dean spade

Trans people are told by the law, state agencies, private discriminators, and our families that we are impossible people who cannot exist, cannot be seen, cannot be classified, and cannot fit anywhere. We are told by the better-funded lesbian and gay rights groups, as they continually leave us aside, that we are not politically viable our lives are not a political possibility that can be conceived. Inside this impossibility, I argue, lies our specific political potential—a potential to formulate demands and strategies to meet those demands that exceed the containment of neoliberal politics. A critical trans politics is emerging that refuses empty promises of “equal opportunity” and “safety” underwritten by settler colonialism, racist, sexist, classist, ableist, and xenophobic imprisonment, and ever-growing wealth disparity. This politics aims to center the concerns and leadership of the most vulnerable to build transformative change through mobilization. It is reconceptualizing the role of law reform in social movements, acknowledging that legal equality demands are a feature of systemic injustice, not a remedy. It is confronting the harms that come to trans people at the hands of violent systems structured through law itself—not by demanding recognition and inclusion in those systems, but by working to dismantle them while simultaneously supporting those most exposed to their harms.
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Dean Spade, Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law, p 41

I mean, basically, yeah.

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CeCe McDonald, Reina Gossett, and Dean Spade: Prisons Aren’t Safe for Anybody

In 2011, CeCe McDonald and her friends were attacked by a group of white people shouting racist and transphobic slurs. When CeCe stabbed one of their attackers in self defense, she was arrested and imprisoned for 19 months. During that time, CeCe’s evocative and thoughtful writing inspired an international community of activists to support the campaign to Free CeCe and to advance the broader movement for prison abolition. In February 2014, one month after her release from prison, CeCe joined prison abolition activists Reina Gossett and Dean Spade in a conversation about her own experiences surviving trauma and impossible situations, and the importance of love and collective organizing for people facing systems of violence.

This video is part of the series No One is Disposable, which features conversations on trans activism and prison abolition with BCRW activist fellow Reina Gossett.

“Marriage is how the state ranks relationships by tying various property, parenting and tax statuses to how people organize their sexuality and families  and register such arrangements with government agencies. Laws relating to marriage have traditionally operated to discipline unruly subjects, managing categorizations of race, gender, poverty, ability, criminality and nationality by imposing restrictions and/or avenues for relief reliant on marriage and parentage. The rules have changed over time but marriage’s operation as an apparatus of social control remains. Despite reforms such as the elimination of antimiscegenation laws by Loving v. Virginia, which some like Judge Reinhart may believe operated to fix marriage and eliminate injustice because racism and sexism “were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage,” marriage has consistently operated in explicitly and implicitly racialized and gendered ways to control family formation, migration, health, and wealth. TheU.S. has a significant history of using laws and policies related to illegitimacy to exclude black people from key services and privileges. The fight against illegitimacy laws in the U.S. was primarily waged by advocates aimed at addressing the educational and economic marginalization that the laws caused for black people. In the post-Brown era, illegitimacy laws became a favored way to exclude black children from programs and services. This history might give pause to same-sex marriage advocates and judges who invoke the desirability of legitimate children as a neutral indicator of the desirability of marriage. Instead, anti-racist and feminist concerns about marriage law and how it structures racialized-gendered social control have fallen away and conservative promarriage arguments have been resuscitated by same-sex marriage advocacy.

Feminist activism in the 1960s and 1970s included advocacy for legal reforms that made it easier to get out of marriages and to separate certain rights and statuses from marital status. In the backlash against feminism that emerged strongly in the 1970s and has continued through today, anti-poor and anti-black discourse and policymaking have increasingly framed poverty as a result of the lack of marriage in black populations. Under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, “Health Marriage Promotion” initiatives have been used to encourage low-income women to marry, including at times through cash incentives. Thus, the U.S. has continued its tradition of managing outsider and disposable populations with marriage and pretending that unmarried parenting, rather than racism, austerity, deindustrialization, war, and the dismantling of welfare and labor protections is responsible for growing poverty.

