Accountability, Community, and Restorative Justice

Over the past year, The Brown Boi Project has been approached by several people who have shared that members of our community have engaged in harmful behaviors.  We have supported multiple accountability processes to address these harmful behaviors that community members have engaged in.

This process has been difficult, challenging and one we do not claim to do perfectly. We recognize that while we have been working through creating and engaging in processes, people have still experienced a great deal of pain, resulting in the distrust of our organization and community.  However, it is a process that we are committed to continuing to develop in alignment with our core values. Knowing how to support each other in the context of harm is hard, and BBP and our movement more broadly is still learning how to best do this.

How We Have Addressed Harm:

We have been intentional about how we try to address these concerns and struggled with when and how to share these things publicly. We recognize it is important to share with our community how we address harm in BBP and how our core values shape this process. When we are made aware of harm that was created, our policy is to believe the survivor and offer support. This is then followed by BBP engaging in a restorative justice process either through an active facilitation or in other supportive roles, based on the needs of both parties.

We work to invite all parties, the harmed as well as the one who did harm, to the table. In order for the process to be truly restorative and not punitive, all folks must willingly choose to be a part of this process. Our intentions and hopes are for the person who engaged in harmful behavior to work towards a resolution that will aid in everyone’s healing and ability to be in community with each other. We recognize that this process may or may not actually lead to that.   

We strive to recognize the context in which harm occurs: the political, systemic, and structural issues rooted in racism, misogyny, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia that give rise to a culture that often makes harm and violence a common way to relate to each other at home, in our families and in our organizations. We also know that survivors are seeking the support of BBP because the criminal justice system has failed our communities and contributes to significant harm in communities of color specifically. We recognize both that individuals need to acknowledge and make amends (if possible) for  the harm that they perpetuate, and know this harm does not exist in a vacuum. We strive to grapple with the complexities of each incident.

In addition, we recognize that these incidents impact the community as a whole, and that we are all affected by the harm. This work, and conversation surrounding it, is critical to our movement. As a movement there are many ways that people create harm within our organizations and our relationships–from physical violence to embezzlement and systemic violence around race, gender, ableism and much more. We need to engage as leaders to push our organizations to develop internal conversations and processes to address harm and find a way towards healing.  

Our Values:

Our accountability process is one that attempts to utilize the values of restorative justice to restore and repair relationships that have been impacted by harm as much as possible. We are not restorative justice practitioners and rely on the expertise of circle keepers in our community. We do not ‘out’ or publicly shame survivors or people who have committed harm in our community. Our process is one that aims to support the survivor and provide the space to heal and grow for those who have caused harm, without being invalidated and villainized.

Our commitment to maintaining the privacy of all involved can often be misinterpreted as a lack of concern or care for the survivor. However, we are deeply committed to building and practicing a restorative process that does not engage in forms of punishment, retribution, retaliation or isolation. This is why we believe that all parties need support and care when harm is perpetuated in our community. This care can only happen in the context of relationships. This is why we do not ‘out’ or dispose of any of our community members, so long as they show a commitment to grow, learn, and change their behavior. In the few instances where this was not possible, we have no longer allowed individuals to participate in community events, gatherings and discontinued all communication via social media and email. Even in these instances, we are open to folks returning to the community, but only if they demonstrate a willingness to change.

Our Next Steps:

Our ability to address harm in the BBP community is a work in progress. Our community includes a broad spectrum of LGBTQ people of color, not just masculine of center folks. We are actively engaged in an internal conversation as an organization to strengthen our processes around this work.

In moving forward, we have dedicated additional resources to support restorative justice circles that can address harm when it occurs. We are working on further developing and documenting the process we have in place, and seeking support from people who are trained to hold restorative justice circles. We are in active partnership with other organizations that are navigating similar challenges within their memberships to leverage our collective wisdom around this work.

We are also working on being more explicit about the kinds of values and behaviors we expect from the members of the BBP community. While we are clear that work with our members during our 3-5 day retreats does not erase a lifetime of learned trauma and harm, being in community with us comes with a deep responsibility to do the work of growth. Our expectation is that those who would like to call themselves Brown Bois share our organization’s commitment to leveraging power in a way that creates a world where we are all free and safe, especially for the women and femmes who make our work possible.

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“They” and the Emotional Weight of Words

Language is the space in which we carve a place for ourselves, where we demand to be seen. A reflection point for culture, community, and family to acknowledge our existence on our terms. For decades, “butch” was the only identity and term available to those of us who identified as “masculine of center.” Like many others, I lived in that space. There was much about it that I loved: the community of brotherhood, the worship of femininity, the gentility of the old-school butches. Yet, like so many other words, butch failed to capture the full depth of my soul. Its White cultural origins and resulting denial of my Black body took its toll.

