queer or trans, as Black, as POC, as women, as people living with disabilities, as people living in poverty, and roles we play like caring for children or aging parents, supporting family in other countries, interacting as care providers (doctors, social workers, etc.) with people who are racist or Islamophobic … getting through the day may be all we can do….

So please: Do not assume everyone in your community feels safe and, when dealing with people more directly affected than I am, please be gentle and sensitive in how you convey your support and outrage. Ask how you can support them and, if you mean it, keep in mind it may not be (in that moment) “show up for a rally” but it might be “picking up takeout” so they don’t have to go out into a hostile-feeling community.

Another, A’isha Amatullah writes:

what muslims (esp. immigrant muslims and islamic organizations acting against these repressive measures) need from you is for you to listen to the needs of our communities and help in those ways, not make grand gestures that make you feel better about yourself.

people want to do sexy activism. they don’t want to do direct action protest (yet, but they say they will if a registry is instituted). they don’t want to drive folks to the immigration lawyer or the doctor or the masjid. they don’t want to help out with clothing or food donations. they are reluctant to donate money (if they have it) to organizations like cair and local masjids who are actually connected to immigrant muslims in the community and can provide direct service.

please listen and work towards doing effective activism, regardless of whether it is ‘sexy’ or makes you feel better about yourself. please actually contribute to things that will actually help immigrant muslims right now. please listen. please don’t assume you know what muslims need or that your way is the best way to help.

2. Support community organizations. As Muna Mire wrote in November, “[n]ow is the time to give money to the people defending Muslims against state sanctioned violence: CUNY Clear, DRUM, and Witness Against Torture are all groups doing good work on a smaller scale that anyone can support.” Above, A’isha recommended giving to CAIR or local masjids. Other places to consider include MPower Change; Arab American Association of New York; Muslim Justice League; Rahma; Karam Foundation; Queer Detainee Empowerment Project; Black Youth Project 100; Southerners on New Ground; Al-Qaws, Muslim Community Network, American Muslim Community Centers, and Families for Freedom.

3. Support Muslim, immigrant, and people of color-owned businesses.

From anonymous:

Want to show support but can’t come for protests? Health conditions/ family duty/ restricted mobility preventing you from showing up? Are you one of the marginalized in this situation and is this preventing you from showing up? Do you want to donate to all the organizations/people doing the work but are broke and just trying to make ends meet? Students? So many valid reasons and I hear you.

Here is what else you can do:

*Shop at your local Immigrant grocer/ Immigrant owned market.

*Buy that quick fix water/ chips whatever at you know that brown owned corner store- they’re everywhere!

*Buy that cotton candy from the most probably undocumented person selling it on their feet at the traffic intersection.

*If you eat out, this is your chance to try all that Immigrant owned “ethnic” food restaurants, we come from all over with variety of food/ gluten-free/ veg options that actually has some taste to keep you full and providing you enough nutrients to keep you through the next round of hunger games.

*Buy that fresh fruit from the street vendor for your daily vitamin D because the sun is done.

*A lot of immigrants are small business owners (contrary to the popular belief that they take jobs, they don’t stand a chance to get hired in the first place unless for less than min. wage) so this is your chance to find that Immigrant owned small business to spend your money, there are plenty of neighborhoods that have a variety of goods/ services to cater your needs.

*This list goes on but you should know where to find us, we are mostly visible or you can also spot us with an accent if you are lucky.

*Need something specific and can’t find a business? Ask your Immigrant friends and we have contacts to hook you up, our algorithms are magic cause we built algebra.

If the labor is Immigrant the money should support the Immigrants. Pledge to do this, until it is a habit. It shouldn’t cost you more and you get a boost of dopamine right after.

Show up in all possible ways! We are all around you and we also want assurance that you have our back. Don’t wait for a fancy article! We are running out of time.

4. Protest. Taking to the streets, the airports, the parking lots, or wherever else has value. It may help some targeted people know that they are not alone and forgotten. It may give more people courage to take action. It may help you connect with others, build relationships, and learn of more ways to act. It may pressure people in positions of power to rethink their positions. It may let people know about what is going on if they haven’t already heard. A list of actions happening today and in the next few days is here. If you are organizing a planned protest, check out the suggestions at #accessibleorganizingmeans. And try to be thoughtful about relative risk. If you are organizing an action with a bunch of non-Muslims, don’t plan a march in the middle of a Muslim neighborhood unless neighborhood organizations and people there have asked you to do so. Rather than supporting folks, it may end up leaving them to do deal with litter and  increased police presence.

