It’s that time of year again! Summer is over and I’m getting ready to bounce out into the world with lots of activisty presentations, performances, workshops, and more. Maybe this year, I’ll bounce over to you! Visit the Booking Page for more info or reference the ad below. Hope to see you this year!
“Midwest GenderQueer, commonly known as JAC Stringer, is a trans genderqueer activist organizer, writer, and performance artist and he is booking for his 2012-13 tour. Bring him to your school this year!
JAC has lectured and performed across theUSAandCanadawith his work focusing trans*, genderqueer, and queer education, social justice, (dis)ability, and trans*/queer artistry. JAC is the founding director of The Midwest Trans* and Queer Wellness Initiative, is a leading activist in the gender identity disorder removal movement, and is a strong advocate for health care reform, sexual assault awareness, and comprehensive sex education. JAC has founded several projects, is an Advocates for Youth Alum, and is member of several organizing boards including TransOhio, The Philadelphia Transgender Health Conference, The Greater Cincinnati Youth Summit, The International Femme Conference, and The International Drag King Community Extravaganza. As a performer, JAC has done genderbending dance, music, drag, and spoken word as a solo performer, as co-manager of The Black Mondays Drag Troupe, he is a national gender performance showcase producer, and is the founder of the Gender Queeries Tour. JAC is a life-long dancer, poet, musician, and rabble-rouser whose work’s purpose is to generate unity, action, and empowerment and achieve rights and recognition for trans* and queer communities through education, art, and other various forms of revolution.
What leading trans* activists and performers are saying about Midwest GenderQueer:
“I’ve had the great good fortune to attend several of JAC’s workshops and lectures. He is a skilled, knowledgeable, and talented teacher who gets complex ideas across to a broad audience with warmth and a terrific sense of humor. Please do yourself a great big favor and bring this high-fashion genderqueer wonder to you as soon as you possibly can.” – Kate Bornstein
“JAC Stringer is a charming hurricane of glitter and big ideas, so cute you can’t help listen to the smart things he says (and so smart that you can’t help think about them). A brilliantly accessorized example of how flexible the ways of gender can be, and how tender.” – S. Bear Bergman
“Midwest GenderQueer should be known as Super GenderQueer because he’s everywhere, doing just about everything… His work weaves activism, boas, art, glitter, humanity, make-up and the biggest smile that just melts your heart.” - Ignacio Rivera aka Papí_Coxxx
Offering Trainings and Workshops Including:
* Trans & GenderQueer Allyship for students and/or faculty & staff
* Trans-Focused Activism – Policy, Bathrooms, All Gendered Spaces, & Pronouns
* Gender Performance and Drag
* Make Your Own!
Offering Presentations Including:
* Trans & GenderQueer 101
* “You look like a Freak…” Gender and Societal Recognition
* Bending Desire: Sexual Attraction and GenderQueer Identities
* Disorder or Defiance?; Gender Identity “Disorder” and Pathologizing Difference
Offering Performance Art such as:
Spoken word, music, films, dance, and drag – each a poetic romp through Midwest memories, musical flashbacks, body visions, and musings of a genderfucking femme boy.”
I was just very pleasantly surprised by a fellow human being. This evening I was very suddenly tossed into a resources search for a local community member in need. I called the local YWCA hotline, but honestly was not expecting much. I started to describe what I was looking for and dropped the word “transgender.” The operator gave a long pause, “Can you say all that again?” I repeated my statement, a little slower this time. She paused again and, to my amazement, she was able to give me an answer, instead of another question.
I could hear the operator flipping through pages of her referral manual. She said to herself, “I’m just not findin’ what I’m looking for. Seems like there should be something for that ’cause everybody deserves help, no matter what they’re like.”
Her language was all wrong, but her warmth and willingness to help was everything that is right about humanity. I am so grateful for the moments when we, the trans* community, are reminded that we are not alone.
October 17th, in Chillicothe, Ohio a teenage boy was jumped and brutally beaten by his classmates because of his perceived queer sexual orientation. One boy attacked the 15 year old freshman while a second filmed the incident. The video has gone viral, but since I tend to find the promotion of such things without the express consent of those involved to be exploitative and sickening you will not find it on this blog (no matter how ‘moving’ it may be to the audience looking on from the safety of the present). The story didn’t break until a few days ago, and just after it did another attack happened in the central Ohio town of Westerville. We talk about bullying a lot now days, but what do we actually do about it? Facebook blasts, Tumblr reblogs, and attention from national organizations are good for visibility but how can we touch the reality of those who are out in literal fields battling oppression and violence?
