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I Heart Google Ngram Viewer.

Date: December 14, 2011

I just discovered Google books Ngram Viewer, which lets users find out historical changes in usage frequencies of particular words or phrases in its vast catalogue of scanned books. It’s not perfect, but a very good tool to analyze how our vocabularies have changed over time. Just as an example, here’s the comparison of terms “transgender,” “transsexual,” and “transvestite” (click for larger graph).

Google Ngram: transgender, transsexual, transvestite

As you can see, both “transsexual” and “transvestite” were used commonly in the literature until the 1990s, when “transgender” started to become more popular. Just to give you the perspective: Kate Bornstein’s “Gender Outlaw” was published in 1994; Leslie Feinberg’s “Transgender Warriors” came out in 1996.

In my zine, “War on Terror & War on Trafficking,” I pointed out that the term “human trafficking” came into popular usage since around 2000. The chart below, which compares frequencies of “human trafficking,” “involuntary migration,” and “forced prostitution” confirms this.

Google Ngram: human trafficking, involuntary migration, forced prostitution

Here’s another interesting graph, comparing the usages of “homosexual,” “heterosexual,” “bisexual,” and “queer.”

Google Ngram: homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, queer

You can see that the word “queer” was commonly used before the 1970s, but probably for different meaning: in the 1970s and 1980s when the word was increasingly recognized as a slur against LGBT+ people, its usage dropped. However in the 1990s the word “queer” makes a comeback as a self-identified label for LGBT+ people, surpassing clinically-sounding “homosexual.”

Chart below shows how current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s middle name was dropped from popular usage after she went from the First Lady to a politician on her own light. I know that during the 2008 primary election pollsters were showing different polling results depending on whether or not “Rodham” was mentioned, so it makes sense that she strategically dropped the middle name and became Hillary Clinton.

Google Ngram graph

Finally, here’s a fun comparison between “womyn,” “womon,” and “wimmin” as to which one is the most popular alternative spelling of “women”:

Google Ngram: womyn,womon,wimmin

Isn’t this fun?

Janus Youth’s conscious move to betray youth, and why we need to create systems to hold social service industrial complex accountable

Date: November 23, 2011

Last week, I wrote about how Janus Youth, Portland area’s largest youth service provider, assisted the City’s raid on Occupy Portland encampment under the dubious premise that the camp “endangered” youth (rather than that it simply attracted youth who are already endangered due to lack of housing, opportunities, and services). I also discussed how it reflected Janus’ increasingly pro-police stance as it became further and further dependent on “anti-trafficking” funds.

But the reality of Janus’ betrayal of youth was much worse, as I found out when I attended a presentation about Portland’s CSEC (commercial sexual exploitation of children–which should actually say “youth” instead of “children” for CSEY) programs at the national runaway and homeless youth conference.

The presentation, titled “CSEC: A Collaborative Approach to Addressing Sexual Exploitation of Children in Your Community,” was presented by three individuals representing Janus Youth, FBI, and Sexual Assault Resource Center (which has a trafficked minor program inside a big church).

The person from Janus started off his presentation with a statement that he was going to say some critical things about his agency. His complaint: Janus workers were not very friendly to the police officers in the past.

For example, he continued, when police officers detain and deliver youth to the Janus service center for curfew violation and other reasons, youth are frequently angry at the police officer. They often complain that they have been brutalized, harassed, or otherwise treated unjustly by the officer. Social workers at Janus validated their feelings and helped them file grievances, which made police officers hostile to Janus.

Janus guy felt it had to change, so he told all of his staff to treat police officers “like their best friends.” As a result, police began to like Janus a whole lot more, and now they are such great partners. In other words, Janus has made a conscious decision to side with the police when youth feel violated and abused by the police, rather than affirming and validating youth’s experiences.

Janus also helped police officers get hold of a youth who was camping at Occupy Portland. Because many Occupy protestors were hostile to police officers, it wasn’t the best idea to send police officers into the camp in order to search a youth. Instead, they asked Janus worker to go into the camp to find the youth for them.

It was in the context of this intimate relationship between Janus and the law enforcement that the former provided the justification for the City to use its police force to forcibly evict youth who had chosen Occupy camp over Janus’ services, presumably to save youth from themselves.

The director of trafficked minor program at SARC spoke next, also describing friendly relationship with the law enforcement. She, too, criticized other feminist anti-violence projects that are skeptical of law enforcement, and discussed how SARC was different from those in that they value partnering with the law enforcement.

The person from FBI who works closely with the anti-trafficking division of Portland Police Bureau also repeated her satisfaction with the law enforcement’s relationship to service providers like Janus and SARC. She explained that the law enforcement specifically chose these two organizations to work with over other anti-violence projects because of their pro-police stances.

“Collaborations with Janus and SARC are great; it makes victims better witnesses for the prosecution,” she said. SARC person echoed this sentiment when she explained the benefit of SARC’s services: Because SARC isn’t a mandated reporter, youth feel safer disclosing their experiences to them. And once they disclose their experiences to someone, they are more likely to disclose to other service providers who are mandated to report, or even to the law enforcement.

