Canlit, harassment, retaliatory defamation

Canada has had its own blow-up around Tarana Burke’s #MeToo–recently in Canadian literature academia, similar allegations of misconduct had been leaked and circulated despite being initially intended as an informal network. Emily Kellogg has a good review of the legal situation:

The consequences for going public with accusations like these varies. In her New York essay, Donegan writes about the toll administrating the list took on her mental health, as well as her professional and personal relationships. After publishing the essay, she faced online harassment, including threats of doxxing—in which trolls release private information, like someone’s home address or bank account information, online.

In Canada, Spry’s essay ignited controversy, especially from those who felt he glossed over his own complicity in perpetuating an abusive culture at Concordia. Still, both Spry and Koul’s pieces have started urgent conversations about sexual abuse in CanLit.

These can be difficult conversations to have, and, because of Canada’s strict defamation laws, going public can have serious legal repercussions—even if you’re doing so solely to protect other people from harm.

“Many women who have accused their perpetrators have had to face retaliatory defamation claims,” Dr. Constance Backhouse, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and co-author of The Secret Oppression: Sexual Harassment of Working Women, explains. “These are often brought with inflated dollar demands—for example, a claim for one million dollars in damages…  I believe it is very rare for these lawsuits to actually go forward, but they are certainly effective as an intimidation tactic.”

Read more about it here.

-Shiv

Larry Nassar and transformative justice

Larry Nassar–the now infamous gymnastics coach with literal hundreds of victims of sexual assault–was given a harsh sentencing hearing back in January. The judge’s commentary during the hearing resulted in some interesting responses, including the bizarre notion that an ordinary day in a punitive law system somehow constituted “transformative” justice. Survivors of sexual violence who are themselves prison abolitionists responded thusly:

Amid our society’s current cultural upheaval around sexual violence, Aquilina struck a chord with many survivors who want and need to believe that justice under this system is possible. By offering the mic to survivors, and by aiming violent, vindictive language at a widely loathed defendant, Aquilina has been rewarded with the status of instant icon. Unsurprisingly, she is also reportedly considering a run for the Michigan Supreme Court. The case launched numerous think pieces, including a misguided, misinformed praisesong entitled, “The Transformative Justice of Judge Aquilina,” by Sophie Gilbert.

Gilbert’s article highlights how this moment challenges those committed to transforming our carceral system — including people, like us, who are committed to justice for survivors of sexual assault and who also believe that prisons are the wrong answer to violence and should be abolished. We decry the system and advocate for change that is long overdue. Yet when that system ensnares people we loathe, we may feel a sense of satisfaction. When we see defendants as symbols of what we most fear, and that which we most greatly despise, we are confronted with a true test of our belief that no justice can be done under this system.

Yet like all tests of faith, this moment calls on us to recommit ourselves to true transformative justice. And to do that, we must remind ourselves what transformative justice is, and why it looks nothing like the civil death that Aquilina delivered last month.

Read more here.

-Shiv

The Toronto Village

Among the many other pieces of news coming out of Toronto’s police and their treatment of queer people there is a serious story about institutional neglect–a serial killer, permitted to operate by police inaction.

It is mid January, 2018. I am sitting in the press conference for Andrew Kinsman’s family. We are in the 519 Community Centre; above the lobby bulletin board hangs a sign: “FAMILIES DEFINE THEMSELVES.” The conference is in the ballroom on the second floor. The last time I was here it was full of steamy bodies—the humid rain had moved the TreeHouse Party inside, and we danced in the microclimate of our sweat. I remember a friend’s hand in the small of my clammy back that made me wriggle and slap them away.

Now it is cold. Journalists and equipment personnel sparsely laugh and chat, milling near a hastily erected coffee station. One behind me loudly barks: “There’s probably a book in this!” The family is huddled, watching them. Watching us, I guess. They have just learned an arrest has been made. They have just learned, for certain, that their brother was killed. They are waiting for the body to be found.

They speak imperfectly, as all of us would. They think aloud of the child that Andrew was. Shelley Kinsman takes no questions after her statement. I watch her anxiously clutching and persistently rubbing a small black stone with both hands throughout. I never find out what it was. She looks like my mother, fretting at her rosary beads.

