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Thinking Differently 3 and also some travel stories

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I’m on the train again from St Austell to Bristol, then Bristol to Newport, then Newport to Bridgend. Where Grandpa Morgan was born in 1905. Yesterday I had lunch with my cousins Dave and Gill Stuart, and their daughter Jenny (my second cousin. I’m getting better at this, I think). Dave is my grandpa’s nephew. In 1907, Grandpa’s mother, Mary (Williams) Morgan, died. He was two, his sister Gwladys was 4, I think. Their dad, John, remarried – a woman named Edith (perhaps the woman after whom my mom is named, but more likely the aunt Edith who raised him). This marriage wasn’t very happy, according to the sketchy family stories. Edith had two sons with John, and a girl, I think, too. Yes. Her name was .

Nancy. I forget the names of the two sons. One of them was Evelyn, I think.

In 1914, when young Dave was 9, Gwladys was 11, their father died. Maybe he was 40. I don’t know what happened to Edith. But I don’t think she wanted them anyway. Gwladys went to Uncle Phillip in London, and Dave went to Tom and Edith Williams in South Wales – Cowbridge? Maybe. That’s where my cousin Alun lives, Cowbridge. [Update–Brynna, they were in Brynna– Katie, David, Tudor and Tom were the cousins]. Alun’s Tom jr.’s son, so my grandfather’s second cousin? I think—I need a chart. Kind of more like a nephew than a cousin is Alun, given that Grandpa grew up with his father. Anyway, so they were separated, Dave and Gwladys. My auntie in Ontario is named after Grandpa’s sister, my Uncle Tom after Grandpa’s uncle, or cousin maybe (it gets a bit confusing). My mom is probably named after Alun’s grandmother Edith, NOT John Morgan’s second wife.

Grandpa had a hard life, and it made him into a hard man. Good, but hard. He was tall, handsome, athletic, resourceful, honest, loyal and had a sense of humour – clearly, someone loved him. But he was stubborn, rigid, had a mean streak, and could hold a grudge. I think he didn’t really approve of Dad. My poor drifty messy dad. I am so like him. Dad, not grandpa. Grandpa’s tool bench was meticulously organized, and he knew how to use everything there. Dad’s was – well – he had some tools, I think, but he didn’t really know how to use them. And everywhere he went, he left a little trail of clutter. Me too!

Dear me. Look at that! We’re passing through these valleys, green hillsides bounded by hedges dotted with sheep in one, cows in another, guarded by gorse and thistle—here’s a field of corn, and a stone bridge we’ve passed under. No wonder Grandpa yearned for this place. He left in 1926, and didn’t return until 1969. His life here, from when he was 13 until he left, was centered not in the valley farms, not on the land, but beneath it in the mines. When he left, he made his way to the Canadian Prairies, a place with few hills, and he came before the shelter belts were planted, before the Great Depression – which means there were no trees when he came, either. Grassland and sky. Mostly sky. He left this lush, wet, green land for long horizons, dry relentless wind, and brilliant hard sun.

Stephanie Davies-Arai was the next speaker – I should have powered through and written this update the day after, because it’s all a bit fuzzy now. Stephanie focused her talk on what’s going on with children. You might know that the referrals of “transgender” children to the Tavistock Clinic in the UK has risen by over 900% in the last few years.

“If anyone had said, five or even two years ago, that in order to become their ‘authentic self’ children would have to take puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones and prepare to undergo surgery – they would have been thought mad,” she said. Now, this is the kind of thing that ‘gender specialists’ are promoting. I have to say, once again, that this is so like the promotion of prostitution. It’s not only that liberals are describing prostitution as a form of labour, they are now erasing the harms that the pimps and purchasers wreak upon the women who are prostituted. Everywhere, women are expected and coerced into subjugating to the entitlement of men to women’s bodies, women’s spaces. If we resist, we are bigots. We are threatened with our livelihoods, our homes, our lives.

Now it’s Saturday, the 23rd. I’m waiting for my cousin Alun to pick me up. We’re going to see my grandpa’s childhood home, and the graves of his parents. Then the Welsh national museum.

Here’s a story of coercion: On Wednesday, when I was in the youth hostel, Christiane from Germany asked Lydia from China, “your skin is flawless, how do you do it?” they are both young women. Lydia is tiny and dynamic, Christiane is tall and broad. Lydia didn’t understand the question, and Christiane said again how beautiful Lydia was, how perfect her skin. I said, “you’re both young, you haven’t had time to dry properly yet” and “you’ll find different beauty in a couple of decades”.

Christiane told us a story (it was late at night) of her evening. She went to a pub with some other young people. A man invited her to go for a walk with him to the beach. “I didn’t go, I came here. I was going to, but then I thought, ‘wait a minute, no light, a strange man, an empty beach – no thanks. We went to another pub and then I just left after a pint.”

She expressed admiration to another woman for her conventional beauty, joking that she herself was too big and heavy to be attractive (she is nearly 6 feet tall). Both of them talked about their boyfriends, and the way their boyfriends touch them – Lydia’s picks her up, he’s as tall as Christiane. Christiane’s makes a big production, grunting as he plays at picking her up. Christiane says, “that’s not very flattering”, and they laugh. Then she tells this story about an encounter with a friendly man in a pub. A friendly man who is a stranger. “you can’t be too careful” she said.

