«by Matthew D. Chin A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work and ...»
Ultimately, she argues that the notion of queerness as automatically and inherently transgressive enacts specific forms of discipline and control. In this chapter, I detail how these regulatory processes operate within Toronto-based queer and trans of color community organizing circles through the public practice of “calling out”.
“Calling out”: Unmaking humanity through political surveillance Activists have long used the strategy of drawing public attention to the wrong doings of others as a way of challenging social inequality. In the context of this strategy, it is only by pointing out the shortcomings of existing social practices that they can then be subject to transformation. In this section, I examine what happens when social justice oriented groups like queer and trans of color community organizations, use these tactics among themselves. I show how the practice of public censure for improper political acts works to call into question the humanity of the censured subject(s). In describing her experience of being “called out” Filipina community artist Catherine Hernandez illustrates how these dynamics unfold.
I first met Catherine in 2008 when she visited the house that I was living in with other queer people of color. At the time, she was “new to community” and was dating an artist who was more established than she was in Toronto’s queer scene. I am not sure if it was because she The way in which queer and trans of color organizers come to be constrained in their political practice echo the works of others who examine the limited nature of how marginalized groups contest the conditions under which they are subject to mechanisms of exclusion. For instance, Partridge (2008) forwards the concept of “exclusionary incorporation” to describe how Black men gain access to German citizenship through marriage only to the extent to which they play into sexual stereotypes held by White German women. Likewise, Lemon (2002) shows that while some Roma in Russia disagree with the way in which their language appears in popular representations, how they mount their criticism often precludes a more powerful critique of the way in which processes of marginalization are secured through language. Thus, questioning the extent to which specific Romani words fit appropriately into their surrounding dialogue side steps a discussion that questions how and why Romani comes to be placed in that context to begin with.
was around people she had not met before, but I remember her as being a quiet, somewhat shy person. When I reconnected with her several years later as part of this study, I had a hard time reconciling the introverted person I initially met with the loud, rambunctious and outgoing woman who came to facilitate the Asian Arts Freedom workshop cycle in the fall of 2013. In order to make it to these workshops in downtown Toronto, Catherine had to travel quite a ways from Scarborough where she lived with her daughter and ran an independent day care business out of her home. She would burst into the room running a few minutes late with all of the energy of a fire cracker, coffee cup in one hand and purse in the other, fully ready to start the session with an arsenal of activities that she had picked up over the years from her extensive training in theatre and acting. While she readily consented to an interview with me, her busy schedule of parenting, running her own business and trying to find time for her own artistic practice meant that it was difficult for us to settle on a date and time to meet. Eventually however, we were able to arrange a skype interview where she shared some of the rude awakenings that she experienced once she became more embedded in QTPOC community.
I started performing at Read Good20 [a community bookstore in Toronto] and performers had a choice of being given an honorarium or being given rental space there…At that time, Kim Crosby and I were planning a fundraiser for the Brave New Girls retreat, which is designed specifically for queer femmes of color. We were looking for a space that was affordable and of course I thought about Read Good because I had already earned 8-10 hours of space there and we would basically get it for free. But I knew that there were some conflicts in that some QPOC did not feel welcome there as people of colour or Black people or Indigenous people…We tried to figure out different ways so that people who felt the space was not QPOC friendly would understand our decision -- including me approaching one of the co-owners re: their concerns as a QPOC myself and Black ally -- but I got This is a pseudonym. I originally designed this study to be anonymous and confidential out of the desire to protect the privacy of the individuals and organizations that I was working with. During the course of the project however, I learned that several people and organizations wanted to be identified given the lack of documentation of queer and trans of color organizing in the city. The project thus became one in which individuals and organizations could decide if and how they were to be identified in this study. Although I have been to many events at ReadGood and am socially connected to some of their staff, the fact that I did not formally speak to the bookstore about this project obligated my use of a pseudonym.
numerous angry letters telling me, for instance, that I was anti-Black for wanting to book there. It was the first time that I was “called out” and to be quite honest with you, it was abusive and brutal. It was not progressive. Boycotting is not progressive.
It's easy. Allyship looks like difficult discussions and care. Not shaming a woman of color and bullying her on a regular basis for years without a willingness to talk things out. It was the first time that people started to call me “activist” and I didn’t, and still don’t, feel comfortable with the word…I learned that as soon as you become public about your political views, some people will publicly shame you, I was being publicly shamed on facebook and in community spaces.
In sharing her experience of trying to coordinate a fundraiser for a queer femme of color initiative, Catherine spoke about the harsh public criticism that she received as a result of associating with ReadGood, an organization considered to be unwelcoming to QTPOC. Through countless hours of conversation with QTPOC community arts organizers and those who participate in their programs, I came to learn that, like Catherine, one could be “called out” for any number of reasons: for making a comment considered to be trans-misogynist, for behaving in ways interpreted to be racist, for organizing an event whose admission fees are deemed to exclude people with limited incomes etc. The term "anti-oppression" was ubiquitous in these discussions and the pervasiveness of the term within queer and trans of color organizing conversations was such that abbreviations like "anti-o" or "AO" were frequently bandied about with the expectation that parties to the dialogue would not only automatically grasp the longer term that these shortened forms referenced, but also understand the complex theoretical arguments that these forms indexed.
Anti-oppression is strongly associated with the field of social work (especially in the UK).
