Issue 1: Queering Across Borders
Transnational Carcerality: Reading Trans* Carceral Aesthetics in the United States and Canada
By Jessica Malandrino June 10, 2019
My care for trans* women’s experiences of violence comes from the way I situate myself beside trans* women. I use Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s theorization of beside when thinking about trans* women’s experiences beside my own experiences of sexism, misogyny, exploitation, and patriarchy. For me, beside is in the context of lying in bed beside a sister—my trans* sister I sleep beside, love, and care for. According to Sedgwick, “beside comprises of a wide range of: desiring, identifying, representing, repelling, paralleling, differentiating, rivaling, learning, twisting, mimicking, withdrawing, attracting, aggressing, warping, and other relations” (Sedgwick, 8). Sedgwick’s classic example of beside is about lying beside a sibling, and sharing a bed with a sibling which comprises of several feelings (8). More specifically, my relations of beside involves paralleling and differentiating with trans* women (8), and these are words I choose to position myself beside trans* women. In that, I sit side by side and parallel myself beside trans* women who identify as women. Although parallel lines never meet, the similarity of being a woman is where I situate myself beside trans* women, in a parallel fashion. I use Sedgwick’s theory of beside as a form of solidarity—as my experiences of violence as a woman inform my commitment to this project. The second word I choose to close-read is differentiating. I differentiate from trans* women I work with in this project because I am not trans*, or a woman of colour. My deep-felt care for trans* women and carving out a discussion about violence against women drive this project. I do not share the same experiences that trans* women do with men and the state, but I am fully dedicated to my allyship for advocating for trans* women’s rights in Canada. Trans* women are the actors I carve out to have a conversation about unquantifiable accounts of violence.
In this paper, I critically analyze double victimization. In short, double victimization is criminology’s long history of writing violence against women, that involves counting moments of violence that happen to women who encounter crime control officials: the police and the criminal justice system. What I offer in this project is a theory I call unquantifiable victimization. More specifically, unquantifiable victimization’s theories and methods argues for an alternative to understand violence as ongoing throughout one’s life. More importantly, this concept puts forward the importance to heal and cope with violence against women in Canada through art-making.Experiences of victimization do not mean to undermine one as a ‘victim’ per say, but I use victim as a metaphor for growing and transitioning as a survivor, and what it looks like to celebrate survival through narratives of victimization. To bolster this claim, L.H. Stallings draws on what survival and imagination look like together in the after-life of trauma. Stallings inspires my thesis for this project. For example, Stallings states: “women’s bodies and sexualities are their canvases and creative tools” (Stallings, 150), and the process of “creating out of the body and sexuality is in and of itself evidence of power that exceeds the human” (150).
More broadly, I theorize as a thesis for this project that unquantifiable victimization’s theories and methodologies create outside of Canada’s punitive criminal justice system. More specifically, unquantifiable victimization creates outside of the body in aesthetic memory and art-making that I argue, has more powerful moments of existence than Canada’s governmentality grounds through its criminal justice processes. Drawing on Stallings, this project intends to shed light on trans* women’s art-making that act as canvases to create otherly moments of survival, that does not depend on Canada’s criminal justice system’s harmful procedures and the law. Art-making as a methodology offers alternative aesthetic moments that I call justice. For me, justice offers a way to heal, cope, and reflect on harm inflicted on an individual. Therefore, unquantifiable victimization differs from Canada’s traditional punitive criminal justice system.
This paper seeks to address theoretical and legal implications for patterns of violence against women, that is not taken up in Canada’s field of criminology, which as an area of study educates those who study Canada’s criminal justice systems and its destructive processes. Rather than perceiving punishment as worthy for criminals or deserving inflicted punishment I think about the multiplicity of an event that trans* women encounter across borders. In that, I draw on Canada and the United States to gather information about trans* women’s experiences which is transnational. The overlapping experiences of violence against women vary within the institutions between employment, police, courts, and the prison in Canada. Some of the artistic and intellectual anchors that have been brought about by feminist artistic practices highlight the limitations of addressing violence against women within medical and legal frameworks of discussion. Theorists like L.H. Stallings, Kimberle Crenshaw, Angela Davis and Susan Stryker are the artistic feminist scholars that unquantifiable victimization depends on as a theory and methodology. These feminist theorists have long used feminist art and theory to speak to violence against women. In that, these feminist theorists inform my project and the ideas I work through with theorizing unquantifiable victimization. I use these theorists as a foundation for an art-based methodology that does not depend on criminology’s long history, which is grounded in medical and legal justifications for justice. My work intends to inspire women to use art-based practices to tell stories of their experiences of violence, especially for trans* women who are trapped in carcerality by the state. Some examples of art-making that unquantifiable victimization encourages within this methodology is through practices of poetry, performance, sculpting, painting, letter writing etc., which offers alternative modes of justice that does not depend on the law or the science of crime.
This research paper deploys a productive counterbalance to double victimization in a lexical shift to what I think of as unquantifiable victimization. For example, unquantifiable victimization centers on specific areas such as: violence and the excessive force used by police (Maynard, 123), the administrative structures of violence from medical and legal processes (Routh et al., 5), and the trauma gender-nonconforming and/or trans* women face in cisgender male prisons by both the male inmates and prison guards (5). This project, however will specifically reveal many experiences of violence against women that are always more than double. For me, violence against women consists of force, threat, and manipulation to maintain sexist oppression and exploitation that happen in various social structures in Canada.
