“On the Handling of Disputes Between Members and/or Participants
5. I understand that The South Bay Spot will not be put in a position to mediate disputes among members and/or participants. Therefore if I have a problem with another member and/or participant which results in either (a) uncivil behavior on either of our parts; or (b) any legal requirement that one of us stay away from the other, that in either case, both of us may be banned from the premises and/or suspended from membership. I understand that such ban or suspension can be done without any regard to fault.
I verify this statement by placing my initials here: _______.
This is being put in the Membership Application to alert those who wish to join The South Bay Spot that bringing deliberately bringing incivility and extreme, open drama to our club is not only not desired here, but may, in egregious circumstances, lead to suspension of membership and/or expulsion.”
This is the (new) policy of local BDSM venue “South Bay Spot”. It’s not currently in their Code of Conduct on their site (which does include “I shall also endeavor not to bring
physical or reputational harm to either through my purposeful and
deliberate actions,” which sounds to me like “I won’t call out people who are harmful publicly and I’ll be very careful who I talk to privately or I might lose access to this venue”). It’s been declared by one of the board members as being to prevent “extreme drama“. The Code of Conduct emphasizes that everyone is an adult multiple times, as if to suggest that discussing issues of consent, abuse, and BDSM is a childish, melodramatic thing to do.
Like it’s not fucking vital.
As one of my friends put it:
“So, basically, you can go to the club, and be assaulted, verbally abused, or threatened in a completely unwanted, unprovoked manner… and that is justification, at the South Bay Spot’s discretion, to kick you out, suspend your membership, and ban you from the club forever.
I mean, it’s really standard for everything from public businesses to online services to reserve the right to boot you, period. You have those sorts of protections, because weirdness can and does happen, and, well… liability. But usually, they don’t spell out the fact that they reserve the right to boot you for potentially being victimized.”
Many of the members have recoiled, rather understandably, against this policy, saying that it will potentially silence victims of abuse, leading them to not pursue legal action because they may be expelled from their community for doing so.
Some folks have clung to the fact this policy says “may” be banned, not “will” be banned. I’m going to remind the reader that most of the stories of abuse I have received in my 3 years running this project have been involving “pillars of the community”. If your policy says something like “may”, what I hear and what I’ve seen practiced is “we will side with whomever we like best and/or is more useful to us”. This is not a good strategy and not very transparent for enforcement, though why it came to pass is shockingly transparent in this case, particularly as this policy came into being after a friend of the board was served with a restraining order.
DID I SHOCK YOU I KNOW I KNOW WHO WOULD’VE SEEN THAT COMING
Now, it seems like the Board of the SBS (all white, cis, and over 45) decided on this policy thanks to their attorney, who is unnamed and therefore I couldn’t follow up with them to ask some questions. But any attorney would say that their prior policy, which said simply They also say this is because they “don’t want to take sides” (though as we know, refusing to take a side is actually taking a side with the abuser). They enacted this to apply retroactively to people who were already members, which also seems sneaky when they didn’t allow the members to discuss/critique it before it was laid out.
Another defense of this policy was that another local dungeon, the SF Citadel, has a similar policy. I couldn’t find an online code of conduct for the SF Citadel on their site- I did however find what looks like an older version here. I didn’t notice any clause for banning both parties in a restraining order situation- it has happened in the past but as far as I know its currently regarded as a terrible way of handling situations of abuse in the community.
Side note: most of the Citadel’s policies are pretty standard, but I did find this, which was one reason I stopped going to the Citadel:
“Use safewords. At SF Citadel, the house safeword is “SAFEWORD” Dungeon monitors and other experienced players will come to your aid when they hear it. We ask that all players use this word as a call for assistance from outside your scene. Don’t misuse this call for help.”
“Don’t misuse this call for help”. Creepy, no?
Who decides what is “misuse” of a safeword? How many people push themselves past where they would like to safeword simply because they don’t want to find themselves accused of “crying wolf”? Don’t you think that socially pressuring someone to stay in a situation that feels unsafe until their need for it to end overwhelms their fear of being called “dramatic” is intensely fucked up and an abuse of power?
I think this sort of reasoning similarly reflects poorly on the SBS’s choice of policy. Knowing that a friend of the board was served a restraining order, the SBS won’t want to ban their friend- and, as they’re a private business, they can reject whomever they choose, legally. The law may even lift a restraining order if the protected person goes regularly to a place where the served person will be- so if you get a restraining order, and your local dungeon decides to support your abuser, you may get penalized for continuing to go to that local dungeon. This might lead to a victim second guessing if they want to pursue legal action against an abuser, as they can very clearly be labeled “drama” and tossed out.
If the venue doesn’t step in at all, then the restrained party is, I believe, the one who has to leave, legally speaking. The onus is on them to stay away from the protected party. Now, the protected party would have to call the police to have the restrained party removed, and I did see some worry that calling the police to the venue would potentially shut SBS down… yet another reason why BDSM venues need to find better ways to self-police. The prison-industrial complex is not only dangerous for marginalized people, who are often the victims of the violence committed, but also for kinky people generally.
If the venue decides they want to protect the restrained party, though, there’s nothing saying they can’t effectively ban the protected party. Well, nothing except ethics, but who cares about that!
What may the consequences of such a policy be? Well, by making your silence and complicity part of the entry fee for the venue, the SBS has made it clear that they are more invested in making a space that’s safe for their buddies than focused on consent or the safety of the rest of their membership.
Basically, this suggests that 3 years out from starting Consent Culture as a project, we’re STILL fighting the same victim blaming, silencing crap we did in the beginning.
There’s a bright side to all this shit, though. These policies have been subject to some hot internal debate among the Citadel community, and after an email I received from a staff member there that validated my concerns, was totally not defensive, and outlined some plans they’re putting into place, I believe that clause may be getting removed (and about time). The Citadel doesn’t have an Official Policy, but if X has a restraining order against Y, I have been reassured that now Y gets banned, not both, not X.
I hope that the South Bay Spot will similarly reflect on these policies, and perhaps ask one of the three consent in BDSM projects, two of which are local, to advise them. The critics were told not to “grab the torches and the mob”, as well as use of my favourite phrase (and incidentally my Halloween costume this year) “kangaroo courts”. I’ve written this up to the best of my knowledge, and will update with any further details.
The SBS have said they are going to review the policy, and I noticed the owner of the venue was joining the NCSF Consent Counts groups (not the best one, as they are pro-cops and don’t recognize the intersectional reasons why someone may not want to get the police involved- an interesting combination with a venue where one member said they couldn’t get the cops involved, because they would potentially lose the space).
Time will tell.
Social Justice Warrior is a term used generally to insult people who are seen as caring too much about cultural and political issues, especially if the accused SJW also employs the use of callout culture. It seems to have started, along with white knight, as a way to brand the “fanatics” of left-leaning activism. SJWs “dogpile” and “try to get points” as a form of activism… though this is often an accusation made by people who are not open to any form of critique.
What’s critique and what’s bullying can feel very different, depending on which side of the megaphone you’re on.
Then, like the term “politically correct”, some decided the term made some sense for their work, and didn’t see anything wrong with trying not to offend others, or fighting oppression. A period of embracing it came about, with some (including me) enjoying teasing those who act like being a social justice warrior is some awful thing.
I asked on Twitter how people felt about the term “social justice warrior”. Some really dug it, some were concerned about abusive people who used the identity as an excuse to be abusive, some didn’t care one way or the other. Me, I think bullies will use any tactic, and it’s possible to be a SJW without that meaning you resort to lashing out. It’s vital when doing this kind of activism to be constantly open to hearing critique, and to let go of defensiveness… but that’s hard to do.