Three weeks ago: I cut through the Appalachian hills of my beautiful Ohio. On my way home from a gig, I planned a somewhat impromptu pit stop to visit a dear friend and activist colleague who lived in Chillicothe. I drove into the town, taking in the Fall air and quaint scenery through my open window. I turned the corner toward the small town “Main Street” and was immediately hit with muffled shouts from the street: “What…. pink hair! Fucking gay! …Sick!” Not five minutes later it happened again, this time from a passing truck. It’s the same every time. You feel it in your gut; the panic and fear washes over you leaving behind tough-guy thoughts and extreme hyper-vigilance… you get used to it in that weird way where you never really get used to it. Just the sight of my friend brought me some relief. I watched her walk down the street without apology, surrounded by overall clad factory workers and towering historic buildings worn from wind and winter. She wasn’t afraid like I was. To her, Chillicothe is her her ancestral home town and her backwoods battlefield. Her fight: to make a safe place to live with her partner, to raise her children, and to foster her community. The two of us are bonded for a lot of reasons, one being that she and I often commiserate with each other about the over all conservative hellishness of where we live… But Cincinnati is one thing, Chillicothe is another. I listen to her talk about her daughter dealing with a bully (who assaulted her and made continual threats including being calling her a lesbian and a dyke) and how the school’s administration would do nothing to help her. Sound familiar? It should because it is the same cry for help the mother of the boy beaten this past month is voicing, and that of most parents of bullied kids. This is not an isolated problem, and it is not the fault of one child, one school, or one administrator. This is a historical, systematic problem.
I was bullied growing up, but I was lucky. I was lucky that any insult I heard I got over and any fight I was thrown into I ‘won.’ I was lucky that I found a way to survive the hatred of other people as well as the hatred the built up inside myself. Still, here I am as an adult; back in school and I am afraid. I am afraid to walk down the hall by myself, afraid to talk to my classmates about my life, I am afraid to call out others (including professors) when they speak/act in ways that are harmful to me and my people. I am afraid of being physically and emotionally hurt because of something I can not change: Who I am. Imagine what that must be like for a kid; someone with no power, no voice, and no way out. Now days people are coming out younger and younger, but in this world of homophobia and transphobia we think that Glee, Lady Gaga, and Facebook are enough make things right. And while I appreciate the visibility of national media attention and seeing local organizations posting ONE article on facebook, it isn’t enough.
Yes, I live in a conservative mire full of complacency and incompetency. It is frustrating, and a lot of times I want to give up. Even with that, I was lucky to be born in a city – no not lucky, privileged. I complain about being the “only one” in my city, and while in some ways that may be true, overall I am not alone. My friend in Chillicothe can not say the same thing: she really is the only one. Most of us will never fully understand what it is like to experience the level of isolation, fear, and frustration that rural trans* and queer folks deal with every day. For this reason, I admire and respect my friend more than most people I have met. Standing alone, she keeps fighting. It may sound sad, but to me it is a message of hope. For almost a year she has been trying to found a local LGBTQ group but she could not find a single business or church willing to host it out of fear of “being burned down.” This week she told me that finally the Chillicothe LGBTQ Peer Group is launching (see plug below). This is the example to follow. We must be in our communities fighting, working to building something real It starts at home, and whether you live in a small town or big city, there are things you can do that influence everyone in your state. The more visibility, support, and education we have the less people will hate us, attack us, and misunderstand us. One person being attacked is too many and one person fighting back is not enough. We need to get off our computers and start talking to one another, talking to our representatives, and talking to our children about how to make the real world better. We need community groups, we need legislation (see Ohio House (155 & 208) and the Senate (127)), we need it enforced, and we need it now.
If you would like to do more to help Ohio become safer for our communities’ youth, you can sign this petition for Ohio Safe Schools but remember that an online petition is not enough. We must make phone calls, write letters, and lobby directly in the offices of those who are supposed to be our voice in government.
For Resources and Support:
Chillicothe LGBTQ Peer Group
1st and 3rd Thursdays of Every Month from 7 to 9pm,
Fellowship Hall of Orchard Hill United Church of Christ, 105 N. Courtland Dr.
*The Chillicothe LGBTQ Peer Group is a secular (nonreligious) peer led support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, and queer identified individuals to discuss their experiences living in the Chillicothe and surrounding areas, to share resources, and to create a greater sense of community and support for all. For more information contact us at LGBTQ45601@gmail.com.
I am so excited for this weekend and co-producing Mind the Gap! – A Drag Uproar. This international show is going to rock the Midwest like it’s never been rocked before!! If you’re in the area come on out for a full weekend of shows, discussions, and awesomeness.
