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Racist Feminism at the National Women’s Studies Association

Date: June 28, 2008

In March, I was invited to speak at the “tribute panel” dedicated to Black feminist thought, especially the work and life of Audre Lorde during the National Women’s Studies Association. I felt honored, and more than slightly intimidated, to be selected to address the importance of Audre Lorde’s work in my own life as well as in the feminist movement at large. Other panelists were Kaila Adia Story (University of Louisville) and Melinda L. de Jesus (California College of the Arts).

It was during my second year of college I was first introduced to the writings of Audre in a Women’s Studies course. Throughout the academic term, students read several articles each week, discussed them in the class, and wrote journal entries that reflect on the week’s readings. Week after week, most of the assigned materials were those written by white, middle-class, straight (or sometimes “political lesbian”) women, and I was having difficulty relating to much of what was being discussed. I kept writing in my journal how I didn’t relate to the reading, but I did not realize it had anything to do with the selection of the materials. I felt bad about being so “negative” about feminism and feminists.

Toward the end of the term, one week was dedicated to the work of “women of color” (yes, a whole week–woo hoo!). If I remember correctly, it consisted of selections from the anthology “This Bridge Called My Back” (Combahee River Collective statement, and I think one of the Cherrie Moraga’s pieces) and Audre Lorde’s “Sister Outsider.” For the first time, these articles spoke to me. They gave voice to my feelings of alienation and frustration that I could not point a finger on. And even though it was just a week out of the entire term, and it is possibly the worst form of tokenism within the discipline, they anchored me to feminism and Women’s Studies to this date. Without “Sister Outsider,” I may not have been a feminist today.

Intersex people are from the Earth, and other stuff beyond patriarchy.

Date: May 6, 2008

I’m going to Eugene this Friday to present at Beyond Patriarchy conference. I was originally planning to do two workshops (one on intersex activism and another on sex worker feminisms) but due to my schedule (I’m hosting Good Asian Drivers‘ stop at In Other Words bookstore in Portland on Saturday) I can only do the latter. That said, I thought you might enjoy reading the description I wrote up for the intersex workshop:

Title: Intersex People are from the Earth

Description: Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and yet they act like the Earth belongs to them. This workshop is for anyone who wish to learn about the Earth’s native species, intersex people, and their struggles.

Obviously, this is all tongue-in-cheek… Most intersex people identify and live as men or women just like most non-intersex people, so it’s not correct to assume that intersex people are somewhere between men and women… See “What is wrong with ‘Male, Female, Intersex’” at Intersex Initiative’s website.

Since I’m posting the information, here’s the description for the workshop I’m actually presenting:

Title: Class and Sex Worker Feminisms

Description: Sex industry and sex work have been sites of fierce contention within feminism. But too often, the discussions revolved around anti-prostitution feminists who depict poor and working-class women as voiceless victims (thereby silencing them), and pro-sex feminists who neglect them altogether (thereby silencing them) and focus on sex workers who are relatively better off. This discussion attempts to complicate the analysis by introducing class-conscious pro-sex feminist positions.

The workshop will be held at Century Room A, Erb Memorial Union at University of Oregon at 3:35pm on Friday.

Audre Lorde deserves better than some superficial tribute at National Women’s Studies Association.

Date: March 26, 2008

Several weeks ago, I was contacted by the National Women’s Studies Association and invited to speak on the “Tribute Panel” at this year’s annual meeting in June. The tribute panel is designed to “honor past scholarship that set new directions for the field,” and this year it is dedicated to Black feminist thought, especially the work of Audre Lorde. Since Audre Lorde is one of my all-time greatest heroes and influences, I was very excited about this opportunity.

However, there’s one problem: all NWSA can offer in exchange for my service is a complimentary conference registration and membership. Since my resources are extremely limited as I do not have a regular source of income (I pay my bills and fund my organization, Intersex Initiative, by giving lectures at universities across the country, which doesn’t happen frequent enough to be reliable), I can’t attend the conference unless travel and lodging expenses are provided.

