A few months ago, we spoke with Kira about her journey coming out, and she generously shared with us her life and her dreams. As a Trans* woman who came out and transitioned in adulthood, Kira explores some of the things she went through, and what it meant to come out later in life.
A story of Danny Ramadan, a queer activist from Syria, who has recently made his home in Vancouver, after seeking refuge from imminent persecution. Danny shares with us his new life and home in Vancouver, some challenges integrating into the queer community as a gay Syrian refugee, as well some hopes that he has for the future.
Our newest film is “10,579Km: A Queer Journey from Damascus to Vancouver”- a story of Danny Ramadan, a queer activist from Syria, who has recently made his home in Vancouver, after seeking refuge from imminent persecution. Danny shares with us his new life and home in Vancouver, some challenges integrating into the queer community as a gay Syrian refugee, as well some hopes that he has for the future.
Check out the trailer below. For screening information, please email us! firstname.lastname@example.org
Qmunity – the queer resource centre in Vancouver – has recently launched a queer drop in for refugees and newcomers, called ‘Routes to Roots’. The next drop in is on June 7th at Qmunity. For more info email email@example.com
Our newest Love Intersections collaborator, the amazing Danny Ramadan, shares his experience coming to Vancouver as a queer Syrian refugee, and shares a new program he is spearheading with Qmunity (a queer resource centre in Vancouver), “Routes to Roots” – a drop in for LGBTQ newcomers and refugees.
Imagine yourself as a tree; a beautiful, fully grown, tree that carries delicious fruits and spring flowers unmatchable to any other. Now, imagine a war on trees, those who want to cut that fruitful tree down, to burn it to ashes. Those who want to eradicate trees.
Like the hero of a story, the tree pulled itself out of the ground. It pulled up its own roots in a painful, unimaginable way, and managed to stand tall to escape that hateful land. It went through a lot of hardship, and traveled across many borders, until it finally found green, welcoming soil, and it decided to root itself there.
Like that tree, LGBTQ-identified refugees and newcomers had to uproot themselves from the soil of their home countries, seeking the promise of a bright future, escaping the fire of homophobia, and the axes of transphobia, in search of safety, security, and prosperity here in Canada.
But planting a tree in foreign soil is not easily done.
When I arrived in Vancouver among the very first LGBTQ-identified Syrian refugees, I was hit by a wave of happiness. I knew my future here would be bright, beautiful, and magical. I felt that I had finally found a place where I could be my true self, and represent who I am to the community at large, without fear of persecution, homophobia, or othering.
I didn’t realize, however, how much time and effort it would take for my roots to grow.
Integrating into a new country requires an equal effort from the newcomer themselves, to learn the traditions and the ways of the new culture, as well as the local community to welcome these newcomers and refugees, and support them as they go through this mesmerizing, yet challenging, transformation.
Building those roots and integrating into the Canadian community is a unique challenge for queer and trans refugees. While other refugees can rely on the local community native to their country of origin; LGBTQ-identified refugees and newcomers moved to escape that exact community back home, running away from homophobia and transphobia, and seeking freedom in Canada.
Queer and trans newcomers and refugees come across challenges in finding solace engaging with their heterosexual compatriots in diaspora.
With this unique experience in our hands here at QMUNITY, we understood a distinctive need in this new and growing community: the need to integrate in an authentic and supportive environment.
That’s why QMUNITY is running its latest project: Routes to Roots!
Routes to Roots (R2R) is a drop-in group for queer and trans identified folks, from both the newcomer and refugee communities, as well as the local community.
The drop-in will act as a social hub to form a connection between those communities. It will include social games, hangouts, events, and fun nights together to create meaningful friendships within the local LGBTQ community, and the newcomers and refugees community. The hope is that we will be able to help the newcomers and refugees feel that sense of belonging that many of them need so desperately.
We aspire to have each drop-in facilitated in two languages: English and another language.
