«by Matthew D. Chin A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work and ...»
Given that public censure for inappropriate political practice is relatively commonplace, it is not surprising that fear and shame comes to characterize the affective landscape of QTPOC community arts. In describing their experience of being “called out” for the lack of representation of trans women in their work, one queer artist of color (who asked not to be named in this study) said, "[calling out] instills fear. I mean now, I will always remember to include this group, and this group and this group when I organize, but not from a place of education as to why that's important but because, oh my god, I don't want to get ‘called out’…I had an idea for another community project but I shelved it because I don't want someone to shit on me". The socially repressive consequences of the way in which fear is produced through "call out culture" is thus seen in the trepidation that queer and trans of color community organizers and artists have in opening themselves to potentially vociferous criticism. Like many other QTPOC community artists, Catherine shared that both her fear of being publically criticized and the shame that arises should this occur (as she related earlier), prevents her from learning more about the kinds of anti-oppression politics that serve as the criteria against which she may be found wanting. She states, "I feel like I have actual questions and there's a difference between ignorance and questioning.
In contrast to much of the literature on the politics of affect, violence and humanity, this chapter attempts to work through what it means to understand how subaltern populations negotiate these questions among themselves as opposed to how these questions arise out of the interaction between these populations and dominant groups. Though QTPOC adopt antioppressive approaches to combat systemic inequalities, the ferocity which with they attempt to ensure that this becomes the default mode of social action among themselves enacts a form of violence upon those who are perceived as failed adherents. This failing is not only a failure of one’s political practice but often comes to be understood as a failing of one’s humanity. The intensity of this dehumanizing form of lateral violence is such that it produces affective environments of fear and shame in which QTPOC experience not only a kind of anticipatory fear of being “called out” but also a sense of shame once this comes to pass. Within this set of circumstances, violence becomes the means through which dehumanization is secured as an inherently social project of political evaluation and fear and shame emerge in response to how this violence operates to secure adherence to a particular political orientation.
Struggling for humanization through transformative justice I experienced great trepidation in writing this chapter. As someone who lived, worked and socialized among the people in this account before I began to undertake this study, I worried that sharing some of the negative aspects of the social dynamics that characterize queer and trans of color organizing constituted a kind of betrayal. I also worried about the potential negative repercussions of the representations that I have offered. Would discussing the harm that QTPOC inflict on one another enable a discussion as to how they are to blame for their challenges and/or detract attention from the mechanisms of racism, sexism, homo/transphobia, class oppression that viscerally characterize their daily realities? In their report on lateral violence within Native communities in Canada, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation shared similar concerns as a consequence of their investigation into student-to-student abuse within residential schools. They state "non-Aboriginal Canadians may choose to use this information [in this report] to lay blame on Aboriginal people for the adverse events encountered. (Some comments heard include “It’s their own fault” and “They did it to themselves.”) (2014, p. 17).
As made clear in the previous section, I am not separate from this discussion of “call out culture”. The fact that I am presenting what may be considered a problematic social dynamic with potentially negative repercussions for the individuals and groups who I worked with and that I am complicit with the dynamics that I describe, obligate me to mount a generative, productive response to these criticisms. How might we begin to address the negative consequences that stem from the enactment of a regulatory ideal of radical politics in the form of anti-oppression? The key term in this question is "enactment". Queer and trans of color organizers note that it is not the principles of anti-oppression politics in and of themselves that bring about harm within community arts settings, but rather the way in which the principles come to be manifest in social relations. Thus, QTPOC in this study would never say that they oppose the dismantling of racism or the destruction of heteropatriarchy. They do however take issue with the way in which challenges to racism or heteropatriarchy inflict harm on other queer and trans people of color (as in the case of "call out culture").
The key question in the previous paragraph used the term "we" because I am not the first to point out the ways in which the struggle against oppression can perpetuate harm within queer and trans of color social circles. And not only are QTPOC organizers, activists, artists and scholars well aware of the kinds of social dynamics that I describe, but many have also begun to develop a wide range of analyses that seeks to address the violence that these dynamics produce within marginalized communities. In the final section of this chapter, I focus on one of these analyses, "transformative justice", alternatively known as "community accountability", as a response to the ways in which gaymousness and “calling out” emerge from the enactment of political transgressiveness as a regulatory ideal among queer and trans of color organizers. I argue that in its attempt to correct for the dehumanizing practice of calling out, transformative justice operates as a means of humanization.