So I wrote Allison Kimmich, the executive director of NWSA, to explain my circumstance, and asked for some financial assistance so that I could attend the conference. She replied “I do not have discretionary funds available to cover travel and lodging for invited speakers. As our letter of invitation noted, NWSA would be able to offer complimentary membership and registration; I certainly wish we could do more.”

I realize that NWSA’s resources are limited, and might not be able to offer all the expenses for all speakers. But if it wishes to invite activists, artists, independent scholars and others who do not have a tenured or tenure-track academic appointment or a conference budget through their job, I believe that they need to provide expenses. Otherwise, only those activists who are independently wealthy would ever be represented.

I asked some members of the Governing Council of NWSA to advocate for funding on my behalf, and they did, but in vain. At this point, I wrote an appeal to WMST-L, an international women’s studies mailing list, explaining the situation, and asked members of NWSA to help me by 1) writing letters of support to NWSA, 2) pledge a donation to cover my expenses, and 3) arrange a speaking gig for me to raise money.

The response was very encouraging: thanks to supporters who circulated my appeal in other women’s studies and NWSA-affiliated email lists, about a dozen people came forward to offer contributions ranging from $25 to $300 (wow) within several days, and I was able to quickly raise enough money to pay for the airfare between Portland and Cincinnati, where the conference is being held.

It also began to mount a pressure on NWSA, as several caucus presidents and Governing Council officers began asking Allison why NWSA couldn’t provide travel and lodging expenses for an invited speaker. Then strange thing happened: when contacted by Barbara Howe, the Governing Council President of NWSA, Allison Kimmich told her that I had been offered free hotel room at the conference site.

What is going on? Allison did not offer to assist me with any expenses except registration and membership fees (which doesn’t cost NWSA anything, as the marginal cost of adding a member or attendee is virtually zero) in her initial invitation dated March 3, and also in her second email (after I explained that I could not attend the conference without assistance) on March 14. But she is telling other people that I was offered free lodging, directly contradicting what she has told me before.

Did Allison change her mind, because of the bad publicity my appeal has generated? I truly don’t know, since I still haven’t heard directly from her about the hotel room. But by (falsely) telling Barbara that I was offered free lodging at the conference site, Allison is making me out to be a swindler, a con artist, for seeking donations to cover the very expense that has supposedly been paid for by the NWSA.

Was this an intentional spin of the Karl Rove variety designed to smear me? I’m not sure, but it makes me feel sick to my stomach to think about it. In fact, I almost don’t want to attend NWSA after all this, although I still feel that it’s important for me to be there. I can’t allow them to pay superficial tribute to Audre Lorde and her work while the organization continues to operate in ways such as this that alienate and marginalize women of color, poor women, queer and trans people, etc.

Oh, did I mention that this year’s conference is “dedicated to the ongoing process of undoing the long history of racism and homophobia in Cincinnati, NWSA, and beyond”?

(Just to remind everyone: there are many great people within NWSA, including the folks who have offered contributions and advocated on my behalf. I’m just addressing the general organizational tendency and historical patterns within NWSA, not its members…)

Responding to Fetishist Emails

Date: February 29, 2008

Email I received at Intersex Initiative.

id love to meet a reallllllllllll hermorphadite in person. my email is ***** in *****.

The first “*****” is part of an email address; the latter is a name of a City.

I get these emails at least once a week. ISNA must receive it every day, if not every hour. I usually just ignore, but today, after an upsetting episode at Wal-Mart which they sucked me into with its $4/month prescription generic medication, I found some energy to respond. Here goes:

Hello sir–Too bad. I just called the World Council of Realllll Hermorphadite and had them add your name, email address, home address and social security number into The Blacklist so that no reallllll hermorphadite would fall prey to someone like you.

Just to clarify: I’m not against fetishes or fetishists. I’m against someone insensitive enough to send such email to an organisation that is trying to change the society so that intersex people would be treated as people, not just some object of others’ fantasy or being reduced to just the sex organs.

