Thursday, September 06, 2007

What I learned on summer vacation

What I learned on summer vacation
WORLD WITHIN / The lessons of Camp Trans

Ariel Troster / Xtra.ca / Wednesday, September 05, 2007
"Hello, my name is Ariel, and I use feminine pronouns." That's how I introduced myself to a circle of more than 100 people, at my first community meeting deep in the woods of Hart, Michigan in August. I had just arrived at Camp Trans, the activist gathering set up a few paces down a gravel road from the Michigan Women's Festival. The camp was originally created in 1991, after an out trans woman was evicted from the festival for violating its "women-born-women" policy.

Within a few years, legendary activists including Leslie Feinberg and Riki Wilchins helped turn it into an annual pilgrimage for trans people and their allies to organize, socialize, and for a few days each year, create a space where a plethora of pronouns and gender identities are respected and celebrated.

I attended Camp Trans as an ally. I wanted to learn more about how to incorporate trans issues into my queer activism. I prepared myself for the experience of feeling like "the other." I imagined that as a non-trans women, I would somehow feel out of place. I was wrong. What I discovered was a gender- and body-accepting utopia, where I felt more comfortable expressing my identity as a femme dyke than anywhere else I've been.

The diversity of gender expression at Camp Trans was as vast as any gay pride march, nightclub, or supermarket in a cosmopolitan neighbourhood. If your only image of trans people comes from films like Transamerica and Boys Don't Cry, you would have been in for a shock. I met one woman who preferred female pronouns, but insisted on masculine forms of address. Another person identified as a "femme-identified trans boy." Others preferred gender-neutral or plural pronouns.

It made for a bit of a linguistic mud pile, but it was actually more difficult for me to adjust to living without running water, than it was to respect people's gender identities. I screwed up a few times, tripped over terminology and pronouns. Thankfully, there was no language policing at Camp Trans.

But like any ally, I had a few things to learn. While I still pine for the sun-dappled woods, I have tried to carry the spirit of the place with me in the last few weeks by applying some of the lessons I learned.

Read the rest of the article over at xtra.ca.

And if you want to know more about what you can do to support trans rights in Canada, check out this recent article on a campaign that's being launched in Ontario to have gender identity enshrined in the provincial human rights code.

Also, if you want to know what Riki Wilchins is doing these days, take a look at the website for Gender PAC -- an amazing U.S. organization that is tackling gender issues on so many levels -- sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and racism. It's a real inspiration to see such an accessible, intersectional approach to gender-based activism.

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