Saturday, September 8, 2018

Hello, I am Trans and Use "They." It's Fine if You Don't.

You know, sometimes it's really hard to be cis.

Local Seattle writer, Katie Herzog, informed the trans community and everyone else how hard it is to be cis in her most recent discussion of queer gender politics. You see, a lot of people use the pronouns "they/them/theirs" in queer communities as a default in order to make sure they don't misgender people who may or may not be trans. Katie got called "they" a few too many times, I guess, and it made her mad.

Katie Herzog's latest foray into the realm of trans commentary (by a cis person. Thank God we have a cis person explaining trans experiences) encapsulates a bit of frustration. She gets called "he" or "sir" sometimes. Sometimes she even-- oh God, no-- gets referred to by gender neutral pronouns.

Believe me Katie, I understand your frustration. I am a nearing-my-40s bearded trans girl who uses gender neutral pronouns (according to Katie, this is an invention of "the youths," which isn't at all dismissive of queer non-binary elders, or you know, the youth) who gets called "sir" all day long. I get referred to as "he" by acquaintances, coworkers, and members of the public every day I step outside of my door.

Every time I have that kind of interaction, I have to make a risk/gain analysis. Would it make me safer to say "no, I am not a man, do not refer to me that way?" Or will it expose me to vitriol, violence, or the unending onus to educate every single person I meet, everywhere I go, about using "they" as a pronoun? Because trust me, when you use gender neutral pronouns, you have to have that conversation everywhere you exist if you need them to be used. It's never a short one.

"Excuse me, sir."

I accept and treasure that it is not just a personal act but a political one to identify as a woman.  Therefore, if someone calls you "they," you should correct them. You know, the few times it's happened to you this week. Or maybe the once. This month.

Like I'm expected to in order to be respected and accepted, every hour of my life.

Your sham martyrdom piece is not only the antithesis of intersectional feminism, it's just a continuance of a long history of anti-trans nonsense refuted not just by trans people, but by the medical, psychiatric, and psychological communities at large. Whether you're starting off by highlighting people who are who detransition as the main focus of transness, calling queers who have a gender you don't understand straight (... cuz they don't have the same genitals as their partner? I'm starting to get confused, do you know what "queer" means), or you're just straight up being mean to trans people on the internet, I'm really gonna say:

Please stop. Stop talking about trans people. You don't understand us. And frankly, we don't understand why you feel the need to talk about us. You're "she/her/hers." We get it. Just let us know next time.

Because lord knows we'll be telling you what our pronouns are. We'll use yours if you use ours.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Words of Hate Inspire Acts of Hate: The Trump Trans Military Statement

OK. The Trump trans military ban.
If you know me you of course know two things about me: I used to serve in the military and that I'm some kinda wacky kinda trans that I'm still figuring out (I use they/them pronouns). So I woke up today and I saw the news of what Shitlord-In-Chief said on Twitter (someone needs to tell him that's not how to enact an executive order) and I had a lot of really complex feelings.
I used to be an activist for queer inclusion in the military. I was kicked out of the Army because of The Gay and lent my voice to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, to include getting arrested at the White House. I have since come to reconsider that position because frankly, the military is used for heinous shit. Really heinous shit. Shit that I helped contribute to, which I will always work to conscientiously address so that I can be accountable for the death and destabilization my active duty service helped create.
That said, I have a lot of empathy with soldiers. Most of them were broke as hell and didn't have any options to keep them afloat in our capitalist society; most of them were young and ignorant when they signed their life away (oh lord was that me) and none of them are prepared for the lifetime of PTSD and trauma military service can engender. Recruiters are literal predators that will spend their career tricking poor people into service in order to send them to die and kill to protect the interests of the rich and the white and the privileged.
I know a lot of my fellow radicals are saying "Yes! Good. I wouldn't want to participate in the imperialist shit show that is the US military anyway." And I agree to a point. I don't want anyone to join the military. I want an end to war, militarization, and imperialist global hegemony.
As I have worked towards challenging my own privileges and processing the decolonization of my gender, I know one thing for sure: Words of hatred lead to acts of hatred. Let's be clear: Trump's statement was not one founded in financial conservatism; he's been talking about increasing the military budget, for Chrissake. It's one founded on a fundamental hatred and distrust of trans people. While I do not want anyone to deal with the aftermath of having served in the military (God I still have nightmares about wearing the wrong uniform to formation), I also do not want trans people who are in the service to be subjected to violence at the hands of their cis peers.
They will. Because of institutional approval of transphobia, cis people will feel empowered to act on their inherent desire to do violence, both physical and emotional, against their trans peers. I'm afraid for them, and I'm afraid for trans people that aren't in the military who will be victimized because tacit approval has been given for people who engage in acts of hatred. So all in all, no, I don't think this was a great thing that happened. Frankly the only thing that would make this situation better is if Trump barred EVERYONE from service.
Some cis people are like, what can I do? I don't know. Trans people have been telling cis people to listen for ages and ages. I know some things that will help guard your friends from violence.
1. Use the correct names and pronouns at all times. Even the ones you feel weird about (They/them, ze/hir, etc). Misgendering (using the wrong pronouns) and deadnaming (using an old name the person no longer identifies with) are emotional violence. Reread that. Misgendering and deadnaming are emotional violence. Stop doing it. .
2. Force other cis people to do the right thing. This doesn't mean embarrassing your trans friend by shrieking at someone about their pronouns at the top of your lungs (oh God please don't do this, we feel weird and unliked enough). Use the correct pronouns and name often. When people don't use the correct pronouns and name with your trans friend *ALREADY BE PREPARED* to know how to correct that cis person in a way that makes your friend comfortable. This requires that you have that conversation with your trans friend about how to best support them when they are being disrespected. So get on that.
3. Obviously fight the institutional powers that perpetuate transphobia however you can and to the best of your ability. I don't know. Sign a petition, go to a protest, write lengthy diatribes on your wordpress site, whatever. I honestly don't care what you do. But show up somehow.
4. Buy a trans person lunch. No really. When shitty news like this comes out that makes trans people feel like "lesser than" people it can hurt their feelings. And you know what they need? Lunch. Dinner? A cocktail? Help with a bill? Yeah. Literally toss a few bucks into helping a specific trans person you know. If you have no money, offer a service. It will make them feel a little better and you will be doing something material to help them feel supported. While you're doing it? Let them vent. Listen. Learn.
5. Create the conditions necessary to an end to war and militarization. That was a simple sentence with endless complexity. If we work to create ways to curtail the power of the military industrial complex there won't need to be a discussion of whether queer and trans people can be in the military. No need. No, I don't have all the answers for step 5 because it's a lot of work but it's work worth exploring.
Anyways, I just wanna say to my trans lovelies that you are not a financial, emotional, or societal burden. You are fantastic, magical people who don't deserve how cis society treats you. I love you and I'm glad to have you surrounding me.
To my cis friends: Many of you are doing great.
You all have to do better.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

HIV Allyship, Charlie Sheen, and How to Talk About People Living With the Virus

According to multiple (if questionable) news sources, Charlie Sheen is planning on coming out as HIV-positive this week. A problematic actor often given to drug-fueled antics that land him in trouble either with the law or with the press, the media has, unsurprisingly, scrambled to paint this news in the worst possible light, with TMZ, the Enquirer, and others immediately publishing gossip, hearsay, and misinformation just as fast as their admittedly amateurish writers can churn it out. Of course, this is a gross violation of someone's private health information-- but HIV in many's minds is too salacious to stay quiet about.

I personally don't care about Charlie Sheen. However, the narratives being established about his disease are very troubling-- not to mention harmful to the average person living with HIV in the US. While media may be scrambling to publish whatever juicy tidbits about his health and sex practices, HIV advocates and activists are scrambling to figure out how to make people understand that we have to be careful how we talk about HIV.

