Posts tagged with social justice
500,000 Refugees, Countless Stories: Welcome to Dadaab
When the idea for a documentary project about the world’s largest refugee camp came about, in early 2011, Dadaab, Kenya was a place that few had heard of. A haven for those fleeing armed conflict, disaster, or persecution, on the border with Somalia, Dadaab was already home to the world’s largest refugee camp — a dubious honor it held by a wide margin. And yet to most, Dadaab simply drew a blank.
All that changed in early 2011, when the looming famine in the Horn of Africa sent refugees flooding into the camp. Soon after, as famine was formally declared in Somalia, international journalists followed. For the first time in years, Dadaab was suddenly in the news: an international symbol for a humanitarian crisis. There were 500,000 refugees in a camp that was built for 90,000.
Fighting Street Harassment Online
Dhruv Arora lives in Delhi, India, and he’s had enough. Enough of rape, enough of harassment and enough of the belief that what women wear has something to do with it.
“I am tired of people getting harassed on the street. I am tired of victim bashing. I am tired of people saying it happened because she was ‘inappropriately dressed,’” says the 24-year-old engineering student.
And so, in January of last year, Arora and a friend — outraged by the story of a 22-year-old woman raped by a cab driver, then blamed for it in the press — decided to do something about it. They created a Tumblr with a simple request: send in photos of what you were wearing when you were harassed on the street, along with your story. Consider it a personal form of protest.
For Transgender Youth, a Home on Tumblr
Lucas Fabray was 22 years old when he realized that he was born in the wrong body. It happened at the grocery store. Fabray, who was born and raised as a girl, began looking at the older women around him. “They were casually pushing carts, holding their baskets, sorting coupons … and I realized that I didn’t want to grow old as a woman,” he recently wrote. “It was just then I realized that I wasn’t in the right form, and that I had to do something about that.”
That was in 2002. The internet had already become the predominant research tool for people of Fabray’s generation, but it was, well, limited. Once back at home, Fabray started looking up terms like “transgender,” “female to male,” and “gender identity disorder.” What he found was educational — but foreign. “There were these few guys that were out there that had these sort of super masculine names: Hudson. Alpha Dog,” he recalls. “They were like the forerunners, and they wanted to give back and make some awesome resources. And they’re awesome! But they scared the hell out of me.”
Fabray says that at that age, he wasn’t ready for surgery or hormones — and he wasn’t sure he ever would be. Living as an “alpha dog” seemed almost as alien to him as living out his life as a woman. And yet, 10 years later, the web no longer presents such limited answers. To the contrary, it’s become a place that reflects how complex, fluid, and nuanced we now understand gender to be.
Fabray’s story about the grocery store is his answer to the first question — “When did you realize the term transgender referred to you?” — on something called the “30 Day Trans Challenge,” a questionnaire first posted on Tumblr in the fall of 2011, though it had appeared elsewhere on the web before that.
The idea behind the challenge is simple: Participants answer one question about themselves each day over the course of a month (or thereabouts). In this variation, aimed at people who identify as transgender, the questions run the gamut: technical (“What is your binding choice and why?”), logistical (“Bathrooms”), legal (“How do you feel about the trans laws where you live?), personal (“Have you ever been outed?”), and profound (“How do you manage dysphoria?”).
The answers are no less varied — both in substance and style. Some respondents knew their gender identity was in question from the moment they were conscious of gender itself, while others wrestled with it until they were young adults. Some say they are both transgender and transsexual; others call themselves straight or gay. And while most respond to each prompt with text, there are variations to that, too — Fabray with original art, others with video responses, often alongside updates on the way their bodies have responded to surgery or hormone treatments.
Taken as a whole, the blog confessions show that the transgender experience is far from singular — instead, it is as diverse and multifaceted as the human experience itself. Which, according to advocates in the field, is exactly why projects like this have value. “Everyone’s experiences are going to be different, obviously, but the more you hear about others, the more easily you will be able to navigate your own,” says The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s Aaron McQuade. “The more educated we can make people about a [group] that our society has been grossly uneducated about forever, the better it is for everyone.”
