05 April 2012

RADSCUM: Radical Feminism, Transphobia, & Questions of Fact

(trigger warning: transphobia is discussed)

I've considered myself a radical for a long time.  Fuck the system, break shit, destroy the kyriarchy! Ya know, the usual anti-establishment and anti-oppression stuff.  My friend Kyle used to jokingly (?) call me a "warrior against normalcy."  & probably for good reason, since anything that even hints at normalizing discourse gives me a wicked case of the creeps. I've also always considered myself a feminist.  & when I say "always," I mean, I cannot recall any point in my life in which I didn't claim that label explicitly (I had a way cool mom, y'all). So radical feminism makes perfect sense for me, yeah?  That's what I thought, too.

Now, to be clear, I call out bigotry & hate when I see it (lost four Facebook friends in a day last week over arguments concerning Trayvon Martin), but I do NOT go seeking bigotry out.  I'm too busy survivin' in the misogynist, queer-phobic, biracial-erasin', ableist kyriarchy we got goin' on.  But sometimes, y'all, all too often, in fact, bigotry finds you.

It all started when I joined a Facebook group called "We Blamed the Patriarchy" - an offshoot of Twisty's notorious blog "I Blame the Patriarchy."  I can totally get down with blaming the patriarchy; that system hasn't done good for anyone in, like, ever.  It's been particularly bad for people who aren't white, Christian, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgendered, rich, stereotypically-masculine men.  Which is actually a really fucking small group of people, if you think about it.  For me, feminism is about smashing patriarchy, but in the meantime, the blaming is real important (& also cathartic).

Anyway, someone on the page posted about the glitterbombing of Germaine Greer, which RadFemWorldNews characterized as a "violent attack" by "gender extremists."  (BTW, I sort of like, that. "Gender extremists," that is.  I wanna be one of those when I grow up).  Now, if you didn't know, Greer has done some great shit for feminism; she also, unfortunately, referred to transwomen as "ghastly parodies" & participated in a pretty awful witch hunt in which she outed several postop transsexual women.  So I sorta get why trans-activists would be pissed off, & want to call attention to that.  Now, I'm not going to get into a debate here about whether or not glitterbombing is violent (it both is & isn't; it's complicated & context-specific).  The thing I want to note is that the thread turned into trans-bash 2012. Quickly.  Despite what Twisty had to say on the matter back in 2011.

Frankly, I was downright shocked.  & ya know, more than a little dismayed. But I soon discovered something even more upsetting to me: this is a thing.  there are whole blogs out there dedicated to talking about how horrible transpeople are - & they claim to be written from a feminist perspective.  dirtyboi67 even goes so far as to post pictures & links to youtube channels of young (often minors) transmen, with accompanied commentary about how they are mutilating their bodies from internalized misogyny.  Often, transpeople and allies, including anyone who uses postmodern &/or queer theory, is painted as delusional or insane (both of which are ableist when used in the context of dismissal or insult). some of these women even go so far as to say that referring to someone as cisgendered is anti-woman hate speech. They refer to transactivists as "jacktivists" & "genderschmears."

Now, okay, here's the deal: this shit is complicated.  & it should be talked out.  Yes, the "cotton ceiling" thing is a way problematic use of language.  Yes, there have been some transfolk who have done some oppressive shit.  Just like there are feminists (especially white feminists) who have done some oppressive shit.  & ya know, anyone who is human who has lived in the kyriarchy.  

But what so saddens me is that the argument, really, is at a stand still.  While the material realities of our oppressions continue to make just living in the world a struggle, we're deadlocked. It's not even productive, at this point; it's stagnant.

Let's step back a little.  When I teach my Speech Communication 101 students about persuasion, the first thing we do is talk bout the three different kinds of persuasive claims one can make:
  • fact - having to do with existence, scope, or inherent qualities/definition of a thing
  • value - having to do with right or wrong, bad or good, ethical or inethical
  • policy - what we should do about it
Importantly, you can't move forward in an argument about policy if you don't establish an agreement about values, & you can't move forward in an argument about values unless you first agree on some facts.  Now when I say "facts" here, I don't mean objective Truth.  I mean truth(s).  But until you agree on some of that stuff, arguing value or policy aren't going to do you much good, because you're not even having the same conversation.  This is, for instance, why the abortion debate is so hard; until there is consensus about whether or not a fetus is a person (it's not), we won't be able to agree about whether abortion is moral or immoral (hint: morally neutral), & therefore how the law should reflect that (affordable & accessible is how).

That said, there are some "facts" some radfems espouse that make it impossible to engage in actual, productive debate.

1. Biology is fact/Gender is bad &/or made up.
Biology is a social construct.  Now, before you rush down to the comments section to freak out on me about how it's not made up, hear me out.  First of all, just to start with, while there may or may not be an objective reality "out there," we can only get to it through our means of understanding.  Biology, as a science, is just one such means of understanding.  It has been well-documented that not only are scientific models masculinist, but all the fields of science tend to be men-dominated.  That is, the entire field of biology has historically been a patriarchal model.  The categorization and disciplining of bodies based on their genitalia (although categorization seems to be a human need), is historical fact, and one that biology has only sought to reinforce.  It is what has allowed the regulation of family planning, and justified the dehumanization of people with vaginas.  It was biology that said that women are weaker, more emotional, and inherently nurturing-gathering types; it was biology that allowed for the stereotyping of gender roles. Not to mention, you can't know every person's biological reality just by looking; it's not possible unless you wanna get real invasive with every person you meet.

Categorizing and regulating people based on their genitalia or secondary-sex characteristics is the work of the patriarchy.

Gender, on the other hand, is how we as a culture & individuals make sense of our experiences of living in /as bodies.  On its own, it isn't inherently bad.  Forced, coerced, or normalizing gender roles are bad. Gender binaries are bad.  Gender stereotypes are bad.  Assumptions that one's gender must inherently match that assigned at birth is bad.  But gender as a concept allows us to describe and understand our own & other's experiences & expression in the world.  It's a tool, one that can be used for good or ill, like any other.

