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#ImNotQuiteWithHerButOMGTheAlternative

Date: October 13, 2016

i didn’t expect this to happen, but i’m starting to have deep empathy toward the first woman running as a major party candidate for the president in history, who has to share the debate stage with an opponent who is possibly the most outwardly misogynist man to be running as a major party candidate in history, and she must act like she’s just having a normal debate because she’d get penalized as a woman for expressing one millionth of emotional reaction or instability that he is freely displaying. and no this isn’t an endorsement for her but i’m identifying with her as a woman like i never expected.

*****

this is really getting to me hard. more and more women coming forward and speaking out about what this man did to them over the span of decades and how he always got away with it because he was “a star” as he said. his followers posting home addresses and phone numbers of these women online. his mocking the appearances of the women, suggesting that nobody would ever want to harass or assault someone who look like them. and i imagine that it must have felt like this for many american muslims and mexicans and others for many months before it started affecting me this way and it sucks.

(compiled from my ramblings on October 13, 2016 in Facebook)

Cited and Quoted—”Knowing Victim: Feminism, Agency, and Victim Politics in Neoliberal Times” by Rebecca Stinger

Date: July 25, 2014

I came across an interesting new book, “Knowing Victims: Feminism, agency and victim politics in neoliberal times” by Rebecca Stringer of University of Otago (Dunedin, New Zealand), which seems to have just come out last month. I was surprised to find that the book cites and quotes from my blog post, “Reclaiming ‘Victim’: Exploring alternatives to the heteronormative ‘victim to survivor’ discourse” in its concluding chapter. Here’s what she wrote:

In a powerful example of this kind of victim talk, feminist blogger Emi Koyama has recently framed contra- or post- neoliberal feminism as beginning with an anti-ascetic gesture of reclaiming the notion of ‘victim’.

Instead of moving to avoid victim identity and erase disadvantage and adversity,
Koyama’s piece ‘Reclaiming”Victim”and”Victimhood'” (2011) provides a robust critique of the neoliberal expectation that she should participate in such avoidance and erasure. Koyama critiques what she sees as neoliberal capitalism’s ‘trauma recovery industry’, which – in a familiar resignification of feminist conceptions of survivorship – is dominantly characterized not by compassion for victims, but by the withdrawal of compassion for victims who do not make the prescribed progression from ‘victimhood’ to ‘survivorship’ , framed as a celebration of human resilience. In its resignifications of ‘victimhood’ and ‘survivorship’, neoliberalism has situated victimbood as ‘something to be overcome’. In the neoliberal capitalist climate of ‘forced optimism’ and ‘mandatory healing’, those suffering the effects of social subordination are urged to ‘quickly transition out of victimhood into survivorship, so that we can return to our previous positions in the heteronormative and capitalist social and economic arrangements’. Rather than invalidate the knowledge and perspectives that arise from experiences of victimization, and in order to mark resistance to the imposition of ‘compulsory hopefulness and optimism in the service of neoliberal capitalist production’, Koyama argues that feminists need to reclaim the language of victimhood, which she frames as a gesture of embracing vulnerability as a source of strength, instead of ‘blaming and invalidating victims’. She writes:

I argue that feminist anti-violence movements and communities must embrace unproductive whining and complaining as legitimate means of survival in a world that cannot be made just by simply changing our individual mentalities. We must acknowledge that weakness, vulnerability, and passivity are every bit as creative and resilient as strength and activeness.

More than being a legitimate means of survival, I interpret complaint such as Koyama’s as marking a significant disaffiliation from neoliberal victim theory. Koyama refuses to refuse ‘victimhood’, and this activity of ‘reclaiming’ victimhood is not a mere reversal. It is ‘minor’, or combining elements of contamination and political rebellion: Koyama speaks the ‘major’ language of victimhood (for example, opposing weakness and strength) but reiterates it rebelliously, critiquing the erasure of structural oppression in the reduction of ‘victimhood’ to individual mentality, and affirming the legitimacy of complaint. Koyama argues that a robust feminist critique of neoliberal capitalism ‘begins’ with the gesture of reclaiming victimhood, suggesting that this gesture is an opening rather than a resolution – an opening onto new avenues of politicization rather than an end in itself. In other words, the gesture of reclaiming victimhood is necessary but not sufficient.

