Published on November 19th, 2012 | by Wild Gender0
Why So Much Violence? Capitalism, Colonialism, and Being Trans
Why we’re broke, Occupy sex, autonomy, and the underground economy
“Why are we so broke and why is there so much violence?” This is the main question I see trans communities asking if not in so many words. This article is framed within the post-capitalist (and global capitalism) and anti colonialist (decolonization) movements in order to find backbone of solidarity and a places for people concerned to see living examples around them. Global capitalism and colonialism are inherently structural projects of violence against the many to protect the few. Colonialism targets those that are “different” or “othered”. Capitalism targets those that don’t have enough access (classism) to be successfully exploited and supports anyone who exploits each other. Capitalism and colonialism enmesh in specific and general ways that exacerbate existing problems within these systems in the lives and experiences of trans women. Movements beyond these systems are happening now and affect not just trans people and trans women in particular, they also affect everyone. Transwomen represent a particularly vulnerable minority that can, if you pay attention, help to show the ways our struggles are connected. Nearly everyone is exploited by capitalism and colonialism so this has to do with everyone. This is because gender is the all-encompassing sea of assumptions and expectations with which everyone grapples. The discrepancy of violence against trans women is simply one piece of a larger puzzle that includes racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, classism, and all other forms of repression of marginalized peoples and non-marginalized folks alike. Together we can claim and create what is our birthright: basic and truly equal opportunity for contentment and life.
Some of the largest difficulties that trans-people face are issues of poverty and violence. Capitalism and colonialism create the soil in which these issues thrive due to their inherent compliance with the violent exploitation of all different types of labor (not just cis-men and ableists) and the suffocation of those with marginalized identities. Trans movements need to become more firmly seated in the post-capitalist and decolonizing action and dialogue because our struggles are not isolated. We face often similar issues as many people in our communities. For this reason, developing a broad base within the framework of existing movements and working with the solidarity of momentum surrounding these movements, can unite our communities while radicalizing and galvanizing our perspective and actions towards a more meaningful and strategic direction.
To begin to demonstrate my perspective I will first tell a short story. Recently I went to a rally and march in Oakland. It was for and around Middle Eastern Solidarity and occupy. Eloquent Iranis and Afghanis spoke in powerful dialogue with a large crowd of supportive and diverse participants. From this place of firm-seatedness within the dialogue against colonialism and capitalism, the rally turned into a march. It was then that the largely white-skinned (although not completely) and anarcho black bloc (or should I say largely white bloc..maybe a little touch of middle class entitled rage?) began to emerge and within a few blocks the stay-aways (those already banned from Oscar Grant Plaza–an enclosed commons for social organizing and community sharing) met up as well. Several streets got shut down with people or barriers. Within minutes, a friend, and two prominent local organizers and anti-repression activists, and I were surrounded by the sheer spectacle of destruction. At first, banks in every direction were in the process of being destroyed. The sound of plexiglass shattering reverberated through the nighttime. Then, the fervor began to turn to individual citizens things such as cars and privately owned cafes. Regardless of how anyone, including anarchists, feel about private property, these types of things: cars, people’s houses, and private businesses are definitely part of people’s livelihoods, people who are involved in the same exploitation of which we are all a part. Terrorizing citizens in a cafe does nothing to help the plight of Afghanis stigmatized in the states. If anything, it promotes the kind of terrorist stereotyping that many activists are fighting to destroy. The main complaint I hear about occupy from locals goes something like, “who the fuck are you? Go smash up your neighborhood.” My heart was conflicted. The anarcho/diversity of tactics strategies have their place but it must be within an ongoing movement and careful strategizing. Similarly, the trans movement needs to radicalize and be strategic in its outlook. We need to learn from the mistakes and successes of our fellows in revolution. We will at some point, need the support of the community and it is essential that we not alienate those members, even if our tactics require doing things not commonly supported, which simply creates a deeper rift than we are trying to solve.
Privilege, angst, and lack of strategy haunt the occupy movement and queer/trans movements. At the same time, what is sometimes perceived as lack of direction can also be misunderstood as a diversity of tactics and internal aim. Many people from different backgrounds, with separate dreams should have a diverse agenda. To not do so, would surely result in the subjugation of someone. At the event, one person I met denounced the black blocs that were not strategic in their approach and claimed a “double edged sword of organizing.” This person was pointing to a choice between not wanting to condone violence (for fear of sedition, conspiracy, destruction of private property charges) and not wanting to be against the violence for fear of silencing the revolt or dismissing it.
