Tense Dynamics

11/9/19

There are many things different between Washington State Reformatory (WSR), where I was, and Twin Rivers Unit (TRU), where I now am. Even though they are both a part of the Monroe Correctional Complex and are literally across the street from each other.
One difference is that TRU has a quarterly Trans and Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) meeting where the TGNC people here meet with the Captain, Associate Superintendent, CPM, and unit CUS’s. As one can imagine, these meetings are very tense for us incarcerated people. We are talking to the people who have a massive amount of power over us and of course we have differing opinions on the best way to deal with this. Each difference of opinion is exactly that, a simple deference. Who is to say what is wrong or right when none of us even have a clear vision of what a “win” would look like, let alone how to get there. The trouble is that this leads to a disjointed narrative being presented to the DOC administrators.

There are some people who want nothing to do with the meetings. They have differing reasons for this. Some see the meetings as a colossal waste of time and giving the DOC the ability to “pinkwash”. Others are worried that the meetings are a trap; it is the nail that sticks up which gets hammered down. They choose to opt out of the meetings any time they can, but skipping a meeting with the Captain can have its own repercussions.

Some people attend, but mostly remain silent. Some don’t want to rock the boat out of a desire to be able to just do their time and be left alone. Others out of fear.

Next are the people who show up and are vocal. Raising issues, giving feedback on various agenda points, and presenting their arguments as best as possible. This group, like the others, can be subdivided further. There are other people who are vocal, and there is myself. I am struggling with this. How much should I dedicate myself to fitting in with what they are doing, which seems to be getting some results, and how much do I stay in alignment to with what I feel to be true?

I do not want to give any impression that I am “right” and the other people are “wrong”. Especially since classical wisdom is on their side.

They advocate for “catching more flies with honey than with vinegar,” which is true and generally good advice, but I find I must disagree in this case. I disagree because in implementation it means thanking the cisgender DOC employees for ceasing to take actions and changing systematic issues which discriminate against and negatively impact TGNC people. Actions which have repeatedly caused me harm. On the one hand is the reality that these DOC employees are putting forth effort and that needs to be recognized. On the other hand I have some very strong feelings about thanking someone for ceasing to actively cause me pain. That is not something I am interested in doing nor is it something I can do genuinely. I mean, I could lie easily enough, but that comes with its own price the next time I look myself in the eye while brushing my teeth.

I feel that when someone, or a group of someones, stop acting in a discriminatory manner that I should forgive them that behavior. Until that happens I should not passively accept the harm they are giving me. I should name the behavior as “not okay” in a way they can comprehend, articulate why it is not okay, and state a realistic example of what alternative would be acceptable.

I have received feedback that this approach is far too confrontational and angry. Well yeah, I’m very angry. And yes, there is a confrontation playing out here.
While it may be useful to hide that anger and pretend that we are not arguing for our lives in the short term, I am worried that doing so will be harmful to ourselves as we take on a measure of internalized oppression and may prevent us from getting our long term needs met. They are justifiably concerned that by being too blunt and too demanding we will cause the DOC employees who try to help, to actively opposing us once more.

I’ve only been here a month. I have no idea if I bring the insight of fresh eyes, or carry the ignorance of lacking proper context.

The way in which an oppressed group engages with their oppressors is a complex and difficult subject and I suspect I will continue to wrestle with it for a long time. In the mean time I am exploring what it means to intentionally leave/create space for those who disagree with me while not letting my opinion be overrun by those who think differently than myself.

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