I found it really interesting, in a really-really-angry-almost-despairing kind of way. She was at the same time admiring the beauty of another woman, and talking about the need for vigilance against the men for whom women work so in order to achieve this ‘flawless skin’. We learn very early that we should want to be attractive to men, and we should work at it. We also learn that men are a danger to us, and that we can’t ‘lead them on’ or reveal our distrust—“If I told him the real reason I didn’t want to go for a walk, he wouldn’t understand” said Christiane.

More likely, he would, but instead of getting angry with other men, or about sexist,  he would get angry with her for telling the truth—and he would be defensive and unpleasant at best.  None of us pointed out the obvious dissonance of that moment. It’s always our fault

July 24, 2016 – oh dear. It’s a week after the conference now, and I haven’t got half way through. And we went to St Fagan’s yesterday! And I want to tell you about Welsh Faggots! Not “Poofters”, mind, faggots. The first night in Bridgend, my cousin Alun, and his wife, Sian (who, turns out, has the same birthday as me, November 22) took me to dinner to a little pub in Bridgend. Alun ordered the mixed grill, which was about seven different kinds of meat, a grilled tomato and some chips (French fries). Alun is a tiny man, about my height, (which is really 6’2”, but people keep “mis-heighting” me at 5”3”), and probably I outweigh him by a stone (which is UK for about eleven pounds, or about 5 kg) at least. He has the metabolism of a hummingbird.

I ordered the Handmade Welsh Faggots. Only because I wanted to say, “I’ll have the faggots, please” with a straight face (well, of course, with a lesbian face—which is quite stern). The waiter looked at me a little bit quizzically, as if to check to see if I was serious. I grinned in a friendly way.

They were delicious.

Stephanie Davies-Arai said that Bernadette Wren of the Tavistock clinic notes that little boys outnumber little girls, but teenage girls outnumber teen boys coming to gender identity clinics. “We are absolutely training our boys and girls into boxes that do not overlap” Stephanie said. She showed us side-by-side photos of children surrounded by their belongings, a project of a Korean artist, I think — boys the world over were awash in shades of blue, girls in pink. it was stunning.

While girls presenting at gender identity clinics indicate the presence of other disorders and problems (depression, anxiety, autism, bullying, eating disorders, self-harming behaviors, past trauma, sexual abuse—to mention a few), there is no research into causes of the huge rise of girls presenting as transgendered. And therapists are NOT looking at underlying problems, or possible sources of this alarming increase in dysphoria.

Of course, I think it’s easy – we are ALL “dysphoric” – we live in a dystopia! Really, if you’re gender-conforming, you’re not well. Not well at all.

In Vancouver, the School Board and the Parks Board have lost their ever-loving minds. It is now policy that anyone can go into any bathroom they please. Children in schools can take the name they want, and “identify” how they like, and the school is under no obligation to let parents know. I have absolutely no doubt that had my parents and teachers been as encouraging of my magical thinking as parents and teachers are expected to be now, I would be a ‘transman’. Also, married to my father, and probably dead – because I wanted to be a cowboy, and I’m very allergic to horses and hay. That’s an aside.

Next up, Julia Long, who first read a statement from a woman who is part of a disability rights organization. The statement referred in part to the trans ideology that those who believe themselves the opposite sex are “born in the wrong body”. Which is completely inaccurate and deeply insulting to people who are born with a disability or disabling condition.

Right. The first thing Julia said was “transgenderism is a form of male violence”. I’d never heard that before, but when she said it, a light went on. I have often joked that of course men know exactly what men want in a woman, we can just retire to some tropical island and let them do ‘woman’. But that is not what they’re after. They will still require us to do the messy emotional and care-giving work, while they wear the corsets and heels and ‘perform woman’ with all their entitlement fully intact.

Julia went on to describe how, basing her analysis on J. Galtung’s (1990) description of ‘cultural violence’, and Marilyn Frye’s (1983) description of ‘oppression’.

Galtung: Cultural violence is […] events, actions, threats, etc. which have a deleterious and injurious effect on an individual’s or group’s basic needs being met (survival/well-being/social/identity/meaning/freedom).

This violence is Direct, Structural, and Cultural.

She images and accounts drew from news media and blogs that described how the transgender lobby enacts these forms of violence against women, and reinforce the bars of the cage of patriarchy which incarcerates women in oppression (Frye, 1983). She drew a clear picture of the increasing pressure on women, and especially lesbians, to disappear. We are in danger of erasure by the trans lobby, this is clear.

of course, we’re not going away, though.

Lookit, I’m going to see if I can find Coity Castle today, and it’ll take me at least an hour to get there, and it closes at 6, so I’d best get after it. I apologize for the meandering and tangential mess of these posts – I want to tell you too about seeing Grandpa Morgan’s childhood home (that guy was gender-conforming, by the way – except for his immense talent for growing gorgeous flowers. I see why he got that faraway look whenever he talked about Wales). Oh! And St. Fagan’s! and sheep and cows in fields and roads so narrow that the trees at the side scrape against the car as you drive by, and how people greet you in the shops and on the streets and –

So this is it for now, I’ll post again in a day or two.