Further information about the book can be found on publisher’s site as well as on Amazon.

Elite white feminism fail: Barnard president’s disastrous attempt at viral marketing

Date: February 22, 2014

I received this email this week:

Barnard spam

When I saw the title “Great post!” I thought of two possibilities: it could be someone who really liked one of my blog posts, or it could be a spam. But I didn’t think that it was an email from an Ivy league college promoting its president’s new book and podcast, asking for me as a “feminist thought leader” to provide free platform without offering any reciprocity. It might make sense if I was running a big mainstream feminist site, but it feels arrogant and entitled that they would approach me this way.

I posted the screencap on facebook, and quickly found out that a couple of my friends who are also radical Asian women writers have been contacted by this Barnard College person. So it wasn’t a fluke that they contacted me; they are actively seeking non-mainstream, radical women of color writers to promote the work of Barnard College president, a highly successful white woman.

I decided to investigate further: I looked to see if anyone has accommodated their request to publicize the book and podcast on their blog, but found something more interesting. Not only is Barnard sending emails to its chosen “feminist thought leaders,” they are also posting unsolicited, unrelated comments on dozens of other people’s blogs that is indistinguishable from spam comments.

In one of the pages Barnard spammed, Feminist Forte, author Molly responded to Barnard’s spam comment:

From what I have gleaned online, Debora Spar seems to be aligned with mainstream, white, NYC-centric feminism. In other words, her feminism isn’t my feminism, so I’m going to decline.

That was exactly my thought when I saw the email, but Barnard had no response.

They even posted the same spam comment on The TERFs, a site dedicated to opposing a version of radical feminism that discriminates against trans people, but apparently the moderator did not approve their post. So they tried again (it says “I do apologize – this is my second attempt to comment”), and was approved.

Barnard is obviously trying to tap the power of viral marketing, but they are failing miserably: despite many spam comments and emails, very few blogs seem to have accommodated their request to publicize the book and podcast. Of course, part of the problem is the idea of the book itself: we are just not interested in hearing a highly privileged woman’s view of what “young women today” need or want. But it is also about how they chose to promote the book, attempting to exploit other women’s platform for their own gain without offering anything meaningful in return.

(Hey, by the way Barnard, thank you for the great idea for my blog!)

Anti-Shakesville commenter claims to dislike men of NOMAS, but acts like one.

Date: February 18, 2014

So apparently, the person who submitted the hate-filled post,”The Great Kerfluffle,” is a user named Jimmybeamus, who seems to be contributing many other anti-Shakesville posts in the last couple of months.

Jimmybeamus says:

As the OP, I’d be happy to respond to Emi’s criticisms at any length. The basic point I’d make still stands- this is the essence of shakesville!Feminism. I pointed out that, at best, Emi’s statements were deeply controversial, at worst, actively wrong and harmful, based on the opinions of experts.* I pointed out that the reaction to a bunch of people saying “Um, we don’t want this going out under our name” was disproportionate, overwrought, and melodramatic. I’m no fan of NOMAS, nor do I like Brannon. He seems like a prick.

I’m glad to hear that Jimmybeamus, whoever that is, is willing to respond, but they do not seem to actually respond to anything I wrote.

Jimmybeamus wrote that my “thesis” was “that the men who pimp underage girls are not necessarily predators, but ‘often friends, partners, mentors, family members, photographers, drivers, bodyguards, and others who do not control the person trading sex in any way.” Based on this characterization, Jimmybeamus argues that my view was potentially “actively wrong and harmful.”

But that is not my thesis, as I made it clear over and over, in my original article that Brannon and Jimmybeamus misrepresented, my report that was published on Shakesville, and my initial response to Jimmybeamus’ attack.

What Jimmybeamus wrote is a demonstrably false mischaracterization of my work by NOMAS Robert Brannon, who used it to justify his censorship of my presentation and threat to physically disrupt it, as well as to publicly attack me during a panel in which NOMAS had promised to address women’s (all women participants except for the one woman who is on NOMAS board were protesting them) objections to their behaviors. Jimmybeamus claims to dislike Brannon, but they are participating in the proliferation of Brannon’s lies about me and my views.

