some thoughts on m/m tropes: gay cops and barebacking

People who follow me on twitter will be unsurprised to know that I listen to a lot of m/m romance audiobooks. Being depressed has meant that I basically spent 60% of my waking hours lying in bed and essentially doing nothing but listening to books.

(I don’t read as much these days because it has been over two years since I’ve had much capacity to sit and focus on reading. When I can get the focus/concentration for sustained, deep reading, I try to read articles or something nowadays.)

I occassionally, on twitter, will complain about certain tropes and elements of these m/m books, many of which are written by straight women. Or just women. The audience for these books, as with m/m slash fanfic, is usually considered to be other women. By and large, m/m is a genre for and by women. Except that it has gay men as the main characters.

One of the things I’ve mentioned is that the reason why this is the genre I’m into at the moment is because while I like romance genre fic in general, these days my feelings about sexism and misogyny make reading 99.9% of het romance unbearable. Given that many of the het romance plots use boundary violation as a plot device, I just can’t. I can usually get about half an hour into a het romance (basically around the time that the interactions between the two romantic protags begin) before I have to ragequit or quit out of disgust.

And it is possible that this is one of the things that draws het women to m/m romance too, since it allows for the exploration of romantic themes amongst characters that don’t have a basic power imbalance that colours every aspect of their interaction. It also allows them to escape many of the het romance tropes.

Unfortunately, all this means is that m/m romance has its own set of tropes that usually end up being homophobic and heteronormative in ways that are damaging to gay men. The thing about presumed audiences is that the only ppl reading m/m isn’t just het women. I remember as a young bakla, before the rise of mainstream m/m, that I lived for the very few fun/fluffy gay books I was able to find. Yes, I read gay literature and this was all well and good, but I do like my escapist fiction. I can well imagine that there are many gay youth out there reading these books bc they offer a welcome respite from their daily lives and from (perhaps) literature that is less fun/escapist.

So. What are the tropes that have me ranting on twitter? Here are a few:

1) Gay cops, gay cowboys, and gay veterans.

Between these three professions, I think almost half (if not more) of m/m books have at least one gay character in one of these professions. The least irritating of these is the gay cowboys. Whatever.

Perhaps the most irritating is all the gay cops. Many of whom are closeted when the book begins.

The thing about cops is that they tend to be one of the most violent and outright oppressive groups of ppl towards gay people. Many gay people don’t report crimes against them because cops either don’t care or further traumatize them. This is a real problem in many, many places.

Does this mean that there are no gay cops? Well, of course not.

The problem I have is in the romanticization of them. Because this isn’t a neutral occupation. There are no ‘good gay cops’ because there are no good cops. It is a fundamentally violent and oppressive institution. Yet in these books cops are often presented as moral, masculine, and desirable.

Like. One book I tried (but failed to finish) was about this gay cop who saves a homeless gay man. Which, of course, is ridiculous since cops tend to be violent towards homeless people in general and gay people in general, so why wouldn’t this (gay) cop likewise be violent?

I’m troubled by narratives like this because some stats show that up to (or more depending) 50% of homeless youth are lgbt. But the thing is, is that homeless lgbt youth are generally poorly (if at all) served by many existing social services. And, by and large, it really isn’t cops who are rescuing these youth (or anyone else, tbh).

The military thing… I just. The nationalistic narratives of this are just troubling from an anti-oppressive standpoint. I literally listened to one book where the main character was former military, who then was a mercenary, and the book kept saying over and over again how he wasn’t a murderer… and I’m like, just because your murdering is sanctioned by the state (and not all of it was), doesn’t make it suddenly ‘ok’. By and large, these books are unlistenable for me. Worse than the cops because they always try to make me feel sympathy for white cis d00ds who were in poc countries killing poc. And I just can’t.

(There’s also a bunch to be said here about toxic masculinity and why these specific occupations are considered to be so fucking ‘masculine’ and desirable by m/m authors.)

2) Heteronormative sex tropes

The main thing here is the idea that all gay men have penetrative anal sex and that this specific act alone is the most intimate that gay sex can be. Or, as is often the case, that barebacking penetrative anal sex is the most intimate that gay sex can be. That this is the height and goal of gay intimacy.

The thing is, is that not all gay men do anal. Many, many do not. And they don’t do it for a variety of reasons. The point being, that the gay men who don’t do anal aren’t failing to being deeply and meaningfully intimate with their partners (if this is what they want). Of course, there are also heaps of gay men who do anal and it means all of nothing to them. They do it with anyone they can.

I find the barebacking aspect of pernicious because it sets up this belief that safer sex is less intimate sex and that is…. yeah. Again, this is a heteronormative conception of intimacy because it pushes for obligatory monogamy. This is also, perhaps, one of the most dangerous tropes in the ways that it can possibly influence gay youth into engaging in less than safe sex because they internalize this.

Also? This marginalizes and demonizes those people with STIs (especially those with HIV). People in mixed status relationships (ie. all partners not either negative or positive) who use condoms and other barriers aren’t in relationships that necessarily have less intimacy than those who have sex without barriers. And this is to say nothing of the disgusting way that many of these m/m authors use descriptions like ‘clean’ when it comes to their characters disclosing their HIV status.