traitors

A little while ago, I woke up to the radio announcer promoting a show about writers featuring two women who have turned their backs on their womanhood and rejected solidarity with other women, other lesbians, in order to gain a measure of safety and acceptance and power for themselves. They wrote a book together about their treachery, and are now celebrating its publication.
Of course, they do not see their embrace of gender-neutral pronouns, breast-binding and rejection of their own femaleness (along with femininity) as misogynist. But that’s what it is. The radio announcer said, “Both were raised as girls, but it never really sat well with them”, and then there was a clip of one of them talking about her preference for the (often grammatically noxious) use of the pronoun “they”.
OF COURSE they never liked being girls — I don’t know anyone who did, not really. Some women do like to be girly to an extent — there is some fun to be had in the dressing up part, but god, the pointy shoes, the toxic hair spray, the expectations to take care of everyone everyone — all the children, all the sick people, all the elders, all the men–all the time (and if we get paid for it, we get paid a pittance). Oh, there is so much about being a “proper woman” that is really hard and unfair and painful. And THEN, to add insult to injury, the clothes that women are supposed to wear almost ALWAYS have no proper pockets. And they’re uncomfortable and not as well-made as men’s clothes.
Women are always the ones to make adjustments in order to prevent attack. Carry a whistle, don’t go out alone at night. hell, don’t go out alone. don’t wear the christly clothes that men have designed and relentlessly marketed to us, don’t leave your drink alone, don’t drink, don’t go here, don’t go there, carry this, don’t carry that —
This trans thing is just one more thing women can do to protect ourselves from men’s aggression. Become men, then they won’t hurt us. Then we can also get the stuff that men get — the acknowledgment, the room to move, the attention when we speak, the extra money on our paycheques, the pockets and the sensible shoes. Plus, because men are not trained to pay attention to others as much as women are, they won’t likely notice the female in the locker room. If they do, though, they’ll be pissed. And they’re much more dangerous than are other women (which we know of course, that’s why we do all this elaborate stuff to avoid their wrath).
So there. a couple women who are a bit safer. And they can say, “we’ve never been women, we have always been men” because they didn’t feel comfortable conforming to the feminine gender. Meanwhile, all the other women, (who are ALSO uncomfortable conforming to the feminine gender, by the way), are left in the same rigid social constructs that benefit men (materially, certainly, though the cost to their humanity is great–if they only knew). They’re still cooking most of the meals, changing most of the diapers, making less of the money, and packing themselves and their kids off to transition houses when Prince Charming goes off the rails (again). But our heroes are brave and transgressing binaries by I-dentifying as masculine-ish “theys”. Thereby leading the way.
leading the way backwards. “You’re right,” their ‘choice’ tells everyone, “you’ve been right all along, being a woman is less than being a man. Women are, yes, weaker, dumber, and less important than men”.
If you are female and troubled because you are not allowed to take up your share of public space — don’t bother with all that messy, uncomfortable, complicated political organizing or rape crisis work, or trying to change the gendered, racist, capitalist systems that keep us apart from each other, that increase the pressure of the boot on the necks of our sisters and aunties and neighbours — don’t bother with all that. Bind your breasts, pitch your voice a bit deeper, call yourself Stefan or Logan (Do they ever pick names like Marion or Leslie or even Bill or Roger?) and be a man.
That’s why I call what they’re doing treachery. They can (kind of, almost) pass, and they have race and class on their side, too — they’re using all this to get a bit more for themselves. They’re not doing jackshit to change the conditions of other women’s lives — it’s such an unimaginative solution to women’s oppression*. Building solidarity and organizing politically with other women is really hard and messy and frustrating — but if it wasn’t for the work of women before us, we would not have the vote, or pants, or transition houses or laws that criminalize rape, or access to abortion or credit cards (a dubious benefit, to be sure) or literacy or—
Now i want to be clear — i don’t give a rats ass if they, or any woman, wants to take on a male name, and wear their jeans with the crotch at the knees like the boys do, and take up welding — what really burns my ass is the denial of their femaleness. Why do they not say, “We didn’t like what was expected of girls so we decided to change those expectations for girls”? Why not look around, see where the holes in the walls are, and hammer away at it to make space for other women too? I guess ’cause it’s easier to do the individual thing, and adjust your own behaviour than it is to look for where we benefit, too, and address the contradictions and take responsibility–
Those two, it’s not entirely their fault, their betrayal of women — and i don’t think they’ve chosen an easy road — no woman’s road is easy, well, not many — but the road of the ‘passing for male’ is I think easier. I think it’s kind of comforting for the powerful when the oppressed do something like this, conform to the existing social structures — they’re not rebelling or making waves, they’re just sliding in to a different part of the structure. It’s easier for everyone that way. Except for those who are already on the bottom. Their burden, then, becomes a bit heavier.

 

*I know there are some trans people who are involved in some political organizing — of course there are — and even some who are gender-critical and working with others to dismantle sexism, address class inequality and interfere with systemic racism — what i am most concerned with here is their utter disrespect for femaleness, and their seeming acceptance of the taken for granted assumptions that patriarchy makes about our ‘essential’ qualities.

