Above: Portraits of Charleena Lyles and Nabra Hassanen
Artwork by the amazing Raychelle Duazo
It could’ve been any other Sunday. It was over 70 degrees in San Francisco, no Karl the fog in sight. I was on my way to Chinatown for an art build and security training for Trans March this Friday (6/23), after leaving an annual community bbq in South San Francisco that I had to tear myself away from.
“Police out of Pride” is this year’s main banner at the art build for the API contingent. I thought it was fitting then that we dived into security training on how to protect and keep our communities safe at the Trans March.
We can’t rely on the police to keep us — queer, trans, gender non-conforming people of color, and specifically queer and trans black people — safe, when they are the instruments of violence themselves. I left the gathering feeling empowered with tools, proud that I was able to envision possibilities of safer communities.
And then Monday rolled along. Not long after my cup of coffee, I started hearing about Charleena Lyles, a black pregnant mother of three shot and killed by the police after calling 911 herself to report a burglary. I started reading about Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year old Muslim on her way to the mosque when she was beaten, killed, and possibly raped.
How my heart hurt.
At some point last week, I started reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s manifesto We Should All Be Feminists (Amazon | Indiebound) after gathering dust for a couple of years. I’m a big fan of Adichie’s work — Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun are two of my favorite reads and I’ve written book reviews for both in this blog.
In the TED talk turned book-length essay, Adichie lays out the the ways Nigerian society treats men and women in disproportionate ways. What she said and wrote isn’t anything new, not in Nigeria, nor in the Philippines, or everywhere: in 2017, women are still treated as inferior to men, are paid less than men, are objectified, are assaulted, are more vulnerable, are treated unfairly.
But gender doesn’t exist in a vacuum, as it interacts with a network of other factors which put women, specially women of color at the bottom. There’s also race, class, religion and others.
Recently, Adichie came under fire for saying that “the experiences of transgender women, who she said are born with the privileges the world accords to men, are distinct from those of women born female” therefore implying that trans women are not real women.
I could see what Adichie was trying to say, but I think that she just cannot make a blanket about trans women and their experiences. Ultimately, what is at the core of what she’s trying to say is the way society perceives gender — and how it defines and constricts people rather than affirm who they are.
And worse, it is not just the lack of affirmation or recognition but also how society has learned to treat people of different gender or gender nonconforming people disproportionately.
I think of Charleena and Nabra, angry at how their lives were abruptly taken, two women of color who suffered under a system driven by greed, profit and power, no matter the cost.
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Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.