Straight, Cis-Passing Privilege & Rainbow Capitalism – Its Subjectivity is Killing Us

During the Los Angeles PRIDE March on June 8, 2019, the Trans Latin@ Coalition disrupted the onslaught of corporations parading down Santa Monica Blvd with chants like, “IF WE DON’T GET NO JUSTICE, THAN FUCK THE POLICE!” When the TLC contingent reached the NBC live streaming of the PRIDE March, demonstrators enacted a die-in during the live streaming that was ultimately censored.  Photo by: Eve Xelestiál Moreno-Luz

During the Los Angeles PRIDE March on June 8, 2019, the Trans Latin@ Coalition disrupted the onslaught of corporations parading down Santa Monica Blvd with chants like, “IF WE DON’T GET NO JUSTICE, THAN FUCK THE POLICE!” When the TLC contingent reached the NBC live streaming of the PRIDE March, demonstrators enacted a die-in during the live streaming that was ultimately censored.

Photo by: Eve Xelestiál Moreno-Luz

CW: pop-culture reference/spoilers, queer antagonism, strong language, the prison industrial complex, borders & deportation

In the midst of PRIDE season, it is imperative to remind each other that this movement began as a riot against the police brutality that targeted black and brown bodies. Specifically, poor and low-income queer and trans people of colour. The political climate in 2019 has drastically impacted the autonomy of queer and trans people through legislation and attacks from our current administration. Mainstream media outlets continue to project queerness (or perceived queerness) in ways that do not center the experiences of poor and low-income communities of color. Queer perceived, and Gender defiant art is highlighted by artists and editors who do not specifically identify within these margins.

This essay focuses on my personal experience, multimedia observations, commercialism, a critique of the prison industrial complex, and thus continuing the discourse I engage within my communities. Hopefully, this allows you to formulate conversation amongst your own community as well. The iconic reggaeton artist Bad Bunny, for example, is praised for their gender-bending, queer expression – and yet their career is not altered by the queer discrimination that other gender & sexual expansive identified artists experience. Abled-skinny bodies, White bodies, light-skin bodies, bodies with cultural & economic capital – regardless of their ethnic origins – receive applause for performing like the other, the freaks; like a queer.

Don't get me wrong, you'll catch me shaking my ass to Conejo Malo's (Spanish translation of Bad Bunny) Caro, rain or damn shine. However, it's these specific bodies that are categorized as innovative, unique, and quite frankly digestible to the mainstream masses.

These personalities may pave stepping stones into skewed acceptance for LGBTQIA+ people, however, it's these straight & cisgender (cis for short) artists that accumulate capital and resources. While us, who visibly navigate queerness, and practice transfeminism, are siloed from accumulating wealth from our own culture. Because we encompass gender defiant ideologies and reject the mainstream, we miss out on the queer capitalist extravaganza that everyone else benefits from. Black and brown bodies experience antagonism on a daily bases simply for existing. And when queer bodies express themselves, we often do it till our last, young, and heavenly breath. Our spaces and livelihoods become accessorized by our cis and/or heterosexual (hetero) peers.

This past year I lived with a queer white woman, who was in a monogamous relationship with a straight man – and she constantly felt her queerness attacked because their relationship was stapled as a ‘straight relationship.’ Constantly listening to her expressions of discomfort at the idea of being in a 'straight perceived relationship' because it ripped her of her queerness agitated me. Although this person's feelings are inherently valid, I had never felt so repulsed in my life. To think that one can feel oppressed, discriminated even, for experiencing a veil of safety, for being socialized as straight-perceived, spiked my hesitancy to confide in them. I sat there in awe, anxiously waiting for a response that would validate me. Without a surprise, there was no validation – and what I really needed to hear at that moment was an understanding of how safe 'looking straight' makes her world, and even further, how safe that makes the worlds of her family. I needed her to say, "I see that you are much more visible than I am, and I am privileged to not experience discrimination the same way as you do. My family is privileged as well because they don't need to worry about my queerness; for it is socially invisible."

When I was in community college, there were several experiences where my visibility was an invitation for attacks.

My partner at the time and I were called faggots, disgusting, and physically assaulted for kissing at a park in North Hollywood. An older man broke my phone on my way to school right before a final as he screamed at me to stop looking less like a woman, that this generation got away with looking so obviously queer. Finally, a situation where an artisan grabbed my rainbow debit card, threw it across the counter, and says, "Your card doesn't work here. I don't like the colors." These experiences flushed throughout the caverns of my mind as I sat with my feelings, while a woman who I was supposed to share a room with for the next nine months, minimized the powers that her privileges held. To top my anxiety off, she shared with me, from the moment I met her, that she was raised in the topmost 14th most affluent neighbourhood in the United States. The U.S. and its beneficiaries (including me, being born a citizen) has always made itself to be the heroes of our world; however, this country has historically pushed QTPOC communities further into the margins of oppression. 