Andrew’s sister Karen tells a story about how her brother wanted to be a paleontologist, and how the family once hid a cow femur and convinced him there must be dinosaurs buried in the yard. He dug and dug until, ecstatic, he found the bones.

The room shifts uncomfortably and moves quickly past the infelicitous image.

I could have posted any of the news outlets just publishing basic facts, but it’s so devoid of the context that this piece brings in that I preferred this one instead.

Read more here. And ready some tissue.

-Shiv

Did they even check?

(The answer is “no.”)

One of the more annoying rhetorical sleights-of-hand deployed by anti-trans feminists is their tendency to claim they “speak for women.” One brilliant Scot decided to test that theory by contacting every women’s crisis resource in Scotland to query their policy on trans women. As it turns out, antagonistic positions are far from guaranteed to be the norm, or even represented at all:

It was stated that Scottish Women’s Aid don’t speak for individual Women’s Aid services, so unless we somehow managed the impossible task of ringing round all 40 to check if they were trans inclusive, we couldn’t possibly know. Spoiler alert: the only reason that’s impossible is because there’s actually 36, but more on that in a bit.  I had a midweek day off and my maw got me unlimited minutes for Christmas, so I rang them and asked.

Catriona ‘We Simply Don’t Know’ Stewart is a senior journalist at the Herald & Times Group.  To me that means she’s got a fancy desk, a big salary and every contact under the Scottish not sun at her fingertips.  But rather than try and find out so she didn’t give ground to the misrepresentation of services and instill fear in women who might need to one day present at their local Women’s Aid and might also be trans, she sent a pointed and scary tweet, then logged out.  Brass neck points for pulling us up for not speaking to individual services, while choosing to imply something more than a bit dodgy without… speaking to individual services.  (Just ring them, Catriona, and if you can’t be arsed surely there’s an underpaid intern somewhere who’s fed up shredding Iain Macwhirter’s draft novellas).

We weren’t surprised that frontline workers and specifically support and refuge workers were the people this mibby, mibby not but probably transphobia was being attributed to.  No one is else going to say it so I will because none of you know my real name: that’s because those workers are more likely to be working class women. And of course the implication is that while national officers might understand the ever so complicated dance of being sound to trans women, workers on the ground have been caught in a whirlwind of confusion and outright rage, turning up to work head to toe in trans panic alarms for the last 10 year. Gies peace. And let them do their job.

Antagonistic positions are still taken elsewhere in the world, and they’re devastating when they happen because a person in crisis is pretty much, by definition, going to lack the resources to combat that. But it’s worthwhile to remind anti-trans feminists that they represent a minority, and not “women.”

Read more here.

-Shiv

Depersonalization and gender dysphoria

Zinnia Jones recently identified a gap in research on gender dysphoria: The co-morbidity of GD with depersonalization, and more mystifying, Hormone Replacement Therapy’s capacity to alleviate it.

Since experiencing this completely unexpected shift in my consciousness, I’ve been deeply interested in what the physical basis for this change could be. While research on HRT in trans people consistently indicates that it can relieve depressive and anxious symptoms, very little information is available on the biological basis of depersonalization symptoms, let alone the specifics of how depersonalization disorder can affect trans people. Medical transition, particularly HRT, is associated with a reduction in depersonalization and derealization – but how? Intriguingly, estrogen itself modulates NMDA receptors, and some of its effects can be blocked by NMDA antagonists (implicated in the effects of dissociative drugs). Estrogen has also shown some success in treating the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, which have a degree of phenomenological overlap with experiences of depersonalization. There are many pieces that seem relevant here, but as of yet very little to fit them together into a more complete model of how the action of estrogen can treat depersonalization (and even less to explain how testosterone treatment is equally successful at reducing depersonalization in trans men).

In short, these phenomena fascinate me, and there is an urgent need for more research into these areas given the severe impact of this syndrome on those trying to bear this living death. Depersonalization wrecked my life, draining it of all the promise it supposedly held. It stole my soul without the courtesy of killing me. If there is anything that can help us fight back against this condition, that matters.

And that’s why I decided to try lamotrigine.

(She does so under medical supervision, so Don’t Try This At Home, Kids.)

Read more here.

