Image description: A person stands in a forest, looking up. Photo provided by Michelle Dang.
This is a guest post by Michelle Dang. Michelle is a cis woman of Vietnamese heritage living on the stolen Aboriginal land of the Jagera and Turrbal peoples (Brisbane, Australia). Michelle is a community worker, narrative therapist and writer. Most of her writing and practice is on feminism, transformative justice and anti-violence work. She will accept any ice cream or basketball challenge. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Michelle on Twitter @dang_power
My beloved friends,
I am writing this because you have shouldered me up. This letter is to all my friends and especially to queer folk, people of colour and those who live on dangerous intersections. If you didn’t already know, I want to tell you now, I love you.
I am not exaggerating when I say that I am alive because of you, that energy and blood runs through my body because of you, that my existence and presence is because of you.
I was deep in the land of hopelessness, succumbed to the hate directed towards my body. We were never meant to survive[i]. You pulled me in, whispered to me that I had more soul in my little toe than the entirety of the white supremacist shit hole I was in. It was your relentless insistence that I matter, that we matter, that we are magical that pulled me out of the pit of despair.
Of course, the pain I am speaking of is one you know intimately. That pain stems from our relationship with whoever our personal Rose is. Rose, aka White Feminism, aka Colonial Patriarchal Feminism[ii], aka Trans Radical Exclusive Feminism, aka Sex Worker Exclusive Radical Feminism.
Looking back, I can see why I fell for Rose. War and western imperialism had displaced my family from Vietnam. When we arrived in Australia, little did we know that we were moving from one occupied country to another. I was yearning for a place to call home. A place that would not replicate the violence I witnessed and experienced in my family, in my homeland or on the stolen land I found myself on.
At the time I had met Rose, I had just left a toxic relationship with Lena, aka Social Work, aka International Development. I was very vulnerable.
I was charmed by Rose’s sweet talk about unity, agency and empowerment. I believed that she would offer refuge to a brown broken-hearted girl like me. I believed that we were bound together through a shared rage at the patriarchy.
And yes, in the beginning, she embraced me, like her own. She showered me with compliments, telling me how valuable I was. She reassured me that she understood my pain, that she would fight for me, for us.
But when the honeymoon was over, I realised that I was escaping patriarchal violence within the home, and within sandstone buildings, only to meet it once again within colonial patriarchal feminist organisations. I could see the tricks and tactics of perpetrators played out on coloured and non-conforming bodies within these structures. Sweet feminist words were used as a smokescreen to cover daily acts of minimisation, silencing, gaslighting, invalidation, intimidation, isolation and bullying.
We were never meant to survive.
But we can leave evidence. Evidence that we did survive. Evidence that we matter. That we resisted and persisted. That we gave up, not on liberation, but on empty promises. So, I give testimony to the ways I have survived, the ways we have survived:
I survived because I stopped giving any more time and energy to a relationship that did not value our hopes, dreams and dignity.
I survived the contradictions and cognitive dissonance, like the time Rose spoke over me to tell me the importance of maintaining a safe space for women.
I survived all the white tears, like every time Rose cried about how horrible racism is, but threw me under the bus when I asked for accountability.
I survived numerous lectures about ‘unity’ and how my feminism is divisive.
I survived, by rolling my eyes every time Rose insisted she was neutral.
I survived by not expressing myself. Because there is a cost to naming racism.
I survived by expressing myself. Because there is a cost to not naming racism.
I survived the nausea that would wake me up every morning, because my gut knew before my head did, that I was entering a war zone. Racism is an attack on the body.
I survived because of Sara Ahmed, Audre Lorde, Mia McKenzie, bell hooks, Vikki Reynolds.
I survived (and my cis privilege allows me to survive) after daring to dream that we could dismantle the gender binary system, as though the act of pointing out cis violence causes the loss of something: harmony, peace, white cis power.
I survived when Rose racially attacked me because it so similar to how POC survive racial attacks on the daily when we snap back at men who sexually harass us.
I survived because you believed me and understood that I was not being over-sensitive or dramatic. Because white feminism has become a master at victim-blaming.
I survived by printing and reading revolutionary black feminist material courtesy of Rose’s printer, and it felt good.
I survived that time Rose and her cronies ambushed and cornered me and aggressively interrogated my feminism because I troubled their feminism.
I survived because of your unapologetic declarations that we are magnificent, legitimate, sufficient and beautiful.
I survived that time we publicly denounced Rose’s hate signs against sex workers at Reclaim the Night, and I was told I was rude and to stay in my lane.
I survived by refusing to enter mediation with Rose so ‘we could resolve our differences’. When harm occurs, what is required is accountability not mediation.
I survived that time Rose misquoted Kimberlè Crenshaw to say that intersectionality was just about racial liberation and not trans liberation.
I survived because as Sara Ahmed would say, I snapped[iii], I left.
I survived because I have my ancestors’ fighting spirit running through me. We were not erased by colonisation, dispossession and genocide and we will not be erased by colonial patriarchal feminism.
Thank you for being fierce, determined and unruly. You created what was not there. You wrote me in to history, you wrote me into existence. Because you dared to deviate, you carved a space for me to deviate. Space for me to breathe. Space for me to survive. Space for me to rest.
To my dear friends, fuck I love you. I love us.
This piece is inspired by Mia McKenzie’s ‘An Open Love Letter to Folks of Color’ in Black Girl Dangerous on Race, Queerness, Class and Gender and all the love letters I have written and read.
[i] ‘We were never meant to survive’ is the beautiful line that is repeated in Audre Lorde’s poem, ‘A Litany for Survival’.
[ii] Cheree Moreton coined the term Colonial Patriarchal Feminism or Colonial Patri-Fem for short, to describe how white feminists stigmatise and silence the one black voice in the organisation/environment.
[iii] Sara Ahmed uses the term ‘feminist snap’ in Living a Feminist Life as an act of resistance. This is when we have reached a breaking point, “when what you come up against threatens to be too much, threatens a life, or a dream, or a hope” (187).
This post is the second in the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, get in touch!
Also check out the first post in the series, All The Places You’ll Never Go, by Dulcinea Lapis.