Now it seems we’re back to shunning the phrase, as enough folks who call themselves “social justice warriors” have shown themselves to be bullies. We here at Consent Culture are firm believers in Tough Love and saying the shit that needs to be said… but we also try to hold a lot of compassion and loving kindness. “Warrior” may not really be the class for us. According to some who believe we’re making major $$$ and getting famous through being feminist killjoys, maybe “social justice rock star” is appropriate (and fuck, if only we were more popular for talking about this shit instead of socially shunned, what a world we’d be in!)
That’s where these buttons come in- depicting alternatives to the “warrior” class, they make space for that tongue-in-cheekiness while also not centering violence. I’ve been told I’d make a good social justice bard. Make of that what you will.
I interviewed Sarah “Chip” Nixon, @chiperoo, about the idea to create these cute 8bit social justice badges. They’re being sold for the first time at GeekGirlCon, though they will probably be snapped up fast!
CC-What made you decide to make these clever and cute Social Justice Dungeons and Dragons Class buttons? Are you a DnD nerd? (I am, I usually play a Ranger)
CC-The term “social justice warrior” is one often used to dismiss people who critique culture, especially around things like racism, sexism, and transmisogyny. It’s being reclaimed in defiance by some who think that fighting for social justice is a good thing, not a shameful one. Have you been called a “social justice warrior”, and if so, for what?
Oh yes! I have a somewhat complicated relationship with Reddit, and every once in a while I find I can’t resist engaging with misogynists in comment threads. It’s a bad habit. I have absolutely been called a Social Justice Warrior by a fellow Redditor before!
So, when I decided I wanted to make and distribute these buttons, I knew this could be an opportunity to do something cool with it. After a lot of pondering, I decided the best candidates would be Planned Parenthood, the Trevor Project, or Amnesty International. I even discussed this publicly on twitter.
CC-Finally… which class do you identify with and why?
Yesterday afternoon my Facebook account was suspended as part of a crackdown on users who refuse to attach our legal names to our accounts.
And if that were the whole truth, I’d already have my account back.
If we could count every HRC supporter who had “Equality” as their middle name and every non-married couple with the same last name among our number, we might have a public apology in triplicate and the “real name policy” would go where splitting Netflix into two services and other awful, exploitative ideas of the internet go to be locked away and politely ignored evermore.
But Facebook picked the battle they think they can win, quarantining drag queens, sex workers, queermos, abuse survivors, and others who rely on the public presence of identity free from the recognition of government for their livelihood, safety, and access to community.
My account, along with several others, was suspended immediately after sharing event info regarding a protest at Facebook’s HQ. Headshot.
Pick up what I’m putting down: this is not about “real names”. This is about containment, the better mousetrap. An identity that cannot be tied to a corresponding credit card or social security number–those of us who’ve had our accounts suspended are required to provide government identification to regain access to our accounts–has a limited potential for revenue. Without my last name, which ties me to how much money I owe, where I’ve lived, and any encounters with the law I may have, Facebook misses out on untold untapped potential.
In the past six months, I have had the following things advertised to me on Facebook:
- Ebay listings for the issue of Rolling Stone I first masturbated to as a pre-teen.
- Ex-Gay therapy services.
- Plastic surgeons who specialize in Sexual Reassignment Surgery.
- Speech therapy services that specialize in helping trans women find a more feminine voice.
It is starkly specific. All of this without my last name or any other identification marker tying me to the meatspace component of myself that pays rent and Campbell’s chicken and stars in bulk.
Facebook is not free. We pay with our data. For use of these services, I have had intimate details of my life and identity traded for advertising space on the sidebars of my discussions about self-harm and my second cousin’s first birthday.To suggest that I should be gratefully complicit in the systemic repossession of people’s right to self-identify because I don’t pay a monetary fee to use is malevolently obtuse.
Facebook is also not entirely optional. Many employers in America require you to maintain a Facebook account–some even demand access to that account. Earlier this year, when I had a job, I lied to my boss and said I didn’t have a Facebook. I was then, with the supervision of a manager, made to create one and send friend requests to my roommate and my mother so I could promote my company to those closest to me on my own time for no pay.
Entire communities rely on social media to sustain them, commercial and otherwise. You think social media and, to greater extent, the internet is arbitrary and “optional”? Well, just you try to harass a feminist blogger without it,
In their selling of this policy, Facebook willfully conflates safety with ease. Having the legal name of your local drag queen or sex worker does not make the average user safer but it does afford them the ease of being able to better monitor other people’s movements: where they work, go to school, who they’re trying to get away from.
The patriarchy is an unfair place and many of us are forced to work in places that don’t share our ideals, accept government assistance, or take on a new name to protect our families from the sort of asshole who takes the red-eye to your city to surprise you while you’re sleeping. To be disallowed participation in a central hub of social and economic exchange because until we “show our work” is to punish people for compromising with an unfair system even though this is essentially your only suggestion (don’t wear a short skirt at night, don’t tell anyone on the internet where you live, etc) when we come forward with how dangerous our lives are.
I changed my last name on Facebook earlier this year to deliberately disassociate myself from other people with my last name. Among them: evangelical television personalities, a family who promote Old Testament intolerance towards gays and people of color, and a guy who tried to murder me as a child.
It’s imperative to me that my work, as a writer, as a community elder, is separate from the context of those people. I do not want suggest that I am or have ever been with those people, and while I actively resist their ethos and efforts, I don’t want it to be seen as the actions of “the rogue member of the dynasty”.
My mother and brother may roll their eyes at this and the idea that anyone would believe that everyone with my legal surname are related and “in on it together”, but their ignorance of how often I am actually asked this question by strangers, and the momentary tension that comes from someone not knowing if I am “safe” or not, does not warrant the stymying of my right to create an identity for myself that allows me to move through the world in compassionate and comfort.
It’s not like Lady GaGa’s being asked to change her name.
DoubleCakes is not merely a persona. It appears in my byline, on my mail. You cannot tie a bill to that name, but it defines me in a way my full legal name never could. People with my name have graced the US Census since the 40′s. It would, in fact, be easier to steal my legal identity than it would be to steal my social one.
This is the true threat that drag queens and sex workers and abuse survivors pose to Facebook and, in turn, to society: if we are allowed to create and live our own identities, then anyone can.
In some states, when you legally change your name, you are required to print your intent to change your name in a publication–for me it was six weeks–so anyone who would object to you changing your name can show up to your court date and make a case for why you can’t change it.
By the time I had submitted my name change, I had full breasts, presented as a woman daily, and had already begun accepting paychecks in my “female” name. It was necessary to my safety and survival–even in the Bay Area I am frequently harassed for being trans–to be allowed this name change. And yet for six weeks anyone with too much time on their hands could read about it in the paper and confront me, regardless of whether or not they had a legitimate claim.
Call it what you will: capitalism, patriarchy, “the system”, our claims to our own names and identities have always been treated as secondary to society’s right to name and mark us, and when we are allowed to remain defiant and unchecked in crafting our own selves, we project the possibility that others could do this too, and this engages the veritable panic mode of, again, call it what you will: capitalism, patriarchy, “the system”.
I don’t think the increasing visibility of trans and genderqueer people is due to some cultural shift of tolerance or a kink in evolution but rather memetic: I have had feelings for a long time that I did not know how to realize, but then I saw other trans women living their lives and I decided I wanted to live that way also, and by doing so I in turn inspired others to honor their feelings about their genders and bodies–though the prospect that I am anyone’s role model is profoundly, numbingly terrifying.
So much of that visibility can be credited to the use of social media. Our active, visible ownership of ourselves erodes the gender binary and cis supremacy. We must defend our right to self-identify, if not for the modest moral high ground it offers, but also because doing so coaxes and cajoles those on the fence to make that brave baby-step to self realization.
I will not give Facebook my legal last name, nor will I show them my papers. Because I deserve the only say on who I am, because I deserve to decide who gets to know what about me, and because Facebook has made enough money from me as it is, it does not immediately require information that could enable stalkers, abusive fathers, debt collectors, and private investigators to find out where I’ve been and where I’ll be.
