Tourmaline, CeCe McDonald and Dean Spade Sit Down to Talk Prison Abolition

Author’s Note from Mey: Tourmaline and CeCe McDonald introduced me to concept of prison abolition, and I am forever changed for having known them. Just like the rest of the LGBTQ+ community, I wouldn’t be who I am today without the work, help, and love of Black trans women. We must dismantle the police state and prison industrial complex and invest in our communities. Black lives matter and Black trans lives matter and we all have to do the hard work to prove that we mean that.

On April 21, TourmalineCeCe McDonald, and Dean Spade will be at Barnard College for an event called “I Use My Love to Guide Me”: Surviving and Thriving in the Face of Impossible Situations. It will take place at 7:30 pm at The Auditorium at the New School and admission is free. This event is a part of the No One is Disposable series, where Tourmaline has conversations for the Barnard Center for Research on Women about trans activism and prison abolition.

McDonald, who was recently incarcerated, sits down with Tourmaline and Spade, two prison abolition activists, for a conversation about the prison-industrial complex and community-based solutions to the violence it brings. They discuss McDonald’s “own experiences surviving trauma and impossible situations, and the importance of collective organizing for people facing systems of violence.”

In order to get the public prepared for the event, Tourmaline, McDonald and Spade have started releasing a series of short videos showing a conversation between the three about McDonald’s experiences with trauma, survival in impossible situations and what people can do to bring about change. At the event they’ll show more excerpts from this conversation and expand on the ideas brought up in it.


Back in 2011, McDonald and her friends were attacked by a group of white assailants who were shouting racist and transmisogynistic slurs at them. McDonald stabbed one of them in self defense and was arrested and sentenced to 41 months in a men’s prison. After serving 19 months, she was released and has since been sharing her experience and survival. During the time leading up to the trial, her time in prison and since, McDonald has been advocating for the rights of trans women, women of color and all people who have to face the impossible situation of being imprisoned. As she says, “Prisons aren’t safe for anyone, and that’s the key issue.”

Apart from being an activist and artist, Tourmaline is the membership director at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and an activist fellow at the BCRW. She also has a blog where she writes about her projects. Spade is the founder of the SRLP and an associate professor at Seattle University School of Law. He is the author of Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of the Law.

In the first video, McDonald touches on what it’s like to be placed in “impossible situations” and how to survive them. She stresses the importance of love in overcoming these impossible situations and healing.

Here, they talk about how although police and prisons are often portrayed as being the safekeepers of society, they don’t in fact keep us safe at all. In order to help our communities, we need to work together and build each other up.

McDonald is an incredibly inspiring and resilient woman. When she gets together with Spade and Tourmaline, the conversation is sure to be thought-provoking, insightful and challenging. The event page has a way for you to ask questions for the three of them to answer and information on how to register to attend. There are also still two more videos that will be posted there in the weeks leading up to the event.

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Mey Rude is a fat, trans, Latina lesbian living in LA. She's a writer, journalist, and a trans consultant and sensitivity reader. You can follow her on twitter, or go to her website if you want to hire her.

Mey has written 572 articles for us.


  1. Prison’s need to be reformed not abolished. I’ve studied the justice system extensively and can say, without doubt, prisons are a terrible place, but they do serve a purpose (though they need to be overhauled). As for cops, I’ve met my fair share of terrible ones and I’m of the opinion the police force can work incredibly well if you make it a priority to root out bad officers.

    That being said, I do see where CeCe is coming from.

  2. Dean Spade came to my alma mater to discuss trans*policy a few years ago. He has an incredible mind and it was so enlightening to hear him speak. I very much wish I could attend this event–thank you for posting!

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