Category Archives: gender

Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories (rebroadcast)

Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories (rebroadcast)

Book cover of "Compañeras: Zapatista Women's Stories" with text "TFSR 09-11-22"
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This week on the show, we re-air Amar’s 2015 interview with Hilary Klein, author/editor of the book Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories, out from Seven Stories Press.

Over the hour, Hilary talks about her 7 years of living in Chiapas and recording the stories and experiences of women there, collecting stories on their behalf. The book covers the Zapatistas experiences before the EZLN uprising of 1994, during that period and after. Discussion address what gender, indigeneity and class looked like and how that’s changed in the Zapatista communities, the state of Chiapas and in Mexico. William and Hilary also explore the effects that the EZLN & La Otra Compaña have had on radicals and anarchists abroad, the origins of the EZLN, some parallels and distinctions between anarchism and Zapatismo and much more.

You’ll find a transcript of this audio available soon at our website. The book is also available for free reading on archive.org. Next week, stay tuned for another rebroadcast, with some new content coming up real soon.

Annoucement

Post-Release Funds for Maumin Khabir

from GoFundMe.com:

SUPPORT FUND FOR NEW AFRIKAN POLITICAL PRISONER ON HOSPICE, MAUMIN KHABIR! (SN MELVIN MAYES). CURRENT GOAL IS $3K FOR ESSENTIAL MEDICINE! Maumin Khabir served a 27 year sentence behind prison walls in North Carolina for a crime he didn’t commit. Declared a terrorist by the U.S. government, Khabir was targeted by RICO laws (a draconian set of laws that target individuals opposed to U.S. ideology) and captured in 1995. Maumin turned down a plea deal that would require him to confess to crimes he did not commit. As a political prisoner, he has remained an organizer, educator, and devote Muslim while on the inside. Maumin is a citizen of the sovereign Republic of New Afrika and his secession from the United States of America is the motivating factor behind the government’s prosecution and has no criminal basis. Maumin asks the court to recognize him as a political prisoner in accordance with the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Protocol 1.

In February, Maumin was granted compassionate release by the courts due to his severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He is now in the care of people who love him but it is still a very difficult situation. Maumin is on 24hr oxygen and can hardly move and it’s overall difficult to care for him. We are raising funds for to support Maumin’s care, to ensure it is the best it can be right now, and so his family who cares for him can give him a proper burial after he transitions. We ask you to share this link and donate what you can! We need money for medication, medical bills, and hopefully new transportation so Maumin can see loved ones and make appointments. Thank you for your support! Free The Land!

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Featured Tracks:

  • Politiks Kills (Prince Fatty Instrumental) by Manu Chao from Politiks Kills single
  • Himno Zapatista (track #20) from Antología Musical Zapatista
  • Por El Suelo by Manu Chao from Clandestino

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Transcription

TFSR: Will you first introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?

Hillary Klein: Yes. Thank you so much for inviting me to share this time with you and your listeners. My name is Hillary and I currently work at an organization called the Center for Popular Democracy, which is a national network of community based organizations working for racial justice, economic justice, and immigrant rights. I’ve been doing social justice work for a long time, but that included several years that I spent in Chiapas, Mexico, working with Zapatista communities in indigenous villages, and specifically with women’s projects. So I feel like it’s all connected, because whether it’s here in the US or whether it’s abroad, I feel like it’s all one vision of a world of greater justice and greater dignity. The book that I wrote came out of that experience working with women’s cooperatives and women’s projects in the Zapatista communities.

TFSR: So you went to Chiapas through your work?

HK: Not in the sense of for a job. I went to Chiapas was actually in 1997 thinking that I was just going to stay for a couple of weeks or maybe a couple months. So, I was there originally as a human rights observer and as a volunteer on solidarity projects, but it was such a compelling movement and such a fascinating time. I felt like history was kind of unfolding before my eyes. How could I not say and witnessed it or be part of it in some way? So I ended up staying, and I stayed on, and I ended up staying about six years. Much longer than I had expected. So, I was there from 1997 till about 2003. So I’ve been back in the US for a little more than 10 years doing what I consider to be the same work, but it’s not actually like I was working for the same organization or anything.

TFSR: I do want to talk to you more about your time in Chiapas in a later question. But just to lay some solid groundwork for any listeners who are unfamiliar, would you be willing to talk us through some historical bullet points of the Zapatista movement?

HK: Yeah, of course. So the Zapatista movement is also called the EZLN, which is a Spanish acronym for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. It’s primarily a social movement, a very broad grassroots radical social movement in southern Mexico, fighting for indigenous rights for land, but for also for a whole kind of host of broader demands that I think are very universal in the sense of: for dignity, for justice, for equality, for democracy, and has really resonated with people around the world.

So, in addition to being a social movement, it also has a rebel army. They did choose the path of armed struggle. After many years of fighting for change in their own context, out of a sense of desperation, seeing children die from preventable diseases, for example, they chose the path of armed struggle, feeling like they had no option left but to stand up for themselves and force the government to listen. The communities and Chiapas are historically extremely poor, extremely marginalized. That’s really a legacy from colonialism. The history of racism, the history of economic exploitation, all that goes back, more than 500 years. Those legacies are still things that those communities are facing today.

The Zapatista movement comes out of that history of 500 + years of indigenous resistance, it also comes out of the legacy of the Mexican Revolution. So the name Zapatista comes from Zapata. Emiliano Zapata was a hero of the Mexican Revolution who fought for ‘Tierra y Libertad,’ land and freedom. So they very much carried on that banner. But they also recognize that neoliberalism or global capitalism, whichever you want to call it, is kind of the current political and economic system, which reproduces many of those same legacies of inequality, of injustice, and exploitation that began with colonialism.

So, they actually rose up in arms on January 1 1994. That was the same day that NAFTA, which is the North American Free Trade Agreement, went into effect. They chose that day to highlight that relationship with global capitalism, with neoliberalism. So that’s where many of us around the world first heard of the Zapatistas. For myself, speaking personally, it was really an important moment. It came kind of at the tail end of the Cold War. So there was this question in the air for people of my generation, I was 19 at the time in 1994, of what the next wave of social movements would look like after the end of the Cold War. The capitalists were claiming victory, free trade – the market won. So it was really inspiring to see this model of this example of what a new social movement might look like. It’s really inspired people ever since then. So that was 20 + years ago.

After that very brief armed uprising, the Zapatistas have not used their weapons ever since then. They do still have an insurgent army. That’s, I think, an important thing to know about them in terms of their character as a very militant movement. But it’s also in reality, it’s much more of a broad social movement, in terms of its actions, and has become much more known for peaceful mobilizations, for political marches and other actions, for convening civil society. Mexican as well as international civil society, to come together and talk about the different problems that we face different strategies of how we can find solutions collectively and build a world of of greater dignity and justice.

It’s also become very known for its project of indigenous autonomy. So in its own territory, in eastern Chiapas, they’ve developed autonomous governments, their own health care and education systems. They have a whole system of economic cooperatives, which have developed an economy that’s based on cooperation and solidarity, rather than one that’s based on on profit.

TFSR: I was really struck by… because there’s lots of parts in your book, and a lot of its interview based, but I remember reading that the Zapatistas would come down from the mountains posing as teachers, or whoever, and just start talking to people. And it has so much an emphasis on people talking to each other and being like, “why are you so poor? Why don’t you have as much to eat as you need? Why do you need to do all this work?” Trying to get people’s wheels turning.

HK: Definitely. I think that that same concept that you’re pointing out, of dialogue, I think has been really important within the Zapatista movement. But also, when I mentioned convening civil society at the national or international level, I think that same concept of dialogue that you’re describing has really been important in terms of how the Zapatistas have engaged with people around Mexico and around the world. Using that same process of listening to each other, of asking questions that really makes each other think, “Why is this injustice the case? What can we do about it?” And so I think that that’s been one of the ways it’s been so effective for them to spark people responding by organizing in their own contexts around the world.

TFSR: And it seems like those conversations were extremely non coercive, meaning that people were like, “Oh, there’s this meeting where people are talking about it, come to it if you want.”

HK: I think that’s right. So, when I mentioned that 1994 was the Zapatista uprising, the very brief uprising, they had actually been organized in clandestine way for 10 years before that, from 1983 to 1994. 1983 is when the EZLN was formed in the mountains of the jungles of Chiapas. So for the next 10 years, they were doing exactly what you’re describing, talking to people in the villages, asking them questions, encouraging them to organize. There was very strong movements in Chiapas like I mentioned. People turn to armed struggle, because they had already been, many people who became Zapatistas, had been engaged for years and years in campesino movements, for example, or indigenous rights movements, asking for land reform from the government, for example, and really seeing no response.

The Zapatistas often referred to themselves, and have been called, ‘the voice of the voiceless.’ So it’s really the sense of very, very marginalized, kind of forgotten corner of Mexico and people making this decision to take their own destiny into their own hands. So I think when the original core guerrilla nucleus that formed in 1983, began to really reach out for people in the villages. It just was a very fertile moment for people to say, “Yes, it’s time. We need to take this to a whole other level and demand our rights and do that in a determined and courageous way.”

TFSR: I’d love to talk a little bit about your book, which is called ‘*Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories,*’ and it is heavily interview based, drawn from interviews, many of which you conducted yourself, with people who directly experienced working with the EZLN and you mentioned that you lived in Chiapas itself from 1997 to 2003. Would you talk a little bit about more about your time living in Zapatista communities in Chiapas?

HK: Like I mentioned, when I went down there I wasn’t planning to stay for so long. But one of the reasons that I felt like history was kind of unfolding before my eyes… The Zapatistas movement in itself was incredibly inspiring to me at that time. I was so struck by it. But in particular, the role of women has always been crucial. I think this is true for many social movements. This had been my experience, personally, as well as something I had studied was the experience of women within many social movements, where on the one hand, there’s this opportunity, and you are engaged in this whole new way, and at the same time, even within that social movement, women have had to fight for their own rights within that to defend themselves.

So, I have had this kind of long standing interest in women’s participation in radical and revolutionary social movements. So when I got to Chiapas, it was that particular aspect of history, that was unfolding before my eyes were, on the one hand, women have played a critical role in the Zapatista movement from the very beginning, and at the same time, had to push for a lot of changes internally. There was a lot that was still evolving and unfolding. I was very struck by that combination of these amazing, strong, courageous, inspiring women leaders. And also the participation of women within the Zapatista movement was continuing to evolve. That was what compelled me to stay for so much longer.

I got involved with the women’s cooperatives in particular, because it’s an economic space for women to generate resources collectively and invest those resources back into their communities. But because it’s an all-women’s space. There are all women’s collectives, and all men’s collective, that really stems from, because gendered division of labor still exists to a large degree. So women’s collectives tend to be artisan collectives, or vegetable gardens, or chicken raising collectives.

Because they are all-women’s spaces, they’re also really an area where women oftentimes come to voice and come to their own sense of power for the first time. It’s the first time they might be participating outside of the home or learning to speak up. So it’s kind of like a springboard for women’s involvement in other ways in the Zapatista movement.

So that was the kind of work that I was drawn to. This coworker and I developed a project kind of hand in hand with the Zapatista women leaders, their kind of regional representative. So we had sort of an ongoing conversation with them about what might be useful, and what would be helpful for us to do as outsiders, and develop this project of supporting women’s cooperatives and women’s regional organizing in general. So that was what I did for most of the time that I was there in Chiapas.

TFSR: Apart from artisanal stuff and vegetable gardening, and what were some of the projects that the women’s collective did?

HK: They were each organized around whatever different economic activity they decide. This is just one way that women are organized. But in particular, in economic cooperatives, women often talk about how the first step is to get together as a women’s meeting or women’s assembly and decide to form a cooperative, and then decide what type of cooperatives they want to form. So, they might decide, for example, to start a vegetable garden or to start a chicken raising collective and they’ll each contribute something like one peso each to buy seeds and start the vegetable garden, or they each contribute one hen, and then that’s how they start to chicken raising collective.

Some of the ones that are most common… Those ones that we mentioned, the artisan cooperatives, tend to be for outside consumption, so they sell more to an external market. A lot of the other ones are really more geared towards internal consumption. So even as they’re generating resources, with vegetable gardens for example, they’re addressing nourishment in their communities. That’s a big source of health problems, because people have historically had a pretty limited diet. In addition to generating those resources, they’re also producing for local consumption.

Another example of that is sometimes the women open collective stores. Because some of these villages are very isolated, it also allows people in the villages to buy from a local store, instead of having to travel just for basic goods. So, individuals don’t have to travel two or four or six hours to the closest city. The cooperative store does that buying and selling. So it’s making a little bit of money, but it’s also providing that service to the local community. And then the women collectively decide how they want to spend those resources. So they might be responding to emergencies, like if one woman is very sick, they can help her out, or if there’s a political mobilization, or they might decide to invest in the autonomous school.

So, there’s a lot of different ways, but that decision making process also is very important. It’s another way that is very empowering for the women who are involved to be engaged in, “Okay, we’ve generated these resources. Now, what do we want to do with the resources that we’ve generated?”

TFSR: The issue of food is so important, because it seems that so many of the women that you interviewed are indigenous women, and who were born into what I might call, a kind of indentured servitude. Is that completely inaccurate? Food was a very, very restricted resource for people who were subsistence farming to sustain themselves, but they were given for the most part infertile land or lands that just nothing would grow on.

HK: Yeah, absolutely. Some of what we were talking about earlier in terms of the legacies of colonialism have to do exactly with what you’re talking about, where the land that historically had belonged to indigenous peasants, was basically stolen from them. And ever since colonialism has existed, it has been really concentrated in the hands of a very few wealthy families in Chiapas that are basically European descended. Even though there have been some stages of land reform in Mexican history. Some of the biggest fincas, in a lot of parts of Latin America they’re called haciendas, in Chiapas are called fincas, they’re basically large plantations. When we think about the South in the United States, for example, the plantations, that historic cotton picking plantations.That type of economy. Where in Chiapas, they weren’t literally slaves, but like you said, they were basically indentured servants.

So, even though those exact same structures didn’t exist anymore, it looked very similar in terms of the indigenous peasants having either to live and work full time on the fincas, or they have these very small plots of land up kind of on the rocky mountainside where basically nothing grew. So land and the food that they produced was just a huge source of inequity, or manifestation of that inequity, the injustice that people were living with. People actually talk about the hunger months, ‘el tiempo de hambre’, when their corn had run out from one season and they hadn’t harvested the corn from the next season and there’s this kind of gap in between where they just literally didn’t have enough to eat.

So, that’s kind of historically what people were dealing with. It was just so very core to people’s lives and people’s experiences.

TFSR: You mentioned that you came over to Chiapas. Could you speak about writing on this topic from the perspective of a relative outsider? Could you talk about how that influenced your approach?

HK: So at the tail end of the time that I was there, one of the projects that I worked on before I left was an internal document where the women wanted to record their own stories. I think Zapatista women recognize that they’ve been part of something pretty historic, and they wanted to record that for themselves. But they also really wanted to use it as a tool for education for organizing with other women. So I did that project, which was really amazing. You mentioned earlier, that a lot of the books is heavily based on interviews that I did with different women. And so a lot of the interviews were kind of throughout the time that I was there. But a lot of them were particularly from this time period, when I was doing this project with the women that was initially just for themselves. But once we finished it, and they have this product, which was like a popular education manual. It was really geared towards them not only having their own stories documented, but being able to kind of use it to educate and organize other women. They themselves said, “You know what? We actually really want to share these stories with an outside world as well. And how do you feel about doing something like this book, but for an outside audience?”

I tell that whole story, because I feel like your question is coming from this really important place of what is the role of an outsider in writing a book like this. I had spent several years at that point, working very closely with the Zapatistas very much always as an outsider, right? It’s not my community. It’s not my context. But I was very close with the communities at that point. I would not have felt like it was appropriate for me to go and publish this book or share their stories if it hadn’t been specifically a request or a suggestion that came originally from them.

I felt like it was important personally, because in this country so much has been written about the Zapatistas, but very little about women and even less in their own words. So even though it is my book, I felt like my role was much more as a cultural bridge to create a vehicle for women to share their own stories. So the book contains a lot of my own writing, where I introduce the women or I share historical background or some context, but my intention was always to do that as a foundation for an outside audience to be able to then engage with the women’s stories from having the necessary background, but then to hear really directly from them.

So, like you said, the book is very heavily based on these interviews. And that was really the most important thing to me. And so just going back more concretely, to your question, I think that I, as an outsider, did have the ability to kind of create that bridge, especially in an audience in this country, but like I said, very much coming from a commitment to create the space for the women to kind of tell their own stories and people to hear as directly as possible. Because I had been so incredibly touched, and moved, and inspired by all these women that I had worked with over the years. Their stories of transformation, their stories of struggle, their stories of courage had been so meaningful to me, that when they were the ones that suggested that to me, it was such an honor to think of me creating that vehicle for them to share the stories with a broader audience.

TFSR: Yeah, for sure. And speaking as another outsider, it was really amazing to be able to read their experiences in their own words. So I’ve strongly benefited from that. It’s a pretty incredible experience to be able to do that.

HK: I mean, the fact that you have that experience of it makes me feel like I accomplished what I set out to do.

TFSR: It’s amazing that because Zapatismo has, like you said, so many visible female leaders like Comandanta Ramona comes to mind, but there hasn’t been much written about Zapatista women.

HK: Yeah, there has been some stuff written for sure. There is stuff out there, but relative to how much has been written overall about the Zapatista movement, I feel like there was a real gap. What’s been written about Zapatista women I feel like hasn’t been thorough. So, I really felt like it was important to me.

TFSR: Will you speak to the political roots of Zapatismo. It seems to me that there were some strongly Maoist communist and militaristic currents in there. Since this is an anarchist radio show, I feel like I should ask that question to clarify that for the listening audience?

HK: One thing I think that is very fascinating, I think specifically from an anarchist perspective is that Zapatismo is a blend of many different political traditions. Political and also historical and cultural traditions that didn’t come out specifically of an anarchist trajectory, but ends up having a lot in common with anarchism. I think anarchists around the world have really related to the Zapatistas because of some of these core principles that the Zapatistas have come to represent, including not trying to take State power, that they instead believe in kind of creating power from below, creating alternative institutions to the State and having a lot of very horizontal structures. And then all the stuff that we’re talking about, about indigenous autonomy, and having a critique not only of the State, but of the whole political system, and they’ve been very clear that they’re not going to turn into a political party. Which was a path that many Central American guerrilla movements too and eventually converted into political parties.

But in terms of the roots, which you were asking about. So that’s all to say that the end product of Zapatismo has a lot in common with anarchism, but it came from all these very different places and political historical roots. One of the things that I think is so unique, and to the Zapatistas credit, has been their ability to draw the best of different political traditions. We were talking a little bit earlier about the history of the Zapatista movement, there was this core nucleus of Marxist guerrillas that came out of the student movement in the 60’s in the 70’s throughout Mexico. They went down and formed that initial guerrilla nucleus that we were talking about in 1983. But they really began to interact with the Campesino movements, the Indigenous movements in Chiapas at the time, with the Catholic Church, which was very heavily influenced by Liberation Theology, like you said, there was Maoist groups down there at the time. I think what the Zapatistas were able to do, was to blend all that into something that was kind of new and unique, that I would now call Zapatismo that came from these very different political threads.

I think a lot of the more horizontal aspects came from the history of the indigenous communities themselves. The original core of Zapatistas who were not from Chiapas, which we’re only a handful of people really. I mean, numerically speaking, the Zapatista movement is pretty much all indigenous peasants from Chiapas, but there was this original group that came from elsewhere to kind of start, at that time, their vision was much more like the the vision of the Cuban revolution.

In some of the really poetic writing about the Zapatistas themselves and how they’ve described themselves, Marcos, for example, who is a male non-indigenous leader that was the spokesperson for the Zapatista movement for many years. He talks eloquently about that process of indigenization of the Zapatista Army in some ways. So if people are interested, I definitely encourage them to look up some of those writings or descriptions of that process. They are very fascinating.

TFSR: Apparently, I heard that Subcomandante Marcos, who was like the leader of the Zapatista movement, abolished himself as a Subcomandante. Did you hear about that? And is that true?

HK: It is true. It’s funny because he… I don’t mean this to sound dismissive. I feel like everything he does, he sort of has to do with a flourish. So even the way that you describe it as like, “He abolished himself.” He basically, in practical terms, what he was doing was kind of passing off the reins to other, indigenous leaders. Which I think is great. It was time for that to happen.

The indigenous communities had chosen Marcos as their spokesperson, I think they legitimately recognized that he would be able to play the role of reaching out to the world, and he’s a very poetic, very philosophical, charismatic, kind of articulate leader. And at the same time, it feels right that it was time to kind of pass on those reins to the local, indigenous leadership. So it was about a year ago, he said that Marcus had died and reemerged as Galeano. Galeano was the name of a man who was killed about a year ago in an attack against one of the Zapatista communities. And so, he renamed himself Galeano, in honor of the person who had been killed. And at the same time, said that it was time for him to kind of pass this on to other leadership.

So there’s a new Subcomandante, who now has that role. It’s kind of an interesting dual role of military leader and spokesperson. The Subcomandante is not actually the political leader of the EZLN, there’s a political body of leaders, which is kind of chosen by all the different communities. There’s different layers, each community has an assembly, and then each region has an assembly, and they kind of choose their representatives at each of those levels. So, at the highest level is the political comandantes, which is a collective body of leadership, the political leadership of the EZLN. Actually the subcomandante is called subcomandante, because he is under their direct command. So the military leadership is underneath the command of the political leadership.

But because he’s also the spokesperson, it’s the person that people most often kind of associate with the Zapatista movement. Then what we were speaking about earlier, in terms of not hearing from women, part of that is because there has been this one person who has been kind of the most well known leader of the Zapatista movement who also happens to be a man. It’s just that’s like the one, if people have generally heard of one Zapatista, it’s usually Subcomandante Marcos.

TFSR: You write in chapter one of your book that the injustices that people faced were the roots of the Zapatista revolutionary movement. To that end, would you describe general conditions that the women you spoke to faced before the influence of the Zapatistas?

HK: Yeah, definitely. So Comandanta Esther, who was another one of the powerful women Zapatista leaders, she one time spoke before the Mexican Congress in 2001. It was the first time an indigenous woman had ever spoken to the Mexican Congress, which itself is startling. So, she spoke to the Mexican Congress, and she talked about women Chiapas being exploited or oppressed three times over, she said, “first, because we’re poor, second, because we’re indigenous, and third, because we’re women.” I think that really gets at the heart, we were already talking about some of the legacies of colonialism. Indigenous women deal with all of that. They deal with the racism, they deal with the poverty, they deal with economic exploitation, but then they also deal with gender discrimination.

The way you framed it, before the influence of the Zapatista movement, just as sort of an extraordinary level of lack of rights in the sense that they were pretty much confined to their home, couldn’t leave their home without the permission from their husband or their father. From the very time they were girls they were basically told they didn’t have rights, they didn’t have a voice, their role was just to work in the home and to take care of kids. That’s obviously very important, dignified work, raising children and taking care of the home, but it’s not something that I believe women should be limited to.

Then in terms of the family life, women were married very young, oftentimes, against their will. When they were maybe 13 or 14 years old, their father would arrange a marriage for them, basically. Then women oftentimes had 10, 12, sometimes 15 kids, and so had very little control over their own lives, their own bodies, the decisions that impacted their lives. And the realm of public decision making was really dominated by men.

So, the Zapatista women, the older women, this is what their lives were. They oftentimes talk about, the first chapter of the book is called something like ‘stories of our mothers or grandmothers,’ because they oftentimes refer to these as the stories that our mothers, our grandmothers had told us, including the Zapatista women who were still around today. This is what they grew up with, just this really intense level of discrimination and marginalization.

TFSR: I had a thought, because I remember reading an interview with one person, I don’t remember what her name was, but she basically described the difference between societal men’s work and women’s work. She said that, “the men’s work is hard, yes, but people get to take breaks, and we never really get to take breaks. We have our, like you said, our 13 children, two babies on our hip, grinding flour for tortillas, and getting water and cleaning the house and doing all sorts of odd jobs, and also caring for many, many children, and not ever getting to take a break. People often were just ill a lot be from overwork and malnourishment and all that stuff.” So I found that really striking.

HK: Yeah, it’s kind of extraordinary. And, like you said, in terms of the women’s workday, they talk about the kind of double workday that I think women in this country still experience. The expectation that after a day’s work, you come home and women are still largely expected to be the ones doing primary childcare and taking care of the home. But it was to such an extreme degree, like you said, women were basically working nonstop from the moment that they woke up to the moment that they went to bed. Oftentimes would go out to the field and work side by side with the men. So that was, “men’s work” was working in the fields. But then once men were done with that day of work, they would kind of come home and rest, whereas the women would come home and then continue to do all the other work that they were doing, the domestic work and everything else that you were describing.

TFSR: So we’re talking about a lot of like, positive aspects of the EZLN. And there are many, many, many of them. But since it’s an organization that’s run by people, and people are flawed, and all of this stuff, I wanted to bring up a quote that I was struck by on page 95, which goes, “women’s right to own or inherit land has not been staunchly defended by Zapatista authorities in the ways that their equal right to political participation has.” Will you speak about the cultural and social aspects of this dispute?

HK: Yeah, so, when we were talking earlier about how important land is, it’s important to the indigenous communities of Chiapas economically, because it is the source of food and of income. Also as indigenous people, it’s really important to them, culturally, spiritually, this concept of Mother Earth. They don’t think of land as private property. So, the Zapatistas carried out a bunch of land takeovers in 1994 in the same context of the uprising, one of the other actions that they took was these land occupations, and then they redistributed these fincas that we were talking about before, to indigenous peasants, Zapatistas, throughout the state of Chiapas. That made a huge difference in people’s lives. When we were talking earlier, also about the ‘hunger month,’ when people didn’t have enough crops to literally feed themselves throughout the year, people living on this retaken land, this land was much more fertile, they had more access access to more land. That means just a huge difference in people’s lives in terms of their kind of economic livelihood, in terms of their food security, and again, in terms of their identities as indigenous people, it’s culturally, spiritually, just having a territorial base has been super important and to the Zapatista movement in terms of having an area of land where they are experimenting with all these other aspects of society. The society that they’re building. All of that has been very important.

Like I said that they don’t think of land as private property, but it is still divided. So, individuals will work on a particular parcel of land, so they don’t own that land, but that’s their kind of parcel of land to farm on. And the Zapatistas… I think it’s one of the few areas where, like you said in that quote is compared to women’s political participation, the EZLN as an organization has very staunchly defended women’s right to be involved in the movement at all levels, but with the access to land, it hasn’t been. It’s actually one of the few areas that stood out to me, where the EZLN, I believe, could have been more proactive, and hasn’t been. So, they’ve kind of reproduced some of the gendered assumptions that women don’t need access to land in the same way. When they have divided up, for example, the land that they took over, they divided up those individual parcels primarily to men. Then it was up to, it’s mostly individual families to decide, as they pass land on to the next generation, if they would pass it on kind of equally to the sons and daughters, or just to the son.

When we were talking earlier about women fighting for their rights within different social movements. They’ve continued to push and it is kind of an internal debate. I think there’s been a lot of movement around it. A shift has definitely taken place. But I think we haven’t seen as big as a shift there in terms of access to land for women are equally between women and men as we have seen some really pretty incredible shifts and other types of transformations that women have experienced.

I think it’s just a fascinating example that no movement is perfect, none of us as individuals are perfect, and our social movements aren’t perfect either. For me personally, it’s one of the few areas that I think the EZLN could have taken a more proactive stand in terms of the women’s agrarian rights.

TFSR: Yeah, I mean, these kinds of social societal changes happen so slowly and revolutionizing the way that we overthrow misogyny in ourselves and in our communities, I think will be a thing that will last the entirety of humans lasting. However long that may be.

On the on the note of some of the more positive social changes that the EZLN brought about, one of the more striking changes of the organization was a women’s revolutionary law, which was shared publicly after 1994. Will you speak about this law and about its role in Zapatista history.

HK: The women’s revolutionary law was written and passed by the EZLN in 1993 leading up to the Uprising. Then they shared it publicly, like you said, after the Uprising in 1994. It was a very important document, and I’ll talk in a second about some of what it contains. But I think it was very important, both in terms of all the work that went into it, and then all the work that has happened since then to implement it. So there’s this one point in time when it was passed, but also represents, like you were saying a second ago, that change takes time.

Iin the end of the late 80’s and early 90’s, like when we were talking earlier about the clandestine organizing that the EZLN was doing in the communities. One very important aspect of that was, and in particular, oftentimes, it was women insurgents who were talking to women in the different villages, and really sort of instigating that same sense of asking about injustice that we were talking about earlier, women were doing that specifically around women’s rights and around gender discrimination and asking women, “do you think life really has to be like this? How else could life look like?” And so all these women’s assemblies and talks and conversations went into creating the women’s revolutionary law. So, there were the political leaders as well as the military leaders, early women leaders in that time, really carried out the series of conversations. That was what became the women’s revolutionary law. So they drew up all of those proposals into this document that was passed by the political leadership, the comandantes, in 1993. It became a framing document regarding what women’s rights in Zapatista territory are.

So, in terms of what it actually says, it talks about women’s right to participate in the movement at all levels. That gets at their political participation, their leadership in their communities, their ability to be military leaders in the Zapatista rebel army. But it also talks about a very broad range of areas of life. And so it talks about women’s right to health care and education. It talks about women’s right to live free of violence. It talks about about women’s right to decide who to marry and how many children to have. So, it really addresses across both public and private spheres, family life, community life, political life. And in some ways, those rights are very basic, but putting each of them into practice is hugely transformative.

Then once the law was passed, the work that then came to implement it was work of consciousness raising, work of education, work of changing those family norms. I think if you look at each one of the points in the revolutionary women’s law, there has been huge transformation that’s taken place. I think it’s so important that you asked earlier about what were women’s lives like before the Zapatista movement, because that helps give us an understanding of just how extraordinary those transformations were. From that situation that the women describe themselves, their mothers, their grandmothers living in, to what Zapatista women have achieved in really an incredibly short period of time.

On the one hand, I totally agree with what you said a second ago about patriarchy, that it’s something that it takes a huge amount of time to uproot. I can’t really fault the Zapatistas for not having ended patriarchy in the 20 years that they’ve been at it, because I don’t think anywhere in the world, I don’t think there’s been anywhere that patriarchy has been completely uprooted.

TFSR: That’d be such a tall order.

HK: And if there is somewhere out there, and your listeners know of that place, please let me know,

TFSR: You’ll be the first to know, definitely,

HK: That’d be great. Maybe one of you listeners will call and let us know. “This is where patriarchy has been uprooted.”

But there was a huge amount of transformation that took place in this very short time period, in types of changes that I think in many contexts take sort of generations to unfold. The level of women’s political participation, the level of their leadership in the movement, the changes that have taken place in the home, I think those points of the revolutionary law have really, to a large degree been implemented by women choosing if they want to marry at all, and if they do, who they settle down with, how many children they have.

So, there’s a lot of work to be done. But there’s also just a tremendous amount that’s been accomplished. And that I think, is also really at the heart of why I wanted to publish this book, and why I wanted to create that vehicle for women to tell their own stories, because not only are those transformations so incredible, but I think there’s so many lessons to be learned. It is a very different context. What it can look like, what it can mean to accomplish those types of transformations in our own lives,

TFSR: Obviously, the EZLN has had a lot of international effects on people. Will you speak to some of the impacts that this movement has had on radical and anarchist societies and other countries, especially concerning the involvement of women? And to what extent do you see it still having an effect?

HK: Definitely. I do really believe that ever since 1994, the Zapatista movement has been one of the most impactful social movements around the world that has just had a tremendous ripple effect in terms of influencing and inspiring people around the world. And I think there’s some really concrete examples of that and at the same time, I think it’s really hard to measure, but just kind of undeniably out there.

So, one of those really concrete examples is the anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s. So if folks remember or have heard of the protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, or some of the other mobilizations that were taking place around the world. That really was something, the Zapatistas helped plant the seeds of that movement in some of those gatherings that I was talking about earlier that the Zapatistas have acted kind of as conveners of those conversations.

So they invited people to their territory, and people came throughout Mexico, but really from all over the world. And they really put this call out for anyone who’s been negatively impacted by global capitalism. So whether that’s because you are a student, or a worker, or a housewife, or transgender person, or whatever the case may be. When I was talking earlier about their demands being very universal, but I think it’s also been that type of call to anyone who has been exploited, oppressed, who’s faced injustice, and so many different people from so many different walks of life respond that call. So in the late 90’s, the focus of that was really in the context of neoliberalism and thinking about how can we address that. So the anti-globalization movement of the late 90’s. It wasn’t the only thing, but it was one of the things that really helped plant those seeds.

So, that’s, I think, you know, one concrete example. But besides that, there’s so many different collectives, organizations, groups around the world that have been influenced by the Zapatistas. It’s hard to name or measure that impact. But I do feel like it’s intangible, but undeniable. I think young people today continue to be inspired by the Zapatistas. They’re not in the spotlight in the same way they were kind of 10, 15, 20 years ago. But I continue to hear constantly about different examples of people who are really influenced by the Zapatistas, inspired by them, and then concretely influenced by them.

And in terms of women, I think it has been a really key example of not only having a movement that has strong women leadership, but a movement that’s also been able to evolve. When we were talking earlier about the roots of Zapatismo and I was saying that one of the things that makes the Zapatistas somewhat unique, I think, is their ability to draw from different political traditions and kind of be fluid and adapt. Their approach to gender is an example of that. So even though on the one hand, they were always committed to women’s participation, but there has also been a real evolution of their gender analysis. They would not use the word ‘feminist,’ it’s not the term they would use, but I think they have developed a much more nuanced analysis of gender and really taken on this question of, “What does it look like to uproot patriarchy?” So, yes, it will take time. But there’s been kind of a whole new series of strategies to address patriarchy to really uproot it. I think that that is so inspiring and is something that many of us in different social movements around the world can still really look to as a model that there’s a lot that we’ve won, but there’s a lot more to do.

I think the Zapatistas, and for me, personally, the Zapatista women in particular, but one of the aspects of the Zapatista movement that I think that really resonates is this combination of, on the one hand, being kind of humble enough to know that they don’t have all the answers. So, they have this philosophy of ‘making the road by walking’ and constructing the world of justice and dignity that they want to live in building that step by step, stone by stone. So, I think that humility is really important to know that we don’t have all the answers, nobody has all the answers. But at the same time, having kind of the the chutzpah, having the courage to say, “that’s not going to stop us” from dreaming big and from taking on global capitalism, or from declaring war on the Mexican government. And for women, it’s not going to stop them from you know, asking, “How do we address patriarchy? And how do we take all this stuff on?”

So I think that combination, that humility combined with the courage to dream big, and act on those dreams, is the one kind of thing that I would like to leave your listeners with. I think that message is true in general, but for me, as a woman, I would say, in particular, for women, women engaged in other struggles where it’s all connected, right? Women’s rights are connected to economic justice and social justice and racial justice. And as we fight for all those things in this interconnected way, that’s kind of the message that if there was one thing I would choose that I would like to share what I took away from those years that I spent in Chiapas, and what I kind of hoped to convey in the book, that would be it.

TFSR: Hilary Klein, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about your book Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories, which is available from Seven Stories Press and I highly, highly recommend it. It’s a really, really good read and I learned a lot from it. Thank you so much for talking with me today.

HK: Oh yeah, it was such a pleasure chatting with you.

Hil Malatino on Being Trans in this Moment

Hil Malatino on Being Trans in this Moment

"Hil Malatino on Being Trans in this Moment | TFSR 07-31-22" featuring a picture of Hil
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This week we are presenting Scott’s interview with Hil Malatino, who is a current professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Philosophy at Penn State University. They are also the author of three books, Trans Care, Queer Embodiment: Monstrosity, Medical Violence, and Intersex Experience, and Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad. Scott and Hil speak on many themes which are found in his books, plus lots more topics!

  • Transcript
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Hil Malatino’s work:

A couple of annoucements…

Giannis Michailidis Suspends Hunger Strike

Anarchist prisoner of the Greek State, Giannis Michailidis, has been on hunger strike since May 23 to demand his release from prison after serving over 8 years in prison and experiencing added cruelties for refusing to bow to the cruelty of the state. There are rumors that the Greek state is betting on Giannis’ death and a public reaction by refusing police vacations in the first half of August. Sympathetic comrades are invited to show resistance at sites related to the Greek state world wide, including embassies and consulates worldwide. You can follow and share solidarity with the hashtags: #free_michailidis #Michailidis_Hungerstrike #antireport

You can read an update at EnoughIsEnough14.org

Shinewhite Needs Help

Joseph “Shinewhite” Stewart, a White Panther affiliate of the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party incarcerated in North Carolina, has been denied his property since his recent transfer to Maury Correctional Institution and his supporters are asking for help pressuring the administration into easing off this activist.

Maury CI: Phone: 252-653-5501

We believe the warden’s email to be brett.simmons@ncdps.gov

NCDPS commissioner’s email is todd.ishee@ncdps.gov, though it’s suggested you reach out to acting commissioner brandeshawn.harris@ncdps.gov

An example script:

“Hello,

I am writing with regards to Joseph Stewart #0802041. Upon being transferred to Maury Correctional, the majority of Mr. Stewart’s property was confiscated without good reason, including books and legal papers. I wish to demand that Mr. Stewart’s belongings are returned to him in full immediately. Please be aware that outside observers are monitoring the situation closely, and that any further victimization of Mr. Stewart or other prisoners at Maury will have immediate consequences for the NC DPS, including, but not limited to, negative media publicity and potential legal action.”

Fundraising for TFSR

Our recent interviews with the Anarchist Communist Combat Organization in Russia and Assembly.Org.UA in Ukraine were recently translated into German + Czech and German + Spanish, respectively, thanks to the transcripts being easily available for all online. But as I mentioned a couple of weeks back, we’re not quite hitting our fundraising minimums to carry the transcription project forward.

So we’ve made a few changes to our patreon that are pretty exciting. Here’s a rundown. There is now a $3 tier that allows the patron access to occasional behind-the-scenes content like the hosts discussing upcoming episodes or subjects we’re researching. And every support tier $5 and above will have access to that plus occasional early releases of content. But don’t fret, non-patrons, we won’t be releasing episodes that are patreon-only. Our audience will get access to each weekly episode as it always has. Anyway, check out patreon.com/tfsr for more details or tfsr.wtf/support for other ways to chip in to cover our transcription and other costs. And thanks for listening and supporting as you can.

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Transcription

TFSR: This week we’re presenting Scott’s interview with Hil Malatino, who is a current Professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and philosophy at Penn State University. They are also the author of three books, “Trans Care”; “Queer Embodiment: Monstrosity, Medical Violence, and Intersex Experience”; and “Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad.” Scott and Hil speak on many themes, which are found in his books, plus lots more topics.

Hil Matatino: So I’m Hil Malatino, I use he/him and also they/them pronouns. And I’m currently assistant professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Philosophy at Penn State University.

Scott: Well, I’m really excited to talk to you, specifically about the two books that you published in the last couple of years, “Trans Care”, and most recently, “Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad”. I think both of these books really make helpful contributions to understanding trans experience collectively. So I want to talk about those books and also, I’m imagining, since it’s such a terrible moment of trans antagonism and state violence, that we might bring some of that stuff into the discussion also.

But just to start out, I see your work fitting within current trans thought about the experience of transition over against the kind of like neoliberal identity politics that thinks of transness as an individual identity. Can you talk a bit about the factors that individualize transness, and then, sort of, your vision of like alternative, collective or social ways we might understand trans experience?

HM: Absolutely. A lot of my thinking about the importance of de-individuating the way we understand transition is routed through my research and trans medical archive specifically. So I’ve approached those archives with an eye towards communal resistance and intervention in relation to medical gatekeeping. And there’s a real rich history — going back for probably as long as there has been such a thing as, like, a medical etiology of transness — of communal resistance to the gatekeeping that informs the diagnosis and the proposed treatment protocols for transness.

So what I’ve realized doing that archival work over the course of the last, probably over a decade, in fits and starts, is that the ability to transition, and the ability to transition outside of really rigid, Eurocentric, bourgeois, white and gendered norms, has been enabled through the protestations of trans collectives and communities. And that is in really considerable tension with the historic strict medical model of transsexuality, and the trans treatment protocol that’s been attached to that. That, you know, historically recommended that folks go deep stealth, relocate, start lives and new. And then later on, if not emphasizing what we now call “stealthness”, they tended to, I think, really hyper-individuate the process of transition, where it was the sort of journey or rebirth that was undertaken by discrete and really atomized subjects, who were considered at least in the medical literature — and there are probably lots of reasons for this — any absence of communities that that enable those transitions.

So it just seemed like there was a, on the one hand: this history of trans collective resistance to medical gatekeeping that, I think, on the ground, in very real ways, has made transition possible for so many people. And then [on the other hand:] this medical narrative of what transition is about, and how one accesses it, that is very hyper individual. So I just have seen those histories’ intentions, and I think in terms of trans experience and all its diversity, the former, this more collective understanding of how transitions happen, just seems more true, more accurate, to people’s experiences.

S: Yeah, and one of the things you talked about in terms of medical interface that new trans people seeking hormones or surgeries, or whatever, faces…like, there’s the one hand of trans people being kind of diagnosed with some kind of mental disorder, but also this makes us be seen as consumers of healthcare. And I wonder if you have any thoughts on that, like, the way that the medical industry kind of receives trans people. And then also how you see those medical narratives being taken on by trans people themselves a kind of transnormative way,

HM: I think it’s really important to think about trans healthcare in relationship to the broader US healthcare system. And to the extent that trans subjects are interpolated as just consumers or, you know, patient customers of medical services…I think, to some extent, everybody is in the United States because of the way that our healthcare system has developed along this pretty strictly for profit model. So that’s the first thing I want to say, right? My argument about trans folks as consumers, being positioned as consumers of medical services by the healthcare industry, or the medical industrial complex, might, in some respects, be specific to the US, or at least a sort of unique to the United States, or maybe intensified in the United States in ways that might not be elsewhere.

But I think what we see with the history of trans healthcare is that for profit medical systems, spawning transition related procedures, is sort of like, niche markets for particular medical practitioners to exploit. And this has been specifically the case with different surgical practices and remains the case, is surgeons develop innovations, or some surgeons have better outcomes than others, and are then able to market those better outcomes in ways that enable them to to increase their prices, right? I mean, so there’s this phenomenon of trans surgical procedures becoming a specialized niche in the medical community. And I think making some surgeons a lot of money, right? Surgeons with long wait lists that are relatively well known within trans communities for having good outcomes. And, yeah, I mean, it raises a lot of questions for me about how people access transition and the sort of lack of, really, radically democratic access to medical transition.

So it seems, it has seemed — maybe it still seems I think it does still seem to me — accessing medical transition becomes the sort of quest to marshal as many financial resources as possible so that one can receive decent treatment. And I think that that gets internalized in maybe unpredictable ways. But I think when folks begin to think about embarking upon transition, the stress and anxiety that attends it has a lot to do with how financially inaccessible, many transition related procedures, have been and remain. I’m rambling a bit, but I think that speaks a little bit to what you’re asking.

S: Yeah, and I mean in the beginning of Side Affects, you start reframing the idea of transition, and one of the things you look at is a kind of normative narrative that’s presented, particularly on social media, by trans people themselves. It’s like a goal-oriented understanding of transition, and you talk about how that doesn’t actually reflect most trans people’s access to hormones, for example, which can be intermittent, depending on health insurance and the area that you live in. So in response to this, you start talking about a different kind of understanding of transition that doesn’t have a specific endpoint maybe, and you call this “interregnum”. I thought this was a really cool idea of rethinking transition outside of medical definitions, cis expectations, and these these transnormative narratives. So I wonder if you could kind of unpack that concept and what you hope it would bring to trans people for understanding our own position and our own experiences?

HM: Yeah, absolutely. There’s this critique of transnormativity in “Side Affects”, and it’s in some of my other work as well, doesn’t come from me specifically. It’s not something that I came up with, it’s actually drawn from the work of trans-of-color scholars. I’m thinking specifically of Riley Snorton and Jin Haritaworn but also others who have really named the way that there’s a certain sort of trafficking in these goal-oriented transition narratives that are predicated, to a certain degree, of economic privilege, of maybe geographic privilege, that’s something we can think about, right? The fact that some people are located in areas where trans affirming care is easily accessible, or more easily accessible, and some people aren’t, right? And also, of course, questions of racial stratification that inform economic access to medical transition. And then just questions of desire, right? I mean, the very different kinds of desires that some folks have or don’t have for specific forms of medical and hormonal transition.

That’s why I critique transnormative narratives. And I think it’s also important to point out that when one is beginning to access information about how to surgically and hormonally transition, those are the narratives that one is sort of inundated with immediately, right? [chuckles] Those are the ones that, like, you know, the “trans influencers” that are easiest to find are the ones that traffic in those narratives. And that’s all good, and well for them. I have no bone to pick with them, but I think the social media landscape that folks encounter as they begin to think about transition is so steeped in transnormativity, that it’s really important to point to it and say “this is not the only possibility for how to navigate transition.”

The other thing that I wanted to mention that just really has informed my thinking about this — and I say this because I’m very mindful of the fact that you are in North Carolina, and I’ve spent years in East Tennessee, and in those — in southern Appalachia access to medical technologies of transition was very, very difficult to come by in a way that it’s just not if you live in the Northeast or in a major metropolitan coastal city. That meant that most of the trans folks that I knew in southern Appalachia had intermittent relationships to hormone use, had real difficulty finding trans affirming primary care physicians, and also many of us, myself included, had specific trans exclusions on our insurance coverage, and could not afford to pay for medical transition out of pocket.

My critique of transnormativity is rooted in that real experiential reality of myself and so many other trans folks I knew, not being able to access medical technologies of transition that we desired because of real structural gatekeeping. It just seems like, if structural change is on the horizon — for some of us in terms of what a “radical trans politics” might work towards — it’s important to keep pointing to the specific structural phenomenon that still gate keep transition, even if there are way more trans affirming medical practitioners and then than there used to be.

So this idea of “the interregnum”, which my partner is a medievalist, and a queer medievalist, so a very weird and delightful medievalist [Scott and Hil both laugh] but they’ve teased me about using the term “interregnum” because they’re very familiar with it as a medievalist, and of course the way I use it is not that. But the idea of “the interregnum” in historical literature names the space that occurs between the rise and consolidation of state forms. So I’m like an old, I don’t know, I’ve been reading Deleuze and Guattari for a long time since I was, I want to say, a baby, since I was like a teenager, and in my early 20s. And it seems to me that this emphasis on the space of possibility that exists between sort of sedimented state forms, spoke to the distinction that they made between the molar and the molecular.

So I started thinking — and I don’t want to, like, we don’t have to go into D and G for a long time [Hil laughs] — but I just thought like, “oh, there’s something about the interregnum that could be a space of possibility that has something to do with more molecular forms of becoming, they don’t have to do with the realization of like a stable gendered state, but instead put emphasis on questions of process and becoming in relationship to transition.” That just seemed to me like a more capacious way of understanding transition, than this journey from, you know, a beginning point towards an endpoint. And I also don’t really know about the temporality of that. Like, I don’t know when transition started for me and I don’t know if it’s ever going to really end, you know, and that’s personal. But I also have so many friends who I think would say something very similar, about transition.

S: I love all that you were saying. And there’s even sometimes a retroactive aspect of transition, where you look back from your present lens and kind of reinterpret experiences that are from earlier times, from a different vantage point and be like “Oh, that makes a different kind of sense to me now than it did then, when I didn’t have maybe the language to talk about it.”

I like that you brought up desire, I’m thinking in this recent essay I read by Kadji Amin, he kind of defines trans people as people who desire transition, and I thought that was a helpful way of thinking about it. Because putting it in relation to desire, and then that kind of process — but it’s interesting, with that sort of social media landscape that you talk about, a lot of trans people have this common experience of like, being inundated with these images, and then sort of thinking like “am I trans enough, am I trans in the right way?” And I’m thinking about how this era for young people, there’s way more information about transition and access to it, and sharing of resources that I didn’t have as a kid. Like I didn’t even have any understanding of this until I was already an adult. And I think that’s great and I think that’s why we see this uptick of trans people — which is like posing a real threat to society — but then there’s also this weird kind of way that you can do this sort of internalized gatekeeping. And also maybe re-emphasize that kind of atomized or individualized version of it. Because I know young people transitioning without trans community in their real life at all.

So I wonder if, I don’t know, I’m not sure if this is really a question, but I’m wondering if you have thoughts about this kind of current landscape and how it’s different for young trans people? And like, what are some of the dangers of that, and what are the positive aspects of it?

HM: I wonder, I have so many questions about what it’s like to be a young trans person in this particular historical moment. It’s hard for me, you know, I can’t speak for that positionality, I came of age in the 90’s [laughs]. So that’s the landscape I’m familiar with. I think that trans folks, or prototrans folks — or maybe we can think about this just in relationship to folks that are, like, gender and sexually non normative more broadly — I feel like we often find each other even if we don’t really know that that’s what we’re seeking out or finding when we’re young. That may not necessarily be conscious, right, but it tends to happen. And I think that that’s probably still the case, right? I would wager. So even if there are trans youth that are navigating or thinking about transition, in the absence of a community that they might be able to point to and say “this is a trans community”, or “this is my trans community”, I think it’s very likely that folks are connecting with other sorts of weird kids, teenagers, who are trans affirming, even if they’re not necessarily cognizant of the fact that they are right. There’s something that happens with youth that are non normative, where there are collectives and affinities and friendships that are built that are ultimately really sustaining, that may not look like a “community” that are still really imperative.

So I think that, while it’s absolutely true that it’s important to think about how to marshal community support for trans youth — especially in relationship to wave after wave of trans antagonistic attacks on the possibilities of youth to transition — I think the other thing that I’ve been trying to hold in my mind to balance that grim reality is the fact that friendships are always possible and are sustaining even in the context of really, really brutal forms of structural violence and gatekeeping. There’s something about affinity and solidarity that is possible within friendship that’s not necessarily possible in the context of “Community”, with a capital C. Like there’s something looser there that I think is actually more capacious.

So the other thing I want to say, is that my colleague Erin Heidt-Forsythe and I have started — we’re at the very beginnings of undertaking work on fertility preservation and trans youth, researching the medical apparatus that is attempting to ensure or make possible fertility preservation for trans youth — and something that we learned in the context of beginning that work was that at certain clinics in progressive cities that are working with trans youth, there’s been this phenomenon of bringing in trans elders or trans adults to talk to trans youth about possibilities for family making, reproduction, kin making. And on the one hand, I think like, “Oh, that’s really wonderful” because I would have loved to have a trans elder to talk to you about like reproductive capacity and family building when I was young.

But on the other hand, the fact that that’s happening through this space of the clinic, and specifically with an eye towards getting patients to consider paying for gamete freezing, right? It’s like, “oh, that’s, this is not the way I would like to see that happen”. So I feel like having some sort of more robust way to have trans youth and have intergenerational trans dialogues, and support networks exist, would be very welcome, especially if it happened outside of institutions that had some sort of profit motive informing how they operate.

S: Yeah, that’s really interesting. The thing about finding ways to preserve fertility for the future is — it’s interesting because I see that sort of coming up more for younger trans people than it did for trans people coming of age in the 90’s and early 2000’s, which, in a way, I don’t know, if that’s like reaffirming some kind of normativity, but certainly, as you’re pointing out, is helpful to different industries raising money and kind of reaping benefits from trans people as consumers. Whether or not it is, that’s separate from the desires that trans people have to have kids, which I think is great. Yeah, that was really interesting.

I wonder, since you brought up C. Riley Snorton, I had a question that I had sort of geared towards the end, but I kind of wanted to bring it in now. Just thinking about these dominant narratives of transness, there’s simultaneously a kind of heavy racialization that we see of transness in the media, when it comes to spectacles of violence, right? Like the image of the Black trans woman as the victim of some kind of violence. But then I think there’s also, perhaps, a kind of “whitening” of transness, and you talk about this relationship of transit and whiteness in specific community spaces of healing, at the end of Side Affects. In psychedelic healing communities, is where you’re looking, and how sort of a white trans logic can reproduce forms of white supremacy under the guise of liberation and escape from that structure. So I would love to hear you talk a little bit about how transness gets whitened in the media or in sort of, perhaps, unconscious white supremacist logics for trans people who are trying to be antiracist. And how we might rethink transness from a kind of decolonial, or Black feminist lens, as you were mentioning before.

HM: It’s so complicated, this nexus. And the last chapter of Side Affects is just the very beginning of my attempt to work through these questions of race, coloniality and healing practice. I want to start responding to this by situating myself, because I think that’s really imperative. So, you know, white, settler born in upstate New York in the foothills of the Adirondacks, grew up in South Florida, and mentored by decolonial feminist philosopher Maria Lugones. So she very much informs my thinking about all of these questions, and is always in the background of whatever I happen to say on this topic. But I also want to mention that both of my parents were pretty committed to New Age spiritualities, or what I understood as forms of New Age spirituality. My mother was a student of Buddhism for most of her adult life. And my father is a musician and just an unrepentant lifelong stoner who grew up reading out loud to me from magazines about extraterrestrial life forms, and I think they took like an aura reading class together at the local community college when I was a kid. So I’ve always, in some ways, been steeped in forms of very, very white New Age spirituality that were sort of like hippie or post hippy, really from day one, right? That was always part of my domestic space growing up.

It became something that I argued with my family about as I as I got older, and specifically as I read more Black feminist and decolonial work. And the arguments started off being about appropriation, about questions of appropriation of spiritual traditions that are not white Eurocentric ones, right? But then there’s also a real strong pagan throughline in thinking about the forms of New Age spirituality that I saw my parents and many other white leftist, sort of post 1960’s leftists, taking up. And I have questions about that too, because there’s this way in which it seems like the turn towards a kind of, maybe like a precolonial paganism is a way of imagining a cultural space that is sort of untainted by chattel slavery and by settler colonialality.

So it went beyond questions of appropriation for me, and I began to think about how this desire to recuperate things like Taro, on the part of white leftist and white queers and white trans folks, had to do with wanting to find a form of spiritual practice that is more pure, or less tainted by the violence of settler colonialality, and Christendom that comes along with that. On the one hand, I understand that recuperative desire. But on the other hand, if you look at some of the, specifically trans related material that has been published, that tarries with this really heteroclite ensemble of spiritual practices, there is this like, really troubling world historical narrative that emerges from it, that has to do with — and this is the case study that I talked about in the last chapter of the book — specifically a group that was based in western North Carolina in the late 90’s, and early 2000’s. And in their newsletters, and in their writings, you see, the development of this attempt to recuperate like a matriarchal goddess culture that was affirmative have multiple forms of embodiment, that was sort of prebinary gender and is being recuperated in a way that enables us to become like post binary gender.

There’s also an evolutionary narrative that gets tied to that, where trans folks are this “avant garde”, or I don’t know, new radical evolutionary phenomenon that’s going to usher in this — I wish I had the language in front of me of how this collective put it — but like a New World Order of peace and prosperity and tranquility, that is no longer informed by the violence of binary gender and the patriarchal logic that informs that. And that, it’s a “just so” story, and it also enables folks who are pulling on these spiritual threads, to not think about their implication and current forms of racial colonial violence.

So that’s, I don’t know, I’m rambling. I know, I could go on about this for a long time. I encountered that material beginning when I was a teenager and I was trying to come into some kind of spiritual practice my own that helped me deal with questions of queerness and transness. I just was initially and am still like “what the fuck is going on here?” I don’t know. Why am I drawn to it, while at the same time finding certain aspects of it really repellent?

S: I mean, it seems like there’s a particularly white version of a search for authenticity that kind of uses either a Black cultural expression or other kind of Indigenous cultural expression as its form. Which is totally ingrained within a kind of colonial logic, and the way that you show that in the book, like just looking at the makeup of the spaces, right? That they’re talking about all this stuff and then everyone in the room is white. And so they’re not actually threatened in any way out of their comfort zone of an all white space, and they can say whatever they want without really any repercussions. But I think it’s interesting, because this does really connect with current social media trans, queer landscape, which is totally inundated with different versions of what we call “woo” [outlandishly spiritual or supernatural]. And I think there’s really beautiful things and really troubling things there, too.