The U.S. is an influencing force of the hetero and cis regime that is killing QTPOC. In Eithne Luibheid's article, " 'Looking like a Lesbian': The Organization of Sexual Monitoring at the United States–Mexican Border," Luibheid dissects the violence that Queer Lesbians experience at the U.S. border, and typically, Queer perceived bodies were often held for hours in secondary inspection, and or, deported back to Mexico. These discrimination practices weren't removed until the 1990s. QTPOC antagonism is so ingrained in U.S. history and by extension worldwide, our bodies literally become a checkpoint of inspection; are we normal enough to navigate in the world without the drama? The U.S. border operates not only as an apparatus of xenophobia but historically an essentialist force of queer indexicality. The use of visual appearance as a tool for discrimination against queer and trans people is institutional, and the policing of QTPOC identity ultimately disseminates into the collective consciousness.

Visibility becomes a double-edged sword; one side in which our global communities find comfort in seeing their reflections navigate the world, and the other side in which we become visible targets of torment and criminalization.

We can see the ideology of policing and criminalizing of queer and trans bodies reflect into our contemporary spaces and in contemporary spheres of Media. We can see examples of this extreme inhumane conditions that transgender and gender-expansive bodies experience, like in Orange is the New Black (OITNB), a show that capitalizes off of women imprisonment; and the new series on STARZ, Vida, a series that highlights queer life and the anti-gentrification movement in Boyle Heights, CA. In OITNB, Black transgender activist Laverne Cox plays a character named Sophia, who faces a continuous onslaught of assaults by women who refuse to validate her womanhood. In the series, the prison administration decides to place her in solitary confinement to 'protect' her from being attacked. During her time in solitary, her mental health is pushed to the brink as she begins to slowly lose herself due to the extreme isolation. In the new series Vida, the character Eddy, is assaulted in a bar's restroom by a man after being insulted by him, for defending her friend who was being harassed. This man breaks a glass alcoholic bottle on Eddy's head, thus, hospitalizing her. Eddy's assault is so severe, she is left in critical condition and is left completely unable to take care of herself for weeks. 

When LGBTQIA+ people appear straight, appear cis, that is when our bodies may be invited to be a part of mainstream spaces, who don't need to apply new ways of humanizing queer bodies.

Cis- and straight-passing queer couples are also a part of that invitation into the mainstream. The world sees hetero-relationships as digestible – or heterogestible. This means that queer people will always be left to cater to thoughts, "Will I be attacked today with my partner for not being heterogestible?" "Will I be isolated from groups so that my partner may deflect the uncomforting stares of the world for being with a visibly queer person like me?" There are several factors of one’s identity that makes a body heterogestible. Being in a queer-identified relationship that is perceived as straight, being queer and educated, being queer and white, being queer and growing up with middle and high-income families, being queer and skinny – all these factors and more that I have yet to name allows queerness to become heterogestible.

Please try and not to misunderstand me, be with whomever you choose to be; however, acknowledging our privileges over others is imperative for communities that are not queer and trans, and communities of color, to understand the severity of this calamity that is a heterosexual regime. It is only when we can accumulate capital for others, and provide value to the world, that we can be seen and accepted as human beings. The media continues to use queerness for mainstream consumerism under the guise of 'inclusivity.' This current culture of queer capitalism is not what our communities need. We do not need video campaigns like GAP's “Trans, Cis, Genderqueer, Straight, Undecided, – Love belongs to us All," or Polo by Ralph Laurens, “Embrace the pain because you will always overcome it, Keep Dancing.”

Compromising our autonomy through commercialism, and allowing institutions to dodge accountability, is what will ultimately ruin what makes our liberatory movement so special.

It is critical for our cultural collective memory, to preserve the queerstory of PRIDE, and its ANTI-Authoritarian standpoint. The cis-het wealth – to queer-trans divide is real, and it is expanding each and every year through Rainbow Capitalism's canon. We need counter-cultural movements that are led by, and for, queer and trans people of color. We need A PRIDE season where we divest from commercial culture and truly combat institutional powers. It is imperative for our movements to experience resistance at a horizontal, and broad level, to attain liberation and imagine an abolitionist future FREE from cops, FREE from corporations, and FREE from imperialism; our cultural collective memory depends on it.  

Influencers of this article: Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Riveria, Captive Genders, Cece McDonald, Edxie Betts, Lalobaloca, & Mitzi. 

About Eve Xelestiál Moreno-Luz :

Eve Xelestiál is a brown, trans and queer multimedia artist living in San Diego. Eve Xelestiál spends their time challenging the white, heteronormative, patriarchal society that is imposed on queer and trans people of color. She thrives/enjoys resisting with other TQPoC, cooking plant based food, listening to queer & trans music, singing IN queer, and watching queer cinema. Xelestiál is committed to combatting main stream media through her personal identity, visual art and poetry. Her work has being featured at The Huntington Museum, the Getty Museum, and on Rest For Resistance. Follow Eve on Instagram @iwritelight_.

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Image Description:

A photo image of the Trans Latin@ Coalition (TLC) staging a DIE-IN in front of the NBC Live streaming at the Los Angeles PRIDE March. A street sign at the top left of the image reads, Holloway Dr and Santa Monica BLVD depicting where the demonstration was held. Protesters hold up a large banner that reads, “No Pride for Trans Women in ICE Detention Centers #FREEALEJANDRA #JOHANAMEDINA.” Behind the Die-In, there are silver bars with NBC Seven logos, and PRIDE march viewers witnessing the Die-In. Executive Director of TLC Bamby Salcedo who is wearing an orange jumpsuit to represent trans women in ICE detention, is being advised by a NBC representative to stop the Die-In.