Friday, October 28, 2011

Winnie Small and Julian Real chat about Radical Feminist Lesbian Space and Liberal Het/Trans/Queer Politics

image of book cover is from here

For many reasons, the preservation and supportive maintenance of Radical Lesbian Feminist spaces and political practices is very important to me, as they are foundational to my political work. I am a firm believer in and supporter of Woman/Womyn-only space, of Lesbian-only gatherings, and of Radical Lesbian Feminist work not catering to the needs and wishes of anyone who is not Radical, Lesbian, or Feminist, as life-long Radicals, life-long Lesbians, and life-long Feminists define those terms.

We may note that anyone female, among humans, is targeted by patriarchy as a girl or a woman; part of what the targeting does is mark female human beings as the people who will serve males, from birth to death. This marking isn't primarily textual or abstract. It is done aggressively, with manipulation, coercion, and force. With violence: social, physical, sexual, spiritual, cultural, intellectual, medical, and mental.

These and related oppressive aggressions generate post-traumatic stress, and are sources of despair and fierce resistance both. But as June Jordan has noted, resistance isn't sufficient for those of us working to bring humanity to a more humane place. We must also win. We must also defeat the powers that are so cruel and callous as to insist that it is there way or no way at all. It's a compromised, accommodating life under patriarchy or it's death.

I have seen how male supremacy operates in queer-only and queer-majority spaces. I have also seen how it operates in het-only and het-majority spaces. In every community I've been part of, what I see is that appeasing men and male supremacists is taken as a given--we are all expected to bow down or bend over to the force men unleash against everyone.

Whether the men are het, gay, bi, or queer in other ways, male supremacy is never rooted out by the males themselves, but is challenged by a few brace women. Sometimes a man also "gets it" but this is, in my experience, the exception that proves the rule.

In the last fifteen years, especially, I have seen a male supremacy-denying and terribly liberal-to-conservative Trans and Queer politic come on the queer/lesbian/gay scene, demanding things that most women I know have no institutionally protected right to demand. Especially Lesbians. In queer spaces where there are contests of privilege and power, including of "Who gets to name reality and have their experience matter most", I only see very privileged gay and trans people having that power. Liberal and Conservative Queer/Trans Politics, bound up in unexamined ways with het male supremacist politics and practices, have taken over like an invasive plant. attempting to strangle the life out of Radical Lesbian Feminism, and largely succeeding.

In a patriarchal society where all female human beings are forcefully and coercively required to accept the terms of pro-patriarchal agendas and practices, I will use my own male privileges to demand that spaces be protected for Radical Lesbian Feminism and its practitioner-activists.

Below is a recent discussion I had with a tribade white Canadian young woman activist named Winnie Small. (If you, like me, didn't or don't know what "tribade" means, read on...)

2:31 PM me: hey winnie!
  u there?
2:34 PM Winnie: Hey!
 me: HEY!
 Winnie: :)
 me: I was just typing out a message to you but I'll copy and paste it here! :)
 Winnie: K
 me: I'm hearing from various Lesbians that Queer spaces are increasingly hostile or, well, at least unfriendly and unaccepting of any Lesbians who don't accept the terms Trans people set for discussion and community. Is this your experience as well? My sense is that Lesbians, if radical feminist, are being shoved out of our community, such as it is.

I'm wondering though, what you're own experience with that is.
2:35 PM And, I hope all is well with you, in this very strange and mean world.
2:39 PM Winnie: Thanks. "Women's space" is increasingly becoming women and trans space, and most homosexual women I know (eg in teens to thirties, many in or graduated from university) do NOT call themselves lesbian, but gay or queer. Julia Serrano's Whipping Girl is becoming a bible of feminism for them. (which has useful and correct points at times, but left me going wtf? At other times and contradicted itself all over)
2:40 PM me: How does this effect you, dearie, socially and personally and so on?
  (For me, it just means being ever more alienated from my community.)
2:43 PM Winnie: Identity over reality is taking precedence. For example "female-identified" rather than female or female assigned at birth. Specifically self identifying, eg even in regards to people of colour. So lesbians, females, indigenous people, black folks, etc aren't those things and that's reality, but they self identify as those labels, hence they are.