This does NOT mean that there aren't material realities, or that these material realities don't differently effect bodies, because they do.  & uterus-bearing people should be able to freely discuss these realities, because discussing them undermines the patriarchy's devaluing of people with vaginas.  But it DOES mean that we need to be attentive to differences in material experience, & careful to mind the gap between the patriarchy's categorizations of bodies & our power to categorize our own.

The patriarchy benefits when you take away people's ability to describe their own experiences.

2. All transpeople have one monolithic theory of trans-being that they all agree on.
Much of the radfem stuff I've read on the issue seems to think that all transwomen are lesbo-phobe rapists & all transmen are self-hating, privilege-grabbing misogynists.  & of course, there doesn't seem to be much talk of two spirit, bigender, nongender, agender, genderqueer, or third gender people at all.

This is, quite plainly, not the big picture.  Some transfolk, unfortunately, do believe in the gender binary.  Many do not.  Some transfolk see transitioning as an act with an end goal; many do not.  Some transfolk value passing; many do not.  Some transfolk really enjoy stereotypically masculine or feminine attire; many do not.  Some transfolk desire to be in & would benefit from women-only spaces; many do not.  Some transfolk elect to have surgery to change their genital configuration; many do not.  Some transfolk elect to take hormones; many do not.

& oh, hey, some transfolk are racist; some are sexist; some are ableist; some are just total assholes.  But ya know what?  So are some feminists. & bigotry of any kind should be called out. Period. Doesn't matter who you are.

"Transgender" is actually a pretty big term that gets used to describe a variety of different kinds of people; it is by no means a monolithic category.

At the end of the day, we're all just making the decisions that help us best survive in the patriarchy.  Sadly, for many transpeople, this means that they feel a very real need to pass, whether they want to or not - because, remember, the patriarchy disciplines people for not conforming to biological categories. (& by discipline, I of course mean bullying, harassing, beating, raping, & murdering).

3. Accusations of transphobia are silencing techniques &/or emotional-manipulation.
Okay, so this one makes me sigh really hard. 

Naming bigotry when it happens is important; it's how we start to undermine & rupture the subtle ways that oppression gets enacted in both micro- & macro-aggression.  Naming sexism & misogyny has been a really important tool for feminists, just like naming racism has been important for anti-racist activists.  Asking transpeople not to name transphobia when they see it is analogous to when men ask women not to call them sexists because it makes them uncomfortable, or when white people tell black people, "Talking about race makes me uncomfortable!"  You're uncomfortable?  Good.  You have been comfortable in your privilege & assumptions for too long.  

As for the emotional manipulation bit, I can't even believe I have to speak to this. One way that white-hetero-dudebros end discussions about how their actions are oppressive is by accusing women or people of color of being over emotional.  Because, in Western patriarchy, logic is diametrically opposed to emotion, & thus, someone being upset or hurt or scared or angry immediately means they aren't logical.  & if they aren't logical, then they don't matter.  Because, duh, (white hetero) men are logical. (That was sarcasm, btw).

See the game getting played here?  No one wins it.

So here's my general rule for this: when someone in an oppressed group of which I am not a part tells me that my actions or words are oppressive, they probably fucking are.  The correct response is to apologize. Sincerely.  & quit being an asshole.

I guess what it boils down to for me is just an overwhelming sadness.  There are way too many things we should be fighting right now - both for & against - to be stuck at an impasse.  But until we sort out our vocabulary, our uses of language, & the facts we are willing to mutually endorse, I don't see us moving on.  & that is really sad.

note: kyle has informed me that when he calls me a warrior against normalcy, that it is not, in fact a joke, but it does make him smile.
edit: i have recently discovered that "heebie jeebies" may be an anti-semitic slur.  i didn't know this, but i sincerely apologize to anyone i may have hurt in my usage.  i have since changed it to simply "the creeps."

22 January 2012

SOPA/PIPA, Megaupload, & the Rhetorical Forum

If you've been following the news lately, checking Facebook, or even just trying to use Wikipedia to finish that first assignment of the semester, it would be hard to miss the recent SOPA Strike, the controversy over PIPA, or the take down of the major file sharing/hosting service Megaupload.  On the 18th, over 9000 (115,000 to be exact) sites "blacked out" in protest of SOPA/PIPA. Participants found among their ranks the likes of Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, Wordpress, and Wired, as well as many personal blogs and webpages - including mine.  The strike seemed to be as successful as could be hoped, with many senators - even those who had co-sponsored the bills to start with - withdrew their support.  Yet just the next day, Megaupload was taken down, their servers and their owners taken in by the Feds, for "conspiracy." Anonymous, of course, retaliated via DDoS attacks (#opMegaupload) that temporarily shut down sites for the FBI, RIAA, MPAA, and others.  

So just what the hell is going on here?  

Well, the short answer is that content-creation industries are trying to end piracy.  To that end, they have a bunch of lobbyists, & a bunch of money to spend, to convince a bunch of old guys who don't even know how the internet works to write bills that would allow them to punish said pirates, & any website they could claim aided in copyright infringement.   Then, ya know, a bunch of people who do understand how the internet works got pissed off & did what they knew how to do: used the internet to make a point.  They did this irrespective of their individual beliefs about the sanctity of copyright.  Then the Feds stuck out their proverbial tongue & flaunted their ability to kill a website at one go.  To which, again, they got a response.

But that's just the short answer.  In order to really understand what happened, really what is happening, we need to understanding what the internet was intended for, what it is, and how it works - not necessarily as a technical achievement (though it is certainly that), but as a discursive achievement. & it's equally important to understand how the enactment of bills is likewise a discursive achievement - that is, incidents like the UK student being extradited over his website or the shutdown of Megaupload do more actual work than the laws in the law books.

