When Myths Become Truths and confusion is the order of the day

In light of the recent conflicts in the Fallist movements, due to the appropriation of cisgender patriarchs who seem to have forgotten the three pillars of Rhodes Must Fall: Black Consciousness, Pan-Africanism, BLACK FEMINISM… Let it be clear that I will neither rest, nor be silent… Not after putting my trans body on the line in ways that cisgender men will never understand. So please cis male “allies” in the Fallist ranks: educate your own!

lindokuhlethefirst's Blog

In a journal article earlier this year Achille Mbembe wrote the following

“the questions we face are of a profoundly intellectual nature. They are also colossal. And if we do not foreground them intellectually in the first instance; if we do not develop a complex understanding of the nature of what we are actually facing, we will end up with the same old techno-bureaucratic fixes that have led us, in the first place, to the current cul-desac.”

Lately I have heard comrades who I deeply admire blame the problems that we face on feminism. It is said that feminism is the death of our revolution. I therefore took the time to debunk such theories before they become the undisputed truths in our circles. It is important that in our analysis of the revolution we are not lazy to go to the deep intellectual dungeons.

From my analysis of the black…

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Armed struggle: What must now happen?

When thinking about the continuing militarisation of universities across South Africa, the justifications used for such militarisation must be questioned. Private security in South Africa, as the author points out, have become an “armed wing” of the privileged…

onestabwrites

I was at a talk the other day where a PAC/APLA veteran spoke at the District 6 museum. It was disappointing for a number of reasons but one thing that he said struck me in particular.

He said that the armed struggle is over.

That statement in particular struck a chord because I had been, before then, been thinking about some things related to the concept of armed struggle in contemporary South Africa. That statement and its sentiment highlighted exactly the dynamics I had been thinking about and was trying to subvert…

True, the ‘armed struggle’ in the way that it was thought and fought in late apartheid is over. But surely we are blinding ourselves to a whole lot of realities if we take that statement as truth?

We live in a highly militarised society. People are armed. Certain people are armed.

Cast our minds back to 2012 when…

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On Adam Habib’s “order” and the entitlement of cis & trans women and non binary bodies

Adam Habib’s open letter, on behalf of the Senior Executive Team of the University of the Witwatersrand, justifying the use of a private security force to respond to continued #FeesMustFall protests has drawn quite a few critical responses. Most of these I agree with to a certain extend, and many ask serious questions that need to be interrogated. However, overall, I have felt that there were elements missing from the understanding of the presence of these security forces on South African campuses. I will not reiterate the many points that have already been made, but want to question the presence of security forces from an acknowledgement of intersectionality when it comes to gender.

Brian Kamanzi, in his response in the Daily Maverick, has highlighted many of these important questions, and on a whole I tend to have similar views. I agree with the sentiments that Kamanzi expresses, especially when he raises the following:

The question then becomes, surely, does the unchallenged “order” of the present lead us any closer to a potential full realisation of the right to education? What if the normal functioning of the university is in itself is party to the reproduction of social inequality? Is it not then defensible to disrupt this functioning in order to make structural change possible?

These questions are important, and they genuinely challenge the arguments that Habib has made. Kamanzi’s response further highlights that the financial expenses that these private security forces incur “tells us important things about ideology and how it operates in our public institutions”. Yet, what is missing in his response is how this ideology is inherently patriarchal, rooted in a violent masculinity; the questions of this unchallenged “order” need to be further understood in light of this.

Habib argues that private security allows for “[…] limitations can be imposed”, as opposed to public order police; yet he makes this argument in terms of the absence of guns and rubber bullets, while failing to see how he positions himself as complicit in the sexual violence that private security have committed. It is quite ironic that Habib’s letter opens with reference to threats made to a female staff member, when later he essentially dismisses the sexual violence that the security forces have committed under his mandate. As Natasha Vally and Sarah Godsell have pointed out in an open letter they posted on facebook, Habib’s assertations of denial in this instance is the same attitude that rape survivors face when it comes to their “accusations”. It is essential that Habib’s open letter, as well as the presence of private security on any campus in light of #FeesMustFall protests, is framed intersectionally; the fact is that these private security forces are another extension of a violently patriarchal system put forward by institutions where the cisgender heterosexual male still rules supreme.

