Channyn Parker and Crispin Torres talked about their trans experiences at this month's Center on Halsted Chats, held Aug. 18.
In this monthly series, local LGBTQA leaders are interviewed and discuss their experiences and some of today's most pressing topics.
Parker is the TransLife care coordinator at Chicago House and identifies as trans feminine. Torres is a community educator at Lambda Legal, is the lead organizer for Trans Pride Chicago and identifies as trans masculine.
"Every month we've tried to hone in on a certain topic, which has allowed us to have more specified conversations, specifically about the intersectionalities of the LGBT community, which is where the whole chat thing came from," Andrew Fortman, director of community and cultural programs at Center on Halsted, told Windy City Times. "So, [there is] this idea of 'we need to start getting to the next level of the conversations,' so not just talking about being gay or being trans or being bi, but like what does it mean to be a trans person of color. So, [we are] talking about what are these other elements of the experience that's having an impact on the movement."
"I kind of come from this framework of we should always be challenging those notions of trying to fit in, be normal and re-applying the binary, which our trans movement is doing right now," Torres said during the discussion. "In order to win campaigns, to win legislations, it's very binary. It's a very transition from male-to-female, female-to-male kind of perspective. I find that really harmful."
Fortman moderated the event, and the questions, he said at the beginning of the event, stemmed from the broad theme of trans identities. Within that theme, he also asked about, race, privilege, looking at privilege geographically in the city, celebrity and what that looks like and the binary, including where we are and latching onto the binary idea, while gender non-conforming people and genderqueer identities are being excluded.
Fortman said the Chats are not just to talk about a topic at hand, but to introduce people in the community who are doing good work. He added he wants attendees to feel more connected to the speakers and personalize it by asking fun, more personal questions to close the events.
"I feel like everybody in here came with the intention of openness and wanting to learn and actually wanting to put activism and advocacy in action," said Parker to WCT about the event. "That just made all the difference, individuals who want to put allyship into action."
"That the platform needs to be broadened and that there is no one voice for the trans community," said Parker of what she wanted to bring to this program. "There are some amazing, brilliant voices out here who all they need is a platform and they will do wonders in transforming minds and hearts and souls when it comes to trans community. Trans people are then the few that get chosen to do this work. It needs to be broadened because we have a lot of other really talented trans individuals that are equally as capable of doing this work and they have something to share and bring to the community as well."
Torres mentioned he is interested in continuing to include trans women of color and re-centering trans advocacy to focus on trans women, trans feminine people and gender non-conforming people.
"There's a big focus on binary transgender people," said Torres on what the trans topic looks like. "There's a big focus on white, transgender men who pass very well and are very athletic. So, I think there's all sorts of ageism and racism and misogyny that plays into our community. I'm really still hungry to roll the sleeves up and actually start doing that work."
"I think some of them [the topics talked about] are pretty interesting," Torres said. "I think particularly the conversation around trans bathrooms is something we're not talking about intercommunity kind of about what that means for us." Torres mentioned in the program that the bathroom issue is not necessarily a topic trans people chose, but rather something that was selected.
In the discussion, Parker expressed that the fight for gender-neutral bathrooms is a privileged argument in itself.
"I work with people everyday who could care less about a bathroom," said Parker. "They're worried about not having a place to stay. So, honestly, when I think about this bathroom issue, yes, of course, people have the right to pee where they choose to, that is congruent with their identity, but I feel like right now, again maybe I'm biased because I can only speak from the population I work with, and the population I work with is just like 'I don't care. I want a bathroom.' Two: a lot of individuals I work with live in communities that are extremely volatile to trans people and honestly, I'd be very fearful for a gender neutral bathroom in some communities."
Torres added the conversations need to keep happening and explore what that means for people.
"I'm interested in having conversations about the trans community that are centered around voices of color," he said. "Also, nationally, we see a trend of folks and organizations and programs looking to include trans voices, but often times we're not centering and thinking about what that actually should look like."
Fortman added that the guests that are chosen for these events usually come from recommendations and good relationships with organizations around Chicago. He described each of them as self-aware.
"That's also really helpful when you have guests for these kinds of things," Fortman said of Chat activists and speakers' self-awareness. "People that are aware of their own work, what got them into the work, really aware and comfortable in their own identities, aware of their own privileges, whatever those are or lack of privileges that bring them to the table, aware of their understanding of these four walls that exist, meaning non-profit world and Center on Halsted and clear of what that energy is and what that means and how that adds to the conversation."
For more information on Center on Halstead Chats, visit CenterOnHalsted.org .