In the preface to The revolution begins at home, Andrea Smith (2011) elaborates the emergence of transformative justice as a counterpoint to both the formal criminal legal system and newer models of "restorative justice". Drawing from her own experiences with anti- (genderbased) violence organizing in the United States, she points to a problem with earlier iterations of these efforts in their reliance on the criminal legal system as an approach to end violence against women of color. She asks, "[why were we]... supporting a system that was increasingly incarcerating poor communities and communities of color?" (2011, p. xiv). In contrast to the criminal legal system which operates through a punitive framework, models of restorative justice emphasize restoration and reconciliation. Thus, while the criminal legal system focuses on punishing perpetrators and removing them from society through incarceration, restorative justice approaches attempt to involve all parties in determining the appropriate response to a crime in the bid for community restoration. Yet Cheng, Dulani and Piepzna-Samarasinha question the extent to which “community restoration” is necessarily positive: "there are serious limits to restoring the situation to what it was before the harm- what if the situation was shitty in the first place?" (2011, p. xxvi) For Smith, problematic social dynamics within collectives jeopardize their ability to hold perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions. In contrast to a punitive criminal legal system and a model of restorative justice that leaves problematic community dynamics intact, approaches to transformative justice seek to create communities of accountability. The group Generation Five states, "Transformative Justice seeks to provide people who experience violence with immediate safety and long term healing and reparations while holding people who commit violence accountable within and by their communities" (2007, p. 5). Ultimately, transformative justice seeks to address the way in which social justice movements tend to replicate the patterns of oppression they claim to oppose with the understanding that successful movements must prefigure the kinds of societies they seek to build.
Like many queer and trans people of color, I look to transformative justice or community accountability as a way to address the harmful social dynamics that I have described in this chapter. The way in which the ideal of anti-oppression politics are enacted among QTPOC community organizers brings about a kind of dehumanizing lateral violence that produces affective atmospheres of (anticipatory) fear and shame. This ideal negatively affects those who are viciously “called out” for their improper politics as they are constantly vigilant of maintaining a particular kind of political personhood. In many ways the practice of “calling out” replicates the criminal legal system because of its harsh punitive nature. In both cases, the perpetrator of violence can be isolated from their communities: while this occurs through incarceration in the criminal legal system, "calling out" can push perpetrators out of their social circles and the shame that they experience for their political "crime" can keep them away.22 As a transformative justice alternative to “calling out”, Ngọc Loan Trần (2013) proposes the practice of "calling in" in their post on the blog, Black Girl Dangerous which "seeks to, in as many ways possible, amplify the voices, experiences and expressions of queer and trans* people of color." (Mackenzie, 2015) Trần writes, [T]he first part of calling each other in is allowing mistakes to happen...When confronted with another person’s mistake, I often think about what makes my relationship with this person important. I start “call in” conversations by identifying the behavior and defining why I am choosing to engage with them. I prioritize my values and invite them to think about theirs and where we share them. And then we talk about it. We talk about it together, like people who genuinely care about each other. We offer patience and compassion to each other and also keep it real, ending the conversation when we need to and know that it wasn’t a loss to give it a try. Because when I see problematic behavior from someone who is connected to me, who is committed to some of the things I am, I want to believe that it’s possible for us to move through and beyond whatever mistake was committed.
Note that in Trần's formulation of "calling in" the solution is not to do away with the ideal of anti-oppressive politics but rather to change the way in which this ideal is enacted; or to change the social orientation of this ideal without necessarily diminishing its normative power. While it continues to be important to engage in an anti-oppressive political practice, "calling in" helps to ensure that the perception of failing to live up to this ideal does not lead to shame-inducing, harsh public criticism or to an environment in which queer and trans people of color are fearful of making political faux pas. The importance of the principles of transformative justice on which practices like "calling in" are based are made apparent by writer, community educator and organizer, Mia Mingus (2012) who states, "If we are truly committed to ending oppression and As an important caveat, during one of this project’s community feedback sessions a friend of mine pointed out that it is important to qualify the comparison of "call out culture" to the workings of the criminal legal system because 1) queer and trans people of color and the state occupy vastly disparate positions of structural power and 2) the (social) consequences of being publically chastised are not comparable to actual experiences of incarceration.
violence, then we must be committed to each other. Then we must live out of the simple truth that we need each other. We need each other."