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Piracy and distortion of my work at University of Washington

Date: January 14, 2013

Last Thursday, I went to University of Washington in Seattle to give a presentation titled “‘War on Trafficking’? Resisting Criminalization as the Solution to the ‘Modern Day Slavery’.” It was scheduled to preempt a big conference on human trafficking that was being held on Friday and Saturday because some people at UW were afraid that the conference was going to focus on ramping up further criminalization to combat “domestic minor sex trafficking” as many anti-trafficking conferences these days seem to, even though the conference actually turned out to be mostly about labor trafficking, labor rights abuses, and fair trade. I attended the conference and plan to report about it too, but there’s something else I want to write about.

After my presentation at UW’s student union building (which was very well attended–thank you very much!), someone started distributing pirated copies of my old article, The Transfeminist Manifesto, before I noticed it. I found a copy myself, and it looked like this:

The Transfeminist Manifesto pirated zine cover

Even though I’ve never published anything that looked like this, many people thought it was my zine, because it had my name on it and did not identify who printed or distributed it.

I personally do not want this particular article to be distributed further, unless it is made explicit that Manifesto is a dated, historical piece. I wrote the article more than a decade ago, and given that transgender community has expanded and changed rapidly over the last decade, I feel that it is no longer relevant. There are also many other texts exploring the intersection of feminism and trans politics, so there is no reason to keep Manifesto around, except of course as a historical artifact.

One of the ways I’ve tried to explain that Manifesto is a historical piece is to include “postscript” at the end of the article to criticize some aspects of the article itself. I included the postscript in the version published in Catching A Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century as well as in my zine, Whose Feminism Is It Anyway?. So I opened the pirated zine to see if they included my postscript along with the main article. This is what I saw:

The Transfeminist Manifesto pirated zine postface

They did include the postscript, but changed the heading to “postface.” According to a dictionary, “postscript” is “an additional remark at the end of a letter” or “an additional statement or action that provides further information on or a sequel to something,” while “postface” is “a brief explanatory comment or note at the end of a book or other piece of writing.” So technically, “postface” seems to be a more appropriate term than “postscript” in this case, but the reality remains: they changed my language and presented the edited version as my work. This worries me (though I do not have the time or energy to read the entire zine to find out what else they have changed).

Further, I found this statement on the back cover of the zine:

The Transfeminist Manifesto pirated zine quote

I have never written “SCUM! KILL KAPITAL! REVOLT!” anywhere, nor is it something I might ever say. And yet, there is no name printed on the entire zine except for my own name on the cover, so most people would think that I wrote that phrase, and I do not want to be associated with it in any way. I am not so much offended by the piracy of my work itself, but this slogan, along with the fact they have edited my words without permission and without clarifying who was responsible for it, offends me.

I don’t know who was responsible for pirating and distorting my work. I would feel a little bit better if it was done by a trans woman, but I doubt it: most trans women understand that Manifesto belongs in a different historical moment, and probably would not distribute it, other than to discuss the history of transgender activism. I imagine that it is not a trans woman, but non-trans people who are so out of touch with transgender community or politics that they found a 13-year old article curiously new and refreshing. They also must not think very much about trans women speaking for themselves if they are willing to “correct” my language without my permission and to add an inflammatory slogan like “SCUM! KILL KAPITAL! REVOLT!”

I hope that whoever was responsible for the incident would recognize how their action was harmful, and work on building true coalition with and amplifying the voices of trans women in their community.

1 Comment »

  1. I found out that Olympia Zine Library was distributing this document on its website. I emailed them to ask them to remove the file from their server.

    Comment by emigrl — February 21, 2013 @ 10:40 pm

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