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Intersecting Oppressions at an Intersection in New York City

After having recently watched the beautiful black trans actress Laverne Cox (famous for her debut on the hit Netflix series, Orange Is The New Black) describe her own experiences with street harassment, my understanding of the term intersectionality has greatly expanded. She is the first person who I have seen effectively and personally connect with her audience to address the intersecting identities and oppressions that she, among many other black trans women, has faced. Cox first explains a certain instance in which she had to silence herself at a crosswalk. Two men on the street approached her and began arguing about her racial and gender identity. Her black trans body became an object of their game. They could not agree on a label that suited their comfort level, so instead of quitting there, one of the men (appearing to be Latino) approached her and said, “You’re not an ‘n-word’ are you?” while the other man (appearing to be black) assured his friend that she is, while refusing his suggestion of her being a ‘b-word’.

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On the surface, most educated people would understand that such a conversation is riddled with oppression. To begin with, these men believed they were entitled to have an opinion on Laverne’s gender identity and expression. Their chosen derogatory words made them out to appear gender normative and heterosexual. Because of this, their interaction with Laverne came from a place of cisgender privilege, wherein they believed they had a place to pass judgment about her sexual and gender identities. Moreover, they scrutinized her black body with the use of extremely inappropriate language. Cox goes on to explain that most of the oppression she faces on the street, comes from black male bodies. At first, many would be offended by her apparent lack of solidarity for her fellow black people. Yet, she explains, ” I believe that a lot of black folks feel that there is this historic emasculation that has been happening in white supremacy of black male bodies. I think a lot of black folks dealing with a lot of post-traumatic stress see trans, my trans women’s body, and feel that I’m the embodiment of this historic emasculation come to life,” (Cox, 2014).

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Through this explanation, I began to grasp the roots of not only the oppression that Laverne faces every day, but oppressive systems in general. She goes on to explain her belief that people who oppress, are suffering from their own forms of pain therefore, try to release it by passing it on to others. She addresses Cornell West’s quote that reads, “Justice is what love looks like in public”. This shows her strength, as she has chosen to address the privileged and oppressed forces acting against her in an extremely inclusive way. Her message remains powerful for everyone; rather than trying to approach this topic from a stop oppression standpoint, she approaches it from a place that urges people everywhere to start justice. She does not exclude others from her conversation, just because of her unique positionality. She should be highly commended for her way with words and the power behind her messages as they leave her lips to be released into a society that is overwhelmed with white supremacy, heteronormativity, patriarchy and the limitations of the gender binary model.

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From a critical point of view, her speaking from a personal place makes it difficult for her to directly address her privilege as an able-bodied member of the upper class. So she has not covered all of the bases. Her media and film/television exposure in itself is a huge privilege for a body like hers in this day and age. She has been pedestalled by the racialized members of the LGBTQ+ community. So, some may argue that she did not take advantage of her exposure for bigger picture issues and perspectives. However, with an opportunity like this, I believe she made the necessary decisions in order for her message to reach as many people as possible. She kept it inclusive enough to remain personal, rather than speaking on behalf of groups she with which she cannot identify. As the existence of trans people becomes more widely recognized in North America, I believe that speeches like this will address the intersecting nature of oppressions from a more complex and challenging angle. As a figurehead of bodies like her own, she ensures to mention the stories of Islan Nettles and Amanda Milan. And for this, I recognize her efforts to remain objective. Her words do not suggest she is looking for pity. She is speaking from her heart, in order to promote love and inclusion.

– The Funky Phoenix

Works Cited:

Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. N.p., 07 Dec. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2015. <http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/&gt;.