In my opinion both Janus and SARC have perverted their mission to support youth when they bought into the structure that prioritize prosecution rather than empowerment and long-term well-being of their clients. It is probably true that someone who discloses once to a non-mandated reporter are more likely to disclose to someone else who will act on that information, but is it beneficial to the youth? It feels like the premeditated manipulation of youth they are supposed to empower.

Someone in the audience asked whether they thought a locked facility (i.e. some place youth cannot get out of on their own will) might be a good option for victims of sex trafficking. Both Janus and SARC persons were cautious, but the Janus person said it was more preferable to build a non-locked facility in areas far removed from the City (which of course is no different from a locked facility unless one has access to a vehicle). The SARC person claimed that over half of the women they are serving want to be locked up, which I find highly questionable. She made it seem like someone engaging in non-suicidal self-cutting should be locked up for her safety, which I completely disagree with, as I believe cutting can be a very useful coping strategy for many survivors (including myself).

Another person, a youth worker from Texas, asked the presenters to comment on the most recent Village Voice article which cites a study from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Among many things, the study reports that only about 10% of the youth who trade sex in New York City have pimps, undermining the theory that youth survival sex equals “modern day slavery.”

The SARC person completely dismissed the study, claiming that most youth who trade sex have pimps, and suggested that researchers probably didn’t have enough rapport with the youth to discover the truth. But people I know from Safe Horizon/Streetwork, which reaches more street youth in New York than any other organizations there affirm that the John Jay study reflects their own understanding of reality. The youth worker from Texas also seemed to believe that the John Jay study to be valid, and seemed surprised to see SARC’s dismissive attitude.

In response, the SARC person characterized the “debate” over sex trafficking to be between those who believe sex work is an empowering choice versus those who disagree with that, clearly positioning herself in the latter camp. But this is a grotesquely unfair and dishonest characterization of the real debate here. The real debate is between youth-centered versus police-centered approaches, harm reduction versus paternalism, and reality-based versus ideological.

I also attended several other workshops on the topic, all of which turned out to be throughly dishonest and anti-youth.

For example, the workshop titled “Assisting Victims of Human Trafficking: A Collaborative Approach” was presented by two women from Rainbow House of Columbia, Missouri, which I was particularly interested in because I have engaged in sex trade as a teenager while living in Missouri and therefore I know something about the topic.

Their level of knowledge and awareness was dismal, as evidenced by their tacit acceptance of mythical “statistics” about youth in the sex trade. They also included “mail order bride” as an example of human trafficking, which doesn’t agree with the actual legal definition of trafficking, despite the fact they take advantage of the legal definition when it is convenient to do so as they characterize all sex trade by a minor as “modern day slavery.”

The presenters placed a huge emphasis on the role of Stockholm Syndrome as a way to explain why many youth defend people who are abusing and exploiting them. “Youth frequently go back to their pimps and traffickers because of brainwashing and Stockholm Syndrome,” they insist, but fail to mention the possibility that their services do not meet the youth’s needs.

Someone in the audience gave an unsolicited advice: “When a youth runs away from your services, try to locate them in the adult services section of!” Well, what about thinking about ways to make the services more attractive so that they don’t have to run away from you?

The Rainbow House people also gave a “story” of one of its clients, most likely without the explicit permission of the youth whose story was used, and I find such practice exploitative and offensive. They even told the audience that the youth did not admit to trading sex, but other clients told them about it; she eventually run away from Rainbow House. These details made their telling of her story even worse. I don’t understand why they can’t simply find a youth who consent to having their stories shared in this form.

The presenters demonstrated their cluelessness when they recommended that service providers learn and use street slangs in order to “make youth feel comfortable.” I can’t believe that they said this. Service providers certainly should learn and understand street slangs, but it is an extremely bad idea to use them unless they actually come from the street culture. Youth do not feel comfortable with people who are fake; in fact, they will completely distrust you when you present yourself as something that you are not. It is much better to simply own up to their status as (often white middle-class) college-educated professionals.

Further, someone in the audience asked the presenters about dealing with girls who recruit other girls in the youth services into sex trade, possibly for a pimp. The presenters replied that they have never seen that happening in their years of working at the youth shelter, which once again shows that they do not know what they are talking about.

Yet another workshop I attended was presented by Polaris Project, a prominent national anti-trafficking organization. Their presentation felt more like a cult seminar than a social service workshop, because the whole audience seemed to have “drunk the cool-aid” that dissociated them from the reality. Aside from repeating all the false “statistics” and the supposed spike in human trafficking during the Super Bowl (which there is none), their perception of sex trade was so unreal.

For example, Polaris vastly exaggerated the number of sexual acts that a typical “trafficked youth” (which is any minor who trade sex) performs, or the money pimp makes each year, giving the figure that is completely unrealistic. When the presenters began “brainstorming” for what the society associates with pimps, the audience responded that the society views pimps as benevolent protectors–which I highly doubt is what most people think about pimps. Interestingly, nobody mentioned how the word “pimp” has a racial connotation.

Overall, the conference was a painful reminder that most of the youth services are horrible and anti-youth. I sometimes feel jealous of youth today because there seem to be more resources for them than I had 20 years ago, but Youth Services Still Suck. There were several more presentations about trafficking of youth, but I had to go home early because I could not handle it any more.

