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An Anthology of Silences

A critical response to violence against transgender communities across Philadelphia

Values


Fields of Knowledge
  • Memory
  • Public culture
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Penn Social Policy & Practice

Organizers

Vicki Clark, Anastasia Colzie, Allan Irving, Aaron Levy

Contributors

Nellie Fitzpatrick, Office of LGBT Affairs City of Philadelphia; Dean John Jackson, Jr., SP2, and Penn graduate students in the "LGBTQ Communities and Social Policy" course; friends, family and community of Nizah Morris, Stacey Blahnik, and Kiesha Jenkins

Process initiated

12/04/2015

Opens to public

04/28/2016

Address

Slought
4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Economy

0% Formal - 100% Informal

Slought and Penn Social Policy & Practice announce "An Anthology of Silences," a critical response to violence against transgender communities, beginning with the narratives of three transgender women of color that were recently murdered in Philadelphia: Nizah Morris, Stacey Lee, and Kiesha Jenkins. The project seeks to share information about their lives and the vulnerability of their experiences, and to call attention to social violence directed at the intersection of race, class and gender.

We are calling this "An Anthology of Silences" for several reasons. Universities and cultural institutions, both in the past and the present, have often been silent on issues concerning the transgender community. We attempt to respond here from the position of a university course in social work and social policy, and as individuals who primarily identify outside of the trans community but seek solidarity. We are also attentive to the acceptance and promotion of various acts of violence against transgender individuals and the community, particularly as concerns their representation in the media. If these violent acts are communicated at all, the victims are often not provided complex narratives. Who are these victims? What are they beyond their victimization? In raising awareness about these forms of silencing, we seek to make visible what is silenced, and to explore the limits and possibilities of solidarity and dialogue across social justice movements.

The title of the project also builds upon the work of philosopher Michel Foucault, who in reflecting on the fragments of discourse he unearths about internment in the Middle Ages, writes about the difficulty of making visible their absence and the absent meaning of their lives. "Lives of a few lines or a few pages," he writes, "gathered into a handful of words, where discourses really crossed lives; existences were actually risked and lost in these words." Building upon Foucault's insights, we are seeking to learn about the lives of these three transgender women. We will compile these narratives by interviewing their friends, family and community, as well as gathering traces of physical and symbolic violence by the state and media.

As the social scientist Erzsebet Strausz has argued, listening can be a transformative experience and "resists our usual ways of being in discourse, the habitual practices of reading, writing and speaking." Strausz suggests that only by seeing more, hearing more and feeling more can we begin to learn from the marginalized and invisible individuals that inhabit urban spaces. Strausz also questions modernity's assumption that more analysis, more objectification, and more detached observation is our path to truth and social justice. Instead, she argues for acknowledging and experiencing the lives of others with intensity and empathy.

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The term "transgender" came into widespread use in the 1990s to reference a different and more expansive range of ways of looking at life. It asks us to acknowledge 'gender' as it is lived, and to respect gender-variant modes that are complex and often outside the dominant sexual and gender-based constructions of modernity. To identify as transgender is to subvert and disrupt the notion that biology, anatomy and gender are a natural arrangement, and to open up substantial possibilities for the interweaving of bodies, identities and desires.

Gender is not an essential truth, a mimetic material entity that is foundational, but rather a linguistic and performative construction. To be transgender is thus at once a way of being gendered, and a way of doing gender. As a term, it contains these multiple and at times contested meanings, as well as its own antinomies. It indicates various forms of gender crossing, as well as ways of occupying gender positions that bewilder simple binaries.

It can also be a path to critically exploring distributions of inequality, as the gender theorist Judith Butler has suggested in asking the question, "do some lives matter more than others?"

Did you know Nizah Morris, Stacey Lee, or Kiesha Jenkins? We are compiling a critical response to their deaths through personal recollections and experiences and seek your reflections.

We are also searching for institutional documents and sources and invite your suggestions. As an example of the kinds of archival traces we are gathering, we are releasing two reports by the City of Philadelphia's Police Advisory Commission, which investigated the death of Nizah Morris in 2002, and which were provided to us by the Office of LGBT Affairs City of Philadelphia.

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Project Update

We respect the concerns that we have heard from members of the trans community and others about this project. Out of respect for these concerns, we have made a decision to cancel and reschedule the opening event for a later date. We are sensitive to how trans voices, particularly those of color, are often erased, ignored, and appropriated. While we thought we had made a respectable effort to engage and include trans voices, we recognize that considerable efforts must be taken to do better and apologize for any pain this may have caused.

The project in its current state does include transgender narratives, and we are grateful for those who have lent their voices, experiences and concerns so far as we begin. We have compiled interviews of friends, family and community and are grateful for the participation of those transgender and cisgender identified individuals. Not all materials obtained have been put into the publicly available archive, and in an effort to insure community-driven, focused and centered involvement, we will refrain from doing so until a community-informed process can be created.

We want everyone to be part of this conversation, both trans and others, because the increasing violence against the trans community locally, nationally and globally is unacceptable and is everyone's responsibility. Universities and cultural organizations have a lot to learn from their communities, in this case the LGBTQ community, and it is our intent with this project to facilitate this dialogue within our respective networks. We welcome anyone who wants to contribute to or help us develop this ongoing effort.