I was asked to provide facilitation and a keynote address of sorts for “Violence and Trans Women of Colour: The Intersections,” an event hosted by Carleton University’s Carleton Equity Services, Graduate Students’ Association, Carleton University, and CUSA Womyn’s Centre as part of the university’s Sexual Assault Awareness Week. While my remarks during the event did not exactly match what I prepared, the original material is now here for others’ perusal.
It’s an honor to be here with you all today. It’s not exactly a pleasure, in the way that it’s hard to be happy with the fact that this conversation is necessary, but I am glad I could be here to facilitate this conversation.
I’m an immigrant trans woman of color. I’m autistic. I’ve been mostly rejected by my parents, to the point that other friends and relatives had to intervene to enable me to attend my grandfather’s funeral in Miami in October. My people don’t have any kind words for what I am, and face the thought of me with horror and resignation. I endure relentless abuse from right-wing trolls online for being who I am and for daring to have opinions in public. A man threatened me with violence so that he could collect beer bottles in a certain place instead of me. I had a stalker affiliated with a local Men’s Rights Activist group send me threatening missives by every communication channel I didn’t block, and engineer my removal from an organization I was until then quite fond of, for a year while the university took so long to do anything about it that she graduated out of their jurisdiction.
I still consider myself lucky, though. I have supportive partners who did not leave me during my transition, the way so many people’s spouses do. I’ve never been injured in an attack, or sexually assaulted, like so many of my fellow trans women of color. I’m young and pretty and light-hued enough to escape the kinds of hostile notice that visits so many of us. My cultural signifiers, when people can see them, mostly inspire curiosity instead of amusement or disgust. My autism limits me in many more ways than people imagine, but it didn’t put me in abusive “therapy” situations or leave me totally nonverbal. But I’ve been scared.
Being in a position like mine means not having very many legal options should someone wrong or harm me. Being an immigrant, especially one with temporary status, means not making too much of a fuss about anything, lest the government decide it’s easier for me to be my home country’s problem instead of theirs. Being a trans woman of color means that, at best, I’ll be misgendered a few times on my way to justice, and more likely, I’ll be dismissed as someone who deserved it, or re-victimized by the police themselves. The main threat my stalker made against me once she was done getting me expelled from the Centre for Inquiry was of outing me before I was ready to make my school debut, potentially exposing me to all of these dangers as well as institutional discrimination. If my wife had been hostile to my transition, I could have lost my then-incomplete degree, my home, and my right to live in Canada, and then been at my abusive family’s mercy without hormone options.
One of the defining features of being at this many intersections is knowing, constantly, that if something goes wrong, I might be stuck with it. Trying to resolve problems when so much of me is effectively expendable as far as the system is concerned means spending a lot of time figuring out what I might lose. It means figuring out how much misgendering, racism, and neurotypical-style unclear instructions I am willing to endure before it’s worse than whatever I’m trying to stop. It’s meant learning the value of radical vulnerability, both to make sure other people know what I’m going through and to make it harder to hurt me by revealing things I might otherwise hide. Most especially, it’s meant some asymmetric warfare of sorts, going after my attackers’ reputations with the not-so-subtle weapon of telling people about them.
But you’ve heard enough about me. Let’s hear about you.