The Tiger Manifesto

Criticism with claws

Category: Trans Struggle

A Hundred Thousand Names: Against Fear, Against Hope

Hundred Thousand Names cover

“It follows from the definition of these emotions, that there can be no hope without fear, and no fear without hope”

–Baruch Spinoza, Ethics  (Project Gutenberg)

Trans people’s fears are near, named, sure as battery acid. Clocking, trans panic, side effects, anaesthesia, Mum, Dad, the ex, the camera, the old book of photos, Dr. So-and-so down at the shrink’s office. For good measure,we can add Donald Trump’s name to that list. Not one of my conversations with trans and even cis queer people since the 8th has carried on a steady pace. They fibrillate, that is, they tremble like a failing heart. Everyone feels the fear. We feel it alone, and we feel it together, that electrical shiver. Everyone I know is going to one protest or another, icing friends who voted for the mockery of flesh, urging their companions to get name changes before what we know will be a long winter sets in.

My agenda here is neither to diffuse this fear nor to stoke anger. I would be a fool for trying the first, and our righteous anger hasn’t yet dimmed enough to need stoking. Instead, I want to present a map that will provide my friends and comrades a very, very cursory understanding of our present situation. We don’t need the people Spinoza calls prophets, who manipulate fear and hope. We starve for Confidence, that sense of assurance that our bodies are capable, that we can throttle our nightmare and shake some truth out of it! Trans people, especially our black and indigenous kin, are told every step they take is out of line, that all we can count on is our own disposability. This is true regardless of who sits in the White House. When drawing up this map, I want to rely on truths like this, reminding myself and the rest of us that we are hell-bent on the destruction of a machine that passes from thief to thief. It is this process of inheritance, of the birth and rebirth of death in the form of capitalism, that we have to kill.

More often than not, on the grand scale, exactly whose face we’re kicking in doesn’t matter so much, right?

I’ll begin, as all life did, with the earth. Before November 8 capitalism was slowly killing us. For trans people in imperialist countries, “our” states were assaulting Lumad, Oceti Šakowiŋ, Afghans, Okinawans, Brazilian peasants, Hondurans, our own urban proletarians for profit. Imperialists and capitalists don’t just decapitate mountains to look for coal. The people in Flint were denied clean water in the middle of the Great Lakes. The Dakota Access Pipeline and its brood multiplied and continue to multiply. Unfortunately, we white middle class “greens” retreated into nihilism––or into the organic food section, whichever was closer. We somehow imagined that we could cure the Earth without the workers and indigenous and racialized people whose islands were sinking and whose water was corrupted! Hope is our accomplice: we hold out the vague wish that some techno-paradise will emerge like a God to save us. Before November 8, maybe we had some hope left that the “good king” could lead us back to the Great Valley or the Promised Land. Unfortunately, our liberal kin seem to be difficult to teach on this matter.

In essence, capitalism is doing what it must to survive: grow, exploit more and more resources and people, blind itself to everything except profit. If you can be profitable, you are valuable. If not, not. How long can we live with a cancer like capitalism that sees us and all our living and nonliving companions on this Earth as nothing more than means to its own growth?

Even the “good” Obama did nothing to prevent this. The “good” king expanded base building in Africa, deportations, and resource extraction backed up by drones, cops, and liberal newspapers. These political-electoral-criminal machines our liberal trans kin trusted keep crushing them underfoot. Let’s learn from this. Forget the trite fantasy stories, because we know that in real life the “good king” never changes anything for the vast majority who are oppressed and exploited. Capitalism has many faces, beautiful and ugly, and the crucial thing is to see the thing in its monstrous entirety rather than be distracted by a pretty façade.

But we’re already tired! How does recounting all these terrible, huge processes give us Confidence?  So things were bad before and keep being bad! Is that Confidence?

