Climate Change, Gender Oppression, and Epistemologies of Ignorance


This is not a happy essay. But then again, we are not living in happy times, nor will capitulating to the happiness industrial complex save us in the end. We are in dire times, and no amount of smiling or niceties will change that.

But…what will save us? Can anything? Or are we forever tethered to our lives, such as they are tethered to the afterlife of chattel slavery, colonization, and their attendant effects (e.g., transgender oppression)? What is the what’s next if our claims to global climate change and transgender humanity have no audience? What good does it do to claim we exist if we are framed through nonexistence, and called to the fore through our nonexistence (e.g., the always already death of Black trans women)?

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Each and every morning, I wake up thinking about the fact that we are, all of us, living in the end times. In many ways, it feels like we have entered a science fiction storyline, as much of what is occurring seems otherworldly. And yet, the fact that this is indeed real life is what is perhaps the most terrifying fact. Moreover, we — those of us who are castigated as abject, especially — are taught to believe we must live in/through the end times in isolation. The vexing nature of neoliberalism, as well as epistemologies of ignorance is that we are situated in a hyper-individualized society that, due to our not being granted audiences, wants nothing to do with our material realities. That is, unless those realities can be commodified, packaged, and used toward certain aims (e.g., allowing some of us — those deemed “passable” — to ‘succeed’ through normative illogics), of course, which then further obfuscates how those of us who are irrespectable are further pushed to the margins of the margins. Fear, dis-ease, and isolation proliferate in these sorts of times, as does scarcity logics, suggesting there cannot possibly be enough for all of us, so one better get theirs before someone else takes it (whatever the ‘it’ is).

In light of this haunting present/future, I have tried hard to do the exact opposite as epistemologies of ignorance suggest I ought to do, and to do so at each and every turn.

Where I am taught I and other trans girls, women, femmes, and/or people of color do not deserve an audience, I find ways to bare witness and be in the company of those who do the same.

Where I am taught to actively unknow the epistemological and material conditions by which I can dream different, I spend time thinking, talking, reading, and being with people who embrace trans-, Indigenous-, and person of color-centered ways of being.

Where I am taught that I need to get mine before someone else does, I give what I have, and constantly question the assumptions in which my fear about giving more are rooted.

Where I am taught to feel like we aren’t living in catastrophic times, I am trying, as discomforting as it is, to realize we very much are, and I need to act accordingly. For me, this means not only being mindful of my relationship to the Earth, its natural resources (e.g., water), and human and nonhuman species, but also making connections between the work I am attempting to do — that of gender-expansive, liberatory theory and praxis — and the current conditions of our collective material world. It also means thinking about the affective movements my grief, fear, and angst regarding the utter ruin in which we are living cause. In other words, I am attempting to wrestle with what it is my feelings are motivating/stirring for me, and how can I take this sensorium as an impetus for desiring, seeking, and creating something as otherwordly as the science fiction present/future in which we are mired.

I am also trying hard to realize the mess we are in is not wholly mine to solve. I do not say this as an abdication of responsibility, but to harness and put to work the notion of trans negativity that Hayward (2017) invoked. That is to say, if we as trans people, as trans women, and as trans women of color are told we are ontological impossibilities, and we are not granted an audience, then ontological claims to the contrary (e.g., “But we do exist!”) make little to no sense. As a result, then, I think there is hope in moving away from ontological responses — and perhaps taking a break from ontological investments, too, at least for a bit — to think, dream, and collect ourselves in new constellations, especially those that occur below the normatively framed world. As I have written about previously, the shadows are robust spaces in which our genders, and indeed, our very lives and livelihoods, proliferate. In the shadows is where we can try, seek, stretch, and cultivate new futures for and by us, rather than seeking to repair and do work in service of those who would claim we do not exist, who seek to use disinformation to claim what we see, the catastrophies in which we live, and the not-far-off futures toward which we are heading are not at all what they seem to be. In essence, I find in Hayward’s suggestion of trans negativity a sort of livable present/future where we can be, build, and think together, enjoying each other in all our excesses, and all of our desires for irrespectability.

This is not an essay where I share answers about how to solve climate change, or how to rid the social sphere of transmisogyny. Those answers, as much as I desire them, are not answers I can provide. Furthermore, even if I could, they would require an audience, which I have detailed that we just do not have at present.

And so in the face of not having an audience, I say: we shall be our own audience for each other. We shall gather and develop and grow and love and desire and want and eat and live with, among, for, and in loving tribute to us: the abject, the audienceless, the trans, the queer, the refugee. In the words of Anzaldúa (1987/2007):

I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue — my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence. (p. 81)

And I will do that overcoming with those who grant me audience, and who I lovingly give audience to in return. We may not be able to change the degradation of the climate, or shift the horrid conditions of transmisogyny, but we can live with, for, and in community with one another.

And this makes today a bit more possible.

Which then makes dreaming tonight about a tomorrow all the more possible.

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