According to the Transgender Law Center, between 2 and 5 percent of the population is transgender; and McQuade says that just 7 or 8 percent of Americans know someone who identifies as such. But the population has been more visible in recent years — competing in beauty pageants alongside biologically female contestants, appearing on reality television, and modeling in the pages of glossy magazines. Earlier this month, the American Psychiatric Association’s Board of Trustees announced that it would replace Gender Identity Disorder with the less-stigmatizing “gender dysphoria” in the next edition of the DSM; the University of Iowa also announced that it would add questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to its application forms, a move praised by LGBT advocacy groups.
For McQuade and others, some of this increased acceptance is directly related to people sharing their stories — online and elsewhere. He says projects like the challenge, and another called “I Am: Trans People Speak,” are powerful ways of speaking not just to young people wrestling with their own identity, but also to their friends, families, classmates, and coworkers.
For Fabray, though, the process has been just as much about taking the time to reflect on his own experience as it has been about sharing his story with others. Because he creates a drawing to accompany each response, he says the question it is intended to answer “sort of permeates the entire process.” “I kind of wrestle with myself,” he says. “It’s a really good process to be able to pause and ponder what you’re doing.” Sometimes, he’ll get questions or responses from readers who recognize their own stories in his. And occasionally, a reader will challenge him on an answer, forcing him to reconsider his own thinking.
“Tumblr is just the place where people are talking about identity,” he says. “You see that you’re not alone. You’re not weird. You’re having feelings that can be out there and in forms that are celebrated. That is awesome.”
#1 Must Have: A Blog to Celebrate Queer Culture
When A. Slaven was growing up in rural Ohio, she didn’t identify as anything but a weirdo. “There was so little context for being a queer person in the place where I’m from,” she says. “I didn’t even think about it. I just always felt very different.” It was only when she left the sticks for college in a nearby city — and developed her first reciprocated girlcrush — that she realized there was a name for the way she felt: Queer. Suddenly life was less lonely.
Now 33 and living in Seattle, Slaven is a librarian by day and club promoter by night. Along with her creative partner, lawyer/photographer Adrien Leavitt, she’s the brains behind #1 Must Have — a blog (named for the Sleater-Kinney song) and photozine documenting queer culture. For the last year, the two friends have been posting color portraits of the Seattle queer community — sans captions. The point is to show how queer people of all ages live. We caught up with Slaven as she prepared for the project’s New York gallery debut, at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.
Why start a zine about queer culture?
Part of why we started doing it is that the It Gets Better Project got so popular. We don’t think that you should just suck it up in high school and wait. We wanted to represent taking charge, empowering yourself, not just waiting it out and hoping that some day we can adopt a kid and shop at Whole Foods.
Meet Angel Haze: Rapper Tackling Sex Abuse in Her Rhymes
Raykeea Wilson is gesturing in a windowless, green-walled conference room in Midtown Manhattan, cutting arcs with her hands as she describes her onstage persona. "She’s the person I don’t have the guts to be," says the Brooklyn rap newcomer, whose friends call her Raeen. “She is the person I feel I was born to be and in some way will come into in life.”
She’s talking about Angel Haze, the never-gave-a-fuck force she werewolfs into when she rhymes on stage — with a kind of spitfire that inked the 21-year-old a record deal with Universal Republic just weeks after the release of her first mixtape, Reservation. There’s a lot of momentum for the Detroit-born Wilson at the moment: Pitchfork loved her mixtape; Fader compared her to Biggie; she was even featured in the New York Times. But perhaps most significantly, she’s sparked the most in-depth conversation in hip hop since Frank Ocean came out — with the release of “Cleaning Out My Closet,” a jarring account of childhood sexual abuse.