Last year, I, along with another queer woman of color, organized a 50-person school trip from New York to Washington, D.C. to attend the Women’s March. As first-year college students, we were far from prepared to organize such a trip, but we were motivated by the event’s intersectional platform and focus on marginalized women.
We left the march sorely disappointed. While I tried to convince myself that our labor had been worth it, I could not deny the feeling of exclusion I felt surrounded by white cisgender women in pink pussy hats. While there was some comfort in marching alongside some of my closest queer female friends of color, it was clear that we did not belong.
“Black Lives Matter” chants were drowned out by “Mike Pence is a lizard person!”
White women looked away with discomfort when we reminded them that 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. (63% of white women in Alabama went on to vote for Roy Moore in the special Senate election, while 98% of Black women voted for Doug Jones.)
A white woman wearing a dashiki used AAVE to attack and silence a Black woman who criticized her for cultural appropriation.
Cis women ignorantly displayed vagina art declaring that womanhood is defined by genitalia, a clear denial of transgender identity and humanity.
When my friends and I returned home, we unpacked just how disheartened we were by the Women’s March. Regardless of the intentions of the organizers, the march was co-opted by cisgender white women who had no interest in including and centering the marginalized women – disabled women, sex workers, transgender women, Black women, indigenous women, etc. – who have been doing the work far before Donald Trump entered the Oval Office.
Cisgender white women stayed silent when it came to Black Lives Matter and #NoDAPL. Liberal cisgender white women even stayed silent during the 2016 election, complaining about their racist relatives to transgender women of color but never doing anything to combat their racism. But now that the unthinkable (to them) had happened – Donald Trump, a serial sexual predator, won the election with the support of 53% of white women – there was finally a reason to take action, as if things had been all fine and dandy up until January 20, 2017. News outlets proclaimed that “Trump revived feminism,” erasing the labor women of color have been putting in for years, not having the privilege of believing that the system is working just because a respectable, charismatic Black man was in office.
Throughout 2017, I continued to see cisgender white women center themselves and sideline the marginalized women most affected by Trump’s policies and bigotry. At the end of the year, I wrote about this phenomenon, only to be accused of being “divisive” and “unhelpful,” yet another reminder of how cisgender white women would rather silence and ignore transgender women of color than simply listen to and include us.
I had no illusions about attending the 2018 Women’s March. I have no desire to be pushed aside in a sea of vagina art and pink pussy hats ever again. But I still wanted to ensure that my communities were treated with respect and empathy, so I pushed for white cisgender women to center marginalized women and avoid wearing the pink pussy hats that exclude transgender women and women of color. As Women’s March organizer De’Ara Balenger told them.‘s Devin-Norelle:
The hat is a perfect example of the importance of impact over intention; it’s not just the hat but the impact of it. One of the things that we need to work through is unpacking and discovering how to lead a truly intersectional movement. How are we doing that when things are still so inequitable? Also, when the issue of the hat is brought up, I think people, and particularly white women, would get stuck on “it’s just a hat,” and many are missing the point. We are not trying to be contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, but what we’re really talking about is the impact of people being excluded. Can we have that conversation? How do we have these conversations when people can express how they’re feeling? People feel excluded based on how they identify and what their personhood is. Are we going to get to the root of the problem, and make sure that we all feel included in this space moving forward?
The Pussyhat does exclude people. Are we going to have a real conversation about it?
With many organizers legitimately addressing the exclusivity of the pink pussy hat and its negative impact on transgender women of color, I hoped that the 2018 Women’s March would be better and that cisgender white women would listen to our cries for inclusivity and validation.
Alas, I was wrong. When I attempted to call attention to the exclusion of transgender women of color in Indivisible and Action Together groups, I was met with rage and dismissal.
I was called “divisive,” “misguided,” and “ignorant” for simply requesting that folks like myself be included in the movement. Apparently, I just didn’t understand the pink pussy hat. Apparently, I was distracting from the “real issues,” as if the inclusion of transgender women of color isn’t a real issue. Apparently, I was being mean to self-proclaimed allies, who I should apparently trust despite the fact that they care more about their hats than my life and humanity.
Nonetheless, I hoped that I could change their minds. I hoped that with sincerity and openness, I could convince them to empathize and understand.
I was again wrong. When I begged for empathy and understanding, I received only scorn and hate.
I realized, as I have time and time again, that cisgender white women would rather silence transgender women of color than do something as simple as listen to us.
Eventually, I gave up and even left some of the groups, knowing that they did not want me or any transgender women of color unless we serve as silent lapdogs and tokens.
It is rare that I engage in debates like these. They tend to be intensely exhausting and dehumanizing, as I must defend my right to exist in these spaces and have my identity invalidated and dismissed. But I care about my communities and wanted to do what I could to make an impact on my circles, even if it meant exerting energy that I do not have. As Tamela J. Gordon, intersectional feminist and intersectional feminist and creator of the women’s empowerment group Sisters with Aspiration, wrote:
Cis and trans women of color are not debating because it’s fun. There are actual crises in our community that’s taking our lives. Trans women of color are incredibly vulnerable to domestic violence, rape, and murder. Besides the maternal mortality crisis that Black women are facing, there’s also the ongoing prejudice and exclusion that we experience in many white-centered organizations and groups. It’s not fun.
It’s not shocking to me that you decided to violently ignore queer black and brown folks all throughout 2017 and display your cis-centric, white pussy supremacy.
— Lara Witt (@Femmefeministe) January 20, 2018
Unsurprisingly, I woke up this morning to countless images of cisgender white women wearing pink pussy hats, with nothing to say about the epidemic of violence against Black transgender women, Trump’s new rule allowing health workers to deny service to transgender patients, which will quite literally result in the death of transgender Americans, or the threatening presence of police at several marches, which resulted in boycotts by Black Lives Matter and other racial justice groups.
Fortunately, white Women’s Marchers did manage to insult the legacy of Harriet Tubman by placing a pink pussy hat on her statue. I suppose that counts for something.
In all seriousness, I have nothing against the Women’s March in and of itself. Many of the organizers legitimately attempted to make their marches intersectional and have tried to hold their marchers accountable for excluding transgender women of color. But the sad reality is that cisgender white women did not listen, and perhaps never will.
I’m sure that this article will be met with much frustration and dismissal, as all of my critiques of cisgender white feminism are. I desperately hope that the women who today excluded marginalized women finally listen and consider how they have harmed us, how they have forced us out of the movement we have supported and led long before Donald Trump rose to power.
Will that happen? Probably not. It seems that no matter how earnest I am, no matter how sincerely I beg for empathy and compassion, I will always be rejected and silenced.
I am glad that the Women’s March provides hope and inspiration to so many. I am especially happy for the marginalized women who led some of the marchers this year. But for me, today has been a depressing and discouraging reminder of how I and so many other marginalized women are not truly wanted in the “Resistance.”