Holy smokes, it’s 2014 now! I began this post in the spring of 2013, I think. Just noodling away while my right foot healed from bunion surgery. Now I’m still a lesbian, but my right big toe is straight! I’ll just let this post stand as I’ve written it, but by bit over the past number of months, a sentence here, a paragraph there, write, delete, write, save draft, move on…here ya go:
In part, I’m not posting on account of I have this dissertation to finish. Most of my cohort has graduated now. Two others, like me, are not yet done, but both of them lost their mothers early in our program, and took a leave to help with their care and after. They have also added children to their families, as have most of the rest of my cohort. I don’t know how they do it — babies and jobs and publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals and teaching classes and presenting at conferences and ‘networking’ and then they all got academic jobs before or when they finished.
Then there’s me. Not getting a hair cut ’till i’m finished at least a full draft. hair’s pretty long. tangled and wild, just like the inside of my head. I am now working on my THIRD draft, but I didn’t get my hair cut because Mom wanted to brush it when I went home for Christmas. Plus, to tell the truth, now I kinda like it…and as I said, it is a fairly true representation of the knots and split ends and tangles my thinking often is — Harm reduction, women’s liberation, prostitution, front-line work, activism, law enforcement, legislation, compassion, education, learning and thinking and practice and theory — whose voice counts and for what? I have it, i have it all right here, but it’s still in piles or shards, and the finish line is shimmering in the distance like a mirage on the broad desert of libertarian individualism– choice, agency, consent, voice, sexwork, oppression, justice — what the hell do the proponents of legitimating prostitution mean by “justice” or “choice” when they argue for legal brothels? What do the women on the front-lines of feminist anti-violence work, or street-based health care, or social service advocacy mean when they talk about the application or meaning or uses or harms of harm reduction? How do we meet each other where we are, how do we see through the fog and cacophony of “best practices” and “evidence-based” and “respect for their choices–constrained though they may be” and hang on to each other as we look together for a way out?
It’s so easy to go off in several directions, and then i get kinda stuck and end up–well, here, fiddling with yet another draft of yet another blog post that I may not even post at all.  fits and starts, fits and starts. story of my life…
There are always reasons that i’m not done yet. Death, birthdays, grieving, celebration, work, love, fighting, worrying, fretting over this and that–but not delving, you know? not flinging myself wholly into one thing or another– just falling into the messiness of everything and thrashing about. There’s a difference. Falling in, you just get all covered in mess, and it takes a long time of kicking and flailing and sinking to make sense of it. Sometimes you only get covered in ick.
Purposefully leaping in, on the other hand, means you have to look where you’re leaping–even if you don’t see IT exactly, you know the spot to aim for. It’s good, too, to know to dive–close your eyes, tuck your head, raise your arms above your head, palms together, your body a spring–you’ve been training for this, you know what to do–once you’re in the air you have to have faith– and never lose your focus or your nerve.
One of my mentors (I have a few, most have come to me from surprising places) said to me, “Well, you have been dealing with a deadly disease, after all, don’t underestimate how hard that is”. I had, of course. Underestimated, that is, — how hard it is to figure out how to live as fully human after twenty years of hiding inside a case of beer (I preferred good single-malt scotch, of course, but it’s more expensive. And in truth it’s wasted on me. I would just chug it anyway).  There is NO WAY I would be where I am now were I still drinking. No way. Even though I think I’ve had a pretty smooth road, I have indeed worked pretty hard over the last nearly six years just on living sober. I go to these meetings, and I write about my resentments and anxiety and my part in it all, and talk to other women who “go to my church” so to speak, and I ask for help and I help others and I do things that I don’t want to do like pray and meditate (I’m an atheist, but I know I’m not alone. I don’t understand a whole bunch of stuff, so if I talk about it to my grandma, or to my dad or to ancestors who’ve gone before me, and then just shut up and sit still for a bit, an answer will come). So, you know, that’s a lot of talking and listening and writing and doing that just gets me to zero, right? It just gets me to where most people who aren’t addicted begin.
Of course I am still critical. I always chicken out at the last minute. I start, I train, i write, I read, i take my pen and my paper, my books right there, the notes from discussions there, the timer set and — “oh, one game of solitaire won’t hurt” — then before you know it, it’s gone from solitaire to email to that video about [‘well, it’s kind of related to my research…]  to Angry Birds (dear god, what have I become?) — and by the time i pick up my pen again, or open the file on my computer, I’ve lost my nerve. I have to prepare again, breathe deep, review my notes, set the timer — On bad days, I’m covered with ick, have cleared two levels or won three out of umpteen games of solitaire, read two or three articles about whatever, answered the phone, written three emails, checked my email 235.3 times, and —
on good days, all that, plus written one five-sentence paragraph. it’s exhausting. The self-trashing alone–i tell you…
It’s time i learned, though. There are three things in my life that I have to dive into with my whole self–One is living sober. I can’t do jack about anything else if i’m hammered or obsessing about altering my consciousness. I can do anything if i’m staying sober and helping others achieve sobriety. Anything.
One is my dissertation, and what the hell to do with it after — i must not let it gather dust on a shelf–or whatever the digital equivalent of that is—i’m sure it has something to offer, and sixteen women told me the truth about their lives and work–The PhD, jesus. it’s so intimidating.
And one is my, um, primary intimate relationship. I’m not sure what exactly to call it–‘partner ship’ sounds kinda too much like business, ‘love affair’ doesn’t sound committed or serious enough, and ‘relationship’ isn’t specific enough. We’re friends, lovers, political allies, family, home — and in all that sometimes comfort, sometimes discomfort — it’s a journey and a place–a project and a lifework–it’s play and solace and sometimes it’s not — and she has children, too, two happy, healthy, confident and beautiful boys. I think they will grow up to be good men, even with all the pressure to become gendered (and they are that too, of course), but because of their mother and her friends, and their father’s devotion to them, they will always know who they are—and what they can achieve.
We had a deal for the first two years that we would not, during disagreements or fights, go to the “let’s just break up” option. We could revisit the agreement to be together around our anniversary date, make a new deal or keep the same one. Of course some painful stuff has come up, we have had hard moments so far. So it was comforting to have that agreement– it meant that we wouldn’t go to that in haste, we’d evaluate other options first. We don’t have that deal anymore, it was important when we made it, but we have to come up with something different now, more nuanced—something that accounts for what we’ve learned about how we are together and what we understand now about each other. It’s hard work this. I don’t mind (mostly). It’s sometimes a bit, well, anxiety-provoking and difficult — but so are most worthwhile commitments and adventures. She is brilliant and funny, impatient and demanding, she has really good politics (that’s hot), she’s uncompromising and generous, disciplined and impulsive, fiercely loyal and tenacious – she won’t give up on me IF I never give up. I love being with her. She is absolutely worth the work I have to do to be open, compassionate, thoughtful, generous and gracious.
Sometimes, even knowing that, I fail. I’m impetuous and petulant, sometimes lazy, defensive, liberal, self-seeking, thoughtless. I am learning, though, however slowly. All three of those big important things are all about learning and putting what i’ve learned to practice. Trying and failing and learning and trying again and succeeding and asking for help and…

