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“Why can’t transmen just be butch?”

QueerIcon-NewsletterThe day to day negotiations of being a transgender person come in spaces where categorization of behavior and physical look presupposes a particular sex (genitalia) difference. This is then sustained and policed in various ways via white patriarchy (and by extension racism and misogyny), consumerism (ie: clothing and toys divided by gendered “interests”, cosmetics that presuppose body types, etc), all of which is reinforced by the various institutions employed by capitalism. These particular public arrangements of gender, by design, leave little space to challenge the rigidity of gender expression without the challenge itself be seen as crossing over to the “other” gender, even when those understandings of one’s self and desires aligns with the “other” gender.

South African FTM Leo recounts a time in his youth in which he felt this pressure from the public sphere so strongly that he deliberately performed bad at sports once achieving a high rank to avoid the traveling that would be required to compete at such a high level:

“Going to unknown and meeting unfamiliar people was too traumatic for me. All I wanted to do was stay home where I felt comfortable and safe 1.”

He continues to describe his experience at school:

“Everyone perceived me as a girl and because of my physical body I knew I wasn’t a boy. That distressed me because in my mind it was a big mistake, and I was too afraid to tell anyone these feelings. I used to see myself as boy in my dreams and imagination. I wished that I could be born again or that I would just wake up one day realizing that I had turned into a boy…Every time I was invited to a social event or party I felt the pressure to dress as was expected of me. I felt very awkward and ugly and was convinced that everybody could see this as well. It was a nightmare for me to go to the school’s farewell or to any school events 1.”

The concept of transgressing socially constructed gender boundaries is completely disconnected from the actual lived, day-to-day experiences of trans people. The material, discursive, and institutional locations of trans* people is severely unaccounted for in queer and feminist literature. There is an inherent sense of self that well precedes the process and actions of “transitioning” gender. José Esteban Muñoz uses the term disidentification to describe the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship 2. I would like to think of gender transitioning – in its physical, social, and person processes – as disidentification. This particularly applies to trans men who opt for hormones, surgeries, and other “stereotypical” male aesthetics. While these processes are argued to be self-destructive, colonial, and even counterproductive, they are simultaneously survival methods from both the violent, phobic public sphere and the deep, debilitating dysphoria experienced by the transitioning person.

Despite the acronym “FTM” (female-to-male) used to refer to transgender men, there  is not a sense of “turning into a man”. There is already an internalized sense of manhood, both in its physical imaginary and interpersonal relationships/interactions, as well as the position of that individual to the idea of that man combined with the inner sense of “not woman”. This, however, does not necessarily translate into “hyper masculine” ideas and desires of manhood when met with a sense of “not feeling like a woman”. Butch women can be “masculine” in every sense possible yet still have an intrinsic sense of, pride, and comfort in being a woman and seen as a woman. “Not a woman” does not mean masculine, and equating the two would dangerously erase all the genderqueers, the patos, the bois, and other gender-variant bodies who simultaneously are FTM. This is crucial in understanding FTMs, and I suggest is a possible distinction between FTMs and butch women.

This can be even further interrogated by asking “what does it mean to feel like a woman/man?” or “what is a woman/man?”. These are questions gender, feminist, and queer already focus on, and finding where trans people stand in regard to those questions has been repeatedly attempted. While these questions are both ones I am trying to contribute answers to and are helpful in theoretically dissecting and identifying the areas of life gender occupies, they are the wrong questions to ask when it comes to trans people. They have little application and benefit to the lives of trans people, and at the end of the day tend to water down and reduce trans identities to nothing but erotic desires of privilege and body-hating instead of validating their experiences under the premise that gender is not biological. This troubling contradiction exhibits that there is a much more intricate and complex account of conflicting, multiple hierarchies of access, exclusion, and authority in place that both constructs and distinguishes transgender, queer, butch, and other gendered ways of being.

Works cited:
1. Morgan, Ruth, Charl Marais, and Joy Rosemary. Wellbeloved. Trans: Transgender Life Stories from South Africa. Auckland Park, South Africa: Jacana Media, 2009. Print.
2. Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1999. Print.

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A Puerto Rican Account of the Ferguson Decision and Day-After Protests

We at La Respuesta magazine believe in and practice solidarity. You can find us side-by-side at events and demonstrations with our brothers and sisters facing oppression and actively engaged in people’s resistance.

