Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A world in which I can have the freedom of speech to state my dream is the first step to making it come true

photo by Meagan Jones

On Saturday, February 11, 2017, over 1,000 writers gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, to speak out for free expression.

Split This Rock and a number of hard-working individuals joined together to organize the vigil to coincide with the annual conference of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), which brought thousands of writers to the nation's capital. Thirty organizations cosponsored, spreading the word and helping writers gather at this time of intense threat to our basic human rights, of which freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental.

Split This Rock is publishing the statements of those who spoke, Kazim Ali, Gabrielle Bellot, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché, Sanaz Fotouhi, Ross Gay, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Eric Sasson. We continue today with Gabrielle Bellot, who calls us to imagine and recognize her place in the United States as a Black trans woman.

Statement by Gabrielle Bellot for the Candlelight Vigil at the White House, February 11, 2017

photo by Jessica Kramer
I have a dream--a dream similar to the grand dream a man dreamt before me, a dream that seems black next to a house so white. I dream that one day, not only will a black man have been president--again--but that a black woman who is trans can be president. Imagine an America like that, an America where it would be possible to elect not simply a woman but a woman of colour--and, most of all, a trans woman like me. America, I used to believe, like so many immigrants, was a place where it was at least possible to be yourself, regardless of what that was.

But that man’s dream, to some degree, has come true. Why hasn't my dream come true? How do we turn dream into non-dream? 'It comes as a great shock,' James Baldwin said in his 1965 debate against William F. Buckley, 'to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance...has not pledged allegiance to you.'

An America where such a thing, a trans girl becoming president, could even be possible--where we would not shrug it off as an impossible imposition, where a young trans girl could truly believe she could win--what a world that would be. As a trans girl who lost her home in one country after coming out, who has been disowned and re-owned and disinherited and told I am an abomination against a god I do not believe in anymore, it's hard to believe in dreams sometimes.

But I refuse to give up on that dream. I will never give up on it because a world in which I can have the freedom of speech to state my dream is the first step to making it come true.

But there is a man, whose name we all know, who does not quite like dreams.

A man who wishes to open up the libel laws, so that we cannot truly say what we want. A man who, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, did not remember the Holocaust. A man who, at the start of Black History Month, spoke more about 'fake news' than black history and whose Vice President praised Abraham Lincoln instead of any black American.

Frederick Douglass famously asked what the 4th of July could mean to an American Negro--and what it means to him is a world apart from what it means to Donald Trump. That Donald Trump does not know this is the problem. Ralph Ellison was not wrong when he said in 1970 that America would not be America without those of us who are black; America has always been defined by race.

We need to stop acting as if it is NORMAL after the Second World War for NAZIS to tell the leader of a country what to do. We need to obstruct the appointment of politicians who want to take this country back to the days before integration. We need to stop acting like Trump even knows that the treaty of Tripoli says America was NOT founded on Christianity and that Muslims are welcome and that this treaty was with one of the very countries Trump has banned; but Trump does not even know what Tripoli is because, as his ghostwriter tells us, he does not read, virtually cannot read.

How sad to say this when some of our powerful Muslim writers are not here tonight simply due to their nationalities.

But we live in a country where many voters believe the real news is fake and the fake news is real. A world where a hateful troll like Milo Yiannopoulos is given a book deal on the grounds of free speech by the same company that refused to publish American Psycho on the grounds of 'decency.' We live in a world where our politicians tell us now to abandon the spectre they call identity politics--when ALL politics is based on identity, when we NEED representation and rights.

I believe in freedom of speech. In allowing many voices to speak--even those I disagree with. All the same, we can build a better America, where hate speech is heard less and less not because it is banned but because we have taught those around us WHY it is hateful. I do not believe in banning; I believe in making change so that people CHOOSE to do what is right.

But I'm also tired. I am tired of being told not to talk about slavery, when slavery is the very foundation of many of our current inequalities--even going beyond racial lines. I am tired of being told by Bill Maher that my right to use a fucking restroom is a 'boutique issue.' I am tired of being told by the very person Simon and Schuster gave a deal that I am a danger to cis people simply by virtue of being trans.

I truly believe in love. I want to work together with people to make a world where we have to dream less--no matter their skin colour, no matter their gender or race or even their political affiliation. We need unity, not segregation, more now than ever if we are going to win back our freedoms.

I may call for fighting but I am a lover at heart because I believe that is what makes us the most human of all.

I believe in fighting for our freedom to write and speak. As a queer trans woman of colour who is an immigrant and a dual citizen of this nation, I stand by this house and I say, on the one hand: FUCK YOU. But on the other--once I've gotten that off my chest--I say: now, let us begin to turn our dreams into reality.

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