|image is from the dialog project dot net, here|
Please see *here* for Part 1. Below is Part 2.
Posted and significantly revised on 19 January 2011 ECD.
Julian: Would you like some tea, or maybe some juice?
Lucien: What kind of juice do you have?
Julian: I've got some organic peach juice [checking the fridge], and...
Lucien: I'll try that. Sounds delicious.
Julian: It is! Coming right up. [Gets two glasses, pours the juice, sets them down on something that functions as a coffee table, by the couch where there they are sitting, one at each end, with legs pulled up, soon holding the glasses and beginning the conversation.]
Lucien: Have you been online much since we last met?
Julian: I have, and it's getting more and more bleak out there in cyberland, honestly. Discouraging.
Lucien: What, besides most of the world's news except maybe what's going on in Tunisia?
Julian: I am eager to see what happens in Tunisia and in Haiti. We won't be getting any of the story of the revolution in Tunisia, because it doesn't fit the dominant U.S.'s global story of needing to invade everywhere to protect the world from democracy. In Tunisia they are manifesting democracy--without U.S. intervention! Can you imagine? It would call into question what U.S. military intervention has to do with 'democracy' if the media focused on the news there as much, say, as it focuses on fake news stories about potential threats coming out of countries it has every intention to invade. There are no "evil Fundamentalist Muslims" in charge of revolution in Tunisia to be concerned about. And the U.S. dominant media will never report on the evil fundamentalist corporate Christian conservatives in the U.S. and the genocide being committing here--by the values, policies, and practices of white conservatives and white liberals. So that's part of what is discouraging me: how does it happen that the U.S. media--and therefore its people--ignore genocide happening in our own country? [Pause.] But more power to the people of Tunisia--the women, the poor, the farmers, the activists.
But what's also discouraging is a kind of discourse that I've noticed is status quo in the West for many blogs: it holds a value for outright hostility, and the hostility, for the most part, is directed by people with privilege against people without it; or, in the second most popular expression of hostility: it is directed in very adversarial ways towards people one doesn't have much privilege or power over, but also against people who are not the people in charge of one's own oppression, structurally and socially speaking. So this is the derision that goes from people in one oppressed group to another. You'd think no one had ever heard of Flo Kennedy and "horizontal hostility".
Lucien: Who? [Smiles.]
Julian: Not funny. [Doesn't smile.]
Lucien. You know I'm kidding. You ARE down, aren't you! What's different about the way people are treating each other online? Hasn't discourse been either in the toilet or like a bar-brawl for many years?
Julian: I've been thinking about it because someone once reminded me that the way to engage about difficult co-triggering issues is to build friendship, to build connection, and make sure there's a fundamental level of respect and mutual regard before even "going there" about what might be difficult to talk about. It's an interpersonal, not an institutional model, to be sure, but what I'm talking about is what's going on in an interpersonal space, albeit inside a form of communication developed by and for white men, primarily as a pornography-delivery service, truth be told.
Flo was so right on about the fact that it is easier for people to deliver hatred, disrespect, hostility, aggression, and insult to people who are within our own group of oppressed people than it is to direct it up at those who oppress us. And the non-oppressed, in any given hierarchy, don't really do the kind of damage to one another that oppressed people do to one another.
Lucien: Given some of your posts lately, let me guess what you're most distressed about currently: tensions and insults between non-radical trans folks and cisgender radical lesbian feminists.
Julian: Yup. But... I just came across this other white male blogger who is pro-radical lesbian feminist. His views, to me, so far, seem very, very white. He's cisgender, in a het relationship, had some connections to what he calls GBT community for a while, noting that there was never much value or prioritisation of lesbian issues--I agree with that, by the way. But, as someone who is now in a het relationship, and with middle class privileges, he goes on and on about how trans community is one thing, as if trans people have even existed in community or had only one politic--it has especially never been primarily white or middle class. It seems to me like he's assuming the same about lesbians--at least that lesbian = white. I get why some women of color hold that view--"lesbian" is a particularly euro/anglo term. But lesbian and woman-centered politics, values, and practices have always been diverse, and there's sometimes an assumption that, for example, white lesbian women over the last forty years have all been radical feminist, which is very far from the truth.