First of all, the internet is literally discursive, made up of language.  Or, to be more accurate, several languages, like HTML, PHP, or CSS.  How we interface with the lingual construction that manifests as the internet can be said to be a rhetorical forum.  Thomas Farrell defines the rhetorical forum as "an encounter setting sufficiently durable to serve as a recurring 'gathering place' for discourse . . . the forum provides a space for multiple expressed positions to encounter one another" (88).  Importantly, the rhetorical forum must, by definition, emerge when "there is the potential for resistance" (89).  Furthermore, the forum can only exist as "a web of interrelationships established through the presencing of others" (89).  Farrel writes: "more important, I think, than the actual physical presence of persons in each other's public space is the conscious awareness of each other's presence in the symbolic landscape" (89).

According to Farrell, a forum must have three things:
  • durability and continuity over time
  • accessibility to those who wish to participate, recurrently
  • capacity for the projection and retrieval of messages
The internet seems to fit the bill pretty squarely.  It's a virtual gathering place, or many gathering places, in which social behavior is (re)created, and in which all the things that make up our culture, including our media, is made, remade, exchanged, shared, debated, celebrated, or reprimanded. Specifically, "stable or not, the critical function of the forum is to warrant, frame, and constrain the appearance, shape, and direction of rhetorical practice" especially in regards to "challenging disputes about what constitutes proper authority, integrity, and responsibility" (Farrell 90-91). So then the internet is not just discursive, but also a place where discourse is (re)formed.

And the discursive rules of "proper authority, integrity, and responsibility" in terms of internet behavior are no accident; they did not develop in a vacuum.  

A mock-up of Vannevar Bush's Memex
The idea of linking ideas together starts, perhaps most notably, with Vannevar Bush in the 1940s.  Inspired by the collaboration of scientists and other academics during WWII, Bush found himself disheartened when the collaboration seemed to fade away once the war was declared over.  His invention, the Memex, was one way he believed we could continue to inspire the innovation that came of academic collaboration.  Utilizing what he called "associative indexing," or what we might call "linking," the Memex was designed to aid scholars in sharing information and content, both original, and found (Bush, "As We May Think").  The idea was, essentially, that if scholars had easy access to all of the information out there, & could organize it in meaningful ways, new discoveries would be born from the networking.

This idea continued through the development of computing more broadly, researchers often "stealing" and improving on each other's ideas.  And when the internet was conceived, for the military and universities, it had two core goals: 1) to allow communications even when one node on a network has been destroyed, and 2) content sharing.  We can see these end goals manifesting in all sorts of ways, including a pretty recent TEDtalk by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the browser.  Thus, the spirit of our rhetorical forum has been, from the start, the continuation of communication at all costs, and the sharing of information.  Or, in other words, the founders of the internet were pirates (yes, this includes the government).  

But remember, the rhetorical forum is one that is built around tension and resistance.  Even as users enact this historically "proper authority, integrity, and responsibility" in regards to the purpose of the internet, the content-creation industry has been fighting to regulate, control, and flat-out strip our ability to do so.  Remember the "don't copy that floppy" campaign? 

The problem with their attempts is that more & more, consumers are owning tools capable of production.  We must no longer be mere consumers, but instead, we can make new, remake, remix, cut, distribute, comment on, link to, and otherwise interact with the media that make up our culture and cultural artifacts.  And all of their attempts to make us stop haven't really worked - why, just take a look at this remix of "don't copy that floppy!"  

And what about the laws that have been passed in regards to copyright infringement?  Well, frankly, because of the very design of the internet, they're pretty damn hard to enact efficiently.  Hence the spectacle of one or two high profile cases against housewives & 14 yr olds for illegally downloading bad 90s anime & that one Metallica album.  These spectacles, although sometimes they are abiding by the legal letter of the law, do more than simply punish "criminals."  

Instead, things like the take down of Megaupload, or the earlier transformation of Napster into a pay service,  create an ideological reality - they attempt to change what is considered proper rhetorical behavior in the forum.  Actions like these are a rhetorically savvy demonstration to users that perhaps they should reconsider downloading that song for free (it's not like they weren't going to buy the album on iTunes later anyways).  Essentially, users are being trained, through fear tactics, not to share.  & I'm pretty certain that we all learned in kindergarten just how important sharing is.

What this whole mess boils down to is a struggle over who gets to shape "the boundaries of the rhetorical community itself" (Farrell 91).  Who gets to make the rules about what is appropriate behavior in the rhetorical forum?  Who gets to decide what kind of communication is allowed to happen?

Obviously, we all have a vested interest at stake.  Whether you are a content creator, sometimes (understandably) frustrated by people "stealing" your work, or a user who  helps content creators spread & market their work, we are participating in the rhetorical construction of our virtual space.  And so is our government right now, and the lobbyists who put the money in their pockets, and the people who actually make the money off of content (usually not the artists), and, of course, the services that host the content. 

But, really, it's not about the content.  It's about the creation of our culture.  And really? None of this is new.  It's just in a different place, a rhetorical forum that has taken a new shape, found a new home.  A new home that I'm not ready to give up without a fight.  The internet was made for sharing; it is built on the premise that sharing information & content should be a core value, one that will advance our culture and lead to creative, scientific, & social advancement.  Despite the actions right now of those who doth protest too much (I'm looking at you, RIAA & MPAA), I think the Anonymous responses & the SOPA Strike are "evidence that [the internet's] own constructive possibilities are far from over" (Farrell 95).  Don't let them scare you; this is our space, & we will keep it that way.  We are the creators of our culture.

█████████████ ███████████ ███ ████ ███ ████████. ███████████ ████ ████ . █████████████ ██████████ ██ █████████ ██████████ ██. ███████████ ██████ everything ███ █████ is ██ ████ fine ████ ███ █ ██████ trust █████ ███████ ███ your █████ ████ government.