Regardless of arguments on the legitimacy of violence (whether from the side of protesting students or private security), by those who have argued up and down on social media and so forth, it is a simple fact that private security forces are sexually harassing women and non-binary students. Interrogations of the presence of these security forces need to thus take into account a gender context. In fact I would argue that in every public engagement where I have heard Habib and other Vice-Chancellors speak, they have acted as patriarchs who seek to keep their house in order according to their terms; and this is why their supposed support for free education rings hollow to me, not because of their deflection to government, but because their refusal to acknowledge the intersectionality of the debate. In part this has been lost even within #FeesMustFall movements internally even, yet it is essential that access to education is understood in the context of continued rape culture on South African campuses. The imposition of a largely cisgender male private security force that has committed such violations needs to be understood as a further dismissal of the barriers that women and non-binary people face in accessing these spaces. It is a further perpetuation of rape culture when private security sexually harasses and assaults students who are protesting. It is another tool to further silence women and non-binary people, to – so to speak – “put them in their place”.

For a large part of last year the hashtag #MbokodoLead has been used to highlight the leadership that (cis) women took in #FeesMustFall (while trans women and non-binary people were equally vocal and present, I do would argue that they were too often made invisible, but that is an argument I will expand on some other time.) Whether intentionally or not, the specific sexual nature of how private security forces have reacted to female students protesting becomes part of a patriarchal system that seeks to undermine women at every angle. It is a simple dismissal of the role women and non-binary people play in these events; and the reaction of Habib to these events show the cisgender male privilege he has ended up imposing on his campus. The mandate of Vice-Chancellors to “maintain order” – as Habib expresses – is thus a mandate to maintain a patriarchal system, made real and tangible by a private security force that has no regard for women’s bodies, trans bodies, non-binary bodies. In this regard, the use of these private security forces cannot be justified in any way.

Even if there were no “clear” instances of sexual violence, still one needs to interrogate the presence of large cisgender male security forces on South African campuses. At UCT, harassment from the regular campus security is already an issue, and this was only further amplified by the presence of security forces who sexually harass those they read as “female” by catcalling and so forth. The sheer presence of cis male “authority” that is displayed in the form of scores of cis male bodies that are expressly there to police campuses according to the mandate of a university management that has repeatedly put the lives and rights of perpetrators of sexual violence and rape above that of the survivors is telling as to who the space itself belongs to. The entitlement that private security forces have shown in terms of the women bodies, trans bodies, non-binary bodies is a perpetuation of the entitlement that cis men act on daily in South Africa.

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“Brave enough”… to be WHITE???

12400660_10153947867685739_6470216236456597505_nSo, after outcry and backlash Cape Town Pride has decided to change their theme/slogan for 2016 Pride: “Brave Enough”… And with this they have missed the point completely. I have previously written about the need to shut Cape Town Pride down, but the theme of “Gay, Proud, Colourblind” was ever only the latest nonsense that has come from a group of white cis gay boys who have managed to turn Cape Town Pride into a racist, apolitical, jol for those who fit within very narrow definitions of queerness. And Besides that, their new slogan doesn’t do much better than the old one…

The question “are you brave enough?” is perhaps on point, but not for the reasons that Cape Town Pride things. How is “Brave enough” relevant for a parade in Green Point, in an area of whiteness? What it asks is whether people of colour are brave enough to venture into an area where we are profiled, are unsafe because of white privilege, white racism, white arrogance… “Brave enough” is problematic because for white cis gay men and white lesbian women there is no bravery needed to party in Green point, there is no bravery needed to be open in an area that eagerly embraces whiteness. The bravery comes in people of colour needing to deal with whiteness that is rampant at Cape Town Pride, in white areas such as Green Point. Where is the bravery from white queer people who seek to just party in their comfort zone? As it is the reality even for queer and trans people of colour to be brave to simply be, to simply exist in a world where both whiteness and cisnormativity rules supreme?

Yet beyond the issue of themes… again, Cape Town Pride has dodged the issue of cisnormativity, of whiteness, at their “festival”… What is your plan of action to address this, apart from having your festival, again, in an area safe for white gays and lesbians? Where is your clear apology even for how offensive you have been for years now? Where is the accountability to anyone but white gays and lesbians? Are you brave enough to take responsibility, finally, and acknowledge your racism?