When I was young, there basically were two visible dominant groups within an oppressed and also privileged population: white lesbians, which is who was in my community along with white gay men. There were bi women and men too. But there were very few lesbians of color were in my personal social world back then, except through books and going to hear women speak when they came anywhere near where I lived. And fortunately plenty of lesbian-feminists of color were speaking around the country then. So I got to hear plenty of women address the issues most central to lesbian women of color's lives, and they were quite different, with some overlap, to what was going on with white, especially middle-class, lesbians. But among the white lesbians around me there were two groups. I thought of them this way: gay-centered lesbians and feminist-centered lesbians. I can't say that the gay-centered lesbians were less woman-centered, only that they appeared to hold different values for activism or community-building. The feminist lesbians generally worked to build strong activist community to work to resist heteropatriarchal oppression. The gay-centered lesbians didn't seem to hold a view that male supremacy was at the root of anti-lesbianism, but rather that homophobia was. Since reading Dworkin, since reading Suzanne Pharr, I've never understood homophobia as much else other than misogyny, directed against lesbians, bi people, and gay men, and operating to police and regulate the behavior of heterosexual men, as Dworkin brilliantly noted in her speech to men. The challenge for most people is how to negotiate around the violence of men. Of white men in particular, in the West, even though the white corporate news would have you believe white men are not all that dangerous. White het men, as a group, are more deadly than any other group on Earth.
Among heterosexual white women, including especially those in my family-of-origin, I see people who are coerced by circumstance to prioritise the needs and values of het men. And the women give far more than they get, usually, with one or two exceptions in my family. Maybe with one exception.
But among lesbian women who seek out and are part of more urban-centered lesbian community, it seemed to me that there were women who sought to be part of gay and lesbian community, which often defaulted to gay community with lesbians in it. The feminist lesbian women who worked together and with non-lesbian feminists to achieve feminist community and support one another's feminist activism against heteropatriarchal oppression. And so this all amounted to, and I think still does amount to this, for me, when I think about any queer agenda: is your politic, your value, and your practice anti-male supremacist or not? Is it pro-male dominance or not? Is it pro-woman or not? And, how white is it? How centered is the agenda on the experiences of women of color? That's the crux of the matter, for me.
In my experience across communities, anyone--anyone--who takes a pro-woman, anti-patriarchal stance in values, action, whatever, is going to be deemed "a problem" by anyone who identifies with men or seeks to protect men's dominance and privileges over and against women. Gay men had organised against lesbian feminist issues in the early 1980s, and then many lesbians who had been working together with het women, began to take care of gay men with AIDS, men who were dying awful deaths. The gay men borrowed from the feminist women's health movement to develop community-building strategies to fight and to survive. And as many gay men will tell you, had AIDS never arrived, the very pro-male supremacist sexual practices would be going on. And they are still going on, in fact. I think one of the things that gets missed in that narrative is how self-destructive male supremacist sexuality is. Destructive to women and destructive to men. How a sexuality built on objectification, fetishisation, pornography, capitalism, bdsm, and pro-rapist values cannot be sustainable in any population, without oppressing women. And I'd argue a community that oppresses women is not sustainable, or ought not be. There was never much of a connection made between rampant child molestation against queer youth and how the sexuality of gay men developed around that abuse, to value and fetishise many aspects of it. To appropriate anti-mutuality and power used against others. And how completely anti-woman it was, anti-lesbian and damaging to heterosexual women too--those bi men were contracting AIDS from men and were giving it to their wives and girlfriends, after all. How many women today are HIV positive because of that pattern? The solution isn't only to encourage gay men to come out. That's a woefully inadequate solution. We've also got to examine the dominant cultural obsession with penises and penetration as "sex". But, in the 1980s, there the lesbians were, in urban and non-urban communities, to take care of gay men who were dying--men who had never listened to anything any radical lesbian feminist had ever said. And men who had never helped women develop the life-saving systems of woman-centered health care created by feminists and other woman-centered women.
Do you think Lorde's and Dworkin's work was regarded highly by white gay men? Not at all. With an tiny handful of exceptions, one of them being Dworkin's life partner. How many white gay men have even read "Uses of the Erotic"? How many gay men used that one speech and essay as a blueprint for building an entirely different, anti-patriarchal, pro-feminist ethic and practice of "having sex"?
