Who We Prioritize and Why – an essay about our work by Eyota Wak’ishwit

by Eyota Wak’ishwit

Since its beginning, Heartspark had the goal of giving a platform to trans women. It became clear, however, that many of our members had more complexities to their gender beyond “woman.” A shared aspect between trans women and the non-binary people who worked with us was that they were all assigned male at birth (AMAB). While this terminology can be dysphoria-inducing for some because it reminds them of their assigned gender at birth (AGAB), it helps us organize around realities of transmisogyny and cissexism that are experienced by members of our community. Trans women, trans feminine folks, and all other AMAB non-binary people experience transmisogyny or cissexism in every facet of society. It’s especially insidious when occurring within trans and non-binary spaces. AMAB non-binary people, whether they are affected by transmisogyny or not, are routinely policed or not even accepted within spaces meant for non-binary people. 

Heartspark has received endless harassment, questioning, and general hostility regarding the terminology we use. Critics are usually other trans and non-binary people, and they either insinuate or explicitly accuse usage of AMAB/AFAB terminology as being problematic rather than attempt to understand how it may be useful to us. While AMAB as a designation is more about assignment than about being “born with a penis,” these two aspects tend to overlap greatly without being synonymous. The association of an innate maleness with our bodies, our behaviors, and our desires, whether consciously or subconsciously, dehumanizes us with unfair prejudice. Pervasive devaluing and punishment for those stepping outside of gendered expectations is omnipresent under colonialism. Spaces that promise solace do not consistently deliver to AMAB non-binary folks or trans women. It needs to be stated that neither AMAB or AFAB folks are a cohesive class of people because such a descriptor only describes the nature of one’s gender assignment at birth, and this acknowledgement is an important detail that sets us apart from groups that champion harmful ideas surrounding gender assignments. 

When someone complains that we’re only giving a platform to AMAB trans folks, they quite literally out themselves as someone who either doesn’t know how to be an ally to us or doesn’t want to be one. The vast majority of those we give a platform face systemic transmisogyny or cissexism in supposedly safe spaces; on the other hand, the vast majority of our critics are transmisogyny-exempt (TME), meaning they aren’t directly affected by transmisogyny, and AFAB. Those who are TME tend to facilitate a minimization of transmisogyny and are more likely to equate our focus on assignment with that of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs).

TERFs are “radical” feminists who exclude trans women from their concepts of womanhood as well as their feminism, usually espousing hateful rhetoric against trans women. TERFs or those holding adjacent beliefs have made comments denoting Heartspark as a “male-only space” or a “club for cocks.” However, I’d like to point out that when TERFs or cissexist organizers create spaces for “females,” or “those of the AFAB experience,” and even “women and femmes”,” they’re claiming that being AFAB is a cohesive experience. This claim does not sit well with Heartspark because we realize that the experiences of AMAB and AFAB people, whether trans or not, greatly overlap, thereby nullifying the need to organize around the “AMAB/AFAB experience” as a monolith. Even as an AMAB trans led org, we still do extensive work with AFAB trans people both under volunteership and as workshop participants. 

We explicitly organize against transmisogyny for our transmisogyny-affected members, and we invite TME AMAB non-binary folks to our spaces because we’d like to make up for the cissexism in other non-binary spaces. These two groups of people come together under Heartspark to create art of all kinds, from poetry and illustrations to on-stage performances and films, all while crafting dreams of liberation for all trans people. We publish books for trans people of all ages that are meant to be enjoyed by all, and while the creators here are all trans women and AMAB non-binary folks, those who purchase our works and enjoy them greatly are overwhelmingly AFAB trans folks.

We dream of a day when our existence as an org is no longer needed. We yearn for a time when gender birth assignments are no longer a relevant concept. We wish that our trans, non-binary, and even cisgender siblings would take it upon themselves to deconstruct the colonial concepts that led us here in the first place. As of this writing on Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2020, it is the most violent year on record for trans people (32 murders), particularly for Black trans women; while I’m writing this, there is a growing trend of TERFs referring to themselves as “hygienic” to mean that they’re cisgender, which shares uncanny resemblance to the concept of racial hygiene. In other words, Heartspark will provide validation, and potential allies need to provide solidarity.

A word from co-executive director, Luna Merbruja:

“The future of Heartspark will require more solidarity specifically between AMAB and AFAB trans folks of color. As we’ve seen the violent lynchings of Black folks across the country, we must resist the urge as non-Black people to segregate ourselves based on gender. As a Native trans femme, I recognize that I have more in common with a Black cis person than I do a white trans person. I joined this org three years ago thinking AMAB-only spaces were the path to liberation, but after working with AFAB folks of color over the years with and without Heartspark, I see the limitation of gender when racial solidarity is much more integral. To be clear, we will always be an AMAB trans led organization. It will be in our programming, publishing, and collaborations that we work with AFAB folks of color to further extend liberation beyond white supremacy’s gender binary. We look forward to creating new futures with freedom for all of us.”