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


9 responses to “Detroit News and Trans-Liberation response

  1. I read a piece she wrote about several of her dogs that were hit and killed by cars. She did not have a fence or walk them on a leash. All she wrote about was how sad she felt. She did not understand the nature of a dog.

    At Transportation Riders United their mission is to improve transit in Detroit Area and had some success improving service at DDOT and SMART. But they got fixated on M1 rail and revitalizing the City. The leadership was known to be a highly partisan supporter and active in the party that is no longer in power. Building bridges to both parties and keeping their political views out of the it were tantamount; they failed.

    Parents of children will FLIP OUT when they find out about the “trans” issue. What is your goal here? Don’t spread yourself to thin. (this could get real nasty)

    “Human” & “Beings”. We are all temporary humans but will end up in the ground, sometimes sooner than later. But the “Being” will live forever. I look for the “Being” in people first and you know what? The human part (no matter what it looks like) really is transparent. Like a bottle of wine. You can see the Spirit through the Glass.

    Keene is a columnist and she can grind her ax any way she likes. There must be many people out there that feel the same way or they would not give her the space in the paper. Anything you say or publish is fair game to a reporter or editor.

    1. Frank,
      I’m completely confused by your response:
      – What does this have to do about an article about dogs?
      – What does this have to do with Transportation Riders United?
      – Some parents will flip out. Some parents might not like us because most employees here are tattooed. Some parents aren’t going to care at all. I know some of the parents of our youth and they accept me for who I am just fine.
      – What is my goal? Please read what I wrote again, it is all right there.
      – If you see everyone as “beings” than you have no problem with what I wrote. Why do you think this will get “nasty” if you agree with me?
      – I have no problem with Marney Keenan and if I didn’t make that clear in my article, than let me state it again. I appreciate her time and understanding. I have no ill will towards her.
      – What is your goal here?

      1. You’re not a parent are you? I was a stay-at-home-dad: I know parents.
        I took away from your message that you did not think gender issues were relevant to The Hub. But Ms. Keenan sure did! in the wider audience that will read her article they will focus on that. Those are HER readers; she writes to them/for them.
        I was also in Marketing and Education and my suggestion to anybody trying to accomplish something is to state a clearly defined objective. Set Benchmarks for measurement to understand if you’re on track. Set time lines for those benchmarks and honestly evaluate how far you’ve come. any energy expended on things that do not support the objective need to be avoided.

        Here’s a question: If a child that needed a bike had parents with negative attitudes about trans-gender issues, would you refuse that child a bike? What if those parents went on the Hub website and said “oh, no” the end result is the child has no bike…

        So what is your goal?

        Frank

        1. Frank, let me start by saying that I appreciate your comments and further explanation.

          To respond, I think gender issues are very relevant at the Hub otherwise I would not have written this response here, I would have found a personal venue to do it in. Also, Kennan didn’t think trans-liberation was relevant to the Hub because she didn’t know what it was.
          I’m not a parent, but I’ve had parents. I work along side parents here at the Hub. In fact, I assist them with child care once a week – what is your point?

          I do like what you said though about goals being measurable. I think that is really true. I can tell you (though I don’t have a number to give you) but transgender identified people are involved in what we do at the Hub. That might not be very specific data but it does say something.
          You are saying that parents will read this post and say, “oh no.” What about the trans identified people who may read this and say, “this is a safe place for me?” Do you not care about them?
          I’ll give you another measurable. I have been working with youth since last March here at the Hub. From my work and others here, we have gotten over 170 bikes to youth under the age of 16. That is almost a bike a day. Also this number does not include the number of youth that brought in their own bikes to learn how to fix them. The 170 is the number of bikes donated to youth. I hardly think that my gender identity or thoughts on gender is stopping youth from accessing our program.

          I also disagree that I’m wasting energy. If I never wrote this post, the number of bikes we’ve gotten to youth wouldn’t be any different. I don’t think standing up for people in society that are treated unfairly is ever a waste of time. If you do, I feel sorry for you and your tunnel vision.

          You also mentioned Keenan and her audience. Well, I’m writing to my audience – transgender identified people and those willing to learn about those different from themselves. Those are MY readers and I’m writing to them/for them.

          We have a stated guideline in our shop that reads, “Treat everyone with respect.” This includes transgender people. If someone is not able to respect people of transgender experience, than they are not welcome in our shop. People that want to make racist, classist, homophobic or other derogatory remarks are not welcome in our shop either.
          If you feel that this policy is exclusionary, then I suppose you are going to believe that. However, I believe that such a policy makes a safe space. If I let someone hang around our shop saying negative things a certain social group, then I’m creating a space that excludes that certain social group.
          If a parent wants to exclude transgender people from their lives, that is their choice. But I am not going to let them come into my shop and take this space away from those people.