Lucien: Let me guess: none?
Julian: Basically. Right. None.
Lucien: You're a bit older than me [wink] and I don't have the same growing-up experiences you do. I grew up in queer community that was very mixed and while often white majority, was rarely white-only or even only tokenistically not white.
Julian: But what was your own experience? Does the "gay lesbians" and the "lesbian feminists" distinction make sense of your earlier life, before transitioning, especially?
Lucien: I have always found that communities of color do "community" very differently than white, class-privileged ones. Here's the way I see that: white class-privileged people, no matter their sexuality, no matter their politics, seek out the preservation of unchallenged whiteness and white power in their groups; they won't admit this unless they are overtly fascistic. There's a value on a very white notion of "purity" has never been able to be a value in the communities of color I've been part of for so many reasons, most of them having to do with it being a really awful value--a very racist value, and also class privileged, and completely unsustainable. But also because the history of people of color, in the U.S. particularly, but also in many other places, is one of invasion by whites, of rape by white men, and of white men deciding what colors of people get to live and die. So this whole idea of preserving white power, white dominance, and trying to find a pure political group is really offencive and racist and anti-Semitic as hell. I get the value of holding to a radical politic--such as radical lesbian feminism--that is basically disrespected or threatened by every oppressor group imaginable. And I see the pain of witnessing it be so disregarded in what is supposed to be one place where "lesbianism" and "lesbian politics" are supported.
Julian: In queer communities, you mean?
Lucien: Yes. It is damned outrageous how disrespected and disregarded radical lesbian feminism is, and that's not only because it is presented by far too many whites as white-only. But women of color have never been able to afford the price of a political analysis of The Sole Oppressor: men, or patriarchy, or male supremacy, or whatever you want to call it. It's deadly. And it's misogynistic and sexist and all the rest. But it's not the only force killing women of color and never has been. There's that other force we endure or die from: whiteness, white privilege, white power, white dominance. And white women practice it without owning it, and that makes alliance with white women about as fraught with systematic injury and betrayal as any alliance with men of color. And white women, I think, refuse to get that, on the whole. Most white women I know refuse to get that and really have it shape their personal and political action.
In North America, it is usually only white class-privileged people get to choose, with any power and significant options, with whom they associate. From work to family, white middle class queer folks, for example, typically move around to find communities that are "like them". And most people of color are not class-privileged and so we live where we are born or where our parents raised us. Yes, there are people of color going away to college and settling into places where their families are not. But if you live anywhere over time in the U.S.--without moving--chances are communities shift in complexion--all kinds of complexion, and that's not due so much to choice as it is to the forces of capitalism, which is always both white and male supremacist--something the white male Leftists generally refuse to acknowledge. You've got the Leftist whites who refuse to name the white supremacy in capitalism. There are exceptions: Tim Wise being one of them. But you've got the Leftist men who refuse to name the male supremacy as a central feature of all oppression. And so even Tim Wise won't center the experiences of women of color in his analysis of racism because to do so would mean exposing the male supremacy there, in the racism, that Tim has and holds.
So, anyway, in my experience most white activists and bloggers don't have any idea how white their focus and agenda is, and how seeking out community that rejects most of humanity as inhumane, or not human, is not sustainable. It's not that most of humanity is humane. It's that we're all caught in those systems, or disrespect and disregard. And no one can afford it, ultimately. But to pretend that organising with people you can move around to be with isn't a white supremacist value, and isn't incredibly class-privileged is really problematic. Whites moving around looking for inexpensive housing is precisely how gentrification happens, after all. There's nothing else going on that drives out people of color from their own neighborhoods. It's capitalism. But it's the whiteness in capitalism.
Now, I went to check out that dude's blog because you'd sent me a link and it screams "white middle class man"--everything about it screams that--and I suspect he thinks he's saying something else. It's in the level of gross aggression he doles out against oppressed people--so typically male supremacist, for one thing, and so very white. And he's doing it in the name of "feminism" which makes me want to throw up. I used to view your blog that way too--did you know that?
Julian: Not exactly, although we've talked about some issues you've had with it. But I'm not sure I knew you were upset or troubled with the tone.