On the last day of the conference, the closing keynote presenter was (predictably) Rachel Lloyd from Girls Education and Mentoring Services. I actually agreed with many things she said, such as how we must work toward fighting poverty if we truly cared about stopping sexual exploitation of youth.

But it was painful to hear her speak knowing that GEMS takes most of its clients from criminal justice system as an involuntary, court-mandated “services,” or that they do not accept any transgender girls and young women who need services, or that they do not honor gender identities and pronouns of female-assigned transgender or genderqueer youth who get mandated to receive their “services” like a prison sentence.

It was painful knowing, as she promoted her film, Very Young Girls, and her book, Girls Like Us, that girls shown in the film (who were court-mandated to be there) were not told how their images were being used, and that girls whose stories illustrate Rachel’s narratives throughout the book did not give permission for their stories to be told. I can’t write everything I know about GEMS here, but there are many other reasons I felt sad and in pain as I heard Rachel receive a standing ovation.

There seems to be so much desire in our society to reach out to the youth experiencing rough times, but the institutions that supposedly exist to provide services are often fundamentally flawed. Especially in this time of economic downturn (and hence greater reliance on government funding), more and more organizations are assuming their role as the extension of the law enforcement and the welfare system that dehumanize and abuse youth.

I think we need to replicate “Bad Encounter Line” system that Young Women’s Empowerment Project has developed in Chicago. BEL is “a way to report bad experiences you had with institutions such as police, the health care system, public aid, DCFS, CPS, etc.” that are “set in place to help” youth. The repots are published as zines, and used to introduce systems of accountability in social service fields.

I want to start this. Is anyone in Portland or Seattle area interested also?

Reclaiming “victim”: Exploring alternatives to the heteronormative “victim to survivor” discourse

Date: November 22, 2011

Feminists organizing against domestic and sexual violence generally use the word “survivor” instead of “victim” to refer to people who experience violence (unless, of course, the person is murdered, in which case the term “survivor” obviously does not apply). “From victim to survivor” (and even “to thriver” sometimes) is a model often invoked by people who are working to heal and empower victims/survivors of abuse as well as by the victims/survivors themselves.

I myself have used the word “survivor” for many years. But as I began questioning “survivor” narratives and exploring negative survivorship as a compelling alternative to the cult of compulsory hopefulness and optimism in the “trauma recovery industry,” I came to identify with and embracing the term “victim” more. I never felt that I survive well enough to call myself a survivor anyway.

Many people prefer the word “survivor” to “victim” because “survivor” feels strong and proactive. I understand that, as that is precisely how I felt for a long time also, but I am starting to think that we need to honor and embrace weakness, vulnerability, and passivity as well, or else we end up blaming and invalidating victims (including myself) who do not feel strong some or most of the times.

The society views victimhood as something that must be overcome. When we are victimized, we are (sometimes) afforded a small allowance of time, space, and resources in order to recover–limited and conditional exemptions from normal societal expectations and responsibilities–and are given a different set of expectations and responsibilities that we must live up to (mainly focused around getting help, taking care of ourselves, and recovering). “Healing” is not optional, but is a mandatory process by which a “victim” is transformed into a “survivor”; the failure to successfully complete this transformation results in victim-blaming and sanctions.

This is the so-called “victim role,” an extension of sociologist Talcott Parsons’ theory of “sick role.” The society needs victims 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. That, I believe, is the source of this immense pressure to become survivors rather than victims, a cultural attitude that even many feminist groups have internalized.

This victim-to-survivor discourse is a common theme in the trauma recovery services/industry. A self-help website, for example, states:

This section is about moving from Victim-To-Survivor.

This is an action step, and a change in mentality.

Yes, you are a victim of sexual abuse, but a victim stays in a victim role and never moves further and changes any behaviors that might change the outcome of the feelings that you are suffering from.

You can’t change what happened to you… but you CAN change how you will react to it and how you want your life to be from this day forward!

Once you make the decision to recover, you have the power to change your life!!

Your abuser does not have to win! You can take back your power and move on and not stay stuck where you are!

Hence, victimhood is construed as static and uncomfortable. Being a victim means that the abuser has won, and the victim is left without any “power” and is “stuck” where she or he is. The only hope for the victim is not a revolution, or community accountability and care, but “a change in mentality.” I find this rhetoric overly apolitical, individualistic, and victim-blaming.

Such messages are not uncommon. Another examples is a recent (10/26/2011) “expert blog” article on Mayo Clinic website, which is ironically titled “Victim or survivor? It’s your choice.” When I first saw the title, I thought the article was about how we as victims and survivors get to define our own experiences. but it wasn’t. Because the author is an oncologist, I assume that it is an advice intended for cancer survivors–but the article itself does not make that explicit, and his comments feels very similar to things people say to victims/survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Everyone has setbacks, disappointments and frustrations. But the way you respond to these challenges and opportunities is what defines you. Whether you become a victim or a “seasoned survivor” depends on your attitude and the way you view the setback.

When faced with an overwhelming crisis, whether personal, spiritual or financial, your circuits can be overloaded. You may feel paralyzed. However, once a little time has passed, you can marshal your options to creatively deal with the problem.

Whatever has happened, you can choose to whine and complain about it, or to profit and learn from the experience. Whining is not only unproductive, it also pushes away your support network. Friends and colleagues will listen for just so long, but then it is time to move on. The choice is yours. Your life depends on it.

