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Ain’t I a Woman/Womyn/Wimmin?

Dyke March Card

Maybe not.

While at Brooklyn Pride this year, I was handed a postcard for this year’s NYC Dyke March. In bold, red letters, the postcard proclaims: “Women! Womyn! Wimmin!” and, below, says “This march is for women only. Allies should cheer us from the sidelines.”

The postcard left me wondering where I belonged – in the march, as I’ve been every year since moving to NYC in 2002, or on the sidelines.

Last year, there was something of a campaign at the Dyke March. People handed out stickers that said, “A Dyke March for All Dykes.” These folks were primarily calling for the inclusion of dyke-identified trans men in the Dyke March.

Something about this protest rubbed me the wrong way. I think it had a lot to do with the people who were most visibly involved – mostly white, mostly thin, mostly “good looking” by typical standards trannyboys who seem to occupy a particular scene in NYC – the scene in which (certain) trans guys are omgsohott!!! In my limited interaction with this scene, I’ve felt a lot of entitlement and a certain amount of privilege, namely racial and male, (though I’m quick to acknowledge that the male privilege that a trans man may possess is thoroughly complicated by the lack of privilege that comes with being trans.) The crowd that seemed to be calling most loudly for trans male inclusion in the Dyke March, and the particular way in which they went about it, did not make me so sympathetic to the cause, despite my understanding of and, in large part, agreement with their points.

There was a pretty big debate last year with (and within) the Dyke March Planning Committee over whether the march should be explicitly women-only, or whether it should be opened to dykes of many genders, including dyke-identified trans men and genderqueers. The portions of the debate that I witnessed were thoroughly upsetting; there was a whole lot of transphobia lacing the entire thing, and a whole lot of wilful ignorance and reductionism around people’s gender. I myself went to the beginning of a Dyke March planning meeting and spoke to some of the organizers. One particularly prevalent message that I heard was that genderqueers, and maybe even trans men, could attend the March as long as they came to it identifying with and embracing whatever part of them was still “woman.”

This notion – that, deep down inside, all trans men and genderqueers still have a “woman” side – really pisses me off. It is completely invalidating of many people’s gender identities, and is an attempt to reinforce a gender binary that dictates that, when you get down to it, everyone is really either a woman or a man as determined by whatever gender they were assigned at birth. Some trans men and genderqueers who were female-assigned at birth might embrace or acknowledge a female or woman side of themselves, which is a completely valid and wonderful individual choice. (Though, actually, who am I or anyone else to say whether someone else’s understanding of their gender is valid or not?) However, that choice cannot and should not be forced upon all trans men or genderqueers. And when the organizers of the Dyke March or any other space say that, somehow, they’re welcoming trans men and genderqueers when they say “women only,” that’s exactly what they’re doing – stripping people of their right to gender self-identification and pushing them into one of two predefined boxes.

As far as I understand it, one of the primary motivations behind the Dyke March has always been visibility – the visibility of dykes and other queer women within a larger queer movement that has often completely ignored them or pushed their needs and issues to the side. Therefore, it makes me profoundly sad that the Dyke March is making increasingly invisible those people who have long been part of the lesbian/dyke/queer women’s communities, but do not, perhaps, fully or even remotely identify as “women.”

I, myself, am included among that number. When people ask me my gender in a free-form manner, I always respond with “genderqueer butch.” That’s my gender, to a T. It fits me better than any other gender label that I’ve come across. The term “woman” is so loaded down with so much cultural and societal connotation that I’m not really all that comfortable with it, under most circumstances.

Somehow, “woman of color” is different. It doesn’t bother me nearly as much, it’s something I can identify with much more easily and it’s an identity that I embrace. A lot of that is about kinship, about shared experience, and about solidarity. It’s far easier for me to be proud of being a woman of color, to be comfortable being a woman of color, than it is for me to be comfortable just being labeled as a woman.

And it’s not as if I don’t identify with the label “women” at all. I do. I function in this binary gender world primarily as a woman. I am denied privilege and discriminated against as a woman; I receive privilege as a non-trans woman. I am seen by most as a woman who doesn’t act like a woman should, but a woman nonetheless. And, when pressed, when given the choice between two options, man or woman, I will (at this point in my life, at least) invariably choose woman.

That’s the thing, though – I don’t like having to choose between two boxes and squeeze myself in, however bad the fit may be. I am perfectly content identifying as a genderqueer butch, full stop. I don’t feel that I need to tack “woman” onto that to preserve my connection to women’s struggles, to women’s cultures, to women’s communities. I don’t feel the need to do so in order to share the kinship and community that I do with other women of color. And I certainly don’t think that I need to call myself a woman in order to prove my allegience to women or to feminism.

