In Defense of Autumn

Posted by – July 23, 2009

Autumn Sandeen used to cull stories for the Transgender News Yahoo Group; she’s been blogging for forever, and not long ago became a key poster and moderator at Pam’s House Blend.

Recently, people have given her holy hell for shutting down the use of the words cisgender and cissexual because they were being used in the context of an argument that was only estranging members of the LGBT community from each other (& I’m not linking to all the posts about it intentionally as I have done so before and had my say otherwise).

The Trans-Ponder podcasters Jayna and Mila called  for some perspective this past Sunday night when it came to Autumn, particularly, citing the invaluable work that she has done on behalf of the trans community, and explained that even if you think someone’s wrong – in what opinion they hold, or in terms of something they’ve done – you don’t need to let the anger cause you to throw out the baby with the bathwater. (Their thoughts on the subject start around 53 minutes into Podcast #129.)

Dallas Denny said a long time ago that we tend to “eat our own” and in an interview with her a few years back, she clarified, in response to my 3rd question, the ideas she was trying to express when it came to trans community politics.

As someone who has taken heat for lots of things over the years, and someone who has seen even the champions of particularly useful ideas about trans subjectivity take heat for her own ideas, it makes me sad to see Autumn suffer so much. It is not easy work to build bridges within the LGBT, & Autumn has, in my opinion, done an extraordinarily good job of it. I’d like to see her keep doing that cool work, and even if she occasionally takes a mis-step — as we all do — the benefit of what she does far outweighs the mistakes she’s made.

I guess I’d ask, too, that people try to pay attention to the ratio of what they do to what they criticize. I’ve noticed that many people online who have the time & energy to work up a head of steam over what some other activist has said or done don’t necessarily spend as much time on positive activism as they do on the fine critiquing of others’ work. I am not saying that critics don’t do anything; I AM saying that anger & criticism sometimes are best-served by doing more instead of talking more. I say that as someone who has put my foot firmly in my mouth instead of doing something positive to fix what I saw as a problem. (As Betty and I like to joke about that one support group member who is constantly yammering on & on & on & repeating the same issues they always bring up, try not to be the person who seems to be saying, “I’d listen but I’m too busy talking.”)

In a nutshell: I’d like to thank Autumn Sandeen publicly for the work she has done, and to thank all the numerous people who keep working to build bridges within our communities.

6 Comments on In Defense of Autumn

  1. transmanaz says:

    I really appreciate this posting. I have personally thanked Autumn for all she has done/is doing for the trans community, and I’m sorry that she has to endure narrow-minded, unforgiving people in our community along the way. I, too, was put off and offended when the incident happened, but holding on to a grudge is downright stupid.

    Live and let live, people! As Helen says – “anger & criticism sometimes are best-served by doing more instead of talking more. “

  2. SusanK says:

    Maybe, as you note, “the transcommunity eats its own”, is why the vast majority of transpeople aren’t involved in the community, and why many post-transistion folks simply walk away and more or less forget it exists beyond the stories in the news, and are especially angry when some in the community say they speak for all transpeople, meaning them. Being proactive only works for those who agree with you and the sad reality is the community is full of opinion. Nothing more. Even the leaders.

    How can we agree on doing more when we can’t agree on what we’re talking about? Even philosophers agree on a dictionary when they discuss issues and ideas. We can’t get that far, so why expect peace and harmony?

    Just an observation from the fringe who quickly left after being a verbal abused victim.

  3. mzmartipants says:

    I guess I’d ask, too, that people try to pay attention to the ratio of what they do to what they criticize. I’ve noticed that many people online who have the time & energy to work up a head of steam over what some other activist has said or done don’t necessarily spend as much time on positive activism as they do on the fine critiquing of others’ work. I am not saying that critics don’t do anything; I AM saying that anger & criticism sometimes are best-served by doing more instead of talking more. I say that as someone who has put my foot firmly in my mouth instead of doing something positive to fix what I saw as a problem. (As Betty and I like to joke about that one support group member who is constantly yammering on & on & on & repeating the same issues they always bring up, try not to be the person who seems to be saying, “I’d listen but I’m too busy talking.”)

    So many things bother me about this post. Number one is that you seem to be implying that Autumn only does good work and those complaining are not doing any positive activism. Kelly Winters does fantastic and ground breaking work for the community, as well as Julie Serano and Lisa Harney.

    Secondly, Autumn wasn’t asked to be in the spotlight (as opposed to someone like Susan Stanton, who was forced in the spotlight), she put herself there. She has repeatedly called herself a journalist and a reporter but that only goes for the good things she does. When she fucks up she doesn’t own up to them, she makes excuses. The cis stuff could have been avoided by her just admitting she didn’t know what she was talking about, apologizing, then moving on. But that wasn’t what happened. She shut down a conversation and said that the words were weaponized. She obviously has no clue about the word cisgender, yet she tried to restrict the use of the word.

    In all the drama both Pam and Autumn banned Kynn from the site for reasons that make little sense. I’m no fan of Kynn. In fact her ex and I are good friends. But I think it was obvious that both her banning and the cisgender controversy were handled horribly.

    Bottom line is that this is the net and anyone that feels like opinions are “eating” their own, is being ridiculous. Opinions are not weapons, they can’t harm you unless you let them. I’ve had many hateful words said about and to me, but they don’t phase me. There will always be those people out there that hate you when you put your ideas out there. If you can’t stand to be in the trans kitchen, you probably shouldn’t be a chef. ;)

  4. helenboyd says:

    Marti

    Some of the same people who were in the middle of this have since come on here & started calling me “cis-lady.” Are you really going to tell me that isn’t supposed to be intentionally hurtful? Is “weaponizing” these words really that far away from intentionally using it as a belittlement, an insult?

    Cisgender & Cissexual are still really new words. I know I’m not telling anyone I know what they mean, how they should be used, etc. I don’t like them, even, personally, because I think they’re another binary (either you’re cisgender or transgender? really?)

    Effectively I think we all need to be a little kinder to each other. It’s one thing for those of us who have met & kinda know each other. But there are a whole ton of people who just sling shit from the safety of their laptops.

    You want to correct me on something, fine. I have something to say to Autumn, fine. But let’s at least acknowledge that we have different goals, different audiences, different ways of doing this work. You are a great direct attack type. Autumn does her thing with the gay men & lesbians who read PHB. Julia works with trans feminist groups. But all of us are used to talking to different people, using different language, & backing up – or shutting down particular strands of conversation – when things get out of hand.

    Again, I’m not defending Autumn’s choice, per se. What I am saying is that we all fuck up, & it takes a while to get used to how to do so with grace & thick skin. We all have different sensibilities too – & some of us are a little more hard-bitten, some of us a little more tender-hearted.

    IMHO, of course, as usual, etc.

  5. Sophia K says:

    Might it be that people have called you “cis lady” as a way of trying to point out your cis privilege, and the fact that you seem a little bit too comfortable addressing trans people as though we’re unruly children?

  6. helenboyd says:

    I address *everyone* as if they’re unruly children.

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