Our Kick-Off meeting is Thursday, the 5th of May, 2016 from 6 pm to 9 pm. We will be meeting in QMUNITY’s main office (1170 Bute Street). This drop-in is unique, as it will have a space for the newcomer and refugee folks to let us know what kind of social activities they would like to see. We hope that through this drop-in, we will be able to focus our services to provide solutions reflecting the challenges faced by this community.
During this month’s drop-in, facilitated in both English and Arabic, we will be collaging, playing social games, and getting to know each other for three hours. The space is located on the second level of the building, and attendees should be aware that there is a flight of 23 stairs to reach the office.
Depending on the season, we hope to provide a variety of activities: in summer time, we may go biking, hiking, or go to the beach together; in the winter season, we may go to the Aquarium, or to the Vancouver Public Library.
The program will also provide a unique opportunity for the local community of queer and trans people of colour, as it will be a meaningful space for them to integrate with the newcomers and refugees, and connect with them on matters of race, sexuality, and being settlers in the land of Canada.
Integration into a new community is hard, like planting a tree in foreign soil; I know that first hand. But here at QMUNITY, we hope that we will be able to provide a nourishing ground for these fruitful trees to grow and flourish.
Do you have questions? Get in touch with Danny and he will be here to answer them all: firstname.lastname@example.org
hope we can realize that behind Pink Shirt Day is a very simple and raw act of kindness. Extend your heart, show compassion, and empathy, just like we do on Pink Shirt Day, and in this simple process I believe various forms of oppression can be alleviated. Initiatives to end bullying will require dismantling systemic forms of oppression, but first, love is required, and that love starts with the love you hold in your heart.
Two years ago I partook in the celebration of Canada’s national anti-bullying day as I slipped over my pink shirt and zealously celebrated all-things pink. I was in grade 12 and took pride in mobilizing my high school’s pink-shirt day with what I thought was a tangible solution to the complexity of bullying.
At my school, we had every student, teacher, and custodian’s name posted in the front hall in the form of miniature paper pink shirts, creating a hall flooded with the colour pink.
Yet today I look back at myself and wonder if pink-shirt day really made a difference.
Pink-shirt day originated in Nova Scotia when a gay high school teen was bullied because he wore the colour pink to school. In response, his friends encouraged their friends to all wear pink the following day in an act of solidarity, through protesting bullying.
What happened in Nova Scotia is a prime example of what happens on a day-to-day basis in schools – the targeting of boys who transgress hegemonic masculinity. This is rooted in homophobia and misogyny.
One of the things that I reflect upon is whether or not through anti-bullying day we actually challenge these systems of hegemonic masculinity and misogyny, which cause people harm. Yes, it’s great to blatantly frown upon “bullying” – but how do we actually address the systemic issues that underpin bullying? Are we actually engaging our communities to find solutions against the harms caused by misogyny, homophobia, and femmephobia; why is it that every over day of the year it is still awkward for a guy to wear the colour pink? How can we find ways to challenge the continuous persistence of masculinity by critiquing the social disapproval towards deviances from gender norms?
As students and adults embrace anti-bullying day by wearing pink shirts, going on marches on the street, and preaching the rhetoric of kindness and respect, I am concerned that this movement against bullying will become a façade – which we advocate against “oppression” (in the form of bullying) for one day – yet we will overlook the systemic impacts of how oppression actually operationalizes. I am concerned that when students (like myself) wear pink shirts, they go home and give themselves a feel-good pat-on-the back for challenging bullying, but forget where bullying stems from.
We cannot forget that bullying is a systemic issue; not all students (and adults) are equally susceptible to being bullied, bullying targets those who are socially on the margins. Issues of race should be talked about, issues of cultural and ethnic differences, body shapes, fatness, homophobia, transphobia, gender variances, the way certain people smell, the way certain people dress, the way people talk, the lisps certain people have, the eye twitch that one girl has, the way one walks, and the list goes on, are all things people can be bullied for. This is what anti-bullying day really should be about: yes, wearing pink shirts, but also organizing and finding strategies to combat the root causes of bullying and oppression.