HM: I was just thinking about the legacy of that. If you look at queer movements that have tarried with questions of spirituality in the US specifically, I think one go to example is the radical fairies but if you look at the history of radical fairy spaces, they’re overwhelmingly white and traffic in so many troubling appropriations of different kinds of Indigenous belief systems

S: Right.

HM: Yeah. So what’s happening currently in the spaces of social media, around discourses on spirituality, I understand is very much connected to this post 1960’s legacy of queer and trans spiritual searching that always partakes of these really troubling settler logics and appropriations.

S: Right. And I think what I see a lot in current thinking and writing by trans people, is sort of grappling with this moment where we’re past the quote, unquote “tipping point” where there’s way more visibility and representation of transness that is perhaps allowing more people to transition, but one of the maybe unintended consequences of that is this sort of “fad” of being nonbinary, or like claiming nonbinaryness, or using they/them pronouns, but not really engaging in any kind of transition or troubling of the gender structure. So, I don’t know, it’s almost like trans people who maybe previously wanted this Big Tent idea, or trying to rethink what being trans means when you have that phenomenon of maybe not even really associating with any kind of material practice anymore, right? Just being like, “I’m nonbinary, and yet I dress the same as a man or woman is imagined to dress” or whatever. I don’t know if you have any thoughts on that, that current moment of thinking, like, something became sort of popular in a way. Oh, yeah! And just the idea that if we say “we’re nonbinary”, we’re doing something against the colonial gender system, even though, what does it do?

HM: Yeah, this is another Nexus that is so complicated, because I think immediately of the fact that this move to identify as non binary but not necessarily change anything in terms of your gender presentation, and not access hormones, or different forms of medical transition. On the one hand, I see how it can become sort of understood as faddish, but on the other hand, I’ve known so many people for whom that move was the beginning of a much longer process of transition too. So it’s like who am I to parse out whether, you know, something really troubling and faddish is happening, or whether this is just the beginning of a much longer process? And maybe if it is “trendy” in certain sort of radical, queer spaces, to be nonbinary to be a “they/them”, even though one appears entirely binary in most other respects, I want to think that it’s possible that that’s opening up more trans affirming space than it is shutting down trans affirming space.

So I don’t know, my tendency is to be really generous about that. And I also think that questions of solidarity and affinity are way more important than questions of identity. Always. So it doesn’t matter to me how somebody identifies in terms of the relationship to transness, if they understand themselves as trans in a nonmedically transitioning, nonhormonally transitioning sort of they/them way, or if they don’t and if they very much embrace a sort of transsexual understanding of their transition, what matters more to me is the political work that they are doing, and the pedagogical work maybe that they are doing and how they comport themselves in spaces of community and collectivity. That seems more imperative.

S: You know maybe like 10-15 years ago gender queer was like the preliminary stage to trans transition. And now it’s nonbinary. It could serve as a gateway for someone to…we’ve used the word “proto trans” before too, right? It’s like: that might be how you find other people, right? That gives you a sort of idea of how things could go. I think going from that, I want to talk about some of the more mundane, and also granular, experiences of tranness that you discuss in the book. One of the things, actually in Side Affects and in Trans Care, you talk about “misrecognition” or “unrecognition” as a fundamental experience of transness, negotiating how we’re perceived, whether it’s from people we don’t know, or people we do know, and you talk about this as sort of a relational model of gender. Because this takes us away from identity, right? Like I’m trans, or whatever, I can say that, but transness happens in between people, and the other person can give us whatever gender we end up with, whether that’s right or wrong. And you talk, from personal experience, in this really interesting way about a kind of nonbinary moment of misrecognition as being part of your own experience. I really liked that. So I just wanted to hear you talk about the moment of encounter as gendering but also these visions that you have for building other ways of seeing and witnessing each other, particularly among trans people.

HM: Yeah. I talk about the, the nonbinary form of recognition, which I think is also a form of misecognition and that’s what makes it interesting. By talking, I think I use the phrase “pronomial stammering”, so I was just thinking about those instances where you’re encountering somebody, they assign one pronoun to you, and then you say something back to them and then they assign another pronoun to you, or apologize because they think they got it wrong the first time and now they’re attempting to get it right. Those moments, in my biography — because I did actually identify for a long time is nonbinary and genderqueer and use they/them pronouns, this is also probably part of why I’m so generous with folks who find themselves inhabiting that space, because I was there for years, in large part because of gatekeeping around medical transition.

So it was easier to be a they/them if I couldn’t pay for hormones and top surgery in social spaces than it was to insist on he/him in those spaces of recognition. So I say that because in those moments of pronomial stammering that just felt like they were dramatizing what always happened in terms of the way that gender recognition had circulated in my life. So there was something that was truer about the stammering than just the assignation of a pronoun that was then never second guessed felt. So it just felt like it more authentically registered the realities of having a sort of complicated, or loud, gender.

The other bit that’s informed my thinking about misrecognition has to do with the fact that even if one comes to inhabit a space where they’re relatively consistently gendered, socially — and personally, I’m in the space where I get he/him’d almost all the time as I go about my daily life — the memory of that history of misrecognition is something that that I always carry with me. So even in moments of being consistently gendered in the way that I desire to be gendered, I am very acutely aware of how precarious that gendering has been historically and I also relate to every moment of gendering as something that is contingent, and in some respects still surprising, honestly, even if I could probably rely on it now. And I don’t think that’s the way that cis people experience pronouns, right? Like, there’s something very specifically trans about that. So, a lot of my thinking about misrecognition is coming from this place of trying to think about what it means to have become habituated to systematic misrecognition over the course of one’s life. And how that plays out just in terms of how we trust, who we trust, how we navigate social space.

S: Yeah. Building off of that trans people will sort of set themselves their own version of the real life test, by being correctly recognized or “pronouned” by a stranger, right? But you want to focus more on how we, as trans people, can create other ways of seeing and receiving each other, perceiving each other, supporting each other, that kind of operates in a different register. And one of the places that you’re really working in Side Affects is through this idea of T4T, which you talk about as a strategic or contingent separatism, and it’s where a lot of transition happens, where survival work and support happens, where trans world building happens. So I wonder if you could talk about that term T4T, and then what the way that you want to use it to think about what trans people are doing?

HM: Yeah. So the term, as far as I know — and this is the account that I’ve given in my writing on T4T — the term comes from Craigslist personals. So there were like the M4M, W4W, M4W, M4T and then T4T was just one of the iterations of that cognate. So folks seeking to hook up with folks of various gendered experiences have this option of being a trans person looking for another trans person. And then it was taken up within trans cultural production as a way of naming this contingent kind of trans separatism. And I’m thinking specifically about Torrey Peters novella Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones, where there’s a T4T tattoo that is a really important part of the plot, and T4T relationships that are central, like that whole book is just comprised of T4T relationships that are fraught and ambivalent and complicated. Non-utopic, definitively.

So T4T became a way of naming the kind of complex affinities and solidarities that circulate amongst trans folks, but also the way that trans folks are producing spaces with one another, that make the survival of social misrecognition possible. So part of the way that I think about this — although I don’t think I’ve written about it expressly, has to do with Marie Lagunas’ concept of world traveling, and actually Talia Mae Bettcher who is a brilliant trans thinker and philosopher has been writing specifically about world traveling in relationship to trans experience, so I want to mention her work here — but say that this idea of world traveling that comes from the scholarship of Maria Lagunas, has to do with not packing up your suitcase and actually moving literally around the globe, but this idea that on a day to day basis, we move between very different worlds of sense. And we are known very differently in those different worlds. So in the domestic space of my home, or when hanging out with close friends of mine, the forms of recognition that circulate there are very different from the forms of recognition that circulate when I enter a classroom or when I enter a faculty meeting or some sort of like academic DEI meeting — [Hil cracking up] your eyes got big when I said “DEI meeting” and I felt that. Yeah, spaces I happen to find myself in that are deeply troubling spaces.

So yeah, so those are all different worlds, right? And the sense that folks are able to make, and the kinds of recognition that are possible, are going to be very different from one of those worlds to another one of those worlds. But the phenomenon of world traveling between worlds, where we feel as if we are seen and witnessed and received in ways that are much more affirming, is what makes our ability to travel to more hostile worlds of sense, possible.

S: Yeah, that’s interesting. I was thinking about that too, with the various experiences related to me by trans people who, during the initial lockdown of pandemic, were thinking about what their gender is like when they’re alone or in that space, and people just being like “oh, when I’m just alone I don’t even think, it doesn’t really matter, I don’t think about it a lot”. But this space was also a space where a lot of people who didn’t identify as trans before found the place to transition, which is interesting. Like potentially an absence of other trans people to affirm that. So that was helpful for me just thinking about those spaces.

And just kind of relating that back to one of the moments that you analyze in the book, you talk about this idea — and maybe this gets to the way that trans people tend to find each other — you talk about this idea of “trans intercorporeality”. Specifically you’re looking at this moment in Casey Plett’s novel Little Fish where there’s a trans woman sex worker whose client is maybe someone who will eventually become a trans woman too, or be out as a trans woman, and the extra sort of work that that the character is doing for that person. But I really want to understand more about this intercorporeality that you’re talking about, sort of how we co-produce our bodies together. Could you explain a little bit what you mean by that?

HM: So I was thinking really specifically about spaces of sexuality and desire when I was writing about that, although I think the intercorporeality is a phenomenon that is not necessarily erotic or sexual. But I was just thinking about how common it is for folks to have really affirming experiences around questions of gender in the context of sexual contexts before maybe ever actually taking steps towards surgical hormonal transition. The reason I talked about that scene in Casey Plett’s work — on top of it just being a beautiful and really, really moving scene, and also a kind of traumatizing scene, as well, because of what happens both during and after that encounter. I won’t spoil the book, but I’ll just say you should read Little Fish, in part because of the scene because it’s amazing, and poignant and hard — so I wanted to write about that scene, but I wanted to write about that scene in large part because it gets at this phenomenon of being brought into being, through a sexual contact, by somebody who just intuitively or intimately understands how you want your body to be related to, in relationship to questions of gender, that has nothing to do with how your body is actually aesthetically or visually manifesting, but it has to do with the way that it’s touched in the language people use to refer to both the body sort of holistically, but also specific body parts.

I think that there’s a “transing” that is possible in those spaces, or a kind of recognition that’s possible in those spaces, that actually does really recalibrate one’s sense of embodiment, one’s inhabitation of the body in the absence of questions of hormones and surgery. That has something to do with witnessing and touch and gesture and recognition that I think actually can manifest trans embodiment in the spaces where it happens. And that’s a very different understanding of what makes a body trans or not trans, I think, but it also seems very, I don’t know, just phenomenologically true. That happens.

S: That’s interesting the way that you put it. I hadn’t really thought that way about it but it makes me think about, one of the things I think about a lot is the limitations of our framework of consent in negotiating sexual encounters or whatever, and how you might not be able to, in that moment, say — like, the moment that you’re analyzing in your book from Casey Plett is a moment where maybe that person is not really able to say these things about their desire, but the other person can recognize it without that language, right? And that for me kind of questions that idea of this verbal consent model, because you don’t always have the language. You can’t rely on the other person all the time in a sexual encounter to know these things, right? But this is like a special kind of circumstance where something happens outside of being able to talk about it. So yeah, I don’t know, I hadn’t thought about it that way. That’s really interesting.

HM: I think it also happens in friendships, too. I mean, I imagine — and this is maybe again retrospectively imbuing meaning — but I just think about all of the friends I had as a kid and as a teenager, and they were of multiple assigned genders, but when I think about my dynamics with them, we were all just like rowdy little boys with each other. Yeah, and I mean, that was the space of intercorporeality that we produced, and how we navigated and inhabited our bodies in those spaces. So it happens there too, right? Just in this whole economy of gesture and relation, where there can be real intimate kinds of knowingness that exceed questions of gender norms or gender categories that become phenomenologically really fundamental, even if they’re not done justice by language, right? There’s a complexity that exceeds languages in those interactions that I find really important to think about, which is part of why I think trans phenomenology is a subspecialization, is so interesting.

S: And that’s sort of what I was talking about when I was saying there’s that retroactive aspect of transness. But like when I use that word to understand myself, I could go back and be like, “all these things fall in place in a certain way that like I couldn’t put together before, but now I can,” and then you can start saying, “this was the logic underlying that I was unconsciously seeking out something and other people could see it without also having to say it, because there wasn’t a space for it”. Yeah, I love that way that you were talking about that.

But okay, also thinking about the T4T kind of community among trans people: one thing that I think is super important that you talk about is not idealizing our understanding of trans people, but when we talk about this, insisting on complexity. You say trans people can and do trigger each other frequently, like our trauma’s kind of play out among ourselves beyond our control often. There’s also the “horizontal hostility” that we see in trans communities, that’s a phrase that you use, just thinking about how people kind of go after each other. I want to hear you talk about why we need to deidealize and wade into this sort of mess of transcollectivity and what that brings us. You mentioned a kind of “non-utopian” from the Torrey Peters work, so maybe you could talk about that, too, because you’re saying that transness isn’t redemptive in itself?

HM: Absolutely not. No, no. I think the best shot we have at building communities of resistance, that are resilient and effective, lies in getting to know one another deeply. Part of getting to know one another deeply is really leaning into and learning about the ways that we are fundamentally different from one another, and the kinds of antagonisms that crosscut and compromise our ability to really be present and supportive with one another. I think the only way to do that is by granting that there are these antagonisms that circulate within trans communities. There’s no reason why I am necessarily going to be friends with somebody by virtue of the fact that they are trans and I happen to be trans, right. But we do have maybe something shared in the form of a political horizon we’re working towards.

So I think it’s real important to grant that solidarity can happen in the context of antagonism, and also that working through those forms of antagonism and horizontal hostility and mutually resonant triggering is, in a way, a kind of imperative political work, because it’s what deepens coalitions, it’s what deepens affinities. I mean, that’s part of why I talk about T4T in that way. But I also think that it’s just really important to think about how folks are positioned very differently structurally, and that shapes the kinds of resources that people do or don’t have to marshal, in the context of mutual aid work, in the context of building trans-affirming cultural spaces. I just think it’s important to pay attention to that. Which is related, to go back to an earlier conversation, to why I think it’s important to talk about transnormativity. Not trying to demonize anybody who understands their transition, and their gender and their embodiment, along more normative lines, but I just think it’s important to point to the fact that there are like, I don’t know, deep structural considerations that inform that psychic, emotional, effective and libidinal economy and understanding of selfhood.

S: In the context of care in particular, and burnout, in your books, you look at the way that we can get seduced by the romance of community — and this is something we’ve been invoking throughout this conversation, like there’s a transcollectivity and trans community, but when you talk about it, you’re like, actually, it’s complicated it’s messy. You take this term from Rupert Raj, of “gender labor” and how trans people are always doing this kind of gender labor for each other, whether it’s in an official position, like Rupert Raj had at certain points, or unofficially like in our friendships. So I wonder maybe transitioning a little bit to the idea of care and this “gender labor” and the experience of trans burnout, can you talk a little bit about how you understand that and the kind of promise of community.

HM: I was talking recently with an NPR affiliate interview that I did with a show that’s based in Dallas, Texas. It was a good conversation, but it was maybe the first time I’ve done an in depth interview with somebody who wasn’t trans. [both laughing] So that was very new to me. Not only that, but somebody who was like a very, I don’t know, normative white woman who was, you know, a radio show person? I don’t know. I think you get what I’m saying.

S: Yeah.

HM: Like, it was a weird situation for me, because I was like, “these are not the people I’m normally in dialogue with, this is odd.” But she had this kind of epiphany in the middle of the conversation, where she was like, “it just occurs to me how much mental and emotional space is freed up by not having to think about gender all the time. Like, I never realized that that was a privilege I had.” I just laughed bitterly. I was like, “oh, yeah, no, that’s for sure”. Like, imagine. When I think about what else would be possible in my life if I hadn’t had to fucking think about this shit all the time and work on this, and engage in voluntary gender labor or gender work, what else I would have done? I don’t know, because that’s not what I did. That’s not what I felt called to do or had to do.

But there’s a truth to that, and that means that I think sometimes you just hit peak gender exhaustion [cracking up] and maybe the last thing some of us want to do in those moments is be around people who remind us of that, or be around people who are similarly sort of suffering from that peak gender exhaustion. Or maybe you want to be around those folks, but just not talk about it. And part of why you want to be around those folks is because you can be with them and not talk about, just have it tacitly understood that it is exhausting.

I think that horizontal hostility within trans communities is in large part, underwritten by or maybe directly shaped by, the exhaustion that comes along with having to do this kind of work all the time. The emotional labor of managing people’s reactions to your gender, as you present it in the world, the work of attempting to carve out spaces that are affirming in the context of your work life, or your domestic life, or the social spaces that you inhabit. So I think that folks are really exhausted, folks are really burnout, and it does mitigate, or ameliorate, possibilities for political resistance when folks are at capacity all the time. I think, it seems to me like that’s a reality for trans folks in the US at this moment.

S: That made me think about a potential parallel I see in anarchist spaces. Where the older, maybe not in the years, but the people who’ve been doing it longer, trying to figure out how to get people in. So I see the parallel with anarchism and transness because in the last number of years, moments of radicalization has brought people into anarchist organizing, like the George Floyd Uprisings, going back to Trump, etc. And then also more trans access to knowledge about transness that’s brought more people into transitioning, and you can see how new people undertake this. You can look back and be like “they’re on this stage of the journey”. So there could be sort of frustration. And it’s another form of gatekeeping when you look back and try to narrativize someone else’s incoming. But this is also this place where there’s a lot of people coming in, you want to welcome that and you might not have the capacity for it. I don’t know. Yeah, I don’t know if I have a question. It just made me think about that parallel a little bit for radical organizing, or anarchists organizing and transitioning. Maybe it’s just because of my age, too. I’m just like, “oh, the young people are in this place” and like, you get to the place where you can think about it in a different way, maybe after you get knocked down a few times.

HM: Totally. I think there’s also a growing preoccupation with making these forms of work sustainable over the long term, and I mean for transness, forms of trans living, sustainable over the long term. And I think that’s where intergenerational connection and dialogue and communities of support become really imperative. So folks aren’t having to reinvent the wheel either in terms of tactics, like organizing tactics, or in terms of just understanding how to access resources and build collective resilience. And wealth is not the word I want to use, but structures of sustainability that enable life to go on. I think I was not concerned with that when I was in my my teens and 20s, particularly, but now that I’m approaching 40, I’m like, “oh, yeah, if we’re in it for the long haul, we need to figure out how to build the long haul, together without intensifying the forms of burnout and exhaustion that are already so rife.”

S: Right. I mean, for the people on the older side of that spectrum — also, there’s that desire to be sort of stable and maybe have some comfort or rest, whatever comfort you can from a horrible space and moment that disinclined you to continue the processes of organizing, or even just like helping shepherd younger people through their experiences. Yeah, it’s another one of the kind of seductions I guess of normativity too, right? Though, I think with that being less and less available to people we’ll see a shift. It’s weird in this moment to be like, “everything is really under attack and yet I, currently, right now, am safe, and not personally under attack.” Like, that kind of weird dissonance.

HM: Yeah. And then the divide between youth and adults in terms of what will happen legislatively, legally, in terms of access to technologies of transition. I have big question marks about how that’s going to transform the transpolitical landscape in the coming years. I’m thinking specifically about there’s like a feature on Chase Strangio that came out a few weeks ago, where — you know Chase Strangio is known for being like the trans lawyer, doing all these like high profile civil litigation cases, or civil liberties cases — and he says in this interview, you know, “extra legal networks of care are going to become increasingly imperative for trans people, because of the way that legal networks that provide trans affirming care are going to just be consistently chipped away at given the structure of the court system in the US.” I don’t know, ever since I read that profile — which is a great profile — but ever since I read it I’ve had that just sort of spinning around in my head, and thinking about how to build for that now. What can we do now to make sure that those networks of care and mutual aid are as robust as they can be when we really are going to need to access them?

S: That’s interesting to hear that coming from him too, because of the work that he does. This is something I’ve been thinking about, and maybe if you have more thoughts on it, the fact of these policy measures, and just legislative attacks, or executive orders, or whatever, that are specifically targeting trans people, trans youth…my fear is that that narrows a radical trans politics into just countering the state on the state’s playing field. Which the abortion situation shows us doesn’t work, right? Because whatever gains Roe v Wade made for abortion, were just reversible whenever, at the whim of the state. And there’s nothing this political system is going to do to protect that. So that’s my fear, like if we just go to counter the state and be like, “we assert our rights as trans people,” then we narrow those radical horizons. I wonder if you have thoughts about sort of, I don’t know, maybe this is where your idea of the infrapolitics of care comes in too, and thinking of care as a form of self defense. Yeah, I don’t know, I’ll just turn it to you. If you have ideas about how to respond to this moment.

HM: There’s a real southern specificity to my thinking about this. Having grown up in Florida, and then lived in Georgia, in Tennessee, and then Indiana, which is not the South, but is just north of Kentucky, right, and now living in Pennsylvania, which is not the South, but just north of West Virginia, and still in Appalachia, I think a lot about — both in relationship to questions of abortion access and reproductive justice more broadly, and also in relationship to questions of accessing transformative care — how for folks in these spaces that are not sort of coastal cities, coastal megalopolises there have had to be long standing networks of care and mutual aid, that facilitated access to reproductive care, and that facilitated access to transition for folks. So if you live in a state where if you work for either a private company that is not trans affirming, or public institution that is explicitly trans exclusionary, like is the case for so many people in the southeastern US, although not exclusively there, then your access to medical care has always relied on things like crowdfunding, or marshaling broader community resources or the resources of friends and loved ones who are willing to help you pay for specific surgeries or for access to hormones that you might be paying entirely out of pocket for.

I’m also thinking about things like abortion doulas in the southeast and the necessity of doing abortion doula work. Those networks already exist in spaces that have not had easy access to transition, to reproductive technologies historically, and I think that that’s where we need to look for lessons about how to organize in the future. I feel like I have a lot more to say about this, but I’m just gonna let it stay there for right now. I think it’s really imperative right now to look at the people who have been doing this extra legal organizing for a very long time, because their work has served multiply marginalized and structurally disenfranchised communities, and think like, “Okay, well, how do we replicate this? How do we learn from this? How do we not reinvent the wheel?” And actually tap the wisdom that I don’t know is already there?

S: Yeah, I think that’s a really important point and it points to the sort of risks of the legalization avenue, which then is sort of one of the main logics of the state. They incorporate things so then you become dependent on them for access to them, and then we lose the sort of those traditions of, you know, community care that were there before and the memory of them too.

HM: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s why the South is so interesting. because those are spaces where it’s unnecessary to maintain those networks. Because even though Roe v. Wade happened 50 years ago, the ability to determine one’s, how do I want to put it, basically the ability to decide how and when one has kids, has never been easy to access for folks in the South. The gains of Roe v. Wade have been chipped away at from the moment that it passed in the 70s in southeastern states. Rhose networks already exist there. And now’s the time, I think, to invest in them more heavily. Also for folks who are not in spaces where these networks have had to, of necessity exist, to think about how they can be replicated in spaces where they might be newly necessary or necessary again, in a way they haven’t been for decades.

S: So I was really taken with your discussion of envy in Side Affects. You’re really careful to say that we need to think of it not necessarily as a moral or personal failing, which is how it’s often presented, but that it’s an index of injustice that frames our political relationship to our own desires. And I really like this quote that you say, that “envy might be an incipient revolutionary consciousness”. And then the other thing that’s really compelling to me is this idea that envy could be an alternative to dysphoria as grounding, the affect and experience of tranness. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about, just giving us a taste of your discussion of bad affects, like your understanding of envy, and what role it plays in our daily lives, but also the political horizons?

HM: Yeah, I mean, with envy, I think that chapter started just because I became really preoccupied with: why was it that I’d been told, and I think a lot of people are told, that it’s bad to want? Just bad to want, full stop. But also for trans folks, it’s bad to want the things we want in terms of our embodiment, and in terms of the way that we’re known in the world. And that has been the sort of motor of such intense guilt and shame for me personally, and I think probably for other folks, that it became really important to think about why I might want to reject it. And why it might be important to actually say, “No, I don’t need to feel bad for the forms of envy and the forms of desire that are tied to that envy, that have informed the way that I live in what I desire. Maybe it’s okay to embrace them, and what would happen if I did embrace them?” That’s related to dysphoria, because dysphoria — and the way that I understand it, and there are probably other ways to understand dysphoria, I’m not saying mine is the only way or the exclusively right way — but the way that I have understood dysphoria is a term that indexes feeling really particularly not great about the gender you’ve got, and then wanting, wanting desperately to change it. But the emphasis lies on, I don’t know, this individual experience of just being like, “I don’t want the body that I’m in, I don’t want to be in this body any longer.” Envy to me seems more promising because it’s like, actually about what we desire, what we want, not about the feeling of just being dysphoric and feeling terrible about that. Conversations about desire are way more compelling to me than conversations about dysphoria [laughs]. So I felt like if we embraced envy, and then thought, why is it that we’ve been told that we need to feel bad for wanting the things that we want? What would it mean to reject that, and instead, say, “it’s fine to desire the things that we desire, and actually, the problem is that they’re structurally foreclosed. Not that we desire them.”

S: You use the example from Lou Sullivan, in the journals, writing about, I think, Paul and Ringo from the Beatles — that’s such a sort of formative trans experience of being like, “am…do I want…am I attracted to this person? Do I want to be this person? Is it both of those things?” Which I think is really a way more expansive understanding of what gets labeled as “dysphoria” that feels like, when you talk about that way, it feels horrible, but then you’re like, “oh, it’s this question of desire that I can’t fully understand.” That’s like, to me, like, I don’t know, more joyous in some way.

HM: Yeah. I mean, to insist on the ability to explore and experiment with that desire seems really, really promising in a way that embracing dysphoria conceptually just doesn’t. I think I’ve been very mad about the ways in which the ability to experiment with certain kinds of desires has been structurally foreclosed. Talking about envy as an indicator of structural injustice opens up a space to think about how the struggle might be…how do I want to put it? This is tricky for me to sort of wrap my brain around, this is just a sign that I’m still thinking about envy, and I don’t have it all figured out, but if we understand certain forms of envy to be indicators of structural injustice, then the emphasis is on what needs to transform structurally, what we can do to transform structures that make the experimentation with certain kinds of desires impractical or impossible.

S: I mean, I think this is why I really like your use of transition as this unending process of becoming. Because with envy, it can be this mobile desire, where dysphoria is like, “oh, there’s a cure to that and cure to that is to become this other gender that’s stable,” but the envy maybe keeps shifting. Which is true for a lot of trans people I know, their experience of how they inhabit their body and gender changes over time. It’s not like they’ve landed there. Then in terms of the way you frame it “the index of an injustice,” I try to think a lot about like luxury from a sort of radical or anticapitalist perspective. It’s like, we deserve it and we want it. We want what we want, and we deserve what we want. So the way you frame it just gels with that kind of idea for me.

Maybe to use this as transition to an ending question from my anarchist perspective, too, because I think transition is an unending process, to me, also parallels my understanding of anarchism, which is not a goal but a sort of way of relating to relationships in the world. I hold on to this horizon of gender abolition, which maybe seems like an endpoint, because thinking of the current gender regime that we live under, as a production of, as we’ve discussed, from the beginning, racial capitalism and colonialism, settler colonialism. There’s a way that you talk about it in the book that I feel like we can see this idea of gender abolition, running the risk of a kind of idealization of some “genderless utopia”, and also maybe losing the sort of daily life experience of what it means to be trans in this current regime. So I just wonder what your thoughts are on gender abolition and how it might fit into radical trans politics.

HM: Yeah, this has become complicated in recent days, because I found out that some TERF’s are using the phrase “gender abolition” in ways that, like anarchist trans people have not understood. So using it to just mean the abolition of the concept of gender in favor of this defensive, dimorphic biological sex. I want to be very clear from the outset that the TERF uptake of the phrase “gender abolition” is very, very real to me and that has me wondering about whether it’s a phrase I still want to utilize, like to wrest it back from them, or not. I just want to mention that, I haven’t come out one way or the other on that. I will say that, you know, gender abolition has always been — I think this is a horizon that I share with you — it’s always been something that I’ve thought about, that I’ve maybe wanted, that I’ve maybe lusted after, politically and otherwise. How I understand it, it’s not that folks would cease to have gender, or that there wouldn’t be a multiplicity of genders that were were recognized socially and were legible in terms of the way that we interacted with one another, but really, rather that binary gender at the level of institutions, at the level of social structures was abolished. So we wouldn’t have gendered forms of ID, we wouldn’t have gender segregated spaces that make circulating socially very impracticable for gender nonconforming folks and trans folks. So these sorts of things, right, like abolishing gender at the structural and institutional level, no longer using it as a litmus in the context of surveillance and monitoring populations. What would that open up? I think what it would open up is probably a much greater ease of moving through the world for many people.

Anecdotally, and you probably have been aware of this too, every time there is an architectural shift to make bathrooms, single stall and non gendered/gender neutral, everybody wants to use those bathrooms because they’re just fucking better spaces [both laugh]. So to me, that’s one small instance of a gender abolitionist project that actually ends up being much better for everyone regardless of how they identify. I think on a broader scale, forms of gender abolition structurally and institutionally will just produce more and more of those kinds of spaces.

The other thing I want to say just sort of maybe jokingly, I would be really, really happy to never use a men’s room again in my life [Hil cracks up]. Yeah, I mean, it’s terrible [Scott laughs] I don’t know, like, what are cis men doing? It’s awful [they both crack up]. For that reason, too, I would love to see gender abolished structurally institutionally.

S: No. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, you’re talking structurally and institutionally, but it also is refracted in — I don’t know, I think about just watching kids and the sort of policing of gender that kids are sort of deputized to do. I don’t even think they know what they’re doing and they’re suffering at the same time. That’s a place where gender abolition, I could see it really having a clear material effect, where that work doesn’t have to be done. Like anyone can play any way that they want in whatever moment without having to be like, “you shouldn’t be doing that, because you’re a boy or a girl.”

HM: I mean, again, it’s like just opening up these spaces of experimentation and spaces where desires are possible, and can be manifested. I think that’s where I would like to see us go. And that’s what gender abolition has always kind of named for me. And maybe we want to use another term now, or in the future. But I still think that project is absolutely imperative.

S: Well, yeah, thank you so much. I think that’s a good place to sort of leave it. I’m really grateful for your time and the work that you’re doing. And thanks for sharing your ideas. Is there any place that you want to direct listeners to get access to your work or your ideas?

HM: Yeah, so Trans Care was published open access so that’s available online through Manifold for anybody who wants to read it. As for the books, so I’ve got three books out, my first book, Queer Eembodiment: Monstrosity, Medical violence and Intersex Experience; then Trans Care; and now Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad. So buy them at your local radical bookstore and if you don’t have a radical one, just an independent one [chuckles].

S: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for talking with me today.

HM: Yeah, no it was so great. It was so great to connect to and we should totally keep in touch in the future.

Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis

Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis

Sophie Lewis and text "Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis | TFSR 07-10-22"
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This week, Scott and William talk to Sophie Lewis, author of Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family and the soon-to-be-released Abolish The Family A Manifest for Care and Liberation (out in October, 2022) about the current political moment that is characterized by attacks on trans people and peoples reproductive abilities. They also talk through what creates this moment, where trans people come into the target of State power being weaponized by the far right, as well as the connections among these attacks against LGBT education, access to transition, access to abortion and critical race theory. Also discussed are some limitations of a legalization framework around abortion, as opposed to a decriminalization, the limits of liberalism (particularly liberal feminism), and also the ways that certain strains of feminism contribute to an anti-trans discourse. Finally, there is chat about how to approach people needing support people who need access to healthcare, whether it be transition or abortion, outside of the hands of the state.

You can find Sophie on twitter at @ReproUtopoia and support her on Patreon at Patreon.com/ReproUtopia. You can find a children’s book Sophie co-translated called Communism For Kids or a compilation she contributed to on the ecological crisis called Hope Against Hope.

Opposing Torture

[01:11:19 – 01:17:44]

In Sean’s segment, he mentions his new book, Opposing Torture, available from LittleBlackCart.Com

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Featuerd Tracks:

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Transcription

Amar: Thank you so much, Sophie, for coming onto the show. I’m super excited that you’re here. Would you, just to get us started, introduce yourself with your name, correct gender pronouns, if you wish, and speak a bit about what you do and what your interests are?

Sophie Lewis: Thanks so much for having me on. My name is Sophie Lewis, I’m a they/she pronouns person. I am a writer living in Philadelphia since 2017. I also teach courses on critical theory online at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. And I’m also a recovering or ex-academic. I’ve got British and German dual nationality, but I grew up in France. I’m very placeless in my background, and I’m trying to make Philly home in a meaningful way. I recently heard someone say that “small C communists” are just anarchists that went to Grad School. I felt read to filth by that, I’m not gonna lie. I am interested in anti-work theory, unorthodox Marxisms, and critical utopianism. I’m interested in trans, disability, and health liberation frameworks. I’m interested in reproductive justice. And I’m interested in the destruction of properterian kinship. And I share with my beautiful partner Vicky Osterweil – who I believe is a friend of your show – a strong interest in film and literature. I’ve never seen a dumb heteronormative reality TV show I don’t want to wax theoretical about.

Amar: That’s beautiful.

Scott: Thank you so much for coming on. I’m so excited to talk to you. Your views and analysis on things are always super insightful and helpful to me. So I’m really glad that you’re willing to come to talk to us.

Amar: I know that we are going to ask for another interview with you about your work on abolishing the nuclear family unit, as we know about, but would you speak a little bit about some of your past work, as well as some influences that you have or inspirations you had when writing or conceptualizing those works?

Sophie: Yes, great. My work in the past is varied. It’s funny, the thing that some people nowadays associate with me the most, i.e. more so than my book that you mentioned, is my essay “My Octopus Girlfriend”, which is to say, I got in trouble on social media a couple of years ago for my feelings concerning the queerness of octopuses. And we can talk about that another time if you want. But I do think it’s interesting to bring this up, partly because my more-than-human commitments and my commitments to the erotic do seem to be one of the reasons why there are plenty of people in the so-called normie left, at least online, who consider me in this moment of red-brown triangulation in so many words a degenerate.

But anyhow, in 2019– I guess… Full Surrogacy Now was published by Verso Books in 2019, and that book loosely represented my Ph.D., which was in geography, and what the hell is geography anyway? At the University of Manchester in England, I think geography is a place for all the odds and ends and ragtag misfits of academia and humanities disciplines to end up if they want to be abolitionists or anarchists or Marxists. Anyway, it’s called Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family, and to be honest, I don’t think Verso Books or I expected anyone to read it. And things did turn out differently. It’s not a book, as they finally understood around the time that the paperback came out two years later, about the service or arrangement commonly known as surrogacy, so much as it is a family abolitionist manifesto for gestators. But that part about family abolition was a cause of much interest and so in October, I have a clarifying follow-up about that part of the politics, coming out. It’s very short. It’s called Abolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation, also with Verso or Salvage editions. I clarify this family abolition component. And especially, I extend its anti-racist dimensions a lot more. So I’m excited to talk to you about that in a future episode.

In general, I write a lot about reproduction and critical utopianism, which is why my handle is reproutopia. Although I guess once upon a time, I thought that that would be some professional handle. Whereas my rabble-rousing one would remain @lasofa or whatever, but I just can’t I can’t split myself that way. I just can’t do it, which is probably one of the reasons why I don’t have a job. Sometimes, I think I’m not even sure I believe in reproduction. Because maybe there’s no such thing. Maybe there’s only cogenerative coproduction, but you get the idea. I write against private property, I write against biogenetic property, I write against eugenics, I hope, and against patriarchal motherhood, the private nuclear household, and the privatization of care.

You might be interested to hear that I cut my teeth politically doing climate justice, direct action, and anti-austerity student stuff while I was an undergrad between 2007 and 2011, I was hanging out with anarchists and anarcha-feminists in the UK. And after that point, I was quite traumatized by getting beaten up by riot cops in Copenhagen where we were mobilizing for climate justice at COP 15. And I became really unable to think about climate individually or write about it. Instead, I’m part of a collective called Out of the Woods – which is not very active right now – but which published a book called Hope Against Hope: Writings on Ecological Crisis with Common Notions Press. And basically, it’s only when I’m being with them that I can bear to think about ecocide head-on.

You also asked about my influences. I’d say my big theoretic influences include decolonial and ecological sex radicals like Kim TallBear and Angela Willey. And then obviously family abolitionists, like the inventor of the word feminism Charles Fourier, the 19th century French Socialist Utopian and the left Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai, and then sex worker liberationists femi babylon and Amber Hollibaugh, and anti-work philosophers like Kathi Weeks and Tiffany Lethabo King, problematic faves like Shulamith Firestone, and the early Donna Haraway, I’m just listing all my favorites. So the insurgent social reproduction theorists, basically, I’m thinking Francis Beal of the Third World Women’s Alliance, or the Black women of Wages for Housework, Wages Due Lesbians in the 70’s. I do visit the 70’s quite a lot. And at this point, I’ve written a ton of essays for magazines and journals, since I’m trying to earn my living as a freelancer. Albeit I wouldn’t be making ends meet if I didn’t also teach. And I wouldn’t be making ends meet if 250 people didn’t kindly patronize me. I get $1,000 a month on Patreon. That’s my only dependable source of income. Thank you to people who do that.

Amar: That’s lovely. And will probably ask you how people can support you on Patreon at the end of the show, or if you want to say it now.

Sophie: Oh, bless you. Yeah, it’s patreon.com/reproutopia. I appreciate it.

Amar: Hell yeah! You said you draw a lot from the 70s. And I think the 70s just gave us so much emergent thought crafting. I listened to an interview that you gave on This is Hell, that podcast in which you mentioned a friend of the show, the novel Woman on the Edge of Time, which I was really sparked by and very interested to– Maybe we’ll save that as a teaser for our discussion on Abolishing the Family and such topics.

Scott: I’m really excited about the way that you’re picking up on some of those legacies from the radical movements then, and one of the things that you just said that maybe could roll into the discussion and something that we can talk about is your intervention seems to be within what is called, in feminism, social reproduction theory. But I like how you were backing away from that term and talking about cogenerative. When we talk about social reproduction, we get caught in reproducing the same over and over again. And I really think about how the things that we do right now maybe can stop that endless repetition. But it does seem to be what is on the hook right now – what kind of world is being reproduced? Can we end that? And is it going to be ended in a good way or a really scary way?

Sophie: Yes, absolutely. Pretty much agree.

Scott: Maybe you can transition to the point of our current discussion, though, I’m excited for the future one. It is thinking about what’s happening at this moment socially, and legislatively, with ramping up attacks on trans people and reproductive self-determination. Why do you think this is happening right now? What created the conditions for trans people to be under the target, youth, in particular, is weaponized by the far right, and why is this the moment that finally we’re seeing the culmination of decades of work against abortion?

Sophie: Really great opening question, albeit quite difficult, I’ll do my best. And thinking about the process of hollowing out of the political center that we’ve been seeing, I think, for some time. And the hollowing out of the center creates conditions in which marginalized groups can be flung sacrificially under the bus. This is complicated, but it seems to me that because of the extraordinary success of Black Lives Matter the establishment wants to– it’s not that they ever had to choose one or the other or their white supremacy isn’t still part of the DNA of every political maneuver by the ruling class in this country… But I think there is a pivot towards the sex panic specifically. And again, just to be clear, it’s always racialized at the same time, but I think the marginalized group to be scapegoated and panicked morally about is– You can think about Hillary Clinton’s “Black thugs.”

I think currently, the same people are worried very much about these two figures, the predatory trans woman and the mutilated child. And there are other reasons: the crisis of care throws up these specters. The end-of-empire panic about futurity expresses itself via demographic anxieties, right? On the far-right, it’s replacement theory and white genocide. That same anxiety is across the political spectrum. And that demographic anxiety about the survival of America as a settler colony enacts itself on the bodies of children whose fertility becomes fetishized.

What else? Capitalism needs to discipline the non-reproductive and the inadequately or incorrectly reproductive. I’m not doing a great job and just throwing out phenomena that I think are relevant. We are living inside the legacies of the pedophile industrial complex of the 80’s. The really significant reconstruction of the political landscape in the US around the carceralist figure of the innocent child, the figure to be protected at all costs on the basis of a-sexuality and, weirdly, fertility. This is the part that I think people don’t get enough about the figure of the cisgender or cissexual child that everybody wants to save right now. It’s creepy. It’s an avatar of fertility, that child, it is an avatar of the future.

In your notes to me before we began this talk, you mentioned Lee Edelman’s book, which is justly criticized for its slightly nuanced opposition to the maternal or the reproductive or whatever. But Lee Edelman’s book, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive talks about the “fascism of the baby’s face”, or the way in which all Politics requires this figure of the child to transmit and defer and displace any possible transformation into the future. I’ve been trying to think about whether that’s all that’s going on. Very specifically, in a time of demographic crisis and weird replacement-theory type panic, weirdly, it’s literally the genitals and the reproductive organs of literal cisgender children that become spectral-ly present at the front and center of so much political discourse. How’s that? What do you think?

Amar: It is just deeply creepy. As you said, when it’s broken down that way, when we’re fixating so heavily on the reproductive capability of, in some cases, literal babies, infants, and it just reminds me of the very profound extent to which cisheteronormative society just really thinks about children as property, which is codified into law too. It’s just very disturbing and creepy.

Scott: I was just thinking, it’s interesting, in my studies of gay Liberation stuff from the 70’s, reading Guy Hocquenghem, he’s saying that the price for a certain gay man to get some rights and acceptance in society would basically necessitate the casting out of figures of the trans woman and the pedophile. And he had this prescient view of it in the very beginning of gay liberation, and I feel we’re seeing the combination of it. But the way that as people, the three of us raised in this pedophile industrial complex, it’s always very strange to me… How it creates this weird situation, where children are unnecessarily sexualized, and all these moments where things don’t need to be fraught or weird at all. And people are worried about this stuff. And it’s actually, to me, always ends up pointing to the family as this really creepy scenario where there are parents obsessing over their children?

Sophie: Yes, absolutely. There’s so much to say, I’m just worried that if I jump on your points about parental rights, we’ll rhizomatically follow who knows what kinds of paths. The very fundamentally racial character of the institution of parenthood should probably be noted, at least in passing. This goes back to elemental Black feminist theorizing around how Black gestators under chattel slavery in the United States were cast out from the domain of dyadic cisgender, precisely because they could not be inscribed in the social order as mothers. They were not the mothers in the sense of motherhood, the institution of property, really, of parental ownership over the product of their gestational labor. And that casting out from parentality also meant an ungendering of enslaved racialized Black “flesh.” To quote Hortense Spillers who actually uses that language of “ungendered flesh”. And this is still deeply relevant, the eugenic entanglements of all mainstream discourse about who should and should not reproduce in the United States today. It’s interesting to think about the intersections between that almost racializing definition of proper and improper parents. And there’s a contradiction that we’re seeing right now, the very same politicians who advocate parental rights, when it comes to things white parents on school boards banning “critical race theory” or anti-racist materials, they then willingly embrace separating trans kids from their parents. Anyway, I’ll pause there.

Scott: That’s a great transition. And this is something we wanted to talk about. It was really important that you brought up that racialized history of the property and also of the gendering and ungendering according to your racial positionality of parenthood. This is one of the things – that’s linking the current fascist agenda. You brought up critical race theory, we’re seeing all attacks against any education around queerness in whatever form, the access to transition, or care around transition, for youth in particular, but it’s also extending to adults, and then abortion more recently. And this idea of parental rights seems to be one of the organizing ideas. So if there’s more that you wanted to say around that, I’d be interested just because it feels like such a strange invocation. Also, drag shows as a particular focus. The youth drag shows is something that people are getting really worked up about right now.

Sophie: Yeah, as you say, these links are among the prongs of attack. It is a successful and well-organized banning of anti-racism and queerness appearing in school spaces. Who is the congressman who was brandishing just a couple of days ago Anti-racist Baby, the infants’ book? There’s a real obsession with the idea of the infant, even not the child, but literally the neonate learning about America’s history in school. And there’s a criminalization, as you say, at the same time, of trans-affirming childcare and abortion, of gestational labor stoppages – as I would also encourage us to reframe them, or at least also think of them as. All of these, as you say, can be linked directly to the project of parental rights. And they reflect specifically a vision of patriarchal familist authority that cannot be disentangled from whiteness and from a totally triumphalist flattened ahistoricism – a version of history that is entirely made up.

We need to pay more attention to the way that this Republican-allied Christo-fascist series of maneuvers going on all these fronts that you mentioned are part of a project to reinstall the supremacy of the family. I was reading a dialogue between Andrea Long Chu and Paisley Currah in Jewish Currents today. They were right to highlight together the Christo-fascist series of associations, which in a way– I almost want to say they’re right, it’s annoying to have to constantly almost want to say that our very worst enemies understand the material stakes of the private nuclear households’ links to all of these historical forms of domination: from enslavement and colonialism to patriarchy and so on. They understand that better than the liberal establishment, they understand the stakes. Andrea Long Chu and Paisley Currah we’re talking about the line of connection in their minds, the Christo-fascists’ minds, between abortion which disrupts the family and things like marriage equality or whatever, and the specter of trans freaks molesting YOUR kids in public bathrooms. They are linked in our enemies’ minds. They are all assaults on the– Angela Metropulos is another theorist I’m thinking of, who I am, unfortunately, not as acquainted with as I would like. But I think her theorization of this is probably more and more needed right now, as Christo-fascism spirals into more and more power in a way on this territory. She talks about the oikos and how capital and settler colonialism discipline this sphere by very violent attacks. On improper bodily pleasures that fall with outside of the domain of productivity and reproductivity. That’s why all of these different fronts at the same time, although they are insufficiently linked in the mainstream conversation.

Amar: Absolutely. When you were talking and using the very correct framework of Cristo-fascism to politically frame the dominant shift that’s going on right now, I couldn’t really help but think about how The Handmaid’s Tale is used to describe this and the shortcomings of that analysis. Do you have any ideas about that?

Sophie: It’s actually interesting because you probably know that I had for several years a real bee in my bonnet about The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s fertility apocalypse, or sterility apocalypse rather. But I want to actually say but, I’m beginning to think that I might have almost gone a tiny bit too far, there might have been an element of overreach in my annoyance, because Angela Metropulos pulled me up a little bit on this, because I’m broadly speaking, and I’m also not the first to say it, but beginning in about 2017, I began to lose my temper. The Handmaid mania of liberal feminism. And so I actually wrote several pieces, and there’s a bit in the very beginning of Full Surrogacy Now where I expressed this distemper about the bizarre psychic under tow of handmaid mania. I say provocatively that it’s a utopia, not a dystopia in a sense because what all the people cosplaying as handmaids in Gilead are unconsciously acting out is a desire for this world where women herd has been flattened back into pure gestationality. And wouldn’t that be nice because then you wouldn’t have class-conscious or decolonial or trans or Black feminists critiquing you all the time? Because as the op-eds kept saying, “We are literally living in Gilead.” If that were true, then you would be, as a cis pregnant white woman like Elizabeth Moss in the Hulu adaptation, the very most oppressed subject of America, right?

And it’s like “Okay, that actually happened. It happened to enslaved Black women, forced surrogacy is not made up.” And to some extent, Margaret Atwood was constantly saying that everything in her dystopias has happened before, but that’s very much not how it’s taken up. It’s not taken up as an anti-racist consciousness. It’s not taken up in a way that connects to reproductive justice struggles or centers the reproductive justice concerns of organizers from the South. But the thing that really is still number one, as enemy in women’s lives, is capitalism. It’s not theocratic fascists with guns. I feel now that Angela might have been right that there’s no need to downplay the danger of the Christo-fascists in order to criticize the de-racialized slave narrative that is The Handmaid’s Tale.

Scott: I love the way that you analyze that, but I see what you’re saying. Going back to the family, we’re in the last however many decades in a place where people are living perhaps less and less – and what I mean by people is people typically within the dominant form, in the more represented white suburban situations are living less than less – in that typical nuclear family. And yet, the idea of the family hasn’t really been knocked down as a controlling image, especially within TV, sitcoms, even if it’s a work show, it’s a family structure, right? It’s everywhere, but we’re not living in those things. And likewise, with the issues around abortion, there’s this idea that we’re progressing away from these really oppressive things. And I feel even for leftists and anarchists, there’s a blind spot or an unwillingness to let go of the roots of our society that we live in, that is structuring all this oppression that we’re living in now, because of this faith in a progress, that we’ve made some strides away from the thing.

The Christian fascist thing really points out to me, that what we’re seeing right now is a minority group taking power. The system that is in place that ostensibly holds checks against them, the people who are inhabiting those positions are completely unwilling to check them. They’re letting it happen. All the people, the president, they’re not doing anything. So on one level, Christian fascism seems ridiculous, but we’re literally seeing these peoples seize power, and no one is really doing anything about it. I can see also why that’s utopian to be “Oh, we finally understand what woman is, it’s reproduction” or whatever. Maybe you have some thoughts about the progress narrative and the way that facts are negating that.

Sophie: I think you’re absolutely right. The liberal mainstream is almost capable of noticing or saying that there’s a civil war right around the corner, but they literally do not intend to fight in it. It is so cognitively maddening. It’s almost as though that liberal establishment doesn’t intend to do a single thing, just as it didn’t in order to defend abortion because it imagined that its Republican dancing partners would play fair against all evidence to the contrary. Progressive narratives are an epistemic canker, it’s so difficult to completely get rid of, even when one knows better. We’re just swimming in this idea of “history as progress,” and you can never overstate the importance of unthinking it, unpicking it.

It almost gives me hope that there is so much rage right now against the Democrats and their non-response to the striking down of Roe. What could be done is to frame the fight back in terms of very much politics, not ethics – mass gestational labor power, prole power, not individual personal freedom, in a sense, and not individual tragedies, and also, not these terrible spectacular rising tactics that some pro-choicers are using right now, where they’re brandishing blood-stained white pants and coat hangers, and talking about “we won’t go back” and insisting that “thousands will die and backstreet abortions”. Why is that the imaginary, it’s not actually helpful? We are actually in a historically different era. They can surveil and police and incarcerate, and we need to get really good at organizing against that and de-arresting people and blocking their ability to charge people. We need to get really good at evading and operating undercover.

But it’s also really important to think about the time we are in and the future we could build, rather than– I feel we won’t go back imagining that the reproductive status quo ante was okay. Abortions are overwhelmingly safe today. Regardless of whether or not they’re legal. I feel that there’s this bizarre attachment to a Margaret Atwood-flavored catastrophe. We’re literally going to all die because of the abortions themselves. But no, actually, that’s not what’s primarily going to happen. It’s much worse in a sense. I’m not saying incarceration is worse than death. But the real story that this is is a prison abolition story. Yet again, this is an abolitionist lesson. The problem of abortion being criminalized, is an over-criminalization problem, it’s a prison industrial complex problem. It’s a police abolition problem. I’m not sure that really links to your progress narrative point, but it links it to one of the big movements that have swept the “national conversation” in recent years, which is “one thing has to change, which is everything”. It’s not a question of making little meliorative steps towards a better world.

Scott: That’s really important what you said, I just wanted to pick up on it. The way that these laws are being crafted, that is increasing surveillance, increasing criminalization, increasing the possibilities of incarceration, so there’s increased state power there, which is maybe also why the liberals and Democrats in power are not so against it because it’s a boon for the State. But then the other thing that I’m thinking about is how all these laws are deputizing citizens to be informants. That also, to me, speaks to the nascent fascism, which leads to vigilante groups or paramilitary formations of people seeking out who’s doing this, or crossing state lines to track people down? So, I just thought that was really important that you brought up the way that the criminalization aspect of it works. And it shifts the focus around the liberal reaction of performing grief around something that’s not actually live for them at the moment, too. I just wanted to pull that out.

On the other side of the progress narrative, there’s the long-running anarchist or anarchistic critiques of legalizing abortion because of the way that incorporated the grassroots formations of caring for gestators and childbirth and ending childbirth outside of professionalization, or outside of institutionalization dominated by men, in particular, patriarchal power structures. So I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about any of that. Or what we can learn from that perspective now in response to this, which feels so upsetting, but maybe there’s other avenues of response?

Sophie: You’re absolutely right. The fact is so much of Turtle Island has been operating in a post-Roe reality for so long. I don’t know how much that is really real to people. We’ve been post-Roe in a combined and uneven way for some time. This is the zombie lag of it becoming law. People understand, in the places where it’s been de facto post-Roe for years and years, that abortion care happens outside of professional structures and independently of experts. And there is also quite a wide understanding that Roe absolutely sucked in the first place, even before the Hyde Amendment gutted it, and even before the Casey ruling gutted it still further, Roe vs Wade absolutely sucked. And to the extent that it even legalized abortion, which we have to say isn’t even really clear that it did that, it legalized a woman’s or a family’s right to have a private conversation with a health care provider or whatever.

But we have to ask ourselves, “What good is legalization and why do we want that?” You call it an anarchist critique of the legalizing of abortion. It absolutely is that. It is also actually a critique that used to be quite common across the board in the 70’s and the 60’s. They achieved this pyrrhic victory of Roe in 1973. What if we want laws off our bodies, and indeed an end to all laws, rather than laws that legalized anything we might do without laboring uteri, and what if we want the repeal of all abortion laws, not just the bad ones? In terms of the mainstream conversation, for sure, this perspective has been pretty widely lost over the last four decades. But it’s not really just a post-Roe critique, it was actually primarily a pre-Roe critique. I like to call it “gestational decrim”? They used to say, “Off our backs.” The idea is that we get the state completely off and out of our flesh, not just its punitive functions, but also its supposedly benign regulatory functions. And the term gestational decrim is basically something I floated. I don’t know if it’s gonna take off. But it’s an analogy to the sex work liberation movements call for decrim, as you well know. Comrades have tirelessly made the distinction between partial legalization and regulation, the so-called Nordic model, which is terrible for workers, and full decriminalization.

Amar: On the topic of operating sublegally, there, as many listeners probably know, is a group called Jane’s Revenge that is seemingly attempting to destabilize pro-life or forced birth infrastructures. Could you talk about that a little bit? Just talk about what’s been in the news, and also some of your thoughts on how it’s been received and how we might think about it in a more productive way.

Sophie: I wish I had every single fact about Jane’s Revenge at my fingertips. I’m just gonna talk in generalities in the aftermath of the Supreme Court leak striking down Roe, a shadowy anarchist network calling itself Jane’s Revenge was reported on a lot, striking via graffiti actions, and allegedly, also a Molotov cocktail, some windows smashing. The graffiti tag that was used in various locales, and as you mentioned, the targets, Jane’s Revenge was targeting Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which are fake abortion clinics that are funded by the far-right to psychologically guilt and dissuade people from getting abortion care. There was reporting on Jane’s Revenge that their tag was “If Abortions Aren’t Safe, Then Neither Are You.” I have to say I love it. It makes a huge difference if you have a cervix. The terrain of symbolic solidarity is actually quite significant.

There is this extreme minority capture of this issue that makes out, this thing that really everyone supports, actually, the majority of people in America totally like abortion. If you’re into electoral politics, which I’m not, but when you campaign about abortion, it’s quite cheering, it’s actually one of the few things that are fun and uplifting to go knocking on people’s doors about because everyone likes abortion. And that is not present in the symbolic sphere. So when someone breaks a CPC window, or– I live in Philadelphia, I was driving around and saw a big billboard in the aftermath of the leak that just said “Abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania”, which might seem a small thing, but when you have a cervix and you’re walking around in the aftermath of a ruling like that, something has shifted. Even if you know that concretely, not that much has shifted for many people, it’s symbolic violence that renders you less than a person. And it is a great act of love to let people know that the violence they are meting out against gestators is hated and will not be tolerated.

My opinion is not really the point so much, I would just say that anyone calling themselves a feminist or leftist could maybe, at the very minimum, not do the right-wing’s job for them and go out of their way to write op-eds condemning Jane’s Revenge, as Judith Levine did in The Intercept. And I was extremely, extremely angry about that. I couldn’t understand why it was necessary of all things at this moment. I don’t know if she’s noticed. I don’t mean to single out Judith Levine. Of course, she’s not the only one. She’s a leftist feminist. A lot of feminists have been condemning Jane’s Revenge for some reason. And it makes me despair a little bit.

