Alex Casey spends a few hours with some rainbow volunteers shining a light on the trans community.
It’s a sunny Friday on Karangahape Road, and rainbow activists Sam Orchard and Toni Duder are nervously waiting outside adult store Peaches and Cream. “Can you do the talking?” Orchard asks. “Sure,” says Duder. Wielding armfuls of colourful posters and stickers showing support for the trans and non-binary community, they’re spending the afternoon getting their message of inclusive feminism plastered around K’rd’s hotspots.
“A bunch of us wanted to share some love for the diversity of the trans community – particularly in regards to feminism,” says Orchard, who designed several of the stickers. Indeed, it’s been a tumultuous few months in the media for the trans community. There have been stickers plastered around Wellington claiming “biological sex matters, women are female”, a trans woman denied entry to her local gym, events hounded for using trans speakers and warmongering headlines about BATTLE LINES drawn between ‘feminists’ and ‘trans activists’.
It was those divisive headlines that erased the work of many in the rainbow community, Orchard says. “I know so many trans people that are feminists and have made such a commitment to feminism, so the way the media framed those stories and created a false dichotomy between trans people and feminism was really hurtful.” He created several of the inclusive feminist stickers as a way of combating the flood of negativity. “When you read all those articles, it just starts to knock you down a bit.”
“I just can’t help but think about how, if my community got any good feedback from society, we would achieve so much more. So many of us are so busy getting beaten down that most of the time we’re just trying to stay alive.”
Samora Kake is a placement student at Rainbow YOUTH, and is also proud to call herself a feminist. “Coming out as trans eight years ago, I strongly believe in the power of trans women and how far we have come,” she says. “Feminism is about the power of all women. When I hear ‘you’re not a woman unless you can bear children’, that’s just ridiculous.” Toni Duder of Rainbow YOUTH agrees. “Reducing women to that basic biology eliminates so many different kinds of women that exist in the world. It simply doesn’t make sense.”
Back on K’Rd, the poster campaign is going reasonably well. There were a couple of “ask the managers” from hesitant staff, but no flat out refusals and certainly nobody tearing them down. Even at the swanky Moustache cookie bar, the rules don’t allow them to stick anything up but a reasonable bunch are left to giveaway to punters at the counter. Across the road, karaoke bar Route 66 gets a gender minorities poster out the front, as do a few rogue power boxes. But no other business embraces the message quite as closely as Coco’s Cantina.
Within seconds of their arrival, Renee Coulter from Coco’s has spread out a pile of stickers and posters and is pointing out all the places for them to be put up all over the restaurant. For her, boosting the message of inclusive feminism is no big deal at all. “People are people, you know? We all need to move on about this stuff because we’ve got much bigger fish to fry.” A ‘feminism is for all genders’ sticker appears in the toilet, a ‘trans is beautiful’ next to a dolphin awareness bumper sticker out front. “All I know is that you only move as slow as the person at the back,” says Coulter. “So let’s bring the conversation forward.”
The debate about gender neutral bathrooms is another one that tends to drag the conversation back when it flares up every now and again. “We often get asked for quotes here about gender neutral bathrooms,” says Duder. “Something the media always has in their back pocket is asking ‘well, how does this affect women? What about their safety and sexual assault in bathrooms?’ Instead of those questions, why aren’t we addressing the fact that women are constantly living in fear of sexual assault?”
“Trans women are also afraid,” adds Samora. “We’re afraid of being assaulted in bathrooms, we’re afraid at train stations. Even when you’re dating, you have to be so careful. You meet up with the wrong Tinder date and then your life is over.” Fear is just one of the countless boundaries that permeate every part of the trans reality, says Orchard. “Every single part of our lives is policed. Whether it’s our bathrooms, trying to get a job, trying to access affordable, safe healthcare, trying to get housing – it’s all connected.”
“And, hello, feminism helps address this.”
With K’Rd sufficiently sprinkled with lively messages of inclusivity, positivity and love, the small team are happy with the uptake they’ve achieved in one afternoon. “Given this current culture of hostility, all we want to do is shine a light on the trans people, the non-binary people and the people with indigenous genders who are so amazing and have contributed so much to society,” says Orchard. “They’ve also been very patient with us cis people,” adds Duder.
“All we ever want is to share the love around,” says Orchard. “We want our community to know that we love them and our feminism is inclusive of them, because all trans people are beautiful.”
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.