Police Violence to Queers

            Normative queers who believe the police force exists to protect them from “danger” ignore intersectional oppression and power that target entire populations of queer people who then face violence from police both within and outside of prisons.  The fact that non-conforming subjects fear “being harmed by the very ones who are there to protect us” (Goring and Sweet 187) indicates that the current system of “protection” is produced by, and preserves the power of, a limited group of white, cis, het, bourgeois men (and sometimes women).

            This kind of neoliberal preservation of a preferred group and elimination of “human surplus” (Dillon 179) is evident in non-conforming subjects’ dealings with the police force.  I personally feel extraordinarily uncomfortable whenever police are around because I have no idea how they will respond to my lack of gender conformity, especially since my license picture looks nothing like me anymore.  Andrea Gibson, queer slam poet, writes about their experience in one of their poems: “Every night, I drove through Kansas with, I swear to God, a pink barrette in my fucking pocket in case I had to split second decide if woman would be safer armor than this, when his flashing blue lights give me ten seconds to pick what target he’ll be less likely to miss.”

            The police force has an incredible amount of unchecked power to beat and rape queers.  Goring and Sweet describe it “like nothing ever took place, like the world stopped as they hurt someone…they don’t face charges—they don’t get fired, but they are simply let back to work, bragging about what they’ve done and/or how they did it” (186).  Les Feinberg also describes the brutal force of routine police violence on the streets, in prison, and when raiding gay bars in the 1950s and 60s in their novel Stone Butch Blues.  The fact that Feinberg was recently arrested protesting for Cece McDonald indicates that these issues with police have not gotten better, but rather that they are still ever so prevalent today.  No wonder so many queers can never feel safe whenever police are around to “protect.” 

            And now for a local example.  Last year, Douglas Wilson came to speak at IU about how the male and female sexes were destined for one another and that nothing else is allowed in the eyes of god.  His beliefs are not only homophobic, but he also believes that the pre-Civil War South represents an ideal structure of being in terms of religiously-structured roles for men, women, white people, and people of color, who so happened to be slaves.  To quote, Wilson believes “there has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world” as that of the pre-Civil War South (http://www.tomandrodna.com/notonthepalouse/Documents/060175768QRAsouthern_slavery_as_it_was.pdf).  No wonder protestors were so upset that he was even allowed on campus.

            Members of the police force were present at the “discussion” to “keep the peace.”  The fact that they were there made me extremely uncomfortable.  Rather than feeling “protected” by them, I felt like they were there to take down any dissenting voice, which is exactly what they did.  Watch this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyAcmcaIITE) to see what happens to a trans-identifying person who “disrupted” Wilson’s speech.  Rather than tapping the person on the shoulder and “gracefully” asking them to leave like the Dean of students said they would in this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lq5AX4lPHQ), the police force just jumped on the individual and justified their arrest because they were “struggling.”  Who wouldn’t squirm and writhe around in pain when four or more police officers shove you out the door and onto the ground?

            The fact that the Dean of students dared claim that those who raised their voices against Wilson were breaking their Indiana promise by disrespecting a public speaker (who happens to disrespect a large population of IU students, faculty, and staff) is ridiculous.  It just goes to reaffirm the neoliberal notion that anyone outside of the structured norms for citizens (disciplinary power) is targeted for elimination via caging on the basis that they are “human surplus” (Dillon 179).  In this case, anyone outside of the respectfully silent and ideal protestor is not only a target for arrest but also expulsion from Indiana University.

            This local justification of unchecked police power to shove queers on the ground for yelling at a disrespectful speaker is ridiculous.  It just goes to prove that not only is police power left unchecked to the point of justified corruption via the watering down of police acts with words like “gracefully tapping people on the shoulder,” but it also proves how the force that exists to so-called “protect” people only protects those who are deemed desirable to the state and leaves the rest of the “human surplus” to deal with violence by themselves.  Normative queers must stop catering to a system that exists to cage those who refuse to conform to racialized, gendered, and sexualized norms.

-Ash Kulak

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Genderless Uproar

            I’ve been consistently wondering why many normative people who respect pronoun choices of gender normative trans individuals don’t respect gender neutral pronouns and continue to misgender a person based on what they believe that person’s birth sex is.  Many use the excuse that the pronouns are hard or unintuitive sounding, but let’s get real: the pronoun “they” has been used in the English language for centuries, and it’s ridiculously easy to start using “they” with people who claim it.

            Maybe I’m biased, but I consistently get “she” when I tell trans*-friendly allies that I prefer “they,” and yet these same people correct themselves when they misgender my other friends.  I’m starting to seriously doubt the “difficulty” of mastering gender neutral pronouns since my well-intentioned friends take little action to even correct themselves when they don’t get it right.  Yes, I’m ranting, but my identity continues to be masked behind this justification of using the wrong pronoun from my birth sex, and it I think comes from mainstream’s detestation of polygender and agender identities.