Works cited:
Bush, Vannevar.  "As We May Think."  The New Media Reader. Eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort.  Cambridge: the MIT Press, 2003.  Print.

Farrell, Thomas.  "Practice the Arts of Rhetoric: Tradition and Invention."  Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader.  New York: The Guilford Press, 1999.  Print.

01 November 2011

Hopeful Coalition: a Response to Dustin Goltz and Kimberlee Perez

Yesterday was my three year anniversary with Sam, my favorite collaborator.  I wanted to write today about our collaboration, our work together in art and scholarship, because I believe that “the meanings we make alongside those we love, particularly across lines of difference, allow us to remake our assumptions and widen our vision of the political field” (Goltz and Perez 247).  And we have done that together, continue to do that.  We challenge each other, push back and forth against each other's ideological commitments within our own commitment to each other, to an US.

Although I think our collaborative narrative is an important one, and I do want to write it/perform it, I can't ignore the larger implications of Dustin Goltz's and Kimberly Perez's work.  We are in a unique historical and political moment of radical democracy in action, of collaborative, collective decision-making and grassroots action.
The social, spatial, and of course political 'occupy' endeavor that has swept through the country and the world started on September 17th, 2011 when thousands of people increasingly agitated by the glaring disparity of wealth took to the streets in New York City in an attempt to publicly voice this agitation.  “Occupy Wall Street” started as a small action in the face of a gigantic issue proclaiming that 1% of the population comprised of an economic elite effectively dominate the remaining 99%.  While the economic validity of this claim is questionable and in no way functions as an analysis of class, it is both a broad and accurate enough rallying point. (The Second Psychogeographical Association)
Our own Occupy Carbondale is 17 days old today.

I wasn't always frustrated with identity politics.  At 16, 17, 18 years old, I was a good lesbian and a good activist.  I went to all the right events, wore all the right shades of purple on all the right days; hell, I even started a Gay-Straight Alliance at my high school.  But when my first serious partner Heather became my first serious partner Aiden, the lines in the sand started washing away.  When she transitioned to he, when Aiden occupied those dangers spaces between the poles of the binary, the lines on the stage of identity performance smeared, like chalk under feet that tracks the movement of a body. The name on my body no longer reflected my body's movement.  How could I be a lesbian when I was dating a man?

Thinking a name change may be just the thing to ease my discomfort, I took up “queer” and kept on with the GLBTQIAA leadership trainings, the GLSEN workshops, the drag shows, the AIDs marches... all the trappings of a good activist.  Then at 22, I started dating a bio-male for the first time in my life, and all the sudden, my lesbians friends were nowhere to be seen.  But I was still queer, wasn't I?  My name hadn't changed this time, just the relationships.  I felt rejected and angry; I felt like my activism had been just another waste of time, just another example of effort wasted in the face of a hegemony that knew just how to divide and conquer, or perhaps just conquer regardless.  “I believe in coalition, I do, but most coalitions don't believe in me” (256).

Academia didn't really help.  “Casting ourselves as authoritative critical scholars, we sing tunes of social justice with deceptive ease, erasing the politics of relation between scholars and the bodies from which and about whom they theorize” (255).  I could see why people called it the ivory tower.  My classed body struggled to learn new middle-class decorum, professional dress, academese innocent of swearing (my native tongue), new time commitments that exhausted and drained, and worst of all, I thought, the armchair activists.  Now I know the “armchair activist” thing is too facile a critique, and I don't really mean it, most of the time.  But “I also experience the gap between theory and practice.  I'm sick of talking.  I want to do something. [...] It's a bias.  I have it.  I'm dealing with it” (253).

Needless to say, I have been pretty cynical these last few years, watching the world fall to shit around me with a shrug.  What can ya do?  I thought.  Put a fork in me, because I'm done.

Enter the Occupy.  I started getting Facebook messages and texts from the former Vice President of that GSA I started, excited messages about a new movement starting, about people practicing democracy and camping on the streets, about the 99% and an end to economic injustice.  Messages of possibility from a person I had loved once.  But I didn't want to get my hopes up too high; I've been let down before by revolutionaries and their protests.

So I found Occupy St. Louis, and just a few days after they set their camp up, I drove up there, with my partner, one of my best friends, and another good friend who I knew would be down for an adventure and maybe an arrest.  That first time, I dared to consider hope again, and the second time I went, I realized that it wasn't a consideration anymore—I had full blown, this-shit-is-real hope.  I was deaf clapping at my computer when Dr. Cornel West said, “Don't be afraid to call this a revolution.”  I was moved to tears by the sound of my voice joining with fellow occupiers as we chanted, “Tell me what democracy looks like!  This is what democracy looks like!”

For so long, we have been taught to hold each other apart, to examine each other under microscopes of Oppression Olympics in which we all come out losers, and some losers get held up on pedestals as exemplars of suffering so that the rest of us will learn to quit fucking whining already.  Even when we reach out, “words such as 'man,' 'woman,' 'gay,' 'lesbian,' 'white,' 'brown,' 'patriarchy,' and 'hegemony' work to discipline and shame us back to opposing corners of the space” (264).

But not in the occupied zones.  The Occupation “resists cooption, heirarchical order, singluarily, and definition.  This endeavor is fragmented, altered, singular, and collective; it is autonomous, site-specific and moves both toward and away from recognized goals” (The Second Psychogeographical Association).  It “bring our differential intersubjectivities together over and across the boundaries of identity politics” (Goltz and Perez 250).  It's strength is in its grounding in relationship.

