Post by Felix Gilliland, WAVAW Community Inclusion and Engagement Coordinator
As WAVAW moves forward with our trans inclusion project, we’re hearing from trans people of all stripes (and spots, and fluorescent-rainbow) about what needs to change in order to make WAVAW accessible to them. What we’re hearing most, though, is that this change is long overdue. Trans people have been living under the weight of sexualized violence without having resources that speak truth to both rape culture and our gender experience. We’ve been forced to negate huge parts of our identity in order to find help, to shrink our wonderful selves small enough to fit through the front door.
In some ways the change we’re making here is fundamental, and in other ways it’s not. We’re challenging identity as a central organizing factor, emphasizing instead the experience of gender-based violence, which is something trans people and cis women have in common. That’s a pretty radical change for a space that’s been defined for thirty five years by the shared gender identity of all those inside.
At the same time, I can’t help but question the idea that only binary women have worked, volunteered, and received services at WAVAW over all those years. While some trans people have had to fight their way in to women’s spaces due to a lack of recognition of their womanhood, others have been lumped in due to a lack of recognition of their difference. It’s not too radical to say that out loud, and to change our policies to reflect what we already know to be true – to make space for the many pieces of identity we bring with us.
In the first few conversations I’ve had with academics and trans elders that sentiment has been repeated a number of times: gender diverse people have always been in the antiviolence movement, and in today’s expansive language some might call themselves non binary or trans. The language wasn’t available then, but the people were around, and were doing the work of building spaces that many of us are shut out of now. And as violence against trans people is still a very real and specific threat, we need an analysis of gendered violence that can catch WAVAW up to the language of trans theory and bring those survivors back in.
We women and gender diverse people have a long history together, and much of our movements have overlapped. We can resist the divide-and-conquer tactics that would have us spending our time fighting each other instead of fighting the patriarchy, and we can call each other back in to community without giving in to fears that there’s not enough space for everyone.
I envision a WAVAW which is guided by the feminist principles that got us this far, that is political about that fact that sexual assault is overwhelmingly committed by men to those who men see as ‘other’ – and which is stretched to the limits of gender by queer theory, that is made big and wide and open enough for all of us to fit inside. This process is about recognizing that feminism and queer theory are not in opposition, but instead overlapping.
To my trans siblings: I want to make a space where you can bring your whole self, to heal and to shift society with us. I want to invite you to be part of the process, and to let me know what you need in order to be here. We’re making the door bigger, so please bring it all!