Above everything else, this project reads into the ineffectiveness of criminology’s history of double victimization that has historically been feminist criminology’s tools of understanding violence against women. To reiterate, I argue as a thesis throughout this project that criminology’s history is limiting to experiences of trauma—that for me, do not need to be dealt with through Canada’s criminal justice system. Instead, in this project I turn to art-based practices as a pedagogy and expression of pain that I call unquantifiable victimization. Art-based practices as an alternative to justice also offers ways to cope and heal from violence inflicted on an individual. For a long time, I argued that triple victimization—the 1, 2, 3 in the science of crime was to explain double victimization’s short comings. However, the numerical of triple throughout my work wasn’t enough to explain ongoing victimization for the women I work together with in my project. I realized here that unquantifiable victimization when thinking about violence against women is necessary. I dedicate this project to inform the failures of criminology’s field of science and objectivity. Rather I offer an academic conversation that is abolitionist to criminology’s literature about violence against trans* women in Canada.
Theorizing Unquantifiable Victimization: Blending Transgender and Criminology Studies
According to Stryker, transgender studies is “the academic field that claims as its purview transsexuality and cross-dressing, some aspects of intersexuality, homosexuality, cross-cultural and historical investigations of human gender diversity” (“Transgender Studies,” 3). More specifically, unquantifiable victimization pays attention to theories of sexed embodiment and subjective gender identity development, and law and public policies relation to gender expression (3). Further, Stryker states, “Transgender studies are concerned with anything that disrupts the normative linkages between the biological specificity of the sexually differentiated human body, and the social roles and statuses that inform how the body is expected to occupy” (3). In the field of transgender studies, I am interested in analyzing and complicating trans* women’s existence through critique of criminology’s biological and legal implications that fails to call for attention to the transgender body. For example, transgender studies complicate the biological body as trans* people debunk theories of gender—that is, the scientific division of people that differentiates between male and female that is constructed through social and cultural understandings of sexed behaviour. Transgender studies calls for the understanding that people fall outside of the sexed male and female binary classifications of genitalia that science depends on to theorize differences between men and women.
Criminology as a science has long depended on measurement and prediction of biological readiness to commit crime. In a similar fashion, historically, and onto the present, the biological investigation in understanding trans* folks relate to the medical predictions where scientists attempt to flesh out theories about sex/gender systems and criminal existence. Both the criminal and transgender body in science fails in understanding the complicated experiences of both criminality and gender expression. These short-handed scientific theories affect the lives of trans* women policed and incarcerated today.
Criminology’s founding father, Cesare Lombroso, argued that “criminality was inherited” (70). Lombroso’s theory was that a criminal can be read by their appearance and physical body. Katherine Ramsland’s research about Lombroso states that he was responsible for the “instruments of measuring the body alongside criminal behaviour” (Ramsland, 70). Lombroso began the study of criminology which constructed this field of study as an study of science (70). Lombroso thought that characteristics such as skulls, skeletons, and brains were objects to read and study criminals (70). In 1870 Lombroso’s research method involved “anthropometric measurements and assembled portfolios of illustrations for what the criminal type looked like” (70). These ideas revealed that physical abnormalities set criminals apart from ordinary men, which he called “stigmata” (70). Stigmata is Lomboro’s theory for the ways in which criminality can be predicted through bodily features (70). For example, the following features predicted criminal behaviour: “bulging or sloping brows, asymmetrical features, abnormal crania, broad nose, dusky skin, eyebrows that met over the nose, large jaws, and abnormally large arms” (70). Moreover, Lombroso asserted that “among deviant types females were worse than males because women enjoy death and suffering” (71). Lombroso believed that women were monsters especially the ones who were biologically akin to men (71). These biological predictions of criminality still have traces today. In fact, criminologists study the estimate of how one is observed as criminal-worthy. Some of Lombroso’s predictions are also transphobic. For example, the ambiguity of gender representation played a role in his theory about monstrous women. These ideas that one who appears partly male and female in appearance is a threat to society, still has lineage onto today. Therefore, Lombroso’s theories are important to understand criminology’s theoretical and ontological framework of study.
In present-day Canada, criminology as an interdisciplinary study investigates who engages in criminal activity and why people commit crime. Through studies of the environment, culture, society, and identity, criminology as a field of investigation interrogates the who, why, and how one engages in crime. I argue that blending the ideas of transgender studies and criminology studies is important because both trans* people and the criminal are objectified and evaluated through science, measurement, and prediction of behaviour. To enumerate, I argue that criminology as a science fails to address unquantifiable experiences of violence against women. Criminology’s attempt to understand the criminal and the crime is not possible for trans* women’s lives. This is why I stray from criminology, policies, and criminal justice systems to think about trans* women’s experiences with the police and prison system in Canada. Art-making and feminist theory promises an alternative to justice that does not depend on understanding the deficiency of the criminal and the crime. Instead of depending on legislation, policies, and crime control officials to serve justice for violence against women, this paper outlines art-making as method to cope with trauma. I am not interested in the crime or the criminal, rather, in preference, I am invested in working through methods of healing that promises peace in replacement for punishment.
