faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
On May 17th you, dear readers, sent me a message, perhaps without ever meaning to. After I posted my open letter to SlutWalk Chicago my blog received more hits within an eight-hour period than it had on any entire day prior to the 17th. The letter is currently the most visited page of my blog. This is so despite the fact I wrote the letter with a sense of urgency and did not spend as much time proofreading it as I would have liked to. I can only conclude that the matter of inclusion at SlutWalk is a matter important to many of you. Because I feel that what has become apparent regarding SlutWalk since the 17th is more significant than anything I included in my letter, I suspect you will want to know what I now know.

Shortly after I sent my open letter to SlutWalk Chicago I wrote another letter, this one private, to a member of SlutWalk’s organizational board in the belief that she would be interested in dialogue. In this letter I did the following:
  1. I told the organizer that in view of a variety of circumstances, some of them unique to present-day Chicago, SlutWalk Chicago has an obligation to be conscious of the ways in which different communities view the Chicago Police Department.
  2. I expressed an interest in discussing my concerns in a forum, so long as it were possible for me to participate without appearing to endorse SlutWalk.
  3. I said that it appeared to me as though SlutWalk’s organizers were a small group of self-appointed people appointing others to leadership positions in an entirely top-down manner.
  4. I explained why the language then (and currently) on SlutWalk Chicago’s home page and in its mission statement is not trans-inclusive, and I offered concrete suggestions on how to make it so.
What has been SlutWalk Chicago’s response? As some of you already know, May 17th was also the date when SlutWalk Chicago decided to make a blog post entitled “SlutWalk Chicago on Inclusivity, Diversity”. Since then Jessica Skolnik, a member of the organizational board (who is not the person I wrote to on the 17th), has made a related blog post entitled “About being an ally, privilege, marginalization, naming, and SlutWalk’s place in feminist activism”. Because no one in SlutWalk Chicago has yet acknowledged its critics by name, there is no way of knowing for sure whom they were responding to. (What the fuck, SlutWalk Chicago? Even SlutWalk Toronto, in its massive fail, had the decency to mention Aura Blogando by name.) In any case, SlutWalk Chicago has talked the talk, but what has it done so far to walk the walk? In a word, nothing. I will use the remainder of this post to expand on some of the problems I currently have.

1. Apart from the forum SlutWalk Chicago might hold after the march the organization has not announced any opportunities for dialogue concerning oppressed groups’ relation to the police.

When I read people’s concerns regarding the SlutWalk movement, I feel that it is only a matter of time before they mention the police. TJ’s friend notes, “Most women still do not report sexual assaults to the police.” Aura Blogando questioned the idea of inviting a police officer to speak about safety to begin with. While critical of many of the other points Aura makes, Little Red Henski says this about one of the aims of SlutWalk Toronto:
OK, so SlutWalk organizers are really bummed they can’t think of the police as friends anymore and they really want to work with them to repair their relationship. I’m with Blogando on this 100%. Boo fucking hoo. Granted, I don’t know what the police in Canada are like. I hear things are better up there in a lot of ways. It could be that Toronto police aren’t a repressive internal military force designed to violently preserve what is itself a violent racial and economic order. I’m inclined to think they’re more or less the same as police in the US; but, if they aren’t, SlutWalk organizers need a reality check before crossing the border and telling us how to be free. Their failure to deal with the police as an institution is damning evidence that the organizers are inadvertently reifying white supremacy.
When it comes to the police, is Chicago in any way exceptional? Marginalized people have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the Chicago Police Department. I cannot hope to give an exhaustive list of the reasons here, but I hope this non-representative sampling will give my readers some idea of the threat oppressed folks face:
Despite this marginalized people have not had the opportunity to express their concerns regarding the Chicago Police Department to SlutWalk Chicago in a public forum. This cannot be attributed to a failure to consider police presence or involvement on the part of the organizational board. In a registration form SlutWalk Chicago tells prospective volunteers, “Your job will be to keep people out of the street, keep crowds from getting unruly, and generally encourage enthusiasm! Police will be on hand to assist with these tasks, so you will not be responsible for any sort of physical intervention in the unlikely event that such an action is required.” It looks as though SlutWalk Chicago will be very welcoming to anyone who has enough privilege to equate the police with safety.

2. SlutWalk Chicago does not use trans-inclusive language.

When I wrote to SlutWalk Chicago, I figured that the organization would do what so many other social justice organizations have done: Modify its words while doing little to back them. As it turns out, the organization has not even done that much. In this matter I feel conflicted. On the one hand, SlutWalk Chicago has failed to make a minimal effort to help trans people feel included. On the other hand, it has avoided making trans people tokens. While I try to resolve my inner turmoil, I would like to note that there is a preferable way to go about avoiding the tokenization of trans people: Include us both in word and in deed.

