Sunday, August 10, 2014

(Trans)Misogyny on BBC Woman's Hour

Hi guys, it's been a while.  There have been things that I have wanted to write about here and there, but I haven't really had the time to do it.  The continuing genocide in Gaza.  The fifth anniversary of my Aunt's death (and still no trial for her killer).  Police violence.  Changes in how I think about my gender.  Wrinkles.  Sadly in the job I'm in now I don't really have the opportunity to scribble in my notebook as I once did when confronted with thoughts/moments I want to hold on to.  But this week I am here, because I heard something so upsetting that I really couldn't let it go.

I clean houses these days.  For an eco focused company who pays me decent.  It's not a bad gig.  We're allowed to listen to stuff with headphones while we work, and podcasts have been the perfect thing for me.  If I tune out for a second, unlike with an audiobook, I don't really lose my place.  And I don't have the temptation to sing along, like with music (we're not allowed to).  So I've been devouring podcasts!  Mostly these are BBC podcasts, as I find them largely more enjoyable than ones here from the US.  I like hearing perspectives on things from outside my own culture, and the accents, and feeling like I'm learning about another culture sometimes.

The one I've listened to the longest, in fact, for many years now off and on, is "Woman's Hour" on BBC Radio 4.  I looked for USian takes on this idea and really didn't find much.  But this is basically a one hour show, five days a week, that takes a feminist look at current events, primarily in the UK but they do draw stories from around the world.  The topics are as diverse as anyone who has spent time in Women's Studies or the like might expect.

From my perspective this show is not perfect, but it's often interesting.  Much like NPR in the States, Radio 4 seems to be a moderately left-leaning liberal type of environment, and Woman's Hour generally takes a similarly liberal feminist or old school radical feminist perspective on most things.  So, obviously, coming from an anti-kyriarchal feminist perspective I often want to respond with "yeah...but" to their segments.  From the way FGM and hijab are addressed, or the way they interview sex workers and trans women I can tell there is a deep discomfort with things I take for granted as obvious (like that sex work is work and trans women are women, full stop). I don't love this, but I can live with it most days.  Honestly it's often a good reminder about what big F Feminism looks like and values, and clarifies my fundamental differences with them.

But the episode I listened to on Friday was a whole new level.  I actually started crying while I cleaned I was so upset and angry, and I had to turn it off at one point.  Once the episode was over I cleaned in silence for a while just to clear my head.

As soon as I had read the episode description that morning I knew it wasn't going to be good.  "The politics of transgenderism" was the title of one of the segments.  OMG, "transgenderism???"  It was a huge red flag.  That wording is only used by two groups of people: transphobic Radical Feminists, and those who are largely ignorant of what it means to be a trans person and don't know any better yet.  After being in the feminist broadcasting business for a long time (decades, I've gathered) I doubted the latter could be the case here.  I wasn't wrong.  The episode started up and I heard who they had on to discuss their new book during this segment: Sheila Jeffreys.  If you're not familiar with her, like Janice Raymond and Germaine Greer, she is a well known feminist whose work has stigmatized, attacked, denigrated and dehumanized trans people (particularly trans women).

But it was worse than I feared, as the host (Jenni Murray) not only let Jeffreys speak at length without interruption even when she was saying incredibly transphobic things, but then repeatedly interrupted Zowie Davy* when she was finally given the chance to reply.  It was horrible.  It was violent.  And while Natacha at UnCommon Sense has already done an incredible job with her article A detailed response to Sheila Jeffreys on Woman’s Hour, I also feel the need to respond with my thoughts to a few things.  Thank you also to Melissa Tsang who transcribed the segment, which I have used here.

First of all, Jeffreys attacks trans women who, as they begin to express their gender identity, sometimes rely on stereotypical or hyper-feminine expressions of femininity.  Jenni Murray reworded that "accusation" thusly: "Long nails, very painted, long hair, flicked, beautifully made-up. Why is there often an apparent need to become a stereotype of a very feminine woman or a very masculine man?"  I've seen this kind of accusation a lot from feminists.  And I can't remember who said this, though I think perhaps it was Julia Serano, but the concept of a "trans girlhood" seems very relevant here.  It was the simple act of pointing out that when cis** girls begin to mature into women, they begin experimenting with gender roles and different kinds of gender expression.  Usually, we start playing with the images of womanhood that we see around us.  "Around us" can mean in our families, larger communities, or in media (for a few examples).  At some point, at least once or twice, most of us will "try on" a hyper feminine gender presentation: copious makeup, high heels, painted nails, long hair and yes, maybe we will even "flick" it.  As children, this is considered perfectly normal.  We're trying to figure out how what we feel inside corresponds with how we dress and adorn ourselves on the outside.  Trying to figure out the responses we get to different expressions of ourselves and how that makes us feel.  Trying to figure out what we're comfortable with.***  And yet, when a trans woman does this very same thing, she is somehow pathological.

