The heroes of the 1969 rebellion at the Stonewall Inn in New York certainly weren’t shy about who they were! Prominent in their ranks were sex workers and those who we would today call trans and gender diverse. They fought alongside other working class queers of colour. When their rage erupted in reaction to ongoing police harassment, they also showed that change doesn’t trickle down. It explodes up from the streets. On 27 June 2013, the Freedom Socialist Party hosted a special evening to honour these leaders whose resistance and courage sparked a militant gay liberation movement with the objective of changing the world!
Presentations by panellists Sim Kennedy and Alison Thorne sparked a lively discussion. Thorne’s talk showed how trans oppression is inseparable from women’s oppression. She traced how the division of society into classes created transphobia, drawing on the work of Fredrick Engels, Clara Fraser and Leslie Feinberg. To request a copy of Thorne’s talk, email firstname.lastname@example.org
We are pleased to publish an edited version on Sim Kennedy’s speech. Sim, 22 years old, is a trans and gender diverse activist. He is a recent youth work degree graduate and activist around health issues and he has proudly come out as a socialist feminist.
Thank you for attending this event to acknowledge the 44th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. It’s important that we learn about and discuss our liberation, but currently there is not nearly enough discussion—or action. At least we are here now and can build momentum.
Getting on the same page. Before I continue, I need to explain a thing or two about terminology, just so we are all clear about it. The concepts of the gender and sex binary are myths. By binary I mean the “either or” view: a person is either this or they are that. Each gender, sexuality, and people’s sex/body identities do not fit neatly on a continuum, because that would suggest that one woman is more of a woman than another, or that one man is more of a man than another.
So the detailed continuum does not exist, although sometimes it helps to view identity umbrella terms sitting on a vague spectrum. For example, for sex: male-intersex-female, or for expression: feminine-gender-queer-masculine, or pronouns: he-gender neutral/they-she.
From this point on, I’m predominantly talking about the trans population, although I would like to acknowledge there is not one trans experience. Trans people may also sometimes be genderqueer people. Trans is an umbrella term for words like transgender and transsexual. Transsexual is a medical term for a person that physically transitions their body, possibly with hormones and or surgery. Intersex is different again, and if you want to explore this, see the videos on Oii Australia’s website www.oii.org.au/
Labels are, to an extent, useful for people, and as human emotion, human intelligence, structures and society have evolved, labels and language have helped us communicate incredibly. Although when it comes to identity and who we are, each and every one of us will never be 100 percent known and words can’t articulate who we are entirely, but they can articulate what we need as sub populations.
The importance of being open. The reason I acknowledge so openly that I am trans and gender diverse is not personal: a lot of the time it is a risk and I have to have the same educational conversations over and over. Over the past few years I’ve been able to get things done, and openness allowed me to move past the individual level to talk about equity for our population and establish community development projects in our community. I’ve talked to many mainstream health organisations about best practice, been a board member and volunteer for YGender, and am known for the work I’ve done in the wider community and youth sector. Openness has been a key factor that has given me the resilience and ability I need to do this.
Why reforms are not enough. Throughout my work, I’ve learnt that equity, certain reforms, adequate funding and better health care is what we need, but there is actually only so far we can go with that approach, because the core of our injustice is capitalism itself. In addition to public health funding, education and advocacy, we need more collectives and brave leadership to fight for political wins. These wins would free up the ability for gender expression and take away the power from what upholds heterosexist culture and a society based on survival of the fittest (which results in the trans population being one of the more disadvantaged groups of people within society).
Institutions and powerful people who play a huge part in upholding all this are our biggest enemy. However, people usually think of those who overtly discriminate as the core of the problem. Of course this is an issue. But there’s an additional layer affecting our population’s unemployment rate, experience of trauma and actual hate crimes. That’s why the International Transgender Day of Remembrance exists, because each year many people are faced with unbearable pressure contributing to suicide rates, or people are murdered or abused due to trans-misogyny and transphobia. One of the most horrific things to notice when photos of people we have lost, due to hate crimes, are uploaded to a memorial website, we can see for ourselves that the majority of the deaths are transwomen and women of colour. Don’t be fooled that this doesn’t occur in Australia. Even if the most brutal attacks are rarer, the intersection between sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia affects Aboriginal Sistergirls immensely.
As the financial crisis continues, things are only going to deteriorate for our communities’ health, wellbeing and equity unless we begin to take more action as a population now and join progressive political movements. At the moment, our unemployment and underemployment rate in Australia is rising and everyone is feeling the pressure, especially trans youth who feel the need for surgery and are in vicious cycles trying to find the money to break that cycle.
The cost of discrimination. The Writing Themselves in 3 research, released in 2010, explains that virtually one in three sex or gender diverse youth had attempted suicide. This research wasn’t even targeting our population, and it will be interesting to see in the next year the statistics that comesout of research targeted toward Intersex, Trans and Gender Diverse youth.