It sucks that I’m so often forced to choose between the two, or that the choice is made for me when people make assumptions based on how I look or sound. It’s something that I deal with almost constantly – any time I meet someone new, speak to someone on the phone, or am forced to choose a gendered title like Ms or Mrs or Mr; any time that I walk into a public restroom and get the double-takes, the questioning, and eventual approval after I reluctantly say “Yes, I’m a woman;” any time someone calls my office asking for me after only reading my name in an email or on a website and I hear those few moments of confusion before they decide, “Oh, this must be a woman named Jack.” However, I’m fairly used to all of that. I expect it from mainstream society, and those low expectations make it a little easier to deal with.

But it’s a whole other story when it’s communities that I expect more from, like queer communities. To be pushed into boxes by people who struggle against being shoved into boxes of their own, to be made to feel invisible and disrespected by people who know what it feels like to have to fight to be seen and respected for who one truly is – that’s a special kind of hurt right there.

So, will I march this year, or not? I don’t know. I sure as hell won’t be cheering from the sidelines like I’m apparently supposed to. I’m either in it or I’m not. I know that the Dyke March isn’t really about the policies that some small, select group of women come up with; it’s about the collective power and often disparate voices of all of the people who show up to march. I know that it’s not likely that anyone will try to enforce this policy, and I know that, even if they did, I’d be lucky enough, in a way, to be read as a woman and let be. But I don’t know if I’d be able to really have fun and enjoy myself without having that queasy feeling that comes when you’re forced to pass for something that you’re not.

If I do march, I think I might make a sign to carry. I’m thinking it’ll be a list of labels with checkboxes next to them – woman, womyn, wimmin, genderqueer butch. The checkboxes next to the first three will have a big red “x” through them; the checkbox next to the last will have a big green check through it. And then the sign will say, “Am I still welcome here? If I am, then say it!”


I’m writing about my own experience as a not-exactly-woman-identified person, but I’d also like to point out that many people who very happily identify as women are not truly welcomed or included in many women’s and dyke spaces and communities – namely, trans women.

Yes, the NYC Dyke March, like many other similar spaces, is “officially” open to all women – as their website reads, “biological or otherwise,” because, you know, all those trans women out there are inorganic or mechanical or something. (Trans women are women, just as biological as any other women. The term “non-trans” is far more respectful and accurate than “biological.”) But there’s a big difference between talking the talk of including trans women, and walking the walk of truly making a community or space welcoming and inclusive of trans women. The former is easily about posturing and empty declarations; the latter is about changing personal attitudes and overcoming individual, collective, and institutional transphobia.

Some friends of mine have posted a petition to demonstrate community support of trans women that will be circulated at the Dyke March on Saturday. I encourage you all to read it and sign on if you’re down with it. There’s no automated way to sign online quite yet, but if you email me (see “Contact Me” on the sidebar) or leave your name and location in the comments, I’ll be sure to pass it on to them.

ACTION ALERT: Trans Day of Action Denied Permit to March and Rally on 8th Avenue During NYC 2006 Pride!

(from TransJustice, a working group of the the Audre Lorde Project)

In the wake of growing violence against Trans and Gender Nonconforming (TGNC) people, as evidenced by the brutal attack on renowned Singer and Drag Performer-Kevin Aviance, the New York City Police Department and the City of New York have chosen to deny TransJustice’s applications to march and rally on 8th Avenue during NYC’s pride celebrations. Trans Day of Action would have been used to commemorate the death of Amanda Milan, a 25 year-old African-American transgender woman, who was brutally murdered on June 20, 2000, in the middle of an intersection near Port Authority Bus Terminal as onlookers cheered. However, during a 2nd meeting with Manhattan South Police Precinct on June 19th, we were told that Trans and Gender Nonconforming people, as well as allies, will not be permitted to march through Midtown Manhattan. Now we have it in writing! We received a written denial shortly thereafter.

We need activists all over the country to do these things!

  1. Inundate the following people with emails, calls and/or faxes:
    • Mayor Bloomberg – Phone: 311 (or 212-NEW-YORK outside NYC). Fax: 212 788-2460
    • Commissioner Ray Kelly – Email
    • Midtown South Precinct Community Affairs – Phone: (212) 239-9846
  2. Come to our 1pm press conference on Tuesday, June 20th on NYC City Hall steps.
  3. Alert elected officials and the press! Urge them to endorse the Trans Day of Action and attend the press conference.
  4. Come to our work session on Wednesday, June 21st @ 6pm. This meeting is being held in preparation for the June 23rd Trans Day of Action, and will take place at Housing Works – 320 West 13th Street on the 4th Floor.
  5. Be at Chelsea Park, in NYC, @ 2:30pm on Friday, June 23rd for the Trans Day of Action Kick-off Rally. The park is located on West 28th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.

Now is the time to act. We call on ALL social justice activists to join us in showing the New York City Police Department that we will not be intimidated!

Historically, 8th Avenue has been regarded as the place that several LGBT and HIV organizations as well as LGBT nightclubs have called home. TransJustice selected this 8th Ave route to call attention to innumerable members of our communities that work, reside, play, as well as access supportive services, right in the heart of Midtown.