What other aspect of my views are “controversial”? Here are the list of my claims that Jimmybeamus quoted:

  1. mainstream anti-trafficking discourse promotes further surveillance and criminalization of already marginalized communities as primary and often only solution to the problem of violence and exploitation experienced by youth and adults in the sex trade
  2. such approach ignores realities of people who are actually in the sex trade
  3. intersectional analysis would require us to start from the acknowledgement that the state is problematic institution, a source of violence against women of color and many others, that cannot be intrinsically relied on

I would welcome debate if Jimmybeamus can come up with actual criticisms or counter-arguments to any of the above.

Jimmybeamus writes that my views “directly contridicts” the “experts,” but their choice of experts reflects their obvious bias. It should be obvious to any reasonable person that Department of Justice should not be the go-to source for discussing harms of criminal justice systems on marginalized communities. Such uncritical reliance on the law enforcement (and non-profit organizations that align with them) is precisely what I am criticizing. Again, I welcome actual debate, if Jimmybeamus wishes to argue that DOJ should be intrinsically trusted.

Expertise does not rest exclusively with those who criminalize people in the sex trade, or organizations that align themselves with the law enforcement. There are many grass-roots organizations, activists, researchers, public health officials, and others who are themselves in the sex trade and/or working to advocate for people in the sex trade, who question the current mainstream anti-trafficking approach that prioritizes criminalization, including myself. Jimmybeamus is clearly unfamiliar with the landscape of this larger conversations and struggles, which resulted in their failure to recognize the expertise I bring to the feminist movement against violence.

Jimmybeamus repeatedly reduces what happened at the NOMAS conference as simply “livestream being cut,” and argues that I and other women are overreacting (and yes, it’s not just about me or Melissa; when you say that we are “melodramatic,” which by the way is a typical misogynistic label men use to silence and gaslight women, you are attacking all women who signed the demand to NOMAS). It was so much more than just that: denial of reality, blaming and scapegoating of HAVEN women, threats, physical aggression, stalking, etc. If it were just about “livestream being cut,” there would not have been a report or a list of demands.

Jimmybeamus argues that NOMAS’ decision to cut off the livestream was reasonable. But I was one of the main speakers NOMAS had (through HAVEN) invited to the conference, and they had months to evaluate my views. They have failed to do that, and because of that NOMAS co-chairs Allen Corben and Moshe Rozdzial ended up making their decision on Brannon’s lies about me. After everything, I asked Corben and Rozdial if I said anything that they thought was out of line, to which they responded “no.” The fact that they allowed the recording to be posted online with their name attached next day is a testament to how they had made the decision to censor irrationally.

Jimmybeamus wrote that I “flipped [my] shit” when I found out that NOMAS had cut the livestream. I do not recall “flipping shit,” especially at that point, before all the gaslighting and harassment. I suspect that Jimmybeamus simply made it up just to trash me. If not, I would like to know what they mean by that.

Jimmybeamus also wrote that I “tried to have [Brannon] ejected from the conference,” but as I’ve said before, I never requested such; I was informed after the decision was made. Again, Jimmybeamus made it up with no basis.

And Jimmybeamus says that I “packed up and left early” because I was “triggered” by Brannon’s presence. Once again, that is not what I wrote in my original report, so here is another instance where Jimmybeamus made things up to attack me and diminish the actual harm Brannon was causing at the conference, not just toward me, but also to other women including Lauren Chief Elk.

Jimmybeamus closes their comment by stating: “if Emi or Lizzie or anyone else wants to set themselves up as experts wielding the Pure Truth, they need to be able to answer criticism.” I would be happy to answer criticisms, and I have, but so far none of Jimmybeamus’ so-called “criticisms” are based in reality. On the other hand, Jimmybeamus has proven to be unable to respond to anything I wrote in my response to their “Great Kerfluffle” post.

Jimmybeamus, you clearly do not have enough background (personal, academic, or professional) to actually debate about public policies affecting sex trade or trafficking, and your entire “criticism” is about distorting, dismissing, and ridiculing me, solely because I had one article published by Shakesville. You continue to spread Brannon’s lies about me, minimizing and excusing his aggressive behaviors, and now you are calling women “melodramatic” for daring to resist male aggression. I have a feeling that your presence is going to be a liability even for the anti-Shakesville site sooner or later.