non-sequiter coming right up–
I had a meeting with my committee recently, and when we started up, the first thing i did was cry. It wasn’t because i was afraid of what they would say about the six chapters i’d sent them. I worried they would say that I am not worthy, it’s not good, it doesn’t make sense, the arguments don’t hold together–but they didn’t say that. They said it needs a lot of work yet, but also that it’s substantial, remarkable, inspiring (!). Which is also frightening, but in a way different way.
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On December 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously agreed to strike down most of Canada’s prostitution laws.

The decision is suspended, however, and the VERY Conservative government has one year to draft new legislation that will not infringe on the human rights of “sex workers”, as did the previous laws. Those laws were meant to criminalize such activities as, establishing and profiting from escort agencies or brothels, procuring women for the satisfaction of men’s sexual appetites and communicating for the purposes of prostitution–all laws which could have been (but were not) used to interfere with and constrain men’s demand for sexual access to women.

We went to an open house January 1st, my lover and I–a small New Year celebration of friends who live around the corner from me. We enjoy our friends–they are smart, interesting and generous. It was good to spend the first day of the Gregorian calendar with fine women and good food. There were lucky black-eyed peas and lentils, boiled cabbage and corned beef, cornbread and pecan tarts, and few other women at first. A couple who play bridge with one of our hosts, another neighbor who is a doctor of Chinese medicine, and a co-worker of one of the hosts — then more came.  Including a woman I used to know when we were on a steering committee together, and some other shared projects of the feminist variety.  Now she’s a local politician, or she was. We were never friends, really, though we were at one time allies. Not now, though, and not for a long time.

She’s a little older than I am, and as a young woman was part of the Abortion Caravan in 1970 — women from all over Canada, beginning in Vancouver, traveled together to Ottawa to demand legal, free abortion on demand. Wonderful, brave action, and part of a world-wide movement of women that was rising strong in those days. She was an organizer, and she was interested in women’s liberation from male domination. She would say she is still.

Anyway, she came to the party and sat next to me. She asked what i was doing now, and I told her that i am finishing my PhD. She asked what I was working on, and I told her, “front-line anti-violence workers, their engagement with harm reduction in relation to their work with women in prostitution”. She said that sounded interesting, and I said, “yea, timely too, now.” Then she said, referring to the Bedford decision, “What a great day that was”.

Sigh. People do not pay attention. I don’t know how she could NOT know my position on this.  Anyway, she does now. I said, “oh, Ellen, you and I are not on the same side on this issue at all. Of course women in prostitution, those selling sex must be decriminalized –“

“yes, of course” she said.

“But the pimps, the procurers, the men who buy sex–they’re the problem–the demand must be stopped. It is a big mistake to decriminalize them.” I looked at her, “Big mistake.”

She looked uncomfortable (I think), and then my girlfriend tapped me on the shoulder, “We should make room now for the new people coming,” and I was happy to do so.  Ellen nodded hello to her and we all smiled stiffly at each other. Then we kissed our hosts good bye, wished everyone a happy new year and walked into the grey rainforest afternoon.

We should be allies with ALL of the women who were there that afternoon, and more, besides. Especially women who organized in the 70s, who took such brave risks to ensure my freedom. But the best I can hope for from her now is that she will get out of the way. I don’t think she will–we are equally committed to our positions, it would appear. Perhaps she thinks I am in her way, as well.

Never mind. I just have to finish this damn thing, and then find out how to put it to use. It’s almost there, so close now, the culmination of many years of work. Yet still only a small part to add to the work of so many women before me, beside me and the women who will lead in the future. It is a hopeful beginning.

It’s 2014. Time to grow up.

choice is a noun. ‘victim’ is not an insult.

Well, Monday March 26, the Supreme Court of Ontario ruled on the appeal of the Bedford case, which challenges the constitutionality of Canada’s prostitution laws. you can find it here.

Apparently, Canada’s prostitution laws violate the charter rights of prostituted women sex workers. Specifically, the right to freedom of association (sec. 2d), and the right to Life, Liberty and Security of Person (sec. 7) .   The appeal judges decided that the Communicating law did not violate the Charter rights of prostituted people sex workers, and represented a reasonable limit on rights to expression.  Because as we know, it is difficult to tell–no matter how much time you have to “screen” some guy– when he’s going to go off on you. Women in prostitution have told us many stories about going with men they knew, regular ‘clients’, men the met and talked with for an hour or so in the bar, men referred to them by trusted friends– who, when alone with them, became violent. And, you know, women often MARRY men who turn out to be abusive– five minutes on a street corner isn’t going to make a difference–he always decides how to behave, she will never have  that control. In theory, then, the communicating law can be used against the men who buy sex.