I will cancel all of the services that I connect to with Facebook, which will cost them hundreds of dollars a year in potential, once-assured revenue. I will post my articles and event pages, which in the past have helped Facebook make decisions on what advertisements are best fit for my friends/followers. I will encourage people to do the same, though I know it will be an uphill battle because living without Facebook is difficult and, once you get over how violating showing a social media site your driver’s license is, it’s a benign process.
Unless you’re a trans woman who can not yet afford to publish your name change in a newspaper for six months.
Or you’re an abused partner who still legally shares the last name of your abuser.
Or you don’t have (American) documentation.
Facebook has picked the fight it thinks it can win. Despite a historical reputation of trans women and drag queens kicking the shit out of the system, and while I know I’m totally in the right, I don’t expect to move mountains with my refusal to cooperate.
Even if it costs me job opportunities and the ability to lazily watch my second-cousin grow up without interacting with her parents. Even if I’ve now lost seven years of photos documenting my transition.
Unpersoning people is what an asshole does. And while Mark Zuckerberg and the people who work for him have been good sports about acknowledging they are assholes, it doesn’t permit them to keep being assholes.
I will not make nice with Facebook. It can make nice with me and the countless others they are actively complicit in exposing to violence.
“This is Chet from Visa. Your bill is two months overdue.”
“Yeah, I know. I just don’t have any money right now.”
“Well, can you tell me what happened? You’d been current on your account up until now–”
“I lost my job and have been been doing odd jobs, freelance work. The money’s just not been coming in.”
“Oh. Well, I understand, and I’m sorry to hear that. I’d like to work with you if I can to see what we can do to remedy this.”
“I don’t have anything right now. Everything I have needs to go to rent. But I will do what I can to pay when I have the money. I’m currently on county assistance–I can provide that if you want, if you need proof for your supervisor.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re able to get those resources. That’s great. But what can we do to just make a tiny payment on what you owe–”
“Ah, well, there is that…I don’t know, though.”
“What is it, ma’am?”
“It’s not a lot, but I do have a personal brand.”
“Oh? Well, can you tell me more about that?”
“I write about consent a lot and I’ve done a couple talks and have like 500 twitter followers.”
“That’s a start, but are you making any money from it?”
“It’s how I’m paying rent.”
“Sounds good enough to me! I’ll put you on the line with someone who can work something out with you.”
If you’ve found yourself having this conversation, then get that two-step authentication for your site because I’m coming to your alternate dimension and you don’t want the place I take to be yours. I’m swayed not by culture shock. Cyborg ocelots and mustard on toast or whatever it is your universe does, I can say–sight unseen– it’s easier to handle than having a faceless stranger interrogate your self-worth over a late payment paramount to what your roommates thrown down at “Sushi Thursday”.
Meanwhile, back at this fucking place: those of us driven out the village for our activism are in turn taken to task for even the hint of any derived benefit from our work. And how I’ve hissed and hunkered at that word. Activism. In a culture where your erasure is deemed the societal default, simply leaving the house every day and being seen by people is activism.
But some of you are leaving your house to go to jobs. Some of you even have jobs at the very institutions that actively contribute to our marginalization. Which is fine. Capitalism is a drag and all, but you and your family still have to eat and wadded up mission statements have almost no protein in them.
There’s a lot of work to do. You’re doing what you can: we’re filling in the gaps. We’re blogging and speaking at your university and passing out pamphlets that point to local resources for those who don’t know where to turn. Some of us do this all day. That killer blog post that is the “THIS! SO THIS” of your heart’s desire took–to contrast the few minutes you spent to read and retweet it–hours or even days for the person to write. Not counting: hours spent fielding negative comments and the occasional internet lawsuit.
Hashtags are the bearded Spock of an organic collective process. It takes experience and engineering. It all takes engineering.
Blame it on the media. We’ve had a particular cultural portrait cultivated for us: the (usually white) free spirit with lots of free time who benignly irritates those around her with her (admittedly righteous) politics but doesn’t possess the resources or support to facilitate any genuine upset. Daria, Lisa Simpson, Hermione Granger, the girlfriend from Orange County–young (white) women without visibility who are summarily ignored by everyone, left as the lone voice of reason for us, the viewer. We feel a catharsis of empathy for the character and are (perhaps unconsciously) educated by the reactions of the other characters on how we and the rest of society should/will treat “activists”.
If you’d never written a blog post on rape culture, designed a protest flyer or spent the better part of an afternoon lecturing your local feminist sex supply shop about better inclusivity in their advertisements, you wouldn’t know the intense, thankless work that goes into it.
Intense, thankless work that is necessary for your survival whether or not you possess the requisite spoons.
Last week, I spent I guess we’ll call it a “working lunch” at the local McDonald’s listening to a man tell everyone and their chicken nuggets that he would kill me. To keep AIDS out of our community. His presentation lasted the length of my meal and went uninterrupted. No one–not the private security guard, not the dyke couple holding hands and sharing a milkshake, not the family whose daughter was terrified to tears by the man’s shouting–said anything.
We–as in, those who do not direct the narrative–have had to reconcile this cultural blueprint for societal morals with the reality that this shit is bananas, bath and beyond. People of color are murdered by police in plain sight. Women face incarceration for miscarriages. We have to make cocktail straws and nail polish that reacts to date rape drugs because it’s too much effort to teach men not to rape and even if I ruin my manicure to catch a rapist CNN will still shed a tear over his lost lacrosse prospects if I press charges. We find ourselves a captive audience, stunned into silence.
That man followed me out of the McDonald’s. Not a single french fry was dropped in concern for my safety. Or his. He who thinks he can cast a circle of protection around his neighborhood with my blood to keep the AIDS away is just as sucker-punched as you, me or anyone else. What put the knife in his hand? Cultural mis-education about AIDS. A lack of adequate long-term care for those with mental illness. An inflammatory socio-political worldview that enables people to depict LGBT people as predators, as deceitful. Any other day, me and this man would be on the same side of the issue. But in that moment we were cast opposite, foils, albeit fleeting. And those who direct the narrative–the men who disrupt discussions of rape culture, politicians who view mental illness as a moral affliction–they don’t care, and that man didn’t care, if I was involved or not. Not being signed into the server wouldn’t spare me from permadeath.
And you expect us to make signs and design flyers and march against this shit out of the kindness of our hearts but I’m not sure I have one anymore.
I get it: the most prolific activists are always those who don’t need the money or visibility their activism affords them. Macklemore and Andrea James and Barney Frank make a fine, unthreatening addition to your Gl..b…..(t) luncheon, but they don’t know left from right about violence against trans women of color, transmisogyny in queer women’s spaces or really anything any of us want to have an actual conversation about. For all intents and purposes, they are uninvolved. This conforms to our bedtime stories of the bleeding heart who no one takes seriously.
See also: the Pride Whopper.
Not all activists are equal. Laverne Cox, CeCe McDonald, and Fallon Fox have so much more to know and say about being trans and/or queer in America and they have to fight so hard and endure so much hate–the quantity of which makes even spectators roll over in hopelessness–just to get a smidgeon of the visibility and presence of their white, heteronormative counterparts. And when we hold marginalized people to the same standards–the same, flawed standards based on a flawed understanding of how activism actually works–of their privileged peers, we are committing the very essence of complicity as violence.
If we can cast the responsibility of “saving the world” onto some yet-unsurfaced Pollyanna, clean of conscience and free of finanicial commitments, then nothing ever changes. There’s no quid for the quo. We remain rusted wheels.
We want to believe. We want to think, to know, against all reason, against the ever-mounting evidence that life under capitalism just can’t work that way, that if we stopped accepting payment to write about pressing instances of social injustice, someone somewhere would take over Consent Culture. Someone somewhere would give that talk at Cornell. Someone somewhere will sit in on that community center discussion on trauma and sexuality. Anyone, anywhere. Out of their kindness of their hearts.