We are experiencing technical difficulties…

Date: October 19, 2007

In case you are wondering why there hasn’t been new post in a while–I’m having some technical difficulties with my installation of MovableType, and am considering switching to another application. Stay tuned…

Another Response to Élise – Retraction vs. Clarification

Date: September 26, 2007


This is a response to your comments to “What ‘Veiled Threat’? Response to Élise Hendrick.” It became too long to post as a comment, so I’m making it a new entry.

Certainly Dreger could have picked a different case to put her weight around around, but I don’t think she approached the Bailey case from some vague sense that she wanted to address the importance of academic freedom. In one way or another, she found herself in the middle of it, recognised a problem that nobody else is addressing, and decided to do something about it.

Come to think of it, there’s no reason that I should be focusing on intersex or trans rights, because if I were really concerned about human rights, there are other groups in this world who are more severely in need of advocacy. But people don’t operate like that: we get involved in issues where we have personal connection to, either because we are ourselves impacted by them, or are close to those who are–or sometimes we are led by our curiosities or get exposed to the issues by sheer chance.

As for the difference between retraction and clarification: retraction involves accepting responsibility for the wrong that took place, whether you intended it or not; clarification generally does not.

Your description that Dreger was “endorsing a veiled threat… by Emi Koyama,” to most readers, means that I made a threat. That sentence is unfair if I didn’t actually make any threat, so I am asking you to acknowledge that it was unfair and should have been phrased differently, not simply because some readers might interpret it in a way that you didn’t intend, but because the sentence was factually wrong and hurtful to me.

Clarification would have been appropriate if the meaning of your sentence was ambiguous, and reasonable readers might interpret it in multiple ways. The problem is that your sentence wasn’t ambiguous: most readers would interpret it as saying that I made a threat and Dreger endorsed it. You can’t expect any reasonable readers to understand that what you meant to say was that my comments could have meant something else entirely but Dreger has turned it into a threat.

I can show you a snippet from the private emails I sent to Dreger on September 21:

I’ve publicly criticised some of the things Joelle said in the past (see, but then I’m just an academic outsider. You are an established and well-respected scholar, and I wish you’d cut her some slack… it’s important to support juniour scholars (she’s a graduate student) who are themselves trans.

I’m not suggesting that you can’t criticise her arguments or defend yourself against false or misleading characterisation of your work, but I feel that it was unnecessary and excessive to state that she “is not acting like a scholar” in public.

Here’s another snippet, from September 23:

Same standards [should apply], yes, but I don’t necessarily think that same response is appropriate, because the same response could have disparate consequences and impacts depending on one’s position within the power structure. In other words, someone like Joelle may suffer more as a result of being labeled unprofessional in that context than a non-trans scholar does, which I feel should be considered… But I do agree that she deserves to be treated like a real scholar–it’s just that there is no such thing as a generic “scholar” or a uniform way all scholars are treated.

As you can see, I am in fact confronting Dreger about the very behaviour you are criticising her on your blog for, and yet you wrongly alleged–perhaps unintentionally, but as far as any reasonable readers can tell–that I was the one threatening Joelle. That’s factually inaccurate and unfair to me as an activist.

Regardless,I appreciate that you are willing to engage with me. In the past, I’ve had difficulty engaging with people who are somehow convinced that I am close buddies with Bailey (I wouldn’t blame them if that was actually the case, but obviously it wasn’t and isn’t).

What “Veiled Threat”? Response to Élise Hendrick

Date: September 25, 2007

On Life After Gonzales, Élise Hendrick claims that I made a “veiled threat” against Joelle Ruby Ryan, a trans activist and graduate student at Bowling Green State University.

