Siobhan in The Establishment: Whisper Networks Are Flawed — But Not Because Of How They Affect The Accused

I would get my introduction to something called the “whisper network” on a crisp winter afternoon in 2014. The pub was a dive, orange hues cast over white and burgundy upholstery, a bar riddled with battlescars of patrons past, a jukebox collecting dust underneath a suspended speaker. I saw myself in the other patrons; women with the wild and vibrant hair I desperately wanted, hard femmes in glistening leather, mascs dressed so sharply they could cut glass with their suits. It smelled of wood and whiskey, still a reprieve from the biting cold.

I was sponsored by a woman in the community. “Munches,” as kinksters have come to call these events, are social gatherings meant to help you network in a safe, non-sexual environment as you enter the alternative underground world — the kind 50 Shades authors can only imagine through frosted glass. But my sponsor had soon abandoned me to navigate strange waters on my own, so I did what any good introvert with self-esteem issues would do: nursed a coke and ice while brooding on an empty couch, quietly chiding myself for thinking I could summon the courage to strike conversations with total strangers.

Read more in The Establishment here.

-Shiv

Who gets to be a brave survivor?

Rape culture has many strongholds, and one that stands out is incarceration. Because of the naive perception that incarcerated people have done something wrong (most plea bargain and are never proven guilty in court), many people will excuse prison conditions as being “part of the punishment.” [Content Notice for extreme sexual violence at this link] We see this in how sexual assault is weaponized as a consequence for high-profile offenders like Brock Turner–despite the fact that survivors ourselves often object to this.

I’ve quoted the less gorey details here:

When Tarana Burke started the Me Too movement, she hoped it would elevate the voices of survivors of sexual abuse—especially the voices of women of color. Although Burke’s Me Too has molded into a viral movement and hashtag, made famous mostly by celebrities and those who have access to platforms like Twitter, the survivors whose abusers are actually facing consequences are still mostly white women with resources and power. Some women with privilege are attempting to be better allies to those often erased from these conversations, by putting money behind their words, but some members of marginalized groups, like people in prison who’ve experienced abuse while incarcerated, have no voice.

The public seems to care less about the stories of incarcerated survivors than others, as Victoria Law has reported, and does not work as hard to end their abuse or the normalization of abuse in prisons. The result is a culture of sexual violence so extreme that speaking out could put prison abuse survivors in serious danger. The mainstream Me Too movement as cultural effort falls short for them.

Reporting sexual abuse can always put a survivor in danger, but in prison that threat is elevated because survivors are either detained alongside their abusers or their abuser is the one who holds the key to their cell.

“We’ve seen the power wielded by an abusive person like Harvey Weinstein,” said Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, communications director for Just Detention International, a nonprofit whose mission is to end sexual abuse in detention centers worldwide. “But for inmates, the stakes are raised, because even if they could participate in these hashtags, then their personal safety would be very much at risk.” Often that means their stories go untold and do not receive the kind of attention necessary for real change.

You can read the rest here, though again, content notice for graphic violence.

-Shiv

Crazy trans woman syndrome

Content Warning: Sexual assault, reclamation of anti-trans slurs.

The cool kids invite you to sit at the table. They give you a little introductory tour to the halls. They tell you which day on the cafeteria schedule serves the best food. They tell you the right words to flatter your teacher. They look out for you, and they do it by steering you clear of the “crazies.” Until you’re one of the crazies, I guess.

She and I both, as professionals in the community, are well aware of the fine line we have to walk in order to be taken seriously in the queer/trans community. We not only have to look a certain way (both in terms of passing and in terms of conforming to queer normative acceptable standards of appearance), we also have to make sure not to rock the boat too much. We have to appear as sane and calm as possible, no matter the circumstances. If we show too much emotion at any time (read: any inconvenient emotion), we get hit with a double-whammy of misogyny and transphobia, quickly written off as hysterical “crazy trans women.” Accuse the wrong person of something, anyone too close to queer-home, and that’s the end of our credibility and the revoking of our entrance passes to Queerlandia.

