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July 30, 2021

The Space the Drums Create: Trans + Queer Liberation Requires A World Without Violence

If we want to end violence, and particularly violence against, women and girls – trans and cis, femmes, and gender expansive folks – we must be dedicated to shifting all relationships from transactional to transformational. We must liberate our ancestral ways of being and relating to one another and the earth (resources), from the grips of patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy.

This was the overarching theme during our June Movement Maker meetup conversation, in which four members of cohort 5, Imara Jones, Daroneshia Duncan-Boyd, Gia Loving, and M Adams came together to reflect on the intersection of the anti-violence movement and trans + queer liberation.

While we hosted the conversation during Pride month, it isn’t a conversation that can or should be limited to one month of the year. Pride holds both its continued revolutionary legacy as a riot in response to injustices carried out against trans and queer bodies, and a joyful resistance through celebration of the subversiveness and inherent divinity that our bodies represent. It is a reminder, as Maura Bairley, MEV lead facilitator, shared, “that we do not need anyone’s permission to take our streets,” and that our raucous joy and indomitable spirits “create the space drums make.” This reference is to a line from Toni Morrison’s novel Jazz. She depicts a fictionalized version of the silent march of 1917, where Black children, women, and men marched in protest over increased white violence against Black bodies in East Saint Louis, IL. They marched  in silence, with the only sound coming from the drums they played as they marched. The space created by those drums held them in their grief, rage, pride, and spoke what could not be said.

As capitalism does, however, it has attempted to consume Pride for its own gain, whitewashing the origin story of Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and other queer and trans people of colors’ taking to the streets. In today’s corporate Pride parades we see how capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy collude with one another to continue this erasure and to portray the idea that the most important thing to queer and trans liberation is marriage – a right that mostly benefits white, gay, abled, cis-men. Contributing to and maintaining violence in economic and social ways against Black and Brown trans and queer folks, especially Black trans women, and highlighting as Imara Jones shares in the conversation that, “physical violence is usually the manifestation of other types of violence that is taking place i.e. legal, policy, social, etc.” Ultimately this whitewashing isn’t just wrong, it’s dangerous, because it redirects attention away from the reality that the original reason for that first protest still exists.

Imara also shared that the United States has the third largest number of murders of trans people in the world after Brazil and Mexico. 90% of those murders were committed against Black and Brown trans people and 75% of those murdered were Black trans women.  The increase in violence against trans people occurring alongside the Trump election in 2016, is not a coincidence. Trump’s violent policies have emboldened people to carry out acts of physical violence, and this legacy continues as we see more than 100 anti-trans bills pending in over 25 states this year alone.

This level of violence is strategic and purposeful. “There is no desire to end violence against Black and Brown trans and queer bodies because it is lucrative to the systems committing the violence (white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism) and to the people benefiting from those systems,” M Adams named.

When we meet in the space the drums create, we are intentionally and subversively world building. We are saying to the people keeping these oppressive systems in place that our liberatory imagination is greater than their violence. That our ability to find connection even as we are brutalized will outlast any transactional and extractive practices.

What would be possible if we began to transform each relationship in our lives to be sites of intentionality and connection? Where we saw each other as divine beings first and never as objects from which something could be gained?

What would happen if we honored the brilliance of trans and queer youth as Gia Loving reminds us? What if we not only fought legislation targeting trans youth but also truly respected young people’s agency over their own bodies and lives?

What would be possible if cisgender women did not see transgender women as a threat to their own womanhood? What if transgender women help all of us understand that patriarchy cannot dictate or define what womanhood should look like or who benefits from it, as declared by Daroneshia Duncan-Boyd?

As you watch the conversation I invite you to also reflect on these questions and ask yourself how you may be internalizing the unholy trinity of patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy (anti-Blackness). What shifts can you make to move your relationships from transactional to transformational? Capitalism and patriarchy cannot sustain themselves without humans and femme labor to exploit. Being in right relationship with each other, with our trans and queer siblings, and with future generations means creating a world without all forms of violence in the quest for liberation.

Art by lizar_tistry