The Baltimore Feminist Reading Group formed in June 2011 with the aim to create an anti-racist, transfeminist space and analysis, and to foster feminist activism in Baltimore. We meet weekly at the Village Learning Place (Wednesdays 6 pm to 8 pm) and discuss an ever-widening range of feminist texts: theory and fiction, manifestos, zines and academic articles, and on occasion, movies and radio shows. Topics range from the health of incarcerated trans*1 folks to the racial hierarchies in reproductive labor, theories of intersectionality to histories of feminism, afro-pessimism to neo-liberalism, and more. The readings serve as a point of departure for discussion, but are definitely not mandatory for one’s participation.
Our group is closed to cis2 men (male-assigned, male-identified persons) so that our women and trans* membership can develop a political analysis autonomously. We believe that these kinds of autonomous spaces allow discussion, theorizing, and organizing to emerge from shared experiences of marginalization; they also allow us to recognize and sort through our differences in a context sheltered from attacks on feminist politics. This autonomous model gives primacy to voices and perspectives that are often pushed or crowded out when cis men are present. We observe that even cis men who check themselves and are considerate can affect group dynamics in ways we want to work against. We very much support autonomous groups organized along race or cis/trans* lines. And, many of us do choose to work with cis men in other organizing contexts. But this specific group intends to promote a particular autonomy from cis men, and we have so far found it invaluable.
After about six months of weekly meetings, when we had found enough momentum and strength in our numbers and our analysis, we embarked on the process of planning a structured but social feminist summer event. After much deliberation and with the generous support of the Research Associates Foundation, we decided to host a series of Feminist BBQs. Through the BBQs we have met other Baltimore women and trans* feminists, shared knowledge, and facilitated the linking of social justice organizations in Baltimore. The BBQs, like the Baltimore Feminist Reading Group, are closed to cis men. Eventually, we found a home for our autonomous event at the wonderful Red Clover Collective (603 E. 30th St.).
The series has been a huge success and many of us are absolutely teeming with satisfaction at the anti-capitalist, anti-racist, transfeminist analyses we are encountering. At our first BBQ, “Transfeminism,” Carrie Bren & Jackie Wang presented, using historical examples to elucidate the inextricability of transfeminism from the feminist struggle. After that, Haley & Jess gave a badass self-defense workshop. At the July 15th barbeque, “Resistance & Revenge”, Monica (“Sistas of the T,” a Baltimore support group for trans* women of color) spoke about her struggles as a trans* woman of color, growing up in a time when the language and understanding we have today hadn’t yet developed. She also spoke about her outreach and organizing around some of the issues trans* women and especially trans* women of color face today, such as homelessness, violence, and discrimination. J, a member of KOVEN (Knives Out in Vengeance Every Night), presented a detailed history of feminist and queer militancy, violence, and revenge. KOVEN also distributed a number of different zines on these issues.
At our most recent BBQ, “Bodies in Balance,” the Dandy Vagabonds (Bmore acro-balancing duo Elliot Mittens & xander dumas) blew our minds with an acro-balancing performance in the front yard of the Red Clover Collective. Harriet Moon Smith (Kidz City and BRJA) followed up with a vast swath of historical, theoretical and political knowledge to facilitate a conversation about reproductive justice, enumerating salient examples along the way. Leah B. from GenderEDGE did a reading from a forthcoming zine and spoke about the work that the Philly/Baltimore-based, punk-inspired art collective is doing to display the creativity and empowerment of the queer, trans* and gender variant community.
These articulate, inspiring, and mind-blowing presenters have combined with an equally knowledgeable, passionate, and impressive group of attendees to make the series a truly enriching one. We feel that the series has created some sort of feminist cohesiveness and momentum that did not exist in many of our lives previously. The momentum of the BBQs has been growing with each event. Newcomers appear at each BBQ, but there is also regular attendance, contributing to the cohesiveness we had aimed for. Women and trans* feminists that did not necessarily know each other before seem to have now expanded their feminist network. Friendships have also formed.
And we anticipate an equally fulfilling experience at our next two BBQ. This Sunday, August 12th at 6 pm, Baltimore Racial Justice Action (BRJA) will give a short presentation on their work dismantling racism. Brooklyn-based zinester and future librarian Elvis Bakaitis will present “Queers in history!” They’ll clue us in on the magic of 19th century “romantic friendships,” and the awesome queer blues singers of the 1920s & 30s. Elvis will also take a look at the state of queer historical archives today, and how some institutions hide or conceal information, making for a strange ambiguity about queerness. And finally, blogger Suzy X., also from New York, will examine the individualism so prevalent in mainstream feminist politics today. From Slutwalk and sex positivity, to the defense of reproductive rights, and to the liberal aspirations of Having It All™, she believes one of the setbacks of feminism today is the narrow interpretation of “the personal is political,” that prioritizes a focus on the individual over intersectional and collective organizing.
The last of the scheduled summer BBQs will be open to women and trans* people of color only, and will take place on August 26th. Sociologist Antonia Randolph will talk about queerness and rap. Chelsey Pennyamon will present on afrocentrism and queerness. Sine Hwang Jensen will also present on women of color organizing and the construction of hegemonic white feminism from an historical perspective, looking at the history of the U.S. feminist “movement” through a racial lens.
We hope, of course, to harness the energy and genius of the BBQ participants beyond the series, both in the form of an even more substantive reading group and in other ways still to be decided.
1 The use of the asterisk with trans* denotes transgender folks as well as those with non-conforming gender identities.
2 Cis, short for cisgender: a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.