Monday, February 11, 2013

No, I'm Not Comfortable With Open Identity Caucuses

Another #MBLGTACC essay.  I was writing a rather standard essay on open identity caucuses, but instead I'm going to tell a quick story about the one I went to.  It won't apply to everybody, and it doesn't go into the problematic elements that can arise in closed space*, but I hope that this story gives you a perspective on ally entitlement and why closed space exists.

I went to a transgender identity caucus.  It was my first one, and I was really excited about it.  I found out at a state caucus that they were going to be open this year... and I immediately was really upset about that.  I figured it wasn't something that really applied to me, as I'm well-known to be pretty open about discussing personal trans matters with interested cisgender allies, but I still would have rather been only around trans people for the experience and was aware that many people sharing the identities within these caucuses are actually very uncomfortable with an open event like this (the person who I first heard about this from, who intended to go to the queer people of color caucus, explained that they "aren't animals in a zoo," which I feel is a very powerful statement).  And I immediately decided I'd bring it up at the caucus, because it's an important issue.

The caucus came up and the facilitator mentioned that the caucus was open now and he hoped everyone was OK with that.  I wanted, so terribly badly, to raise my hand and say "No, actually, I am not comfortable with that."  And immediately I was stuck with a sense of self-consciousness I have never felt at MBLGTACC before.  I saw people who I knew identified as allies and I choked on my words... words I'd been bringing up to trans people all day, as well as to allies who did not support the open caucus idea, but as soon as I was faced with the same people who had been making well meaning yet ignorant comments about trans people all day I could not spit it out.

My training as a gender minority has been to acquiesce to the whims of oppressive majorities, and that continued in a space that should be specifically designed to prevent that.  It's OK to tell allies "no" when what they're asking for goes against the interests of the people they are allying with... any serious ally should be able to respect closed space without taking it personally.

* -- Identity caucuses, which are often scheduled at exactly the same time, have the tendency to force somebody to "choose" which identity a person will favor.  In my case, I was having a very hard time choosing between the trans caucus, the poly caucus, and the multi-sexual identities caucus, and others have had to deal with things like, say, racism in a sexual identity caucus (I am aware that some people organized a trans people of color caucus, which was a fantastic way to deal with it).  There were also some major accessibility issues, and in fact there were accessibility issues affecting the whole conference.  I'm just mentioning this because the above story is referring to one specific issue among many, but this is the one I'm reading about in my email right now.