Maybe it is because when many trans women come to this girlhood stage, they are adults.  But tomorrow, I turn 30 years old, and I'm STILL messing with my gender identity!  So why the hell would we assume that a trans woman who has just started expressing her femininity outwardly would have it all figure out right off the bat?  Why wouldn't she do many of the very same things that cis girls do?  From personally knowing, reading about and listening to trans women, it doesn't seem like this stage lasts very long (again, just like with most cis girls).  In fact most, if not all, of the trans women I have known express a very toned down version of outward femininity.  The most hyper feminine women I know in real life are all cis women!  That Jenni Murray and Sheila Jeffreys both seem to believe that trans women stay statically in this place of hyper feminine expression suggests a real ignorance of lived trans womanhood.

Directly after this part of the discussion, Zowie Davy responds brilliantly to this accusation of hyper-femininity by pointing out two things that Murray ignores altogether.  1) That this focusing on "stereotypical" femininity "assumes that femininity is somehow bad" and 2) that it is GENDER CLINICS, aka the gatekeepers of trans people's access to vitally important medications, that absolutely demand very normative gender presentation to take trans people seriously.  This second point has been talked about by trans people in many places; it is the violence of the medical industry on gender variant people, and a real enactment of patriarchal understandings of gender by systems of power.  These are the exact same dynamics that harm cis women in incredibly violent ways within medicine.  Honestly, even the most basic RadFem should take this point very, very seriously because it's the exact kind of patriarchal power over women that they regularly debunk.  And similarly, the first point is one that also falls precisely within the RadFem wheelhouse, reclamation of "the feminine" is something I first came across in radical feminist writing!  Further, the denigration of practices, work and people designated feminine is exactly something Woman's Hour regularly fights against.

Just not when it comes to trans women, apparently.

Finally, the segment ends with the tired, played out fear mongering of "men dressed as women going into toilets and raping (cis) women!"  Look, this is a horrible, violent, demeaning accusation, and one which is totally baseless.  Not because some version of it has never happened, but because people like Jeffreys pretend that trans women are exceptionally apt to raping people, and because this accusation is largely a roundabout kind of victim blaming.  So, first of all, sexual assault happens amongst all genders.  This is a fact.  Queer and straight, cis and trans, women, men and all people in between; sexual assault happens, and the victim and abuser come from every group.  Yes, we know some kinds of violence are gendered, and that those gendered masculine are more often the abuser.  But, and this goes to my second point as well, trans women are THE MOST LIKELY TO BE SEXUALLY ASSAULTED.  Like, statistically, this is a thing we know.  And specifically, trans women of color with a disability are the most likely people to be assaulted.  Because they are on the lowest end of the social hierarchy, the most dehumanized, the most looked down upon.  To turn around and say that trans women, a group that is most likely to be abused, are the ones going around doing all this abusive behavior, is some of the most sick and twisted kind of victim blaming I've seen.  And Jenni Murray not only let this (and all the rest of this abusive tripe) slide, but posed it back to Zowie Davy as though it was some compelling kind of question.

It might be a while before I can bring myself to listen to Woman's Hour again.




* The sacrificial trans woman who was seemingly only asked on so Woman's Hour could claim the segment was "balanced" [which is a BBC requirement for most political stories, I gather].

** I'm going to use the simple binary of cis and trans in this piece, to mean people who ~roughly~ adhere to their assigned gender at birth (cis) and people who don't (trans), but the reality is there is quite a spectrum.

*** Total sidenote but this process is probably a FAR superior example of performativity than the one Butler actually used of drag performance....

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Connect the Dots: Refinery Corridor Healing Walks



If you are in the Bay Area I'd definitely recommend checking this out!

Connect the Dots: Refinery Corridor Healing Walks:
The Connect the Dots: Refinery Corridor Healing Walks is a series of four walks along the San Francisco Northeast Bay refinery corridor. The refineries include: Shell, Tesoro, Valero, Phillips 66 and Chevron. Each refinery community suffers from high rates of cancer, asthma and autoimmune diseases.

