captive genders

Cece McDonald and Chelsea Manning talk prisons & trans liberation in “Captive Genders

The second edition of Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex was released last month. You should take a look. 

Along with all the brilliance of the first edition, this edition includes a foreword by abolitionist CeCe McDonald, which explores the importance radical books like Captive Genders played for her during her incarceration, a chapter by Chelsea Manning linking the military to the prison system, and a good deal more.

For those of you like me who haven’t been able to get a hold of a copy just yet, Gabriel Arkles has a wonderful interview over at Truthout with Eric Stanley, one of the book’s editors. Their Q&A discusses issues — like visibility, relationships between anti-violence movements, organizing challenges, and how to move forward — that are relevant to much of our organizing work:

Media attention to trans prison issues has surged in the last few years. What opportunities and dangers do you see in this heightened visibility, and how does Captive Genders fit into the mix?

Eric Stanley: Like many of us, I feel deeply ambivalent about the current moment of hyper visibility. It seems we too often forget that the mainstream media is foundationally anti-Black and transphobic, so its ends can never be anything but that. However, even within these structures, sometimes moments of possibility emerge. The question then, is how might we siphon off some of this attention and the resources it produces and redirect them toward a radical politic. We hope that Captive Genders, along with other accomplices, can hijack our current moment of hyper visibility and the impending turn toward trans liberalism and open paths toward a fabulously collective and liberatory future.

[...] In the acknowledgments, you mention that despite a lot of careful work, some “important ideas and voices” are still missing from Captive Genders. What challenges did you encounter in putting together this anthology?

We have always understood Captive Genders as one moment in a long genealogy of anti-prison work. Or, we wanted to acknowledge how it would (like all our work) be an incomplete project. That said, we sent probably 400 calls for writing inside through the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and Critical Resistance. And we ended up publishing all the pieces we got from folks on the inside. We would have loved to include even more work from currently incarcerated people. We got a number of letters in response that talked about how they wanted to contribute but feared they would be punished by the prisons if their work, even if written anonymously, was discovered. This is one of the material realties of writing about prisons from inside them.

We also wanted to open up the category “most impacted.” While we wanted to continue to center people currently inside, we also wanted to include under that banner sex workers who might be arrested and released many times a month. While they might not spend long stretches of time inside, their daily life is mitigated through the prison industrial complex. Along with this expanded understanding, we wanted to include people living in deeply institutionalized spaces, like Ralowe Ampu’s piece about the SRO (single resident occupancy) hotel she lives in.

The stories in this volume “brim with anger, grief, hope, humor and daring,” and — as Stanley elaborates in this interview — brilliantly push abolitionist politics to tackle disability justice, settler colonialism, and the military industrial complex. Captive Genders and Stanley’s interview not only are a poignant reminder that any movement for liberation must include all movements for human liberation in order to be just and effective, but lay out the groundwork for how to do so. Read the rest of the interview here and order a copy of the second edition here.

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

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