Lucien: The issue is with oppressors taking a tone that is warranted if someone is crushing you down. You'd better yell if someone's boot is on your neck, until it's on so strong you can't yell at all, or breathe. But you and that other white male--you two are not so oppressed as that. Whiteness and male supremacy don't target either of you, except for the ways that each of you have been non-heterosexual. And in your case Jewish too. So the rage that is there against other whites and other males comes across as dissociated from who you are, and what power you have. And I don't agree with any politic--and I know you agree with me here--that states that men can refuse to be men. Men can't and whites can't, unless the white and male supremacist systems and cultures that maintain both realities are gone. Whites and men can be more or less responsible, more or less self-aware, more or less respectful of those they oppress, and they can use their voices to challenge white men and to support women of all colors. And you do that. You do. I'm not so sure about the other white male. I don't know him at all.
And in my experience, people with race and class privilege--and we know what color of people that tends to be--get to display their rage towards woman they want to in whatever ways they desire to, and they set the bar for how to engage with others, which is in a damned destructive, misogynistic way. It's destructive to women of color, always. This is so blatantly obvious in the blogosphere--when rage is expressed it'll always end up being dumped on women of color. Because class-privileged whites and men are structurally protected from at least some of the consequences in ways all women, poor people, working people, and people of color are not. The life of women, of poor people, and people of color means perpetually living with the consequences of whites and men's actions, including the daily consequence of being shut out and put down for being of color and not wealthy or anything approaching individual or personal economic security. The life of the class-privileged is being protected from some of those consequences too, which means people who are wealthy are very spoiled, and very selfish, often. Very self-centered. Very oblivious and ignorant, while believing they are none of the above, and so wealthy people are very dangerous, really. When white and male, which most of the wealthiest people are, they are deadly dangerous. And financially investing in genocide is but one way that shows up.
But what you're noticing among oppressed people who also are oppressors in some regard, is something I've seen too, and it's in part due to the immediacy of the media--there's no space in which to be triggered and get any compassion for being triggered. We are all getting triggered and are responding immediately without wisdom, it seems. And there's this reacting to reaction that seems to be an endless cycle of community-destruction. That's how I experience it. Most people have lots of good reasons to be pissed off; and I'm not for creating happy people in times of terror. And it's not that we weren't all angry ten and fifteen years ago. Or, well, in your case twenty or twenty-five years ago. [laughs]
Julian: [laughs] Well, yes. But here's the thing, Lucien. My experience of white middle class people is that there's a premium put on appearing to be "polite" to one another especially in some regions of the country and world. In some places more than others. But the value is on appearance, not on anything genuine. So you can do all kinds of passive-aggressive or aggressive-aggressive harm and get away with it as long as it's packaged as polite. The whole fucking Academy is founded on VERY white and middle class values, where cursing out another student is an actionable offence--and cursing out a teacher, well, forget it. Which does nothing to stop white folks from bullying and tormenting each other. This does nothing to stop professors from welcoming sex from students, or initiating it. There's just a silly code about how to do it. Basically, quietly, out of view. That's the media's function, to me: to keep the atrocities committed by whiteness and manhood--perpetrated by white people and men--out of view and with no radical analysis that points to the gendered and raced dimensions of all violence. You may abuse whoever you wish as long as it doesn't cause too much of a commotion, and the public's job and the media's job is to cause commotion about what women and people of color do so that we never really have to notice what white men get away with, as a group. That's white middle class and wealthier society, to me.
Someone, a white class-privileged woman who was a radical lesbian feminist, activist, once noted that lots of suburban neighborhoods were constructed with houses just far enough apart so you couldn't so easily hear the woman next door screaming.
Lucien: That's chilling.
Julian: Yeah. And true enough, no? Compared to working class neighborhoods where houses are often much closer together, or where people are living in large apartment buildings, apartment complexes.
Lucien: Projects. Never finished projects, or always failed projects. I grew up in one for part of my childhood. You heard everyone screaming. Siblings didn't tend to have their own rooms. There wasn't the space and there wasn't the money to buy the space for children to have their own rooms. I think the way projects were built was so that you couldn't necessarily hear or be too concerned about anyone down the hall screaming because there was too much screaming happening in between you and them. Often the parents telling the kids to shut the fuck up, or kids just fighting. And again, there's nothing uniquely Black or Brown about that. I've seen some white middle class families and there's lots of violence there; another little "benefit" of having children asleep in their own bedrooms is that daddy can molest and rape them easier, with fewer people noticing. And the siblings fight and never mend their relationships because their class privilege, the distance they can maintain and survive, means they don't have to.