Next comes over-investing ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ with heteronormative emotional content. Some of this, yes, does happen within the community, but it generally isn’t quite as deep as some of these authors take it. I read one book where one of the main protags is so deeply conflicted about ‘topping’ and ‘bottoming’ that it is one of the central conflicts of the story. He has no issue suddenly being gay, but rather is emotionally wrought over the fact that he is macho and after bottoming in his first sexual encounter it creates this giant fucking existential crisis for him. Or another book that I just finished where two of the characters (who are now best friends) dated once but stopped bc they are both tops and after one tried bottoming, he hated it so much that it turned off all romantic feelings.

I read shit like this with my face like O.o, because it is just so fucking ridiculous. Again, it isn’t that ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ don’t have some of these connotations within the community, but with the way that this ties into the ‘anal sex is the most intimate sex’ trope, is that this becomes important to a degree that is ridiculous. A relationship falling apart for the sole reason that both men are tops? Absurd. But only possible within a belief that anal sex is something all gay men do and is the most meaningful, intimate sexual act.

Okay. I’m only listing these two for now because I’m done writing and I want to take a shower.

I will say this about why I’m writing this, because I have seen some of the defenses women who write and read within this genre have used against criticism like this, this stuff exists within a larger culture.

Sure. Maybe the heteronormative barebacking anal sex thing wouldn’t be a big deal in isolation and within these books. Except that we are currently at a time where many gay porn studios are showing more and more bareback sex (it is becoming the norm). We are currently at a time where bug chasing has actually become a thing. We are at a time were many new cases of HIV are amongst gay youth because there is a whole generation of people who weren’t impacted by the AIDS crisis (and never learn the history). We are at a time when the HIV epidemic has never actually stopped for trans women of colour.

Within this larger cultural context, pushing this barebacking sex as teh most intimate sex is really fucking dangerous and harmful. Because intimacy isn’t about which sex acts you and your partner(s) engage in. Some acts don’t have more emotional content than others. It is about the people and their feelings, not about the specific activities.

on the ethics of disclosure

I find myself unable to resist writing a response to this blog post about whether or not trans ppl have a ethical duty to disclose our trans status to potential sexual partners. There are a few problems with the way that the question is posed in the post.

First, the difference between sex and gender:

Cutting back to our question about disclosure, we see that most people seeking a partner would consider the fact that a potential partner is of the “wrong” sex for the seeker to be a “deal-breaker.” For a straight man, knowing that the potential partner is a man would preclude a relationship, and the converse would be true for a gay man learning that his potential partner is female. Bisexual people may feel differently (or may not, depending on the individual). Other than knowing that one’s partner has an STI, there are probably few other facts (besides the sex of one’s partner) that nearly everyone has a strong desire to have before embarking on a sexual relationship. Perhaps that should count toward the “yes” side of the balance.

Within the discussion, this is perhaps one of the strongest arguments on the ‘yes’ side of the question (ie, that trans ppl do have an ethical obligation). Of course, the immediate problem with this is that people aren’t attracted to each other’s ‘sex’ but rather our genders. This might seem like splitting hairs to some people, but it is an important distinction.

Insofar as you believe that sex represents the ‘biological’ fact of a person and gender their felt identity, attraction and desire don’t depend on the ‘biological’ fact of a person. By and large, I’d wager that almost all of us do not know (and will never know) the ‘sex’ of anyone we’ve ever had sex with. Determining sex depends on quite a few biological factors, some of which almost no one actually knows about themselves (like my chromosomes… I have had no genetic testing, I do not know with any certainty whether I’m XY, XX, or any other possible combination). Sex at birth is usually determined on a cursory glance of genitals. So, at least as far as ‘sex’ is concerned, if that material reality has changed, then so too has the sex1. If your ‘sex’ has changed, do you have an obligation to disclose this change?

And, let’s be honest, this is the real question (or at least it should be). The problem with the discussion as it goes down in the post is that it posits trans people’s identities and genders as inherently deceptive. This is the word actually used. With the invocation of ‘rape by deception’, it makes it clear that she (and presumably her colleagues) consider that being trans ultimately represents a deception (or possible deception) that could be considered to obviate the consent of the partner.

I agree that gender is an important, deal-breaking aspect of a person for many people. However, I’m having a hard time with this given that if a person who has met all personal, medical, psychological, and legal requirements to change their sex (and gender), how can it be considered deceptive to not disclose what a some doctor called your genitals based on a quick glance when you were born?2

I also find it interesting that this question doesn’t actually go in the other direction. Noting how this fundamentally posits trans identities as deceptive, the post doesn’t actually consider the actual situations that might be considered deceptive.

As in the case of a closeted trans woman. She gets married, fathers children, and then later decides to transition. Is this not a better case for analyzing the potential need to disclose a person’s trans identity? Given that many trans ppl feel that living and presenting as our birth gender is the real deception, I find it interesting and curious that this situation never ever occurs to the cis ppl who wish to discuss the ethics of disclosure. Similarly, why is the discussion never about cis gays and cis lesbians who engage in heterosexual sex before (or even after) coming out?

