Summer’s scorch was stunning. Nationwide, we saw protests ignite to honor the lives of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Toyin Salau, and the hundreds of thousands of other Black people who have been killed by police in American history. An energy emerged to not just defund the police, but dismantle them entirely. Led predominantly by survivors, many of them Black and Brown, the country swelled into months of dreaming a world without police and the prison industrial complex. The fire of sacred outrage burns still. May it never go out.
As we entered Fall and the National Guard retreated from our neighborhoods, at least for the moment, tactics towards liberation shifted. Survivors understand in our bones how to bend like willows to the needs of survival; for some trans and nonbinary survivors, our gender and sexual identities are just as responsive, flexible, or fluid. While Black and Brown leaders from the Summer’s Black Lives Matter movements have long taught us that urgency is a weapon and ideology of white supremacy, most of us, especially white folks, on the streets and in our sheets still flinch instinctively into urgency culture when faced with crisis. This can be especially true for trans and nonbinary survivors growing up under white supremacy: Trauma primes our bodies and minds to seek the quickest mollification of the threat facing us, and those patterns of threat mollification become entrenched in our very DNA and are replicated by our systems and structures.
It is against these structures that my own white, queercrip, survivor’s body strained this Fall. Thankful that the reactivity of facing down tanks had left our immediate body-spaces, I read Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement. Edited by transformative justice long-timers Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Beyond Survival is a pulsing, lush anthology of transformative potential written by and for survivor-activist-organizers working in or dreaming about transformative justice. It’s a book written for people who dream solutions other than policing, surveillance, and imprisonment for the people and communities we care about. I devoured its medicine with shaking fingers and a wide open heart. Beyond Survival offered real examples of regular-life folks coming together to support survivors without police by responding to the person who did harm in a transformative rather than punitive way; messing up, missing flights, and neglecting texts; creating entire programs doing one off processes- it medicinally gathered together what worked by and for survivors and the folks who harmed them in their own communities.
It was a gorgeous, imperfect book that gave me so much hope in the middle of a seemingly endless pandemic with Summer’s riot smoke still in the air and California newly burning. While I honor that most readers won’t have the capacity to engage in a years-long community accountability process with a survivor and a person who caused harm, or develop their own collective to divest their community from one-off calling the police in cases of intimate partner violence, I think it offers tremendous hope to anyone who picks it up for people, systems, and processes to change and help change. That alone should make it essential reading as 2020 finally comes to a close.
As trans and nonbinary survivors, I think so often we become bookended by expectations of linearity in our storytelling and urgency in (expected) medical transition on the one hand, and stasis in our identities and how we tell our stories on the other. This book centers an inquisitive, iterative, creative, queer, survivor-centered, community-driven process that few of us get to dream, let alone feel- and it asserts that we can feel it in our bodies and communities if we lean out of the normative state systems and what feels forbidden to us as survivors and trans people to dream a bigger, wider, deeper justice for all.
Something that I love about Beyond Survival is that it isn’t a how-to guide as much as a storytelling (if you’d like guides on transformative and other alternative forms of justice, I’d emphatically recommend you dig deeply into www.TransformHarm.org). It welcomes us into the mistakes and the laughter of ground-up organizing that has you sleepless in airports and holding hands across well worn kitchen tables. That kind of queer storytelling brought so much comfort to me during COVID, where our capacity for storytelling has been shattered into six feet and 280 character limit increments. It encouraged me to dream deeper into the networks that COVID is making possible online, to value the kitchen tables we are pulling together across time and space as sacred spaces to help each other heal, build outside of and apart from dominant and dominating systems, reckon with harm, and sing each other home.