Yeah. Facebook, or Meta ruled that Jane’s Revenge was a tier-one terrorist organization. And so any posts expressing neutral or positive sentiments about the actions of Jane’s Revenge will be deleted from Facebook? Apparently, there’s no one on that list of tier-one terrorist organizations other than al Qaeda. It’s actually absurd. And earlier this month, Axios reported that assaults directed at abortion clinic staff and patients increased 128% compared with 2020. There are 4,000 names on the dangerous individuals and organizations list and only 2 are associated with anti-abortion terrorism. But as we know, it’s the supposed pro-life camp that has bombed and murdered people for 40 years. It just seems extremely strange to back up the casting of Jane’s Revenge as terrorists when they are some of the few brave, symbolic actors in solidarity with all the people who have had their bodily autonomy stripped from them by the Supreme Court.

Scott: Yeah, it’s so interesting, because the liberal or even leftists, like the Judith Levine piece are like, “Militancy is great. Violence isn’t good.” But you read the pieces that the people who are calling themselves Jane’s Revenge put out, they are very explicit and clear in their definitions of violence, and what they’re responding to, which you mentioned, is this campaign of literal physical violence against people? Not! They’re targeting empty buildings. It’s property again, right? It’s how it comes back into it. They’re not doing the same thing. Other than the people who are continuing to do abortion care, as they had been doing in, as you also rightly mentioned, that places where Roe didn’t really matter, those people who can’t be very public about the work that they’re doing, Jane’s Revenge is maybe the only visible effective, perhaps, action that’s being taken. Besides the futile protests against buildings or whatever that people do. Also, it’s really exciting because it’s reproducible and anonymous, right? It’s a meme or whatever.

Amar: I love it. To approach all of this with an eye to hypocrisy is to maybe participate in an exercise of driving yourself up the wall. But the hypocrisy of somebody approaching these actions with hand-wringing about violence is pretty backward and very establishment and harmful and also boring.

There’s so much to say about abortion and there’s so much to talk about with how people’s rights are being war-of-attritioned away and how much of those rights actually truly didn’t exist. It was no walk in the park to get an abortion before, a month ago, it was actually quite difficult and more so for folk who live in trigger states and folk who live in chronically unresourced or deresourced places. I would actually really love to hear about your take on the whole groomer discourse that is being levied at trans people specifically, but gay people more generally. Do you have any thoughts about that? And how does that tie into these moments that we’re collectively experiencing?

Sophie: I suppose I already covered some of my thoughts about the weaponized innocence of the figure of the Child. And I suppose this links to the way that– None of this can actually adequately be tackled, including in progressive or socialist, or whatever liberal frames of trans solidarity or allyship, without actually going as far, getting as deep as the principle of youth or child liberation, or youth or child sovereignty. Which is totally lost, it was totally successfully destroyed by the 80’s and by the pedophile industrial complex being built. It’s just off the map more or less, apart from on the fringes of radical movements and, of course, there are wonderful things that are going on. There’s the Purple Thistle, a youth-led community center in Vancouver, carla bergman is an anarchist, reproductive justice militant, and zine archivist who has a book coming out with AK Press called Listen To Kids. There exists consciousness about the importance of actually countering the property logic around kids and including or better than including children in the political process, but it’s just completely fringe. I don’t think that we can actually successfully counter the entire narrative about groomers without actually advocating for something like children and youth liberation. Because groomers are just an outgrowth of the properterian fantasy that, as you mentioned, really weirdly sexualizes the children within the tiny little bubble of the private nuclear household based on eodipal kinship, which is a very strange sexual structure between parents and children, which pretends that it is asexual and projects all of its strange hyper fixated sexuality onto this predatory other.

And it requires children to be literally art canvases, pieces of inheritance, who do not have desires, who do not have sexualities above all, who cannot make friends across generations, and who cannot dictate or negotiate their own boundaries visa vie each other or elders or whatever, and who will be irrevocably harmed by the company of a drag queen. It’s just so boring and so endless, there’s an endless well of this in our culture right now. And I’ve obviously been called a groomer because anyone who talks about queer theory in the public sphere will be called a groomer and a pedophile by TERFs and Gender-Criticals and fascists, etc. And it’s terrifying, right? It’s really terrifying. The left has not got a great strategy worked out about how to be effective in defense against that and how to actually do solidarity with people being targeted by the pedophile industrial complex. I’d love to see more conversations about that.

Scott: Going back to the 70’s, which keeps coming up for us, we’re rehashing on the left the same splintering moments of those radical movements of the women’s movement and gay liberation. They came together in certain areas around abortion and around cisgayness and then splintered around transness. And then the way that it’s reformulating now where supposed radical feminists are taking sides with fascists and right-wingers is a really weird echo or return to that moment. But I wonder what you think about– With groomer, going back to the reproduction of the same and trying to reproduce something else, the threat of the trans child seems to me to be this idea that a kid has some autonomy to refuse the discipline and wages of gender that are forced upon them. And so in a way the groomers are pointing back at– Noah Zazanis wrote about this, too, that cis people are the most effectively groomed people. They’re the ones who do the thing that they’re made to do, and trans people are actually refusing grooming. But I wonder what you think about this, the threat that gay and trans people play is that wherever reproduction we have to do of our community is not sexual reproduction. It’s a different way of forming ourselves and our community. What do you think about the threat of transition and also the strange posthistory of anti-trans feminism?

Sophie: There are different things there. But perhaps, I don’t know what the listenership tends to know and not know. So if you don’t mind, I’ll just state the obvious – or not for some people – about the strange interrelation. I do think it’s important to disambiguate TERFs and Gender-Criticals and simple garden transphobes because sometimes when people hear these conversations from a position of relative unfamiliarity, there can be a real reaction against the seeming conflation of these things. It’s important to state that the State is waging war on trans people, both adult and children, and it’s polarized around the racialized, sex working figure of the trans woman of color, and then the figure of the potentially transed, seduced, groomed, potentially infertile trans child. And this war is being waged primarily in the United Kingdom, but increasingly in the United States and elsewhere. And many actors in this mobilization, which brings together secular right-wingers, Christo-fascists, and sadly, some people who are nominally on the left claim no connection with feminism. That’s maybe obvious, right? However, there is also this presence in their ranks, and even sometimes at their home, especially in the UK. There’s a significant number of self-identified radical feminists. That’s what TERF means – trans-exclusionary radical feminist. This was a terminology brought about by someone who was cis rather than trans. The TERFs don’t like being called TERFs, although it’s very obviously a neutral descriptor. They pitch trans people’s existence itself against the interests of womanhood, and they sometimes link this to a global patriarchal pharma capitalist conspiracy, which supposedly drives the phenomenon of transness. And this links up very beautifully with anti-semitic understandings of the world.

I sometimes think the only real difference between a gender-critical, which is another word for the general anti-trans component within feminism – not all of whom would call themselves radical feminists, so TERF is a specific subset of Gender-Critical – but sometimes the difference between a feminist transphobe, and a Christo-fascist woman, a Trad Wife who hates trans people, is the particular flavor vibe or orientation of their wounded attachment to a suffering-based definition of femaleness. So it’s like do they relate psychically to their own femaleness in a tragic way, which is the feminist transphobes way – we will be females, bleeding and dying in childbirth forever, it’s what makes us sisters – or in a triumphal way, which is the Trad Wife belief, which is really, really inherent, you can hear it, sometimes they say out loud, but the most beautiful thing a woman can do for America is die in childbirth.

And in practice, the links between the feminist transphobes and the anti-feminist transphobes are very well-documented, I can definitely recommend the podcast Blood and TERF, which monitors these relationships. That’s a podcast from the UK, the Heritage Foundation and funding bodies that are even to the right of them have sponsored British radical feminists traveling, advocating, and lecturing for over a decade at this point. I wrote in, of all places, the New York Times who asked me to write about this and explain TERFism’s ideological roots. Why is TERFism so big in the UK? Alas, it was in 2019. Now, it seems it’s a globally known phenomenon because of JK Rowling’s uptake of it. In my opinion, its ideological roots are in eugenic feminism, including specifically colonial English women’s feminist efforts to impose a certain hygiene in India and Africa about a century ago.

But you asked me also about the good news of this confrontation today. There is a real need on the part of capitalist order today to de-fang that disruptive potential that you named in trans kids and to contain the possibilities of trans insurrection within what Nat Raha callsTtrans Liberalism. And it’s really working. There is a spilling over, there is a recognition that there’s refusals of reproductive and productivity type training of that cis heteronormative grooming that Noah Zazanis talks about. The links between that active refusal and all the other issues that we’ve been talking about in terms of work carcerality, the private character of care, the foreclosure of the future in white national reproduction, and so on. When I’m feeling optimistic, there is an insurgency of feminism against cisness taking place. Emma Heaney talks about feminism against cisness. And she turns the history of feminism on its head and historicizes the moment when it became cis, which it was not, to begin with. And the long-standing and currently very potentially powerful insurgency of feminists of all genders against cisness threatens the social order by potentially decommodifying, deprivatizing, and reorienting away from production and reproduction all of the means of collective life-making.

And the question we can ask ourselves, this is from Kay Gabriel, what would it mean for gender to function as a source of disalienated pleasure rather than as an accumulation strategy? And the proliferation of the means of transition doesn’t necessarily but potentially contains a whispered invitation towards exploring that question.

Scott: I love what you just said. That, in my mind, could be a really good last thing to say.

Sophie: We’ve been talking for ages. I’ve taken up so much of your evening. Actually, sometimes it’s good to just quit while you’re ahead. I feel you’re right. Maybe that’s a nice note to end on. We can always think about everything we wish we said and note it down so that our next podcast can potentially– It’s lovely!

Amar: I love it.

Sophie: It’s a real pleasure speaking to you two. It really is.

Amar: The feeling is super, super mutual. I might just ask in closing, is there anything, a notion that you would leave listeners with or parting words that you would say to them?

Sophie: That’s a lovely question. I feel everyone has seen this quote, but it makes me happy when it circulates in times of despair. And it’s that quote from Ursula Le Guin about how the power of capitalism seems immutable, but so did the power of kings under feudalism. When I’m feeling up optimistic right now, I’m realizing that the center cannot hold, there is no center anymore. There is a very real sense in which – and this is very scary – masses of our siblings and neighbors are coming to grips for the first time with the fact that we take care of ourselves, the state does not take care of us, and maybe that provides an opening.

Amar: Indeed, I love that so much. Thank you so much for those words and that provocation that’s really important to keep in mind always, but perhaps especially now.

Anarchist Struggle in Rojava

Anarchist Struggle in Rojava

TA members educating YPG members on tourniquet use
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Anarchist Struggle, or Tekoşîna Anarşist in Kurmanji, is an anarchist combat medic collective operating in Rojava since the time of the war against Daesh / Isis, though its roots go back further. For the hour, you’ll hear a voice actor sharing the words of a member of TA calling themselves Robin Goldman about the their experiences of Asymmetric Warfare waged by Turkey and its proxies in the TFSA, the culture of TA right now, the medical work they’re doing, queerness in Rojava and other topics.

You can find TA online on twitter at @TA_Anarsist as well as their website TekosinaAnarsist.NoBlogs.Org. Members of TA suggested that folks interested in queer and trans organizing in Rojava support the group Keskasor, Kurdish for rainbow and based in Diyarbakir, Turkey. It can be emailed at heftreng.keskesor@gmail.com, found on twitter via @Keskasor_lgbti or on instagram at @KeskesorLGBTI, though their social media presence was last updated in 2020.

Some Formations Related to TA:

Groups mentioned ala Rojava:

Announcements

Zolo Azania

Former Black Panther, political prisoner and BLA veteran Zolo Agana Azania is seeking help. Since being released from prison and returning to the streets of Indiana in 2017 after more than 35 years behind bars, he has poured himself into organizing solidarity and support for other former prisoners. He still has not received his 2020 covid relief funds, likely impacted by his housing precarity, and is trying to purchase an inexpensive house to offer him stability in his later years. If you’d like to help, you can cashapp Zolo at $ZoloAzania5 . You can hear an interview with Zolo from 2018 plus his participation in an IDOCWatch panel at our website, linked in the show notes.

Eric King’s Mail Ban Temporarily Lifted

That’s right, you can send mail and books to anarchist and anti-fascist prisoner, Eric King! You can find his writings, art and updates on his case at SupportEricKing.Org, you can find his amazon wishlist there as well and you can send him letters via:

Eric King #27090-045
FCI Englewood
9595 West Quincy Avenue
Littleton, CO 80123

Asheville Continues To Attack The Homeless

In a last minute addition to these announcements, according to a leaked email by a local, Asheville-based non-profit serving houseless folks, Asheville’s City Council may be considering passing an ordinance based on the failed Ft. Lauderdale, Florida ban on the sharing of food in public spaces, which in the Asheville case appears to be based on a suggestion by Asheville Police Captain Mike Lamb. An article just published on the Asheville Free Press explains the context, what the non-profit group Beloved is suggesting as next steps, which includes applying pressure at the upcoming January 25th City Council meeting. This comes on the heels of a wave of knocks, warrants and arrests of people engaged in protests against homeless sweeps here in freezing temperatures at the end of last year. Keep an ear out and toss support for legal fees to the Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross legal defense fund at ­ or you can donate to the final straw’s payment methods with a note that it’s for legal defense and we’ll pass it off.

Fire Ant Journal #11 is Out!

You can find the latest edition of Fire Ant Journal, featuring writings and art by Thomas Mayer-Falk, Eric King, Pepe and info on Sean Swain, Jennifer Rose and more via Bloomington ABC

BAD News #52 is Available!

The monthly episode of the A-Radio Network’s English podcast includes Črna Luknja with a member of CrimethInc on the fire at their publishing house recently, A-Radio Berlin brings words on the attack by leftist bro’s on the queer anarcha-feminist Syrena squat in Warsaw, Elephant In The Room gives a brief round up of the uprising in Kazakhstan and comrades at Free Social Radio 1431 AM in Thessaloniki talk about the eviction of Biologia Squat.

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Featured Tracks:

  • Yasin  is a remix by Rizan Said of this song (original version based on an Arab folk song from the Hesekê region featured in the film “Darên bi Tenê” or “The Only Trees”)
  • Şervano by Mehmûd Berazî (an article about the song, often played at funerals)

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself to the audience with whatever names, preferred gender pronouns, affiliations, or experience, as you would like (to help the audience orient itself)?

RG: Yeah, so you can call me Robin Goldman. I use they/them pronouns. I am in my 30’s. I’ve been in Rojava for a couple of years now. I have a background in a couple of things in computer work, and then also in healthcare work. And yeah, that’s me in a nutshell.

TFSR: Cool. Thank you, again, for having this conversation. Could you give listeners who may not be familiar with the Rojava revolution, like a brief synopsis of its kind of trajectory that you think people should know for this conversation?

RG: So I’m absolutely not qualified to give a full synopsis of the Rojava revolution or anything, but the very bare bones for somebody who’s not familiar at all, the reason that it’s known as RO-ja-va, or Ro-JA-va, it’s pronounced both ways, is because that’s the Kurdish word for “west”, and Kurdistan as an area the way that it’s historically understood was divided into four regions. So Bakur, meaning “north”, is the part that’s in Turkey; Rojhilat, meaning “east”, is the part that’s in Iran; Başûr, meaning “south”, is a part that’s in Iraq, and Rojava is the part that’s in Syria.

So when we talk about the Rojava revolution, we’re talking about the western Kurdistan portion of Syria. And in 2017, there was the final push to to defeat ISIS and it’s sort of self proclaimed capital of Raqqa, that kind of completed around 2018 and they’re still, like, sleeper cells and Daesh carriers out bombings and stuff but for the most part, they’re not holding any significant territory anymore.

In 2018, Turkey, and its proxy forces invaded Afrin, and in 2019, they invaded Serê Kaniyê. So over the last couple of years, before I came, there was a big shift from the way that the fighting happened and the type of combat and the type of diplomatic situation and everything, from kind of the images that Americans got used to seeing of a person on foot with an AK in their hand, like fighting Daesh, which was very much the image from kind of the Daesh war. Now, a lot of the fighting involves like drone strikes on the part of Turkey, and it’s become much more asymmetrical.

Now we’re in a situation for the last couple of years ever since the Serê Kaniyê invasion, which was a very quick invasion that Turkey did, that took a big swath of territory towards the end of 2019, that Serê Kaniyê a meta-stable situation where there’s ongoing aggression. There’s shelling pretty regularly along the front line, which is like the new border between the area that’s occupied by Turkish proxy forces and the area that is still held by the SDF, which a lot of people who are referred to as “the friends”, so if I refer to area held by the friend, see if that’s that’s usually what that’s what I mean, I might kind of forget and refer to them that way, cause that’s the vernacular. And now, the issue is there’s this constant brinkmanship from Turkey- well, I can get into later because I guess there’s more questions about this stuff. So that’s kind of where we’re at now.

Ideologically it’s based on a lot of ideology that comes from 40 years of armed struggle by the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, which originated in Bakur and the Turkish portion of Kurdistan and originally had the characteristic of like a national liberation struggle as a lot of sort of post-Soviet post-colonial struggles did. But over time, the main thinker of the party, Abdullah Öcalan, who was imprisoned in I believe, 1999, he did a big shift in ideological orientation from an authoritarian, communist, classic Marxist Leninist type of strategy to one that is much more democratic and much more compatible with anarchist ideals, in particular. And he exchanged letters with Murray Bookchin. And this got the name of the new paradigm and it’s based on three pillars, which is ecology, women’s liberation and democratic confederalism. So that’s the ideological basis of the society that’s being built in the autonomously administered area now.

TFSR: Cool, thank you very much. Yeah and I’d like to talk about some of those other specifics of what’s been going on a little bit later. So could you talk a little bit about – and please correct me if I’m wrong on this pronunciation – but Tekoşîna Anarşist, “Anarchist Struggle”. For folks who aren’t familiar with the project, like how long has it been around and what are its goals? How does it operate?

RG: So I haven’t been around since the beginning so I can’t get a super detailed description of the origins, but Tekoşîna Anarşist, which is just Kurdish language for “Anarchist Struggle”, has existed in its current form for I think, between three and four years at this point. And it started as a part of I know people have seen these logos and these groups with names like IRPGF, and IFB. The IFB, the International Freedom Battalion, was something that was, during the time of the Daesh war, a group of sort of various internationalist organizations that had militants – *cat meowing in the background* sorry, my cat is joining this. Our cat Shisha wants to join this interview.

TFSR: Hello Heval cat.

RG: *laughs* So those those were like a coalition of the different sort of internationalist groups that had militants here at that time. And they were like cooperating together – because some of them were kind of smaller groups – and there were multiple groups that have English as the common language, or were otherwise kind of not using mainly Kurdish or mainly Arabic, like a lot of the groups *more cat meowing*. who were from here were doing. And so there’s still a lot of people from that struggle in that time around, but I wasn’t around yet then, I was still in the states then. So I can’t give like a real detailed history. But yeah, we started kind of under this umbrella and eventually kind of became more autonomous. And we’re now an autonomous collective that is doing work with different partners, like we’re involved with both the military work under the SDF, and also like the health committee kind of work. So we kind of have two bosses now at this point *chuckles*.

TFSR: And you described as a collective right? Is it it’s made up of people that are over in Rojava under the autonomous administration? Or is it like international? Or is that a thing that you can talk about? And like how do decisions get made, just collectively among the body of membership?

RG: Yeah, we’re really decentralized in the way that we make decisions, we try to embody our anarchist principles, which means different things to different people too so it’s something that we’re constantly working on within our organization. We’re constantly evaluating our organizational structure and frame and debating about whether we want to change our decision making protocol, or how much protocol we want to have at all. You know, the same sort of things that any anarchist organization is going to be familiar with *laughs*. It’s uh, always a bit of a struggle, but we’re committed to putting our ideals into practice in terms of radical democracy and trying to root out the patriarchy and other oppressive dynamics, not just in society, but within ourselves and within our organization, as a continual process.

TFSR: So would you say that as to the goals of TA that TA is about like supporting the Rojava revolution and challenging it to be more radical and some of its conceptions?

RG: Yeah, I mean, we’re a really small group – the number of us here at any given time is typically less than 10 – and so our purpose and our mission kind of evolves also, as the conditions change, but it offers a place for people that might not fit into another structure really well, like in particular, in terms of queer identity issues. Of course, ideologically, I think we’re definitely not the only anarchists involved in this revolution, there’s people in pretty much every international structure, you know, there’s people of different anarchist ideals that have been or are currently in different groups and different types of work. So we’re not claiming to represent all anarchists, by any means, but um, you know, to people who ideologically want to participate in the work in this particular frame, and to have these types of organizational discussions as they’re, you know, participating in the work.

And also, yeah, to try to find ways to respectfully challenge the revolution, like you said, to push it to remain as what we understand is more radical and more revolutionary, as well as learning from them. I mean, Öcalan also has published critiques, specifically of anarchists, and you know, not saying that anarchism is wrong or bad, but his critiques I think, are actually quite the same as ones published by Malatesta many, many decades ago. So, engaging with these critiques we’re in a unique position because we are not just reading anarchist theory or trying to embody anarchist theory in small collective in the midst of a capitalist economy like collectives in the US, for example, we’d be doing, but we’re in the midst of a messy revolution, full of contradictions and really understanding what that means and seeing how the rubber hits the road, so to speak.

TFSR: Cool and if you feel comfortable, if you don’t, but if you feel comfortable, I’d love to hear a little bit about what inspired you to go over and to join and to, like, participate in this struggle that is, like difficult to get to and also dangerous.

RG: Yeah, for sure. So I’ve been interested in, ever since 2016, when I met with somebody who had been here with YPG and he was just giving a question and answer to some anarchist groups about his experience and he was being really candid about it. And to me when I read about it, and then also, when I heard about it from him, it’s that it really reminded me and a lot of ways of, I was also reading a lot at the time about the Spanish revolution of 1936. It’s something that a lot of anarchists, I think, will be really familiar with, really inspired by. And seeing kind of the similarities there and, you know, when I was reading about 1936 Spain, and thinking like, “oh, you know, if there was something like this in my lifetime,” you know, and then realizing there is! And not only Rojava, Rojava is not the only revolutionary project in the world right now, but it’s one that I was lucky enough to have some contact with. And I was able to join a Kurdish language class, which I didn’t learn very much from at that time, but I, it got me started.

And then so over time, as I was also doing work before I came here with organizations that were inspired by a lot of the same ideas of this movement. I was really getting into ideas inspired by Murray Bookchin’s ideas about municipalism, and social ecology, Democratic confederalism. These sort of ideas were interesting to me, not only at a theoretical level, but because I was working with groups that were trying to implement them, and that were already themselves inspired by hearing about the things that were happening here and other places, with setting up communes and decommoditizing the necessities, communization theory, dual power.

So I was working with groups that were republishing stuff that was being published by the movement here and stuff from Make Rojava Green Again and other groups that were here, and we were, you know, trying to put tekmîl, this critique and self-critique that’s inspired by sort of a Maoist practice originally, you know, we were using some of these tools that came to us through this movement and things that they published.

So we really were curious about, if we could learn more from this revolution, and if we had anything to contribute to it. So yeah, for all those reasons, I came here to see what I could see, see what I could bring back to my organizing back home, and to see what I could possibly contribute, also, to moving the revolution here forward.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about how TA, or Anarchist Struggle fits in and relates to the broader constellation of groups in the Syrian Defense Forces – the SDF – and with the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria, the long name for AANES, I guess, another name for Rojava? Is that a good way of putting it?

RG: So like I mentioned, TA is one of many groups that are existing for internationalists, some of which are kind of involved with SDF military works, and others are more purely civilian. A lot of people who want to come here they go directly to talking to YPG, YPJ, because they don’t know that non-military works exist. Or then a lot of times people contact us because we’re the only group besides YPG that they’ve heard of that internationals can join.

So I just wanted to like put out there that there’s also quite a few others. For civilian groups there’s the Internationalist Commune, and there’s Jineoloji International, which is studying the women’s movement and I think that one’s only open to women and nonbinary folks. So on the military side, there’s YPG and YPJ. Various communist parties have a presence here that are sometimes bringing internationals from certain places, and sometimes not, I don’t know so much about their…and they range from classic Marxist-Leninist/Stalinist organizations to other ones that are more Maoist inspired. So they have like, even within, you know, having in common that they’re authoritarian communist, they have quite an ideological diversity, as well as tactical diversity among them.

And then there’s also media groups, there’s the Rojava Information Center, which is a great source of information, and also people are coming and working with them in a journalistic capacity. There’s Heyva Sor [A Kurd], which is the Kurdish Red Crescent, which is the civilian medical work that has a huge project of like trying to set up basically a functioning health system in what is now kind of a chaotic systemless soup of various health services.

So those are the words that are available to internationals. And then as well as our relationship to the SDF, we are responsible to the SDF- the way that the SDF works is it’s sort of administered by local military councils. So like, each area has a military council that serves for the defense of the area. Mostly, this was kind of set up, I think, during the Daesh war and continues to function during this phase of the war, that like, for example: in a region where we’ve got a Kurdish community, an Assyrian community, an Armenian community, a Syriac community, there will be both military and civilian sides to the defense so there’ll be like a local community defense which people are familiar with HPC, which got the nickname “grannies with guns”. So it’s like the sort of civilian side of the community neighborhood defense and then the military council is the other side of that. That’s the military side of the regional defense.

So there’s, for example, the Khabour Guards are the Assyrian community, and they speak an Assyrian language, it’s different, it’s not Kurdish, it’s not Arabic. There are quite a few Arabic speaking groups that are participating in the military council. So the military council of a city or of a region will have representatives of all these types of groups that are functioning for the defense of these communities in the area and they’ll coordinate together to coordinate the defense for the region. So we work with the one in the area where we’re operating.

So that’s how the SDF is structured. So when I say we have a relationship to the SDF, that’s how that works. And then in terms of the health structure, there’s a military hospital system that is free for members of the military. So that’s like, where we get our health care from directly, like if we need care. And there’s also civilian hospital systems, and there’s private clinics. Because it’s a time of relative peace a lot of our work is civilian health work. There’s a big epidemic of cutaneous leishmaniasis, which is a skin parasite that’s spread by these little biting insects which requires a lot of injections to get rid of it and there’s been a huge problem with overcrowding in the clinics. So we’ve been assisting with the effort to give injections to people, both civilian and military to get rid of this parasite. So that’s been taking up a lot of our time recently. That’s just an example of the type of work that we have.

TFSR: Awesome. Thank you for that there’s a lot in there, I’d like to also get back to the some of the medical issue and the work that you do a little bit later. In the meantime, in November of 2021, there was a major fear that Turkey would be escalating, like creating a new offensive across the Syrian border into Rojava. Could you explain kind of what happened there to your understanding, and is that still looming danger?

RG: It’s always a looming danger. It seems like Turkey was hoping to get the go ahead from the US and or Russia to launch a full scale invasion and they didn’t get it. They didn’t get the permission they wanted. The impact that this had on us here was that people were really convinced that there was like an imminent full scale war about to happen. We really ramped up preparation, getting extra hospital space ready. And the fact that it didn’t happen…these kinds of things – this was more pronounced example – but these kinds of like “an invasion is about to happen” feeling occurs pretty regularly, and so we’ll ramp up the activity for a little while, and then we don’t really ever, like let our guard down. I mean, I don’t think there’s a feeling that the danger is past, just postponed.

TFSR: So the last time that The Final Straw spoke with members of TA it was before Turkey’s 2019 incursion into Rojava – which, again, correct me if I’m wrong on these points that I’m making – but which seem to end up in a large stretch of territory along the border within Syria’s borders, falling under the control of the Turkish state. I know that TA was heavily involved in the resistance to Serê Kaniyê, but can you tell us a little bit more about this? And have you heard about the Turkish state using the so called “buffer zone” that they put in to demographically shift the area, like pushing out Kurds and other residents from the region and resettling Syrian refugees that they had been taking from Europe within their borders?

RG: Anything that Turkey is doing in terms of resettling people, officially, any information we would have about that would be from the same sources that y’all would have. So I don’t really feel like I can comment on that. I do know there’s been a lot of human rights violations by the occupying forces – the mercenaries and the Turkish state – in particular in Afrin and Serê Kaniyê regions there have been a lot of kidnappings of civilians, there have been a lot of reported rapes and there’s been desecration of graves. There’s been a variety of human rights abuses, there was a year end report that was published by the SDF about this topic. So yeah, people can…I don’t have the exact numbers off the top of my head, but people can look into that.

Another way that they’re using the Serê Kaniyê region and the Afrin region in particular – the reason they chose that region in particular to take – is because it has resources, it’s very difficult to conduct life without. So in particular water the word Serê Kaniyê, I think – I could be wrong about this, my language skills aren’t great – but I think it means “the head of the spring.” It’s where water comes from, or water comes through, Serê Kaniyê, and Turkey has really been using water and dams and the ability to shut off access to water, as well as shutting off access to other resources to try to wage war of attrition and really damaged the civilian morale by making it difficult to come by the necessities of life, really tryna starve us out. They cut so much water the past summer, the Xabûr river, basically completely dried up. Crop harvests were just a tiny fraction of what they were the previous year, especially with the grain. So there’s going to be a huge problem with the grain shortages for the next year. We’re looking at, like, potentially, like massive food shortages because of this, and there were massive water shortages last year. It was pretty grim.

So Turkey’s strategy with this is not only to use the space to demographically create a buffer, which also was Syria’s official policy prior to the to the revolution to the war. [Bashar al-] Assad was also doing this, he was trying to create a green belt of Arab populations through sort of a combination of targeted gentrification and more direct repression of Kurdish inhabitants of the area, to try to cut the unity of the of the Kurdistan geographical region.

TFSR: That’s terrible, I’m sorry. I mean, is part of the goal – besides just starving out and pressuring people – also to make them sort of identify the difficulties that they’re facing with autonomous administration? Or is it a little less subtle than that?

RG: Yeah, no, I think it’s less subtle than that but I think also that’s happening. And I mean, there are people that stayed and fought through years of war that now we’re in relative peace, and they’re just, maybe they have children, they’re just experiencing so much poverty.

A lot of people have family members that have gone to Europe to work to send money back, and more and more family members are having to leave to go to make money to just survive, that like people who are really ideologically and personally connected to their land and to their cultural identity, they don’t want to leave, (but their) finally getting close to throwing in the towel because of the shortages and economic difficulties, even though they weathered the storm of close to a decade of war.

So that’s something that’s like really, also a huge part of the fight that like as we lose civilians, if we don’t have civilian populations, the population become sparsely it becomes much more difficult to defend the land.

TFSR: So you’ve already said before about stuff that goes on in Turkey, you may not have a more immediate connection to but I’m gonna ask the question anyway and you can give me that same answer if you want. But over the last number of years, Turkey’s economy has been sliding into a crisis that’s worsened dramatically – specifically, over the last few months – has this tension spilled over the border in any way that you’ve experienced? And, just speculating, do you think that this could mean the end of the 20 year AKP rule and its neo-Ottomanist push?

RG: I have no idea what this means for specific political parties in Turkey, but the way that this is affecting us is that like everything that goes wrong in Turkey, everyone wants to point the blame onto a different scapegoat. So he’ll blame the Kurdish movement in Turkey, you know, the guerrillas in the mountains there, or he’ll blame Rojava, and he’ll, you know, cut resources. He’s got different alliances with Iraqi Kurdistan, and political parties there. Like, right now, the borders closed between Iraq and Syria, the Semalka Crossing, that’s like the sort of unofficial crossing, that’s been the main one that we’re able to use for the last few years.

It’s estimated it’ll be close for two months, it’s, we don’t know when it will open again. There’s been shortages of sugar, which is a big deal, because people put like, they have half chai, half sugar in there, in their cup of chai. So like, not having sugar for their chai is like a really huge issue for people’s morale, culturally, it’s very important to have, you know, these resources. You know, they’re not letting cigarettes go across, just things that are designed to like, make people’s lives miserable here, they’re doing this to make up kind of political points that they’re losing in Iraqi Kurdistan or in Turkey respectively. So I think Rojava economically kind of becomes the scapegoat or the you know, the whipping post for failing economies in the neighboring countries.

TFSR: So to kind of keep on the Iraq question, like there’s been a lot of conflict in south Kurdistan and Iraqi Kurdistan between the Turkish state and PKK elements that are there with the Kurdish Democratic Party. The more conservative Barzani-led administration, they’re siding with Turkey. For instance, there are allegations also a Turkish use of chemical weapons, but this hasn’t been making news in the US so much. Are you aware of this? And has this affected things in in Rojava?

RG: I’ll be honest, I can’t I don’t really know of an answer to that question. I’m not knowledgeable about that.

TFSR: Cool, I appreciate that honesty. Back to TA a little bit: can you share a little more about the medical work that y’all do? And why this was chosen as a focus? As I understand in 2018 or 2019 y’all got an ambulance, for instance, that enabled y’all to do combat medic work during that time. How widespread was or is this among SDF, I guess the practice of ambulances and mobility, and what’s the general response to your work been in the area?

RG: In the time that I’ve been here, which again, I came after the Serê Kaniyê war, so there hasn’t been a full scale war in the time I’ve been here. We do have an ambulance, we had one already when I got here, I’m not sure when we got it. I know during the time of the war, they were using it to evacuate wounded, to evacuate people from the hospital in Serê Kaniyê out of the city, and that kind of thing, to protect civilians as well as wounded military members. I know that there were members of TA that were here at that time that did very heroic things and saved a lot of lives.

I think that the space for that kind of work opened up because a combination of the disinvestment over decades in this region, plus the brain drain of, you know, 10 years of war, resulted in a situation where there was just like, really a huge lack of people who were both trained and willing to go into dangerous areas to do kind of emergency medical work. And I know, like, for example, I heard from people who were in the time of the Serê Kaniyê war they were giving out tourniquets and, like, there were people who were arriving at the hospital with wounds that they would have been saved by a tourniquet, from people that were their people in their unit or wherever had been given tourniquets, and they weren’t using them. Where people would get these individual first aid kits and just empty it out and use the thing that they came in to carry stuff.

So there was a big gap in understanding or seeing the value in this kind of work. I think that coming from a Western perspective, and also with more of an understanding and experience of how state militaries work, there was more of a value placed on this type of preparation. So seeing how that went down, there’s been a big work not only in our group and other groups as well, to do like education, we’ve been teaching the different military groups about how to use tourniquets, how to improvise tourniquets because we don’t have a good supply of premade tourniquets but you can make a pretty great one from you know, a torn piece of T-shirt and the cleaning rod of your rifle, for example. Giving education on how to stop massive bleeding, how to do chest seals for something that’s punctured a lung, basic stuff for just keeping people alive long enough to get them to the hospital.

We’ve been really shifting our focus from providing the care directly to providing education to people on how to do this kind of care. And like I said, we’ve been doing work with the civilian medical system as well, to try to improve and develop our skills and stay ready when we’re not in a situation of having to provide emergency medical care. There were also reports – and I don’t know how official these are or whatever – but I heard more than one person talking about feeling at least like Turkey had been targeting ambulances, or that marked ambulances were a target. And a lot of times now, especially with the drone strikes and stuff, when people are injured they’re not waiting for an ambulance to show up, they’re being thrown in the back of a pickup truck or a logistics van or something that can go faster than an ambulance can over the shitty roads here and get to the hospital as fast as possible.

So having people that are able to stop massive bleeding or you know, keep their lung from collapsing or whatever, while they’re in the back of their of their Hilux, or whatever, I think we’re seeing that that’s going to make more of a difference than having an ambulance. I mean we do still have the ambulance and we make visits around places where maybe other other ambulances aren’t willing to go. But it’s become more of a mobile clinic for the time being. Like, not a real clinic, but like, you know, we go and we make checkups, we give the injections for leishmaniasis. If people look really sick, and their commanders aren’t letting them go to the hospital, we’ll write them a note and sometimes that carries an extra authority. We give them advice for like if they’ve got a cold or something you know how to take care about and not get sick or this sort of thing.

TFSR: That’s awesome. That’s super insightful. I really appreciate that answer. So how have you seen COVID-19 experienced in Rojava, as far as like how it’s spread, or access to tests, vaccines, and PPE, any of this sort of stuff?

RG: With PPE, it’s really not widespread. Some people are wearing masks now. It’s become not super strange to wear a mask. I would say it’s not normal, like most people aren’t wearing masks or practicing social distancing or anything but at the beginning, like if you didn’t shake people’s hands and give everyone a hug, it was super rude. Whereas now people have started a little bit, if you do like a little bow or a wave instead of shaking hands, or if you are wearing a mask, people don’t think that’s super weird. They started to understand what that is and what it’s about. They still don’t give a lot of attention to COVID, although they it’s been really inconsistent. Because they built a new hospital for COVID but it’s been pretty much empty because people aren’t going to the hospital when they have these symptoms. And people have definitely died of COVID here, a lot of people have gotten COVID, people in our group have gotten COVID and have mostly recovered thank God. So like people are seeing that it’s existing, but sometimes there are tests, we had PCR tests for a while, then we had the rapid antigen tests, and now I guess they don’t have any test? So they’re saying that there’s no COVID anymore like it’s done, just because, I think it’s because they ran out of tests.

So it’s a really inconsistent response, like and they got a vaccine, we got the first dose of the vaccine, but then we couldn’t go on time and get the second dose. And then by the time we went to get the second dose, they didn’t have it anymore. So now we’re trying to figure out if there’s some other city where we can go to get the second dose, it’s really, it’s really a mess. There have been some lockdowns, but they’ve been really inconsistent. It’s been different, like, from city to city and a lockdown pretty much means that you just can’t go in or out of the city for usually like a week or two. It’s been it’s been really inconsistent.

TFSR: Yeah, that doesn’t sound disimilar, actually, to a lot of other places, just maybe on a different scale. But yeah, a lot of the same problems are pretty, seem pretty ubiquitous, as far as accessing testing and the social spreading of like what knowledge there is to protect oneself from it.

This is off topic, but I just heard an interview the other, I think earlier this week on Democracy Now with folks at the Texas Children’s Hospital that had developed an open source and copyright free vaccine and were distributing it, like they were working with a manufacturing infrastructure in India and a few other parts of the world to just get it as widely distributed as possible. That’s pretty hopeful for me, as far as that one specific, like, you were mentioning those bite vectored infections that y’all are helping to inject folks against, but as far as the COVID thing, I don’t know.

RG: Yeah, I mean, part of the issue with the COVID thing here, too, is like, I think part of the reason that they didn’t keep the vaccines around, it’s not like there was so much demand that they were going like hotcakes, I think nobody wanted them.

TFSR: Because they didn’t see it as an actual threat or because they’re, they don’t like vaccines?

RG: I think it’s a combination of as much of health literacy is an issue everywhere, it’s like very, very much an issue here. People aren’t trusting the countries that are manufacturing these vaccines, they’re also occupying forces. Like it’s all coming from either the US or Russia. So there’s like political mistrust, as well as like, kind of the attitude towards you know, after 10 years of war, people are kind of, a lot of people have this sort of like, “you can’t scare me,” like “COVID, I don’t care” kind of attitude. So it’s a combination of things.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s that sounds kind of common also the people that I’ve talked to imprisoned in the so-called US, they’re like, “I don’t want to catch this, but they’re trying to kill me every day and have been over this whole sentence, so whatever. Something’s gonna get me or it’s not.”

RG: Yeah, it’s really, really difficult to fight against this kind of fatalism and this kind of mistrust, because it’s not wrong. Like, it makes sense.

TFSR: Yeah, yeah, for sure. You’ve mentioned with like, ambulances being targeted by drone strikes and I kind of wonder what it’s like being engaged, even though you’re not currently engaged in hot and regular and heavy war with Turkey – even though the threat is constantly looming, and there are things like drone strikes – what’s it like being engaged in such an asymmetrical warfare against the state power was such advantages in terms of resources, weaponry, like drones, and airstrikes and border fortifications, and the ability to organize assassination attempts, notably against leaders of the Turkish Left in Rojava. And I know it’s a big question, but also being party to a conflict that is facing off against in this complex mess between like, Turkey as a NATO force and the second biggest military in NATO, and the US at some points, acting as a support in some parts of the conflict also, as a NATO state, you know, this sort of thing.

RG: I mean, I can only speak for me in terms of like, what it feels like, to me. To be honest, it’s terrifying. It’s very scary. When I first got here, especially for the first few months, I was just conscious constantly of the fact that like, we could all die at any moment. I guess you kind of get used to it, you focus on what you can do. You get to be able to kind of recognize how far bombs are by what they sound like. I don’t know. I don’t have a good answer for that. You just, you try to focus on on what’s in front of you, and you try to have an eye on the long game, you know. To know that nobody knows what’s going to happen, that there are more important things, there are there other determiners of victory rather than who has the biggest guns.

TFSR: I think that I already kind of asked the thing about what is TA working on right now, or you answered it through a lot of the medical discussion. Do you do want to sort of wax philosophical about the future of TA and what directions that might go?

RG: Yeah, like I mentioned, we’re talking about our questions of organizational form. We’re having debates right now about some readings that we did about the Makhnovists platform and we’re talking about platformism, we’re talking about decision making strategies and consensus and you know, a lot of the same things that any kind of anarchist organization struggles with. Because as we grow, and as we develop over time and have different organizational needs, we have to sort of refine our approach to the concept of structuring ideologically and practically what that means for us.

So in ideological terms, we’re doing that. We’re working a little bit on our image, I think, especially early on with the nature of the Daesh war in particular, and the demographics of the group, that it got a bit of a bro-y image. We’ve gotten critique for that, we’ve taken this to heart. We’ve really tried to focus on not only questioning the patriarchal values that get embodied in military works, and the way that we do that, but also focusing more on the women’s liberation in the ecology, pillars of the revolution that we’re involved in.

We’ve gotten more involved in society works, like, we’ve gotten to know people, both civilian and military people kind of in other groups or who aren’t officially affiliated, but are just supportive, that we interact with in the villages around us. We visited some kind of cultural activities, in particular, like Armenian cultural revival. There’s a lot of Armenians in Syria, who ended up here as a result of the genocide. There was a huge forced march of Armenians to Deir ez-Zor. Also a lot of Armenian women and children were kidnapped and sold or adopted by Kurdish and or Arab families.

TFSR: At the beginning of the 20th century, the Armenian genocide by the Turkish state you’re referring to? Or is this something during Daesh war?

RG: No, no, this is the 1915 genocide. So there’s a big effort as part of this, I think that Öcalan calls it “xwe nas bikin”, and it means like, “know yourself”, meaning like, know your roots, know your heritage. There’s a big push for sort of cultural pride among Armenians, Assyrians, people who are kind of cultural and religious minority groups here. So there’s a council that’s doing Armenian language lessons. So we’re trying to get involved with learning about this kind of things, and learning more about the history and the cultures of the area. And try not to have like a white savior complex or anything like this, where we kind of just come in and like do our work, which was sort of, I think, earlier on, there was less opportunity to do anything that wasn’t immediately necessary because the situation was the way it was. But now we have a lot more opportunities.

So yeah, just being more connected and more involved in the many, many facets of this revolution that aren’t immediately obvious, or things that we’re necessarily already thinking about, from the way that – in particular from America – like what we, what we see. And a lot of the news and the image that we have this place, I think in America in particular, is like at least three years out of date at any given time, because we don’t have such strong ties to here the way that Europe has a much more lively exchange of people between this region. And in for example, Germany and England both have big Kurdish movements.

Sorry I’m getting a little bit off topic. So the question what is TA working on now and in the future…so yeah, we’re working on that, we’re trying to bring more people, especially we’re prioritizing bringing women comrades, gender nonconforming comrades, trans comrades. There’s a lot of contradictions on on queer issues in the movement generally, but in terms of our ability to exist an organized as queer internationals, we have been very lucky. We have the space to exist and challenge some of the beliefs and assumptions that people have. So that’s something that we really value as an opportunity we want to make the most of.

TFSR: Yeah that’s awesome. Yeah, in the past, the Kurdish movement in Rojava has been somewhat unwelcoming to gay, lesbian, queer and trans folks. It’s our understanding that the Kurdish movement in Bakur, in Turkish occupied northern Kurdistan, has historically been amazingly pro LGBTQ but because of some local attitudes in shorter time for building up support in the region, the movement has been really impacted by holders of conservative social mores. That said, over the past years, the women’s movement was starting to slowly try and shift that attitude. How do things stand now, if you all have insights on this?

RG: There’s a lot of really contradictory things going on. My experience has been that, especially as internationals, we can get away with a lot more than people from here can in terms of this kind of stuff. Especially because, I mean, they consider it as weird to be vegetarian as they do to be gay, for example. Like, *laughing* we’re just freaks in general like so they kind of just shake their heads and let us get away with being weird. Whereas for a person from here who’s queer, they, they face a lot, a lot of difficulties, a lot of danger that we as internationals are privileged to be largely exempt from.

That said, I think within the movement, there are people who see queer issues as part of the struggle against patriarchy, and there are people who don’t. You get a variety of attitudes, ranging from you know, “homosexuality is a social disease of capitalist modernity”, to you know that it’s just simply doesn’t exist, you know, to people who, like I said have a much more progressive attitude towards it. The comrades from Turkey or from Bakur do tend to have a much more informed and accepting attitude, I would say, in my experience.

We are not the only group by any means that has out vocal queer members. And I think that we’ve gotten more careful and respectful and strategic since the days of the, you know, TQILA banner, if anybody saw that photo, which was a great photo, but it caused huge, huge problems. Especially with like, for example, the more socially conservative tribes that the autonomous administration needs to try to bring into its project and win some goodwill with. There’s just a lot to balance. Because on the one hand, we’re pushing to try to, you know, advance social attitude towards the concept of gender, the concept of sexual orientation.

On the other hand, you know, we had friends that were working in a women’s health clinic, and one of the questions for women that were having various health problems was, “how often do you have sex with your husband? How often do you want to have sex with your husband?” And some of the women were like, “Want? What do you, what do you mean, want? Like, what does this want that you’re talking?” It just, depending, there’s just such a huge range of attitudes and experiences related to gender and sexuality here that it’s a complicated situation.

TFSR: Thank you for that. The broader Kurdish movement has a heavy focus on the ideological aspects of the struggle and the Rojava revolution being part of military training, with studies of Öcalan’s work and structured collective life considered as or more important than the combat related training. What sort of commonalities does life at TA have with the way life is structured in the broader movement? And are there ways in which an anarchist perspective causes it to diverge?

RG: Yeah, that’s a good question. And I think it’s been different at different times in TA’s history. I think for the time that I’ve been here, at least, the last year especially, we’ve had a lot of emphasis on the ideological development. Not only within our organization, like when we did military training, we allocated ample time for discussions of patriarchy, patriarchal dynamics, how we can engage with the realities of our situation without unnecessarily advancing sort of patriarchal values. And we talked a lot about the role of sport, our relationships to our bodies, competitiveness, you know, whether it’s good to be competitive, the destructive nature of competitiveness, toxic masculinity.

So we’ve made time in our training schedule to really intentionally sit down and discuss these aspects, discuss our relationship to the concept of hierarchy, being you know, in a military situation versus in other situations. As well as at various times we do reading groups, discussions on topics that are, as we get time – lately we’ve been really busy – but when we get time we do a rotating seminar where someone will kind of prepare an hour or two discussion about a topic related to women’s revolution, gender liberation, some aspect of anarchist history. We did one on understanding antisemitism, just a variety of topics. We’re a bunch of nerds at heart to like, we’re all always reading things. I’m in like a signal group of people who are reading the book, The Ghetto Fights right now, which is about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

I think one of the things we did for a while, it’s a kind of a common practice that we adopted from other groups is when we have our list of who has night watch duty and people take like an hour or two shift for security in the night, and there’s a list and it’s really common to put like an inspirational revolutionary quote on the list, so whoever’s making the list has to like constantly be reading more stuff and finding new sources of inspiration there.

And we don’t only do these kinds of education’s in our own group, we’ve also participated in more formal education with other internationals from other organizations that were coordinated to come together for like a month long, you know, learning about the history of this movement, the history of philosophy in the Middle East, readings and discussions like an intensive 10 hours a day of lectures and discussions and movies about relevant topics, so. As much as we get time for we really we really do take seriously the ideological development.

TFSR: Can you share with us a little about your understanding of the Kurdish movements approach to autonomy and statehood? Do y’all have any insights into the possibility of, I guess the TEV-DEM, or PYD, formalizing an autonomous region with Bashar al-Assad’s government?

RG: Um, as far as the relationship between the autonomous administration and the Assad regime I don’t understand it, and I can’t comment on it. As far as kind of summarizing my experiences or my discussions that illustrate some of the wide variety of opinions within the quote unquote “Kurdish movement”, I would say that – saying “the Kurdish movement” implying that there is just one, or even just several – like, I don’t know. The discussions I’ve had with people, just like random people on the streets sometimes even, like I talked to one guy, this one old guy I met in Qamişlo who was saying he was really supporting the PKK for a long time, and he’s a, he described himself as a Stalinist and he really was pro USSR and but then, when the new paradigm happened and the split in the party happened, he started to support the model of Başûr Iraqi Kurdistan, he became a Barzani supporter. Because to him, a state was just so important. Like even though he called himself a communist, communism was like nothing compared to having a state. So that was a wild ride of a conversation.

So I mean, there’s people you know, that range from, there was like a really, bit irreverent, but quite illustrative meme that was going around of like a political compass of people within the Rojava movement, too, and there was the PKK boomer who doesn’t know that there’s a new paradigm. Like a bit making light of the wide variety of ideological orientations you find towards the concept of statehood. But in terms of how it’s actually being implemented, it seems like there’s a big, almost US-style democracy, I say, “almost”, is something that a lot of just regular people are supporting, as far as I can tell. At least from what I hear from friends, for example, in Rojava Information Center who know a lot more about this than I do, so this is all like third hand information.

But yeah, in terms of like the approach to statehood, there are some people that are like really still hardline, like we need our own state. There are some people that ride around with pictures of Saddam Hussein on the front of their motorbikes because they’re the same flavor of Islam that he was and they see this cultural identification is the most important thing to them. It’s a huge variety of opinions. And what is happening within the more ideological oriented discussions is maybe not completely reflective of what the general everyday man on the street kind of person’s gonna think as well.

And also to call it “the Kurdish movement”, like again, at least in the area where we are there’s a lot of Assyrians, there’s a lot of Armenians, there’s a lot of Arabs. There’s definitely a lot of Kurds as well, but to describe this movement at this point as “Kurdish” is a, it’s Kurdish inspired, it’s Kurdish led but it’s not a “Kurdish movement”.

TFSR: In a recent interview that Duran Kalkan of the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, which was conducted by the group peace in Kurdistan, Duran Kalkan spoke about his view that while Western governments like the US may strategically partner with the SDF under Rojavan command in the fight against Daesh or ISIS, they’re not committed to the project of democratic and federalism but only destabilizing Turkey and opposing Russian and Iranian influence in the region. It’s a proxy situation.

This specific radio show and podcast is based in the US, you’ve mentioned that a number of people involved as internationals are from the US, and a lot of our audience, most of our audience, is based in the US, so I think this, this is why I bring up this question: can you talk about the US relationship to Rojava, the illegalization of the PKK and the KCK, and what impact that has on the ground in areas controlled by the autonomous administration of north and east Syria? As I understand many internationals who come back from Rojava face difficulties from the various states that they live under because of some of these are similar illegalizations?

RG: Yeah, I think Americans have a bit easier time than some of the people from other places, I think Brits have quite a difficult situation now, the laws that have been passed in the last couple years are horrific. As far as the criminalization of the PKK, I know that increasingly different countries, including I think England recently, most of them haven’t changed their evaluation, but have at least reopen the debate into a classification of PKK and whether it’s the terrorist organization or not. I don’t know the history of how the illegalization happened, or, you know, I can’t really comment on that, as far as just anecdotally, like I know, I’ve had friends that have come back from Rojava to different places, and in the US, some friends have kind of gotten follow up from the feds, but I don’t know of anybody who’s really faced heavy repression because of it.

However, the issue is there have been some people who have been accused of unrelated things, but then had their prior involvement with this region used to kind of intensify the repression they face for other things. So the repression is there and it’s definitely important to be conscious of it, and for individuals who participate to be careful, but also for people who care about this revolution, or who just care about freedom generally, to fight against the criminalization of the PKK, the criminalization of participation in this revolution, the criminalization of you know, even travel to this region for some people. As far as the impact on the ground for people here who aren’t internationalist, I don’t know that there’s a quantifiable simple like impact, it just makes things generally harder. But I think the impact, as far as I’m at least able to comment on this, you know, is mostly to people going to other places, working in other places….

TFSR: And for listeners who are interested in more on the lasting effects of repression in the US, they can check a couple of episodes ago to our interview with some supporters of Dan Baker, who formerly had participated in the Rojava revolution, and is facing a few dozen months in prison, not for that directly but that was definitely brought up in his court proceedings.

RG: Yeah, he is the one that put something on Facebook, no? And, and it was sort of connected somehow, abstractly?

TFSR: Well he was, yeah. Definitely that has something to do with it, yeah. He basically had said, after the January 6 events in DC, he was in Florida, and he said, “Hey, Trumpists in Florida are threatening an arm siege on the Capitol, antifascist should come out with weapons and like keep them from attacking the general population”. And it had been brought up since he had come back from Rojava, like he had, he was doing some medical work at The CHOP Seattle, and after a shooting had happened had been approached by the FBI. But then also, yeah, his participation in Rojava had been brought up during his court proceedings for calling for people to show up at the Florida capitol to act as a community defense, not a defense of the Capitol, but act as a community defense against armed Trumpists who are trying to commit a putsch.

How can listeners learn more about TA and the social revolution occurring in Rojava, or the struggle going on in Rojava? And how can they get involved or support the communalist movement and aims from where they’re at?

RG: Well I’ve mentioned earlier on this list of different organizations that people can do work with here. So knowing that if people are interested to come here, it’s not only military connected work that’s available to them, their civilian work for internationalist as well.

There’s also, you know, the need for solidarity work in people’s home countries, in the US, in particular, like pressuring lawmakers to reduce the repression on on not just people who come here, but also to remove the PKK from this international terrorist list. There’s a push to have a no-fly zone for Turkey to limit Turkey’s ability to make incursions into the area. There were some boycott movements on companies such as Garmin that were manufacturing drone parts that Turkey was using, which Turkey is also now supplying drones to Ethiopia to suppress the resistance to the genocide in Tigray as well, so that’s worth noting the connection there.

As far as learning more about TA in particular, we have Twitter, we don’t update it super often, our internet’s not super reliable all the time and media isn’t our top priority. And we do answer our email when we can. So if people have questions for us, we can be contacted that way. And as far as supporting Rojava generally: inform yourself, follow the news and the history. There’s a really great book that I read called A Road Unforeseen by Meredith Tax. I know she, Meredith Tax, has done speaking tours with Debbie Bookchin, I believe, who runs the Emergency Committee for Rojava. They have events that you can get involved with, you can educate yourself, you can connect other people. So yeah, Emergency Committee for Rojava is usually a good place to find stuff.

TFSR: I can put links in the show notes to some of the texts that you’ve brought up. There’s, for instance, the one about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising., there’s like a free PDF on the publishers website, which is really helpful. If you have any other links that you want to share, too, we can happily put those in there. Is there anything that I failed to ask you about that you’d like to share?

RG: I think one of the most valuable things that I’ve quote unquote, “learned” from the revolution here in my time here, and just from the society and seeing the effort, and the slow and steady pace of building the communes and the cooperatives and all of the issues that they’ve run into, and starting over that they’ve had to do, and the perseverance that they’ve had to have, is that the work that that I see a lot of my friends, in particular anarchist, but not only anarchists, doing in the US, and in Canada and other places like it – and I’m talking about like housing cooperatives, land trusts, tenants unions, connecting the tenants unions to labor unions – any kind of organizing like this with the people, that is with the eye to, not just to win a concession from the boss or the landlord, but to further connect the people to their community and to each other and going to city council meetings, doing things that that may seem pretty unrevolutionary and unglamorous at the local level…that’s the quote unquote, “real work”.

Like I think American anarchists suffer the most from a belief that the real revolution is always somewhere else, that the real revolutionary possibilities and activities are always somewhere more exciting. That anything we do is, you know, we like to call each other “cosplayers” or kind of put down each other’s work or our own work, and I think that the most valuable thing that I’ve learned from being here is, is this is the real work, the work that we’re doing here is not significantly different than the work that revolutionaries, I’ll use that word, are doing in the US, are doing in Canada, and that especially those connected to land struggles for Indigenous people, I think that is absolutely the right track. And we should have more faith in ourselves, we should take ourselves more seriously and we should have more of an appreciation for the ways in which the conditions are good for us to do this work, the material resources, the access to knowledge that we do have, and to, to support each other in this and to really see the potential.