I went in search of myself. I took a detour on the road to law school and, instead, went to study gender at the London School of Economics. The lone student in my Gender Research program, I cobbled together stories, interviews, and research on how our gender identity and expression become language that makes us visible in the world. In the powerful piece from the disability justice movement, “Disease Is Not A Metaphor,” essayist and librarian Cyrée Jarelle Johnson argues that “there are not more important things to think about than words, because the things that you say are the substance of your thoughts, which become the things that you do and the biases you keep close to your chest.”

Over the past decade, young people of color have created an alternative conversation around identity that has since spilled into everyday lives. From social media to college campuses and community spaces, the emergence of terms like “boi” has challenged the language and imagination of people everywhere. Instead of he or she: “they.” And they are using multimedia platforms to push the boundaries of the understanding of masculinity and femininity. It’s hard work. The daily pushback against a world that is constantly trying to make you stay in a gendered box makes you resilient but incredibly tired. Doing it in a way that offers people the humanity they themselves sometimes deny to you requires grace.

Almost every day, whether at work or standing in line at the grocery store, we too often miss opportunities to meet someone where they are in their gender understanding and help them change the way they think about gender. Instead, we’ve made it perfectly normal to educate someone by “checking” them on their lack of understanding. This approach inadvertently creates a call-out culture that reinforces hypermasculine negativity. One of the most powerfully feminine things one can do is to create; it’s a courageous act. We should be encouraging people to create and build new ways of approaching language, not cultivating fear and shame around not knowing the right thing to say.

The way forward starts from a place of vulnerability and love. A daunting feat, yet, in my life and work, it has been profoundly moving.

It begins with relationships. Even in small interactions, we can create connections that allow us to challenge one another with a goal of greater understanding. At restaurants, I gently let folks know we don’t go by “ladies” and offer up “folks,” “peeps,” “homies,” and “fam” instead. When they inevitably apologize, I remind them that we are only just meeting. How would they know the language I choose to reflect myself? I have no expectation that they will know my preferred pronoun. The interaction makes it clear that they should not simply assume gender preferences and that asking is actually welcomed.

Pronouns can be the basis from which all of us learn to see and respect each other’s identity. “What pronoun do you prefer?” is always welcome. It shows respect, intention, and commitment to see me as I see myself.

The entire lexicon for how we understand gender is shifting. For many of us, it can be a weighty, disorienting experience. But for a handful of us, this is a moment of freedom. If each of us does our part to challenge old language that pushes us back into small gender boxes, all of us will be a bit more free. Eventually we will align language with the complexity and beauty of our bodies and our authentic selves.

 

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Cole wrote this article for Gender Justice, the Summer 2016 issue of YES! Magazine. Cole holds an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics and has worked as a community facilitator, strategist, and consultant for the past 15 years. In 2010, Cole launched the Brown Boi Project, the first program in the country to bring Trans men, Queer men, straight men, and masculine-of-center women of color together to build a new vision of masculinity. They work to change the way communities of color talk about gender in the United States.

They’re Messing With the Wrong Femmes

by Juniper Cordova-Goff

To challenge our internalized oppression, it is no longer enough to consider diversity and inclusion. We must deconstruct everything we’ve learned. This is crucial in creating a society in which the intersection of transgender, femininity, and race is no longer a site of violence, one that is not plagued by misogyny and racism.

As a trans feminine person of color, each of my identities have taken some time to completely accept. Quite frankly, this is because each of my identities made up the person I was taught to avoid ever becoming. To be trans was to break a binary no one was allowed to question, to be feminine was to voluntarily present weakness, and to be proud of my browness was to admit my lack of whiteness. As I have worked to embrace these parts of me, I’ve come to realize that our communities (be it the queer community, brown community, etc.) are also complicit in the oppression of folks who identify similarly. This needs to end.

Our society’s addiction to patriarchal tradition serves as the most evident issue within this conversation. The value that we place upon masculinity has been detrimental to the perspective and treatment of womyn. Misogyny is the unequal pay within the workforce, to the hypersexualization of female bodies to strict gender roles and rigid expectation. When we take transgender people and femininity into account, the reality is only more oppressive. Transmisogyny essentially is misogyny that is intensified to reflect the continued transphobia within our world, the leading cause of the rising violence directed at the trans women, primarily trans women of color.