These approaches developed out of radical and critical social work movements in 1960s and 1970s and were deeply informed by social justice efforts led by various groups such as feminists, ethno-racial minorities and people with disabilities, just to name a few (Dominelli, 2002). In this regard, anti-oppressive orientations to social work moved to augment a strong class analysis with the acknowledgement of the need to address other forms of social exclusion such as race and gender (Day, 1992). In contrast to micro-oriented approaches that often located the source of social problems within individual human behavior, anti-oppressive approaches understood social problems as a product of unjust legal and institutional processes. Darlymple and Burke maintain that anti-oppressive frameworks, "recognize that macro social structures have an impact on social relations at all levels of society and provide a way of analyzing the causes of oppression and transforming the structures that sustain inequality" (2006, p.11). If anti-oppressive approaches provide the framework through which social action is evaluated, we can see that Catherine was "called out" or publically criticized because her actions supported an institution whose operation was considered to enact social exclusion on the basis of race and sexuality.21 Within Puar's framework, anti-oppression as a form of radical politics becomes the "regulatory ideal" which produces specific forms of discipline among Toronto-based queer and trans of color community organizers. The public practice of "calling out" is thus tied to a mode of evaluation whose enactment produces social pressure among queer and trans of color community artists who feel the need to take on a particular type of politics. Emerging multimedia artist Melisse Watson explained to me, "sometimes now I'm worried in this community that I'm not being radical enough, or not digging deep enough, or I'm way off base or I'm being The type of evaluation that this chapter describes is of a particular kind. It is concerned with political assessment and is directed toward the “offending” individual in (semi) public settings. Queer and trans of color artists and organizers also discuss how the similar types of criticisms may be aired in the absence of the person to whom these comments pertain. These kinds of criticism often circulate within social circles through what may be considered gossip and they influence the way in which particular individuals are perceived and treated. These individuals are often not aware of (and thus have no conscious control over) their social reputation and the kinds of information that is being shared “behind their back”. QTPOC artists and organizers shared with me that they were frequently preoccupied with the kinds of information circulating about them without their knowledge. In this sense, as much as they feared being “called out”, they were also worried about what was not being “called out” as well. While I was privileged to be privy to some of these dynamics, the very delicate nature of these social relations and my personal connections to many of the individuals involved prevent me from writing about them in this chapter.
politically incorrect… In this community it can be terrifying to say something about something I'm experiencing and say it properly".
In many ways, queer and trans of color community organizers and artists are justified in their fear of being “called out”. The stakes can be quite high when their ability to make a living depends on their reputation as a particular kind of political person within relatively small and insular social circles. In his interview with me, Vivek Shraya, a Toronto-based artist said, "I've had years of experience [in commercial arts settings] where people don't like my stuff. But when someone calls your work …discriminatory that's a whole other level because these are people I work with. If you don't like my CD and I see you the next day, it doesn't matter what you think.
But if you think I’m discriminatory and this is my job…I'm supposed to be a community organizer. It has such a broader impact, right?" In this statement, Vivek points out how being “called out” for failing to live up to the ideal of radical politics can have material consequences for those whose ability to work is tied to their capacity to translate these politics into practice.
While Warner contends that the respectability politics adopted by mainstream gay organizations reinforces existing social hierarchies by throwing shame onto minor queer counterpublics, some queer and trans of color community organizers use the language of humanity to argue that the enactment of the valorization of political transgressiveness is not necessarily any less limiting. For instance, in my interview with Jeff, one of the facilitators of Asian Arts Freedom School, he spoke at length about the challenges of “call out culture” in relationship to the notion of humanity. He states, If I go to a space and someone is doing fucked up shit...I might talk shit to the people I’m with to process and vent and whatever, but I think that it’s really important to realize that it’s super easy to critique people whenever we want but it’s like, in what ways do we do that? And how often does that critique serve as a means to dehumanize other people? And once a critique is used as a means of dehumanization then isn’t it often feeding into and supporting a pre-existing cycle of violence?
For Jeff, a regulatory ideal of radical political practice is problematic because as an evaluative framework, its enactment compromises the humanity of those who are perceived to fall short of political transgressiveness. While scholars of humanity have demonstrated how dominant groups write subordinate populations outside of the category of humanity as a central means of subjugation, this chapter illustrates the way in which processes of conflict and hierarchy within subordinate groups operate through the discourse of humanity as well. For instance, queer of color analyses have been keen to point out how the notion of humanity is constructed through the exclusion of racialized, gendered and sexualized difference (Agathangelou, 2013; Eng, 2010;
Reddy, 2011). Within this line of inquiry, humanity is not an a priori natural state of affairs but rather the product of a set of exclusionary social practices whereby humanity is created by simultaneously making non-humans. This approach consolidates the claims of scholars like Ticktin who argue "the category of humanity also requires attention to its complicated relations with various cognates. The human, the humane, the humanitarian, and the inhumane are clearly all at play in the elaboration of humanity...the inhumane is not only a threat to humanity, however. Sometimes it is a threat that defines humanity" (2010, p.4). By drawing attention to how QTPOC mobilize anti-oppression practices in ways that call into question their own humanity, Toronto based queer and trans of color organizers demonstrate that discourses of humanity are found not only at the interface of subordinate populations and dominant bodies but also among subordinate populations as well.