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Vaginas are not Magical May 13, 2013

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***TW: talk of transmisogyny, sexual violence, and gendered violence***

We need to get clear on something: vaginas aren’t magical. Neither are any other body parts.

An altercation at the Law and Disorder Conference this past weekend has brought to light (for me, at least) an intense streak of transmisogyny in the Deep Green Resistance movement. I wasn’t at the conference, and don’t know exactly what happened – from what I’m hearing, DGR was propagating transphobia and transmisogyny, and their tablers were forced to leave. I don’t have a basis to judge whether the interpersonal interactions that happened were ok or not. I am glad that they ultimately left, as transphobia and transmisogyny are deeply harmful and end up killing people in my community.

In the aftermath, I’ve learned that Derrick Jensen, a central player in DGR, is allying with Cathy Brennan, one of the cruelest transmisogynists in the English-speaking world (for more on Brennan, please see  http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Cathy_Brennan). A report from Bitch Haus shows Jensen applauding statements from Brennan along the lines of “calling women transphobic for knowing a penis is male is misogyny” (http://revenge-of-the-witches.tumblr.com/post/50308488619/derrick-jensen-cathy-brennan-chummin-it-up-here).

Statements like this *are* transphobic and transmisogynist, obviously – denying trans people’s knowledge of their own bodies is textbook transphobia, and transphobia that centers on trans women, like the above example, is transmisogynist. They are also an attack on all women, cis and trans.

Women are not defined by our genitalia or our reproductive systems. None of our parts are magical structures that make science disappear or that define our status in the world or that give anyone the right to judge or control us in any way. Our uteruses do not transform into anti-pregnancy shields during rape. Our penises, outies, trans clits, or whatever we call them, are not trump cards that turn us into men. And our vaginas are not magical status symbols that place us above other women, allowing us to judge them unworthy, unreal, or less female. There is no part of any woman’s body that makes it ok to control, demean, or harm her in any way, ever. Every woman, trans or cis, has a woman’s body. Every woman, cis or trans, has a right to have her body and her decisions about her body respected. Every woman’s body, trans or cis, is sovereign, precious, and hers. When cis women claim some sort of superiority over trans women based on their respective organs, they are no better than the cis men who use myths about biology to deny women – both cis and trans – access to healthcare and equal rights.

I had a sense before this that DGR was problematic, based on some anti-BDSM and sex-worker-excluding statements I’d seen from them several months ago. This is the final straw. I love the Earth and will continue to do what I can in hir defense, but never with a group that propogates transmisogyny. I will not ally with the people who would destroy my community.

Statement by Leah-Lynn Plante for her Grand Jury appearance October 10th, 2012 October 10, 2012

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Please read this:

Statement by Leah-Lynn Plante for her Grand Jury appearance October 10th, 2012.

This morning Leah-Lynn Plante is appearing in court and expects to be jailed for her refusal to testify, as Matt Duran and Katherine “KteeO” Olejnik have been. Her statement is a clear and heartrending account of how Grand Juries are being used to attack, shatter, and suppress activist communities.

Parsley, Tarragon, Vitamin C September 5, 2012

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On Choice, Gender, and Not Throwing Trans Women Under the Bus

Seven years ago, I chose to have an abortion.

Writing this, I hesitated on whether to use that phrasing.  To describe my experience in more specific terms, I was anxious about a possible pregnancy and used an herbal emmenagogue. This is a very different experience from ending a pregnancy that is definitely underway, or from accessing care at a clinic under any circumstances. I have no wish to co-opt other people’s experiences.

I do, however, wish to claim the choice. In many ways, it’s a matter of solidarity; we are in a time when people who have abortions, and people who help, are shamed, attacked, dragged through political mudslinging and used as rhetorical – if not physical – punching bags.  Some part of me (perhaps one of the more self-destructive parts) responds to anti-choice attacks with “you want a punching bag? Fine. I’ll be your damn punching bag.” I chose abortion, not without thought, not without emotion, but absolutely without remorse. Whatever judgement you hold toward people who have abortions, you hold towards me.

This solidarity is the first of three reasons that I am writing this. The second is about solidarity as well, but with perhaps a smaller crowd. At the time, as a young genderqueer person with a trans girlfriend, I didn’t see any stories about choice that I could relate to. I don’t think I’m the only person to feel this way, and I hope that someone else reads this and maybe feels a bit less alone.

