Be(com)ing (Trans)feminist

Mutual Experiences of Violence Make You Seek Solidarity

/ by Anja Koletnik

Upon being asked to submit a semi-coherent piece of writing which would offer insights into what it's like to be a nonbinary activist, my mind immediately urged me to write about constantly being misgendered - due to an inability to escape the omnipresent gender binary system, never feeling comfortable when needing to choose a toilet, and just generally feeling unheard, unseen and unacknowledged in a society of dichotomies. Yet now that I am staring at my laptop screen, experiencing both excitement and anxiety with regards to (in)abilities of my own productivity, I am deliberately fighting those urges. I want to try to give way to something more than the painful and invisible, yet still at least partially normative and accessible, narrative of being a nonbinary person. I want to attempt to provide a glimpse into queer (trans)feminist struggles. Struggles of attempting to coexist with the excruciatingly restraining heteronormative and cisnormative matrix and, within this, trying to be a political actor, but also a caring and cared for person, while constantly being put in your place – from without, within and beyond the social dystopian imaginary that is referred to as “community.”

One of possible transgender flags.
It is several months that my native Slovenia had a national referendum on marriage equality. I will not go into details of the referendum, as this is not relevant for my message. The pre-referendum time, however, is a perfectly imperfect example upon which I can depict my thoughts about the immense instability of community. Referendum campaigns on human rights for members of minority social groups are rough, to say the least. If you’ve ever experienced one, from very up-close and personal, or even from a lurking distance, you know they are ruthless. Mutual experiences of violence being perpetuated by those who hold social and political power have effect, though; they make you seek solidarity, they position you on both the giving and receiving ends. It was thus during the pre-referendum period in Ljubljana, when occurrences where seen which otherwise generally aren’t; intra-personal boundaries were less present, people were less guarded. This manifested itself in an array of happenings; people who generally don’t socialize in the same circles put their heads together and worked side-by-side, some who don’t even speak exchanged greetings and hesitant smiles, people who have long left LGbt+ activism reemerged and offered their time and energy forgetting, or more likely temporarily suppressing, all the reasons why they left in the first place, or an exhausted activist getting up at 6 am to cook one-pot wonders, so that everyone in the campaign headquarters would have one warm meal a day. This time offered the ability to feel something which we would all desperately need in a constant form: mutual acknowledgement.

Poet of the Week
Valentina Neri

Vanishing one evening

without a trace.

Without  forgotten clues

on the threshold of my room

and no arrow

to show me the way.

Wherever I could have gone

Would be of no relevance:

Laid at the bottom of the sea

Buried in the darkness of the woods

In China devoid of memory

Looking for a pitiful story

Or in the desert with a shroud of sand.

Everything is fine

As long as nobody ever knows.

Sublime fantasy

Vanishing without a certificate of death

So that one day they will understand

What is baffling me now.

Come the dark days, after the pitiful falling of the referendum (63 % of the voters rejected the bill which would enable marriage to be inclusive to all people, regardless of their gender, and reinstated that marriage remains an institute solely between a man and a woman), the distances between us reappeared. I am not that naïve that I wouldn’t be aware of the fact that they were never not-present. What saddens me the most about this situation is how committed we seem to be to producing solidarity merely when under direct vile attack. Are we not all aware that we are constantly under attack, just that some battles might manifest themselves loudly, and others are perceived as silent?

I pointed out that I want to speak from the stance of a transfeminist. Being (a) transfeminist is essential to the constitution of my being. Yes, pun intended. I consider feminism as an immensely poignant ethical and political stance, one that should be ever-present, whenever considering and/or deliberating on anything that has to do with any of life’s instances. Simply put, I believe feminism to be a central and undeniable indicator of one’s politics, self-reflexivity, awareness of privileges and humility. Being (a) feminist is also about accountability. Accountability referring to responsibility towards oneself and others, with aims of safekeeping one another and be(com)ing guardians against sources of heteronormative, cisnormative, queer and (trans)misogynist community, based shaming and ill-thought moralizations. Unfortunately, feminists aren’t really desired or acknowledged within mainstream LGbt+ communities, but are rather frowned upon for striving to be intersectional, politically correct and all else that stems beyond the “happy go lucky” attitude of homonormative gay activism. Writing this sentence immediately associates me with a concept introduced by a gay activist, one that, like feminism, centers accountability. I’m talking about Crimp’s “queer responsibility,” introduced in “The Melancholia of AIDS.” Queer responsibility is a positive form of accountability within LGBTQ+ communities. People that are exuberant of queer responsibility manifest these pains and struggles which derive from moralism of the social hegemony by transcending their attitudes into genuine care for themselves and others. Such queers actively engage themselves in beneficial social and political positioning; they become resources of experience and knowledge for their community. Queer responsibility can, therefore, be a source of these crucially-needed actions, and also a source of regaining the sense of a - currently lost - community. Such responsibility withholds possibilities for queer communities to have remembrance of their ambivalent – joyous yet painful – past, and to create nuances of attachments to this past; attachments that will allow intimacy and enjoyment, yet will not abide to nuclear hetero and cis norms for being oneself and exceed shame that wants to ascend from hetero and cisnormativity. This is what I believe (trans)feminist and simply self-reflexive activism should be. This is what I believe we have the potential to be. And this is what I believe we yearn for. I know I do.

These very yearnings make me (naively?) believe striving for mutual accountability and responsibility should be openly expressed, not only during a time when the attacks on us are visible to all, even in the majoritarian society, but rather take the form of a stabile presence, an ethical value. Interconnections with instances of queer responsibility and consequently enabled mutual support can result in community (re)building and accessing community belonging. This is the imagery I believe in, while I can’t help but asking myself if this isn’t only an image, but an imaginarium? Experiencing pain and solitude, which are regular instances of a nonbinary transfeminist life in a rigorous binary everything social matrix, leads to creating images of others; others, who will be like them, others, who will provide intimacy and security and, mostly, calm their intense yearning to belong. Upon encounters of the imaginarium with reality, arrays of experiences emerge, from unification to disappointment. Regardless of these experiences, I can’t help but, mostly silently, believe, that there is more, that there are radical potentials for self-critical, honest, ethical and caring communities. If nothing else, for me they remain one of my striving forces for my work. Don’t we all need a (secret) symbolic space?

Anja Koletnik

is a transfeminist queer activist and freelance academic from Slovenia. Anja holds an MA in Gender Studies and they are particularly interested in the fields of transgender studies, queer theory, fat studies, embodiments and feminist new materialisms. They have years of experience in LGBTQ+ activism and are the founder and director of Slovenia's first transgender specific NGO Institute TransAkcija.