Anti-Shakesville site hates on me by association re NOMAS incident

Date: February 7, 2014

Last August, I was invited to be part of Forging Justice conference, which was co-organized by feminist anti-violence organization HAVEN and our supposed male ally group, National Organization for Men Against Sexism.

To be honest, I didn’t have a very high expectation of men of NOMAS based on my previous experiences dealing with male feminist “leaders” (as opposed to ordinary men who happened to be feminists), but what happened at the conference was much worse than I had imagined. Later, I wrote about all that transpired at the conference, and had it posted on Shakesville, a popular feminist blog. Here are related posts on Shakesville:

After these articles were posted, NOMAS did post a formal response on its website. Ever since, I have been thinking about writing about how the statement is very inadequate and disappointing, but I could not gather enough strength to once again focus my energy on bunch of (overwhelmingly) white men who just don’t get it.

It seemed like the whole incident had been forgotten after five months on inaction, but somehow it was picked up this past week by a Tumblr page “Drink the Shaker Kool-Aid” (shakesvillekoolaid), which appears to be an anti-Shakesville site. I don’t know (or even care) what issues the writer of the anti-Shakesville site has against Shakesville or Melissa. But what it says about me and my work seems completely off-base.

shakesvillekoolaid quotes part of my article that described my presentation at Forging Justice:

[it] focused on how the mainstream anti-trafficking discourse promotes further surveillance and criminalization of already marginalized communities as the primary and often only solution to the problem of violence and exploitation experienced by youth and adults in the sex trade. I argued how such an approach ignores realities of people who are actually in the sex trade (due to any combination of choice, circumstances, or coercion), and harm the very people they are intended to help. At minimum, I believe, an intersectional analysis would require us to start from the acknowledgement that the state is a problematic institution, a source of violence against women of color and many others, that cannot be intrinsically relied on.

To this, shakesvillekoolaid comments:

Now, here’s the first point that should be noted. This pretty much directly contradicts the findings of the DOJ, various organizations dedicated to helping sex workers, and other, you know….experts.

shakesvillekoolaid does not refute anything I state, or provide any counter-evidences; they simply state that my view “contradicts findings of the DOJ, various organizations dedicated to helping sex workers,” and others. Of course it does: I am criticizing them. It makes no sense to rely on DOJ’s words when the question is whether or not some actions of DOJ and others aligned with it are harmful to people in the sex trade. shakesvillekoolaid is, of course, free to side with the DOJ over grass-roots activists like myself if they choose to do so, but the evidence has to come from somewhere other than the DOJ itself.

At the very best, Koyama’s thesis, that the men who pimp underage girls are not necessarily predators, but “often friends, partners, mentors, family members, photographers, drivers, bodyguards, and others who do not control the person trading sex in any way” is….controversial.

This is a distortion of my actual thesis, and it is inexcusable for shakesvillekoolaid to interpret my writing this way, because in my Shakesville article I directly and specifically refuted this characterization. In response to NOMAS co-founder Robert Brannon’s comment that I claimed “pimps are not controlling abusers, but friends, mentors, partners, and protectors,” I wrote:

And Brannon clearly distorted my argument when he claimed that I consider pimps “friends, mentors, partners, and protectors”: what I have actually written was that friends and others close to people who trade sex are often targeted by the law enforcement as “pimps,” leading to further isolation, which of course make us more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

In other words, my argument is that people who are targeted by the law enforcement as “pimps” are not necessarily pimps or traffickers, but friends and others who are not doing any harm; I am NOT arguing that actual pimps and traffickers are doing no harm. Perhaps Brannon may have genuinely misunderstood my writing, but shakesvillekoolaid cannot claim honest misunderstanding after having the opportunity to read my refutation.

shakesvillekoolaid further writes:

So, first- this illustrates a huge problem with Lizzie-style feminism- just because Koyama had one type of experience in sex work does not mean that her experience is universal, or that she is an expert. She is an expert on the sex work done by Emi Koyama, not all sex work done by all women and men everywhere.

My experiences are obviously not universal, and nothing I wrote claims to speak for all sex workers. But I am not just one woman speaking about her experiences; I am an organizer, writer, and independent researcher who have worked with other people who have been in the sex trade as well as our allies. After all, that is why HAVEN chose me as the speaker–not just to talk about my own experiences in the sex trade, but to share what I have learned from all of my experiences. shakesvillekoolaid seems to accept DOJ and rescue organizations as “experts” while discounting the expertise of grass-roots activists, which is bizarre and offensive.