Also, according to research from the LGBTI Health Alliance, at least two-thirds of trans people and a quarter of gay, lesbian and bisexual people currently experience major depressive episodes, compared to the general population of about seven percent. This rate soars to almost sixty percent among trans women, and the research also says that one in two trans people have attempted suicide at least once in their life. This same research also explains that intersex adults show psychological distress at levels comparable to non-intersex women who have been traumatised by severe physical or sexual abuse. The vital message is that this elevated risk of mental ill health and suicide is not due to sexuality, sex or gender identity but rather due to discrimination and exclusion.
The politics of government funding. Last year I completed a university degree and have been doing work in the community services sector the past seven years. I’ve studied local, state and federal policy, sociology, political economy and community development. I realised at the end of my degree that some subjects focused on theory and progressive content. Then there were other classes more geared to funding applications and how to keep a job. In those classes there was no room for certain language, terms or topics.
Those classes were a better preparation for the reality of government-funded programs. For example, if we are lucky to win the funding to run a useful program of some sort, then often, another worthwhile program shuts down. And there are favoured issues that we can get funding for —sometimes. But if I want to talk about the eradication of transphobia, it’s a language the funders don’t want to hear. There seems to be no place for that discussion in the health sector and no money that can fix that issue. So organisations avoid controversy to ensure the government gives the money, even though it is never enough. In Victoria, we have more mental health funding than other states, but still not nearly enough to properly intervene in one of the leading causes of death among youth, which is suicide.
By 2013, projects I helped build became less easy to ignore due to their success. My name became known because of my commitment as a strong advocate for the trans community. But I found myself ping-ponged between large health organisations and government, proving their lack of action. It was becoming difficult trying to hold steady with projects I had committed to on a voluntary basis, while I was ignored or undermined by many organisations—we need these organisations on our side if we are to win reforms.
I obtain official leadership in the community when collectives vote me into a position of responsibility. Over the past few years, I have met more trans and gender diverse youth than any professionals within the youth and mainstream health organisations have. It really made me wonder why they never gave me the respect I deserved. Many people’s loyalty is to organisations that play a game of keeping stability and order which—sometimes—ensures the funding continues for vital services but which does not confront sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, racism, and many more social and climate and environment issues.
The real question. In my formal studies I looked into different political ideologies and philosophies. I first met a socialist five years ago. At first I tried to take the words of socialists lightly. I understood that there had to be a reason for discrimination and disadvantage, but I was more focused on making a difference in things I could influence. But I did not shut off communication with socialists,because they brought up some valid points that I wasn’t hearing elsewhere.
As long as the state is more loyal to the capitalists that own the majority of the world’s wealth and until humanity and the working class have the resources to govern, we will not win a fairer democratic system where the majority benefits and we will not see an end to misogyny, which sits behind discrimination against trans people.
After I met members of the Freedom Socialist Party two years ago, I slowly began to take the international organisation very seriously, due to their program and what the diverse membership understood, based on their theory. It is important for the working class to understand such theory and program so that one day we can achieve a fairer economic system that enables a better quality of life for all on earth!
The answer: socialist feminism. We will all be so much better off when the hundreds of trillions of dollars accumulated by the rich go into services and needs of the working class. What it means is not letting the majority of the world live in poverty while the rich get richer, while the poor are denied services that should be rights. It means ending censorship of the things we don’t see in the media about other countries and stopping the tactics that are used to divert our attention and delude us.
After trying to resist, I cannot run away from the truth, and after much research, I have decided that the most flawless ideology is socialist feminism. I have decided to join the Freedom Socialist Party and to have a political identity label, because if we are to make progress we need people who do not sit on the fence. Being silent doesn’t make you on our side, and we need you on our side for the wins we all deserve.
The truth has been there all along in our lives: even in my high school atlas it says that there are enough resources in the world, and the reason people live in poverty is due to an uneven distribution of resources and power.
We live in a patriarchy where there is a lot of responsibility on family units. Conservative politicians try to keep it that way. Women and trans people suffer a lot in this sort of culture. Men, transgender or not, have a place in feminism to acknowledge that, due to patriarchy and capitalism, it has a bad effect on us all, on women and on gender non- conforming people.
We all need to be each other’s allies, and the alliances we can make can differ within the context of who we are in society. I recommend coming along to socialist feminist study groups to understand the theory and history we can use to establish a better system that affects every moment of our reality. Don’t shut off the opportunity to choose to learn, because the ultimate way to support a better future for us all is to take this sort of courageous leadership and pick a side for real. Learn as much as you can from a variety of sources and use your own brain to decide after putting pieces of the puzzle together.
Learning about socialist feminism has brought me a lot of hope for the world, and personally reinforces that I should be proud of who I am and who I want to be while there are countless things within a capitalist system that tells me I shouldn’t be.
Want to discuss this political journey with Sim? Contact him at email@example.com