3. The only dialogue SlutWalk Chicago is having with various communities is limited and on SlutWalk Chicago’s own terms.

The above might not be so problematic if SlutWalk Chicago were flexible. However, in the ten days that have followed the letter I sent on the 17th the SlutWalk Chicago organizers have not bothered to correct my view that all major decisions regarding SlutWalk are made by an unelected board. Skolnik might have hoped to quell this concern when she wrote, “We need and value your input! There are only five of us on the organizing team, and we in no way want to be the figureheads of a movement (what kind of egalitarian movement has figureheads, anyway? We’re all leaders!)” But how can there be a community-based dialogue regarding marginalized people’s concerns if not so much as a forum will be held until after the march? And what incentive will there be for the board to start taking oppressed folks’ concerns to heart, if we have neither voting power nor access to the board’s deliberations? If “we’re all leaders”, why do so many people who were initially interested in participating in SlutWalk now feel alienated by the board and its process?

While SlutWalk Chicago’s organizational board may have in some important sense the right to organize in an undemocratic fashion, if it wants to, it is rather disingenuous to do this while claiming that it wants our “input” and “does not endorse tokenizing minorities”. I find it telling that SlutWalk Chicago has told the readers of its May 17th post that it is “making SlutWalk Chicago an inclusive event” by making its words accessible to marginalized people (as by “putting together a Spanish language flyer”) but without telling marginalized people how we can overcome barriers to contact them or have influence over the decision-making process. Currently it does not appear that SlutWalk Chicago will be a march for people who believe in grassroots organizing.

I hope that in my posts I help my readers become aware of not only my views on SlutWalk but also the views of many other people throughout the world. To that end I will close by linking to other recent posts about SlutWalk:

“SlutWalk, Rape, White Supremacy”—The Chicago activist who gives us The Body Electric shares hir thoughts.

“Slutwalks v. Ho Strolls”

“SlutWalk: To march or not to march”

“We’re Sluts, Not Feminists. Wherein my relationship with SlutWalk gets rocky.”
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Dear Slutwalk Chicago,

I am writing to ask that you remove my blog, Faithful Image, from the list of allies currently available at your web site. Though I did request information from you regarding opportunities to volunteer and help spread the word via my blog, I have never expressed a desire to be an “ally”. The more I learn about both SlutWalk Chicago and the SlutWalk movement that flows from Toronto, the more I have concerns about both. In all likelihood I would have requested removal sooner, but it was only recently that I learned that you had added my blog to your list. This is the sort of matter I ordinarily like to handle in private, but because you have without my consent implicated that I have aligned my mission “with the mission of SlutWalk Chicago”, I feel the need to make my objections public.

As you say on your web site, SlutWalk Chicago’s mission statement is “adapted from Slutwalk Toronto’s satellite guidelines”. Even outside of any context these guidelines raise some red flags. One is that though men are mentioned three times, apparently to make sure men do not feel excluded, many people who face multiple oppressions are not mentioned at all. As a trans woman, I find the lack of any mention of trans status to be significant. There are at least four reasons why actions aimed at ending sexual violence in North America should explicitly include trans people:
  1. Trans people are at higher risk of sexual assault than our cis counterparts.
  2. The popularity of the stereotypes of the transsexual prostitute and the stealthy deceiver play into the slut-shaming of trans women and transfeminine people.
  3. It was only within the past five years that a serial rapist–killer in North America was targeting sex workers of color who were trans women.
  4. The feminist movement has a history of saying that through our feminine presentation trans women and transfeminine people invite rape; accusing us of the rape of cis women simply because we express ourselves as women; and excluding us from social justice movements by violent means or, short of that, calls for our violent deaths.
If it seems that I am reading too much into SlutWalk Toronto’s silence, I think we only need to look at its recent response to Aura Blogando to see that it has not paid adequate attention to the concerns of people who are the targets of multiple opressions. Aura is the woman who wrote the critique “SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy”. Though I feel the post is worth a read, I believe it would be a detour to defend it. The point I want to make here is that whatever the accuracy of Aura’s piece, I find little to commend and much to deplore in SlutWalk Toronto’s response. This response began with “SlutWalk is NOT all white and not white supremacy at its finest”, a piece that reaks of white privilege and a sense of entitlement. Rather than attempt to improve on greatness I will refer you to the response found in Struggling to Be Heard. Because I initially sought to participate in SlutWalk Chicago without raising critical questions about its inclusion of women of color and other people who are targets of oppressions that I benefit from, I cannot claim to hold any moral high ground. However, I do not believe that this sort of negligence is something I should strive for, and now that the SlutWalk Toronto’s reactionary stance is manifest, I have no desire to be a part of an action led by people who desire to follow its guidelines.