So, here’s what happened. My period was late and I felt weird. I was fairly sexually inexperienced and highly prone to anxiety, which made me far more likely to interpret these as likely signs of pregnancy despite having a very low-risk sex life. In retrospect, I think I was also succumbing to that all-too-common pregnancy panic that many female assigned people (especially those of us who are kind of dyke-y) sleeping with trans women stumble into. For seriously excellent discussion of this phenomenon I recommend Mira Bellweather’s zine, Fucking Trans Women (Issue #0), but for now I will just say this – if you are a cis woman dating a trans woman (or somewhere in the neighborhood of that, gender-wise) unlearning this behavior is a really good idea. Standard dyke community sex ed doesn’t cover safe sex with trans women because it tends to be cissexist in general and transmisogynist in particular. You get a lot of “sleeping with women is great because you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant!” The fact is, this is nonsense; some women’s bodies grow eggs, some women’s bodies grow sperm, some types of sex can smack them together, and – depending on what’s going on with everyone’s hormones and how the barrier use is going – all this can lead to pregnancy. This is not a crisis Any community that can figure out how to deal with dental dams and menstruation, sometimes simultaneously, can figure out how to handle condoms and sperm. It is really not that difficult.

My girlfriend, being better informed and far less anxiety-prone, was not worried. Unfortunately, rather than being reassured by this, I decided that the sensible choice would be to worry twice as hard and not talk to her about it.

I had come of age among radical feminist lesbians, back before “radfems” came on the scene and radical feminism was about smashing patriarchy and empowering women rather than trolling the internet looking for trans women to bash. They had given me two basic lessons that applied to this situation: (1) women always had the right to sole sovereignty over decisions regarding abortion, and (2) the basics of herbal emmenagogues and abortion.
The “women’s choice” part of this quickly became beyond useless to me. I wasn’t a woman. In fact, I was significantly less woman than my partner. Did that make it not my choice? That didn’t make any sense; it was my body. I flipped through my mental rolodex, wondering if there was anyone I could actually talk to. My friends all had at least an intention of being trans allies, but weren’t always so solid on the practice. Would they simply recast me as female and my girlfriend as male in order to fit us into the proscribed roles demanded by pro-choice rhetoric? Suddenly, I felt that my uterus was a trap that at any moment could snap up and attack not only my gender identity, but my lover’s. All of that sharing with friends and getting support stuff suddenly seemed way too risky.

The practical herbalism, though, was immensely helpful. While my mind tied itself in knots over gendered morality in reproductive rights, my feet walked to the health-food store and my hands gathered tarragon, vitamin C, and parsley, fresh and dried. I went through the motions of making parsley and tarragon tea, steeped covered for 15-20 minutes, knowing I would drink it every 8 hours. I prepared to slip a sprig of parsley inside my cunt, and chew a vitamin C every hour. You understand that this blog is not medical advice, correct? This blog is not medical advice.

As the boiling water hit the dry leaves, everything became suddenly clear. I wanted to have a child with this woman. I wanted to form a new person in her image with my body. Our child would be beautiful, and amazing, and I would love them with every molecule of my being. And just as clearly, just as strongly, I knew that I had to force any beginnings, any potential, out of my body. I would carry that child someday, but not that day. I’m not sure that I can effectively tell you how deep this feeling was. It was body knowledge, bone-deep, heart-deep, the kind of knowledge that runs deeper than logic or political beliefs, the knowledge that can’t be replicated by any outsider, however understanding and well meaning.

And I needed to talk with my partner. This is not the case for every person contemplating abortion, even those whose partners are smart cool feminist women, but it was for me. When she realized that this was real – at least, to me – she dropped everything and took me in her arms. “All I care about,” she said, looking deep into my eyes, “is supporting you.”

I was fortunate to have a partner who was calm and able to offer uncomplicated emotional support; I think this can be difficult in relationships, regardless of our broader political beliefs. As a polyamorous person with a tendency toward jealousy and insecurity, I find that despite my desire for every person to have sovereignty over their own body and sexuality I have a hard time with my partners having total sexual autonomy. Along the same lines, I think it’s understandable that a person might fully support the right of pregnant people in general to make decisions about their bodies, but have more complex feelings about their partners’ choices.