Second, I was always informed that comparing things that aren’t rape TO rape was a huge no-no. Apparently there is an exception when comparing, say, a livestream being cut to, you know- rape.

No. I’m not comparing cutting off livestream to rape; I am comparing NOMAS’ initial claim that I had wanted them to cut it off and consented to it with rapists’ typical defense. The analogy was specifically chosen because NOMAS was positioning itself as the “real” feminist fighting violence against women while falsely accusing me of being an apologist for systematic rape, when in reality NOMAS’ behavior is more in line with that of a rapist.

Apparently she tried to have him ejected from the conference but he came back, and the long and the short of it is she packed up and left early because she found his presence triggering.

I did not try to have him ejected; I made no such request, and was only told after the fact that he had been ejected. And his presence wasn’t just “triggering”; when he kept approaching me after he was ejected twice, sneaking around so that he could come near me undetected by HAVEN staff, I was afraid of actual, physical danger. I wrote in my article:

As a survivor, I experience triggers frequently. I know that, most of the time, I feel scared about the situation or people because of something that has happened in the past, and that there usually is not an actual danger to myself. So for the last two days, despite the fact I felt scared and could not stop feeling shaky or sleep for more than two or three hours each night, I kept trying to tell myself that nobody was going to actually harm me.

After the third time Brannon violated boundaries of women like me, Lauren, and others, however, I was no longer certain that my scared feelings were just feelings: women know that someone that angry and out of control is capable of doing the unthinkable. So I decided to pack up and leave the conference hours before I had originally planned to do so.

It should be clear to anyone reading this that I was not just merely “triggered”; I believe that many other women would feel the same way if the same man kept approaching them after being ejected by his peers multiple times. For shakesvillekoolaid to describe this incident as merely “triggering” minimizes Brannon’s abusive behavior and distorts what I clearly wrote.

I have no idea what shakesvillekoolaid’s grievances against Shakesville are, but it appears that they have chosen to hate on me and publicly distort and discredit my work, solely by association to Shakesville, rather than actually engaging with my work and offering honest critiques. That fact led me to lose any interest in finding out what those grievances are.

A list of problems with Ani DiFranco’s statement on slave plantation retreat

Date: December 29, 2013

Singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco announced, and then canceled, an expensive four-day retreat for songwriters and performers at Nottoway Plantation and Resort after the internet erupted in outrage at her choice of the venue. Nottoway is not just the site of one of the largest slave plantations in the area, but is also preserved as an exclusive resort actively distorting and even glorifying brutal history of slavery in the United States.

I came into queer identity in a predominantly white rural lesbian (and bisexual women’s) community in the mid-90s, so Ani’s voice was a life support. I listened to her politically savvy and lyrically masterful music non-stop, traveled long distance to see her perform, and bought her merch from her mom who was working at her label, Righteous Babe Records. I collected and traded bootleg tapes of her shows with other fans (before Napster made it possible to share MP3 files online), and asked a friend who was a DJ at campus radio station to obtain her promo singles that were not commercially released. When I was in her home town of Buffalo back in 2006, I snuck into (with the permission of the friendly construction workers there) the historic building (which later became Babeville) that was undergoing restoration and renovation after Ani purchased it in order to save the gorgeous building from demolition.

So it was painful to me to witness how Ani somehow failed to recognize the offensiveness of holding the retreat at Nottoway Plantation, or to anticipate how people would react to the announcement, but I held on to the hope that, once confronted, she would immediately understand and acknowledge her mistake. Unfortunately, the statement she released in response to the criticism fell short of what I expected from someone who was so important to me at one point in my life.

Below is a list of problems (which is not to say that it is exhaustive) I find with the statement (all emphases are mine). Please also read “Things about Ani’s fauxpology I’m not okay with” by Jaya and “How Ani Should Have Apologized” by Mel Hartsell.