Come out for queerness in epic proportions this weekend in Chicago at Queerpocalypse! Two nights, two shows featuring performances of spoken word, comedy, dance, drag, burlesque, and more! I’ll be the one with pink hair, in case you can’t spot me.
This past weekend was the 4th Annual TransOhio Transgender and Ally Symposium, the only trans focused event of its kind in Ohio, and one of few, if not the only one, in the Midwest. This was my first year on the conference project as a TransOhio board member and I’m very pleased with what we were able to accomplish. We have a long way to go, but we’re getting there in a good way! I totally used my board position to aid in bringing amazing activist/performer/educator (and a my dear friend) Ignacio Rivera as the keynote. Through their keynote address they delivered exactly what our community needed to hear; the importance of hard work, dedication, inclusion, and intersectionality.
Image: 3 Conference organizers posing and smiling with Keynote Ignacio Rivera. Sarah (brown hair, glasses, blue sweater), Ignacio Rivera, (PoC genderqueer in white half sleeve shirt and glasses) Shane (bearded, glasses, grey shirt), JAC (pink hair, blue shirt, glasses), and Melissa (longer brown hair, striped blouse, holding a black laptop)
Community. I got a surprisingly large amount of it over the weekend. Every year I associate this symposium with community, yes, but more so with what may possibly be my longest work days of the year. This time around I didn’t feel the work so much. I mean, I felt it; I was presenting in almost every block of the 3 day conference plus producing and performing in Fabulously Fluid!. But this year it seemed like a more active, lively, and loving experience.
[Image: Midwest Genderqueer -gq transguy w pink hair, standing with hand on hip, head down slighting holding a microphone. dressed in gold metallic booty shorts, black bra, a gold metallic necktie which sits underneath the bra and has a black fascinator hat on his head.] Photo by Thomas Menningen
At the show, now finishing it’s 3rd year running, I was moved by the performers. The first year of Fabulously Fluid! I advertised to performers that it as a genderfuck show, but the majority of the numbers weren’t especially ‘gender’ themed. This year was quite different with nearly all performances using elements of gender, politics, and/or personal empowerment. Everyone around me was working hard and sending love and support; talking about the importance of being there, being present and active in this fight in whatever way they could. I continually found myself loosing composure – maybe because by the show I was emotionally and physically drained from the day, maybe it was because these last several months have been more lonely and hellish than usual and the contrast of support was a shock, or maybe its because I was able to take a minute, look out, and see the community that I’m so often struggling to build and to find.
It’s not easy to be Midwestern and Trans* and I’ll admit it, sometimes I feel pretty downtrodden. The “straight” community either doesn’t believe we exist or is determined to pretend that we don’t and local “gay” communities, many feel the same way OR are still misunderstanding us either through well intentioned exclusion or oblivious oppression. It’s a 24/7 push against a wall that never gives, and every time you think one brick might be giving way, another collapses on top of it to reinforce the structure of invisibility, disempowerment, and rejection. The understanding that there is more to ‘queer’ than homosexuality, more to community than white, middle class; more the gender than boy or girl; more to accessibility than putting up a poster; more to activism than simply stating that things are getting better. Our community is isolated, separated, and scared – but the most important thing is that it is there. It is there and for the first time people are actually seeing it. I think that the “change” that has been incubating and forming is finally growing big enough to recognize. In my Gender Identity Disorder Removal workshop, I had almost twenty providers listening, nodding, and understanding the plight of the trans* community. In my genderqueer caucus I heard people, younger and older, bonding over the same feelings and learning from their different experiences. Even at home here in Cincinnati, the project I’ve been working to get off the ground for three years is finally taking some sort of shape and providing more to the community. Out of nowhere people are starting to talk, and as I watch the mixing of different generations’ and communities’ language, ideas, and experiences I’m thinking that this is bigger than what any of us can see right now. Is the solution to oppression, exclusion, and miseducation around the corner? I’m too jaded to be optimistic, but I’m always willing to be hopeful.
I like to think that I have gotten used to oppression – I need to think that in order to feel strong enough to fight back. It is easier to take a blow, especially one from your own people, when you see it coming. But being accustomed is not the same as accepting it. I will not accept being assigned a ‘less than’ value; I will not accept moving forward while leaving others behind; I will not accept rejection from a community I know I am a part of, and that includes the community of trans*, queer, Cincinnati, Ohio, the Midwest, the USA, the globe. It isn’t going to be easy, and a lot of it isn’t going to be enjoyable. Of all the things I love about my work and my communities, there is a lot that I really struggle with to where I think I’m going to either crumble or burst. Gotta keep your eye on the prize. Sometimes the right thing to do is not what we like to do or what we want to do. We have to do it anyway. What will carry us through this pain and suffering is not anger and it is not love; it is perseverance. It is dedication to something bigger than you or me; the idea that something better than this is possible. I don’t expect to see the golden changing of all of this in my lifetime, but I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure that those who come after me will.