It's great that they do that work, but it's also important that average HIV-negative (seronegative) people show a good understanding about how to talk about the virus and the people who have it. Now is an excellent time to be an ally; both social media and celebrity news are failing monumentally. Frankly, the coverage of his announcement has been so bad that it might as well have been published in 1985, in the earliest, most fearmongering years of the epidemic. It can be hard for seronegative people to know how to respond to it either privately or publicly. Here are some handy talking points from people living with HIV (seropositive people) about how to discuss Charlie Sheen's (or anybody's) HIV.

1. Nobody deserves HIV. 

He hasn't even made his official announcement and I've already seen people on social media proclaim loud and proud that he deserves to have HIV. Namely, Sheen is a promiscuous drug user-- many think that obviously, if anyone should catch the disease, it should be someone like him.

This is, of course, ridiculous. Addiction is hard and is even harder without having to deal with a lifelong, deadly, complicated virus. HIV can make recovery a lot harder, with feelings of shame and disgust making it difficult to take steps toward sobriety. Trust me on this one.

Additionally, someone doesn't deserve HIV due to promiscuity. In fact, promiscuity doesn't cause HIV. HIV doesn't care how many times you have sex, or with how many people. The virus is caught with one exposure, not by being exposed to it many times. You can catch HIV when you lose your virginity so it doesn't matter how much you have as long as you're doing it wisely. Additionally, sex is not only good but good for you. Saying someone with HIV deserves it because they have a lot of sex is puritanical at best and extremely stigmatizing at worst.

2. Rumors he infects people should be ignored until confirmed.

Tabloids are already reporting that Sheen has been spreading the virus to "dozens" of women. One article, speaking about him before the news became public, even referred to him as a "public health risk" because he has HIV.

I am skeptical, not because I don't think people can be unwise and transmit HIV, but because the tabloids themselves are quoting Sheen as saying HIV can't be detected in his blood. This isn't an implausible assertion. If you are adherent to medication, you can suppress HIV to the point where it can't be found in blood (also known as being "undetectable"). There has yet to be a recorded case of a person with an undetectable virus load transmitting HIV.

Given his socioeconomic status and additional leaked statements in which Sheen is saying that his blood "doesn't have HIV" it is likely that he is being treated, has been for years, and that he can't transmit the virus.

Why would someone say this about someone living with HIV when it is likely untrue? Because everybody likes a boogeyman, and HIV is an easy boogeyman to use as clickbait. Frankly, ignorant people always want to believe that someone is running around using HIV as a weapon and that isn't just sad; it's exploitative and the majority of the time false.

3. HIV is not the same as AIDS, and referring to it as such is cheap.

It is pretty ludicrous that I should have to say this in 2015, but HIV is not AIDS. AIDS is a condition caused by HIV. AIDS just means that the body has been unable to fight off HIV and that opportunistic infections are occurring due to the body's lack of immunity to disease. Referring to someone who is living with HIV as someone "battling" AIDS is incredibly inappropriate and is a scare tactic literally lifted from 80's-era press sensationalism.

AIDS is scary. I was close to an AIDS diagnosis once and it was a sick, awful feeling. AIDS is a word that can mean death. It's not a term to throw around lightly. And publishing that Sheen, who was previously dealing with HIV privately, as perpetuating an AIDS "cover-up" is inexcusable, especially since the majority of treated poz people living in the US today are very healthy.

Which brings me to:

4. Gossiping about someone's HIV status is not only harmful to them, but harmful to seropositive (and seronegative) people everywhere. 

Let's be real. Your private health information is not my business. If you have cancer, diabetes, Crohn's disease, or really any sort of health problem, you can choose to be private about it and most people will respect your privacy.

Not so with HIV. Before I tested positive I was guilty of gossiping and you may have too; the way western society has dealt with HIV has been to sensationalize, fearmonger, and frighten. There is a ton of misinformation out there either designed to "keep you safe" or to simply get you to buy a paper.

This is harmful to people living with HIV. The more we treat it as a topic that we can gossip about, the more people spread the idea that HIV is scary, shameful, and bad. My disease is not bad. I am not ashamed of it, and you should not be scared by me and what I represent. However, I face not only social rejection but also legal repercussions due to HIV stigma. In my state someone can accuse me of not disclosing my status before sex and have me jailed. Stigma is serious and very damaging.

Not just to HIV positive folks, either. Stigmatizing discussions of HIV not only make life hard for us but have repercussions for those who don't. In fact it discourages people from getting tested and finding out they may carry the virus. One in five Americans who are living with HIV don't know about it and that's a problem-- remember that people are more infectious when not accessing treatment. We need to get as many people comfortable with being tested and informed as possible or HIV will continue to spread.

Whatever you think about Charlie Sheen (and frankly he gives me the absolute creeps) we have to understand how to talk (or not talk) about his HIV. Why? Because if you know someone who is doing it incorrectly about him, you can be sure that person is talking about someone else in a way that's just as damaging. That is dangerous, and helps no-one.

So think about what you say, and encourage others to do the same. There's literal lives at risk.

To see HIVEqual's fact checking of the Charlie Sheen story, click here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Charlie Hebdo: Islamophobia As a Function of Racism

This month, a publication whose work went largely unnoticed by Americans and our media outlets has been thrust into the spotlight and is the focus of strident discussion and disagreement in the aftermath of a violent attack on its editorial staff. On January 7th, 2015, armed gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a so-called satirical magazine in Paris, killing twelve and injuring four. 

While the origins of the attack were initially unclear (al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen have since claimed responsibility), the motivations of the killings have been imminently clear. This is not the first time Charlie Hebdo has been targeted by religious extremists. The publication has long been the focus of complaints critical of the magazine's "humor." For years, alongside cartoons lampooning the Pope and French political leaders, Charlie Hebdo's artists have included depictions of Muslims and Muslim holy figures (specifically Muhammad) in caricatures deemed by many to be homophobic and racist.

This has not blunted the outpouring of support for the magazine and its murdered artists and editors in the West. Moderates and liberals alike have chosen to stand up for what they view as a free-speech issue, proclaiming "Je Suis Charlie" (I Am Charlie in French) in order to show their support for unfettered freedom of the press to produce whatever material it deems appropriate. On the 11th, an estimated 1.6 million took to the streets in Paris in solidarity with the dead artists. Backlash has been widespread, with many blaming Islam in its entirety for the attack, with Rupert Murdoch publicly stating that all Muslims must be held responsible.

Some of us, however, don't want to say "Je Suis Charlie." It's not out of misguided stubbornness; we simply don't want to identify with racist art.

Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie

It is of course important to take a stance against violence enacted by religious extremism. However, it is important to remain critical of racist rhetoric (and yes, art can certainly be rhetorical). Our social media has been choked up with a debate centered around the "right" of free speech. At least, mine certainly is and I'm sure yours has seen a lot of fierce arguments on either side of the discussion. On one hand, proponents of "free speech" state that Charlie Hebdo can say whatever they want to free of sanction, while on the other people are refusing to stand in support of its controversial cartoons.

The thing is, this debate isn't actually about free speech or really terrorism even. At its core, this discussion is about anti-Muslim hatred, its impact on others, and whether or not we should feel free to make racist art about a vast demographic with a tremendous wealth of cultural variation and substance.

Critical to the arguments on behalf of secularist "free speech," of course, is the argument that Islam is a religion, not a race. Therefore, Charlie Hebdo's work is satire criticizing religious power structures instead of racist trash and therefore should be protected. While secularist liberals may identify with such ideas, it's important to accept that Islamophobia, a culture of hatred against Islam and those who profess it, is inextricable from racism.

Islamophobia: A Colonial Tradition

It has always been in the interest of the West to ridicule Islam. Colonial powers have throughout history benefited politically and economically by engaging in rhetoric detrimental to Muslims. Whether it be the Crusades or the French occupation of North Africa, white dominance over the regions where Islam hold sway depended on the ability of European colonizers' ability to paint Muslims in the public eye as unwashed savages and infidels.

While the French colonial empire has largely ended, it is still in the interest of those who inherited the legacy of colonialism to assert the superiority of white governments of European descent. Make no mistake, there is still a lot of profit to be made by the exploitation of Arab and African land and labor, and one of the easiest ways to maintain dominance is to continue an idea of Muslims as dirty, insane extremists bent on the destruction of wholesome white culture.

