Presented at the Qouleur Festival 2015 Keynote Panel at the Montreal Arts Intercultural Centre on August 7, 2015
Good evening, everyone. Thanks for coming and to the Qouleur Collective for inviting me here and for all their hard work, as volunteers no less, in putting this incredible festival together. Thanks also to the MAI staff for their collaboration in this festival. Community building like this would not be possible without the many kinds of labour, visible and invisible, that go into creating and sustaining spaces like this – that is a special kind of love all its own.
I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge and remember that this event takes place on unceded Kanienkehake territory. that this land is one upon which blood has been shed and buried, but not forgotten. there is love, as well as rage, in that.
I’d to remember, also, the women of colour from whom I am descended and whose love and anger I carry in my body, though not always with ease:
And the names of trans women of colour who have been killed this year:
Papi. Lamia. Ty. Yazmin. Taja. Penny. Bri. Kristina. Sumaya. Keisha. Vanessa. Mya. London. Mercedes. India. KC. Amber. Schade.
And the names of living transwomen of colour who inspire and sustain me:
Kama. Alok. Sebastian. June. Shahir. January. Sophia. Betty. Christina. June. Lily. Meredith.
I was going to present something a bit more theoretical, and perhaps also a bit more coherent – a piece of persuasive writing about the devaluing of emotion in social justice organizing and why we need to centralize feelings of love and anger in our various movements. For better or for worse, though, that piece didn’t get written. I couldn’t get the words out. So, instead, I’m going to share some tangentially related thoughts – better yet, some feelings – the most I can muster together this week on the thought of rage and love.
You see, the thing is, I can’t really seem to connect to me emotions these days, at least, not in a linear sense. As a therapist, I often encourage clients to simplify their psychological realities by putting names to feelings – anger, desire, joy, sadness, despair, and so on. The point of this exercise is to connect with one’s emotional state, and thus become engaged in the dynamic process of transforming that emotion into something positive or healing.
But there are some emotional realities, perhaps, that are too complex to name. As I write this, the thought keep cycling through my mind that another trans woman of colour was found dead in the United States this week. Her name was Kandis Capri. She is the twelfth or sixteenth this year, depending on who is counting, though honestly, it seems likely that there are a great many more transwomen of colour dying whose names will never be known to us.
i reach for rage as i make this statement, but i cannot find any. it has been perhaps a year since i felt the old rage that used to live just under my tongue. rage, that powerful emotion that sits so uncomfortably close to love, that fuels so many of our political actions and demonstrations, that has become so fashionable these days in radical leftist social justice rhetoric.
i remember the first time i saw the anger of an oppressed person perfectly, beautifully articulated. the words were bell hooks’ and they set me, an impressionable second-year university student, closeted asian trans woman, on fire:
“It was these sequences of racialized incidents involving black women that intensified my rage against the white man sitting next to me. I felt a ‘killing rage.’ I wanted to stab him softly, to shoot him with the gun I wished I had in my purse. And as I watched his pain, I would say to him tenderly ‘racism hurts’.” – bell hooks, The Killing Rage
despite the vast difference between the my own lived experiences and that of bell hooks, i felt a powerful vindication in her words. i, too, knew what it was like to wish for bloody vengeance against the people benefited from structures of power that casually and viciously oppressed me. and all around me, young, queer people of colour seemed to be wishing the same. as movements like Occupy, the Quebec Student Strike, and Idle No More were born over the past few years, it seemed to me that a community of us was awakening isolated slumber into a dazzling moment of shared anger.
at last, we had the words to declare who we and what we were: queer. racialized. diasporic. excluded. exploited. hungry. angry. in the streets and on the internet we connected with each other, built solidarity, and shared our rage. we searched for wisdom from the few mentors and elders that were available and willing to teach us. we wrote viral articles and became famous on youtube and created trending hashtags, all about our craving for justice. we became the social justice warriors that spoiled white millenials mock and fear in the same breath.
we did all that, with rage. rage was the only fuel we had.
now we are living in the midst of an ever-intensifying race war in america, as economic disparity grows ever larger. most of us will never have “secure” jobs or own our homes. migrants are being shut out and deported from the Global North at increasing rates, and Black youth continue to be brutalized and murdered by the state. it seems almost every day now that i glance at my facebook news feed and see an article declaring that another trans woman is dead. i think that i have run out of rage. what will i do now?
it is common, in leftist communities, for anger to be the centre of our organizing circles – how could it not be? rage is, for so many of us, the only alternative we know to complete despair. rage is the lens through which we are able to conceptualize both survival and justice. in a recent conversation i had at a QPOC femme consciousness-raising workshop, several young queer women of colour stated vehemently that they did not wish to stop being angry. the world deserved their anger, and their anger had kept them alive when nothing else had. on the one hand, i agreed. on the other, i am no longer sure that a constant state of rage is a viable option.
when anger is all you know, anger becomes the only way through which we relate to one another. we find kinship in our shared rage, and when the bonds kinship fail us, we react with rage redoubled. one example of this is the much-critiqued “callout culture,” the practice of publicly denouncing one another for oppressive behavior – a practice that often strays from its intended purpose of creating accountability into the realm of bullying and political grandstanding. another is the intimate violence that occurs silently within our sexual and romantic relationships, the sexual assault and emotional/physical abuse that is so common yet so unacknowledged among us on the radical left.
our anger may defend us, in some imperfect way, from the oppression that the white, straight mainstream enacts upon us. but what happens when we turn that anger on each other? in a community as traumatized as ours inevitably is, i am afraid that we forget what the difference between love and rage is. i wonder, sometimes, if we ever knew.
i am tired of being angry. i am too tired to be angry. if you want to know the truth, i suspect that my anger was never entirely about the oppressor, but at least partially directed at myself. i am angry at the men who harass me on the street, and the men who raped me in my teens and early twenties, but i am also angry at myself for having been too weak to stop them. i am angry that transwomen and Indigenous folks and Black folks are dying every day, but i am also angry that i can do nothing about it.
i have no answers, no political revelations to offer tonight. i suspect that easy answers and revelations are false in any case. all i know is, when i am too tired to be angry, all i can do is ask for love. maybe this is the only activism that remains when we have nothing else left: offering and asking each other for love.