It’s exhausting having to walk such a fine line. I’ve found that there are so many “danger zones” to watch out for. Trans women have to not only be queer-literate (knowing queer social justice language), we have to be exceptionally good at using it. Any minor slip of language or politics and we’re labeled “crazy trans women” by cis people while trans men nod knowingly in agreement – rarely standing up for us, and just as often perpetuating the ‘crazy trans woman’ stereotype themselves.

I became aware of this initially through cryptic warnings from an older queer trans woman friend of mine, years before I became involved in the queer community, but I didn’t realize the extent of it at first. That is, until I was invited to participate in it. When I first became involved heavily, I befriended two trans men whom I looked up to a great deal, and one of the first conversations we had in private was a gossip session in which they “warned” me about various trans women and got me to agree that they were “crazy.” I’ve found similar conversations throughout the community, often used in a way that it makes me wonder if what’s really happening is that they’re subconsciously testing my loyalty to the queer zeitgeist. Am I good tranny or a bad tranny? Am I willing to be part of their clique, giving them the ability to deflect any and all criticism of transmisogyny, or am I a “problem?”

Read more here.

-Shiv

Justice for an abolitionist

I was given a highly sanitized version of justice in my upbringing–cops catch “bad guys,” and only the “guilty” are convicted for prison–and sadly despite the mounting evidence that neither of these pillars is true, it’s still a relatively common response to the law system. When I finally found myself in the crosshairs of behaviour that is arguably criminal as defined by the law system I am bound to, I did not relish the notion of my abuser being jailed. There was no inherent satisfaction to me in that outcome. She would either be hurt by someone else (which is not what I want) or she would hurt someone else who was imprisoned (which I don’t consider acceptable either). So what does justice look like for people like us?

Punishment and revenge will not heal the harm that has been done to me. It will not take away the pain, nor will it make me feel better about myself when I look in the mirror. But putting forward a system that advocates for a radical shift in our culture, in our way of surviving and handling these atrocities and collectively preventing them, will.

I don’t want temporary healing. I don’t want a fleeting safety.

I genuinely don’t blame anyone for wanting those who have harmed and violated them or someone they love in a jail cell or even dead. That’s what we’ve been fed and told is the only appropriate way to deal with perpetrators of violence, enablers of patriarchy, and even non-violent forms of deviance. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that prisons do not, will not, and cannot protect us. Prisons have never made me feel safe.

My violator(s) did not spend a minute in a cell for what they did to me. I never came forward. I don’t regret that, but I do regret not making it known how they violated me. I regret going through the process of healing alone, which is something I’m still working through as I type this.

If I could go back in time and do things differently, I still to this day would not put my violator(s) in a jail cell. But what I would have wanted was a community, or even a single person, to show me a love that was sincere and much more nuanced than simply regurgitating the hatred I should feel toward my violator(s) and wanting them dead. A community that works toward protection and prevention, where survivors don’t feel it’s their sole responsibility to survive, heal, and search for a nearly non-existent justice for not only themselves but others who have been harmed.

Read more by Joshua Briond here.

-Shiv

#MeToo as a queer and trans person

I’ve been somewhat open on this blag about my experiences with abuse, and yet I was hesitant to add my voice to the #MeToo hashtag started on Twitter. It was proposed in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations as a way to “get people to see the gravity of the problem”–yet, the ways in which the conversation were carried out led me to believe I would be met with more hostility than support.

Sam Hope concurs.

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

My trans and trans-friendly connections started to throw up alternatives to this original copy&paste meme: “women and non binary people” was one alternative, “women and femmes” another, as people struggled to include the complexity of how gendered violence impacts our diverse world. What was less surprising, perhaps, was how many of my trans friends could say #MeToo: Statistically, trans people, whether men, women or non-binary, are at greater risk of sexual violence as children than cis women, and this extra vulnerability continues into adult lives. Lesbians and gay men also experience more sexual violence than their straight counterparts, and bi people even more than lesbian and gay men.

There’s a reason this is not often talked about. For years, we have been told, without foundation, that somehow abuse turned us queer. The truth is a mirror image of this – queer/trans kids tend to be more easily isolated and have more strained relationships with caregivers. This creates conditions where they are more easily preyed upon. Social exclusion continues to mark out LGBTQ+ people as targets into adult life, and fear of being outed can also give abusers a hold, particularly for people from certain families or communities that hold hostile attitudes to LGBTQ+ people. In a world that was not sexist, cissexist and heteronormative, they would be as accepted and socially included as everyone else, and they would not carry this additional vulnerability.

