Signal boosting: Alcoholics Anonymous, minorities, and abuse

AA has a pretty spotty reputation outside of conservative Christian circles, and typically for a good reason. Here’s a perspective from a trans women of colour on their principles and how they ignore or exacerbate minority stress, a dangerous prospect considering substance abuse is often a coping mechanism for said stress.

At the first AA meeting I attended at the hospital, I was pulled aside by one of the speakers, who told me I should get off my hormones and pray for God to “remove my problem.” It was clear he wasn’t talking about my drinking or my using, but my gender “problem.”

And so it was that my rocky relationship with 12-step programs began. I enjoyed, and would still enjoy, the AA and NA meetings I felt comfortable attending. But as I was typically the only trans person in the room — and in some cases, one of the only people of color — I also often experienced harassment and humiliation.

Members at subsequent meetings told me to pray my gender dysphoria away, or declared that the dysphoria remaining was a sign that I failed to move through the steps thoroughly. Complicating this was the fact that that my drug abuse did start off as a way to cope with gender dysphoria (and my being trans in a Latinx household) — but because of the judgemental environment, I never felt comfortable expressing that.

Other times, members would attempt to use meetings as their conversion therapy camp. In one instance, a group of religious men gave me their phone numbers because they felt that I needed men to set me on a religious path and make me masculine again. They seemed to believe that trans women who used and abused drugs and alcohol became trans as a “symptom” of addiction or alcoholism.

Other times, I faced sexual harassment or physical intimidation (usually if I rejected advances). One incident resulted in me having to change my phone number because I was getting threats and insults daily for refusing a man.

Read more about it here.

Can I get a cookie for not being a fucking murderer, too?

Remember that time people were celebrating a video of a cop handing a black woman an ice cream cone instead of a ticket or a bullet?

Did anybody notice how fucking absurdly low our standard of behaviour is for cops? (Royal “Our” here–I largely mean white people who are not habitually profiled by the police).

A few months ago when I was walking to the store with my teenage son, a cop followed us on a busy highway, at a walking pace, all the way to the store. He stared at us coldly the entire time. When we entered the store parking lot he followed us in there too. Driving slowly behind us, all the way to the entrance of the store. He stayed there until we went in.

My son was shaking with fear the entire time. “Don’t say anything,” I said quietly, “Don’t make any sudden moves, don’t look at him. Just walk. We’ll be okay soon.”

“I shouldn’t have to be this afraid, Mom,” my son said, his voice wavering.

“I know, baby,” I said.

We entered the store feeling grateful to be alive and aware that if the police officer had decided otherwise, we would not have been.

Today, when I saw this video which has gone viral these past few days as a “feel-good” cop story, I finally made the connection. The video is of a black woman being pulled over by police. There is terror on her face as the officer walks up to her car. His gun is at her eye level. But the officer doesn’t reach for the gun — instead, he reaches for two ice cream cones to hand over to her and her passenger. Her terror gives way to the almost tearful relief that she is not going to come to harm at the hands of these officers. At least not today.

I haven’t killed anyone today. Does that mean should get heaps of praise?

Is that really our standard now?

Hey, I’ve gone an entire day without shooting someone, somebody give me a pat on the fucking head and a gold fucking star.

Jesus fuck.



State sanctioned abuse of women

The Guardian has been publishing reports of people who have been victimized by undercover police officers, groomed as unwitting informants via romantic engagements. For the women targeted in these ventures, their feelings are often genuine–and they must endure a shocking betrayal that is not only legal, but sanctioned by the state.

Like Jessica, I too was deceived. I understand the shock, disbelief and disorientation that come from this appalling discovery, that someone so close and so trusted could actually be a spy sent to infiltrate and disrupt legitimate protest and political movements.

I was tricked into a long-term relationship with the SDS (Special Demonstration Squad – the Met’s undercover unit) officer who I knew as “Carlo Neri”. We met in London in September 2002 at an anti-war demonstration. Neri was a steward at the march and on that day he was with friends I knew socially and through work – who just happened to be trade union activists and anti-racism campaigners.

Neri and I were inseparable. Within six weeks he’d moved in with me. We lived together for two years and in that time we got engaged and talked about having children. My family and friends loved and trusted him too, and he became very much central to all our lives.

Neri left me after appearing to have a breakdown, during which he disclosed trauma and domestic and sexual abuse within his family. This trauma was re-emerging and deeply troubling him. Leading up to his final disappearance from my life, he went missing several times and threatened suicide. This had a massive impact on my life and my wellbeing.