In Israel, marriage law is also very controversial. Like in the U.S., it plays a key role in maintaining basic conditions of racialized hierarchy necessary to settler colonialism. This happens in a number of ways that are very obvious parts of the ethnic cleansing project that seeks to win a demographic war to ensure that Jews outnumber Arabs and that a particular narrowly defined kind of Jewish life is cultivated. One obvious example is that civil marriage does not exist in Israel so marriage between people of different religions, or even between people who have different matrilineal or patrilineal Jewish heritage, is not allowed and hundreds of Israeli couples fly to Cypress every month to marry. This approach to marriage is contested by many Israelis who see it as a threat to freedom of religion, but it more broadly attests to the use of marriage as a tool of population control aimed at settlement and population displacement and replacement. Another prominent example is the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) (2003)51—the 2003 law that established that Palestinian citizens of the Occupied Territories who marry Israeli citizens cannot acquire  Israeli residency. Israeli citizens who marry people from other places win family unification through their marriages––their new spouses can come and live with them in Israel. Since most of the Israeli citizens who marry Palestinians from the  Occupied Palestinian Territories (“OPT”) are part of the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian, this primarily means that Palestinian families a redivided in citizenship by the 2003 law. While Jewish people all over the world have the right to citizenship in Israel, and others who marry Israeli citizens can acquire residency in Israel, Palestinians in the OPT cannot access residency  status through their spouses in Israel. Critics of the law argue that it is motivated by Israel’s desire to keep a Jewish demographic majority in Israel. Immigration policy in Israel, generally, is focused on prioritizing immigration of Jewish people. The three-track immigration system prioritizes Jewish immigration with immediate and automatic citizenship, places non-Jewish foreign immigration second with a multi-year process for gaining residency or citizenship, and  provides a third track for spouses of Palestinian citizens of Israel as long as they are not residents of the OPT or states that Israel has declared “enemy states.”

Unequal marital privileges are part of the ethnic cleansing project of the state of Israel and impact thousands of families, maintaining forced separations, depriving Palestinian citizens of Israel of access to state resources for their families that are available to Jewish citizens of Israel, and restricting movement for Palestinians. Clearly, increased access to Israel’s marriage regime for samesex couples does not change or reform the fundamental role of Israeli marriage law in enforcing occupation and state-sponsored racism. Lesbian and gay Palestinian citizens of Israel whose partners are from the OPT or “enemy states” face the same restrictions that straight people do. What does it mean to seekrecognition in a marriage system overtly created to forward an ethnic cleansing process? What does it mean to declare such recognition a victory for equality orevidence of enlightened human rights policy, and what does it mean to discuss the litigation of such recognition as “apolitical” or separate from the occupation?

"Under the Cover of Gay Rights”, Dean Spade

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A few months ago, Dean Spade gave a talk at my school about the relationship between trans students and women’s colleges. I honestly haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

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Dean Spade: History of Queers Against Police

Dean Spade talks about the dramatic shifts in queer and trans movements over the last 50 years with the emergence in the 1990s of a highly visible and well-funded gay rights movement whose demand for inclusion in hate crime legislation and police protection goes against queer and trans community-based grassroots organizing to end police and state violence since the 1960s.

BCRW and The Engaging Tradition Project co-convened a conference called Queer Dreams and Non-Profit Blues to examine the critiques emerging from queer and feminist activists and scholars about the impact of funding on social movement agendas and formations. During the conference, Hope Dector from BCRW and Dean Spade from The Engaging Tradition Project conducted interviews with many of the speakers about their analysis and strategies related to the conference themes. These interviews were edited into 30 short videos that aim to bring these critical perspectives into an accessible format for use in activist spaces and classrooms. These videos highlight the type of knowledge production that is possible when the boundaries between activism and the academy are actively traversed.