According to William M. and William G. Doerner, double victimization is how victims deal with the cost of violence during two periods (Doerner, 2). However, I argue that two periods of dealing with violence is not at all realistic. One being that there is more to a “variety of losses directly from the criminal incident” when reporting to the police (2). Two, when the victim “turns to the criminal justice system” to seek redress, there are even more costs of violence that double victimization fails to include (2). These criminologists describe double victimization as the “immediate suffering from the criminal episode and the later negative experiences stemming from exposure to an errant criminal justice system” (2). Double victimization is insufficient because this concept ignores unquantifiable experiences of violence. The silence in Canada’s criminology literature in understanding the unquantifiable experiences of violence that women face is ongoing within my academic career in criminology. Moreover, the concept multiple victimization does not include ongoing experiences of violence as well. Instead of the double and multiple, I offer unquantifiable.
Feminist criminologists have critiqued double victimization through multiple victimization. According to Marlene Matos et al., multiple victimization seeks to understand victimization and how “victims integrate their experiences of violence within women’s troubled lives” (Matos et al., 224). The attempt to address victimization here, scrutinizes women. For example, women with “troubled lives” are the basis for multiple victimization’s surveys and documentation. Identity and violence are the only focus of these surveys. Matos et al. employ survey data that reify certain objective boxes of experience that are limiting. In that the method of surveys that Matos et al. depend on does not interrogate how women get to these experiences that can be ongoing and multiple in structures of violence. This body of literature is also not invested to healing. Unquantifiable victimization however, offers a way to cope with trauma and heal from victimization as a survivor.
Within this study “women were analyzed through the prevalence and impact of exposure to violence within communities, families, or intimate relationships, which were read as predicted factors to criminal behaviour and tragic events of victimization” (225). Multiple victimization’s risk factors depend on psychology and criminology that place victim’s within surveys that count violence in data. In these ways, Matos et al. suggest that “surveys can predict and calculate the chances of violence due to socioeconomic status, ethnicity, immigration, and marital status” (225). Multiple victimization’s frame of analysis, I argue, is limiting because it fails to think about the how women get to these experiences of multiple victimization. Further, it does not interrogate trans* women’s experiences of violence.
The basis of using surveys and quantifiable methodology’s in the science of crime has historically shaped criminologists and maintained the science of studying crime. The traces of understanding the criminal, the victim, and the crime is what the science of criminology depends on. The law and criminology as a science has failed me in thinking about ongoing experiences of violence that trans* women encounter. Double and multiple victimization in criminology’s literature does not promise to understand multiple victimization and the overall affects that the state puts onto women who experience ongoing, unquantifiable violence. Again, my frustration in criminology’s literature leaves me feeling empty as it does not offer an alternative in thinking about the multiplicity of violence or ongoing victimization. Nor does criminology care for how women can perhaps, aesthetically break from violence.
However, unquantifiable victimization that is grounded in transgender and feminist studies seeks to understand the multiplicity of women’s experiences. Put simply, the multiplicity of victimization and more importantly, surviving violence for women in Canada is the objective that unquantifiable theories and methods proposes. The remainder of this paper will theorize unquantifiable victimization for trans* women and ground its importance in the study of violence against women. With its approach to violence against women, unquantifiable victimization illustrates the importance of transgender and feminist studies as an informative background in understanding experiences of intimate and structural violence for trans* women.
Here I will explain how I employ trans* as inclusive of race and gender. Drawing on Avery Tompkins, trans* is: “transsexual, trans man, and trans woman that are prefixed by trans- but also identities such as gender queer, neutrios, intersex, agender, two-spirit, cross-dresser, and gender fluid” (Tompkins, 27). Tompkin’s definition of trans* defines gender as a term that is inclusive, but at the same time what is omitted is a factor of race. For this reason, I turn to Kai M. Green’s definition of trans* that brings both race and decolonization to the center (Green, 67). Green extends Tompkin’s trans asterisk—that is, “trans asterisk as a representation of decolonial demands and subversions”—thus I draw on Green as well to incorporate how “Trans* is the queer, Trans* is the colored” (Green, 67). For Green, the asterisk is solely to “critique black lesbian feminist politics” (67). However, I use trans* as a blend between Tompkin’s and Green’s conception. I apply trans* for those who identify as women or non-binary, but were assigned male at birth and face administrative structures of violence—legal and medical to name a few. My concept is not limited to white trans* women, but instead can be stretched to women of colour as well. Put simply, when I say trans* women, the asterisk for me is transgender, gender-nonconforming, and women of colour. In other words, I use trans* as a vehicle to disrupt binaries of gender as well as race.