To believe in activism without complications is to believe in an activist without complications. That is impossible. It goes against the very foundations of intersectional oppression. Everyone has bad thoughts. Everyone has prejudice. Everyone makes mistakes.
This perfect activist does not exist, and you cannot wish her into being by tearing down every other marginalized person who solicits donations on paypal for their twitter activism or gets rent money from Kickstarter/Patreon writing about what you write off as “no-brainer 101 politics”.
I wish Fallon Fox would make millions off her “personal brand”. I wish the “controversy” around her fights would build her a house and a boat and unlimited credit. But I know better. There’s no payout, no chest of treasures at the bottom of that deep, dark, well. Just more shitty Facebook petitions.
Still: we do the work. In hiding. Under aliases. Sometimes more than one.
We do what we must because we can.
We’re not always in this together, but we’re trying. Oppression is all around us. Within us. Forces go to work while we’re sleeping. We are surrounded and infiltrated and our spaceship doesn’t always know which way to go.
But there is a wrong direction–inward, at one another. When you accuse an activist of adopting social justice as their “personal brand”, by holding someone’s personal investment in fighting the oppression which actually seeks to hurt them, you are taking the side of the oppressor. You reward white men making a career out of telling other white men how not to be racist and sexist. You enable the forcing of trans women of color out of their homes so as not to interrupt Calpernia Adams’ coaching of cis male actors on how to be like trans women.
An activist is not a bad thing to be. It’s bad for your health–and sanity–but I defy you to make me feel guilty for taking a vested interest in toppling a system actively holding us down.
Activists deserve to be paid for their work. I’m not saying you have to pay for that work. We can discuss the boundaries of paying for anti-capitalism work in another post. But it’s valuable work, necessary work, work that allays the pressure and dread others feel at being trapped in a world they never made and being constrained by circumstances from participating to a degree that they like.
There is no perfect activism. There is no perfect activist.
When you go on social media to slap down an un/deremployed marginalized person for adopting a “personal brand”, ask yourself–
are you calling out or are you calling for blood?
One ensures sustainability and the other subsumes it.
That said: consent is not a zero-sum game. No line divides “good at consent” and “bad at consent”. Consistent with a consent culture is creating space where people can hold themselves accountable to educate themselves and others on the ways that un-negotiated power differentials in every day life have obscured our understanding of what that looks like and how that is best implemented.
I’m not an expert on consent. If anything, I strive to remain a perpetual pupil, as I think all activists strive to be.
Still: this is my job, and I don’t regret it. You shouldn’t regret your job either. Unless your job is the person who wants Kotaku to stop allowing people to fund game developers who rely on Patreon. In which case, you should regret your job and rethink your choices in life because you are trying to starve out social justice-minded media because you think it will make it better that some dude who writes for you did the thing with a girl who makes games. You and your mother should regret that.
But until the para-dimensional perforator punctures a whole in that parallel dimension where hospital billing departments take personal brand as payment, I’ll be here. We’ll be here.
Because it’s needed. Because we can. And because, for now, it
ekes just enough to cover maybe half of rent pays.
There is an ongoing debate for the past couple years on whether or not online accountability processes are useful- if they are useful, in what ways, and if they aren’t useful, is there any way to improve that, or is it better to replace the tactic entirely.
It was trendy, for a while, to engage in callout culture online. There’s a lot of reasons why- for too long, the responsibility to tell people they’re being oppressive has been laid solely at the feet of those being oppressed, which is a draining position to be in. The internet is a safer place in many ways to call people out than face to face, especially when being called out often comes from a marginalized person to a person with power, and even more so when the reaction can be violent.
Now it seems like “proper activism” is seeking to critique callout culture as being toxic. Why critique without allowing countercritique, says one post. It creates sides, insists on them, an us-versus-them, says another. It can be a type of bullying. It expects that other people, often also marginalized and struggling, have endless time and energy to educate themselves, which isn’t reasonable. And I don’t think that’s altogether inaccurate- I do agree with a lot of the critique, to be honest, particularly this one.
This website started because of callout culture, as a space to gather stories and forge safe space to discuss issues pertaining to abuse in the BDSM community. It expanded to embrace anywhere rape culture had entwined its tendrils, not just in sex-based communities, but in activist spaces, in government policy, in medical regulations. As it grew, it became important to strike a balance of calling out behaviours, and calling in, providing options, positing solutions, exploring what had been done before and what could still be tried.
I find that social justice oriented writing can feel very performative. I have been called upon to state my opinion on various things going on whether or not I have one, as a Social Justice Blogger Who Has Opinions. It can feel very much like you’re expected to be “on” all the time, available to provide information, guidance, references, self-righteous anger, or intimate navel-gazing to anyone who encounters your writing. People feel they know you on a level they don’t, and often feel entitled to your time because of this perceived closeness. I do think that’s a problem, and that it causes many people to burn out. Understandably so. Being angry all the time at systematic oppression is real, and it’s also tiring. When you take on board that there are no allies, only people working in solidarity with, and people not, there is an ongoing pressure to be on message 100% of the time.
However, I disagree that callout culture is fundamentally to blame. Why would asking someone to be accountable for the things they say and do be a bad thing? I suppose it depends on intentions- are you calling someone out as a way to point out they did something hurtful, because you want them to grow and evolve as a person? Or are you doing it to gain a foothold as another Right On Social Justice Blogger?
It’s worth noting that a lot of people condemning callout culture are often people who are being called out, regularly.
I don’t know I have an answer. For me, activism feels kind of like an internship, I guess. I take it on because I believe in it, but it is not something that I benefit from directly. I am not making money from activism. I’m certainly not gaining popularity. I’m not being asked to write books, or speak at universities. The incentive is that I want other people to know more, to ask more questions, because that’s the world I want to live in.
That involves sitting with being called out on stuff, and feeling sad because I’ve hurt people accidentally, or unwittingly. Callout culture is something I respect as a tool, because I learn from my defensiveness. The temptation to clench, to shut down, is a great one, but like a muscle, I need sometimes to stretch, even through it’s sore. It makes me stronger.
This is where I think calling in can also be useful, where providing suggestions, and options, and speaking with compassion is the way forward. Of course the formative piece on this concept of calling in is by Ngọc Loan Trần over on Black Girl Dangerous, and it’s worth reading in its entirity. I appreciate how it calls for compassion, while also acknowledging that people do hurt other people and being angry about that is ok. I don’t think it needs to be an either or. I think both are tools that have their place, just as activism often needs front line warriors AND backstage diplomats.
It’s tempting, too, to lay this on internet activism, to say this is just a lot of twitter or tumblr wars being hashed and rehashed. But there is a reason why the internet has been a tool for this. it provides space for other voices to be heard, not just by society at large, but by other people feeling the same way. It’s created areas of solidarity that I don’t think should be dismissed. It’s provided opportunities to organize. It’s provided up-to-date, play-by-play news when the media can’t be trusted. Internet activism is vital, and it’s important, and it’s useful. It can be manipulated, sure, as can any tool, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still practical for many things.
As long as trans women, people of colour, sex workers, people with disabilities, people with mental health issues, and other marginalized groups struggle to be heard at conferences, in academia, in activist spaces, online activism is necessary. If you want to fix that, may I recommend not taking a seat at the next panel you’re invited to, offering the space to someone who is heard less often than voices like yours?