In “Caliban and The Witch,” Silvia Federici describes a similar process of events coming to play in the ‘transition’ to capitalism from the 14th to 16th century in feudalist Europe. She describes, “in the middle ages, migration, vagabondage, and the rise of ‘crimes against property’ were part of the resistance to impoverishment and dispossession; these phenomena now took on massive proportions. Everywhere—vagabonds were swarming, changing cities, crossing borders, sleeping in the haystacks or crowding at the gates of towns–a vast humanity involved in a diaspora of its own, that for decades escaped the authorities’ control … Meanwhile, the crime rates also escalated, in such proportions that we can assume that a massive reclamation and reappropriation of the stolen communal wealth was underway.”
This is such a powerful reclamation and a striking comparison to Occupy. If we are in a recourse of history may we at least learn from it? In queer and trans movements, capitalism and colonialism are not just the ghosts of our history. We must acknowledge our complicity with them and that violence in order to move forward. We must alter and supersede capitalism and colonialism for the social benefit. Still, we cannot afford to dismiss what is actually happening in the here and now and reform it.
How does the underground economy and other stigmatized forms of relations relate to these issues of capitalism and colonialism? Are we coercively forced into the underground economy or is it just plain better money?
It’s easier to make a smash-‘em-up style march suddenly than to plan it with strategy outside of the action. This is why I frame my trans analysis within structural post-capitalist, anti-globalization, anti-colonialist analysis. One example of the tendrils of this claim is found in sex work. So many trans people I know are either forced into sex work non-consensually or don’t feel they have any other options. I have no doubt that not all sex work is this exploitative, however in the cases where it is, it’s useful to recognize the overarching systems that create this impulse initially.
As it is mentioned earlier, trans people are often less able to be successfully exploited by capitalism due to an initial lack of access. A lot of us (like a lot of non-trans people) don’t want to or can’t have children, for example. This practice of refusal or inability to pay (hospitals and designer baby clothes) to be exploited and repopulate the labor force (ie. “you’ll grow up to be exploited in the workplace just like Daddy!”) decreases our value to the GDP which denies the existence of all non-commodifiable, measurable, and/or controllable work. Sex work and other forms of recreational or non-culturally condoned practices and social-relations such as BDSM, polyamory, etc. are then subject to systematic destruction via removal of resources and access to individual and collective betterment. Sex workers and pro-dommes are often imprisoned for their choice or lack of ability to do other taxable and commodity generative work. After all, good sex can’t be subsidized by Capitalism. Poly-families are often not recognized and given equal rights to raise children, as a result, the children suffer. Post-operative and non-child creating trans women are not recognized for their ability to reproduce (babies) in the way that society deems normal and are such ostracized and stigmatized despite the multiplicity of other ways than having a kid in which society can reproduce, reinvent, take care of, and better itself.
Ultimately society is (or at least can be) in charge of itself and yet doesn’t seem to know it. Occupy presents a single call to diverse unity and revolution and there are many more. Trans movements need to be invigorated and reclaiming of the commons is a profound way to do it. As access to community spaces and hubs of social power are further enclosed and commodified we become less able to access the means of our own sustenance except through a structurally adjusted and commodified trade in which we pay for our own exploitation. Debt is our prison. A slow costly death our sentence. There are however, revolutionary, simple, and pure acts, happening around the world. Horizontally-arranged movements and internally-generated autonomy are happening around the globe. Zapatistas do not demand that all women be subjugated and do not seek capitalist and colonialist power. In fact a huge portion of Zapatista ‘leadership’ (in the “lead by following” sense of the word) are women and are often even young women. In certain African farming communities women have been found retaking WTO, stolen communal land plots and farming them for themselves and their communities so that they don’t have to rely on catch-22, high interest micro-loans. Instead, they are able to create and control their own savings (energy). A diversity of opinion and internal control over a communities own livelihood is a form of direct action. Trans people must practice and constantly reshape and evolve our strategies in this way in order to reclaim what is ours from the start–a basic happiness, wellbeing, and equally valued place within society (or the lack therein) in order to live and create our own way and escape from our treacherous and impoverished (not poor) landscapes. So as Zapatismo would have it, “ya Basta! Enough is enough!” And as some dude at the action would say “don’t fake the funk!”
Federici, S. (2004). Caliban and the witch. New York: Autonomedia.
Federici-Talk given at CIIS