Join us for one walk or all four between April and July, 2014. Rallies will be conducted at the beginning and end of each journey.

Walk solo, in a group, or relay the walk with your friends. The first walk is about 15 miles. Water will be provided, please bring snacks.

Bring your friends and family! The beginning rally of Walk #1 on Saturday, April 12th will be at the Pittsburg Marina at 9:00 a.m. will feature a speaker from Idle No More SF Bay and local residents. The ending rally at 5:30 p.m. at Waterfront Park in Martinez will be about what we envision for the best possible future for our communities. Maps of the walk route are below. For more information go to: ConnectTheDotsHealingJourneys.org or call (510) 619-8279 or email refineryhealingwalks@gmail.com

If possible, please make your own arrangements to get back to the starting point if your transportation is there. A shuttle will be available but it will take time to go back and forth.

Taking BART? Email us at: refineryhealingwalks@gmail.com
for pick up at 8:30 a.m.

Everyone is invited to join us on these healing walks as we journey along the refinery corridor. We will pray for life, the waters, soil, air, safety of the refineries and their workers, and a just transition beyond fossil fuels. We are all in this together and it's time to envision a better future for our communities.

Humanity exists within a finite system of air, water, soil and life. This is all we have. It is time for humanity to come together to ensure a safe future beyond fossil fuels. All of the tools for this transition are already available. Several times a month there is some type of fossil fuel disaster in the news. Life, soil and water are damaged every time this happens. We must come together to mold the future we want beyond fossil fuels. The time is now and it is up to us. It is obvious that the fossil fuel corporations don't care about us. Our future is in our hands. Join us to create it!

WHEN
April 12, 2014 at 9am - 6pm
WHERE
Pittsburg Marina, Pittsburg, California USA
51 Marina Blvd
Pittsburg, CA 94565
United States
Google map and directions
CONTACT
Gathering Tribes · refineryhealingwalks@gmail.com · (510) 619-8279

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Decolonizing Whiteness

Well worth a read for anyone who is classified as White by Western hegemony.  Thank you to Cecelia Rose LaPointe through whom I found this piece.

“Do you know the people you come from?” 
This is the one question most commonly asked by the world’s Indigenous peoples to people of European heritage. For the large majority of us in America, Europe, and elsewhere, the honest answer beyond simple genealogy is, “I don’t know.”
Unfortunately, this not knowing is part of a deep disconnection that has serious consequences for ourselves and others.

Traditional Indigenous people understand this unknowing lies at the heart of the political, social, and economic systems that have caused, and continue to cause, colonization and genocide of their people as well as destruction of life on Mother Earth.

At the personal level, the lack of being rooted in a culture of place brings spiritual disconnection, shallow sense of self, and historical trauma from the lost ancestral roots and lost way of life that shaped our physical, emotional, and spiritual health for tens of thousands of years.

People of European heritage are often called hungry ghosts because we don’t know our selves. This trauma of disconnection is profound, causing us to constantly grab for anything of spiritual meaning – even if it does not belong to us. This taking leads to cultural theft and appropriation, spiritual materialism, and the silencing of authentic native voices. Worse, we spread this dysfunction to others, including people of color, through the dominance of Western cultural values.

Read the rest here: Tribes of “Europe” – Why Decolonize?:

Monday, October 28, 2013

RIP Andy Lopez


Post by Melanie Cervantes.

There is a march tomorrow in Santa Rosa to honor Lopez' life and call for police accountability.  Please consider attending!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Baby Veronica Case IS a Feminist Issue

"Dusten Brown, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation has been fighting to stop a white couple from South Carolina from taking away his child, Veronica, who is also a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Because a father is involved in the custody battle, it may appear this is not a feminist issue. However, this case is about more than just these individuals, it is about protecting indigenous nations in general for the wholesale trafficking of Native children and protecting the reproductive autonomy of Indigenous women. Thus, this struggle is a feminist issue.

Indigenous women, who are surviving 521 years of occupation, uphold sovereignty as central to the survival of indigenous communities. But where are the white feminist allies for our little sister Veronica Brown? The current silence is deafening. It is the responsibility of feminists to not only support this struggle but to educate and engage the larger public about why the protection of the Indian Child Welfare Act is critical to the well-being of Indigenous peoples in general and Indigenous women in particular.