TFSR: Yeah, I appreciate that. Thank you. And thank you, Robin, thank you so much, after long days and in the middle of your busy schedule to take the time to, to communicate your views and your experiences. I really appreciate hearing him and I’m excited to share him with the audience. Thank you.

RG: Yeah, thank you for taking so much time to talk to me and being patient with all this, tech issues and everything. *chuckles*

TFSR: *laughs* Blasted technology. And pass my love and appreciation to TA please.

RG: I will do that, thank you

The Battle for Abortion and Reproductive Autonomy with Bay Ostrach

The Battle for Abortion and Reproductive Autonomy with Bay Ostrach

A pregnant person in blue with a red womb, held up by red tinted small people, red tinted flowers growing behid them (by Marne Grahlman)
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This week on the show, we sat down with Bayla Ostrach, an activist, anarchist, longtime defender, provider of and researcher around issues of reproductive healthcare. We speak about experiences researching and working on the issue in Catalunya, the battle for abortion and reproductive autonomy in the so-called US, the challenges faced by independent clinics against the business model of clinic chains like Planned Parenthood, legal and material pressure and attacks by anti-abortion extremists as well as the cultural and political struggle to defend and expand the ability for people to get safe, affordable, full spectrum and stigma-free abortion and reproductive care more broadly.

Illustration by Marne Grahlman

** Content warning, because we are discussing a stigmatized series of medical procedures adjacent to sexual, social and political violence, listeners should be advised and we’ll put warnings in a few places during the episode. If you are hearing the radio version and want to hear a longer version of this show, and to listen at your own pace, check out our full podcast at our website, to be followed in about a week by a transcript for easy reading & a zine for printing. **

A list of people, works, and resources mentioned by our guest:

Good sites:

Citations for two shared documents co/authored by Bay:

Another document we can’t easily share:

  • Singer, E., (Elyse Ona), and Bayla Ostrach. “The End of Feminist Abortion Counseling? Examining Threats to Women’s Health.” In Transcending Borders, 255–70. Palgrave-MacMillan (Springer imprint), 2017. http://link.springer.com/.

Announcements

Anti-Abortion & Fascist Over in DC

Fascism must be opposed, Reproductive Autonomy must be defeneded and there are many ways to do this. As the interview mentions, the neo-fascist masculinist dance troupe known as Patriot Front (or the Blue & Khaki Man Group) joined the anti-abortion “March For Life” in Chicago on January 8th and were heckled from within the march and surrounding Chicagoans. According to leaked audio, they may appear in Washington DC at the “March For Life” on January 22nd. A little info is available at PatriotFrontMarchForLife.NoBlogs.Org or by checking out sites for local anti-racist, anti-fascist & pro-choice and feminist groups in the DC area.

Sean Swain Support

So far as we know, Sean still isn’t out of the woods on an inter-state transfer despite the hearing board recommending him not be transferred out of state. 2 years ago he was transferred to Virginia with no hearing or warning and lots a bunch of his property in the shuffle. Now he’s back in Ohio and wants to stay near his spouse, his lawyer and many supporters. You can contact Interstate Compact Coordinator Earlena Shepherd at earlena.shepherd@odrc.state.oh.us or

Earlena Shepherd
Interstate Compact Coordinator
ODRC
4545 Fisher Road, Suite D
Columbus, OH 43228

More contacts at SeanSwain.Org

Supporting TFSR

If you appreciate the work that we do at the final straw, there’re a few ways to support us. The following links are all https…:

You can rate, review & subscribe to us on your favorite streaming source like spotify, youtube, google, audbile, stitcher, apple or our podcast feed. You can follow us and share our content on social media. You can also reach out to us with feedback or interview ideas. More at https://TFSR.WTF/links

We’re now over a year into transcribing each weekly episode, which you can find alongside select older shows at https://TFSR.WTF/zines for easier reading if that’s your spead. You can print out zines and mail them to prisoners you support or distro or share them where you are. If you translate an interview, let us know and we’ll promote it.

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Transcription

William – TFSR: To begin, would you just say your name, if desired, your pronouns and any affiliations you have, either politically or socially?

Bayla Ostrach: Sure. Thank you so much for having me. The name that I write under and do research under is Bayla Ostrach. In activist spaces, most people know me as Bay and my pronouns are they/them. And affiliations… I was thinking about this when I saw your email. These days, my affiliations are pretty hyper local. So I think for the purposes of the show, I’ll just leave it at that.

William – TFSR: Cool, so we’re here to talk about the overarching topic of abortion and abortion access. And I know you’ve written a bunch about this. How did you come to be doing the work you’re doing around this topic?

Bayla: Right. I had written up some notes about the work that I have done in abortion care and abortion research. But the way you framed that… I had to think back of how I actually ended up working in my first clinic, and I was trying to remember. I started working in abortion care in 1999. I think it was because a friend that I had grown up with was working at the clinic, it was a feminist clinic. Way back then there was a whole network of what were explicitly called “feminist women’s health centers.” It did unfortunately have the name women in it at the time, we weren’t as aware of language around gender in those days, but it had been founded by something called the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers. And there were a bunch of these clinics. There’s only one left, it’s in Atlanta. But this was in Eugene, Oregon, and a friend was working there and they needed somebody bilingual. And she called me up and she said “Hey, do you want to come work at this clinic with me? We need somebody bilingual.” I think I didn’t think very much about what the work would be, I just was in a job that I didn’t love and I thought, sure that sounds great. And I went to the interview, and they asked me a lot of questions about what I thought about abortion. To be honest, I hadn’t thought very much about it. I was a feminist, I considered myself pro-choice and I just hadn’t thought that much about it. And I started working in an abortion clinic. Then the rest is history.

I’ve worked directly in abortion care starting in 1999. And since then, I’ve worked in – I was doing this math – I’ve worked in seven clinics in two states in two countries. That first clinic that I worked at very abruptly closed in 2002. Pretty much we were not even told that it was going to close. We just came to work one day and the clinic was shut down. And so those of us who worked at the clinic started a fund and hotline, and that still exists. It’s now called the Northwest Access Fund. And then I went on to work at another clinic and nine years into working in abortion care and funding advocacy, I was recruited to start doing research as an applied medical anthropologist. And so since then, I’ve been doing that research., mostly about how migrant and low income pregnant people access abortion through state funded systems in the US and in Catalunya. And I was doing that as my primary research focus until I moved to North Carolina in 2017. I’m still analyzing some of the data that I’d already collected in Catalunya. And I’m also developing a book based on interviews that I did with people that worked at feminist and independent clinics from the 80s, up until 2012, about experiences that they’ve had with anti abortion violence.

Bursts – TFSR: Cool. We totally would like to ask a little bit more about some of those experiences and definitions of terms like “independent and feminist clinics”. I had sort of a big overarching question to begin with, though. So the US white supremacist settler colonial state has a history of on the one hand denying people of marginalized communities reproductive autonomy through forced sterilization, lack of access to resources, forced separation of families and youth. And, on the other hand, by being able to use the state to withhold access to birth control. To the degree your experience allows, can you talk about abortion and birth control access currently, how it’s weaponized either rhetorically or materially around marginalization in this context?

Bayla: Yeah, this is a really important question. I’m glad you asked it. And I will speak to how I think about this. I can’t talk about it very much in terms of my own work other than specific pieces that have touched on it, but I want to lift up the work of other people who do this work and are thinking and talking about it in ways that should guide all of our work on it. And specifically, what I want to mention is what you’re talking about and how we should all think about it, which is Reproductive Justice. The framework that was founded by Loretta Ross and is being championed by Loretta Ross and a lot of other women of color. An organization that I hope people are aware of it’s based in the south and it continually works on this topic: Sister Song. They do this work and they challenge other social justice movements to expand their work to include Reproductive Justice.

I imagine that y’all have talked about it and I think your listeners probably have heard of this. But I think these days, a lot of other important terms, “Reproductive Justice” and “Intersectionality” kind of get thrown in without people necessarily having thought through all the things that it means. So if you’ll indulge me, I wanted to give a definition of Reproductive Justice, because I think that starts to answer a lot of different pieces of what you brought up.

So there’s the general definition from Loretta Ross and from Sister Song. But I found a kind of a longer explanation from the Illinois Caucus of Adolescent Health website that I can share with you all to post up in the show notes. But I really liked how they spelled more of it out, and I think it speaks to what you’re asking. And so Reproductive Justice broadly, is a framework to address how race, gender, class, ability, nationality, and sexuality intersect. But this website also defines it as “a movement guided by the belief that real choice and control over ourselves in our bodies is achieved when we have the power and resources to make our own decisions. RJ seeks to build space in which individuals have access to the rights and resources they need to create the families they want. Furthermore, recognizes that the fight for reproductive freedom is linked to the struggles for immigrant, worker, and queer rights, economic and environmental justice, an end to violence against women and girls, and access to health care and education that affirms our identities and our bodies.” And the three basic tenets include: the right to have children, and to decide how many and under what conditions you could birth”; ”The right to not have children”; “And the right to parent one’s own children in safe and healthy environments.” And again, that was from the Illinois Caucus of Adolescent Health.

I think that’s directly linked to abortion access and access to safe and effective contraception. Because for any of us that are physically biologically capable of getting pregnant, until we’re assured of universal housing, universal health care, universal basic income, freedom from state surveillance, etc, I could go on and on… there are always going to be people that because of structurally produced poverty, because of state sanctioned disproportionately racist violence, then it’s enacted by agencies like Department of Social Services, Child Protective Services, there are always going to be people that would like to parent but know that they’re at increased risk of having their children taken away. And just generally not being able to parent the way that they wish to. So as long as there are people that would like to parent now, or at some point in the future, but know that there are all of these forms of state violence, that are going to make it so they can’t parent the way that they want to or can’t parent safely, there has to be the option of safe, effective and accessible contraception, and the option of safe high quality abortion, whether it’s legal or not. And I would add to that, not just safe high quality abortion, but safe high quality abortion especially beyond the first trimester, that has to exist. AND for anyone that just doesn’t want to parent. So it can be that you don’t want to parent now it can be that you don’t want to parent at all, and that’s fundamental to Reproductive Justice.

I was thinking about this, it and it reminded me of a thing that has come up over and over in my research in Catalunya has been pregnant people that will say the same thing over and over. And this is the context of the global recession. I was doing my research there initially, after what’s being called the global recession there people kept calling it “la crisis” – the crisis – the economic crisis. And people would say to me, while they were seeking a publicly funded abortion, often people already had one child would almost verbatim over and over many different people would say, “I’d rather have one child and care for it well then have two that suffer.” And I was hearing that through five years of data collection, in a setting that has one of the better social safety nets that we could even imagine. Theses are folks that have universal health care, right? There’s national health care. There’s a national health care system, that’s part of what I was studying. This is a place where free public education starts at age three. So people aren’t having to pay for preschool, they’re not having to pay for kindergarten, there’s much more subsidies for childcare, there’s much more subsidies for housing. It’s a much better situation, arguably, in which to parent and yet people were still saying that they didn’t feel that they could economically afford to have another child.

I mentioned that it’s a different situation than the US but I think I was hearing so much from people about economic reasons why they didn’t feel that they could parent or parent another child. And so whether it’s abortion, whether it’s contraception, whatever it might be, if people are in a situation where because of the circumstances of the state, it is not safe or appropriate, or you just don’t want to parent there has to be a way to avoid doing that. Either before you’re pregnant or once you’re pregnant.

William – TFSR: Thank you so much for that answer to that question. I think that there’s so much there. And obviously this has been a topic of discussion for a long time in anarchist and Reproductive Justice communities.

One thing that comes up immediately to mind, at least for a lot of folks when thinking about abortion access is the issue of clinics. But sometimes I find for lots of folks, the thinking begins and ends with Planned Parenthood and clinic protests. Would you talk about why clinics are important as a public space of encounter and symbolic presentation of the audacious sharing of reproductive autonomy?

Bayla: Thank you for asking that. Absolutely. And I put together some stats on independent clinics. Because you’re right, so often for liberals, and for antis, right? Planned Parenthood, it’s like Kleenex, right? It’s the name brand. An important corollary to that, I will say, one of the clinics that I worked at the longest, one of my favorite clinics that I ever worked at, we referred to Planned Parenthood as Walmart. It’s the Walmart of reproductive health care. Most people that I work with in the United States that do abortion work, that’s how we talk about Planned Parenthood. It’s everywhere. It’s the thing that people know. You can go there. You can get reproductive health care there. It is going to be low quality. You’re not going to get good care. It’s a business, it’s a corporate chain. That’s what Planned Parenthood is. It’s the corporate chain of reproductive health care.

Similar to Walmart workers are not necessarily treated well. They’re not necessarily trained well, you’re not going to get the highest quality product. And much like Walmart, it tends to put the local small business independent clinics out of business. And so this is kind of like a two part answer. This is tricky, right? Because abortion clinics are absolutely important, because without abortion clinics we don’t have access to safe high quality abortion, especially beyond the first trimester. But not all clinics are created equal. Not all clinics are the same. They need to be protected, they need to be defended. Because if we don’t have clinics, we don’t have abortion, it’s that simple. If all we have is Planned Parenthood, we don’t have access to safe, high quality abortion beyond the first trimester, because that’s not what Planned Parenthood is.

And clinics, I think people aren’t aware of them. They don’t know that they’re there, so they don’t know to protect them. Because there’s been so much anti abortion violence. There’s been so such a threat against clinics. That it’s sort of the M.O. of clinics to fly under the radar. We don’t tend to have big banners outside that say “get your abortion here.” That’s not super safe. And so from the perspective of protecting clinic, staff, providers, and patients, an independent clinic is likely to be pretty nondescript. It’s not likely to have really obvious signage. Whereas a more corporate clinic might have more obvious branding and more obvious signage. And so the clinics that have a bigger budget, the corporate chain clinics, the clinics that have a bigger overhead and admin, they can afford to be a little bit more visible. Then that’s what people are going to know and be aware of.

So people are less likely to be aware of the feminist clinics, which is probably why they’re not around anymore. They’re less likely to be aware of an independent clinic. They’re not as many of them anymore, they’ve been closing down. But any opportunity I can take to make people aware of independent clinics… 60% of clinics in the United States that offer care beyond the first trimester are independent clinics. Independent clinics provide care to three out of five patients who have an abortion in the United States. To 79% of all clinics that provide care at or after 22 weeks of gestation are independents. And 100% of clinics that provide care after 26 weeks are independents. That being said 113 independent clinics closed between 2016 and 2021. And 34 independents were forced to close just in the past two years. 74% of those provided care after the first trimester.

So on the one hand, the majority of care and especially the majority of later care is being provided by independent clinics. But that’s also the clinics that are being forced to close down and that’s what we’re losing. So we are losing access to this incredibly important, independent, high quality care. That is also sort of the only option for care after the first trimester. When people think of Planned Parenthood, they’re thinking of the thing that is sort of most visible, but is actually not where the majority of care and especially where later care is being provided.

What Planned Parenthood primarily does is offer something called medication abortion or what I refer to as “pharmacologic abortion.” So what Planned Parenthood primarily does – 51% of their clinics only offer pharmacologic abortion. What we know, there’s research there’s published research on this, so this is not just anecdotal. There is published research that very often medication abortion is offered without adequate counseling, without adequate informed consent, without people really being told what to expect, without being told that it has higher complication rates. So the promotion of medication abortion in the United States has actually been part and parcel of losing access to later abortion care and losing access to high quality – what gets called “surgical,” but I prefer to call “instrumental” abortion care – which is the aspiration procedure that’s very quick. It’s in clinic. You walk into the clinic pregnant, you walk out of the clinic and you’re not pregnant anymore. Which is not the case with medication abortion. With medication abortion, you take two medications that induces a miscarriage, and that can go on with bleeding and cramping and other side effects, often for several weeks. And so these days, when people think of Planned Parenthood, they’re thinking of something that while visible, is actually not offering the majority of high quality safe abortion care, and especially is not where you’re going to get later care.

William – TFSR: Thank you for that framing. I was really influenced by having talks with you about Planned Parenthood and all of these distinctions between the different kinds of clinics that are out there. And I think that often in the anarchist imaginary, the response to the inaccessibility of clinics and sort of the corporate nature of Planned Parenthood itself is to employ at home or independent treatments. In your opinion, how can folks approach this topic? And how do you approach this topic? And how does it fit into the wider topic of clinic access?

Bayla: So, I want to acknowledge first of all, this is a tricky topic. And so I want to be very clear that as a feminist, as an abortion provider, as an anarchist, I absolutely support anyone listening to do whatever is best for them and their body. And I’m not here to tell anybody what to do. So if there’s somebody out there listening, who has done an at home abortion, has had a medication abortion… whatever you’ve done is great. I am super happy for anybody to do whatever is best for them in their body. And I’m not at all here to tell anybody that their experience wasn’t what it was. I have handed people the medications to do a medication abortion, I’ve been a provider for a medication abortion. I have been present for 1000s of instrumental abortions. I have assisted with all these different kinds of abortions. So what I’m speaking from is research. I’m also speaking from my experience as a provider. And I am speaking from talking with many people who’ve had both kinds of procedures. My focus in what I’m about to say, is about access for everyone. So thinking not just about one individual person making a decision, but about resources available to everyone.

The concern that I have about at home abortion, and in particular, when it gets framed as “self-managed abortion” is that if people begin to see that as a solution, whether it’s a solution to legal restrictions, which I know we’re going to talk about. Whatever it is that we see that as the solution to, in many ways that contributes to the problem that Planned Parenthood has already created, which is pressure on independent, full spectrum clinics that are providing later procedures. The pressure on them to close and the numbers of clinics that are closing. The more that we start to see medication abortion, which is what at home or “self-managed abortion” is the more that we start to see being by yourself taking pills, inducing a miscarriage, letting that pregnancy pass on your own. The more that we start to see that as the only option, then we are not fighting to keep clinics open. And this is the fear that I have.

There are still independent clinics. We still have independent clinics. There are clinics out there that are providing abortion all the way from as soon as you find out you’re pregnant, four weeks from your last mensuration, all the way up to whatever is considered the legal limit, which right now is 24 weeks and beyond. When I was talking before about clinics that provide care after 26 weeks, there are circumstances where you can get an abortion after 24 weeks, depending on different medical situations, depending on fetal death. There are situations where you can get a later procedure and you have to have somewhere to go to do that. And the more that people order pills off the internet, get a friend to get pills across the border somewhere. The more that we have that phenomenon going on and people see that as the answer. That is going to be the answer for some people. There are circumstances where that is a great option.

An example I cited when we talked before in situations of intimate partner violence, if it absolutely has to look like a miscarriage, I think that is one of the situations where I have counseled people and encourage them to consider medication abortion. If it needs to look like a miscarriage. There’s a lot of places in the world where there truly is no legal instrumental abortion available. There’s just not a clinic to go to. And so being able to get those folks pills is going to be a great option. I’ve talked to people who’ve had an instrumental abortion and they’ve had a home birth and they really know what the experience is like of going through a birth or miscarriage at home and they are 100% down to do that. I think there are situations where it’s fine. What I worry about is folks that have never been counseled on what it is actually going to be like, how long it’s going to take, the 5% chance that you’re going to have to have an instrumental abortion again afterward, because you have retained products of conception that you haven’t completely passed, the possibility that you’ll still be pregnant afterward…

I’ve had patients where they did a medication abortion at four or five weeks gestation. And then I see them at the clinic when they’re 17 or 18 weeks pregnant, because it didn’t work, and they didn’t realize it. And then they’re having a second trimester abortion, also. And so in particular, I worry about people who are having a medication abortion, because they have had medical trauma, which is a real thing. I’ve had a lot of people who when they come in for medication abortion, they say that the reason they want a medication abortion is because they want to avoid a pelvic exam, which is 100% real. I totally understand why people would not want to have a pelvic exam. But I really worry about the people that have a medication abortion, because they didn’t want to have a pelvic exam and then if that medication abortion doesn’t work, then they’ve gone through that entire process, and still are going to end up having to go through with an instrumental procedure, because you definitely can’t carry the term after a medication abortion.

So there’s all these things. And I know I’m saying a lot of things here. So let me try to back up and make a more coherent statement: My fear is that if we start to see at home “self managed abortion” as the solution, a couple of things will happen. It’ll be another reason that full spectrum clinics that provide later care won’t be able to stay open, because if a lot of people that otherwise might have gone to an independent clinic and are instead getting pills off the internet, and having an at home miscarriage… it’s a weird thing for me to say as an anarchist, but that’s losing business for clinics that we really, really need. We need independent clinics for the folks that can’t take pills and have a miscarriage at home. For somebody that isn’t just four or five weeks pregnant, for somebody that is beyond the first trimester. And that’s not an option for them.

So a little bit of this is thinking about everybody else and thinking if there’s an independent clinics that you can drive to, there’s an abortion fund available that you can call and they’ll pay for your procedure, they’ll help you get money for gas. If you can get to an independent clinic, and you can go there that is going to keep that clinic open for everyone else, for the person that’s further along, the person that can’t get those pills and take them at home because it’s not going to work.

I also just feel like there’s a lot of people who don’t know what it’s going to be like. I think there’s a little bit of language around it right now where it gets romanticize as this empowering thing that you can have this abortion by yourself on your own. I would love for people to also think about how empowering it can be to be in an independent clinic, where there’s somebody there with you, letting you know that, “this is what’s happening, do you want it to be this way or this way?” And you’re getting to make a lot of decisions about what that looks like. And also, there’s somebody there telling you “hey, that’s completely normal. This is okay, that amount of bleeding is normal. This is what you can expect to happen next.” As opposed to being at home where you may not know what to expect. You may not know how much bleeding is normal, you may not know how to recognize if there’s a complication. And so I think there’s this little bit of, I would say, even sort of neoliberal framing of saying self managed and the idea that Why is it only empowering if it’s something that you do by yourself?

Bursts – TFSR: Yeah, I think that’s really well put and I really appreciate the framing of using the term neoliberalism in there and how just how alienating that can be. And for you giving space to say that people should be able to access this how they want to. but as you say, if the infrastructure isn’t there to access, if somebody does want the counseling, does want the support and the in-person interaction, then we need to support that infrastructure existing.

Because you’ve brought up the terms “feminist clinic” and “independent clinic,” can you talk about the distinction between these, and why it’s an important line to draw? And also, just because I like really complicated questions… What’s the relevance of these models to keeping workers a part of the discourse of their safety in their work environment? How do these shape the clinic’s operations? And can you talk about the importance of leaving space for patients to decide what type of specific procedure or be supported coming out of the clinic environment with the decision to actually not get an abortion if that’s what’s right for them?

Bayla: Absolutely. And I feel incredibly privileged and lucky. I think my timing was just lucky that I happen to have gotten to work in both feminist and independent clinics. I want to be clear, too. Not all Planned Parenthood’s are the same. I think there actually happens to be a really good Planned Parenthood affiliate in Asheville. We’re lucky that way. And I think that’s because there have been now two clinic managers in a row there that have been really committed to having that clinic be different than other Planned Parenthood’s. And they’ve really invested in a lot of time and staff training and thinking a lot about how to run a truly patient-centered clinic. How to not have it be so focused on the business model. So, I also want to say Planned Parenthood as a corporation is what I have a problem with, not necessarily a specific individual, Planned Parenthood clinic or particular staff. And so also, if there’s people out there who’ve had a good experience out of Planned Parenthood, I’m so glad for you. I’m really glad for you. And if you have been to Planned Parenthood, where you feel like the staff treated you well, and you’ve had a good experience, and it was high quality care, let people know. Spread the word! Same thing, if you’ve been to an independent abortion clinic, and it wasn’t good, complain. Contact the management, also let your friends know about that.

So just because there are these kind of generalizations and terms that overall, in my experience as a researcher and working in clinics that broadly, I believe better care is provided at independent clinics and broadly, I believe that Planned Parenthood’s business practices are terrible and that broadly, I believe that Planned Parenthood as a corporation, is reducing the quality of reproductive health care… That doesn’t mean that someone individually hasn’t had a good experience, right? What these terms mean to me…

Feminist clinics: that was a very explicit movement. It was a very specific, intentional movement that started in the late 70s, through something that is sometimes referred to as the self health movement. HEALTH not self help, but self health. And there’s an excellent book about this by Sandra Morgan, it’s called Into Our Own Hands. And again, gendered language, it was called the women’s self help movement. But you know, folks weren’t thinking as much as they should have been about it. I will also say the first place that I ever learned anything about gender-affirming care, or transgender health, or really the first place I ever heard anything about trans anything was in a feminist clinic. Some of the first places I ever heard about, like, queer-affirming health care was at a feminist clinic. The feminist clinic that I worked at in the late 90s, there was something called the lesbian friendly provider list that was literally a Word doc with a list of providers that somebody could call us and be like “hey, I want to go to a provider that’s not going to be super homophobic. Who should I go to?” Then we would pull out this list and say “are you looking for primary care? What kind of care are you looking for?” And we vetted these providers to make sure they weren’t going to be homophobic.

So, feminist clinics came out of this movement in the 70s, where folks got really tired of not being believed about their bodies and not being trusted about their bodies. And having mostly cis men physicians, tell them that they were wrong or that they were crazy. And so a bunch of folks across the United States, there’s a few kind of like, well known names (Carol Downer was one of the founders of this movement) got together, and we’re like “we’re going to start our own clinics.” And they brought in physicians, and they basically treated the physicians as hired techs. So it was mostly women running their own clinics and being lay health workers. They called themselves lay health workers, they didn’t necessarily have any medical certifications, but they kind of learned everything they could about how bodies work. And they decided what were the things they needed physicians for and what were the things they didn’t need physicians for. And when they needed a physician, they told the physician “we’re in charge, you do what we tell you to. You are not the boss.” And they would bring in the the physicians as hired techs, really.

And so to me a major distinction of the feminist clinic is that it’s a different power relationship. It’s a different hierarchy. The physician doesn’t run the show, and the patient is in charge. I mean, I think that’s really what’s very different. And it feels different in a feminist clinic. The patient is always given a lot of options, the patient is told, sometimes, in too much detail, everything that’s going to happen and asked a lot of questions about it. I mean, that is one thing that looking back, what I’ve interviewed a bunch of my former co-workers who worked at feminist clinics in independent clinics, and one of the things that people have said, looking back is “Wow, we took up so much of people’s time. We assumed that everybody wanted to know everything about everything. And maybe one of the choices we could have given people is “do you want to know absolutely everything about everything? Or like how much information do you want.”” Because often would take hours to do just a pretty like basic appointment.

I think one of the tenants of the feminist clinic is that it might be what we now gets referred to as patient-centered, that now is a basic expectation in healthcare, but back then was pretty unusual. There didn’t used to be a lot of explaining of medications or procedures or what was going to happen. And so I think in the 70’s and 80’s, and even into the 90’s, to have a healthcare provider talk to a patient and say “This is what we think is going on. Here are the options for treatments. We could do this, we could do this, we could do this, here are the side effects, what would you prefer?” That was not typical. So that was feminist clinics, and there were many of them across the United States. And there was a whole Federation of them.

And another thing about the the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers, they didn’t just provide care, they also did a lot of advocacy. So they taught things like cervical self-exam. There was a slideshow that used to travel all over the United States showing people pictures of a whole bunch of different cervixes. The biggest diversity of people you can imagine to just kind of normalize different bodies and normalize people seeing their own cervix. I think it’s become very stereotypical thing in a lot of TV shows and movies about cervical self-exam, but that’s where it came from. And it also taught people a lot of alternatives to hormonal contraception. It taught people about kind of learning their own cycles, and alternatives to, especially for people of color that felt like there had been a lot of coercive sterilization, and coercive contraception, and perhaps were very leery of mainstream contraception, what were some alternative contraceptive practices that didn’t rely on hormones. A lot of that came out of feminist clinics. And I think of independent clinics in some ways as being kind of the offshoot of that. When the feminist clinic business model didn’t survive the 90’s, and largely didn’t survive because of the anti abortion violence. Because the costs of securing clinics against bombing and arson and attacks and killings of doctors, when it became so expensive to do everything that needed to be done to keep clinics safe, and feminist clinics kind of couldn’t stay open, many independent clinics were started by doctors who had been trained in feminist clinics.

So, independent clinic just means… it’s what it sounds like, it’s not a chain, or it’s a small number of clinics, maybe owned by the same person. But independent clinics more often tend to be either physician run, or managed by a smaller group of people. But it’s not. It’s not like Planned Parenthood, it’s not corporate. When is it independent and when is it a chain? Like, if you own more than a certain number of clinics are you still independent? But I guess partly I know it when I see it. I don’t know if that’s fair to say.

There’s something called the Abortion Care Network, which is the National Association of Independent Clinics. So I’m sure they have specific criteria by which they define independent, but I tend to think of independent clinics as there’s still a large degree of informed consent, patient decision making. It’s more about the quality of the care and not as much about the revenue that’s generated. It’s much more about the care that’s provided. That it’s full-spectrum, that includes second trimester. Often independent clinics also offer other care. Often independent clinics have gender-affirming care, often have other reproductive health services, some independent clinics also do prenatal care and sometimes they’ll also have like birthing services available.

Bursts – TFSR: Yeah, that’s all super helpful information. And I’m glad that you brought up the term informed-consent. That feels like a total game changer between some of the different models and how healthcare was administered to people, as opposed to the shift that people pushed really hard for the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s, for actually having a say in how medicine was practiced on their bodies.

So the area that we live in is really interesting, interesting is pretty terrible, in some ways. We may have pretty good administration of the local Planned Parenthood at the moment. But also in the 90’s this was an area that had Eric Rudolph, who bombed the Olympics in Atlanta, also had been conducting violence against clinics throughout this part of Appalachia, before finally being caught by authorities. That’s a story that can be told all across America, the violence that occurs by right-wing extremists against clinics, and as you said, against clinic doctors and employees, and just intimidating people on the way in. Not to say that there is not a difference between someone who actually engages the violence versus someone who intimidates but I think that’s a spectrum. Can you talk a little bit about what clinic defense to your understanding looks like right now either around here around the US and how it’s changed its appearance?

Bayla: Yeah. Thank you for that. And I have this very strong memory of…. If people know what a fax machine looks like, the faxes that would come in from the National Abortion Federation that were our security alerts of the clinic. I remember the fax that came through with the picture of Rudolph reminding us probably daily that he hadn’t been caught yet. That picture is very clear in my mind, letting us know that he was still on the loose. So it was very interesting to me when I moved here and realized how close I was to where he had been caught. And just these moments of my life that connected. I remember standing there in the clinic reception area, getting the faxes off the fax machine, looking for somebody’s insurance verification form being like oop… “there’s Rudolph again, he’s still on the loose.” Yeah, if that tells you anything about what it’s like to work in a clinic, you’re just kind of going about your daily patient care, and then also getting these constant reminders that there’s somebody out there that would try to kill you.

And that’s part of what motivated the project that I was speaking about before where I’ve been interviewing people that worked in feminist and independent clinics over a 30 year period about anti-abortion violence. And really the question I’ve been asking people is, “how do we do this? What is it like to go to work every day? How do you make sense of it?” That was really my question. “How did you, how did we make sense of this kind of constant threat of violence and harassment? And how did we keep doing this work? What was it that allowed us to continue doing this work, knowing that there were this constant waves of violence, constant threats, and knowing that there was always this potential for violence directed at us because of this work that we do?” And so that’s what I was really interested in. Because I sort of knew how I was doing it. But I didn’t know if that was the same for my co workers. And so this is a really interesting question. I think. Is it different? Has it changed? Or does it just kind of come in waves and sometimes it dies down sometimes spikes again. I don’t know that a lot does change. I think it’s just sometimes we pay more or less attention to it.

What I tend to think is that we pay less attention to the anti-abortion violence, when there’s more legislative attacks in the news. And then when there’s not as much of a legislative focus, then maybe there’s more energy to pay attention to the anti-abortion violence, I think there’s a lot more attention when there is an actual, you know, act of violence. And then we kind of get lulled into a false sense of security, when there hasn’t been a clinic attack for a little while. But I don’t I don’t know that actually has changed a lot. It’s been a little while since I’ve updated it, but I sort of have this timeline, going back to the 80’s of kind of some of the major attacks, and where, and when, and who. And it feels more like it’s just kind of this ongoing pattern that rises and falls and rises and falls.

One interesting thing, that it makes sense when you think about it, is that anti-abortion violence, the targets clinics, the waves tend to follow Democratic and Republican presidential administrations, so they tend to increase under a Democratic presidential administration in decrease under a Republican administration. The one exception to that is that anti abortion violence didn’t actually decline under Trump, which is not surprising. And so in terms of how we defend clinics, a lot of what happened, as I alluded to before, is that in the 80’s, and 90’fss, clinics had to spend a lot of money responding to these attacks. So you would hear of another clinic that was attacked in a particular way, it would make you realize a gap that you had in your security. So, an example that a lot of people mentioned to me in interviews was, there was a particular attack that made a lot of clinics realize that they didn’t have bulletproof glass around the reception area. And I think this was the attack in Boston where receptionist was killed. So that’s when a bunch of clinics were like “Oh shit, we have to have bulletproof glass on the reception area.” And so it was this very reactive thing. Okay, this thing happens, and someone is hurt in this way. And a bunch of other clinics realize “oh, well, we need to be prepared for that thing that we hadn’t thought about.” And so it was sort of this constant whack-a-mole.

Well, every time you’re having to spend a bunch of money on cameras, or fencing, or bulletproof glass or a buzzer system, or you decide that you need to have one of your staff people specifically checking IDs, that is suddenly resources that are being devoted to that piece of the work, to that kind of addressing staff and patient safety, that is money that you might otherwise have been spending on going out into the community and doing sexual and reproductive health education in a particular community that hadn’t had access to that that might have been money that you’d have been spending on having a fund to subsidize procedures for survivors of assault. It might have been money that you had been providing transportation grants for patients that were coming from further away. It might have been money that you had been paying your employees more or you might have been able to pay your employees more so you might have had less turnover. So you might have had staff that were less burnt out and more resilient. It might have been money that you could offer services other than just abortion, you might have been able to add gender-affirming care, right? So I think it’s kind of this calculus, especially for feminist clinics, where there was a point for some clinics where they’re like “We just can’t do this anymore. Like we’re having to think so much and spend so much money on security, that we’re not able to continue operating in the way that we want to and provide the care that we want to provide.”

And that was something that I heard a lot from people who’d been there kind of towards the end of a lot of feminist clinics was, it just felt unsustainable. Because we never knew what was going to be the next thing that would happen that would either be a direct attack on our clinic, or that would happen to someone else that meant we would have to then think about how we would prevent that happening to us. And we weren’t getting to provide care that we wanted. And I think this is also another way that for independent clinics, they never know where the next attack is going to come from, is it going to be anti-abortion violence? Is it going to be a legislative restriction? Is it going to be Planned Parenthood moving in down the street and starting to offer medication abortion, and then that full spectrum independent clinic can’t stay open. And so kind of never knowing what the next thing is going to be is another form of stress. Then at the same time, you have protesters outside harassing your patients, and so then every patient that walks in the door, you have to spend the first 10 minutes of their appointment deprogramming all the things that the protester just told them is going to happen to them in that appointment.

So what I’m saying altogether, is I don’t think clinic defense is necessarily different. I think every clinic having to figure out what are they dealing with in that exact moment, and it’s a lot of reaction, and that just becomes very exhausting. It can become very expensive, it’s very time consuming. What clinic’s defense might look like, wherever a person is at any given moment, it can vary in the moment, but I think the constant is that it just is incredibly time consuming and exhausting for clinic staff. It’s very hard to plan for. I know part of how we started talking about doing this interview is there has been an undercurrent locally of very, very well intended, radical folks wanting to support the local clinic when there had been an escalation in protest activity. And there was some talk of people wanting to show up and counter protest and I was chiming in saying “please don’t do that. That is actually very stressful for clinic staff. It often escalates things. That is what you don’t want to do”, because then that’s another unknown. That’s another “oh no, now we have to figure out what this is.”

In terms of clinics, events, the things that we know actually are helpful is something that is a very organized, coordinated escorting effort. In places where I’ve seen this work really well, it’s often a group that’s “Medical Students for Choice” in a place where there’s a medical school. It’s like a formal national organization called Medical Students for Choice. And one of the primary things that they do is advocate for medical school training and abortion practices. Then they’ll also go and escort at local clinics. They’ll organize medical students to escort. I’ve seen other places where there’s an organization approach was clergy. I kind of doubt we would get that here, but you never know. If people really are wanting to do something about anti-abortion protesters harassing a local clinic, the first thing to do would be to contact the clinic where you notice protesters and ask clinic leadership what they would like in terms of support, ask them if they are interested in having escorts, ask them if there’s any kind of existing organization that is coordinating that. Think about whether there’s an existing local organization that you could work with, but definitely don’t just show up because then you’re kind of one more unanticipated entity, one more wildcard that the clinic is having to figure out “who are you,” otherwise, it can just kind of escalate things. I can think of plenty of other things that people can do that might be helpful.

One of the hardest things, every clinic I’ve ever worked at as a staff person, is figuring out where to park. You don’t want to park at the clinic, because then the protesters are gonna see your license plates, they’re gonna see you coming and going every day. If they get your license plate, they can get your home address. So we were constantly trying to figure out somewhere nearby that we could park and walk to the clinic that was a short enough distance that we weren’t leaving ourselves vulnerable for a long time walking back and forth, but where our car was kind of out of sight. So honestly, if you live near a clinic that’s getting a lot of protests activity, if you’ve got a spot where clinic workers could park next to your house, in your driveway, somewhere that’s less visible to the protesters but near the clinic, that would be something to offer the clinic. And then beyond that, one simple thing that people can absolutely do, if they’re in an economic situation to do it is to donate to abortion funds. Because you have to assume that any independent clinic near you is having to put a lot of money into security. And that means they aren’t able to discount procedures for people that absolutely need to come for care but can’t afford it. So the more that you can support abortion funds that can offset some of the money that clinics are having to spend on security.

William – TFSR: Thank you so much for going into how people can support or engaged this issue. We did have a question that was a follow up to what you were talking about about clinic defense but I think that you answered that question really well and we’ll post those suggestions in the show notes too.

Is there anything to say about… well maybe not… when you were talking me and Bursts we’re going back and forth in notes to each other about how reproductive issues are being hyper focused on by the burgeoning modern fascist formations. It’s easy to inflate how much influence those formations have, but they do tend to dovetail somewhat with the religious far-right. And also there was that Patriot Front leaked audio that they were going to show up at the anti abortion march in Chicago yesterday and next week in DC. And also there was recently a fire at a clinic in Knoxville that I don’t know if they ruled as arson, but do you have anything to say about how the focus on anti-choice, forced-birthers or whatever, how that is changing right now given current political context? And it’s okay if not.

Bayla: No, I appreciate that. Thank you. Yeah. I’m glad that you mentioned Knoxville, because I’d meant to bring that up. And I forgot that. I think it has been determined that it was. I don’t know if it’s been determined arson, but I think it was determined that it was not accidental. It seems like it was it was a fire that was set. And that is a clinic that’s been a target of a lot of harassment for years. I was trying to think back. I know there was some point in the past few years, around the same time that there had also been a lot of harassment here locally at Firestorm… I’m losing track of years because of COVID. But it feels like it was maybe late 2019, or that summer that there had been a lot of Proud Boys that were showing up in Asheville, and there seemed to be some link between some of the Proud Boys and then some other militia groups. Some specific Christian militia group that had been seen in both Asheville and Knoxville. And there was some thought that that had been part of who had been harassing that same clinic previously.

So, I do think there’s something to this. But there’s also a long history of this, right? Like a very, very, very long history. Like if we want to go way back. Part of the Third Reich was they had awards that were given to Aryan women that had more than a certain number of children. There was a specific emphasis and monetary award for German women who had more than a certain number of children, I forget how many. But this is in the same era, as the very sort of earliest days of the Holocaust was this rewarding the right kind of childbearing. And then if we go back, not as far, some of the largest, most violent anti-abortion organizations in the 90s were things like “the Army of God,” where people were showing up at huge anti abortion protests with all of their children and people with many, many, many children would put all of their very young kids in the very front lines of these anti-abortion protests, and have small children standing in front of law enforcement vehicles and stuff.

Again, we can talk all day long about how we feel about law enforcement being involved in clinic defense, which is a thing I have complicated feelings about. But you know, this is not a new thing for the sort of… I don’t even know what you call them, but the kind of Christian fundamentalist pro birth people to be anti abortion, and to have that kind of link up with the scary, violent militia element. I don’t have a really well articulated analysis of where the ideology lines up, other than it meets in some pretty obvious misogynistic, white supremacist, not wanting to be outnumbered, wanting the right kind of people to have more babies sort of rhetoric.

We can think of things like the Quiverfull movement. There’s a very far right Christian fundamentalists who think that it is a sin to have an opportunity for pregnancy that does not result in pregnancy. So I’m sure there’s something there. I don’t know of it specifically, but it would not surprise me if there’s some links being made.

Bursts – TFSR: Yeah, and I think that group that you were thinking about in the Knoxville area is the Legion of St. Ambrose, which is a Romanian Orthodox influenced far-right group that kind of splintered off of the Traditionalist Workers Party that was based in eastern Tennessee for a bit. And yeah, this is generationally, even from back in the 70’s or 80’s, when David Lane of the white nationalist terrorist group The Order coined those “14 words.” It’s about territory. And it’s about… I’m not gonna repeat them… But it’s about gaining territory, that the sovereignty is in the hands, specifically of white folks, and reproducing, more and more white folks. A thing that’s been getting more traction throughout the global far-right has been this idea of the great replacement. Which is a French New Right idea that’s been influencing all sorts of groups from Atomwaffen and The Base and League of the South. It’s all across there.

Yeah. Anyway, reproductive feature-ism. It’s all freaky, I don’t know…

Bayla: And it fits in really well with all the very anti immigrant stuff, too. I always think about what are the parallels in Catalunya and in Europe, generally. And this is Vox’s whole thing, right? This is another conversation I would love to have another day is how the terms Fascist and Neofascist are very relative, depending on where you are, because people try to refer to Vox as Neofascist, and I’m like “no, they’re just Fascists.” I don’t know why you bother with Neo in front of that. But Vox is this extremely far right party in Spain that’s been gaining in popularity. They’re incredibly anti-immigrant. People that are at Vox rallies will be doing the full on Fascist salute. They’re wandering around in Falangist outfits and have the old Falangist flag. There’s some wild stuff there. They’re very into Franco, and they hang out with the old school pro-Franco folks. And they’re super anti immigrant, and also very anti-abortion. They’ve been trying to get the law that liberalized abortion access overturned. And they’re working closely with the traditional far right party to do that. Nothing ever stays within borders. We often think that these trends are specific only to one country, or to one continent, or whatever, and really should probably be paying more attention to trends globally.

Bursts – TFSR: Thank you for that on-the-spot question.

So, the last 50 years has seen the growing of a strange amalgam of the religious far right, which we’ve been speaking about, in particular in the so-called US formulating of a culture war against a gambit of other issues including: sexuality, bodily autonomy and gender parity. That right wing movement has heaved huge amounts of money and political power to stymie access to reproductive choice through local state and federal law, to reverse Roe v. Wade, or disentangle access to abortion or birth control, even from international humanitarian aid that the US provides. Can you talk about the impact of things like clinics zonings law, heartbeat bills, trigger laws, and the stacking of the Supreme Court. All these like legal issues that feel well beyond the scope of in some ways, a direct action approach towards things? How might an anarchist approach to these issues look?

Bayla: That’s such a hard question. I’m struggling with this. Because when y’all first reached out about this, it was in the midst of some of the Supreme Court stuff that was going on. And I was like “I don’t want to talk about the legal stuff.” Because this is hard for me, right? So much of my work has been about access in places where there aren’t legal restrictions. I’ve been doing research in two settings where there were basically no legal restrictions and where abortion was paid for in a public health system or the equivalent thereof.

I did research in Oregon, where Oregon is one of… I’m not going to get the number right now, but at the time it was one of 36 states where the state Medicaid program covered abortion. And there were no legal restrictions. There was no waiting period, there was no counseling, there’s no nothing. If you could get to a clinic, you could get an abortion. And in Catalunya, the law had just been liberalized. So, it was much more accessible, it was legal under many more circumstances. And it had just been included in the public health system. I was doing research into different settings where it was as easy as it should be, as it could be and yet, I still documented a lot of obstacles and people having to wait long periods of time and make a bunch of different visits to social services offices to get the paperwork that would get that public funding.

And so, it’s very hard for me sometimes. A lot of the conversation around abortion is about legal restrictions. And then I stepped back and I think there’s a lot of times where legal kind of doesn’t matter. Legal doesn’t matter if it’s not accessible. Then also, sometimes access doesn’t matter if it’s going to take a long time, right? Especially if you’re somewhere where the legal restriction is about how far along you are. As an anarchist, it’s funny to me to spend time thinking about legal restrictions, when it’s so much about the practicality and I don’t know what the answer is practically, if it isn’t “self managed at home abortion.” Because what I want to do is say “we’ll just open our own clinics.” Because I know that clinics are what we need. I know that what we need is a place where people can get full spectrum abortion, including in the second trimester. I know we can’t give up clinics, and I don’t know what it looks like to have our own clinics, and to maintain high quality full spectrum abortion outside of a legal framework, and without the state interfering. This is a constant point of confusion for me. So, I don’t have like a clear or good answer.

I do know that everywhere I’ve ever worked with people in an abortion setting. We’ve talked a lot about wanting to open our own clinic. That’s an ongoing conversation that I have with people all the time, “How are we gonna open our own clinic? If Roe falls, how do we open our own clinic? What does that look like?” And I don’t know the answer. I think it is important for people to keep in mind that if the Supreme Court decision goes the way that people are afraid it will and the way it looks like it will there still going to be 24 states that will protect abortion rights, at least for now at the state level. And then it’ll be even more important, then, to protect abortion rights in those states and not let them be further undermined, either legally or practically. Then it’ll be even more important to keep those clinics open in whatever way that looks like. By defending those clinics physically. By not letting them go out of business by having a whole bunch of Planned Parenthood’s offering medication abortion down the street. But I think we’ve lost a lot of ground by focusing just on legal rights for so long. I don’t know what the answer to that is. Because it’s really hard in this country, when most of us have not had an experience of being somewhere that has a different political system to imagine what that would look like. Right?

William – TFSR: Yeah, indeed. I think that’s such an important perspective, though. Hyper focusing on legality… I think you don’t really have to look very far to see legal structures which don’t really serve anyone, because you can’t put them into practice, because it just materially doesn’t work that way often.

I did want to talk about this sort of cultural shift that’s been happening, or that we’ve located within the last little while, and I do want to give a **content warning**, I’m going to be just mentioning the unfortunate realities of rape and incest in this in this question.

Would you speak on the shift, which has occurred from sort of the goal being so called Free and Legal access 100% of the time, to quote, access only after certain processes, such as counseling, or after certain circumstances, such as rape or incest? What is happening here? And what does it mean in the context of access and how we as a culture are thinking about abortion?

Bayla: Thank you. Yeah, that’s super important. What is happening here? I think part of what’s happening here is, again, having lost a lot of ground by focusing on the kind of chipping away at access. It feels like there’s been this very gradual giving up ground by buying into a hope that “well, if we let them get this, then we can keep this.” So the calculus of “well the waiting period is maybe the necessary evil to still be able to have abortion be legal, maybe this counseling thing is the necessary evil” and sort of not seeing the encroachment that is happening over time. I don’t want to second guess, in any given state, in any given legislative fight, in each of these moments, I am sure that people were fighting really hard to not have to let that happen and that at the end of the day in whatever backroom, whatever lobbying was happening, whatever calculating the likely votes, that in that moment, it felt like that was what had to happen and the alternative was that there would be no legal abortion at all. And that’s really hard to say. I wasn’t there. It’s really hard for me to make that call of “Would it be better to have legal abortion with all of these contingencies and all these hoops? Or to have stood ground and been willing to give up legal abortion and then figure out what we do without it being legal and the thing we keep putting off.”

But I think you’re absolutely right, that we’ve now backed ourselves into a corner like there’s so many places where there’s so many hoops to jump through. And there’s so much that has to be done. That it’s effectively as though were not legal because it’s not accessible. And so it kind of doesn’t matter. These things that people have to go through. And I think that that’s done a larger thing, which is to reinforce so much abortion stigma that now people who are getting an abortion, believe that they’re doing something that’s wrong. There’s so much internalized abortion stigma. Abortion stigma has become so culturally normalized. Because the way that it’s talked about in the media, the way that it’s covered in the news, so much of what happens, makes it appear as though you have to be having the right kind of abortion, for one. So there’s this sense that the only persons that are okay, are the ones that meet all these criteria. There’s the idea that you have to tell the right kind of story to get an abortion. And I think in particular, some of what happens is that when people have to go through this mandated counseling, that almost always consists of completely inaccurate, biased information. When people are forced to see an ultrasound, obviously, that is reinforcing all kinds of ideas about “fetal personhood.” What someone then has to go through to get that abortion by the time they’re actually getting that abortion, rather than it reinforcing an idea of autonomy or empowerment, it is many times probably just reinforcing a lot of internalized stigma.

And so I wonder, if we now have a generation or a couple generations of people who were able to get an abortion. Most people in the United States that are able to get pregnant will have at least one abortion in their lifetime. That has been true since at least the 70’s. For as long as we’ve been keeping abortion statistics. Every clinic that performs abortions, has to report abortion statistics every year. And so we know at least since 1973, that everyone in the United States who’s able to get pregnant has at least one abortion in their lifetime. And half of those people have more than one. Those numbers have not changed. Those numbers are really not changing.

What I think probably is changing is how people feel about that experience. I want to be clear, I’m like not quoting research right now. I’m going completely off the cuff. And I don’t want to say that people regret their abortion, there’s very clear research on that. The primary feeling that people feel after an abortion, 99% of the time is relief. The small percentage of people that feel anything other than relief, it’s largely because they were either dealing with a ton of harassment from a partner or family member or protesters. So most the time when people feel something other than relief, it’s because they were not supported in their decision. But I do wonder if the experience of what people have to go through to get the abortion changes what that experience is like. Where we may have had a generation soon after Roe, where it felt more empowering, where it felt like “Oh, I’m able to do this thing. Now it’s legal. Now it’s a choice.” Which is also problematic, I’m saying choice in quotes. If it’s something I can do now, and I have the ability to do it, and I wonder now if you’re somebody that’s having to go to the clinic three different times, you’re having to go through mandatory counseling, you’re having to look at the ultrasound, you’re having to be told all these things that are not true.

I have not worked in a clinic where I’ve had to put someone through that, because I’ve only worked in settings where there aren’t all those restrictions. But I know what it’s like to sit with someone do informed consent for them to have the opportunity to make a lot of decisions for them to tell me what they want certain things to be like, to be able to tell them what’s going to happen. And to see the look on someone’s face when the experience is not as bad as they thought it was going to be. When they assume that it’s going to be awful and then they say to me at the moment they’re leaving “Wow, that was way better than I thought it was going to be. I actually feel pretty good about this.” And then I’m imagining what it would be like to have to put someone through all of these things that happen in a lot of states. And I wouldn’t want to have to put a patient through that. And I can’t imagine that it makes it a very positive experience.

So I do think we’ve given up a lot of ground. And again, like the last question, I don’t know what the answer to that is. And it feels like that’s something that isn’t just coming from the right it feels like some of that is the responsibility of a liberal, left giving up ground and and bear with me because I’m thinking this through out loud. It feels a little bit like gay marriage. It feels a little bit like taking what we can get that’s like the lowest common denominator, instead of actually fighting for what everybody needs and deserves. We still have legal abortion, but for who? And who actually is able to access it? And who benefits from it? People were so excited about gay marriage, but who did it primarily benefit? White gay cis men. There’s a lot of people for whom that doesn’t do as much good. I think there’s some interesting economic parallels of like, who do you have to be to be able to jump through all those hoops and actually benefit from legal abortion in the state that still has a ton of restrictions?

Bursts – TFSR: Yeah, and maybe to unpack just a tiny bit. I know critiques about the push for gay marriage, such as the publishing project Against Equality was making was that a lot of people are making the argument that “look if we have gay marriage, we can have access to visitation rights for people that we care about. We can have easier access to children that we are co parenting that are not maybe our biological own, but our partner’s, or access to a means for citizenship, or better being able to share money and pass on money after we pass, or to make medical decisions about the person we care about.” And yeah, gay marriage doesn’t answer those things or share health care access that somebody has in their job, that the HMOs offer to spouses. Sure that works if you are someone who has a job that gives you access to health care that can be shared with your family members. But for everyone else, that doesn’t help with immigration issues, it doesn’t help with access to health care, and these other things. Is that right, what you’re pointing to?

Bayla: Yeah, and I think actually that helps me draw a clearer conclusion than I even had before, which is great. So gay marriage does that, why can’t everyone have that without gay marriage? That shouldn’t be something that is reliant on marriage. Why can’t everyone have those things? And I think that’s part of what I’m thinking too about abortion is if the only way that someone can get an abortion is by going through all of these hoops. Is that really the kind of abortion that we want to have be legal? And I’m not saying that I would prefer illegal abortion. Let me be very clear. I’m not saying I’d rather that it not be legal so that we have to figure out what to do, because I still don’t have an answer to that. But I think it is really troubling. If we keep giving up more and more ground, and we keep… Again, this is not a perfect parallel, but if the only way that you can decide who visits you in the hospital is by being married, is that what we want? And if the only way someone can get an abortion is by having to jump through all of these hoops of waiting periods, and mandatory counseling, a mandatory ultrasound, I should say mandatory viewing of ultrasound. So that’s another way that that’s twisted as though we don’t do an ultrasound otherwise. But we’re sort of allowing there to be an idea that you can only have something in a certain way rather than demanding that everyone have access to it, no matter what.

Bursts – TFSR: And also, just to add in, I really appreciate the fact when you can say “I don’t have an answer to this.” Because you’re doing so much to enrich my personal knowledge on this, and you’re making really interesting arguments and bringing up really interesting things that I think is super fruitful. So I just want to say on record that not having the answer is a great thing to be able to say. It’s complex.

One thing that we were talking about the impacts that shame has on people and the experience that they have out of getting an abortion and maybe if they have feels about it afterwards and and having to jump through the hoops. There’s a concept, I think it’s called “syndemics” that talks about the actual biological effects in addition to or in connection to the psychological impacts of having to go through stressful situations, such as jumping through a bunch of hoops, being overly scrutinized, having to face people going through the door of a clinic, pelting you with stuff or yelling terrible things at you or whatever. Can you talk a bit about the sort of biological outcome of the social state that people who want to get an abortion, what they’re put through?

Bayla: Yeah, this might take a minute because it is part of a larger theoretical framework that was developed by my doctoral advisor and mentor, and continuing co author and friend, and then I extended upon it with another colleague. So I all kind of want to back up and like define the framework and then talk more about it. And for folks listening, this is also probably going to be the most sort of researchy part of this. So if you’re not into explanations of biological interactions caused by structural conditions you can can fast forward. But what you’re referring to is some work that I shared with y’all on abortion stigma syndemics. So syndemics, broadly, is a theoretical framework developed by Merrill Singer, who’s a critical medical anthropologist. And he’s founded several theoretical frameworks going back to the 80’s that are explicitly Marxist. He was well known for developing theoretical approaches within medical anthropology that explicitly examine power relationships within healthcare, and that affect health through power inequality. So within that, he developed a concept in the late 80’s, or early 90’s, called syndemics, which is it’s a blend of the words “synergy” and “epidemic.” He framed this to give us a way to look at times when multiple diseases or biological conditions interact in a way that makes both worse. And that that is caused by a structural or social condition.

And generally, those occur in circumstances of inequality, as you can imagine. There have been hundreds that have been identified. This is now a huge body of work in anthropology and public health and other fields. It’s complex and it’s not always done accurately. I would say that there’s a lot of things out there that are referred to as syndemics that actually don’t meet the definition. There’s some examples on the CDC website, because they’re so good at everything lately… But this particular syndemic, I’ve worked with him quite a bit in this area. And this particular one is one that I identified with my colleague, Roula AbiSamra, who’s in Atlanta, and actually does excellent work with an abortion fund there. I’ll make sure to share the website with y’all.