You know, of course, that even though it is always men who initiate communication for the purposes of prostitution (“hey, baby, how much?”) –it is almost always women who are charged under this law*.

On the other hand, running or being found in a common bawdy house and living on the avails of prostitution will no longer be illegal. the Government of Canada has one year to rewrite the law to decriminalize pimping, except in cases of trafficking, child prostitution or other exploitative circumstances. Because, you know, women who are sucking cock indoors are not exploited. That’s “consensual commercial sex” or something. those women are CHOOSING this ‘work’.Also they are much less of a nuisance than women who are sold on the street corners. Who, by the way, may ALSO be there by choice.

But now they can CHOOSE to work inside–now they can CHOOSE to set up shop together, now, they have CHOICES of how to do their work–

“An underlying premise of this project is that difficult choices made under constrained conditions are still choices and, indeed, many of the sex workers that worked on this project felt insulted by the repeated accusation that they are not capable of making “real” choices” (2004, Pivot Legal Society: Voices for Dignity, p. 6)

That there quote is from a report by Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver. they are also launching a Charter Challenge against Canada’s solicitation laws. As evidence, they gathered 90 affidavits from women in prostitution in the Downtown Eastside from the women who ‘felt insulted’.

Let me take a moment to pick that quote apart a bit. First of all, “choice” is a noun, right? it is a thing. Something one can have or make.  When women’ make difficult choices’, they are making them out of some material, let’s call this material “options”, or “conditions”.  these are, in concrete terms, the option to sleep; to eat; to rest; to clean herself; to read; to care for her children; to nurture friendships; to feel comfort.  She can pick any or all of these options, she can do any of these things with her pocket full o’ choice. But she needs something else in order to do any of these things, because we live in a free market capitalist society. She needs money. She has to buy all of these options. For all of them, she needs money. Money to afford the rent to pay for a place to sleep, and food to eat. Money to pay for clean clothes, soap and a towel; money to pay for all the things her children need to thrive under her care. And if she can’t get enough money for any of that, she’s gonna be in pain. So she needs money to pay for the drugs she will take in order to numb the pain — of exhaustion, hunger, humiliation, and the deep sorrow of being without her children. and drugs are cheaper than rent. What does that even mean in the context of prostitution? The women who make these choices are resourceful and brave and annoying and funny and tough and obnoxious. The women who are in the most danger, those women who populate the dark corners of the inner city; the women who find themselves alone and impoverished in mid-life; the women who can’t both pay the rent and feed the kids; the women who can’t bear the pain of living without drugs that numb the pain of memories– these women ‘choose’ prostitution because there are no other choices.

Pivot never revealed who made the “repeated accusations” about these womens’ capability. I suspect, however, that they mean abolitionists. They mean me. And they mean many of the women who work with women in the Downtown Eastside, and in the rest of the city, and all over the world. They mean those of us who are not content with merely ‘meeting women where they are’. We want to meet her, and get her out.  I can’t be free until no woman has to fuck a man in order to have a meal or pay the rent or get her kid a birthday present. The INSULT, dear Pivot Lawyer people, is that they have to live in this beautiful city, surrounded by all this abundance, and ‘choose’ to suck cock for money in order to afford anything remotely resembling a choice. This post by Janine Benedet says it better than I can.

What does that even mean, “real choices”? of course they are capable of making  real choices. But they don’t have the raw material necessary in order to *make* choices.  they are capable. they don’t have the resources. They are “public women” hidden from the public. They do not have influence, tools, language, money,  power, or the means to use them. They are in deep trouble. They are victimized daily–by the men who buy them, by the state that keeps them impoverished, by the weight of patriarchy and capitalism and racism all together hobbling them together as an abject mass.

And who wants to be known as a victim? nobody.  But if we don’t know the victims, we let the perpetrator get away, too.

Here’s what one woman had to say about her life as a “sex worker”, and how empowering it is:

I feel more empowered in a lot of ways than many women. Women who are accustomed to living a normal 9-5 existence and are married and perhaps have kids would find it extremely difficult were they to find themselves in circumstances like those I have to live with.  If an ordinary middle-class woman were to find herself in a hotel room in the DTES with no money, no food, the rent due, their belongings stolen and the landlord banging on the door, they would likely slash their wrists, or at the very least need psychiatric help, since that’s the only kind of help they could get.  If I were to find myself in their position on the other hand, I could easily adapt to their circumstances. However, I’ve only lived in the Downtown Eastside for seven years. If I’d lived here much longer, I don’t know that I’d be alive  (From an affidavit used as evidence in the Charter Challenge by Pivot Legal Society).

Empowered indeed. the Pivot Legal Society used as evidence for their Charter Challenge case (similar to the Bedford case) anonymous affidavits from 90 prostituted people (almost all women) in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Bedford relied upon arguments based on three women in prostitution, two of whom now pimp other women, rather than do it themselves, and the other who primarily is prostituted indoors.  Judge Himel’s decision makes for interesting (if depressing) reading, you can find it here.