Part of our revolutionary generation is highlighting the need for an intersectional fight toward justice. We must recognize that the system that targets racialized bodies is a system that is interwoven with the system that violently reinforces the gender binary. We cannot take actions that genuinely bear subversive and liberatory potential against white supremacy, without also challenging the gender binary. As we work to end the violence our communities are subject to, we must remain intentional about ending all systems of oppression in order to liberate all womyn of color.

This intersectional effort includes improving our language and terminology usage. The easiest way to work against the trans community is isolation. Instead of referring to this movement as one for “womyn and trans womyn,” avoid the indirect transphobia and say womyn. (Hint: transwomyn are womyn.) As we continue to be intentional about language, we must remember that not all feminine people are womyn, and also may not be men. The inclusion of all genders is vital in ending transmisogyny in the form of erasure.

Opening spaces for gender expression is also important in order to achieve justice for all. This may look like feminist spaces ensuring that womyn and people of all expressions from femme to masc and androgyny are welcomed and supported at all times, in every conversation.

Yet, most importantly, we must deconstruct and rebuild the value we place on femininity. As I mentioned, I grew up understanding that being feminine was voluntarily presenting a weakness; femininity was choosing to look gentle and reserved. Little did I know, some of the most powerful badasses walking this planet are the most flawless femme queens in existence. Our community needs to realize this however. We must remind ourselves that education is not just for studious people in blazers, but also femme scholars. We must check ourselves when we question a feminine person’s sexual actions that is also slut-shaming. We must also move past the idea of feminine people relying on the protection of masculinity. My heels can do the same, if not more, damage than the fist of a macho man.

As people working towards the day of liberation, it is important to stay mindful of our the systems of oppression are pushing our trans femme siblings down and out. We also need to take action and work against these micro- and macro aggressions on a daily basis.

There is a war on femininity and they’re messing with the wrong femmes. *claws out*

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Juniper Cordova-Goff is a 19-year-old community college student in Southern California. As a grassroots activist, her gender and sexual identities are intertwined in all of her work, along with racial and poverty justice. Juniper is planning to major in political science and continue her work in the Trans movement, aspiring to obtain public office in the future. Juniper’s nibling (sister’s child) Adrian remains her inspiration to continue her work.

Hunted by the State: HIV, Black Folk & How Advocacy Fails Us

by Timothy DuWhite

“The Negro death rate and sickness are largely matters of condition and not due to racial traits  and tendencies.”

– W.E.B. Du Bois

I think I am suppose to start with a story, right? I mean, that is how this goes, correct? I was closeted. I didn’t think anyone loved me. My family is black, therefore homophobic, therefore incapable of offering me safety. He was five years older than me. I was eighteen and lonely. I loved him. He humored me. I didn’t wear a condom because I felt little reason to protect myself. If only I had someone to confide in. If only I loved myself more. I know better now. I would never want anyone to follow my same path. I am living through my mistakes. I am not my HIV. We can live long lives too. I won’t let this stop me. I will not let this stop me. This will not stop me.

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Above I have positioned myself as the protagonist in some teenage redemption series and you (my audience) are left wet waiting to hear what happens next. Do I find love again? Does my family ever become a site of comfort? Did my partner know he was HIV positive and give it to me maliciously? These are some of the questions that landed lily white, former Who’s The Boss character turned P.F Chang’s manager, Danny Pintauro an interview on The View. These are the questions that make Charlie Sheen’s HIV “outing” national news. These are the very questions that currently has Michael “Mandingo” Johnson sitting in a cage serving a 60 year prison term. But most importantly, it is these questions that systemically distract us from the “matters of condition” that W.E.B. Du Bois so graciously warned us about.

You want to hear a story? The moment after the nurse told me my results were positive, instinctively, in a way only black folk would understand—a warm current flushed throughout my entire body chanting, “They got me.” And in that moment I did not need a book to teach me who the “they” were I was referring to. I did not have any groundbreaking analysis to unearth the significance of the word “got” in that sentence. No, all I had was “me,” and what I know to be true after living twenty-one years in this country and in this skin—I am being hunted. This fact was made ever more present in that room as I looked up, past the nurse, to a poster behind her head that read, “1 in 3 black men will contract HIV in their lifetime.”

In the book, “Anti-Black Racism and the AIDS Epidemic: State Intimacies” author Adam M. Geary highlights the two prominent modes of analysis implemented within HIV/AIDS discourse: Biomedical Analysis vs. Materialist Analysis. Currently the analysis framing all of our conversations around disease is that of the Biomedical. What the Biomedical Analysis does is center “risk” around individuals. Biomedical Analysis asks us how many sex partners have we had. It asks us when was the last time we were tested. It asks us if we took our pills this morning—or rather, have we considered PrEP? Largely, the Biomedical approach wants to know what YOU did, what YOU didn’t do, what YOU are doing, and how YOU plan on fixing things.

