Adventures of a Forced Migrant Contact Me
Sometimes you have to be forced to leave your homeland in order to appreciate it more.
I went to see Facing Mirrors, playing at National Geographic Grosvenor Auditorium as part of the All Roads Film Festival. It’s one of the better films I have seen in the past few years, and certainly among the best about a transgender person. But it wasn’t just about being transgender. The two protagonists — Rana and Adineh/Eddie — created the perfect foil, with shades of gray adding complexity to both the characters and the narration. And it’s hard to believe that the story idea was conceived in less than two hours:
Rana and Adineh, two women of opposite background and social class are accidentally brought together to share a journey. Rana, inexperienced, religious and bound by traditions, is forced to drive a cab in order to survive financially. Adineh, wealthy yet rebellious, has escaped from her home. In the middle of the way, Rana realizes that her passenger is a transsexual who is planning on having an operation. For Rana, comprehending and accepting such reality is close to impossible and equal to surpassing all she believes in and traditions she values.
When the straight cisgender woman hits the transgender protagonist in a moment of hysteria and panic, she later explains her reaction as “I thought you were a man and tricked me.” I immediately thought about my own mother who is very much like Rana, working dangerous jobs to make a living for her family contrary to the gender roles she subscribes to, and my heart went out to her despite her transphobic reaction. Throughout the movie, her husband is in prison, but Rana is the one who feels imprisoned by her circumstances. And as a woman violating gender roles to provide for her family, she’s concerned about her safety as much as the transgender protagonist who also feels unsafe, but safety for him requires leaving his family and homeland. At the end, neither one of them is particularly happy even as they get what they want all along. And we are left contemplating the meaning of happiness as it pertains to us.
All the actors did a marvelous job but Shayesteh Irani of Offside fame, was especially brilliant as the transgender protagonist. She looks a bit like Sheetal Sheth, which means I spent most of the movie crushing over a male character, played by a cisgender woman. I need to deconstruct that at a later time. It’s probably as simple as the fact that I love
androgynous and butch all women.
Watch the movie if you get an opportunity. It is in Farsi, subtitled in English.
My dear law school friend Sam Ames, tells all current and budding lawyers to read Tips for Communicating with Transgender Clients in Prisoners’ Rights Cases that was published by the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.
If you are starting law school this week, check out How To Read A Legal Opinion from my criminal law professor, Orin Kerr. It’s a must-read guide for new law school students.
For the desis, please read A note to all non- queer desis from a particularly agitated queer desi. I’m glad there are some things I don’t need to say because there are increasingly more people who say it for me.
Want to know what on earth went down in London? If you want some critical perspectives on the riots in England, you should check out don’t moralise, don’t judge, don’t take pictures – it’s time for the riot to get some radical politics by Daniel Harvey and An open letter to those who condemn looting (Part one). That’s just a start.
Which movie will alleviate your white guilt? Hat tip from Jose Antonio Vargas, if you are really into movies like “The Help,” check out A Better Life. After all, it is undocumented immigrant workers that are “the help” today and
maybe we are the ones who should be telling our own stories.
And of course, I’m just going to see One Day.
When we allow women/queer organizers to leave activist spaces and protect people whose violence provoked their departure, we are saying we value these de facto state agents who disrupt the work more than we value people whose labor builds and sustains movements.
– Why Misogynists Make Great Informants
“What is your gender?”
0 to 100 in a second. I stared at her, shocked at the question. I didn’t know how to respond. I never really know how to respond to such questions. I just don’t know the answer.
“What is your gender?”
I recovered enough to blurt out, “It’s on my state ID.” I bit back the “Why does that matter?” retort on the tip of my tongue. I didn’t understand what relevance my gender had to donating blood. If I chose to leave the gender box unchecked, what calamity would it do to her and the American Red Cross?
“Excuse me?” She looked closely at my id and disregarded what I had said. She wanted to hear it from me. That slow pounding headache was steadily making a comeback.
I looked down at my appearance. I was at the law school in what my lovely Dean of Students calls my “student attire” (as opposed to a suit or anything revolutionary): Plaid shirt, blue jeans, special running shoes for my feet. It wasn’t stereotypically feminine like the “F” on my state identification card but then again, what does feminine mean?
Some transgender activists tell us that gender is not socially constructed; gender roles are socially constructed. To say that gender is socially constructed is to deny and dismiss the realities that transgender persons face in their everyday negotiations with society and themselves. Claiming that gender is controlled by society isn’t subversive. It is actually cis-normative.
I agree. There has to be a gender that I feel innately. I search myself.
That didn’t feel right. But “male” would not have felt right either. I was just angry at her, angry about the question, angry that I had to put myself in a box. Does anger have a gender?
She shook her head, which aggravated me further, and then took my wrist to get a reading of my pulse.
“Your heart-rate is way too high. 104 beats a minute. Do you work-out?”
