Listen to Every Word Janet Mock Has to Say about Trans Black Women “When folks say that they’re fighting on behalf or advocating for the protection of girls and women, they’re usually speaking about a very specific girl,” says Mock. “She’s usually not trans. She’s usually perceived to be straight. She is usually the epitome of respectability. She hasn’t engaged in sex work. She is white and/or as close to whiteness as possible.”
Make It Work: Organizing with a gender frame toolkit “Intersectional gender analysis.” Great concept, jargon-y term. It sounds like something out of an academic textbook. (Oh wait, it definitely is.) But, underneath those eleven syllables is a profoundly powerful framework: a framework that is worth your attention…. This toolkit is a playbook for how to win big.”
I married my partner of 20+ years December 9th, at Seattle’s joy-filled city hall. Families, friends, and friendly strangers gathered to cheer on the newly married couples as they descended a grand staircase. It was quite a party.
Getting married is an ambivalent thing for me, as I have been shut out of that institution for a long time. And I’ve seen the very painful, dark side of marriage in my professional life. Let’s face it, the history of marriage is one of women giving their bodies, emotional support, and physical labor to men. And still to this day, this idea and the support it gets in society narrows women’s choices and harms children—in some marriages. So why would I want to participate?
It’s complicated, because marriage is complicated. Our society uses marriage in multiple ways: as a symbol of love and commitment; as a way to access certain legal rights; and to define an economic relationship and expectations. And, historically, as a way to enforce gender roles that give men/husbands the upper hand in decisions about money and priorities in the family. At the same time, marriage is evolving, and extending marriage to same sex partners is part of a long history of changes we’ve made to marriage so that it reflects our current reality.
Since I’ve been in my relationship for over 20 years, getting married didn’t carry quite the same weight as it did for my parents. They were excited to live together for the first time, be independent of their parents, and finally “go all the way.” Um, that all happened a long time ago for me. What motivated me was something my parents and straight friends didn’t give much thought to: having protections and rights that only come with marriage. I wanted to be ensured I could be at my partner’s side if she should end up in the hospital; have the ability to make medical decisions if she were incapacitated; and know that if one of us dies, our assets will transfer smoothly to one another. Marriage makes the legal world out there safer for us and our daughter. So our marriage was a pragmatic decision.
But I was surprisingly moved as well. I think I had willfully ignored all the ways in which marriage symbolizes positive things in our culture: love, hope, the caring and kindness between people. My jaded cynicism was tempered by the joy that broke out when the voters legalized marriage equality. Watching LGBTQ couples celebrating their marriages gave me more hope for all of us, because it happened in spite of the challenges a homophobic culture places in the way of LBGTQ people creating healthy relationships.
For that reason, I think my marriage and other gay marriages may have something to teach everyone. They are part of the ongoing evolution of marriage from a system of ownership and entitlement to an institution that nurtures healthy love, human potential, and beloved community. As a very wise friend of mine (who married her beloved of 40 years) says, “everyone benefits and is honored by extending civil rights for all, and from recognizing and embracing the power of love and justice.” We are all uplifted when we extend dignity to those who have been denied rights.
I’m happy to be married. I am moved to have my state and city celebrate and recognize my relationship and those of all my LGBTQ friends. I am relieved to have the rights and protections that come with marriage. And I’m glad to know that if I should need it, I can get a divorce as well. Because no one’s marriage should take away a person’s ability to make their own choices, follow their dreams, or protect themselves and their children.
Does life get any better that this? I’ve worked in the anti-violence field for a bazillion years and it was fabulous to watch my daughters, their friends, their moms, their dads, my husband, and 980 other people I didn’t know all running and walking and having a good time at the first Refuse To Abuse® 5K at Safeco Field. Everyone was having a blast because healthy relationships are fun for everybody. So much more fun than the grim side of unhealthy relationships.
In the span of one day, a mix of people who’ve probably never thought much about domestic violence, became excited and eager to promote healthy relationships. As runners and walkers streamed by me, it was remarkable to hear “thank you for what you do, it’s important that you are here.” The goodwill I felt all around me was tremendous.
It is thrilling to imagine how we can build upon the goodwill and connection of the race participants to spread the word for change right here in Seattle. People talking about our shared hopes for our children and loved ones—happy, fun, and joyful relationships today, this minute, this moment—what a difference a day can make!
Recent conversations with friends and colleagues have me thinking about the world of human trafficking out there. Now I’m wondering, how can we develop a curiosity and care about what’s happening right here, right now?
Let’s consider the very small snapshot of runaway youth in Seattle. According to YouthCare, a local Seattle program, many youth run away from home due to abuse, neglect, and rape. Within 48 hours, young women are approached by pimps. And once they are in “the life,” inevitably they experience more sexual exploitation, criminal charges, and isolation from friends and family. Such is this world we live in. It is the world where my parents come from, it is the world where I come from, and it is the world that exists down the street from me.
Human trafficking calls for urgent action.
As Barbara Ehreinreich puts it, “the challenge is: could we stop meanness, the relentless persecution of people who are having a hard time? … We’ve got to stop kicking people when they are already down, and move toward reaching out a hand.”
We need to stop with our judgment and bias, and start being curious about how laws, policies, and attitudes impact poor and homeless people, young people, immigrants, women and children … right here, right now. Because that is the world I want to live in.
Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.
We know that violence against women is everywhere. It’s in every section of the newspaper, in every profession, in every community. So, whether we pick a group, topic, or activity, there is collaborative work to be done. Until we say that we are a single issue movement, we aren’t. And just as survivors bring us the complexity of their lives, so too must we be living the complexity of ours.
I have found wonderful collaborations and opportunities in the two things I love the most: sports and money. There isn’t time for me to rattle on about this, but I work with various sports organizations on coaching and mentoring leadership, respect, strength, and community-building, and I’m hoping to begin a philanthropy project at a girls’ school in Seattle. Some of my best work happens without ever mentioning domestic violence or sexual assault.
And so I encourage you to collaborate toward your passion. Sing, dance, pray, march, read, write, and play. Work hard, find joy, and be a good partner.