On June 23rd, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color and their allies will rally and march against police brutality, to oppose the racist and xenophobic immigration policies of the Bush Administration, to show our outrage at the lack of access to living wage employment, adequate affordable housing, quality education, basic healthcare for our communities, and to demand an end to the devastating impacts of US imperialism (the so-called “war on terrorism”) being waged against people at home and abroad.

Ultimately, TransJustice sees the denial of the march route and permits as part of the ongoing plan of the Bloomberg Administration to repress the progressive political movements of NYC. Now more than ever,
TransJustice calls on all social justice activists from the communities of color, lesbian, gay, bi, two spirit and trans movements, immigrant rights organizations, youth and student groups, trade unions and workers organizations, religious communities and HIV/ AIDS and social service agencies to endorse, build contingents and to help fight for the right to march on 8th Avenue on June 23rd.

ACTION ALERT: Father’s Day Sleep-Out in protest of landlords’ abuses

Picture the Homeless is an amazing organization here in NYC that was founded by, is led by, and organizes homeless people in the struggle for civil rights, housing and economic justice. Tonight, they’re having a sleep-out in front of a block of abandoned buildings in East Harlem. (Perhaps a certain East Harlem resident might find time to stop by?) These buildings, like many others in NYC, are left vacant by developers who are waiting for the right opportunity to make a whole lot of money off of the properties; in the meantime, there’s a tremendous housing crisis in New York City, with thousands of adults and children left homeless. Instead of letting abandoned buildings rot until developers are prepared to convert them into luxury condos or other unaffordable housing for huge profits, as most often happens, couldn’t these buildings be converted into affordable housing for homeless and low-income New Yorkers? Picture the Homeless is demanding an answer to that question, and calling for that answer to be a resounding “Yes!” in favor of economic justice and housing as a human right guaranteed to all people.

Below is the text of the press release from Picture the Homeless, which includes details on the event. Allies are welcomed and encouraged to join PTH members and staff for the action – stop by for a while, or bring your sleeping bag and sleep on the street in protest of the private interests and city policies that allow homelessness and displacement to continue unabated.


Homeless dads and allies stand united against city’s shelter and housing policies

New York, NY—Eric Sessoms, a father of two, had been homeless for five years. Living on the street he wished and dreamed of his own apartment that he could share with his two children. Currently living in an SRO (single-room occupancy) in Harlem, Eric is finishing his last year of college and is searching in vain for an affordable house for his family.

“An SRO is for single people,” Eric says. “I want my children with me, but there’s nowhere to go. There are abandoned buildings all over this neighborhood; but when they get developed, they are turned into luxury condominiums.”

Three blocks away from his SRO, on 125th Street, the heart of Harlem’s economic development, stands an entire block of abandoned properties. “These buildings have been in this condition since I was twenty; and I’m now forty. I want to know how landlords are allowed to keep a building abandoned and in poor condition for two decades without the City demanding that they be reconstructed to meet the needs of the community.”

This Father’s Day, Eric will be taking a stand with other fathers and allies, to focus on this issue, and expose the landlords whom the city allows to warehouse buildings. They will be targeting Jeff Sutton, of Wharton Realty, a high-profile property owner who owns the buildings at 125th and Lenox. One of the city’s largest developers, and a George W. Bush campaign contributor, Sutton recently brokered such deals as the 30,000-square-foot Apple retail location on Fifth Avenue and the Howard Johnson building in Times Square. Sutton did not respond to numerous requests for meetings.

Providing shelter for one person costs the city $10K-$15K a year. “Why can’t these funds be re-allocated to developing actual affordable housing?” Eric asks.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has also decided to join Eric in his stand against these injustices. Stringer and his office are planning a comprehensive count of abandoned buildings in Manhattan, collaborating with Picture the Homeless, an organization that Eric helps to lead and represent.

“After suffering years of administrative abandonment,” Eric says, “I am now standing up for my children and the next generations, so they won’t be deprived of a basic human right: housing.”

WHO: Homeless fathers and allies

WHAT: “Sleep-Out” to protest city’s housing policies and landlords’ lack of accountability

WHERE: Harlem, NYC. Press rendezvous outside the State Office Building at 163 W. 125th, between Lenox and 7th Ave. Look for event press coordinators with red armbands.

WHEN: Monday, June 19th, at 8PM.

My pride cup overfloweth…

Puerto Rican Day Parade, painting by Martin Wong
Puerto Rican Day Parade by Martin Wong

This weekend was a little overwhelming with the pride in my various identities. On Saturday, Brooklyn Pride exploded in all its queer glory. Me, my girlfriend, and Bessie the dog went out and were queer. This basically consisted of walking up and down Prospect Park West, getting about ten steps at a time before stopping to greet people we knew (Bessie got pet a lot), dodging the countless solicitations from Democrats and assorted mainstream queer organizations like HRC (we didn’t dodge the coller organizations, though they were also far less in-your-face), and eating overpriced, greasy street fair food. Later that night, we attended the somewhat abbreviated night parade, which was a lot of fun and had much more of a neighborhood, chill feel than the craziness that is the big Pride march in Manhattan.