I frowned. “Yes.” I have never had this problem.
She waiting a few minutes and tried again. It was 104 again.
“We can’t take blood from you today. We need your heart-rate below 100. But we do have a coupon for a Subway sandwich just for stopping by.”
“What? I don’t want to eat Subway. I want to give blood.”
“We can’t take blood from you. Your heart rate is too high. You should work out more. Come back next time.”
I opened my mouth to protest. Then I thought better of it. I looked at her, searchingly. She avoided my gaze. I came to an understanding. I walked out.
If someone doesn’t want me to donate blood, it isn’t my loss. But society does lose as a whole when queer and transgender people of color choose to walk out of spaces we have built, spaces that could benefit from our presence and spaces that need us desperately but don’t know how to sustain us.
Alienation never happens in a vacuum.
- US Blood Donor Denied For Looking too Gay! (therainbowpost.com)
I haven’t been a happy camper lately. Last week was hellish with regards to hate and the last thing I needed was a heads-up that the school isn’t doing all it could do to fight the transphobia that has come about as a result of the Legal Research and Writing (LRW) spring problem. I’ve been given the impression from some peers that the LRW program has been manipulative when it comes to dealing with LAMBDA holding the recommended sensitivity trainings. I don’t really know all the details. The Dean for the LRW program has denied these claims fervently though, expressed her support for LAMBDA Law and she seems to be looking into the situation. Then again, after working in new media for so long, I know a carefully vetted press statement when I see one.
There seems to be a lot of mis-communication. There are rumors of professors saying and doing inappropriate things that may amount to sexual harassment claims. Calling the transgender plaintiff “it” is high up on the list. In turn, several students did not abide by the student code of conduct. I know students who have complained about their professors or are thinking of complaining once the appellate brief is in. Many more will just sit through it all quietly till grades come out. When I found out, I was angry and hurt and of course accusations were hurled back and forth, and it certainly did not seem to help the situation. It did not help me focus on finishing my appellate brief as a whole different problem festered in my mind all weekend long. Several sources now tell me that my angry emails may have helped to kick-start some people into gear and I shouldn’t worry about getting into trouble. That’s not it.
Despite the fact that the LRW program was open enough to take on a sensitive issue such as transgender discrimination under Title VII, my opinion of the school and the way it has dealt with resulting transphobia is at rock-bottom right now. I’m not sure what happened in the past, how much planning and sensitivity went into handling the situation and I don’t think I care to know right about now. The results are evident: some people were hurt in the process, scared to go to school and felt ostracized. I know I spent several days upset and seething. I do want to know what everyone on the payroll at GW LRW is doing to rectify the situation and make sure this does not happen again.
I’m sure most of them mean well and they are also dedicated, hard-working people with absolutely no intention to discriminate. That does not excuse what has happened and I find it deplorable that the program cannot address it beyond just offering to fire people. The problems are directly due to the failure of the LRW program to educate people on the issue. Of course, pointing that out leads to “hurt feelings” amongst administrators. If you are hurt as an administrator, imagine how the LGBT students on campus are feeling right now because the LRW program has not met their needs and they have felt ostracized due to all the ignorance.
Amidst all this hue and cry, we had a hate crime on campus last week because some douchebag perceived a straight guy as a gay male and decided to beat him up. Some people are straight-up defending the hate crime over at the GW Hatchet. All in all, I’m sure the entire LGBT community at The George Washington University is feeling really loved and safe right about now. Not.
After hours of discussion, the LRW program feels that it is not important to provide an avenue for education on transgender issues after creating this problem (and they are probably never going to do a topic like this ever again, using this as an experience)
AND the school administration also thinks it is not so important to rectify the problem to give us 10-15 minutes of class time to do trainings.
- Campus Hate Crime: GW student charged after allegedly beating straight student while using anti-gay slurs (pinkbananaworld.com)
- “Baltimore: Transgender Woman Killed, Discovered in Vacant Home” and related posts (rodonline.typepad.com)
Courage comes in many different forms. For Esmeralda a transgender asylum seeker from Mexico who faced horrific circumstances in immigration detention, it came in the form of seeking justice. Kept in a segregated cell with other transgender detainees, Esmeralda never realized that her experience in detention would match the trauma of discrimination she had faced back home. But her story is also one of hope for change.
While the Obama administration has pledged to reform the detention system, its promises do not go far enough. Spread over a patchwork of more than 500 county jails, privately run prisons and federal facilities, immigration detention is a $1.8 billion business estimated to hold 442,941 detainees in custody in 2009 alone.
Transferred far away from their homes and families, stories are rife of how detainees are denied visitation, access to lawyers, medical care, and are subject to physical and verbal abuse. Many vulnerable people, including asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, lawful permanent residents and even U.S. citizens are among those detained.
Listen to Esmeralda’s voice of courage and take action now to fix a broken detention system.
Crossposted from Restore Fairness