The Materialist Analysis (contemporarily known as: the political economy of health or social medicine or social epidemiology) on the other hand asks an entirely different set of questions. Instead of asking what you did, the Materialist Analysis asks, “Where do you live?” It asks, “How much income does your family bring in each year?” It asks, “How far is the nearest grocery store from your house?” The Materialist Analysis understands “risk” begins within the structure and not within the individual.

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“In this way, the socially produced conditions of urban despair fulfilled their historical function in being the incubators of epidemic, with the HIV epidemic being only the more recent example rather than something exceptional.”

– Adam M. Geary

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The best, and most telling example of how Biomedical Analysis perpetuates a victim blaming, anti-black ideology can be cited in the remarks of our very own Center of Disease Control (CDC). Though on the CDC’s website they make a point to implicate poverty as one of the deterrents for black people in the fight against HIV—in a recent reporting the CDC doesn’t fail to herald their Biomedical, white-supremacist, racist fuckery. This reporting begins by stating,

“While the overall number of HIV cases has dropped in the U.S., two groups are seeing a sharp increase.” The report then proceeds to explain that HIV cases have increased by 87 percent among gay and bisexual black and latino men. The most telling aspect of this entire report is the CDC’s take on the reason for such an occurrence, “part of the problem is many in that community do not use condoms.”

To say that the reason black people account for only 12% of the U.S. population yet nearly half of all newly infected HIV cases each year, is because of something black people are doing—is anti-black. However, this isn’t the first time “black behavior” is blamed for black suffering. If only he wasn’t wearing a hoodie. If only she listened and didn’t keep running her mouth. If only he didn’t take his hands out his pocket so fast. If only he didn’t shoot himself—while handcuffed in the back of a police car. It is also important to note that this sort of rationale isn’t only particular to “them” but we, black people, also tend to cite such anti-black logic ourselves. When we say statements such as, “HIV/AIDS is God’s reckoning for the deviance of the gay community,” we actively participate in a white supremacist agenda, that in turn kills us and resurrects a bolder, whiter, more resilient Jesus.

Epidemic is defined as “a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.” The word I wish for us to pay most attention to in this definition is “community.” The greatest advances in population health, especially in the twentieth century, were predicated on raising the general health of populations through social investments in drinking water, nutrition, safe housing, sanitation, and environmental safety, among other social investments. With this in mind, we can not properly have a conversation about HIV within the black community without also having a conversation about gentrification, or minimum wage, or food justice, or gender justice, or climate change, or poverty, or most importantly prison.  

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“The effect of mass incarceration on black-white health disparities is greater than the effect of access to healthcare and may even be greater than standard measures of socioeconomic status associated with health, including employment.”

– Health Sociologists Michael Massoglia

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Soon after I became more and more comfortable telling people about my status, I began to feel a shift. I found myself being called upon to speak on panels, at schools, and other HIV/AIDS related events. All of this before I really began to do my own research and discovery. The only thing I had to offer to these different spaces was my “story.” If it is true that 1 in 3 black men will contract HIV in their lifetime, what then happens to the other two when we are only invested in the story of the one who got “it”? What then happens to our black women, or our trans and gender non-conforming siblings still at risk? Before I was captured—I was the one hunted. Which is to say, no matter which one of the three a black person represents in that statistic—we are still all implicated.

When we base how we organize around HIV off the leadership of only those with a positive status we once again play into the Biomedical agenda to individualize this disease. HIV is a form of state sanctioned violence, similar to how police brutality is as well. Rarely do we question why police brutality affects us all as black folk, whether a cop shot us personally or not. It is largely understood that whether or not you, or your brother, or your sister, or any other relative was the one brutalized—it is still an issue that implicates us all. This is how we must begin to think when we talk about HIV or more importantly the greater black health crisis.

In the words of Geary, “HIV isn’t anything exceptional”—other than the fact that it garnered visibility to the black queer community as well as funds. However, visibility in correlation with capitalism once again fulfills its primary function of distracting us from the bigger picture. Moving forward in our advocacy we must center black health in all HIV/AIDS discourse and not just positive folks—that is if we’re truly interested in raising the health and well-being of all black people facing health disparities and not just the one’s wearing a red ribbon.

All of the most effective organizing and advocacy work around social change begins by centering the community most affected. In this case, the community most affected when we talk about HIV disparities is that of the impoverished who have the closest proximity to experiencing life in prison. Recently the World Health Organization, who analyzes data from 15 countries, found that black transgender women are nearly 49 times more likely than the general population to contract HIV. This is no surprise given that trans-people are nearly four times more likely to earn less than $10,000 a year.

