Mad Trans Dreams

Visions and Resistance from outside Norms of Gender and Mental Health


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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.


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My commitments during the Trump administration

Give. I will step up my giving. I will donate more money to more places more regularly, with an emphasis on community organizing, survival, and culture. At least 90% of the money I give will go to organizations run by women of color, disabled people of color, disabled women, disabled queer and trans people, queer and trans people of color, or disabled queer and trans women of color. I will also give more often and more generously to individuals.

Act. I will do my best to intervene in interpersonal and state violence that unfolds around me. I will volunteer somewhat more than I already do, responding to requests from individuals and organizations as accountably and helpfully as I can. Some of these ways will use my legal, writing, or education skills. Some will not.  At the moment, this looks like it may involve continuing to volunteer with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and Black and Pink, while also doing newer work with two or more of CUNY Citizenship Now, the Arab-American Association of New York Accompany Project, the Muslim Justice League, and ad hoc disability justice projects.

Connect. I will check in with my family and friends, get more involved in Muslim communities, talk to neighbors, and be kind to strangers.

Be vocal. This may look a lot of different ways, like participating in social media campaigns, showing up for protests, calling my elected officials, wearing movement paraphernalia, signing petitions, writing articles, putting up posters, or starting conversations with people in my life who seem to be doing or saying hurtful/oppressive things. I will not limit myself to situations where I think my saying something will likely make a concrete difference in a foreseeable way, or to situations where I think I can do things perfectly.

Bear witness. When people in my life share ways that they have been harmed with me, I will listen. I will keep their secrets if they wish, or share their stories if they wish. Even if I can’t handle reading all of the coverage of state and interpersonal violence in the moment, I will save documents about it. I will pay attention.

Learn. I will keep reading, listening, and discussing. I will learn more about history, including the history of the Trail of Tears, Japanese internment, COINTELPRO, and Special Registration, and the ways that people not directly impacted both colluded and resisted. I will learn more about the work that marginalized communities have been doing for centuries to survive, resist, and transform. I will learn about and from my own mistakes. I will learn about current events in various parts of the world. I will learn about and from other people’s ideas about how to respond to ongoing, aggravated, and new injustices.

Self-protect. I will take measures to care for my own heart, health, and safety.

Carry on. I will do my best to keep up with the obligations of ordinary life.