We see similar themes of elevated levels of abuse within other vulnerable groups – autistic people, disabled people, people who grew up in care, to name but a few.

It was only after my abuser had attempted to burn bridges with a well-respected cis man in the community that people began to believe the trail of allegations that followed her. That’s… hard to forgive.

Read more here.

-Shiv

A misogynist by any other name would smell just as putrid

On August 10 earlier this year, I concluded that the weakly supported theory of autogynephilia (AGP) remains popular among a certain subset of sexologists because of its utility for dismissing trans women. A careful look at the methodology that produced the theory quickly demonstrates its fatal flaws, and yet the theory is, to this day, occasionally cited as a reason to dismiss a trans woman’s opinion as unreliable. In brief review, the theory posits that there are two (and only two) etiologies by which gender dysphoria is produced in trans women: The first, the bizarre and easily falsified notion that it is easier to be a trans woman than an effeminate gay man; the second, sexual arousal at the thought of oneself as possessing culturally female attributes. The former are confusingly named “homosexual,” (as in women attracted to men), the latter “heterosexual” (as in women attracted to women). Science!

Ray Blanchard was only able to propose this conclusion by ignoring vast portions of his data and framing his subjects as liars, thus rendering his theory unfalsifiable when tested with his own methodology. The theory, naturally, doesn’t pan out when investigated by Blanchard’s peers.

[Read more…]

Some concessions about Twitter

I still despise Twitter as a platform, principally because it refuses to do anything about its infestation of Nazi shitheels. Twitter has, through its inaction, become an inadvertent hotbed of white supremacist recruitment in the North American context. I imagine similar extreme views have gained traction as a result elsewhere in the world, for the same reason.

The only way I’m even able to use the problem at all is by subscribing to a user-made function called block lists, which are exactly what they say on the tin–a list of users defined by certain parameters who can be added to your personal block list. I have a “Deplorable Blocker” and a “TERF Blocker” active. Of course, the administrators of these lists are human, and therefore imperfect, so in order to access this platform at all, I have to contend with the possibility of false positives on my block list, and most of them seem to be minorities who were added because the block lists’ code can’t account for context. Slurs, for example, take on a very different meaning depend on how they’re used and who they’re used by, but if you’re coding a spider to pick up user handles of everyone with a slur in it, you’ll sweep up everyone without that context.

It’s very frustrating. Even as I make a few concessions, I am still pretty pissed at Twitter’s lethal incompetence.

However, there are two benefits I’m now willing to admit, even with these problems:

  1. Last time I had work published, the paper’s platform combined with FTB gave me a respectable view count in the 1000s within a week or so. Since my average FTB post attracts about 600 pairs of eyeballs, many of which share the material, I considered this a smashing success. Now with my most recent published paper shared on Twitter, it got 25,000 views in under eight hours. As a promotional tool, it’s extremely effective.
  2. Lots of minorities use Twitter to self-promote, and as a result I’ve widened my reading material to include a lot of perspectives & data that I would otherwise miss.

I still desperately want Twitter to recognise abuse and do something–literally anything–about it. The blocklists are an imperfect solution, because abusive shitheels tend to run astroturfing campaigns under new handles that can weasel around them, but I now see Twitter’s utility in promoting material. I’ve only used it for a few months and it’s become the biggest source of new and, more importantly, consistent readers.

Then again some of them might be Nazis, so. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

-Shiv

Oh, I have not self-flagellated sufficiently for The Cis, what monster am I

Back in the good old days of 2011 when Nazis were indisputably punchable and the President of the United States did not issue orders via Twitter, a fellow by the name of Paul Elam launched a website called “Register Her.” It was a domain dedicated to publishing the photographs, home addresses, phone numbers, routes to work and/or any other personal information folks could acquire–a practice commonly called “doxxing”–of women who have caused “significant harm to innocent individuals.” Alongside convicted female sex offenders and murderers were… women whose sexual assault allegations were defeated in court. Most feminists would recognize the problems immediately: How there exists a gap between morality and legality; how courts must convict with evidence that proves the defendant performed the deed “beyond all reasonable doubt;” how an acquittal doesn’t necessarily mean the action had not occurred. And that’s without taking into account the evidence that most law systems perform poorly when attempting to prosecute sexualized violence. The final, perhaps most critical detail, is that he wasn’t the sole contributor. His followers can and did propose their own profiles for the women who had, in their view, wronged them, and doxxing soon became a mainstay of online “men’s rights activism.” It became an assumption that if you were being filmed by MRAs, your face could end up on the darknet, and your details shortly thereafter.