Julian: Yeah, hence me not having a damn thing to do with my brother.
Lucien: This doesn't mean there's peace and bliss in places where people are crowded together or are confined economically. There isn't.
Julian: But it is important to note, against stereotype, that white middle class parents were and are often oppressively controlling or grossly negligent--one or the other, often enough, or both; ruling the home or busy with work outside the home. Just read A Language Older Than Words by the very sweet white het man, Derrick Jensen, for one horrid example of all that. He's probably my favorite living white het man.
It's not that white middle class parents were "good", or that white teachers in white schools were "good", exactly. School systems and neighborhoods had more funding, and that means something. It means newer text books in which white male supremacist lies are promoted and in which women of color can be perpetually left out of history lessons and literary anthologies, except tokenistically, or as spokespeople about race only. There may be more desks, better infrastructure, and more money flowing in, generally. More resources. So teachers can be paid more, but they aren't necessarily better teachers. Some of the best teachers are the lowest paid. That's always how it is. Another thing about living in white suburbia: it does mean we'll have a police force that doesn't treat its residents like shit 24/7. It means we can think of the police as a force of responsible control...
Lucien: And not constant harassers, bullies, and terrorists.
Julian: Exactly. The simplest way in the U.S. to find out what region and class someone grew up in is to ask what their views are of the police and of prisons. White middle class folks always want more of each, please. Lots more of each, to arrest, charge, and put away all those people of color and poor people. For possessing drugs that white middle class folks do most often at home, and not as much on the street.
Lucien: "The street", in urban places, is a complex community issue. Because if you're crammed inside you need to get out. And if you're in places where resources aren't, there's far more desperation and despair. There's lots of depression. And that, combined with what we all learn about what to do with our rage and pain, means that people are going to suffer, a lot. And not in ways that suburban kids who "hate their life" experience. Where's "the street" in suburbia? It's the thing adolescent males skateboard down, isn't it? Or the place where kids don't skateboard because they're inside playing their on their game consoles. It's what people wave to one another across while mowing their lawns or taking out the trash, or pulling the gasoline burner or cool hybrid into the garage that is attached to the house. And it's not that there's all peace and bliss there. Suburbia is fucked up for its own reasons.
Lucien: But where's the terrorist police force in white middle class neighborhood? And in the wealthier neighborhoods, where houses are so damned far apart you can commit mass murder and no one would know. Those friendly police officers come to specific calls, specific complaints. They treat the neighborhood as "good" and intruders into it as "bad". In poor and urban areas, the neighborhood is considered "bad" and so to is everyone going in or coming out, except white straight dudes who are a socially protected class. So the police have to control the neighborhood, not the crime. The police are part of the crime.
Julian: Yeah, you won't hear many white wealthy people refer to the police as the criminal element.
Lucien: So, back to how people address each other online.
Julian: Right. Thanks. So this white guy is just blasting men the way I used to--and still might, on occasion. And it's not that there aren't a trillion reasons to do so. I'm just noticing, though, that he's not mentioning whiteness much at all. Funny how that works. Not ha-ha funny, though. And what struck me as strange is how he doesn't seem to include himself as "a man". He uses "their" to refer to men. Hell, before I came out as intergender, I'd refer to men as "us" most of the time, even though I never identified with the term, never felt "like a man" and never wanted to include myself in that group.
Lucien: Why did you do it then?
Julian: Because I had close women friends calling me out regularly on my male supremacist shit. So it was never really out of my consciousness that I was behaving as one of them, as a man. This gets into who gets to name whom, and the politics of naming ourselves. I have always felt somewhat entitled to name myself as I see fit. That's often a class privileged thing, and when combined with race privilege, it's like a no-brainer that whites get to name ourselves; and we get to name everyone else too. But, anyway, I was acting like a man enough of the time.
Lucien: Not that you still can't!
