Sunday, 1 January 2012

Hope is Better Than Fear: Abyssynia, 2011!

"Everything was at stake, anything seemed possible, there was the promise of universal liberation, there was the profaning of everything holy, the end of time was approaching, nothing was changing, there was a leap toward equality, there was a degradation of standards, there was disgust with the Pentagon's perversion of reason, there was a flight from the rigors of intellect, there was the glorification of Third World tyrannies, there was the revelation that America benefited from the misery of the poor countries, there was the glorification of Third World tyrannies, there was the unmasking of capitalism, there was the reflex that capitalism was the root of all evil, there was a revulsion against vast and impersonal violence, there was violence that was going to end all violence, there was an opening of doors, there was the closing of minds, there was psychedelic rapture, there was the scrambling of brains by bad drugs and too many drugs and the siren song of madness, there was a search for fresh language, there was an epidemic of cant, there was universal love, there was the right to say 'fuck' on the movie screen. For every face of authority, there was someone to slap it."

- Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, introduction to Chapter 15 "The Spring of Hope, The Winter of Despair"

We made it ... but what a year!

I say that about my own first year (almost) of gender transition, but also of much, much more. This past year saw a seismic shift in my social life and elsewhere: friends and co-workers moving away, marriages, births, separations, new careers, the end of some social scenes. Also, the world ... in 1968-fashion ... erupted with liberation movements, occupations, marches and other demonstrations. Tyrannical governments were toppled throughout the Middle East and North Africa, corporate moguls, Murdoch and Burlesconi both, had holes poked in their credibility and, in the latter case, toppled also.

People speaking truth to power all over the world was a theme this past year which crystalized with the beginning of the Arab Spring, in Tunisia, then Egypt, the Libya and Yemen, Bahrain and currently, Syria. Iran's Green Revolution continued. Late in the year, after a young Israeli girl on her way to school was harrassed by ultra-Orthodox men who deemed her dress immodest, protests within that country against religious extremism began in earnest. In Greece and Italy, economic chaos brought about a continuation of mass demonstrations against corporate-friendly austerity measure and government corruption.

In Wisconsin, Governor Walker's anti-union bill lead to weeks of protests culminating in the state's Democratic Party's opposition walking out of the legislature to stall the bill's passing. Currently, a recall campaign is gaining ground. Protestors even showed up at a meeting of Walker and Tea Party backers, the billionaire Koch brothers.

In Tottenham, near London, a march against police brutality in the wake of a fatal shooting of a drug dealer exploded into days of rioting.

Back in Canada, this past spring saw a federal election which put in a Conservative Party majority, but also, for the first time, a New Democratic Party official opposition which had been elected by a broad swath of Canadians from Quebec to British Columbia. Mere weeks after the election, twenty-one year old Senate page Brigitte DePape walked out in front of the Governor General as he made his afternoon speech and held up a handmade sign saying "Stop Harper". For her efforts, DePape was fired, but then morphed into a youthful spokesperson for a disenfranchised generation. Tying together the events of the spring and summer, she called for a "Canadian spring" in which people here would also protest the government's policies and aggressively ideological approach.

But the Arab Spring finally made landfall in North America in mid-September when a group of protesters, inspired by two year-old Adbuster's magazine cover advocating, in the wake of the big bank bailouts, occupying Wall Street, set up camp in New York City's Zuccotti Park on the 17th. By October 15, all over North America and in many parts of the world had their own occupy movements.

The North American Autumn saw a general strike and shutdown of Oakland, California's port. Police pepper spraying unarmed student demonstrators at the University of California at Davis, Berkeley and McGill University gained the ire of the public who sickened by what they saw. Suddenly, the frame of debate in media discussions shifted to analyses of economic inequality, unemployment, home foreclosures and the gutting of social services and infrastructure.

A much underrated, but secretly highly valued democratic institution, the public library, was vigorously defended when Toronto's mayor suggested that he would shutter library branches in a “heartbeat” and then displayed his profound ignorance by not recognizing one of Canada's most well-known literary figures, Margaret Atwood.

We in the trans community worldwide became more visible this past year with the Bill C389 in Canada passing through the House of Commons, making it all the way to the Senate. Although the bill died in the Senate with the dissolution of the 40th parliament and the start of the 2011 federal election, its success was unprecedented. This past fall, the 41st parliament saw the introduction of not one, but two bills advancing civil rights protections for the transgender community. Overseas, Poland saw the election of its first transgender member of parliament, Anna Grodzka, in November. On June 17, 2011, despite a groundswell of opposition from conservative religious countries in Africa and Asia, a resolution submitted by South Africa requesting a study on discrimination and sexual orientation passed, 23 to 19 with 3 abstentions, in the United Nations Human Rights Council. This was the first time that any UN body approved a resolution affirming the rights of LGBT people. In the state of Maine, a Republican Party-sponsored bill "that said the state Human Rights Commission doesn’t have to find unlawful discrimination when transgendered people are not allowed to use a bathroom, shower room or other public accommodation based on their gender identity" was defeated at both the House and Senate levels.

The events of 2011 were the perfect backdrop for my full coming out and transitioning as a transgendered woman; each day, week, month brought a fresh new development, physically, emotionally and mentally. I became aware of many others through YouTube and the blogosphere who were transitioning or who had transitioned. A deep happiness, a contentedness with ourselves usually followed; we inspired the younger generations of adults, adolescents and children and their courage inspired us. We found support in many places, unfortunately, we also found a lack of it in others. Most sadly, anti-transgender discrimination and violence continue. In the United States, the National Black Justice Coalition released its report "Injustice at Every Turn" providing statistics of violence and discrimination against transgender people of colour. Progress within the field of transgender medical care came in the form of the WPATH publication, in September, of the 7th edition of the Transgender Standards of Care which included progressive revisions around psychiatric care and requirements for hormones and surgery.

We lost many beautiful people this year. Without Jack, Steve and Amy, among many, many others, we still feel a sore tenderness for their absence, but their gifts to politics, communications and music will benefit us all for years to come. Being human, humane and authentic was the undercurrent behind their lives and the event's of the year. 

At year's end, with the Occupy movement in transition, Russians protesting election fraud, growing working class and ethnic minority protest in China, the right-wing in the United States disintegrating and Canada's Tory government's approaches to climate change, its services to its First Nations and its highly ideological approaches to gun control and crime being criticized from many quarters, the spirit of 2011, brash, courageous, sometimes potty-mouthed (MP Trudeau's calling Environment Minister a "piece of sh**") continues on into 2012.

As former Students for a Democratic Society member Todd Gitlin once said, in his chronicle of 1960s activism The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, regarding taking on the burden of change in the world and quoting the 2nd Century Rabbi Tarfon:

                      "It was not granted you to complete the task, and yet you may not give it up."

So long, 2011 ... your fresh, brisk winds were at times harsh, other times invigorating, but always deeply needed. We have grown up because of you.

We are now up to the difficult task of bringing about positive change, personally and in the world.

And now, onwards and upwards ...

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