In the decolonial project that has been pushed throughout 2015, and is moving forward in 2016, queer spaces cannot be left out. As queer and trans people of colour who are committed to a decolonial agenda, we must equally decolonise white queer spaces and call them out for their bullshit.

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A quest for an education, and the reality of being transgender

[CN: discussion on sexual assault and dead-naming]

All I ever wanted was an education; that is really it. Ever since I was young, I dreamt about going to university, and studying something. What I wanted to study varied from engineering to linguistics, to gender studies and political science; really, all I wanted was to learn. There are a few snags there: firstly, I never had the resources; secondly, I never even managed to finish high school. A lot of rhetoric usually goes that one must work hard, that I should have finished high school, that in this individualistic society one has to take responsibility. But it never has been as simple as that. Being a queer trans woman of colour, things have never been as simple as that.

Being a runaway youth (or “kicked out of the house” youth, depending on one’s perspective) high school was the last thing on my mind. In fact, school was a place of hell, of bullying, of nightmares; to not finish high school at that time was to survive as I learnt to live with a gender and sexuality that was confusing as hell. To not finish high school was to keep myself safe, and to leave “home” as a minor still was all about survival in the face of a cis-heteronormative onslaught of judgement. And that is simply where these things start, it was at that point that there was a moment in time where I had chosen to follow through with understanding myself for my own well-being. I never regretted this decision, but I have resented the consequence that society has thrown at me. Since then, I have explored whatever was available to me to survive, and the dream of an education disappeared to the background; when one is trying to find a place to sleep for the night, for food, going through homeless shelters, there is little time to think about any future. It has been only through sheer luck and coincidence that I worked myself off the street and slowly into a lower income life. Now, more than 10 years later I have managed to claw my way up to a middle income.

And it is now, again, that my dream of an education resurfaced; mostly, because I felt the harsh impact that not having an education has on life. Seeking employment as a trans person of colour is hard enough, doing this without even a high school diploma seemed at time an impossibility; truth be told, it has only been through the charity of others that I have managed to find jobs for the most part of my life. In the end, success is less a sign of hard work and commitment than it is a sign of having privilege that sets one ahead in life… sure, it is often hard work that will allow one to drive that privilege to heights, but without the privilege, hard work can sometimes feel (and simply be) futile. But I digress; back to my education: I have spent a lot of time trying to find ways to study in past years, with my first stop being the University of Cape Town. My work experience as an activist managed to get me support from academic staff to get recognition of previous learning, and possibly entrance to post-graduate programmes in either Public Health or Gender and Transformation; now, however, resources & bureaucracy would hold me back yet again.

Eventually I managed to gain entrance into an online Master’s programme at the University of Roehampton; I went in on the recommendation of a (cis) friend, and had all the hope that I might at least fulfil this one desire that I’ve had since I was a child: to have an education, any education really. One cannot underestimate the excitement; a degree, even an online degree, would finally be within my reach. With contributions from my place of employment I would even be able to afford it. It would finally mean, after years and years, that I would fulfil this mantra of “investing in your future” even though it had been long since I was “youth”. While I was initially sceptical about the validity of online degrees, this evaporated because of the sheer youthful excitement that I had once again found. Even more so, in doing it online, I would avoid all the face-to-face interactions that would require me to be on the defensive as a transgender person… Come to think of it, perhaps in my rekindled exuberance I was somewhat naïve.

This dream fast unravelled as bureaucratic nightmares unfolded. While I thought I could keep my studies separate from my life, and just go through and get my Master’s degree and move on, I was wrong; I thought that, since it was online, I could go through it without all the nonsense that being transgender brings, and I could not have been more wrong. All parts of my life interact and intersect, and soon reality caught up. It simply started with a sexual assault in an airport by security, which happened because they could not figure out my gender; they decided to find out… physically, and without warning… Such instances can shake one up to the core at times, and I came out of the experience with a mind that was unable to focus on anything for a while. My hope to keep things separate just didn’t pan out, as I had to inform the University of Roehampton that I would be unable to finish my current module as my assignments simply couldn’t take priority over what I was going through at that time. Yet, to find out that such reasons were not good enough to warrant mitigating circumstances for not being able to submit end-of-module assignments was a wake-up call to reality. The reality that in the end, they weren’t interested really in my wellbeing… I don’t know if this is further amplified because it is an online degree, but as “reputable” UK based university, I had – falsely – expected them to have some conscious when it came to these issues. In the end I had to simply “suck it up”, and move on. I applied for a leave of absence to get myself together again.

