Monday, June 22, 2020

TLT 20 Interview

The following is the text from an interview I did with the ACLU-MO's Trans Justice Program, in connection with my role as an advisor on the Trans Leadership Table 2020. It is lightly edited. 

Please introduce yourself. 

Hi! I'm Katya; I'm a genderqueer/nonbinary person living in southwest Missouri. I wear a lot of hats, but most of them relate to my work in community development, with an emphasis on conflict transformation and reflective practices. I’m a co-director of a tiny nonprofit dedicated to making these tools and skills available to communities that don’t usually have access to them. 

What is the ACLU, to you? 

I’ve been a long-time supporter of the ACLU, because I believe in their mission to defend and promote civil liberties and justice, especially for marginalized and oppressed communities. 

What about the [Trans Leadership Table] made you interested in joining? 

I first learned about the TLT and met Jay-Marie in 2018, when they visited our transgender/nonbinary support group to introduce themselves and the program. I immediately resonated with Jay-Marie’s approach of bringing our joy and beauty to our activism. 

I deeply believe that we need to honor our rage and grief, and it definitely has a place in social change. But, in my experience, it is our joy and love and creativity that sustains movements and sustains life. So I recognized that shared vision when Jay-Marie talked about their approach to this program, and that’s what started my interest. 

What did you learn from your participation in the TLT? 

I was a participant in the 2018-2019 Trans Leadership Table. I had been part of the Trans Demands events in 2018, and it was a great experience to be part of that process. I was one of the speakers at the Springfield event, and it is always nice to be able to speak up in a city where people are usually shut us up and shut us down, trying to erase our existence and our voices. 

But what was really wonderful was being part of a larger chorus of voices. Knowing that what I was saying, and what we were doing, was part of a coordinated effort happening all across Missouri was a beautiful and empowering experience for us. And that is what kept me interested in the program. I loved getting to meet other trans and gender nonconforming folx from all over Missouri, people I would probably not otherwise connected with. 

And that gift of connection, as a participant in TLT 19 and advisor in TLT 20, has been where the greatest learning has taken place. I love learning about all the unique ways that trans folx are not just surviving, but making our lives vibrant and powerful. The world doesn’t want us to exist, but we not only resist, we create. And it’s incredible to watch that kind of creativity flourish and grow. 

What was a memorable conversation, event, or incident that transpired during this year’s TLT? 

I was on the panel with local leaders at the Springfield TLT event in October 2019. Among several topics, we were able to talk about our shared pain and loss that came with the repeal of the local ordinance that protected basic civil rights in the city on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and the ways that loss has negatively impacted our community and our well-being. But we also reflected on the ways we’ve come together as a community, how we’ve been able to adapt and dream, and how we’ve grown in leadership and determination. 

To be clear, living in a place where at least half of the voting population has officially declared that they don’t believe you should have basic rights brings a lot of unnecessary stress and suffering. It takes a toll, and it should never happen. But these are the circumstances we are in, and sitting in a room full of folks who are there to celebrate freedom and joy and creativity in the midst of that mess lifted my heart. 

What impact has the TLT made in your life? 

I’m one of the older members of the TLT, and I’ve worked in community programming and development since the 1990s. So that’s the context when I say that the greatest impact of the TLT on my life has been the joy of seeing younger leaders step into new roles and share and begin to enact their vision of justice and community. I learn a lot from getting to listen to their perspectives, hear them challenge the unjust systems all around us, and see them translate their passion into action. 

What doors open when trans leadership is included in community discussions? 

We usually have to spend a lot of time and energy and creativity just to survive. When we get a chance to channel that energy into life and love, it makes our communities better for everybody. 

But I think it’s good to also be honest about the anger and grief we often feel. We can be angry at how long we’ve had to pound on those doors and force them open, or had to simply scream from the outside. We’ve had a lot of suffering, especially trans and gender nonconforming folx who have also suffered from racism and ableism, and those experiences don’t get erased just because someone has decided to finally listen. 

So people also need to make room for our fierceness, when we need to express it. Because our fierceness is also a gift. Sometimes, it’s kept us alive, and there’s a lot to learn from it. Because we’ve all had different backgrounds and experiences, we all bring different gifts through those doors. And if we’re not included, then our communities are missing out. When we’re allowed to flourish, we create spaces where others can flourish, too. 

What would you say to people who don’t think building trans leadership is necessary? 

This message – that building trans leadership isn’t necessary – is not usually said in those words, at least not out loud. But it’s the message we hear almost all the time. We get excluded from accessing resources, training, mentoring, education, and employment, often for the simple reason that people in positions of power and influence can’t be troubled - our presence complicates their cisnormative, binary gender lives.

But that makes our presence more vital than ever. If you care about community, then you must care about every member of the community, and excluding us means excluding equality and justice. We insist on creating communities where every voice is heard and everyone’s needs can be met. 

To use the language of the TLT, we demand a trans future. And for that to become a reality, trans leadership isn’t optional; it is necessary. I would like to share the closing words to the speech I gave for the October 2018 Trans Demands event, especially for those who might feel like we’ve made enough progress in securing trans rights and trans justice: 

There are programs now, like this one, that can help guide a group through some of this process, and we’ve made some real progress in some areas. But our progress is being matched with resistance, often violent resistance. I hear it in the news and social media. I feel it personally, and I hear it in the stories shared at our local support groups. Like other systems of oppression, transantagonism is sustained by deep, interwoven cultural patterns that we are often unaware even exist. So here is my final demand, especially for allies: Don’t let first steps be final steps. 
However we choose to be a place where trans and gender nonconforming folk truly belong, the process is ongoing. This is not something a person, let alone an institution, can take for granted. Most of us have not done the hard work of getting to all that internalized dominance and internalized oppression, and it comes out in subtle nonverbal cues, in the ways we talk to each other, in the jokes we tell, in the decisions we make, in leftovers in our thinking. And because our communities have often been committed to oppressive opinions about sexuality and gender, it means we have extra work to do to get this right. 
But we have to do it. All of us have to leave behind the horrid and oppressive policies, ideas, and attitudes we have about sex, gender, and sexuality, for good, and for the good of us all. Don’t wait for another memorial service. Don't wait to support us until you need to grieve another murder or suicide. Don’t stay silent when others display their transantagonsim. Don’t put off reading that memoir by a trans activist. Advocate for us to lead safe, vibrant lives, now. Encourage and empower us to be leaders, now. Provide resources and learning opportunities to educate and empower allies, now. Include us in your stories and lives, now. Love us, now. Without waiting, without excuse, without letting another week go by. Now.