-Shiv

Distinguishing between unaware, suspicious, and antagonistic

One of the ways Julia Serano and I diverge, apparently, is our positions on linguistics. I’m an extreme descriptivist, which means I acknowledge that individual words will take on different meanings for different people. This is what facilitates miscommunication, and my position is to always abandon the loaded terminology and say what we mean every time. Although I disagree with the conclusion of this article (that we should police our application of the label “TERF”), there was one piece in it I wanted to share that I thought had merit:

Upon considering this, as I was writing the essay Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates, I used three different terms to differentiate between underlying sentiments or motives that often drive expressions of transphobia. I have found them useful on subsequent occasions, so I recently added these terms to my online trans, gender, sexuality, & activism glossary. That new entry reads as follows:

Trans-antagonistic, Trans-suspicious, Trans-unaware: terms I have increasingly used since the mid-’10s (e.g., see here) to make distinctions between various types of anti-transgender attitudes or positions. Some expressions of transphobia stem from people simply being “trans-unaware” — i.e., uninformed (or under-informed) about transgender people and experiences. Other individuals may be downright “trans-antagonistic,” in that they are fundamentally opposed to transgender people for specific moral, political, and/or theoretical reasons. From an activist standpoint, this distinction is quite pertinent: Trans-unaware individuals tend to be “passively transphobic” (e.g., only expressing such attitudes when they come across a trans person, or when the subject is raised), and may be open to relinquishing those attitudes upon learning more about transgender lives and issues. In contrast, trans-antagonistic individuals often actively promote anti-trans agendas (e.g., policies, laws, misinformation campaigns) and are highly unlikely to be moved by outreach or education (unless, of course, they undergo a more comprehensive philosophical transformation). The “trans-suspicious” position acknowledges that transgender people exist and should be tolerated (to some degree), but routinely questions (and sometimes actively works to undermine) transgender perspectives and politics. For example, a trans-suspicious individual might treat me respectfully and refrain from misgendering me, yet simultaneously express doubt about whether certain other people are “really trans” or should be allowed to transition. While they often consider themselves to be “pro-trans” (on the basis that they tolerate us to some degree), their strong cisnormative and cissexist biases lead them to spread much of the same misinformation, and push for many of the same anti-trans policies, as their trans-antagonistic counterparts (e.g., see here). In a world where trans-antagonistic and trans-unaware attitudes are pervasive, trans-suspicious arguments tend to strike the average cisgender person as relatively “objective” or “reasonable” by comparison (although trans people readily see through this veneer).

The distinction between the trans-antagonistic and trans-suspicious positions was central to my “Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation” essay, as I was attempting to articulate (to a largely trans-unaware audience) why trans-suspicious views from the likes of Jesse Singal and Alice Dreger (both discussed in that essay) are so invalidating from a trans perspective. While these writers tolerate trans people to some extent (e.g., they are not calling for us to be entirely excluded from society), they clearly value cisgender identities, bodies, and perspectives over transgender ones, and they are inherently suspicious of anything transgender people say about our own lives (unless, of course, it aligns with their cisnormative presumptions). Hence, they push for many of the same policies (e.g., pro-gender-reparative therapies and anti-gender-affirming approaches to healthcare) and spread much of the same misinformation (e.g., psychological theories that have been rejected by most trans health professionals) as their trans-antagonistic counterparts, despite the fact that they seem relatively benign to outsiders.

You can read the rest here.

-Shiv

“Nonviolence means refusing to work with the police”

Violence is often a sticky topic in progressive organizing, with many preferring to espouse “non-violence.” However, Kit Harrington has some serious questions about what exactly that entails:

To put it simply: In my years of activism and journalism, it’s become quite clear to me that the single biggest purveyor of violence at protests are police. Police come to peaceful protests armed for war (literally, with military surplus gear), and police are better at turning a protest into riotous violence than any other group.

The physical violence they inflict is bad enough, but the subtle damage that cops do to justice movements is a form of violence too. In their love of protecting the government and corporate property and profits, police will infiltrate your movement, entrap your members, and do everything they can to tear you apart.

Arrests of activists ruin lives. Even charges hanging over a person can ruin their mental health — just ask any of the J20 defendants who have spent the last year wondering if they’d be spending decades in prison — regardless of the final outcome of the trials.

Cooperating with police ruins lives. Police and the Feds in Charlottesville have been charging left activists who previously assisted their investigation into nazis.