Once again, victims who “whine and complain” are blamed for causing their own suffering by pushing away our support networks, as if our mentality is the only barrier for us victims/survivors to thrive. While the author pretends to offer “choices,” he is clearly promoting normative survivorship over “unproductive” whining and complaining, blaming those of us who remain “victims” for failing to live up to our societal expectations.

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. And I think we can start that by reclaiming “victim” and “victimhood” and resisting the heteronormative “victim to survivor” discourse of the trauma recovery industry that imposes compulsory hopefulness and optimism in the service of neoliberal capitalist production.

Erasure of Transgender Youth in the Sex Trade — My keynote at Transgender Day of Remembrance

Date: November 20, 2011

For those of you who came to my keynote presentation at Transgender Day of Remembrance at PSU (no, not that one, the one in Portland) this afternoon, thank you for coming! As I’ve promised, I am posting the slides from my presentation publicly so that people who came to the presentation can go back to read the slides again, and those who couldn’t make it can also see what I presented about. Please note that the slides are not intended to be stand-alone; they may not be self-explanatory without my talk. But regardless–enjoy!

(10/28/2012 – Link updated after Apple shut down

My article in Bitch magazine, and keynote at Portland State’s Transgender Day of Remembrance celebration

Date: November 18, 2011

I have two updates to promote my stuff:

First, my article on the U.S. anti- (domestic minor sex) trafficking movement has been published in the brand new issue of Bitch magazine, which should be shipped to subscribers and bookstores near you soon (official publication date is December 1st). The article has also been posted on BitchMedia website (but buy the magazine or get subscription anyway because we need to support the magazine).

Bitch Winter 2011 issue

Second, I am giving a keynote lecture at this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance celebration at Portland State University. The celebration includes a reading from the anthology Trans/Love Saturday evening, and a day of workshops, presentations, and candlelight vigil on Sunday. My own presentation takes place at 4pm on Sunday, but there are so many other great stuff happening! Please visit Basic Rights Oregon‘s listing of all TDOR events in the state, scrolling down to Portland to view the activities.

There is also a facebook group for my talk at I hope to see all local and visiting folks there!

Occupy Janus Youth? Social service industrial complex and its betrayal of street-based youth

Date: November 15, 2011

The City of Portland shut down the Occupy Portland encampment in Chapman and Lownsdale Squares across the street from the City Hall this past weekend. It was part of the nationwide takedown of Occupy demonstrations. In an interview with PBS, Mayor Sam Adams explained his decision:

Police said the sites have been plagued by a series of problems, including multiple assaults and two fatal drug overdoses. And on Wednesday, a man was arrested on suspicion of throwing a Molotov cocktail the night before, doing minor damage at the city’s World Trade Center. […]

Well, you know, when the details of the drug overdoses, the details surrounding the individual that ignited the Molotov cocktail, when I have homeless and homeless youth advocates telling me that this is a very unsafe situation, you know, I listen to that.

I felt that it was disingenuous that the Mayor is citing overdoses and safety concern for youth as reasons for shutting down Occupy Portland. Occupy does not cause drug overdoses: they happen all the time across the city. If anything, the presence of the camp can save lives because people experiencing overdose are far more likely to survive when they are surrounded by many other people.

Similarly, Occupy does not endanger street youth: Occupy merely attracted youth who have already been endangered by poverty, homelessness, and lack of services. Taking away the resources the youth found for themselves is inherently disempowering and does not make them any safer. It is as if the City wanted overdose deaths and youth endangerment to be scattered across the city so that it would not have to recognize the magnitude of its failure, even if that means homeless youth and adults are put in greater danger.

I was particularly offended that the Mayor claims to have listened to “homeless and homeless youth advocates” when he decided to destroy a community many homeless youth and adults have chosen to stay. I thought he was making it up, because I believed that street youth advocates would support a harm reduction approach to advocating for the youth taking charge of their own survival, rather than forcibly removing them from resources they find for themselves.

I was wrong. Janus Youth, Portland-area’s largest provider of services to youth including Yellow Brick Road street outreach program, actually did advise the City about how Occupy Portland endangered youth–several days before Mayor announced his decision to crack down on the movement. A letter from Janus executive director Dennis Morrow, which was very unwisely posted on the Mayor’s website, says:

When Yellow Brick Road teams went through Occupy Portland during the early afternoon on Monday October 17th, they were greeted by large numbers of homeless youth who had voluntarily exited Homeless Youth Continuum (HYC) services to take part in the event. […] While we are very supportive of young people having both meaningful voice and purpose, our years of experience with vulnerable street-affected youth tell us that this requires a great deal of structure and expertise or it is a recipe for disaster. […] We have also met numerous youth who were voluntarily opting out of homeless youth services or refusing to access services as new clients because they felt they were getting their needs met adequately at Occupy Portland sites.