Charlie Hebdo is exemplary at that. Feeding on white rage at the immigrants in their midst, they created images paralleled by our own far right, notably once depicting Boko Haram rape survivors as ugly welfare queens capitalizing on the product of the sexual abuse that had been visited upon them.

"Don't touch my allotments!"

Good old American racism.

Americans, of course, are used to this sort of depiction. It is undeniably racist; in both instances brown women are depicted as ugly, smelly harridans demanding the hard-earned cash accumulated by more deserving (and of course, white) citizens. In both, a rich culture is debased and reduced to the stereotype of shrewish brown manipulator in order to further agendas of white preservation and supremacy.

With Islamophobia, we combine critique of religion with shocking racism. In the West's public perception, Islam is equated with Arab. When we produce caricatures of Muslims, we invariably depict them with turbans, giant mustaches and noses, curved swords and swarthy complexions. When we lampoon Muslims, we ignore the complete reality of Islam and instead focus on a historical racial target of the West's aggression: the brown people of the Middle East.

This has been proven since the attack. A wave of violence and hate-filled messages have struck Muslims in France, with one piece of graffiti all too clearly illustrating the marriage of Islamophobia and racism. One mosque opened its doors one morning to find a message painted on a nearby wall: "Death to Arabs."

Yes. Islamophobia is about racism, my friends.

And No, You Shouldn't Be Charlie Either. 

We can condemn murder without replicating harmful narratives that lead to the destruction of brown lives. While Charlie Hebdo's pens certainly never killed anyone, anti-Arab sentiment repurposed as art has indeed contributed to a culture of violence and exploitation felt deeply in the Middle East and in Paris' backyard. It's easy to see as an outsider; affluent white French get the best neighborhoods while North Africans and Arabs are relegated to brown ghettoes in the suburbs of Paris. Muslims are banished to the back streets and alleys, left to begging, selling tourist trinkets, and making falafel in order to scrape by.

That's really the crux of the problem with Charlie Hebdo's "satire." Frankly, it's not satire. Satire is about critiquing power and lampooning those who have it. It's quite clear that French Muslims do not have power. Having a white editorial staff depicting the entirety of Islam as gap-toothed murderous fanatics isn't courageous; it's taking a cheap shot against an already oppressed minority. It's bullying, and we shouldn't support that.

In short, I am not Charlie and neither should you be. Charlie Hebdo continues to perpetrate a legacy of racism and ugly oppression. Why would you want to?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ferguson, Rioting, and the Healing Power of Collective Revenge

Over the past few days, the US and increasingly, the world, has turned its attention to a previously unheard-of suburb of St Louis as demonstrations and destruction have erupted in the town of Ferguson, MO. In the wake of the public execution of an unarmed black teen at the hands of a white police officer, marches and demonstrations have escalated into full-blown riots, with protesters destroying police vehicles as they are attacked with LRAD, police dogs, and tear gas.

Rise in Power, Mike Brown

Public outcry has been widespread and vehement; even the way the media reports on the killings of black men by racist cops has come under scrutiny as demonstrations organize nationally in a "Moment of Silence" for victims of police brutality. What is a bit befuddling for some, however, is the level and intensity of community response against police brutality in Ferguson. Liberal sentiment of course condemns police violence; even our lackluster President has commented on the crisis. When it comes to rioting, however, and acts of property destruction? Largely liberals appear to echo the President-- there is no excuse for violence, either against protesters or police.

I met up with a dear friend last night for dinner. We've known each other for years, and he has watched my evolution from bleeding-heart liberal progressive to radical cop-hating anarchist. I also have seen his political evolution, and while he isn't exactly a radical, he certainly has become a little left of liberal (yes, Kent, it's true, stop calling yourself a moderate around my friends, are you trying to embarrass me?). While he was certainly not willing to disparage rioting protesters to my face, he had a very pertinent question that a lot of people are asking.

What's the point of rioting?

You see, rioting against police brutality isn't exactly a new thing. The efficacy of rioting in forcing institutional change worked particularly well for gay men; trans women and effeminate queer men burning cop cars at Stonewall, Compton's, and during the White Night riots definitely impacted public policy around queer male sexuality. Trans people appear not to have reaped the benefits, however, and race riots haven't seemed to have done anything to send a message to the Powers That Be that cops and the criminal justice system are inherently flawed and need to be replaced. I am old enough to remember the Rodney King riots, and things have seemingly gotten much, much worse, not better, since those days.

So what's the point?

First off, let's be clear: the majority of riots are started by police. I've attended many a protest, and yes, some of them turned riotous, and with perhaps one exception (and you can read an excellent piece on that occasion here), they were all started by some dumbass cop brutally arresting and/or beating someone in the crowd on flimsy pretense. Predictably and understandably, other people present got pissed and started throwing things at the armored and armed thugs in our midst.

Aside from who starts things, however, we need to admit why rioting happens. Liberal hand-wringing, conservative pearl-clutching, and politicians and police vowing crackdowns on eruptions of rage are frankly useless narratives to apply to what happens in places like Ferguson. We need to admit that riots do actually have a place in our political praxis-- and it's not necessarily in order to enact social change.

To be frank, I don't believe that these riots are going to make things better. They are not going to teach the murderous pig who gunned down Mike Brown a lesson (by the way, his name is Darren Wilson). They are not going to bring back the beautiful man who was slain by Wilson. Perhaps I'm pessimistic, but I also don't think they are going to halt the militarization of our law enforcement, in effect turning the cops on our corners into soldiers hell-bent on subjugating the people they police.

They have value, however. Aside from the obvious indicator to the world that yes, something is very very wrong in the US, the riots have personal value to those engaging in militant resistance. If a survivor of intimate abuse strikes out in vengeful fury against her abuser, I am going to accept that this is part of her healing. Exacting vengeance may seem a waste to those not experiencing that same abuse; it is anything but. Ferguson is a community abused by white colonizers, with the survivors lashing out and striking back against their abusers. This is not just about taking a stance against police brutality. This is about a community attempting to heal, and rejecting the police that prevent that healing.

This isn't just about Mike Brown, though his death sparked the protests that now have resulted in violent clashes with cops. The people throwing molotovs at the armored tanks occupying Ferguson have experienced abuse. They have experienced racial profiling, harassment, and violence at the hands of the people given power over their bodies and now they have had enough. If burning a cop car or trashing a franchised convenience store helps them to process that trauma... who are we to stop them? Haven't they earned their revenge after centuries of slavery, oppression, destruction?

Why exactly do we fear revenge? What may seem like senseless violence can actually have an important impact on the feelings of helplessness communities like Ferguson have forced upon them. Sometimes, many times, revenge is not just mindless reaction to fucked-up behavior. It's about taking power back from abusers. It's about refusing to be powerless.

I would posit that we have more riots coming in the future. Hell, if Detroit is any indicator our government "of the people" is hell-bent on finally signing over our entire lives to capitalist exploitation and white supremacy. Will rioting in Ferguson, in Oakland, hey, even here in lily-white Seattle change any of that? Probably not. After all, the opposition not only has all the weapons, but they are making more.

However, eruptions of outrage and anger are inevitable conclusions to the continued destruction of the poor, the black, the brown, the trans among us. The crisis of capitalism can and hopefully will come to a head in our lifetimes, and when that happens, don't sit around asking what the point is.

Because resistance is the point. Anger is the point. Collective striking against repression is the point. And yes, sometimes, revenge is the point.

Today there are national "Moment of Silence" actions planned across the US. My question is: when do we get to have our Moment of Anger? Our Moment of Howling? Our Moment of Resistance? Our Moment of Fuck No?

Perhaps Our Moment to Heal?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Queer Liberation is a Contradiction to Zionism

At the time of this writing, the Palestinian death toll in the most recent act of aggression by Israel has reached 844. Most of those who have died are civilians.