When we wear a pink shirt, we should be willing to address issues of racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, mental health, religious differences, and body image among the variety of reasons why people are bullied. Otherwise, when we wear a pink shirt to preach anti-bullying and stop there, we are in fact perpetuating bullying by saying we refuse to take further action in dismantling systemic discrimination. Bullying is in fact perpetuated because we convince ourselves we are addressing the issues of bullying, but we are merely masking our own insecurities to take action and speak out against various forms of discrimination ranging from transphobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, fatphobia, colonialism and classism.
By merely wearing a pink-shirt and convincing yourself that you are not a bully is a myopic measure that silences the reality of bullying on a larger scale. Simply wearing pink carries symbolic power, it visually creates an image of solidarity, but solidarity can be expressed by showing compassion and taking action to fight systemic forms of oppression, too.
We recognize the unacceptable acts of physical aggression and blatant name-calling, which often come to define bullying, but we are gradually becoming numb to the ways that produce bullying in the act of speaking against it.
Pink Shirt Day reminds me of the challenges I face in my journey, as someone who strives to organize against oppression and bullying. There is something liberating about getting excited to mobilize change when your friends, teachers, and co-workers all wear pink (I remember this good feeling), yet I am reminded that for the other 364 days we must not let various forms of oppression go unchecked. Simply, I hope to find ways to take the fun and love of Pink Shirt Day and use that energy to move one step further to build long term goals and cohesive communities that challenge oppression.
I hope we can realize that behind Pink Shirt Day is a very simple and raw act of kindness. Extend your heart, show compassion, and empathy, just like we do on Pink Shirt Day, and in this simple process I believe various forms of oppression can be alleviated. Initiatives to end bullying will require dismantling systemic forms of oppression, but first, love is required, and that love starts with the love you hold in your heart.
In October 2011, at 28 years old, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder type 1. For me, for my life, this label has been extremely useful and in some ways, I grieve for the years of my life I spent living without it. I know several people with the same diagnosis who had severe episodes earlier in life, during their teenage years and so were diagnosed earlier. I somewhat envy these people. That they were prepared for an adulthood living with mental illness. That they were aware earlier and were treated earlier – even if their subsequent recurrences of their illness were as severe and as debilitating.
But, my story conforms in many regards to the narrative of Bipolar diagnoses. The most common bipolar diagnoses are given to women in their 30s, after a significant manic or depressive episode. And that’s how it happened for me. Between 2010-2011, I hurtled between, hypomania, depression, mixed episodes, a few weeks of clarity here and there, and finally, this culminated into what I believe to be my first true manic episode that lasted around 5 weeks. It was exhilarating and terrifying. I had delusions and breaks from reality. It was wonderful to feel powerful and frustrating to feel completely unable to wield it. In a break that lasted a day or two, I called the university clinic for a Mental health assessment. An hour with the psychiatrist would reveal that I had all the classic symptoms of the illness, without question. However, the doctor offered me this, “The diagnosis and label of Bipolar Disorder is only useful if it is useful to you. It is up to you whether you want to identify with it.” Indeed.
As I started counselling and psychiatric therapy, I quickly began to research and read everything I could find about the disorder. I took every personality test. I made my partner my editor to ensure I was unbiased in my answers – keep in mind I was in the middle of a Master degree and so very much attached to peer-reviewed papers and qualitative evidence. On one hand, it was uncanny, to read my “personality” in a book. It was a revelation. It was an explanation. It gave me some sort of reason for some of the things I had done, some of the feelings I had felt and some of the confusion I had lived with for years. On the other hand, I couldn’t believe how I had been living with this illness for what seemed to be my entire life, without anyone ever noticing. Did I hide it that well?