Pride’s over for another year, making this the week of recuperation for many local folks. I always need some downtime after Pride, but this year especially. Maybe it’s a result of long-term exposure to this oppressive city, maybe it’s a growing lack of patience, or maybe I’m just losing my touch a little; for whatever reason I find myself needing significant self care after this year’s Pride side effects of overwhelming planning, hours of work, heat exhaustion, and the annual broken heart.
I rushed out from the tarp-lined picnic shelter “dressing room” and stood beside the Northern Kentucky Pride stage. From the small park I could see the signs of the river, and my city on the other side. I thought of the Cincinnati Pride festival that would be held there the following day, and the involvement my fellow performers and I were denied. I looked at my troupe, exhausted, overworked, over-stressed, and emotionally injured. I was pissed off. We all worked hard, we all loved our city, and we didn’t deserve such mistreatment. Desperate for an attitude adjustment, I turned to one of my troupe members and gave myself a pep-talk: “We’re here for the community, and sometimes you have to put up with bullshit to make a difference. We’re here because we love our community.” I walked onto the stage and for the next thirty minutes I tried to forget my hurt and outrage and focused on creating something good. When you work for justice and inclusion there is only one road to take: the high road. Instead of creating a number that promoted the oppressive truth about community we have I painted a picture of the inclusive community I wished we had. (the stage was too small for us to do all of our planned movements, so some of it is a little spur of the moment). I told everyone to bring something real into it. Maybe it was the heat exhaustion or the pent up frustration or both, but by the end I unexpectedly broke down on stage. Thankfully T kept me from crying much, tears and glitter eye shadow don’t mix.
The next day I walked through the Cincinnati “Equinox” Pride festival in my home made “The First Pride was a Riot” t-shirt. I’ll admit it, despite my resentment I was glad to see that so many people had come out. It was a beautiful sight to see the city square bustling with “gay” – regardless of how white and normative that “gay” was. I lingered in the small collection of activist oriented booths – mostly national orgs; the rest were all corporate shopping. There was not a single trans focused or people of color focused organization there. I looked over the huge, wonderfully positioned stage, it only made me angry. I read over the 11 act line-up. It was clear that the issues of no having enough space were legit; I can see why there was such a stress about accommodating performers in the well over seven hours of stage time that day (surely you can sense the sarcasm, but just in case you can’t: please note the sarcasm). All the performers where queens or gay men except for the rainbow marching band and one performance group representing drag kings; a relatively new troupe that advertises itself as “the best in gender bending performance in the city” (even though few people have heard of them, so I’m curious as to where this title came from). Oh and did I mention that this troupe is run by the same person who did all the Pride performance bookings? I’m sure there is no connection between that and that there were no other kings allowed… I watched the small parade of churches, bars, companies, and non-profits; I tried to take it in, feel the pride of my community, enjoy the love I saw in front of me but it didn’t heal the hurt I was feeling. I once again found myself searching for someone like me and like years before, I never found them. I didn’t feel proud. I didn’t feel loved. I felt alone.
There are not enough trans or queer folks on this planet to ever justify non-inclusive behavior, especially in a place this conservative and oppressed. There are just not enough of us to allow prejudice, exclusion, selfishness, egoism, greed, or, most of all, failure. Notice that failure is not the same as making mistakes. This whole Pride ordeal (as it continues) is not a mistake, it is a failure; a failure to support the community, to take responsibility for mistakes; a failure at being inclusive and creating a space that everyone can take part in; a failure to listen to one’s own people, to accept hands reaching out, crying out for help, for comradeship; a failure to be proud of Cincinnati’s trans and queer community, the entire community. I am angry, I am heart broken, and while being able to conceptualize fucked up motivations of these organizers I can not rationalize them and I am finding it increasingly hard to forgive them.
