On #RapeAtAzania, barebreasted disruptions, and the invisibility of trans bodies…
*Trigger warning: rape; trans-antagonism
On the early morning, 16th of November, a comrade and friend was raped at Azania (formerly part of Avenue house). The next day, at a #FeesMustFall and #EndOutsourcing plenary there, as a code of conduct was discussed to stem hyper- and violent masculinities in the space and never see this happen again, 6 cis and trans woman and a non-binary trans person stripped bare-breasted in protest as a man dared say “that women should watch their dress code” and that the “space should be safe for men as well”. Then the next day, I woke up to social media praising the “women” who stood up so bravely…
As someone who has engaged in feminist spaces as a trans woman, I know that “women” just means “cisgender women”; the language is always clear, without specifically stating trans inclusion, people simply forget that trans women even exist and are as real a woman as cis women. Furthermore, my brave friend, a non-binary person who is neither woman nor man, when will they be even acknowledged to exist? And let me be clear on one thing: when I stripped down I did not do it just as a woman, but in the full understanding that as a trans woman the issue of rape culture places my bodies at equal (if not more) risk as any cisgender woman. When six of us, four cisgender women, a trans woman, and a non binary trans person, did what we did, all six of us knew that this isn’t just about cisgender women. The attitudes that were expressed that plenary were damaging because it enforced a cisgender heternormative attitude towards “women”; it is exactly this that perpetuates rape culture. We disrupted a show of hyper heteronormative masculinity that was sweet-talking rape culture…
And when the men in the plenary started to disburse, since the chaos of moment had perhaps given the impression that the plenary wouldn’t continue, I took a chair… planted it in the middle of the circle… stood on top of it and shouted at them to get back, sit down, listen and pay attention. At that moment, I stood as a trans woman, barebreasted in full view on a chair, and refused to be dismissed…
When social media praised the “women” who did this, I thought of myself and the non-binary person who had stood there, with our bodies to which we have relationship that is so much more complicated; we still stood there as trans people. When I read “women”, without an inkling of clarification that this weren’t just six cisgender women, I knew down to the bone that nobody would know or care for the two trans people who stood there. Years of trans-antagonism and invisibility from movements spurred my desire to correct this on Facebook and Twitter; again, I refused to be dismissed… And so I did: I posted a status, posted tweets, and I went around to the statuses commenting on the need to acknowledge trans bodies in that moment… Quite a few corrected their posts, or acknowledged the point I was making… yet one of the attitudes from a Black cisgender woman was this:
When a woman of colour misses the point of intersectionality to this extent (imagine the point being somewhere around Cape Town, then her rhetoric is waiting in line to board the upcoming Mars mission to find the point there), I simply lose hope… Because, this isn’t just about a single instance of a trans woman and non-binary person being “forgotten”, or maybe better said is: conveniently invisible in the narrative, this is about more than that…
I’m not going to go in-depth into what her response was, a simply summary is this: “how dare you claim credit for something you did explicitly as a trans woman” and “trans people and non-binary persons aren’t affected by rape culture, shut up and just be good allies like men and white people”. Now if you think that her response is in any way valid, instead of reading further or commenting, please spend some time thinking on the amount of fucks I give about your opinion:
“Other trans people needed to be there first…”
The same day as I am trying to explain this to a cisgender woman online, a plenary to finalise a code of conduct became one of the biggest disappointments. For some reason, the opposition and questions regarding the code of conduct that was raised all came from cisgender men, and it became tiring, but what formed the core of my “disappointment”, was being dismissed as a trans person by a cisgender woman. Being one of the few trans people still consistently going to plenary, a cisgender woman said that “other trans people needed to be there first”; this after she had been corrected after stating that there “are no trans people here” in plenary. And this is infuriating… because trans people have been part of these spaces, these movements, since the beginning; the movements who came together to shut down UCT included the UCT Trans Collective.
An assumption at any point that “there are no trans people in the room” because one doesn’t see the few that one personally knows, is problematic. Essentially, who I was, was being dismissed because of what? Because “other trans people aren’t there?”
A cis woman dismissing a trans person like this is messed up. The dismissal of even one trans person, for whatever reason, will only create a space where at some point there will be no trans people in the spaces. Over the weeks, the number of trans people who actively attended these meetings dropped, and never was the reason so visible as that moment.
Conversations keep enforcing gender binaries, language has not changed; yet even in calling-out patriarchy we fail to be inclusive and intersectional. Not even when trans people have raised the constant reiteration of attitudes and language that is inherently exclusive, has anything changed.
As #RapeAtAzania happened, finally some urgency is being given to gender based violence within movements such as #FeesMustFall and #EndOutsourcing… Yet, this is not enough… We cannot only hold cisgender hetero men to account, when we fail to address all the other intersections of our so-called “intersectional” movement… When I called out what happened, the response from this cisgender woman was a flashback to the “I’m sorry, but but but” that I have heard cis men give when called out for their patriarchy.
So… What’s good?!
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