When I look through my past, I can see the echoes and shadows of bipolar disorder. As a queer person, I have been marked and scrutinized and othered. As a queer femme, my perspective as an outlier in the queer community has made me negotiate and re-negotiate my identity and what space I feel I am entitled to and welcomed into. My illness has complicated and changed my perspective on my queer identity in many way – silence about my illness and its affects, isolation through periods of depression, and the repression of the many sexual encounters that have confounded my gender and sexual identity.
As a queer femme, sometimes all you have as proof is your history of queer sexuality. All the womyn you’ve fucked, or who’ve fucked you. Sometimes I feel there is a calculation or formula about it. When did you come out? Are you active in the queer community? Are you a top or a bottom? If you’ve fucked men, how many and under what circumstances. The last question is one I have trouble answering. How many men have I fucked? What do you consider fucking? It’s in the double digits. Not quite in balance with the womyn with whom I’ve shared a bed, or a bathroom stall. Under what circumstances – rebellious teen, sexually abused girlfriend, drunken mistake, roofied at a bar, cherished friendship turned loving and sexual, for shits and giggles. The one circumstance that has *almost* remained constant has been mania or hypomania if we’re being specific. My special blend of mania is extremely hypersexual, with no inhibitions or impulse control. I’ve often explained it as “pushing the envelope”. There was a certain pattern – I’d dress provocatively, catch some random guy’s attention and off we’d go. I don’t really remember much else – my ego took over from there. I don’t know if I had a good time, but afterwards, I’d often feel pretty confused. I knew I loved women, that I loved the curves of their bodies and felt such fulfillment in our encounters. I never identified as straight or bi. Mostly I identified as a lesbian – with bad habits. Those experiences pretty much barred me from the LGBTQ community. I don’t think I passed anyway.
How do I explain or reconcile my sexual history with my queer identity, with my femme gender and my illness? Do I have to? Does it matter? Are other queer people entitled to my history and what it means to me, what it has meant to my own concept of identity? I was diagnosed at 28 years old, after a lifetime of mood swings, of personality changes, of unbridled ego, of devastating lows. In every way, I was fractured and broken. I like to describe depression as the thing that destroys you. Mania is the thing that destroys everything you love. Though the reverse is also true. In the past 4 years since my diagnosis, I have been putting myself together – for the first time discovering the characteristics, values, thoughts that make me truly me. I have clung to my queer identity and femme gender as buoys in a deep and stormy sea of change. It turns out that queerness and mental illness aren’t very different in the end. I have been marked, identified, seen, ignored, othered by both. I’m not sure which prepared me for the other, or if I was ever prepared for either at all, but at this moment, in this time and place, I am finally ready to reclaim who I am, in every complexity.
Posted with permission from the author, Connie L.
It may be hard to admit for some, but I believe that had “Mohammed Sharaz” been “Matthew Smith,” it would have not peaked the VPD’s interest and the media would have sensationalized it as they did. Many people have said that this incident should be blamed on the media and not the authorities as the authorities were simply making sure “people were safe,” but they are missing the point in how the authorities felt the safety of shoppers was at risk in the first place. This racialization of suspicion is not something that is new- nor is this an isolated incident- and as a brown Sikh man with a beard and a turban, I know that all too well.
By Manveer Singh
Pacific Centre Fiasco
This past Friday- January 15, 2016- an article posted by a popular Vancouver-based social media outlet went viral in local and national spheres on the internet. The piece featured images that had been leaked from the Vancouver Police Department of three men that had been deemed “suspicious.” The title of the article (which has since been changed) sparked a reaction that is all too familiar in today’s post-9-11 society: “Vancouver Police searching for 3 Middle Eastern men videotaping Pacific Centre Mall.”
People immediately began jumping to conclusions about the probability of another terrorist attack in North America, and several other news articles shared the news and added to the frenzied fear-mongering. However, as we all know, the three men in question ended up being innocent after all, and an article released later on Friday night explained the not-so-sinister motives of the group.