Civil marriage is a tool of social control used by governments to regulate sexuality and family formation by establishing a favored form and rewarding it (in the U.S., for example, with over one thousand benefits). While marriage is being rewarded, other ways of organizing family, relationships and sexual behavior do not receive these benefits and are stigmatized and criminalized. In short, people are punished or rewarded based on whether they marry… the existence of legal marriage is a form of coercive regulation in which achieving or not achieving marital status is linked to accessing vital life resources like health care and paths to legalized immigration. There is nothing freeing or equalizing about such a system.
—  Dean Spade and Craig Willse
Sometimes while I ride the subway I try to look at each person and imagine what they look like to someone who is totally in love with them. I think everyone has had someone look at them that way, whether it was a lover, or a parent, or a friend, whether they know it or not. It’s a wonderful thing, to look at someone to whom I would never be attracted and think about what looking at them feels like to someone who is devouring every part of their image, who has invisible strings that are connected to this person tied to every part of their body. I think this fun pastime is a way of cultivating compassion. It feels good to think about people that way, and to use that part of my mind that I think is traditionally reserved for a tiny portion of people I’ll meet in my life to appreciate the general public. I wish I thought about people like this more often. I think it’s the opposite of what our culture teaches us to do. We prefer to pick people apart to find their flaws. Cultivating these feelings of love or appreciation for random people, and even for people I don’t like, makes me a more forgiving and appreciative person toward myself and people I love. Also, it’s just a really excellent pastime.
—  Dean Spade

I’ve been disturbed to see dynamics emerge where people create the new poly norm and then hate themselves if they cannot live up to it. If they are not perfect at being non-jealous, non-threatened, and totally delighted by their partners’ exploits immediately then they have somehow failed. I have felt this way myself. Frustrated at how my intellect can embrace this approach to sex and yet my emotional reaction is sometimes enormous and undeniably negative. At times, this has become a new unachievable perfection I use to torture myself, embarrassed even to admit to friends how awful I feel when overcome by jealousy, and becoming increasingly distant from partners as I try to hide these shameful and overwhelming feelings.

This doesn’t seem like the radical and revolutionary practice I had hoped for. In fact, it feels all too familiar, like the other traumas of growing up under capitalism—alienation from myself and others, constant insecurity and distrust and fear, self-hatred and doubt and inadequacy. I do not have a resolution for this dilemma. I only have hopes, for myself and others, and lots of questions. How do I recognize the inadequacy of the romance myth while acknowledging its deep roots in my emotional life? How do I balance my intellectual understandings with my deep-seated emotional habits/expectations? It seems like the best answer to all of this is to move forward as we do in the rest of our activism, carefully and slowly, based on our clearest principles, with trust and a willingness to make mistakes. The difficulty of having open relationships should not be a reason not to try it, but it should be a reason not to create new punishing norms in our communities or in our own minds. We’ve done difficult things before. We struggle with internalized oppressions, we chose to live our lives in ways that our families often tell us are impossible, idealistic or dangerous, and we get joy from creatively resisting the limits of our culture and political system that are both external and part of our own minds.

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Dean Spade  

“For Lovers and Fighters”

Resistance is what is sexy, its what looks good and is hard to look at and what sometimes requires explanation. Why would we want to do things that don’t require explanation, that are obvious, impervious to critique because no one even notices we’re doing them?
—  dean spade
I’ll name a few of the things people in the US are working on that would be a significant benefit to trans people’s well-being: decriminalizing prostitution, stopping federal programs where local police forces turn immigrants they arrest over to the immigration authorities, ending exclusion of trans health care from health insurance programs, getting rid of surgery requirements for changing gender on ID, decriminalizing drugs, ending “3 strikes” laws, getting rid of sex offender registries. These are all vitally important efforts to address the violence trans people are facing, and they are part of broader trans political visions of a world without prisons, border, or poverty.
— 

Dean Spade

Capitalism is fundamentally invested in notions of scarcity, encouraging people to feel that we never have enough so that we will act out of greed and hording and focus on accumulation. Indeed, the romance myth is focused on scarcity: There is only one person out there for you!!! You need to find someone to marry before you get too old!!!! The sexual exclusivity rule is focused on scarcity, too: Each person only has a certain amount of attention or attraction or love or interest, and if any of it goes to someone besides their partner their partner must lose out. We don’t generally apply this rule to other relationships—we don’t assume that having two kids means loving the first one less or not at all, or having more than one friend means being a bad or fake or less interested friend to our other friends. We apply this particular understanding of scarcity to romance and love, and most of us internalize that feeling of scarcity pretty deeply.
—  Dean Spade
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Sylvia Rivera, Dean Spade & Tim Eubanks talk about queer assimilation, capitalism & resistance strategies needing to center queer & trans people of color and low income queer & trans people.

from the film Market This, a Paper Tiger Television Production and made by Kate Huh, Sarit Michaeli & Tara Mateik. Market This! documents the 1999 Queeruption gathering in NYC in response to increasing assimilation of queer people in capitalist culture as well as the shows the growing edges of organizing done without centering low income people, trans people, and people of color.