Roula and I both worked in abortion clinics for a long time. And she also worked with the National Abortion Federation for a while. And so she and I were talking a lot over the years, it’s been decades now, about abortion stigma and some of the effects that it has that we had noticed. Then we started talking about why some people do or don’t come back for follow up care. Many clinics will encourage everyone to come back for a follow up appointment, or people can come back for a follow up appointment if they’re concerned that they have any complications or anything that’s not resolving. This, to me, is one of the hallmarks of a feminist or independent clinic is telling people here are all the things you can expect “this is what would be a normal amount of bleeding or cramping after a procedure. If it lasts longer than this amount of time, or if it’s more than this amount, if we would like you to call us. This is when it would probably be a good idea to come back…” And then essentially trusting the person to know their body enough to know whether or not they feel like they want or need to come back.

So one of the things that Roula and I talked a lot about was like what seems to determine when somebody is pretty clearly having a complication that is outside the range of what we have indicated would be typical, and when they do or don’t come back. And it was very clear to us that stigma had a lot to do with that. So for example, somebody who had not gotten a lot of support, or had actively been being pressured by a partner or friends or family beforehand, somebody had not wanted them to have the abortion, we were noticing a trend in our clinics and with our patients that if somebody hadn’t gotten enough support for their decision in the first place, it seemed like they were less likely to come back for follow up if they were having complications. And then some other things that we would notice is if there were a lot of protesters and someone had had to walk by a ton of protesters the first time they came in… are you gonna want to go through that again to come back for follow up? Maybe, maybe not.

And the way that that fits into a syndemic, what we started thinking through is: for something to be a syndemic, there has to be at least two biological factors that are interacting in some way. And that has to be occurring because of a larger structural condition. And so where we propose this as an abortion stigmas syndemic is that I was working with Merrill Singer and another colleague. Cher Lerman and I, we were putting together a collection of chapters about different stigma caused syndemics, basically different disease interactions that were caused by stigma as the structural condition. And so I went to Roula and I said, “Hey, do you want to dig deeper into this? Let’s think about what are some ways that there are biological interactions that are caused by abortion stigma?”

And the first thing we had to reckon with was: is pregnancy itself a disease? It’s not, right? Feminist scholars have fought for a long time to de-pathologize pregnancy and to say that pregnancy in and of itself is not a disease. And so we had to first kind of like revise the definition of syndemics a little bit and say “it doesn’t just have to be a disease it can be a biological condition.” So we can talk about how pregnancy as a biological condition, interacts with possible abortion complications. Which also want to say from the get go are very rare. Abortion when performed in a safe setting, when it’s high quality care is extremely safe. Complications are very rare. But when they do occur, the types of complications that are most common are: an infection which is easily treated with antibiotics. or continue bleeding. Typical and I should probably have done a content warning for talking about abortion complications and bleeding. So if you’re squeamish, this is maybe also not for you.

But pretty typically after a high quality, safe abortion, it would be pretty typical to have some cramping and bleeding. Cramping for a couple days, and typically bleeding similar to a menstrual cycle for a week or two weeks, depending on how far along you were. But more than that would be not very typical. And that, again, is speaking about instrumental abortion. Medication abortion is a totally different story. People tend to have much more cramping and bleeding for a pretty long time and it’s much harder to give people an idea of what’s normal, because it varies a lot. But I’m talking specifically about instrumental abortion.

So we started talking about what are the specific interactions between pregnancy and any of these complications that we think are caused by abortion stigma. And what we started realizing is that there’s something specific that happens to pregnancy because of abortion stigma that the pregnancy itself becomes pathologized. That’s kind of the first piece of this. In the context of abortion stigma, even the pregnancy itself is pathologized. That unplanned or ill timed or unintended pregnancy itself, from the get go is already pathologized. So somebody who might otherwise go to the emergency room for care, for example, or go to their regular doctor for care. Often, people who’ve had an abortion, don’t ever tell their primary care doctor that they had an abortion. They’re not going to seek care in regular circumstances. They’re not going to go the places they would normally go for care, because there’s such pervasive abortion stigma in our culture and in society, that they don’t want anyone to know that they had an abortion. And so if someone is having abortion complications, if they’re in that very rare category, where they have continued bleeding, or they have an infection, or something is going on., they’re much less likely to seek care in the usual venues. So in that way, that complication might get worse, or it might not resolve, they might not be able to get the care that they need, because the pregnancy itself has already been pathologized by the stigma. That’s one of the ways that this works.

Another way that it can work is abortion stigma itself can mean that people are further along by the time they get care, because it can take longer for them to figure out where to go because information about where to go is not easily available. Like we talked about before, there are fewer clinics that offer later care, so it can take longer to raise money for transportation to get there, you have to take time off work, you have to figure out childcare. So because of abortion stigma, somebody might be further along, and they’re going to be fewer places for them to go and though the risk of complications is very low, it does increase in later weeks of pregnancy. And so someone is slightly more likely to have complications in a second trimester procedure. There’s this catch 22, where, because of stigma, you’re more likely to be further along, because of stigma, you’re more likely to then need a procedure that has a slightly higher risk of complications. And so in that way, also, there’s this interaction between the gestation of pregnancy and the risk of complications.

And then finally, another way that this works… what I’m speaking from here is a whole chapter that we wrote about this that’s a 30 page long chapter where we walk people through kind of each of these dynamics. Another way that this operates, is kind of specifically what I’ve been talking about what this Planned Parenthood phenomenon where, in some ways abortion stigma has contributed, I think a little bit to this promotion of medication abortion, to the exclusion of instrumental abortion, because of the idea that medication abortion is something you can do privately by yourself, no one will know. So then you’re doing something because you think it can be made more concealable, fewer people, maybe will find out, nobody will see you walking into the clinic, but then you’re also doing a procedure that has a higher risk of complications. And then if you need follow up care, it might be harder to find somewhere to go because more clinics are closing, because of the emphasis on medication abortion. So I know that’s complicated, and I’m happy to explain more about it. But it’s also this very specific kind of academic description of something. So I’m happy to talk more about it, but we also don’t have to.

William – TFSR: Thank you so much for going into it. Super, super fascinating work and I am really stoked personally just to read more about it and understand it further because it’s just such an undeniable fact that these things have such a profound impact on people’s bodies, people’s minds, which is a part of their body and all of that stuff.

Those are all the the like pre-scripted questions that we had. And I really just want to thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to speak with us about this topic. Can you tell folks how they can read your writing? Are there any resources you would recommend for further reading and research? And are there any projects or networks you would recommend folks getting involved in?

Bayla: Totally, thank you. Yeah, this has been super fun. This is not an area of my work that I have gotten to talk about as much lately, so I really enjoyed it. I’m kind of doing other work here and so I always love the opportunity to come back into this part of my work. I’ll start with the resources and other things that I’d recommend related to this. And then I think, as far as my work, we can talk more about that I don’t know what your capabilities are of how much you can post or share things. There are things I can share that you could just directly post and then otherwise, some of it is on websites that are not entirely accessible, because they’re academic types of sites. But I can also probably make some things more accessible that are the specific pieces of work I talked about here.

The sites that I would recommend are the Abortion Care Network. Absolutely. It’s just AbortionCareNetwork.org. That’s the National Association of Independent Clinics. And that’s where they have a lot of information of what I was describing about the role of independent clinics, how much and what type of care they provide, and how threatened they are, how many clinics have been closing. It’s kind of like a good reality check, and a good picture of the actual landscape of care and full spectrum care in the United States. Another site that I recommend is AbortionFunds.org. Just practically speaking, in terms of if you or anyone you know is looking to get an abortion now or at any point in the future, that’s a great resource for finding funding. And I should back up and say Abortion Care Network also has a listing of all of their clinics. So if you need to find a clinic, Abortion Care Network is a great resource. I mentioned Sister Song before their website is SisterSong.net. They’re fantastic. And then locally for people that are listening in North Carolina or this part of the country. We have the Carolina Abortion Fund, which is our specific local fund, and that’s just CarolinaAbortionFund.org And then kind of more regionally, there’s the Access Reproductive Care Southeast Fund, which does not include North Carolina, but I think it’s South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and I might be forgetting another state. But that is a fund that the person I was just speaking about, Roula AbiSamra, who co-wrote the chapter on abortion stigmas syndemics with me. She co-founded that fund and does a lot of work with them. They’re fantastic. And their website is ARC-southeast.org.

And then otherwise, I have links that I can share for y’all to put in the show notes. There’s a summary from the Guttmacher foundation – that is an assessment of what would happen in different states if Roe falls. With the caveat that the Guttmacher Institute has excellent and very accessible summaries of different research on abortion and sexual and reproductive health but their employment practices are garbage as an organization, they’re very problematic. I’ll share a link, kind of an exposé of what’s been going on with their toxic work culture for a long time. So I feel very complicated about recommending them. They’re an important resource for information, but they are treating a lot of workers there very badly. So I never quite know what to do with that. And then I can also share links for the website where I have those quotes about Reproductive Justice, and also link for the book that I mentioned about the history of the self health movement.

And then I’d also say in general avoid just Googling abortion because most of what is on the internet is bad and stigmatizing and inaccurate and scary. Like when I was talking before about having to deprogram patients from things that protesters say… the other thing that happens a lot is people coming into the clinic have been googling. If this does not illustrate what people go through to get an abortion, I cannot tell you how many patients I’ve had who I am literally doing their intake for them to have an abortion and then they asked me questions that are like, “so is it true that…” and then they say something that they’ve read on the internet that they believe is going to happen to them that has permanent lasting effects. And they think it’s going to happen to them and they’re there in the clinic anyway. Luckily they asked and so I have the opportunity to debunk it and say “absolutely not.” We would never do that to you. That this is not going to have that permanent effect and then I can give them the accurate information. But the amount of stuff on the internet about abortion that’s just not true and super horrifying. I encourage people, just don’t even go down that road. I think that answered that question.

Bursts – TFSR: Yeah, very well. And we can host files, either between our archive.org account or on the website, depending on the size. Are there any topics that we missed, which you wanted to cover just in closing?

Bayla: I think this was great. No, this was great. Thank you so much. Awesome

Bursts – TFSR: Bay, thank you so much for having this conversation and all the work that you do. I think is going to be a really good resource for folks.

William – TFSR: I have such a deep appreciation for you taking the time and for you doing the work that you do on such a culturally sensitive topic, and I want to recognize that and thank you so much.

Eric Stanley on “Structuring Antagonism and the Trans/Queer Ungovernable”

Eric Stanley on “Structuring Antagonism and the Trans/Queer Ungovernable”

Book cover of "Atmospheres of Violence" by Eric Stanley featuring a photo of pier-tops sticking out of water with a hazy city in the distance
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This week, Scott spoke with Eric A Stanley about their new book, Atmospheres of Violence: Structuring Antagonism and the Trans/Queer Ungovernable, which was just published by Duke University Press. Eric A. Stanley is an associate professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. In collaboration with Chris Vargas, they directed the films Homotopia (2006) and Criminal Queers (2019). Eric is also an editor, along with Tourmaline and Johanna Burton, of Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility (MIT Press 2017) and with Nat Smith, Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex (AK Press, 2015/11).

In this chat, they talk about racialized violence against trans/queer people as a foundational part of the modern US state; trace this in the formation of the US settler state and how it persists today. They also discuss the improvised ways trans and queer people learn and share survival tactics and thrive under these condition in order to envision a new world.

Announcements

Dan Baker Has Been Transferred

Anarchist and antifascist prisoner, Daniel Baker, who was convicted of transmitting threats while calling for anti-racists to show up in Tallahassee and stop a possible Trumpist coup received 44 months in prison and 3 years of probation. His legal defense is appealing and we’ll be re-airing an interview with his support crew soon. Meanwhile, there’s a great article by Natasha Leonard in The Intercept on the outcome of the case and we wanted to let you know that Dan has been transferred to FCI Memphis.

You can write him and send him books at:

Daniel Baker #25765-509
FCI Memphis
P.O, Box 34550
Memphis, TN 38184
United States

Note that he cannot receive photos or colored envelopes. You can find his book list plus a bunch of other info by visiting PrisonerSolidarity.Com and searching his name, alongside a bunch of other political prisoners of the so-called US & elsewhere.

Blue Ridge ABC Letter Writing

A snowy Appalachian forest announcing December 5th prisoner letter writing If you’re in the asheville area, just a reminder that Blue Ridge ABC will be hosting a letter writing at West Asheville Park on the 1st Sunday of December, only THIS time it’s from 3-5pm to handle the available natural light.

B(A)D News Episode 50

If you’re looking for more anarchist perspectives, check out episode 50 of the A-Radio Network’s BAD News: Angry Voices From Around The World. This November 2021 episode of our monthly offering features a shortened version of our talk with ASP, updates from Frequenz-A in northern Germany about the situation on the Belarusian and Polish border, Elephant In The Room from Dresden with updates on repression and resistance in Belarus, A-Radio Berlin sharing on the racist police killing of the migrant Giorgos Zantiotis in a Wuppertal jail cell and resulting protests and Crna Luknja from Lubjlana talking about the refugee situation in the Western Balkans.

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Featured Tracks:

  • Dicks Hate The Police by Dicks from Kill From The Heart
  • Riot (prod by Gobby) by Mykki Blanco from Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss

. … . ..

Transcription

Eric Stanley: My name is Eric Stanley. I use they/them pronouns. I live, work, and organize and in various capacities and San Francisco, California.

TFSR: I’m super excited to get to talk to you. And specifically we’re talking about your recently published book Atmospheres of Violence. And before getting into the argument specifically, I just wanted to acknowledge and appreciate that you publish a book with an academic press, Duke University Press, that’s very explicitly anti-state and anarchistic aligned, and that find unique, remarkable, exciting. So I was just wondering if you wanted to talk at all about your experience as someone working within academia taking an anti-state position, because I’ve had a lot of push-back. I’ve been in and out of universities, and it’s not always a very safe place to be explicitly radical, or there’s a limited amount of symbolic radicalism that you can do. So I just was wondering if you had any ideas on how you take that position up.

ES: I mean, that’s a really interesting question, one that people usually don’t ask me. So it made me think a lot. So as you might know, I published my first book that I edited Capture Genders on AK Press. So I’ve worked with them a lot over the years. And I published this one on Duke, because you know, one of the little secrets about having an academic job, if you don’t publish on an academic press, you get fired. And then you can never work in the University of California system for the rest of your life. So there’s that part of it, the materiality of you know, this is what you have to do. But that being said, my editor at Duke, Elizabeth Ault has been incredibly supportive since the beginning of the project. There’s never been any push-back from her. And I feel like she’s done a really good job protecting the project in terms of my vision and my politics and my theoretical commitments. So I appreciate that.

And then in the larger question of the academy… and I think, for me, I somewhat fly below the radar. I’m just this small person in this huge institution. And luckily they generally are not paying a lot of attention to me. So that is definitely to my benefit. When the introduction of the book did come out, though, the alt-right started doing all these screen-caps of it and it got very big in this weird alt-right way. They started emailing me and emailing my job and trying to get me fired and all that kind of stuff. But that being said, I think you’re exactly right. The university itself is fundamentally right-wing institution. There are some people that can do okay stuff. I always think about it in terms of it’s the place that steals my labor. It’s not a thing that I heavily identify with. It’s my job that I go to. Sometimes I can do interesting things there.

I really like working with students, and I get to learn from interesting colleagues, but it’s not a central part of my understanding of myself. And I think that that allows me to be like “Okay, it’s just that thing over there. And then I leave there.” My organizing oftentimes hasn’t actually crossed over. My organizing life is pretty separate. I think that that has been important to me as well. All that being said, I’m sure it’s coming for me any moment. I think it’s always a matter of time. It’s not really if, it’s always when.

TFSR: Well I hope you can continue to use the resources that it gives you to do the work you’re doing. And you do, in the book bring, distinct from your personal organizing, bringing that perspective into a theoretical academic work, which I think is really important. Because a lot of the time the theory is so far away from any kind of street level, grassroots movement. So I guess one of the things that I thought was really important in your argument is that it’s specifically taking a stance against the state. And so, given that, and then we’re talking within an anarchist radio show and podcast, I was wondering how you define the state in its workings of power, but also as an object of our countering our political movements. Also if you want to talk a little bit about one of the things that I found really important in your book is how you highlight the incoherence of the state, and also the way that we reproduce this logic. So yeah, just if you want to talk a little bit about the state.

ES: Yeah, another incredibly big question, but it also is really important. So for me, the way that I think about the state is I think I call it something like a collective projection, meaning that the state is not something fundamentally external to us. It’s the collective ‘we.’ That’s both good news and bad news. We have the ability to radically transform it, the way it transforms us, perhaps end it. But we also must be accountable to the ways that we allow it to continue. So that also seems really important to me. There is a certain kind of critique within anarchist thought or anti-statism, or whatever you might want to call it, that always assumes that the state is something external, that we have no accountability for its violence. And I actually think we have to make ourselves account to that continuing violence under the name of stopping it. So I think that that’s why that configuration is really important.

Then I also think about the collective projection of the state being its totality, is useful, because it also helps us understand the way that we’re constantly reproducing it. It’s not only the cops in our heads, but the state itself is in our head. This is not to say that the murderous institution of the state is not real. And that we don’t all equally have to be accountable for its violence. But I am interested in why and how we continue to allow it to exist.

So on the question of the incoherence of the state form, there’s this other kind of simplistic story that oftentimes gets told that the state has some kind of external force that just bears down upon us. If that were true it actually be much easier to fight. So that’s why argue about argue that we must understand its radical incoherence as indeed, its vicious fortitude that allows, which is also to say, mandates, that we have a much more nuanced understanding of the relationship between the collective ‘we’ and something that we imagined to be external, like the state.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s really helpfully laid out. I’m thinking about what you’re saying now in terms of the way us and anti-authoritarian anti-state movements relate to the state as something where fighting. Because on the one hand you talk about how we reproduce the state everyday, just in our relationships. I am going to refer to a tweet that I saw you made recently, which is ‘it’s not that our demands are too little, that we need to demand more.’ I really thought that was an important point, because when we temper our demands, we give the state too much power in some way. That’s how I was understanding it. If you want to jump off there. I’m thinking about how we can fight the state in a way that’s not just always on the back foot, reacting to its incoherence and then narrowing our horizons because it feels so impossible.

ES: Yeah, this is obviously deeply in conversation with prison abolitionist thought and organizing as well. I actually see them as fundamentally the same project, even though people definitely disagree with that. But for me, one of the forms of violence that the state takes is this radical narrowing of our dreams, our demands, our wants our desires. It always forces us to ask for less and be happy with nothing. That’s why I think the internalization of the state, that kind of analysis is so important, because that’s actually something that we’re doing for the state. Even before they say ‘no’, if we’re gonna think of it as something external, we’re already saying ‘no’ to ourselves and to each other.

TFSR: Yeah. So also, the thing that you fit within the scope of your analysis is democracy. Which, again, I think is something that is an under analyzed, over suggested answer to all the problems. I know, in an anarchist milieu it’s often something that we’re critical of. But I wonder if you had any thoughts about how we can let go of democracy as this ubiquitous solution to our problems. Like more democracy is gonna solve the problem?

ES: Yeah, so the code of the book really thinks about this question. And I end with a bunch of open ideas, so it’s not incredibly definitive. And but something that led me there was thinking about what is democracy? If it’s something that both allegedly the left and the right argues over, then what is it substance? And oftentimes the argument is, like you’re saying, the left will say ‘Oh, the state’s not democratic enough’ and the right is saying ‘Oh, it’s too democratic.’ So one of the things that I’m interested in asking throughout the text is ‘what is this idea of democracy? How is it enabling our more radical dreams for freedom or liberation? How is this thing that we’re holding on to also holding us down?’ And of course, I’m not drifting toward some sort of totalitarian dream. Just to be clear, that’s not that’s not the direction I’m going. Democracy is so open, right? It’s a placeholder that collects up a lot of different things. And so some formations of it, yes, definitely. But other formations of it are in and of itself already a kind of totalitarian regime.

So I’m interested in pulling apart the kind of steady understanding that we have of it, that we think that we have of it, that we’re all thinking about the same ideas and the same concept. Also how that is one of the ways that the state disciplines us. Through the demand of democracy and as a kind of future-oriented process or project that we can never quite achieve. It’s always the democracy to come and it’s never here. And one of the things I ask is ‘what if it’s already here?’ And what if, instead of an imperfect democracy, what if imperfection is indeed the system itself?

TFSR: Yeah. I guess that really ties into the sort of central argument as it relates to trans and queer life. I’m going to kind of try to encapsulate it: that racialized anti trans and queer violence is a necessary expression of the liberal state, not a fault that will be reformed away. Or the violence that trans and queer people experience is a fundamental part of the atmosphere that we live in, using your term. Could you elaborate a little bit on this sort of understanding of how queerness and transness relate to the State and violence, and also where you see transness and queerness opening a horizon for liberatory struggle?

ES: Sure, so the book, as you just articulated, is an extended meditation or grappling with what I understand to be the fact of violence. Which is to say that it’s not an aberration of the state form, but indeed, is one of its foundations. And so to me, what that means is that the way that we commonly are taught to think about violence, is that especially violence directed at specific populations for example here, trans and queer and gender non conforming people, is that it’s just the work of a few bad apples or a few bad actors, or whatever metaphor you want to use, directed at specific people. And what I do by paying close attention to the scenes of violence, which are really horrible, is I tried to build an analysis that understands that those specific actions are an ambassador for a larger murderous culture.

For me, that is incredibly important, because, in the final instance, the book is deeply invested in ending the scenes of violence. But, I don’t allow myself or the theoretical tools that I use to rely on the State, something like the police or any other facet of the state as remedy to that violence. And so then the question is ‘what what is to be done?’ “What can we do?” There’s many other ways to think about this. But I think centering the question of the state itself is necessary. Otherwise we’re caught in this feedback loop where we just keep at best, addressing specific instances without radically destroying the world that mandates them. And I think that that is the necessary move that we have to make.

TFSR: Yeah. In the book, you really pull from Fanon and his theorizing of anti-colonial struggle. And so I’m wondering about violence to on the part of liberation. I want to quote you, you talk about ‘violence as a generalized field of knowledge that maintains this collective undoing lived as personal tragedy of those lost to modernity’, speaking specifically about racialized trans and queer people who are subjected to this kind of violence, but you also place violence as a tactic within our struggle. So I was wondering where you see it on our side as a way of like getting free.

ES: Sure. So, the primary figure that I think with throughout the book is probably Frantz Fanon. He allows for many things and among them is a re-conceptualization of the time of violence. When does it end? When does it begin? And I argue that the scene does not begin or end with an individual attack, but constitutes the very possibility of that altercation in the first instance. Right. And so we’ve already kind of re-positioned the temporality of violence. I think that that’s where we have to begin.

Fanon, of course, argued that revolutionary violence was a necessary precondition under the state of total war, that was racialized, colonial occupation, right. So that’s something that a lot of people know about Fanon. And so for him in the first instance, we could not ‘reject violence’ when it is already here. And so it’s repositioning our relationship to the very question. And so, I’m interested in thinking about how we might respond to not escalate that harm, but also under a commitment to ending it in a much more structural way, than the way that we’re thinking about it now. That’s why I’m always thinking with and sometimes beside Fanon on this question, because it’s so incredibly fruitful the way that he articulates it.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s a really helpful way of thinking about kind of the method of analysis that you bring to the book. The book is difficult to read for multiple reasons. One of the main ones being that it’s involved in this archive of anti-trans-and-queer-‘violence. And then each chapter is structured around specific events that you talk about. And, you talk about what it means to describe the violence and trying not to reproduce the power operations that are under girding it, even while trying to use your analysis to end it. So I wonder if you want to talk a little bit about how you feel you’re able to engage with this horrific, genocidal archive of daily, trans and queer violence in the United states while not feeding into that, but also like what you say, kind of ‘reading from the perspective of struggle’ because this would be an intervention into that time of violence from the point of view of ending it.

ES: Yeah, so I think that this is another open question that I sit with throughout the text. I think that place of ambivalence is not a place of knowing or not knowing, but indeed, is a kind of theoretical commitment to being in the time of antagonism. I never know in advance how should I narrate this. How can I be as careful as possible? How can I be as precise as possible? Without a kind of empty re-traumatization, just for the sake of re-traumatization. We all know that that’s not useful for anybody. And related, not engaging with the archive is another form of violence. Looking and looking away are both equally tied up in the totality of its scene. None of us can assume to be pure subjects outside of it.

Then what I attempt to do is go slowly. Think with people that are both survivors, and not pay really close attention to the language that they’re using. How they’re experiencing their own life, how they’re theorizing their own life. For me, it’s about not using people’s really horrific events as simple analogies or as examples. But I argue that they’re theorizing all the time. And does it work? Does it not work? I don’t know. But that’s as close as I could get. Again, for example, I don’t show graphic pictures in the book. When I do narrate things, I try to go slowly through it, and I try to talk about why I’m doing it and why I’m making certain choices and I’m not making other choices, right? Sometimes survivors say this is what happened to me and I want everyone to know. And so in a certain sense that allows us a little bit more space. But I actually think in the larger scheme of things, it doesn’t really. We’re still in that scene, even if a survivor wants something specific. I think I’m just trying to hold all those contradictions at the same time and push them to the front as opposed to hiding them.

TFSR: Yeah, it really comes through to me as you were talking about the people who are involved in these experiences theorizing them themselves. You don’t have a hierarchy of who produces knowledge in your book, which is also I think unique from an academic perspective, which really does separate the people that are being described from the people doing the analysis. So you locate trans theory in the lived lives of trans people no matter what their educational backgrounds are. One thought I had is that this so called ‘trans tipping point’ that we’re past now, brought into representation, specifically, I think Black trans women in a different way than had been before. But I really feel like it goes hand in hand both on like the reactionary right, and on the left spectacularization of the violence that Black trans women experience that feels like at best useless at worse harmful. And I’m wondering if you have thoughts beyond this about how to work to keep Black trans women alive and not relating to Black trans women as victims. What kind of work we can do right now to support them?

ES: I mean, obviously always asking people what they want and need is where we always start. But I think to your point is incredibly important, because in the beginning of the book I think a lot about Marsha P. Johnson in the way that she was exiled from mainstream or even radical leftist lesbian and gay culture in the 1970s through the time of her death. Now she’s kind of been brought back in as a trans of color, Black trans woman activist ideal. And I make an argument that both of those are violent in and of themselves. So like one of them is not the remedy for the other one, because the way in which she is brought into the archive doesn’t disturb the coloniality of the archive itself. All it is, is a kind of accommodation, not for the politics that Marsha was invested in throughout her life, but indeed, to actually support a white supremacist state. And so that is really important, because what I’m also hearing in this question is the ways in which trans women of color get emptied out of content or of politics, and they just become a screen upon which all kinds of people just project a whole lot of things onto them. And so I think that it is all of our tasks, to understand Marsha as a theorist and to read what she wrote and to listen to the words that she said. As opposed to just projecting our contemporary analysis on top of her as an empty subject of history.

TFSR: Yeah, that really gels it for me. In the way that even leftist or radicals or whatever can reproduce the sort of anti-Blackness, I feel like often Black trans women are brought into a conversation as if they’re already victims, and not included in the conversation as the theoreticians that you’re showing them to be. In certain spaces, obviously, it’s not everywhere.

But since you mentioned Marsha P. Johnson, one thing that I see you doing in this book is intervening in the history of gay liberation, trans liberation, queer liberation movements, and the way that relates to queer theory. I think early on what was really exciting about the movement, and what still I think resonates with people today is this thought that trans and queer people in themselves are revolutionary in the ways that they live and love and fuck. But that didn’t really stop from the assimilationist arm being the main focus of a gay rights movement. And then I see in the university with queer theory how queerness gets theorized away through power, but then divorced from the actual work, and even the living, I think this is particularly true after the heyday of Act Up. But now I’m seeing more crossover of movement work and academic knowledge production. So I was just wondering if you had anything to say about the inheritance of a radical queer legacy, but also where you see your works situated within that inheritance and the location of knowledge production of the academy?

ES: I think that for me… a number of things. I’m always interested in the ways that politics or post-political regimes of intelligibility congeal, more so than identities. I say this all the time, identity is not a politic. San Francisco has many, many trans police officers. I also always say that San Francisco is the laboratory of neoliberalism and any awful thing will always to be developed here in terms of multicultural white supremacy. I study it, because I live it. And that is also to say that all of that analysis… all that comes from organizing. Street-based organizing. One thing that I’m always careful to say is that anything that I have to say that might be useful in this text comes from those worlds. Comes from the worlds that have taught me so much in collective anti-authoritarian or anarchist spaces. So I want to foreground that. And in terms of the specific moment that we’re in with scholarship in the academy, I think that there is this kind of turned back towards the kinds of political questions that were not as readily apparent as they were before.

That can be both good and bad. Because I’m also interested in what gets constituted as political and what doesn’t, and oftentimes the things that I think are most useful are things that are not on the surface ‘political’ and then they’re really messy problematic ones are the ‘political’ texts. So, you never know what you’re going to get. But I do think that this book in particular, it’s kind of interesting. It hasn’t been out that long, but it is interesting where it gets taken up and where it doesn’t. I don’t know if LGBT Studies stuff will really engage with it. I don’t know. I mean, I hope so. I hope people look at it, I guess. But I’m not sure what forms that will take yet. I have a whole bunch of open questions. But, towards the point of identity again, I think I explicitly say this in the book is that I don’t have anything definitive to say about LGBT or otherwise trans or queer people. I’m not actually making an argument about people. I’m making an argument about formations of vitality or generativity or something like that.

TFSR: That makes sense to me. Maybe a way to rephrase what I was trying to get at is that, the early gay liberation, if you read a lot of the texts, there’s this, like, imagination that the revolution is at hand, and part of it has to do with gay life. Like, cruising is revolutionary, or whatever. And then that doesn’t happen. That revolution doesn’t happen. But then you see this certain kind of… you get to Lee Edelman’s version of queer theory in No Future where he’s like ‘queerness is the death drives of society.’ Taking up that same view that queerness is disruptive in some kind of inherent way. Although it’s different at this point, what he’s talking about than the Gay Liberation Front or the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

How do you understand queer and trans? There’s one thing that you describe that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone write about this way and I thought it was so important is that we can get slurred at in the wrong way… and yet it’s still correct in some manner. Because there’s some way that you say we signify differently. So that’s a specific kind of visibility that can be wrong and right at the same time. So I don’t know if you have a way of talking about how you define trans and queer or the location that we live in?

ES: Yeah, I see what you’re getting at. I can only think about it through negation, because I can’t think of any kind of prescriptive identity because it’s always gonna fail. And so for me, trans and queerness is a retroactive reading practice that can only be known after an identity or an event unfolds. But like you’re saying, one of the things that I find really interesting is that, I’m not deeply tethered to the idea of identity itself and yet the world is constituted through identity. At the same time we have these radical critiques of the impossibility to know trans and queerness as a totalizing or generalizing force, nonetheless, I walk down the street and someone knows that better than I know myself. And so that is really interesting. What is it then? To me is why I think about anti trans and queer violence as a kind of general field of knowledge or an epistemology of violence. Because of that everywhere and nowhere-ness that it simultaneously inhabits.

TFSR: Yeah, I guess building on that, do you want to talk a little bit about how you see this disruption, this projection, this negation that gender and sexuality does it goes hand in hand with the process of racialization that has occurred, specifically in the US context through the capture and enslavement of Africans? How does race, gender, sexuality get forged historically as these systems of domination? Because that’s a huge part of what you’re talking about in the book.

ES: Yeah. It is what the book is about, so sometimes I forget to make it so explicit. So just to be clear, I’m never talking about everyone that ‘might identify as LGBT.’ That’s a useless category for me. And indeed, I also make explicit that many people that identify under those terms that have access to normative power, visa vis white supremacy, ableism, class, other axises of difference, know very little in the materiality of their life about the forces of violence. So, I’m not making this equal distribution argument. That being said, my book takes as a kind of axiomatic that chattel slavery and settler colonialism are at least in this nightmare of the United States, the primary scenes of gender normativities concretization. And so I don’t believe that we can ever do ‘queer trans theory’ without a deep engagement with both of those as ongoing practices, and indeed not simply facts of history. So I’m not interested in how gender and sexuality took form in slavery as if it’s something that happened then and isn’t constantly happening now. Right. And so then in attention to the settler state, and its anti-Black idiom is fundamental, if we are ever going to attempt to begin to open up to questions of gender, sexuality, transness, queerness, etc, right? So they can never be separated.

TFSR: I wonder if the way that you talk about this in the lineages of Black feminism that you pull on, specifically of how Hortense Spillers talks about the kind of ungendering of Black female flesh as a site of a potential insurgent ground. To me that always rings in a certain like trans way. And C Riley Snorton builds off that too. A lot of people do. How do you see this situation that often gets narrated as a place of complete domination and violence, also as a place for destroying the world that we live in now and reshaping it in a way that would let people live?

ES: I mean, definitely. I always include Hortense Spillers work as fundamental to whatever might constitute itself as trans theory. And like you are saying people like Riley and many others do this as well. And I think that it’s definitely the right move. At least for me, she opened up so many of these questions and continues to do that work. So thinking with her theorization of insurgent ground, we also know that along with the structuring horrors that in their epistemological force, that were, and are chattel slavery, there are always moments of people fighting back. So one of the arguments that I make is that even within a totality, there’s still possibility. That might seem kind of contradictory and it is. It’s structurally contradictory, because a totality can’t have that. But I still think that that’s actually how the world works. And it’s also the version of the world that I want to hold on to under the name of ending it so that we might build one that we can survive. I don’t see that as a kind of linear teleological process, but a kind of simultaneity of action, theorization, revolt, revision, all happening at one time. I think that that is already happening. So then one of our goals is to hold up those moments where we can see it so that it might open up possibility for others.

TFSR: Yeah. Could we tie this in a positive way to the incoherence that you’re talking about -that power works through and the state? Because on the one hand, that makes it so that it’s hard to know how to react or we get caught just reacting, but also it means that it isn’t coherent, and therefore already over, right?

ES: Yeah, without a doubt, I mean, I think about this all the time just in just in like actual organizing terms, or whatever. We never know what’s going to set something off. We just have no idea. We can make all these strategies and theorizations and think we have a plan for it. And then it goes so sideways and it can either open up radical possibility or shut down everything. And we just don’t know. And I think that is because of the state’s radical incoherence. And it’s not a kind of prescriptive politic, but a way of a way of thinking about that, that, of course, there’s always a plan for action in relation to it, but also beyond it. So it’s not a simple, constant reaction to the state, which is oftentimes what we’re tied up in. And that’s one of the ways that the state disciplines us. And that we’re accepting that discipline through the constant reaction. I understand sometimes we have to do that. And that just as the materiality of living in this awful world. But that being said that’s not all of it. And that’s also not all of what we’re doing. I’m always looking towards those spaces of hyper-marginality, where things that don’t look explicitly political, but to me are actually giving me life, giving me possibility, the things that actually helped me go on in the world are these really small moments that oftentimes gets passed over.

TFSR: Yeah, my mind went to something that was very explicitly political. Something, I keep thinking about it and maybe you have some thoughts on this. Last year the pandemic hits, and I’m like ‘Okay, we’re going to be met with the incoherence of our lives.’ The contradictions of being forced to work or not to work and pay your bills or whatever. And, and that was like ‘some kind of revolt will happen’. And it didn’t happen until George Floyd uprising. I don’t want to take away the specificity of the George Floyd uprising, but I think that something is connected between the way that that was generalized outside of Minneapolis and the work that people were doing in response to COVID even though that maybe wasn’t as visible in the moment as a riot. I’m just kind of going off the cuff here. But I feel like that also points to sort of the underpinning racial components of COVID that don’t get talked about very often. I don’t know if you have any thoughts on that. That was just sort of me thinking about what you’re saying.

ES: Yeah, definitely. Of course we’re in a settler state, so COVID is going to be explicitly anti-Black and otherwise racist in terms of its impact. So I do think that that’s always important to say. I would like to pretend like I’m an accelerationist, but I just have no evidence that that’s ever true. Because it actually is a kind of safe place to be. You’re like “oh, all we have to do is like… everything will get so bad, it will just go” No, it just gets worse. That’s one thing I learned with getting older. And I think it’s interesting in thinking about the incoherence of the state because then you’re always longing for things you never wanted in the first place. And that’s a trip, right? When you’re like ‘Oh, the good old days when whatever bad thing….’ I think about that with gentrification too. When you start longing the things that you used to hate, because at least they’re not as bad as the things that are now.

I think that the conditions, retroactively we can maybe think about why things pop off in certain times but we also can’t prefigure that because sometimes all the same conditions are there and it just doesn’t happen. And I think there’s something about the generalized spontaneity of the social world that can’t be predicted and can’t be corralled. And I think that that’s actually really good and beautiful. But that said, we also shouldn’t live in a world that has to constantly respond to the unmitigated, unending, anti-Black violence that is leveled against Black people all the time everywhere.

TFSR: Yeah. Well, to return more specifically to the book, in that light we’re talking about racialized gender, but also you pull from a Sylvia Wynter-influenced idea that all the violence that we see, that’s gendered, sexualized, racialized is tied completely to the ideas of humanity and modernity. And you say that ‘the racialized trans queer person rests at the limit of the modern and of the human and is necessary to maintain the lie of those projects sort of through being endlessly disciplined and killed.’ This one comes out really clearly in your analysis of suicide. And I don’t know if you want to talk about that. But I really love this line that you say trans queer suicide reads the world for the filth it is because it puts it pretty boldly to me what you’re talking about here. So I wonder if you want to talk about how the concepts of modernity and humanity come in to your analysis of the regulation of and killing of trans queer life?

ES: Sure. So throughout the text I kind of intentionally slip between the settler state modernity and enlightenment humanism. And again, I’m not saying that they’re all the same thing. But I think together they gather up and they also help name these tendencies of recurrence that we inherit in our contemporary moment. So they’re all doing something a little bit differently, but they all help me name something. So, if the human is that which can stand before the law and make claims as its proper subject… that’s like the kind of traditional understanding of the figure of the human, then it also needs its double, its Constituent Outside to maintain its stability. So this is a very common figure in Black feminist thought and also and critical theory. The constituent of outside is that which constitutes the human. And then those that are subjugated to the limit, then become limit concepts, and they kind of police the border, the inside/outside, and they’re necessary. They’re actually the major figures in terms of the schema. Fanon as the same thing, essentially. And so, I think that that is so compelling because of the specific forms of violence that I’m thinking about. It’s not just about exiling people. But it’s about a kind of incorporated inclusion where people are both forced out and brought in at the same time.

We can think about this with TERFS. TERFS are so fascinated. They spend way more time thinking about gender than I do, a gender professor. It’s fascinating. I’m like ‘you are obsessed!’ I think that that same formation is actually incredibly useful, right? Because that’s the form of phobic attachment that I’m interested in. So, it’s a kind of inclusive incorporation, where it’s both pushing things out and bringing things in and that’s actually a really horrifically violent formation to be caught in. It’s way worse than just exile, because you’re shuttled in between the inside outside, in a scene of total war. And so for me, that ties into this figure of the human as, again, the subject of modernity. And so then the contingent of outside is that structure is what I’m naming as the limit concept. And that’s a very like theoretical way of saying it.

Thinking about that in relationship to the chapter that I have on suicide… that chapter is important to me because one of the things that I tried to do in it is depathologize people that are pushed to the limit, while also wanting to keep people alive. So ,it’s not like a kind of nihilistic where I’m like ‘this is jouissance’ or something like that. I’m like ‘this is actually horrific, and I want it to stop.’ But I also know that we have to stop gas-lighting people into recreating this narrative that this is an individual choice and that this person alone was pushed to the limit, when indeed the world is pushing people to the limit. The everydayness of racist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist violence is indeed the force that’s pushing them there. It’s not a kind of self what Fanon calls ‘auto destruction’ is never really about the person themselves. It’s about the way in which they’re positioned in a deadly world.

TFSR: Right. I’m sort of like at a loss. I think that’s really important the way that you talk about that because you can get so lost in the individual situation to sort of erase the commonplace experience that precedes it for someone who’s been harassed their whole life for just being. I wanted to ask you about representation and aesthetics because you have this really interesting analysis of surveillance film. And in that you’re kind of going through the filmic image itself and talking about how dominant aesthetics are grounded in anti-Blackness and anti-queerness not even just how its represented, but in the structure of representation. And in your arguments about the specific acts of violence that you are reading, the violence goes beyond the immediate moment. But then you also importantly, I think make room for queer, trans radical art and life as a kind of aesthetic. So, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about anti-Blackness, anti-queerness in aesthetic production, but also the rooms for alternative visions and use of different media?

ES: Yeah, so that chapter I’m thinking a lot with people like David Marriot and his work on racial fetishism, anti-Blackness and the moving image itself. Also, Fanon helps us think about this question, Sylvia Wynter, and a bunch of other people.

But for me, representation is always a double bind. So it’s that which brings us into the world. And that which brings us out of the world. I also am a filmmaker. I like films. I understand the way that they literally build a world, and they don’t just represent one. So it’s not as if I’m arguing for a representational austerity or something like that as the revolutionary possibility of the world. Like, that sounds horrible. No to that. And on the other hand, I know that ‘positive representation’ is the thing that is most easily given to us by the Settler State. We demand free housing, free health care, free education, free, whatever it is, and they’re like ‘Oh, here’s a trans side kick on a TGIF show.’ Alright. So, one of the things that I always say is that whatever is the thing that they’re most ready to give us is the thing that we actually don’t need.

And so it’s again, holding that contradiction, because I know that representation constitutes the world. And yet it doesn’t only do that. That chapter in particular thinks about formalism. Conversations around transness and Blackness sometimes are more interested in the kind of narrative depiction of the image. And I’m interested in that as well but something that’s more interesting to me is the formalism of the image itself, because one of the arguments that I make is that you actually don’t need a kind of scene of anti-Black anti-transness on on the image for both of those kind of twinned ideologies to be operative. Right. It’s kind of ironic, I turned back to a bunch of 1970s film theory, because they’re actually thinking about formalism and structural film and things like that, that we don’t do as much of now. But that seems really important to me, because I’m trying to get at why changing towards ‘positive representation’ alone does not change material conditions. That’s actually the question. I’m trying to get at.

TFSR: Yeah, I was interested that you were quoting Christian Metz, because that was something from my early grad school days. When you’re talking about Fanon’s idea that violence precedes and comes after that specific moment, you talk about him in the theater, just sitting in the theater is an anti-Black situation, regardless of what the film is representing. And that makes me think post-George Floyd uprising, the way that all the media companies were doing Black voices and you could still present supposedly Black Lives Matter content in an anti Black environment.

I could nerd out with you a little bit more on the formalism but I kind of want to move to some of the stuff that you you get to at the ending, if that’s okay? So, one of the words that comes up in the subtitle, that there’s legacies of resistance you give this the name of ungovernable, becoming ungovernable. You take it from the classification that certain queer youth get for their perceived social disruption. And then you also use the word ‘sedition’ which I was really excited to see. So I take it in my reading of your book that some of the stuff that’s happening as a kind of clandestine survival, and maybe this goes back to being not within the archive and not being represented. But what do you what do you mean by ungovernable? What do you mean by like a queer sedition? How do we have this kind of survival? What kind of worlds does it build? Is it generalizable? Or does it need to be under wraps all the time?

ES: Yeah, I’m not sure if it’s generalizable, and I’m not sure if it can be a prescriptive project, it might be something that can only be noticeable in the aftermath of it, or something like that. I’m not totally sure. Ungovernability are big becoming ungovernable is useful for me, because it names that kind of non-space of being both a subject and an object simultaneously. And I think that it’s actually how many people are forced to inhabit the world. So, I think that it’s generalizable in that reality. But I also think that because many of the practices are clandestine, I’m not interested in bringing them into representation outside of their specificity. I’m not trying to narc people out.

I think about that a lot, our relationship.. like what am I doing? I can only nod towards things. Again, I don’t want to be hyper specific about them. But that being said those are some of the moments that are so deeply generative to trans and queer world making. I think it can be so incredibly small, to something really large. It can be like when another trans person’s working at the cafe and they give you your food for free. It’s actually on those basic levels and how that changes the molecular structure of your body. I actually think about that a lot. And unfortunately, that’s becoming increasingly uncommon, it used to be more common, and like the 90s when there weren’t security cameras and all that kind of stuff everywhere, and you could just like, give someone a free coffee. Now that person will get taken to jail. I think that there’s that.

The examples that I use in the book, are Tourmaline has this really great film called The Personal Things which is this really short stop motion animation film about Miss Major, and it kind of narrates how she changed all of her gender markers. Then she changed them back again because she wanted to be recognized not as a cis woman, but indeed as a transgender person, and they wanted people to love her for that and to fuck all this other stuff. And to me, that moment is…. changing state issued identification was actually much easier in a clandestine way, 25 years ago, because there weren’t really massive computer systems. And they were just paper with a picture glued on it. And so I think about that as another way of resisting the biometric drive of the contemporary Settler State. There’s all these movements towards more gender options, which I think are fine. And different forms of biometric technology that are not predicated on gender. But I actually don’t think that any of those are going to necessarily get us any closer to freedom in a generalizable way. I understand that yes, they’re things that people need to stay alive right now and I always will support that. Especially for people that are in hyper-institutionalized situation. So I always will support that. But that being said, I don’t think that that can be the end of as Tourmaline puts it ‘our freedom dream’. I think that’s the way that we’re caught in the cycle of asking for something really small when what we want and need is actually something much bigger.

TFSR: I talked recently with a person who does the organizing with a trans woman inside. The beginning of the campaign was to get her moved to a woman’s facility. And it turned out, in retrospect that being in a women’s facility wasn’t safer than being a men’s facility. And now they’re denying other forms of support that she needs in there. So maybe that’s also a form of the incoherence. That sort of validation doesn’t necessarily lead to our survival. But you talked about Tourmaline and Miss Major, and you have this line from Tourmaline that I think is really important too. ‘It’s easy to be free’ which I think becomes irresistible. And you say about this line, ‘radical dreaming affords us the space of ease, which is how we might learn to feel freedom.’ Then you bring this to Miss Major’s life practice as an ‘organized yet improvisational practice in common that revels in pleasure and expropriation whose aim is to collectivize exposure toward the exposures abolition.’ That again is a quote from you.

Listening to you, in those like minor moments, I’ve been interested in certain radical trans theory lately that’s trying to think about the process of transition, also materially and collectively, not as this individualized gender journey, or whatever. I guess, to frame this as a question, you talk a lot about shared tactics of survival and beloved networks of care. I’m just wondering what you see in terms of trans, queer interdependence moving forward. It’s something obviously, that those of us who are here have benefited from in some way.

Sorry, I’m spinning out here about how do we make this a question. A lot of it’s just very inspiring to me and I find it very beautiful. So I wonder if you have more thoughts on on these ideas that I’m bringing up from your book?

ES: Sure. I mean, I think, for me, exactly what you’re saying… we’ve all benefited and helped produce these kinds of underground networks of care, that have been the materiality of survival for so many people. And I mean that in an actual way. I know that the other side of that is that not everyone has access to that. And so that’s also the reality as well. I’m always thinking about how we can expropriate resources from institutions that have them to support those networks, so that more of that kind of care can proliferate. So that doesn’t just become on one individual person to have to do a whole lot of labor for for many people. And that can look like a lot of different things. I think that a lot of the mutual aid projects that have popped up, not all of them, but many of them are really great and interesting, and I think have hopefully helped us all relearn what it means to be in radical relationality with each other. You know, that’s my more optimistic take.

But even on the more personal, more intimate level, I’m also interested in how these incredibly personal, hyper local, very specific moments string together to actually build the materiality of the world after the end of the world. And that’s why it’s already here and already possible. Again, turning to Tourmaline’s incredibly evocative and precise statement that ‘it’s easy to be free.’ What does it mean to sit with that statement? And to let that actually wash over you? Because we oftentimes don’t have the space or the time or the ability to do that.

TFSR: I find that really important. And one way that you put it in the book that I think is really helpful is calling for a collective life without universalism’s commitments, which I guess also goes back to my question ‘is this generalizable?” No. It’s maybe collective, you can collectivize it, but it’s not generalizable because it can’t be claimed universally. I just think that’s so important. And maybe it’s also where you get another limit of that representation, because either being careful, like you were saying, to not snitch on these moments of survival, but also the fear of losing them to the generality.

That’s the questions that I had prepared. I did have one thing just come up from the last thing you were saying. I was thinking about how people are afraid of the ‘Gay Agenda.’ That gay people, queer people, trans people are out to convert. I’m thinking about how you talk about the violence that gets it right and wrong at the same time. Because through these mutual practices of care, we do help each other become gay, or queer, trans. So we are doing that work, but it’s not the way that they think we’re doing it. We’re not like evangelical Christians. And I wonder if you have any thought about that kind of gay agenda logic?

ES: That’s funny, I was just talking about something kind of similar with a friend recently. Hmm. I guess how I would phrase it is that, hopefully we’re opening up the possibility for people to live. And so that can look like a lot of different things. And that can look like a lot of different things over time. And that’s something that I think we need a lot more of and sometimes that looks like recruitment. I think that’s fine, too. I’m from the 90’s. So we used to say that.

I think that when you are in the social worlds that allow you to rub up with other people living in such fierce beauty against the drives of the normative state, of course that that’s going to be contagious. Because you see all kinds of possibilities that have been substantially foreclosed to you your entire life. So you can feel that on a molecular level, and it’s terrifying and beautiful and invigorating and scary and all these things at once. But again, I think it radically opens up life worlds for us and new forms of relationality between us and others.

TFSR: That’s a really beautiful way to end our conversation.

Fat Liberation for Revolutionary Leftists with Autumn

Fat Liberation for Revolutionary Leftists with Autumn

Fat Liberation cover with fist & roses by Tali
Download Episode Here

This week I am very excited to present an interview with Autumn (she/her/hers), who is an anarchist and scholar-activist, on Fat Liberation in all its many nuances, the pervasive, classist, racist, and colonial nature of fatphobia both in mainstream society and in far left spaces and thought, and the roots of Fat Liberation as a structure which originates and lives with Black, Indigenous, and brown, trans and disabled people. We also speak about Autumn’s syllabus entitled “Fat Liberation Syllabus for Revolutionary Leftists: Confronting Fatphobia on the Left AND Liberalism within the Fat Liberation Movement”. In this document, she compiles writings on the many aspects of fatphobia and gives her own analysis in bulleted form. This document is available for public use, and you can find it at https://tinyurl.com/FatLiberation!

To get in touch with Autumn, you can @abolishtheusa on Instagram.

People, works, and resources named by our guest in this episode:

Da’Shaun L. Harrison book “Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness”

Dr. Sabrina Strings book “Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia”

Hunter A. Shackleford “Hunter Ashleigh Shackelford (they/she) is a Black fat cultural producer, multidisciplinary artist, nonbinary shapeshifter, and data futurist based in Atlanta, Georgia … They are the creator and director of a Southern body liberation organization, Free Figure Revolution, which focuses on decolonizing antiblack body violence … Hunter illustrates the relationship between Blackness, fatness, desire, queerness, and popular culture.” (Instagram: @huntythelion)

Jervae (Instagram: @jervae)

Dr. Dorothy Roberts’ work on CPS and how anti-Black racism and fatphobia infect this institution.

Health At Every Size, evidence based medical paradigm that heavily critiques the social constructions of “obesity” and diet culture, and aims to present folks with a compassionate and inclusive framework for taking care of themselves.

Books by Dr. Lindo Bacon (founder of Health At Every Size)

– podcast Food Psych with Christy Harrison

Marquisele Mercedes article “How to Recenter Equity and Decenter Thinness in the Fight for Food Justice”

Caleb Luna (Instagram: @chairbreaker Twitter: @chairbreaker_) “Caleb Luna (they/them) is a fat queer (of color) critical theorist, performer, poet, essayist, cultural critic, and performance scholar. As a Ph.D. candidate in Performance Studies at UC Berkeley, their research focuses on performances of eating, and historicizing cultural representations of fat embodiment within the ongoing settler colonization of Turtle Island.

Sonalee Rashatwar (Instagram: @thefatsextherapist)

– podcast Maintenance Phase with Aubrey Gordon (Instagram: @yrfatfriend Twitter: @yrfatfriend)

Fat Rose Collective (Instagram: @fatlibink)

Announcement

2022 Certain Days Freedom for Political Prisoner Calendars

Just a heads up that the pre-orders for the 2022 Certain Days has begun. You can bulk order copies to distribute, you can order individual ones from Kersplebedeb (Canada) or Burning Books (USA), and you can order them for prisoners through the site, CertainDays.org. Check out our past interviews on the calendar: https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/post/category/certain-days/

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

Autumn: Thank you so much for having me. So, Hello! My name is Autumn I use she / her pronouns. I’m really honored to be here and appreciate you taking the time to have me on air. Some background about myself, I am an anarchist scholar-activist who focuses on abolishing racial capitalism, through a Fat Liberation and Disability Justice lens. I am a white, Jewish, anti-Zionist, queer person. I’m a longtime organizer around mutual aid, present and border abolition and anti-fascism Palestine solidarity as well as some direct action. So, some of my work has focused on bringing a fat liberation lens to revolutionary anti-State left movements and looking at how we can create dialogue and, more importantly, coalition between our movements.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Do you have any more words to say about the like, scholar activist aspect to your work?

Autumn: Totally. So I think that scholar activism is basically a way of how can we reclaim or liberate intellectual work that is kind of sometimes held captive or gate-kept by like academic institutions and by this very capitalist idea of production and producing knowledge within academia. So scholar-activism, one way it works is through taking resources from academia and giving them back to on the ground organizers. Or sometimes it works. And it’s a form of, you know, creating knowledge by and for our movement, and creating kind of collective knowledge as opposed to this sort of like, again, capitalist colonial model of like the brilliant academic or the brilliant individual.

William: I love that. Thank you so much for going into that. So we’re here to talk about fat liberation. And like I said, before we started rolling the tape. This is a topic that I have wanted to cover on the final straw for some time now. So thank you, thank you. Thank you so much for being willing to speak on this. How did you come to be working toward fat liberation?

Autumn: Yeah, that’s a good question. So firstly, my life as a fat person, also as a disabled person, as a queer person, as a working class person is deeply effected by anti-Blackness. So if I want my life and the lives of folks in my community and my loved ones to improve, I really have no choice but to invest in Fat Liberation on as a revolutionary struggle. On a more macro level, I have a strong background in community organizing, as well as some anti-capitalist organizing. And, you know, when I first started organizing, I began to notice that when I would enter radical spaces or organizing spaces, there would be zero analysis around factors other than shallow and incorrect ideas, that top audience were simply the tragic result of State and Capitalist violence, like food deserts, and that really like bewildered and upset me because so many of the struggles that I faced in my life were connected to anti fatness. Specifically, you know, getting denied health care that I needed, not being seen as a survivor of sexual violence. And, you know, seeing fat liberation being used as a tool of white supremacy, particularly anti-blackness. One of the breaking points for both my class consciousness and my fat liberation politics was when I was at one of my former workplaces and a co worker was sexually harassing me and I reported it to my manager. And my manager basically looked at me up and down and laughed and told me that I wasn’t “pretty enough to be harassed.” And so then slowly, you know, kind of, I developed a concept like a consciousness around about activism, and I was introduced to the works of activists and scholars like Jervae, Hunter A. Shackleford, Dr. Sabrina Strings, Marquisele Mercedes, Caleb Luna, Da’Shaun L. Harrison, and others. And that really inspired me to understand liberation is not only connected to other revolutionary organizing struggles that I was a part of, but like integral to them. So we cannot have other revolutionary struggles for collective liberation without fat liberation.

William: Definitely. Yeah. And we’re gonna get into some more of what you just mentioned, I think, later in the interview. So, you and I believe another person have compiled a syllabus, entitled “fat liberation syllabus for revolutionary leftists.” And it has as a stated objective to confront fatphobia within radical spaces and also the entrenched liberalism within the more mainstream fat liberation movement. To just begin though, for any listeners who haven’t heard this term, will you just begin by saying what is meant by “fat liberation” and where it came from?