1. The statement treats criticisms as “pain of slavery” and “bitterness” misdirected at her, rather than acknowledging that her endorsement of a resort facility that glorifies chattel slavery was the problem. By doing so, Ani portrays herself as the victim of “hatred” directed at her.

i did not imagine or understand that the setting of a plantation would trigger such collective outrage or result in so much high velocity bitterness.

i know that the pain of slavery is real and runs very deep and wide. however, in this incident i think is very unfortunate what many have chosen to do with that pain.

i obviously underestimated the power of an evocatively symbolic place to trigger collective and individual pain.

but should hatred be spit at me over that mistake?

2. The statement fails to concretely acknowledge that the choice of venue was inappropriate and offensive. By using words like “if” and “maybe” and leaving the judgment to the community, Ani avoids taking responsibility for her mistake.

i have heard the feedback that it is not my place to go to former plantations and initiate such a dialogue.

again, maybe we should indeed have drawn a line in this case and said nottoway plantation is not a good place to go; maybe we should have vetted the place more thoroughly.

if nottoway is simply not an acceptable place for me to go and try to do my work in the eyes of many, then let me just concede before more divisive words are spilled.

She says that she is canceling the retreat, not because she realized that it was a mistake to plan it at the venue, but other people are being mean to her.

3. Ani claims that she had “imagined a dialogue would emerge organically over the four days about the issue of where we were,” but it is extremely difficult to believe this, given her initial “invitation” to the retreat stated “We will be shacked up at the historic Nottoway Plantation and Resort in White Castle, LA, for 3 days and 4 nights exchanging ideas, making music, and otherwise getting suntans in the light of each other’s company. […] In the evenings we will perform for each other and enjoy great food in a captivating setting.” Really, how am I supposed to believe that the event was meant to be anti-racist? Ani wrote:

i imagined instead that the setting would become a participant in the event. this was doubtless to be a gathering of progressive and engaged people, so i imagined a dialogue would emerge organically over the four days about the issue of where we were. […] my intention of going ahead with the conference at the nottoway plantation was not to be a part of a great forgetting but it’s opposite. i know that pain is stored in places where great social ills have occurred. i believe that people must go to those places with awareness and with compassionate energy and meditate on what has happened and absorb some of the reverberating pain with their attention and their awareness. i believe that compassionate energy is transformative and necessary for healing the wounds of history.

If this was her true intention, she should have been transparent about it in the original “invitation,” and also considered how the venue would be experienced entirely differently by participants who are white, Black, indigenous, or other people of color. I personally cannot imagine that a white person working solo is capable of arranging such an event, but that’s beside the point here. I am not really convinced that Ani had in fact intended to use the venue as a place to “heal the wounds of history,” but if she really did, she did the worst job imaginable of how one could go about doing that–and the issue is not (just) that she is a white person overstepping her boundary. She is claiming to “heal” wounds of historical violence with more violence.

4. The statement invokes superficially anti-oppression rhetoric to diminish the particularities of criticisms against holding the retreat at Nottoway Plantation.

for myself, i believe that one cannot draw a line around the nottoway plantation and say “racism reached it’s depths of wrongness here” and then point to the other side of that line and say “but not here”. […] i know that indeed our whole country has had a history of invasion, oppression and exploitation as part of it’s very fabric of power and wealth. […] it is a very imperfect world we live in and i, like everyone else, am just trying to do my best to negotiate it.

let us not forget that the history of slavery and exploitation is at the foundation of much of our infrastructure in this country, not just at old plantation sites. let us not oversimplify to black and white a society that contains many many shades of grey.

Ani is of course correct to point out that every inch of this land (the United States) is a site of genocidal violence. But Nottoway is not just any site of any sort of violence; as one of the largest plantations in the United States, it is specifically a site that symbolizes the violence of slavery. And in addition to being a place with the symbolic significance, it is an institution whose owner continues to profit off of romanticizing and glamorizing the enslavement of Black people.

5. The statement objectifies youth of color as shield and source of inspiration.

i also planned to take the whole group on a field trip to Roots of Music, a free music school for underprivileged kids in New Orleans. Roots of Music is located at the Cabildo, a building in the French Quarter which was the seat of the former slaveholder government where all the laws of the slave state were first written and enacted. i believe that the existence of Roots of Music in this building is transcendent and it would have been a very inspiring place to visit. i also believe that Roots could have gained a few new supporters. in short, i think many positive and life-affirming connections would have been made at this conference, in its all of its complexity of design.