But the experience of being a female-assigned person and feeling that your right to abortion is fully supported by a trans woman – or by a whole lot of trans women – is not an exceptional one. In struggles for reproductive freedom trans women are always present; always showing up at pro-choice rallies, posting and reposting all those articles and petitions, making patches and t-shirts, bringing a fierce heart-and-soul energy to reproductive justice activism. This brings me to the third reason I am writing this. I have grown up to be a mostly-cis woman, and there is something I need to say to predominately cis female communities: female assigned people have a tendency to see trans women as background singers in struggles for reproductive justice, as allies who aren’t really affected because they don’t have uteruses. This is something we are doing very, very wrong.

It isn’t surprising that trans women tend to bring it for choice in a seriously hard core way. Trans women know about  having one’s reproduction and sexuality tossed around as political footballs and entertainment sensations. Trans women know about being slammed with the harshest judgements and stereotypes of women as stupid, as evil, as people who can’t be trusted. Trans women know about slut-shaming and objectification. Trans women know about victim-blaming. Trans women know about being told that your innate understanding of your body is incorrect, and that those decisions about your body are going to be given to an outside authority who doesn’t understand your experiences and or value as a human being. Even if those decisions lead to trauma. Even if they lead to death. Trans women know all of these things far, far better than anybody should have to.

The specific ways that reproductive and sexual control play out for trans women is not placed in the forefront of feminist activism. Forced sterilization, which typically impacts trans women, women of color, and women with disabilities far more than it impacts white temporarily able-bodied cisgender women, rarely gathers the fight that denial of abortion and birth control do. Trans women’s needs in reproductive and sexual health care are shoved to the back burner over and over again in feminist health care projects, while (ironically) many feminist health care providers work hard to include trans men. Cis-dominated feminist communities might spend a day feeling sad that trans women are murdered by both strangers and intimate partners at a staggering rate, perhaps even realizing that trans women are disproportionately incarcerated and disproportionately affected by HIV. They might even spend a few days or a week on this, perhaps even with speakers and visual aids. But what we’re missing is an everyday attitude that issues affecting trans women are part of feminism to the exact same degree that issues affecting cis women are. We’re missing fury that any woman’s body-sovereignty would be denied because of the way her body is shaped and misinterpreted by patriarchal authorities. We’re missing rage that any woman’s identity as a woman is ever called into question for the same reason.

And instead, we’re drawing battle lines that slice viciously through our communities. I’ve lost count of how many pro-choice essays, slogans and graphics I’ve seen over the past several months that equate womanhood with vaginas and uteruses. As Tobi Hill-Meyer explains, while these are typically thoughtless rather than malicious, they cause harm and spread misinformation. I think we’re building walls because we’re scared and threatened, and I think this makes sense. We want to envelope our communities and keep them safe. What this type of rhetoric does, though, is build a wall that leaves some of us outside, thrown away, exiled into enemy territory. This is wrong. It is not feminism.

It also isn’t going to work. Trickle-down doesn’t work in activism any more than it does in economics. As long as transmisogyny is allowed to flourish, attacks on femininity and gender variance will have a breeding ground. This affects everyone who is female, feminine, or gender variant. We need to start trying to make activism that floods up, that soaks and cradles and lifts up every one of us.

The reproductive rights crisis that we’re in right now is not just about uteruses and people who have them. Many of the specific tactics are pregnancy-focused, but at  the root of the matter are  cisgender men who think they have the right to control other people’s bodies. They think they should be able to control women’s bodies because women are too stupid, or too evil, or both, to be trusted with a choice. They think that trans people barely deserve basic healthcare and definitely don’t deserve respectful, choice-based care. They think that even when an organism is part of someone else’s body, built of their cells and energy, that somehow that other person’s knowledge and understanding of what is going on and what needs to happen next is up for debate and in need of their opinions. They think we don’t know what to do with our own fucking bodies.

We have a lot of work to do: stop slut-shaming, break down the barriers to reproductive choice, demand and defend body-sovereignty for every person regardless of their gender and their trans status. And it’s time to fully include transfeminism and trans women at the center of feminist activism. This means fully including trans women and their partners in sexual and reproductive healthcare and education. It means showing up when trans women are fighting laws that require trading reproductive capacity for gender recognition, and showing up when trans women are being denied transition-related care because some authority figure thinks that preserving their reproductive potential is more important than the care they know they need. It means fully including trans women in projects that support survivors of violence. It means being aware of the huge swaths of harm that transmisogyny causes, and addressing both the harm and its root causes as crucial projects of feminism. It means recognizing that trans women are women to the exact same degree that cis women are – and, of course, that trans female spectrum female-ish genderqueer people are as female-ish genderqueer people to the exact same degree that female-assigned female-ish genderqueer people are. It means knowing that feminism belongs to all of us equally.  It means not leaving anyone behind.