5. Civil disobedience. Civil disobedience can sometimes work better than other forms of protest because it can attract more attention, increase the costs of carrying out unjust actions, and delay or even stop harm. It also often carries greater risk. Participants often expect to be arrested, fired from their jobs, or put in solitary confinement. Civil disobedience can be large or small, planned or spontaneous. It can be a police officer refusing to follow unjust orders, a janitor opening an emergency exit to let someone take shelter, a group of people staging a sit-in at a government building, a group of people chaining themselves in the way of a bus carrying immigrants scheduled for deportation, a group of people in prison refusing to line up for count until a sick person gets medical care, or any number of other things. An extraordinary movement, #Not1More, has been organizing civil disobedience to stop deportations for years. Another extraordinary movement, #BlackLivesMatter, has used civil disobedience among other tactics to disrupt business as usual and demand an end to state violence against Black people. To learn more about civil disobedience, listen to those who have done it before and check out online resources like the ones here and here.

6. Social media activism. Some people say that things like tweets and online petitions don’t matter. They certainly are not enough alone, but neither is any other single tactic. At its best, I think social media can do everything that live protests can do. Not1More often has important current petitions to support immigrant justice on their website. When it’s impossible to get through to elected officials in other ways, tweeting at them or commenting on their facebook pages may get some attention. Many people have been tweeting at #MuslimBan and #NoBanNoWall in the last few days to share information and mobilize. I have also heard a call for U.S. citizens to tweet supportive or even irrelevant messages at #UndocumentedAndUnfraid; apparently immigrants who have tweeted with that hashtag have started to get targeted. #IMarchwithLisa has become popular to show support for Linda Sarsour, a Muslim Palestinian American woman and community organizer who has been targeted by the right.

7. Bystander intervention. Try to help when violence unfolds around you, whatever the source. Muna Mire wrote: “When the time comes, use your own body to protest and vocally interrupt any prospect of renewing a registry; intervene with your body if you see someone experiencing harassment. Learn to de-escalate. Especially if you are visibly non-Muslim…. Begin to take risks in solidarity with your community; know that wherever you are, Muslims are a part of that community.” Many places are offering bystander intervention training, including Jewish Voice for Peace and Arab American Association of New York.

8. Open ears and open hearts. Particularly if you are a white U.S. citizen non-Muslim who is new to activism, try to stay present and let go of any guilt, defensiveness, or anger that may come up when others share frustration or critique. Many people who have been doing social justice work for a long time are having mixed feelings at the moment–feeling both thrilled that so many people are getting involved now and resentful that they weren’t involved earlier, when lives were already on the line. Try to listen calmly, focus on what you can learn, and keep taking action. People sharing frustration or critique are not the enemy, and wallowing in guilt never got anyone anywhere.

9. Take care with the information you share. Before explaining what a particular policy or decision means in practice, I recommend checking your information with multiple recent reliable sources. Also, I suggest not telling Muslims or people from targeted countries what to do. I have seen things floating around online saying that you should “advise” your friends in the U.S. from Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Lybia, or Sudan not to leave. It’s true that if they leave they very well may never be able to come back. But I would never tell a Yemeni friend whose mother is dying in another country that she should stay here. I would never tell a Somali friend that she shouldn’t consider fleeing somewhere outside the U.S. if conditions here just seem too unsafe.  I would offer to help her research and think through the risks. I would support her in whatever she decided to do. But I like to think I would have a smidgen of humility and not tell her what to do.

10. There are many other ways to take action, like boycotting companies that support and collude with the ban (uber is one target); supporting sanctuary efforts; pressuring Congress to counter Trump’s actions (one bill to support is S. 54, which would prohibit the creation of an immigration related registry based on religion, race, or several other factors); keeping an eye out for relevant proposed regulations here and commenting on them; and offering your skills (for lawyers who want to volunteer, one place to sign up is here; legal observers trained by the National Lawyers Guild are also in demand at many protests).

It’s also helpful to keep learning. In books, I recommend The Muslims Are Coming by Arun Kundnani, Arab and Arab American Feminisms edited by Rabab Abdulhadi, and Undoing Border Imperialism by Harsha Walia. In journalism, I recommend Muna Mire, and she recommends Aviva Stahl and Talal Ansari.

But again, most importantly, let’s all work on listening.





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Internalized ableism, white saviorism, depression, secondary trauma, and sustainability

CN:White person exploring racist thoughts and feelings, mentions and brief descriptions of torture; war; depression; nightmares; self-hatred; therapy; anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-trans  violence


As many of us consider how to sustain our passion and action under the Trump administration, I am considering the role of my own racism and internalized ableism in sustainability.

