Subject: Violence As Empowerment? No Thanks.
Date: Mon 12 Oct 1998 - 14:53:40 BST
Is violence empowering? When a queer person is the focus of an act of
violence, should that be the rallying call to solidarity?
I have real trouble with this idea. The notion that somehow, when one of us
is physically attacked it is a sign that they are out to get us, not just a
few creeps in a bar, but a whole system of organizations that enable these
bullies, seems to me to have limited ultility.
First, it defines us as victims.
Second, it defines a barrier between "us" and "them."
Third, it says we should live in fear of assult and make choices from that
I think all of these ideas are limiting.
Everynight, somewhere, someone is murdred for some reason. It may be because
they are queer or gender variant, or because they are black, or because they
look vulnerable, or because they just happened to be in the wrong place in the
wrong time. Riki Anne says she believes there is a gender murder about every
six months -- not good, certainly, but not overwhelming odds.
We are vulnerable because of our visble gender transgression, no doubt. But
every person in this culture is vulnerable, for some reason or other. More
men are murdered than women, for example. Life is risky and we have to accept
those risks and go on with living, because any other choice is limiting.
It is when we control our own choices and don't let others control them for us
that we become empowered. It doesn't matter if they control them directly or
though fear, we still lose when we let others control our choices. Fear of a
few violent people is a bad reason to stay a victim, allowing them to control
Secondly, I believe that the outcome of this incident in Laramie is not to
highlight the gap between "us" and "them", but rather to show how we are the
same. The people of Wyoming have reacted with compassion and concern to this
incident, standing up and saying clearly "I may not approve of people making
the choice to be out homosexuals, but damn, they shouldn't be killed for it.
It's wrong, and it must be stopped."
I believe that our protection is in our vulnerability, in the way we connect
with the community. No person is an island -- we live and die though the
grace and consent of the people around us. As humans, we need to care for each
other, protect each other, and that means we have to trust each other.
Who knows why people die? Everyone does at some point, some tragically,
either because the death is early or because it is at the hand of another.
Sometimes, though, that death can be a gift to those still living, because it
highlights what needs to be changed. Every culture has seen as heroes those
who die so that others might live, even without a concious choice, and Matthew
Shepard may have a legacy of saving people, because he brings queers and
straights together to act against violence.
In Wyoming they are talking about a hate crimes bill now. The Devnver Post
Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer on Friday called Shepard's beating a "heinous crime'' that outraged and sickened him, and he offered sympathy to the Shepard family.
"The challenge for our Wyoming community is to come to grips with the violence we're seeing,'' Geringer said from his office in Cheyenne. "What we need to do is work to change the anger in people's hearts and the motivations that cause such terrible acts to occur."
This is not us against them, queers against straights, it is us coming together with them, people who may resonate with the message of fundamentalist Christianity, but who also believe no kid should be taken, lashed to a fence, beaten with a gun butt and left to die by people who didn't like him "flirting" with them.
Third, I just don't think fear is a useful tool for organizing. In the long run, it scares as many people as it empowers, leaving them stuck. Organizers know the shock value of fear, painting an enemy out there, saying that we are under attack from those heinous mobs and that we must band together to fight back. A shared enemy is the oldest trick in the book and it is a trick that has backfired time after time by starting wars and having people come from their lowest power, fear, rather than their highest power, love.
Maybe the issue is that I don't see death as the worst thing that can happen. I agree with having a long and healthy life, but I also know that we have to accept death as part of it. If we see death as the end of everything, rather than just another transistion, bardo into another world, then we don't accept the power of death and what it can do for us. I am saddened when people die, surely, and I miss them, but I believe that they just continue as cycle eachof us will continue at some point.
When fearmongers come out and say "if you are not with us you will be a grease spot on the road," I cringe. I would rather go with the lovemongers who say "Open your heart and find the connection, trusting that God is in every moment, every relationship, every death.
I mourn for those who died (or were abused) at the hands of another, including those who died for showing the kind of transgression that I do. I see them as heroes, people who raised awareness and conciousness, not showing that there is a vast conspiracy out there to kill us, but rather reminding the world that each of us is human, that life is scared, and that we can't allow a few people's fears to act out and endanger everyone.
In short, I agree with the givernor of Wyoming when he said "What we need to do is work to change the anger in people's hearts and the motivations that cause such terrible acts to occur."
Changing that anger doesn't happen when we use the violence against others to get us angry enough to act. It just casts us as victims turned vigilantes, seeing vengance rather than victory though connection, caring and love.
Violence may be empowering, but not because we are enraged because of it, but rather because we are sickened and saddened because of it and use that to connect with other people who are also saddened, no matter what their identity is.
Solidarity is great, but not because "they" are against us. I believe in solidarity because they *are* us. There are too few TG people out there for us to become a powerful clique, rather we must take power as we always have, by making conections between all people, by creating coaltion with all feeling & thinking people who see the continuous common humanity that connects us all.
Do the political work, sure, but not the pressure work, the work of a catalyst that opens eyes and hearts. We are not victims if we make our own choices, there us no us/them split, and we must come from love and not fear.
Or at least that's the way I see it.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2a23 : Wed 21 Jul 1999 - 18:21:43 BST