OMG, speaking of pride, I need to interrupt myself to CHEER via blog because Cynthia Nixon just won the Tony award for Best Performance by a Lead Actress in a Play. My girlfriend and I were hoping that she’d thank her girlfriend in her speech, which she did not, but she did something even better – she kissed her! On camera! Woohoo!

Today I found out that Cynthia Nixon and her partner were at Brooklyn Pride. And I missed them. This, my friends, is a tragedy indeed. I met her once; she actually knew my name and used it a few times over the course of said night. This tells me that maybe I could have said hi to her without seeming overly “Hi I’m a huge fan of yours and I’m going to bother you at this random event!” Maybe she would have even pet my dog. Le sigh.


Today was the Puerto Rican Day Parade. An estimated three million people attended. I was not one of them. I had to speak on that panel (which I’ll write more about tomorrow, hopefully); afterwards, me and a few of my friends tried to catch up to the parade, but we thought it was travelling south when it was actually going north, so we wound up quite far from the tail end of it. I could have hopped on the subway and gone uptown, but we were hungry, it was getting late, and the crowds seemed far too daunting. So I did not go. I didn’t even get to watch it on TV, as I usually do.

On my train ride home, I saw tons of people coming back from the parade, entire families bedecked in various renditions of the Puerto Rican flag. A Mexicana friend of mine always says that we Boricuas love our bandera more than anything, and with all the flags I saw today, that seems quite true. It made me happy to see so many proud Boricuas all over the place, but sad that I’d missed all the festivities. I was, however, wearing my own Puerto Rican flag armband, have worn my Puerto Rico World Baseball Classic t-shirt all day yesterday and part of this afternoon, have my big flag flying outside my apartment window, and have had my ringtone set to “Que Bonita Bandera” all weekend. So I’ve celebrated in my own little way, but next year, I’ve got to find some other Boricuas to celebrate with.

As an aside – maybe only other Puerto Ricans will find this as amusing as me – today on the train I saw this guy wearing a t-shirt that said “Boricua” and featured a big cartoon coquí, standing upright in front of a flag, wearing shades, a PR flag do-rag, and a tank top that exposed its muscley, green, tattooed bicep. ¡Que loco!

P.S. I finally got around to responding to many comments that had been lingering for a few days. So, if you’ve written one recently, check back, I’ve probably responded.

more thoughts on gentrification

Yesterday, I visited a friend who lives uptown. Walking from her apartment back to the 125th street stop on the A, I was struck by the fact that almost every single person I passed was white. I thought this was Harlem. Turns out, according to Wikipedia, Harlem proper doesn’t really start on the west side until 125th street itself, and I was a bit south of there; but, as the Wikipedia article also states, “Harlem’s boundaries are elastic and have changed over the years, as Ralph Ellison observed: ‘Wherever Negroes live uptown is considered Harlem.'”

As I walked, I got to thinking about the stuff I’ve been writing about gentrification and all the thoughts I hadn’t written out yet. Lots of my thoughts have arisen in response to questions and statements like these, gleaned from the comments on this blog:

  • “You and I are both concerned about being “priced out” of our homes, being unable to afford to live where we want. But you want to tell me where I’m allowed to live? How would you feel if all the boricuas were forced to live in a certain neighborhood? “They are” will be your inevitable reply, but that’s the point.”
  • “It’s not the presence of individual white people that hurts communities like the one you are describing–it’s institutional racism, including the examples you have described of landlords charging higher rent to white renters and real estate agents considering white people as evidence of a safe neighborhood. Why is it his fault if other people react to his presence that way despite his good intentions?”
  • “Isn’t saying white people shouldn’t move into minority neghborhoods just another way of advocating segregation? The danger of gentrification is very real, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should live only among people of their own race, or that a white person who moves into a minority community is automatically a negative presence–especially if he respects the culture and the people, and wants to get to know them rather than surrounding himself with other white people.”

So, with these and other responses to what I’ve written and said thusfar in mind, I wrote this on my long subway ride back to Brooklyn.
Continue reading ‘more thoughts on gentrification’

on gentrification in Bushwick

Today I was directed to some good (and not so good) words written on gentrification in Bushwick. For the good (at least, as of the last time I got to look), check out Penpusher’s comment. Some of the good stuff:

But I think deep down, everyone knows that “Gentrification” might as well be called “Manifest Destiny,” as people with the power come in and take what they want from an area, leaving the natives to scramble to get whatever they can before they are completely forced out. What techniques are used to get people to leave? Whatever is available. A person is late with the rent for whatever reason. Maybe they didn’t get paid on time. Maybe they had to choose between feeding their kids and paying a week later. I don’t want to overdramatize this, but this sort of thing does happen. The landlord has an excuse to evict…

… I suppose there will be people who say, ah well, that’s just business and people are permitted to do what they want in our “free society.” But until you are in the position of those forced to move, for no other reason than the metaphorical 100 year storm came and forced you out, because you were doing ok but couldn’t afford to protect your home from the surge that came in and ruined everything, you don’t really know or understand what the other side of “gentrification” is all about.

postmodern hipster colonists suck.