I may not agree with everything Equinox Pride organizers do and I definitely abhor the way that they do it, but I recognize that they are a part of my community and therefore deserve respect and human decency. On the surface it may seem like Equinox Pride organizers feel that way too, but under the surgace there is dishonesty and egoism, privilege and separatism; these can never be constructive tools for healthy community building, no matter how good the intentions are. And despite my own good intentions this weekend I also struggled. Through my smiles I knew my composure was not as civil as I wanted it to be, I just couldn’t hold it together. I shook hands and smiled, I was polite and respectful, but I was not warm. I really tired, but like a dog on a leash I was caught, unable to pull myself from civility over into friendliness. But I also I wonder if it was better that way as a part of holding people accountable. Would I be enabling their behavior, excusing it even, if I smile warmly, embracing them like there wasn’t a problem? Or is it better to be civil and professional, yet reserved to show respect yet also recognize that the issue is there and unresolved. I wonder if I let my community down because I could not grow past my own internal hurt and anger. It is hard to keep running at a wall; pushing for inclusion and recognition, giving respect without any return, trying to love those who continue to prove that they don’t love you. And through the exhaustion, I am left with only one thought, “Why?” But this is my city. This is my home. These are my people. I am not giving up.
Today is my birthday, but I can’t say I’ve been looking forward to it – not because I’m upset about getting freakishly close to 30, but because of another event that is also falling on my birthday weekend; Cincinnati Pride. It might seem like having Pride on your birthday is a stroke of luck – I’m alive and I’m queer, what a perfect combo of days, right? Everyone is out and ready to party, everyone except me, that is. For me, my hometown Pride is never about partying, it’s about work, frustration, anger, and disappointment. Every year it’s the same… well, every year except for one.
My first Pride was a celebration. When I came out, I didn’t know anyone gay. I didn’t know anyone queer. I didn’t know anyone trans. I wanted to find community. I took to the streets in that tiny parade of a few hundred, walking past people peppered sidewalks wearing beads and blowing bubbles. I had no money for colorful boas or identity themed t-shirts, but I treasured the little rainbow flag I got for free.
Playing dress up at my 1st pride – not pictured: my 1990s jean jacket that I wore all day
[Image: Young JAC with brown hair wearing a white sailor hat and black sailor shirt, looking at the camera and saluting with two fingers - on of which has a batman band aid on it.]
All day I searched the crowds for someone like me, someone trans, someone radical, someone queer; I never found them. Years passed. I found that the city’s prejudice and conservatism that I had been fighting before I came out was not limited to the “straight” world after all; it was in the “gay” community too. Pride came and went, but my little rainbow flag had long since been put away. Trans and queer activism had become my whole life, day in day out – what was one day of partying going to solve? Still, every June I walked past the 10am drunks, down the trash covered street to the festival; performing show after show, volunteering along street after street, all for the sake of being “visible.” Always looking for that radical queer trans kid who was seeing Pride for the first time, searching for someone like them. I wanted to make sure they found me. I stood on that street; I got up on that stage to prove that there is a place for our people in this town. And though I continually said how I hated Pride, without fail at some point during the day it would hit me; “Yes, I love this community. I’m proud of my people, our history, our success thus far…” and then in a wave of corporate floats and wrong pronouns I’d come back to reality and resentment. But you know, it’s true what they say: you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
Last year, Cincinnati Pride, now called Cincinnati Equinox Pride to include the business organization that runs this community event in partnership with the Cincinnati Gay Chamber of Commerce, was a hot rocket mess of issues surrounding organizational transparency and equal representation, involvement, and inclusion of trans folks, people of color, radicals, queers, allies, and lower income communities. After many people joining in the fight for inclusion, Pride organizers continued on without any actions towards reconciliation or solutions of any kind – with the kind addition of repeated personal attacks, forgery of my name, impersonation of me over email, and literal conspiracy by what I considered to be my own people. I guess sometimes the price you pay for rocking the boat is that your comrades throw you overboard. After that, I kept my distance for a while, secretly hoping without hope that someone would email me, or anyone, about how to do things better this time around. It never happened. From my almost exiled position, I occasionally kept tabs on Pride; a queer woman patronizingly told she could be the chair’s “assistant,” a pride organizer stating that trans folks “didn’t really belong in pride anyway,” and tales about disorganization, complaints about a lack of volunteers (despite doing nothing to obtain or include folks), and the kicker, tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt.