And thus we come to now, when I am redoing the module that I “failed” last year… To log on and to see that they changed their system, and had changed my name to my dead-name everywhere. Open to see to the instructor, changed in how it is addressed to me in emails, visible at every post and response I make in the online classroom… I tend to think that cisgender people don’t realise the humiliation and violence that such an action implies, yet when I applied I had been assured that the fact that I had not been able to change the gender and name on my identity document would not be a problem; I had been assured that my name would reflect properly… Yet now, I am even unable to engage in my studies without bearing the humiliation of a dead name. And again, reality strikes as there is no consideration from this university. At this point in time, to drop out would be an option that spares me the sheer violence that this academic endeavour puts upon me; whether I should is of course a different question, and one I have yet to answer.

It is not my desire to bore you with a pitiful story of how the deck was stacked against me, but I want to illustrate something: to access and education as a transperson can be a nightmare, in fact it often is. Trans people of colour don’t do “pity parties” as society so often wants us to believe, our stories aren’t an attempt at “oppression Olympics”; rather we have a keen understanding of the position we hold. I am not pessimistic, I am a realist when it comes to the specific challenges I face; those times that I embrace optimism, reality decides to remind me of how little a trans life is worth this day still. When friends asked me why I committed most of my spare time in October to December 2015 to #FeesMustFall, to a student movement, it wasn’t because I suddenly considered myself a “student”… But it is because there is no struggle that stands on its own, there is no struggle that is only relevant to a single demographic. It is because the fight for an education is an intersectional one, and one that is particularly relevant to any trans person out there, including myself. It is because any fight for a decolonised free education needs to understand the intersections of access to such an education.

As for the University of Roehampton… perhaps relating this would provide some warning for people to stay away from their online programme, though unless one is transgender, the reality of my experience would just ring hollow to most. Another lesson that life has taught me. Perhaps I’ll yet push through with my Master’s, or perhaps I’ll choose to leave the violence behind.

 

 

 

 

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How the Facebook community standards are tools to silence voices from the margin

Facebook’s community standards and reporting feature, like so many on social media sites, is to “make people feel safe when using Facebook“*… But in reality this needs to be taken not just with a grain of salt, but an entire salt mine; the question is: “safe for who?” Of course, Facebook is not the only platform that this applies to, but it being the largest one around means that it become more visible and common there. At face value the community standards are fairly general, and seem harmless… pretty much boilerplate don’t be an asshole conditions of use. But the practical implications of how the reporting feature together with the community standards work is very problematic.

white privilegeOf course, I am not writing this just for fun; basically within a month of having a Facebook page, a comment I made to a white person being arrogant in their white privilege got reported (probably by the person it refers to, but of course that is not clear… but considering that it is the only one out of a slew of posts that got reported, it is a fairly safe bet.) And this hasn’t just happened to me, white people reporting posts of people of colour is a very common thing… A friend of mine, Wanelisa Xaba, had similar posts reported and subsequently removed by Facebook; the UCT Trans Collective’s Facebook page at some point got reported on almost a monthly basis, in their case more along the line of cisgender people reporting a trans group calling out cisgender privilege.

Stories like this are common if you look out for them, Rafaella Gunz for example has written about banned on Facebook for 24 hours for speaking out, and such stories are always from women, more often trans women, non-binary trans people, people of colour, etc. This trend is a clear indication of what is wrong with the system, and shows how the community standards – while probably meant with the best intentions – are now a tool to silence people who speak out against white privilege, trans-antagonism, queer-antagonism, sexism, patriarchy, and so forth.

For those wanting an overview of the reporting system itself, Facebook  has provided a flowchart of how it works, which is very interesting; mostly because it is clear that there is no appeals procedure for any initial reports that are made on posts, no counter to this message that “your post has violated Facebook’s community standards” until you face the endgame of being blocked from Facebook altogether… So the accumulation of reported posts remain unchallenged before it gets to that point, and provide in the end an effective harassment tool in fact.