Of course not! But a traveller cannot be sure of their path unless they have a map made as truthfully and accurately as possible. A surgeon can’t remove a tumour unless they know with confidence the difference between cancerous and healthy tissue. Just the same, we have the need to lash out. If we are lashing out in the dark, without the sure knowledge of who our enemies and friends are or where we’re going, how do we know we won’t hurt the ones we need to join with and help the ones we’re trying to destroy? Confidence is the knowledge that we are capable of victory. It’s not the blind optimism that says we will win for sure. It’s the calm resolve that imperialism and capitalism are fragile and that we can and must bring them down. Even if we don’t know the future, we know what we need and we know what we have to do to get it. This is the knowledge, the love that will sustain us at times like this when all our traditional comforts (for those who had them at all) are being eroded.

It can’t sustain us by itself, of course. We all need to belong to strong, revolutionary organizations that can nourish us and sharpen our work. Confidence is not something we can have alone, since individuals are frightfully weak and unsure beings. We have confidence in and through our comrades. Communism means taking the knowledge that all of us have accumulated through experimentation and practice and transforming that knowledge into a means of actually destroying the source of our greatest sickness.

If we try to do anything of this scale alone, our defeats will push us into surrender and Despair. But with Confidence to keep us level-headed through victories and resilient to failures, we can start to build a movement that can actually abolish capitalism, the living nightmare. Watch for organizations and parties doing good work in your area, learn voraciously, always be vigilant. Especially us, trans people. We know something about uncomfortable transitions, planning for the long term, and relying on a network of mutual supporters instead of uncaring parents or the state. Our tasks are urgent and the times are desperate, but with a razor-sharp understanding and the Confidence of strong organizations that we will help build, we need not rely on hopes.

A Hundred Thousand Names: National Coming Out Day

Hundred Thousand Names cover

Every once in awhile, I get the feeling that someone is watching me. I look expecting to see someone standing in my footsteps. I cower on the tram, desperate not to make eye contact. These moments are rare and fleeting, but they persist months after coming out as a woman to everyone close to me.

Unfortunately, heteronormative assumptions make it difficult to present a plausibly feminine appearance. Gender presses all of us into narrow coffins, straitjacketed into stitched shirts and pocketless dresses. Cis women and, to a lesser extent, men of all shapes, feel its sinister gravity. And all of us do an excellent job policing ourselves and others. Intensity varies from person to person, but we’re all orbiting it to one degree or another. My own orbit has been rather elliptical and cold.

Coming out puts others’ maps into disarray. We saw you here once, and now you blink and you’re here! It provokes a crisis, but it’s difficult to see ahead. For all those who are trapped in the mire, unable to make any move or charging forward in a terrible rut, I cannot offer much comfort. None of us need to make this journey alone–well, it’s a wondrous thought, though we often feel more isolated than we are.

On National Coming Out Day we shuold all remember that we’re coming out into a world just as frightful and chaotic as we saw from inside the closet. Our liberation and the liberation of all humanity––a communist process––must be the guide we take as we walk into the trackless space.

A Hundred Thousand Names: Talking Back to Our History

Hundred Thousand Names cover

“There’s a story in an ancient play about birds called The Birds

And it’s a short story from before the world began…

From a time when there was no earth, no land. Only air and birds everywhere. But the thing was there was no place to land. Because there was no land. So they just circled around and around. Because this was before the world began.

And the sound was deafening. Songbirds were everywhere. Billions and billions and billions of birds.

And one of these birds was a lark and one day her father died. And this was a really big problem, because what should they do with the body? There was no place to put the body because there was no earth.

And finally the lark had a solution.

She decided to bury her father in the back of her own head. And this was the beginning of memory.

Because before this no one could remember a thing. They were just constantly flying in circles.

Constantly flying in huge circles.”

–Laurie Anderson, “The Beginning of Memory”

When I saw Bugs Bunny cross-dressing, when I saw Laurie Anderson in drag, dug into my mind and found stories about miraculous transformations, writing myself into stories about growing into a woman’s body lying down in a faraway place, I was making circles. Like brushing fingers around and around erogenous areas, like the frustration of samsara, I was stuck in a circle. And running in a circle brought me back to the same point: birth and rebirth of pain and guilt, self-loathing as a perpetual motion machine. It’s not that I’ve left that circle behind, but I’ve found that people like me have a name, have a history, have a unique form of life that is worth protecting and fostering. Trans people, and trans women like me, have lived before me and left me their memories. Without these collective memories, I was condemned to aimlessness.