However, where the World Health Organization, as well as all of these data collection groups, fail in their research—and in turn fails black people—is that it doesn’t account for our gender non-conforming community. The reason that perceived trans women are 26% more likely to lose a job due to bias, or 50% more likely to be harassed on the job, or 20% more likely to be denied housing, is because their very gender is being read as illegitimate—in that it doesn’t conform neatly into the standard of white femininity. It is this “non-conformity” which is the root of transphobia and transmisogyny.  It is this “non-conformity” that we must allow to empower our liberation/resistance movements given that much like religion, language, and disease were enforced upon black people during colonization—so was the gender-binary as well. In this case, the act of me still only being able to perceive my body as “male” or “man” contributes as much to the strengthening of this prison that is HIV, as does poverty. Which is why for the sake of my life, the future of my people, and the credibility of my work—I can no longer continue to do so.

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“The tragedy of illness at present is that it delivers you helplessly into the hands of a profession which you deeply mistrust.”

-George Bernard Shaw

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Iatrophobia is defined as an abnormal or irrational fear of doctors or going to the doctor. However, this commonly used definition doesn’t accurately account for the fact that this word was first birthed from the interactions of the black community and the medical industry. This definition also fails when it chooses to use a word such as “irrational.” Such a fear cannot justifiably be deemed irrational when historically this country’s medical industry have used black people as test subjects (often times to their determent) for the advancements of western medicine. Which brings me to my final question—What are we talking about when we’re talking about the “state’?

It has become all too common practice in “social justice” spaces to replace critical analysis and critical thought with popularly used and easily digestible “buzzwords.” A few examples of such terms are: intersectionality, transformative justice, and respectability politics, just to name a few. I bring this up to say, I see a common trend arising around the use of the term “the state” as always an abstract with very little effort to unpack what one actually means. In an effort to undermine this trend I wish to clarify what I am saying when I say “the state” in reference to HIV/Black Health advocacy.

When I say the state, I am referring to the cultural pathology that positions black people as disposable, therefore worthwhile specimens for experimentation, yet unworthy of proper care and sustainability. When I say the state, I am referring to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in the 1970s to the 1996 jailing of poor black mothers who were unwitting research subjects in South Carolina, to the 1998 infusion of poor black New York City boys with the cardiotoxic drug fenfluramine. When I say the state, I am referring to a history of bigotry and patriarchy shrouded in anti-blackness. However, more supremely, when I say the state, I am referring to a prison I rededicate myself each and every single day to abolishing!

 

7b81a64b-c67b-4f1f-86e1-ad99ec6bcedbTimothy DuWhite identifies as a writer, poet, playwright, performer, freelance journalist, advocate, thinker, believer, lover, friend, son, brother, and brown boi. Their work focuses specifically on love, racial & gender justice and the state of black health. Currently DuWhite is obsessed with teaching their community about the connections of the state and the violence inflected on the black body through their writing workshop “HIV & The State: Coalition Building Beyond The Condom.”

Thinking Outside the Box

by Zami Tinashe

On November 5, 2015, I did something I never wanted to do: check male on a legal document. It may seem odd that someone like me, a Transmasculine, “cis-male passing”, Transgender person would state that they never wanted to check male on a legal document, but it’s true.

I began my physical transition from being “female” passing/ presenting in March 2010, and although I preferred masculine pronouns and wore clothing that would generally be prescribed to someone who identified as male, this does not mean that I no longer identified as female, but more that I was embracing another side of my femaleness/gender: my Transmasculinity. My transition was not a result of no longer identifying as female, nor did it stem from the narrative that I felt uncomfortable in my body. In fact, I actually loved the body I was in, but knew that it was supposed to look differently than it did. Testosterone was the most accessible method for me to create that. I recognize that some who know me and my history may find it strange that I state that I loved my body and still felt the need to go through several forms of physical transition. But the changes I have made physically are not a result of hating my body, but creating one that feels like it honors and supports the Transmasculine female, encompassing who I am.

If I had to put a label on my gender, I would say that I feel more like a Third Gender, that embraces both femininity and masculinity. So why did I check male when that is not how I identify, and throughout my transition process, I have maintained completing all of my legal documents under female? Because for the first time since my transition process and name change, I will be traveling out of the country. I was recently accepted into a fellowship program and part of my program requires that I travel outside of the United States, which means getting a passport with my legal name and gender identity. But for someone like me, simply getting a passport that reflects my gender identity is more complicated. My gender identity is Transgender or a Transmasculine Female, or Third Gender, none of which are choices on the passport documentation. I don’t identify solely as male or female, but because others perceive me to be a “cisgender man,” that is how I navigate the world and what my passport documentation must say in order for me to safely travel abroad.