In talking with Yellow Brick Road staff, it is their sense that the political leanings of the original march and occupation have been overwhelmed by the large numbers of homeless youth and possibly runaway minors who have descended upon the area and, in some instances, brought the violent nature of street-based subcultures and internal hierarchies to the protest site. There are young people with significant developmental delays, mental illness and drug/alcohol abuse issues mingling with potentially predatory adults (and young children) in a largely unchecked environment. More recently we have seen several cases of staph infection from young campers in the area. Recent days have seen the implementation of “safe injection” and “sexual assault response” tents which, despite our unwavering support for risk reduction, speaks to the level of unexpected behavior in the area.

It appears to me that the main concern for Janus was the fact that many youth have abandoned its programs, making their failure as a social service provider apparent. Youth who decided to abandon Janus services did so because Janus was failing to provide competent and respectful services that were meaningfully better in the eyes of youth than what a group of disorganized volunteers provided at Occupy. The encampment was not taking away the youth from Janus; Janus was losing them. And the agency wanted them back, even if that meant a destruction of the youth’s chosen community.

I used to love Janus. I still love and trust many people who work at Janus. But over the past several years, I have noticed its distinct departure from harm reduction principles as the agency received funding from and embraced anti- (domestic minor sex) trafficking efforts. They are frequently seen appearing and working alongside law enforcement officers at various places (including at the national runaway and homeless youth conference in Portland this week), compromising youth’s trust in the agency as well as its ability to meet the youth where they are at.

Janus’ support for forcibly removing Occupy Portland and for evicting homeless youth from a place they made home is yet another sign that Janus takes supporting autonomy and dignity of youth less seriously than it once did. Of course, I know that many front-line workers at Janus do not agree with their bosses’ paternalistic, pro-police stances, and I am glad that there are many true advocates for youth within the agency. That said, while I have no doubt that the City would have shut down Occupy Portland regardless of Janus’ opinions, I feel that Janus betrayed street youth by participating in the City’s brutal attack on them.

Time to occupy Janus Youth?

Janus Youth
707 NE Couch Street
Portland, OR 97232
Phone: 503.233.6090
Fax: 503.233.6093

Pimping does not equal enslavement: thoughts on the resilience of youth and adults who have pimps

Date: November 14, 2011

Language shapes our perception of reality. The term “human trafficking,” for example, shifted governments’ and NGOs’ approaches to addressing the issue of involuntary migration and labor (including sexual labor) from those that focus on economic empowerment and labor rights protections to ones that center policing and criminal prosecution. Similarly, the legal definition of “sex trafficking” that is interpreted to treat all minors who trade sex regardless of their circumstances as “trafficking victims” have distorted public perception of who these youth are and their lived experiences.

In my previous article about street youth sex trade, I pointed out that the popular imagery of “domestic minor sex trafficking” in which very young (white, suburban, middle-class) girls are “taken” by evil men (of color from urban areas) and forced into sex slavery is a very small part of the picture, and does not depict realities of the vast majority of youth who trade sex. This understanding (which I came to based on my own experiences and observations) is echoed by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice study of street youth in New York City, which was recently featured in Village Voice (11/02/2011).

Another concept that have distorted public perception of sex trade is “pimps” and “pimping.” Even the John Jay study, which correctly points out that only about 10% of youth who trade sex have any relationship to a pimp, equate “pimp” with “exploiter,” leading readers to assume that these 10% of youth are forced or coerced to engage in sex trade. There are two distinct problems with this equation.

First, media often depict people as “pimps” when they are arrested or charged with crimes of facilitating or promoting prostitution, but most of these people are not actually what most of us think of as pimps. They are often friends, partners, mentors, family members, photographers, drivers, bodyguards, and others who do not control the person trading sex in any way. When a youth “trafficking victim” is “rescued” from a “pimp,” the person they arrest as the “trafficker/pimp” is often another youth, such as a boyfriend of the “victim.”

In the October 2008 nationwide “search” for trafficked minors (Operation Cross Country II), which is the only one in which relevant data is made public, FBI claims to have arrested one pimp for every 7.76 “trafficked minors” and adult prostitutes in the 29 cities where the sweeps were conducted. Even though FBI does not provide the breakdown of the ages, genders, or roles these people played in the lives of youth and adults in the sex trade, there is no question that the vast majority of these people are not what most people think of as “pimps.” Real pimps are notoriously difficult to prosecute. They are very rarely caught or convicted because the prosecutors cannot build a case against them without “victims” coming forward and testifying against them.

Another problem with the equation of “pimps” as “exploiters” who use force, fraud or coercion to exploit youth and adults is that this is simply not true in many people’s lives, even if we were to limit the discussion to the “real” pimps (as opposed to partners, friends, etc. who are labeled as such by the police). I do not question the assertion (backed by my own experiences as well as others I’ve seen) that many pimps are violent or abusive, but that should not be confused with sexual enslavement of people who have abusive pimps. Let me explain.

We know that many marriages and romantic relationships are violent or abusive. We also know that many victims of abuse (often girlfriends and wives) do not leave their abusers/batterers/perpetrators. There are many reasons abuse victims do not leave. Some victims might be afraid for their lives if she attempted to escape, and remain under siege–but that is not the most common explanation. Most of the times, victims receive something from the relationship, whether it is financial security for themselves and their children, affection (when the abuse is in remission), or something else. Many do not leave the abusive relationship because they love their abusers.

That many victims of relationship abuse choose to stay with their abusers should not be treated as consenting to the abuse: they consent to the relationship, not the abuse. But it would also be wrong to suggest that these victims are held captive by the violence; they are not staying because of the violence, but in spite of it.