Élise writes:

Dreger repeats her unsupported and unspecified claims of misrepresentations (in one case “profound” misrepresentations”) and factual errors throughout her correspondence on the subject with Emi Koyama on the Women’s Studies listserv WMST-L, and falsely claims that Bailey’s critics attempted to censor him. She does not enlighten interested readers about the scientific status of Bailey’s claims or his defamatory responses to criticism. She closes the e-mail exchange by endorsing a veiled threat directed at Ryan by Emi Koyama:

I also appreciate your advising Joelle Ruby Ryan “that she was putting herself at risk as a scholar working within a controversial field (trans issues) by tolerating tactics that breed fear and stifle academic freedom.”

I think Élise is getting the context incorrectly. As you can see from the full text of my two WMST-L posts on this matter, I responded Alice Dreger to challenge her, not Joelle. In addition, I had three email exchanges with Alice privately to continue to push her on how established non-trans scholar like her should engage with someone like Joelle, because I was not happy about how Alice communicated with Joelle.

But I also didn’t want Alice to think that I don’t take her concerns about academic freedom seriously (ah double negatives), so I added a summary of what I told Joelle on another list (trans-academics) earlier. During the discussion on trans-academics, Joelle alleged that Dreger’s motivation for writing the paper in question was “clear and direct hatred against the ascendance of transgender people, activists and academics in society”–which I felt was unfair and unfounded.

I was particularly keen on people being attacked unfairly once they are associated with Bailey (for real or in someone’s imagination) because I also received such attacks. Someone named Gina has been going to various blogs that mention my work within intersex movement, and told people that not only was I closely associated with Bailey, but also received funding from Northwestern University, supported eugenics, and also endorsed genital surgeries for intersex children–all of which is false. Please see here and here for more information.

I am not some outside “expert” studying intersex or trans people; I do not hold any academic position or have advanced degrees. I am an activist whose interest includes advocating for the rights of intersex and trans people, just like Joelle. And yet, Gina happened to disagree with me about something (although I don’t think she actually understands how I think), and I went quickly from a fellow progressive activist to the evil eugenicist and oppressor for whom any dirty attacks are permissible. Clearly, Gina got the idea that it was okay to attack me in this manner from seeing it done to Bailey and others perceived to be associated with him.

In the exchange I had with Joelle in trans-academics, I described my experience of being unfairly attacked and said:

The problem Dreger wrote about isn’t all made up. In fact, I have also been accused of being a close associate of Bailey, funded by his Northwestern University clique, endorsing genital surgeries for intersex children, endorsing eugenics, etc. simply because I do not condemn the term “DSD” in similar style.

Of course tactics like these breed fear and stifle freedom–not just for non-trans, non-intersex experts, but those trans and intersex individuals who happen to disagree with the Zeitgeist. That means that you, too, could be on the receiving end of these attacks, assuming that you hold on to your sense of honesty and scholarly integrity, that is.

This is not a veiled threat. I am writing as someone who is in a similar position to Joelle that we need to bond together to oppose political tactics designed to breed fear and stifle freedom, even if we find someone’s comments or publications harmful to us. I’m not saying this because I want to protect our oppressors; no, I’m saying that using fear to fight back at our oppressors will come back and hurt us even further.

Élise, perhaps you might think that my approach is too soft, or you might otherwise disagree with me at some level. But even if we can’t agree on anything else, it’s not a threat and I’d like you to retract that.

Advice to Students who need to Interview Activists

Date: September 13, 2007

While I feel that I made a point that needed to be made in my initial response to the student who kept requesting an interview, it occurred to me that publishing it on this blog would seriously discourage students from emailing me, not just for some class assignments that I could do without, but for everything else–some of which I do want people to contact me for. My point wasn’t that my time is so valuable that students shouldn’t waste it by talking to me; it was that those who engage in research must be accountable to those who are being researched. So I’ve decided to write down some recommendations for students who wish to contact activists and activist groups for a class project.

1. Do your homework. Is it really necessary to take up someone’s time and attention, or can you find the same information if you simply went to the library or dig deeper on the website?