The frenzy has since died down, and the rash Facebook posts made by people have been deleted, but this event has opened up a “Pandora’s box” of issues that Vancouver, and Canada at large, has often denied or has avoided addressing. Racism is a problem that is thought to have been long gone, but that is unfortunately a myth. When racist events occur, the public reacts as if this is something out of the ordinary, and as Manisha Krishnan outlines in an article from Vice, the way these events are addressed never acknowledge the systemic racism that has always been in place.
However, people of colour across North America know too well that these occurrences are simply and physical manifestation of the underhanded discrimination that occurs daily. While Friday’s incident was not violent like the pepper spraying of Syrian refugees on the evening of January 8th was, the incident brought attention to something that is a daily occurrence, is very vicious, and enables attacks like the one we saw on Syrian refugees- microaggressions.
The Racialization of Suspicion
In a manual from the University of California’s Office of the President (UCOP), microaggressions are defined as “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
Whether we like to admit it or not, these snubs are very much a part of the Vancouver landscape, one only needs to ask around to see how these racist undertones thrive as we continue to ignore them. It’s these microaggressions that set the stage for what Mohammed Sharaz and his two companions went through on Friday. It’s these microaggressions that painted a group of visually-impaired men, who were snapping pictures of landmarks in order to make it easier to find their way around Pacific Centre, as “suspicious.” It may be hard to admit for some, but I believe that had “Mohammed Sharaz” been “Matthew Smith,” it would have not peaked the VPD’s interest and the media would have sensationalized it as they did. Many people have said that this incident should be blamed on the media and not the authorities as the authorities were simply making sure “people were safe,” but they are missing the point in how the authorities felt the safety of shoppers was at risk in the first place. This racialization of suspicion is not something that is new- nor is this an isolated incident- and as a brown Sikh man with a beard and a turban, I know that all too well.
I became observant in my faith a few years ago, and I began keeping my beard, let my hair grow out, started wearing a turban, and became an Amritdhari- “baptised,” or “initiated”- Sikh. While this transformation changed the way I viewed my life and the way I viewed the world, it also changed the way that the world viewed me. The first thing I noticed was how I was getting “randomly” selected for checking more while crossing the border to meet family, or while flying. While on the Skytrain, I have seen this racialization of suspicion manifest, as people shift uneasily when I walk onto the train, or when the seat beside me is often left unoccupied, despite the fact that the everyone in the train is packed in like sardines and people are left standing and struggling to keep their balance. An acquaintance I knew from my clean-shaven days in high school once asked my cousin why I have “gone Al-Qaeda,” and once an elderly woman on the bus told me that it wasn’t good to keep my people, as “my people” had beheaded James Foley in Raqqah.
The stories go on and on. In Ontario, two day after the horrific attacks that took place in Paris, a couple erected a sign asking Muslims if they were “sorry for the slaughter of innocent people by [those] whom represent your religious beliefs.” In December, Valerie Kaur, a renowned activist in the Sikh community, was asked to present her breast pump to be searched “to prove she was not a terrorist” by passengers and staff on a flight home to Los Angeles. While Brazilian-American comedians Nick Giassi and Jobson Chaves were filming a video in Florida, a woman drove by and began yelling racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic obscenities at them. Lastly, this past September, Ahmed Mohamed, a Muslim high schooler from Irving, Texas, was arrested for suspicion that the homemade clock he brought to school was a bomb, and a month ago Armaan Singh Sarai, a Sikh high schooler from Arlington, Texas, was arrested and forced to remain in a juvenile detention for three days after a bully made a false accusation that Armaan had a bomb in his backpack.
It is quite interesting to see how there is a pattern of brown, black, Muslim, and perceived-to-be-Muslim people have been continually marginalized in the name of security and safety. Therefore, it can be seen how dangerous these microaggressions truly are, as they aren’t mere opinions, but rather they provide the platform for racial profiling- despite the fact that authorities constantly deny that it takes place. However, while authorities keep doing what they do, it is the everyday public that has the most impact on how microaggressions affect people of colour. Thus, it is imperative that the information the public receives is not sensationalized or used to trigger the witch-hunt syndrome we all saw Friday night.