Instead, the discussion is always focused on burdening trans ppl living as their felt gender (and potentially having done any number of things to live authentically up to and including full medical transition), with an ethical obligation to tell our potential sexual partners what our ‘real’ sex or gender is.

Earlier in the article, Colb mentions the situation where an otherwise white looking (I’m guessing based on context) person is a quarter Black but doesn’t disclose this to potentially racist partners who might care a great deal about their partner’s race. One thing I find interesting about this analogy and how the discussion happens, is again where the burden of disclosure rests.

Why isn’t the real question over whether or not bigots have an ethical obligation to disclose their bigotry? If I know, in advance, that a potential partner hates Asians, then I can make the decision not to have sex with them or otherwise associate. Indeed, this was one of the few benefits of online dating for me, since many white gays are more than happy to disclose their racist preferences in their profiles. Likewise, it would be super useful (if I were still dating) to know which men hate girls like us so that I can be sure to avoid them.

The problem, here, of course is cisnormativity, where everyone is considered to be cis unless specified otherwise. This is, in fact, an actual aspect of trans ppl’s oppression, since cisnormativity feeds into cissexism, where cis genders are considered more real and authentic than trans genders. Which takes us into the above discussion where trans ppl are framed as being always inherently deceptive about our gender (or sex).

  1. This isn’t my actual view of the matter, but given that in many jurisdictions where you can amend your birth certificate, this change is a pre-requisite and will satisfy the legal (and medical) requirements necessary for changing your sex. 

  2. Just so that it is clear, I don’t think this is the only context where non-disclosure is acceptable. I don’t think that any trans person has a moral obligation to disclose our trans status in any context. 

my small, vocal message to white trans women ‘leaders': fuck you

After reading a second response to Burkett’s now infamous NYT article by a white trans woman in a leadership position who decides that taking a potshot at “a small but vocal portion of the transgender community online” (in context she’s referring to the trans ppl who think that the “Vagina Monologues” is outdated, cissexist garbage — which it is). The first response by a different white trans woman leader is more explicitly dismissive: “these are the actions of some college students, and they hardly represent the trans community”. Her contempt for trans youth is palpable.

Both of these things concern me more than Burkett’s NYT piece. That article has literally nothing new or interesting in it. Same recycled transmisogynist shit that radfems have been saying for forty years.

I’m interested in these responses because these two white trans women are leaders of organizations that claim to be fighting for people like me. While I can’t be dismissed as a ‘darn college kid’ by Beyer bc I’m too old and graduated years ago, I probably do count as part of Tannehill’s ‘small but vocal’ online community of trans ppl who are creating a negative stereotype of the trans community.

In many ways, both of these women (especially as expressed via their responses to Burkett’s piece) exemplify what I’ve been calling trans*nationalism. These responses demonstrate a clear position of wanting to assimilate to the dominant culture by responding to hate with a conciliatory nature. Moreover, they attempt to shape trans discourse into something that is politically palatable to current structures of power.

And they do all of this while trying to marginalize, diminish, and dismiss the voices and dissent of trans people they apparently find too disreputable to fit into their trans*nationalist agenda.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects to both of their arguments is an insistence that there is some biological basis for gender. In both cases their assertions merely reveal a deep ignorance and misunderstanding about what social constructions are and what it means for gender to be one. Their position that gender does have some biological basis pretty much runs counter to most trans/gender theory.

Nonetheless, what these arguments for a biological basis for gender serve to do is support the cis-normative edict that trans/gender must be medicalized and pathologized in order for it to be coherent and subject to ‘human rights’. And, in turn, this belief that trans/gender is a medicalized and pathologized reality is likewise white supremacist so I’m not entirely surprised to see to older, white trans women advocating for this position.

In any case, here are ‘our’ trans leaders. This is what they have to say in response to a hateful article written in a major news media outlet. And in case they ever end up reading this blog post, please know that I’m quite sincere regarding the title. My small, vocal message for these two women (and white trans women in similar leadership positions) is “fuck you”.

You are just as much my oppressor as the cis woman you’re replying to. The only difference is that you think you can speak for me (or alternatively dismiss my voice because I don’t agree with you). You are sadly mistaken if you think that pushing your trans*nationalist agenda will accomplish anything truly meaningful. You’re just a different part of the problem, not the solution.

on feelings and the ideal agent

Of all the terrible things contained in Vox’s recent hit piece on how sjw’s — sorry, ~liberals~ — are ruining higher ed, the whole thing about feelings has been slowly grating at me.

Without a doubt, the worst part of this article is the way that it unabashedly used lies and untruths to expose vulnerable people to harassment. It’s impressive that a ‘liberal’ professor who claims to care deeply about pedagogy can’t be bothered to fact-check or behave in an intellectually honest fashion (ie, violating the usual standards of academic discourse by misrepresenting the positions he cites).

But what I do want to talk about is this liberal attack on ‘feelings’, since this is something that is echoed in conservative/reactionary discourse as well. As a trans person, I frequently see the argument that my ‘feels’ regarding my gender don’t override the ‘reals’ of my biology. But it is important that is a liberal professor who is undertaking this general disparagement of feelings.