I recently met the dearly departed Leslie Feinberg and asked hir what she thought about my career of choice. Hir answer, though an echo of her words my mind summoned from a book, was piercing:

“Which side are you on? The hunter or the hunted? Historians sitting on a pastoral fence…doesn’t exist in reality. The fences are barricades. And barricades are a dangerous and impossible place to perch on during a battle.”¹

I was used to this idea, but for the first time it truly sunk in that I was one of the runners, one of the people who ran from the cops and clung to each other because our families were absent or oppressive. Self-created people who had to build ourselves “on the fly,” and had no business perching on fences. Such is the brutality of the hunters that they keep us from burying our dead in the back of our heads, and we have to pass this vertiginous chasm separating us from our ancestors.

It’s a staggering responsibility, looming in the back of my mind. But I kept listening to Les talk, and an uncanny feeling springs up in my guts.

“Transgender people are not dismantling the categories of man and woman. We are opening up a world of possibilities in addition.”²

But if after we have done all we are called to do, gender as a system still exists, gender as a faceless cartographer who plots us all on a map, with most of us being where there “be monsters,” what is it all for? I should laugh at myself. After all, I stand before many accused of reinforcing the gender binary by identifying as a trans woman. To return to the map metaphor, what comrade Les is suggesting is that we are working to tear down the fences and open up new territories, recognizing all these gender positions and spaces as valid. I’m still left uncertain. Why not just throw out the map? Don’t repeat the mistakes of trying to build an androgynous “gender-neutral” society but don’t reaffirm gender as a positive! Maybe we’re simply talking past each other about the same thing.

Well, we live in a country where white gay fascists can sleep undisturbed. Where the capitalist-imperialist vampires can take our hard-won concessions and brandish them as a weapon against our kin in Palestine, Afghanistan, and a hundred thousand other kill zones. Land speculators and gentrifiers push our working-class and homeless youth out to pull in the champagne-and-Human Rights Campaign crowd. Perhaps I should take hir advice and put my petty suspicions of people I think have the “wrong” identity and put them where my internalized transphobia and guilt should go: oblivion.

“There are and will be lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people on both sides of these barricades. How do we recognize our enemies from our allies?”³

We can’t simply scan someone’s gender expression or self-identification to tell who our friends are and who our enemies are. First, we define our goal: liberation of all and of each from all forms of oppression. Then we ask ourselves: for whom will that be a dream, for whom will it be a nightmare? Our movement will be the most advanced, a vanguard capable of uniting all of the exploited and oppressed, or it will be useless. Sie looked at me and asked another question:

“But on what basis will we form such a movement? Around what forms of desire? The ache of hunger? The desperate need of poverty and homelessness? The yearning for freedom from oppression?”⁴

I couldn’t answer, and I had finished the book before long, so I left it unresolved. At the same time, I know that it won’t come from spite, schadenfreude, mockery, or even thin and watery hope. Hope, always paired with fear and anxiety, is nothing compared to what will emerge from within history itself. Our liberation will come from within our bodies, which we hardly know, and from a history we will ourselves make. Whatever weapons and forms of love, war, and life we need to forge, we will.

Which is not to say we are assured of victory. Our lives are imperilled by many grave dangers and crises. But these will sit unresolved as long as we are scattered and divided. What Leslie Feinberg’s words, spoken and printed 20 years ago remind us is that a movement built on either cheap unity or calcified divisions is doomed either to fail or succeed in making our lives all the more miserable. “Constantly flying in huge circles.” Yes. At least until we remember all the names, far more than 100,000, and learn what history, what their voices, are telling us so insistently.

Notes:

I gently adapted Leslie Feinberg’s words to fit a more dialogic format without, I believe, twisting their meaning. All the references are here, though, for the curious.

  1. Leslie Feinberg, “Learning from Experience,” in Trans Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1997), 119.
  2. Ibid, 58.
  3. Ibid, 128.
  4. Ibid, 127.

