New Book Explores Why “Inclusion” Can’t Bring an End to Anti-Trans Violence

In their new book Atmospheres of violenceEric A. Stanley, University of California Berkeley Gender Studies Professor and organizer, describes the ways in which violence against transgender people has shaped the United States’ political system.

Stanley argues that to stay in power, U.S. institutions and the people behind them — including politicians, their corporate benefactors, and the armed guard forces that police the rest of us — consolidate power and wealth through the constant precarity experienced by marginalized people.

The past year has seen 22 state legislatures introduced and in several cases passed laws to ban transgender health care access for youthWhile banned books lists at libraries were engorged with titles featuring queer characters. South Carolina criminalized trans youth participation in school sports legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people by medical practitioners. “Don’t Say Gay”/”Don’t Say Trans” lawsQueer public school teachers were fired, or nearly fired, but for mass actions such as student walkouts in Florida or Texas.

The attacks continue to spread from capitol buildings like oil spilled, contributing to an increase in mental health emergencies. Trevor Project study released in May 202245 percent of TLGBQ youth were enrolled in the program. Take it seriously You should try Suicides in the past year

Conservatives make trans people the scapegoat to rally their base, while liberals spew toothless support for trans people while they push spending bills to improve police, the military, and other policing agencies too numerous to mention. These, the country’s most well-funded institutions, are notorious for reinforcing gender binaries and stereotypes,High rates of assault and/or rape,they cause.

The White House celebrated its first Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31. In the press room, a prerecorded message from President Joe BidenOfficials announced additional funding for the Transportation Security Administration’s gender-neutral scanner technology at airports. The White House’s other announcement: It will start issuing nonbinary passports in April, a positive change, but one that will mostly affect a narrow slice of trans U.S. citizens who plan to travel internationally soon. (It’s also a late change, given that almost half of U.S. states already offer nonbinary IDs.)

<i>Atmospheres of Violence Structuring Antagonism and the Trans/Queer Ungovernable</i>
Atmospheres of violence
Structuring Antagonism, the Trans/Queer Ungovernable

Atmospheres of violenceThere are many stories of pain and resistance that were told over the past half-century, but most of them have been lost to history. Some are shocking in their cruelty and proximity to the U.S. political machinery — as when the government used the chaos of HIV/AIDS to sap energy from radical trans liberation movements of the 1980s and 1990s while it propped up the nonprofit-industrial complex and pharmaceutical companies. As these system-enabled tragedies unfold, the book offers moments of relief as it describes trans people working against and around the system’s rules.

By its end, the book provides a figurative version of the mace “bomb” that the Black trans revolutionary Marsha P. Johnson described carrying before her still-unsolved death in 1992. It’s one of the book’s inscriptions: “If they attack me, I’m going to attack them, with my bomb.”

Johnson was ready for the daily war against Black trans people. The book gives readers more reasons not to support the U.S. empire and to stop incremental progress towards a country that was built on the bodies trans people. Stanley points out futures that are not dependent on concentrated physical or psychic violence as the fog lifts and the rubble from the empire begins to settle. TruthoutInterview with the author in May.

Toshio MeronekDuring an online launch for Atmospheres of ViolenceAngela Davis, one of your mentors,She was a panelist. She said she was especially moved by the book’s insistence that we “unlearn ideas” that reproduce or strengthen the forces we are fighting against. Can you speak more on “unlearning” assumptions most of us have internalized from when we were young? What assumptions must we unlearn?

Eric A. Stanley Angela continues to show us that learning must also include the practice of unlearning. I believe she was specifically referring to one the major claims of her book, that inclusion does not prove freedom. This book is as much a product of collective struggle as it is from traditional texts. Much of the organizing that I’ve been involved with has been pushing back against the logic that assimilation for trans/queer people will provide us with the world we want and need. It was also organizing, mostly around housing, HIV/AIDS and various prison abolitionist projects that led me to understand that inclusion does not provide the relief we are taught it does, but even worse, it’s one of the ways harm is reproduced under the name of safety.

Eric A. Stanley
Eric A. Stanley

One way to look at this is by considering the push to include gender/sexuality in federal hate crime enhancement laws. While mainstream LGBT organizations have long advocated for such expansion, trans/queer prisoners abolitionists have shown that the law itself, while trans/queer, is fundamentally racist.Phobia/homophobic. So, while hate crimes laws claim to be deterrents to the very real violence people endure, they grow the state’s capacity to terrorize the very same people they purport to protect.

This and other examples show how racialized trans/queer violence is a foundational part of the United States. I argue this argument by analysing attacks against trans/queer persons and also structuring neglect, such as inaction regarding HIV/AIDS that damages people and their communities. These, and many other forms, of brutality against Black, Brown, or Indigenous trans women, persist. However, the law appears to be the only recourse. The result is a trap. As a remedy for personal harms, structural violence like policing is suggested.

Right. The government and its biggest cheerleaders — Democrat-leaning organizations like the Center for American Progress — put their energyInto studying how to make the justice system “more just.” They offer solutions like shifting tax money to go to “transgender sensitivity” training for police, or funding for lawyers’ fees for people who can’t afford specialized lawyers.

