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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.


Zine World recommends “Disloyal to Feminism”

Date: August 11, 2007

The latest issue of Zine World: A Reader’s Guide to the Underground Press published a brief review of my booklet, “Disloyal to Feminism: Abuse of Survivors within the Domestic Violence Shelter System.” Here’s what it says:

Disloyal to Feminism: “Confronting the Abusive Power and Control within the Domestic Violence Industry.” Written by Emi Koyama of Portland’s Survivor Project, this booklet is about the “abuse of power and control within the feminist movement against domestic violence.” This essay is well thought out and well written and focuses on “the imbalance of power between workers who provide services and the survivors who receive them.” All feminists and especially workers in the domestic violence industry should read and think deeply about this article. Survivor Project, PO Box 40664, Portland OR 97240, [$? 23S :36] –Chantel

Get your copy of “Disloyal to Feminism” here.

A reply to a student who kept requesting an interview for a class project

Date: August 4, 2007

Hello ******,

I’m sure that you’d understand, but activists do not exist to help you do your homework. Every moment activists spend talking to you (including the time it takes to read your email, think how to respond, and write a response) is a moment that they could be doing something else, most likely something more worthwhile. If you wish to grab attention of activists to your project and have them help you do your homework, you need to make it worthwhile to them: what do activists gain from helping you, or how would it help the work they are doing?

And please don’t just say that your paper could educate your classmates, because it’s not enough that there is some benefit; for it to be worthwhile, the benefit of working with you must exceed that of whatever else activists would be doing if they were not talking to you.

Please also tell your professor (in fact, please forward this email to her or him) that academia must stop exploiting and derailing activists and activist movements. Any scholar or student researching about activist movements (and any community for that matter) need to build equitable relationships with those they study, rather than simply stealing knowledge and insights from them and publishing them for their own professional or academic career.


Emi Koyama

Mural of my image to appear in North Portland?

Date: July 24, 2007

It almost feels like a scam, but apparently it’s for real.

Dear Emi,

My name is ***** ***** and I am organizing a mural titled “Women Making History In Portland”. This project is being organized through In Other Words Women’s Books and Resources. I have asked various non-profits and community leaders to nominate women who they felt should be be featured in the mural in a way that depicts how they have worked to make change in Portland.

While I have been compiling a list of women since the beginning of this year it was not until today that I went to In Other Words and asked Sue Burns who she would like to nominate on behalf of In Other Words. When she mentioned your name I was so excited that I immediately got goose bumps. I have seen you speak at numerous open mics and have attended a lecture by you years ago. Since then I have heard many people bring you up in conversation in regards to the amazing work that you do. It would be my honor to include you in this mural project.

The project is set to start in the middle of August and be completed by the middle of October. It will be locate at the intersection of N Interstate Ave and N Harding St.

What do you think I should do?


Date: July 13, 2007

For the past week or so, I’ve been swimming almost every day at an athletic club. I love it. I started swimming because my friend/housemate Leslie is a member at the place, and invited me to come along as a guest. I borrowed her old swimsuit and jumped in, literally. I’m not a serious swimmer–in fact, I don’t think I swam for at least a decade–but it’s strangely fun. As many of you know, I have bad back and joints, which I thought would hurt a lot after swimming–but I actually feel quite well and energised afterwards each time.

Now I bought my own swimsuit and became an “extended family member” which is available for people who live under the same address (yup). I was lucky to be able to do that, because there is a two-month waiting list if I were to join on my own (plus, I probably wouldn’t have if Leslie wasn’t there). It’s a bit far from where I live (it takes between one and half to two hours by public transit), but the facility is really nice (it’s saline), compared to the city-owned pool. I feel extremely resentful about how money buys so much comfort in our society, and I can barely afford the $57/month membership charge, but it’s the first time in my adulthood to exercise regularly and I’ll try to maintain my membership as long as I can…

I’ve been sick a lot in the past five years or so (and when I’m not sick I’ve been fatigued), but I’m hoping that swimming would keep me healthy more of the time, and perhaps give me more energy so that I can start to go out again. Maybe if I keep up swimming at least three times a week for several months, I could get myself a water-proof iPod shuffle… (or, is there a sugar daddy? My birthday is coming up on August 24…).

Oh, one last thing–I plan to come to the next Chunky Dunk, a “size-friendly private swim for everyBODY.” I know it’d be crowded and locker room won’t be as nice, but it seems like a fun event and I’d like to see my friends… Come see me in my new swimsuit :-)

Hypocrisy of anti-trans “feminism” at National Women’s Studies Association

Date: July 4, 2007

(Continued from yesterday…) Another panel I attended at this year’s National Women’s Studies Association meeting in St. Charles, Illinois was on trans people’s relationship to the contentious boundaries of “women-only” space. As many readers would know, this is a topic I’ve written a lot in the past. The panel was organised by transwoman activist and Ph. D. student Joelle Ruby Ryan from Bowling Green State University, but included Eileen Bresnahan, director of feminist and gender studies at Colorado College, who has a history of making anti-transsexual statements (see here, here, and here for my past arguments with her).

I’ve actually visited Colorado College at the invitation of the Queer-Straight Alliance several years ago, and I was shocked to learn how Women’s Studies Department (headed by Bresnahan) and Queer-Straight Alliance were in an open war over the former’s refusal to honour preferred names and pronouns of trans students. Of course, I only heard Queer-Straight Alliance’s side of the story, so I’m sure that Bresnahan has her side… but nonetheless, the hostility between the two was obvious and astounding. So I was wondering what she was going to say, and how the panel would deal with it.