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The Way He Looks: The Way We Should Always Look At Young Love

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Walking into the Screening Room in downtown Kingston to attend a queer film festival, I had absolutely no expectations of what I was actually getting myself into. Passing the convenience store, I made my way upstairs to be greeted, once again, by the flamboyantly spirited executive director of Reelout, Matt Salton. My pixie cut and I made our way around the corner into Screening Room #1 where we were able to be pleasantly complimented by a group of eclectic, creative, inspiring and passionate individuals who seemed comfortable to sit themselves out of the societal norms usually seen around campus. For once, I felt as though my environment challenged me to embrace the diversity of people around me. Whether it was the person sitting behind me covered from head to toe in various piercings, the person sitting in front of me with bright pink hair, or even the twenty-some-year-old male wearing the most beautiful suede boots I’d ever seen, I knew I was immersed in a group of people that all shared a similar passion for gender, race and sexual diversity – and that felt really refreshing.

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After the lights dimmed and we had seen a few previews for the other films being shown throughout the week, the title I’d be waiting for for weeks came up on the screen in great, big letters: The Way He Looks. This film follows the story of a young blind boy named Leonardo and his best friend Giovanna. Complications arise when they end up both falling for the new kid at school, Gabriel. Therefore, this film not only challenges the medical industrial complex of disability regarding eyesight but also examines its intersection with the discovery of ones queerness and the struggles with the social complex that this brings along.

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This piece of art is able to effortlessly capture the mishaps and mistakes in cliché rom-coms in the most raw and unfiltered way I’ve ever come across in a form of media. It takes cheesy moments of eye contact and flirtation and revolutionizes them to actually show a realm of human emotion and connection. It is so well represented that I forgot the entire film was in Portuguese, accompanied with English subtitles; and that says quite a bit, seeing as I have never been able to get through a film with subtitles in my life! The characters were well developed and able to portray exceptional interpretations of love and self-discovery. I would have to argue that the chemistry between the two male-identified lovers would make even the most homophobic person in the world rethink their views on same-sex relationships. When the credits began to roll, one of my close friends turned to me and through teary eyes said, “I don’t understand how anyone living and breathing could ever think that there is something wrong with that.” I believe this to be the take-away and intent of this piece of art. It took seriously controversial approaches on ability, sexuality, friendship, family and growing up and turned them into relatable and touching elements of every day life.

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I especially enjoyed how Gabriel and Leo used each other as means of discovery. For once, a queer film was able to depict the coming out of these two young men as a realization of love, rather than a realization of sexuality. Leonardo did not have to tell Giovanna that he was experiencing homosexuality, but merely that he was experiencing love. It was true and it was pure. It was not weighted with labels or heteronormative confusion. Giovanna was initially jealous, because she had made the assumption that Gabriel was interested in her. Yet, once she truly opened her eyes to the way Gabriel looked at Leo, she supported their love and valued their friendships once again. Similarly, at the beginning of the film, we see the group of cliché bullies making fun of Leo and Gabriel’s ‘bromance’, however, once the two of them express the true love in their relationship, the discriminatory barriers disintegrate and the bullies becomes powerless. All negative comments, whether they be about Leo’s disability to see, or his sexual preference towards Gabriel are no longer relevant. I think this is an extremely important message for youth coming out because it focuses on self-love and self-confidence.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of attending this film with my peers was the feeling of the audience’s journey; as if we ourselves were coming-of-age. From the moment that Gabriel entered Leo’s classroom on the first day and took the seat behind him, we became obsessed with this confusion of inner desire and adventure. Every moment the two boys would spend together alone, the audience would breathe in deeply in suspense that this might be the first time they realize there is something electric between them. By the time they ended up having their first real kiss, there was this beautiful, simultaneous sigh of relief in the room. It was as if I could feel the corners of everyone’s mouths stretching to the sidewalls of the theatre. It was at this moment that I realized the importance of live-art viewings. Even if the art you’re experiencing is pre-recorded, there is something emotionally invigorating about going on a journey with your fellow theatregoers. I would highly recommend viewing this film for yourself, even if it is in the comfort of your own bed because the elements of this story are enough to transport you elsewhere. It can be found online here – http://putlocker.is/watch-the-way-he-looks-online-free-putlocker.html

– The Funky Phoenix