To travel as a Transgender person, whose paperwork and documentation does not reflect their physical appearance, can lead to harassment, a delay in returning to the United States, violence, and for far too many of us, death. Although I did not want to change my documentation, I know that in order for me to have a higher chance of not experiencing these things, I needed my passport, and soon my drivers license, to say male. Although I know that checking a box on a piece of paper doesn’t take away  who I am, I seem to feel as though I am grieving another piece of my identity.

Since my transition process, I have been struggling with people’s need to put me in their binary box of male or female. When I say that I prefer masculine pronouns but identify as female, Third Gender, or Transmasculine, I am told that I am a man and should stop trying to escape my privilege, or people automatically use feminine pronouns regardless of my preference. The more I pass as “male,” the more my female identity is ignored, and I am told that I can’t “claim” the female identity because of my use of masculine pronouns and the fact that people only perceive my male presence. My female identity is ignored and the female who I still identify and connect with, has become invisible. My preference of masculine pronouns, for many people, translates to me identifying as a man.

The notion that someone who would go through hormone therapy and have surgery, but not identify as the opposite gender, seems to be one that many people do not grasp or they feel extremely challenged by it. I identify with men and maleness, but not as a man or a male. I identify as transmasculine and masculine of center and also as a female, who prefers masculine pronouns. I identify with and embrace both my femininity and masculinity, and just because one seems to be more visible in my current gender journey, it doesn’t mean that it is valued more than the other. The idea that masculinity is not synonymous with maleness seems to create a level of confusion (and at times anger) for people, because it does not fit within the binary rhetoric which keeps things such as misogyny, patriarchy, and misandry intact. Rhetoric that says that femininity and masculinity are oppositional to one another, as opposed to different sides of the same coin, upholds the oppressiveness of gender roles, stereotypes, and injustices that lead to the senseless violence and murders of so many of our Transgender Women of Color, as well as the rape and brutalization of Transmasculine bodies.

As I continue to prepare for my quickly approaching trip outside of this country, I can’t help but continue my grieving process around a piece of my identity that is silenced and invisible due to how society has taught us to see people’s physical appearance and categorize us into one of two categories. I look forward to a day that allows people to identify with the gender that truly reflects who they are, and for us not to have to compromise or hide pieces of ourselves due to safety or others inability to think outside of the box.

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Zami Tinashe Hyemingway is a Transmasculine poet, teacher, healer and lover. He received his MSW at Arizona State University, has worked with LGBTQ youth and people living with HIV/AIDS throughout his social services career. Zami is dedicated to changing the ways in which we discuss gender justice, to reflect the fluidity in gender, and encourage people to create gender justice and equality spaces, that honor the fluidity of gender, gender expression and identities that challenge the binary. He has a spoken word album called Self Made Man/A Lovers Journey. Zami currently resides in Berkley, California with his supportive and amazing partner and their dog, and is attending the Pacific School of Religion as part of the Changemakers Fellowship. You can follow Zami on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ZTHyemingway and read his other work on Lovetransmutes.com

A Way Forward: Integrating Disability & Healing Justice Into the HIV/AIDS Movement

To truly address anti-black racism in HIV work and the disconnect between the HIV/AIDS and the racial justice movement, we have much to learn from emerging fields that are rooted in intersectionality – Disability Justice and Healing Justice. On a movement level, they offer us essential frameworks to support the complexity of HIV/AIDS and its impact on black people. Disability justice (DJ), developed in 2005 initially by disabled queer women of color, articulates the intricate connections between white supremacy, capitalism and ableism. The way that black folks, women, queer and trans people, as well as people with disabilities, are constructed as abnormal, deviant, dangerous, subhuman, and undesirable in our society, provides dominant groups with the ability to create profit and status through the exploitations of oppressed people.1

Patty Berne, one of the originators of Disability Justice and the Director of Sins Invalid, shares, [this] “framework understands that all bodies are unique and essential, that all bodies have strengths and needs that must be met. We know that we are powerful not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them. We are in a global system that is incompatible with life. There is no way stop a single gear in motion — we must dismantle this machine.” The field of HIV prevention, care and treatment has much to gain from no longer pathologizing bodies seen as deviant or diseased and allowing people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS full self-determination in their healthcare and wellbeing.