Julian: Oh, totally. Totally. Any second, really. Watch out! [laughs]
Lucien: I can handle you. [laughs] You don't mind being called out. That's the only thing that makes you in any way different than most males I know. You welcome being called out. Even if you get defensive sometimes. The only reason I'd be sitting here with you is because you can take it and don't silence women--usually. And sometimes you actually learn by listening! [laughs]
Julian: Yeah, well, it usually takes a while. But how are you saying this works in communities of color, especially those that are urban and poor?
Lucien: We are named. We are named and we use those names against each other in "shut the fuck up, you senseless asshole" ways. There's a killing rage. bell hooks has written about it. It's a rage anyone who is oppressed both institutionally and interpersonally and intimately, economically and socially and psychologically, is going to feel, if they're alive. Or maybe we make these attempts at appropriating the Master's names for us, in ways that seem like we're taking the sting out of it, but I don't buy that shit. I don't think the n word and the b word ever mean anything all that loving. But it's a way to survive that whites don't have to deal with. Even among poor whites, I don't hear white men calling each other "trash" or "honky" in affectionate ways among their own. You'll notice there's no variation of "cracker" that whites find endearing to call one another showing up in lyrics. [Julian bursts out laughing.] For white women, of course, there's plenty of misogynist terms to choose from and I do hear white women use the b word as if women's lives depended on it. And only white middle class lesbians, in my experience, anyway, are re-appropriating the c word. Even the d word for lesbian is used primarily by white middle class lesbians, and by the het men who despise or are jealous of them.
But what I see is women of color--no, not "women of color" but Black women. Black women, calling each other really hurtful names, really derogatory misogynistic names. And the defence is that "I get to". That's not much of a feminist stance and it's not much of a defence, even if it is the case that it's true and Black women have very few people they can get away with calling the names we call each other. But that's a white male supremacist stance; a privileged stance--any value on putting down and taking down Black women comes from the White Man. Few of us who aren't privileged by class and race get to do much without serious consequences coming down on us at some point--and I mean beyond someone else being upset with us, or feeling hurt and horrible. We sure as hell can't call whites the terms that occur to us to call them. We sure as hell can't call men what we want to, especially if they're living with us... if and when they're our fathers, uncles, brothers, and sons. And so, guess who we get to call all kinds of nasty names: other women. Including white women. And Black women. Any woman who speaks out is vulnerable. Any woman who doesn't practice silence is a target.
Julian: And women of color--in my experience I've seen this most often among Black women--are socially ostracised by whites and men, not just interpersonally, like between two people. Also sometimes by other Black women.
Lucien: Yes. It's so sad, so heartbreaking to see us treat each other the way white men want us to be treated all the time. Damn if those white men don't win each and every goddamned time. Winning that social lottery every fucking week. Laughing all the way to the fucking bank.
Julian: I'm not really going to get into that too much--how Black women treat one another.
Lucien: Good. It's not your struggle.
Julian: No. And what white men do to women of color can fill a lifetime, or twelve.
Lucien: You know it. And what white women do to women of color too. But again, that's not really your battle. You know that white European guy on YouTube? That guy who has had a series on prostitution and more recently on trans stuff?
Julian: Yeah, I've contacted him a bit but he's pretty reluctant to maintain connection--like a "good" autonomous white dude.
Lucien: Notice how entitled he feels to discuss whatever the fuck he wants--and with accountability to who, really? Who is he accountable to in his life? How would we know? It's not that I have serious disagreements with some of what he's saying. But get the entitlement to speak out, as a white cisgender non-gay--as far as I know--man, to and about everyone else.
Julian: I see myself in him. I see myself in that white male blogger. It's hard to shut up about stuff when you feel passionately about it and when you see what's messed up. And when you've been raised to feel oh-so-very entitled to speak up and out about everything and anything. No matter what your politics are. Where I struggle these days, Lucien, is whether and when to get involved in what we queer people call each other and how we treat and mistreat each other. Because that is my community and while I've generally been estranged, or feel estranged--that's the deeper truth--I've never not been part of queer community since coming out... all those many years ago. [laughs]
Lucien: [laughs hard.] You and I both know it!
