TOKENISTIC, OBJECTIFYING, VOYEURISTIC INCLUSION IS AT LEAST AS DISEMPOWERING AS COMPLETE EXCLUSION
- Written by The Trans Collective
Kimberle Crenshaw captures the motivation for the UCT Trans Collective’s disruptive intervention at the Rhodes Must Fall movement’s one year anniversary exhibition most eloquently.
For the Trans Collective, the commemorations that are happening at this time invite us to reflect on both the decolonial year that has been and the years that are to come. In our reflection we have found that as black, poor, queer, womxn and non-binary trans people our position in the decolonial theory and practice is unchanged.
It was as early as April 2015, just a month after the inception of RMF, that what is now known as the Trans Collective flagged the issue of a rigid loyalty to patriarchy, cisnormativity, heteronormativity and the gender binary within the space. In our founding statement we made it clear that ‘we recognise that colonization has had a severe impact on how we perceive gender and gender expression and thus we are reclaiming our space in the globalised decolonisation movement and calling for our narrative to be instructive going forward’. However, we had been coerced to construct a smaller decolonial enclave that would run parallel to RMF because of what had become apparent as a gulf in consciousness of many, particularly black cishet men, organisers where the understanding of the colony and how it operates did not connect with an understanding of patriarchy, heteronormativity and gender essentialism as colonially demarcated powers. Often times, there was an outright refusal to acknowledge that the condition of being a womxn, queer, trans, disabled and so forth is not incidental to blackness but that these conditions are collateral to blackness. So suffocating is this, that we have had to submarine from active membership. We refuse to avail our bodies and psyches for the violence that has infiltrated the decolonial project through patriarchy, cisnormativity, heteronormativity and the gender binary. Our role has now evolved into speaking back to RMF and keeping it accountable to its commitment to intersectionality precisely because it is positioned as a black decolonial space. We are black, queer and trans simultaneously. These are not severable and we deserve to be freed from their colonial baggage simultaneously too.
Following a year of literally wrestling with patriarchy and trans antagonism in the shadows of running from stun grenades, tear gas, jail cells and private security, the Trans Collective has decided to give content to what has been popularly known as ‘radical black feminist militancy’.
On the occasion of the well-attended RMF exhibition, RMF aligned trans people once again put themselves on the line by physically disrupting the cishetero patriarchy within the movement generally and the erasure and tokenism in the exhibition particularly.
First, the Trans Collective demanded that the organising committee remove all the images, videos and texts of and by trans people. As it turns out that only 3 out of more than 1000 images that ended up making it onto the exhibition roll featured a trans person’s face somewhere on them. This is truly disgrace on the exhibition selection committee and particularly those ‘black intersectional feminist’ cis womxn who sat on it for the purpose of ensuring due representation. Even more damning is that it is clear the RMF and the exhibition’s idea of intersectional representation has the faces of 4 or 5 black cis womxn repeated in a spectacular show of false inclusivity.
It is disingenuous to include trans people in a public gallery when you have made no effort to include them in the private. It is a lie to include trans people when the world is watching, but to erase and antagonise them when the world is no longer cares. We have reached the peak of our disillusionment with RMF’s trans exclusion and erasure. We are done with the arrogant cis hetero patriarchy of black men. We will no longer tolerate the complicity of black cis womxn in our erasure. We are fed up with RMF being ‘intersectional’ being used as public persuasion rhetoric. We are saying down with faux inclusivity – RMF make it clear, to the world, that we are not welcome here. RMF will not tokenise our presence as if they ever treasured us as part of their movement. We will not have our bodies, faces, names, and voices used as bait for public applause. We are tired of being expected to put our bodies on the line for people who refuse to do the same for us.
Secondly, in a bid to actualise our disgruntlement, a small group of us manoeuvred our way through the crowd, naked and decorated in red paint, grabbed the microphone from the cisgender man who was addressing the crowd outside. We proceeded to enter the exhibition venue and blocked all entrances with our naked and adorned bodies. One of the placards which we placed on top of our bodies read “Go on, jump over us one more time”, making a reference to how trans people in RMF and other fallist movements have been walked over during the last year.
