This past weekend’s CLPP reproductive justice conference, for me, was by far the hardest, most challenging and most rewarding yet. As I said on the Transfeminisms panel, I am really feeling the pressure of this particular political moment, where the divide between rich and poor in the US is more stark than ever and the group of have nots is growing every day. Nothing much has changed for communities who are seemingly ignored, really targeted for exclusion through deportation, incarceration, and literal death at the hands of state forces. The small pot of resources for marginalized folks continues to shrink, and it was never enough to begin with.
It was clear so many of us at the conference entered the space feeling an intense need for solidarity. The attacks by those in power are overwhelming, and we need each other’s strength to struggle against oppression. I felt the beauty and power of what an intersectional movement can be, where different people and different communities unite, since the specifics of our oppression are diverse but our struggle for liberation is shared.
At the same time, I felt the very real difficulties of working intersectionally. When people and communities with very different life experiences come together, we have a lot of potential to hurt each other. Our different ways of understanding and processing the world and expressing our views can easily clash. There were a number of moments during the conference where one community’s language or approaches to work that were intended to be liberatory experienced push back from other communities who felt these approaches were divisive and exclusionary. I don’t want to get into too many specifics, because I’m feeling the value of person-to-person conversation, that the internet may not be the best place to bring some really hard conversations when it can be so easy to misinterpret and lose sight of good intent. For now I will say attempts to center those marginalized along lines of gender and race sometimes clashed, even when it was clear these were obviously overlapping groups and everyone involved desperately wanted solidarity.
These conflicts are very real and do need to be pushed through so we can move together, and I’m so grateful to have space where people don’t shy away from the painful moments. At the same time, I’m reminded that this is how power functions. It sets up a situation where those at the bottom fight amongst ourselves for the scraps, which protects those at the top from what could be incredible collective power if marginalized folks band together. One clear example to me is government HIV/AIDS funding, which shifts between targeting different populations depending on who’s looking worse through the numbers in a given year – it often jumps between women of color and men of color who have sex with men (and the ways trans folks are or are not included is seriously fucked). A community struggling with not enough funds to fight HIV can suddenly lose those to another community, also in the same situation. This is so clearly designed to make the conflict be between these communities instead of against institutions of power that aren’t directing the necessary resources to ending the AIDS epidemic.
I’m also feeling the hurt that can come with standing in solidarity with another marginalized community, as I watch ableist accusations of mental illness being thrown at Lori on Twitter for standing up as an ally to trans and gender non-conforming folks.
Coming out of the CLPP conference, I’m feeling the need for more spaces for diverse communities to come together, as well as more spaces for specific marginalized communities to talk with our own people without the involvement of outsiders. I’m increasingly believing that our words can only take us so far, that English is an inherently patriarchal language, a language of colonialism and empire, and that it will continue to fail us. And I’m believing we have to push through the hurt of language to find the real intent for love and solidarity behind words that can mean very different things to different people. I’m feeling the need to continue working to include communities who are still not in spaces meant to unite marginalized folks.
And I’m wondering: how do we take all the challenges, all the differences and all the hurt we can do to each other, and channel it in a united struggle for liberation? How do we all take our rage and use it to vision something better, for all of us? Because I know my struggle is tied to your struggle, to the struggle of everyone fighting for justice. I believe we have to face our internal conflicts head on, but with the intent of moving together against institutions that are keeping us all down. I went to the conference to ask for help in the struggle for trans liberation, to advocate for the trans folks who could not be in that space, especially trans women of color who are overwhelmingly targeted for exclusion. Other folks were clearly there to ask for help too. I’m now looking with a very open mind to how we bring these struggles together, how we don’t lose sight of specific differences while also recognizing our shared struggle and our shared need for real, active solidarity.