Though when asked, many people would point to the General Assemblies where we perform the consensus decision-making model as the site of our work at the Occupation, but really it's in all the other things that the work happens.  It's in the conversations we have under our canopies in the cold at 3am, the art we make together, the meals we cook and eat together, it's in sleeping next to each other, and telling stories about ourselves. “Listening to one another's stories is a necessary part of the process of understanding across difference, and thus the narration of self in dialogue, in discussion, in contestation, and in collaborative relation is central to our project/process” (248).
Although the tensions of identity politics intervene in the production of our notions of self and other, a politics of relation resituates subjectivity from the social location of individuals to the relations between them (Carrillo Rowe, Power).  It is a gesture that shifts subject formation from the individual toward the relational, and toward a coalitional subjectivity.  […] In generating collaborative personal narratives, relations shift and potentially open up spaces for alternate imaginaries as we dialogue across points that divide and bring us together. (249)
Our General Assemblies are just the formalizing of all that other work we've been doing, in order to come to decisions we all can live with, situated in our relationships with one another, and our acknowledgment of each other's unique positions of empowerment and disenfranchisement.
The complexity of our relations to one another and to these issues [of economic injustice] brings us together and pulls us apart.  Flesh to flesh, our bodies stand and our stories dialogue with and through one another in an effort to materialize a coalitional subjectivity, an US, through a collaborative personal narrative. […] we hold desire, vulnerability, tension, commitment, and a trust that mirrors standing naked in front of each other, hesitating and exposing shames, hopes, resentments, and biases, despite the fear. (250)
But this isn't really about the Occupy movement.  It's about the potential for coalition-building, and our deep need for it.  “The 'I' has no story of its own that is not also the story of a relation—or a set of relations” (262), and my story of coalition doesn't begin with Occupy; it begins with Sam.

It was in this relationship that I began to understand how coalition-building might work, the daily struggle of living together despite of and in love with difference.  I am a BIRACIAL-LOWERCLASS-QUEER-GIRL and he is a WHITE-MIDDLECLASS-QUEER-GUY; we find coalition first in our love for one another, second in our theoretical/aesthetic commitments... then we struggle to keep building.  It isn't about compromise; if we'd been compromising all along, we'd not have made it three years.  It's about creating something new, together.  Like Dustin and Kimberlee, we worked first as a duo to create, write, rehearse, perform, and live together.  And it was this smaller-scale work that allowed me ideological entrance to Occupied space.  We started with dialogue, and now move to a larger community and enter into poly-logue.  “Many of the problems being discussed [there and here] are obvious to anyone paying attention, yet the ability to address them in public civic space is what is missing from the equation” (The Second Psychogeographical Association).  This is where performance comes in, where the occupation comes in, where my relationship with Sam fits in this larger dynamic of social action and change.  Don't be afraid to call this, our intersubjectivity, a revolution.
It's no longer possible to bury our heads in the illusions of suburban life, a righteous government, the goodness of our people, and the uncomplicated threat of others.  As much as that world is the very cause of so much violence, I mourn this too.  The simplicity I felt by drawing lines, building walls, and letting soldiers I don't know go to faraway places and fight people with no name, face, voice, or humanity.  The world was easier then.  Now the hypocrisy of the ways my head is half in the sand most of the time eats me apart, as the world, which was never easy—but was allowed to seem easy—will never seem so uncomplicated again. (262)
The beginning is near.

For Goltz and Perez's full article:
Perez, Kimberlee, and Dustin Bradley Goltz. "Treading Across Lines In The Sand: Performing Bodies In Coalitional Subjectivity." Text & Performance Quarterly 30.3 (2010): 247-268.  Print.

22 October 2011

Occupy Carbondale: Reflections on a Week

Occupy Carbondale Sign Erected 15 Oct. 2011
What a crazy rollercoaster this last week has been.  On the Global Day of Action, a call put out by Occupy Wall St. for people worldwide to join the movement for economic justice and an end to the corporatization of our government, Occupy Carbondale was begun.

Occupiers setting up camp
After a march of solidarity with the Peace Coalition, we began setting up our occupation on the campus of Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  We chose this location for a variety of reasons:

  • to align ourselves with the current labor disputes
  • to reach the student population
  • visibility at a major intersection
  • access to facilities at the gaia house
  • the campus is a protected free speech zone
The first few days went by without a hitch.  I mean, sure, it was a bit of a bumpy ride.  But forming a new community is always a bumpy ride.  The consensus process is long and messy; it's not a model we are familiar with in our culture of NOW.  It takes dedication and commitment, as well as the willingness to listen, really listen.

We do have a fun little provocateur, Frank, who started the Facebook Group "Being Against Occupy Carbondale." Mostly, he just drives by multiple times a night; noticeably, he only harasses us when he has friends with him.  Among their favourite tactics seem to be playing Rush Limbaugh out his window over a loud speaker, though tonight he switched it up to "What is Love," which was actually a refreshing change of pace.  They also threw a "care package" out of the window one night that included beef taquitoes (YUM!), a pair of panties, a pregnancy test, and Sarah Palin's book.  Of course, we appreciated the "donation," and proceeded to do a sexy group reading.

Though much of the movement is grounded in conversation and process, it certainly isn't as easy as it looks.  Learning how to be with one another is hard work.  We're making up our own rules from scratch, figuring out how to provide for each other, care for each other, and move forward with a new logic of radical democracy.  The conversations are challenging; the people are amazing.  With each passing day, it feels like we become more like a big family - a constantly shifting, growing, and changing family, but a family nonetheless.  I can't lie, much of my heart is occupied with occupy.

Unfortunately, at 5.30am Wednesday morning, the campus police woke us up.  It was about 38-39 degrees at the time, and raining.  They demanded we take down our tents.  Time frame?  Now.  Can we have some time to talk?  No.  The whole day was incredibly intense; I'm still not sure how to process all of what happened other than to say that I'm still emotionally exhausted.  I'm the kind of person who cries when I get pulled over for a broken brake light, and there I was, resisting police directives. Instead of typing the whole thing out right now (I have a shift outside in 15mins), here's a video that shows some of what happened.