There’s an excellent piece on the frustration with how toxic online activism can be, while also recognizing its value, on Feministing:
Calling folks out in good faith – or calling in – is absolutely necessary. We cannot stand by as people leave the most marginalized folks in our communities out of the conversation, say things that are hurtful, and create projects that continue historical legacies of oppression. It’s important not just because folks need to be educated, but because the ways we organize and the stories we tell affect the lived realities and material conditions of everyone around us. To not confront oppression when you’re in a position to do so is to be complicit in its perpetuity. But it’s also important to ask ourselves why we’re jumping in. It’s cool to be angry – I’m angry as hell, and in a world in which there is so much to hate, I tend to be a hater – but when we’re trying to advance a conversation, it’s important to think about what’s going to be constructive. On the same tip, we need to learn how to react when being called out – how to meaningfully apologize, and how to move forward with new knowledge. To realize that making a mistake does not make us the living worst, and that we can move forward if we take critiques seriously and acknowledge the serious hurt our mistakes have caused.
-On cynicism, calling out, and creating movements that don’t leave our people behind, Veronica Bayetti Flores
Here’s the thing. This isn’t just happening on the internet. People in real life are starting these conversations, and in my opinion, it’s great. I’m feeling more and more comfortable getting out from behind the computer, because I no longer feel alone in saying something when I witness something fucked up. People are beginning to see that silence can come across as complicity, whether or not it is, and people with privilege are starting to actually take ownership and action. I think that to condemn callout culture, rather than condemning the behaviours of people who misuse it, is to ignore the very real value it’s provided. It’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
It reminds me of when Consent Culture started. I noticed that kinksters, especially dominants, rarely discussed when they fucked up, when they miscalculated a tie, or misunderstood body language. People were so scared to be judged for fucking up, they became wildly defensive when it was suggested they might’ve, silencing those trying to start even the gentlest discussion about it. Slowly, as more people have come out and said “I’ve fucked up, and here’s what I’ve done to learn from it and apologize”, other people have felt safer doing the same. They know that it doesn’t even usually mean banishment from the community, but an opportunity for growth. I think the same can happen in activism, if we let it. And sure, there are some assholes who are in it to hurt people, and yeah, cutting them off makes sense, of course it does. Having a sustainable, kind, yet firm personal ownership expectation tends to expose those people pretty quickly.
If some people use the internet to explore these ideas, why not? We use it to explore sexual fantasies, academic constructs, media messaging, and everything else, after all.
I’m grateful to callout culture, and call in culture both. It’s taught me a lot, because i’ve chosen to learn from it. I truly believe accountability is strength, and trust, and a healthier community. Isn’t that worth striving for?
-Students have come up with the idea for a nail polish that may be able to warn you if the drink you just got has Rohypnol or GHB in it. Ideally, when you stir your drink with your finger, your nail polish will change colour if it comes into contact with the substances, kind of like the coasters that work similarly (but only react to GHB and ketamine). It’s a nifty idea, and practical if they can make it work- but I think the critique that we keep coming up with products to help women avoid being raped, thereby putting the onus on the wrong group, is an accurate one. I think it’s cool it’s a group of guys who came up with it, though, as it indicates some awareness of what women might actually USE.
-This piece on being the person in that image you laughed at on the internet is amazing and sad and angering. People of WalMart. Subjects of memes. These are people. Think hard when you share about if the joke is punching up, or punching down, and what you would say to these people, to their faces, when you’re giggling at them.
-Speaking of which, there’s a lot of fucked up shit going around about indie game dev Zoe Quinn. I don’t really give a flying fuck if she cheated on her boyfriend, as that has *nothing to do with her work*. I’m tired of women getting WAY more shit (and their lives threatened) on the internet. Rather than link to a bunch of crap about the situation, here’s Zoe Quinn’s Patreon. May I suggest supporting her and her work, games like Depression Quest, which do a lot of good for people?
-I found a thorough post on how to encourage a consent culture through game playing with kids, and wanted to share it with you. I particularly like how they focus on hugs, and negotiating those.
-I’ve heard about “Dating Naked”, and their nonconsensual exposure of one of the performers (female, of course). Considering we live in a culture where something like that can hang over your head and potentially negatively affect job seeking in the future, or can call into question your ability to take care of children, I think it’s pretty messed up. And it’s very telling that of COURSE it was female genitalia that they “slipped” on.
-Horrifyingly, the cop who shot Mike Brown has raised over a quarter of a million dollars on GoFundMe, despite their policy stating clearly that raising money for “items that promote hate, violence, racial intolerance, or the financial exploitation of a crime” is against their TOS (as well as the TOS of WePay, their payment processor). Considering how many porn performers have been shut down for being porn performers, even when raising money for medical bills, I find this completely inappropriate. Seems like nothing will be done, though.
-Oh no! College hook-up culture seems to be on the decline as more men realize they don’t want to rape someone. Men are so concerned they might seem predatory they aren’t approaching women at all. I guess it’s too much to ask that they, I dunno, read up a bunch on how to approach a woman without being creepy? I guess so, and it’s better to treat women like walking rape accusations that might ruin their lives. Because of course it’s absurd to think rape can be anyone’s responsibility to prevent but that of women. SIGH
Confront the toxic hypermasculinity of combat sports that enables intimate partner abuse without reproach or reprimand with this one WEIRD trick. Well, it’s more of a flurry of UNUSUAL sleight-of-hand flourishes that build up to a WEIRD payoff. But rest assured: the MMA community HATES her. And you, and me. War Machine’s supporters wear their contempt for us where the since-incised sleeves of their Tapout shirts should be.
Oh say say, where is my sense of fair play? Surely his brother (or someone desperately charading as such) isn’t a neutral data point. He’s an individual, not an indicator. People. Just. Do. Bad. Things. It’s. Not. Some. Cultural. Affect.
War Machine is a man of many a moniker–porn star, men’s rights activist, abuser, aspiring rapist–but one thing he is not is a bad apple. The whole tree is fucked.
In February of this year, Thiago Silva put a gun in his wife’s mouth, intent to kill her over the quintessential “quelle surprise”: a suspected affair. And for sure: accountants and librarians are likewise liable to assault their intimate partners too. I’ll give you that. I’ll even let you have a side of bleu cheese though we would normally charge you for it. But if your accountant once traveled to China to make a Bulgarian wrestler submit to a triangle choke, you might be Cobra Commander. In which case, Dennis Quaid is still out there–get back to work.
Thiago Silva and War Machine are trained to kill. They haven’t gotten that part, yet, but they have a physique and acquaintance with combat physiology on par with the military. Or rather, the military is on par with MMA; living legends of the sport like Royce Gracie, Randy Couture, and Ken Shamrock are frequently sought as special instructors at military training facilities. Blessed be we! In the hands of our capable military and their reputation as paragons of not-taking-out-the-horrors-of-war-out-on-intimate-partners, these skills can come to be cultivated in an environment of respect and discipline. The sort of respect and discipline that it took for UFC hopeful Will Chope to beat his wife at knife-point so badly that he was then dismissed from the very discreet and discerning business of killing foreigners for oil.
All this power. All this knowledge. Employed to terrorize women, to reinforce a textbook patriarchal notion of “a woman’s place”.
War Machine’s supporters flail Christy Mack’s face around on twitter to prop up and posit her as the poster girl for what happens when you cross the Alpha Male. This is a mug shot of misogyny-in-action; a woman survives an attack from a man who could have killed her–who could have killed about anyone reading this (despite my six consecutive “Mom’s Favorite Judo Star” awards)–and they jeer at her injuries, coin callous colloquial innuendo about getting “CM’d” and raise the funds to free her attacker.
And the notion of any differential in intrinsic moral value between a bloodsportsman and a sex worker is so fucking rich it’s got its own robot maid.
My disgust must not be digressed. This has to stop.
To UFC’s credit, they did release Chope, the day of his fight with Diego Brandao, after this knowledge had come to light the day before. To their–what is the opposite of credit? Whatever that is–a bad conduct charge comes up on the most basic background check. There is no way that UFC didn’t know of this incident before it went public.
But a bad attitude makes a good alibi. A time bomb temper, difficulty diffusing personal conflicts, an at-any-cost preservation of perceived masculinity; it’s hard to, say, tell run-of-the-mill from run-for-your-life- until the hands around your throat and you’re browsing the novelty twitter accounts from your infirmary bed.