This year Cincinnati Equinox Pride was joining some of its organizers with Northern Kentucky (NKY) Pride, a new festival celebrating its 2nd year. I figured it was a good thing to merge the Prides, since we are such an over-lapping community. NKY Pride is very welcoming of all folks and my drag troupe, The Black Mondays, had great experiences performing there last year. I hoped that NKY Pride would be a positive influence on Cincinnati Equinox Pride. I decided not to give up and take the high road. If this was going to be my city’s Pride, then I needed to try my best to do right by it. The Black Mondays contacted Cincinnati Equinox Pride organizers about getting involved and after several weeks of unanswered emails, we received notice that we would be contacted about when we were to perform. The troupe was excited. After not being welcomed (or allowed) to perform at Cincinnati Equinox Pride last year (part of the issue of inclusion), we could put it all that behind us and start fresh – though I privately said I’d believe it when I actually stepped foot on the Cincinnati Equinox Pride’s stage. As the dates flew by, we waited and waited to hear from Pride organizers, our emails again going unanswered. Finally, it turned out that we weren’t allowed to perform at Cincinnati Equinox Pride after all. Pride organizers stated that were trying to bring “national attention” to Cincinnati Equinox Pride and therefore wanted to reserve the stage for big names, putting smaller names at NKY Pride –I guess because NKY doesn’t need national attention… I explained that if Cincinnati Equinox Pride wanted big names (a totally problematic and inaccessible concept) then we were what they wanted. The Black Mondays are a nationally recognized troupe who performed all over the USA, that we had headlined at Columbus Pride for several years, had been solicited by America’s Got Talent, and that we were being featured in an HBO documentary. When they learned this (cause I guess when they said they knew all about us, they didn’t know all of that) they said that actually it was because we were so big that they wanted us at NKY, to try and build it up. When I explained that we were already invited by the NKY board to perform, but thanks for trying to hook us up. The issue at hand was Cincinnati. We were in this to help the community, and though we love NKY, our actual home is Cincinnati and we want to be in our hometown Pride. Finally, after a week of excruciatingly long, borderline begging emails, Cincinnati Equinox Pride stated that we could not perform because there was no room due to a high number of performers. Now, I don’t know how much you know about Midwestern drag and “LGB” performance/music, but this isn’t exactly a bustling scene out here. If you have multiple stages, and over 10 hours of performance time per stage, how is it possible to run out of room? Even if you gave 10 minutes per performer on both stages, that still would leave time for my mom to step up and sing off key.
As all this was going on, I reached out to my network of activists searching for help, support, a solution, anything. I found out from several trusted sources that the chair of Cincinnati Equinox Pride had made a statement about me in reference to my activist work about Pride last year. He said that he specially wanted to “avoid upsetting me.” I still don’t’ know how to feel about that, but if that isn’t having an impact I don’t know what is. But all JAC ego boosts aside, who gives a shit about upsetting me? Do well for the community because it’s the right thing to do, not because you’re afraid of getting busted by furious radical activists with great hair. Afraid of a repeat of last year, I stressed to Pride organizers that our whole motivation for wanting to perform was to promote visibility of Cincinnati drag kings, queer, femme, and trans communities; that all we wanted was to make a space for our people. They assured me that it was “taken care of.” Call me an untrusting person, but I asked around to make sure. Turned out that not a single performer I knew, king or queen, was scheduled to be on the Cincinnati Equinox Pride stage. As of today the list of performers is still unavailable to the public. In the continuing conversation about performance, the Pride organizer mentioned a show that The Black Mondays are doing tonight which is being put on by another local artist to celebrate the Pride weekend, claiming it as a Pride event because it happened to take place during the Pride bar crawl. I called them on it saying that it was not a Pride event, and it wasn’t even listed on the Pride events calendar. The next day it was posted on the website, despite there being no true affiliation. Maybe it was another move to try to “avoid upsetting me.” It didn’t work.
Through further sleuthing it came out that despite Pride being in debt and their claims of awareness of the previous years issues of unequal (or non-existent) representations, once again Cincinnati Equinox Pride organizers decided to pay expensive “big name” performers (that no one actually knows because really, are there any real gay celebrities other than RuPaul? JK!) allowing no room for local performers – local performers who spend all year forging space in this city… We’re not a big enough deal to perform and be proud at our own Pride – though I’m positive that some local queens will get on stage since they know all the Pride organizers and… no further comment… And all these “big name” performers are brought in because Cincinnati Equinox Pride wants to get “national attention.” Now, can someone explain to me why a small city Pride needs national attention? The community doesn’t get anything out of it, unless we trying to prove to Chicago that we’re cool so we can eat lunch at the cool kid’s table. Direct from the mouths of Cincinnati Equinox Pride organizers (who are primarily businessmen from the Gay Chamber of Commerce) what they would get out of it is more traffic for their gay businesses; AKA money. But they can’t be that clever with money, considering they ran a non-profit event under a for-profit model and ended up in debt, not to mention losing a ton of sponsorship (including huge funders like Macys and Delta) due to this mismanagement. (yes, Cincinnati Equinox Pride, we do know about that.)
