Headlands Center for the Arts

Dean Spade

washington | writing
Artist in Residence Program 2018

Artist Statement

I am a writer, video maker, and social justice activist who has been deeply involved in movements for racial, economic, and gender justice for the past 20 years. In 2002, after years of working in various contexts on issues related to policing, public benefits, gender, and sexuality, I founded the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in New York City. SRLP is a law collective that provides free legal services to trans and gender non-conforming people who are low-income and/or people of color. Through my work with SRLP and other projects and collaborations, I have worked on issues impacting queer and trans people in prison, in deportation proceedings, without housing, and in poverty. I write about these issues in zines, blogs, magazines, academic articles journals, and in my book, Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law. I also make videos to circulate critical ideas of use to movements for justice.

While At Headlands

At Headlands I will work on a self-help book for activists. In this project, I pull insights from self-help literatures and programs and reinterpret them through anti-capitalist, anti-racist, feminist, anti-colonial, and disability justice politics.

Left social movements have brilliant ideas about how to take apart the systems that are destroying people and the planet and build a new world. However, existing conditions shape us—our attitudes, our reactions, our emotional ranges. Our movements and communities are struggling with interpersonal abuse, unresolved conflict, disconnection, and burnout.

Self-help literatures and programs proliferate because people are miserable and isolated. However, the self-help genre is of little use to progressives and radicals. It collaborates with dominant systems by individualizing suffering, upholding oppressive norms, and justifying the status quo. It promises to make participants skinny, rich, and married, not create freedom and justice.

This book aims to help us develop the emotional capacities we need to build a new world together.

Selected Videos and Writings

Queer Dreams: Understanding the Non-Profit Industrial Complex is a series of six short videos exploring how queer and trans social movements shifted toward an agenda affirming the apparatuses of racialized state violence and control through philanthropic influence. Two videos from the series:

Op-Ed: “The Right is Using Trans Issues to Promote Militarism,” Truthout, 2017

Dean Spade and Rori Rohlfs, “Legal Equality, Gay Numbers and the (After?)Math of Eugenics,” co-authored with Rori Rohlfs, in “Navigating Neoliberalism in the Academy, Nonprofits, and Beyond,” The Scholar and the Feminist Online, 2016

Selected Works

Personal Website