Liberalism is one of the main/major ideologies to come out of the enlightenment, which I’ve recently criticised (and not so recently). And, in general, also something that came out of the enlightenment is the current popular type of ethics known as ‘consequentialism’ (or, via enlightenment, utilitarianism). The thing about liberalism and its use of consequentalist ethics is that it relies heavily on the enlightenment conception of the ‘ideal agent’. And what characterizes this ideal agent? This agent is the perfect embodiment of dispassionate, objective rationality. Moral decisions are made using an objective, rational calculus that determines the greatest good to the greatest number of people.

All the old, enlightened means of discussion and analysis — from due process to scientific method — are dismissed as being blind to emotional concerns and therefore unfairly skewed toward the interest of straight white males. All that matters is that people are allowed to speak, that their narratives are accepted without question, and that the bad feelings go away.

His explicit mention of the enlightenment (and its values) is not accidental. And it’s weird because he really does understand why emotions are a threat to white men, like him. And it isn’t about feelings.

It is about this ideal agent. Because this ideal agent, coincidentally, is men exactly like him (educated, white, class-privileged, hetero, cis, etc.). And in a world where emotions might actually be important, ideal agents no longer become the focal point of our political, cultural, and social institutions. Even worse: they are perhaps no longer even necessary.

This is why liberals like this professor are terrified. It is also why liberals and conservatives can, by and large, use this exact same argument about ‘reals over feels’ to attack marginalized people. Both ideologies are united in their desire to ensure the hegemony of white men. And both, of course, find their roots in the enlightenment.

The thing is, is that the enlightenment — as a whole — absolutely does eschew the importance of emotions as a way to ensure that the ideal agent is always and only the default human. Incorporating emotions (and emotional harm) into our politics and ethics absolutely challenges the supremacy of white hetero-cis-patriarchy. It creates a world where men like this can no longer assume positions of absolute authority in the realm of politics, ethics, and culture (inclusive of education).

The amusing thing is that this professor’s position is more anti-science than the one he attributes to BD or ‘the professors of library science’. Contemporary research into human cognition and how the mind actually reasons demonstrates over and over again that the ideal agent is impossible and cannot exist (so far as humans are concerned). It isn’t just post-modern critical theory and its adherents that insists that objectivity is a false reality.

But this professor feels that dogmatically adhering to a 300 year old conception of the mind and the ideal agent is more ~progressive~ than re-imagining how ethics and politics could work if informed by a more realistic (and scientific) understanding of human cognition and behaviour.

universal (white) philosophy

I’ve been discussing philosophy these past few days on tumblr. One conversation about what counts as philosophy and one post about how white philosophy is considered universal by default. In a very simplistic way, all I’m really communicating is that because white men are the default human, their philosophy is assumed to always be universal and valuable. This is why the question is, “why we can’t just take white philosophers for hypocrites and still value some aspect of their work”, and never actually anyone putting forth any real argument as to what value white men’s philosophy should have for anyone who isn’t a white man.

I pointed out, on Twitter, one of my early experiences in an intro to epistemology class. As an intro class, it was a survey class that had a chapter on the various approaches to epistemology in white philosophy. To save time the professor decided to cut out the section on feminist philosophy and, thus, in one fell swoop ensured that the only ‘philosophy’ we studied was that of white men. Beyond the issue of the fact that white women were segregated into one easily excised chapter, this material was considered an appropriate broad, introduction to epistemology.

And, yeah, so the fact that we can’t even get white women’s contributions to philosophy taught as a regular part of introductions to philosophy, what hope is there for non-white philosophical traditions? None at all. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a single philosophy department in Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe that teaches any tradition of philosophy not centered on white men. You know how I know? I once tried to do phd in Philosophy and the only school that accepted me was a school in Asia (bc my focus was on Chinese Philosophy). In white run schools, I usually had to apply at ‘East Asian Studies’ or ‘Religious Studies’1.

But, as noted in the posts I linked above, I mainly situated my discussion of the limits of white philosophy in ethics. In this post, I actually want to talk about logic, which was my actual specialization. Indeed, I have a compiled book on my writings about how white logic isn’t universal.

Logic is interesting because of the ways that many misconceptions people outside of the specialization have about this branch of philosophy. One of the biggest misconceptions there is some kind of universal logic that can be appealed to. There isn’t. There are many kinds of logics.

However, I know that a lot of people might look at this discussion about white philosophy and think that maybe some value might still be extracted from white philosophy… and one of these areas, for a lot of people is logic. I mean, it is reasonable easy to demonstrate that we maybe we shouldn’t follow the ethics of a slave-master, but a lot less intuitive to claim that John Stuart Mill’s, A System of Logic is just as historically bounded and limited as his Utilitarianism.