I have somethin… June 26, 2012

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I have something to say:

Trans dyke / cis dyke relationships are real. Your hate can’t stop our love. Not ever. We have always been here, and we always will be.

Two Poems for the Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers December 17, 2011

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Today is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. For more information, and for events in your area, click here: http://www.swopusa.org/dec17/ .

There are two poems I’d like to share with you today. The first is sad, probably triggering, erotic, and sexually explicit; it’s yanked straight out of the experience of being a genderqueer whore. It was previously published in $pread and The Siren. The second is a more uplifting love-and-revolution poem; it’s not specifically about sex work, but I think it’s appropriate nonetheless. I wrote it as a performance piece for a show organized by Lola Broomberg a few years ago. Also, both of them were written to a trans dyke; with all the erasure of trans women in queer women’s and women-and-genderqueer spaces, it is important now and then to make queer trans women visible and appreciated.

Again, if you’re worried about being triggered by descriptions of sexual trauma, it is ok to skip poem 1 (A Poem to a Dyke Like You), and go straight to poem 2 (Love in Action).

~1~

A Poem to a Dyke Like You

he stuck his finger in me
and i tried not to wince
as he shoved through skin that – given a choice – would have said
not today, please
with rough nails and marginally clean hands
tapping my g-spot in just that way
i don’t like
i gasped
in my best imitation of a woman in ecstasy
the sooner he thought i’d come
the sooner he’d knock it off

he shoved his cock into me
he’d said,
don’t laugh, it’s small
god i wish that were true
skin that hadn’t wanted the finger screamed
my belly cramped at the jabs but
it came again and again

he wanted to save me from you, you know
afraid that you were pimping me out
threatened to propose to me
then asked me to lower my rates

you held me close and stroked me
and i am yours completely
surrendered
you read me stories
and let me lick and suck and kiss you and stare into your face
you pushed me down and held me there
and your eyes are glowing
and your smile is shining
you snap on a latex glove
and you ask if i can feel your gentle touches
and you ask what i want
and you ask me how i feel
and make me answer
and i can tell you the truth
you ask if i’d like you to put a finger in me
i answer no
partly because my skin is sore
mostly because i can
and you hold me and i am all yours and i can feel everything and

you won’t slide your finger in until i ask
and you won’t slide another finger in until i’m begging
and you fuck me and talk to me and let me
just feel and just be
and when i want to keep going but need to stop you slide your fingers out and hold me

thank you for caring for me
i feel safe and alive and at peace with you
i want to be tied up and bound down in your love
i want the biggest thing in my body to be your hand
i want to belong to you
i want to be your boy
because it takes
a dyke like you
to love a boy like me

~2~

Love in Action

Please don’t tell me that I’m revolutionary because I’m queer.

OK, we love against the rules, in the face of oppression, but really –

If making out with hot people was all it took, couldn’t we just, y’know, go home early?

Why do I have to spend all night typing up zines and fliers in a windowless basement, all morning trying to scam as
many copies as humanly possible, all afternoon at the rally and all evening staffing the jail support line
Twenty-four hours
When we could be in eachother’s arms?

But
you have to strike a match to burn a flag
and it takes more than dead-eyed civic responsibility to hold a protest sign in the rain for hours while angry white men
in suits scream that you’re the lowest of the low
And who wants a revolution
if you can’t dance?

And maybe that’s it

Because I want you to be able to breathe
and I want to boycott petroleum

And I want to nourish you with organic food from a sustainable garden

And I want you to have work that you love, and good health care,

And I want you to live in a world without borders

or prisons

or war

And I would face down the cops for you any day

Tell me, can you see a difference
between the passion for a lover
and passion for the Earth?
When I love you with the same body that I put in front of S.U.V.s,
with the same mind that confronts bigotry and hate,
with the same heart and hands that carry small wounded animals to safety –

And maybe loving you is revolutionary,

Because what is revolution
If not love
In action?

Empowerment in a Police State June 2, 2011

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I hate watching know-your-rights videos.