          What do you say to the transgender person that is excluded from our shop because of angry parents? Do I deny them a bike because I want to appease people that are afraid of something they are refusing to comprehend? Is that what you are asking me to do? The measurable is that we get a shop full of people that look alike, think alike and exclude others that are different. I’m not doing it.

          1. Wait. That is a long list of people you exclude from your shop already. Are there any others?

            And I don’t ever use the term “those people”

            So your guide line for the shop that reads “treat everyone with respect” has some qualifications?

            Why do you feel you have to keep people safe in your shop? As a parent I feel we should teach children to keep themselves safe. Bike riding is an example; the children must be taught by our example not to run red lights on their bikes; the same rules apply to bikes on the road as cars; (you do stop for all red lights while riding don’t you?) Funny what kids learn when we try to teach them something

            I’ve been told three times in the last several weeks about “tunnel vision”…

            …but I’ve been thinking how many folks are “concrete” thinkers over that same time…

  2. It looks like Frank and I met our maximum reply limit above. I think the two of us are reaching our agree to disagree point, but I did want to respond at least one more time.

    First, I want to highlight specifically what I really value in what Frank has said. First, if we are going to have a mission at the Hub – things should be measurable with clear goals. This is something we are working on and is a very valid critique. I also appreciate being called out on using the term “those people.” Though, in the context I used it in (referring to people being victims of prejudice) were already othered in the situation before I used those words. However, thank you for that. “Those people” is a lazy phrase.

    Second, the “tunnel vision” comment was a low blow and useless. I apologize.

    My main point I think I want to get across is that some people in our society are targets of verbal, physical and sexual assault. There are studies that give measurable numbers to demonstrate that certain social groups receive targeted discrimination from “mainstream” society.
    In other words, there are studies that show with numbers that systematic oppression exists against people that are transgender. This information is what compels me to provide a “safe space” at the Hub of Detroit.
    You asked me why I feel I have to keep people safe in my shop. This is why. You also said, “Funny what kids learn when we try to teach them something.” In a society that doesn’t value people that are transgender, I am teaching our youth (and the whole community here) to do so. Is there a problem with me teaching children (or people of any age) to respect each other?

    So this is why I feel like I need to create a safe space. What I haven’t heard yet is what is wrong or untrue about what I’ve written above in my article. I’ve been told by you that parents will have some panic attack and deny their children the right to participate in our programming. Is that something I did or the parents did? What makes these parents feel that they have to provide a “safe space” for their children away from the information I’m presenting? Is denying knowledge and viewpoints from younger people a “safe” thing to do?
    And like you said, kids learn when you try to teach them. They also learn when you aren’t trying to teach. If parents feel they need to “protect” their children from ideas about respect, diversity and tolerance than they are teaching their children that those values are worthless. This only continues the cycle of systematic oppression in our society.
    If I didn’t say anything my silence would be teaching that I agree with this status quo. I do not.

  3. Good to see that you address issues that are important to you, Jason. I read an open letter you wrote to Mr. Albom and found it informative.

    I still wonder if there is any influence biology has on some traits and actions of male and female, and not simply taught, modeled, and reinforced. It’s just a thought and trying to be critical of information and statements.

    I also find The Hub to be a place where people don’t judge, directly nor indirectly. I’ve only had one person ask me my age and seemed insistent on knowing, which isn’t a big deal. So, I do think this topic is a relevant point. I would hope that anyone would feel welcomed there.

    I also agree with Bobbie Sue and was disappointed (though not surprised) by that part of the article; it came off as lazy and apathetic and a bit disrespectful, whatever one’s “intent” was. I don’t have experience as a professional in the field of journalism, but using social media and websites to extract information really makes me take the journalist less seriously and the newspaper as well.

    On a positive note, I am happy to see The Hub get some exposure.

    1. Oh boy do I not like Mitch Albom.

      Personally, outside of this post I think everything is a mixture of nature and nurture. I don’t believe we are blank slates, nor do I think we are destined souls safe from all the social influence that exists.

      I find this age issue you brought up interested. If you don’t think it is a big deal, I’m glad, but there is always room for improvement, so if you want to share what was said to you, please do so.

      On another positive note, the journalist apologized in an article in the news. It was really well written and amazing. I’ve got more faith in her now.

  4. Jason

    Thanks for your insight. It is a more complex issue than the confines of an online forum.

    I came in to volunteer one night in 2011 in the first three months or so of the year. Someone (another volunteer I presume as opposed to a staff member) asked me more than once what my age was, but didn’t give a reason, and I didn’t really feel inclined to say how old I was. I asked him if he wanted to ask me on a date or something, but that wasn’t the reason. I think all I said was that I was under 80 years old. I actually saw the same young man during the May Detroit Critical Mass on his bike trying to get through at a residential street intersection.

    I did read the article, but it’s been a few weeks since I do so. I don’t remember thinking anything negative after reading it, but would have to read it again.

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