Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are entirely my own and do not reflect the views of SPACES or APSA or any other parties involved.
People often ask me: Why is SPACES primarily made up of womyn and queer people? For a while I didn’t have an answer, but after a year of working there, engaging in other community spaces, and thinking about privilege, I think I have found the answer.
When thinking about the structure this country’s society has been built on, a structure that privileges white, heterosexual, cisgendered men, it then makes sense that the work meant to counter the effects of hegemony, to create spaces alternative to the norm, would primarily be taken up by the disenfranchised: people of color, queer people, and womyn.
A lot of people who do not understand this often get angry and say, “Well, I am not in any of those categories, and I do counter-hegemonic community work, and I know a lot of others like me who do, too. Why aren’t we represented in SPACES? Why isn’t our work being recognized, our presence appreciated?”
This is valid, because people who are white and/or heterosexual and/or male do brilliant work, too. However, often times when participating in community forums, these people are the ones who reproduce and embody the privileges that are seen as violent to the disenfranchised: either through their colorblindness in their being white, or through their undermining of the importance of non-normative spaces in their being heterosexual, or through their unconscious entitlement in speaking and taking up space in a room in their being male. And it is not to say that places like SPACES do not reproduce privilege at some point or another, but so do all other spaces, because those are the effects of being socialized into such a structure. However, these spaces are intentionally created to value the voices that are often not heard, and often to build off of the hurt that has been caused from such structures of privilege, in order to create alternative and critical forums to address these issues.
So when my male friends asked me why females were overrepresented in a video I made of APSA, I became angry. For one, these friends weren’t even listening to what the people in my video were saying, they were talking over the video and noticing that there were no male interviewees. For another, they were not critical of what they saw as entitlement to a voice. Yes, APSA is an organization built off of the work of males and females and non gender conforming individuals. But what if I told you that as a womyn working in APSA space, I have sometimes felt that my voice has been erased? What if I told you that, in having to edit interviews, I would have felt listening to the male voices would have been particularly violent, in that I felt that in some way they would be directing my story instead of myself? And what if I told you that, in talking about erasure and needing a place to validate experiences, which was what my video was about, that even though, yes, I fully recognized that all APSA members, males included, have been disenfranchised by the university and community at some point, that I wanted to focus on the female voice because any part that silences APSA voice or the voice of the Asian identity is doubled by the experience of being perpetually silenced as a womyn?
As another example, I was once at an event where we were discussing the representation of Asian females in American media. One of the first points that was brought up was that Asian womyn are oversexualized in mainstream media. A white male in the room then pointed out that all women are more or less represented as sexual objects in mainstream media. This is a valid statement, but in a space that is discussing the intersections of being Asian and being female, it is not critical enough. And thus, one of my coworkers spoke up and said, “even if all womyn are oversexualized, you have to look at the effects. Womyn of color walk away from those representations with a higher chance of being targeted for rape and with higher tendencies to develop mental illnesses.” And if representations ever go too far, white women have a community that is largely heard to address those issues, whereas the images of womyn of color are often exploited in more extreme ways.
There are reasons why people feel the need to create spaces specifically for womyn of color and queer people of color. There are realities not recognized with embodying intersecting identities that are ignored. For example, the divide felt in the feminist movement, which privileges the views and needs of white womyn, is caused from not recognizing the different battles that womyn of color fight. The feminist movement in recent decades have been fighting for the right to abortion, saying that this is one of the last great bastions against the right to sexual autonomy. Meanwhile, womyn of color have been struggling for years for a different battle: the right to reproduce. Ignoring the needs of womyn of color perpetuates a violent discourse against them, making feminist spaces silencing and unsafe.
Why the need for spaces of queer people of color then, when the discourse against queerness is salient in arguably all parts of society? Why can’t we celebrate Lady Gaga for recognizing the LGBT community in her songs, while at the same time reproducing violent and colonized language by calling a certain group the “Orient?” Again, intersections between identities that are dually oppressed, in this case being queer and being a person of color, are often ignored, which results in silencing the pressing needs of the group. For example, one might wonder why the queer community should even be concerned with issues that target people of color, such as anti-immigration policies, failing to see that queer people of color are also affected by anti-immigration sentiments. If intersections were recognized, then the queer community can see that a majority of queer immigrants were pushed out of their home country because of their queerness, and thus they remain in the United States as undocumented immigrants as well. By realizing this, the queer community can understand the plight of its population of color and see how it affects the queer community as a whole.
Recognizing intersectionalities can build alliances, but ignoring those nuances in identity can reproduce privilege in a way that is violent to those voices that are already perpetually disenfranchised. In order to allow space to be productively critical of the inequalities that are being perpetuated, even in spaces that are supposed to be counter-hegemonic, these differences must be understood. People must understand that when the white and/or male and/or heterosexual voice is not represented, it is not to undermine their work in helping for creating alternative and critical spaces, it is to deliberately allow for room for the voices that are often always erased.