I bring all these issues about performance, not just because it sucks for us, but because of what it represents and proves: that Cincinnati Equinox Pride is a problematic, unqualified organization with goals not in line with what Pride is really about; community. What’s the point of a local community pride if the pride of the local community – its activists and its performers who work all year round for space, visibility, and rights are not recognized, included, or valued? If I wanted to celebrate someone else’s community, I would go to some other city’s Pride. At my hometown Pride I want to see my community, my people. And after another year of waiting, I’m still looking. Pride has no point if it is not centered on community. Pride is not about big names, fancy products, or money driven reputations. The first Pride was a riot. The first Pride was about human rights, about standing up and saying “This is who I am. I am not afraid. I am not ashamed.” To use a common community joke, size doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do and how you do it. What if Cincinnati Equinox Pride doesn’t impress other cities, is it a competition? Our people are homeless, jobless, without family support, without resources, without health care, without rights, but our “leaders” main concern is getting into pissing contests via normie, corporate crapfests. Sounds real productive.
It’s not that I don’t recognize that Cincinnati Equinox Pride organizers’ hard work – I do and I support them in trying to run Pride – a huge undertaking without a doubt, but good intentions only go so far. Our community continues to suffer and split because we do not support each other and we do not or hold each other accountable when we behave in unjust, problematic, or oppressive ways. Looking the other way or making excuses like “They mean well” or “You don’t know them like I do” is just being a part of the problem. The solution is not to kick people out of the community, not to scream at them, or to hate them, it is to say “You need to change, and I’m going to stand here and wait until you do.” It worked when my parents wanted me to eat my vegetables; Social justice to a community is like vegetables to your body – it gives you good stuff to grow strong and healthy and helps you get rid (aka poop out) all the stuff you don’t need or are better off without. (Sorry to get scatological, but it’s a good reference.) My parents made me eat vegetables because they love me. I want my community to be socially just and inclusive because I love my community, all of my community. Family is family, even when it’s a chosen one. And like any family, you won’t always get along, you won’t like everyone, but you’re still a family. We’re all different but in the end, we’re all in this together. And all of that warm fuzzy crap would work a lot better if the people in my communities who have more power than me, more privilege, would look back once in a while and remember where they came from. It wasn’t too long ago that they didn’t have it any better than I do now. I’m glad that the Cincinnati Equinox Pride folks are working hard to try and create something big and beautiful, but when you build something without the correct supports, it is bound for crumble and crushing everything beneath it.
Yesterday I took part in Equality Ohio’s LGBT Lobby Day, a gathering of folks from all over the state descending en masse on the capital to lobby for LGBT issues. With Ohio ranking second to last in the country in terms of trans and queer rights, over all Equality Ohio is very successful in creating a safe space where our disenfranchised community can work with a conservative local government. What it hasn’t been able to provide is a safe space for our community to work with itself.
I was anxious about Lobby Day this year. My last Lobby Day experience was less than positive, but Equality Ohio leaders were surprisingly attentive to my feedback which, in addition to the over-all importance of this event, lead me to attend again, this time as a team leader. By the time the opening event was underway I was starting to feel that activist passion burning. Suddenly, I felt unfamiliar arms surround me from behind my chair and under a suffocating kiss to the side of my head I heard, “Thank you for reminding me of my daughter.” I turned to see a woman walking away from me. I remembered her… At the last Lobby Day I attended, I met this woman -correction, I never actually met her. She ran up to me, hugged me, and tearfully said, “Thank you for reminding me of my daughter.” And despite the mis-gendering and her slightly ageist tone, I was warmed by her emotion. She said her daughter was just like me: a “strong young lesbian” who dyes her hair. I didn’t correct her. I remember that year I was feeling particularly combative about my identity, and I was in no mood to out myself as trans. Besides, how do you stop a crying mother mid-sentence and tell her she’s wrong and being offensive? I didn’t want to make her feel guilty or uncomfortable – a bad habit I have when people get my gender wrong. Naturally I was irritated, she shouldn’t have assumed my gender, but I knew the conversation would end soon enough and I could walk away without facing any awkward trans identity explanations. I know now that was not the right decision.