I’ve found myself thinking, talking, and writing a whole lot about gentrification lately. It’s something I’ve thought a great deal about for a long time, but ever since I wrote that letter to Time Out NY, it’s been coming up more than usual. There’s a lot of good conversation going on in the comments of the thread where I originally posted that letter. I encourage folks to check out the discussion.


Yesterday my girlfriend gave me a heads up about an awful post on the Brooklyn USA Livejournal community, which seems chock full of people who are blissfully ignorant of or indifferent to gentrification. This post was entitled “The Gentrification of Pimptropolis,” and was an invitation to what the poster claimed would be the “banginest” party ever to be held in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The poster also declared that, since moving into Bed-Stuy, he was on a mission to gentrify it, and to have “bangin” parties while doing it.

Of course, my head nearly exploded when I read this. So me and a bunch of my friends decided that we’d all post comments to the effect of “gentrification is not a joke. And you suck.” A little comment war ensued, with plenty of people telling us to “take a chill pill” because it was “just a joke” and we shouldn’t be getting all political about it, and that gentrification was actually a good thing because it “renews and rebuilds” neighborhoods. Yeah. Uh huh.

I’d link to the whole mess, but as of this morning, the original poster had deleted the post. He’d never actually responded to any of the comments, so I have no idea what he thought of what all of us were saying. Hopefully it made him rethink making a big, fucked-up joke about something as serious and harfmul as gentrification? One can hope.


In the issue of Time Out that came out after the one in which my letter was printed, there was another letter responding similarly to the Apartments 2006 coverage. The letter was written by Cynthia Kern, a real-estate broker who I know vaguely from some theater stuff that I did a couple of years back. She made many good points that were interesting to hear coming from her, since real-estate agents are often quite complicit with and invested in gentrification. From her letter:

In the inset about Sunset Park, [the author of the article] says that folks should check out the neighborhood because “the real-estate maxim of ‘follow the gay people’ applies dramatically to the evolving Sunset Park.” Follow the gay people? You mean, follow the white lesbians, who make less money on average than straight white folks and gay white men, and who will often move to poorer neighborhoods because that’s where we can afford to live. Many real-estate brokers then use the existence of white faces on a block to indicate that the neighborhood is “safe” and has “changed.” And the historical and cultural integrity of that neighborhood is eventually destroyed as those who’ve lived there for years can’t afford the rents or mortgages anymore because the area has become a “hot deal.”

The next week’s issue featured the first letter written as a rebuttal to mine and Kern’s. Now, I personally have a hard time letting other people have the last word, but since I’m certainly not going to write another letter to TONY, I’ll just respond here.

Paul Brady from Manhattan writes:

I moved to east Harlem a year ago to improve my Spanish, eat some of the city’s most authentic Mexican food and, yes, to find an apartment that I could afford on my modest salary. Does that make me some sort of postmodern hipster colonist?

Yes, Paul Brady, it does. You are, I’m assuming, a white man who has moved into a Latino neighborhood to enjoy their culture, learn their language, and eat their food. You feel entitled to do so, regardless of however your presence might negatively impact the very people whose culture you’re so enjoying. You take what you want from your neighbors and, most likely, give nothing back, at least nothing good. I think that fits the bill of the “postmodern hipster colonist,” as you so aptly put it.

Brady continues:

Perhaps folks who bemoan an influx of new residents – during a time when the city is experiencing the worst “white flight” in its history – should spend less time reading Heart of Darkness and more time enjoying the multicultural vibrancy of Manhattan.

I just love when people pull “facts” out of their ass. New York City is not actually experiencing very much “white flight;” in fact, the upsurge in gentrification has a lot to do with white people coming back to NYC in large numbers. And Manhattan actually experienced far less “white flight” than the outer boroughs, which really counters whatever claim Brady’s trying to make. Are we supposed to be happy that white folks are moving into our neighborhoods? No, Paul Brady, you and yours are not doing anyone a favor – well, not anyone poor or not white, that is.

I’ve never actually read Heart of Darkness, but Wikipedia tells me that it includes much commentary on the evils of colonialism, though critics including Chinua Achebe have criticized the racism prevelant in the novella despite that anti-colonialist viewpoint. But anyhow, it seems like Paul Brady is equally indifferent to the ills of colonialism as he is to the ills of gentrification, and thinks that the rest of us should try to be as indifferent as he is. No thanks, Paul Brady.