Himel acknowledged in her ruling that women in prostitution faced many dangers. But agreed with the applicants that repealing the laws would reduce these dangers.

Well. it will certainly reduce inconveniences to men who are seeking to buy sex. Every one of the affidavits from the Bedford case, and from the Pivot case too, describe coercion, violence and harassment by MEN. Women said they were afraid of being criminalized, and annoyed that the laws were unevenly applied, and that they suffered from shame and stigma, to be sure. But they also related harrowing stories of beatings, rape, theft and other degradations meted upon them by the men who cruised the streets and the internet looking to buy a hand or a hole into which to thrust their penis. Clearly, every one of the women who testified about their experiences in prostitution, on both sides of the argument, have been victims. They were victimized by the men who bought and used them; victimized by police, courts, social services…

and they are victimized by the folks  who call for harm reduction and for decriminalization and regulation and for more respect for sex workers’  choices (how can ya have respect for something that isn’t there?), and more dignity for their work without questioning the men who victimize these women in the first place. If you don’t acknowledge there are victims, you will never see the perpetrators. And so it goes.

Here’s the F-word blog post by Laura Johnston, which describes the implications of the appeal decision.

so much heat and no light.  all this talk about ‘respect’ ‘dignity’ ‘choice’ ‘agency’

fuck that. Hah! that’s a pun, considering the topic of this post. That’s it, eh? that’s what decriminalizing prostitution amounts to, really. ‘fuck yer agency, baby. here’s twenty bucks to get on yer knees.’

I’ve said it before, i’ll say it again,  repealing these laws will not make these women safer. And even if  it would,  “safer” is still not safe. Safe is not  the same as free. Women might be absolutely safe from further assault inside brothels. But they’re a long long way from  freedom. Therefore, we are ALL a long long way from freedom.

Carry on, then. we’ve more work to do here.

*****************************************************

* mind you, for at least the last 5 years, the local police have not arrested anyone under the prostitution laws. Not the women, which is fine; but not the men, either, which is not fine. And anyway, there is nothing else for the women–not housing not training or education not decent jobs even if you get some education, and not childcare if you get a job or place in school–it’s a rat maze, eh. And so far the only path to the tube that dispenses the yummy pellets is prostitution or drug dealing…or participating in research projects…

What’s YOUR favourite decade?

I think the 70s is my favourite decade. Feminism was HOT then–the 70s was when women started rape crisis centres and transition houses–and they were meant to be hubs of feminist political activity. Some became that, too. Take Back the Night, for example, was invented by anti-male-violence feminists. Radical feminists. That didn’t last long, unfortunately, by the 80s, battered and raped women were labeled  “sick”, and rape crisis workers were (big “P”) Professionals. the gap between them and us widened, even though there is no gap. The Man imposed it. Saw that we were serious, and gaining strength–and took measures, both subtle and drastic, to slow the movement of women.

“oh, those plucky girls, look how hard they’re working! How serious and earnest they are!”  The Man didn’t realize what a threat we were at first, and for a while there was a little room for women to move. Move into a bit of power. And those that did, made room for other women. And found money for each other. Soon the centres, the resource centres,  transition houses and rape crisis lines were funded. Under funded, mind you, but still. A wedge. But that wedge, that little bit of money that kept the lines and doors open, it came at a cost. The State began to ask for statistics, credentials, proof that this was necessary, and proof that ordinary women were the women to do this work.

“Aren’t you girls over-reacting just a bit?”

No. We are not. 40 years ago we were not overreacting, either.

Some women’s groups capitulated. slowly, slowly, though. It became important to hire women with University degrees. It became important to talk to women about “the cycle of violence” and the variety of syndromes and disorders that they might have: Post-traumatic stress disorder; battered wife syndrome; false memory syndrome; borderline personality disorder; pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder; Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy; obsessive compulsive disorder; etcetera etcetera, ad nauseum, syndrome disorder ad infinitum. At first women just told The Man what he wanted to hear, so he would keep tossing us crumbs of cash.

But some of us started to believe it. And some women started making money. Capitalism is Patriarchy’s best friend. Money does talk. And it drowns out women’s voices, even when women are the only ones speaking. We started placating the man, trying to get around him, but still keep the money flowing to the women who needed it, but gradually we had to work harder and harder to get the money, and it started to eat into the time we had to connect with other ordinary women–the women in trouble;  the women The Man had an even greater stranglehold on.

Take Back the Night prevailed, though, in some places. It was an exciting, vibrant, strident gathering of angry loving hopeful enraged impatient women. No men. Not at the back of the march, not in it–women only. Do you remember? Maybe we were mad at each other, maybe we had disagreements about how things should be done, and maybe we were making mistakes all over the place, but those nights, those raucous gatherings mended us together. We raised our voices together into the night, and we took it together. Protecting each other, standing shoulder to shoulder marching through the city streets, we said with one voice, “Enough!”

Though there were often many, there were never enough of us, not really. But wow, they were grand events. We would sing and chant and shout and clap our hands and raise a right ruckus–the sounds of women’s rage was amplified by the tall buildings. We’d spray paint on porn shops and sidewalks,  while other women in the march covered us. Women at work would stand at the doors of their shops and restaurants and wave their fists in solidarity, jump for joy. Some would join us.

but now it’s become a frail and fussy distant relative, whimpering about ‘violence’ as if it’s a mysterious virus that can be inoculated against. there are men in the marches now, a lot of them. They are no longer part of the women’s liberation movement.

sigh.