Autumn: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great question. So fat liberation is a radical, anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, anti-State movement that was started by fat, Black and brown, disabled, queer and trans people. It locates fatphobia / sizesism as a tool of capitalism, the state, white supremacy, colonialism, and specifically a tool of anti-Black, State violence. Bodies, especially body is commonly thought of as “deviant” or “unhealthy”, are often sites for state and capitalist violence of how we should offer as a lens to revolutionary transform how we think about bodies, how we think about medicine, how we think about healing. Which is really crucial for us as revolutionary leftists and how we organize to take care of one another outside of the state and outside of capitalism, as well as our work to abolish capitalism and all, you know, all settler colonial states. I think it’s really important to think about that liberation is not just another box to check off for the sake of like, liberal “diversity” or “inclusion” quotas. But instead, it’s a necessary framework that we should always be operating within our activist spaces.

William: Totally. So you mentioned fat phobia’s roots in colonialism and anti-Blackness, and anti-Black racism and not to put you in a corner or make you talk about stuff from a subjectivity that isn’t yours, but would you just talk a little bit about that, from your perspective, and what you’ve learned so far?

Autumn: Yeah, absolutely. So I first want to say that some of the really amazing scholar-activists who have done that work, I just want to shout them out and give credit where credit is due. And you know, if any listeners have financial resources, and can support these people, pay these people’s Patreon or donate to them, I really strongly encourage that. So there are folks like the Da’Shaun L. Harrison, who just recently published a book called I think it was just published in August. It’s called “Belly of the Beast: anti-fatness as anti-Blackness.” Dr. Sabrina Strings, who wrote a book about I think two years ago now called “Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia”. Hunter Shackleford, who is a really amazing, fat, Black, academic, educator, artist, and activist. And basically, they’ve explained that the origins of fatphobia are very intertwined with the rise of colonialism and racial capitalism. And unlike other systems of oppression, we only have to go back about 300 or 400 years to kind of find the origins of fatphobia. And so if we think back to the original colonization of Turtle Island, or the so called so-called North America and the inception of the violence settler colonial nation on whose land we said, the so-called US. That original colonization was from Puritan European colonizers and one of the kind of ideas that they brought with them was the Protestant work ethic, which basically says that individuals who are”godly”, if they are disciplined if they’re hardworking, if they’re able to restrict themselves, whereas it is, quote, unquote, sinful to be lazy, you’re overindulgent. So this was a way of basically looking at the body and understanding that “Okay, so thin bodies, especially thin white bodies are hardworking and are disciplined and they’re able to restrict themselves. Whereas fat bodies are lazy, they’re overindulgent. Those are sinful, quote unquote, bodies.”

And so kind of the origin of anti-fatness in anti-Blackness is, we see it very much arising in the era of like 19th century eugenics. And this idea that white European scientists were trying to basically look at, look at like, physical characteristics and use that as a justification for the superiority of European white people, especially like Western European white people. So in that the used the idea that “okay, Black people tend to be larger than white people. So that means inherently that Black people are more ‘primitive,’ and they’re not able to control themselves as more they need to be controlled and restrained. Whereas like white people are able to have discipline and they’re more intelligent and their political more advanced.” And then, in the era of 19th century eugenics, that was when body mass index or BMI was like developed as a concept, and it was very much used to label white bodies, especially white men’s bodies as, normative or healthy and label Black people’s bodies as obese and unhealthy. And so this continues to this day, where we see the entanglements of fatphobia and anti black violence continuing medical establishments, again, we’re fat Black patients are less likely to receive care that they need. I mean, fat bodies in general are less likely to receive the care that they need, they’re often just told to just lose weight. The state, when they surveil and target Black, brown and indigenous communities for having “high rates of obesity” and then using that as a justification to have Child Protective Services come in and remove fat children. There’s a lot of work done by Dr. Dorothy Roberts on the child welfare system not actually being about child welfare just being another way for the state to like control and monitor Black families or indigenous families or brown families. And disproportionately, Black and indigenous children are removed from their homes for non-justifiable reasons and because there’s this… It’s hard to find the racial statistics of children who are removed from their homes, but because oftentimes “obesity” is used as a justification for that,, I think it’s pretty like easy to infer that that’s oftentimes a justification for removing Black and indigenous children from their homes.

You know, in terms of state violence, fat Black people like Kayla Moore and Eric Garner, and recently Ma’Khia Bryant were murdered by the police and then the police in the general public, blamed their murders on their fatness. Da’Shaun L. Harrison, who I mentioned before, discusses this justification for the state murders of black people in their book “Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness.” Does that kind of answer the question?

TFSR: Oh, yeah, totally. And it’s such a like, vast top pet topic that, you know, I think that you like, shout it out some really amazing resources. Sabrina strings is the one who I’m most familiar with. And her book “Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia,” which is a fantastic breakdown by era: she looks at art history, she looks at the developing trade routes built on the back of enslaved people. She does all of this stuff. And it’s a really amazing, amazing resource.

Autumn: Absolutely. I really recommend that folks read that book and look into it.

TFSR: I also just want to like, name the… You know, you mentioned like treatment by your former manager, when you like brought concerns about your co-worker, and then saying that vile shit to you. That is like, completely unacceptable. And I’m so sorry that happened.

Autumn: Thank you. Yeah, no, thank you for sharing that. Yeah. And I think that that kind of highlights… I talked about it a little bit in the fat liberation syllabus, but there’s a really kind of disturbing intersection between fatphobia and rape culture that I don’t see getting talked about enough. And I’m hoping that those conversations can get started more.

TFSR: Absolutely. Hopefully this will like help start that conversation a bit. So, we talked about a little bit: in order to talk about how fat phobia and fatmisia, which is… Would you give a definition of fatmisia really quick?

Autumn: This is one of the first times that I’ve heard it, but I would say that it’s more kind of ideological understanding of this idea that fatness is something to be avoided or pathologized.

TFSR: And it’s like distinct from fatphobia in that like phobia is like a fear.

Autumn: Yeah, I’m not exactly sure how it’s… I think fat phobia is similar. I think sometimes fat phobia is used more in terms of thinking about how we internalize like anti fatness, and how that’s enacted in interpersonal interactions, or in communal interactions, whereas fatmisia is more like on a broader kind of ideological lens?

TFSR: That’s really helpful. Thank you. So, in order to talk about both of these things, and how they emerge in radical spaces, firstly, we could probably talk a lot about how it emerges in broader society. Since fatphobia, infects so much of the structures we are forced to contend with, like you mentioned, the medical industrial complex and the state for starters.. Not to like, start too big. This is a topic whose completeness may like be beyond the scope of a single podcast episode, but nevertheless, could you speak on this in a general sense, and the roots of fat phobia and fatmisia specifically, I know you touched on this a little bit before but do you have anything else you want to say about it?

Autumn: No, absolutely. So, and like any other system of oppression, there’s nothing natural about fatphobia or hating larger bodies. As humans, there’s nothing that’s like natural about us that says, oh, thinness is better. That’s completely socially constructed. Just you know, and this is a common disclaimer that I have to give or that a lot of like fat activists have to give. Anytime that we talk about fatphobia, one of the most common forms of backlash that I see is the claim that like, “Oh, it’s unhealthy to be fat, and there’s an obesity epidemic. And don’t you think that we should focus on health?” So, you know, I really wish that I didn’t have to give this kind of disclaimer, but you know, I won’t in this interview won’t be addressing the question of is it healthy to be fat, because health is multi dimensional, it’s not a measure of our worth, and nobody is obligated to be healthy. There are many people of all sizes, who have disabilities and chronic illnesses, who will never be “healthy” by normative standards. That said, it’s actually not unhealthy to be fat. And there’s a lot of scientific research and evidence that supports that conclusion. There’s a really valuable, evidence-based medical paradigm called Health at Every Size, which is readily available online, there’s a Health at Every science website, there’s a book by Lindo Bacon, called “Health at Every Size,” which, you know, people are interested in that you can go look at that.

And historically, you know, and before 300 to 400 years ago, fat bodies were actually kind of like revered and celebrated. I kind of mentioned earlier that the rise of fat phobia and the rise of the idea of the thin ideal is very rooted in the Protestant work ethic as well as this kind of neoliberal, bootstraps idea that weight loss is simply the result of hard work and discipline rather than the result of.. Most people who lose a significant amount of weight, gain it back within five years, and we have a lot less control over our weight over our bodies, than we’d like to believe. And, you know, importantly, our ideas about health and medicine are not objective or neutral. Black feminists, especially, have done a really good job at explaining how what’s often cast is supposed “objective medical facts” as actually completely socially constructed. There’s no evidence to support that. And again, as I mentioned before, in the age of 19th century eugenics, that was really the era that emerged that fatness was inherently unhealthy, and that people should be instructed to lose weight. You know, before that we don’t really see a lot of emphasis on weight loss is the key to health. People were really concerned about, like dying of dysentery. So, you know, if you were fat, you were considered like robust and healthy, because we’re less likely to die of all the infectious diseases. And so, as I mentioned, before, fitness became a marker of weight, especially Western European bodies being disciplined “intelligent, well controlled bodies” and Black bodies became seen as uncontrollable, and inferior political primitive. And, again, the fact that white scientists noticed that Black people were larger than white people that was used as a justification for the supposed inferiority of Black people.

And then in terms of the connection between fatphobia and capitalism… So there’s an at-least $2 billion weight loss industry. And as the center of the weight loss industry is this kind of myth of critical personal responsibility that you can have what is called the ultimate fantasy of corporeal malleability that is just like “if you just work hard enough, and if you’re just disciplined enough, and if you just, you know restrict… you just eat the right things, if you just eat like healthy organic food, and you just force yourself to eat that, that thinness can be achieved through that.” So and, importantly, there’s this kind of these two models of fatphobia that tend to emerge. This one of conservative contempt and this one of liberal pity or liberal fatphobia. So for example, conservatives believe that our people are simply lazy, that, you know, we just need to go to the gym or put down the cheeseburger. And then I mean, I wouldn’t even call the flip side cuz it’s not the polar opposite of this. But liberal fatphobia in this kind of liberal pity model looks down about people as objects of pity and views us as abject and diseased. And as the result of, you know, structural problems like GMOs and food deserts. And oftentimes, this is very racialized, like this is oftentimes, white liberals looking down at fat Black and brown people and just thinking “Oh, they just need to be taught to like, eat better, basically,” through a very kind of like paternalistic forms of intervention. And I just really want to touch on that, you know, conservative contempt and liberal pity, are not polar opposites, right? They’re kind of different sides of the same coin. Like they both result from this idea that fatness is pathological and that it needs to be eliminated.

William: That’s a really amazing breakdown. They like as a sort of like the double prong not even like dualistic because like you said, it’s not it’s not polar opposite like the conservative and liberal like lenses through which this is, you know, largely viewed in society is like really interesting to think about. And also the neoliberalism inherent in the weight loss industry to is I think we’re totally remarkable, like the whole like individual focus on like your individual effort or whatever it’s, it’s like tantamount to being “oh, all y’all who are like buying a new toothbrush every year, you’re, you’re causing climate change,” or whatever. You know, it’s totally ridiculous. But, at the same time, it just rules so much of how this is viewed.

Autumn: Absolutely. And I would say that that really shows how we think about health, and just how we think about wellness. Because I think that there’s this really great podcast that I maybe will mentioned in some of the…, I don’t know if maybe we don’t mention that later, but it’s called, it’s called Food Psych. And the person who like is the host, her name is Christy Harrison, she’s an anti-diet dietitian. And she talks a lot about the social determinants of health and how only about 30% of health outcomes are determined by individual health behaviors, including things like smoking, or having unprotected sex. Which are, you know, but no judgement, of course, it just causally linked to health risks. But I think that just goes to show that the real threats to our health are not necessarily like what we eat, or how much we exercise, but stress caused by racial capitalism, caused by poverty, caused by state violence. And I sort of wonder when we’re so focused on “how can I personally restrict my consumption? So I don’t cause global warming?” or “How can I eat as healthy as possible so I will have good health outcomes?” Rather than, like, “how has racial capitalism and how is the state making us sick, and basically having a really detrimental effect on our bodies and minds.” And it’s kind of like a distraction from the important questions.

TFSR: Absolutely. And just to support that, briefly, I have a friend who’s an ER nurse who says that about 95% of everything he sees is a direct result of racialized capitalism.

Autumn: Absolutely, just like, stress, especially stress that’s directly caused by racial capitalism is probably one of the worst things for our bodies and our minds.

TFSR: To touch also briefly on the liberalism in the fat liberation movement aspect of your work, specifically, you write and compile resources about the interaction of the “body positivity,” and “diversity” aspects to capitalism and toxic diet and culture. Would you expand on this and say a few words about how this also influences more left radical spaces?

Autumn: No, for sure. So the term “body positivity,” to me, it’s pretty meaningless and I feel like it’s basically become this kind of individualistic self help movement, which locates the solution to fatphobia in individuals loving their bodies, and, you know, separate from anything that’s political. There’s nothing wrong with with self love, I think it can be really helpful. But as activists, we need to be invested in a political revolutionary movement, rather than focusing on self help. And so I think that there’s just a lot of ways that, especially now, you will see capitalism really kind of co-opting body positivity. Like if you go on Instagram, like you’ll see so many companies like trying to sell you something by proclaiming how “inclusive” or “diverse” they are. I think what is especially harmful about that is when companies like do try and showcase fat people, or when celebrities try and showcase fat people in their music videos. It’s like fat people are like treated as props to show how diverse and inclusive a celebrity or a corporation is. For example, I think there’s like two years ago now, Miley Cyrus had a video, I think it’s called “Mother’s Daughter” and in the video… It’s supposed to be representation of… they show a fat person and they show someone who uses a wheelchair and they show someone breastfeeding. But then, you know, thin, white Miley Cyrus, able bodied Miley Cyrus is still the center of the music video. And so in that instance, it’s you know, that’s just an example I would say of fat people or disabled people becoming these props to just like prove, how invested Miley Cyrus’s and like diversity and inclusivity.

And so my theory is that there hasn’t really been a lot of conversation, at least in my experience, it’s changing some which is great, between fat activists and revolutionary and anti-state leftists. I think a lot of that is definitely due to fatphobia on the left. But more broadly, I think fat liberation tends to get siphoned off into these kinds of specific fields such as, at best being about like public health and at worst being on this kind of individualistic like self help movement that’s led by Instagram influencers with clothing companies. And so that doesn’t really allow space for us to draw connections and coalition’s between fat liberation and anti-state, anarchists or leftist movements such as, you know, abolishing racial capitalism, and abolishing prisons and borders, and why fat liberation as a part of that. And if there was that coalition, if those conversations were happening, we wouldn’t have people who have been really active in the body positive or the health of every size movement, being for example, Zionists, or endorsing Elizabeth Warren. One glaring example without naming names is there’s this person who has been a central figure in some “body positive” or “fat spaces,” is a fat person and has written some like influential books about health and advertising. And that person is a zionist, and has literally publicly claimed that fat activists need to support the State of Israel. And so a radical intervention into that line of thought would be to understand how colonial states like the so-called US and Israel often use the logic of diet culture and fatphobia to uphold genocidal violence and occupation. So, for example, Israel literally restricts the amount of calories and food that goes into Palestine. I want to be really clear here that I’m in no way equating being a fat person or being someone targeted by diet culture in the US with being a Palestinian living under Israeli apartheid or Israeli occupation. But I think understanding how diet culture and fatphobia is used as a tool of colonialism and occupation… I think that’s really important for thinking about fat liberation as an internationalist, an anti-colonial project and I think that that leads the way for some really exciting potential coalition between fat activists and, you know, those of us fighting for the Liberation of Palestine.

TFSR: Absolutely, I had no idea that the State of Israel was doing that bullshit. That is really Stark and very, very troubling. I’m wondering, too, so just to narrow the focus perhaps onto like radical and anarchist spaces. There’s many, many, many ways that fatphobia and fatmisia, like spin out in anarchist spaces and rad spaces. But one of those that you mentioned in your syllabus, is that people sometimes exhibit the unfortunate tendency to equate fatness with capitalism. Can you expand on how you see this happening?

Autumn: 100% Yeah, so I never want to see another anarchist, or another leftist graphic that uses fat bodies as a metaphor for capitalism, or bosses or the police. So I feel like I’ve seen a lot of graphics that show like workers tearing down the big fat boss. And I just want to facepalm whenever I see that, because that’s a great way to alienate fat comrades. That imagery is especially ironic because, like other marginalized groups, statistically fat people are more likely to be paid less, and they’re more and more likely to live in poverty. You know, and I think, obviously, gender and race play into that, but it’s unlikely that the CEO of a big company would be a fat person, even if it is like a white cis-het man. And again, I see this a lot of in leftist spaces, a lot of repeating diet, culture logic around fat being unhealthy and fat being something that needs to be eliminated. Particularly I see it come up in conversations around food deserts. And playing into the liberal pity idea that, fat bodies are this tragic result of food deserts, or food apartheid.

Autumn: Marquisele Mercedes, who’s a really wonderful critical Public Health Studies, scholar and activist and also a fat studies scholar, has a really wonderful article called How to recenter equity in decent or fitness in the fight for food justice. And she talks about understanding food apartheid, or differential access to food across racial and capital, and class lines as an intentional form of racial capitalist violence. But then the problem with a lot of liberal so-called food justice movements is that they use fatphobia and diet culture to distract from the real problem of racial capitalism with the focus being on again “obesity prevention” and trying to paternalistically “fix the eating habits of poor Black and brown people that don’t fall into a fat phobic, white-middle-class-centric standard of healthy.” This great article by Marquisele Mercedes also talks about how true food justice is not about what one person or organization believes that marginalized communities should be eating, it’s about supporting the community’s autonomy and control over their food. It’s about supporting people to be less stressed, well fed and nourished, however that may it look like.

On a side note, I found it telling how there is so much focus on trying to get poor working class people to eat more vegetables or eat less processed food. And you know, this idea that that’s going to be some kind of remedy for racial capitalism and state violence. Of course there’s nothing wrong with building a community garden but I encourage us to think critically about why we as a culture are so obsessed with food and exercise as the ultimate you know remedy when we know that there are more important issues that we need to address. Also I think there’s something to be said about the way that and this is gonna be an unpopular opinion maybe, with some people but… This kind of hatred and disgust of fast food and the way that I see sometimes in leftist spaces fast food being singled out as this really abomination disgusting abomination that nobody should be eating, but I think it’s important to think about “why do we think that and why are we singling out McDonald’s” when you know Whole Foods or the United Fruit Company or Sabra hummus are like active participants or causers of gentrification? Or the United Fruit Company literally supported the US military installing right wing military coups and Central America and the Caribbean or, you know, Sabra hummus is profiting off of the occupation of Palestine. And why do we single out fast food or food corporations that we see as unhealthy when there’s some very pervasive, racist, fat phobic and classist stereotypes about who is presumed to eat fast food. Let’s really think about when we think about people who eat fast food, who do we who are we thinking of? And why are we singling out fast food and that’s not necessarily accurate but it’s a very it’s a very unfortunately pervasive cultural trope about who is presumed to eat fast food.

I guess other areas of fatphobia that I see in leftist spaces in anarchist spaces… I feel like I hear it more from Marxist-Leninists with this argument that we need to get the proletariat fit and healthy so they can fight Nazis that makes me pretty angry because that’s just literally eugenics and diet culture disguised as a poor interpretation of anti fascism. You can kill Nazis on a moped! You know? There have been a lot of really kick ass fat and disabled anti fascists who are literally doing that work. I guess on the maybe on the more anarchist side I guess I see about phobia kind of coming up sometimes in lifestyle politics and this idea about in order to be a devoted anarchists, we need to be vegan, and we need to be dumpster diving and living in a squat. And I think we need to really kind of abandon those lifestyle politics. Um, you know, there’s nothing wrong with being vegan or dumpster diving, but it doesn’t make someone more of a comrade if they’re not if they don’t want to do that. And just like our politics are not defined by the food we eat or by, you know, why do we choose to live in a decaying squat?

TFSR: Yeah, thank you so much for talking about fast food and exercise. I definitely see that meme and anti fascist spaces that really fetishize this exercise the like “a fascist worked out today, did you?” or something like that. And the topic of veganism is also really interesting. There’s definitely a lot to be said about it. I think I myself have definitely noticed not all leftist vegans that I’ve come across have exhibited this tendency but sometimes I see people doing veganism in order to… And I don’t want to use judgy language and I might cut this out so like between you and me… To maybe mask some very troubled relationship with food itself.

And using politics to bury that or whatever. I mean, using politics to also bury classism and fat phobic tendencies as well. Be vegan, that’s fine, but do so for reasons that aren’t contributing to the oppression of people around you.

Autumn: Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for saying that I agree with that 100% and I guess I just have trouble. I have no problem with people being vegan, if you want to be vegan, go for it. And that’s completely your prerogative. But I think just have trouble with this any kind of ideology that attaches moral values, the foods that we eat, and I think that there are and this is maybe it’s a longer conversation… But I think that there are, important things to be said about a decolonial or in or an indigenous worldview developing a more symbiotic relationship with animals and nature as opposed to this late very exploitative worldview coming from capitalism and colonialism. But I just have a lot of issues when people try to integrate speciesism into an intersectionality framework and claim that veganism is somehow anti-oppressive.

TFSR: Yeah, I mean, Capitalist Veganism is just as oppressive to humans and to the earth as other things. I don’t know, there was, you know, all of this analysis about factory farming, which factory farming is traumatic, right? A lot of people are super traumatized by it. On the other hand, I’m not gonna tell somebody that they can’t eat some things they need to eat.

Autumn: Absolutely. And again, factory farming is horrific, it should be abolished with a question “Is the issue meat or animal product consumption, or is it capitalism and colonialism?”

TFSR: Totally. Yeah. And I think that the problematic common denominator is definitely capitalism and colonialism. I’m wondering your thoughts on how we as a scene, together could bring fat liberation into radical and anarchist spaces and thought, love to hear your thoughts on that.

Autumn: Yeah, I really appreciate that question. I think it kind of starts with naming and identifying fat liberation as a revolutionary struggle and actually talking about it and engaging with it. You know, thin people especially you to engage with this. I made a graphic that will soon be a zine, which I’m super excited for it to be a zine. But it should be on my friend’s Instagram, and I can send a link to that. It’s about making in-person militant actions with a diversity of tactics accessible for fat and disabled comrades. And I think sometimes it’s just a matter of whether it’s a direct action or a meeting, or community space, really asking the question of “Can we all go and everybody fit in this image space, literally?” I have been in a lot of spaces where I’m very uncomfortable because the chairs are not made for fat people or, you know, I feel like I’m the only fat person there, or the door is not wide enough. And I think that’s also really kind of hand in hand with Disability Justice and thinking about how accessibility and Disability Justice is a framework that we constantly need to be operating within. I think also, you know, it’s important to call out or confront fatphobia when we see it, whether that’s in the broader world, or whether that’s with our revolutionary or organizing circles. I think it’s really important to share and amplify the work of revolutionary fat liberation activists. So the names that I mentioned before are Da’Shaun L. Harrison, Marquisele Mercedes, Hunter Shackleford, Dr. Sabrina Springs, Jervae. Other folks who are doing really incredible work are Caleb Luna. I think that both her instagram and twitter is chair breaker. And then Sonalee Rashatwar who’s @TheFatSexTherapist on Instagram, who have some really incredible content. So I just encourage everybody to just go follow these people. Again, if you have financial resources, consider joining their Patreon, consider, you know, donating to them financially. You know, and I think beyond that, like it’s really important to reach out in fight for activists to be part of your movement and be in coalition with you. And I get excited when I hear other leftists just leaving fatphobia but I think I shouldn’t have to feel that way. Because fat liberation should be the norm.

You know, I think also again, kind of like rejecting the moralization of food and just understanding how oftentimes our hatred of fats of fast food is very in meshed with fatphobia and anti-Blackness like classism and capitalism. It just because there are a lot of like really pervasive, fat phobic, racist and classist cultural stereotypes around who eats or is presumed to eat fast food or processed food and no matter how much we try to masquerade our hatred of fast food or processed food as anti capitalist or as condemning the corporations that produce the food like that’s… No matter how much we try to mask read up, it’s still rooted in this fat phobic idea of that subject and food is better than other foods, in a post revolutionary world people will still have the options to eat hamburgers and fried foods if they want to and that’s okay. You know, I think also just, trying to hide hatred and disgust for fast food behind anger at the corporations and the exploitation of workers that doesn’t actually help fast food workers unionize it, or build power and organize. I’m a former fast food worker, and I can really attest to how that kind of attitude of being disgusted by so fast food workers.

TFSR: And I’m also a former fast food worker and definitely share that you mentioned, fat activists and fat activism, would you speak about the Fat Rose collective and how it came to be formed?

Autumn: Yes, totally. So I believe Fat Rose was formed in the summer of 2019 by fat and disabled activists who organized around the abolish ice movement to close the concentration camps. And they were specifically identifying that fat and disabled people have a specific seek in abolition because, again, our experiences are in no way the same of those incarcerated in presents or in ice detention. We do know what it’s like to be treated as disposable. And so my understanding is that fat rose really recognizes the radical potential of fat people to organize, as well as aiming to create spaces where fat people can organize without without experiencing fat phobia from other organizers. It’s not really my story to tell, but I know that there are folks in Fat Rose who have specifically sought out fat specific organizing spaces because of some really horrendous experiences with fat phobia and other lefty or progressive spaces. Fat rooms organized a really beautiful action in San Francisco at the ICE headquarters, where they demanded the abolition of ICE and the closure of the concentration camps. Caleb Luna, who I mentioned before, he was a scholar activist around for liberation read a really beautiful speech there. And this was the first time that I’d really seen anything to that magnitude that was explicitly organized from a Disability Justice and fat liberation focal point. Additionally, during the ongoing COVID pandemic Fat Rose has organized the no body is disposable coalition, which demands an end to eugenicist COVID triage policies in ICU where fat people, disabled people, elderly people, people who are HIV positive, and people who are living with other illnesses are denied life saving COVID treatment or taking off ventilator treatment. And there’s literally procedures for hospitals to take people off ventilator treatment, if the you know, fall into one of these categories. Fat Rose has been doing a lot of really cool work to organize against that. Since then, Fat Rose has put on a lot of really rad events. I know they recently did a series called busting out about fat liberation and prison abolition and transformative justice. I believe their Instagram is @FatLibInc, and their Facebook it should be fat rose. So I encourage you know also listeners to check them out on social media and follow them on social media.

TFSR: Totally, they have a really beautiful website, that’s just FatRose.Org where you can see a lot of you can see how to get involved. You can see essays that they have written you can see more about busting out. I’m looking at it right now. They have a cookbook. They have all this beautiful, beautiful material on their website. So I encourage people if they’re curious to go check, check it out.

Autumn: Thank you for showing off the website. Yeah. It’s really wonderful organization.

TFSR: Totally. You touched on this, like in previous answers, but I’m curious specifically, if you have more words on how might you encourage thin white people to show up for their fat comrades, friends and family?

Autumn: So I think you know, if you can’t just be fat people showing up for fat liberation. You know, as previously mentioned, I think it’s really important think about how you can name and show up for fat liberation struggles. Amplify the work of Fat Rose, again, if you have financial resources. Support or amplify the work of fat Black and brown activists, you know, join their Patreons, support them financially. Also, if you’re a thin white person who has a lot of social capital and visibility. Think about how you can reject the pedestal that you’re placed on and how you can pass this info onto others, especially other organizers. On a personal level, kind of interrogate who your friends or even lovers with, how you treat people in your lives, are your spaces accessible for fat people. You know, I think also it’s important to kind of unpacked desirability politics and especially unpack the idea that fatness is inherently unattractive. And I really just want to say that that’s not just about dating preferences, nobody is forcing you to date or sleep with fat people. But Caleb Luna, again, really brilliant proud scholar activist, recently wrote on their Instagram about how desirability politics affects them, way beyond just eating. It’s about how they’re able to access resources, like health care, and professional opportunities. And beyond that, I think in our radical and revolutionary movements, it’s really important to, again, make sure that we’re also talking about fat liberation and we’re naming and organizing around the intersections of fatphobia and racial capitalism or fat phobia and colonialism. So it’s about both like listening you know, doing some self reflection and introspection, as well as, materially showing up.

TFSR: Yeah, and if people are looking to start a reading or listening group, your syllabus really has just so much information in it. It’s broken down into categories, like there’s a category on anti fatness and anti blackness there’s a category on sis hetero patriarchy it’s really really really well organized and has a lot of reading resources if if reading is something that feels good to folks. How can people see this document? is it available for public use?

Autumn: Yes, thank you for asking it is available for public use. It’s available at https://tinyurl.com/FatLiberation if there are show notes you can put the link to that in the in the show notes but um that’s it available tiny URL please share it share it widely amplify it.

TFSR: There’s so much there. I really got a lot out of looking at this document and just going on these tangents and going down rabbit holes, and it’s a really, really, really well, well done document. Thank you so much for doing it.

Autumn: Well, thank you so much. And yeah, thank you so much for engaging with it. I also I do recognize that reading a long document is accessible for for everyone. If there are people who feel better listening to podcasts, there’s a really great one that I mentioned before whole Food Psych. There’s also following people on Instagram, like following @TheFatSexTherapist.

Autumn: Oh my gosh, there’s another podcast that the name of it is escaping me. But her name is Aubrey Gordon, her Instagram is @YourFatFriend, I think she has a link to the podcasts, but it talks especially about fatphobia and wellness culture and unpacking what we’ve been taught to think about wellness culture. So I just want to say that there are options that don’t necessarily like involve reading and other free resources. Jervae has also created a bunch of YouTube and TickTock videos and they’re a really incredible fat Black philosopher and artist, so they have a lot of also great resources that aren’t necessarily long documents.

TFSR: That’s awesome. And I’ll link those all of those that you mentioned in the show notes. How can people support you and your work and you’ve shouted out a lot of other folks how people can support them but how can people support you if you would like that?

Autumn: Yeah, thanks for asking. Um, I think so. I’m not on social media personally but I think just keep sharing the fat liberation syllabus, keep circulating it especially donate and amplify the works of, especially, fat Black and brown activists. You can donate to Fat Rose. One of my close friends has a Instagram and Twitter that is like I think it’s both @AbolishTheUSA on both Instagram and Twitter and they were they were the person who suggested I write the syllabus and on their platform that was where the syllabus was originally circulated from. So if anyone I guess wants to email me or get in touch with me specifically, maybe you could contact now at @AbolishTheUSA and say that you have a message for me.

TFSR: Autumn, those were all the questions that I had. Thank you so much for your time and having this conversation with me. I really appreciate your energy and the time that you spent in hashing all this stuff out. Is there anything that we missed in this interview that you want to give voice to or something that you’d like to say in closing?

Autumn: I think we got everything but I just want to thank you so much, again, for having me. And this has been just such a incredible experience. And I’m always super grateful to the Final Straw Radio and just you all are doing such amazing work and I’m really honored to be part of it.

TFSR: Thank you so much. The feeling is super mutual. I’m really happy to have gotten to meet you a little bit and it was really lovely to get to share some digital space with you for a little while and talk about this thing thatI really hope that people will take back into their spaces and like do some thinking and do some reading and stuff if they need to do that. So thank you so much.

Autumn: Yah! Oh my gosh. Thank you.

“For Trans Liberation, Capitalism Must Be Abolished”

“For Trans Liberation, Capitalism Must Be Abolished”

"Transgender Marxism" book cover with a trans flag color scheme of pink, white and blue and a transgender symbol mixing male & female iconography
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This week we’re sharing a chat that Scott Branson had about Transgender Marxism (2021, Pluto Press) with Jules Gleeson (co-Editor, Contributor) and M.E. O’Brien (contributor). Transgender Marxism brings together Transgender Studies and Marxist theory, exploring Transgender lives and movements and surviving as Trans under Capitalism. In the end, the claim of the book is that for Trans Liberation, Capitalism must be abolished. In this interview we talk about the: collective, material process of transition; trans visibility, assimilation and liberation; the history of Gay Liberation and Trans movements; being Trans in the workplace; care work and family abolition; and Trans solidarities against Capitalism and the State.

  • Jules Joanne Gleeson is a writer, comedian and historian. She has published essays in outlets including Viewpoint Magazine, Invert Journal and VICE, and performed internationally at a wide range of communist and queer cultural events. She can be found on Twitter at @SocialRepro and Patreon (QueerCom). Check out her awesome interview with Judith Butler that the GuardianUK censored due to critiques of TERFs, found in full at IllWill.Com.
  • M.E. O’Brien writes at the intersection of communist theory, trans liberation, LGBTQ social movement studies and feminism. Michelle is a co-editor of Pinko, and her writing has appeared in Social Movement Studies, Work, Employment & Society, Commune, Homintern, Endnotes and Invert. Found on Twitter at @GenderHorizon & on Patreon (MEOBrien).

Update on Sean Swain

This week, instead of words from anarchist prisoner, Sean Swain, I’d just like to share the info that Sean has been transferred back to Ohio, his state of capture, from Virginia where he was held at a Medium security facility for the last 2.5 years. It’s assumed that he’s back at the Supermax, OSP Youngstown for 2 weeks of quarantine and determination of status to decide what prison he will go to inside Ohio from there. When he was leaving Ohio for Virginia, he was close to graduating to a lower security, medium level, than where he was held and has not had any serious breeches of conduct since his transfer, so hopefully he’ll be heading to an easier and more comfortable facility.

For the moment you can write him at his old address where I’m sure he’d love some kind words or some books, posted in our shownotes and at SeanSwain.org:

Sean Swain #A243205
OSP Youngstown
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd
Youngstown, OH 44505

You can donate to his legal case to challenge his denied parole by sending money via cashapp to $Swainiac1969 and you can follow @Swainiac1969 for info on the upcomnig online raffle to help fundraise for Sean’s legal fees. To donate items for raffle, also contact the instagram mentioned above and keep an eye out for more info. As an update to prior mentions of Swainiac-fest, it was a success but is only a step on the way to covering his legal fees to get him the best legal defense possible. And remember, you can fundraise toward the $12,500 needed by the lawyer on your own or in community and if you want to send it to the TFSR venmo or paypal or a money order made out to us via our PO Box, feel free to do so and make sure you note Sean’s defense in the comment.

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Featured Tracks:

  • Gemini (instrumental) by Princess Nokia from Everything Is Beautiful

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Transcription

TFSR: This is The Final Straw Radio and we’re excited get to talk to an editor and a contributor to this new really, exciting volume Transgender Marxism which is published by Pluto Press. I wanted to first ask you to introduce yourself with your names, pronouns, any affiliation that you would like the listeners to know about.

Jules Gleeson: Hi. I’m Jules Gleeson, and I am one of the co-editors of Transgender Marxism, the new collection we’re here to chat about. My pronouns are she and I am only very loosely affiliated to things at the moment. I’m very happy to be joining you today.

Michelle O’Brien: Hello, my name is Michelle O’Brien and I am a contributor to the volume chapter on trans work and experiences of trans people in employment, both formal and informal. That chapter I wrote draws heavily from the New York City Trans Oral History Project that I worked with for some years. I write communist theory, teach Queer Studies at Gallatin, and work as a psychoanalyst. And my pronouns are she and her.

TFSR: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I’m really excited, I did a deep reading of the book, it was really helped me think through my own positionality in the world. So I’m excited to dive into a lot of the ideas in there. Starting off, right away, one thing that keeps coming up in the book throughout different contributors’ pieces is the question of how transness might be useful for Capital. And this is being posed after this “transgender tipping point” where there’s more visibility, specifically, I think, for trans women and more understanding of transness, I guess, in mainstream worlds, although that might be questionable. So to start the discussion, what do you think are relative or limited, or positive gains made by trans people as a result of this increase in visibility?

JG: Yeah, I’m happy to pick up on that. So for those of you listening at home, who are not familiar with the “transgender tipping point,” was a phase around, I suppose, 2014 to 2015. Most notably, this famous Time’s cover of Laverne Cox, the star of Orange Is the New Black appearing on Time. And the transgender tipping point is pretty loosely this moment when suddenly there was an increase, a surge of popular familiarity, let’s say, with transgender culture and transgender experiences. After which – to me, the most obvious difference is – trans people seem to become a lot more numerous, which is measurable in everything from people applying to become patients of gender identity clinics to transgender-specific communities seeming to swell in size, and there are all kinds of ways we can talk about the measurement. But, clearly at this point somewhere around 2013 to 2015, things transformed pretty rapidly and seemingly permanently towards what had been a cluster of different subcultural circles, becoming something more like a mass culture. That’s my own reading. I think both myself and Michelle, this wasn’t our point of departure into transgender circles or transgender discussions, however, clearly the transgender question, I suppose, transformed thereafter. And the work of this collection is very much following on in the wake of that, and in the confusion that follows and is continuing to follow on from that.

MO: So I’ll say a bit. In the far queer and trans left in New York City, there’s a pretty well-developed critique of the trans tipping point that centers around a number of points. One is this discrepancy between popular media attention on trans people and the actual material conditions, social service infrastructure, material well-being, violence against trans people. And so there’s certainly a disjunction between the two and where there might be a lot of progress made in the symbolic popular media realm, that only occasionally corresponds to any material progress made in the lives of working-class people. And even when we’re talking about sort of material progress, I think there’s been a lot of good thinking around how, for example, anti-discrimination legislation that we recently won in New York City, a few years ago, doesn’t actually protect people very effectively against being highly marginalized in the employment market because of the dynamics of “at will” employment and the sort of broader forces of oppression and racism in society. And so we can recognize the limits of both liberal equality and liberal celebration, liberal recognition. And I think people are very right to point out and call attention to the trans liberation, trans well-being, trans life has to be something more than getting on magazine covers and having famous people mention the existence of trans people.

I will also say that I think that the increased visibility has had dramatic and substantial benefits. And one of the stark ones Jules mentioned is the increase in the numbers of trans people, that part of the dynamics of trans life is at any given time, there are probably a lot of people out there who have internally and privately a trans experience that they are not yet able to act on in the world, to come out, to transition, to find other trans people, to talk about their experience. In my work as an analyst, I certainly encounter a lot of people in this situation. And the level of increased visibility just has dramatic implications of enabling a lot more people to find each other and to build a life together in ways that I think are very powerful. And then the other is, I think there actually has been a dramatic and substantial increase in trans organizing and trans movement-building that’s happened concurrently and that has taken Black trans leadership and communities very seriously in some ways. I think the Black Lives Matter Movement is one of the most substantially trans-inclusive political struggles I’ve ever seen, more inclusive than, I would say, most LGBT rights organizations and organizing. And I think that Black Lives Matter has been very powerful in moving money, attention, and support to Black trans-led movements, and helped them a lot in gaining political grounds in a variety of ways: whether that means money or specific policy reforms, or much broader level of attention and infrastructure. Which, obviously, we have quite a long ways to go, but we’re out in the streets and then struggle together and the tipping point has been a dimension of this political process unfolding that has dangers, that has backlash, a backlash that has, in the words of one anthology, a trapdoor, but also has some really quite powerful opportunities in advances.

TFSR: Yeah, thanks for mapping that out. First, that historical moment that we’re in the wake of and then the complexities of visibility, how that can bring good things and also cause some harm. I also think it’s really important, as you noted, to talk about the Black trans leadership we see in movements – that’s a different kind of visibility than the media or TV show kind of visibility the tipping point refers to.

There’s one thing that, Jules, you and your co-editor Elle O’Rourke write in the introduction, “if trans life can’t be eradicated, it can be normalized and disciplined.” So I’m interested in this… I don’t know if you have more to say about this kind of double-edged sword where there are these gains, but there’s also maybe a risk of what we saw with gay liberation becoming a movement for marriage equality. I wondered what either or both of you had to say about this as a potential moment of capture by capital, by the state? Can we be distracted in the way that transness can be stylized and then normalized, and then sold back to us? Or is there also hope for the resistance to that capture?

JG: Yeah, I’m happy to talk about this and the introduction. Sadly, Elle couldn’t join us today, but this was the introduction that we cowrote together. I suppose just to say one more word on Black Lives Matter does: what the introduction is trying to capture is at once we have these remarkable and unpredictable breakthroughs, breakthroughs that sometimes are quite hard to keep track of and last summer, when Black Lives Matter was in full swing, was definitely one of these cases. This is one of the moments we touch upon, the cleaning-of-the-house moment that bought around the Black Trans Lives Matter rally in Brooklyn. And this is the optimistic aspect of it: all of these insurgent, intersectional connections, which are just being put into motion rather than just theorized, I think, like Michelle was saying, we’re just getting out onto the streets some of the time. But the other aspect is there needs to also be a realistic assessment of what’s standing in our way. And what you’re flagging up here as a section where we talk about the family, about private households. And this is, I think, still an intractable and still probably – I don’t know if it’s the majority of the harm that trans people encounter – but definitely any group of trans people you meet, if you talk to them about their relationships with those parents, extended families, even the friendship circles they’ve grown up with, I think maybe a minority will have had fortunate or blessed experiences, if you know what I mean.

So this is this passage which you’re flagging up that the repression and disciplining, and to drawback to what Michelle was just saying, it’s the privatization of transgender experiences where many people are allowed to furtively and secretly live out the lives they want to live, but then among the people maybe who raised them, the people who they grew up around, they have to don another face, don another attire. I think that’s something which there’s no reason to believe that is going to transform anytime soon. Maybe Michelle would want to say some more about it. Specifically, what we’re trying to do in this introduction is address the family, address private life as part of political life, which is a familiar concern for anyone, especially anyone who’s read feminist history. But we use a particular framework drawn from Angela Mitropoulos, who writes about Oikonomia / Economia, the binding and normative rules that appear in these private households. And that’s one way which we’re trying to approach this broader question, which is then returned to, in many different ways, throughout the rest of the collection. There’s basically this question of how can it be that exactly what’s supposed to be apolitical or de-political safe haven from political and capitalism – the household, our upbringings, our private lives – how can it be that those places are what any trans politics has to work through before it even exists? Before we can even take to the streets openly? That’s what this introduction is trying to cut up. I’m sure Michelle has some stuff to say as well.

MO: In the introduction, Jules’ reference substantively engages this question of the family. And you have another question, Scott, around thinking about family and family abolition. Family abolition is a very powerful way of trying to think through these pieces alongside each other, both thinking about the overall circuits of labor markets and capitalist society that the family plays a really integral role in. And then thinking about how, nested within that, the violence and tyranny and brutality that trans people face within so many structures of family. And part of the dynamics of the privacy of the family, is that it’s very difficult to make inroads in there. People are able to constitute a level of family or a form of family that’s protected against a certain kind of outside scrutiny, attention, a certain space of political struggle, and that a lot of our political movements are oriented to the state, perhaps to employers, the civil society, and it becomes much more difficult to think in political terms about what it takes to transform families. Like some of the dynamics of the workplace or some of the dynamics of the state, I think this is a real limit for contemporary social movements, that we are sort of trying to figure out how to politicize and transform these spaces that are that have deep structural dynamics in the reproduction of collective life. And it’s part of what leads a lot of trans people to be interested in science-fiction, in revolutionary politics in a more dramatic sense, in thinking about what could it mean to actually come up against and move beyond these limits.

TFSR: The experience of being trans within this bourgeois ideal of a white family that is still upheld, even though it contradicts the reality of what people are experiencing… Actually, there’s one way that you put it in the introduction, talking about how the families serves, not only in a moral sense, that is the way that is often talked about, but also in an economic sense as the project of neoliberal debt imperialism. Like allowing the state to continue to throw people into dispensable situations and somehow maintain itself while doing less and less. My question is about how this historical point we’re in, where there’s like more and more trans people, there’s still this relic of the family, but the family is not doing what it’s supposed to be doing. How does transness come in as a way to disrupt that? How can we use that increased visibility, the increased trans struggle to continue to work against that stranglehold of the family, not simply morally but also economically, politically?

JG: That’s a great question. In terms of us addressing the bourgeois family, obviously, the abolition of the bourgeois family is something that is not specific to radical trans theory or anything like that. It also appears in the Communist Manifesto, obviously, and this was something which various figures in the First International were committed to and published about in the writing in various ways. What’s being talked about at this point is the bourgeois family as in this type of household which brings up the new generation, but also transfers wealth and assets and fixed capital from one generation to the next one. So when the introduction is talking about this contemporary phase, very much what we’re drawing from is these extensive decades of work, now, that’s been done looking at the New Right where through the political framework, the New Right had envisioned was not only about the strong state but also about strong families. And this is still very much evident today. If you tune into Tucker Carlson, he’s not only talking about how the police need to be given powers to put down Black Lives Matter, last time I tuned in, he’s also complaining about how today your kid’s probably a stoner cause weed is legal, so your kid’s got bloodshot eyes over the dinner table and stuff like that. This is still a part of the Right Wing imaginary, part of the Right Wing horizon is that families need to be strengthened up and there needs to be more authority against generations and pure disruption of that. One of the things he said, though obviously, Marx didn’t really talk about white families, and I suppose this is saying which more came on to the abolitionist horizon from work like Hortense Spillers’ black feminist critique which is identifying how, specifically in the American context, what’s being transferred across generations for Black families through much of US history is not wealth and not fixed assets, but exactly legal dispossession. Being un-personed and so on is exactly what’s being transferred from one generation to the next. I’ve run out of things to say at this point. But the reason I suppose that this is the family abolitionist politics has been of relevance to me and several other people in the collection, is exactly because there is this moment where you feel like a lot of the existing left has strayed from the First International in ways which I think are a shame and ways which we consider to reunite with these questions of gender and household oppression quite easily. That’s my own project.

MO: I’m writing a book on family abolition for Pluto at the moment, and it’s in full swing, as Jules and other people know. I have just an enormous amount to say about all of this. I don’t want to take up our podcast time talking about it too much at length, but a few points… One is, in the introduction, Jules referenced the family as the site of privatized social reproduction. It’s very helpful to think about the family not just in terms of a sort of normative ideal that’s imposed through policy, that’s aspired to by people, an ideological form that exists on the right and in culturally conservative sections of the left, but also the family just concretely: who do you live with? Who do you share whatever limited resources you have available? If you’re not able to work, who are you dependent on that you actually know? Who do you cook for? Who cooks for you? These questions are really concrete social reproduction that can be done entirely in the market to some extent, could hypothetically be done in various historical times and for specific strata through a welfare structure or a state structure, but overwhelmingly are done through forming relationships of care, dependency, coercion, intimacy with specific people in our lives, and that the vast majority of children are raised in this kind of structure. People have these privatized households, and there are all sorts of political implications for that. One of those political implications is that it’s a total growing up as a queer trans youth, as a gender nonconforming child, if you are unlucky enough to end up in an extremely unsupportive household, things are bad, and there are very few opportunities for collective intervention in how to change that. It’s insulated from a certain kind of struggle and collective transformation, which is a tremendous problem for liberatory movements, and how we think about them.

In terms of race and white supremacy, Jules mentioned Hortense Spillers, I’ve been very inspired by the work of Tiffany Lethabo King, who rereads Hortense Spillers and Afro-pessimism and thinks about race and gender in terms of family abolitionism. And I think there’s a way of reading about the history of enslavement and the history of the pathologization of Black families in the United States in terms of an imposition of a white norm that demonizes and pathologizes the certain kinds of kinship structures coupled to an actual apparatus of state violence, of economic violence, of historically slavery…. really fragmenting kin relationships. And that there is a dynamic dialectic in the history of anti-racist, anti-capitalist struggle in the United States, between really seeing a white bourgeois family norm as something to aspire to and pursue versus thinking that we could do something very different and better. What would it mean to actually care for each other? And that there’s a wonderful, long legacy of people trying to form a chosen family, trying to depend on extended family, trying to depend on neighborhood and community, and that these are both inspiring and to be celebrated and defended, but also run into all these contradictions that have to do with what it means to try to constitute a household in the capitalist society. And uneven access to work, to resources, to public space, and the way it structures power dynamics internally. And we can point to the bourgeois white family as an extreme or particularly horrific example of that, or the Christian fundamentalist family. But that even in chosen family structures, the broader dynamics of trying to survive and reproduce ourselves in a capitalist society are going to torque those relationships, to distort those relationships and make it very difficult to figure out how to treat each other well. Anytime we are dependent on people, there’s an element, a dynamic of coercion that becomes a part of that, that we have to sort through and we have to sort it through politically and collectively in a way that the family as a structure ends up opposing.

TFSR: Thanks for that. And I’m also very excited to read the work on family abolition because I’m also super interested in that. Maybe we can talk about that when it comes out. Going back to Spillers, because both of you mentioned that at the end of Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe, Spillers says that the violent experience of women in chattel slavery made sort of ungendered is how she ends up talking about it, and she points to it as a place for rethinking and a resistant understanding and reframing of feminism from that experience. Maybe this is what you were referring to, is the dialectic with changing the impact of the state and economic violence that creates the situation of oppression into a place where you can start framing liberation. And I see that also that gets paralleled in the 60s-70s, gay liberation movement and feminism where the places that are excluded and marginalized are also places to form a resistance. And I wonder, to what extent do you think the trans experience within these structures is also actually the threat to the social order that the right-wing would claim it to be? I guess this could get back into that question of capture because it could also be domesticated in a way. But I wonder if you have thoughts on how trans experience could be liberatory in that way.

MO: I’m most attentive to the substantial intersection between transness and poverty. This is particularly true of trans people from working-class and poor backgrounds. It’s particularly true of trans people of color. It’s particularly true of trans women. Employment discrimination is quite widespread, is quite prevalent. And one of the things I tried to do in my piece is thinking about how coming out as trans, how transitioning, if you’re not able to be very stealth and very closeted and very lucky in pulling that off – and for lots of trans people being stealth is not a realistic goal – that’s going to have a huge impact on your employment trajectory, a huge impact on how you’re able to reproduce your class position, a huge impact on your economic chances. And that that’s true across the board. So you see a downward shift in class position for lots and lots of trans people. And then there’s a huge host of trans people from poor and working-class backgrounds for whom that shift pushes you entirely out of formal employment. Getting access to formal wage labor is extremely difficult. And so you see lots and lots of trans people, trans women, particularly working-class trans women and trans women of color, but it’s actually quite a widespread experience for trans women to spend extended periods of time engaging in sex work of various sorts, engaging in criminalized economies, in hustles. And then you see these little pockets of employment niches where trans people are able to reproduce themselves with some visibility, and that is most closely tied to the world of sex work and criminalized economies. I’d put HIV services, a lot of ex-sex workers or current sex workers end up doing HIV prevention services, and trans social services tied up with the world of HIV services. So, you have all these weird dynamics in fundraising and public health administration and biopolitical surveillance and criminalization tied up with this nonprofit nexus that people might use as a way of exiting out of sex work into like a lower risk, but also much lower-paying job, often with some stability. And in the Trans Oral History Project, they interviewed several former sex workers working in HIV services now and the dynamic of that trajectory.

But you have a few other pockets and those are growing. I’m certainly attentive to social work, there’s a presence of trans women in tech. As changes open up, the spaces of employment expand, but by and large, the experience of trans life is one of significant economic precarity. And so long as that’s true, and there’s a lot of reasons to think it could be mostly true for a long time to come, that has a dramatic impact on people’s politics. Being highly economically marginalized in a situation of a disappearing welfare state, of hostility and lack of support from your families of origin, of very little safety net, puts you in a position where you are relying on friends, on your own ability to engage in criminalized hustles, and makes it very clear that the world is a nightmare that needs to be overcome and destroyed. That’s not a universal response by any means. But the economic experience of economic precarity helps me make sense of why so many trans people end up in political struggles, in organizing, end up with anti-capitalist politics of a wide variety, and helps me make sense of under what hypothetical future conditions are trans people likely to be on the left or to be far-left. The circumstances of our political inclusion – obviously, a stratum of trans people could be politically included quite quickly – but really it depends on the question of employment and economic stability.

JG: There’s a few different chapters of the book that deal with this question of work, I suppose, as you’d expect from a Marxist collection. I feel like Michelle and Kate Doyle Griffiths’ piece, both addressing this question of how trans people managed to exist as workers. I think, as Michelle was alluding to, it’s also that any understanding of trans work has to understand the experience of being out of work long-term and unemployment relying on state resources or perhaps family and friend networks and so on. There’s also Zoe Belinsky’s essay, which is called “Transgender and Disabled Bodies – Between Pain and the Imaginary” and in another way, Anja Flower’s “Cosmos Against Nature in the Class Struggle of Proletarian Trans Women”, which is more using this framework of direct market mediation and the indirect in terms of the reproductive labor. So there’s a bunch of different perspectives addressing this question of both what it means to exist and make it in a workplace as a trans person and also the very commonplace realities that a lot of the time, that’s not really where we end up. Where we end up as more in the industrial reserve army of labor. You’re proletarians insofar as you’re stripped from the means of production, but not proletarians, insofar as you actually have a source of exploited toil, which you’re reliably committed to. Like Michelle, I definitely consider us spending so much time in the underbelly of capital and its reproduction a huge part of why it’s such a commonplace to find communist trans people, or leftist, anti-capitalist, whatever you want to call it.

TSFR: Or even anarchist trans people, which is the enclave I inhabit.

I like the narrative that Michelle poses away that a trans person could become politicized in a particular way. One of the things that the book in multiple essays grapples with is the extent of trying to survive under these conditions in a way that’s at least somewhat bearable versus having even the energy or the ability to fight the conditions that create that form of deathly oppression. A lot of the essays do a really good job of trying to talk about how we can create situations to survive and then also think about where we can fight against them. One of the most important things for me reading this whole book and reading everyone’s pieces is how it intervenes within the discussion of social reproduction and thinking about trans life through care work. This is something we keep mentioning, but I want to dive more directly into that. If either of you wanted to talk a little bit about how you think the transgender Marxism wreath frames social reproduction because there’s a feminist version of that, and I think that you’re building on that in here, but doing something different with specific trans experience. And specifically also talking about the transition through this lens. Maybe we can just start with understanding what a trans analysis of social reproduction might be.

JG: Yeah, that’s an exciting question, because social reproduction comes up in this collection in a bunch of different ways. Social reproduction appears on several different registers across the course of this collection. The first one is in the very first essay by Noah Zazanis, which is called “Social Reproduction and Social Cognition”, brings that Marxist feminist framework into dialogue with some more mainstream psych kind of approaches to how people develop their identities from a very young age. I guess the different approaches taken in this collection speak to the pretty broad set of approaches that Marxist feminism has increasingly come to deploy. And it’s worth mentioning that social reproduction is not actually a framework that every Marxist theorist or even every Marxist feminist is really committed to. So it’s not exclusively an SRT collection. However, I suppose that the reason which I first came to this framework of social reproduction that is focusing on workforces, what come to the workforces in the first place, how people come to the laborers and sustain themselves as laborers… The point at which I came to this, I suppose was exactly in the wake, as I was saying before, of the tipping point, and as part of my frustration that so few people really were providing any explanation as to why this was happening. And I actually found it to be very prevalent on the right, the right-wing accounts of these things were just depicted as some mysterious degeneration, or perhaps an ideological mania. But I also was finding that a lot of social theorists didn’t really seem to provide any satisfying or even helpful attempts at working out what was going on.

So social reproduction was the thing which I personally was pretty committed to around 2016. And I would say a lot of the collection is taking that meaning of the time and that avenue of inquiry, which is specifically looking at communities and subcultures, if you will, but I would rather say these reproductive circles, in whatever form they take, which provide people collectively with the means of making themselves transgender. Which has been discussed, primarily means surviving as a transgender proletarian, although it’s not the only variation, as we all know. That’s the primary meaning which I’ve been interested in and invested in. But as I say, this isn’t a settled question. And this is an ongoing discussion within Marxist feminist theory, what are the best terms to use and the best frameworks and understanding. I’m happy to say a lot more about that. Probably both myself and Michelle could talk all day about this one.

MO: I would distinguish three registers that I think of social reproduction as having a really huge impact on trans life. And I think Jules to some extent referenced each of these. One is thinking about the mutual aid networks, communities of support, that when somebody thinks they might be trans or gender questioning or knows with confidence that they are trans, they might go out and seek connections with other people to be able to help them think through both their gender identity and way of thinking about themselves, the concrete steps around transition. And this is I think, partially why we’ve seen just a giant increase in the numbers of trans people coming out with a steadily increasing access to the internet. People on the internet are able to find these communities. And why there are have been particular pockets of trans people for many, many generations, who are demographically numerous in highly specific social settings.

Like when I came out as trans in 2000, shortly after getting out of college, I looked around, I was in a kind of queer punk scene where there were a lot of trans masculine people and very few trans feminine people. And I looked around the country and I found three or four other punk trans feminine, trans women. And then I moved to Philadelphia and met like 300 black trans women my age who were the first trans women of my age I ever met. And it’s because they had this highly developed scene around balls and houses where they really figured out how to enable each other’s transitions. That certainly wasn’t available in the Women’s Studies Department, right? In my much more privileged background on some level, I was really lacking this supportive space and community. And I had various internet-based communities to try to figure out how to do this that have since really flourished and are much bigger. So that’s one meaning of social reproduction.