I realise that sometimes teachers specifically require that students interview someone. I find such requirement unethical, as the teacher is basically demanding that complete strangers subsidise the education for which they receive salary. If the teacher requires this, suggest her or him to change the requirement to “volunteer and interview” instead.

2. Offer to volunteer. This is to establish more of a reciprocity between you and the activist group you wish to interview. Plus, you’ll probably have a better understanding about the organisation that way. Some may think that volunteering for an organisation that one writes a paper about would compromise student’s objectivity. But fuck objectivity.

3. Donate or hold a fundraiser. If it’s a cause or organisation you are interested in, perhaps you could show your appreciation by offering to raise money to support its activities. Again, some might say that it would cause perverse incentive for the organisation (i.e. they would say what students want to hear in an interview so that more of them would interview–and raise funds for–the organisation), but I really don’t foresee that students’ fundraising efforts would bring in so much money that it would have a serious impact.

In my case particularly, I fund my organisation, Intersex Initiative, by giving lectures at various universities, so it would be most beneficial if you could get your student organisation or department to sponsor my visit. Think of it as a way to redistribute wealth from universities to activist world.

If you think of any additional advices, please share in the comment field.

Response to Bee, Re: reply to student who requested an interview

Date: August 30, 2007

Hi Bee,

To answer your question, yes I did indeed considered the potential positive impact of answering this student’s questions. That said, I believed that there was a greater good to be gained from responding the way I did–and it’s not extra time for me.

You see, if I was simply trying to save time for me, I could have simply ignored the request, or told the student “No time. Sorry.” That would have saved a lot of time–after all, I’m not under any obligation to explain my refusal to the interview.

The truth is that I probably spent more time responding to the student (and posting it on my blog, thereby inviting further discussions like this one) than I would have if I simply obliged the student’s request. So it’s not out of some overblown sense of self-importance that I did what I did.

Then why? Because I felt that it was more important for the student to consider the ethics behind the relationship between activism and academia, and possibly get the professor to do the same, than to hear whatever that I might say in an interview. I think that would result in greater good for both activism and academia.

In short, it is precisely because I view myself as “a cog in a greater machine” that I chose to respond the way I did. If I thought I was so important, I would have gladly been interviewed.

Oh, and I also do not respond to all media requests. I evaluate each media requests or student interview requests individually, rather than taking every possible venue to push myself.

KALEIDOSCOPE, the First Annual National People of Color Cabaret

Date: August 28, 2007

(posting this for a friend… – ek)

CHICA BOOM presents
The First Annual National People of Color Cabaret

Saturday, September 1 st, 2007


Doors open at 8p and show starts at 9pm
Performers of Color On Show and Showing Off

Columbia City Theatre
4916 Rainer Ave S., Seattle

Reservation Line 206-412-9802

Tickets at the door $20 (cash) or go to:

Kaleidoscope kicks off the First Annual National People of Color Cabaret in Seattle! The first of its kind in Burlesque, this show centers vaudevillians, aerialists, and neo-burlesque performers of color who inspire, entertain, represent and transform burlesque as it was and is.

This wildly amazing show will be a blend of drag, burlesque, music, and aerial art. The wide range of performances will be erotic, hot, hilarious, and political. The performances will subvert racism, inject a race, gender, and sexuality analysis in burlesque, and celebrate people of color on show and showing off!

This historical show will be hosted by her most imperial sovereign majesty, ALEKSA MANILA. This year’s incredible lineup includes the Creole queen of burlesque, Desire D’Amour (Tucson); the brown sugar hurricane that is Tangerine Jones (NYC); an explosiva Dolores De Muela (L.A.); y la sinverguenza Eva Las Vegass (Venenzuela); and show founder and Ms. Gay Latina 2006 Chica Boom. The show will feature the best in color in the Northwest chocolate glamazon, Sydni Deveraux; sultry vixen, Shanghai Pearl; renowned shaker and mover, Ginger Snapz; aerialist innovator Thanhdat; and Portland’s burlesque sweetheart Sahara Dunes.


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