Trans and nonbinary people challenge systems that we consider finite and concrete from the moment they recognize their gender identities, and they usually begin challenging these systems from a very young age. While it’s difficult for cisgender people to imagine a world outside of patriarchy, trans and nonbinary communities already exist in a sphere that constantly challenges and dismantles the gender binary.
When we discuss acts of violence committed against trans and nonbinary people at both state and individual levels, we can often trace the roots of these acts back to this cisgender systemic framework.
The Trump administration was recently blocked from imposing an extremely narrow definition of gender that would erase protections for trans patients and roll back transgender rights across the government. Not long ago, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed allowing homeless shelters to deny trans people on the basis of religious beliefs. Only a few days ago, three trans women were attacked by a group of cisgender men who chased, robbed, and beat them while onlookers laughed and recorded the encounter. The attack was then posted on social media. As is usually the case, all three trans women are people of color.
“Many of us already know that Black Trans women constitute the target of racist violence more consistently than any other community. We are talking about the state’s violence, individual violence, stranger violence, and intimate violence. And so if we want to develop an intersectional perspective, the Trans community is showing us the way. We need to point to cases like Tony McDade. But we need to go beyond that and recognize that we support the Trans community specifically because their community has taught us to challenge that which is accepted as normal.
I don’t think we’d be where we are today, encouraging ever-larger numbers of people to think within an evolutionist training had not the Trans community taught us that it is possible to effectively challenge that which is considered the very foundation of our sense of normalcy. So, if it is possible to challenge the gender binary that we can certainly effectively resist prisons, and jails, and police.”
Radical reimaginings of society, norms and established principles are inherent to the Trans experience. We can observe radical self-respect when we look at the incident at Stonewall Inn in 1969 that ignited the LGBTQ+ liberation movement. We can see radical creativity when we study what happened a decade earlier in Los Angeles, where Black and Brown drag queens performers responded to police brutality by pelting police with all manner of baked goods. They were so formidable that police retreated, and people that had been arrested were able to escape.
We can observe radical persistence when we talk about the ignorance and violence trans, and nonbinary people face, even within their own community. Still, these communities rise to affirm each other every day. This piece asks cis people not to lean on trans and nonbinary communities, but to listen to them and to realize the power and potential of their ideas.
I had the opportunity of speaking with Jesse Juice, a trans man that engages with community history and solutions. I sat down with Juice over zoom to hear his conception of a more just and fair America.
The question I posed was a short but complex one: What would a progressive, more egalitarian world look like to you?
During the call, as he patted a dog whose nose kept creeping onto the screen, he walked me through his radical vision for society and systems in relation to private property, community-based services and the Golden Rule. His insights are profound and interesting, and I found his suggestions actionable and necessary.
There is a lot about this country that I believe can change for the better. But in the interest of concision, I can narrow my thoughts down to three points.
The elimination of private property.
I don’t think that the idea of physical land being held as private ownership is right. When America’s forefathers landed here, they adopted an attitude of, “this land is our land now, and you need to move somewhere else.” They brought with them ideas like Manifest Destiny, which was used to justify the slaughter of millions of Indigenous Americans and unlawfully occupy their land.
These problematic ideals are ingrained into our culture. Whereas once upon a time, there was free movement across America, suddenly, you could expect to encounter a fence, and be told that you were trespassing and that you had no right to traverse through. This is undoubtedly connected to the legal status of Black Americans being property at the time and the labor of our ancestors being exploited for profits and properties we could not gain or enjoy. Much of the time, when lynchings took place, it was because white people felt entitled to any land that Black people had managed to buy or inherit.
Even now, we don’t own as much land or capital as white people. One of the easiest ways to build wealth in this country is through property ownership. But I’m a millennial. How many of us in this generation can afford to buy a house right now? A small minority.
We all live here. We should all be able to have access to the land we live on. Private land and borders are what enabled racist and classist discrimination through county lines, city limits, and redlining, all of which reinforce poverty and racial boundaries.
More Community-Based Services
I believe that we need a system that ensures that the people serving a community are a part of that community. We’d be getting services from people who have a stake in the community, from our neighbors, from people that know us. It makes a huge difference, even in terms of policing.
Here’s an example–I went to visit my partner’s family in the middle of nowhere, miles away from civilization. We were out there enjoying the day, then the dog got out. Unfortunately, the neighbor was drunk, and things escalated, and there was a fight. The police were called, and we were so nervous that there would be an arrest, especially because my partner’s brother has multiple felonies on record. But when the officer came out, he immediately recognized my partner’s brother and called him by name. It turns out they had wrestled against each other back in the day. So, the officer was able to calm the situation down, and everything was fine because he was dealing with an old friend, not someone he viewed as a derelict thug.
How can you effectively protect a community you have no connection to? How can you serve them if you aren’t involved enough in the community to know what they need? I don’t want police answering calls relating to mental health issues or domestic violence. I think that we need better, more personalized services for each community, and these services should be accessible to everyone. I’d like more local people to be elected to office and for more of my neighbors to become public servants. I want to see councils that evaluate the impact of these services are and adjust them as necessary. We need organizations that petition and raise money for community needs, like better access to food and produce as well as access to public transportation.
