“Making our gender real, it’s what trans people do. This is our gift.”
Those are the words of activist, scholar, author, filmmaker, and theorist Susan Stryker, whose Center for Ethics talk What Transpires Now: Transgender History and the Future We Need on Wednesday, October 18th focused on transgender history and the reality that trans people face in their daily lives.
Stryker hones in on a history that has been swept under the rug by our society and commemorates it herself. That’s what she did when she created the film, Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, which I had the pleasure of seeing at the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Center in Allentown on Thursday, October 19th. The movie tells the story of a 1966 riot at the Compton’s Cafeteria restaurant in San Francisco, CA where street queens rioted and fought against police harassment and abuse being heavily used against them. This act of queer resistance occurred before the famous Stonewall riots in 1969, which is credited for kicking off the modern day gay liberation movement. Stryker went on to say that there were acts of queer resistance even before Compton’s; Coopers Donuts in Los Angeles (1959) and Dewey’s restaurant in Philadelphia (1965) were the events that she mentioned.
All of this history has been erased by our society. It is history that myself, and many others were previously unaware of. Stryker went on to say that transgender history is so significant because transgender people have contributed so much to the LGBT movement and are widely credited with beginning the fight for queer rights.
“History is not the past, history is a story we tell in the present. History is not a fact, but a promise. History is a witness that bares testimony. History transpires in the here and now” Stryker states.
“Trans is the movement across a socially imposed boundary from an unchosen starting place.” This is Stryker’s own, personal definition of the word transgender. It means coming into your own while breaking the social boundaries built up by our society. She explains that we do not choose our gender at birth; gender is a social construct between ears, not between legs.
“Gender a vast and personal social apparatus that lights a magical Hogwarts sorting hat whispers the secret of our identity into our ears and places us with our kind.” This quote from Stryker points out that gender is something personal to everyone, we feel it inside ourselves from the moment we can feel love and pain.
A few facts that shocked myself and the whole audience were:
Trans people are 4x more likely to experience poverty
½ of trans people are undocumented
Trans people are twice as likely to experience homelessness, incarceration, and AIDS
41% of trans people have attempted suicide
These shocking facts made us realize that trans people are threatened and scrutinized every time they walk out of their door. They face the fear of being discriminated against, beaten, brutalized, and murdered when their performance of gender is deemed “other.” 23 trans people have been murdered just this year. Lourdes Ashley Hunter once said, “Every breath a trans person takes is an act of revolution.” When the world around you steers you more towards morality than vitality, then yes, every breath a trans person takes is an act of revolution.
Stryker’s lecture spoke louder than words itself. It was outcry from the trans community to be recognized in mainstream society and history. What transpires now is the recognition history spearheaded by trans people, particularly trans people of color. This will enlighten us and tell us what a new reality should be, and not what it merely is. It has the potential to bring about policy change for trans people in our government. We need to commemorate not just Stonewall; but Compton’s, Coopers, Dewey’s and many other acts of resistance led by trans women. We need to dig deeper into trans history, going back to the 15th century, Stryker states. What transpires now? We must make use of our ability to breathe transformation in our world, into each other, and into ourselves.