Opening Statement (April 2020)
Over the past few decades, under Conservative, Labour, and LibDem governments, there has been an escalation of state power to discipline and surveil oppressed communities, especially Black people and other people of colour, but also mentally ill people, disabled people, and trans people.
Trans, non-binary, intersex, and gender-nonconforming (GNC) people are often very aware of the state violence they are subject to. However, there is as of yet no data available on how state violence impacts trans communities.
This is not entirely a bad thing. After all, data is itself another form of surveillance, and mere 'awareness' would not do anything for the people bearing the brunt of this violence. Indeed, if anything, in the past five years, trans people have been hyper-visible in British public culture, via a persistent war waged on their right to public space waged by a coalition of Oxbridge-educated left-liberal journalists and the Christian right.
At the same time, however, to experience state violence can, at a personal level, be extremely isolating, and organisers are often left without a map of the territory they ought to be fighting on. Trans State Watch aims to change this.
When this project was conceived earlier this year it was in a slightly different form, before the COVID-19 Pandemic was the international crisis it has since become.
We originally planned to set up email and social media accounts where trans, nonbinary, and GNC people across the UK could submit their accounts of experiences of state violence.
These accounts would be collated into appropriate forms that might show these experiences to be the consequence of structural neglect, discrimination, inequality, bigotry and ignorance, not a result of individual failing. Evidence would also provide organisers with key areas of concern and points of pressure.
Initially, the project was planned to run for a provisional three month period from June through August. Three months felt like an appropriate period of time and it would cover so-called 'Pride season', a key time for the (literal) policing of LGBT+ communities. After this time, we would collectively decide how to move forward.
We wanted to navigate between the twin dangers of "objective" statistical reportage, shorn of all emotion or political interpretation, and displaying trans trauma for public consumption. We decided on the blog format, where experiences would be presented anonymously with identifying aspects removed.
Accounts will be archived, and TSW will provide regular updates as to what this archive indicates about state violence and its impact on trans people. We see this work as building on and extending already existing practices of trans collective learning and knowledge making.
The Coronavirus Pandemic
This was just over a month ago, but it seems like a world away. As a disease, the origins of COVID-19 are still obscure. As a social crisis, however, it is the product of several decades of an offensive by the ruling class against oppressed communities—the offensive of neoliberalism—comprising the gutting of public services, mass criminalisation of oppressed communities, and the entrenchment of global imperialism via a combination of war, sanctions, and border controls.
Inevitably, when public services have been stripped bare, and the capacity of oppressed communities to care for one another has been brutally beaten down, the only way to contain the ensuing crisis is by force. The UK is currently under lockdown with new police powers in place and new surveillance measures introduced to enforce it.
Given present conditions we have decided to bring Trans State Watch forward.
Whilst the crisis makes it hard to present the project as mapping out the "norm" for trans people's experiences of the state, it also intensifies the urgency with which we need to begin to map the territory for action against state violence.
Though it is still unclear what will happen after lockdown ends—and what will become of the various emerging efforts towards mutual aid, rent strike, and decarceration —we can be sure the "emergency measures" of state violence will create a new normal, or at the very least be used to test carceral practices for later use.
We are particularly concerned with how state violence may interact with the Corona-induced crisis in trans healthcare, and with the use of Mental Health legislation on "sectioning" to justify police powers to detain those they suspect of being infected with Coronavirus.