Pimping relationship that are abusive can be understood in the same way: while some people are forced to trade sex because of the violence, many remain in the pimping relationship for the same reason many abuse victims stay with their abusers: they get something out of the relationship that they are not getting elsewhere. Or rather, they remain in the relationship because they get something that our communities are failing to provide otherwise. This includes basic necessities such as food and housing as well as emotional needs such as affection, validation, and support. In fact, some pimps consider themselves to be workers performing emotional and care labor for their “girls” similar to the sex trade.

I do not think that these relationships are unproblematic, or that violence and abuse should be tolerated just because the victims do when they can’t control it. But there is a huge policy implication to recognizing agency and resilience among people who stay with their pimps instead of treating them as passive, powerless victims or “sex slaves.” Efforts to unilaterally “rescue” these individuals take away their security and support, leaving them worse off than before (and still having to engage in sex trade to survive under less desirable circumstances).

A better approach is to ensure that our communities provide resources and support that everyone needs and deserves. They include housing, jobs, education, and healthcare, but that is not enough. We also need human connections that give us a sense of belonging, validation, support, love. The former is essential for our physical and economic survival, but the latter is just as important if we truly cared about ending relationship abuses, whether it is in romantic relationship or pimping relationship (which can also be romantic).

There is no contradiction between acknowledging resilience of abuse victims who remain with their abusers, and wanting to create caring communities that instils greater resilience to abuse in the first place. Increased policing and prosecution only helps a very small group of victims who are actually held hostage by threats and violence, and by all means we should liberate these victims from their captors, but the application of this approach is harmful for the vast majority of youth and adults who trade sex. And the racist mainstream media representations of “pimps” make it harder to promote real solutions to abuse in our lives and relationships.

How I am on the verge of losing my adoration for Queers for Economic Justice

Date: November 7, 2011

Queers for Economic Justice is an organization in New York that I have long admired, so I was really excited when my friend invited me to its fundraiser/party this past week. Citing a series of parties with racist/colonialist themes that are happening around the city during Halloween season, the QEJ party which took place at Bartini Ultra Lounge (a gay male venue) was tagged as “Party Without Oppression.” But the main drag performer for the night posted something weird on the event’s facebook page:

Divine Grace Super-fantastic. I apologize in advance if my song offends anyone who may be a prostitute.
October 26 at 3:26pm

I thought it was odd that she had to “apologize in advance” to prostitutes, so I asked a question.

Emi Koyama Are you saying that your song is offensive? Or just being super sensitive? I’m all for nasty, but not for things that are mean to prostitutes.
October 27 at 8:21am

I waited for three days, but I did not receive a response so I wrote another comment.

Emi Koyama Not getting a response and I am starting to wonder if I read the title of the event wrong. Perhaps it meant to say Party with Oppression.
October 30 at 10:27am

At this point, Brandon Lacy Campos from QEJ and Divine both replied.

Brandon Lacy Campos Hey Emi…thanks for posting your concerns to Grace. I know she has had out of state company for the last few days, so perhaps giving a little lee way for a response. I will also check in with her. QEJ supports sex work and the right to provide for oneself using whatever means one has and to be able to do so with dignity. I will not censor Graces choice of performance number, but also please know that she is a comedic writer so there should be no assumptions made that derive from her magical ability to piss everyone off with a few simple words….until we know exactly what she meant by it. Also know that Grace is wicked but works for justice every bit as much as we do, which is why she was invited to perform. Be welcome.
October 31 at 8:47am

Divine Grace Perhaps I would just be better suited emceeing this event rather than performing. My act tends to be pretty low rent and it already appears that I am offending guests.
October 31 at 1:32pm

Divine Grace And Emi, just so you know, and just so your children will someday know, my intent has never been nor ever will be to oppress. As Brandon has stated, I have put in 20+ years at the office in an effort to garner equality and justice for the LGBT community.
October 31 at 1:35pm

Brandon Lacy Campos The hell you will.
October 31 at 1:35pm

I appreciate the fact that “QEJ supports sex work,” but they are not addressing my concern. I was not concerned about whether or not her performance piss people off in general, but I wanted to know why she singled out prostitutes as one group she intended to “apologize in advance.” Also, her threatening to cancel her performance fully knowing that she is the main attraction for the event and that QEJ would not cancel her just because one prostitute is upset with her seems manipulative.

I wrote:

Emi Koyama It doesn’t seem that either of you answered my question. My question wasn’t whether or not you are a good person, or your act tend to offend people. It was whether or not your act is mean to prostitutes.
November 1 at 4:43am

To which Divine wrote:

Divine Grace Emi, darling, my act is never mean. Tacky? Yes. Tasteless? Probably. Vulgar? Always. But my act isn’t “mean” to prostitutes unless you take Kim Kardashian’s feelings into consideration. Now, is there anything else that I owe you, and how quickly should I respond before you get huffy again?
November 1 at 1:16pm

I am glad to hear that her act “is never mean” to prostitutes, but she is continuing to engage in manipulative behavior with this fake passivity. I wrote:

Emi Koyama I would have appreciated that clarification earlier, but after witnessing how you can make such mean-spirited comments toward me about how you are not mean, I don’t have very much faith.
November 1 at 5:01pm

This brought further ridicule, belittlement, and insult from Divine:

Divine Grace And after seeing that you consider the word “huffy” mean-spirited, I have no faith that you could sit through an episode of “Dora the Explorer” without curling up fetal.
November 1 at 5:03pm

Immediately after this, Divine changed sharing setting of this thread to make it invisible from me, so that the personal attack remained on the event wall while depriving me of the ability to respond. At first I thought that she had deleted the thread, but my friend pointed out that she could see the exchange from her account, and allowed me to copy the content.

