A greeting, an update, a plug
On knowing and un-knowing, and other frustrations
|Alex Verman||Sep 9, 2019|| 5|
It’s been a while.
First things first, here’s some housekeeping. I decided to migrate this newsletter over to substack rather than tinyletter, largely because it offers better formatting. This shouldn’t impact you in any way, but I wanted to say so all the same. Also, some of you may notice that I’m not on Twitter anymore! My account got suspended after being mass reported by misogynists. I loved being on Twitter and made a lot of really wonderful connections there, so I’m finding the loss to be a lot more disruptive than I’d expected. Why is partially why I want to spend more time and energy on this newsletter — maybe this way, we can keep in touch. If I find a way to remake, you’ll be the first to know.
OK, now onto the good stuff.
In my last letter, I talked about the problem of queer and trans love and life as something imagined without a future, at least not in the traditional sense. This was a theme I’d been working through for a while, partly for intellectual reasons (i.e. related to my academic work), and partly for personal reasons (i.e. a number of my friends and acquaintances have gotten engaged, split up, moved, or moved in together). I had been thinking heavily around the problem of certainty — can we rely upon anything, including ourselves? This question feels particularly relevant in the context of my transition, in which I am literally developing another kind of “self” to live in.
People often write about the trans experience in terms of either certainty or uncertainty, to the point that trans subjectivity may be conceptualized as a form of knowledge. Through the processes of discovery (“I am a woman”), disavowal (“I want to live a different kind of life”), diagnosis (“I have dysphoria”), and disclosure (“I’m trans”), trans life is imbricated through moments of knowing and revelation, which tend to have a productive quality: by knowing, there is also a doing (or, rather, that doing can only take place through knowing). Even to be “out” means, in a practical sense, to be known. Transition is a process of making knowledge, turning the secret suspicion of difference into a realized fact, the embodiment of a body of knowledge. When we are not required to provide an account for ourselves, however, there is also uncertainty: the knowledge that all is not known, and the fear that we may ourselves be wrong. If I was feeling particularly ambitious, I might call that moment of questioning the moment of dysphoria. But I think, perhaps, that impulse stems from the general trend in transgender discourse towards oversignifying every aspect of the trans experience so as to make it fit within a general theory. As I re-enter school this week, I am trying to hold these tensions together: to be open to critical over-interpretation, but also to recognize when it is best to leave well enough alone.
You may have noticed that I don’t have much in the way of reading recommendations for you. I’ve been lax in my readings lately! Summer can do that to you, and I’m still adjusting to newness of fall. In Toronto, when September 1 rolled around, the weather changed with it. Autumn arrived with the immediacy one might expect of a parent’s phone call. Summer doesn’t officially end for another 11 days, and yet, it already feels a week past its funeral. Everything feels so literal lately, you know? Where does the time go?
Actually: I wrote something for Briarpatch this spring that is finally out on newsstands and online. It’s about the pitfalls of the queer non-profit industrial complex — well-worn territory for American readers, perhaps, but an under-investigated subject with respect to the specificities of the Canadian context. I wrote it in a sense of frustration: it feels like we are having the wrong conversations about gentrification and activism, and making the same mistakes over and over. I’m glad it came out now, though, because it feels particularly relevant. Chick-fil-a opened a single franchise in Toronto, and I have heard about it almost endlessly, mostly from white queers who feel (rightfully) bothered by the violently homophobic politics of the chain’s founder. Yet, at the risk of what-about-ism, it’s been deeply disappointing to see the outrage and spectacle around a restaurant when transgender women like Moka Dawkins continue to go without mass support. Moka is a Black trans woman who was attacked by a client several years ago; in the process of defending herself from his attacks, she accidentally injured the man, and he died. Dawkins is now imprisoned in hostile conditions, including facing solitary confinement, with few advocates beyond those in her immediate community of sex working trans women of colour. As petty as it sounds to get frustrated over a Chick-fil-a location, it is only because our calls for #JusticeForMoka have gone largely unheard among the queer mainstream. As I wrote in the Briarpatch article, queer and trans activism “must be radical – defined, as Angela Davis does, in the sense of grasping things at the root; speaking to the source rather than the symptoms. Without this focus, and given their increasing coordination with the state or the private sector, the activism of these organizations will eventually align with the aims and interests of their more privileged members.”
Anyway. I will try to write again soon. There is plenty in the pipeline.