Police will show up at your protest whether you want them or not. But don’t cooperate with them. Don’t thank them for being there. And as any sensible lawyer will tell you, never talk to the cops.

Getting a permit for your march is just asking the state to commit violence on your behalf. So is asking them to arrest activists you disagree with. Protecting you is not the job of the cops, especially not at a protest. Their job is to maintain order and the status quo, and your permit won’t change that. They will attack you as soon as they feel you’re making a difference.

Read more here.

-Shiv

An example of material support

One of my peers in journalism, Katelyn Burns, interviewed the founder of Hypatia Software Org (unrelated to the journal of a similar name). Burns’ interview highlights a few key points to providing substantial, material support for trans people:

The cycle of systemic poverty and homelessness is nearly impossible for anyone to break out of. The combination of not having enough funds for everyday necessities under capitalism and a lack of a suitable shelter under which to sleep can be crushing to the human spirit.

Under structural transphobia, trans people are at increased risk for unemployment and homelessness, with trans women of color—who are three times as likely as the general population to be unemployed—bearing the brunt of this oppression.

When I began my own transition, of course, homelessness lingered as a fear in the back of my mind. I’d watched too many trans women be run out of their jobs under suspicious circumstances and subsequently struggle to find another job to believe I was entirely immune to the possibility.

Housing insecurity is a major issue for the trans community and already sparse shelter resources could potentially be a hostile environment for a trans woman, myself included.

As a trans woman, I have a natural fear of cis-operated spaces, as the potential for transphobia is ever present. For example, the Salvation Army has been accused several times of harassing or even banning trans women from their shelters. I wouldn’t even risk availing myself of their services.

Taking into account that a great many shelters and anti-poverty charities are affiliated with or operated by churches, I would be leery of seeking the same help as a homeless cis person.

And with trans people making up just 0.6% of the population, it’s especially difficult for organizations to provide appropriate local trans-specific resources and a welcoming support system in order to help folks breakout of the systemic poverty cycle.

In order to figure out the best ways to help trans people breakout of systemic homelessness, I turned to the trans-run organization Hypatia Software Org.

According to President/CEO, Lisa-Marie Maginnis, Hypatia’s mission is “to end homelessness and the disenfranchisement of people who experience transmisogyny through peer mentorship, emergency cash relief, and community building.”

Here are 4 ways they say we can help get trans people out of poverty now:

Read more here.

-Shiv

Trust women

Both of these things are true: 1) Forced-birther advocates are often misogynist in intent; 2) Forced-birther advocates are simultaneously also transphobic in impact. When arguing in favour of laws that infantilize people making decisions about what to do with their pregnancies, the rhetoric is often laced with the belief that (cis) women are flighty and thoughtless, and thus can’t make decisions for their own body. Unsurprisingly research has shown this to correlate with a variety of other misogynist beliefs.

In reality, the struggle over abortion goes back to Dr. Tiller’s slogan. The question is whether or not women can be trusted to make decisions for themselves like adults, or whether they should be relegated to second-class status, stripped of the right to bodily autonomy. Recent research, published over the past month, highlights how central this question is to the abortion debate and demonstrates that despite widespread skepticism about women’s basic decision-making capacity on the right, women are highly competent when it comes to knowing what they need and quite capable of taking control of their lives — if they are allowed to.

“The polling data that exists on abortion is so one-dimensional,” Tresa Undem, a researcher for the polling firm PerryUndem, told Salon. So Undem conducted focus groups and polling meant to go deeper, and find out what people really think about women who get abortions. What she found out was that, among those who oppose abortion, there’s a widespread belief the women who have abortions are unintelligent, irresponsible and thoughtless.

Anti-abortion respondents also seemed to believe that men understood abortion better than women. When asked whether men whose partner was having an abortion understood that it was ending a potential life, 51 percent of abortion opponents said yes. But when asked if women getting abortions understood the procedure, only 36 percent of anti-choicers agreed that a woman knows what she is doing. Abortion foes were also more likely to say they were more comfortable when women were housewives instead of seeking careers.

Very little forced-birth rhetoric reckons with the existence of transmasculine people–often the trick is to roll transmascs into “women,” and proceed from there with the similar beliefs plus added transphobia. Read more here.

-Shiv