I believe there is another matter we need to consider: Even if SlutWalk Chicago renamed itself and distanced itself from SlutWalk Toronto, would the voices of people who face multiple oppressions be heard? I do not have enough information to give a justified answer to this question, but I can speak to my own experience. When you gave the call for committee “leaders”, I told you that I could not lead, but I volunteered to sit on one of the committees. I never heard any response to this. If a leader was chosen for the committee I volunteered to be on, I was neither given an opportunity to cast a vote nor so much as told who was chosen. If SlutWalk Chicago or any of its committees has ever held a meeting where trans people can express our concerns, I was never invited, and my voice has never been heard. This is not for a lack of time or resources; I have received several announcements from SlutWalk Chicago, always telling me what I can do to help the walk. If SlutWalk Chicago’s aim is “to engage” me “in dialogue”, the onus for insuring this dialogue occurs has rested entirely on my shoulders. So while I do not claim to have absolute certainty, I am not confident that SlutWalk Chicago, as it is currently organized, leaves enough room at the table for women of color, trans women, and other people who face multiple oppressions.

I believe most people who get things wrong have good intentions, and this belief has not been challenged by recent events. I believe most people involved in SlutWalk Chicago, including its leaders, are acting out of a desire to confront sexual violence and sexism, and I can only hope more people will come to share your concern. I also have another hope, which is that anti-sexist activists in Chicago and elsewhere will ask people who face multiple oppressions what we are already doing to confront sexism before creating yet another institution that includes us only as an afterthought.

Veronika Boundless
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
CHICAGO—People ordinarily take the expression “Have a ball” as an exhortation to celebrate, but no one was celebrating last night when nearly one hundred Chicago residents gathered outside Wrigley Field to hold the first annual Vigil in Memory of Flesh-Toned Balls. According to Stephen Stone, one of the planners, “This is a new event, but we’re trying to address an old problem: blue balls.” Stone planned the vigil with the help of Saul Sachs who said the pair deemed the event necessary “due to increased media sensitivity to women who turn down men’s advances without presenting the other side of the story”.

Stone said, “I wanted to make this vigil for men like me.” He then recounted his own story: “There I was in a local bar, and a woman refused to come home with me, so I asked, ‘Why would you accept my offer to buy you a drink, if you didn’t want to have sex with me?’ Then her friend said, ‘Maybe she just wanted the drink, dumbass,’ and they both laughed. How could anyone think it was a laughing matter when my balls were as blue as Jokey Smurf?”

Sachs is also no stranger to blue balls. “I got tired of living in a country where a woman can say, ‘Your freedom ends where my “no”s begin,’” he said. “Sexual interest unrequited is a tragedy as awful as a serial killer murdering a hundred people, a nuclear bomb destroying the city, or the Chicago Bears failing to go to the Super Bowl. I knew Steve understood that. That’s why I was happy to lend a hand when he said he wanted to host a vigil for men who don’t have the balls that they once had.”

In preparation for the vigil Stone and Sachs took their message to the streets. “It has been an uphill battle,” said Stone. “We stood on the street corner, distributing flyers while dressed as a couple of blue testicles. Some people were receptive, but most of them looked at us like we were nuts.”

“People don’t understand our predicament,” Sachs added. “There is a dearth of resources for people like us. Take the Internet, for example. You can find guides for everything from how to knit a hat with bunny ears to how to make a strawberry–rhubarb pie. But where are the web sites for men looking to relieve their sexual frustration?”

At the vigil Stone and Sachs unfurled a banner that read, “Women, it is time for us to chat balls out!” Abigail Glick, a passer-by from the nearby Boystown neighborhood, shouted into the crowd, “Cisgender, straight men aren’t the only people who get blue balls!” Sachs asked, “What? Do you expect us to invite gay dudes?” Stone expressed his own concern: “If we let a gay man with blue balls come to our vigil, he might want me to be the one to relieve him. Why can’t people understand that a man’s discomfort doesn’t outweigh my right to refuse to have sex with him?”
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Two nights ago I dreamed that I had recently started dating someone; I will call her Amy. Amy and I seemed to be hitting it off, but I was anxious, because I had yet to disclose my gender identity. While I was trying to find the least awkward way to disclose that I was a woman, Amy got kidnapped by the Joker. At that point it seemed prudent to put revealing my gender identity on the back burner.