This isn’t about just one little girl, or one couple, this case exists within the historical context of thousands of stolen children, familial lines broken, and culture lost because our children were not there to carry it forth. For so many reasons, this case should be of concern to all feminists."

Read the rest at: Some talking points on why the struggle around Baby Veronica is a feminist issue.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

after the verdict poem

Black mother in line in front of me
at McDonald's
after the protest

probably my age
three kids
oldest son maybe 12

he's clearly used to responsibility
he keeps the other two out of trouble
yells at an angry drunk who kicks their bags

his mother turns and asks the woman of color behind us
"what happened over there?"
pointing to the rally spot we just came from

the other woman says
"Zimmerman verdict"
and the mother says, "oh, that was today?"

she does not ask
and the other woman does not tell her
that the verdict was Not Guilty

and I watch her oldest son trying so hard
and I look at his mother's eyes
and I know why she didn't have to ask

19.7.2013

Friday, May 10, 2013

Four Years

In a couple days it will be four years since my aunt was murdered by her partner.  It has been almost four years since I wrote this post.    FOUR.   YEARS.

Her murderer sits in a jail cell awaiting trial.  A trial I am quite sure he knows damn well he cannot win.  For a crime I am quite sure he is still running from, still blaming her for and still refusing to feel any responsibility towards.

Four years of limbo, waiting for this thing to finally be over.  Four years of waiting for a "justice system" I don't even believe in to do its thing, so I can finally move on.  Four years of moving on only to be yanked back every six months to be told there is yet another delay, that he has fired his lawyer again, that he has taken us right to the edge and pulled us back and there's nothing the courts will do about it.

Four years of being reminded how little my aunt's life matters to the state.

To the court system.

To the DA.

And to her murderer.

Four years of knowing the trial won't bring me any closure.  Four years of this PROCESS of the trial preventing my closure.  Four years of wondering if this time will be different.

Four years of missing my aunt.

Three Mother's Days where I want to just celebrate my mom.  My grandmas.  My great grandmas.  My Ancestors.  My mother friends.  Three Mother's Days where I pretend that is all I'm doing.  Three Mother's Days of hiding the pain searing through me as wounds barely healed are ripped back open.

Four years of watching my family age faster in those four years than we did in the preceding ten.

Myself included.

I found my first grey hair last night.  It isn't grey so much as silver.  Bright.  Shining.  Almost glittery.  I'm not yet 30 but I don't mind that hair.  I think it's beautiful, actually.  But it is also, I think, a by-product of that aging.  An aging that has happened so quickly.  An aging brought on by pain and loss and no closure and the seemingly endless limbo of the USian court system.

Will we get to five?

Will it ever be over?

Will it even mean anything in the end?

I am a prison abolitionist.  I know this system is broken.  I know it doesn't work.  As surely as I know that if her murderer is not locked up that he will hurt more women.  Like all the other women he hurt in the past.  But because I am a prison abolitionist, I know there will be no resolution in putting him on trial. Because I am a feminist/anti-racist I have no faith my aunt's life will be treated with respect in that court room.  And I have no real faith he will be found guilty of what he did.  I have no faith that even such a conviction would mean anything to him.  I have no faith that JUSTICE means anything here.

But I stand witness to the process, because it is the last thing I can do for her.  I couldn't help her.  I couldn't save her.  I couldn't even help her cat.  And I can't rehabilitate him.  I can't make him accept what he's done.  I can't make him accountable to us or use the rest of his life trying to make sure other men don't do what he did.  All I can do is stand witness.  Face him in the only provided framework sanctioned by the state and not let him forget that we know what he did.

And I will do that.  For whatever it is worth.

And I will remember her.  Often.  I will light the candles on my altar for her.  I will remember her when the veil is thin and the dead come back to visit us.  I will remember her on Mother's Day.

I will try and live the lessons that she taught me.

It's all I can do.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Crisis of Identity: Green Day and Me

I'm not precisely sure why I am choosing to share THIS of all the stuff I have been writing privately over the last year, but I guess something in me wonders if anyone else might be interested or find it useful or just more generally what responses I might get.  Like, honestly, this is kinda trivial in a way.  Maybe that's why, maybe it's a safer thing to share, sort of.  Anyway, whatever, the point is: I went to a Green Day show tonight and it brought to the surface things I have been feeling for a while but did (well, DO) not want to admit to myself.

