Comments on Writing “Butterfly Migration” and how Writing can be a Political Act
by Gordene O. MacKenzie
Recently, I was invited to close the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) meeting in Boston with a poem. I wrote the poem “Butterfly Migration” for the occasion. It was meant to be a transition, to take us from the town meeting to the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Due to a programming error that inadvertently cut out the closing and the poem, I never read it.
I thought I would share it with you. It is dedicated to the important life changing/saving work the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition is doing.
As I thought about writing a poem to remember transgender persons who have been killed because of hate and prejudice, I thought about other stigmatized groups who have been targeted, oppressed and massacred. You won’t find most of their stories in the history books and rarely do we hear about them in school. I write them to remember all those silenced and murdered because of hate.
Inspiration for the poem came from reading about the horrors of the slave trade, the first Wounded Knee Massacre, and research I had done for an article on the murders of transgender women of color.
For 2 centuries Africans were ripped from their families and communities. They were shackled around the neck and marched sometimes 1,000 miles to the coast where they were stacked in small cages on ships to be transported to North and South America where they were sold. It is estimated that 2 out of 5 died on the march to the coast and that 1 in 3 died aboard ship or were tossed overboard. Historians, like Howard Zinn, observe that 50 million Africans died before the ships reached a destination. The journey of the slave trading ships across the Atlantic is called the “Middle Passage .”
Many of us have heard about the horrible slaughter at Wounded Knee in the 1970s but few of us have heard about the first Wounded Knee Massacre which took place on December 29th 1890. The colonizers who came to America had wiped out much of the American Indian population by slaughter and spreading disease. American Indians who had been forcibly and violently removed from their lands, forced to assimilate, imprisoned, forbidden to speak their native language, wear their clothing, or practice their religion and traditions, were moved by an American Indian visionary Wovoka, who spread the Ghost Dance. He urged American Indians to sing back the buffalo and dance back the dead and restore the earth , and make the white man disappear. The dance spread to most reservations in the US. The US army issued orders to stop it. They arrested those who disobeyed. Some of the arrested, including 230 women and children and 100 men, were taken to a camp called Wounded Knee at Pine Ridge and told to surrender their weapons . When some Lakota Indians started to do the ghost dance 500 soldiers surrounded them opened fire and massacred over 300 American Indians, including children. Historical accounts tell of infants trying to suck on their dead mother’s breast.
In the United States of America dominant ideas about Africans and American Indians at the time were that they were “uncivilized” and “like animals .” Such negative stereotypes justified their mistreatment, murder and torture by the “most civilized” Western countries. Sadly such stereotypes still exist and extend to the way transpersons have historically been viewed.
There have always been those who fought for freedom and civil rights. While some changes have been made, we still have a long way to go.
Wanting to end the poem with hope I thought of transchildren who are transitioning today with the support of their parents and schools, because of the work transgender activists and allies continue to do. The image of hope that filled my mind was a memory of how this fall my partner Nancy and I witnessed butterflies migrating. As we watched autumn leaves tumble to the ground we were surprised to see that what we thought were leaves were actually Monarch butterflies migrating. Each year they migrate to Mexico where millions of them gather on the branches of old fir trees . Hopefully, like the butterflies we are moving to a warmer political climate where diversity will be valued. As Vandana Shiva says “Diversity in nature and culture must be defended” . It is our only hope for the future.
Remember to tell your stories of struggle and listen to the stories of others.
In Peace, Solidarity, and Hope,
December 4, 2006
1- You can also learn more about the Middle Passage at:
2- conversation with Elena Ortiz, Vice Chair of the Alfonso Ortiz Intercultural Center in Albuquerque, NM
3- information on the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee and the Ghost Dance at:
4- This belief also contributes to the mistreatment of animals and nature as well.
5- You can see some videos and photos of this at
6- See Shiva, Vandana, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability and Peace, 2005, SouthEnd Press, P.9.