So there was this one moment at the Transdestinations “Trans Law” panel on Sunday when I seriously considered the tactical sense of walking offstage in a dramatic funk. I didn’t, because it would have looked like I was spitting the dummy. (I talked about this afterwards, I can’t remember who I was talking to, but I said this and they responded, “Yeah, Az, you would have been spitting the dummy AGAIN!” Oh.) But it would have short-circuited the falsely nice sense that all the panellists agreed on the definition of what was politically important. Plus it might have shut Jamie Gardiner up for more than a half-second. Three things about Jamie Gardiner: a) he was the only non-trans person on the panel; b) he wears knee socks; and c) he’s from the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission and is now trying to sell the merits of the new Victorian Human Rights Charter. It’s sort of vague how transpeople can benefit from the charter, but as Jamie says, “change is incremental and we don’t want to try too hard, but just write lots of letters to your local member.” Since he spent 50% of the session talking, this dominated discussion totally. He seemed blithely ignorant of how bad this made him look.
The amazing thing is that people did, in fact, intervene on the great non-discussion of the Human Rights Charter. Crystal Johnson intervened. Crystal is a sistagirl from the Tiwi Islands. I guess one of the only great things about being nearly the only Indigenous person at a trans conference is that the facilitators’ white liberal guilt will make them give you the microphone (nearly) every time you want it. She said something brilliant, which was, “Where are our human rights? We don’t have any. We’re getting raped and beaten up and having stones thrown at our houses. What does this thing mean to us?”
At this point, Tracie O’Keefe, a hardnosed Sydney trans therapist, spoke — directly to Crystal. She said, pretty much, “It’s up to you to stop them. Wipe the blood from your face and keep getting up in the morning.” There was no sense of solidarity, it was basically, “You have to do it yourself.” It’s one of the most offensive things I’ve ever heard someone say at a conference.
It’s not really possible to communicate how fucking angry that panel made me, and how frustrating the entire conference was. Politically, it could have been much more powerful and useful. I don’t think these are teething problems; I think they have to do with what political concerns motivate conferences, and how the people organising them imagine and design the space allocated to talking about politics. Just getting a bunch of trans ‘public spokespeople’ in a room together does not result in anything worthwhile, necessarily. Good conference design is all about figuring out which conversations need to happen, and why, and how they might intervene in a broader framework where the most important conversations are hardly ever heard. Facilitators have to be on the same page about what’s important, so they can direct proceedings.
I feel bad making these criticisms, because most of the organisers are my friends, but it feels even more important to say, given this. Next year might be better. I hope so.
On the other hand, the arts and performance quotient of the weekend was terrific. Lots of great shows, especially Byrne and Erge doing a slapstick wrestlers’ bout depicting transmasculinity as scarcity, and Crystal’s performance/autobiographical rant. And while I’m linking to pics, you can also spy a picture of me doing my dirty Dr Seuss poem here.