Finally, Brandon further adds insult:

Brandon Lacy Campos Emi. I appreciate your concern, but I clearly indicated that QEJ supports sex workers. While I appreciate that you may have perceived that Divine’s comment was “mean” to you. It is clear that something about it triggered something for you, which is a valid experience, but I assure you nothing “mean” was said to you. QEJ would never invite a performer to share space with us if that person actively participated in oppression towards a community. Having said that…satire and comedy often intersect at an individuals personal experience and just because something make you feel uncomfortable does not mean that it was unjust or mean.
November 1 at 5:13pm

Brandon seems to be employing the infamous Bush administration rhetoric on torture: the United States does not practice torture, and therefore what its military is doing in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere are not torture. Similarly, since QEJ supports sex workers, nothing it does can possibly amount to attacks on prostitutes or those who stand up for prostitutes; since QEJ never invites a performer who is oppressive, nothing the performer does would amount to oppressive acts. I am astonished by the use of anti-oppression policies and principles as a tool to invisibilize and therefore support oppressive acts. To suggest that I merely “perceived” meanness in Divine’s comments, or that I was merely “triggered” is invalidating and insulting, and seriously undermines my trust in QEJ’s ability to advocate for sex workers and others facing multiple oppressions.

I was going to just give up and not deal with QEJ in the future, until someone pointed out to me that QEJ’s interim director is Amber Hollibaugh, who is one of my superheroes in the social justice movements and the author of “My Dangerous Desires: A Queer Girl Dreaming Her Way Home,” which is also one of my all-time most favourite books in the whole world. I love and trust Amber so I wrote her an email to alert her what has happened under her watch. I hope that she will reply to me in such way that restores my trust in and support for an organization that deserves much better.

Suggestions to improve “Queering Occupy Wall Street: Radical Language Road Guide”

Date: November 6, 2011

This past week, I visited New York City to present “Erasure of Transgender Youth in the Sex Trade” at an NYU Law symposium on transgender law. While I was there, I went to Occupy Wall Street and spoke with people at Queering OWS table, who showed me a draft copy of “radical language road guide” for other OWS participants to understand queer and trans terminologies. Many of the definitions were problematic, so I promised to write what I think should be changed. Below is what I thought the “language road guide” should consider.

I live in Oregon, but visited NYC this past week to give a presentation at NYU symposium on transgender law. While in NYC, I was able to come to OWS and spoke with someone about the problems with the draft version of “Radical Language Road Guide.” I agreed to write my recommendations to make the guide better, so here it is.


People often get hang up on understanding terminologies to avoid appearing offensive to people, like when a white person gets obsessed about whether to call someone Black or African American or something else. But the important part should be to respect how someone identifies, and actively engage in resistance to systems of oppressions, rather than simply learning how to appear “sensitive.” It would not be a “radical” guide if it doesn’t stress that. I think respecting each person’s self-defined ways of identifying and expressing themselves is more than just recognizing fluidity.

Now to the specific term…


AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network) defines an asexual as “someone who does not experience sexual attraction.” It is wrong to define it as a matter of (lack of) expression of sexuality or sexual preference.


Similar to “transgendered,” the acted-upon construction should be avoided. “Cisgender” is preferable. Also, this definition may not be clear to many folks, so I suggest adding that it means someone who is not transgender.


The definition (“an individual who doesn’t qualify or conform to any gender identity”) is wrong, because someone who clearly identify with and conform to a third gender would be considered “gender non-conforming” from the perspective of gender binary. Perhaps you meant to say “an individual who doesn’t qualify or conform to male and female gender roles and identities.”


As pointed out in the general comment above, this should stress the importance of respecting others’ self-determined gender pronouns, rather than giving examples of alternative pronouns. My experience is that a lot of cis people want to learn about all the exotic pronouns but supplying them with such list is a distraction.


Let’s be honest and just say that this is something that is cultivated by gays and lesbians. It is true that bisexual and transgender communities also hold their versions of normative standards (i.e. appropriate ways to be bisexual or transgender), but much of what bisexual and transgender people are facing are homonormative prescriptions coming from gay and lesbian communities.


Intersex is not about “gender expressions,” but any of the many medical conditions that result in internal or external reproductive and sexual anatomies that are different from most males and females.


Providing definitions for these terms without contexualizing them give the false impression that it is okay to talk about these topics. These terms either don’t belong in the “radical” terminologies, or simply declared “none of your fucking business.”


