Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pridefest Milwaukee... OR, How To Recognize Your Complicity In Transphobia

So to begin, I'm a regular attendee of Milwaukee Pridefest, which takes place every year at the Summerfest grounds in June.  Excepting a couple years when I was way over in a different part of the state, I've gone pretty regularly since I think '06 or '07.  And as an out trans person, that has been a mixed bag of fun and troubles.

Admittedly, quite a bit of this isn't directly due to the organizers of Pridefest themselves, such as the multiple times I've been sexually harassed or that time somebody decided to chuck a used, cum-filled condom on the hood of my car or--one of my favorites--when somebody set up a history project about Lou Sullivan and wouldn't shut the fuck up about how "weird" it was that somebody would transition just to be gay.  Still others are pretty much a result of not giving a fuck, like the lack of support for trans musicians (they seem far more likely to seek out a cishet "gay icon" than a trans performer).

Anyway, yesterday I happened upon Pridefest's new blog post, in which they talk about some policy changes they're making in possibly the most annoying way possible.  It's one of those things where I read it and think "You know, I am really happy about the things that they're trying to do here, but still... what the fuck."  The policies themselves are great and exactly what I would have suggested, but the way they're advertising it is just so.... gross.  And I think it's important to explain just why it's so off-putting.

Let's start with a couple really important facts. It is a fact that there are people who report being asked to change restrooms by Pridefest security, including when people were taking shelter during a tornado warning.  Whether or not this was Pridefest's policy, it still happened.  It is also a fact that there have been cases where bringing up trans inclusion on Pridefest's Facebook page has led to defensive and ignorant responses (such as going on about drag shows when people ask why there are so few trans performers booked), whether they were meant to be or not.  Finally, it is a fact that their restroom policy was so poorly advertised that practically no trans people even knew it existed (personally, I didn't even know they had a single gender neutral restroom, and I've been attending for years).

With all that said, why is Pridefest Milwaukee spending all this time acting like they've been some sort of shining beacon of tolerance toward the trans community?  It says right on the page that this organization has been around since the late 1980s.  It's a huge stretch that any organization started that long ago which is mostly run by gays and lesbians has "fully honored" trans participation since its beginning.  Practically none of them have.  And because you can't just up and change the past, the very best one can expect from an organization like this is "we recognize that there have been problems in the past, here are the things we are doing to change that."

This is what Pridefest could have done.  It's what Pridefest should have done.  Instead, they've written a lengthy blog post trying to make it look like they were in no way complicit in the awful ways trans people have been treated on their grounds, that it's all a result of "zoning laws" and "misinformation."

But my favorite (by which I mean worst) sentence is this one:
There are no signs stating that your restroom choice must match your ID, nor do our security guards have the authority to challenge our guests’ choice of restrooms.
The reason that this sentence is such useless drivel is that practically nowhere that does police gender identities in restrooms has signs explaining this.  Venues practically never even consider that trans people might show up at their establishment until some asshole cis person complains, and even then they're unlikely to actually post anything.  This sentence makes it seem like it was somehow trans peoples' responsibility to just assume that no signage equals no policing, something that most trans people know is bullshit.

They're fixing that problem by putting gender neutral restrooms on maps and marking them clearly.  That's fantastic!  But it's still fixing a problem they were complicit in causing.  That doesn't line up with their apparent belief that they've been entirely trans-inclusive since time immemorial.  Not admitting that is a huge problem.  If they can't admit they've ever been wrong, how can we trust them to rapidly respond to other problems as they come up?

Another sentence of note:
We are disappointed that our organization, policies, and long-standing provisions may have been misrepresented.
But they weren't misrepresented, though.  The things I talked about above are things that really happened.  Their policy might have been misrepresented, but their shady enforcement of that policy wasn't.  Their lack of publicity for that policy is not a misrepresentation.  The "trans friendly" policies and amenities they're talking about are useless if nobody knows about them, especially their own goddamn security (and every volunteer is directly representing your organization).

The whole tone of this piece reeks of "we're sorry nobody understands how awesome and inclusive we are so we're going to publicize the fuck out of it" rather than "we acknowledge that our lack of proactivity has hurt people in the past and we pledge to fix that."

So in conclusion, I am genuinely glad that Pridefest is working on making pro-trans policies more open and obvious, but it's an insult to trans peoples' intelligence to frame it as "clearing up misrepresentations" without recognizing their own historical complicity in the problem.