Inspired by Crenshaw’s legal approach to violence against women, unquantifiable victimization is fundamentally dependent on Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality. Crenshaw’s concept of structural intersectionality shapes the theory of unquantifiable victimization—that study’s trans* violence at the level of institutional violence. For instance, Crenshaw says that “structural intersectionality is the patterns of subordination that intersect in women’s experiences of violence” (1249). Structural intersectionality is the consequence of “vulnerability and disempowerment” (1249) by both men and the state. Crenshaw’s theory of structural intersectionality extends to how “women of colour are differently situated in the economic, social, and political worlds where their needs are not met” (1250). This complicated, yet, inclusive analytical framework in thinking about violence against women is unquantifiable victimization’s grounded theoretical foundation that depends on conceptualizing the overlapping experiences of identity at the level of state violence.
Art-Making as a Methodology
Inspired by Reina Gossett et al., I use art-making as a methodology for trans* women’s experiences of unquantifiable victimization that is abolitionist in nature. Art-making as a methodology offers a way to undo the past and create different aesthetic futures. I draw on Reina Gossett et al. who argue that art and visual culture of trans* art can “radically undo the boundaries of cultural production” (Gossett et al., xviii). The purposes of this project are to use art-making as a methodology to reverse the effects of the present moments of policed and incarcerated trans* women’s lives. By reversing or undoing I mean placing yourself outside of the moment of carcerality and using art to reject the state’s gaze. Therefore, I use art-making as a methodology to undo and critique the school of criminology and as well, theorize otherly moments of being that are outside of Canada’s criminal justice systems processes. Art-making for Gossett et al., include “modes of self-fashioning, making, doing, and being that falls outside of the gaze of the state” (xviii). This project in a similar fashion with Gossett et al. depends on art-making to explain the moments of multiplicity that do not rely on Canada’s harmful procedures and criminal justice system.
Funk, Art-Making, and Survival: Trans* Women’s Art-Making: The Powers of Aesthetic Funk
When thinking through survival for trans* women incarcerated, I depend on L.H. Stallings theorization of “funk the erotic” (3). For Stallings, funk is “supernatural and reanimated” (3). Here, I will use funk—that is, alternative orders of knowledge—to think about trans* women’s aesthetic existence. In other words, funk is aesthetic, in that, funk is within the imagination, and funk is beautiful (3). Unquantifiable aesthetic moments are derived by funk, as funk is the alternative mode of being that links bodily senses with the imaginary (3). To illustrate the importance of funk, this essay blends the aesthetic experiences from the following trans* women’s narratives from Swan Lyn, Jessica H., and Tsunami Caryl-Averlyn. These trans* women’s art-making, I argue, can predicate trans* futurity in Canada’s prisons through aesthetics and the imaginary. I will draw on these trans* women incarcerated as well as Kiyan Williams to think about unquantifiable victimization and captivity enforced by the state.
I think Stallings concept of transness is important to think about the ways in which aesthetic experiences overlap in multiple feelings and affects. I refer to Stallings to suggest an argument about how each “creative mantra of transness maintains a philosophy about identity and identity politics” (207). Transness is creative and multiple, the same as unquantifiable experiences (207). The women I draw on in this essay mean to break from the most harmful conditions of living in Canada’s prison system and offer beautiful moments of survival. More importantly, this thesis argues that art-making as a method intends to advance the push for effective practical tools for coping with pain. For example, I will explore how trans aesthetic moments can happen anywhere in captivity. The following exemplum demonstrates the multiplicity of aesthetic moments of funk and transness. For instance, before auto-biography, medical treatment, or the states approval, trans* women can feel tied to their gender. To illustrate, Stallings questions:
“What if the clinican’s office is not where we begin? What if the first recounting of oral
autobiographies happens in an elsewhere that does not require or need medical
authorization? Does the clinician’s office really the first time for every transman or –
woman recount a transsexual autobiography? What if it is in a priest’s office, the police
station, a lover’s bed, a daily prayer, or a song? Why this select spatial privileging of
autobiography as the construction of a stable subjectivity for that matter?
These are questions that expose the preferential treatment given to science and medicine
in the discussion of transgender studies” (216).
Unquantifiable victimization follows these ideas that Stallings proposes as it breaks from medical and legal institutions to think about how sensation and feelings of narration and transition can happen outside of surgery and the body (219). In fact, when paying attention to Swan Lyn, Jessica H., and Tsunami Caryl-Averlyn’s trans* narratives of survival, they subvert the gaze of medical and legal institutions through art-making in the prison. The trans* women in this project offer moments of embodying womanliness even without hormones or medical treatment in the prison. The most essential features of unquantifiable victimization’s methodology is illustrated in this project through the trans* women’s aesthetic moments of transition and narration, which happen outside of the body and the carceral place in Canada.
According to CeCe McDonald’s prison journals, she writes that “transwomen and street violence go hand in hand” (258). One of McDonald’s main concerns in her journals are centered on the issue of violence against women, which she argues also includes transwomen (258). I agree with you on this CeCe! Violence against women includes all women. Further, she states, “women have a higher rate of experiencing violence in all forms—physical, verbal, and/or sexual and in most cases, we are victims of murder” (258). When we “defend ourselves we are subjected to time, even life in prison” (258). I extend McDonald’s ideas to think about issues of violence against women, and the cruel and unruly treatment of multiple accounts of violence that unquantifiable victimization addresses. This paper will pay attention to the prison as a basis of analysis for unquantifiable victimization’s happenings inside the prison industrial complex. The case of CeCe McDonald I find important to begin the discussion of violence against trans* women incarcerated.