(One thing to note is that I am purposely picking on enlightenment thinkers, since their philosophy is generally explicitly (but sometimes implicitly) white supremacist. Their philosophy is the ideology of colonialism and this matters… I generally might be more open to exploring the value of white medieval philosophers or the classical white ones. Basically, what I’m saying is that I can see more value in Aristotle than I do Kant. The historical contexts for how their philosophy matter (indeed, one could say that characterizing Aristotle as a ‘white’ philosopher is anachronistic bc the white race hadn’t been invented yet). With the creation of race as science and organizing socio-political-legal principle, the whiteness of enlightenment philosophers is always relevant. It is with their philosophy that the current white supremacist modern world was built.)

But it’s funny, the universalism of white logic is always already assumed. Even when their own writing makes it clear that it cannot be universal. Look at the title for the first chapter of A System of Logic, “Of The Necessity Of Commencing With An Analysis Of Language”. And so, Mill goes on to analyse language. Of course, he’s English so the language he is analysing is…. English. If Mill can state outright that any project of logic must necessarily begin with analysing language… and that language is English, then clearly this isn’t universal.

And this actually holds true for much of logic. So many logical ideas and philosophical considerations depend on a relationship to natural language. And we know for a fact that words, grammar, and syntax are not universally the same in all natural languages. So if look at a description of Mill’s logic (based on language analysis), we get something like this:

Where the import of a proposition is given by connotation, truth or falsity is determined by denotation. An affirmative proposition is true just in case that the thing or things denoted by the subject term are in the class of things denoted by the predicate term; otherwise it is false. Similarly, a negative proposition is true just in case that no thing denoted by the subject term is a member of the class of things denoted by the predicate term. Things and attributes are always such that any proposition is either true or false and not both. This states the Principles of Non-contradiction and of Excluded Middle. No thing or attribute is such that it can be said to be both wholly itself but also necessarily connected to something other than itself: each thing or attribute is logically and ontologically independent of every other thing or attribute.

So, based on Mill’s analysis of English, he comes to the principles of non-contradiction and the excluded middle. These to ‘principles’ are often called ‘laws of logic’.

And so, why can’t we take this part of Mill’s philosophy as valuable beyond his status as white supremacist? Well… if you’re a Black person reading this book how do you feel when you bump into this syllogism?

(tw: antiBlackness. i’m using a screencap here because the text for this is hard to read in html form)


Or later on he writes:

As for example: negroes have never been as civilized as whites sometimes are, therefore it is impossible they should be so.

But objects to this claim as a logical fallacy, not on the grounds that the claim that Black people aren’t as civilized as white is itself false. You can also read a discussion about Mill’s racism here. The discussion is interesting because a lot of people make the claim that while he is racist because of his historical times, he is somewhat less racist because of reasons. All this despite his clear advocating for imperialism and colonialism.

But back to the laws of logic… If their derivation here depends on an analysis of English, in what sense can they be considered universal? Well… despite what a lot of people think, these ‘laws’ aren’t even regularly followed in white logic itself. There are many formal systems of logic (and by ‘formal’ I mean the mathematical ones) that break one of these laws. For these systems, of course, their breaking of a law is usually motivated by some feature in natural language itself.

In any case, if Mill himself can note that an analysis of language is the proper starting place for logic, why is it suddenly controversial to suggest that white logic (as espoused by white men using a specific language) isn’t universal? That logics motivated and created using different natural languages might have different rules and features?

But… at the end of it, these considerations aside, it becomes curious to wonder what value we can take from Mill’s book on logic when he cannot even articulate something like this without expressing anti-Blackness (and white supremacy). Anti-Blackness is so deeply embedded into his worldview that he can’t talk about a branch of philosophy that (at least on its surface) has nothing to do with race (and/or socio-political relationships implied by race) without it creeping in.

Because that’s the thing, after it all, all of this is connected and you cannot abstract — even in their own considerations, the historical, material context in which these philosophies were articulated. If Mills (and others) cannot even talk about logic without embedding an anti-Black and white supremacist worldview in it, I’m not sure why we should try to understand his logic as being distinct from this very same anti-Blackness and white supremacy.

  1. The general interpretation of iaopoc philosophy as ‘religious’ is fucking rich considering how many white philosophers are christian and whose ethics are deeply influenced by that worldview. 

#BlackAsianSolidarity, ‘women of color’ and ‘people of color blindness’

I’m not necessarily saying anything new in this post. People generally familiar with my writing and opinions about stuff will know that none of this is new (or necessarily original).

I don’t even know where the hashtag being discussed comes from. Some panel somewhere? Idk. In any case, as always, I have a lot of feelings and opinions when it comes to ‘Black-Asian Solidarity’. Most of them… generally negative.

I can never forget how ‘women of colour’ is a thing given by Black women to the rest of us. This link will take you to a specific timestamp of the video of Loretta Ross talking about how ‘women of color’ (and, thus, ‘people of color’) came from:

Well, a funny thing happened in Houston when they took the Black Women’s Agenda to Houston then all the rest of the minority women of color wanted to be included in the Black Women’s Agenda.

I hope it is apparent why this poses such a problem, when we consider the possibility of Black-Asian solidarity (or any kind of interracial solidarity between any group and Black people). I’ll take out the important part of the quote:

the rest of the minority women of color wanted to be included in the Black Women’s Agenda

The level of entitlement to Black people’s labour and bodies required to think that we (non-Black ‘women of colour’) ought to be included in the Black Women’s Agenda is pretty fucking amazing.