After 9/11/01, another Iraq War was threatened and Special Registration unfolded. Many other things were also happening, but those were two that I was aware of at the time and felt deeply invested in stopping.

Before the Iraq War began, I attended four anti-war protests. I called the president, my Senators, and my representative. I signed petitions. I attended a meeting or two of people planning anti-war actions. I did some direct action on my campus against military recruitment. For me, this was an unprecedented degree of political activism. Bush started the war anyway. And part of me thought–but I did all the right things! All the things that people asked me to do–turn up for protests, make calls, sign petitions, come to meetings–I did them. And a lot of other people did them too. And it didn’t matter. We lost. I was genuinely surprised and discouraged.

Then I stopped being so active on Iraq War issues, and frankly, I mostly stopped thinking about it. I remember clearly, though, that one night I had a vivid nightmare. I saw burned, flayed, cut bodies of Iraqi people laying on sand. They were alive, at that point, and moving weakly. They were being tortured by my own own government, in my name. I couldn’t not witness their pain. I couldn’t stop it. It was a terrible nightmare. And when I woke up, I realized that it was true, except that awake I could choose not to witness.

For Special Registration, I went to an event put on by an immigration law organization and another put on by DRUM (the South Asian Organizing Center, then known as Desis Rising Up and Moving). I had a small house party to raise money for DRUM. I showed up to several protests. The protests were small–tiny, actually. They were generally led by white lawyers, which might have had something to do with the size.  I wrote a paper about Special Registration for class. I probably circulated info about Special Registration to an email list or two. But Special Registration went on and on and on, and I ended up mostly feeling a sort of horror and impotent rage. I couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t talking about it. I couldn’t understand why there weren’t huge marches against it. I couldn’t understand how the government could have done it in the first place, or how our laws had gotten as wrong as they were. I resented almost everyone I met for not doing something about it, and myself for not doing something more effective about it or for maintaining action against it for longer.

That year or so period was also a difficult time for me personally. I was dealing with divorce–the end of a relationship with my first love–and I was also dealing with a lot of anti-trans discrimination. Many days, I spent long hours just staring at a wall, contemplating what was wrong with my life. I did not recognize depression as a part of my experience at that point.


I made plans about what I would do last weekend. I would work hard on Thursday, close my Chase bank account, and then help with set up and tear down at a bystander intervention training that night. The next day (inauguration itself) I would pack the court for Ramarley Graham, do some writing, give to reproductive justice organizations, set up regular donations for the rest of the year, make a sign for the women’s march, participate in the general strike by not working, and have a low-key dinner with friends. Saturday, I would attend the women’s march for 2 hours or so, and do some catch-up work. Sunday, I would connect with my friends in a little support group for action we have, and do more work. During the week, I would focus on work, with a few small online actions.

Things didn’t go exactly as I planned.

On Thursday, I was anxious and distracted, so I was not productive with work. I did close my Chase bank account, and I did do set up and tear down for the bystander intervention training. I enjoyed my volunteer role at the training and learned a little. But I also left with sore knees–we practiced physical techniques like heel stomps, and while I knew it was a risk to my body, I chose to participate in that exercise rather forcefully.

On Friday, I woke up more tired than when I went to sleep. I had a splitting headache. I lay in bed for an hour doing nothing at all. With what felt like Herculean effort, I managed to move to the couch. Because when depression flares up IBS sometimes does too, I spent my day physically moving between the couch and the toilet and emotionally moving between self-castigation and self-pity. It occurred to me that I had fucked up my meds. I did not pack the court. I did not write. I did not work. I did not set up donations. I did manage to make a sign, give to reproductive justice orgs, and eat dinner, although I was not exactly the life of the party. I watched Star Trek. I took my damn meds.

Saturday, I felt a little more functional. I still had a headache, but I felt less immobilized and more desperately sad. I met with a lovely group of people, most of whom I didn’t know, to go to the march. I said that I would probably duck out after two hours because my joints probably couldn’t handle more. I marched.

My back, knees, hip, and feet hurt after around 45 minutes. I stuck it out for another 45 minutes. Then I excused myself and limped to the train. The train was crowded. For a moment it looked like I would have a seat, but I gave it up to a young kid. I kept getting off and on the train in the hopes that I would find a seat on the next one. I didn’t. When I got off the train at my stop, I considered calling a car to get the rest of the way home, but it seemed too selfish and indulgent. On such a day, I should not be calling a car using some service I’m not sure treats workers well. On such a day, I should not be wasting money I could be giving away. So I limped home, collapsed into bed, and didn’t move for a long time. Later, I took a hot bath to ease some of the pain. The pain has slowly faded since then, so that I am almost back to normal today.