A Hundred Thousand Names: 50 Reasons to Come Out as Trans

Hundred Thousand Names cover

The transgender subject may derive the following benefits from disclosing their personal identity:

  1. Living an authentic and whole life
  2. Reducing the stress of hiding
  3. Being more productive at work
  4. Developing closer, more genuine relationships with colleagues, customers, and clients
  5. Being known for who we really are
  6. Having open friendships with other transgender people
  7. Becoming a role model for others
  8. Being more true to yourself
  9. Unloading the burden
  10. Living as you want to live
  11. Meeting other likeminded people
  12. Helping other trans people
  13. Feeling at ease with yourself
  14. Breaking down stereotypes
  15. Being a positive role model
  16. Being more productive at work
  17. Live openly
  18. Be honest with yourself
  19. Be closer to friends, colleagues, clients, and customers
  20. Alleviate the stress of the closet
  21. Change the misconceptions about whole, authentic individuals who live openly and are positive role models breaking down stereotypes about other trans individuals.
  22. Change your relationships
  23. Change your relatives
  24. Change permanently, full with friends becoming people
  25. Innate gradually alleviating community life



  26. Change an individual’s mind through a personal, whole, authentic, stress-free relationship that allows you to live at ease while feeling better and more confident in personal relationships with clients at work
  27. Get more attention from your parents
  28. Coming with old friends
  29. Others living closer
  30. Educating stress in individuals
  31. Develop able individuals with colleagues
  32. Possible of benefits openly in ways
  33. Simply meeting, hiding, sparkling
  34. Looking people in the eye with confidence
  35. Being a fetish category on the internet being open and whole about it.
  36. Unloading authentic fetish porn about people who live just like you
  37. Associate with clients at your place of work with confidence
  38. Show up to work on time without stress
  39. Befriend people who have whole lives
  40. Living and feeling more common
  41. Building changed populations after gender identities
  42. Liberal friends can feel better about their country
  43. Boss can feel better about his company
  44. Befriend other people who live the way you want to live
  45. It’s too difficult to hide any longer
  46. Spend the majority of your waking life as a whole person
  47. Timely living in the unbounded process of waking life
  48. Your health problems will be the health problems of a whole and authentic person building self-esteem in their waking life
  49. Unbounded euphoria, awakening
  50. Becoming an honest community closet model

Consider all applicable risks to your health, security, employment, self-respect, friendships, reputation, lifespan, pets, avatars, deities, and fragile egos before coming out.

This list brought to you, with some of my personal, authentic editorial changes, by:

Human Rights Campaign Visibility Guide

Human Rights Campaign Guide to Coming Out in the Workplace as Trans

Case Western University

LGBT Youth Scotland


In a hostile terrain, let’s just say a land where transmisogyny is custom and in many cases law, trans women/we are by default subterranean creatures. Our absence is presumed. When we make ourselves visible, or are made visible, we are swept into little niches where capitalism can process and rationalize our “irregularity.” If we remember that capitalism is a system  This happens both to us as a complex mass as well as to individuals. In one breath we can all be dismissed as irrational, perverse, unholy, unfit, having the worst qualities of “both” genders. But so many of us, doubly and triply for racialized women, are also an exotic menu item on porn sites, our bodies broken down and itemized for easy consumption. It seems like our visibility is at its most understandable to capitalism in those spaces, all of our autonomous bodies subordinate to the feast of flesh and gold.

Of course, our visibility––we give out awards for that!––is valuable for us. When we flash our true colours, we signal to comrades and friends. But, like sticking your head above a trench line, we make ourselves a target for enemies, busybodies, and just plain assholes. If all of us came out at the same time, given the same world we live in now, would we fulfill the liberal dream? Would we be able transcend the law that tsk-tsks Stay Quiet and with the next breath asks to See What’s Under Your Dress? Like all dreams, that one is bound to evaporate. Even the very existence of trans people, of trans women, is a historical process native to a particular space. Gender nonconformity expresses itself under a hundred thousand names across the world, many of them crushed under the heels of imperialist distortions. Coming out is not a cure-all, or even possible or appropriate for everyone, and the mantras about authenticity, role models, and fixing our relatives and friends should be replaced with commitments to destroying the basis of our oppression.

No matter how visible or “well-represented” we might be, it will always be in the context of a burning world until we overthrow it and build another one.