As for “enjoying the multicultural vibrancy of Manhattan” – Paul Brady, are you blind? Don’t you realize that the kind of gentrification that you seem to think is no big deal is slowly squeezing the “multicultural vibrancy” that you so celebrate out of NYC? I can see this city becoming more and more monocultural, thanks to people with attitudes like yours. But I guess that doesn’t really matter for you, since that multiculturalism is just a source of spice and entertainment for you and not a real and necessary part of your own life and culture like it is for the Latinos you’re supplanting. Where will you go for your ethnic kicks when you can’t get it in el Barrio any more? Whose neighborhood will you invade next?

Edited to add: Paul Brady speaks! Or types, as it were, in the comments of this thread. And I respond, but of course.

jury duty, part deux

First off, a quick note: my letter on gentrification to Time Out New York was published in this week’s edition. And they didn’t edit all that much out, though they did leave out the sentence about poverty and neglect in Bushwick. Ah well, that they published it at all is somewhat surprising!

So – my jury duty experience lasted only one day, but I did get my wish. After lunch, the lawyers for the plaintiff and the defendant (it was a civil case, a lawsuit around an injury) picked three more people to interview at random. These three came off as being much less prejudiced, in the “having a prior opinion” sense of the word, than the three who went before lunch. They were three men, two white, all very quick and eager with the “right” answers that made them seem fair-minded and lacking prejudice. Part of me couldn’t help but suspect that they were giving what they knew to be the “right” answers without thinking very deeply about the questions being asked. They were also grilled a little less than the first three folks who were up there (two women, one white person.) I wonder what it was about them, or what they had on their juror survey ,that maybe reassured the lawyers. Anyhow, in the end, they were quickly chosen as the other three jurors; they’d picked the first three the day before.

I was a little disappointed until the lawyers said that they were then going to pick two alternate jurors, who would attend the entire trial just like the regular jurors and would fill in if one of the jurors became ill or otherwise unavailable. They picked two more people at random to interview for those seats, and I was one of them! I tried to avoid grinning too broadly as I took my place in the front row of office chairs that were crammed into our little empanelling room (as they are called.) It was me and another woman of color. They asked us way more questions than they asked the previous guys. There’s a section of the form that asks questions like, “Have you or anyone close to you ever been accused of a crime, convicted of a crime, victim of a crime, witness to a crime, filed suit against someone, been sued?” I checked almost all of them, so they got to ask me about the lawsuits; neither bore any resemblance to the lawsuit at hand. They asked about my technology work and about the other woman’s work as the principal of an elementary school in Harlem (she seemed like she’d be a good principal.)

They then asked if we’d be prejudiced against either of the parties in the lawsuit – ConEdison, or the policeman who claimed he was injured due to ConEd’s negligence. They specifically asked if it made a difference to us that the man was a police officer. That gave me a bit of pause, but in the end, I said that it wouldn’t sway me either way. Having heard the background of the case, I thought I’d be able to be balanced. After all, big corporations and the police are kind of on the same level of undesirability, aren’t they? Heh. I wonder how my personal preconceptions would have played out as I observed the trial. I mean, sure, I’d have attempted to be as impartial as possible, but come on, I don’t really believe in objectivity and I know that certain preconceptions would have lurked in the back of my head. Class issues (police officer vs big corporation), issues with the police, any other buttons that might’ve been pressed during the trial… anyhow, regardless of all that, I really thought I’d be able to be an impartial juror, and so said I.

Both the other woman and I were picked as alternate jurors! First, I was excited. Then, I felt a sense of dread at the possibility of having to spend five days at court. One day of jury duty is one thing, many days in a row is a whole other ballgame. But in the end, I wound up being excused – I’m going out of town next Friday, have a reservation made and everything, and they weren’t sure that the trial would definitely be over by then. So, they excused me, after which I waited around for around two more hours until I was finally discharged from jury duty. I’ve now fulfilled my civic responsibility (as they described it, my right and privilege) for the next six years, in Kings County, at least.


At the beginning of the day, when we were being instructed as to how to fill out our juror cards, a woman sitting near me asked me if I spoke Spanish and could help her with her card. I said yes, with the caveat that my Spanish kind of sucks. She was an older Mexicana woman who had somehow managed to not be called for jury duty in her 20-something years of citizenship. In my broken, half-assed Spanish, I helped her with her card, but also told her that she might not even need to serve because of her limited English comprehension. Indeed, after a while they asked folks who did not speak English to come up to the front to be excused. She went up, but came back not too long after – apparently she spoke just enough English to get to sit around in the main jury room all day, which she did. I saw her at lunch time and came to sit with her again when I was excused from my case. She was really nice and didn’t make me feel more ashamed than I already was about my Spanish. When she finally got called up for her jury discharge, she touched me on my shoulder as we said goodbye. That small gesture, combined with her departure, made me unexpectedly sad. I think I miss the presence of older Latina women in my life. Since my grandmother died almost three years ago now, I haven’t seen much of my family; I have my mother, but even she lives far away from me, and I only get to see her two or three times a year, tops. I think that Silvia reminded me that there’s something really special about older Latina women, something that I can’t really put into words; just a warmth, a familiarty that I miss.