And oh, how Dana White and Bellator prune and preen that tree. Silva, War Machine, and Chope were all very publicly released from the retinue of their respective promoters when their actions had come into the public consciousness. But they are not bad apples. And you can kick them away, you can throw them, you can dump them in a compost pin far and away where their descendant decay will never touch the soil–and no I’m not done with this apple metaphor–but the tree remains.
That tree has roots in the harshest, darkest dirt of western masculinity. Those roots reach out to six year old cagefighters walking it off in Arizona and viral video street fights. Abuse of power comes as no surprise and neither does Bellator reaching out to sign internet sensation Kimbo Slice after having released that other internet sensation War Machine. And like the Crimson of Ken Nordine’s “Colors”, those roots want more and more and more and more.
The roots are riling beneath our feet, now. Commentators, amateur tapout models and fighters alike queuing at the soapbox to go one on one with a trans woman they don’t think should be fighting.
The tree casts a bleak blight of a shadow in which shelters homophobes, and white supremacists. And praise the Lorde, lest all these MMA moonlighters fighting for gay rights, black empowerment, and trans visibility monopolize the product.
MMA is legally classified as an ultra-hazardous sport, but to whom? Intimate partners, referees, random people in Sweden. War Machine seems not worse for wear after 21 professional fights. The same cannot be said for Christy Mack, or the wife of Josh Grispi, who earlier this year had the family pitbull set on her.
The love and patience War Machine had not deemed fit for Christy Mack in that–vomit bag at the ready– “moment of passion” was indeed bestowed upon the sport he committed his life to. He trained. He joined a team. He started a nobody and worked his way up. I can’t, I won’t dismiss and disregard the sincere devotion and care he has for his art.
And neither will I disregard the countless trainers, teammates, promoters, officials, and others involved in his curation of that art. He is not a bad apple. He had been watched, witnessed, studied. He slept in a dormitory with other dudes, inked and ripped like himself, who had the opportunity to check each other, to keep that kinetic emotion in the cage where it belonged and not let it out.
Every day War Machine, like Thiago Silva, like Josh Grispi, was surrounded by people who told him he was good when he was mean, that they liked him when he was mean, that it made them want to be mean–can’t someone just be “that guy” and say “but hey man, if you still find yourself angry and wanting to hurt or be hurt outside of the ring maybe you should seek therapy”.
Dana White and Bellator make a big show of throwing away their bad apples but never do they look back at that tree and think “maybe it’s something we’re putting in the soil.”
“Maybe we should be better at tending it.”
Has the apple tree metaphor lost you at this point? Y/Y
I’m talking about maybe a little accountability here from MMA organizations that maybe this culture of compulsory alpha male entitlement, while good for ratings sometimes, might actually suspend the sustainability of the sport in the long run and make it inaccessible for people who encounter nonconsensual violence on a more regular basis–you know, like women.
Say what you will about the military, like, for example “it’s a parasitic drain on western culture that serves only to train local government how to wage war on its own citizens”, but when someone told someone that Sgt. SingleCake caused the limp of an eight year old girl, he found himself in a room with baby blue ducky wallpaper, playing a game of word association. Child Abuse. Incarceration. Foster Care. Family Therapy Instead Maybe?
#JusticeForChristyMack is not publicly firing a guy who won’t be able to work anyway because he’ll probably be in fucking prison–OKAY ALSO WAIT WHAT WHY DID HE HAVE A BLOG IN PRISON, I WASN’T EVEN ALLOWED A FUCKING VIEWFINDER.
War Machine and Thiago Silva tried to kill what they (in their own abusive way) “loved”.
And I think it’s perhaps our prerogative to give back in kind.
I’m not hyped up on hyperbole. This is a thing the MMA community actually fears.
If more attention is brought to the rise of intimate partner abuse in combat sports, then it will inhibit the marketability of MMA.
That’s a nice out of control and poorly regulated sport you have there. It’d be a shame if something were to happen to it.
Like the co-opting of your social media presence and promotion to bring light to your lack of accountability and anti-abuse resources. I’m sure Stephen Colbert would appreciate a day off from having to check his twitter mentions.
Or organized boycotts of MMA events, with an explicit focus on publicizing the gruesome acts of your featured performers, until a public stance is made on abuse and actionable intent to provide support to people like Christy Mack, Thaysa Thiago, and Kaitlyn Grispi.
Or hey! Why don’t we all just write Bellator and tell them how we feel about their non commitment to preventing abuse and what they could be doing to maybe stop enabling such shitty behavior of their talent.
Like provide better mental health resources.
Like maybe employ more people who are not bros with tribal tats who won’t echo chamber abusive alpha male shit like joking on television that you’ll murder your girlfriend.
Or investigating whether or not any of War Machine’s trainers, teammates, or colleagues had a notion of his abusive nature and could/should have said something.
If you don’t respond to any of the emails I’ve been writing you, you can just make these resources available on your site or during broadcasts:
And yes: I said the l word. I love MMA. I like the muscles and the hitting and sometimes there’s a double KO and it’s so cash, man. But no love is so transformative that I will afford even one woman to endure the abuse that stems from unchecked alpha male entitlement. Especially when that abuse is (reasonably) preventable by not looking the other way like a bunch of “I got mine” assholes and providing reasonable, sustainable mental health resources for your fighters and, in acknowledging the existence of said abuse, enable women like Christy Mack to get the support she needs from you and the rest of the community.
If MMA is to thrive, it must come out of the Machine Age.
Massive trigger warnings about domestic violence (described and photographed), rape, rape apologism, entitlement culture, police
Updates below in bold!
I’ve written before on crowdfunding’s betrayal of sex workers, and how ridiculous their rules are that they ban sex workers entirely, whether they’re crowdfunding adult work or medical expenses.
There’s been a lot of press about MMA fighter War Machine’s near-fatal abuse of his ex girlfriend Christy Mack earlier this week. While some of the commentary has been the expected sex worker bashing, “but we don’t KNOW he did it!” type apologist bullshit, there’s also been some very thoughtful articles. The cops apparently hung up on 911 calls the night of the attack, and called her injuries non life threatening at first, which doesn’t surprise me but underlines how little the cops care about domestic violence or sex workers. Still, I’m glad to see that Christy Mack is being supported by a good number of people, who have compassion for what it’s like to live in an abusive relationship, are horrified by the way he spoke about her, and don’t think that her being a porn performer should be reason for her to be assaulted.
I certainly understand how horrifying intimate partner violence can be, and how hard it is to leave. This is fucking personal.
There’s another piece coming on Consent Culture about domestic violence and MMA, but I want to address something that became starkly clear when it came to the aftermath of Jon Koppenhaver’s arrest. And that’s the messed up ethics of crowdfunding.
As I’ve discussed before, sex workers have regularly had their attempts to crowdfund medical care, travel, and other things shut down because they’re sex workers, or have ever been sex workers. The purposefully vague language of the terms of service for many of these companies means they can determine what’s “too adult” seemingly on a whim. I’m glad to see Christy Mack hasn’t had her medical fundraiser challenged due to her profession, as Eden Alexander did, and I hope that crowdfunding has made a decision to stop penalizing sex workers for their jobs.
What sickens me, however, is that a fundraiser for War Machine, a.k.a. Jon Koppenhaver, is remaining up despite multiple challenges. Two other fundraisers that purported to be raising money for War Machine’s defense were shut down, with GiveForward offering an *apology* and advice:
Of course, War Machine’s supporters took this as complicity with their goal of raising money for a serial abuser, who had “joked” about murdering Christy Mack before.
When they took the fundraiser for his legal defense down (it’s now back stating money raised is for “mental health funding”), Giveforward emailed me as well, by the way, and their tune with me was very different:
Obviously, I find the disparity in the emails to be pretty concerning and to not give me a lot of faith that they are, in fact, seeking to “empower compassion”.