The existence of Roots of Music is transcendent, but transcendence does not rub off on folks paying $1000-4000 each to hang out with Ani and her friends. Youth of color (who I imagine to be mostly Black youth) do not exist to inspire (who I imagine to be) rich white folks, and that the organization might gain “a few new supporters” does not exonerate the poverty tourism. Worse, it appears that Ani is comparing her retreat being held at an actively white supremacist institution to the resilience of Black people building and strengthening their own communities after centuries of violence and oppression.

6. Empty call for unity and “dialogue” that is actually meant to close down the dialogue. Ani ends the statement with the following:

i ask only that as we attempt to continue to confront our country’s history together, […] let us not forget to be compassionate towards each other as we attempt to move forward and write the next pages in our history. our story is not over and, Citizens of the Internet, it is now ours to write.

She implies that critics have been less than compassionate toward her (“should hatred be spit at me”?), but many of us are critical because we are compassionate (“we have to be able to criticize what we love, say what we have to say” as Ani used to sing). Further, this paragraph tells me that she still does not understand the gravity of the offense if she thinks she is in a position to demand “compassion” from those she directly harmed by her lack of compassion in the first place.

Nowhere in the statement does she acknowledge how she put Toshi Reagon, a Black female musician who agreed to be an instructor for the retreat before the venue was announced, in an extremely awkward and uncomfortable position, booking her to sing at the site where servants were required to sing in order to prove that they were not stealing food from their master, forcing her to be the first person to publicly explain herself even though she was not responsible for the controversy and her options were limited once the outrage ensued.

(Edited to add:)

I came across additional writings on the topic after posting this. Here are links to some of them:

Also, read my follow up:

Silencing and Intimidation of Women of Color at “Men Against Sexism” Conference

Date: August 15, 2013

I attended Forging Justice conference in Detroit last week, which was jointly sponsored by National Organization for Men Against Sexism and HAVEN, a domestic violence and sexual assault agency in Oakland County, Michigan. It was my first time speaking at a conference primarily for men in the movement against sexism and violence against women, and unsurprisingly, there were many issues… I wrote a report, “Silencing and Intimidation of Women of Color at ‘Men Against Sexism’ Conference” at Shakesville, a popular feminist blog. There is also a list of demands to NOMAS from women attending the conference. Please read and signal boost!

Simone de Beauvoir was against essentialism–including neurological essentialism.

Date: April 29, 2013

In Transphobia Has No Place in Feminism, writer Lauren Rankin repeats a popular pro-trans argument that the (dominant) radical feminist stance on trans women (i.e. they are not women) is contradicted by Simone de Beauvior’s famous quote, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” Lauren writes:

Any assumption that cisgender women are the only true women is a blatant form of bigotry. And honestly, it’s in direct violation of Feminism 101. After all, Simone De Beauvoir said more than half a century ago “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

Feminism is predicated on the idea that gender is a social construct, that women are not defined by their biology, and that the category of “woman” is informed and constructed by social gender norms. If women are more than what’s between their legs, why do some feminists continue to perpetuate a patriarchal notion that biology is destiny?

I agree that “any assumption that cisgender women are the only true women is a blatant form of bigotry”–not necessarily because I believe that trans women are “true women,” but because I don’t know what “true women” means in the first place–but I don’t feel that the use of de Beauvoir’s quote in this context is appropriate.

This famous quote comes from the beginning of the book two of The Second Sex, which is a chapter about the development of gendered characteristics in childhood. de Beauvoir writes:

No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society […] Only the intervention of someone else can establish an individual as an Other. […] If, well before puberty and sometimes even from early infancy, she seems to us to be already sexually determined, this is not because mysterious instincts directly doom her to passivity, coquetry, maternity; it is because the influence of others upon the child is a factor almost from the start, and thus she is indoctrinated with her vocation from her earliest years.

Simone de Beauvoir does negate the “patriarchal notion that biology is destiny,” but that notion is not what (most) radical feminists actually subscribe to. Radical feminists believe, as did de Beauvoir, that one becomes a woman through and as a result of “the intervention of someone else” that indoctrinates female children into feminine gender roles.