This is not the first time Israel has massacred Palestinians nor, sadly, will it be the last.

Every time open warfare breaks out in Gaza, I am stunned by the eruption of outrage and anti-Zionist sentiment among my community. It is heartening to see radical organizers and every day queers leap up in collective anger and sorrow; I feel like I have surrounded myself with the right sort of people. I'm probably correct on that score.

Pro-Palestine noise brigade action. Seattle, 7/24/14

What always baffles me, however, is when I see queers support Israeli apartheid and aggression. Homonationalism is definitely a thing, and it seems to rear its ugly head with vigor every time Israel decides that, based on some pretext or another, it needs to go and kill hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians. Whatever it is that causes some LGBT Americans to identify with the Israeli state's aggression, when war breaks out in the Holy Land, queer voices immediately start to squabble and denounce each other in a fervor to either defend Israel's right to empire or Palestine's right to existence. 

It's confusing to me when queers support Israeli aggression. To them I want to say: don't you know your own liberation is tied with the freedom of the Palestinian people?

Queer liberation was born out of desperation and frustration. A literally riotous movement espousing the necessity of the freedom of our bodies and our ideas, we burned cop cars and disrupted the heterosexual world's status quo in order to fight not just for the right to live without oppression, but (as the AIDS epidemic struck) also simply the right to live. Institutional oppression has long been our enemy; why do our fellow queers now side with the institutions that used to destroy us, and still do, every day?

 Thousands march from Ramallah to Jerusalem in protest on Thursday. They were met with live fire and at least two protesters were killed.

Palestinian resistance is a queer necessity. I say this not just because there are LGBT Palestinians suffering under the yoke of Israeli apartheid and the fear of murder at the hands of the IDF, though we must remember our siblings in Gaza. Can you imagine being HIV-positive in Ramallah, where basic medical supplies and water are in short supply?

I do not say this just to imply that there are intersectional identities that tie us to Palestine, even though there are. Queerness intersects with race in complicated, deep ways that continue to fracture our communities, and you can't scan Israeli opinion without the overt and very real racism at the heart of Zionism slapping you in the face, burning like scalding water thrown in your face.

I say this because until empire is ended, we are not truly free.

Gaza has been transformed into an open air prison, with death raining down from the sky. Much like the massive prisons in the US that incarcerate queer and trans* people of color, Palestinians have their movement restricted and are short of the basic necessities vital to meeting their fundamental human needs. Much like the continued murder and brutalization of trans women in our streets, Palestinian women are exposed to the degradation and death which comes hand-in-hand with Israeli apartheid and aggression. As we snatch and incarcerate people for the simple crime of having HIV, Palestinian youth are kidnapped and tortured in retaliation for perceived slights against the Israeli state.

A Palestinian youth is arrested in Beit Hanina.

To LGBT people who support this Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people I say: you make me weep. Have you forgotten that the equality you have striven for was itself based in the genocide of the people who lived here before us? That still live among us, forgotten? The ability of white American gays to marry came at a great cost, and not just measured in the efforts of LGBT Americans. Our own privilege and freedom was bought in the blood and tears of slaves and indigenous people, hauntingly mirroring the occupation and invasion of Palestinian's homes and lives. How soon we forget.

As long as empire exists, what meaning does our own equality hold? Does it even have any? How can I gloat in my own supposed freedom while people are getting phone calls from the IDF telling them their homes will be destroyed in ten minutes? How are you liberated when empire culminates in children dying, burning, in a cloud of white phosphorus?

My liberation, as privileged as it is, is worthless in the face of this aggression. As the death toll in Gaza mounts, and as white western colonial powers make ineffectual statements or none at all as these murders take place, our western efforts for equality seem empty. Israel itself supposedly prides itself on gay equality; what tragedy that these seeming lands of queer freedom stand idly by while this massacre continues. At what cost have we made these institutional gains, if it means we will instead turn about and strengthen the institutions of oppression that continue to enslave and murder?

We are not truly liberated until empire ends, my friends. I am not liberated, even in the white privileged, male socialized, and American entitled fortress that protects me at the cost of others' freedoms. You are not liberated, fellow queer, as long as people are brutally slain simply because they are guilty of the crime of being imprisoned in Gaza.

No-one is liberated, least of all ourselves as queer and trans* people, until Palestine is free.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It's Okay To Be Called "Cisgender." I Promise.

The climate around LGBT politics is vastly different than it was decades ago. Mainstream gay activists feel they have a lot to celebrate; a cavalcade of judicial decisions have swept the country, imploding conservative efforts to defeat marriage equality. One by one, states in the US have begun caving to progressive sentiment, leading many to declare victory for LGBT Americans everywhere. 

There's just one problem, of course. These victories are not necessarily for all LGBTs. Rather, they are more for the LGBs-- at a time when queer sexual identities are becoming more mainstream and acceptable, trans* gender identities are caught in conflict with gay entitlement. Not only do trans* people still face oppression and violence at the hands of society at large, it's becoming increasingly obvious that they face microaggression and dismissal from their own supposed comrades: gay Americans.

Recently, this has been thrown into sharp relief by conflicts between transgender activists and notable drag queens over the word "tranny." Sparked by the use of transmisogynistic language on RuPaul's Drag Race, debates among LGBT activists and advocates as to whether cisgender individuals have the right to claim the term as their own have been raging, in a discussion that has perfectly illustrated what happens when one privileged group refuses to accept the stories and testimonies of a disadvantaged minority.

I'm not going to rehash that. Others have done it more eloquently than I could have. I did, however, want to address a particularly confusing sentiment shared by gay men defending the use of transphobic language: 

"Don't you DARE call me cisgender."

In online debates, I've heard this a dozen times. Finally, and unsurprisingly, this culminated in a trainwreck of a tantrum thrown by a writer for HuffPo's Gay Voices, J. Nelson Aviance, titled "I Am Not Cisgendered" (sic). It's a real headache to read, so let me give you a synopsis: people criticizing people who are not trans* and insisting that said non-trans* people check their privilege is a form of oppression, and calling someone "cisgender" is a slur. Evidently, life is very hard for white gay men who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth; getting called out by all these mean trans* people is very taxing! Parker Molloy has a play-by-play of his screwy and alienating logic on her site.

"Waaaaaaaaaah, pointing out my privilege is oppression! Waaaaah!"

Parker said a lot and I am not going to repeat her words; but I am going to express incredulity over this sick form of reverse oppression Olympics. Claiming some sort of victimization because people refer to you with a privileged term is insane. Sadly, unsurprising.

Let's think about this critically: there are people who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. There are those that don't. The ones that don't, we have a host of terms for. Trans. Genderqueer. Genderfluid. Agender. Neutrois. The ones that do? Yes, there is a word that is used for that, and it is cisgender. Why does that exist? Because using the phrase "not-trans*" is cumbersome and sounds silly. 

It's not a slur. Why? Because it's what people who are not trans are. Hell, I don't identify with the gender I was assigned at birth; I am genderqueer. However, I am perceived as cisgender most of the time. While this is incorrect, it means that I benefit from the privilege that cisgender people have. As someone who wants to support trans* people, I accept that privilege and understand my place in their oppression.

However, this sentiment is not because these people really believe that the term "cisgender" is an insult or slur. Oh no, even they know in their cruel, hard little hearts that they are being ridiculous. The thing is, every time someone tells them "You are cisgender! Please check your privilege," they actually know that they are being told that frankly, they don't need to be commenting on transgender issues. Because they are wrong. And they need to stop.

Who is surprised that people with privilege will get in a huff when told that they can't dominate narratives of the oppression they actively enact on others? I'm sure not.

So I'm going to say this: being called "cisgender" is not a slur, not ever. However, I believe in calling people what they like to be called. Would you prefer, J Nelson Aviance, that I call you "not-trans*?" I will. Gladly.

I will do it like this: "You are not-trans*. You need to check your privilege. And you need to stop opening your damn yap about trans* issues. Because you are wrong."

Glad we cleared the air.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Reminder of Things That Used to Matter

It's World AIDS Day.