5 minutes
2:48 PM Winnie: I think it actually reduces the chance for a concrete analysis of power and who has it, how much, and why. Most of the trans folk I know are nice people and I get along with them, but I feel trans theory is taking away our ability to say this group is different from another group, particularly based upon how they are materially treated regardless of how they personally identify. I identify as a tribade and prude and such, but I am still female, and those reclaimed labels are shaped by being a poor, white female. I'm those things because I AM (poor, fab, white) not because I tell myself I am and get validated for my special snowflakeness by others.
2:50 PM (In fact I am a tribade based upon having a vulva, but I digress ;) )
 me: Tribade is a new term for me! What does it mean?!??
  (And I've always suspected you had a vulva.) ;)
2:53 PM I'm increasingly upset by efforts to distance the realities of girls' and women's bodies from gendered experience/identity. For example, growing up knowing breast cancer, cervical cancer, uterine/endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer are risks for one's own life and the lives of other women in one's life is rendered "transphobic" in some spaces, it seems. I don't think growing up knowing one's chest will be a visual and tactile battleground in ways male chests never are, isn't "essentialist": it's social reality. The medical/health and other social/sexual experiences and concerns ought not be turned into sources of shame, if any girl or woman wants to identify those struggles and issues as important.
 Winnie: Care and compassion are really important, but they shouldnt supplant political analysis and ethical discernment. I also think as I mentioned earlier, lesbian in particular is getting a bad rap as "exclusionary" and whatnot. It's not cool to be a lesbian, especially if one doesn't also identify with male-centric labels like top/bottom or engage in roleplaying. Lesbians are supposed to call themselves queer, gay, genderqueer, bi, etc not lesbian.
2:54 PM me: I find there's little else other than misogyny going on among male-bodied people claiming "breasts" are things one has implanted.
  (Don't get me started.)
  What do you think/feel about any of that, Winnie?

9 minutes
3:03 PM Winnie: Haha, I'm always having to explain tribade ;) it is historically used by psychiatrists, sexologists to mean "female homosexual" althlough it comes from to rub (like frottage), and specifically denotes a female rubbing her vulva on her partner's body. Those men, instituting and trying to ensure male supremacist sex (eg penetrocentric sex), applied tribadism and tribade only to the big bad lesbians ;) and tried to erase it out of heterosex. So I'm using it as an actual reclaiming. I even asked my lesbian friends online if I could use it ;) people, mainly females and young gay/queer men, are pushed into dichotomous, hierarchical sexual labels based around penetrative sex and/or sex based on inequality (eg dom/sub, top/bottom), so I'm hell nawwing to that :) it is also a way of identifying within bisexuality as a female who doesn't have PIV. Sorry that was so long
3:05 PM me: No apologies! I'm glad you took the time to take me through the intricacies of the definition--historically and presently!
  May I copy and paste this chat and send it to a Queer woman friend who I've had some discussions with about Trans issues?
3:06 PM I got an email from a Lesbian woman expressing gratitude that I'm speaking out about the misogyny and anti-Lesbianism in Queer/Trans-accepting spaces.
  I'm realising how marginalised Lesbians and Radical Feminists are in Queer spaces/places.
3:07 PM And how male supremacy is taking hold--or is continuing to, in spaces that are supposed to care about women/wimmin.
3:11 PM Winnie: Bodies matter, yes! And menstruation, and avoiding pregnancy, and white men fucking with women of colour and indigenous women's reproductive abilities (eg forced sterilization, contraception without informed consent), medicalization of female bodies (eg healthy uteruses and vulvas as diseased and in need of removal/cosmetic surgery, childbirth becoming a hospital with male doctors who disempower females and deny midwifery and would rather cut into vulvas than massage them (massaging the vagina really helps it to stretch without tearing), etc