Seeing the bigger picture…
While it is questionable why the VPD found the three men suspicious- and we should be critical of the methods the police have used to identify a possible threat- the social media outlet that leaked the information is also to blame. The chief editor of said-outlet refused to acknowledge what they did as fear-mongering and claimed that they simply believed that the public should know what was going on. That would be absolutely believable, but their choice of language and the way in which they used by-lines which blatantly grabbed people’s attention, while feeding into existing microaggressions that paint brown men as suspicious, only fueled the fire of fear-mongering that we see plaguing North America.
What happened on Friday has gone by, and I am sure we all know what we can learn from this now- how dangerous microaggressions are, particularly the racialization of suspicion. However, there are things that you can do today to ensure that this does not occur again:
- Hold media sources accountable for delivering unbiased information without sensationalization, or the use of microaggressions.
- Be critical of methods used by politicians and authorities to determine or deal with a threat, be it Harper’s Bill C-51, or the use of racial profiling in the police.
- If you shared the original articles online, make sure you take them down, and tag every person who liked or commented your post and let them know what had actually happened.
- Don’t be a bystander! Way too often we hear people making off-handed comments and we let it slide, but don’t do that! Address the issue if you feel safe, or offer your help to someone who just faced that awful treatment.
- Learn to unlearn racist behaviours. We all say or do things that can be oppressive, and many times we have no idea we are doing anything! Be mindful, and try to catch yourself when you clutch your purse when a black or brown man walks by, or ask yourself why you shift uncomfortably when you see a man with a turban or a woman in hijab.
It was awful what happened to our new neighbours from Syria, and it is sad to see how three men who were visiting Unceded Coast Salish Territories were given such a rude welcome, but it is important to not see these as two isolated events and two address the underlying issue. “This is not Canada” does not do justice to the microaggressions that have been festering in our communities for years. We must be introspective and realize how the institutionalized racism in our combined thoughts and actions, and the lack of acknowledgment thereof, has enabled these events to happen. People of colour often feel muzzled from voicing their concerns, as people use the existence of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to refute lived experiences that many of us face. However, that must stop. The only way we can truly move on and solve this problem is if we allow people to be heard, and acknowledge the problem exists in the first place.
In these first few weeks of January, my faith community worldwide observes Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Gurpurab — the anniversary of the incarnation of the tenth Sikh Guru — and during these days we reflect on Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s teachings. In one of his writings, Guru Ji addresses us and says, “Maanas Ki Jaat Sabhai Ekai Pehchaanbo,” which translated to “Recognize the human race as one.” I believe that this line immortalized in Guru Ji’s works can teach us a great deal of how we can move on, and I pray that we contemplate, live, and breathe these words so that we may see a more equitable society.
Sometimes it can feel like our society is defined by our differences rather than our common values that bind us.
We can change that by connecting people to diverse stories of love – the stories of all of us.
We all know love has the power to transcend borders.
We’re a small team of dedicated volunteers and we just launched a powerful multimedia public awareness campaign to bring our stories to life — To amplify the good in all of us and heal the divide.
Our public awareness campaign will reach tens of thousands of people but we need your help.
For every visibility poster we are connecting you to diverse stories of love in 30+ languages across the world. We have already made 15 posters, 3 videos, and 3 film festival screenings. This visibility campaign is going viral!
It’s now time to help us expand our reach and share more diverse stories of love all around the world.
By supporting our visibility campaign, you are enabling us to create 30 more visibility posters with the potential to reach tens of thousands of people around the world. BOOM!
These posters are part of something huge – A powerful multi-media campaign including powerful videos and film festivals screenings!
Please support our #LoveIsColourful Campaign so that we can continue this public awareness campaign next year!
Talking to my friend and working with him to find ways to navigate the education system has been extremely frustrating, as I am learning that for someone like my friend who has multiple disabilities, there are an insurmountable number of barriers that he faces to receive even the remoteness level of equal opportunity that I received when I attended post secondary.