GiveForward is now requesting more detailed information from the people running War Machine’s fundraisers.
While I’m glad they’re finding ways to slow down the crowdfunding of violence against women, particularly sex workers, a group they have shut down in the past, I would find it more of a statement of compassion if they didn’t let people fundraise on War Machine’s behalf at all.
Also, again let me remind you, female sex workers have been shut down on GiveForward because they were deemed untrustworthy handling cash meant to go towards medical bills, yet War Machine, who is also a porn performer in addition to being a violent criminal, apparently doesn’t warrant similar mistrust. As WePay, GiveForward’s payment processor, was the one who complained about Eden Alexander’s fundraiser as being against policy, perhaps we should ask them why they feel funding an abuser of women is in their policies. A great example is below:
Both have said they had broken up in May at various times, though as is often the case with abusive relationships, codependency also seems to have been keeping them together after. His excuse for beating her, one that
people men like Chuck Zito of “Sons of Anarchy” fame seems to agree with, is that she was cheating on him- not that it’s an excuse, but it doesn’t even seem to be true.
Here’s some statistics around “crimes of passion”, and how often the people who abuse women are their partners. (Also please please please, if you need support around these issues, check out our resource list).
The man who did this, who *is under arrest for doing it after being labeled a fugitive*, who has practically admitted to doing it (I mean, “she’s my property and always will be“?!?), *is crowdfunding* and this is totally ok with GiveForward. I mean FFS they could shut it down simply because he’s been a porn performer in the past, if they wanted a way to get out of it and still be consistent… but I guess that’s only an issue if you’re a women.
But hey, you know, if supporting *near* murderers isn’t your thing and you’d rather support a proper murderer, never fear! You can support Darren Wilson, the cop who murdered a black teen in cold blood and kicked off a week’s worth of (frankly justified) riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Residents are under curfew, and feel like they’re under house arrest (because they are). Tear gas is being used frequently and without restraint. The National Guard has been sent, which is going to make things even worse.
Well, the cop who felt murdering a black kid was a-ok has a fundraiser at $17,000+ on GoFundMe, and this isn’t even the fundraising effort started by the KKK! I guess GoFundMe isn’t worried about picking sides in legal situations the way GiveForward is.
It doesn’t surprise me at all that many of the people donating to Wilson’s fund are also cops. In case you questioned whether or not all cops are bastards, the fact this fundraiser is so heavily populated by them and that cops haven’t been condemning this behaviour should tell you all you need to know.
To underline: Darren Wilson murdered a black teenage boy, who was unarmed and facing away from him, and he’s on *paid leave*, and ALSO now getting $17,000 and counting.
GoFundMe is enabling *paying* this murderous cop for killing a black kid. This is the state of racism in the US right now.
Don’t ever, ever fucking tell me we’re post race and you don’t see colour.
I like to think that crowdfunding can be revolutionary. But it’s important to remember that these tools can also be wielded by the oppressor. Such is often the way in capitalism.
Next time you need to raise some money, may I suggest Tilt instead?
This guest post is from one of our contributors, who wanted to repost their writing here. I’m really glad to be getting more guest posts on here, so that we can begin to paint a fuller picture of what consent culture might mean, and where we’re at currently, from various standpoints.
Cross-posted from: http://queerfeministkilljoy.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/on-the-costs-of-talking-about-consent/
Content Note: rape, child sexual abuse, self harm
It’s been a trying time of late to be someone for whom consent is really important. The Washington Post published a column within which were posted the words, “when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.” More of the usual victim blaming asshole-ry has blown up on Fetlife, and I recently received a phone call from a dear friend wanting to process newly recovered memories of sexual abuse. The conservative columnist (whose name I’m not using purposefully, as he doesn’t deserve any more air time) who penned the piece for the Washington Post probably has no idea how common rape and sexual violence is because he isn’t a target for that sort of assault. In his experience, as a white cisgender hetero man, rape and sexual violence are somewhat rare. He applied his broken validity prism, threw in some heartless conservatism, added some dubious statistics and stirred et voila! Rape apologist tripe!
So now we have another example of victim-blaming narrative. I’ve seen this particular approach elsewhere of late– apparently we’re all doing this for the positive attention, you guys. You know, all the attention? How like… positive it is? Yeah. We’re completely hooked on it. Yup. That’s the argument, and homie ain’t the only one making it. Let me just let that sink in for a minute. Survivors who refuse to be silenced by their own internalized shame and self-blame, by the obvious hostility, the gaslighting, denial, and threats from all of those who wish to silence survivors– are in fact making it all up. Yup, because of all the positive attention.
I wonder though, what does all this positive attention look like? Maybe its like the time I asked politely that folks refrain from using the term rape to mean anything other than rape. To which a crowd of barely literate mansplainers linked me to the dictionary definition and sounded off about how words evolve and change and mean different things. Wow, thanks guys! I’m so glad you were there for me about that because frankly, my graduate program in Comparative Literature left something to be desired in terms of, “how words work,” and complex stuff like that. –So instances like this- in which someone who is/was/has been/will continue to be continually targeted for sexual violence asks someone who veeeery likely isn’t/hasn’t been/won’t be to have the tiniest smidgen of sensitivity to that issue and gets so much pushback you’d think she’d asked for blood or plasma… These are perhaps not the instances of, “positive attention,” to which the columnist is referring? Maybe there is some other place and time where all the positive attention comes into play? Because in situations such as the one mentioned above I’ve personally been, at best- laughed at, verbally bullied and shouted down for daring to challenge the status quo or assert my right as a survivor to be comfortable in a space, and at worst called names, the target of threats (typically threats of sexual violence, because that’s not at all triggering for a survivor) and the recipient of gendered insults.
Regardless of how this narrative about all this positive attention actually flies in the face of survivor’s stories and statistics, (many survivors report being disbelieved, shamed, blamed, and/or ostracized when seeking support) this is the argument in a nutshell. We’ve got something to gain- attention, fame, noteworthiness, sympathy– some damn thing. That’s the latest version of bitches be trippin meets lying liars— we aren’t all some woman scorned after all, it seems. And we aren’t all slutty sluts with buyer’s remorse who changed our minds and decided to cry rape. Nope. We’re attention seekers who desperately desire the adoration of fawning acolytes. We’re seeking positive attention- all the real and desirable effects that come of claiming survivor status. We’re drama queens, and narcissists and liars. Anyone else notice the similarity of this particular bit of victim blaming to all the others? Notice how they’re all coded femme? Ain’t life grand?
So let’s back this bus up a smidgen, shall we? Survivor privilege, what might it look like?
Well, at least in part, for me, it looks like being one of a few people that those whom I love who are also survivors can come to when they need to process shit so dark you wouldn’t watch it were it in a movie. Like what happened on Monday first thing in the morning, when a woman I love and consider family called to discuss the depths of horror she lived through as a helpless child. She needed to talk so I listened, because I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, intimate partner violence and rape. It was only natural she’d talk to me about this– besides her therapist, who would be willing to go down that particular rabbit hole? Ah, but there’s the rub—because I’m a survivor, I can empathize, perhaps a bit too well. Unfortunately, I’m so traumatized that hearing firsthand accounts from those I love is triggering and integrating new information is a painful process. I have to rearrange things to make a space in my brain where I can put some more wordless horror. I have to process what I now know while walking the world acting perfectly normal while making space for this dark sludge alongside all the other nightmare inducing things already stored in my full to bursting little brain.