A flowchart on how to enable white racism? (source: facebook.com)

A flowchart on how to enable white racism?
(source: facebook.com)

The reason why this turned into a trend of silencing and harassing people of colour, women (cis and trans) and non-binary trans people, etc. is because the Community Standards are general and vague… it doesn’t define what it constitutes as hate speech or harassment, leaving it to the people behind the machine to interpret. The result is that, when reporting trans-antagonism, racism, sexism, clear threats of violence from privileged people towards others, it often just doesn’t get removed by Facebook, and the people who do this don’t end up with bans. The people who do the work of moderating these posts are simply not able to distinguish things properly, with so many reported posts on a daily basis on an online platform of near a billion users; they don’t have training (or have bad training) on gender issues, race issue, privilege issue… Facebook’s use battalions of poorly paid outsourced workers to go through each and every post means that there is simply no way for them to exercise the control they claim to have over this entire process; they simply shrug at the responsibility they hold as owners of an online space.

Thus we are in a situation where online spaces such as Facebook are simply spaces catering primarily to the privileged white, cisgender, straight people out there. The societal standards that protect white privilege (amongst others) means that this filters through to how the community standards are enforced, and silences those who dare intrude upon white fragility… While one can disagree with the criticism and the vindication that happens on social media (though if you do, I’d probably ask you to check your privilege) it means that the dignity, privilege, and fragility of those who have societal privilege will be valued over the voices of those who lack such privilege. It leads to ownership of online spaces by white cis people.

When I say ownership, I mean this very literally. In all this, we need to question what online spaces are in our modern – connected – society… They are often a place of privilege, as internet access is not available for everyone, and they are commercial places. The entire setup as it currently exists is problematic for several reasons, and the main one is that the internet is so present in our lives that in order to access many services, or to participate in society, one needs access to the internet nowadays. The internet has become a public space, but it is a public space that is privatised… Imagine if 90% of our roads, parks, schools, etc. were owned by private companies, who with little to no oversight could set the rules and how they are enforced. This is what Facebook has become; it is no surprise that white supremacy, among other things, rules in this space. We need to question a lot here, and we need to understand that at this point, the way the community standards are written and applied is simply structural violence in spaces that should belong to the community.

Note:

* exact quote as of 5 January 2016 of the English version of the Facebook community standards.

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“For Us Only”: on safe spaces, exclusion, and privilege

[CN: examples of TERF arguments, and arguments about “reverse racism”]

White text on black background that says - when you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. (source: afropunk.com)

(source: afropunk.com)

There is this quote, which I have been unable to find a source for anywhere: when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. No example is more proof of this than any discussion around the creation of safe spaces in the context of race, gender, sexuality, class, etc.  Since I can remember I have gotten myself into conversations defending safe spaces that were women’s only, trans only, people of colour only, etc. And in each instance reactions came of reverse racism and “exclusionary politics”. The opposite also is very common, especially when it comes to TERF* spaces (i.e. trans women’s exclusion in women’s spaces), where then the right of a “safe space” from “men” is flaunted, ignoring the problematic and violent discourse behind trans exclusion and how it is perpetuated. Some people might argue that there is something illogical, or hypocritical in my reasoning when I defend certain spaces that are “exclusionary” while denouncing others; however, there is a clear line that defines when something is a safe space, as opposed to exclusionary.

It is really important to understand the issue of privilege in order to properly contextualise why a space would be stated to be “for _____ only”; privilege is what defines whether it is exclusionary and problematic, or whether it is about creating a safe space. To provide an anecdote to this: a few years ago, the one in nine campaign – a social justice organisation working on the sexual rights of women in South Africa – organised a training which they announced to be for “women who are assigned female at birth, socialised as women, and identify as women”; this phrasing was clear, and carefully crafted at that, to exclude all permutations of transness… transwomen, transmen, non-binary trans people. Of course this led to an outcry from trans activists and organisations, which were met with a very defensive attitude. But what I want to get to is a conversation I had with a prominent (cisgender) Black feminist who is (or was at that time) affiliated with the One in Nine Campaign**; at the Q&A at an event immediately after this controversy, I asked her why One in Nine was excluding transwomen from a women’s space. Her answer was that “there should be times where we should be allowed to organise in exclusion”… And here is the thing, her response completely ignored the cisgender privilege that was at play here; the context should be clear, transgender people are oppressed in ways cisgender people cannot phantom, and thus cisgender women – while of course facing misogyny and sexism, like any other woman – have privilege that transgender women have not. Therefore, the position that One in Nine took was trans-antagonistic, it was TERF to its fullest extend, and it was violent and problematic… as was the defense of that position.

