I walked into the room at ALP, with a friend, from the elevator we had taken up three floors. The entryway was crowded with people, trans, of color, cis: queer people gathered in this one small space, waiting in line to sign in and answer the question: ‘do you need translation services?’ I was immediately impressed. Well, not least because of the question for translation services. I was, after all, attending a meeting where two Argentine trans activists were discussing recent trends in the laws of the country—and the activism it took to get there. I was impressed by the relative simplicity of the surroundings, the décor. The desks, rather than divided by cubicle like walls or divisions of any kind, were adjoined side by side, and each had upon them images of various inspiring figures. Audre Lorde being most prominent. Others I cannot even name because of my own ignorance. It was a narrow entryway, and the office itself was stretched much like a narrow rectangle. I could tell there was a back area—perhaps for employees to gather, to have meetings, and such. But I was headed to what was already set up for a meeting—a talk—in a large ‘conference room’ though I am not sure what ALP called it.
After checking in, and requiring a headset for translation purposes, I pondered for a moment that when I gave my name, B Aultman, I was not questioned—there wasn’t a hesitation. It was simply taken and written down. No looks. Just written. Had it been anywhere else I would have been questioned, looked at, interrogated—if only psychically. It happened at Starbucks. It happened elsewhere.
My friend and I entered the room. They, my friend, spoke to the evening’s speakers as I took a seat and began taking in the surroundings.
It was a white room. Bricks, no—more like cylinders, were the material. Decorating the walls were images of other inspiring people I can’t name. I noticed other things. Taped to the walls were a list of some 12 ‘community agreements’,. They were demands made on individuals in interaction with one another. Many of which I did not recognize—all of which were community specific. ‘don’t yuck my yum’ or ‘no shade’ or ‘move up, move up’ were listed in non-hierarchical order. No numbers were necessary—it was simply a list. Adjacent to this list was another list, the same list, in Spanish.
The chairs were facing, toward the front of the room, a table that had wheels, on which was set a pitcher of water and a few Styrofoam cups. Behind the table were windows—and this is perhaps the most impressive, or should I say impressing, feature of the room, at least its set up. The talk, the presentation of these to international trans activists was to be given in a room that, on the one hand had been set up in such a way as to produce a feeling of schoolhouse, or a conference—but it was against the backdrop of an open window! A panoramic window! What’s more: on the left was an old unit style air conditioner, the right side of which had been is disrepair, covered with what appeared to be cardboard. On the far right side of this panoramic window was a single window propped open with a water container one might see standing upside down in a dispenser, a cooler.
I looked around the room. Folks of many races, sexes, genders, nationalities (as I later learned) stood around me and discussed their anticipation of the event. How excited they were. Some simply spoke about their day. Some about the weather. Others stared blankly at the large panoramic window they were facing.
As the presentation began, I noticed that in fact it was not simply a presentation. The speaker(s) stood in front of the table with wheels. They leaned against it and faced us, the attentive audience of queers and perhaps nonqueers. They began to speak, after a thoughtful introduction by an ALP affiliate, and our translators spoke through the headset I was given. ‘We want this to be a conversation’ he said. And he meant just that. The dialogue was precisely aimed at producing a discussion about the Argentinian example of trans justice, activism, and legislation that allowed individuals to change their sex markers on official government documents without medical documentation. One did not need to have gender confirming surgeries in order to claim a gender identity on their state issued documentation. This is, to my knowledge, the only such law in existence.
The two speakers were having a conversation with each other, actually, in which it was revealed that they were ‘sweethearts’ (their own words). One was a state employee and activist. The other was a grassroots activist working on the outside of the state. I was taken by this, by the egalitarian spirit and openness of this meeting.
As the discussion moved along, I began noticing the strange interstitial feeling emerging as an English-speaking individual listening to a translation while simultaneously hearing a Spanish speaker issue those words. I was between two worlds, it seemed. I was the listening subject, the person who trusted the translation of the words spoken by the individual(s) captivating the room—by a voice, or rather a set of interchanging voices (as translators took turns throughout the event and traded off the headset) that spoke in one ear, as I listened to the speaker with another. I was, for this moment, nomadic, perhaps—in between yet there and present. The material reality of being in this room matched by the moving dialogue of two languages being spoken simultaneously, meant to carry and transmit the same meaning—or the hope of the same meaning.
I was caught between my admiration for the erudition of the speaker as a social theorist and by the amount of energy and courage he/they had for making their way to NYC to speak with us this night—this room of queers, this room of old air conditioners and windows propped up by empty water containers; of white washed cylinder walls covered with images of inspiring community leaders and organizers; a wall containing a list of do’s and don’ts as ‘community agreements’ that read more like a ‘respect this space’ than a Habermasian speech situation.
The space here, this space, acted upon us all in ways we were unaware (of which I am still processing). The openness of this room, and the panoramic window, with all its ‘flaws’, reminded us of the importance of authenticity in our own activism—this was a real moment, amongst real people, whose economic lives were not at the top of the social ladder (but who knows?). But we were coming together in this space to share a dialogue that was open to questioning—questions that ranged from whether transmasculinities had a privileged space in the speaker’s imaginary, to the role that transwomen played in the making of the trans movement in Argentina—to the very political question of what happens when the current administration steps down.
And never once did the speakers sit. They stood, and looked happy to stand and speak, and wonder, and stutter, and say things that often seemed like rambling—that they were unprepared statements of what is going on then, there, and in the past. The authentic. The real. As real as the gender(s) demanding expression and recognition in this room. As real as the affective ties that bound us together that night, if only for two hours.