My role as NYC Regional Editor of LaRes encourages me to fulfill our pledge to solidarity. Nevertheless, I was personally motivated by the grand jury decision in Ferguson, MissourI to join the day-after demonstrations taking place in my city and across the U.S.

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The author helping facilitate a youth circle dialogue at El Puente on the Ferguson decision

The Grand Jury Decision on TV

When I saw the decision made by the grand jury not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of 18-year old Michael Brown, minutes after getting home from work, my reaction was admittedly of surprise. Not because I wholeheartedly believed in the capacity of the legal system – I didn’t – but because I thought it was clear enough that Officer Wilson had used excessive force and murdered an un-armed Mike Brown.

Of course, considering the long chain of injustices produced by the systemic discrimination that exists within the U.S., the decision is no surprise. As I watched the TV, suddenly the broadcast changed to a live message from President Obama. As he talked about justice, I could not help but begin to get distracted by the outline of his figure. Immediately I thought about the nearly 4 million people living in Puerto Rico. Here on the screen was the man they cannot vote for, but who, along with Congress for over 116 years now, controls the entire structure of Puerto Rico.

Also, as friends of La Respuesta have noted on Twitter, Puerto Ricans have also experienced their share of police violence in the U.S., with a number of cases where the officer was similarly not indicted.

After the President’s message, the news returned to coverage of Ferguson. Not too long after, I began seeing coverage of actions taking place in New York City. A mass of people walking through the streets of Times Square in nonviolent protest, it was a rare sight. I already knew there would be day-after demonstrations, and so everything within me worked to inspire my own participation in these actions.

The Day-After Demonstrations

With cities across the nation taking part in protest, NYC had a number of contingents focused at various locations. The one I took part in gathered just outside Union Square Park and marched all the way to Fulton Street and Nostrand Avenue in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn.

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Protestors in the streets of Loisaida

The route of the march first took us through the streets of Greenwich Village towards the busy FDR Drive. Once there, people began jumping the barricade onto the highway, blocking off an entire lane of traffic. Though a few demonstrators began moving back, claiming that police were gathering up the highway waiting to arrest people, the great majority stayed together and continued until reaching the Lower East Side.

By this moment, the first high point of the march for me had occurred. The cops unaware of the route of the march, we suddenly made our way through a large public housing project, making me feel a special sense of satisfaction as a public housing resident myself. Often times we say it is the people in NYCHA and low-income housing/neighborhoods in general that rarely and need to see this type of protest in their community, and so this was a welcome change. As we went through the projects, dozens of residents watched and/or cheered us on from their windows, others actually deciding to join us.

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Marching through public housing

This was soon followed by the first challenge to the protest when a heavy police presence prevented our entrance onto the Williamsburg Bridge as we stopped traffic there. Uncertain for a few minutes as to what would happen, someone got on a bullhorn and called the mass to march on, which we did. Marching through the streets of Loisaida, passing by a NYCHA space named after Mariana Bracetti as well as a school named after Roberto Clemente, in addition to a number of Puerto Rican-inspired murals, we made our way down to Chinatown and the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge. Entering the bridge, we stopped an entire lane of traffic and slowly crossed the entire structure, with some cars honking us on in support, and the drivers of others actually stepping outside to cheer us on.

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At the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge

Once over the bridge, we continued down Flatbush Avenue Extension, making our way to the Barclays Center. It was there we staged a powerful sit-in in the middle of the intersection, holding four and a half minutes of silence, all while the cops looked on helplessly. Moving forward together, we continued to march through Downtown Brooklyn, eventually making our way to Fulton Street. Passing through the neighborhood of storefronts, cheered on by people mainly of Black Caribbean descent, we came to a stop at the intersection of Fulton and Nostrand in the middle of Bed-Stuy.

Bringing the march to a close, after taking over the streets, highways, and bridges of NYC, we gathered to hear people speak through the people’s mic/bullhorn. The last person to speak recited the words of Assata Shakur, asking us to repeat, ‘it is our duty to fight for freedom, it is our duty to win… we have nothing to lose but our chains.’