Public transportation is important as it allows people to easily access other areas. I used to live in Dekalb, Illinois. The area I lived in was a food desert. Unless you lived closer to downtown, it was difficult to gain access to fresh food, good produce, or affordable meats. Because the area didn’t have any transportation, the people on the side of town with less fresh food didn’t have a lot of opportunities to access better grocery stores. This is a common issue in Black communities and neighborhoods. Even in the city, where there is usually public transportation, the availability of certain resources seems to be concentrated in one area. It’s still hard to find quality food.
Now, I live out in the suburbs, and the difference is major. I have a local mom-n-pop shop I like to frequent because I can get extremely cheap, local produce there. The butcher, another mom-n-pop operation, is right next door. I love shopping there and seeing people of all colors coming to those stores because of their affordable prices. They accept food stamps and they have stayed open during the quarantine. These shops that are a part of my community understood our needs and accommodated them as much as they could.
Disrupt the “Golden Rule”
Right now, I think we formally operate under the Golden Rule, which is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. This assumes that the doer already has the empathy that would help them put themselves in someone else’s shoes. It assumes that the doer values their existence enough to believe they should be treated kindly. However, this is not always the case. Some people treat other people badly because they don’t believe that they deserve to be treated with respect. Other people don’t care how they treat others, as long as they get what they want in the end.
Society requires a need-based and ability-based approach; it’s the idea that you are compelled to give to the community as much as you can, and that you should be able to get from the community as much as you need. So for example, I’m looking at possibly being out of work shortly due to a medical condition. I may qualify for short-term disability, and that’s what I’m hoping for. But I might not qualify. It would be wonderful to be able to turn to the community for help (this includes my job, which should also see itself as part of my community) so that my partner doesn’t have to take on all that financial strain while I recover.
It’s incredibly sad that in a country with so much wealth, people lack access to medical care. We have so much money in this country that no one should be homeless. No one should be without medication. Diabetics shouldn’t have to start a GoFundMe to raise money for life-sustaining insulin. All of the money shouldn’t be locked up in the bank accounts of like six people, piling up and gathering dust while their fellow country people starve to death. Some powerful people could change the world if they were willing to let go of their piece, just a little. But they won’t because it’s “theirs”(see point 1). They ignore the fact that they made this wealth off of the backs of the very people they are exploiting, and the very people who are dying. It’s awful, and it’s a uniquely American attitude.
I had the privilege of living in Germany for a year when I was a junior in high school. The German government is based on principles of socialism and therefore operates on and has elements of the Welfare state.
While the taxes are higher, individuals recognize the need to redistribute wealth to avoid the suffering of their neighbors. I was shocked to learn that there is a two-year time limit for unemployment support in Germany. This is much more lenient than the 26 weeks of support you’d get if you lived in a more generous state in America, like New York or Ohio. If you lose your job in Florida or North Carolina, you can only expect the state to help you for 12 weeks. Germans give their residents much more space and time to figure out the next step.
The idea is that you want to work because you want to contribute to society, but you have the space to help in ways that also sustain you, instead of being forced into a job that limits your potential and ability to contribute. It’s a much more patient system. The Germans understand that they live in a more empathetic system than the one operating in America.
I’m trying to adopt this practice. I pay extra taxes because I am able, even though the allocation of taxes itself is corrupt. However, I do so out of principle. My contribution of an extra five or ten dollars in taxes could help a kid get their shots so that they can go to school, or help get food stamps to a family that has mouths to feed. I’m ok with giving more because right now I can. One day, I might not be able to. Having a community that looks out for all of its members ultimately benefits everyone.
The most important of Juice’s ideas, and there are many, is this notion that the highest purpose of any society should be to reduce the suffering of all. In a way, this is our very foundation. Forming a network to ensure that our needs are being met is considered to be one of the main reasons humans survived the neanderthal.
Unfortunately, today, many of us enable systems of oppression and privilege, causing us to lose sight of our neighbors and the larger community. However, this culturally-imposed cage isn’t indestructible. Not everyone has gone blind. Angela Davis can see and is attempting to show us that the very presence of trans and nonbinary people sets a precedent for the kind of resistance that can lead us to freer, healthier, and happier lives, if we are only willing to listen.
In lieu of a personal bio, Juice would like to draw attention to three of his favorite podcasts.
Behind the Police is a miniseries that examines America’s violent history with policing, racism, and suppression of the working class. His podcast goes through the history of policing, going back to the Romans, who used policing to keep slaves in check. The Romans had a structure where they would kill the smartest and most charismatic slaves because they knew those were the ones most likely to cause a revolt. I find this very relevant to the sort of policing that we are seeing right now and in terms of Black Lives Matter.
Behind the Bastards is looking into the personal lives of history’s monsters, shedding new light on their philosophies and impact on the world.
The Women’s War is a podcast miniseries about a female-led autonomous zone on the border of Turkey. This series provides excellent insight into the importance of a broken gender barrier to a society that benefits all.