Personal Reflections from New Narratives 2014 (or why it has taken me so long to write this)

**This is my personal, informal take on New Narratives and the impact it had on me. For a more objective wrap-up, please look at Snowflake Especial’s excellent post.**

The month leading up to NN2k14 and the event that inspired it, Radfems Respond, felt like something big happening. First of all, RR was a groundbreaking concept itself. It was a formal invitation from radical feminists to those outside their community to come learn some basics of their analysis and outreach. Similarly, we wanted to put on an event that would be just as innovative, except geared toward trans women. We wanted to be part of a bridge between these two groups, based on mutual respect, empathy, and recognition of certain boundaries.

It was all new, and I think we were all fairly nervous/excited about the weekend. The three of us organizers were looking forward to finally connecting with each other (and hoping to meet some other Tumblr pals) in real life. On the other hand, we were also well aware of the possibility that protesters would try to disrupt these events, and this possibility was made more credible by the successful no-platforming of RR at their first location. Much to our relief, no protesters actually showed at either event. In any case, NN didn’t garner much publicity, and most of the attention we did get was negative and dismissive. We expected that, but it was still disappointing.

I was, however, pleasantly surprised that we got some very supportive feedback from others in our community. I happened to find out that some close trans women friends of mine were much more in agreement with our criticisms of trans outreach than I had suspected. It even started to feel like we were about to see a small but significant groundswell of rationality and compassion coming from a community we were feeling more and more distanced from. We were tired of feeling pessimistic about working with others in our community to find a better way forward.

The event itself was a small discussion group of about 8 people in total. The other organizers and I put together a structure of topics for the day, hoping to guide the conversation. We started in the morning with more of a workshop type of format, but soon let discussion threads play out longer. Although we occasionally would pull everyone back to a particular topic, or change directions to get to important issues we still wanted to touch upon, the conversation flowed organically and was mostly fantastic. Our pre-screening process seemed to pay off, as everyone was respectful of others, even when disagreements arose. I felt very comfortable with the environment, and based on the fact that everyone spoke up and contributed to the conversation, I would guess that the other attendees felt comfortable enough as well. That was the main thing we were hoping to create; a safe space conducive to open and frank discussions about very sensitive and difficult topics within the trans women community. In that respect, NN2k14 was a success.

When it came time to think about working on a write-up, I consistently came up blank. I’m still not sure I’ll really capture what I got out of this day. I am so glad this event happened and I’d love to be involved in putting together others in the future. There were points of view and insights raised at NN that honestly challenged me (in a good way, I think), and I definitely feel that spaces like this can only help trans women as a community. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t seriously throw a wrench into my thinking on certain trans issues.

Specifically, I want to grow beyond simply calling out specific trends or members of the trans women community (although I still feel this is important) and actually figure out how to help my community balance its needs with the needs and rights of others; notably, women born female. First of all, though, how do we define those needs? They change based on the perspective, goals, background, and motivations of any given trans woman. Which leads to another topic of lengthy discussion that day: Is it appropriate to set boundaries around our community? How do we go about doing so? Is it even possible? What criteria do we use? What about the people we decide our community does not include? And what about medical access? Do we medicalize trans and approach it like a disorder to treat, or do we approach it from a social angle as a manifestation of internalized (and bunk) gender norms? What are the benefits and drawbacks to each approach? What are the implications of each framework? If physical dysphoria is not an acceptable diagnostic criterion due to the impossibility of objectively testing for it, how do we possibly establish a responsible medical gatekeeping system?

For me personally, I’ve wondered if I really need to go along with other people I interact with who assume I’m female, or would it actually be better to correct them? What, if anything, would correcting them accomplish? What’s the balance I need to strike between living in a way that allows me to build a somewhat normal life (from a social standpoint at least) and fully owning my entire reality in a way that challenges harmful social structures? Should I just come out and be done with it? (There’s at least one major, very personal post I’ve purposely sat on because I’ve been seriously considering this possibility.)

Basically, I learned that day that these issues are much more complex and messy than I could hope to sum up in one blog post. This will need to be an ongoing discussion. Which means there will need to be more spaces where these things can be examined realistically. This movement is still in its infancy, and the level of analysis in the trans mainstream certainly reflects that with embarrassing clarity. I talk a lot about planting seeds or opening doors for others rather than yelling at them until they change. I really feel that New Narratives can be that open door if trans women as a community are willing to walk through it.


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