Having jury duty got me to thinking. I know lots of folks around my age and of my general political persuasion who hate jury duty, or at least the idea of it, and would be happy to get out of it. I’ve heard some people talk about playing up their lefty tendencies in the hope that no jury would want them.

This strikes me as a bad attitude and a worse strategy. Yes, the tedious, immensely boring ordeal of court sucks. Yes, the (in)justice system in this country is majorly fucked in twenty million ways. But I think it’s important for folks like us to get ourselves on juries, especially in criminal cases. I do believe that it’s important for jurors to be as impartial as possible, but do I think that most jurors really leave their personal and societal prejudices at home? Hell no. Have many people (especially people of color and poor folks) been royally screwed by juries stacked with people almost guaranteed to look upon them unfavorably? Hell yeah. So, even though the whole carcereal system (as one friend so aptly put it today) probably needs to be done away with, it’s here now, and as long as it’s effecting people’s lives in a very real and often very harmful way, we social-justice-minded folks should try to participate as fully as possible. At least then, the juries might be more likely to be prejudiced towards true justice than against it.

i <3 our judicial system!

I am serving jury duty at State Supreme Court in Brooklyn today. Right now, this consists of eating good Thai food outside of a restaurant in Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood that I have never ventured into before and never realized was so chi-chi. (took me a little while to find an affordable lunch special.) A one and a half hour lunch break, and I’m stealing someone’s wireless to boot. This rocks!

Jury duty itself is a mixed bag. The morning waiting around was pretty tedious, but then I was called into a jury pool which has been thoroughly amusing. The three people interviewed this morning were not selected, so I’m really hoping that I get interviewed this afternoon. It looks like so much fun! I don’t know how much I actually want to serve on the trial itself but I want them to ask me questions.

I spoke to a friend a little while ago who said that I’m the only freak they know who actually enjoys jury duty. Any other freaks out there?

(By the way, the subject of this post is, of course, completely facetious. I haven’t lost my mind here!)

“innate charm,” my ass.

A letter I’ve written to Time Out NY in response to a recent article about finding apartments in NYC:

The low-income people of color and immigrants who live in “on-the-verge nabes” (“Apartments 2006,” TONY 552) are being pushed out of these “hot” neighborhoods by a wave of gentrification that TONY seems to be endorsing. The article speaks of neighborhoods like Bushwick being “widely discovered”; however, just as with the “discovery” of the Americas by white Europeans, there are already people there. Your article completely ignores the negative impact that gentrification has on these residents, focusing only on the self-interest of people who can afford the ever-rising rents. While these neighborhoods may seem affordable to some, they are rapidly becoming too expensive for their current residents, who are forced out to make room for the relatively wealthier swarms searching for a good deal.

The “innate charm” of such neighborhoods fades when contrasted with the harsh realities of life for many current residents. Bushwick has some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the city, as well as sub-par and landlord-neglected housing. Innate charm, indeed.

The background:

My girlfriend and I subscribe to Time Out NY; I’m not really sure why, given that we barely ever make it to any of the events that they list, nor can we afford to dine at many of the restaurants that they review. It can be good for movie reviews, though. Anyhow – this week’s issue arrived and the cover announced the Apartments 2006 feature; one of the blocks of text read something about giving the scoop on five “on-the-verge” neighborhoods where one could get great deals. Immediately, I knew this couldn’t be good. I flipped open to the article and, lo and behold, those five neighborhoods were much what I expected them to be: East Harlem, Bushwick, Sunset Park, Inwood, and Hunter’s Point. Aside from the last neighborhood (which is in Queens, and I know very little about Queens), I know that all of these areas are populated largely, if not primarily, by low-income people of color, many of whom are Latinos, many of whom are immigrants.

The language used to speak of these neighborhoods was classic, a thorough embracement of gentrification, quite reminiscent of colonialism. Here’s some gems:

About Inwood: “Another gentrification indicator: the emergence of a visible gay population.” Right. Because gentrification by (white) queers is GRRRRRREAT! I mean, they actually speak about gentrification by a “gay population” as a good thing! And, of course, there wasn’t a visible gay population there before, because visibly gay means white and gay, not Latino and gay (unless, you know, there were absolutely no queers living in Inwood before white people moved in.)

About Bushwick: “…or that sit next to hot spots, like Williamsburg’s neighbor to the east, Bushwick (this one’s been widely discovered, so move fast).” Oh yeah, discovered – kind of like america was discovered when the white Europeans arrived, right? Because you can’t fucking discover something if there’s already people there. Back then, it was the Native people who got robbed; now, it’s Latino immigrants who are getting pushed out. Different brown folks, same white folks, same mentality, similar effects.