Revolutionary Change is Needed

Much of the protestors being young people thoroughly distrusting of ‘the system’ and committed to radical social change, when an organizer called through the bullhorn for the abolition of the police and the development of community control, the mass erupted in applause. Such a revolutionary vision is not beyond our reach, as far away into the future such a possibility may seem. For a more short-term solution, an economic boycott of Black Friday was also called for. In general, we were called to continue our protest in our communities and organize our people to affect the change we want to see.

This is not the end, but it was an incredible addition to the movement for justice that is growing throughout the United States. It was my honor to take part in it, passing through neighborhoods much like my own, and people who look like those in my community. Let us continue to educate and organize our communities to assert our human rights through word and deed. Let us dare to struggle. Let us dare to win.

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Haiti, Land of Great Food

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“Ayiti” – land of the mountains, as the Taíno Indians called it; the “Black Pearl of the Caribbean” – I am deeply sorry that we have not been better neighbors to help you in your time of need even though you’ve given us so much; that you are not given the credit you are due.

Haiti, island where Cacica Anacaona ruled, the mecca of Caribbean music and arts, is the first Independent Black Republic in the world. It has also given us, the Latina/o Diaspora, more of our culture than we realize.

haiti

As some of you may or may not know, I recently traveled to the southern Caribbean island of Trinidad to search out a well-known genre named Kalindá. I wanted to find the connections between Kalindá and a lost stick-fighting tradition in Puerto Rico named cocobalé. While in Trinidad, I noticed that as lavways or songs were sung that many were in Creole. When I asked my teachers about that, they simply said, “Haiti”. This is so in Puerto Rico, as well where Creole lyrics abound in bomba, its oldest surviving genre. And so it is in Cuba with the genre named tumba francesa. Haiti has left its impression on us. At a minimum you will see many similarities. You will see this within their food which is strongly influenced by African, Spanish, French, and North American cuisine.

To make things a bit easier I wanted to take the time to translate some dishes. Because of the Creole language I feel that Latina/os are a bit intimidated to approach Haitian food:

 

Creole

English

Spanish

Bannann Peze

Fried Plantain

Tostones

Dire ak Pwa

Rice and Beans

Arroz con Habichuelas

Griyo

Fried Pork

Carne Frita

Poule en Sauce

Stewed Chicken

Pollo Guisado

Bannann Duece

Sweet Plantain

Plátano Maduro

Pate

Meat Pie

Pastelillos

Pate mori

Codfish Fritters

Bacalaítos

Bouyon

Hearty Stew

Sancocho

Akra

Taro root Fritters

Fritura de Malanga

Lambi Creole

Conch in Creole Sauce

Carrucho en Salsa Criolla

Corosol

Soursop drink

Jugo de Guanábana

Kola Champagne

Kola Champagne

Kola Champagne

Crema

Coconut Punch with Rum

Coquito

You can find these dishes in Chicago at Kizin Creole (2311 Howard St, Telephone number: 773-961-7275). Keep in mind all food is made to order, which means although your wait is longer, the food is well worth it.

Formerly known as Chez Violette,  Kizin Creole was the on the brink of closing its doors when current owner, Daniel Desir, decided that he would take on the challenge of taking over the business, the only Haitian restaurant in the city. He explained that Chicago, the land of Haitian-born Jean Baptiste Point du Sable needed a Haitian restaurant. Today, Kizin Creole not only serves as a great restaurant, but also is a cultural center for its people.

This month’s recipe I wanted to share some, which historians will say has made its way from Haiti to Cuba and Puerto Rico and other countries in the Caribbean. Here is my recipe for “Fricasé en Pollo” which is known to be a French style of cooking:

Fricasé en Pollo (Feeds 6-8)

pollo

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken

1 tbs of kosher salt

1/2 tbs garlic powder

1/2 tbs cumin

1/2 tbs black pepper

1/2 tbs onion powder

1/2 tbs cayenne powder (for a spicier option)

3 tbs of vinegar

3 tbs achiote oil

½ cup of sofrito

1 small diced onion

5 minced garlic cloves

1 green pepper diced (membrane removed)

4  tbs of chopped recao/culantro

3 cups of cooking wine of your choice.