Picture of the back of a white T-shirt, with text in red reading: The revolution will be black-led and intersectional or it will be bullshit

(source: Rhodes Must Fall)

The opposite of this, trans people organising themselves in a safe space that does not allow cisgender people to enter, is thus also different; such a space is for those who do not have cisgender privilege to be safe, to perhaps share, heal, or organise. Such safe spaces are necessary, yet they often elicit very problematic responses from those who posses the privilege that those safe spaces are meant to protect people from. An event organised by a Black queer woman in Cape Town called For Black Girls Only, drew criticism of “reverse racism” almost immediately. In fact, I recall a conversation with a white man, where he could not understand why such a racist even would be organised; what he, or any of those in the “reverse racism brigade”, didn’t seem to understand was the white privilege that this space was seeking to create a refuge from. Rhodes Must Fall, a radical Black student movement at UCT that aims to decolonise higher education, organises itself around Black Consciousness and does not allow white people to take up leadership in their spaces; their approach has been called exclusionary and racist, but it is not. In fact, in many social movements, when white people are allowed to come to meetings, one white person can drown out a hundred people of colour with their voice;  white privilege emboldens white people to take up space, even if the space is clearly stated to be Black led. In such a context, it is sometimes (or, actually, often) simply necessary to create a space that is specific and safe for people of colour, for Black people***. This is not racist, it is subversion and disruption of white privilege at its very core… by denying them the power to either control the narrative in a space, or to derail it.

Such Black only, people of colour only spaces are not the same as “white only spaces”; again we need to contextualise why such a space was constituted. White people have privilege, white privilege, and there is no valid reason for them to create an exclusionary space. White people – when it comes to race – do not need a safe space, because their whiteness gives them safety. The incredulous responses from white people are in many ways an expression of white fragility; their reactions stem from an irrational fear that they, as white people, face “reverse racism”. But even further than that, it often simply is a way to perpetuate white racism, and their defense of “white only spaces” are in ignorance of the fact that on any level, white people – even in South Africa – have plenty of spaces where they dominate as white people, where any person of colour who enters the space will be profiles, scrutunised, and need to justify why they entering “their” space. And there it is, the white privilege, the perpetuation of white supremacy, through white fragility and fears… A clear example was the comment on an article that I shared on my Facebook page about a “whites only dating site”:

Screenshot of a facebook comment by Henry Krinkle stating: Congratulations, this will probably the dumbest thing I read in 2016. Where's the "supremacists" part? Why is it wrong for white people to have a dating site when literally EVERY other group in the world has one? is it racist to want to date within your own race? If I were a white Jew, is is OK that I join the Jewish dating sites? This is an absolutely pathetic article. - And response by HJKim: If you understand the inherent dynamics of strucutral racism and white supremacy than you would know. People of colour creating spaces for themselves is so they can be safe from white racism. Whites creating whites only spaces is just apartheid-throwback.

When white people equate the creation of safe space by people of colour to the racism inherent in any “whites only space” – whether through underlying attitudes in white dominated spaces, or through explicitly organising them – it shows how they experience the creation of safe spaces by people of colour as oppression. That is where the arguments of “reverse racism” stem from why people of colour create safe spaces. To the privileged, equality feels like oppression… and it is very much the ignorance of that privilege that leads them to feel “oppressed” while being in exactly the opposite position.

 

Notes:

* TERF stands for “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism”; it is the radical feminism that has promoted “womyn born womyn” frameworks that are inherently violent to transwomen.

** I would like to state that since then I have not had an in-depth discussion about this with her, and I would not preclude that her views might have changed on this.

*** I am using the terms people of colour and Black both, as both For Black Girls Only and Rhodes Must Fall base their definition of Black in an understanding of Black Consciousness; this understanding of – as the organiser of For Black Girls Only put it – “Biko Black” encompasses “people of colour”. I am not implying that these terms are the same in any way, or that they should be used interchangeably, or that it is this simple. Rather, for the sake of the argument I positioned them next to each other in reference to the context of the paragraph.

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