I’m glad they exist. I appreciate the civil rights activists who relentlessly pour out their energy, time and spirit to fill this gaping need for skills and information that’s been hollowed out by a coercive police state. I know that education helps people stay safer, and I want as much of it to get out as possible. But I can’t watch simulated police harassment and brutality and listen to rational narration about how the people being violated could have prevented it, gathering tips and absorbing strategies and letting my spirit swell with empowerment. It hurts too much.

Watching violence is painful. It’s triggering. It takes me back to feeling like my body could burst into tiny, glittering pieces and scatter through the wind at any moment while still somehow so relentlessly solid that there is no way I will ever escape this squad car, these handcuffs, these batons and riot gear, this furious cop who in this time and place is the only concrete manifestation of law. It takes me back to bruised friends, friends in tears, friends missing for hours or days or lifetimes. It takes me back to being sure that there was a 50-50 chance that I would die in this holding cell without anyone ever knowing where I was.

And then the narrator explains how to deal with cops correctly, and how if you screw up you will get hurt. Whether it is explicit or thinly veiled subtext, the lesson is repeated over and over again: if you fail these skills when you are tested in real life, whatever violation of you body and mind you experience will be your fault. Whatever harm is done to you will simply be evidence of your failure, because if you had followed the instructions and handled authority like an explosives expert handling dynamite, you would have remained unscathed.

The words of the first feminist self-defense teacher I met stand out in sharp, powerful contrast to this. Before training us in the general theory and practice of how to break noses and kneecaps, she made it clear that any time you survive an assault, the fact that you are here means that you did exactly the right thing. Self-defense skills can be useful, even lifesaving, but core fact remains that in any violent situation all burden of fault is on the perpetrator. All the bad choices and screw ups are theirs alone. However the survivor deals with it, they are already doing more than should be required.

Three days was the longest the California police could keep me in jail without going to trial, and with several van-loads of people charged with various survival crimes and a broken computer system there was no chance of even get me in the same room with a judge on that timeframe. Three days was also plenty of time to think about all the things I could have done differently and obsess over every perceived failure. There wasn’t that much to do in jail: talk with the other prisoners until you all figure out that prison is a concrete manifestation of patriarchy (which, incidentally, takes about 3 years in a women and gender studies program, and about 3 minutes in a women’s correctional facility), make some new friends, line up and walk somewhere, and mull over every single thing that you think you did wrong and how because of your mistakes your friends might be in trouble and you’re stuck behind a bunch of barbed wire. That was pretty much it.  By the time I was released and back with my friends, I was more or less hemorrhaging apologies and self-deprecations.

I think it shows that I had stumbled into one of the healthiest, most oppression-aware anarchist communities on the west coast that most people simply told me that I had handled a pretty much impossible situation just fine, reassured me that everyone else was completely fine, asked me if I was all right, listened to me ramble through marginally linear narratives about the women I had met, and hugged me and held me and told me how glad they were to see me again.

And a few people pointed out things that I “should” have said or done. Fortunately, I had enough supportive influences to adopt an  “ok, if you know so much then next time you can get grabbed by the cops so that you can say all the right things” attitude. Inwardly, though, I hung on to enough guilt that it was years before I realized that almost none of their hindsight strategies would have helped at all anyway. The essential issue was that a cop really, really hated that I was messing with a system that was providing him with privilege and a status quo he approved of, and he was choosing to use every tool available to subdue me.

Still, just writing that last sentence sends me into a spiral of shame, wondering if maybe in fact I did bring it on myself by not being quick and clever enough, wondering whether I am even worthy enough to write this, waiting for someone to deride me for my inadequacies and my inability to acknowledge them. But this is a familiar shame; it is the same feeling that has kept me silent too many times about too many violations. It is a product of a victim-blaming, survivor-blaming culture, and it only benefits perpetrators. It is a hard feeling to break away from, but it is not justified.

We live under a constant threat of violence and we need skills to deal with that, including strategies for dealing with police. And at the root of that, we need an understanding that violence is the fault of perpetrators. Blame should lie with the police who enact violence, lawmakers who approve and at times demand police violence, and a culture that criminalizes the survival of entire communities and says that controlling another person’s body is OK if it is done with legal approval. It should not be placed on the person who did their best while trapped and terrified. When we remember this, we are destroying a lie that is crucial to violent, authoritarian culture. And in its place, we are building strength, compassion and empowerment for all of us.

Hello world! January 22, 2011

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