A Valentine’s love story

It’s the month of worshipping romance. Particularly the cis-het-monogamous variety. So it seemed a good time to publish another article for my Queer Ecology series.

I considered writing about anti-romance and desirability politics. And I have a lot to say about fetish and transmisogyny. But I did that already so instead here’s a polyandrous love-story about a little bird.

Dunnock_crop2 [images shows: A Dunnock sitting on a branch on a sunny day.]

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Writing from the margins

Over the last nine months, the project of releasing Margins and Murmurations into the world has brought me closer to public recognition than any of the decades of political work that came before it.

I gave my first public book reading—on a theatre stage in Marseilles to a hundred and fifty sex workers and friends—and twenty more readings after that. In a squatted trailer park in Berlin I had my first musical collaboration with the non-binary duo, Body of Work. I gave my first radio interviews, in Germany and Australia. People I don’t know come to talk to me at parties to get a copy signed. People I don’t know have my book poking out of their sparkly handbags.

And it’s odd because writing a book probably isn’t the most important thing I’ve done. Don’t get me wrong, I poured everything into Margins and I think it might even be important. But I’ve come to realize that a novel comes with a certain recognition that background, feminized, supportive labour never does. People whisper the word author with an awe that community organiser, cleaner, trauma supporter, squatter-gardener, therapist, or teacher just don’t attract. Perhaps it’s because novels are art and art is considered something very important by certain people with power. Virtually all successful authors are middle class for a reason.

1aPhoto courtesy of Azja Kulpińska

 

In these nine months, Margins has connected me with literally thousands of people and for a person who lived her life in the shadows, working invisibly, it feels something like fame. It isn’t, in any real sense, and it probably won’t ever be. For one thing, I’m too precarious.

I scraped this whole project together with two years of seven-day weeks. I couldn’t afford a proof-reader, so the first edition was full of embarrassing typos that I only caught when I worked myself to collapse recording an audiobook version. I had to crowdfund the editor’s fees. I literally sat in a room on a mountain for a week
teaching myself to typeset because that shit is expensive. I was supposed to be on holiday. I carry copies in my luggage and distribute them one by one to sex shops and squats and community centres and activist meetings.

Trans women like me don’t have publishers and poor people don’t have the right contacts and, you know? I’m kind of amazed that this worked out at all. It wasn’t supposed to. I don’t belong to the class of people who are supposed to write novels. The class that has media friends and the right literary—or business—education and can afford to advertise themselves while taking a few years off work to write some nice stories.

But it has worked. Not in the sense of bringing me fame or riches, but that was never my goal. In fact, the one thought that has got me through the disappointments and obstacles is that this has never actually been about me.
Margins is about the starlings. Letting people know how fucking beautiful and heart-breakingly threatened they are in Europe.

It’s about bringing nuance to conversations around sex work.
It’s about having characters with oppressed intersections at the front of a story, just for once in this world.
It’s about getting someone through their difficult week and keeping someone else up all night with excitement and bringing a third person back to activism after a period of burn-out.
It’s been about connecting people through a crowdfunding project that printed and sent nearly a hundred copies to trans women incarcerated in US prisons.

My little book has crossed time zones and oceans with barely any resources except my stubbornness, a cheap laptop and the incredible support of the communities that came together around it.

A second edition printed by Active has funded a winter’s writing and brought five hundred more copies into the world. The people supporting my Patreon have made a second book possible, and Action for Trans Health have given me two beautiful book tours. This is serious solidarity—which is rare in this world—and words can never adequately express how grateful I am.

The process through which Margins has travelled to some twenty countries on five continents has embodied the kind of grassroots community and networking, autonomy and solidarity that its story is all about.

That’s how it happened.
It looks like people passing dog-eared copies to each other while discussing politics over coffee. It looks like learning all these new skills—social media, typesetting, publishing, printing, public reading, public speaking, recording, sound editing, interviewing—from scratch.

It looks like pushing through my fear, standing up in front of other people, and being seen.

Because of my own precarity, because I couldn’t just click a button and instantly reach a million people, this project has literally brought new networks and new projects and new friendships into life. My baby has achieved so much—so much more than anyone expected from her. And I couldn’t be prouder.

Time

starling

Moving between arbitrarily delineated years feels something like time travel. Everyone looking backwards and forwards. Nostalgia and prediction. Resolutions and remembrance.

I want things to change, to be better for all of us at the margins. Not in some future year, not when there’s finally enough of us to make a difference or to be noticed by the powerful. No more waiting.

The line was crossed with the first species killed off, the first person murdered for their gender, the first cage, the first police attack. The line was crossed a very long time ago.

This is the perfect moment. It’s our only moment. And it’s about time

#marginsandmurmurations

My gender is precarity

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My gender is precarity.

Not all trans women are created equal. More and more I come to see how poverty and precarity define my life experience and being poor and trans, I do not live in the same world as people who are rich and trans. We do not experience the same risks, the same expectations. And we do not have the same hopes or dreams. Yet poverty and class are still unmentionable things. The people who decide which subjects are important, which double-standards we as communities will break down, do not prioritize class-oppression. I suspect it’s because they benefit from it.

I hear the voices of rich trans and queer people every day and it exhausts me. I get it, you have power and you have the power to elevate your own voices to get more power. You have the power to break the ceiling. We all get it. There are better things you could do with that power though. Your lip service to solidarity means very little to the rest of us while we’re still trans and poor.

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Remembrance, resilience, revolution

Don’t be tempted to oversimplify this day.

The long lists of victims are not yours to consume. They are not a spectacle. And trans people will not be reduced to our (dead) bodies.

The people in these lists are overwhelmingly young trans women of colour. Yet race, gender presentation, class, age (not to mention ability, sexuality, and historical context) are deliberately erased. All these murders were against ‘trans’ people because of ‘transphobia’. A much simpler narrative indeed.

And simple problems demand simple solutions: better policing and bigger punishments. More money to the reformist NGOs and the police. There’s certainly no need to mention racism, poverty, trans people in prison or the criminalisation of sex work.

Violence is not a snapshot, some single moment when individual transphobe meets individual trans person in a dark alley. It is systemic, it is everywhere and it works through intersections. In a society built on violence and privilege and double standards, when we ignore these experiences, certain powerful people – cis and trans – get to tell the story, to define who ‘trans’ people are and to decide who remembers what and how.

These people in these lists were not only trans. And they did not only die. Their bodies are most certainly not available for anyone’s colonisation or remembrance as a spectacle of gruesome violence.

When that happens, the dead are objectified and fetishised.

When that happens, our resistance is co-opted,  stolen and misdirected to the benefit of the most privileged.

None of this is new of course. These same things have been happening for centuries. But this is a moment of opportunity and choice for trans communities in the west. We can have our resistance, our analysis, our struggle, our work be stolen for the benefit of the few.  Or we can actually do something real about the violent forces that are killing the most marginalised of our communities. I think it’s time.

(Thanks to Yonah for edits <3)

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