While I am sure this dream has something to do with my current relationship anxieties (I am a queer woman who looks like a man, as far as most people are concerned), I think it is more a reflection of anxieties I had before coming out as a woman. You see, in the preceding years I had identified as genderqueer. Genderqueer people are trans folks who fall outside the gender binary; they are not men or women, male or female. Though I would now disclose my gender identity before dating someone, this was not easy to do when I thought I was genderqueer. After all most people are not familiar with the concept of genderqueer. I often had to have ongoing conversations with the people I was dating, because I was not sure they understood; often they did not. In more than one relationship I was afraid that once my partner got it she would want to leave me. (As for the Joker, I have no idea what he was doing in my dream. I welcome your speculations.)

This seems as good a time as any to share some of the experiences I had when I thought I was genderqueer. I do not claim that my experiences make me an authority; only genderqueer folks are authorities on being genderqueer. Rather, I am writing about the difficulties genderqueer people face for much the same reason cisgender folks should write about the difficulties genderqueer people face: It should not always be genderqueer folks who shoulder the burden of educating us. (As my aim is to help, please let me know if I get something wrong.) Also, in the past people have used the narratives of people like me—trans women and trans men who at one point identified as genderqueer—as “proof” that genderqueer people are confused about their gender identities. Of course, all it demonstrates is that I, a trans woman, was confused about my gender identity. There are also people who spend quite some time identifying as trans women or trans men before coming out as genderqueer, but for some reason no one ever presents this as evidence that trans women and trans men are confused about our gender identities. My experiences might give me a perspective on what it is like to be genderqueer that cis folks do not have, but it would be wrong to cite them to dismiss the first-hand accounts of genderqueer folks.

Without further ado here are some of the experiences I had:

  1. When I started identifying as genderqueer, I stopped using my legal name and started using a gender neutral name. Much as is the case now, I met a lot of people, including people who undoubtedly considered themselves liberal or progressive, who were persistent in asking me what my legal name (or, as they liked to say, “real” name) was. However, I also got this from people who I felt would have gotten it, had I been a trans woman or a trans man. One person I had expected to be an ally made it a matter of contention, arguing that the name I had used before was just as gender neutral, and continued to call me by my legal name. As you might imagine, it is very disconcerting to wonder if you have a fight ahead of you any time someone asks, “What’s your name?”

  2. I once announced to someone that I had started dating a genderqueer person. The first thing she wanted to know was whether my new partner was assigned female at birth or assigned male at birth.

  3. When someone would propose splitting into groups based on gender, I would invariably be asked to join the men’s group and never asked to join the women’s group. On one especially infuriating occasion I was asked to join a men’s group aimed at helping men fight urges to abuse their partners at a time when I was in a relationship with someone abusive.

  4. As for the abusive ex, she was a feminist who, though she claimed to be sensitive to trans folks, drew heavily from second wave feminism when she wanted to justify inequalities in our relationship. In one of the incidents that opened my eyes to how crucial it was that I leave her, she sent me an e-mail written entirely in the third person, in which she referred to me as a man throughout.

  5. At a later point I joined a chat room that offered support to abuse survivors. When one of the chat moderators asked me what my gender was, I told her I was genderqueer. She asked, “Could you find a nicer way to say that?” I felt like asking, “Could you find a nicer way to say you are a woman?” But because I felt I needed the support the chat room offered, I remained silent.

I think that the first four of these experiences arise mainly from the fact that in many people’s minds genderqueerness is not real. Like trans women and trans men, genderqueer folks face an oppressive gender construct that does not acknowledge that someone can have a gender that no one assigned to them at birth. But genderqueer people face another difficulty: The same oppressive gender construct does not admit of any category outside male and female. Even when binary-aligned folks do acknowledge (to some extent) that genderqueerness exists, we tend to separate genderqueer folks into two categories—“male genderqueers” and “female genderqueers”. If we want to make our spaces trans-inclusive, it is not enough to acknowledge that some people have gender identities that are not aligned with the sex assigned at birth. We must also resist attempts to split what is whole.

faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
While preparing to revise a piece I wrote entitled Five Things White Activists Should Never Say, I read people’s comments on the original version, including criticism. (The revision, Version 2.1, is now available at zinelibrary.info. Some of the comments I read can be found at People of Color Organize!.) A number of people, mostly people of color, gave thoughtful criticism that was crucial to helping me fill in some of my blind spots. There were also a number of white people who attacked the idea that white privilege exists. There can be no white privilege, they said, because there are rich people of color. Because Five Things is a short piece that was never intended to be an exposition on the fundamentals of anti-oppression, I did not respond to this criticism in my revised version. However, I will give a response here: Privilege is relative. As people who do anti-oppression work often put it now, there are intersections of identities, and people live at these intersections. The criticism fails, because you are privileged as a white person and you are oppressed as a working class person are not mutually exclusive claims.