Another meaning is the violence and tyranny that we might experience in our homes, the dynamics of our family of origin, household as this private space of reproduction. And so social reproduction has been really key to thinking about anti-trans violence.

And then another register of social reproduction is that, depending on how you parse it, many people identify various formal wage labor sectors as being really integral to social reproduction. Nurses, teachers, daycare workers, elder care attendants – all these different people that are reproducing humans capable of participating in the labor market and society. And I think for various reasons, you see a lot of gender-nonconforming people in these sectors. These are feminized sectors, they are sectors that historically have had lots of women and queer people of various genders. I think there are different historical dynamics that have brought a fair number of trans people into working in these realms. And that these are realms of intense labor struggle, currently, and that some of the dynamics of de-industrialization and the shift to a late service economy, that these are not sectors that are easily automated, so that the need for labor isn’t easily reduced. So you really have a growing section, in the Global North, of people working in these labor sectors, and that these labor sectors have a lot of potential for uniting and connecting different sectors, strata of the working class, and bringing people together in different and complex and rich ways as part of their struggle for working conditions.

 

JG: Oh, just one more thing, quickly on the connection, I really appreciated that three-part breakdown from Michelle. I suppose one more thing in the collection, one way it appears is there’s this primarily historical essay by Nat Raha which looks at exactly the kind of movement struggles which brought what we now call social reproduction theory into being and she looks at one of these lesser-known groups, a British collective called Wages Due Lesbians, which was a counterpart of the much better-known Wages For Housework. That was operating in the context of the British New Right. And that looks at some overlaps that she perceives between this group and the much better-known STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) in New York City. That’s another approach that you can find in the collection. There’s at once a range of different social reproduction theory type outlooks, and also people who see social reproduction theory as a thing to talk about other terms.

TFSR: That was already helpful to think about what transgender Marxist perspective on social reproduction COULD look like in different ways. The last point that you made, Michelle, was talking about another possible place for politicization, given that trans people and non-binary people or gender non-conforming people would be working in specific situations for a potential radicalization. That was interesting to me as another reframing of that inherent liberatory perspective that sometimes gets through and around and to me, seems often like a very liberal feeling, just being trans in itself is somehow resistance. But you discuss more explicitly how that actually works through the work that trans people do in the care work that they do for other people.

One thing I might do to follow up. That visibility in the mainstream, the idea of transition often becomes individualized, like there’s a particular internal experience that needs to be brought out through transition. The liberal perspective will get brought into the nuclear family that somehow unchanged by the fact of a transgender child, when there’s a focus on a supportive family, but the thing that the book really brought out in me, a way more explicit to me that I personally experienced through transition is how much of this is done through community and, as you said, Michelle, mutual aid. We see that also in the pandemic, just like with hormones, when there’s a supply chain break, people are sharing hormones, for example. So, I wonder if you wanted to talk more about that actual work of transition, because that’s something that gets brought up a lot in this book, and I thought it was also a major contribution by a lot of the writers in here to think about the process of transition this way, rather than the transgender individual who somehow exists. I can ask more detailed questions, but if you want to, if you have something to jump in right there, I’ll leave it open to you.

MO: This is something that other contributors and other people have thought a lot more about. I said a little bit about it, in terms of thinking about mutual aid support, but I don’t have a lot more to add.

 

LG: In my essay, I guess this is one that tried to address this question. It’s called “How Do Gender Transitions Happen?” I think that simultaneously, you can’t do away with either the personal narrative, the personal process, the very self-directed, individualized labor which people go through, or the community working. But I think it’s interesting that these things appear to be at odds, or they appear as distinctive to each other and yet, from another view, they always unfold at the same time. You’re always drawing from collective resources, or at other times, as Michelle was saying, there’s a lot of parallel development, there’s a lot of different communities which are attempting much the same thing, much the same process of transition in very different contexts and with very different styles. The point which the essay is trying to address is how people will tend to switch between these different registers of approaching transition either as something which is a set of encounters that is continuously happening as you try and negotiate your way through the world or through the community rewriting and renarrativizing. Just the specific stuff which actual circles of transgender people can do together.

 

TFSR: There’s the passage in your introduction that really stuck out to me, that “transition must come to be understood by revolutionaries as a response to its own form of hunger. The longings that drive so many to reforge lives for ourselves that leave us thoroughly proletarianized, or cast out rendered surplus”. I like this statement because I think it leaves behind the gender as a social construction versus essential gender as not even something worth spending a lot of time on at this point, and focuses on the act of transition as politicized, political, and I think it gets articulated also as ethical. But one thing that came up for me reading this is how do we… I guess there’s this personal / political divide. I could see this being dismissed as a lifestylism or self-chosen marginalization. Subcultures often get dismissed, like anarchists or punks. The thing that I really want to pull out of here is the trans desire, and also how that position of surplus in capitalism and the state, which is historically needed for capitalism to function the way it does, but how that can we rethink that place as a set of insurrection?

MO: I’ll just briefly say that I think desire is really an underappreciated category in liberation movements and the far-left. Desire is both far beyond the question of individual choice or individual preference, or how we think about market options that I think in some transphobic, conservative left discourse, there’s this idea of people choosing genders in a free way, like a neoliberal subject chooses consumer items. And that, I think, is a profound trivialization of how deep, how powerful, how transformative, and how uncertain desire is. Desire is very much what sets us in motion, in unfolding processes of personal and collective transformation, desire for survival, desire for dignity, desire for recognition. These desires are not, they’re not trivial things, they are things that are not easily satisfied, they are things that set us on trajectories that we don’t know where we’re going to end up. And that brings us into alignment and into connection with each other. And that’s just a whole realm, a whole dimension of political struggle, that I think trans people, precisely because often most trans people have made a set of personal decisions around changing their gender, that was significantly at odds with major sections of our social world, our families, our jobs, whatever that is, and had some clarity that we had a certain, one could say, truth that we were trying to think through or trying to grapple with, that might not be an essential gender, or a kind of inner gender, but a certain kind of desire in the world. And that opens up some space for thinking about how the desire functions in terms of the entire working class, in terms of the struggle for the abolition of class society, in terms of the desire to destroy and remake the world. We need to spend a lot of time listening to that and thinking much harder about that, and thinking beyond these categories of individual choice versus structural determinants.

JG: So, I suppose we talked about desire and, talking about things in terms of hunger. This is a part of the introduction where we are talking about Georges Bataille, the French theorist, pornographic writer, very heterodox political economist, call him what you will. And Bataille exactly counter-poses this effort of previous anti-imperialists prior to Marx, who were trying to elevate things and talk in terms of eagles and surpassing things. This is his critique of surrealism, by the way. It’s a very eccentric essay. But his point is that Marx is more about the old mole, it’s more about the subterranean, and specifically he talks about the hunger of the proletarian bellies being central to what Marx was trying to do or the indispensable feature of that. The stuff you’re alluding to exactly, people are dismissing this stuff as questions of lifestyle, or marginalization or whatever. This is what I feel needs to be addressed. But even if they’re rarely spoken about in the political field, transitions are the consequences of cravings, breakdowns, powerful emotions that make themselves central to the decisions we make and to the things we depart on. So you use the word ethical and that’s exactly right, a transition is always going to be about reshaping your life, taking steps, and in some way engaging in activities that transform who you are, how you’re perceived, how you’re apprehended, how you apprehend yourself. Any approach to trying to do… Whatever trans theory that doesn’t include that is bound to failure. But also, I don’t necessarily see this as something we have to choose between. We know that people seem to be living lives that are filled with desperation and breakdowns and then they get hold of these endocrinological interventions, like they got a hold of sex hormones and this transforms the lives substantially, maybe doesn’t solve all their problems, of course, it never does. But it transforms the course of their life. That doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to do the political economy of sex hormones. I’ve actually been trying to look it up, but I can’t find it. Was it you, Michelle, who wrote this piece on the trajectory of sex hormones that’s going across work? I remember I was reading this in one of these trans studies collections. But this would be an essay from a long time ago, but I can’t remember if it was you or I was just reading this.

 

MO: Yes, in 2004, I wrote an essay about capitalism and pharmaceutical companies and hormones, that got reproduced many years later in the second Routledge Transgender Studies Reader. A very long time ago.

JG: So it was the second one.

MO:Tracing This Body” is its name.

JG: Yeah, a lot of it’s kind of talking about the shipping process and the way that these things move across continents. It’s 2004, so people have been working on this for a long time. This is exactly what I mean. But there’s no reason that we can’t look at these things in a way that applies an internationalist framework, which looks at how the actual ways that pharmaceutical companies interact with transition, not the conspiracy theory version where for some reason, pharmaceutical companies are trying to profit off incredibly cheap, low-cost medical treatments. There’s no reason that we have to say, “Oh there are all of these passionate sensations. And there’s been this political economy, and we have to look at one or the other”. But it’s exactly Marx’s kind of materialism that we don’t accept that as a choice, right? These are things that are continuously interacting, people are always trying to sort out their own lives on a very basic level, but then they run into this stuff, then they run into the reality of having a landlord and having a doctor. And all of these other lopsided social relations, which they have to work through. That’s what the point about hunger is, because as you say, I think this is a difficult argument to win. But also it’s like the most important one in a way.

TFSR: Thanks. Both of these are beautiful answers. What you just said, Jules, brings up for me, there’s the experience of the relationship of a trans person to the medical and pharmaceutical industry, I am trans and also chronically ill. And you’ll get leftists who will make this argument that your existence for either of these reasons could not persist post revolution, whatever vision of a revolution they have, because, in some way, you’re so reliant on these capital systems of production and shipping, etc. And I know that’s an interesting dynamic to see the ways that those genocidal ideas play out within a leftist circle. I don’t know if you have more to say about that. And maybe Michelle, that’s something that you were talking about in that earlier text.

MO: Thankfully, there are a lot of people thinking about this and speaking on it. I wrote a piece for Commune magazine called “Junkie Communism”. And I, in some ways wrote it, you wouldn’t be able to tell this reading essay, it’s a discussion of the Young Lords and them doing syringe exchange work in a detox in the South Bronx during the occupation at Lincoln hospital, and how that helped shape harm reduction today. And I wrote that essay, in my head, as a direct response to a really vicious and very ableist genocidal framework that I saw amongst Tiqqunists and some other anarchist strains in the United States, of like, “after the revolution, all these disabled people are going to die.” And like that gets referenced one way or another. I think it’s an “Introduction to Civil War” that they say that diabetics are objectively counter-revolutionary and I think that’s a current in the American far-left or in the international far-left. So it really has to be directly combated and there are various ways that we can challenge that and various ways we can critique it, and the one that I go to is a form of radical communist humanism on some level. A fundamental political principle has to be taking each other’s lives seriously and taking the profound preciousness of lives that are treated as disposable. A part of our political paths as communists or as revolutionaries, is to really cultivate an ethic of caring for each other, of defending each other’s lives, of treating the subtitle in the piece I wrote on Communism, “No One Is Disposable.” They’re really not participating in the kind of a ranking of the value of life. The trend obviously comes pretty directly out of my experience as a trans person and thinking about trans life as being treated as disposable on all these different social registers in the world.

JG: I definitely recommend people check out “Junkie Communism” as well. In the collection, there is an essay on disability, which I’ve already mentioned by Zoe Belinsky, who is also a diabetic in reference to the Tiqqun bit. This essay’s approach to this question of disability is pretty phenomenological, it’s looking at the philosophy of experience. And the main framework which Zoe was using is talking about disability in terms of this sensation of “I cannot”. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who is this communist philosopher Zoe’s mostly responding to, talked about things in terms of experience and our way through the world in terms of “I can”, so you encounter things and you think, “Well, I can rotate this square 90 degrees”, and that lets you understand the square. So Zoe’s always a social account here, looking at exactly where disability arises, where you think, “Well, I can’t do that”. I’m really glad that this essay is in there. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think of it because needless to say, a lot of our contributors are chronically ill, I certainly am. I feel like it never quite works out, it’s not just additional to being transgender, it always overlaps and interacts with it and these things mesh in interesting ways.

But strangely, I feel like actual extended pieces about disability in my circles are unusual. There’s a lot of contributors who don’t talk about their experiences with chronic conditions, chronic illnesses in this collection, who’ve definitely been through that. So I’m hoping that between the essays we’ve talked about… I’m hoping that this stuff appears in the near future because it’s definitely a thing which is increasingly, on my mind, I felt like if you don’t really have an account of disability and the way in which it interacts with people that are preparing themselves for the workforce, then why not? This is obviously something that not only brings people into these struggles and says that people have to work through in order to survive but it’s also something that has been the site of so much organizing across so many different national contexts. It’s an ongoing point of crisis, definitely, in Britain I come from. I can’t see why people would leave this out of consideration. Other than maybe in Tiqqun’s case, I think it’s just edgy flourishes, I feel like they just don’t care very much, so they just put the stuff in to show that bad-ass insurrectionists or whatever. But I think we can do a lot better than that, an honest account of the people who become communists especially is going to include a lot of reflection on the stuff and how it impacts our lives.

TFSR: I appreciated that putting the “I can’t” as the primary experience. Other people who often make these arguments are like primitivist anarchists, and to frame that as the original experience of being a human rethinks that idea of there’s Essential or Integral Health before domestication, civilization, whatever you want to call it. I’m glad you brought that piece, too, because I think that’s really important.

I did want to go back to the question of desire and bringing us to the relationship between a trans liberation movement to the earlier gay liberation movement. One of the things I appreciate in the book is that there’s an argument against separating gender and sexuality as if there are two separate fields, which in academic discourse, became a thing for a while that gender and sexuality have to be thought of separately. But as both of you have emphasized, the desire inherent in the transgender experience, and also connecting it to these other readers like Bataille makes me think of Guy Hocqenghem talking about Fourier as a way to rethink Marx through the desire within an economy. So, we’re past the end of gay liberation and the ways that it had been co-opted. And we’re in a new era of uprising and resistance. How does the trans liberation still theorize desire as revolutionary without getting trapped in the ways that it can be enclosed into a liberal understanding of life choices as you put it, Michelle? And I had originally written some questions about earlier theorists like Guy Hocqenghem, Mario Mieli thinking about homosexuality or transsexuality as the horizon of liberation and as providing the means towards it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas and what we can inherit from that older tradition of gay liberation.

JG: Well, I actually have an essay published in the magazine, which Michelle is a founding member of, PinkoMag, which deals with Mario Mieli specifically. The essay is a sketch of what they want to work on in the future. Mieli is the Italian gay communist thinker, whose work is mostly from the early 70s. His / their work definitely uses this term transsexuality underlying the homosexual experience and specifically that what triggers homophobia, what sets it off, is that there is this base level of transsexuality, that cross-dressing, male-male desire, and so on. All these things can cause the precondition of civilization like transsexuality to peek out. I love that stuff. I think it’s 1972. By all means, check out that piece on Pinko if you want to know anything about him.

But in terms of desire, which is what you began with, I feel probably what’s the most interesting thing is why would people want to do away with desire? Why would you want to think politics without our desires and needs? That is the thing that I feel needs to justify itself. The reason I come back to Marxism all the time is that exactly what Marxism seems to provide, for me, is an account which is happy to begin with the commodity. This is what Marx begins Capital One with, what he starts with the commodity, he says, “the commodities are a strange or curious or queer thing, he says “verdächt.So the commodity is this inscrutable object. And the reason it’s so strange, and the reason you look at it, and then you look at it again, see something different, is because commodities are, on the one hand, very straightforward, very simple things. Like you want to have a snack – you buy a pack of peanuts. There we go, what could be simpler than that? And yet, when you consider them several different times, we find that it is connected to the supersensual thing which is beyond our immediate experience. Like we were saying earlier, with sex hormones, they are something you need for your satisfaction, and yet that is also something which has been shipped from another country, fabricated probably in another continent, and it’s being prescribed to you by someone in an authoritative social position.

I felt like this is sort of the way with desire. Why do we need to lose it? Why do we need to not talk about these palpable feelings that seem to drive us and lead us around? Why have we got to put those in the cupboard? I’m not going to say the closet. Why have we got to get rid of them? And that’s increasingly what I’m not convinced about, I don’t think that we need to. That’s why I was putting together a Marxist collection. I hope that the different perspectives we’ve put together mean that you don’t need to do that. You can look at things psychoanalytically at one point, and you can even look at things historically and look at different movements. Or you can try and do several things at once. Why not? Just see what works.

MO: I don’t have a lot to say. But I think this has been a really central concern at Pinko that we’re really interested in trying to think through and to think hard about the legacy of gay liberation. Gay liberationism both has some really quite extraordinary and very powerful potentials and currents and has more or less been a catastrophic failure in a lot of ways for thinking about our current moment. And to think those alongside each other in a way that really tries to draw out, to reload what could be relevant for understanding our era, for understanding sexual and gender life today, I think Jules’ pieces are a very powerful example of our efforts of trying to do that as a collective and as a journal.

I think this question of the separation of sexual orientation and gender is largely relatively unhelpful. It belongs to – even though it was pioneered in circles dominated by continental philosophy – it really kind of reeks of an analytic attempt at separating out things in[to] distinct categories that you then can isolate their divisions. While, really it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of homosexual desire abstracted from gender difference was ludicrous, it is an invention of advanced capitalist society in the 20th century and hasn’t yet permeated lots of places. You look back on the history of sodomy, and a huge amount of it involved people that were gender non-conforming in a wide variety of ways. I have some problems with it, but I think Andrea Long Chu is very interesting for talking about transitioning as being very tied up with scopic desire, with the desire of what one sees, and what one wants to become, that I think some of our efforts at avoiding some transphobic discourse around this thing prevents trans people from spending as much time talking about or thinking about as might be helpful. But the question of sexual desire and sexual yearning and gender identity has always been deeply bound up. And separating them is an elaborate artificial conceptual edifice that we should question.

TFSR: I’m glad you brought up that last thing about the ways that people try to avoid the transphobic discourse to the extent that they end up maybe repeating or leaving those distinctions in place. Winding it down, I want to ask my anarchistic question, because you’ve framed this as a Transgender Marxism and one of the classical resistance between anarchists and a version of Marxism is this historical determinism or these ideas of blueprints and stages? I’m totally open to that being a misreading of Marx, it’s played out within authoritarian communist parties. And I think historically, we could see gay liberation, the historical gay liberation movement of the 60s and 70s being a reaction to some of those versions of authoritarian communism. So I appreciated that this book didn’t play along those authoritarian lines and also made a lot of space for historical contingency. So I’m wondering how you might frame this materialist account – all of the pieces really ground their analysis from a materialist perspective – how do we bring that into relation with unknown historical contingencies, the future solidarity is that we might need to elaborate and in the particular context of trans struggle? To me, this often is a place to think of anarchism as an intervention, but I’m wondering what you have to say about that.

JG: I was really looking forward to this question, because it is a juicy one. I suppose the very short answer is that I have always found the sectarian divide between communists of the kind I get along with, communists who are my comrades and anarchists to be very flimsy, even spurious. And communism, when I use the term, and anarchist positions are remarkably similar and definitely have significantly more common ground than they have divergences. And the divergences that do exist are primarily cultural scene history stuff. That’s how I put it. That’s the very short answer.

The longer answer is, I think, Marxist communist politics of the kind I affiliate myself with, of the kind I feel connected to, have always been implacably anti-state and had a position towards the state which considers its greatest strength to also be the things that make it the most threatening and most indispensable for capitalists. The state does things that no individual capitalist is able to do and brings capitalist society into existence, one generation after the next. That’s my position. I also feel like this is becoming a much more common position among Marxist theoreticians like David Nally really recently had a series about the state, which was basically saying what I just said in a much longer way. Michel Heinrich just had an appearance on the Antifada podcast where he’s talking about how the second part of his autobiography, which is across several books, is gonna focus heavily on Bakunin and in this much misunderstood, antagonistic relationship, which Marx and Bakunin had with each other, an antagonistic relationship that exactly was over the narcissism of small differences in many cases. Increasingly, this is the turn things are taking. Obviously, there is an enormous amount of bad blood between Marxist and anarchist traditions but in many cases, I think this is overstated in its substance. Any kind of Marxist perspective which I would associate myself with is fully aware of that.

Getting back to the transgender stuff, as we must, it’s really remarkable to me how in 2013 Nevada, this novel by Imogen Binnie, it’s intuitive that the protagonist, Maria, is into anarchism. I feel like today she’d probably be a commie. I don’t know. I feel like that’s something that has changed over the past five years. And I really don’t know why. They’re obviously still a lot of transgender anarchists out there. But I feel like now the meme is that we’re all communists. So if anyone has any answers to that one, please send me a postcard.

MO: There are various ways of parsing the distinction between Marxism and anarchism, and I think most of them are silly and somewhat unhelpful. But I define and understand communism as the need to overcome class society, as the yearning, the pursuit, the real movement that abolishes the existing order of things, and Marxism is an effort to make sense of how capitalism functions. The statist Marxism, statist Communism, this idea of the consolidation of authoritarian ownership-based states that control society through violence and wage labor as somehow a transition to Communism, hopefully, it was a historical blip that we will move past and not have to deal with. And I mostly don’t spend a lot of time in an anarchist tradition, however great my hostility is towards states, just because I see the dynamics of capital and political economy as so central to driving the dynamics of human societies, state violence, state policy, police brutality, I find talking about the production of surplus populations as really an essential starting point that happens through the dynamics of capitalist wage labor markets over time. So that’s my lens of Marxism, less of statist versus anti-statist, but instead, the starting point of trying to think through the world and what we have to destroy is the dynamics of capitalism. And if an anarchist thinks that, we have a lot to talk about.

TFSR: To bring it back to the book, maybe a final question, unless you have more that you want to bring up… I appreciate the fact that this book isn’t only an academic text. It’s connected to academic work, and there are people writing in this book who are potentially employed by academic institutions, although maybe not comfortably, especially when you’re out and trans, which is something I’ve experienced, making me more and more precarious. Marxism often gets lodged in the academy in a way that’s maybe not helpful. So I just wonder about the formation of the book and how it may have come out of solidarity struggle work, or how you think it could tie back into on-the-ground movement struggle work, instead of being set off into the realms of the theory that don’t connect on the ground as much.

JG: Speaking about how academic the book is, I actually have tried to count up… it’s a bit hard to keep track off. But I think out of the 16 contributors, we’ve got 15 chapters, a total of 16 people who wrote for it, including myself and Elle. Out of those, I think about a quarter of the book [contributors] are active university lecturers. One contributor, which is Jordy Rosenberg, who wrote the afterword, has tenure. So I would say it’s primarily not an academic book. But of course, this is only part of the picture. Obviously, it’s informed by academic discourses, and a lot of academics are reading it and teaching it. That’s not especially surprising to me. The academics we do have contributing in the main body, other than the afterword, are primarily not people in the most secure or lasting positions, like come back in five years’ time…

I think that this is actually remarkably similar to the way that things look in trans healthcare, which is that there is an enormous number of people who have some relevant training, whether it’s bioresearchers, registered nurses, and so on, but very few MDs who are transgender, and this is the reason why it’s all… Who are the people with the not only the security, the partners or parents to bankroll you through down years or whatever, but also the connections that would get you through medical school, that would get you onto a tenured job, and so on. Exactly all of those connections and those healthy inter-generational bourgeois relationships are what transition is very likely to rupture. There are, of course, exceptions. There’s probably more to be said about trans studies, which is, of course, something much more expensive than this collection, and probably has a kind of uneasy relationship in some ways. But that’s what I would say. Academia has a very specific set of like demands and requirements, for people who are ready to exist for that, and that’s a very competitive environment or you’re not going to be paid reliably for quite a long time. I feel like that’s probably not going to change very quickly. And who knows if it would even be a good thing if it did.

MO: Academic life seems a deathtrap in some ways. I am one of many more or less failed academics trying to write and think in the world. If people are able to make a living there, that’s great. But it’s extremely clear that we need to create revolutionary and left spaces of thinking and study and debate and analysis, that are outside of academic spaces, academic constraints.

JG: Samuel Delany actually recounts in his shorter essays collection… he is primarily a sci-fi author, but he talks about how in the later 20th century, he got into academia on the basis that he wanted a steady income, to supplement his sci-fi career. I really struggled to imagine anyone doing that these days.

TFSR: I started teaching in the area where he was, which is also where Jordy Rosenberg is and U-Mass. He was publishing pornographic novels and at the same time… Anyway, I feel like we covered a lot and went for a long time. Is there anything that you feel like we’ve missed? There’s so much in this book, obviously, we missed a lot. But there’s anything that you would like to put on the table or bring into this discussion?

JG: I feel really satisfied. And I felt like this is gonna give a good account of the book and hopefully entice your listeners who haven’t bought a copy yet to do that title. How about you, Michelle?

MO: This is great. I already talked about far too much that extends way beyond the book. But it’s a beautiful collection and a really magnificent set of writers and authors. Jules and Elle just did an excellent job editig it. It’s a great honor to be in it. And I think I highly recommend people being interested, on the one hand, gender struggles, gender theory, trans liberation, and on the other hand, anyone wrapped up in thinking about capitalism: to buy a copy, read it and talk about it and to share about it.

TFSR: Thank both of you so much for giving so much breadth to the conversation and so much analysis of the structures. I really appreciate thinking about transness through this lens which often gets left out in the mainstream discussion of it. And even in trans studies, I find that is often disappointing, so this politicization of it is really important. And connecting it to care work and the labor experiences of trans people. I appreciate your time and the book. Is there any place that you would want to direct, beyond buying the book which you can get from Pluto press, to direct people to follow you or hear more of your work?

JG: You can follow me on Twitter @SocialRepro and I also have a https://www.patreon.com/QueerComm. That’s everything from me.

MO: I am @GenderHorizon on Twitter, https://www.patreon.com/meobrien on Patreon.

Combating Movement Misogyny

Combating Movement Misogyny

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This week on the show, William and Scott are presenting an interview with Alice and Dolly, who are two people working toward Disability Justice and Mad Activism (among other things), about the prevalence of movement misogyny in antifascist currents, world building as antifascist and as community defense, ways to rethink harmful patterns in movements, and some things we can do to make each other safer. The show initially got in touch with these guests based on a Twitter thread that they co-authored about these issues. Check out our podcast at our website later today for a longer conversation.

You can follow Alice on Twitter @gothbotAlice, and to read Tema Okun’s work which Dolly was referencing on unmasking and addressing white supremacy culture you can follow the link in our show notes – or – search “White Supremacy Culture” on your search engine and follow the results to the pdf on the dismantlingracism.org page.

Further reading

  • Intentional Peer Support (alternative mental health support structure)
  • adrienne maree brown: http://adriennemareebrown.net/
    • also our recent interview with them: https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/post/2021/02/14/adrienne-maree-brown-on-cancellation-abolition-and-healing/
  • Audre Lorde: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audre_Lorde
  • Tema Okun’s essay “White Supremacy Culture“: https://www.dismantlingracism.org/uploads/4/3/5/7/43579015/okun_-_white_sup_culture.pdf

Announcement

Phone Zap for Rashid

from RashidMod.com

​On July 12 Kevin “Rashid” Johnson was transferred from Wabash Valley prison in Indiana to the custody of the Ohio Department of Corrections, being brought directly to their intake center in Orient. He would remain there for less than three weeks before being sent to Lucasville prison on July 30th.

… More details in the actual post, listed above at Rashidmod…

For Virginia: #1007485
For Indiana: #264847
For Ohio: #A787991

Demands:

1. 𝘼𝙣 𝙚𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙤 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙗𝙤𝙜𝙪𝙨 30 𝙙𝙖𝙮 𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙛𝙧𝙤𝙢 𝙥𝙝𝙤𝙣𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙚𝙢𝙖𝙞𝙡.

2. 𝘼𝙣 𝙚𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙤 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙗𝙤𝙜𝙪𝙨 30 𝙙𝙖𝙮 𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙛𝙧𝙤𝙢 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙞𝙨𝙨𝙖𝙧𝙮 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙥𝙧𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙨 𝙍𝙖𝙨𝙝𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙧𝙤𝙢 𝙤𝙧𝙙𝙚𝙧𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙚𝙧𝙮 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙬𝙝𝙞𝙘𝙝 𝙩𝙤 𝙬𝙧𝙞𝙩𝙚.

3. 𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙞𝙢𝙢𝙚𝙙𝙞𝙖𝙩𝙚 𝙧𝙚𝙩𝙪𝙧𝙣 𝙤𝙛 𝘼𝙇𝙇 𝙤𝙛 𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙩𝙮 𝙞𝙣𝙘𝙡𝙪𝙙𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙝𝙚 $400 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙤𝙣 𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙩𝙧𝙪𝙨𝙩 𝙖𝙘𝙘𝙤𝙪𝙣𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙖𝙩 𝙒𝙑𝘾𝙁 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙡𝙚𝙜𝙖𝙡 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙩𝙮 𝙬𝙝𝙞𝙘𝙝 𝙬𝙞𝙡𝙡 𝙚𝙣𝙖𝙗𝙡𝙚 𝙝𝙞𝙢 𝙩𝙤 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙪𝙚 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙘𝙖𝙨𝙚 𝙖𝙜𝙖𝙞𝙣𝙨𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙄𝙉 𝘿𝙚𝙥𝙖𝙧𝙩𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙤𝙛 𝘾𝙤𝙧𝙧𝙚𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨. 𝙄𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙮 𝙩𝙚𝙡𝙡 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙩𝙮 𝙝𝙖𝙨 𝙖𝙡𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙙𝙮 𝙗𝙚𝙚𝙣 𝙨𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙣 𝙬𝙚 𝙣𝙚𝙚𝙙 𝙩𝙤 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙤𝙣 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙙𝙖𝙩𝙚 𝙞𝙩 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙨𝙝𝙞𝙥𝙥𝙚𝙙 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙛𝙖𝙘𝙞𝙡𝙞𝙩𝙮 𝙧𝙚𝙘𝙚𝙞𝙫𝙚𝙙 𝙞𝙩.

PHONE NUMBERS AND EMAIL ADDRESSES TO CONTACT:

Joseph Walters, Dep. Director VADOC
joseph.walters@vadoc.virginia.gov
(Proxy for Harold W. Clarke, Director of the Department of Corrections)
(804)887-7982

James Park, Interstate Compact Administrator
James.park@vadoc.virginia.gov

Annette Chambers-Smith, Director of Ohio Depart of Rehabilitation and Corrections
please contact: Melissa Adkins (Executive Assistant)
via email: melissa.adkins@odrc.state.oh.us
614-752-1153.

Ronald Erdos, Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, Warden (Lucasville)
(740)259-5544
drc.socf@odrc.state.ohio.us

Charlene Burkett, Director DOC Ombudsman Bureau (Indiana)
(317) 234-3190
402 W. Washington St. Room W479
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Ombud@idoa.in.gov

Richard Brown, Warden
Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, Indiana
(812) 398-5050

. … . ..

Transcription

Gothbot Alice: I’m Alice, I am an anarchist and an anti-fascist, I have my hand in lots of different organizing spaces, particularly around, like Disability Justice and Mad Rights. I identify as a mad person and a care worker. Those things really impact the lens that I look at the world through and the way I engage with other people and organize. So thank you so much for having me. My pronouns are they/she, I’m really excited to be here to talk with y’all today.

Doll Parts: Hey, I am Dolly. And I’ve been doing some organizing work in all kinds of different capacities for 20 years and have been affiliated with different kinds of folks at different points. I’m most interested in disability justice and abolition, especially psychiatric abolition. And part of that reason I like don’t necessarily align myself with specific movements is because of the stuff we’re talking about today. I had experiences with anarchist groups and other leftist organizing that really felt like it was replicating the power structures that we were supposed to be pushing against. So I don’t necessarily align with any specific ideology that way.

TFSR-William: That’s super real. I’ve been hearing that story from a lot of folks who formerly identified as anarchists or aligned themselves with the anarchist tendency. So that’s, unfortunately, something that we see a lot. And that’s a huge shame, in my opinion. So thank you for saying that, I think it’s something we should be talking about. We’re here to discuss a topic which you posted about on your Twitter back in mid-June of this year. And it’s notable for us as a show that we don’t really seek interviews based on Twitter threads, usually, but this is such an important topic and, like you said before we started rolling, Alice, is something that people are really hungry for to discuss. Namely, this is the prevalence of movement misogyny and the prioritization or deprioritization of certain areas of work within the anti-fascist current, depending on how they are socially gendered. Would you begin by giving a working definition of movement misogyny?

GA: Yes, I’m happy to. And actually, before we jump in, I just want to point out that this conversation is not about a specific person, although we know a lot of people will think it is. We aren’t going to talk about any individuals today, because that’s not really the point. We are talking about a pattern of behavior that we have witnessed in Dolly’s in my combined 20 years of organizing. People often want detailed descriptions of abusive situations in order to believe that they’re real. But details don’t make an experience more real, but they do retraumatize people. And the content can cause trauma responses in the people listening, and we’re not here for that. What we are here to talk about is how misogyny in the movement is replicating hierarchies that exist outside of it and are causing minoritized people to replicate the networks of support that we have to create in order to survive the world within our movements. But with even more secrecy and even higher stakes. So that said, movement misogyny is the misogyny that exists in our movement spaces. It relies on paternalism and white supremacy and colonization and all the things that we seek to destroy. It relies on all of those things in order to keep us in these boxes and spaces and hierarchies that are harmful to people. Dolly, do you want to weigh in with maybe a better definition?

DP: Misogyny, for me, has a strong connection with policing. Misogyny is a way that we police people’s labor, that we police people’s access and things like that to information, power, all of those things within our society. It becomes embedded in our practices and our institutions. It disappears. Because we’re so used to participating in it in other places, it shows up again, within our movements.

TFSR-Scott: I was really excited to talk to you all because, in the post, you give a lot of very concrete examples of how this shows up in organizing work. I hope in our conversation, we can get into different specific spaces, but maybe because it was specifically in terms of anti-fascist work, which is something that gets a lot of attention, and people don’t quite understand. Maybe you could talk a little bit about how it shows up specifically in that kind of organizing.

GA: Absolutely. I like most things I do, I value collaboration. Actually, Dolly helped me write that thread. I think it’s important that, as we’re discussing things like this, that we remind ourselves that these discussions are meant to happen collaboratively because that’s how the impact is made. In terms of how this is showing up in anti-fascist spaces, I think that there are hierarchies in anti-fascist work that exist. I think that the work that is glorified and prioritized is the research piece of it, the doxxing piece of it, where that is invaluable work. I think that it’s not the only anti-fascist work that’s out there. But it’s the work that is getting people’s attention, it’s the stuff that’s respected. But there’s also all kinds of other anti-fascist work that’s happening that is deprioritized, I think. Like I mentioned in the thread — and folks who follow me on Twitter will know what I mean, people who know me know — that I think that care work is anti-fascist work. Because of how damaging anti-fascist work is on our minds and on our bodies and our outlook, that in order for people to maintain and be well in this work we rely on the care workers. And care workers really don’t get a lot of respect and support.

DP: And that work isn’t even recognized as actual work, right? It’s just expected from us.

GA: Yeah. And it’s holding the movement together.

DP: I think the other part of that for me is that we both care a ton about care work. And world-building is so important to me. And I feel like when I was young in movements, I was — I still have a lot of rage. But I had all this rage and movement building to me was about where can I put this anger, that’s the right place to put it. A lot of my work showed up as, I guess, things that people typically associate with movement building. Then there was a shift for me because, in those spaces, they were so dominated by white cis-man energy, that I have shifted my approach and world-building has been so much more of my work since then. It’s often not even seen as even part of the work, I think. So, care work is unacknowledged entirely and as a thing that’s happening. And then world-building sometimes gets written off as like you’re messing around, or it’s not important, or it doesn’t matter. After whatever revolution you’re working towards, you want something to be there. And if we don’t make a plan for what that world looks then we’re just gonna replicate the same shit, that’s just what we’re doing.

TFSR-W: Yeah. And, revolutions aside, I don’t even know if something as clear-cut is going to happen, but we need stuff to be in place now. There are so many people who don’t have their needs met, who don’t have housing, who don’t have adequate food, or water or anything like that, who are just being systematically crushed by existing systems. We really want to talk more about world-building, but for any listeners who are maybe unfamiliar with the term, would you give a couple of examples of what you mean by world-building?

DP: Worldbuilding can look like mutual aid, it can look like creating spaces for people to live in community with each other. It can look like developing relationships that resist the hierarchies that un-belong people. Anything that creates something alternative to the way that hierarchical structures are working now. Anytime we’re able to build something that can give us freedom from those institutions of power or something that resembles freedom from — I don’t know if it’s possible to just be free from them at this point — but something that resists, that keeps people cared for and safe and creates the space that we want to live in. Whether that space is digital or in real life or otherwise.

TFSR-S: As I was listening to you speak about… one of the things that you opened up with movement misogyny as a kind of policing that and a way that our anti-authoritarian spaces replicate the structures of authority that we are trying to resist. It’s also similar in the way that care work gets invisible, as in capitalist labor, right? The feminized labor of housework, networks of care that we rely on to survive, and then that that work in movements also just gets shunted aside, deprioritized, or treated as if it’s not important, as if we’re actually on the verge of revolution or something. And we all have to just be manly warriors. And that really irks me a lot, especially when plans are being made for any kind of specific organizing thing that people want to focus so much on this one aspect of the thing that makes the space uninhabitable in so many ways. And one thing in what you both wrote that I really liked was thinking about care work as self-defense, too, because anti-fascism is often seen as a form of self-defense, right? We’re protecting ourselves against fascists. So I was wondering if you wanted to expand a little bit on the way that care work is also a kind of self-defense.

GA: Absolutely. I see care work not just like self-defense, but community defense, because we’ve got these brilliant comrades that out here actively harming themselves by doing this work, whether it’s anti-fascist work, or mutual aid or crisis response or whatever. It’s hard, it takes a toll on us. And to act like it doesn’t does a great disservice to the movement. What ends up happening is people inundate themselves with the research and expose themselves to the absolute worst shit, the worst kinds of people, and the worst kinds of violence, so that we can turn around and report on it and expose these people. But we have to come up for air sometimes. And I think that’s really hard to do. It helps to have networks of people who can remind us to take care of ourselves. But since that’s not really happening, folks are burning out and leaving the movement or killing themselves, or both. We’re losing people, we are losing people because the work is so awful and harmful. And so when I say care work is community defense, what I mean is that, who are folks relying on when things are so bad and so painful? Well, we’re relying on our friends that normally step into care work roles, right? And in a way, I see care work as community defense, because it helps keep our community well so that we can sustain in this work, so we don’t burn out, so we don’t kill ourselves. Does that answer your question?

TFSR-W: Yeah, totally. I’m wondering if you would be willing to talk a little bit about the circumstances that led you into writing the Twitter thread? If not, that’s totally okay. And we can move on to another question. But just so folks can get a sense of where your mind is at with that.

GA: I’m happy to speak on that. It was a weekend of celebration, but also ended up being… I experienced a mental health crisis. Dolly was with me, actually, and was able to be supportive. I think the things that contributed to us wanting to write this thread were the things that contributed to my mental health crisis, which is just feeling burnt out and really frustrated with the way people are treating each other, and sad, really sad for my comrades and for myself. I’m somebody that experiences really big, intense emotions, that’s part of my madness, that’s part of my mental health experience. It’s one of the symptoms that shows up in the DSM under my psychiatric labels. That’s something that I navigate the world with an understanding of. And so that means that the good things feel really good. And it means that the bad things feel really, really, really bad. When I started to come out of that crisis space, I told Dolly that I wanted to write something about this because it was just in my head and we had spent days talking about it, as it related to personal stuff, but also generally, because none of this stuff happens in a vacuum. So we got some lunch and we sat down and we cranked it out. We didn’t have any idea that it’s gonna be so well-received. So that was nice because we did spend some time. We were very intentional about it. We thought about making it a blog, but we know nobody clicks through, they’ll read 37 tweets, but they’re not gonna click through and read a blog. Dolly, do you want to want to speak more to that?

DP: Yeah, that’s such an interesting thing that created us doing this was a great example of a ton of the things we’re going to talk about today. We were getting together specifically, so that we could do celebratory things, like experiencing joy and making sure that was part of our political experience too. And then, we’re both mad people. So crisis is always on the table. I don’t think it was unexpected that some crisis stuff was going to happen. But we were reflecting on how often that crisis isn’t created by the state or the things that we would think it would be created by. I think our madness, we are disabled by the state in the way that structures are set up. But I don’t think that those things cause disability for us, but the things that cause us pain and crisis, are all the things that are happening with our comrades. And that felt very bad. And then we started reflecting on all the times that things had happened, all of the ways that we’ve had to become someone new, or move into a new movement space, or keep big, scary secrets, and only talk to each other, literally just each other. And how that’s not the point. I don’t do any of the organizing that I do to feel that way. And we feel that way too often. And I think it’s not just us. The number of Black and brown people and femmes and mad people and other disabled folks that just get trampled on by the movement is really disheartening. So we wanted to bring it into conversation not so that we could point fingers or anything or blame people, but so that we can talk about the whole point of this movement-building is to address these issues. We know, we’ll make mistakes, and we ought to be able to adapt and change. But a lot of what we’ve seen is that anytime someone’s behavior is challenged, they can like take a break for a little while and then make a comeback, or there’s no real accountability process. And we’re not doing an accountability process for this bigger issue of how our movements make this possible.

TFSR-S: I’ve actually been put off a lot from anti-fascist spaces, I mean, not anti-fascist spaces, because I want every space to be anti-fascist, but working in anti-fascist organizing, because it is super macho to me, and the truth that anti-racist skinhead movements, which, I think, is getting a lot of attention. Now, I came up in the scene like that, which for me, was a form of self-protection. But I just wonder, because you move in those spaces, if you can talk about how much of this shows up in anti-fascism? Is it the image of it that gets pervade rather than the actual reality of what the work is like? Because you talked about how so much of the care work gets invisiblized.

GA: Yeah, I do think that anti-fascist work is portrayed as white cis-men doing this glorious investigating and getting all the credit for it. And the way that folks have to engage when reporting on it is very machismo. I’m frustrated by that because that is not the reality. Not every anti-fascist researcher out here doing kick-ass work is a white cis-man. And it’s so frustrating to me. But the reason we think that is because of who gets to be elevated, and the voices that are typically elevated are those of white cis-men. It does erase and invisiblize everyone else. On the one hand, that can be very protective. Because the Nazis and the state are after us. So if people think that we are someone different than we are, that can be protective, that can help us survive. But it also takes a toll on people’s mental health, not being able to be authentic in who we are, not be able to recognize our intersecting identities, and all of the secrecy and anonymity, there’s a dark side to that. One, it helps protect the abuse that’s happening in these spaces. Because we have to remain so secretive. But, also, it’s isolating and isolation kills people. I so badly want things to be different. But also I can understand why things are the way they are. And it’s demoralizing. And it hurts as somebody that does this work, it’s painful.

DP: I want to call out something really specific that I see happen, which is around sexual relationships is that oftentimes, young femmes are brought into the movement by a partner, or they come into the movement, and then there’s someone who swoops in. I’ll let Alice talk about 13th Stepping in a second, that’s what we call it. But I think that there are these power dynamics that show up that very directly replicate the power dynamics of sexual abuse. And that secrecy is this core component of it. So when you already have a need for secrecy, we have to be exceptionally careful about how far you get in those secretive environments. And we ought to be doing things to protect people that have been targets of abuse in other parts of our lives and making sure that those secretive or anonymous or confidential spaces are actually safe for us. Because otherwise, we replicate things like sexual abuse. And whether something sexually abusive is actually happening, we replicate that dynamic, where there’s no one you can go to, there’s no one you can tell, and you’re going to lose your family, your comrades if you talk. And then you’re just going to be out on your own. That setup is already existing because of the level of confidentiality we have. So by not doing things to address how power showing up internally in our movements, we’re going to just replicate that power dynamic of sexual abuse.

TFSR-W: I think you both bring up such an important point. As anarchists, and I know, not all are anti-fascists or anarchists, I know that there’s a situation there, there’s a discrepancy there. But there’s this tension between the secretive nature and there needing to be a secretive nature. But how that aspect of anti-fascist work really feeds this other extremely toxic and harmful and potentially fatal other sexual predation dynamic, which is totally a huge problem. I’m not being super articulate right now. But I think it’s such an important point, that these two things are true. And these two things need to be teased apart as soon as possible. So thank you for bringing that up.

GA: I agree. I also think things definitely need to be teased apart. If you want to start organizing with someone, or you have an AG or whatever, before any actual organizing happens, sit down and have a conversation about everyone’s collective ethics. If we are not all ethically aligned, then people are going to come in and fuck up and destroy the good work and the people doing the good work. And we should be talking about our collective ethics anyway. And we should be interrogating within ourselves and within each other, why we feel the way we do about certain things, that is how we grow and learn. And it should be central to being in community with people. And if we say that we have a collective ethic around protecting each other, we protect ourselves, then we need to be about it.

DP: We need to protect each other from each other sometimes. I also think it’s okay for there to be conflict and for us to struggle and make mistakes too. If we have those collective ethics, then we have something to hold each other to and they have to be stated.

GA: Yes, absolutely. Dolly, you mentioned 13th Stepping?

DP: Yeah, I want you to talk about that because you’re better at talking about it than me.

GA: So, in 12-step spaces, Alcoholics Anonymous, NA, all of it, there’s a thing called 13th Stepping, or the person would be the 13th step predator. And the 13th step predator is the person that’s been in the rooms for a long time and preys on the newly sober people coming into the rooms. Dolly and I really tried hard to find another term for this kind of person and this kind of thing that happens, 13th Stepping. But we feel it’s actually perfect. It very perfectly describes what is happening in our movement spaces. None of this stuff is specific to anti-fascism, that just happens to be the space I have a hand in or whatever, but also it’s all over movement spaces. It’s in Disability Justice spaces, it’s happening in anarchist spaces, in the fucking DSA, it is happening. And so 13th Stepping would be someone that is that maybe has more clout, or social capital, or has been in the movement longer, or knows more people or whatever, taking advantage of newer folks coming into our spaces. It’s fucking gross. Now we have a term for it. So when it shows up in your space, when you’re seeing it happen, that’s got a term, it’s called 13th Stepping. And we should be acutely aware of who those people are and how they’re doing harm to our movement and to our comrades.

DP: I think there’s a piece of identifying when that individual is doing it. And then also, we need to be making sure that we’re not making that possible for people to have that kind of power, and that the only way to get close to that power is to be an anti-fascist girlfriend, or whatever, if it’s an abolition movement is to be an abolitionist’s girlfriend. So there need to be pathways for all people to share power in our movements. So anyone getting into a position where they’re going to have that kind of power also might mean something is going on in the movement space that we want to address and talk with people about it. Power in and of itself isn’t bad. It’s what we do with that. If someone does gain that level of power, they ought to be finding ways to redistribute it. And if they’re not doing that, then we create these dynamics, and they’re always going to exist.

TFSR-S: I just want to pull on some of this, because one of the things that you’re talking about that I think is really important is entry points for people to get into this work. If we have this vision of a different world and we’re building it, we want people to join our movements, our spaces, our community. I’m not against an erotic introduction, if you come in because you’re crushing on someone, and they introduce you to that. But I think you’re putting on something really important in the way that the culture of secrecy can create these power dynamics that isolate people who come in through it. And then the other thing what you’re saying makes me think about is how the terminology and languages that we use within our anti-authoritarian, anarchist, anti-fascist spaces about how we’re supposed to be. Those can be armed to protect power abusers in various ways, and particularly around calls for accountability. But also just in little things, like we need to be so secret that no one can ever know anything we’re doing and no one can join in. Do you have concrete examples of ways to counter that kind of isolation that can come in with joining a movement? Are there ways that we can invite people safely and securely without making a fetish of secrecy?

GA: This is a good question. This is also a hard question. Because I am one person, and I do not claim to have all the answers to this, I’m just an observer. I have a lot of opinions, and I’m sick of seeing people I love get hurt. I think that connecting people to groups, as opposed to individuals, making sure that lines of communication are open. Having moments where people can engage in conflict openly so that it becomes commonplace. So that if someone’s having some interpersonal shit with another comrade, it doesn’t have to be “take that shit outside, deal with it on your own”. There’s a difference between privacy and secrecy. I think that privacy can be important for people who may be don’t want to air out all their dirty laundry, that’s fine. But also, we should be creating spaces where having it out with a comrade can happen, and it doesn’t mean that everything’s going to end and everything’s going to be over and that people have to pack their bags and get the fuck out. We can have conflict openly and it doesn’t have to be hostile or shitty.

DP: From my perspective, there’s this core function of movement-building that’s about aggressively belonging people, like we need to belong to each other. And so much of the things that harm us or systems that are set up to purposefully unbelong us. You can’t be secret from each other. We need to be able to have space for us to know each other. And it doesn’t have to be know everything. Knowing each other doesn’t mean knowing every detail about someone’s life and where they live, their social security number, whatever those things, even their legal names, but we have to belong to something to be able to behave ethically toward each other. And I do think we have to stop caring… It’s amazing what you can get done when you stop caring who gets the credit for it. Sometimes we still hold on to wanting to have credit for the things that we do. And so there’s this shift back and forth between secrecy, privacy, and then someone wanting credit, and then the folks who have created privacy around their group get into different positions of power because someone wants credit and behaves in different ways because of that. If we can share the credit across the board or not even care who gets credit, maybe there’s no credit for work that’s done. And if we can make sure that there’s an essential function of our movement-building that is about being in community with each other, those things help.

GA: I do want to add one more thing. In terms of cultivating the spaces that we want, that are safe for people, and I know we’re getting there, but we need to believe survivors, we need to believe when people outcry that some fucked up shit has happened. I mentioned it right at the top of this, but there’s this idea that you need the graphic details of someone’s experience of violence or abuse in order to believe that it happened. That’s some shit you need to work out with you. If someone comes to us and says, “Hey, I got a diagnosis of cancer. And I’m really scared”. We’re not like “Show me the paperwork, or I don’t believe you”, right? We don’t have to personally experience cancer to know how bad and shitty cancer is, why do we do that with other things? Why do we do that with interpersonal violence? I don’t understand it. It doesn’t make sense. It’s antithetical to what we’re supposed to be moving toward and building. And this idea that I need receipts in order to believe you… Nobody outcries because that’s healing and enjoyable. People outcry because they want to protect other people who might be victims in the future. It’s about protecting the community and letting people know a person is not safe. No abuse survivor ever was like “I’m so glad I had to tell a bunch of people about this”. Sorry, maybe that was a little tangential.

TFSR-W: I think it’s all related. Those are super important points to consider. Two of the things that came up for me when Alice, you were talking about people needing to be comfortable with conflict. That really resonated with me, because I think that we, like the rest of our society are… For as much conflict as we do have, we are still very conflict-averse or conflict-avoidant. And that really stems out of respectability politics that is super neoliberal and is really divorcing people from our human processes that are happening internally anyway. And also, Dolly, when you were talking about credit, immediately, I started thinking about that person that punched that white supremacist on Live TV during the inauguration. Do y’all remember that? I don’t know who did that and I don’t want to know and it’s like we all did it, in my opinion. So this is super beautiful to think about.

DP: It’s better if none of us ever know, right?

TFSR-W: Yeah. And that’s the thing too. But there are certain things that internally we need to be talking about. Anybody who’s been paying any amount of attention to the news will know that so-called extremism, for lack of a better word, is on the rise, far-right style. And I think that anti-fascism has a crisis narrative built into it. I have definitely noticed within anti-fascist currents that this crisis narrative definitely contributes to these harmful patterns and the way of “Oh, we don’t have time to deal with that right now, we’re in the middle of a crisis, I would love to hear…

DP: Urgency is white supremacy in action. That whole narrative is just pushed forward by white supremacy culture, it’s so frustrating to me that we fall so easily into that. Do you have more to say about that, Alice?

GA: It’s really fucking harmful. It’s an absolute lie. Here’s the other thing. Yes, the crisis narrative absolutely exists. And it’s an out for people who don’t want to deal with other shit. And if you’re somebody that’s pushing that, “I don’t have time, I don’t have time, I have to work on this”, that’s a you-issue, get right with you, connect with people because that’s not how it has to be. And actually, as anti-fascists, we know that we’re about to put out research on someone or drop a dox or whatever, we have to make sure that we are incredibly accurate. Because we know what happens when we identify somebody as a fucking problem, as a neo-nazi or whatever. Their lives change dramatically because of that. So we have to have this incredible level of accuracy that surpasses mainstream media. Our attention to detail has to be immaculate. That takes time. That does not happen overnight. So even though this whole crisis narrative exists, we’re not actually embodying that, because we know that we have to check and double-check and recheck and check again, and have somebody else put eyes on it before it even gets pushed out. And that’s how it should be. So then, this whole idea that “I can’t be doing anything else cause I have to be doing this”, first of all, it’s centering yourself in movement work. I think that’s icky. And it’s just a lie. That’s avoidant behaviour. I don’t mean to get real clinical, that’s kind of gross. But just be honest with yourself about the fact that “I’m using this work to avoid all the shit in my life that I don’t want to do”. Be radically honest, because then we can address that or not. But saying, “I don’t have time to do other things, because this is what’s happening right now”, that’s bullshit. I reject that.

DP: I just want to talk about Tema Okun’s work on white supremacy culture, because so many of the things we’ve just talked about in the last few minutes are on this list of the components of white supremacy culture, so I just want to read them, because I think what this article does that I’m gonna reference and I think we can add it, when this gets published, we’ll send a link, but it’s about white supremacy culture and the characteristics of it. Each characteristic has a description, and then it also has antidotes, so we ought to be talking about this within any kind of groups or organizing that we’re doing. But perfectionism is part of it. Then the sense of urgency, which I feel is a huge part of this feeling that there’s this crisis that we have to act now. Defensiveness, where we want to protect the people that we care about. And we’ll do that even in the face of seeing evidence that they maybe are not doing the right things. Quantity over quality — pushing work forward so that you’re doing more of it. Worship of the written word, which I think is deeply connected to the fetishizing of doxxing, which I want to say is really important work. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing that. But I think that has a connection to some of the academic nature of anarchists and anti-fascist spaces that is not always helpful. Thinking there’s only one right way, paternalism, either-or thinking, power hoarding, fear of open conflict, individualism. “I’m the only one who can do this thing.Progress is bigger and more, believing in objectivity, and the right to comfort. And those are all the things we’re talking about. Those things are harming our movement because we’re replicating white supremacy culture.

TFSR-S: Yeah, I think that’s so important, historically, the gay liberation movement and Black feminist movements pointed out that when you prioritize one aspect of struggle, and then second arise, something that often gets called an identity thing, then you’re leaving all these people out of the quest for liberation. It’s important to call that out as white supremacist. But the other thing that it makes me think about with that crisis narrative, going back to what you were saying and ways that we replicate the world we’re fighting against, this idea that we have to constantly be working and burning ourselves out with no moments of rest or joy — is also replicating all those aspects, and, I think, is what goes into erasure, diminishing of the importance of world-building and care work, because no one can actually live that way, and when they are living like a semblance of that, they are relying on networks of people to keep to prop them up, usually, you get invisiblized. To make this a puzzling question. You talk about the need for joy, I wonder what that can look like from an anti-fascist perspective. How do we push against this thought that we have to constantly… Things are so shit. How do we push against the thought that all we have to do is fight against it? That we can do something else, celebrate, create those relationships.

GA: I think we need to pause and celebrate. We don’t do that. We should, and we should be able to find ways to be in community with each other, when we pause and celebrate. I think wrapping up a major investigation, we don’t just have to go onto the next, there will always be another investigation, but really intentionally baking into your process, the space for joy and for pleasure and for celebration. The other part of working in community with other people is so that we can hold each other accountable. Holding each other accountable to that. Just making sure that “Hey, you just wrapped up the investigation whatever, what can we do? How can we connect and just chill and be with each other and not make this about the work? That’s just a very basic jumping-off point. Dolly, do you want to speak? I love your thoughts about that.