This week, as I have heard the news of horrifying executive action after horrifying executive action, I have felt myself getting lost in anxiety. I feel guilty. I feel panicky. I start hyperventilating. I can’t focus, can’t calm down enough to do anything that requires more concentration than a facebook post. I keep feeling like–I need to stop this! I need to do something! This can’t happen! What is happening to people already? What will happen to them next? How can this be happening again/more/still? How can I help? I went to a #NoDAPL rally last night for 45 minutes–I left as my back started to ache. I took some online and other fairly quick and low-key actions. I was pretty productive with work Monday and Tuesday, but yesterday and today I have not managed to do much. The metaphor that comes to mind is that I am spinning out. It is a familiar sensation.


I’ve been thinking about how connected white supremacy, internalized ableism, depression, and secondary trauma are in my own thoughts and feelings. It is often difficult for me to separate them out.

When part of me was shocked that Bush hadn’t just called off the Iraq war after I gave him a phone call and showed up for some marches, that was an internalized sense of white supremacy. I have been taught and at some level believe that all people ought to and will listen to me, that I am entitled to control public policy, that there is no problem so big that I can’t solve it, and that there is no group of people so fucked over that I can’t rescue them.

This is a harmful, racist mindset. It leads me and other white people to diminish the agency, power, and humanity of people of color, funnel money to causes that do more harm than good, smugly get sex workers arrested “for their own good,” and otherwise make things worse. It also absolves us of any responsibility for doing long-term, collaborative work that centers the leadership of directly-affected people and offers the possibility of more meaningful change: work that requires not just presence but persistence, not just money but humility, not just convention but imagination, not just monologue but conversation, and not rescue but relationships.

When I stayed at the march even after my pain got pretty bad and then didn’t even consider the possibility of asking someone for a seat on the train, that was internalized ableism. I felt ashamed of my pain and weakness. I didn’t want to reveal it. I didn’t think I would be good enough as an activist if I didn’t stay at the march for at least an hour, but preferably two. I didn’t think I was worthy of troubling someone else to stand on the train, even if that person was not having any pain at the moment. And I wonder if even that is totally separate from an internalized sense of white supremacy, given that so much of white supremacy is tied up in fucked-up, fake-science, racializing claims about physical, mental, and moral “fitness.”

The harms of white saviorism and white supremacy fall overwhelmingly on people of color. It’s not so great for white people either. If you think you can solve any problem, it’s all on you when you haven’t and you can’t. While burning out and dropping out of social justice work is better than some other forms that white (supremacist) saviorism can take, it’s not great.

I’ve seen some people recommending focusing on a single issue in their activism to avoid burning out under Trump. Some people I love and respect have found that approach helpful, but it feels impossible and undesirable to me. I need to find and remember other paths to sustainability. My therapists have encouraged me to try reframing negative self-talk and saying positive affirmations when I get into self-hatred spirals. Self-hatred and arrogance seem like two sides of the same coin for me, all mixed up with white saviorism, internalized ableism, secondary trauma, and a few other ingredients.

So, I don’t know what my plans are. I don’t know what anyone should believe. I certainly don’t know what any of us should do. But for my own personal stability, I’m interested in trying a slightly different set of affirmations than what my therapists have recommended, to try to intervene a bit with this toxic internal brew:

  • I am a human being who makes mistakes and who is worthy of love and compassion.
  • My pain does not make me any more or less worthy.
  • My bodymind has limitations and vulnerabilities.
  • My bodymind has value.
  • I am an ordinary person.
  • I am not a superhero. I cannot save anyone, and I should not try.
  • Change is inevitable. Change for the better is possible.
  • It’s not all about me.
  • I can contribute to collective action.
  • I do not have more because I am better, smarter, kinder, or harder working. I have more because I have more.
  • I have more because of a history and present of exploitation and injustice.
  • I can share what I have.
  • I cannot solve any of the world’s major problems.
  • I cannot even solve most minor problems of people I know personally.
  • I can act as a resource, collaborator, and friend.
  • I cannot avoid all mistakes.
  • I can try to make amends for mistakes I have made.
  • Every bodymind has limitations and vulnerabilities, although not all the same ones.
  • Every bodymind has value.
  • Every human being makes mistakes and deserves love and compassion.