Monday, January 18, 2016

RadFem. Check. LibTrans. Check. RadTrans? Checking.

The title of this post may be seen as mildly cheeky. But it is also deadly serious.

Life circumstances have kept me offline in the last while. A good friend died of metastatic uterine cancer. She was like a sister to me. And then there were other health issues in her family. The cancer and the treatment was brutal and she was increasingly brave with each passing month. The battle ended two and a half years after diagnosis. I know there are so many people fighting or coping with cancer in some regard. Most along with poverty and additional insults and insecurities of marginalisation and invisibility.

But I'm here today to speak to a few things that have been off my radar, more or less, during that period. For example, I have found that a lot more people across a much wider age bracket use the term 'radfem'.

Due partly to my age, I don't experience 'radfem' and 'radical feminist' as synonyms. I grew up before tweeting and texting when feminist terms being shortened was not usually a sign of respect. Such as when Women's Liberation was turned into Women's Lib.

So in my ancient mind, shortening means going from this: [Content Warning: the second image is stupidly sexist.]

women's liberation movement photo is from here
to this:

blatantly sexist visual is from here

So, no disrespect intended to anyone who identifies as radfem or who uses both terms. Lorde knows I'd have more time on my hands if I'd written radfem every time I wrote out the longer version.

Anyway, I realise that in the last couple of years, the shorter term has taken root more widely. And that's not all. What also seems to have amped up are distressing and awfully bitter battles over terrain and terms, land and language.

Whose land comprises the U.S. of Amerikkka? Will the Federal government or individual States or citizens ever hand back significant tracts and regions of Indigenous land, or does the government remain a land-hoarder and destroyer? Will whites ever concede, en masse, that the Confederate flag is a symbol of white supremacy? That people from Mexico aren't aliens. That Muslims aren't terrorists. Will the xenophobic CRAP that spills out of Dumpty Trumpty ever cease? Will Black Lives Matter?

Does it register that some of us don't have clean water to drink, or reliable access to water?

Will Bernie Sanders become the DNC candidate for president: how would he rule, and make reparations regarding government-stolen land and colonialist-dependent wealth? Will Hilary Clinton be the first white woman to be U.S. president?

Hey: If you want great political leadership in this country, I think Winona LaDuke and Alicia Garza are as good as you get. LaDuke/Garza 2020!!!

Winona, a revolutionary feminist, has pointed out how a curiosity, to me anyway, regarding Anglo uses of the term 'radical', relative to many Indigenist traditional values. That is, from an Indigenist point of view, one may see U.S. government policies as radical, extreme, militant, for decades, for centuries. Genocidal. Seen this way, we can concur that Indigenist feminism is deeply Conservative, but not using the term in at all the same way the U.S. Republicrats do. I read that perspective for the first time many years ago in Talking About a Revolution. We're still waiting for that and are literally dying for it to arrive. Too often, though, it is just liberal talk about terms. Here I go with that.

Digging down and scraping the bottom of the barrel of this blog's archives, from 2008, I found this:

What does 'Radical' mean here? It holds up for me.

What I bring with me as a way to understand any form of oppression are lessons taught to me by radical feminists across race, region, and ethnicity. There are many who deeply inform my thinking and feeling. Among the earliest and most significant are Audre Lorde and Andrea Dworkin. But there more contemporary voices of wisdom and radical knowledge on the scene.

I will bring radical feminist theory and agendas, of color and white, with me as I go, never settling into any perspective or practice with colonial patriarchal Certainty. Andrea Dworkin, for one, never advocated for theory being mistaken for truth. She knew theory could be made into reality--to look, feel, taste, sound, and smell like CRAP. And like everything. And like the core of who I am, which may be why so many people feel like CRAP. And the danger to us, in part, is not knowing whose theories we are living inside, which ones we benefit from and protect, and which we are under and must continue to rise up against.

The more liberal academic side of the sometimes-termed RadFem vs. LibTrans turf war is a contest over theory--issues of gender, essentialism, and privilege. But the social and legal side of it is about spaces of safety and struggle. As noted above, it is clear who is fighting for land and language. In some sense we all are. But not equally.


When I approach any conversation about gender, I first center this question: Whose bodies are marked for terrorism and destruction? What I see is that the bodies, the souls, of those who are identified as female, Indigenous, Black, and Brown, especially, are being terrorised. As they have been for centuries, at least. More recently, it is also Black trans bodies that are marked and murdered.

Corporate media would rather tell us of these horrors as individual tragedies perpetrated by one, two, six, or a hundred 'bad men' or 'rogue cops'. Mainstream media will not report the violence as systematic: patriarchal, colonial. Most white people I know are willing to settle for dimensions of mass media's truth. As are most men. I wonder how many other excuses white folk can conjure to excuse a cop's murder of someone not threatening them. I wonder how many rapes have to occur before it is seen as something men do normally, whether or not most men normally do it. In some sense it should not be surprising that rape happens, even while it should always be understood as part of a complex, involving entitlement and the requirement patriarchies have for some people to be femaled, 24/7/365. It is, tragically, an arrogant and desperate need of too many people for access and accommodation; for violence as violation. For land and language.

