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The Multiplicity of Oppression

This month, marginalized communities everywhere have much to celebrate. June is, of course, PRIDE Month, and also holds space for Juneteenth and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. There is an intercultural significance between these three events for people like myself. As a Queer-identified Person of Color, an avid advocate for and supporter of the trans community and sex-workers, and the descendant of slaves, I personally resonate with the intersectionality of these occasions. Before I elaborate on these connections, I should first touch on the history of each event, and explain the correlative factors that some of you may not know about.

I am appalled by the number of folks I have chatted with about Stonewall that are unaware of the role that transgender sex-workers of color played in its events. For those of you that are nodding your heads knowingly, good fucking job; you’re sexy AF, and you get a cookie. For the rest of you, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to trans women like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera (R.I.P.), both of whom were transgender sex-working women of color. Sylvia is credited as throwing the first brick at the Stonewall riots. And yet, because she was trans, the gay men who largely took over the next leg of the gay rights movement sought to silence her and her sisters. She was booed off of stages at gay rights rallies and was considered an embarrassment and a fraud by her LGB fellows.

In August of 1966, almost three full years prior to Stonewall, the trans community (including Felicia “Flames” Elizondo, also a veteran and a former sex-worker) had been at the heart of another uprising at Compton’s Cafeteria, in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. Even this was not the first LGBT riot of its kind. There was also the Cooper’s Do-nut riot of 1959 in Los Angeles. Each of these events, while publicly generalized to the whole of the LGBT community, was largely fought by trans folx and drag queens. Everyone knows you don’t mess with drag queens, they get messy right back. Even though we’ve come a long way for trans and gay rights since the 1960s, we are as we speak under the rule of a homo- and-trans phobic President and his cabinet who are systematically seeking to annihilate decades of LGBTQ-rights progress in one four-year term. Ain’t that a kick to the nethers? The fight is not over yet.

And how about Juneteenth? Again, I am appalled by the number of people who don’t know their fucking history. I consider it part of my obligation to our next generation to try to help keep it alive, so here you go. Juneteenth marks the anniversary of June 19th, 1865. On that day, Major General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas with a fleet of Union soldiers, to announce that the Civil War had ended and the slaves had been freed. It should be noted that the Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863, fully 2 ½ years prior. No one really knows why it took so fucking long for the news to reach Texas (then again, it’s Texas, who knows how anything happens down there?),  but the point is that Juneteenth marks the date that all slaves in America were finally freed.

For Blacks all across this nation, this should have also meant equality, but as anyone who is being honest and observant can’t help but notice, that shit never happened. Today, outright slavery has been replaced by the prison-industrial complex and forced inmate labor. Did you know that Starbucks uses Washington State prisoners to package their holiday coffee and that Blacks are grossly overrepresented in jails and prisons (by 450% compared to the general population)? Most of the companies that take advantage of this completely legal practice (called “insourcing”) not only pay these “workers” either nothing or a few cents an hour, they even get tax credits and a reprieve on things like insurance and sick pay for their prison-labor contracts. Sounds to me like slavery is still very much alive and well in America. Again, the fight is not over yet.

The big hoopla for June is that it’s PRIDE Month, a time when all LGBTQ+ people come together to celebrate our victories, remember our struggles, and honor those we’ve lost in the fight for equality and acceptance. But mostly, we celebrate, and too many of us have a lack of understanding about what we’re celebrating. Additionally, there seems to be an obliviousness about all of the other components of oppression that should be honored along with the obvious ones.

As I said before, I am a Queer man-of-color, who is also a sex-worker advocate and a trans rights activist. The three holidays we are celebrating this month each directly reflects parts of my identity, both individually and collectively. Each of these historic events is also at once historically at odds with one another. What do I mean by that? Well, historically, the Black community has had… shall we say… discord, with the gay and trans communities; the trans community has had the same with the gay and Black communities; and all three are, of course, bitter with, afraid of, and persecuted and wounded by both of the others. Although each community certainly knows what oppression feels like, the feel of someone’s boot on their neck, they are each just as complicit in oppressing others as are those they are oppressed by.

But what happens if you are a member of more than one of these oppressed peoples? How does it feel to be Black, trans, and a sex-worker – like Marsha and Sylvia? Or any other combination of these marginalized peoples? The experience of being the object of a multiplicity of oppression is, to say the least, like having all of the boots on your neck, all of the time. And yet, some of us who understand this better than anyone still find ways to posit ourselves above another marginalized group, rather than uniting together as we should. None of us are fully free, and none of us are truly socially equal by anyone’s definition, not even amongst our own. The fight is NOT over yet.

So this month, I say, we should celebrate not so much our own victories and communities (whatever that means to you), but all of them. Let’s celebrate our similarities, and remember that we have all suffered at the hands of others, and will likely continue to. Let’s be the generation that takes down the walls between us, the walls that tell us that our plight is worse than theirs, and begin to see each other as one race of humans; defined not by our differences and separateness, but by our shared experience of strength and suffering. Let’s remember to honor the fight of others, and treat those battles as the sacred things that they are. Tribalism and factionalism are bullshit, and they are  killing our communities, siphoning away the strength we could possess if only we would join together rather than dividing. When we are divided, we make it all the easier for them to conquer us.

Celebrating your identity is a beautiful thing, and we don’t get to do it enough. That doesn’t mean we have to force other folx out just to create a space of our own. There’s plenty of oppression to go around, and the only way to fight oppression is through community. If you are Black, Transgender, a Sex-worker (yes, you deserve to be capitalized, too), Queer, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or any of the other beautiful things this month’s events celebrate, I celebrate with you, and I honor your fight and your resilience. I am part of your community, as we all are and should be. Thank you for being beautiful, brave you. Now, go be free, and BE, together.

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