So recently the Hub of Detroit was in The Detroit News. I happened to be the one interviewed. I think often there is a frustration on both parties, both the interviewer and the interviewee, to connect accurately in a short period of time. While I do appreciate very much the time that Marney Rich Keenan gave to help highlight what we do here at the Hub (thanks!), I feel it is very important to address something she brought up in the article.
There was a portion when Keenan wrote “Fiedler is multi-faceted. He’s a vegan, a social worker…into trans-liberation (whatever that is).” During my interview, we didn’t talk about my veganism, my former work, nor my beliefs in transgender liberation. These are hardly secrets though and Keenan took these from the Hub of Detroit’s website. But since my beliefs were brought up in the news and very misunderstood, I’m writing this article as my side of the story.
I don’t think Keenan is alone in not knowing what trans-liberation is. She is the first I’ve seen question it in a major newspaper though. Definitely the only one that has questioned it in response to who I am as a person. I emailed Keenan and explained trans-liberation. No one definition is perfect, but for those reading that aren’t familiar with the term, let me share my personal take on some terms with you:
Trans or Transgender: Adjective to describe someone who lives outside the societal norms of “male” and “female.” This can include drag queens/kings, cross-dressers, transsexuals, genderqueer people and everyone in between. Transsexuals sometimes will identify with the binary of boy or girl, but many transgender people lie in between the two without defining themselves as male or female. Also, no one is “a transgender” but someone can “be transgender.”
Gender: How people feel and express masculinity, femininity and everything in between. Everything you do has gender. When you talk on the phone you guess someones gender by voice, the way people use their hands when they talk, what people wear, the kind of music they listen to and many other things you are probably doing right now.
Sex: The physical make up of someone’s body concerning their genitals and chromosomes. People can have different sex change surgeries to alter their bodies. Other people can be born with ambiguous bodies. So even outside of gender, the binary ceases to exist. People with ambiguous genitals or with different chromosomal make up (XXX, XXY, ect…) are known as intersexed.
Trans-liberation: The belief that transgender people are human beings with rights. The belief that gender is fluid and everyone has the right to explore gender and express it in a way that is right for them. The idea that with a better, less rigid understanding of gender, society can exist together more peacefully. Trans people are a small percentage of the population but are over represented in cases of violence (both sexual and physical) against them. Trans people are also over represented in the criminal industrial complex (not on the worker side) as well as in unemployment and poverty numbers.
So why am I responding on the Hub’s website? Well first, let me say that Keenan sent me a nice email explaining how she has learned about trans-liberation and never intended to belittle the issue. I’m not writing this to drag her through the mud, but to connect this important issue with the work I do at the Hub.
I believe that transportation is a powerful thing. Our world would be completely different if we couldn’t jump on planes and fly around it or even into cars and drive around. Think of someone you know from the other side of the country or from another country. You wouldn’t know this person without transportation. I know that this would completely change my world. Bicycles are less complex than planes, however on a small level they are one of the most liberating forms of transportation there is.
You can power bicycles with your own power and for folks that cannot afford an automobile, it is one of the only ways to get out of their neighborhoods. I often talk with my neighbors in the city about going on vacation. The consensus seems to be that sometimes you have to get out of the city every once in a while. Even if it is just a trip to the suburbs. For some people, a trip just to Belle Isle can be it. For many people, bicycles make it possible. I think this is especially true of the youth I work with at the shop.
I also don’t think this power to move and escape your immediate surroundings should be enjoyed by only one social class either. The power to build and fix your own bikes gives you the confidence to ride longer and farther than ever thought possible. You are more willing to ride 50 miles when you know how to fix your own flat.
In our society, the mechanics and fixers have usually been men. I want to live in a different world. When first invented bicycles were great liberators to women (that could afford them) who weren’t allowed to drive or get out of the home otherwise. Today, while women can drive in the United States it is not true in other countries. But even here women are constantly getting cat calls while they are simply trying to ride. You can hide from a creeper in your car, but on a bike you are open to the world. A woman knowing how to fix her own bike has another defense from a world that doesn’t want her mobile.
This is also true from transgender identified people. As I mentioned, transgender people are too often targets of physical and sexual violence. We aren’t perfect and we have a way to go, but I hope here at the Hub of Detroit we are working towards a world where people of transgender experience can feel comfortable learning to work on their own bikes. I hope this empowers people of transgender experience to move through spaces that they can claim as their own, even if that is just a little strip of the road going from point A to point B.
As I mentioned before, I work with youth even as young as 8 years old at the shop. We strive to teach with words and keep the wrenches in the youth’s hands. Nothing is less empowering than having the tools taken from your hands. Whether the “taking of tools” is through job discrimination, underfunded schools, sexual violence, or other forms of terror we inflict upon each other – it isn’t helping. Age and other factors such as gender should not be a determining factor of someones ability to explore their world in safety and confidence.
This is just one reason I strongly believe in trans-liberation. There are many others that aren’t tied to my work at the Hub as well, but we can talk about that the next time I get in the newspaper. As I close this I want to mention our community partners Fender Bender who specifically have bike programming for women, genderqueer and trans gender identified individuals.
I also would like to mention a newer group called Kevin Degen is My Hero. Kevin was a disabled cyclist that did cross country tours on a specially designed tricycle. Unfortunately because we have programming up a flight of stairs, The Hub cannot accommodate cyclists of different ability like Kevin. But again, like gender, physical ability isn’t even always going to stop someone from being a cyclist.
If we don’t strive to liberate all we will never be liberated ourselves.
– jason x