I can’t help but make connections between this and Jared Sexton’s “People-of-color-blindness: Notes on the Afterlife of Slavery”:

This point allows us to understand better the intimate relationship between the censure of black inquiry and the recurrent analogizing to black suffering mentioned above: they bear a common refusal to admit to significant differences of structural position born of discrepant histories between blacks and their political allies, actual or potential. We might, finally, name this refusal people-of-color-blindness, a form of colorblindness inherent to the concept of “people of color” to the precise extent that it misunderstands the specificity of antiblackness and presumes or insists upon the monolithic character of victimization under white supremacy thinking (the afterlife of) slavery as a form of exploitation or colonization or a species of racial oppression among others.

We can see that this specific poc-blindness is a pre-requisite for non-Black movements towards ‘solidarity’ (or coalition building) with Black people. Like, this specific attitude/disposition towards the flattening (and thus erasure) of the specificity of anti-Blackness is necessary for the non-Black women of color in 1977 to think that they ought to be included in the Black Women’s Agenda.

It’s over forty years later and nothing has changed.

(non-Black) ‘Asian’ solidarity isn’t possible with Black people so long as our “refusal to admit to significant differences of structural position born of discrepant histories between blacks and their political allies, actual or potential” remains constant. It also will not be possible so long as we keep approach Black people with this idea that we ought to be included in their agendas (whatever the agenda might be). In essence, solidarity isn’t possible so long as non-Black Asians continue to believe that Black people and their work are property that we are entitled to.

IDAHOT 2015: homoimperialism and progress

So today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Yay.

What caught my eye today is this story, “LGBT Movement Making Inroads in Vietnam”. The story identifies two examples for how the ~LGBT~ movement is making inroads:

  1. “It has entered public debate, been given airtime by Vietnam’s mostly state-controlled media and debated at the National Assembly”

  2. “In late 2014, Vietnam repealed a law banning same-sex marriage. The new law does not recognise nor protect same-sex couples, but the move is widely seen as an official, and surprising, nod to the LGBT community.”

The first point is, yes, a good thing. The second part demonstrates the ways that the ~lgbt movement~ broadly understood is a white homonationalist thing. Or, because we aren’t talking about the US, homoimperialism. Why, exactly, is gay marriage1 being seen as the ultimate measure for progress? Well, because this is pretty much what the white cis gay movement has declared as its number one priority.

It all seems extra strange when you look at one of the quotes from an activist in Vietnam:

“Only five years ago, I think none of us thought about working with the law, changing the law. We were only discussing (how to address) stigma and discrimination”

Thus, we can see that locally, this law banning same-sex marriage hasn’t been a priority.

The interesting omission in this story is the news I’ve been seeing recently about Vietnam’s progress re: trans rights. From the story, it isn’t much, saying that the government is only considering recognizing trans people, but this has the potential to allow trans people in Vietnam to access trans-related healthcare and update their identity documents. Two things which would have a huge impact on their lives.

However, via the dictates of white homoimperialist standard of ~lgbt~ progress, only the repeal of a ban (not legal recognition or protection) is considered progress worth mentioning. And, no, this isn’t a condemnation of the article itself or the person who wrote. This is discussing the ways that a US-based homonationalist narrative becomes global and frames all narratives around LGBT rights and progress.

  1. I know that the preferred term for ‘gay marriage’ is ‘same-sex marriage’ but I really think that this ends up being a euphemism. Especially in the context of this post and how US-based homonationalism creates a hegemonic discourse, ‘gay marriage’ is more ideologically correct. 

why i don’t respond or listen to ‘criticism’

Realizing that I must be true to my nature, I am going to talk about this alleged critique of me. Because, yes, I’m petty like that. I already understand that all this blog post will do is demonstrate to that person (should they read it) that, yes, I accept no criticism unless it is for ‘cred’. When, in reality, I actually accept any and all criticism offered in good faith.

This? Was not in good faith. It was disingenuous and dishonest. And the years I’ve spent writing and discussing various things online have sensitized me to when people attempt to criticize me in bad faith.

The first and primary indication that this ‘criticism’ is disingenuous?

I have zero interest in getting into it with the OP

Okay… so why did you put your comment on my post? A person with a genuine lack of interest for ‘getting into it’ with me wouldn’t have made this comment where I’d be guaranteed to see it. This is the primary rhetorical trap of the criticism. Especially when considered in context:

I have zero interest in getting into it with the OP about this because it’s pretty obvious that they only respond to criticism from people they want cred from…being about as receptive to criticism about your bullshit as Amanda Marcotte

So. We can discern from this that this person has at least some familiarity with me. They know who I am. I do not, however, know who they are. This also implies that they’ve seen me respond (or not) to criticism in the past. Thus, this sentence’s main purpose is to bait me into responding. If I don’t respond to them, then I confirm their claim. However, and this is where the trap is, if I do respond ‘appropriately’ (however this is defined by them) then I legitimize their criticism of me. If I respond in an inappropriate why, I still confirm their claim that I don’t respond to criticism.