McDonald’s journals demonstrate the violent treatment that trans* women encounter from men, the police, and the prison system. This all started when she stabbed someone to defend herself. While she was incarcerated she states from her journal, “Currently, I am in a men’s state prison for the death of someone I accidently stabbed in the act of defending myself. It all started around 12 a.m. on June 4th 2011, when a group of racist drunks began to verbally bash my friends and I on our way to a local 24-hour grocery store. After being called everything from faggots to niggers, tempers escalated and I was caught in between the madness” (258). Then, when the police arrived McDonald said that “it wasn’t hard for them to assume who the aggressors were—surely, for them, it had to have been the group of black kids who started all this drama” (258). McDonald further claims that this episode she dealt with “shows that there is nothing really in place for women to protect themselves—ourselves” (259). In this context, she states that “we need to unite to make a voice for all those who have become a victim of violence” (259).
Drawing on CeCe McDonald, here I wish to blend the dialog between criminology’s literature and the prison industrial complex, alongside violence that trans* women face within incarceration. I find McDonald’s art-based narratives important to reflect on in this paper seeing as, she provides a case that illustrates thinking with trans* women and unquantifiable violence within criminal justice systems. The question McDonald raises that is important for this discussion is, “Can someone please explain to me how an injustice such as [trans* violence] …does not make one question the biased laws and discrimination that still exist in the ‘justice system’ (262)? In response to McDonald’s question, I take this up as an issue that is central to this thesis which in detailed attention reads the criminal justice system in Canada and its injustices that are result in unquantifiable violence against trans* women, drawing on Canadian and American literature.
Prison Abolition: Transforming Justice Through Swan Lyn, Jessica H., and Tsunami Caryl-Averlyn’s Art-Making
Here, I will draw on Rosenberg’s collected transgender narratives through the “Prisoner Correspondence Project (PCP), a Montreal-based collective,” that “organizes pen-pal communication for incarcerated LGBTQ2+ persons in the U.S. and Canada” (Rosenberg, 81). Particularly, Rosenberg focused on “trans feminine persons incarcerated in men’s correctional facilities in California, Texas, Florida, Colorado, Missouri, Georgia and New Mexico” (81). Rosenberg further claims that “these women are disproportionately represented and face disproportionate amounts of cruel and unusual treatment in prison” such as, “lengthy time in solitary confinement, refusal of hormones, and incredibly high rates of harassment and violence” (81). Trans* women’s bodies are structured by the criminal justice system which attempt to “erase” gendered identities that are supposed to “no longer exist” (79). I contend however that these illusions of control have failed. Some of the key issues I draw on from Rosenberg are the ways in which these trans* women were limited to “accessing hormones and expressing their gender” (83). Although, the trans* women I blend together in this archive still live through their gender, despite the fact that Canada’s prison system denies them the processes of medical treatment.
First, Swan Lyn identifies as a white, genderqueer, and androgynous trannsexual/femqueen (83). Swan Lyn says that “she was taking hormones ‘off and on since I was 18’” (83). After being incarcerated in the state prison, “Swan Lyn was not allowed to continue taking hormones, and was placed in administrative segregation (solitary confinement) for two years” (84). Swan Lyn describes herself as “having large breasts and explains that the contrast between her breasts and the masculinizing effects of discontinuing her hormones, such as hair growth, has comprised her safety and profoundly impacted the way she experiences her gender identity and sense of self” (84). She also says that she has “breast implants” that are “a C-cup,” which she explains makes her feel that she is “An oddity. An object of lust, hatred and desire by both guards and inmates” (84). Notably some of the ways in which Swan Lyn is restricted to expressing her gender has to do with “No makeup. No panties. No nails. No long hair. Clothing is all uniform. No bras. Taunted for speakin’ as a woman. Not allowed to shave my legs” (84).
Seemingly, then, we can see here that carceral power attempts to control gender identification that in turn, has effects that make Swan Lyn feel as “an UGLY woman with a red beard and big bouncy balls” (84). She says to Rosenberg that she is “not who she was when was locked up” (84). Despite the severity of carceral punishment, I argue, drawing on Rosenberg that their “embodied” moments of masculinity are not comparable to the felt and imagined feelings of femininity (83). These aesthetic moments of radical hope are the ones I depend on for trans* women to cope with the pain of Canada’s criminal justice system. Under the basis of unquantifiable victimization and wrongful confinement, “Swan Lyn’s present and future continues” to exist “upon her feminine identity” (85) that are sustained by moments of hope that present a future and survival as a woman. Swan Lyn says that she feels like a woman through her aesthetic experiences and hopeful utterances to Rosenberg such as, “I a woman. Hear me roar” (85)! Radical hope here, of a present and future for Swan Lyn expresses that even with carcerality and solitary confinement, she can still feel her womanly presence. The aesthetic moments and art-making here, I propose with a pen and paper in carcerality, has the ability to disavow the harshest living conditions through moments of Swan Lyn’s feminine identity.