Also about Bushwick: “By now you’ve surely heard the hype, but even a “Sunday Styles” article can’t spoil this Brooklyn area’s innate charm. Besides the giant lofts that can hold a bunch of friends (and their turntables), there’s more traditional housing stock to be had. Near the Jefferson Street stop on the L, you’ll find industrial infrastructure and family houses—a mix that adds up to a pretty cool vibe (though the area definitely still has dangerous pockets).”

Un-fucking-believable. Has the writer ever been to Bushwick, aside from dashing between one of the L stops and their hipster friends’ lofts – because who else are they talking about with those turntables? Does the writer know anything about Bushwick besides the fact that it’s “cheap” and near Williamsburg? I bet they don’t know these facts about Bushwick, lifted directly from the website of Make the Road By Walking, an awesome organization based in the neighborhood:

  • Over 40 percent of Bushwick residents live below the poverty level, and almost 40 percent rely on means-tested government benefits.
  • Median family income in Bushwick is less than half the national average while the official unemployment rate in Bushwick is over 10 percent, which is more than double the national rate.
  • The percentage of children born into poverty in Bushwick is 75.8 percent, the highest rate in Brooklyn. (as I copied and pasted this statistic I started crying)
  • the high school dropout rate in Bushwick is close to 70 percent.
  • Sixty-five percent of the community is Latino and almost half of these Latinos are legal permanent residents who cannot vote.
  • Bushwick’s housing stock comprises many old and deteriorated buildings, mainly tenements with absentee landlords or tax-foreclosed properties owned by the City. These buildings are contaminated with lead paint, and lead paint violations number 64.4 per thousand children, twice the Brooklyn average.

I lived in Bushwick for two years before moving to my current neighborhood in Brooklyn. And while living there, I agonized about the gentrification that I could see happening around me. Over those two years, I saw more and more white hipsters getting off the L train alongside me and scurrying to and from their lofts. Let me tell you, I saw far more white people within a one block radius of the subway stop than I ever did just a couple more blocks into the neighborhood, as if they were afraid to venture any deeper. And you almost never saw them in the local supermarket right across the street from the lofts, either; most often, they were toting their Whole Foods bags from Manhattan. The more of them I saw getting off at Dekalb over time, the madder I got.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t absolve myself, either. Sure, I’m Latina, as was my roommate at the time. But we were both also college-educated U.S. citizens with white-collar jobs, and no matter what our race or class backgrounds or how little extra money we had, those things made us decidedly more privileged than many of the people in the neighborhood. Our privilege was ultimately most evident in our move out of the neighborhood, both of us to more expensive apartments in “nicer” (read: less poor, lower crime rates, prettier) areas. That’s an option that most of our neighbors didn’t have. Despite the obstacles we face because of our race, our genders, our sexualities, we were both upwardly-mobile in a way that most of our neighbors were not. We left Bushwick for greener pastures; if these folks move out of Bushwick, many of them will have been forced out by rising rents, and many of their destinations will not be any greener.

My roommate and I spent a whole lot of time seething over the very visible evidence of gentrification in our neighborhood. When it’s white folks moving into a primarily POC neighborhood, it can look and feel very much like an invasion, all these white faces popping up where you used to only see brown ones. But we also spent possibly an equal amount of time thinking and talking about our own participation in the gentrification of Bushwick, and how to be more accountable for that culpability. I was as guilty of shopping at Whole Foods as those white hipsters, but I also knew that supporting local businesses was important and tried to shop in the local supermarkets as much as possible. When my white girlfriend moved in with me for a while, I felt intense guilt and inner conflict about basically bringing yet another white person into the neighborhood.

And you know what pissed me off the most? My roommate and I, neither of us being white, neither of us being rich, thought about this shit all the time, and did what little we could about it. But how many of those young white hipsters we saw moving in spent a fucking second worrying about what negative impact they might be having on the community? Did they even have a moment’s hesitation before signing those leases on those “amazingly cheap” lofts they were moving into? Did they try to find out more about their darker-skinned, poorer neighbors, about what they were facing in the neighborhood, about what they could do to somehow help and somehow try to lessen the impact of their own presence? Probably not. That was the kicker. But that’s always the case, isn’t it – people who have less privilege, who experience more oppression on a first-hand basis, are always going to think more, care more, and do more about the oppression of others than folks who don’t experience very much oppression at all.

I know that there are no easy answers here. I know that gentrification seems to sweep across the city like an unstoppable wave. I know that rents in NYC are fucking insane, and that many of those young white folks I saw moving into Bushwick probably don’t have a whole bunch of extra money to spend on rent. But it’s this attitude of entitlement, of selfishness, of ignorance and blindness to what’s happening to people around you, of making up excuses to save a little money – that’s what really pisses me off. I know it can be hard to find affordable housing in NYC. But can you at least try to move somewhere where you won’t be pushing people of color and poor folks out, instead of jumping at the next hot deal? And if you absolutely have to move there, can you at least try to do something to lessen the blow or to work for the people living in the neighborhood? At the very least, can you acknoweldge that you and your ilk are probably screwing a whole lot of people over? Is that too much to ask?