So, what else is there? What else do I stand to gain? I’m an outspoken feminist for whom it took twenty years years to properly name a drunken-teenage-passed-out-drunk-woke-up-to-someone’s-peen-in-my-vagina-moment (surely we’ve all had those? amirite?) what it actually is- rape. I never told my friends about it; even though he was their friend too and we were all passed out on another friend’s living room floor. It didn’t even occur to me to say anything. Instead I just glared at him when I saw him after that, and I didn’t explain to anyone, not even to myself, until fairly recently- that this was a tipping point for me as a teenager. Soon after that I started to cut myself. Instead of speaking about violation, I bled and had nightmares and my mom told me that I was, “sick in the head.” Ain’t that cute? That’s how girls are supposed to deal with things you guys! Internalize it! But quietly! Don’t cause anyone else a moment of inconvenience, though. That’s survivor privilege. Taking twenty years to sort out the precise moment I started cutting my wrists, arms and inner thighs and being able to trace it to directly to a single moment after a lifetime of truly dramatic history. It was a –one thing too many- sort of thing, which happened just as I was starting to come to grips with all the horrors I’d been through. Survivor privilege is having some more stuff loaded on to your back when your legs are already broken. Survivor privilege is when people who are carrying very little yell at you to get up and move and stop being so self involved.
Survivor privilege is being dismissed whenever I talk about that night when I woke up all drunk and woozy and confused to discover that sex was being had, apparently, with me. Survivor privilege is having anything I say that has to do with the systemic and systematic sexual violence which primarily targets women and other fem(me) folks dismissed out of hand due to my gender identity, mistakenly attributed to either my politics or my hatred of men. Whatever I say is dismissed because I already have an opinion about rape (hate it) and rape culture (hate) and the violent misogyny (grr hate) and male supremacy (triple hate) that excuses and denies all of the aforementioned hateful stuff.
I’m completely biased, get it? As a woman, as a femme, and as a survivor I cannot discuss bodily autonomy– especially that of women and/or fem(me)s without having a vested interest, a stake in the topic. Therefore my opinion is always already irrelevant because I have one. Unlike other people whose opinions are valid regardless of their history or lack thereof– mine is suspect, because its personal. Survivor privilege is having my passion for changing the situation that we call rape culture—the situation where sexual violence is permitted and permissible and alluded to continually and used like a bludgeon to force feminine people into line in service of male supremacy and compulsory heterosexuality– all of this is attributed back to completely subjective feelings and therefore irrelevant. I’m not objective you guys. Unlike all those hetero guys with a vested interest in telling us all about their friend who was falsely accused, or so they say, because some bitch cried rape—and they all seem to have a friend like that, have you noticed? Funny, I don’t have any of those friend but most of my friends have been raped. A girl I started dating recently said something like, “well you know, when you just go with it? Because it’ll go easier?” and what she meant was: you know, those times when you have to choose between mild coercion and brutal rape? Because women and fem(me) folks make that choice frequently enough that its not unusual. We have that experience, well I guess about as often as dudes friends get falsely accused, I’d guess. Unlike the rape apologists, those bastions of all things objective and reasonable and traditionally coded masculine and good and glorious and great, I already have an opinion, one that is totes subjective and stuff. Yeah I can see why you’d dismiss my opinion in advance, seeing as how I got one, or whatever.
Waitaminute though, I’ve forgotten already what it is I’m supposed to have gained from having all these conversations where I’m triggered and gas-lighted repeatedly, where insensitive clods say the most foul, misogynistic, backwards, sexist, victim blaming, rape apologist shit they can think up– all to convince me to stop talking about consent. I wake up crying from nightmares during consent wars, I cry more easily and often during the day. My depression gets worse, and I get rageface- which we all know leads to wrinkles. No bueno. No fucking bueno, compadres.
You know what else it costs to write about and talk about consent? I’m going to be super real with y’all. It has cost me the vast majority of my relationships with men. Not all at once, but eventually, over time, one by one. It was one sexist joke too many, it was one boundary-crossing-creep-defender over the line. It was the constant microaggressions or the combination of being privileged and defensive about it and unable or unwilling to do any better. Most grew weary of arguing about feminist issues, or about the fact that I wouldn’t let them just win those arguments, even though they usually had no idea what they were talking about. They couldn’t deal with the fact that I won’t allow anyone to say disparaging shit to and about me and mine. Or they won’t or can’t do better after I explain how to do better many many times and finally I have to peace out on them for my own safety. I have at present a tiny handful of guy friends. One I get into arguments with nearly every time we talk. I fear that relationship may go the way of most of my past relationships with subtly sexist men- away, that is to say. Which is really too fucking bad. Because the truth is, I don’t hate men- I hate male privilege. I really like men, shit, I love them actually, some of them. I miss having men friends, but not enough to let the mild misogyny slide. I have got to take care of me and mine. That’s where we clash, because I refuse to just smooth things over, to just let things go. They’re accustomed to deference and I’ve taught myself to drop that habit as best I can.
So, for me, the cost of talking about consent is pretty freaking high. Why do I keep doing it then? Well, Audre Lorde said, “your silence will not protect you” –I’ve been guarding the boundaries of my person from folks who felt they had the right to lay their hands on me for as long as I’ve had consciousness as a human being.
I was born with a target on my back, or was it between my legs? The point is that I’ve had to fight a war without end. The combatants are my right to bodily autonomy and the right of folks who feel entitled to my person regardless of my granting or not granting consent. That includes grown men who tried to fondle me when I was just a kid and it includes the little boys who did the same. It includes the teachers who excused such shenanigans and it includes the politicians who currently wish to legislate what I may or may not be allowed to do with my own person.
I’ve had to fight for the right to not be touched by men my entire life and the struggle hasn’t ended yet. Because I have a primary partner who is also a woman, I continue to be treated as, “fair game”– and frankly that’s how it feels. Like some of us are hunters while others are prey. I’m a relatively small person, and people seem to find it hilarious to pick me up. I find it utterly terrifying. I dislike being touched by people I don’t know but have a very difficult time making folks hear that over the noise of their preconceived notions about what/whom my body is for– which is to say– I am for them, apparently. That’s why I’m curvy despite being so short, that’s why I have such a big butt- its for the visual and tactile pleasure of men. I’ve gotten good at stating boundaries loudly and staying away from people who set off alarm bells, but this has only mitigated some of the harm. The constant warding off of potential incursions remains. Not talking about this isn’t going to change that, and it isn’t going to educate the people who are privileged but are also decent humans. Silence won’t make the world safer for people like myself. Talking about and modeling the changes we need our culture to undergo will start shifting both the behavior and the thinking that underpins it.
So I keep going. I don’t shut up. I defend my borders assiduously. The last time a stranger decided to put their hands on me was about two weeks ago now at the bus stop. He asked how I was doing and I replied that my back hurt, so he tried to rub my shoulders and I asked him to stop. He did, and then he commented on my big old butt. And I’m sure if you were to ask him, he’d say he’d done nothing wrong- crossed no boundaries, not violated anyone’s consent. Why, after all, should he inquire as to whether he can or cannot put his hands on me? That’s like asking a sofa before you sit down. I’m sure he wouldn’t have put it that way, he’d have said its no big deal and I’m taking it too seriously. Gaslighting aside, the reality is that he is granted bodily autonomy in a way that I am not. That’s why he violated my space with such ease, it literally didn’t even occur to him that I’m not there for him to touch, to push my boundaries, to hunt.
Convincing other adults that I am an autonomous human being and not an object for their visual or tactile pleasure and that they have no right to demand my time or attention is an ongoing struggle. Convincing other adult humans to not put their hands on me without asking first is an ongoing struggle. So what do I get out of it? I get better at stating my boundaries, better at tracking those who are grooming potential targets. I get derided, made fun of, called names- almost always gendered insults, what a surprise. I get yelled at and threatened with violence. I get to have bad dreams and sick sad feelings that take days and days to go away. But I keep doing it anyway. Because only having these conversations about consent will change the way that we as a people understand consent and autonomy. Only by modeling a different way of doing consent where we use our words and ask each other first can we create a world in which each and every one of us regardless of gender or size or status or race or age or ability is an autonomous being who can grant or refuse consent.