At the University of Toronto’s “Trans Matters: Interdisciplinary Trans Studies Graduate Student Conference,” my close-reading of Jessica H. brought an intimacy of holding her hand and watching her in confinement sit, write, and draw her present and future. Comments at the conference complimented and admired Jessica’s art-work. Picture Jessica at the swimming pool being my only picture while reading her story here. Jessica’s hand as it writes the body, illustrates the limits of carcerality and its violence imposed on trans* women. Jessica’s ‘Swimming Pool’ in the image of herself in Rosenberg’s text reads: it is not an “if but a when, not a now but is a will be” (89), that envisions Jessica’s future after being incarcerated. For example, Rosenberg states, that Jessica’s “artwork represents a future that has crept into the present, a future that predicts Jessica’s survival” (89). Jessica says, “I do shave my body, have long hair I wear effeminately; but that is the extent of it (more than that would get me in trouble)” (85). Because Jessica says, “in the cell I can dress effeminately, speak effeminately . . . basically express my gender as best as I am able” (85). Jessica further explains that her “fingernails can’t be long, can’t wear ‘gender inappropriate clothes’ (doesn’t matter how you identify, based on how your born), no make up, no hair dryer/curling iron (though allowed in the women’s prisons) . . . basically, go further than what I have, you end up in ad-seg (the hole)” (85). Jessica promises that regardless of her gender access to hormones in prison, her gender identity as a woman breaks from the states gaze and imposition of her femininity.
Jessica states that “most people think that she is a gay cis man, and coming out in prison has had her feeling incapacitated with few options” (85). Here is one of the many examples of Jessica’s experience of unquantifiable victimization. For example, Jessica describes that she will “never be able to truly be myself (unable to start treatment)” because “her gendered experiences of incarceration are of dormancy” (85). Jessica’s art-making treasures her future and ultimately, “projects her gender-affirming body” that predicts her survival in the prison system (89). Jessica’s prediction of her freedom is played with on a hot day where she can swim. For me, the close-reading of Jessica’s picture in swimming pool proposes that her ideal freedom of playing is in the water. Jessica in the swimming pool allows her to move around freely in the water with no weight of carcerality. She can move as free as she wants to!
Figure 1. This photo is borrowed from Rosenberg’s text that Jessica calls “Swimming Pool” (87). I use this photo of Jessica H. in a radical way that offers alternatives to justice that does not predicate on the law. Rather, Jessica’s art-work for me, is theorized as an alternative to incarceration and a predicted future for women who undergo unquantifiable victimization. Jessica H. here, creates different aesthetic alternatives that go against the state. Art-making such as Jessica’s is the foundation that this project depends on for transforming justice.
Jessica’s drawings submitted to Rosenberg “directly contradict and redefine the corporeal experiences of Jessica’s body and transition in incarceration” (87). While her “gender expression is tightly regulated including not allowing her to have long nails, shave her body or grow out her hair, these self-portraits illustrate a projection of Jessica’s gendered body in ways that defy the present” (88). This artwork intends to “pull Jessica away from the present moments where future’s operatives arrive and emancipate her” (89). If momentarily Jessica escapes time from the hold of carceral time that has “rendered her gendered body stationary” (89). For as long as Jessica “cultivates a future” then she will not “surrender her trans feminine identity to carceral domination” (89). In this context Jessica’s experiences of unquantifiable victimization from Canada’s exertion of patriarchy, control, and transphobia, can be relieved from pain for a moment through her art-making.
Tsunami Caryl-Averlyn identifies as a “bi-racial (Puerto Rican and African American) genderquer and femqueer male-to-female trans woman” (89). For Tsunami, she has not experienced the “masculinizing effects of being unable to continue hormones” (90). Tsunami’s “embodied experiences of gender do not produce the same kind of stationary feelings that Swan Lyn and Jessica H. experience in their rejection to access to hormones in prisons” (90). Instead, Tsunami had the benefit of undergoing all the transitioning she needed before entering the prison. However, the placement of Tsuanmi in a cisgender male’s prison still happened. This is something to think about critically when thinking about the unquantifiable victimization within Canada’s prison system that assigns trans* women in cisgender male prisons. Rosenberg states that “Tsunami’s body offers a constant reminder of who she is, pulling in her past as a trans woman who began transitioning on the outside, connecting her to gendered memories that reaffirm who she is despite being incarcerated in a men’s facility” (91). Tsuanmi’s aesthetic moments in her memory reminds her that even after transitioning to her desired gender, moments still exist that allow her to survive as a woman. In these ways, medical and legal institutions work together to limit, control, and create these carceral spaces in which gender must be expressed according to permission by medical and legal institutions. Tsuanmi however, reverts carcerality’s imposition on trans* women’s feelings of womanliness. In that, Tsunami uses memory, touch, and narrative to express her aesthetic feelings of womanliness.
Drawing on Swan Lyn, Jessica H., and Tsuanmi Caryl-Averlyn’s art-based narratives together, these women demonstrate unquantifiable victimization’s methodology. The purposes of drawing on these trans* women’s art is to illustrate and center the violence that Canada’s prison industrial complex imposes on them through art-making. These narratives of unquantifiable victimization’s methodology and art-making promises a reliable method of survival for trans* women incarcerated. For example, the denial of hormones when placing trans* women in cisgender male prisons, and thereafter placing them in solitary confinement is one of the many institutional issues that Canada’s prison imposes on trans* women. I think that these trans* women’s expressive narratives in this archive establish survival of unquantifiable victimization. With its breadth and more nuanced approach to trans* life in prison, unquantifiable victimization turns our attention to alternative justice such as these art-based narratives.