A Hundred Thousand Names: Introduction

Hundred Thousand Names cover

Pleased to meet you. We all want to get out of the heat, so it’s no surprise that you turned up eventually. Not you in particular, but everyone looking for a little less sunshine. Everyone with too many scars on their eyes. Good news, there’s a lot less light in the closet, and it’s better that way. Each corner enclosed and signed over to the imagination. But if you lived in it for as long as I did, every perch and crevice is so familiar even those astronomical darknesses (the ones you can’t see without a telescope) can’t obscure them. Their outlines are enough to suggest all the familiar swords to fall on, all those invitations to suicide you slipped between the pages of your favourite book. Keeping your page, keeping time by the little numbers on the envelopes.

In Kafka there’s a man who turns into a monstrous insect. A true disaster, mostly because his job is in sales and his family is a knot of vipers. I sympathize with him: from his point of view, everything is the same. But his family lost everything they cared about: his steady job, his social status, his pasty normality. Insult to injury: they’re left with a bothersome insect who’s like their old stooge absent all the things they could exploit. It’s like he died but left a corpse with six legs and a tendency to skitter about the ceiling casting eerie shadows. No longer able to buy or sell anything––a true monster.

Meanwhile being in the closet and coming out is less like Gregor Samsa’s rude awakening and more like the slow, crushing gestation of the cicada. You spend years, even decades invisibly tucked under the dirt, waiting and twitching with the agony of expectations. As if your birth was stretched thin and flat, an event more tectonic than biological. You realize, maybe a long way into your entombed larval stage, that you have to say something quick when you finally emerge. But what? Many people’s first instinct will be to try to push you back in the ground, to bury you and be done with it. Best to brush up on flattery. No one wants a whiner, and any whiners are probably going to be nothing but a husk of skin sooner or later. No matter what, though, you sadly realize as you prod at the last film of dirt hiding you from the hateful sunlight, no matter what, you will be a fearful thing. So if you’re going to be a monster, you might as well be a real terror.

***

I suppose this will be considered “burying the lede,” but the reality is that I’ve been going through the process of coming out. Given my affection for and interest in monsters, dusty gods, demons, and all the haunted parts of the world, I consider the company of insects an honourable place to be. Plus, I have to admit, it’s hard to be dry and scholarly when discussing matters close to the heart. If I had to tell the doctor about the piece of grandma’s vase lodged in my aorta and needed a muse, I would probably reach for Blake before Spinoza or Lenin.

Coming out as a trans person combines all the terrors of showing your art in public and submitting yourself to a full-body scan at the airport. For someone to take that (sometimes literally) fatal step in today’s capitalist world, it must have some value, or else no one would ever do it. Even when I look at my own life, the closest and most comprehensible example I have, I still ask myself why I put a giant target on my back. Ultimately, like any human act, coming out is incomprehensible if considered as an individual act separate from the whole social reality of which it is a part.

Despite my failure to sort through these issues in the short time since I’ve come out, I’ve decided to write about the process of coming out and the place of trans people––at least this trans person––in class struggle. Not class struggle in the stereotyped sense, which recognizes the male white industrial working class while forgetting the ways in which class is shaped and placed by gender, nation, age, ability, and sexuality. I mean class struggle in the sense of how the increasing majority of humanity fights for our survival against: exploitation, repression, war, entropy, the systemic murder-suicide impulses of capitalism.

A Hundred Thousand Names will be an inward-looking essay, but looking inward is another way of seeing a single, reflective shard of the complex social whole. My aim is to try to make sense of my experiences and struggles as the experiences and struggles of an individual always caught up in the experiences and struggles of trans people (and in particular trans women) as a whole. We must all work tirelessly for trans liberation not as an abstract identity group but as a political, conscious force working for the destruction of all exploitation. How? Maybe I’ll be able to begin to sort that out in these pieces.

To come out is to come out into a burning world.

I’ll catch you next Saturday.

I have a hundred thousand names. One of them is “communist.”

***

Coda.

Trans liberation is liberation of trans workers, nationally oppressed trans people, racialized trans people, trans people with disabilities, old and young trans people, trans people who come out and those who don’t. The freedom of each one is the freedom of all, and vice versa.

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