It's scheduled at a weird time of year, isn't it? Right in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, this day dedicated to one of the deadliest plagues to beset modern humanity is often overlooked. There's shopping to accomplish! Who is really going to take a break to talk about HIV?

It's sort of a problem cropping up in recent discourse when dealing with the AIDS epidemic. The majority of visible American media is satiated on the idea that HIV is no longer deadly, a circumstance exacerbated by the white supremacist and classist notion that HIV-treatment options are available to all, an idea repudiated by the realities of racism and poverty. With all this static and all this dissonance about the nature of HIV and its consequences, it's easy to see why an ongoing scourge, which slowly murders people globally, can fall out of the public eye.

It is no longer cool nor widely acceptable to talk about HIV and AIDS in the terms that they deserve nor with the sense of urgency that the epidemic requires. Poverty-stricken indigenous South Africans are wasting away in the suburbs of Cape Town, while the advent of PrEP has convinced white middle class gay men in the United States that HIV is No Longer A Big Deal. The priorities are clear: as long as those most privileged among us (like myself) can survive, the disease is manageable.

It. Isn't. If you think it is, please talk about it with someone newly infected living in Namibia, in Chad, in Alabama... Or on the street you live, sleeping behind your dumpster.

While you gear up for the holidays, please understand that there are some that will never see the holidays again. Please understand that there are those of us who lost an entire generation of elders to this disease, leaving us bereft of wisdom and historical perspective. Keep in mind that there are those among us who miss loved ones who died too soon, too young, too... dead.

Why do we not talk about this anymore? American mainstream gay culture is busily divesting itself of its urgency in talking about HIV, while American mainstream straight culture is divesting itself of any interest in the topic whatsoever. As funds for treatment and research slowly but steadily dry up, things are beginning to look bleak for those not advantaged enough to access prevention and treatment. What do we do? What do we do while people are dying and no-one cares enough to do something about it?

The next step forward, whatever the oligarchic ruling class may tell you, is clear to anyone with a sense of logic (or compassion). The de-stigmatization of HIV is paramount to education. Education about HIV is a necessity to prevention. Prevention is necessary to saving lives.

I hope for a cure someday during my lifetime; with avid desire I wait until I'm able to stop taking these pills, these little pills that rule my little world. Until then, I hope to stay alive, and I hope that others live through this, and I know that some of the people infected don't have a chance in hell, and I'm really fucking sad about that. Capitalism and the state and AIDS have ensured their demise. I hope they pass in comfort.

I know they won't.

As long as people are more obsessed over the day after Thanksgiving than December first, AIDS will exist and will continue to kill people. Thousands of them, globally. As long as people care for profit margins and gift wrapping and the American status quo, people will die victims of narcissistic negligence at the hands of the most wealthy society in human history.


Happy World AIDS Day.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I Know Your Secrets and I Still Love You

Note from the editor: This is a guest post written by one of my favorite persons. Enjoy.

I know your secrets and I still love you.

A friend gave me a card with that phrase on it for my birthday a few years ago. I treated it like a talisman, a magickal token imbued with the power of possibility. I could be loved despite my secrets.

I am going to tell you one of those secrets right now.

I am a sex worker, a professional pervert, a pro top and bottom, a whore.*

I'm using my friend Ian's blog to confess this because Ian is a loud, drunken avatar of wonderful humanness and is allowing me to make questionable choices and also because I don't want to separate my activism and my job as a sex worker any more.

Let me explain.

I have been an activist for over a decade and in my quest to make the world less shitty and unfair I have done many, many things; from volunteering at an anarchist lending library (because access to information is a human right), to doing unpaid medical work at protests and in other states of exception like in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti a few years back (I am trained as a street medic and an EMT**), to working as an on-call counselor at a homeless shelter, to volunteering at a needle exchange, and volunteering with homeless youth. And the thing is, there are sex workers in every population I work with. Every. Single. One. And they are all afraid to admit it, afraid of what might happen to them if they talk about their work, because people look down on sex workers, and people look down on poor people, and people dehumanize and shame people who choose sex work whether it is a choice due to poverty or not.

My take on that: If you are judging someone because of their choice to survive in the face of poverty, you are an asshole. End of story.

Additionally, many sex workers deal with constant isolation and fear of the police. Resources are few and far between, and sex workers are often afraid to access the ones that do exist, afraid to be honest with their friends and loved ones, and deal with huge amounts of psychological stress.

Why should you care, beautiful creature who is reading this (I assume you are beautiful because everyone is beautiful, society simply tells us we are not)? Because a huge amount of queers are sex workers. A huge amount of straight people are sex workers. A huge amount of people are sex workers. Most of us choose to do it because of economic reasons, some of us enjoy our work, some of us do not. I generally enjoy my work, with a few exceptions. I love constructing an experience for someone, getting into their head and making their toes curl (If I could choose an overly pretentious job title for myself it would be Architect of Experience, Adventure Consultant, Esq.). Queer teenagers are much, much more likely to be homeless and/or choose sex work. It sucks to be queer, still, unless you grew up with money and a supportive family, and many of us did not. Sex work is a way to achieve financial independence for many a queer, trans*, or straight person living in poverty or in abusive situations.

Which brings me to my point: We need to support each other. What does it look like to be an ally to a sex worker? How to support your friend or lover when they come out to you about doing a little ho-in' on the side? Or full time? Or maybe you wanna date that hot hooker you met at the vegan potluck but don't know how to deal with their career of cocksucking? It's a demanding job and it gets more dangerous with each intersecting un-privilege. Queer? Trans*? Brown? Female-presenting? Just being a brown trans* ladyperson in public is often enough for police to assume she is a prostitute and hassle her even if she's just trying to get to the corner store for some juice and eggs. The longer the U.S. economy stays in a recession the more people will choose sex work to help them get by, there has been a huge influx of new people to the sex industry in the past 5 years and I don't see it slowing down anytime soon. I am entirely certain that if you don't know a current or former sex worker, it's because they haven't come out to you. We are everywhere, and that's not a bad thing.

So here's some handy tips:

1. Don't be a dick. Always good advice. (Thanks Wil Wheaton)

2. Dead hooker jokes aren't funny.

3. Intersecting oppressions are shitty to live with. Sometimes you just gotta listen.

4. Offer to be their safe call. They might not take you up on it, but having someone who knows where they are going and how long they will be gone while doing an outcall is a huge help.

5. All sex workers are not dirty or diseased. Most sex workers take obsessive care of their sexual health because it is their tool, and you cannot do work without the proper tools.

6. Don't be Captain-Save-A-Ho. It's patronizing and pathetic at the same time.

7. Respect that sex work is work. It is. It is fucking work.

8. Don't out them. It is not ever okay to disclose that someone else is a sex worker without their consent.

And here are some more, from the Sex Worker's Outreach Project Chicago

and the Sex Worker's Outreach Project NYC(though oddly not on their website, I couldn't find the original post)

Here is SWAAY, Sex Work Activist, Allies, and You, a resource that answers for pretty much every question you want to ask about sex work and the industry, though it is dominated by cisgender ladies***:

And I will leave you with this amazing video, Every Ho I Know Says So:

And remember: If you are a sex worker, someone will love you despite because of your secrets. I promise.

*Do not call a sex worker a whore. It is a reclaimed word, like queer and n******r. You don't call your African American friend n******r if you are white. Don't call a sex worker a whore if you are not one.

**Before anybody starts with the "Shut your whore mouth and get a real job as an EMT." bullshit the answer is I tried. I have applied to every company in the area I reside and haven't gotten an interview in 3 years. I am letting my EMT certification lapse when it expires next year because it is not worth the money to re-certify again if I cannot work. I originally got my certification to support my community as a medical resource, and I can still do that without the certification.

***Most resources and information about sex work, even the stuff by sex workers for sex workers tends to revolve around cisgender ladies, and I wish I could find more queer, trans* sex worker narratives and voices.