Co-written by Weldon Haywood
I recently started tutoring a friend of mine, who has some learning disabilities. In preparing for a workshop on Accessibility for Disability Awareness Week at Simon Fraser University (SFU), I’ve been reflecting on my journey for someone like myself, who has the privilege of navigating the world, as an able bodied person in an ableist world, with enough resources to have mental health supports.
Talking to my friend and working with him to find ways to navigate the education system has been extremely frustrating, as I am learning that for someone like my friend who has multiple disabilities, there are an insurmountable number of barriers that he faces to receive even the remoteness level of equal opportunity that I received when I attended post secondary.
It has really made me reflect on my own experience attending Simon Fraser University (where my friend is now attending) – and how easy it is to take for granted the luxury of being closer to “the norm”, and how in our ableist and able-body-centred society, it makes life incredibly easy for someone like me, and really difficult for others, like my friend.
Things like taking notes in class – which in my ableist ignorance seems “normal”, and “a given”…I don’t even think twice about taking notes in class, is on the other hand a huge feat for someone like my friend, who has to navigate the services and accommodations that are provided by the school. Without a note taker note taking could take him several hours a day (which takes away time from studying, writing papers, etc), which severely impacts his learning experience. Whereas for someone like myself it’s not something I even think twice about.
In preparing for a workshop that I am working on with my friend on Disability Justice and Accessibility, called (What Does Accessibility Look Like? ) that is focused on the education system partially in the classroom structure. I’ve really begun to think about the ways that we can be transforming the communities we live in, so that we can begin to operate on the notion of “assumed differences”.
Norms are really dangerous.
As queer people, we know that the “norm” of “heterosexuality” and the “norm” of the gender binary “male vs. female” has been dangerous, and often even violent, to our communities. As a queer, feminist, person of colour, and having been involved with organizing against the norm of patriarchal male privilege, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, white supremacy/white privilege – I wonder how much of my own involvement in movement building has actually integrated the importance of extending that notion of including differences of our abilities/disabilities? My friend has really enlightened me on the importance of Disability Justice within our movements in creating social change and what it looks like to be an ally to people with disabilities.
One of the things that I’ve been also thinking about through my recent engagements on this topic,is that there is a difference between a rights based, civil liberties based, movement – where rights are granted to you. This idea that disabled people “should be granted the same rights” as everyone else.
Is that good enough?
Disability Justice offers us a different, more integrated approach – that it’s not about disabled people being granted the same rights as us, it’s the transformation of communities, institution, and systems, that needs to happen so that we create a society that fundamentally appreciates differences. As my friend had expressed to me ‘equallness’ does not mean sameness, since we all learn differently it means providing creative solutions that takes into account different ways students learn, for example having other alternatives to exams, which in the end gives equal opportunity for success for individuals like my friend. What I have also learned from my friend is that we need to challenge what inclusion looks like, so that people with learning differences like him do not need to self advocate and approach teachers for alternative learning methods – the alternative learning methods should have already been in place, not as an afterthought.
Afterall, let’s not forget that the idea that making the effort to make something accessible is helping a “minority population” – is a complete myth. We are not all going to be able bodied for our whole lives, we are all – yes, that’s all of us – temporarily able bodied.
Working towards transforming communities to incorporate a Disability Justice discourse should be part and parcel of the work that we do as activists…and it’s something that I will continue to work on.
Nomonde and I had conversation about sexual currency, “attractiveness”, race, and body politics
…and we filmed it for Love Intersections! 🙂
“Sexual Currency is not something you choose, you are assigned it – but I think it’s something that, I think it’s important to emphasize, that you can reject. You don’t have to accept the way people see you or view you, you don’t have to accept the way people think about whether you are attractive or beautiful. That is something you choose. And the only way I think you survive this world? Is by deciding what your own sexual currency is going to be.”