As we lay at the entrances, the crowd festivities outside were continuing. At this point, one of us rose up, interrupted the speaker, took the loudhailer and proceeded to call out the patriarchy, the trans-antagonism, sexual violence that has come to be unchecked within RMF. Furthermore we called out the fact that we have had our bodies and psyches on the line in fallist movements, but are continually erased in narratives by cisgender people. The statement ended by cautioning the attendees that anyone who would enter through the blockaded doors to see the exhibition would be stepping over trans bodies and that they would have to reconcile themselves with the implication that they valued the content of the exhibition more than the trans bodies on the floor and their plight.
We then took the continuing activities outside as an instruction to actualise the work that was being done by our bodies and blockading by communicating our erasure on the exhibition content. We replaced the images with placards which told a truer story of RMF. A story of trans erasure, trans antagonism, unabated sexual assault and complicity. We left other images with marks of red paint as a display of our presence. We may not have been included in the exhibition role in a meaningful way, but it must be clear to all viewers of the exhibition that raging trans people had been in that space.
We must, however, state unequivocally that our disruptive intervention at the RMF exhibition should not under any circumstances be construed as a rejection of RMF or a departure away from decolonisation. We maintain that decolonisation is necessary for a reclamation of our humanity as black queer trans people. Our intervention is an act of black love. It is a commitment towards making RMF the fallist space of our dreams. It forms part of the journey towards the ‘logical conclusion’ of the decolonisation project. There will be no Azania if black men simply fall into the throne of the white man without any comprehensive reorganisation of power along all axis of the white supremacist, imperialist, abliest, capitalist cisheteropatriarchy. To our minds this interpretation is line with this commitments that RMF has made in its mission statement to in March 2015:
“AN INTERSECTIONAL APPROACH
We want to state that while this movement emerged as a response to racism at UCT, we recognise that experiences of oppression on this campus are intersectional and we aim to adopt an approach that is cognisant of this going forward. An intersectional approach to our blackness takes into account that we are not only defined by our blackness, but that some of us are also defined by our gender, our sexuality, our able-bodiedness, our mental health, and our class, among other things. We all have certain oppressions and certain privileges and this must inform our organising so that we do not silence groups among us, and so that no one should have to choose between their struggles. Our movement endeavours to make this a reality in our struggle for decolonisation.”
Furthermore, we want to be clear that each and everyone of the trans people who put a stop to the RMF exhibition was entitled to. Trans people have an equal stake in the Rhodes Must Fall movement. We have contributed to building the movement from scratch and we will never hesitate to reconfigure it to be in accordance with our needs and wants as trans people and with the tenets of the decolonisation project. We are the trans people who have given Rhodes Must Fall the revolutionary language of ‘womxn’, ‘non-binary’, and ‘trans*’. We are the trans people who lobbied tirelessly for the inclusion of black radical feminism as one of the three pillars of the movement, alongside Pan Afrikanism and Black Consciousness. We are the trans bodies who had invested their time conceptualising and running the Intersectionality Audit Committee. We are the trans people who spent hours at Azania enriching the movement with knowledge about the difference between sex, gender and sexual orientation, gender essentialism, intersectionality, feminism and patriarchy. We are the trans people who have time and time again allowed the violence of being probed, violated, exposed in order to grow and enrich the movement – at the expense of our psyches and bodies. We are the trans people who have spent time tolerating trans misogynoir and transphobia in order to facilitate the learning and growth of individuals in the movement. We are the trans people who have put our bodies on the line for all black people at RMF, only to have to face the same oppressor, merely with a different name, alone while organizing under the banner of the Queer Revolution and the Alternative Inclusive Cape Town Pride. We are the trans people who stripped naked at Azania house with cis women when cishet men were victim blaming a rape survivor, yet were erased the next day.
We are the trans people who have loved RMF even when it did not love us.
[The Rhodes Must Fall Exhibition, “Echoing Voices from Within” was disrupted on 9th March, 2016 by members of the University of Cape Town's Trans Collective, a student led organisation that prioritises the rights of transgender, gender non-conforming and intersex students at the University of Cape Town.
Students smeared photographs with red paint and blocked the entrances to the Centre for African Studies Gallery with their painted naked bodies. The exhibition was shut down].