Hexe is a queer non-binary trans* mixed race Lakota/white sex worker with white privilege. They like being called faggot. Twitter: @h3xtacy Email:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


One of the hard things about having been a war vet and how I have dealt with my feelings on the matter is the difficulty in drudging up sad or traumatic memories and unpacking them years later. I tried for years through drugs to kill my memories and my emotions about the war; meth was an efficient way to distract myself so thoroughly that I did not really think about the things that upset me about Iraq.

It's been ten years, but occasionally I am forced to confront memories and events that happened so long ago. Today was an excellent example of this; I am taking a course deconstructing societal ideals of masculinity and as part of the class we read "The Things We Carried," a short story detailing an Army lieutenant and his methods of dealing with grief during the Vietnam war.

Two details of the text sparked some pretty poignant memories that I haven't examined in a long time. The first was how we dehumanize those most at risk in combat; in the text, soldiers in the most danger are called "grunts." I surmise we do this in order to minimize their humanity so that it's less painful when they die, and it's a cultural military meme that carries forward to this day. During my time of service, for instance, some soldiers in the Army referred to Marines-- who generally see far more combat when invading a country than the typical soldier in my field of work-- as "sandbags." Sandbags are bags filled with sand that can be used when building fortifications in order to stop bullets when under attack. The comparison between Marines and sandbags is rather brutal.

The other detail that hit home was the romantic relationship referenced in the texts. The main character, Lieutenant Cross, carries photos and letters from a woman in the States named Martha. When he is depressed or unhappy he daydreams about being with her. It's how he copes.

I had a Martha.

Actually, to be honest, I had several Marthas (I've always been something of a scoundrel). One in particular, however, was pretty exciting. Shortly before my deployment to Kuwait and the following invasion of Iraq, I met a man. He was so beautiful it made my heart break to look at him. He was unbearably kind. He was exceedingly intelligent. He was a little shy. I was charmed by him.

I met him online (does anybody remember the chat rooms from Sheesh), and we would spend hours chatting or talking on the phone. We only met a couple of times, but we made a delightful connection. I wanted to get to know him better. I wanted to do more than just the one sweet kiss we shared.

He was a Marine.

He left for Kuwait before I did, and before he left he told me "I wish I wasn't leaving. I wish I had time with you."

So I went to Kuwait, and I invaded Iraq, and even though there were so many horrible things going on and I was so unhappy I still had him on my mind. I hoped we would both pull through the war okay, and that when I got back I would give both of us the chance to see if we were right for each other.

Everywhere I went in Iraq I would look for him. If we drove past Marines I would hang my head out the window and try to examine their faces, hoping for a fleeting glance of him, this Marine ever present on my mind. I would not be able to speak to him (keep in mind how difficult it was to be gay in the military at this time), but at least I would see him, know he was okay, and hope that he saw me.

I think I saw him once in Baghdad. I'm still not sure.

When I got back from Iraq, I tried to contact him in every way I knew how. His profile was deleted. His number didn't work anymore. He didn't return my emails. I never heard from him again.

He was from New Orleans. He was going to take me there and show me around. I ended up going without him.

I don't know what happened to him. He might have changed his number, changed his email. He might have decided that he didn't want to talk to me. He might have died. I assumed he did. I hope he didn't. It's a possibility, however... he was, after all, a sandbag.

I still remember his sweet face. His gentle voice. His admiration and attraction for me, and how it made me feel. 

I wish I could remember his name.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Deep Green Resistance: Transphobic Liars, Grasping at Straws

Well, this has been an interesting week.

This year's Law and Disorder conference, a radical political gathering in Portland, was particularly spectacular. While the program certainly had its merits and the organizers can likely call the event a success, the schedule was overshadowed by the controversial attendance of one organization and the community response to their presence.

Deep Green Resistance, a "radical" environmentalist group led by such figures as Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith, were tabling at the event. Their environmentalist politics weren't the problem, though. Deep Green Resistance advocates a hardline "radical feminist" stance on transgender issues, essentially denying that "transgender" exists, instead equating all trans women as "men" who are posing as women in order to infiltrate female spaces, deny their socialized privilege, and rape "real" women. Or something. It's pretty disgusting (click over to Decolonizing Yoga's breakdown of their transphobic stances here).

Anyway, they had literature to that affect at the conference, and some queer anarchists decided to confront them on the issue that weekend. The queers involved in the confrontation issued a statement that says:

On the first day of the Law and Disorder Conference in Portland, two anarchist genderqueers* approached the Deep Green Resistance Table to inform the two women of Lierre Keith’s rampant transphobia. The people who confronted DGR were met with transphobic claim after transphobic claim, upholding the gender analysis held by their leaders. An argument ensued in which members of DGR denied the validity of trans identities. Offended by this, one of the genderqueers took a paint pen out and defaced the official Deep Green Resistance book written by Aric McBay, Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen. While said person was marking the book, a member of DGR grabbed the book back and was smudged by the pen. The person with the pen, knowing that DGR members are known for snitching (see Derrick Jensen & FBI and Lierre Keith & the pieing incident) and grabbed a stack of Lierre Keith zines and was not seen again.

Later that day, three anarchist genderqueers were sitting in the lobby of the Smith Memorial Hall of PSU laughing about how those transphobes got their book fucked up. While the queers were loling, a member of DGR** approached and started arguing with them. The DGR member even asserted that DGR believes that transpeople do not experience violence based on their trans identity. When he was challenged and given the tragically long list of transwomen murdered at the hands of transphobes, he had no retort. While he was walking away a burrito and some trash sailed through the air and landed on his head. Someone started a chant “DGR ARE TRANSPHOBES” and a dozen or so joined in. Laughter ensued!

The next day, near the end of the conference, a group of about 15 to 20 people approached the same two women from the first day and started a discussion about transphobia espoused by the group and it’s leaders. Some people yelled, others wrote down lists of zines and books to read so the members of DGR could educate themselves about the validity of transpeople and the daily oppression of transpeople. The DGR members decided to pack up their table at that point and go home. The DGR women proceeded to call Comczar Jensen and High Counselor Keith about their hurt feelings.

Deep Green Resistance and all of their fucked transphobic ideas will be confronted by anarchist queers at every turn. Get used to it.
*We do not believe that only trans people can confront transphobia. If the fact that the people who confronted them were genderqueer brings more legitimacy to the confrontation, then so be. DGR should be confronted by people of many identities in many ways for a multitude of reasons.

**This cult member was not one of the two women who were originally confronted at the DGR table.

The incident has sparked a Facebook shitstorm, with radfems spouting their transphobic idiocy, anarchists responding with humor and outrage, and even Twitter harassment from Cathy Brennan, DGR supporter and transphobic bigot extraodinaire:

So yes, I was involved in the online discussion of what occurred. However, Deep Green Resistance then published an interesting statement that, frankly, included something that made me howl with laughter.

The videos here were taken on Sunday. Below in italics are the direct words of the woman who took the video. She is the woman who Ian Awesome, aka Ian Finkenbinder, assaulted on Saturday. Ian has supported violence publicly in the past.
628x471Ian Awesome aka Ian Finkenbinder.
You can find the entire statement here.

Imagine my surprise... because I wasn't even there. I didn't even know about the conference until the controversy erupted. At the time of my alleged assault, so effortlessly placed right next to allegations of  rape threats (I'm absolutely positive they're not trying to accuse me of being a would-be rapist, right?), I was having dinner with five other people. On my deck. In Seattle. A three-hour drive away.

Well, my burrito-throwing arm must be a lot stronger than I thought...

I can't imagine what these people are thinking. I took place in the online debate, to include telling these disgusting human beings how horrible their politics are. However, I was nowhere near the conference, and am a distinctive-looking enough person that it would be hard for people to mistake someone else for me. I can only conjecture that they started looking for queer anarchists who appear in the media, grabbed a picture from an interview I did over a year ago, and decided to lie about who I am and what I do.

To be frank, this is an attempt to intimidate and harass voices who speak out against them online. That's cool. It doesn't work on me, and I don't know anyone who these lies would sway.