Julian: So what do I do about the fact that white lesbians, primarily, are putting down trans women, calling trans women some really disgusting names, really insulting, intentionally demeaning, dehumanising names? And about how gay, trans, and other queer folks are putting down radical lesbian feminists--many white but not all? Not just putting down radical feminism, or lesbian feminism, but putting down the women, by name. Targeting them, ganging up on them. I've seen this and it's really ugly. There's like two camps and they've decided they each hate each other, or, well, some do, and they pretend they don't overlap at all. And they ignore lots and lots of queer folks who don't fit neatly into one camp or the other. They pretend "queer" means "white" most of the time, for example. Or that "lesbian" means white. Or that "feminist" means white, and especially, especially, that "radical feminist" and "radical lesbian feminist" only ever means white. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've seen white women speaking about the radical feminists they've read and learned from and it's the same damn list of white women: Mary Daly, Sheila Jeffreys, Sonia Johnson, ...
Lucien: I know the list. The "canon". And here's the thing about "the canon": you'd better believe that they have something to say that's important. I'm personally not so much a fan of Sonia--her particular combo of race and class privilege, to me, is just way over the edge. I can't deal with it. That's me. But anyone who is interested in engaging on the issues that radical lesbian feminists are concerning themselves with had better read some Mary Daly and Sheila Jeffreys. But both women have been written off as transphobic, which is really interesting to me, as someone who was radlesfem-identified both before and after transitioning. Well, before, and then after transitioning again. I really don't get the complete dismissal of those two writers, in particular. I get some of us who are trans not wanting to read Jan Raymond's book, The Transsexual Empire, although I wish people who write about her would actually read the whole book and stop pretending she only ever had one idea. It's far more serious, to me, with what's being done to Mary Daly and Sheila Jeffreys. Because to write them both off as "so transphobic that they shouldn't be regarded as significant thinkers and theorists is to not take seriously that white male supremacy--even if they call it male supremacy and don't deal much with race--is hurting all women. And what queer community doesn't care about women?
Julian: You mean besides most of them? You mean women who aren't transgender? My question is what community that includes men and males has demonstrated any consistent regard and respect for women's liberation? Can we even name one? It's surely not the queer community! From drag shows by and for gay men, to masculinist sexuality being promoted as liberation, to overt disrespect for radical lesbian feminist theories and practices, to a centering of civil rights reforms that won't do shit to liberate any women of any sexuality or any race or any class, to not getting involved in issues of prison reform and ending poverty, white gay men's political agendas over the last thirty-plus years are notoriously self-serving, anti-radical, and anti-woman--including anti-lesbian!
Lucien: Yes, there's that! The ethics of how we speak to one another is currently that one only need read a few quotes by anyone whose white and lesbian in order to dismiss her as "transphobic" or "a man-hater". This has been going on for years. And it's really misogynistic and really anti-queer, if you assume lesbians are part of queer community. It's complicated by the fact that the most privileged lesbians in the U.S., due to culture, comprise most of the women who are separatist, in my experience. Only whites, again, tend to try and form groups organised around a value of political purity in the West. The rest of us just have to find ways to stay in community while disagreeing strongly with one another, and fighting the many forces seeking our destruction. Lesbian separatism doesn't really work so well in a community that is facing genocide, for example. And I've yet to see anyone who is pro-lesbian separatist engage that point. At the end of the day, we know who the real enemy is, or ought to! It's not other queer folks; it's not people of color; it's not poor and working class people. And its not cisgender women.
Julian: And it's not trans women either. Other than on the Internet, and maybe at Michfest, where, in reality, is the dominance of transwomen a real social problem? That's an honest question and I welcome answers. Where is the space where transwomen have more power and privilege, more entitlements, than cisgender men who aren't at all trans? A friend of mine, radical feminist, has been calling me out on focusing too much on "trans women" as a problem population. And I think I haven't been clear in stating how I feel. I don't see "trans women" as THE problem. I see disrespecting women and disregarding radical lesbian feminist theory and practice as THE problem, along with Western white supremacist genocide and racism. I understand that many cisgender women with a RLF politic don't view trans women as being respectful of cisgender women, which is to say, women who were targeted as female, as subordinate to males, from day one, throughout girlhood, across adolescence and throughout one's teenage years, through early adulthood and whatever other portion of one's live that's been lived? The question, for me, is this: are girls and women who were once girls, a legitimate political group or not? As defined by those particular, and not very exclusive political parameters--and all the violence that comes to that particular population? We're talking here about over half the Earth's human population, right? And what does it mean that this political group cannot garner systematic--let alone systemic--support, respect, or regard from anyone else?