It was in the summer of 2015 that I discovered that Neri had in fact been leading two lives: one with me, as a locksmith and leftwing activist, and the other with his wife as a highly trained police officer, operating in the so-called elite SDS, a secretive unit within the Metropolitan police.

Like Jessica, for over a decade I had no inkling that the man that I had lived with was in fact a state spy. It was activists and researchers who had suspicions about Neri’s sudden disappearance who put all the fragments of this strange jigsaw together. They provided me with unquestionable proof that Neri was an undercover police officer, his profession documented on his marriage certificate and his children’s birth certificates. To be invited to join this elite unit, it was a prerequisite to be married and to have a stable home to go back to when the long undercover deployment – or “deep swimming”, as they referred to it, ended.

The impact of the discovery has been profound. It has re-opened old and painful wounds, which never quite healed. This real-but-not-true person has come back into my life – uninvited. When this happens, when your life narrative becomes a fiction, time itself becomes fragmented. There’s a ripple effect. It impacts your family, your relationships, your career, your health. There are still many missing pieces, questions unanswered and a huge sense of loss.

I urge you all to do a bit of digging to see how drastic your local governments can get when it comes to surveilling domestic activists.

Read more about the UK’s actions here.


Signal boosting: WeCopwatch

The Establishment has an interview with the creators of WeCopwatch, a group that trails police officers and records their activities during arrests so as to corroborate allegations of police brutality. (emphasis mine)

The WeCopwatch members spotlighted in the documentary — Kevin Moore, David Whitt, and Ramsey Orta — have stepped behind the lens to record police brutality in New York, Baltimore, and St. Louis.

In addition to revealing the importance of exposing abuse, the documentary shines a light on the aftermath of such activism. Orta’s video of Eric Garner’s last words-turned-mantra, “I can’t breathe,” as he died in a headlock on a sidewalk in Staten Island went viral, prompting him to take several interviews. Copwatch reveals this made him a target for the police, who surveilled him until he was brought up on charges. Orta was eventually arrested and found with a gun, and later charged with second-degree criminal possession. Ramsey, too, was arrested, on gun charges and for domestic violence; he maintains his innocence on the latter, and says he’s been harassed by the police since filming Garner’s death.

Copwatch points out that this might be the “cost” that members of the grassroots organization face as they challenge a broken system set up to fail them at every turn.

The film, which just had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, has plans for more festival appearances in the U.S. and Europe in the coming weeks, and is currently pursuing digital and theatrical distribution. I spoke with director Camilla Hall about police brutality against African Americans, knowing your rights, and the process of making her crucial film.

Read more here.

Vague rhetoric and female “spaces”

Siobhan — then you agree that cis women have a right to their own spaces, that trans women have privileges from having been brought up as boys, and that cis women have a right to talk about how their female bodies shape their experiences of oppression?

This is an extremely common tactic I see deployed in criticisms of my work. I don’t know if the people using it realize just how loaded some of those word choices are, and I wanted to pause a moment to unpack that.

For starters, a lot depends on what exactly we mean by the word “spaces.” Are we talking about a Sunday scrap-booking club or a crisis shelter? The differences between the two touch many areas–legal, practical, ethical, just to name a few. A private interest group needs absolutely no justification for setting its boundaries. In addition, no self-respecting trans person wants to curry favour with people who treat them like they’re untouchables. But when trans women (and it’s usually trans women who are the subjects of exclusion) talk about accessing “female” spaces, we’re not typically signing up to be the subjects of mockery at a poncy tea party. We’re usually talking about accessing the same life-or-death safeguards as cis women, those precarious flotation devices tossed overboard in a desperate bid to keep the drowning above water.

The problem is when a service that typically falls under “public accommodations” is treated as if it were legally and morally equivalent to a private interest group. The standard sleight-of-hand for the trans-exclusionary type is to drop a byline about “supporting trans resources” but unsurprisingly, not a single “womyn-born-womyn” radfem cent ever actually goes to trans-specific startups for that exact purpose. If a particular jurisdiction has few or no resources to help trans women in crisis, I feel fully justified in interrogating the motives of trans-exclusion from the existing services. It is, after all, directly and immediately contributing to the catastrophic civil and health outcomes of trans people.

[Read more…]

Commercial break

I’ve been preparing for Edmonton’s BECA conference for a couple weeks now, so I haven’t been keeping up the queue as diligently as I normally do. As a result, we’re back to business soon–just a few days to actually give my presentation, unwind, do things that are not rated PG-13–and the snark is on as usual.

Have some commercial break music:

[Read more…]