- Transgender Visibility, Abolitionism, and Resistive Organizing in the Age of Trump: A Conversation with CeCe McDonald and Joshua Allen
Introduction by Mia Fischer
In the fall of 2017, Sarah Slater, then a student in my Queer Media studies class at the University of Colorado-Denver, approached me about helping her apply for a grant to invite transgender rights activists to campus. A cofounder of Denver’s Titwrench Festival, which has become a staple in the local queer and feminist arts scene, Sarah has a long history of doing community work and grassroots organizing. My own work examines the relationship between transgender media representations and the surveillance of trans people by the state, and like Sarah, I understood the importance of bringing young queer and trans activists of color to campus at a time when coverage of certain trans people and issues are ubiquitous in mainstream media, but others remain either invisible or are tokenized. By helping to bring activists to campus we hoped to challenge the hierarchic and hegemonic knowledge production that typically takes place in the ivory tower in order to amplify the voices of trans people themselves.
As Sarah and I started planning and organizing an event for and by trans people of color on campus, we experienced firsthand how the neoliberal university’s commitment to “diversity and inclusion” often starts and ends with lip service.1 After spending two months of sending cold emails and knocking on various [End Page 181] doors to secure funding for honoraria and travel expenses, we were unsurprised, but still disappointed, to see that the lived experiences of trans people are not deemed “valuable” for the university’s accumulation of “diversity capital.” This means that the time and effort put into this type of work is often disregarded on faculty merit evaluations, that universities reinforce elitist notions of expertise that rest on structural inequalities, and that hardworking activists/scholars whose work addresses the redistribution of power and resources go uncompen-sated. But despite many moments of frustration and set back—we were notified time and again that a seemingly secure source of money had disappeared and remained several thousand dollars short of the necessary funds right up until the event itself—we also witnessed tremendous amounts of solidarity and support from queer, feminist, and POC spaces on campus and from the larger Denver community. After cobbling together funds from more than fifteen different programs across two campuses and a GoFundMe campaign, we were able to host the #BlackExcellenceTour featuring trans rights activists CeCe McDonald and Joshua Allen on March 28, 2018.
Prior to the event, Sarah and I sat down with McDonald and Allen to talk about transgender visibility, abolitionism, and resistive organizing in the age of Trump. McDonald and Allen created the #BlackExcellenceTour as a collaborative social justice project in 2015. The tour uses art, activism, and storytelling to raise awareness and combat issues of systemic, intersecting oppressions faced by trans, gender nonconforming, and queer people of color, in order “to broaden the narrative about what it means to be black and excellent at the same time,” as they explain. As part of the Black Excellence Collective, the #BlackExcellenceTour evidences that for McDonald and Allen as for so many trans activists, art and creativity—whether it is fashion, drawing, photography, or choreography—are an important means of self-care, healing, and community building. Allen, for example, recounts their participation in Femme in Public in South Africa in 2017, a collaborative fashion and art project, which unapologetically celebrates femininity and femme identities by disrupting the heteronormative and colonial gaze.2
Despite the alleged “transgender tipping point” and the increased visibility of binary-identified trans people in recent years, McDonald and Allen elaborate in the interview that under neoliberal capitalism, the narrow confines of visibility politics remain insidious because it paradoxically produces more, rather than less, violence against marginalized trans communities. It is not a coincidence that this visibility has been paralleled by a stark increase in the murders of trans women of color at the hands of both civilians and law enforcement, a fact that has failed to garner...