People can see that I responded in the ‘inappropriate’ way. What is the main problem with their ‘criticism’?

They’re critiquing a position they attribute to me, rather than my actual position.

“hey, radfems are mainly just targeting sex workers now so lol at trans women still thinking they’re the problem.”

This is a paraphrase that misinterprets my argument and puts words in my mouth. This is also the position they are criticising. But this is not my actual position. While it does turn out that this interpretation is understandable based on the ambiguities in the post they are criticising, at no point do they seek clarification from me.

Yet, as I pointed out, their inability to read for context or nuance isn’t, in actual fact, my problem. And it isn’t. Just as their misinterpretation of my position and words isn’t actually my problem, especially not if they haven’t made any effort to seek clarification on my position.

Of course, their misinterpretation of me (and my positions) goes further than this…

they only respond to criticism from people they want cred from, but this is radical politics at its worst

The assertion that I respond to criticism (or do anything, for that matter) for the sake of ‘credit’ again relies on attributing motivations and a position to me that isn’t actually mine. Who is giving me this credit? What purpose does it serve? To me, this reads as if they think that I write and socialize online out of the belief that it is a popularity contest. Or that what matters to me is the appearance of “giv[ing] a shit about marginalised people because it is politically useful for you personally at that point in time”.

Politically useful? Personally useful? How?

I’ve been open and vocal, in the past, about the fact that I’m not part of any movement. I’m not an activist. This isn’t my career. I do make a small amount of money from publishing my writing (basically enough to cover my t-blocker prescription every month). I don’t organize things. This ‘credit’ I gain from pretending to care about maginalised people doesn’t do anything for me. In terms of absolute numbers, I’m not a popular blogger (or tweeter). I won’t say that my writing doesn’t have influence, it does. But this influence doesn’t do much of anything for me.

Or, rather, what it does ‘for’ me is get random assholes on the internet convinced that they are entitled to my attention and time because of some position they’ve misattributed to me.

That this person is attributing positions to me that aren’t mine is also clear from the ‘radical politics at its worst’ comment. I feel like I’ve written, on multiple occasions, how I disavow radical politics. Actually here is a tweet from the past week:

i’m not radical. i’m very happily not radical. i don’t want to be radical.

So, again, this isn’t real criticism of me or my ‘politics’. On one valuation, their critique is correct, my politics are radical politics at their worst because… they aren’t radical. But wait… if my politics aren’t radical, then why would I do anything for ‘cred’?

Amusingly, one of the things I hate about ‘radical’ politics and its respective community, is the political posturing that goes along with it. The constant jostling for who is most radical and who has the ‘right’ politics. Shit like this is exactly why I have no interest in being perceived as radical. I’m not and I want it that way.

But what does any of this matter? The important thing is the rhetorical trap. Unless I respond to this ‘criticism’ in whatever way this person has deemed acceptable, I’m exactly like amanda marcotte. And the acceptable way to respond to criticism is apparently allowing people to put words in your mouth and pretending like this is actually a position you hold. The acceptable way is treating disingenuous, dishonest, and bad faith arguments like they aren’t disingenuous, dishonest, or made in bad faith.

None of which I’m about to do, so I guess I’m just like amanda marcotte. C’est la vie. Please allow me to remain a cautionary tale of what terrible radical politics looks like. And all oranges suck because they are bad at being apples.

But this person should, at least on one level, be gratified. Here is a thousand word response to your criticism! I hope you enjoy it.

clarifying intent

So now that I understand where this criticism of this post is coming from, I do feel like I need to clarify what I meant in that post, since the conclusion my interlocutor drew from the post is reasonable (although not correct). I can definitely understand why that person thought that what I was saying is that (white) trans woman shouldn’t bother with radfems any more bc, in recent times, they focus (at least publicly) more on sex workers than trans women.

In a lot of ways, I still find it fascinating that fakecisgirl’s post on MRAs being the biggest enemy of trans women remains so controversial. I mean, it shouldn’t be a wild thing to assert, that men are a bigger threat to women than other women. Men have more access to power and resources. They are, in fact, our oppressors. Women can and do oppress other women, as in the case of cis radfems oppressing trans women. Yet, to me, it seems uncontroversial to point out that men pose a bigger threat. This statement doesn’t imply that cis radfems aren’t a threat and, thus, we don’t need to resist or oppose them. All it asserts is that men are our greatest threat. That’s it.

(I hope if I’ve mischaracterized fcg’s post, she’ll let me know.)

This explication is necessary because it provides the context for my comment. My comment is posted to agree with fcg, re: men(‘s rights activists) are the greatest threat to trans women. As evidence for my agreement, I make note of the fact that contemporary radfem discourse targets sex workers far more than it does trans women (although, we aren’t entirely off the radfem radar). I conclude with a statement about how white trans women always frame their opposition to radfems in terms of transmisogyny, rather than recognizing that sex workers are the number one target of radfems these days. I make this comment as a way of marking the ways that white trans women centre themselves in their opposition to radfems and don’t actually care or do much about the ways that radfems violently oppress sex workers. It is a comment about how sex workers are erased from much of white trans women’s discussions about why radfems are awful and ought to be opposed.