Most people would agree, given this context, that if Paul Elam walks up to you with a video camera and you’re a woman, he’s engaging in an act of intimidation, because we know what he does with those images. Now the courts might say “it’s legal to film someone in public,” but, again, recalling our morality/legality gap, courts have also said upskirt photographs are legal too. Again, it’s not a particularly difficult analysis to perform–the law is behind most people’s conceptions for morality, so the argument “it’s legal” should be understood to be irrelevant when the actual discussion is ethics. It is, in essence, surrendering the argument altogether, though to those of an authoritarian bend it is convincing.

[Read more…]

TERFs and the Big Lie

If you can hold your breath long enough to read a few posts in a TERF forum, you find that a significant amount of energy is spent hand-wringing over every minute detail of trans women’s lives. They’ll frequently create threads obsessing over candid photographs, speculating wildly (using patriarchal psychosexual theories, in case you were under the illusion they’re interested in liberating women) about her sexual interests, over something as asinine as a trans woman leaning over a table to catch some dribble from the soup she’s eating.

Lately TERF twitter has been a-flutter over a video of a SUPER ULTRA VICIOUS ATTACK BY TRANSGENDERING MALES… in which Maria McLachlan, a British TERF, chokes out a trans teen for about a minute and a half before being punched. Rather remarkably, UK Media have been sharing McLachlan’s edit of the video (which, you know, also shows her choking this teen) and they’re citing it as evidence of… [CW: TERF bullshit] “trans male” violence…???

Apparently it’s impolite to not pass out when being choked in the United Kingdom.

It’s a page from the patriarchy playbook: Deny deny deny. Deny it to their face. Deny it without hesitation. Deny it repeatedly. The more ambitious the lie, the better. And I can’t think of a lie much more ambitious than saying being choked by someone constitutes an act of violence.

What I was a little bit unprepared for was how readily UK Media pushed the TERF narrative.

1) Transgender people defending themselves against violent attack by TERFs is now ‘condemned’ by Stonewall. Fuck. Cis. Gay. People. Fuck them. It is profoundly telling how easily trans people get thrown under the bus when the Gay Inc.’s respectability machine is threatened. Trans people must just take this shit now? No. Fuck you. You’re just as bad as the fucking TERFs and Nazis.

2) Transgender people defending themselves against physical attack is ‘retaliation’? This is a fantastic example of the intellectual dishonesty of cis white people. Defending ourselves shouldn’t be framed as some sort of point we’re making. We’re not ‘retaliating’, we’re not engaged in ‘revenge’, this isn’t some sort of philosophical exercise we’re contemplating, we’re trying to survive physical attacks by violent and hateful bigots.

3) As @nonbinarygxd on Twitter says: “Ummm…. this ahistorical liberal nonsense is treacherous. Newsflash, violence in the hands of the oppressed vs. oppressors is not the same.” [2]Of course forgetting history is the first thing that happens when a group started by trans women of colour is taken over by white cis men. It is a profound act of privilege and ignorance to pretend that Stonewall was born out of “pacifism” when queer people were literally beaten up, jailed, and killed so you can have your wedding cake. As @_hoemo on Twitter says: “…….so…what the hell do you think Stonewall was? A peaceful talk over tea and orgies?” [3]

etc. etc. Read more here.

-Shiv

Bad survivor

Whenever “call out culture” is critiqued I typically approach the piece with skepticism–it’s a term so loosely used to the point of being useless at this point, and I just want people to define their terms precisely. Regardless of what we actually call it, this piece is about non-state methods of community policing, and has some valuable observations on how messy the process can be:

Content Notice: Abuse, threats of violence.

[Read more…]