Presentation written for the occasion of the publication of the Subjective Atlas of Amsterdam, 21-3-2023 at Pakhuis De Zwijger , Amsterdam
Fifty-one weeks ago a workshop took place at IHLIA, the International Gay and Lesbian (Trans* and Queer etc) Archive in the Amsterdam Public Library. I got invited, as long time trans* rights activist here in town and elsewhere. Notwithstanding previous information the concept was new and unfamiliar to me so it took a while to come up with something. On the other hand By seeing that the concepts of most others didn’t really apply to my idea, I developed my own concept. I was the only trans* rights activist present so, if you invite me and want a significant contribution to a map from below the city as seen by people who live there, this is what you get.
The conceptualisation more or less needed to be this way. We live in a transphobic town in a transphobic country in a transphobic region. That in all is as hetero normative, as it is transphobic. The Dutch pride themselves in being tolerant. Fuck tolerance. We deserve to be treated as well as anyone else.We have rights. Trans people have relatively little to lose – except their lives or health – so maybe we are a bit more vocal: we demand our rights, we don’t ask nicely anymore.
My map is born out of anger. This anger of still not having the right to unencumbered existence. The map is an indication of – relatively personal – experience of discrimination, fighting against it. It also contains the stories of others known to me. It is not just discrimination, quite a bit of the map is in green, signifying OK, good, great. At the green end you see “vreer HQ”, my home and office. That should of course be a very safe place in general, for trans* people. Also TNN (Transgender Netwerk Nederland), the national trans rights organization and COC, the national LGBTI rights organization are green. An average gay bar is indicated slightly more positive than autonomous social center Vrankrijk. As many queer people and trans* people prefer them over a sometime raunchy punky bar. On Wednesdays though and several Saturdays it should be different, as the queers then take over and Vrankrijk becomes more and more home for the displaced, the undocumented the really queer people. Others can have a better experience at Vrankrijk and worse in gay bars, it is a relatively subjective map, it is my selection and it concerns indicators for safety.
Parks can be lovely, great place to cruise (well, cruising is a bit old fashioned but OK). To meet up with others. At the same time there are enough stories of queers, and women being assaulted in the city parks. So next to being green(ish) you see a red glow on the bottom, indicating there is also risk connected.
Regular people, with a residence status, a job, a house, an accepted gender identity go to the police when a crime has been committed against them. For many of us that is risky, and the Pink in Blue LGBT cops are often still clueless about trans lives. The Amsterdam police has at least one trans woman working there, but that doesn’t tell a lot about the safety of people outside the police force. Plus the single fact of being trans isn’t an assurance. We saw that with Margaret Thatcher in the UK, the Iron Lady. First female prime minister, responsible for the introduction of neoliberalism in the UK. We all would have preferred someone else who hadn’t. Or look at Obama, the first black president. Who didn’t use much of his power to improve life for people in chronic distress, started wars like no one else, didn’t lift black people out of poverty … A Black Democratic president yes, of great symbolic value, but beyond that… not so much. We have to judge public institutions and people therein by what they do to get human rights accepted. All these people don’t do that that much. IN general also the Dutch police is under ever more scrutiny for misbehaviour and not behaving to their best.
Workplace protection or not, for many out trans and gender non conforming people, the job, the office is not a safe place. In a social climate where the radical right, the extreme right and outright fascists are given an ever stronger voice, life for non normative people gets dangerous. Colleagues will feel free top ask us all kind of questions we don’t want to answer, because we value our privacy, like they would.
So, Where on the one hand experiences are individual, they are not just individual. The are intersubjective, and in social work and when looking at safety, you have to look at who is left behind. Trans* people, the more young, gender non conforming, trans* people who don’t look that cisgender to you, who are of colour and with visible or recognisable dis_abilities and neuro-divergence.. we all run risks. It is up to y’all to help us, and in the end everybody on this planet, survive, flourish.