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Similar to Disability Justice, Healing Justice has also emerged as an intersectional framework developed by queer women of color. It is a way to “holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence and to bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts and minds.”2 Healing Justice seeks to reclaim our well-being from within and outside of the medical industrial complex; sees alignment of mind, body and spirit as essential to well-being; and restores as well as legitimizes the role of our indigenous traditions as people of color. Instead of viewing HIV/AIDS as something to be prevented, fixed or cured, what if we were truly concerned with discovering what healing really means for poz people? For some, this may not involve the medical system at all and that choice has to be respected. What if each of us had access to the resources necessary for our well-being based on our own desires? These are not questions that are asked of black folks who are HIV positive.

What would our policies around HIV/AIDS look like if we integrated Disability and Healing Justice? For starters, HIV transmission would no longer be considered a crime, in addition to sex work and substance use. Black sex workers and drug user communities often bear the brunt of criminalization and police harassment due to fear of HIV. Universal healthcare that includes access to people of color’s traditional healing modalities, lifting the federal ban on syringe exchange, and providing treatment and support for poz people in prisons and immigration detention centers would send a clear message about the dignity of people living with and affected by HIV. Comprehensive sex education that centers sexual pleasure, body positivity and tools around consent would give black folks the resources to make solid decisions about their sexual health and safety free from shame and judgment.

Ultimately, to truly support black poz communities, we must invest in the leadership of black people living with HIV/AIDS. This means challenging the complete absence of black folks or tokenization in leadership on a movement level, in policy, and in our organizations. We must confront the very real and insidious ways that anti-black racism and misogyny show up in our work every day – even when we have organizations run by black folks. In order to do this we need to change structures and institutions that can be transformed and be willing to let go of those that cannot. Until black folks -in particular poz, queer, trans, poor and disabled black folks – are calling the shots and given the resources behind it, we will never reach any substantive solutions in regards to HIV in this country.

The biggest lesson I have learned from black people living with HIV in my community is that there is power in being seen, held and deeply listened to by other black people. We are all on a healing journey and need the space to reflect, get support and have the authority to make decisions for ourselves. With this, we can transform our communities and the structures that bind us. Our liberation as black people is deeply connected to our ability to love ourselves enough to survive when we can, heal, tell the truth, fight for each other and no longer be complicit in the destruction happening in our community.

Much gratitude to all the freedom-loving black people and PoC allies who have inspired and informed this series. The wisdom we need for liberation is within us, and our communities.

  1. Disability Justice – a working draft by Patty Berne

  2. Reflections from Detroit: Transforming Wellness & Wholeness – Cara Page

Erica is a healer, activist, trainer and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who works in communities most impacted by the prison industrial complex and HIV/AIDS. She is a founding member of Power Inside, a harm reduction organization in Baltimore city that serves women who are survivors of gender-based violence, incarceration and abuse. She has done extensive work with youth, people of color and the LGBTQ community providing direct services and advocacy rooted in social justice and self-determination. She believes that using harm reduction strategies and community organizing will lead to healthy and powerful families and communities. Erica also works with HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County and the Downtown Youth Clinic providing clinical supervision and consultation for a new project focused on expanding sexual health services for young queer men and trans people of color.

Erica is a healer, activist, trainer and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who works in communities most impacted by the prison industrial complex and HIV/AIDS. She is a founding member of Power Inside, a harm reduction organization in Baltimore city that serves women who are survivors of gender-based violence, incarceration and abuse. She has done extensive work with youth, people of color and the LGBTQ community providing direct services and advocacy rooted in social justice and self-determination. She believes that using harm reduction strategies and community organizing will lead to healthy and powerful families and communities. Erica also works with HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County and the Downtown Youth Clinic providing clinical supervision and consultation for a new project focused on expanding sexual health services for young queer men and trans people of color.

 

Unpacking Shame In Our Movements

At its origin, the HIV movement was based in the spirit of grassroots organizing and activism. The movement had an expressed commitment to LGBTQ people, people of color, substance users, sex workers and, most importantly, folks from within these communities living with HIV and dying from AIDS. Throughout the 80s and 90s, activists and organizers affected by HIV protested and demanded treatment and protections for people living with HIV at a time when discrimination towards poz people was legal and acceptable to the general public. This history influenced my entree into HIV advocacy and direct service and continues to fuel my commitment to this work.

Today, the mainstream HIV movement appears somewhat ambivalent towards movements for social justice and liberation. HIV and AIDS is big money and billions of dollars are spent worldwide to address the pandemic. In the President’s budget for FY 2016, he has requested $25.3 billion for domestic funding on HIV/AIDS.