In the end, the University is demanding that we not sleep in the "demonstration area" (which they do not define), because apparently sleeping on campus is not allowed... even though there are no rules about sleeping, nor about tents on campus, anywhere in the University Policy.  In fact, the Demonstration Policy at SIUC reads like this:
"The university is a community dedicated to intellectual development by the process of rational thought and to the freedom of expression of ideas and opinions. It is a community that not only tolerates dissent; it welcomes responsible dissent and discourse on the issues of our time. Southern Illinois University has historically stood in this tradition.
Freedom is indivisible, and recognition of this fact is paramount to the maintenance of the open university community. Freedom to protest by lawful means must and will be protected by all the authority available to the university. However, when actions of individuals or groups interfere with the legitimate rights of others and are directed at the disruption of the normal processes of university life, they must and will be resisted."
 In the end, we believe that the University violated it's own policy, especially since the administration used threats of "immediate suspension for students caught sleeping" as a coercive measure in their attempt to make us disperse.  It seems quite clear that their tactics were an attempt to root us out.

In response to the University, our General Assembly passed this statement  tonight:
"Democratic space is a twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week phenomena. A common view of democracy denigrates democracy as something that happens once every so often when the citizens gather to express their opinions via ballots. Occupy Carbondale believes that this perspective is both dangerous to democracy, and completely incorrect. In our experiment establishing democratic spaces, we feel that the activities of life; including protest, conversation, group decision making, eating, sleeping, and working are all vital components of democracy. We believe that democracy is a grand experiment, and we demand the right to practice the creation of democratic space on all public lands, including the activities necessary to protect the health and safety of all of our demonstrators as we see fit. In our current situation, this means that we believe that sleep is a part of the content of our speech."
Their attempts to break us down clearly didn't work.  Spirits are higher than ever, in fact, and we have had more support in the past couple of days than we did in our first four.  We're almost a full week old now, and we're making progress, even if that just looks like itty-bitty baby steps at the moment.

I'm so proud to be a part of this movement, this community, and this on-going conversation.

06 October 2011

This is What Democracy Looks Like

Despite the early, and largely continued, media blackout, I've been following the Occupy Wall Street movement for a couple weeks now, anxiously looking for updates about their progress, and holding on to a quiet and deep hope that the movement took hold.  Truly, it has been too long that the elite 1% of wealth holders in this country ran our government with their money; it has been too long that the remaining 99% of this country has been silenced, stripped of resources, removed from their homes, forced into indentured servitude in the form of debt, and denied human rights.  The revolution has been a long time coming, and the first leaks of information about Occupy Wall Street made me start dreaming again of what this country that I love could be.

Soon, the movement did begin to spread.  Occupy Together was born, and Occupations began popping up all over the country.  (There is even planning happening in my neck of the woods to start an Occupy Carbondale!)  When I found OccupySTL, my heart longed to be with them.  I felt compelled to participate.

And I was lucky enough to be able to attend the protest on October 5, 2011 with two friends and my partner, who joined me for the two hours drive from Carbondale, IL, to St. Louis, MO.

When we arrived at Kierner Park around 4.45pm, there didn't seem to be many people - only about 20 or so holding the space.  Their set-up was impressive, and well-organized, though, and not long after entering the park, someone greeted us, took our donations of water, flashlights, and baby wipes, and told us that most of the group had marched to the Renaissance Hotel, where President Obama was schedule to be receiving people for dinner and a speech.  Of course, though the protest is NOT anti-Obama particularly, it was important to have a presence there, where voices had a chance to be heard.

We asked for directions to join the marchers, and one of the protesters, Jason, who had also been at Occupy Wall Street, volunteered to walk with us there.  One the way, he filled us in on some of the happenings in NY, as well as what had been going on in STL the last couple of days.

Along with the OccupySTL folks, there were also student protesters, and quite a few people hoping just to catch a glimpse of our president.  Folks with signs milled around everywhere, often stopping to take pictures of one another's signs or exchange names.  Several people with video cameras walked the sidewalk, prompting people to tell the camera why they'd come and what they were fighting for.  Fliers were passed out explaining the demands and the purpose of the Occupy Together movement/s, and, remarkably, people engaged in conversation with one another in a public space.

The chanting didn't start until Obama's cars appeared; of course, the President's entourage simply skirted us, electing instead to enter the other side of the building.  But we kept raising our voices: "Tell me what democracy looks like!  This is what democracy looks like!"
I couldn't help but be moved by the vast array of views being represented, but more importantly that the diversity of opinions and ideologies represented in the crowd didn't prevent the crying out of a singular voice: "Hey hey, ho ho, corporate greed has got to go!"

After it became apparent that the president was not going to come outside to acknowledge the protest, or his supporters who wanted to see him, several folks in the OccupySTL group took initiative to ask if people were wanting to march back to the camp together.  This was the first time I saw the decision making process that I remain impressed by.  Instead of taking a vote and letting majority dictate, or simply having a designated leader make the call, opinions were asked for by a facilitator, and then a vote was called.  It was not until consensus  was reached that the decision was made to march back to the park, chanting the whole way to mark our presence.

The park was much busier by this point, occupiers having gathered there when they got off work or school.  When the call went up, "Mic check!" and the crowd responded in turn, "General Assembly" was called.  Signs were shrugged off on the ground, outside the perimeter of the park, where anyone could grab a sign they liked to hold on the sidewalk, or passers-by could read them at their leisure.

Though I don't particularly want to go in to a ton of details about the general assembly, I do want to say that I am even more hopeful, and even more convinced that this movement needs to happen, now that I have seen the cooperation, mutual respect, and commitment to the democratic process inherent in the people gathered.  Not once did I see someone silenced for a dissenting opinion, nor did I feel as though my voice was valued less because I was only a visitor only for the evening.