So wrong and offensive. First, it’s “Two Spirit.” Second, it is not a term referring to a “concept,” but actual indigenous people who live as Two Spirit, and that should be stressed to avoid cultural appropriation of their identities by colonizers. It should also be noted that “Two Spirit” is not a traditional term within First Nations communities, but a term invented by indigenous people in order to describe a whole series of gender and sexual categories that exist among many different cultures and communities that have been considered by colonizers as abnormal, as well as those identities that were created by contemporary indigenous queers and trans people beyond their traditions under the colonial rule.


I have an issue with this concept, because it frequently functions as part of the homonormative discourse. How about rephrasing it to say that “an individual should be allowed to live in an environment that fosters pride in” their sexualities and gender identities, rather than that an individual “should be proud”?

Good luck QOWS people!

One more comment re “TRANSGENDERED”:

The term “transgendered” (as opposed to more appropriate “transgender” as an adjective) has always been offensive, but it is more so now that anti-trans “radical feminists” have adopted this as their terminology of choice.

The “radical feminists” have referred to sex workers regardless of their circumstances as “prostituted women” in order to deny women’s (and others’) agency and resilience in doing whatever it takes to survive and to categorically classify them as powerless victims. Over the last couple of years, they have began to use “transgendered” in a similar construction to suggest that trans people are manipulated and victimized by the society and the medical industrial complex into accepting transgender medical treatments, and should not be treated as individuals capable of speaking for themselves.

Worse, they use the term “transgendered men” to refer to male-to-female transgender persons (i.e. trans women) and “transgendered women” to refer to female-to-male transgender persons, because they reject people’s self-defined gender identities. To them, a “transgendered man” (i.e. trans woman) is a man who has been wrongly manipulated into believing that “he” is a woman, and “he” should be helped to recognize this act of “violence.”

In the past, use of the term “transgendered” instead of “transgender” was just annoying. But now, it is part of the vocabulary of clearly hostile people and movement that wishes to “morally mandating it out of existence” (Janice Raymond, “The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male”) and all trans allies must abandon it.

Note: Someone commented on facebook that it wasn’t fair that I group all radical feminists and suggest that they are all anti-sex worker and anti-trans. Below is my response.

You might want to read the exchange between pro-sex, pro-kink sex worker feminist Lori Adorable and her “radical feminist” critics. Lori said that she views herself as a radical feminist because she believes that “there is structural oppression of women and that radical everyday actions that undermine traditional gender roles can undo this large-scale, structural oppression.”

For writing this, she was however ridiculed and dismissed as “just making it up” what it means to be a radical feminist. A comment on her blog states that “I believe you are a feminist. But I do not believe you are a radical feminist. A liberal feminist, sure. But not radical.”–which is a typical response from other radical feminists. See for example:

As someone who have studied feminist theory, I tend to agree with these (majority) radical feminists’ own definition of radical feminism: it is a version of feminism deeply rooted in the belief in the primacy of patriarchy and men’s subjugation of women over all other oppressions. Other oppression may be tools of men’s domination over women, but are viewed as subsystems of patriarchy.

Now, the reality is that not everyone who identifies as “radical feminist” agrees with this definition, including your friend and Lori. I agree that we need to acknowledge diversity of opinions among people who identify as “radical feminists,” but I feel that it would be disingenuous to pretend that radical feminism at the very fundamental level is not racist, classist, transphobic, etc. due to its fundamental assumption in the primacy of patriarchy over all other oppressions. I am talking not about radical feminists, who might take the label for whatever reasons, but radical feminism as a theoretical standpoint with a specific history and tradition.

Individual radical feminists might be able to reconcile pro-sex worker or pro-transgender stances with radical feminism, as I have done in the past (see my 2001 article, The Transfeminist Manifesto in “Catching a wave: reclaiming feminism for the 21st century” as an example). Even Andrea Dworkin has written something supportive of trans women, which is completely forgotten by many of her fans. But that doesn’t negate the overwhelming weight of the history and tradition of radical feminist thought.

Also, for what it’s worth I did clarify that I was referring to “anti-trans ‘radical feminists’,” not just any “radical feminists,” precisely because I know I myself have been a pro-trans “radical feminist” in the past.

Pedagogy of the Bound and Gagged: Teacher as a Dominatrix (memo)

Date: November 1, 2011

This is actually a serious pedagogical paper I was going to write many years ago, but a pedagogical conference rejected my abstract and I never ended up writing. I just re-discovred it in my hard drive, and I thought you might find it interesting…

1) Traditional feminist pedagogies:
– create “safe space” for women where personal experiences can be shared, honored, and placed in sociopolitical context.
– foster egalitarian relationship among students as well as between students and the teacher.
– personal awareness connected to political action.

2) Problem with the traditional feminist pedagogies:
– creates pretense of egalitarian relationship, when in reality there are definite power imbalances not just between teacher and the student, but also among students along their respective social locations.
– notions of “safe space” privileges women who are oppressed only because of sex (i.e. white, middle-class, able-bodied, etc.)

3) “Safe, sane and consensual” S/M pedagogy:
– explicit negotiation of power within classroom which outlines rules and responsibilities
– exercise of power is consensual and designed to maximize equity and learning (e.g. use of teacher’s power to interrupt oppressive patterns and model anti-oppressive behaviors)
– positions as “teacher” and “students” played as roles, rather than something inherent in the individuals or the relationship
– use of “safe words” to time-out

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