1 cup tomato sauce

2 peeled and cubed potatoes

2 carrots peeled and chopped

4 tbs of stuffed green olives

4 tbs capers

3 ½ cups of water

2 bay leaves

Salt as needed

Directions:

1) Cut chicken into parts on clean surface. Remove wings, thighs and drumstick. Split breast in two. Keep skin in tact. Wash chicken and set in large bowl.

2) Marinate chicken with first 6 dry ingredients and vinegar. Rub in well, cover, and let marinate in refrigerator at least 1 hour. If time allows, overnight is best.

3) In large saucepan, heat up achiote oil until hot. Seal in the flavors and brown chicken for about 6 minutes on all sides ‘til browned.

4) Add Sofrito, onions, garlic, green pepper, recao to pan of browned chicken. Let ingredients cook about 5 minutes.

5) Deglaze pan with cooking wine about 4-5 minutes

6) Add tomato sauce, carrots, potatoes, olives, capers, bay leafs.

7) Add water and bring to boil

8) Add salt or cayenne powder again if you enjoy spicy. This is a great time to taste food and make adjustments of taste as needed.

9) Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for about 1 hour. Chicken should be tender and falling off bone.

10) Stir on occasion and remove bay leaves before serving. Great with with rice.

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Something Rotten is Happening in Holyoke

HolyokeMuralThe debacle in Holyoke continues. A few weeks ago, we published a statement from artist David Flores whose public mural was being denied display in the highly Puerto Rican-populated Massachusetts city.

“On Saturday, September 20, 2014, my Puerto Rican Diaspora-themed piece was commissioned and then excluded from being displayed as part of a public art initiative specifically because of its affirmation of Puerto Rican identity.” – David Flores

A day after we published his statement, the town’s mayor, Alex Morse, responded to the public outcry and decided to give the Boricua-themed public art piece a permanent home in City Hall.

Now the city’s council wants to ban all public art installations. The mayor vetoed this measure. In return, the council is attempting to override this – tomorrow! Read the mayor’s full statement, here.

“Last week, the City Council voted to place a moratorium on future public art installations. I vetoed the order, and tomorrow the Council will decide whether to override my veto. In addition to my veto, I have signed an executive order formalizing the process by which public art may be installed. With this step, I am confident that the Council will choose not to override the veto.” – Mayor Alex Morse.

We should all keep in mind that almost half of Holyoke’s residents are Puerto Rican, but with very few representation in political office and public initiatives. This measure by the city council is in direct response to the controversy over David Flores’ mural, which was created to pay homage to the Holyoke’s Boricua community. In other words, the city’s elected leaders (outside of the mayor) rather trash all public art initiatives than let Latina/os or Puerto Ricans play a role in it. Let’s hope they do not succeed.

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The Flag On My Way To Work

I had seen it before, in my days as an NYU student commuting from my project building in South Brooklyn to West 4th Street on the D train. It served as a reminder of what and who I am: a Boricua raised in a working class family and community.

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Photo by the author

A Puerto Rican flag waves from a set of windows four stories below the top of a high-rise building. It can be seen while crossing the Manhattan Bridge, on the side that gives the bridge its name.

Shortly after ‘Hurricane Sandy,’ when I next took that trip over the 100+ year old structure, the flag had disappeared from sight. It was a disappointment, causing me to feel a sense of loss. From then on, gazing through the scratched glass train window, it was like looking into a void, not focusing on the building, but looking at the space where an object once lied.

Recently, I interviewed for a position in the Williamsburg Leadership Center, a community space opened in Los Sures by El Puente, a human rights organization founded in 1982. As I made my way to Williamsburg’s south side, an unexpected sight became an omen of good fortune: the Puerto Rican flag reappeared, tightly fastened to two window guards.

Now, as I make my way to work, I once again reflect on my circumstances and feel a sense of direction. In part I am driven to such deep contemplation because of my strong sense of national identity and my reading of the Puerto Rican nation as incomplete due to its bondage under U.S. colonial rule. In a sense, when I look at the flag I begin to understand my own self also as a work in progress, ever striving to better myself.

When I see the flag on my way to work, and begin to reflect, it’s a reminder of the soul of a people. A reminder that no matter the odds, I will persevere. It’s as if the flag is saying, to use a popular phrase at my workplace, “¡Pa’lante!”

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