During this first general assembly of the night, many people decided to run out to hold signs on the perimeter of the park to catch the massive crowds exiting the Cardinal's game at the stadium.  Holding any sign they liked from the growing pile, people lined up on all four corners and the median.  Many protesters attempted to engage in friendly, passing conversation with the baseball fans, and some fans even ended up picking up signs themselves.

Not everyone was so kind, of course, though from what I saw, the protesters were never aggressive or mean in their responses.  Strangely enough, many people seemed to think that the appropriate response to us was to yell, "Get a job!"  Clearly, they were also not at work, so the expectation that we all should be seemed, well, odd.  Not to mention the 10% unemployment rate right now preventing many people from finding a job that pays anything at all, let alone a living wage.

Though there were threats from the police about staying in the park past the 10pm curfew, many of the occupiers expressed their desire to stay, risking citations or even arrest.  Civil disobedience is, after all, an effect strategy.  A local religious leader also offered an alternative outside space in case they did get forcibly removed from the park.  My companions and I, though we could not stay the night, decided among ourselves to stay as long as we could after curfew.  We figured that, if nothing else, at the very least we could add numbers, and hopefully with enough people, the police would leave the occupation be for the night.

From what I've heard, that is unfortunately not the case, as the police did show up at 4.30am on the 5th, forcing people to leave the park.  They returned at 6am, but the latest update I've read on the OccupySTL Facebook (at 1.38am on 6 Oct 2011) says that people are now being arrested, and there is a large police presence (70+ officers).  A few people are reporting online that similar actions are being taken by police all over the country.  I am saddened by this news, but not surprised.

It is my deepest hope that despite the workings and desires of those in power to stifle and stop the movement, it continues and grows.  There is strength in our solidarity, and it is time for change.

15 April 2011

A Performance Script in Honor of Dr. John T. Warren

This is not the performance I intended, but then... is it ever?

The junior year of my undergrad, John T. Warren came to SIUC to teach, and I finally stopped putting off that intro to Comm Theory class.  Most of the semester, a friend and I sat in the back of the room trying to figure out where the hell this John guy came from.  All of the sudden, he was just everywhere.  And he was funny, & damn smart.  He also had this curious habit of using the word “partner.”  He never used gender pronouns when he referred to this “partner,” and never once did I hear him use Gina's name.  Just this mysterious word... partner.  & ya know, my friend & I in the back of the room, we never did figure it out that semester.  We did have a running bet, though, which I eventually won.

More than the $5, though, something else happened.  When, after having identified as a lesbian for 8 years, I started dating a man for the first time, it was John I went to.  “What the hell am I doing?” I asked him.  “Well, I'd guess you're doing all you can do,” he said.

My first semester teaching, I decided to use the word partner.  I'm not going to lie to you, I wasn't exactly thought out about it; I just wanted to be like John.  But when a student told me one day that you can just tell what someone's sexuality is, that ya know, it's that gaydar thing, it suddenly clicked: this little word gave me some space.  And I want to be careful here, because, as Craig Gingrich-Philbrook has reminded me and many others, sometimes this word can both signal alliance and simultaneously obscure privilege, and I certianly didn't want the latter. But in this case, the ambiguity I'd left myself by using this word, like John, had given me a productive site of inquiry.  So I had my students take a vote: what am I?  Straight, bisexual, lesbian, transgendered?  Pansexual?  Asexual?  I made them justify their answers, and in turn, they had to think about, perhaps for the first time, how they were reading my body, my speech, my beingness with them in the classroom.  And I like to think that might have done some good.

That semester was a hard one for me, though.  On top of a personally rough time of things, one of my top students—a young, African American male from inner-city Chicago—got expelled for getting caught with a dime bag.  Another student contracted HIV from her cheating girlfriend, who had also apparently been sharing needles.  And then an A student who hadn't missed a day up to that point suddenly missed two full weeks, including the day he was scheduled to speak.  When he finally came back to class, he stayed after to talk to me.  He wouldn't meet my eyes; he just stared at the floor, tears rolling down his face, as he told me that he had been struggling with severe depression all semester, that he missed his speech because his depression had gotten so severe, in fact, that he hadn't been able to get out of bed, and then he was embarrassed to have to tell me that, so he just stopped coming.  All I could do in that moment was give him a hug, ask him what I could do, and offer him a chance to make up the assignment he'd missed.  

In all three situations, I went to John.  He helped me fight student judicial affairs on behalf of the young male getting expelled; he gave me a list of resources for my student dealing with her diagnosis of HIV.  This third student, though, touched me in a different way, and one night after a class with John, I just started crying.  This A student struck down by depression hit a chord with me; it was like looking into a mirror of my past, the  depression that hit me so hard my freshman year that I just stopped, and didn't know how to start again.  The depression I was dealing with now, in my first year of graduate school.  The first thing John did was give me a hug.  “I just don't know if I did the right thing, or if I, I dunno, maybe I care too much,” I sniffled.  John smiled, “You've had a tough semester, that's for sure,” he told me.  “But I don't believe you can care too much.  Just remember that you need care, too, and it's here for you.”  He stood with me in the parking lot for almost an hour that night.  That's the kind of teacher I want to be.

Skip forward a couple years to my first semester of my doctorate program.  In an ethnography class, we're reading one of John's really early pieces, and the topic of his publication record comes up.  We're all talking about how prolific he's been, what a huge influence he's had.  And out of nowhere, all I can think is, “John moves like spaceship.”  So, of course, lacking in much of any kind of filter, I say this outloud.  The next day, Joshua here, of course, ran to tell John all about it, and he was just tickled pink about it.  I didn't know that he knew, though, until I walked past his office door and saw a post-it with the four words: “John moves like a spaceship.”  

And it's true, you know.  John moved like a spaceship; he was prolific, quick-witted, fiercly intelligent, and always willing to engage.  But for as fast as he moved, as much as he got done, he always knew when to slow down, too, when to pause with a student, with me.  When to take time to show care, and how to create those productive spaces for dialogue, the accidents from which the real work of teaching arises.