But they were the tactic of another time.  And maybe they will be of a future time. Maybe we will revive Take Back the Night. We will be Women Occupying. Not Women Occupied.  been there, done that.

ah. Today I worked at the transition house in the morning. Women talked about the violence men have done to them. the controlling, the manipulations, the withholding of money and kindness. Women said, “I am glad there’s a place like this. I’m glad to be here.”

In the 1970s, my mom applied for a credit card. There was a section where her husband was to sign.  She said, “He’s not applying for a credit card, I am.” the person taking her application told her that she had to get him to sign it. She said, “why?”

There was, of course, no answer that satisfied her. She walked away. She decided she didn’t need a credit card after all.

Capitalism is Patriarchy’s best friend.  Credit cards are evil anyway. But women need access to our own money, for sure we do, ’cause we live in capitalism. and patriarchy.

is having a credit card like telling ‘the man’ what he wants to hear? “sure honey, i’ll pay you back…”

so many contradictions….

anyhow. i’m running outta steam here. The 70s, though. Favourite decade. the rising of the second wave. Thrilling.

I was a child then, though, I didn’t pay the enormous price those early feminists did.  They opened a path.

You know who you are.

Thank you.

Statement about “gender identity”

I-dentity (aka trans) politics is fundamentally LIBERTARIAN and individualistic. It is ahistorical and acontextual. It essentializes sex stereotypes by renaming them consensual “gender identities.” It legitimizes and makes invisible  power structures that give rise to female oppression. It is anti-feminist.

[via UP; also posted by Cathy Brennan, Gallus Mag, NoAnodyne, Sargasso Sea, Smash, LuckyNkl, satisaudaci, gorilerof4b, saltnpepa10, iameatingblueberries, Allecto]

pride. shame. summer

Summer has arrived. Well, it’s been here a while, but it’s been suffering from a fit of pique. gloomy and doomy and raspy with sorrow, apparently. Here on the west coast, summer has been grumpy. But something happened, and she finally got out of bed, got dressed and came out to play. But still, she dressed for winter.

Last weekend, it was “Pride” weekend. on Saturday there was a dyke march, and that was fun. There were actual lesbians there, including women I know from my radical circles and from sobriety stuff and from storytelling and from comedy. My worlds came together. Women I love. I love women. We talked politics and ate hot dogs and watched the entertainment.

Which was:

An earnest young woman in jeans and tee-shirt, singing love songs with a voice like Amy Ray’s. She was cute.

Kate Reid! I got there too late to hear much of her this time, but I caught the last few bars of “Emergency Dyke Project”. That was fun.

scowling, black-clad young women dressed to look like men, dancing to rap music. “Honey, you don’t need to paste a beard on your face–wait ’till you’re in your thirties, it will come all on its own,” I want to say. That was like watching a train wreck.

The next day, I went to the gym. In the change room, there was just me and L. She’s a little older than me, and has been working out with BIG weights for at least as long as I have, but probably more consistently.

She said, “you’re not going to the parade?”

“No. It kinda makes me tired,” i said.

“Yea,” she replied, “y’know, I liked it better when we were ashamed.”

hahahahahahahhhahahah.

yup. now that we’re all proud and shit, we are: a) just like everyone else; b) except when we are all about sexsexsex (and kink), and mostly; c) affluent gay men.

even the lesbians. who aren’t lesbians these days so much as “queer” which is much less threatening.

“we’re not out to change anything any more, you know?” said L.

The spectacle of the parade is kind of fun. The beautiful bodies, the dancing and music, the high-fives and laughter.  But it’s also a bit sinister, you know? I can’t help but think of pre-WW 2 Germany–when there was all kinds of this kind of highly sexualized, gay-friendly stuff going on–overdrive hedonism even as the economy was going to shit and a loaf of bread cost a wheelbarrow full of German Marks. It seems desperate. The party frocks, the sparkly rainbows, the “WE ARE OUT AND PROUD” business. the corporate sponsorship.

Now, I can have a good time, and i’m all about celebrating our successes and our solidarity. But KFC and the cops are not my friends. Gay men are often punished for being gay, but that’s because they are perceived to be like women. They are still men, and they still have patriarchal power of men over women. Unless they have an analysis of how sexism operates in their lives and how their oppression is based in sexism, they’re not likely to be political allies.

Anyhow. L was right, back then, before pride parades, we had a bit more unity, it seemed. we could see better, from the outside, how the structures of society were built to exclude anyone other. but the stuff inside the structures is shiny. and comfortable. and if you can get in there, it feels good to belong. and power, too, is heady stuff. it’s inside the structures of domination, not outside. so when we were outside, we could see how it corrupted, how it eroded relationships and de-railed movements. When we’re inside, on the parade float with the thumpy dance music in our ears, maybe we think we are moving.

nah. i’d rather do squats for now. and spend the evening planning a syllabus for my next teaching gig: “Social Issues in Education”. 12 weeks i have to cover ’em all. Last one, the focus was class. This time, i think it’ll be sex and feminism. and you know what? in the recommended readings package for this course (I have to use at last 9 of about 14 or so), only ONE talked about “gender equity in education”. The other four even remotely concerned with feminism and sexism talked about queer issues, or masculinity or homophobia.

I’m on the lookout for good articles about feminist pedagogy and feminism in education. I’ll let you know what i find, and if you have any links to fire over here, i will be grateful and so will my students.