The woman walked onto the stage, introduced as Nickie Antonio the 1st openly gay representative to ever be elected in Ohio. She started a good speech focusing on our community’s diversity, naming differences in the room of identity, faith, appearance… I knew what was about to happen and I was powerless to stop it. She raised her hand and pointed right at me. “And I’d like to especially point out the sister in the back with the fuschia hair!” Like a movie scene, all at once a couple hundred people turned and looked right at me, and there I was, outed and mis-gendered… but at least she got the hair color right… right? Sometimes gender/passing stuff rolls off my back, other times it soaks into the skin until my entire disposition is saturated in frustration, anger, and guilt. This event was the latter. Yes, I am used to this sort of thing. Like most trans and gender non-conforming folks, I experience public mis-gendering a lot – usually it isn’t over a microphone in front of a couple hundred people -though it does happen on occasion. I am used to it, but it never gets any easier, at least, it hasn’t yet. My emotional response to being mis-gendered is identical to whenever I am treated with an utter lack of respect. It makes me feel small, unimportant, disempowered, angry, and less than human. I didn’t want to be at Lobby Day anymore. I didn’t want to be anywhere other than alone. All my excitement about taking part in community, all my drive to make a difference crumbled beneath me in a heap of disappointment with my community. Representative Antonio walked back to my tabled and gave me another hug. Cradled in repulsion, I interrupted her motherly repeats speaking in my most polite voice, “I’m not a woman, I’m trans. I would appreciate it if you didn’t mis-gender me.” She took my hand apologetically, still keeping me unwillingly wrapped in her hug, “I’m so sorry,” she said, “I should know better.” Unable to think of any other response I said, “Yeah…” cutting myself off from curtly finishing with “you should.” I reeled myself in with a semi-excusatory “It’s ok, I mean, it happens all the time…” She smiled, “Oh, I’m sure.” A comment I’m sure she meant to be agreeable, but it had the opposite effect. She mentioned how her partner was mis-gendered all the time “but in the other direction,” which only strengthened the argument that she really should have known better.
I spoke to a head Equality Ohio organizer, who I deeply respect, about the incident. This organizer, in hearing who the offender was, also said that “[Antonio] should know better.” which was a positive validation of my experience. However this validation was short lived. The organizer asked me whether I had made my identity known to Antonio, and when I said no they presented the argument that if someone doesn’t know any better, and I don’t correct them, then it isn’t their fault… which I guess would make this whole situation my fault. So, I guess it doesn’t matter that Antonio should have known better because I wasn’t properly announcing myself. I don’t think this organizer was actively trying to say that it was my fault that I was grossly and publicly mis-gendered, but they did seem visibly confused as to why I would be upset that I was mis-gendered when I appeared to do nothing to stop it. I explained that I shouldn’t have to introduce myself identity label first just on the off chance someone might get confused, especially if I am in what is supposed to be a community safe space. Do gender conforming people have to consistently tell people their gender? No, they don’t, they just get the right language applied and go on their merry way. But because I am not visibly aligned to one gender or another, it is up to me to out myself compulsively, or else just not get offended when someone plays fast and loose with whatever label they choose for me.
Gender non-conforming people is have to re-assert our identity every moment of every day; when we meet a new friend, when we’re on a date, when we’re at work, when we’re at the grocery store, when we use a public bathroom… Eventually you have to make a choice; either you’re going to lighten up or you’re gonna burn out – for a lot of us the second is the result of the first. So no, I do not correct someone every time I’m called “she” or “lady” or “a young lesbian.” And because of that, is it my fault when someone mis-genders me? No it’s not, it’s the fault of a society that breeds people to see in a black and white gender-scape. I don’t automatically think that someone who mis-genders me is transphobic and out to get me, but depending on the person and the situation, I may think that the person is careless, irresponsible, or just plain lazy. Contrary to popular belief, it is not hard to be polite about gender. To quote the opening plenary from todays lobby day session “Don’t tell me what you believe. Show me what you do and I’ll tell you what you believe.”(quote attributed to an unknown Mississippi civil rights leader). Ironically, this was said right after I was mis-gendered in front of everyone. If people really care about trans folks and really know better than to disrespect us, they why don’t they do it? It’s true that when you are running an event, it is impossible to control what every participant says or does, however you can do a lot to promote safe spaces and educate folks who just don’t know any better. Activist leaders should lead by example by educating themselves and through inclusive language and behavior. An event like Lobby Day should have a brief spoken introduction to involve participants in promoting safes spaces, to use inclusive language, and to be cautious of their own privileges. And if the event has speakers or guests, talk to them about safe spaces and request that they follow the guidelines necessary to continue that safety and inclusion. Everyone is afraid of talking about privilege, but all recognizing privilege is, is recognizing our own humanity: our ability to make a mistake and our own responsibility to correct it. We are supposed to be striving for “equal rights” but if we can’t even form equality within our own spaces, how are we supposed to accomplish it in the rest of the world? I don’t expect anyone to be perfect, but I do, as I suppose anyone does, hold my community up to a higher standard. I would like to think we know better.