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Image from recent article from Kaiser Family Foundation.

My attempts at finding data on the amount of profit pharmaceutical companies stand to gain from HIV care and treatment were unsuccessful. But the recent scandal involving Turing Pharmaceuticals’ 5,000% increase of Daraprim, a medication used by people living with HIV/AIDS, is a glimpse into the motivation of some of these companies which Martin Shkreli (Turing’s CEO) clearly stated is profit. As capitalism drives this movement, there becomes a financial incentive for people to continue to become infected with HIV. I know this may sound harsh or like a conspiracy theory to some of you, but whether or not this is conscious or intentional, it is true. I have been disappointed at the lackluster attempts to speak to the root causes that increase black folks risk for HIV. The inability of these movements (HIV, racial justice, gender justice, etc.) to work at the intersections of these overlapping issues are having the greatest impact on queer, trans, and poor black folks, as well as black people living with HIV.

In my work outside of the field of HIV, I have had opportunities to work with leaders in LGBT Justice, Gender Justice, Racial Justice, and Reproductive Justice. This past year, I have attended multiple gatherings focused on boys and men of color, and have not heard HIV mentioned even once. LGBT, Gender, and Reproductive Justice organizations tend to have an analysis around HIV that is more sophisticated and often focused on criminalization and violence. Mainstream organizations from these movements tend to lack the same level of sophistication around anti-blackness in their work. None of us are perfect (myself included) and neither are our movements. We are constantly growing, developing, and learning from our mistakes and some of us have an expressed commitment to transform even when it hurts. However, given the level of urgency for black people affected by HIV and AIDS, we need to do much more to shift the differential impact HIV has on our community.

The fear of black sexuality surely contributes to the radio silence around HIV in our social justice movements and in black communities in this country. As a people, we have been hypersexualized as a way to justify repression and violence by those who uphold white supremacy. The stereotypes of “jezebel” and “mandingo” have led many black folks to project and encourage sexual piety and chastity to combat these messages as a way to re-assert our humanity. HIV – which has long been associated with sexual deviance and addiction – is an ever present reminder that indeed, some of us are actually having sex, outside of marriage, with people of all genders and with more than one partner (heaven forbid). Some of us (in fact many of us) are also having sex without using condoms, prophylactics or contraception. And what does this say about us as a people in the eyes of white supremacy? This is the often subconscious question that is at the root of our sexual repression and denial. This is why I can attend a conference for black sexologists and clinicians in 2015 and there is little to no conversation around HIV/AIDS, but there is a workshop on young black women becoming a born again virgins.

The need or desire to appear “respectable” to dominant society will never lead to our liberation. You or someone you care about can do “all the right things” and still contract HIV because it does not come from black people’s amoral behavior, but from the innumerable consequences of anti-black racism and poverty as well as the complicity of our silences. We need our movements for racial and gender justice to draw the connections between how issues such as police brutality, gender based violence, and lack of housing, jobs, education and healthcare all create the context for black people to continue to have the highest rates of HIV in the WORLD! We need to address the rampant homophobia and transphobia that exists behind our collective shame around HIV. We need the field of HIV to support the leadership and work of radical black HIV positive folks who are combatting anti-blackness in HIV organizations and services across the country.

Where do we go from here? The last part of this series will lift up practices, policies and frameworks to address the intersections of anti-black racism and HIV/AIDS in our movements, communities and organizations.

Erica is a healer, activist, trainer and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who works in communities most impacted by the prison industrial complex and HIV/AIDS. She is a founding member of Power Inside, a harm reduction organization in Baltimore city that serves women who are survivors of gender-based violence, incarceration and abuse. She has done extensive work with youth, people of color and the LGBTQ community providing direct services and advocacy rooted in social justice and self-determination. She believes that using harm reduction strategies and community organizing will lead to healthy and powerful families and communities. Erica also works with HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County and the Downtown Youth Clinic providing clinical supervision and consultation for a new project focused on expanding sexual health services for young queer men and trans people of color.

Erica is a healer, activist, trainer and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who works in communities most impacted by the prison industrial complex and HIV/AIDS. She is a founding member of Power Inside, a harm reduction organization in Baltimore city that serves women who are survivors of gender-based violence, incarceration and abuse. She has done extensive work with youth, people of color and the LGBTQ community providing direct services and advocacy rooted in social justice and self-determination. She believes that using harm reduction strategies and community organizing will lead to healthy and powerful families and communities. Erica also works with HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County and the Downtown Youth Clinic providing clinical supervision and consultation for a new project focused on expanding sexual health services for young queer men and trans people of color.