So I'm not going to get into a debate of what violence is or isn't, or what I have supported in the past (no, I have never ever stated support for violence, if you click on the link they provide I say nothing of the sort), but I would like to discuss violence and radical response to it, and how transphobia rightfully enrages those it affects.

Because let's be real, transphobic politics actually feed a larger culture of violence and destruction against trans* people. When we deny someone's identity and essentialize them to the sum of their body parts (IE, the "every person with a penis is a man"), we are actually reducing them to something less than normal, less than human. Tell me, are you more likely to assault a human? Or an inhuman object of ridicule?

In essence, the stance DGR takes against trans* folk actually and actively increases and empowers a culture that enforces gender assignment, victimizes them on the basis of their identity, and results in real-world physical, state, and institutionalized violence. Their politics aren't a difference of opinion-- they are a literal assault on trans* people. Frankly? A marker to the hand and a burrito to the head are not an immature response to a difference of opinion. It's a legitimate expression of rage, it's resistance to the violence these politics engender, it's a BASH BACK, and a humorous one to boot.

Dear DGR: Not only are you losing focus-- who the fuck even talks about your environmental work anymore? Do you even do any?-- but you're lying. I wasn't there. I didn't throw a burrito. I didn't deface anything, much less anyone's hand. The weakness of your position is frankly leaving you grasping at straws, attacking anyone you can for whatever you can make stick. What next, are you going to call the cops on me, as your bullshit group of people is so fond of doing?

While I'm owed a serious apology (sticking my picture next to allegations of rape threats is fucking disgusting, you creeps), I'm not bothered about the mischaracterization of myself as offering resistance to this bullshit.

Do I support that resistance, though? Do I support a lone, airborne burrito? Do I support bashing back?

Fuck, yeah.


Left comments on both the website that initially published this statement and on Cathy Brennan's website, which reblogs the statement with my picture, and thus far I have been ignored in requests for retraction. The original post, in fact, did not allow my comment with this piece to go through moderation. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Letter to John Aravosis (and Other Progressives Who Just Don't Get It)

Dear John Aravosis:

Evidently, it's really hard to be you lately. 

In case everyone else reading this doesn't know who he is, John Aravosis is the founder and a major contributor to a liberal-progressive blog called "AMERICAblog." Back when I was a baby blogger, I read AMERICAblog, among others, for inspiration and motivation to become the writer that I am (and hope to be). Before I radicalized to the extreme left, I looked up to bloggers like Aravosis. Their work became a model and a goal as I developed my chops as a voice in the LGBTQ blogosphere.

Recently, however, I've been a little disturbed by the rhetoric coming from you, John. In fact, Sue Kerr of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents and I published a piece on the Huffington Post's Gay Voices blog skewering a particularly troubling Tweet in which you chose to cast aspersions on the survivor of the Steubenville rape due to her drinking:

Turns out that was a bad week for our friend John, as just days later you used the term "bi" in reference to Gov. Christie's flip-flopping attitudes on gay rights. Essentially equating bisexuality, of course, with wishy-washy political stances. On Twitter and behind the scenes, a huge backlash resulted, putting you on the defensive. 
Evidently these are not the only public image and rhetoric fracases you have faced, as you published a particularly defensive piece today on your blog addressing a phenomenon that you choose to label "Outrage Inc.":
It’s part of a growing problem I’ve noticed for years, but have recently felt coming to a head. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to comment about far too many things in the public sphere without offending someone and creating instant outrage, often unmerited. As a result, you end up not wanting to write about the possibly-offending topics, which works to the detriment of the topics involved, unless the writer is a flaming bigot.

In the past few months I’ve been accused of supporting rape, terrorism, and hating trans people, bisexuals, women, immigrants, and Bradley Manning, which apparently encompasses a larger category of mom-and-apple-pie things that I’m sure I must hate or at least have no respect for (apparently I hate Manning because I asked a simple innocuous question in order to better understand what most angered his advocates).... 
...The need to be outraged about everything, and usually for insufficient reason, I’m calling Outrage, Inc. It’s the Change-dot-org-ification of advocacy, where with only 30 seconds of effort, you too can be mad as hell about anything, everything, and nothing. 
I say this, ironically, as a lead gay and progressive activist who has never backed away from using “outrage,” when appropriate, as a means of effecting change. But outrage must be measured to be effective. Being a good and effective activist and advocate isn’t about always being angry. It’s about being angry when it matters, when it can make a significant difference, and channeling your anger appropriately. It’s also about getting it right, i.e., getting angry when anger is merited.
Reading this piece, of course, made me a little... perturbed. Just call me the President of Outrage, Inc.

This piece is problematic in numerous ways. For one, you appear to be setting himself up as the definitive authority of what is or is not offensive to numerous groups to which you don't seem to identify with. As a presumably cis non-bisexual person who (and this is not something I know for certain but would not ask as it is private anyway) has likely not experienced the trauma of sexual assault, it is not actually your place at all to determine what rhetoric is oppressive or not to these groups. Frankly, you have no frame of reference and your assertion that this critique of oppressive language is appropriate while that one isn't is simply unwarranted and wrong.

That's not, of course, the only thing objectionable about your defense of your behaviors. You paint a surreal picture. Not only should you be allowed to determine which of your stances are offensive and which are not, you create this idea that suddenly this great, effective movement that you have belonged to for decades has suddenly turned on you and people like you. The culture, you appear to be saying, has suddenly become intolerant, easily offended, and hamstrung by its need to nitpick at every little thing you say. You are being hampered in your effectiveness, my friend, because we don't want you to use oppressive terminology.

Leftists are, sadly, well-known for this behavior. Since we all ascribe to vague notions of liberatory politics (generally anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic sentiments), we are able to absolve ourselves when we are accidentally racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise. "But I support all your causes! My ignorant comment couldn't possibly be biphobic, because I'm giving you guys a hand in solidarity!" This is all too common a defense (and yes, I'm looking at YOU, Dan Savage) we take when called out on oppressive behavior because we really don't like realizing we're part of the problem.

Don't get me wrong. I like you, John. You're a fun guy and you makes good points and hey, if it weren't for folks like you I probably would not be a blogger. However, this notion that you can't be offensive because you like the people you're offending is ridiculous. One might even say... outrageous?

To be frank, it's not that the culture has suddenly become more prickly and more hateful, it's that your rhetoric and positions are no longer acceptable. Just as it is no longer acceptable to make racist or homophobic jokes, it is now no longer acceptable to make jokes about bisexuals or to blame victims of rape due to their intoxication. Why? Because these narratives actually do in fact promulgate a culture that marginalizes these people. I don't care if you support rape survivors and bisexuals, my friend, because if you are blaming them for the oppression they face or if you use them as a punchline in a joke, you are contributing to their ongoing harassment and even the violence they face.

What's particularly troubling is that when these jokes or narratives get called out, defensive behaviors like the one that spawned "Outrage Inc." on AMERICAblog immediately are quick to point out that their intent is not to offend-- therefore no offense should be taken. Let's be plain: intent is entirely divorced from impact. One example is the prevalence of the word "bitch" in the gay community. This word is used in almost every other sentence among mainstream gay America, heedless of the offensiveness of the word. This word is used to oppress women and contributes to a culture of violence that ends in rape and physical assault on non-male persons (BTW, guys, "bitch" never ever means "female dog" when referring to a person, so quit with that lame-ass excuse, gays). Is the fabulous queen who uses it with his friends intending to oppress? No. Are they actually part of an oppressive framework that impacts women negatively? Yes.

John. You, and people like you, need to realize this: no matter your intent, your impact is what matters. Did you intend to be biphobic? No. Were you actually using biphobic rhetoric? Yes. Your defensiveness isn't necessary, John. Your apology, introspection, and reformation into a better-- a more effective-- activist is. After all, how can we be effective... while being oppressive?


Outrage Inc.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why I'm Angry

Trigger warning: This post contains references to wartime violence, sexual assault, IV drug use, and domestic violence. 