I am speaking of a need imposed on others, by human beings who are maled, who are always complex and nuanced in their hirstories and their lives, located in positions of privilege and marginalisation, as most of us are. But the color and sex of normal brutality must be noticed and named. I am mindful, heartful, of the violent disappearance of trans and nontrans Black women, murder after murder. And of the reality of rape culture, and how it is tethered both to patriarchy and to colonialism.

Within white spaces, also always complex and multifaceted, the only L  G  B  T movement I've ever seen as being radical was the L. I have looked to white Lesbian Feminist theorists for keen analysis of heteropatriarchy for over thirty years. Among my fav of those philosophers is Marilyn Frye. But there are many. My most fav, however, is not white. She is, as noted above, Audre Lorde.

The _GBT+ organisations and campaigns which are white-led or coloniser-centered, that claim to be radical, do not appear to me to be revolutionary in theory or practice. This has been brought to my attention in detail quite recently.

In some of the next posts, I will endeavor to carefully and respectfully identify what I find to be politically problematic with a facebook group I have been in as a commenter. It is called "The Conversations Project: Radically Inclusive Radical Feminism". It is welcoming and not supportive of flame wars--that alone is rare online. It has tolerated my very privileged presence for almost two weeks: we'll see who exhausts the other first. Hopefully amicable relationships will be nourished. But unowned intellectual liberalism is toxic to me. And denial of any form of privilege by anyone, as a way of life, is atrocity-supporting. When I see it, I endeavor to call it out, hopefully respectfully and with increasing sensitivity to how my own places of privilege effect the reception of the critique.

The two founders are well known in some progressive circles that contend with gender and privilege. Cristan Williams with Trans/Gender politics. John Stoltenberg with what used to be called Sexual Politics. With the doubly radical title as my guide, I presumed they are doing something radically feminist. In at least two senses, I believe they are using the term, well, liberally.

I have already written to them about my concerns, within the closed facebook group. Projects termed radical that are, in theory and reality, liberal, are nothing new. But the name of the project did direct me to a set of expectations and I was intrigued. I am attempting, in many ways wrongly, to hold them to my expectations. It's an unfair thing to do and I can be a pest about it. They have been kind, and I do well with kindness, so I'm working diligently at keeping my critiques clear of passive-aggression and void of shaming under- and over-tones. That in and of itself is good work for me to be doing in an online or offline community setting.


I will update you, here, on my own issues by noting that I've been continuing to search for terms to locate my sense of myself relative to gender. Given that I believe (I think in a radical feminist tradition) that the subjectivity of the oppressed matters more than the subjectivity of the oppressor, how women experience me is, first and foremost, what my gender is. That means I don't get to control it: the naming. The best I can do, subjectively, personally, non-essentially, while using the English language is "a maled adult". (And, being a good Amerikkkan, I only speak one language.) I'm a white maled adult, nonbinary, with more economic security than most people, which increasingly doesn't have to be a whole hell of a lot; but I have a kind of stability few people have: I can pay my bills on time and have no debt. And, while gay (in this case: maled, attracted to men--very few, but men), I do not engage in romantic or sexual relationships. That means the ways I can harm people interpersonally are dramatically reduced. And, yes, the ways I can be hurt and misunderstood: but that's what the internet is for. Or not.

If we're talking about dominant gender--CRAP-loaded gender--then using a term like 'anti-gender' works well for me. I have been identifying as 'intergender' but as a fierce white Feminist Lesbian called out, doing so locates me, affirmatively, between the poles of a gender binary that's also a hierarchy. That is, such a term, applied to me, reinforces the hierarchy linguistically (her point). I agree. It also pretends that by being 'in between', I may have less male privilege or sense of entitlement than others who ID as men. So, as either trans and cis, or neither trans and cis, and while I don't have heterosexual privilege, and while I'm not of Northern European gentile stock, I am afforded most male supremacist advantages and benefits. No doubt about it. No denial about it. Please.

I yearn for social spaces which share and practice community-enriching, humane values that I learned from radical feminism. Values like listening, self-awareness, accountability, mutuality, humor, and assertiveness. One especially important ethic is radical honesty: digging for the truth of one's feelings and experience, not settling for the views and interpretations of others just because they appear to be mandatory or popular. And not forgetting: we live inside the theories of others--most of whom are long gone, who may not ever have had any living creature's best interests at heart. I leave you for now, with this:
The purpose of theory is to clarify the world in which we live, how it works, why things happen as they do. The purpose of theory is understanding. Understanding is energizing. It energizes to action. When theory becomes an impediment to action, it is time to discard the theory and return naked, that is, without theory, to the world of reality. People become slaves to theory because people are used to meeting expectations they have not originated—to doing what they are told, to having everything mapped out, to having reality prepackaged. People can have an antiauthoritarian intention and yet function in a way totally consonant with the demands of authority. The deepest struggle is to root out of us and the institutions in which we participate the requirement that we slavishly conform. But an adherence to ideology, to any ideology, can give us the grand illusion of freedom when in fact we are being manipulated and used by those whom the theory serves. The struggle for freedom has to be a struggle toward integrity defined in every possible sphere of reality—sexual integrity, economic integrity, psychological integrity, integrity of expression, integrity of faith and loyalty and heart. Anything that shortcuts us away from viewing integrity as an essential goal or anything that diverts our attention from integrity as a revolutionary value serves only to reinforce the authoritarian values of the world in which we live.  —  Andrea Dworkin, Letters from a War Zone, U.S. edition, pages 127-128