It is not only those activists who fetishize class who have failed to account for intersectionality. Feminists have been guilty of this as well. Second-wave radical feminists believe that women’s bodies, as they conceive of them, have preeminence over all else, and vestiges of this belief can still be found among third-wave feminists. As an aside, there is an enormous failure here that should be obvious but which for some reason seldom gets mentioned: If feminism is, as bell hooks put it in Feminism is for Everybody, “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression,” then it is wrong to make women the exclusive focus. Feminists must never forget that two-spirit people, intersex people, genderqueer people, and other people outside the gender binary suffer some of the most painful and violent expressions of sexism. Returning to the main topic, the problem with ignoring other forms of oppression, as Audre Lorde famously pointed out, is that discourse on the people who are oppressed in regards to gender ends up being centered on those who are the most privileged in other respects. Though second-wave radical feminists do not say it—indeed they may not even realize it—the abstracted womanhood of their discourse is a white womanhood (and for that matter a middle class womanhood, but I will save that for another time).

Let’s take a moment to look at some specific problems with this. If we ignore race, we cannot address the injustice found in the way that women of color are held to a beauty standard that demands that they straighten their hair, lighten their skin, or lose weight. (Though there are white women who experience pressure to do the same, there is a significant difference of degree.) If we ignore race, we cannot explain why it was a woman of color who not all that long ago was told she had to leave the lobby of a Hampton Inn. If we ignore race, we cannot adequately account for the murder rate of transfeminine people of color. In short if we ignore race, we ignore people, most of whom are are themselves the targets of sexist exploitation.

There is a flip side to failing to take intersectionality seriously. This is manifest when second-wave radical feminists and those influenced by them subsume oppressed identities under women’s identity. The accompanying idea is that in some way all women are the primary stakeholders when it comes to the matters of sex work, trans status, and rape. Because acknowledging that sex workers face an oppression distinct from sexism amounts to making a concession to intersectionality, second wavers must construe sex work as a manifestation of the sexist system that harms all women, casting women who do sex work as dupes contributing to sexist exploitation. Second wavers are similarly unable to offer a rationale for how oppression against trans women is oppression against all women, and so perversely invert the oppression, arguing that trans women are men who appropriate cis women’s bodies and in doing so commit rape (I could not make this stuff up). Finally, to focus on rape survivors would be to throw a monkey wrench into the project of rooting all victimization in cis women’s bodies—after all, not all survivors are cis women—so second wavers talk about statistical likelihood of being or becoming a rape victim to redirect attention to cis women. (To be sure, women are more likely to be raped than men. The problem here apart from the marginalization of trans women is that women who are not survivors cannot truthfully claim to be stakeholders in discourse on rape in the same way that survivors are.) When people ignore intersectionality, they end up twisting reality to maintain the appearance that they are the focus of all anti-oppression work.

And who suffers the most from this flip side of intersectionality denial?

  • When feminists make women who do sex work out to be dupes, it is women who take the blame for the oppression of sex workers. Indeed there was a time when some feminists curried favor with legislators in the US and convinced them to make laws that were tougher on sex work; the result was that more women were thrown into prison, while pimps and johns carried on as usual.

  • When feminists make trans women the targets of ridiculous slander, it is women who suffer discrimination. Consider that the Michigan Womyn’s music festival remains one of the largest institutions that tells women they are unwelcome because they are women.

  • When feminists make rape survivors a footnote in a narrative about people who are likely to rape and people who are likely to be raped, they exclude a number of people, including folks outside the gender binary, men, trans women, and women who are raped by women. One consequence of this is that often when activists decide it is time to discuss rape, they segregate their collective into two focus groups, one for those who are likely to rape and one for those who are likely to be raped, and invariably put trans women into the former group, even though trans women are statistically more likely than cis women to be raped.
To summarize, when feminists deny intersectionality, they either erase people who suffer sexist oppression or co-opt the oppressions they suffer apart from sexism. Either way it is the people who are oppressed under patriarchy who are the most alienated. Just as white workers have time and time again played into the hands of employers who use racism to divide and conquer the working class, feminists have all too often aligned themselves with patriarchy in its war on the most oppressed women. Feminists must acknowledge intersectionality, because if we do not, we will contribute to sexism.

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faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Veronika Boundless

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