Thanks to Kate Huh for sending MARKET THIS my way.

From its roots in bottle-throwing resistance to police brutality and the claiming of queer sexual public space, the focus of lesbian and gay rights work moved toward the more conservative model of equality promoted in US law and culture through the myth of equal opportunity. The thrust of the work of these organizations became the quest for inclusion in and recognition by dominant US institutions rather than questioning and challenging the fundamental inequalities promoted by those institutions. The key agenda items became anti-discrimination laws focused on employment (e.g., the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA], as well as equivalent state statutes), military inclusion, decriminalization of sodomy, hate crime laws, and a range of reforms focused on relationship recognition that increasingly narrowed to focus on the legal recognition of same-sex marriages.



Participatory forms of organizing, such as nonprofessional membership-based grassroots organizations, were replaced by hierarchical, staff-run organizations operated by people with graduate degrees. Broad concerns with policing and punishment, militarism and wealth distribution taken up by some earlier manifestations of lesbian and gay activism were replaced with a focus on formal legal equality that could produce gains only for people already served by existing social and economic arrangements. For example, choosing to frame equal access to health care through a demand for same-sex marriage rights means fighting for health care access that would only affect people with jobs is that include health care benefits they can share with a partner, which is an increasingly uncommon privilege. Similarly, addressing the economic marginalization of queer people solely through the lens of anti-discrimination laws that bar discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation - despite the facts that these laws have been ineffective at eradicating discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, and national origin, and that most people do not have access to the legal resources needed to enforce these kinds of rights - has been criticized as marking an investment in formal legal equality while ignoring the plight of the most economically marginalized queers. Framing issues related to child custody through a lens of marital recognition, similarly, means ignoring the racist, sexist, and classist operation of the child welfare system and passing up opportunities to form coalitions across populations targeted for family dissolution by that system. Black people, indigenous people, people with disabilities, queer and trans people, prisoners, and poor people face enormous targeting in the child welfare systems. Seeking “family recognition” rights through marriage, therefore, means seeking such rights only for queer and trans people who can actually expect to be protected by that institution. Since the availability of marriage does not protect straight people of color, poor people, prisoners, or people with disabilities from having their families torn apart by child welfare systems, it is unlikely to do so for queer poor people, queer people of color, queer prisoners, and queer people with disabilities. The quest for marriage seems to have far fewer benefits, then, for queers whose families are targets of state violence and who have no spousal access to health care or immigration status, and seems to primarily benefit those whose race, class, immigration, and ability privilege would allow them to increase their well-being by incorporation into the government’s privileged relationship status. The framing of marriage as the most essential legal need of queer people, and as the method through which queer people can obtain key benefits in many realms, ignores how race, class, ability, indigeneity, and immigration status determine access to those benefits and reduces the gay rights agenda to a project of restoring race, class, ability and immigration status privilege to the most privileged gays and lesbians.

— 

Dean Spade in the chapter “Trans Law and Politics on a Neoliberal Landscape” in his book Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law, 60-62.

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Dean Spade: History of Queers Against Police

Dean Spade talks about the dramatic shifts in queer and trans movements over the last 50 years with the emergence in the 1990s of a highly visible and well-funded gay rights movement whose demand for inclusion in hate crime legislation and police protection goes against queer and trans community-based grassroots organizing to end police and state violence since the 1960s.

Could the veterans of the Stonewall and Compton’s Cafeteria uprising against police violence have guessed that a few decades later LGBT law reformers would be supporting the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a law that provides millions of dollars to enhance police and prosecutorial resources? Could they have imagined the police would be claimed as protectors of queer and trans people against violence, while imprisonment and police brutality were skyrocketing?
—  Dean Spade, Normal Life, p. 89