Kiyan Williams in Unearthing and Trash and Treasure: Performing an Alternative to Justice
Kiyan Williams art-making is also informative to cope with unquantifiable victimization that trans* people experience. Williams art promises a reliable aesthetic alternative to justice. Williams performance of “Unearthing” uses “movement, storytelling, installation, and live-singing to explore blackness, gender/queerness, and memory” (“Unearthing”, par.1). For instance, their art“reimagines constructs of race and gender” (par.1). Williams uses what Stallings calls “transaesthetics,” in that, Williams’ performance is abolitionist to medical and legal institutions documentation of identity. L.H. Stallings calls this kind of art, transaesthetics—which is where the body demonstrates anti-work activity and postwork imagination (Stallings, 38). Unearthing’s” performance consisted of using “dirt sourced from an unrecognized burial ground of enslaved African’s in New York City” (“Unearthing,” par. 1). Alongside Williams performance, Williams art-making is abolitionist in that Williams genderqueer performance of “Unearthing” brings together matters of human and unhuman as the dirt and human meet as a beautiful aesthetic. More importantly, Williams performance of “Unearthing” promises survival and rebirth. To undo and redo the earth’s surface, which Williams shows in their performance is transgender. Matters of the earth and body that meet with Williams black, transgender body.
Figure 2. Kiyan Williams in “Unearthing.” Rubbing glitter and performing rebirth.
Figure 3. Kiyan Williams, in “Unearthing” covered in glitter. Eating dirt. Eating their-self.
In “Unearthing” Williams reads in glitter: “Do you know who I am? Can you see me? You can see me? I had been invisible for so long, I still am at this very moment. So, I ask you again, can you see me? Invisible, lonely, lonely and invisible, desperate and hungry for myself, but I could only see the contours of a shadow a shapeless, nameless form I was obscured in shame” (Unearthing, 05:20-5:40). In the context of invisibility, Williams draws on the body as possessed by a slave master. Here, I think with Rosenberg’s communication with Swan Lyn, Jessica H., and Tsunami Caryl-Averlyn, and the corporality of their bodies possessed by the criminal justice system—who like Williams, are controlled by a master, a man, the state. I use Williams to think about captivity and survival through their statement: “Slavery is never escaped as the master controls your mind, so as long as your mind is captive to the emptiness of the state, the control will remain unless we break free, through the water” (06:30). Williams sings about swimming, and the movements that Williams embodies is similar to Jessica’s imaginary of swimming. Both Williams and Jessica H. encapsulate the freedom and captivity of swimming in the water which both promise survival.
By using art-based narratives, the purpose of Williams in my archive is to think about alternatives from medical and legal institutions unquantifiable violence. Williams rejects the power of the master, a man, and the state which unquantifiable victimization’s methodology depends on. Aesthetics and art-making suppose freedom through the imaginary and memory. Healing through art is what unquantifiable victimization offers as an alternative to justice and breaking free in our imaginary is the alternative that does not suppose punishment as fair treatment. Rather I use art-making and the imaginary to not only survive, but break free from carcerality and violence against women, even for a moment.
Another performance by Kiyan Williams that I find important for this archive is “Trash and Treasure.” This spiritual performance celebrates trans* life as Williams blows up balloons and reads poetry to trans* people who felt death at the hands of the state. In the location of trash, Williams helps me think about trash and being reborn again through art-making. Williams performance is abolitionist because they celebrate the present nonconformity to the state. “Trash and Treasure” makes use of memory as the hurt of carcerality is called upon. Williams states that the violence that trans* folks experience consist of those who have been killed or incarcerated due to police brutality, which must be remembered. More broadly, trans* people who have been hurt by the state is celebrated through Williams performance. Particularly, Williams sits by garbage and blows up balloons. The symbol of balloons in this performance, for me, is a tool of survival because when I think of balloons I think of symbolic celebration. Therefore, while Williams’ trans* body situates violence in the present, they also offer comforting experiences of celebration and radical hope for present and future trans* life.
This performance “Trash and Treasure” can be read alongside Stallings’ concept of funk. For instance, Stallings states that the “sensory of funk, such as memory and art-making together brings us closer to developing communal practices of love and intimacy that should be celebrated and embraced by all” (236). I bring Williams and Stallings together to think about the afterlife of trauma and express the importance of art-making as a methodology to cope with pain. Unquantifiable victimization’s methodology relies on art-making such as Williams’ work that bring together aesthetic moments of celebrating life through imagination, touch, and feelings.
Figure 4. Kiyan Williams in “Trash and Treasure.” I draw on this photo to rethink about an alternative to justice through art and celebrating trans* life. Williams performs celebration and re-birth this through their performance that is nonconforming to the state. The art-making in this performance consists of reading poetry and celebrating afterlife of trans* existence.
Figure 5. In “Trash and Treasure” Williams celebrates LGBTQ2+ life and survival. Despite the death that the state inflicts on trans* life. Dancing in glitter and performing different destinies is what Williams work presents.