Several conversations in Atmospheres of violenceYou should be focusing on the story and how you write about people and topics that could be soul-depressing. This is a question about society’s acceptance and support for the many tragedies of violence against transgender people. The authors of a book published in an academic press mention the writing as a way for non-academic audiences. Do you intentionally write for non-academic audiences in order to reach them?

Writing creates audiences just as much as it finds them. What this means is that when I write, I don’t know in advance who will be drawn to the work. When writing is accused of being “too theoretical,” which mine sometimes is, it’s more often than not an accusation made on behalf of an imagined other. As a person with an intellectual disability, I’m acutely aware of the ways we are all captured differently by language. Writing, much like other expressive arts such as poetry, dance or conceptual art is for me an invitation to use form and content to discover new understandings. However, not everyone may be interested. Just like we might not all be into noise music or science fiction, and that’s OK. But one thing I’m emphatic about is that we need more ways to explain the unexplainable world we are trying to survive, not less.

Something I’ve noticed with this book so far is that most of the feedback I’ve received has been from high school debaters and Black trans/queer people who have formed reading groups in prisons. This is great. It’s a good sign that people are interested in the text. Tourmaline, our friend, reminds us that theory is just another name for people who create words to describe their lives. All of us are constantly making theories.

This year, March 31stThe federal government observed Trans Day of Visibility ForThe first time. In a previous book you co-edited, Trap Door Johanna Burton and Tourmaline (your co-editors) argued against the lure of mainstream cultural visibility and against any notion that visibility is a shortcut for easier lives for people who are not gender-specific.

I had a conversation in the anthology with Miss Major CeCe McDonald, who said that more inclusion in mainstream media hasn’t benefited the community at large. This was five years ago. Is your perception of representation changing?

As a filmmaker, organizer, and activist, I understand the transformative power of representation. That said, mainstream visual culture’s flirtation with trans/queer characters does not necessarily change the material conditions of our lives. Holding these contradictions forces me to examine how film’s form, following scholars like Jemma DeCristo and David Marriott, is not only anti-Black, but it is also anti-trans. This seems important to me as we live in a world where increased representation is not bringing about the transformation we need.

I’m also interested in tracking how radical demands for an entirely different social order get flipped into primarily wanting more trans people in movies. It’s not that I’m against trans people in movies, but I think we must hold open this question if we are to produce liberatory images. This means that we must rethink the entire production, distribution, and consumption of visual culture. That’s an overwhelming task, and yet it can also mean the difference between life and death.

Many other people have been thinking about these questions and have come up with creative ways to make their practices more powerful in the cause of collective liberation. We are not the only ones who have these questions, and there are many generations to connect with. However, it is not accidental that these histories are kept secret.

What’s the significance of the photograph on the cover: a picture by Every Ocean Hughes of the remains of New York City’s Chelsea Piers?

Every’s image is a beautiful mix of sorrow and possibility, which reflects the tone of the book. It’s a black and white photograph of what remains of the Christopher Street piers in New York City. The pierces were a hidden spot on the edge the city where trans/queer people cruised, and mostly Black and brown young people created underground networks of care. Not far from there is also where Marsha P. Johnson’s body was found, further anointing the sacredness of the space.

I’m also drawn to Every’s photograph as it’s in conversation with Alvin Baltrop’s work. Baltrop was a Black gay man who documented the queer sexual cultures of the piers in the 1970s and ‘80s. I am moved by the image’s referential history, how it brings this past into the present. Its view of the horizon offers some hope or something similar. Despite much community organizing by groups such as FIERCE, the piers have been mostly destroyed by the relentless gentrification in Manhattan. Yet, trans/queer lives continue to flourish. These are the contested realities captured in the photograph.

Through my work with Miss Major on your film with Chris Vargas I developed a close relationship with her. Criminal Queers. You met her years before in the Tenderloin, the neighborhood in San Francisco that was a lot more welcoming to trans and queer people than the Castro district, which is the city’s famous gayborhood.

The Tenderloin is a place that I consider mythic in both my personal and larger stories about trans history in the United States. Of course, it’s where the anti-police Compton’s Cafeteria riots were in August of 1966, and it’s also where I first encountered Miss Major when she was working at TARC. The tech-fueled gentrification that threatens to destroy the neighborhood from all sides has been a constant threat to the neighborhood’s stability.

Even under such duress, it’s still a place of much trans of color life, where people who are mostly low income and/or unhoused continue to scavenge a life out of the ruins of The latest in capitalism(A term Angela Davis onceUsedWhen she was my student at the University of California Santa Cruz, I was able describe the constant transformation of the way we describe. late capitalism).This is not to be romanticized, but to name the forms and ungovernability (or what I call living without choice) that might otherwise be lost in social movements histories. This is one of the commitments made in the book: to archive these practices as forms riotous theory.

The Tenderloin, just like the piers is a spatial reminder about the racialized violence against trans/queer people that is all around. Yet, life continues. The book ends with a question, not a prescription.