Lucien: Well, that's true enough. I also don't see transgender people of any gender as THE problem population oppressing lesbians and I know there was a survey done--with a handful of people voting--showing that transmen are considered to be the population to be most destructive to lesbian community. You have to really ignore lesbians of color and poor lesbians to arrive at that conclusion. You have to pretend the world is white and Western to believe that. And you have to not understand how queer community functions in the lives of many lesbians of color to believe that too. I'd say the two most destructive forces preventing lesbian feminism from thriving are these: male supremacy and white supremacy. And the "white supremacy/racism/genocide" problem never seems to make the list of top issues to deal with, among any white people. So how fucking pro-Two-Spirit is that?
Look, most women across the world have many opportunities to gather in woman-only spaces. The segregation of women by men is a global reality--religious and secular, but not so apparent in the white West. But even Western women with children only congregate with women, if we're talking about other adults, during the days, if they are at home in neighborhoods with each other. Many women who are not middle class, who are poor, work in places where only women work, outside of the home. The forces which keep those women from embracing radical feminist politics are not transgender-driven; most people in the West don't even know much or anything about transgender people. Most people have never met anyone who is transgender or transsexual.
Julian: And when that white guy, that blogger, who is so pro-radical feminist, speaks about "trans politics" what the hell IS he talking about? Who is he talking about? Because most trans people don't support a surgerical solution to being transgender. See, it's really easy to make this CRAP sound coherent if you make it incredibly simplistic by never contextualising anything at all. Can he please tell us what and who, exactly, he's talking about?
And if anti-radical, anti-feminist trans folks are talking about is one book by Jan Raymond, then they really ought to consider what institutionalised power is doing to transgender and transsexual people globally. And how much more power over transsexuals that is than one book by Raymond.
And if you're identifying transsexual women and men as the most threatening group to your existence--and we're going to measure that by how much to you talk about it on your blog, then you really are living in a very elitist, privileged world. Go tell cisgender lesbians in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the rest of Asia, throughout the Pacific Island nations, and in Haiti and throughout the Caribbean, across the Americas--all of them, across sub-Saharan Africa, and go tell anyone who is Indigenous, that THE problem is transmen or transwomen and see what kind of response you get! These online theories only hold up if you pretend the world is white and middle class, and is controlled by politics found on college campuses that are indeed increasingly hostile work environments for any radical lesbian feminists.
I support the work of radical lesbian feminists to create a world that is safe and joyful for all girls, no matter who they grow up to be. And I hope that cisgender lesbians have, in short time, far more political support and respect in queer community and beyond it. People who have never had any male privileges, and those who do not have heterosexual privilege, ought to be able to exist as a distinct social population, always well-regarded, respected, listened to, and supported to meet, gather, and live with others from that population without interference by anyone else, no matter how marginalised. Do you support this as well, Lucien?
Lucien: I support all efforts to dismantle white and male supremacy and foster sustainable communities that are pro-Indigenist, anti-racist, anti-heteropatriarchal, and anti-imperialist. And from my own experience in queer community, as a transsexual person, a transgender person, and as someone who is currently lesbian-feminist identified and not seeking gendered identity beyond womanhood, I support the rights of lesbians to gather and work together as we wish. And for women who are not transgender or transsexual to not have to accommodate their actions and activities to anyone who has had, still has, or acquires male privilege and power.
And, that's only one of my battles. Other battles for liberation require my allegiance with other populations--those that are not white, are not class-privileged, and are not Western. I hope lesbians and non-lesbian women with class and race privileges will support me in my work to stop genocide and gynocide of Indigenous, Brown, Black, and Asian women. It cannot be done when whiteness is made to appear, in writings and in other actions, to be a marginal or non-existent problem for women. It, as much as male supremacy, is responsible for women of color enduring atrocities. That the forms of harm may be more institutional and not so interpersonal doesn't make them any less deadly. I'd argue it makes them more deadly. And easier to ignore by those with white and class privilege.
Julian: Thank you, Lucien, for your friendship and your perspective.
Lucien: You're welcome, Julian. I'll take a refill on the peach juice if you still have some.
Julian: Coming right up!
[End of Part 2] [Please see the top of this post for the link to Part 1.]