Anyone who knows me knows I'm pissed. I'm just generally a really angry person. Lately, my writing hasn't been particularly angry, however. I've been trying to be thoughtful, with lots of well-considered analysis and hopeful critique. The things that we tackle day-to-day don't just require rage, though that rage may be well-deserved. We need to really understand the problems that we face as a society and as a species-- oppression, privilege, resistance, stigma, shame, capitalism, repression... these require thought and subjective understanding. Not just personal, but political.

These posts have led some strangers to question, why? Why do you call yourself One Angry Queer? My posts lately... just haven't had my usual indignation. They have had, I like to think, a level of sophistication, of finesse.

This isn't one of those.

I'm going to tell you why I'm angry.

I'm really fucking angry I grew up poor. I'm angry that poverty led me to live in an economically depressed area, generally, where I didn't have access to the kind of education I others did. I had to get jobs in high school, and I'm angry that I was distracted from what I needed to do to "get ahead" in our society. I'm angry that, when it came time to graduate high school, I didn't go to college; I was too poor and so I joined the military. I'm angry that military then sent me to a country I never thought I'd visit. I'm angry that I contributed to death there. I'm angry that while I was there I saw dead bodies that I'll never forget; I'm angry that I once stood over a dead Iraqi woman in her twenties who had been shot in the head. I'm angry she was shot in the head. I'm angry I was ever there. I'm angry any of us were ever there.

I'm really fucking angry that this destroyed my life for so long. I'm really angry that I couldn't handle my feelings about what I did and what was done to me and I'm angry that I didn't feel that I could handle them out in the open. I'm angry that in my society, men are stoic and don't talk about their bad feelings. I'm angry that in my society, gay men are supposed to be happy all the fucking time and go out and drink cocktails and hey, maybe do some blow and then we dance and entertain our straight girlfriends because my goodness! Gay men are such a good time all the fucking time.

I'm really fucking angry that I then descended into the madness of drugs, slowly and surely over the course of years. Coke at first, and then when I stopped doing that... occasionally that devil of a drug methamphetamine. It wasn't bad at first, I was using here and there, sometimes months between uses. A weekend warrior! All under control! Of course, I'm angry that meth culture is largely without condoms and I'm really angry that I fell for that shit, oh boy am I angry, because now I have HIV and I might have it for the rest of my life and good goddamn do I hate taking those pills.

I'm really fucking angry that HIV exists. I'm angry that so many of the elders I could have had in my community are dead and they're dead because Ronald fucking Reagan wouldn't admit that we existed back then and just let us die. I'm really angry about this because I might not have gotten it if we had just addressed it back when it fucking started. We might have a cure right now, but we don't, and I'm angry about that because the reason we don't have a cure is profit margins and political expediency and gay folks are icky. Instead I'm taking these pills and I'm angry that I have to find insurance to pay for these pills and I'm angry that thousands of people don't have the privilege I do and they will die because they can't pay for these fucking odious little pills.

I'm really fucking angry that I have the shame and internalized stigma that I have about HIV. I'm angry that I haven't been the insertive partner with someone in months and months because I largely date seronegative people and I'm terrified of giving it to them. I know, oh so rationally, that because I'm undetectable it's almost impossible for me to give it to someone, especially using safer sex practices. I'm angry that I can't accept that easily because every day my fellow queer "brothers" tell me I'm dirty and reject me and tell me "Drug and Disease Free, U B 2" on their shitty online hookup websites and I'm angry that we are all so isolated in our communities that we have to seek intimacy through our computers because I'd rather seek intimacy in warm, encircling, loving arms.

I'm really fucking angry that the shame that I have been taught to have about HIV led me to toss in the towel, give up and become a full-blown meth addict, one that used every day and fell apart. Just fell apart. Oh, and I'm really angry I started shooting up. OH GOD. I am so angry about that. I'm angry that I now have hepatitis C because of that and I now have to quit drinking because my liver enzymes are through the roof. I'm angry that now I'm going to have to inject myself with goddamn interferon to treat it, something that I'm afraid of because needles are triggering and because it will likely make me sick and that's just a mess that I don't want to deal with but have to or else I'm really fucked. I have to go back to sticking a needle in my skin, even though I get super anxious and traumatized during blood draws just because there's a needle in the room and oh yes, now I just have nightmares about shooting up that make me wake up yelling and crying and the person who occasionally sleeps next to me has to wake up and tell me that it's all okay and really I would just like to let him sleep but I can't. I'm angry because I'm in something of a cool, new relationship right now and he has to deal with all this trauma and insanity because I couldn't take care of it before I met him. I'm angry that my addiction did this to me and that addiction still exists because we won't treat it like the disease it is, no, instead we criminalize it and lock it up and fuel the trade that it feeds on.

I'm really fucking angry that I was a full-time meth addict that was out of control and had no control and never had control and that led me to having sex with someone I didn't want to, and when I wanted to stop it I couldn't because I was too fucked up and hey, men are always ready to have sex so why would I have wanted to anyway? So I said nothing, even though I was horrified at what was happening to me. I said nothing because I was too goddamn fucked up to know what to do and too stupidly worried about disappointing that random sex partner I'll never see again. Men certainly can't be raped or assaulted or however you want to call it and if it happens they certainly can't admit to it. Except I was and now I am and I'm really fucking angry it happened to me. So angry that it makes me cry.

I'm angry that while all this was going on I was so busy trying to survive and not succumb to desperation and was so busy just trying to not die that I wasn't sending my brother any letters, because did I mention he got arrested when I was 18? Yeah, he was there for eleven years in prison, and when he got out I talked to him on the phone and I said "I love you, Jon, and I'll see you in a year on the outside, because I want to come and visit you because I miss you." And then, of course, six months later he keeled over dead because he'd been eating shitty prison food for eleven years (because who cares what slop they feed criminals? Got to keep the budget low when feeding those reprobates), and I will never see him again. I'm angry that the real criminals, the ones who fed him shit for years, the ones that decided that prison food should be a for-profit business, don't have to deal with this pain. Capitalism ended up in our prisons, ladies, gentlemen and genderqueer persons, and didn't you hear about capitalism and property? Property is motherfucking theft, and my brother was made the state's property and he was goddamn stolen from me and so I haven't seen my brother since I was sixteen and that makes me so fucking outraged and furious and angry and raging because I'll never see him again and that is. So. Horrible.

I'm really fucking angry that here I am, years later, assaulted and bereft and guilty and shamed and weeping and sad and I just hate it. I hate it that patriarchy, imperialism, prison, all of it has fucking wrecked my life every day and it just doesn't quit. I still get called a faggot on the street and that pisses me off and then I have to threaten these assholes' safety in order to get them to leave me alone and that really fucking enrages me because I really honestly just love most people and hitting someone is the last thing I want to do. I've had lovers and strangers both do it to me, and I hated it! Why would I want to do it to someone else? But they make me have to threaten them to get them to leave me alone and that fucking infuriates me. After everything I've survived, I have to deal with this petty shit almost every week I'm alive and why should I? Why does it still happen?

What's really insanely infuriating is that my story is not unique, far from it. My story is actually really fucking commonplace. All around us the systems that we have bought into and plugged into and taken stock in do this to people around us each and every day. Strangers, people we love, people we hate, this is all happening to them and it seems hopeless because it's a never ending cycle of poverty, violence, rape and exploitation. It's not hopeless, though, because we can challenge them, but do we ever? Do you ever?

Why the fuck aren't you angry like I am? My stories and those like it aren't even the worst case scenario. I walk through life still wrapped with the privilege my skin gives me and my Y chromosome gives me and there are people who don't have that, who are black or female-assigned or trans and they have it a lot worse and they are treated like shit and are dying and you aren't angry? My female friends are getting raped and you would rather sip your Absolut cocktails and go to a Pride Parade? The people I cared about during my using years are bleeding out their lives in gutters and alleyways and you want to crow about marriage equality passing in motherfucking France?

That's the worst. You know why I'm really fucking angry?

Because you're not angry enough.