            Take a look at this video, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJPYSWaWskw)  A Canadian family is attempting to rear their child genderless.  Whether or not this can be achieved as a result of intense socialization of gender norms outside of personal identification does not matter here.  It is the “firestorm of controversy” this decision has brought about from the voices of normative citizens that makes me believe “genderlessness” is hated.

            I’m going to start with what slightly bothered me about the video.  First, responders attempted to claim that these parents were putting their child through a “social experiment” to spite mainstream society, as if that were their real goal instead of trying to raise their child in the way that makes the child feel the most comfortable. 

           Next, the biased news cast kept subtly trying to gender the child, emphasizing “he or she” and “his or her” whenever possible.  While one could argue “he or she” is a valid mainstream language choice, the news cast did a few other problematic things like using biological sex and gender identity as interchangeable words, implying the illegitimacy of genderlessness as a result of the assumed impossibility of sexlessness since the parents “won’t be able to [hide the sex] for very long,” and suggesting that it is the parents’ job to reveal their children’s gender identities to them (via the implied justification of gender identity through biological sex) rather than the other way around.

            The parents themselves presented some contestable claims.  They’re trying to advance the claim that individual choice in the face of intense socialization is both possible and something to strive for.  This “tribute to freedom and choice in a place of limitation” (despite their limiting expectation of their child to “finally choose” their gender identity someday) is ridiculous since individuals rarely have an actual say in their own presentations of their identities resulting from intense pressures from family, friends, and mainstream media.  In addition, championing individual freedom cannot be possible in a world where disciplinary power works to degrade individuals who don’t conform, and biopower works to enforce the norms and expectations of disciplinary power on the level of populations.  We cannot actually choose our own gender, genders, or lack of gender if we are presented with only two options, ridiculed if we do not choose the option that mainstream culture claims matches our “true sex,” and targeted for violence on the basis of lack of conformity.

            And now for the part that really ticks me off.  Some privileged psychologist “expert” (see http://www.docmikebradley.com/about_me.html to get an idea of his white, cis, het, male, economic privilege) claims that this child nonconsensually suffers or will suffer from their parents’ decision to rear them without gender: “the parents are imposing this role on the child.”  Let’s back up here.  Is “forcing” a child to be reared genderless really nonconsensual when mainstream parents continually force their children to conform to gender roles that are justified by their biological sex?  I continually heard “boys do ____, and girls do ____” from parents, friends, and mainstream media throughout my entire childhood.  I was, and continue to be, nonconsensually shoved into a gender box “girl” because I have “girl parts,” and this psychologist somehow seems to think that that’s ok and that giving the child some sort of choice over the matter (whether it is really individual choice or not) is not consensual?  What?

            To continue with this nonsense, the “expert” also suggests that those who pursue genderless identity are objects: “this child is not asking to be this thing” (my emphasis added).  He then goes on to use military language to describe what the child’s parents hoped was a phenomenon of choice: “this kid’s being drafted into a war that may hurt him or her terribly.”  This enormous disrespect for humans without gender, no matter how ridiculous the metaphor sounds, parallels mainstream implications that agender or polygender identities do not or should not exist.

            No wonder my pronouns are never respected.  This implicit assumption that genderlessness is akin to the level of objects rather than beings appears every time someone I know continues to “she” me after I explicitly told them that “anything but ‘he’ or ‘she’ is fine.”  I’d like to think that it’s the inconvenience of gender neutral pronouns rather than implicit disgust that motivates most of my friends’ desires to continue to (mis)gender me, but I’m starting to think that if they really cared about getting someone’s pronouns right, they’d respect mine, no matter how inconvenient it is for them. 

           As I start to move toward a more agender and polygender identification, I fear the expectation to either gender myself or let myself be normatively gendered according to the heterosexual matrix.  I cannot stress how frustrating it is to still be expected to fit a female/feminine/het role or a male/masculine/het role within ally spaces or even queer spaces.  For instance, many continue to shove me into a “she” pronoun and therefore a “woman” role justified by the “female” parts I have, while at the same time they respect someone else’s male pronoun and desire for a “man” role despite his “female” parts.  Both my more normative trans* friend and myself, in this case, deserve the pronouns we want, regardless of what identities, normative or otherwise, we take on with those pronouns.  When a person justifies a pronoun I don’t want from my sex, and when that pronoun justifies a normative “woman” role I cannot take on, while at the same time that person respects a pronoun my friend wants that somehow justifies a normative “man” role he may nor may not want, that person works to reinforce the matrix of normative identities relying on the conformity to strict roles of masculine aggression by “men” and feminine submission by “women.”  

          When people ask for different pronouns, they don’t always automatically ask to be seen under different roles or identities.  Justifying a specific gender role with a certain pronoun is as bad as justifying a pronoun from sex, and both of these things work together to degrade the lives of those who seek gender neutral pronouns but are continually gendered “he” or “she” on the basis of their “true sex.”  Only respecting a person’s pronouns if they conform to the strict matrix conception of masculine aggression and feminine submission roles of the het matrix is unacceptable.  Defining me because I’ve left myself undefined is unacceptable. 

-Ash Kulak