6 minutes
3:17 PM Winnie: Yes, you can copy paste this convo. It really sticks in my craw how gender has replaced sex as a basis for feminist analysis and categorization. Gender and sex operate differently, and fab folks experience oppression regardless of how we are gendered or gender ourselves. My view re: trans women is that they are women, but not female. It's not their fault, obviously, but it is different and just as trans theory goes on about lived experience of trans folk, we/feminist theory needs to go on about female lived experience, sexed reality.
3:19 PM me: I don't see why trans people cannot hold to a theory of being trans, cannot own being trans as a particular experience of being human and struggling with gender, without taking from women the term: women.
3:20 PM And, gender is largely economic, not theoretical or social, in many parts of the world. Contemporary Western theories of gender simply don't apply in places where being female and a girl-woman are one and the same political phenomenon.
3:21 PM Winnie: Feminism needs to deal with both gender and sex, and prioritize sex, and work to dismantle gender. Gender was created to help oppress females and consolidate male rule (both males as class, and groups of elite men like men who didn't not just want to have power over women, but most men too), not make people comfortable and fuzzy inside.
3:22 PM me: I won't advocate women changing (for example) "the Boston Women's Health Collective" to the Boston Female Health Collective" as what is done to female people is done to women because they are female and women, both. I see a reticence in some queer spaces to call out the male privilege--and power--that some trans people, and many non-trans Lesbians, wield against non-trans Lesbians who call out the male supremacy of contemporary pro-trans theories and practices.
3:24 PM Yes. I agree with you. The masculinism and male supremacy punishes many people, including girls, women, intersex people, trans people, and any boy or man who doesn't isn't willing to do what many men do to be men, politically.
3:25 PM a Lesbian sent me this link:
 Winnie: Gender is so about material resources in most of the world. Andrea Smith and Silvia Federici goes into that when they say that in order to successfully have capitalism and colonialism, you need to naturalize patriarchy and colonize/capitalize locally (eg Europe had to have witch hunts, organized prostitution/rape/mandated PIV, destroy communalism in order to spread its rule to the Americas)
 me: As one place these discussions are fierce, I guess.
3:26 PM Is that work online, Winnie? Can I link to it?
 Winnie: Yep, how we are perceived, and the meanings attached to it matter ;) sex and gender interrelate
 me: (I mean, is there a link I can publish on my blog, to that work?)
  When it is said that women's bodies are "text" what I think of most is that most women's issues with men is not that men "read" them. You know?
3:27 PM "Text" is a woefully inadequate and misleading term for what men do with women's bodies.
3:28 PM Winnie: Yes! And "rewrite". Wha??
 me: Yeah. Totally.
3:29 PM Has this critique we are sharing with one another been written up somewhere that you've seen, Win?
3:30 PM Winnie: Federici and Smith wrote separately, not together. I just synthesized them lately myself :) caliban and the witch: women, the body and primitive accumulation, and conquest (which I know you know about :) )
3:31 PM me: Yes, the latter I know well. But not the other. Have you written about this anywhere, win?
3:35 PM Winnie: I've written it on fb, including on a closed radfem group. I can copy paste a coherent theory on mah blog. And of course, the domesticization of animals really enabled to then argue that rule over other humans (slavery, genocide, rape) was ok because they weren't really human but animals. And controlling female animal reproduction really set the stage for controlling human women's reproduction. And carries into even now, eg reproductive technologies developed on farmed animals then applied to human females.
3:37 PM me: I wonder which came first, honestly: men controlling the reproduction of what is termed "domesticated" non-human animals, or of women.
  Yes, please do copy and paste and send to me any/all writing on this topic, and please also let me know if you welcome me to publish it, along with your name and any other info you'd like to have with your name.

6 minutes
3:44 PM Winnie: I can put something up next time I'm on a real computer (I'm on a phone). Either tomorrow or Friday. Yes, it is a scurvy knot, figuring it out. I figure in some geographical areas/groups of people sex was the first oppression, in others species. Oppression based on race is relatively new, but xenophobia is old too. But I think their needs to be another othering first before fear and oppression of those in another nation/tribe can take hold. Meaning probably oppression of a group one is familiar with somewhat needs to happen first before of the idea of oppressing (as opposed to avoiding, being apathetic, disliking) an unknown group can happen.
3:46 PM me: Perhaps. I think speaking with people in many different cultures can help us all identify how oppression morphs and transmutes into other forms. And, thank you for sending me writings! I'm looking forward to reading them, and publishing them to the blog with your permission.
3:47 PM Winnie: Did you want the trans stuff or just the origins of oppressions wonderings?
3:51 PM Yes, and looking at lots of old stuff from millenia ago from around the globe, and tracing changes. Oral histories are important too. And reexamining things already interpreted and giving them an in context analysis. Eg things from several thousand years ago are interpreted by universitied European white men and either ignore other possibility or apply racism, male supremacy, etc to them.
 me: Yeah, exactly!
3:52 PM Winnie: For example, art by women is assumed to be by men, one specific case I read, art that was done by women and focuses on happy naked women bonding is interpreted as "revenge porn" carved by a jealous man. Wtf?

11 minutes
4:04 PM me: WTF indeed.
4:05 PM Toodles for now, Winnie. Thanks for being you. <3

4:13 PM Winnie: :) 

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