letter to the NY times

photo by Cathy Opie from the article

photo by Cathy Opie from the article

An article made me mad so I wrote a letter.  It never got published.

Dear Editor,

I am a person who has taken sanctuary on the land called “the Commune” in “Out of the Woods,” which presents a regrettably limited portrait of a movement I hold dear to my heart.

My complaints about this article are less important than my need to state a few urgent facts it failed to mention: A trans woman named Amber Monroe was found murdered in Detroit yesterday. Eleven other trans women of color were murdered this year so far in the U.S. Their names were K.c. Haggard, India Clarke, Mercedes Williamson, London Chanel, Kristina Gomez Reinwald, Penny Proud, Taja Gabrielle DeJesus, Yazmin Vash Payne, Ty Underwood, Lamia Beard, and Lamar “Papi” Edwards. Every night at Sylvia’s Place, the emergency shelter for queer and trans young people in NYC that was founded as the legendary *Sylvia Rivera’s dying wish for her community, young people from across the region crash on a concrete floor because it’s better than being in the streets, and at least there is queer community there. We live in a country developed on stolen land, populated with slaves, ecologically damaged, deeply mismanaged, and — feel free to listen directly to the voices emerging through the Movement for Black Lives, which articulate quite clearly the ongoing impact of racism and patriarchy in our culture.

I mention these facts because they are essential to the bigger picture of queerness in America, and critical context for understanding the desire for queer separatism in 2015 beyond what was hinted at in the article.

Private queer spaces like “the Commune” and Sylvia’s Place are essential for those of us who are critical of the values of the “mainstream” culture we do not seek to join, but organize to change. Many of us who seek shelter in them are survivors of violence, oppression, misogyny, transmisogyny, homophobia and isolation — all direct results of a culture perpetuated by articles like “Out of the Woods.”

On the land, we do our best to create new paradigms for loving and protecting each other and the earth, honoring each other’s gifts, and holding ourselves accountable in community. Many of us are activists in a variety of movements – police brutality, sex worker’s rights, HIV prevention, queer youth homelessness – and we use our time in queer-only spaces to heal collectively from the culture we are surrounded by elsewhere.

These spaces are far from perfect — and this article, with its cis white class-privileged gay male lens, only furthers the minimizing of women, trans people, and people of color in some of those spaces. But at least within them we are doing our best to live out our values instead of just musing about them, and making progress through our differences.

To expose our community in an article that ignores these issues at large in the greater culture and simply “discovers” us like “Captain Cook getting his first glimpse of Kauai” misses the point and continues a long-held tradition in mass media of othering instead of listening. In the context of misogyny, murders and broken families outlined above, it was an act of journalistic irresponsibility.

It is also my understanding that the article breaks an agreement with stewards of “the Commune” about sharing its name and identifying details – as Femmy Rose said eloquently in their comment on the article on the NYT web site. And my understanding is that other land projects named in the article actively declined to be part of the article.

Thank you for reading these words.


*Incidentally, Sylvia Rivera was one of the leaders of the Stonewall riot in 1969 along with her best friend Marsha P. Johnson, that kicked off one story within the gay liberation movement but does not represent the experiences of all queers, as one story never could. Incidentally, Sylvia’s role in that movement as a co-founder of STAR was recently whitewashed in the trailer for an upcoming film which centers the experience of white gay men as a stand-in for a much more diverse movement – not unlike this article.


Kristen Parker Lovell - Stonewall trailer response

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