Stryker’s poetry also speaks to celebration for trans* life that I find important to blend beside the trans* art work I pulled from within this archive. For example, she states, “In birthing my rage, my rage has rebirthed me” (‘Transgender Rage,” 252). This archive where I draw on trans* experiences have also been rebirthed and celebrated. To conclude, Stryker says in an informative and futuristic fashion: “If this is your path, as it is mine, let me offer whatever solace you may find in this monstrous benediction: May you discover the enlivening power of darkness within yourself. May it nourish your rage. May your rage inform your actions, and your actions transform you as you struggle to transform your world” (254).
Swan Lyn, Jessica H., Tsunami Caryl-Averlyn, and Kiyan Williams in this paper practice the ideas that Stryker refers to in her poetry. These trans* artists all have the power to abolish the states gaze in moments of creative aesthetics. Swan Lyn, Jessica H., and Tsunami Caryl-Averlyn all speak to the limitations and failures Canada’s criminal justice system oppose on them. Above everything else, unquantifiable victimization’s methodology intends to breed more beautiful moments and art in the context of violence against women in the state of Canada. Throughout this paper, my promise was to voice an alternative for trans* women incarcerated. Unquantifiable victimization’s methodology deployed in this paper presented ways to foresee transforming justice through the imaginary and creative art-making. This paper used many trans* women’s art and performance that demonstrated some of Canada’s harmful medical and legal processes which trans* people experience. Unquantifiable victimization and thinking about justice in terms of art-making, promises stable and cohesive beginnings to approach violence against women. Swan Lyn, Jessica H., Tsunami Caryl-Averlyn, and Williams in this project shed light on possibility for an alternative of justice, and an establishment that art-making can heal pain of carcerality through the imagination and celebration for trans* life.
This project to traced the multiplicity of violence that trans* women experience which extends beyond double victimization. For example, this paper provided a theoretical foundation for thinking about unquantifiable victimization through the lens of intersectionality. With unquantifiable victimization’s theoretical foundation, this paper traced practical events in which trans* women experience unquantifiable victimization in Canada. Examples such as the harm inflicted by neoliberalism, employment, policing systems, court systems, and the prison system were discussed in this paper to carve out a conversation about violence against trans* women. The following women: CeCe McDonald, Swan Lyn, Jessica H., Tsunami Caryl-Averlyn, and Kiyan Williams’ stories, meant to draw out the methodology of art-making that unquantifiable victimization depended on. I use the idea that art-making as a methodology has alternative aesthetic means to justice. For me, justice offers a way to heal, cope, and reflect on harm inflicted on an individual instead of relying on punishment.
Throughout my academic career in Canada, I have confronted silences with experiences of trans* women. The field of criminology in Canada has structural problems that is overturned by double victimization. Instead of depending on Canada’s crime control institutions that hang onto punishment as fair treatment, my project carved out an archive for unquantifiable experiences of violence that happen to all women. Although my positionality difficult to understand all violence against women, I still incorporated all women in my project to fully grapple with unquantifiable victimization. This research paper examined the problems with double victimization and offered unquantifiable victimization. This project’s thesis argues that there are many experiences of violence against women that are always more than double. I demonstrate these issues through an intersectional analysis for existing realities of poverty, race, and gender within Canada and U.S. prison industrial complex. As well as the many other issues I addressed in this project that revealed many experiences of violence that women confront in Canada’s social institutions. The axes of unquantifiable victimization’s difficulty to report, and have a conversation about the trauma that exists in encountering the police, and the prison system have failed to offer justice. I argued that unquantifiable victimization can be used as an intervention to interrogate the conditions of incarceration that trans* women face of the structured violence within Canada’s criminal justice system.
Instead of staying with Canada’s harmful procedures of criminal justice, perhaps art-making and prison abolition is a more peaceful idea that promises equality and justice. Also, thinking through multiple and tentacle imaginary of overlapping experiences of violence and unquantifiable victimization was important throughout this entire project. Through art-making, I work through survival and think with new ways to advocate for justice through language as abolition. To conclude I ask, alongside Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? If prisons were not inevitable, perhaps we can imagine different ways to cope with pain and heal. More action and art-making can promise harmony for those who suffer from Canada’s criminal justice system. Perhaps it is time to abandon the idea that Canada’s medical and legal institutions correct people, and begin acting on the creations for new foundations for justice.
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My academic journey begins at York University in Toronto, Ontario in the undergraduate degree in Criminology where most of my engagement with the law and gender and women’s studies started. After this, my centered research involved thinking about trans* women in the context of a criminological discussion. I completed my Master’s in Women and Gender Studies at University of Toronto where this was a research interest of mine. This essay comes from my Master’s project at the Women and Gender Studies Institute. I am now doing my PhD in socio-legal Studies at York University that is more centered on my autobiographical, art-based, poetic methodology, alongside the law in Canada, juxtaposed with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada. This project, for my doctorate will used unquantifiable victimization from an autobiographical methodology alongside narratives of other women as well to think through new policies and healing for women that have experienced violence. Poetry as a methodology for my work is inspired by Sylvia Plath, my spirit animal.