What I’m saying here, is that, as one example, when white trans women attempted to shut down the radfem event at the Vancouver Public Library, they primarily cited transmisogyny/transphobia as the reasons why the group is hateful. When, in reality, the focus of that event was on sex work. Thus, the white trans women who attempted to shut down the event erased the impact on sex workers and centered themselves. What ought to have happened, is that the white trans women ought to have opposed the event because it targeted sex workers and sex worker’s rights/protection/safety is an important (or ought to be treated as important) priority for the trans community (particularly for trans women of colour).

So the intended take away from the post is that radfems should be resisted and opposed based on their current focus on sex workers, rather than invoking their past focus on trans women. Not that trans women should stop resisting radfems because they focus on sex workers.

However, since I do understand that ‘intent isn’t magic’, I will apologize for the harm caused by the lack of clarity.

(And, should my interlocutor ever read this post, I respond to criticism offered in good faith, which yours wasn’t.)

the start of the gay rights movement (or the birth of Gay Inc)

One of my tweets seems to be getting a lot of notes on tumblr…:

the 'gay rights movement' doesn't start with stonewall. no it starts with pushing out sylvia rivera and twoc for respectability.

I want to provide some context to explain why I make this assertion. One of the most interesting things on Sylvia Rivera’s wikipedia page is this statement from Michael Bronski:

After Gay Liberation Front folded and the more reformist Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) became New York’s primary gay rights group, Sylvia Rivera worked hard within their ranks in 1971 to promote a citywide gay rights, anti-discrimination ordinance. But for all of her work, when it came time to make deals, GAA dropped the portions in the civil rights bill that dealt with transvestitism and drag — it just wasn’t possible to pass it with such “extreme” elements included. As it turned out, it wasn’t possible to pass the bill anyway until 1986. But not only was the language of the bill changed, GAA — which was becoming increasingly more conservative, several of its founders and officers had plans to run for public office — even changed its political agenda to exclude issues of transvestitism and drag. It was also not unusual for Sylvia to be urged to “front” possibly dangerous demonstrations, but when the press showed up, she would be pushed aside by the more middle-class, “straight-appearing” leadership. In 1995, Rivera was still hurt: “When things started getting more mainstream, it was like, ‘We don’t need you no more'”. But, she added, “Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned”.

Encapsulated in this paragraph is such an important bit of context and history for understanding how we got from rioting in the streets to Gay Inc.

The way history is usually told, the ‘gay rights movement’ started with Stonewall. This paragraph reveals how this is a lie…

Instead we see how Stonewall veteran Sylvia Rivera was an active participant in the post-Stonewall organization and mobilization. Except… we see how her labour was exploited “It was also not unusual for Sylvia to be urged to “front” possibly dangerous demonstrations, but when the press showed up, she would be pushed aside” but the issues she advocated for pushed out of the ‘movement’ born in the aftermath of Stonewall: “for all of her work, when it came time to make deals, GAA dropped the portions in the civil rights bill that dealt with transvestitism and drag”.

And the key terms of how the GAA differed from the Gay Liberation Front — “reformist” and “increasingly more conservative” — because the “several of its founders and officers had plans to run for public office”, here we see within just a few years post-Stonewall, the language of the ‘movement’ shifts from ‘liberation’ to ‘rights’ and how the people and organizations themselves shift to a politics of assimilation.

Drag and trans women of colour cannot be a part of the ‘rights’ bill because we are ‘extreme’ elements. Trans women of colour and queens like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson are required to be on the front lines but not in the spotlight.

This is the true beginning of the ‘gay rights movement’. The year is 1971 and Gay Inc1 is formed using the exploited labour of trans women of colour while at the same time strategically and purposefully pushing us out. And so the formula and pattern for gay rights activism is set out… and repeated time after time thereafter (see also: Human Rights Campaign).

In other words, ‘gay rights’ has always been homonationalist. And homonationalism requires both the exploitation of twoc and our continual exclusion/exile. It depends on being perceived as working on behalf of ‘lgbt’ people in general while strategically working to ensure that trans women of colour are never included as actual human beings (only as tokens, as exploitable labour, as bodies, but never as fully human, complex people who require safety, care, and dignity).

The year is 2015 and nothing has changed for Gay Inc.

Stonewall UK just this year began to advocating for trans issues. And no sooner does this happen than white cis gay men claim that “the Stonewall riots were a violent reaction by gay men and lesbians… They were not led by representatives of the transsexual community”.

One of the reasons why I keep going back into the history of the early days of Gay Inc and teh ~gay rights movement~ is precisely this. The riots remain a contested site of history, with white gays and lesbians actively working to ensure the violent erasure of twoc from this revolutionary moment and its impact on the world (as well as our violent exclusion from the organizations they built on our labour and backs). This is also why I want the story to change.

The ~gay rights movement~ begins in 1971, not 1969.

  1. And when I say ‘Gay Inc’, I used to mean this in a general… corporate/capitalist sense, but it turns out that the Gay Activists Alliance actually incorporated, something which is deeply ironic to me.