The ability to access spaces – and the ability to then exist in those spaces in an entirely natural and joyful way, to fully participate in those spaces – has often been a privilege I have had to do battle for.
David and Nomonde recently travelled to Bali, and reflected together on some experiences travelling as racialized bodies
David: Nomonde is one of my dearest friends in the world – since we met in 2010 while we were both studying at the University of Cape Town, we have become very close friends. Mondes is now living in Pretoria, and I’m back home in Vancouver, but every year or so, we make an effort to meet somewhere “half way” in the world to hang out, and travel together.
We recently visited Bali, Indonesia together, and something that we’ve had to talk about seriously – though we do (nervously) joke about – is that when we pick places to travel, we literally have to consider the likelihood of one of us getting lynched or gay bashed.
The reality is, that when me and Nomonde are together – whether it be in New York, Johannesburg, or Bali – we stand out, and often makes many situations unsafe. The negative attention that we receive ranges from awkward, judgmental stares, to literal public mockery (pointing and laughing).
I’ve also recognized that in many cases, especially when I’m with Nomonde, I have the ability to pass more than she does. My body, my skin, my accent, breeds a reaction sometimes, and while we have shared difficult traveling situations, I also recognize the differences in the challenges that both of us face.
When we are together, for example, people usually speak directly to me only – not to her. Servers will always hand me the bill, and not to Nomonde.
Luckily for us, we always manage to navigate these situations with humour…especially when people ask us if we are on our honeymoon! 🙂
Nomonde: The ability to access spaces – and the ability to then exist in those spaces in an entirely natural and joyful way, to fully participate in those spaces – has often been a privilege I have had to do battle for. Because of racial history, my class, education, the kind of work I do – many of the spaces I move in are very white spaces and I have often had to navigate those spaces with extreme caution. My fat black body is perceived as threatening by many white people. When I laugh, or talk, I’m told I’m fighting. When I express myself passionately with gestures, wide eyes and sincerity I am perceived to be angry. Perpetually angry. Eternally threatening. A big, fat, black freak in delicate white, light spaces.
Travelling with David, who I adore, and not just because he always makes me feel so safe, has only confirmed and re-emphasised how difficult it can be for non-white bodies to access spaces of leisure. From sitting in a restaurant in New York and being ignored for a solid 45 minutes until David sat down and a waiter arrived at our side seconds later, to wandering a night market in Bali (which shall henceforth be known as the Night-market of Horror) and being laughed, harassed and jeered at while just desperately clinging to some form of dignity, to the reminder that yes I am a person and I do not deserve to be treated this way. To having those spaces turn threatening and dangerous, which I have never experienced with David, not yet anyway. At home in South Africa while at concerts, restaurants and clubs with other black women I have often been physically threatened and attacked by white men ‘defending’ their girlfriends from the existence of fat black womanhood in spaces they perceive as just their own. I have been spat at, stoned, shoved and punched right in my own back yard because I am a black body ‘trespassing’ where I do not belong and so when it comes to venturing to new shores, particularly knowing and acknowledging that David and I are both highly visible as individuals and even more so as a pair, I do intense research about black and poc experiences of the places we are visiting.
We had a very interesting, and amusing, conversation in Bali after our surreal and ugly experience at the Night-market of Horror, about how white travellers often boast about ‘getting to know the locals’ and ‘avoiding the touristy areas.’ While for black and other poc moving in those ‘authentic’ spaces can very often spell extreme humiliation, if not actual physical danger, and those are simply not conversations that I hear when black women particularly speak of travelling and exploration.
I desperately want to end this on a positive note because travelling has been overwhelmingly positive for me. I am beyond privileged to have the money to see the world, to have had the education and access I have had when the majority of women who look like me and come from where I come from struggle daily for the bare minimum of life and I acknowledge that fact with immense gratitude and humility. I suppose I just want us all to remember that there are many ways to kill a person. Always remember the power and the joy that can come from genuinely seeing each other.