Friday, May 26, 2006

“Sweaty Southern Radical Queer and Trans Convergence” Report Back

Below we continue our discussion of trans/queer issues, and their relevance to our work engaging men to prevent men’s violence. We have Joe Mier, student organizer at the University of Virginia, sounding off:

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the “Sweaty Southern Radical Queer and Trans Convergence” in Durham, North Carolina. I was nervous and well stepping out of my comfort zone as I am not sure if I identify with being either radical or queer, but I was sure I would meet people and hear perspectives that I would normally never encounter. From the website (, the event’s goals could be summed up: “Enough of single-issue ‘LGBT rights,’ constant focus on gay marriage and electoral politics, and corporate Pride… we can only be free as queer and trans people through a collective struggle against all systems of oppression.”

And in a way this is the definition of “radical queer” that I came to understand. Incidentally, through the workshops I participated in and in some of the conversations I had with people this understanding consistently began to break down and transform into different forms as more questions rather than answers presented themselves at the convergence.

When analyzing radical activism, I think about the differences it has with mainstream, leftist thought and the way it wants to go to the root (of which the word derives) of the problem or system. Here for instance, radical queers do not want to fight for “equal” rights as heterosexual couples in terms of marriage, but instead want to dissect the very institution of marriage, any subtle harmful effects it may have but remain hidden due to its “normalcy” or its obvious close ties with another complex institution: religion.

I can see where an educator could feel reluctant to talk to students about issues that both the educator and the student may not have much experience with, but it is important to make the first move toward some dialogue. A student may feel uncomfortable talking about trans folk if he/she has never met someone identifying as such in their community. Or worse yet, he/she may feel excluded due to a lack of knowledge. At the first workshop I went to, we began by introducing ourselves and saying which pronoun (if any) we would like to be referred by. Most went by the typical binary, he or she, but others began using words I had never heard of, such as ze and hir (pronounced “here), so called genderless pronouns. This in itself provides good material for discussion: the power of labels and identity through them in restrictive or freeing capacities, the practicality of pronouns such as “ze” that are only known to a select group of people, or the need for individuals to create new language to reach their greatest form of gender expression.

Summing up my experience at the convergence in regards to education and the idea of transfeminism discussed in the previous post, I came to this idea: If feminism can be presented to men in a way that helps them understand how they are negatively affected by the system of patriarchy, maybe presenting issues of gender, sexuality, and identity, and their combined fluidity relating to the trans community, will allow them to see the positive effects for all with freedom of gender expression.

Talking about gender expression can start from the basics: a “man” who puts his hair up with bobby pins, or a “woman” who wears loose clothing to mask typical gender markers. The positive effects could be as subtle as a guy wearing a pink shirt and not having his “masculinity” questioned. What I believe these radical queers really want people to question is this entire system: of binaries and labels that serve to restrict an individual’s expression. Even so, to some people these binaries may never be a roadblock in determining one’s identity, but along with others that do feel this way in some small or large way everyone can relate to the confusing and ambiguous search for one’s identity through the tools forcibly thrown at us by our society. Ultimately, it seems that through rigorous deconstruction of how we are socialized we can reach a point where we feel like we can make decisions and identities for ourselves as autonomous beings.

- Joe Mier Share

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