amplifying our everyday resistance to the prison industrial complex
Clash. On one side is an institution charged with enforcing established norms for conduct, biased toward the many imbalances we take for granted. On the other side are transspirits and other sacred misfits charged by nature to defy any norm that hinders the full potential of life. Clash!
I self-identify as a “transspirit.” A definition of a transspirit is “one compelled by nature to transcend/transgress any socially constructed hindrance to being fully connected to the deeper web of life.” Any norm that expects divisions of humanity into opposing parts simply has no place in my life, least of all the arbitrary division of what is culturally regarded as feminine or masculine. In me, the two are continually integrated wholly into one. My most visible dimension of transspirituality is my transgender expression; a decade ago I learned I am transgender because I am transspirit.
As a transgender Native American, I could characterize myself as a two-spirit. Sometimes I do. However, being a transspirit extends far beyond tribal cultures. Transspirits include non-Natives and non-transgender as well as non-gay persons. You could be a transspirit. Do you experience a pull toward spiritual balance, toward deeper connection, at odds with the many popular norms pulling us apart? I certainly do, to the point I live outside of those divisive and yet familiar social norms.
Of course, this tends to make me an easy target for moral entrepreneurs and other feeders of the norm-enforcing PIC. They appear to have quite the appetite for scapegoating. Those busy organizing their world into familiar manageable pieces naturally see me as a threat to their familiar normative order. The inner-balance I enjoy remains invisible to them, making me appear unfamiliar, strange, a potential or even a clear threat to their normative order of privileged imbalance.
Hence, I must be managed, like some cog in the wheel to be put back into its proper place. How else will they manage their persistent sexual tensions they presume is the norm for us all? As soon as I enjoyed full inner communion of my feminine and masculine ascribed energies twenty years ago, I found myself liberated from sexual tension. As an asexual who didn’t need to send and receive signals of erotic availability, I defied their familiarity of sexualized gender norms. Androgynously I moved into public spaces, becoming an unappreciated model of integrated balance. But my gender freedom was short-lived.
The PIC then came knocking. Some curious child inquired too much. She was not supposed to go near transgender people. Bizarre accusations flew. Their stereotype of crossdressers being child molesters received full state sanction. In an anti-scientific show trial, transgender presentation was characterized as a threat to children. Despite the lack of evidence, their sexual tensions were somehow my fault. To protect their familiar sexualized normative order, my feminine presenting personhood was sent off to an all-male prison for twelve years.
My first resistance to the PIC: being. By simply living up to my full potential, I defy the prejudicial assumptions of the police state. First when I was still in, and now since being out.
The PIC presumes a high recidivism rate. After being out eight years, I was supposed to have committed another major crime by now. But violating traditional gender norms is no longer a crime, sorry.
The PIC presumes uneducated lowlifes. Since being out, I finished my undergrad, earned a graduate degree and started on another. Taking advantage of this state’s tuition waiver for NDNs has been my creative way of exacting revenge upon the state. Smart, huh? Not so uneducated after all, sorry.
The PIC presumes self-absorbed deviants. Within months of being out, I served two years as editor to a national zine by and for trans/gender nonconforming prisoners. Then served two years on the board of a trans org, eventually drafting their strategic plan. Not so self-absorbed, sorry.
How does the PIC know I’m up to no good? They could profile me. Maybe they do. If they dare waste their limited resources, they can observe what true balance looks like. If they have eyes that can see, or ears that can hear. I must be quite the embarrassment to their presumptions, to their tragic norms. Oh, the simple joys of simply being.
My second resistance to the PIC: writing. The pen is mightier than the sword if my words can keep their swords at bay.
My ongoing education inspires me to critique the PIC with their own privileged language. For example, I may draft an academic article critiquing the mission statements of each state’s department of [in]corrections. The idea is to contrast their mission statements with those with more privileged political accountability, then correlate their problems with their lack of impact accountability. Another angle I entertained was identifying the many cognitive distortions employed by PIC policymakers. These could be correlated with the mass expansion of the PIC despite it being uncorrelated with actual rates of interpersonal violence. But increasingly I feel myself pulled away from an academic approach and toward sharing a more engaging narrative.
Is it just me, or does the abolitionist movement seem to be top heavy with political rhetoric while suffering from a scarcity of sharable stories? Perhaps we could cultivate more allies if we engaged them on a more visceral level than pure political or academic rhetoric. To that end, I have been working on a book and screenplay with help from some Hollywood contacts. It captures the story of a transwoman of color who has maintained her innocence after being wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for 40 years.
January 1973. Val, a young transwoman struggling to survive on the streets, finds a ray of hope as a rising drag star. Her dream gets interrupted when she is again arrested for “female impersonation” while working underage in a bar. Collapsing in a moment of deep depression, Val is easily manipulated into confessing to a murder she has no knowledge. Girl interrupted, she gets shipped off to a men’s prison.
December 1976. The unthinkable happens to someone wrongly accused of murder. Val is accused again of an unsolved murder. As a disposable trans person of color, she is easily convicted again. With the working title Truth 2 Power, the story exposes the cruelty of the cold, impersonal PIC. It is not simply Val’s story, but a common experience of gender nonconforming peoples caught in the PIC’s conformity enforcement web.
More to the point is the fact Val also sees herself as a transspirit. Like me, she exists outside of those popular norms of privileged imbalance. Consequently, she finds herself easily targeted by the PIC. Certainly there are others who find their “trans-conventional” lives questionably targeted by the PIC. My focus is to tell their story, to bring a transspirit narrative to life, one often cast invisible by the PIC.
Abolition, therefore, is not just about liberating us from a capitalistic distortion of justice. While opening us to full social justice, it can also liberate us all into our full collective potential.
by Steph Turner