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The following is a statement from TransActive Gender Center Executive Director Jenn Burleton on recent articles in PQ Monthly regarding Portland Q Center’s decision to rent space to the organizers of the "New Narratives" conference in May of this year.
Speaking on behalf of an organization focused on serving the diverse and often complex needs of gender nonconforming, gender fluid and transgender children, youth and their families, we at TransActive Gender Center are concerned with the decision by Portland Q Center to offer rental space to the organizers of the New Narratives Conference earlier this year and subsequent comments about that decision from current and former Q Center staff.
We are particularly troubled by an apparent lapse in sensitivity as to the impact this group’s messaging has on the greater transgender community. We take issue with the statement of one former member of the Q Center staff who said, "[Q Center] is not in the business of policing what [the many groups we rent to] do in their spare time outside of the Center."
Those who organized and attended the New Narratives Conference espouse a brand of socio-political activism closely related to Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism (TERF). The fact that 7 trans-spectrum women and 1 ‘de-transitioned’ trans-spectrum male attended the conference makes their rhetoric no less disturbing.
A core belief of TERF’s is that transgender women are, indeed, not women at all by virtue of the fact that, A) they were not born with female genitalia/biology and, B) they were not socialized from birth as females. TERF’s aggressively assert that all transgender women enjoy and impose male privilege in "women’s spaces" and are biologically and culturally incapable of doing otherwise.
TERF hate-monger and ersatz leader Cathy Brennan propagandizes (without substance or factual evidence) that trans women are potential rapists, while others of her ilk use tactics similarly reminiscent of the religious right wing to imply that transgender girls and women are "forcing their penises" on lesbians.
The absurdity and despicability of this rhetoric becomes ever more unacceptable when we consider the impact their actions have on our transgender children and youth.
TERF’s joined with the Pacific Justice Institute (a far-right religious organization) in opposing California’s Assembly Bill 1266, which sought to grant transgender students the right and opportunity to fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs and restroom/locker facilities that match their gender identity.
Fortunately, those efforts were unsuccessful.
According to a summary written by New Narratives conference organizer “Snowflake Especial”, conference attendees and TERF’s agree on the following:
The recent statement by Q Center staff that, "New Narratives members represent part of the array of narratives and experiences that trans individuals have... they add to the diversity of the LGBTQ community..." is a difficult sentiment to disagree with.
At the same time, it is equally difficult to reconcile the above New Narratives/TERF messaging with Q Center’s vision of "a broadened, positive perception of LGBTQ people" or their stated values, one of which is "full inclusion, respect and equality."
TransActive Gender Center works with more than 400 families of transgender and gender diverse children and youth in the Portland metro-area and beyond. At present, approximately 66% of these kids are under the age of 12, and many have completed a social gender transition in early childhood.
Do TERF lies about transgender women oppressing cisgender women apply to these transgender girls and boys? We don’t know, because TERF’s choose not to acknowledge that transgender identity in children exists.
The following are just a few of the TERF "Top Gender Trends of 2012", as posted verbatim on TERF blog gendertrender.wordpress.com:
I have experienced first-hand the hate and disrespect TERF’s direct at transgender people, particularly women.
In reading this list back in 2012 I posted a comment. I responded to their claim that being transgender is ‘anti-lesbian’ by saying, "I’m quite certain that my female life partner of 30 years would be quite surprised to discover that I’m anti-lesbian."
Replies I received [they were familiar with my work at TransActive Gender Center]included:
This last bullet point was accompanied by a photo from taken from the website nigete.livejournal.com of a transman with grossly deformed and sagging breasts.
The TERF leader ["Gallus Mag"] attacking me conveniently left out the accompanying text, which mirrors the advice TransActive Gender Center gives to every applicant/recipient of a free, professionally designed binder:
In a conversation with Barbara McCullough-Jones, the executive director of Q Center and whom I consider both a colleague and friend, I inquired as to whether Q Center would offer rental space in the future to an ‘up-front’ TERF-related group. She responded that the answer to my question is "one of the things we’re evaluating in the aftermath of this event."
I empathize whole-heartedly with the challenge Q Center faces. Those of us engaged in social justice, advocacy, activism and service provision work tend to be ‘let’s invite all voices to the table’ kind of people. The very essence of a ‘community’ requires us to believe in the capacity of all to respect the dignity and authenticity of others. For this reason, it can be difficult at times to see daylight between those who are members of any given mutually respectful community and those who are simply members of a ‘similar population’.
The harm done by people who believe that transgender individuals (of any gender) are ‘invaders’, ‘imposters’, ‘dangerous’, ‘rapists’ ‘male oppressors’ or ‘butch traitors’is obvious and tangible. Recognizing that harm requires a heightened level of attention being paid to the everyday challenges that transgender people of any age face.
TransActive Gender Center stands strongly opposed to those who would threaten violence against or seek to oppress in any way those who attended the New Narratives conference or those who align themselves with the TERF collective. "Die Cis Scum" shirts and signs are neither funny, nor effective forms of advocacy or activism.
Adopting the ‘sex-determinism’ rhetoric that biological status is the problem rather than willful intolerance & ignorance is nothing more than embracing and reinforcing the flawed perspective of those who define people by what’s in their pants, under their skirts or in their chromosomes rather than what is in their brain chemistry and the content of their character.
On a personal level, writing this is among the more difficult things I’ve ever done, because I have so much respect and admiration for the work accomplished by my friends and allies at Portland Q Center.
We at TransActive Gender Center do not believe for one moment that anyone at Q Center acted with intent to hurt Portland’s transgender community or knowingly provide a figurative stage for oppressive hate speech. We believe an error in judgment was made in allowing the New Narratives group to meet at the Q Center without knowing more about the conference content. In our opinion, that mistake was compounded by subsequent statements intended to validate their decision as one supportive of diverse voices within the LGBTQ community.
There isn’t an organization in existence, including TransActive Gender Center, that couldn’t benefit from increased understanding of the diverse communities they serve. There is little doubt that Q Center could benefit from further discussion and/or training about the dynamics of being transgender in a cisgender privileged world and the trans-exclusionary radical feminist politics of hate and intolerance toward transgender women from within and outside of our diverse TLGBQIAP2-SA community.
Respectfully & Hopefully,
TransActive Gender Center
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