Silence and Solidarity: My Fall Forum Coming Out
The following remarks were given at the 2018 Fall Forum on Governance: CultureMakers as part of my introduction of the new TCG Circle. This is a cross-post from the TCG Circle.
Photo above by Ryan Bourque // Instagram: @BourquePhoto
So hi everyone. I’m Gus Schulenburg, director of communications at TCG, and I can’t tell you how good it feels to say, I use she/her pronouns. I use those pronouns because I am an out and proud transgender woman, though I did not expect to be out at this Fall Forum. While my medical transition began earlier this year, I had expected my social transition would happen more slowly. I wanted to give the magic of hormone replacement more time to grow my hair back, more time to shape my body to match my heart, more time to figure out a damn sense of style. I definitely had not planned to come out here at the peak awkwardness of my second puberty.
But then, a few weeks ago, the administration proposed government agencies adopt an unchanging, binary definition of gender to be assigned at birth; erasing federal recognition of me and my 1.4 million trans and non-binary siblings. In that moment, I knew I couldn’t be anything but out at this Fall Forum. I can’t be complicit in my own erasure. As Audre Lorde wrote, “What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?” I am now beginning to understand what so many of my queer ancestors meant by silence equals death.
Because while I have some protections from transphobia–my whiteness, my citizenship, the gift of working at a place where my disclosure is greeted with love –so many trans people do not. Activists estimate the average life expectancy of trans women of color is 35 years old. In a truly just country, that would be declared a national emergency, and our shared resources would be spent in healing, not erasure.
But if we don’t live in that country yet, we are not without agency and power. We’re theatre people, we found a home in the theatre, a sanctuary. Yesterday, the EDI Institute heard about sanctuary practice from leaders of the New Sanctuary Coalition, an immigrant justice group led by undocumented people like my friend, Ravi Ragbir. In January of this year, I attended a rally for Ravi as he met with ICE, and when they tried to sneak him out in an ambulance to deport him, I watched people put their bodies in front of that moving vehicle, just like you would if your beloved was being taken away.
When I couldn’t bring myself to stand in front of that ambulance, I understood two things: first, that you cannot fight for the liberation of others if your deny your own; and second, that one meaning of solidarity is standing in front of that vehicle like they’re taking your beloved away. Because they are. And I believe there will come a day when so many of us put our bodies in the way these machines won’t be able to run anymore.
The work we’re doing over the next two days requires a difficult thing; to talk about this moment in our country’s culture, this violence and vulnerability, while also having these practical conversations about organizational culture, knowing they are both linked but also knowing it’s hard to hold both. I’m going to try to do that now as I make one of the more pronounced tonal shifts I’ve ever had to make, and talk to you about the new TCG Circle. Luckily, I have some practice with transitions, so here goes…