So… wow. i knew when i posted something in an “open letter” type format — especially with social networking — there would be ripples, but i had no idea shit was gonna blow up the way it did, for myself or the Mrs. folks (and i know a lot of readers are probably saying “well no shit!” right now, but this has been a learning experience for me on multiple levels).
i wanted to take an opportunity to clarify where i was coming from and address some of the common comments and concerns that i’ve heard, both in person and a great deal on facebook and other blogs. so much of this seems to be related to the gulf that can exist between the intention behind an action or statement, and the impact it has on an individual or community.
i would like to start by addressing what i see as some conflation happening in a couple different areas with regard to my initial writing. there seems to be an underlying assumption that by publicly sharing an experience at Mrs. where i perceived trans-misogyny to be operating, i was trying to bash or otherwise take down Mrs. or the folks who run it. my intentions were far from that — as i tried to make clear in my concluding paragraph — but i nonetheless want to offer my apologies if my language contributed to this perception. i’ll touch more on this later.
another misunderstanding i would like to speak to is the equivocation of me saying that i had an interaction with some individuals where i perceived trans-misogyny to be operating, with me outright calling those individuals trans-misogynists. as jay smooth so eloquently reminded us a few years back, the “this is what i heard you say” conversation is very different from the “this is what i think you are” conversation. the latter is never something i intended to have –or would even feel qualified having. i don’t know these individuals; only our interaction and my experience of it. and i know that no matter what your identity is, who your friends are, or what you consciously believe in, we are all steeped in dominant culture, and as such, are all still capable of — intentionally or not — supporting and perpetuating oppressive systems, even those that target us. that doesn’t mean we’re bad people; it means we’re humans living under multiple, often intersecting oppressions and we’re all working on our own shit, and we’re all bound to fuck up sometimes.
in that vein, i would like to speak to the issue of my being a white queer who labeled a song by a queer person of color misogynistic. (as i learned this weekend just prior to the meeting on saturday, the song that was played was “Ima Read” by Zebra Katz –i believe a remix of it. i have since read up on the lyrics and their intended meaning, the context from which the song emerged, and interviews with the artist.) of course, since we don’t exist in a vacuum — but rather a white supremacist state — i approached the DJ in a culture where white people regularly asymmetrically level charges of sexism against music produced by artists of color while giving white artists a relative pass.
i would like to own my cultural ignorance on the Katz piece, and to extend my apologies to the DJ with whom i had that racially loaded interaction. i can see how a DJ of color who is trying to promote the work of other queer PoC being approached by a white person who immediately labels the song misogynistic — ignorant of its context — and says it’s something they don’t want to hear in that space
could be is fucked up, and i can understand that individual’s dismissive attitude more. i’m not saying that i also didn’t still feel silenced in a gendered way based on his response to me –just that it seems both of us were having some real shit come up on the basis of our varied identities, and both are valid and worth unpacking.
and i want to make it clear to the folks who have a different relationship to traditionally misogynistic language and the Katz song, that i hear you. in that linked post, the author states that while i characterized hearing that song as a low point in my night, as a queer person of color in an overwhelmingly white space, hearing that song was a high point for them — the first time they were able to feel safe. and that shit’s real. and while personally, i am still triggered by hearing the repeated use of female slurs (whether by a mainstream white female pop singer or a black queer rapper), much of the feedback i have received regarding Katz and nearly everything i can find online about Ima Read has been enormously positive, and clearly it has particular significance among many queers of color. and that is not something i want to fuck with: had i known the context of Ima Read like i do now — while it doesn’t necessarily change my relationship to the language — it absolutely changes the way i view its presence in queer spaces and how i respond –or rather, how i wouldn’t have responded to the folks playing it.
hearing the DJ’s perspective was one of the most important things i walked away with from the meeting that the Mrs. folks graciously pulled together on saturday. all in all, the dialogue there was a mixed bag — pretty heated all around and a conversation that constantly vacillated between the Katz song and my interaction with the DJs in a way that made any kind of linear progress or resolution difficult — but nonetheless, it was still an important happening and i sincerely thank the Mrs. team for putting that together so quickly. (and no, i did not feel entitled to a processing session with them nor expect a meeting to suddenly be called –but i do think it’s pretty rad that they pulled that together and really hope it’s a starting point for more dialogue around trans-misogyny and racism within the queer community.)
as i mentioned earlier, the difference between intention and impact seems quite central to all of this, which was something else i took away from that meeting. the two DJs who were behind the table (the identity of the third person i mentioned is seriously unclear at this point) both spoke to their frequent use of the word queen as an endearing, catch-all term used kind of like dude or man. now, it’s not like i’m unfamiliar with this usage: i just didn’t hear it as endearing so much as derisive when it was used at the end of dismissive statements. however, it was still really positive to hear from the DJs that their use of the word was not intended to be such.
i’m facing similar issues with the difference between what i intended to communicate with my words and how others’ read them. my intent with the initial post was twofold. one was to raise a general question about the music we play and dance to at queer events and its relationship to the maintenance and/or subversion of misogyny (and unfortunately, i did this from an admittedly culturally ignorant viewpoint –not to mention that that question is like a
thesis book entire field of study-sized subject). obviously, the impact of the post on the community was different and much more complicated than i thought it would be. my second –and i should say primary — intent with the piece was less about song choice, and more about my interaction with the DJs and raising a red flag about the gendered/trans-misogynistic dynamics i perceived to be operating between us. and again, clearly this impacted some of the Mrs. organizers — in part due to my lack of awareness of the racial dynamics at play — in a very different way than i meant. my point is that we are all accountable not just for what we intended to happen, but also for our impact, regardless of whether or not said impact was intentional or foreseen.
one intent of this follow up post is to shed light on both sides of that coin and to hold myself accountable. another is to try and shift the discussion on these issues away from my specific interaction and the the unproductive “Me vs. Mrs/the queer dance community” frame that has emerged (again, apologies if my own language contributed to this perception) and more into a “Mrs. and the queer community have much needed dialogue on the privileging of masculinity and whiteness within queer spaces.” the idea is to move this away from a place of finger-pointing and side-taking and instead into a conversation that is more focused on how we can hear and support each other from points of difference.
i know that “safe space” doesn’t actually exist. i know that we live in a hostile world and the “isms” are embedded in us all and there is never a guarantee they won’t rear their ugly heads. however, i do believe that safer spaces — accountable spaces — can exist –can be cultivated. and i see this situation, messy and layered and shitfuck complicated as it is, as a part of that.
and that’s what i mean when i say that i am really not trying to trash or take down Mrs. or its organizers. i did not put forth a critique of what i perceived to be trans-misogyny operating in that space because i need attention, or think i’m a special snowflake, or just wanted to “call someone out.” i did it because i thought it was worthwhile; because the space seems so generally rad and inclusive; because the atmosphere that Mrs. creates is so positive and welcoming of queers who don’t fit in a lot of other places. i did it because i felt enough connection to the community space that Mrs. creates — in the few hours i was there before my interaction with the DJs — to feel like it would actually be worth it to publicly raise tough shit. after all, there are very few queer events where i would even consider approaching a DJ to discuss any issue, let alone write a blog post about the presence of trans-misogyny there. and i truly think that speaks to Mrs.’ credit as a rad space.
and from the personal response i got from one of the organizers, to the meeting on saturday that was put together in a matter of hours to ensure the conversation started before the next event happened, Mrs. continues to demonstrate this. i hope that this trend persists, and that we as a queer community can continue to talk about issues of identity and oppression and hold each other – and ourselves – accountable for the impact of our actions.