Herstory speaker pushes for intersectional activism

Photo courtesy of Emily Melvin.

Activist, author and artist Hope Giselle was welcomed to Ramapo College on March 9 as the keynote speaker for Women’s Herstory Month. The Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ Services, the Office of Equity, Division, Compliance and Inclusion (EDIC) and Office of Violence Prevention welcomed Giselle as the first ever Black trans woman to speak for this event, making Ramapo history. 

Giselle gave a presentation on the importance of intersectionality amongst women and how we can be more understanding and supportive of all women and femme people, especially Black and trans women. She opened by focusing on the term “anti-woman,” a complex phrase that many may confuse as something only men are capable of being. 

“Being a woman is oftentimes oxymoronic. It says to us that being a woman implies that I have to be an object of your desire, while also being an object of the pain that you wish to inflict on the world,” she said. 

“So when we say ‘anti-woman’ this is not a space where we're talking about the way that men treat us,” Giselle said. “We're talking about the way that we treat ourselves, we're talking about the way that we treat our sisters, we're talking about the way that we have been taught that makes us feel like it is okay to downgrade ourselves on a daily basis.”

People, women especially, need to recenter the way in which they achieve their activism. Giselle challenges others to reflect on their own struggles and experiences, while exposing themselves to the unique situations that women of color, trans or queer women may be facing. Differences between each experience do not necessarily designate one as more important than the other, but we need to be aware of where we belong and where we may not be needed — or at least recognizing when we do not need to be the center of attention.

“I believe in duality. I don't believe that to be somebody who supports transgender people that you have to support them in every single space that you go into. Because quite frankly, I have nothing to do in an office talking about my period that has never come. I have no space in my conversation to talk about the uterus that has failed me that I've never had,” she said. 

“There's a lot of different things that separate us. But that's not where transphobia comes in,” she continued. “The acknowledgement of difference is not transphobia: it's the acknowledgement of difference. Transphobia is the use of language to belittle and dismantle a person's self-esteem.”

Embracing and acknowledging differences are healthy for all identities. It is the only way people can continue to engage in hard, productive conversations. To do this, the type of feminism that real feminists need to be engaging in is transfeminism.

“I believe that transfeminism is something that we can all get on board with,” Giselle said. “If you are a person who has let go of the idea of transphobia and a lot of the rhetoric that follows it.”

Giselle utilized audience engagement throughout her presentation by asking the room to participate in survey-based questions, directly speaking to the audience, looking for responses from the audience and engaging in an active Q&A at the end. 

One of the most notable moments of the event came from the Q&A, where Giselle took off her heels to emphasize how no woman should feel pressured to always take the role of the designated speaker on behalf of all other members of that marginalized identity when they are in marginalized spaces. She wore shiny, red bottom Louboutins, but kicked them off to emphasize her message of “when they hurt, take them off.”

“I walk in my shoes for me. I walk in my power for me. I use my voice for me,” she said, barefoot. “It’s not my job to stand in the gridlock for every single one of us.”