No, this performance is not what I intended.  But sometimes, you have to know when to create space, and when to pause, to consider, to be with and among.  This is the kind of teacher I want to be.

Note: this performance took place at the 2011 Central States Communication Association conference in Milwaukee, WI.

21 June 2010


Yesterday, the Ms. Magazine blog published a short article called "No Comment: Baby Gaga" about the parody of Lady Gaga's music video for the song "Telephone" featuring 3 (or 4?) year old Keira as Lady Gaga.  Ms. called the video "near-child pornography" & accused it of "sexualizing little girls."  & just in case we didn't know how feminists felt about the video, they even provided a link to another blog post by a woman named Melissa, who apparently used to work in criminal investigation (which means she has seen a lot of child porn?), & is "very, very white hot mad" about Baby Gaga.  Of this video that she says "blurs the lines of taboo" & "reeks" of child porn, this is what she saw: "A sexualized and disturbing forced performance done by a very small child wearing handcuffs, sexually provocative clothing and heavy make-up."  Here's what I saw:

I would preface my response to the video & the backlash against it by saying, loudly & proudly, that I very much consider myself a feminist.  I am queer, radical, third wave, pro-sex & education... & most definitely a  feminist. 

To be honest, I mostly thought the video was cute.  Both Keira & the little boys (who no one mentions) are adorable with their little toy phones.  & they are wearing more clothes than the Coppertone girl, & even most of the dance costumes I wore for recitals as a child.  If I were going to get into a feminist tizzy about anything, it would be the adult women dancing in the background. But then again, they are wearing more clothes than Lady Gaga herself usually wears, & feminists still seem to find her a mostly good mixed bag, if Ms. is to be believed.

While the media exploitation of children has been an issue for a long time (re: Gary ColemanMacaulay Culkin, or JonBenet Ramsey), I think the bigger issue illustrated by the reaction to this video is our culture of Pedophile Panic.  From extensive study, James Kincaid has traced this Pedophile Panic back to the middle of the 19th century: 
"Anglo-American culture conjured childhood innocence, defining it as a desireless subjectivity, at the same time as it constructed a new ideal of the sexually desirable object.  The two had identical attributes--softness, cuteness, docility, passivity--& this simultaneous cultural invention has presented us with a wicked psychosocial problem ever since.  We relish our erotic attraction to children... but we also find that attraction abhorrent... So we project that eroticized desire outward, creating a monster to hate, hunt down, & punish" (Levine 27).
Kincaid goes on to say that:
"We are instructed  by our cultural heritage to crave that which is forbidden, a crisis we face by not facing it, by writing self-righteous doublespeak that demands both lavish public spectacle and constant guilt-denying projections onto scapegoats" (Kincaid 20-21).
 The scapegoat & monster in this case is the creator of the video, who Melissa accuses of perpetuating child pornography, & Keira's mother, who is accused of prematurely sexualizing her daughter to the detriment of her self-confidence & psychological health.  But who is really hurt by this video?  Psychological studies have shown that "the trauma of youngersters' sex[uality]...often comes not from the sex itself but from adults going bananas over it" (Levine 60). & these adults are definitely going bananas.  B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Furthermore,
"projecting sexual menace onto a cardboard monster and pouring money & energy into vanquishing him distract adults from teaching children the subtle skills of loving with both trust & discrimination" (44).  
Accusing the creators of a viral internet video of somehow deviously sexualizing a little girl to the degree of child pornography certainly isn't helping Keira or the boys in the video learn how to be ethical, safe, & happily/healthfully sexual beings in a culture that does present a number of serious challenges to people of all genders and orientations.  No one even seems to think it necessary or desirable to ask Keira what she thinks of the video, or her young male co-stars.  Instead, like so many other times in our culture, her female body is marked as inappropriately sexual by the gaze of outsiders.

But Melissa does warn us that pedophiles & sexual predators are all over the internet, & apparently the child porn industry is at a booming $3 million worth these days.  What she doesn't tell us is that the "industry" she speaks of is a modern day witch hunt. To Catch a Predator isn't far from reality, it turns out.  The sad truth is that child "pornographers [are] almost exclusively cops" (Levine 37).  Attorney Lawrence Stanley found as much in the 1980s, & Judith Levine interviewed police officers who proudly told her as much in the early 2000s.  LAPD's R. P. Tyler said that:
"now law enforcement agencies [are] the sole reproducers & distributors of child pornography.  Virtually all advertising, distribution, & sales tot people considered potential lawbreakers were done by the federal government...in sting operations...These solicitations were usually numerous & did not cease until the recipient took the bait" (Levine 37).  
 Is this what Melissa did when she was in law enforcement?  Is that why she claims to have seen a lot of child porn?  Whether or not this is the case, it seems like a lot of fear-mongering for what essentially amounts to a federal sting-operation against people who look at digital images in which "the subject is niether naked, nor doing anything sexual, nor, under the 1996 Child Pornography Prevention Act, is even an actual child" (Levine 37).  Most of the people busted have no previous criminal record (39), & most probably wouldn't - the Federal government has found that the connection between looking at images & committing actual child abuse is "contingent & indirect" (38).

I think Melissa & Ms. magazine may have a tad bit of misdirected fear & anger in the case of the Baby Gaga video.  It's a little creepy, yeah, but it's not pornographic.  If Keira is being sexualized in this video, it lies in the view of the beholder, a lens born of our cultural fears about the sexuality of both women & children.

In the end, I think it really comes down to what we define as (child) pornography, & what we'll let "throw us into a tizzy."  Shirley Temple was the princess of panty-shots in her movies, not to mention the 1982 rendition of Annie, but is that pornography?  Only if you masturbate to it.

"No Comment: Baby Gaga."  Ms. Magazine Blog. Web.

Kincaid, James R. Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting.  
Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1998.  

outh Press, 2003.