I am not connecting with Green Day like I used to.

Let me put this in context: Green Day has been my favorite band since I was about ten years old. So for almost two decades now.  Their being my favorite band is a huge component of who-I-am and how I understand myself.  Their albums have gotten me through (quite literally) the worst times in my life; from coming to terms with my depression and self-hate as an adolescent to coping with my aunt's murder in 2009, and everything in between.  Every album has had something important to say about something that was core to my life at the time that I heard it.

Except this latest one.

I mean there are some good songs on it (and just to make it easy I'm talking about Uno, Dos, Tre! as one album), songs that have gone into rotation as some of my favorites.  But, with the exception maybe of Stay the Night, none have spoken to me in that way that was unique between me and Green Day's music; songs that talked to me about something I needed to hear before I knew I needed it.  Or that said something about myself/my life that I was only just coming to understand.  More generally, and more troubling to me, is that this is the first album that has had songs on it I actively dislike and don't want to listen to, EVER.  I mean it's only one or two but literally that has never happened before.  Even worse, apparently some of the stuff they think is their best on that album, I'm indifferent to at best (like 99 Revolutions).  But, generally, I've been purposefully ignoring this and refusing to admit it to myself.

That ended tonight.

I went to the Green Day show tonight in Berkeley.  It was good.  It was what I have come to expect.  It was familiar in a way that I have found comforting in the past.

But it wasn't what their shows usually are for me.

Generally, going to a Green Day show for me is like going to Church (or rather what going to Church should be).  I feel super connected to the larger world/life/the gods and dance and sing my heart out like no one is watching (a state of bliss I basically never otherwise achieve).  While I had a good time tonight, that feeling did not emerge.  Out of 8 shows I have been do over the past 12 years, this is the first time I haven't felt that way.  And on reflection that really shook me.  Now...maybe this is the case because I did something different this time and went down on the floor and ended up contending with moshpits and almost getting crushed to death for the first half of the show.  That context did make the show hard to enjoy at times, although seeing them pretty up close for the first time was worth it.

But also the show was basically the same one that I've been going to since 2004.

I mean obviously there are some differences in song choices... They've had a couple albums come out since then.  BUT, largely the format (and many of the songs) have stayed the same.  And where that familiarity has been comforting in the past, this time it was...not boring...but less exciting and meaningful than previous.  If you listen to Bullet in a Bible you'll basically hear this same show.

Something has changed; I'm just not sure if it's them or it's me.

I felt this when Billie Joe went into rehab too - like that maybe they are becoming cliche old rock stars. Not totally happy with themselves because their brilliance is spent or in hiding because being-a-rock-star is so much work inofitself that how do you find time for your mental health or family or inspiration?  And so you just keep doing what you've been doing even though you know deep down it's getting stale.  The possibility that this is happening to Green Day quite frankly frightens me.  I fear this is part of why I am not connecting with their music as I once did.  Along similar lines, while I have been deepening my political understandings, theirs seem to have lost some of the incisiveness of American Idiot (and even 21st Century Breakdown); again 99 Revolutions comes to mind.

And to be PERFECTLY clear, I don't think this is about "selling out;" that whole conversation completely annoys me.

But I do wonder how they may have compromised themselves or lost perspective on who they are and what they do and their place in the universe over the years.  And I do wonder how that is effecting their mental health and creativity.  And I think some of that can be found in Billie Joe's stint in rehab, or more accurately, the things that led to him getting to that point (according to his recent Rolling Stone interview).  But here's the reason I have been running away from even allowing myself to voice any of this in my own head much less aloud:

WHO AM I IF GREEN DAY IS NOT MY FAVORITE BAND???

That might sound completely ABSURD and SILLY but I am very serious.  I mean, go back up to my third paragraph where I told you all the things that they have gotten me through.  Look at the fucking name I use to blog with.  There are certain things that are major pieces not only of my life but in WHO I UNDERSTAND MYSELF TO BE and HOW I come to understand myself.  If that ceases to be, if I move away from them, if another band takes their place...does that mean I am becoming someone new?  Or has that already happened and I am just playing catch-up here with myself?  What will it mean if I no longer have them to rely on?

I know this is going to seem patently ridiculous to some people, but I hope there are others who have had something so important for so long that can relate to what I'm trying to think through here.  I'm not expecting to get any answers out of writing or posting this, but it is a marker of...something...that I think is going to be important for my own personal journey over the next...however long.