Bresnahan’s presentation was actually quite informative: I still find it offensive and transphobic, but it was surprisingly valuable, as she discussed why radical feminists reject transsexual women’s self-identification as women. I thought it was valuable, because too often trans activists and allies do not understand where radical feminists are coming from, and unfairly characterise their position as biological determinism.

Many (not all) radical feminists (and here, I’m not talking about feminists who are radical; I’m referring to those subscribe to a specific set of beliefs and assumptions that are the hallmarks of radical feminism) indeed reject trans women’s self-identification as women, but it is not because they view biology as destiny; rather, they challenge the notion of “true” gender identity, or the innate and core sense of being male or female, as deterministic. Radical feminists take for granted that the distinctions between male and female are socially constructed, and seek the liberation of the members of the constructed category of “women.”

Radical feminists believe that sex is socially constructed, and as such there are no such thing as “true” gender identity. To them, transsexual women are not really women because there isn’t such thing as a “real” woman beyond how one is socially categorised and raised in the patriarchal structures. While I don’t agree with much of their politics, I do think that the only logical justification for excluding transsexual women from “women-only” spaces is that they are not women. I actually have more respect for someone like Bresnahan who take this logically stellar position than those who accept transsexual women as women but still manage to find excuses to exclude them from “women-only” spaces.

Joelle Ruby Ryan spoke about the debate between the campus women’s group that hold “women-only” Take Back the Night march and rally and the trans students’ group that criticised it for excluding trans men and genderqueers. Ryan stated that TBTN should create a feminist space rather than women-only space, while the organisers insist that it won’t be a “safe space” for women to speak out about sexual violence they’ve experienced if men were allowed to participate.

Ryan rightfully critiques this argument by pointing out how such “women-only” environment would be safe for women who have been harmed by their mothers or female partners, but contradicted herself when she praised the compromise reached between the two groups that would allow everyone to participate in the march, but the rally would remain women-only for allowing some level of participation for trans men and genderqueers while preserving safety for the women in the speak-out. But what happened to the concern for the women who have been harmed by other women? It appears that they were treated as means to advance trans and genderqueer people without regard to actually making the event safer for them.

Amy Barber of University of Wisconsin is writing her dissertation on the various controversies at Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and her presentation came from a chapter that dealt with the festival’s “women-born women” policy. Barber criticised the policy specifically and deliberately designed to exclude transsexual people, and argued that it is problematic to exclude transsexual women for having different experiences or privileged position because women do not universally have the same experiences or same privileged or disadvantaged position. According to her, the boundaries of “women” is fundamentally ambiguous, and any clear boundary regardless of how it’s defined would be insufficient and problematic. So far so good, but she goes on to propose yet another clear boundary of her own, which is that “everyone who identifies as women should be able to enter.”

In the paper I wrote five years ago (“Whose Feminism is it Anyway? The Unspoken Racism of the Trans Inclusion Debate,” now part of The Transgender Studies Reader ed. by Stephen Whittle and Susan Stryker) I used the analogy of the U.S.-Mexico border to illustrate the arbitrariness and violence of drawing clear and unambiguous boundaries. Even though many people talk about “Mexican immigrants” crossing the national boundaries to enter the U.S., but I feel that this whole discussion needs to be thrown upside down.

Chicano/as have been the native inhabitants of the entire southwest U.S. region as well as Mexico long before the national boundaries were drawn, and it was only after colonial invasions and wars that white people seized north of the Rio Grande. In other words, it is the border that crossed Mexicans, not the other way around. If the border has to be drawn there, I believe that native inhabitants of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands have the moral right to cross the border freely to be on either side of the border at any time with or without papers to prove visa or citizenship. But in reality, of course, hundreds of immigrants die from dehydration in the desert when they avoid heavily militarised parts of the border that are easier to cross, and are blamed for their own death because they were “illegally” crossing the border.

Trans people are also excluded, persecuted for not carrying appropriate documents, and blamed for their own death when they are murdered for crossing the naturalised and militarised boundaries between male and female. But I believe that it is not trans people who cross borders, but borders are crossing trans people’s flesh. As such, I argue that trans people have the moral right to cross the boundaries of sex categories and be on the either side at any time with or without medical diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” or hormonal and surgical treatments.

I do not negate the need for “women-only” space like Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. However, if they insist on drawing a boundary between male and female, I believe that trans people can decide for themselves which side they would be in at any given moment. Barber’s proposal is only a slight improvement over the current policy in that it excludes trans people and genderqueers whose identities are more complex than just “woman” without paying attention to the specificities of each individuals’ experiences and identities, and also functions to exclude people outside of the class and ethnic culture in which the concept of “gender identity” has currency (that one “identifies as a woman” is a notion specific to certain class/race segment).

During the Q&A, someone asked about the implication of this discussion in the context of National Women’s Studies Association. Eileen Bresnahan argued that some people in the lesbian caucus feel invisibilised and feel that there is a need for a “lesbian-only” space. I raised my hand and asked: let’s say that NWSA created a lesbian-only space, and which lesbians are allowed to participate in it? Is it only open to “lesbian-born lesbians” who have always been lesbian, or does it include someone who once had straight relationships and enjoyed heterosexual privilege and later became a lesbian? And if she is allowed to participate, would someone who once lived as a man and later became a lesbian?

If someone who once received heterosexual privilege can be included in a “lesbian-only” space, then there is no reason to exclude those who once received male privilege from a “women-only” space. “They are not parallel,” Bresnahan insisted, but the laughter broke out in the audience as they recognised the contradiction in between Bresnahan’s acceptance of lesbians who are not “lesbian-born lesbians” and her rejection of women who are not “women-born women.” I’m sure that trans people and allies in the audience enjoyed witnessing the public exposure of feminist rationale for anti-trans sentiment as hypocritical…