On the other hand, trans activists and allies sometimes claim that trans women are women because of some “mysterious instincts,” as de Beauvoir calls it–a form of neuroessentialism. They might, possibly, be right about the etiology of gender identity, but they cannot use de Beauvoir’s words to support that position.

My position–following Naomi Scheman’s statement that “transsexual lives are lived, hence livable”–has always been that trans women are women because they just are; trans existence does not require any theoretical justification any more than cis existence does. But when trans activists and allies resort to a mis-interpretation of classical feminist text to argue against the anti-trans bigotry within feminism, I worry that it only bolsters radical feminists’ confidence that they are the only real feminists who understand feminism.

Memo: Exploring an Anti-Utopian Feminism

Date: February 20, 2013

I was recently approached by someone for a contribution toward a collection of essays exploring radical imagination for a feminist utopia. She was particularly interested in my idea of “whore revolution,” and what the world would look like after the revolution. I seem to suffer from a lack of radical imagination, or perhaps from too much radical skepticism, so it didn’t seem like a good match for my style. Here’s how I responded:

Thank you for writing me.

I am interested in exploring further the idea of whore revolution, but I actually had an immediate suspicion of utopian conception of feminism as I read your email for the first time. I think as sex workers and people in the sex trade we suffer from the imposition of utopian feminism that says sex industry should not exist and does not respond to the lived experiences and conditions of the actual people involved.

Over time, my thinking around feminist utopia has evolved to reject it ultimately. My feminism is built around hearing and responding to specific claims of experiencing violence, injury, and injustice, and not based on some abstract theorizing about utopia. In fact, that is my response to the question, “why do you call yourself a feminist instead of just a humanist or egalitarian?” Humanism and egalitarianism are (male) philosophies based on abstract conceptions of justice, whereas feminism is informed by and built bottom-up from lived realities of women.

Is this a line of thinking that you are interested in including? If so, I’d love to contribute. But I would understand if that’s not what you are looking for.

The editor was very understanding, but asked me if I could incorporate these ideas while exploring what the world would look like after the whore revolution. Below is my response.

I don’t know, maybe I don’t have the radical imagination it takes to envision a world post-revolution of any kind, or perhaps my radical imagination is hampered by radical skepticism. My conception of revolution is not a single event or even a series of events that have a beginning and an ending, but the continuous and perpetual process of everyday struggles. It is hard for me to think about the world without rape, for example, because my vision of revolution is one less person experiencing rape and one more person being liberated from fear and shame.

I’ve been wanting to write about what it means to me that I identify as a bottom-up feminist who is deeply skeptical of utopian feminism and is resentful about the societal expectation that activist explain what their ideal world would look like when we are just trying to survive and help each other. But, again, I understand if that is not what you are looking for.

I still appreciate the fact that the editor understood where I was coming from, and told me that my perspective is valuable, even though it might not fit with the theme of the book she is compiling.

Gender-critical feminism is trans-positive feminism.

Date: August 22, 2012

In response to a discussion I’ve been reading recently:

Radical feminists are correct to criticize the equation/conflation of gender roles with gender identity. But that is not a position many transgender people I know hold. That orthodoxy comes from psychologist John Money’s 1972 book, Man and Woman, Boy and Girl: The Differentiation and Dimorphism of Gender Identity from Conception to Maturity. This is the same John Money from the notorious John/Joan experiment and coverup John Colapinto wrote about in As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who was Raised as a Girl.

Money wrote, succinctly:

gender identity is the private experience of gender role, and gender role is the public expression of gender identity

I know many transgender people who do not desire to fit into either of the standard sets of gender roles, and whose gender identities are not based on their desired roles in the society in relation to their gender. For many transgender people, gender identity and gender roles are not internal/external sides of the same thing, but are clearly separated.

Unfortunately, we do not have a better way to explain gender identity, which explains why this antiquated conception of gender identity remains in circulation within medical community, among some transgender people, and in the society.

But I do not believe that transgender people should have to explain their gender identity: it just is. Or as feminist philosopher Naomi Scheman once wrote, “Transsexual lives are lived, hence livable.”

Once the society and its medical “gatekeepers” stop requiring transgender people to explain their gender identity, we can eliminate the need for transgender individuals to (either uncritically or strategically) go along with the lies John Money told, simply to receive medical care, win social acceptance, and survive.

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