DP: I think that creating intentional spaces for joy is really important. Then there’s something that happens before that or alongside it, which is about coming in accountability for our healing, because we all have to heal from all this stuff that we’re also fighting against, and that’s so deprioritized. We don’t even talk about the fact that this impacts us and that healing is important or matters. It starts first with us, but healing doesn’t happen individually, healing happens in relationships because relationships are also where harm is enacted. So building strong, close relationships that are built around shared ethics and care is the starting place for me. I think there’s great value in things that feel good. We should be thinking about sex or substance using in ways that are fun or helpful or meaningful to us, or having people over for dinner, feeding each other is important. Touch is super important, whether it’s sexual or non-sexual touch, just creating spaces for our bodies and our minds to experience joy and creating a setting where joy is a likely outcome, instead of just creating a setting where we’re dealing with fighting and resistance. Because joy is also resistance. If you’re experiencing joy, for me, experiencing joy as a mad disabled person — that is already resistance, because this is a world that was set up for me to feel joyless. That was set up to take that away from me. And I think that’s true for all of us in some ways, so that should be a sort of central component of our organizing.

GA: I love that so much.

TFSR-W: I also really love that. It’s an excellent question and excellent answers are super provocative. While you were talking, I was really thinking about two older utopian novels that at least the anarchists that I know really love. The first is The Dispossessed and the second one is Woman on the Edge of Time. Those two books, first by Ursula K. Le Guin, second by Marge Piercy, really show that a liberated way of being that is divested from the state and is divested from cis-hetero-white patriarchy is constant work. You constantly have to be interrogating, you constantly have to be working at it, and those two novels do such a good job of being like “and you also fucking party”. Or you take space, or you don’t do the work. That’s an integral part to people’s lifeways and people’s ways of being. Thank you so much for that. I think that’s something that we’re really missing in the whole workaholism tendency to internalize white supremacist structure is something that infects everything.

DP: I do want to mention that ideas about this are not mine, a lot of ideas about this kind of world-building come straight out of Black queer fem work. adrienne maree brown has a lot of great work around this, Audre Lorde, folks like that. To be clear, as usual, Black queer fems have really paved the way for this, and we haven’t been doing it right in other spaces.

TFSR-S: I love also the way that you emphasize creating situations where the outcome would be joyful or celebratory. It points to something we overlook a lot because “anti-fascist” has negative word connotations, “anarchist”, too, is against stuff and for me, part of anarchism is wanting to destroy the order of this world. I wanna elaborate on anarchism that has positive ideas to it, not necessary blueprints. I don’t know if anti-fascism has the same space for that because it’s maybe more specific in terms of a tactic than anarchism, but thinking of these ways that we engage our life as creating possibilities at least, openings, rather than tearing things down. That was really provocative to me, what you’re saying.

DP: I think we have to focus just as much on building what it is we do want, as we do on resisting, what it is that we don’t want. The worst parts of institutions are set up to keep us moving away from things we don’t want, instead of moving toward something we do want. And the concept for this comes out of a practice called intentional peer support. It’s an alternative to your traditional mental health intervention. It was really deeply moving for me to start thinking about what it means to move toward what we want, instead of all of the time moving away from whatever is bad. Even if I might be doing some of the same things, it changes the way they feel and it changes my sustainability in the work.

TFSR-S: What that really made me think about is another weird way that we replicate these policing of ourselves and our movements is that I feel like people are so much quicker to judge and criticize those moments of releasing joy as based in bourgeois values or something, and then uncriticize all the other kind of work that gets done on the struggle front. There is where misogyny and white supremacy can creep in, because people aren’t as ready to criticize the ways that we engage in that as the space of joy.

DP: I always like a discussion where we create things together instead of one where it’s like teaching, so I think we should all be contributing in the ways that feel right to things. I wanted to connect, I think that some of the drive around this is how much movement-building sometimes is connected to college campuses, because I think that that’s part of how we end up connecting to… that’s part of how we start replicating white supremacy culture. Because there are a lot of especially white folks who are introduced to liberation ideology through education systems and those education systems and faculty within them and staff are often not very critical of the oppressive nature of academia on its own. I think there’s a setup there for thinking about everything in terms of a critique and study and working hard, and all the capitalist framework around it. Because, if that’s where we’re being introduced or where many people are being introduced to these concepts, they’re still being exposed to the problematic nature of how capitalism shows up in academic institutions.

TFSR-S: I think that’s a really important point, and there was something else you wrote about. That a lot of ranking of anti-fascist work replicates hierarchies of academia and I guess other institutions that prop up the state. And we think about so much of this knowledge creation, as if it is liberatory in itself, but without thinking about the locations. That’s really interesting to me too, cause a lot of the visible anti-fascist work is probably more around when the alt-right was really going for it what is happening on this is because they were getting like speaking engagements and that is where anti-fascism started getting media attention in the more recent years. But why is that happening? Why is that happening on college campuses and creating that situation of conflict? And there are those ideas of free speech or whatever that come into play, those institutions prop up. They aren’t neutral, they uphold the system. I really love that you bring that into a critique of academia.

DP: And there’s a lot of policing of language in movements that makes me pretty uncomfortable, especially when we start thinking about having movement spaces really be open to people with a broad range of disability and accessibility around language. There are a lot of spaces where movements have become very inaccessible for people. It’s also the movements that are getting the most public attention look like that, but I know of all kinds of movement-building things that are happening. They look very different from that but they’re not very often perceived in mainstream spaces as what movement building is.

TFSR-W: I think that the movement-building work that I’ve seen that happens in these spheres often gets sidelined. I definitely agree with that.

One of the internal processes that we have for dealing with conflict is the accountability process which — lots has been said about it, it has a really interesting history and gets used in different ways, but it seems that embedded in the language of accountability, there is still some tools for misogynistic abuse, demanding the care and labor of accountability to somehow prove someone who has done harm has cleared themselves, which, to me, is extremely punitive and it’s just replicating the logic of a carceral system. Do you have any insight into the limitations of accountability processes and how, in your view, can these processes be turned into further abuse?

GA: When I think of accountability processes, I don’t think of one specific process. I think of it as a victim-centered process. Any process that places a victim in front of their abuser is not accountability, that is blood sport and fucked up. Unless, of course, a victim would like to confront their abuser in a space where people are around to bear witness because I think bearing witness is really important, but anything that’s forced onto a victim, I would say, replicates all the symptoms that we’ve talked about, where a person is forced to have to prove that they were harmed. I also think that it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Each situation or accountability process can be unique, depending on who is involved, what community we’re talking about. I think that accountability should look different and should suit the needs of those who are harmed. So sometimes that’s based in educating someone on “These are the behaviors that you were exhibiting and they were harmful, and so we want you to read a bunch of shit and do better”. That’s okay, that’s one way. Sometimes what people want is for an abuser to leave the community and that’s okay, and if somebody is really invested in accountability, they will leave when they are asked, and if they’re not invested, then they can fucking kick rocks. Either way, there’s the door. I think other accountability processes can include physical retribution. Sometimes an ass-whoopin’ is what the situation calls for, and I think like as long as these things are victim-centered, we can make space for all of them. Just because one way worked out well in one situation, does not mean it’s gonna work out well at another one, just because one sort of accountability process didn’t work out well, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have the capacity to work out well in a different situation. I think we need to remain very limber and flexible. Accountability takes time and energy, it takes the work of many members of our community. Accountability processes shouldn’t be secretive and closed off, because the idea is to make our communities safer.

DP: I love this question because we disagree on some parts, and we’ve talked a lot about it. So I want to start by saying I was raised in a world, I think we all were aware, where punishment is… so I’m gonna say some stuff later that sounds like nice stuff, but I want to be clear that things have happened like “Take that person who did this thing and shoot them in the street”. That’s where I go, and so I think that it’s hard for us to imagine something better than what we currently have. Starting there is helpful, we are all going to have an inclination toward punishment and we have to own and know that before we can go into doing something differently. Accountability also only works if we are holding people accountable, it’s not about accountability for, like you perpetrated against this person, you’re accountable to them. Accountability is holding us accountable to our collective ethics, and so, if someone has violated our ethics and there is a victim involved in that, or there’s not, maybe there’s a violation that’s different, someone has violated our ethics. We ought to have talked about before that situation occurs, how we first pull each other in when we see it happening before it gets too bad, and how we respond when someone transgresses. In our communities, we have to have talked about those things and I don’t think we really do that. Then, when something happens, what accountability looks like is we’re trying to find out who’s telling the truth and who’s to blame and who’s going to be saddled with work to do to be better or whatever. If we shift the perspective from that individualized place to a collective place. it can feel a little different.

So what we’re holding people accountable to, is to our community and its ethics, and the community is responsible for holding that person accountable, not the victim of something that happens, and let the person who transgressed is part of that accountability, engaging in the process as well, because the idea would be that we want to be accountable to each other. If all of that is true, then things get really easy. But what happens is that we don’t have those things in place. I don’t know if people always actually want to be accountable, I think sometimes people would rather be punished because they don’t have to change or work harder or be anything else, because you take the punishment, and then it’s over. There’s no accountability in punishment. So oftentimes what I see happen is, even when a punishment wasn’t assigned by a group, people self-punish in ways that are very visible, that make people think they’re being accountable and they get to show back up in our movement spaces having not changed anything at all and then they do it again. It makes it possible for other people to do it because they see exactly what the pathway is to not having to be accountable.

GA: I’m glad that you brought up relying on and holding us accountable to our collective ethics. I think it ties back into what we’ve talked about at the beginning of this conversation. If you’re gonna be working with a group of people, the first conversation we must have is about our collective ethics. What do we hold most dear when it comes to the way we treat each other, the way we view the world and we’re not doing that. We have to come up with ways to handle shit without any sort of infrastructure to be able to do it. That’s a crisis narrative — showing back up — and it’s white supremacy. Dolly, you are right, we do a little bit disagree about this. This is a good opportunity for me to interrogate some shit in myself about the stuff. This is why these conversations are important.

DP: Right, and because we’re learning about different ways in our movements, we’ll do it wrong, and sometimes the only response that we have to protect our community is to push people out, and we can know that that’s the wrong thing to do, and know that’s not the better option right now that we can think of, that we can figure out, and keep working toward doing something better. But I think I would rather push someone out of my community than have them perpetrating against people all the time.

GA: I agree

DP: That’s how I feel, because I don’t know a better way why, but I want to keep working on a better way.

TFSR-S: Thank you so much for giving all these different ways that it can look and portraying it as accountability as limber, like you said, we have to be flexible. It seems and I think it’s really important how you connected to this idea of a collective ethics. One of the things I keep thinking about is how so much of the stuff that comes in, that creates these complex… end up harming and isolating people and driving them to self-harm. But potentially those are things we could try to account for in advance by doing certain things like setting up collective ethics and thinking also of those, I think, as something that would have to be flexible, not like something wielded like a rule to like shun or cut people out. And then also bringing people into spaces and checking up on them. I like the idea of care-accountability, too. You bring up a really helpful perspective about concrete tasks, concrete things we can do to connect with our groups and people in advance of the problem, rather than constantly being on the back foot when a problem arises, which always happens.

DP: Right, I think there’s no sustainability in a movement that’s not held together by our ethics, because the movement is bigger than us, which is, for me, that’s what’s compelling about it because I need something bigger than me, that’s a bigger, bigger and better than me, cause I have a lot of things I don’t love about myself. For me, that’s a really important part of my mental health, being involved in something bigger than me. But we can tear movements apart when we let movements be about just individual people and their individual relationships. When we shift our focus to a more collectivist mindset, it’s about our community, it’s about a community’s values, and about the community’s ethics and protection. Then it starts to look different, how we think about accountability and relationships and transgressions against our ethics, too.

TFSR-W: And also, I think it’s really important. We can know that something’s the wrong thing to do but not have any other form of recourse and getting comfortable with that uncomfortable tension is, I think, a really important provocation as well. In the beginning, you told that you received a really positive response to this Twitter thread. Would you talk a little bit more about that and any conversations or thoughts you’ve had since posting that thread?

GA: I was pretty blown away about how impact… We’re in an echo chamber, that just happens on social media platforms and in digital spaces. As far as echo chambers are concerned, I like mine, it’s fine. I love my comrades, I love being able to engage with people. I got a lot of private messages from comrades who are feeling plucked up and burnt out about things and having trouble finding the words to express the multifaceted frustration that we’re all feeling, given the misogyny that exists in our movement spaces. Folks are feeling trapped and exhausted, we’re spinning our wheels. More than anything, the message that I got was people were just happy that to be able to have some dialogue around this. With an understanding that none of us are perfect, none of our community spaces are perfect. We are imperfect, and perfection is not what we’re striving towards, but we would like to feel safe. And feeling safe should almost go without having to say. We all deserve safety, and lots of folks are feeling unsafe, and it’s sad. We all recognize it and at the end of the day, I saw faith in the movement. I saw faith in my comrades. I know that this is all really heavy, but I plug into this work because it’s bigger than me, like Dolly said. As somebody who experiences madness and suicidal thoughts and stuff. Being able to engage and plug into something bigger than myself is the thing that keeps me alive. And I think that’s true for many of us and we all recognize we have work to do and so yeah. The reception was really great, I love everybody that reached out and talked to me about it. I’m overwhelmed by folks’ support. It makes me feel hopeful. I don’t use that word a lot.

DP: We both feel weird about hope, but I think that some of the reception Alice’s about the community that you’ve created on Twitter, where people are engaging in conversations about care work and the politics within movements and stuff already because that’s the space that you go and you show up with vulnerability, and you model these things and part of the reason we’re getting that reception is that you’ve created some community that we’ve been talking about today. I just wanted to recognize that.

GA: Thank you. I appreciate that. I think you’re right. I have tried to do that. I’ve tried to be intentional about it, and I appreciate that you noticed that. Thank you!

TFSR-S: I’m so thankful and grateful that you put yourself out there to start this conversation and allow us to have this conversation, because we need to find ways to be able to find each other, and it’s a risk. But it also is amazing to have these connections and I’m really happy to be in connection with you.

GA: Thank you. The feeling is absolutely neutral. Thank you for inviting us to talk about this. It has been a really great conversation.

TFSR-W: Absolutely. It was such a pleasure to get to meet you and sit down and hear your words and experiences about these things, and I think this is a very urgent conversation, not to bring it down or anything, but I think that this is a really urgent conversation that needs to be happening within movement because there are so many new people who are getting interested in this kind of thing, as the world heats up on several fronts. So I think we need to know how to get our shit on lock or whatever, for lack of a better phrase. I hope that this will help and that people have gotten something from it and I am also just wondering if there’s anything that we missed in this interview that you wanna give voice to, enclosing or any words that you would leave listeners with for this interview.

GA: What do you got, Dolly?

DP: I think I mentioned toward the beginning of our conversation how much I felt very motivated by rage in my activist career. But this side of the work is all about love. Focusing on how you build loving, caring connections that are not based in holding power over people is where things come from. Spend some time putting some rage on the back burner a little bit, so we can focus on love.

GA: I love that. Folks who follow me on Twitter are in that same vein, tell your comrades you love them, tell them again.

TFSR-W: Where can people follow you on Twitter?

GA: I am at @GothbotAlice, I only exist on Twitter.

DP: I only exist in real life, so you can’t find me anywhere.

TFSR-S: Thanks so much for sharing your insight and wisdom and ideas. That was a really beautiful way to end it.

TFSR-W: I am really looking forward to sitting with this audio. I have the privilege of being the one to edit this audio for our broadcasts. So I’m really looking forward to that process because I really enjoyed hearing your take on all of these topics and I hope that we can collaborate together in the future and sit down again or anything like that.

GA: We would love to come back! We’ve got plenty of opinions on things.

TFSR-W: Cool. This is all that this radio show is about, trying to form connections between people and trying to do the stuff. So thank you for being a part of it and thank you for doing your own work. I really just appreciate y’all so much.

The Intertwined Histories of Queerness and Anarchism; Guest Interview with Kristian Williams about his new book on Oscar Wilde

The Intertwined Histories of Queerness and Anarchism; Guest Interview with Kristian Williams about his new book on Oscar Wilde

book cover of "Resist Everything Except Temptation" by Kristian Williams
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This week we are pleased to present a guest interview with author Kristian Williams about his new book Resist Everything Except Temptation: The Anarchist Philosophy of Oscar Wilde which was released in June 2020 from AK Press.

I found this interview extremely illuminating, perhaps like many other people who might not have strong ties to either academia or popular education models of learning, I had sort of written Oscar Wilde off as this kind of white dead rich guy who carried little to no relevance apart from a model of queerness that we could look back on. This interview very much proved that this isn’t the case, and that he and the circumstances around him very much influence how we as queers and as anarchists can sense historical threads that pull on our lives very tangibly today. Thanks a million to Scott for researching and conducting this interview!

You can learn more about the author, Kristian Williams, who is most known for his book Our Enemies in Blue, which is a critical history of American policing and police, at his website kristianwilliams.com.

Help Charlotte Jail Support Rebuild!

One announcement before we begin from our comrades at the Charlotte Uprising, Charlotte Jail Support has been getting extremely targeted harassment for some months from CMPD and the sheriff’s department. In times of rebellion or revolt, it is the support infrastructures that are often the most vulnerable to repression and violence. All of their supplies have either been seized or destroyed by the police, if you would like to support them re upping their much needed materials, you can Venmoing them @Ashwilliamsclt or Cash App $houseofkanautica.

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Music for this episode:

Hustler – Retro Beatz (loop by William)

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This is a slightly edited transcript of Scott’s interview of Kristian Williams on Kristian’s book, Resist Everything Except Temptation: The Anarchist Philosophy of Oscar Wilde, published in 2020 by AK Press. Thanks to Jim of the MKE Lit Supply for all the work!

Kristian Williams on The Final Straw

 

First aired on 9/12/2020 at https://TFSR.WTF

Scott (TFSR): I’m talking to Kristen Williams, who just published the book Resist Everything Except Temptation: The Anarchist Philosophy of Oscar Wilde. Kristian, would you please just introduce yourself, your pronouns, your name and any information that you think would be pertinent to the listeners of the Final Straw?

Kristian: Sure. I’m Kristian Williams, author of a handful of books, probably most famously Our Enemies in Blue, which is a history of the police in the United States. As you mentioned, my most recent book is Resist Everything Except Temptation: The Anarchist Philosophy of Oscar Wilde, which is probably the book that has taken me the longest to write. I started working on it about 13 years ago.

Scott (TFSR): Oh wow. Is it nice to have it out? Was it a big passion project for you?

Kristian: Yeah, it was the thing that I was always working on, never finishing, and had a surprisingly hard time interesting publishers. I think everyone I approached about it, their first response was, “that sounds great, but no.” Eventually AK [Press] asked to take another look at it, and I don’t know, here it is.

Scott (TFSR): Well, that’s exciting. And I’m glad [for] that. The shadow of Oscar Wilde kind of loomed large for a long time on anything that was related to him, so I’m glad that’s not still persisting, and they published the book. I also just incidentally, as an aside, I was writing my dissertation with a chapter on Wilde and got super sick during it, writing about Dorian Gray. And I ended up in the hospital, and I couldn’t finish that chapter, so I don’t know if there’s like a curse with writing on Oscar. I always thought about that. All right. Well, I’m really excited to talk to you about Oscar Wilde and anarchism. The main argument of your book is that to really understand Oscar Wilde, or at least to understand Oscar Wilde as a political thinker, we need to think about all of his art and philosophy through the lens of anarchism. And it’s really exciting to read the book and see how Wilde kind of intersected with anarchism and anarchists at the time. To read about the history, like the fear of anarchism that we’re [still] presented with today, and then just like getting another perspective on Wilde as a person, his relation to the aesthetic movement, the beginning of the queer movements, and all of these things I think still are pertinent today. I think a lot of people have heard of Oscar Wilde, maybe read a little bit or heard his epigrams, but do you think you could just give a quick overview of who he was as a figure and a person?

Kristian: Sure. Let me see if I can do this at all efficiently. So, Wilde was born into the Irish aristocracy, educated at Trinity College in Dublin and then in Oxford, where he excelled in classics. Immediately, [he] became of sort of an early example of a person who was famous for being famous. Having developed a kind of celebrity and notoriety before he had really accomplished very much, [he] then leveraged that notoriety into a year long, a little bit more, lecture tour in the United States on the aesthetic movement. After that, he went on to publish a novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and then really rose to prominence with a set of four society plays, which were sort of nominally comedies about the manners and dramas of the elite of English society. At the peak of his popularity he became embroiled in a dispute with the Marquess of Queensberry, because Wilde was having an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, who was Queensberry’s son, which led Queensberry toward more and more public and offensive behavior toward Wilde, which then led Wilde to file a ill-advised lawsuit for libel, which Queensberry very aptly turned back on him and produced criminal charges for gross indecency, which was the criminal term for homosexuality. That led Wilde to prison for a couple of years. He lost his family, lost his fortune, lived the short remainder of his life in exile in France and died virtually penniless.

Scott (TFSR): Thanks for that overview. And I want to touch on a few of those elements that you brought up just, [but] because this is an anarchist radio show podcast—I [want to] to start with anarchism in particular—did Wilde identify as an anarchist?

Kristian: There are two occasions when he did. One was an interview in which he said, “once I was a poet and a tyrant, but now I am an artist and an anarchist.” And another, in a separate interview, he said, [when] asked about his politics, he said, “I’m a socialist, but we’re all socialists nowadays, so I must be something more. I think perhaps I’m an anarchist.” There were other occasions where he sort of flirted with the term, and probably my favorite is in a letter. He tells the story of being on a sailing trip with these two young men, and them getting caught in a storm, and it taking hours for them to get back to port. And when they got there, they were freezing cold and completely drenched and they rushed back to their hotel and ordered brandy. And the hotel proprietors sadly explained to them that because it was after 10 o’clock on a Sunday, the law prohibited him selling brandy. But given the circumstances, he decided he would just give them the brandy. And Wilde’s comment was along the lines of, “Not a bad outcome, but what utterly stupid laws” and then he finishes by saying that, “the two young men are, of course, now anarchists.”

Scott (TFSR): If I knew that that was the way to convert people, I’d be taking more sailing trips with young men. I’m always wondering. So, he used the term sometimes, but clearly anarchism and anarchists were out and about in Wilde’s time. I’m wondering a little bit what the common conception at the moment was of anarchism, and anarchists, and how it might have changed since then.

Kristian: At the time, it was considered practically synonymous with terrorism, and in particular of a foreign Eastern European sort of conspiratorial, random blowing things up kind of terrorism. That reputation has in different forms haunted anarchism really since the beginning. And while the sort of bomb throwing aspect has always been very much a minority affair of what anarchism is about, it wasn’t entirely baseless. I mean, there was a tendency called propaganda by the deed, which had this theory that a spectacular attack against the symbols of authority would reveal authority to be both artificial and vulnerable and inspire the masses to an uprising. In fact [though] it never worked out that way. It was a theory that was partly developed under the circumstances of autocratic rule in Russia, and then exported into Western democracies. In Russia, where it was basically illegal to even speak about anarchism, there was a certain rationality to moving to direct attack. And that was also in a way legible to the population who was also suffering under this kind of censorship. But when it moved into the Western countries, really the effect was to baffle the population and to largely turn them against anarchism, as it became synonymous with things randomly blowing up. Wilde, in fact, in one of those interviews that I quoted earlier immediately followed his statements that he must be an anarchist with, “But of course, the dynamite policy is quite absurd.” Meaning that even at the point where he was embracing this term, partly for its shock value, he also felt like he needed to distance himself from its more extreme and somewhat bloody elements.

Scott (TFSR): And that’s interesting. Do you think that there’s a way that he uses the term specifically for it’s just like surface level or superficial subversiveness or, as you said, the shock value?

Kristian: I think that he always wanted to be just shocking enough to be interesting, and not so shocking as to actually get himself into trouble. Which was a line that he was not always successful in judging, obviously. And so yeah, I would suspect that some of his rhetoric about that was chosen, like in those particular instances, [it] was chosen for the way he positioned himself outside of the mainstream. When he said, “well, I’m a socialist, but we’re all rather socialists nowadays. So I must be something more,” it suggests that he’s looking for the position, which is just slightly too far. Interestingly though, in his most directly political writing, which is called “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” what he describes is a socialism without the structures of coercion or authority. And he’s very explicit about that. He doesn’t use the term anarchism anywhere in the essay. And in fact, he begins one paragraph by saying “Communism, socialism or whatever we choose to call it,” sort of signaling that the particular distinctions may not be that important and that in any case the word is certainly not the thing that matters.

Scott (TFSR): Yeah, that’s really interesting. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, because there’s a strategic way to use the word anarchism to get people interested, to get people to talk about things, and to use the way that it’s presented and represented in media. But then attachment to the word doesn’t necessarily help it if people are sort of doing their own thing. That was really illuminating to me to hear you put it that way. Since you brought up “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” kind of the central argument of your book is that this provides a key to give Wilde’s whole body of work a certain kind of cohesion through the lens of anarchism. I was wondering if you’d talk a little bit more more about some of the ideas that he presents in that essay. And then if you want to move on to how it shows up in other writings of Wilde’s.

Kristian: He begins the essay by saying that the main value of socialism is that it would free us from the burden of living for other people. Basically, in a society where everyone’s needs were being taken care of, it would be possible for people to pursue their own interests and to develop what is unique about themselves in a way that the burden of earning a living and the responsibility for taking care of your family, your dependents and all that sort of thing really limits a person’s ability to freely explore whatever it is that they find fascinating, both in the world and of themselves. And so he starts right at the beginning by arguing that the purpose of socialism is that it would make a kind of individualism possible. And in his conception, these two notions of socialism and individualism are tightly bound together. And that it’s possible for certain extremely privileged people to exercise a kind of individualism under capitalism, but for the vast majority of humanity, their lives are too taken up with drudgery and the struggle for survival. And a socialist economy would relieve them of that set of burdens, and therefore makes individualism a universal pursuit. He argues that when that becomes available we’ll see this whole renaissance of culture and art and science and intellectual and an aesthetic sort of blossoming of the human spirit. And then at the same time, he argues that any kind of authority or coercion is corrosive of that entire project, and that therefore no authoritarian socialism would be acceptable. What’s needed is socialism as this kind of voluntary association between free and equal individuals, which I’m not the first person to note is basically the anarchist conception.

Scott (TFSR): Right. That’s interesting, the emphasis on individualism. So in the way that puts him in a different place than some of the other aesthetic aesthetes and decadents. It made me think of that famous line [from the] Goncourt brothers about, you know, living our servants do that for us. The way that Wilde talks about some people, the people who are allowed to live some version of individualism are [enabled] to create beautiful things or even to think like that. Profound thoughts are relying on the work of others to do that. So his his individualism isn’t like a kind of selfish, narcissistic individualism, but one that is trying to extend that privilege to everyone.

Kristian: Exactly. And what I argue in the book is that if we take Wilde’s political writing, and in particular, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” seriously, it helps us understand a lot of his other work, and that you see [that] marriage of individualism and socialism (and that version of individualism that should not just be the special property of the aristocracy) show up in other respects. And maybe the place where that pairing is clearest is in those lectures on aestheticism that he delivered in the United States. Where in addition to talking about the importance of sort of surrounding ourselves with beautiful things and treating life itself as a kind of art, meaning making the process of living as beautiful as possible. He also talks surprisingly much about labor and about investing in the skill and the craftsmen of the workers, such that the process of work becomes a creative pursuit and is pleasurable and then also produces beautiful things. Rather than everything being simply judged by its commercial value, and the worker simply being this kind of cog in a giant capitalist machine, where all of his initiative and all of the creativity is removed from the process in order to maximize the efficiency of profit.

Scott (TFSR): Yeah, that was really exciting to me to read your argument in the book. One line that that especially stood out to me. You make the claim that while socialism is more aesthetic than economic, because, “ it takes as its model the artist, rather than a proletarian, and as much concerned to free the repressed bourgeois as the oppressed worker.” And that sticks out to me because I think you can [take as model the artist], just thinking about anarchism today. But I was wondering if you maybe would elaborate a little bit on this idea of shifting the revolutionary subject away from the traditional understanding of the workers, that kind of disciplined [and] manly person, and maybe that can also verge onto a critique of work, too. There’s a lot of anarchism goes away from this kind of idolizing of the worker as the person that will lead us to freedom. So, yeah, if you could talk a little bit about what this shift in thinking allows us to see for revolutionary politics.

Kristian: Yeah. I don’t know if he had an idea of a revolutionary subject, as you put it. Like, I don’t know that he thought that there was a particular class of people who were going to be responsible for the transformation of society, or at least not a particular economic class. What I meant in that passage was that rather than seeing the proletariat as the class that would become all of humanity, and therefore the model of how human beings would be, he looked to the artist. And so part of that, I think shows the influence of William Morris, who considered himself a Marxist, but whose politics are pretty hard to fit into any current conception of Marxism. And Morris largely thought that the purpose of socialism was to—rather than sort of a standard Marxist conception where industrialization will produce a particular class of worker who will then take over society—Morris thought that the purpose of socialism was to destroy industrialization, that he wanted to get rid of the factory system and its rigid division of labor, and in particular, this conception that there was a class of people who sort of designed and created and imagined the products of the world, and then there was this other class of people who were basically just like hired hands, who just did the work by rote without any input into the process. Instead, he wanted production to take the form of skilled artisans, bringing their full creativity to their work, and also therefore experiencing the work as an expression of their creative selves and finding joy and pleasure in the process of creation. And Wilde basically took Morris’s conception on the whole, which suggests that under socialism, rather than society being organized on the factory model with this mass of proletarians, who basically just like have the position in the assembly line and do the same rote task over and over again, that society would be organized as this free collective of artists and craftsmen, who would be able to express their individualism in the creative process while also providing for the needs of the society. So I don’t know that it’s a question of the revolutionary subject. It’s more a question of like: Under socialism, is the world populated by proletarians or is the world populated by artists? And the hope was that under conditions of freedom and equality, work would be more like art and therefore the individuals doing it would be more like artists and less like assembly line workers.

Scott (TFSR): Right. And that’s interesting these ideas, like you said [with regard to] industrialization, modernization. I mean, in Wilde’s concept of socialism there are machines that do the kind of dirty work so that people don’t have to and they kind of replaced that class of people. But this isn’t to enable some hyper-modernization, but to enable a kind of smaller scale of life that allows people to engage in the pursuits they want rather than this larger idea of driving civilization on, or something like that?

Kristian: Yes, I think that’s exactly right.

Scott (TFSR): There’s another thing that they’re brought up for me that is interesting because, you know, when you think of aestheticism, you think of Wilde and Art—art with a capital A—there’s already a kind of class distinction that’s assumed within. High Art versus other forms of art, but Wilde maybe through Morris and also Ruskin, [who] I know was like a teacher of his, isn’t making this big distinction between high art and crafts or other forms of creation. So then he’s also kind of envisioning a classless art world—would you say that’s right?

Kristian: I would say at his best, that is right. I think he was also prone to a certain amount of snobbery and ready to claim certain privileges of an Artist—with a capital A—that may not extend to everyone in society. And both sides of that showed up in his trial, where on the one hand when they tried to cite his writings as evidence against him and brought in The Picture of Dorian Gray and a set of aphorisms he had contributed to an Oxford magazine and that sort of thing, and they would ask him things like, “well, what is the interpretation that an ordinary person would put to these lines?” And Wilde would say something to the effect of, “I know nothing of the opinions of ordinary people, I’m only concerned with the opinions of artists.” And so he was willing to fall back onto a sort of special status for the artist, and in particular that artists could only be judged by other artists. At the same time, though, the prosecutor was absolutely outraged that the young men that he was associating with were often men of the lower classes. They were servants of various kinds or people who were just frankly out of work. And though nominally the court was concerned with the sort of homosexual nature of these relationships, the fact that he was bringing these servants into polite society was as much a focus of the cross-examination as any sort of sexual relation. And so the prosecutor would repeatedly ask questions like, “is this the sort of young man that a gentleman should associate with?” And Wilde would respond, “Absolutely—if the young man is interesting.” And he said over and over again, “I recognize social distinctions, not at all.” Meaning he didn’t care about their origins. He didn’t care about what they did for a living. What he cared about was their personal beauty and their radiant personalities. And that in particular was outrageous to polite society, in a way that [with regard to] mere same sex relations (there was a lot of that sort of thing at like the British public schools and then at Oxford and Cambridge) the men of Wales class were somewhat ambivalent about that. But the cross-class nature really was outrageous to public opinion and ultimately to the law.

Scott (TFSR): Yeah, and that’s something that you elaborate [on] a little bit in the book in a way that I found very interesting. That people at the time, [some of whom] were anarchists and some weren’t, were kind of thinking about the cross-class same sex relationships as a sort of liberatory engagement. And that made me think that there’s sort of seeds of the radical gay liberation or queer liberation movements already in place in the end of the 19th century when these things were kind of being defined. I mean, I don’t know if any of these thinkers would go so far, but I was like reading into this this idea that men across class having relationships would be a sort of undermining of capitalist society. Could you talk a little bit about how the ways of this kind of cross-class relationship were being fought by the queer and anarchist thinkers at the time?

Kristian: Yeah, [and] this wasn’t just an anxiety on the behalf of the aristocracy. The men engaging in these relationships often did sort of theorize that it was going to destroy the class barrier and thus crash the social hierarchy, and that for them that seemed like an advantage. Of course, in retrospect, that all seems very naive, right? Like the ideas that wealthy aristocrats paying young men of the lower order for sex would destroy class relations just seems sort of fanciful. But it was a popular notion among radicals in those circles at the time. And I think to understand that, we need to remember sort of the difference between the traditional British class system and the sort of emerging capitalist system, where they still had the trappings of an aristocratic hierarchy, so that class position wasn’t simply a matter of who had money and who didn’t. And the divisions between the classes weren’t simply a question of one class being an employing in class and one class being a laboring class. The differences were also cultural, and it was possible to be kind of a destitute aristocrat, and it was also possible to make a fortune and yet remain ultimately sort of a middle class person. That [it] was a matter of both of the culture and the expectations and the values that people in those positions would have. But it was also a matter of how they would be regarded socially. So that in some way would even be more respectable to be an impoverished aristocrat than it would be to be a wealthy merchant. So there was this element where simply having kind of intimate contact with people of other social classes seemed subversive, seemed destructive of the barriers that kept them apart. And in particular, Wilde’s interest in the culture of the lower classes, and then also his interest in exposing them to what we would call High Art seems deliberately like trying to erase that cultural line between the upper and [the] lower. Though interestingly, he had basically no interest in the middle classes at all.

Scott (TFSR): Yeah, which I guess makes sense. So there’s something interesting there, too, because you know, Wilde initiated a libel suit against the Marquees of Queensberry because he left this card at the hotel, where Wilde was staying. [And] that at least one reading of it, you say in the book of that card, posing as a sodomite reads like a misspelling. So he is being accused of posing as a homosexual. So this just made me think about how the class positions weren’t necessarily tied to actual wealth. But you could kind of portray the image of an aristocrat. And I wonder to what extent that relates to an understanding of aestheticism, like the kind of the idle dandy and the aristocratic bend to that. But you’re arguing that even though that’s one understanding aestheticism, it actually has a kind of anarchist political and ethical value or valence or something. So, yeah, I’m kind of thinking [and] wondering about this idea of posing, posing as queer [or] posing as an anarchist, and how Wilde uses these different positions.

Kristian: So artificiality was, in Wilde’s schema, a value rather than a vice. And part of that was that he had this idea that the purpose of life was this kind of self-cultivation, [this] sort of self-creation, which means that to a certain extent it is going to be an artificiality, that is going to be an element of artistry to the life that you create for yourself and the character that you develop in yourself, and also the presentation that you make to the world. And Wilde very deliberately created an image of himself early on as this sort of idle genius, and also as this person who in some ways was outside of the categories of conventional society. And he relayed that with his sort of flamboyant dress. He created that image by making a habit of saying outrageous things as he matured, the outrageous things that you said tend to have more of a subversive undercurrent to them. But especially early on, [it] seems like he was often just reaching for the thing that was going to outrage public opinion. So there was always this matter of posing. And one of his aphorisms is that it’s only shallow people who don’t judge by appearances. One of the things he meant by that is that it is the appearance that we choose for ourselves. That is the way that we decide to present ourselves to the world. And that that’s important, right? And that, you know, it’s like you can tell a lot about somebody from what they choose to show you. So there was always this self-consciousness to Wilde’s presentation, especially publicly, and there was connected in that a gendered element where he presented himself as the sort of foppish, flamboyant aesthete, which was always interpreted like the dandy, [which] was always understood as sort of an effeminate character. But it actually wasn’t really until Wilde’s scandal that it was fully identified also as a homosexual character. And so he was often seen and sometimes mocked as this living affront to the ideals of masculinity. And this is hard for us to kind of imagine now, but at the time that wasn’t necessarily associated with homosexuality. Which makes Queensberry’s claim that he was posing as a sodomite, a little bit complicated. And part of the work that the trial did was to construct this notion of what a sodomite is like, such that a person could be posing as it. And this gains a kind of circular momentum, where the image that it constructs is partly the negation of the ideal of a respectable middle class family man, but partly just the reflection of the image that Wilde has been projecting all along. And so in the course of the trial, what a sodomite is, the figure of the sodomite, is built so that Wilde will resemble it. Then once that equation takes hold, Wilde really becomes the icon of sort of what a gay man is expected to be like. I’m borrowing here from the work of Alan Sinfield, who wrote a book called The Wilde Century, which makes this argument in about 250 pages. So if you’re interested in that, and how exactly that happened, that is the place to look.

Scott (TFSR): It seems really important, and something maybe a lot of people don’t know, is that we’ve inherited a kind of gay male type or stereotype that can be traced back to Wilde, and these trials. That even over over 100 years, a lot of that hasn’t changed that kind of identity type that Wilde embodied, or even like the lampoon of Wilde’s identity still marks understandings of gay male effeminacy and campness, how Sontag talks about him. So I think you bring that out really interestingly. But like in your book, the thing that I think is really important that you add is that in the aftermath of Wilde’s trial, the queerness of Wilde sort of has an influence on anarchist thinkers at the time. In a way not only is Wilde’s queer identity becoming politicized and codified, but also there’s an anarchist element to that, and I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit on that—about the trial and how his sexuality became influential for anarchist thinkers.

Kristian: Sure. This went in a lot of different directions and had several different elements. But maybe the clearest is that Emma Goldman. Other American anarchists as well, but Emma Goldman in particular was initially extremely sympathetic with Wilde, but simply as an example of the puritanical hypocrisy of the legal system, and as a victim of state oppression, it wasn’t until later that she became exposed to the sort of sexological literature that was elaborating the theory of homosexuality, where she realized that it wasn’t just a particular case of the state doing what the state does, but there was also an element [of] Wilde’s trial was intimidating and terrorizing for an entire group of people. And that it wasn’t just a matter of individual suffering and individual persecution, but that there was a group element to this. And so it became important to her to specifically stand up for the rights of homosexuals, sort of as a class rather than simply opposing the state putting people in prison, because of course we’re against the state putting people in prison. Another direction that that developed was that in Great Britain and in the US, the anarchist sexual politics at that time were already interested in sexual liberation, but mostly in the framework of a critique of marriage and free love and advocacy around issues of legitimacy, meaning really the rights of children who are born out of wedlock. And so adding to sort of queer element to that, they were already kind of primed for that development. And then what that meant was that it wasn’t just that Wilde’s trial affected anarchist’s sexual politics, it meant that a particular kind of sexual politics came out of that, that [they] were interested in gay rights as an expression of sort of sexual freedom overall. There was a natural affinity between the way anarchists were already thinking. And the sort of challenge and rethinking posed by the Wilde trial. Another direction that developed was that in Europe, and especially in Germany, individualist anarchists took a somewhat different lesson from the Wilde trial, and were less interested in conceptions of group identity and more interested in understanding it simply in terms of sort of individuality, individual rights and [an] individual person’s ability to express themselves and find pleasure in whatever way they chose, regardless of laws or social convention, or religious or moral precepts. And that, curiously, also circulated back into the United States, partly through Benjamin Tucker and his paper Liberty, which reprinted some of the European coverage of the Wilde trial, and also editorialized on its own, and very much in a more sort of individualist, libertarian kind of approach. So there were a couple of different developments from that in terms of how Wilde’s persecution shaped anarchist politics in the generations after.

Scott (TFSR): Yeah, that’s interesting. This is a still a kind of problem and paradox within queer liberation—the idea of an identity and a group type or a minority group demanding rights, and then [the] kind of queerness that critiques and wants to do away with identity. And obviously, the way you were outlining Wilde’s understanding of posing and artificiality is already showing kind of ambivalence to that, even as he’s being put in the position of defining this type. So it’s interesting to see these things that [still] are. Anarchists today are always fighting identity politics as well, whether or not they’re queer. So I think it’s interesting to see that these things were already happening at that moment.

Kristian: Wilde himself directly addressed this question in a short story called The Portrait of Mr. W.H., which the story itself is complicated, and I’m going to do my best to sum it up quickly. Basically it involves a relationship between two men, one of whom has a theory that Shakespeare’s sonnets were inspired by and devoted to a young boy actor named Willie Hughes, the W.H. of the title. [He] then persuades the other man of this. The other man then goes and engages in a relationship with a third man and also tries to persuade him of this theory. And the whole thing is in some ways an excuse to make this argument about the history of homosexuality and its influence on culture. So it looks at the presence of homosexuality in ancient Greece. I mean, there’s no way to talk about this that isn’t anachronistic. I should say that, first of all. Like, Wilde never used the term homosexuality, but the presence of homosexuality in ancient Greece, the importance of homosexuality in the Renaissance, the importance of homosexuality for Shakespeare, and then more recent examples. The thing about the story is that they have this argument about the sonnets, but there’s no proof for it. And in order to try to persuade each other, each of the men engages in this fabrication of evidence [of] different kinds. The evidence itself, including the portrait of the title, is a beautiful work of art, but it’s also false. It’s also a fraud. And each of the men, once he persuades the other one of the importance of the theory, is then fatally compromised and dies–one of them by suicide, one of them by consumption. And at the end, you’re left with, on the one hand, this exercise in the construction of a homosexual genealogy, like a cultural genealogy of homosexuality. And on the other hand, the story itself exposes that construction as this kind of artifice and draws into question the wisdom of sort of latching your identity onto anything exterior to yourself. And so it’s both this exercise in the creation of a gay identity, and it’s also this deconstruction and critique of that exercise at the same time.

Scott (TFSR): Yeah, and that seems like it could also be like a fitting parable for the attempts to naturalize or biologize sexuality and gender towards increasing rights for so-called gender or sexual minorities. Like these stories that we’re telling ourselves here in that essay or whatever you want to call it, like a story essay.

Kristian: Yeah, it’s a little hard to know how to characterize it. It queers our categories.

Scott (TFSR): I mean, it’s all just part of the seduction anyway. I think that you’re reading of that is really interesting. One of the things that [is] still kind of going on, this idea of identity. The thing that stood out to me after reading your book was that the legacy of Wilde, in a way, entangles these three groups, the people that are are kind of unwanted or undesirable anarchists, the aesthetes or the dandies or decadents or whatever, and and whatever was being defined at the time as homosexual, we might say queer now. And thank you for pointing out that we’re talking pretty anachronistically. But, yeah, just these three types. Right. Anarchists, aesthetes, and queer people even at the time were sort of confused in people’s minds and had this sort of like specter haunting people as like unwanted types. Could you talk about how that sort of legacy still persists today? [How] these entanglements of these different positions politically, artistically and sexually persist today?

Kristian: Yeah. Well, I mean, some of it I think you’ve already hit on. Anarchism, as it existed circa 1895, was already a sort of hospitable environment for a gay politics to emerge in a way that most other sort of political realms were not. Because anarchism already had this critique of sexual morality, it already has its critique of the family structure. It was already advocating for birth control and the rights for children who were born out of wedlock and the equality between men and women and free love and all of that kind of stuff. So it was ready for the addition of the concern of homosexuals. And I think once that took root there, of course, gay politics have then expanded far outside of anarchism and even arguably outside of the left. But it’s now just very infused with the sort of culture of anarchism and also the values and those sort of self perception of what anarchists do expect ourselves to be like. The fusion between aestheticism and queer politics has developed somewhat differently, but it also remains there, right? Where on the one hand, this becomes an annoying stereotype, and on the other hand, it’s also something that gay men especially sort of celebrate about their shared culture, such as it is. Where it’s like there’s an expectation that there are going to be these sort of fabulous creatures with good style sense and immaculately decorated houses and an interest in music and theater and that sort of thing. And also for the same reason, it’s always a little bit suspicious when an adolescent boy takes too strong an interest in painting or poetry, right? So there’s a weird kind of both good and bad aspects to the two of those things coming together and forming a type, or a stereotype. The connection between aestheticism and anarchist politics is in a way more complicated. On the one hand, it means that on a shallow level it has helped inform the attraction of anarchists to sort of the artistic avant-garde, which has shown up really throughout the 20th century from Dada to the beats to punk, really. Greil Marcus territory there. And on a deeper level, though, I think that the notion that life should be the sort of splendid adventure, and that the way individuals live should be reflective of their character and personality, rather than bounded by convention and predictable and productive, but not necessarily very creative or interesting. I think that this has done a lot to maintain sort of the spirit and attraction of anarchism. And that puts us more in the lineage of the situation as to crime think, right. But then there’s also this this paradox, where especially in the last couple decades anarchism has taken a very moralistic and sort of puritanical turn that has also always been sort of a feature of it. You know, at sometimes if you look at a figure like the early Alexander Berkman, his ambition toward martyrdom and his sense of asceticism and his harsh judgment of other people is just annoying. So there’s always been that kind of puritanical element to anarchism as well. But at our best, that is counterbalanced by this free and flowing and urge toward the beautiful. At the moment, it feels like the sort of purist and puritanical element is more to the surface. And the notion that the life should be anything other than, [or] something more than, just the political struggle and the urge to purify oneself and the group of people around you. It seems to have receded. I worry that we’re at the moment insufficiently aesthetic, and I. I wish we could bring that back more to the surface.

Scott (TFSR): Yeah. I mean, it’s a beautiful idea. I really like the way that you politicize Wilde’s aestheticism because I mean, it is such an old argument in a way that’s kind of like tedious and boring. That, even like Sartrean committed literature is against the art for art’s sake, because that is like amoral or even elite. But your reading of Wilde’s shows that even within the stuff that isn’t explicitly political, there’s like an ethical and political understanding that we can get. You say one line that I really liked—your reading [of] the plays is that Wilde’s evasions often hide the seeds of subversion. So there’s a way of reading Wilde that when he’s not saying, like, I’m an anarchist and let’s smash the state, he’s not saying that, but there’s something that happens in his work that allows the subversiveness of his thinking to come differently, [while] not hitting you over the head.

Kristian: Let me run with a couple of points of that. One is that I think that had his politics been more direct in his writing, probably his work would not have survived as well as it has. And while I think that there is even something which on the surface just seems like this exercise in silliness, like The Importance of Being Earnest. If you read carefully, it’s actually shot through with political concerns. Concerns about legitimacy, concerns about the rights of women, concerns about Irish independence and Fenian bombings, right? There’s all sorts of political elements, political themes, political subtext, political references in what at first seems like just this almost Dadaist banter about nothing in particular. But I think [that] had Wilde instead taken the approach of like a movement writer or a message writer, then the work would seem dated and less interesting and wouldn’t remain as fresh as it actually does. The other thing I wanted to say, and this goes back to aestheticism, is that my argument about Wilde’s aestheticism is that it’s not just the places, especially early in his career where he said things about, like the importance of labour and re-conceiving labour, conceiving of labor as a kind of art. It’s also that he pushes the sort of values where beauty doesn’t have to justify itself. And that’s really what art, for art’s sake means. It doesn’t have to have a moral message. It doesn’t have to have a social use. It doesn’t have to be commercially viable. That just the fact that something is beautiful and gives you pleasure is itself important. And I argue that that is an implicit critique of the values, especially of Victorian capitalism, and what Max Weber would later articulate as the Protestant Ethic. Which was supposed to value sobriety and hard work and thrift, and that every moment of every day was supposed to be invested with this improving moral weight, which meant making yourself a better person, but chiefly meant making yourself a better person through hard work. While aestheticism is just like a torpedo in the hull of that ship. Interestingly for us, I think it is also a good corrective to the more stoical and dour and sad faced parts of left wing thinking, the kind of Marxism that thinks that we should sacrifice everything for the party, or the kind of anarchism that thinks that the main purpose of politics is to morally cleanse ourselves of anything that may be socially compromised. That kind of puritanism, that kind of stoicism, that sort of often workerist, but also often workaholic element, I think need something to temper it. And I think the Wilde’s work, if we take it seriously, and also if we are willing to accept it as lightly as he produced it, can help us to avoid some of the temptations, if you will, of that kind of puritanism.

Scott (TFSR): Yeah. And the way you elaborated that is really helpful because we see how, you know, anarchists then and other people who might identify as leftist or Marxist are replicating some of the kind of capitalist mindset of that work and seriousness. And Wilde, [with his] emphasis on pleasure and pleasure as a kind of perversion, I think is specifically queer and specifically helpful in a way as a corrective, as you said, to those tendencies. While you were talking, I was thinking a little bit also about like James Baldwin, who makes similar kinds of arguments [yet manages an] avoidance of being explicitly political in his fiction, [and how] he still he speaks to anarchists, as another kind of queer figure. These people who value the ambiguity of art, are also evading that Protestant ethic that goes along with the kind of capitalist path of individual development. I’m just really grateful for the way that you you expand on that in the book. There’s a bunch of a bunch of things that I can bring up. But one thing that we haven’t really spoken about, but that also I think resonates with today’s anarchism is Wilde’s experiences in prison. And so I wonder, he was incarcerated for two years and then his final writing was on prison. And I think that a lot of people are coming into anarchism specifically now through the abolitionist movement. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about Wilde’s experience in prison, his relationship to prison and how that fits into his writing, and what he gives to us today as current abolitionists?

Kristian: Yes, I guess the first thing to say is that Wilde was against prison for his entire career. He thought that the whole notion of punishing wrongdoing was self-defeating and also barbaric. And in The Soul of Man Under Socialism in particular, he predicts that in a future society, there will be no need for crime, because there will be equality and there won’t be either the desperate need to resort to fraud or violence in order to meet one’s needs, nor the kind of resentment that results from being in the lower position of an unequal relationship. And that whatever traces of criminality remain, he argues, would just have to be the product of some sort of mental illness which should be treated by a physician, and not by the courts. So from early on, he was arguing a kind of abolitionist line. He also, partly from seeing the example of Irish nationalists who were being imprisoned, thought the prison could also be the sort of heroic and elevating kind of experience. And he had almost a Thoreauvian line that they could jail your body, but your spirit would remain free. What he learned when they put him in prison was that that was completely wrong. And he should you really should have known better based on what he already understood about the degrading nature of menial work and about the elevating possibilities of beauty and beautiful surroundings versus the degrading and oppressive nature of ugliness. And then he was put in this environment, which was really just designed to concentrate ugliness with the idea of breaking the prisoner’s spirit. And it was anticipated when he was put in prison that he would not survive the two years, that a man of his age and his class would not be up for the hardship and the deprivation, and were it not for the political intervention of some of his friends and the agitation of especially anarchists in Europe, who were demanding his freedom all together, he likely wouldn’t have survived those two years. And instead he was offered a number of privileges that were there to avoid the government’s embarrassment of him dying in prison. And he was very aware that that was the thing that was keeping him alive and that he was receiving this kind of special treatment. Much to his credit, he did his best to extend those benefits to the other inmates around him. [Mainly in that] he was allowed to request books and was allowed additional books from outside the prison. And reading his letters, you can see that among the books that he requested, there are books that he doesn’t particularly have an interest in, but he knows that the other prisoners would. And then for a while, he got the job of taking the library cart around to the cells to give prisoners the books they wanted, which importantly gave him the opportunity to talk to other people, because at that point, the prison system was entirely on a solitary confinement kind of basis. And then also gave him the opportunity to learn about the interests of the other prisoners, and again, sort of facilitate their intellectual pursuits. And then once he was released, he immediately set about agitating to improve the conditions for the prisoners and wrote a couple of long letters to the Daily Chronicle about conditions in the British prison system. In particular centered on the case of a prison guard named Thomas Martin, who had been fired essentially for being too kind to the prisoners. Martin’s specific offense was that he had given ginger cookies to very small children who were locked in prison for poaching rabbits. Wilde pursued both publicly and also less directly, through writing public officials and that sort of thing, the reform of the prison system, noting specific things that could improve the conditions for the prisoners, while also insisting that no amount of reform was ever going to be adequate, and in fact [stating] that the entire basis of British justice was badly founded and needed to be scrapped. This sort of reached its peak with his last published work (during his lifetime anyway) which was the Ballad of Reading Gaol, which I also think is his best poem, which his correspondence makes clear really intended as both a great work of art and also as the sort of political message that we were talking about earlier. It was intended as a pamphlet that would outrage the public against the prison system as a whole. And for what it’s worth, his agitation had some effect. There was a parliamentary commission that was investigating prison conditions at the time, and it took up many of the reforms that Wilde had suggested in his letters to the Chronicle. And just in terms of literary genealogy, The Ballad of Reading Gaol in particular became this almost scripture for anarchists talking about prisons in the decades that followed. So you you find references to it over and over again in the anarchist literature about prison, really all the way up into the 60s.

Scott (TFSR): That’s really interesting. I mean, there’s part of Wilde that is like the “Be Gay Do Crimes sort, romanticizing the prisoner. But then there’s this seriousness, and it’s especially after his two years of hard labor imprisonment, where he is specifically acting against the prison system and going outside of the romanticism of the like criminal type or something like that. In your going over that history, another thing came to me that you show really well, there are somethings, like Wilde just seemed like a good person, like someone you want to hang out with and be friends with. And in that way, there’s [almost] another aspect of like Wilde the person and his actions that I think are worth reflecting on, [and] not just as a figure, thinker, a writer, but that he embodied this anarchism in his relationships with people, even about the way that he engaged in relationships, whether they’re like intimate or just in passing.

Kristian: Yeah. For a person who is renowned or notorious for being extremely individualistic and extremely sort of egotistical, he was also very, very generous. And he was generous with his wealth when he had wealth, and he was generous with other people’s wealth when he did not. Toward the end of his life, he was practically penniless and living on the generosity of his friends. And yet when people that he knew in prison would get released, he would send them money. And one of his friends and benefactors got kind of annoyed with him about this, because here they are giving him money, so that he can keep body and soul together, and here he is just giving it away. And he said, but if my good friends like you take care of me, how could I not take care of my prison friends? Which I think really captures both something of his spirit and also something of the spirit of mutual aid and solidarity. Friendship for Wilde was not a trivial matter. He didn’t think of his friends as just like people that you happen to know, he saw friendship as this deep and complicated ethical commitment, this kind of like practice of life. Which I think goes back to his reading of the classics, and probably Aristotle in particular. And so it’s also interesting that, lacking the vocabulary that we have now about like homosexuality and queerness, he described those relationships and the possibilities of those relationships in terms of things like passionate friendship and really saw them as, in addition to the sexual component and the political implications, also saw them as this tight interweaving of two people’s lives, and a sort of practice of generosity and engagement. Like a way that people could relate that was in a way deeply ethical, and in another way unconcerned with the conventionality and what at the time was was viewed as morality. So, yeah, I think there’s was something very anarchic about how he looked at that. And again, it was that very generosity that turned out to cause him so much trouble in the trials. Like had he just been hiring prostitutes and paying blackmailers, it wouldn’t have had the, I mean this is somewhat bizarre from our point of view, but it wouldn’t have had the outrageous moral implication that it had—that he was like taking these young men to expensive dinners, and buying them champagne, and taking them to the opera, and buying the suits, giving them silver cigarette cases with personalized inscriptions on them. All of that was like… You know, prostitution and blackmail was just old hat for a Victorian aristocrat. But that kind of intimacy with people of the lower classes and that effort to sort of extend to them the benefits of the society was politically very troubling and morally outrageous.

Scott (TFSR): Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting how all of these things sort of overlap. I don’t know, like reading your book, I’ve always loved Wilde and had an affinity for Wilde and in a way Wilde has explained to me my gayness, my queerness. But then reading your book, I’m like, oh, my affinity for Wilde also has something to do with my anarchism that I’ve had over my whole life. And I just think the way that you tie those together and show them through going through his letters, his the biographical details, [and] the anarchists kind of response to him. And his work is really compelling. I guess the final question, you know, going back to talking about the role of art and the kind of corrective that we can bring to the sort of dour anarchist politics. The other aspect of him, maybe the term we could say is a utopian, and he uses that in The Soul of Man Socialism. Is there anything that you can say about Wilde bringing a sort of utopian anarchist politics or any way really you want to kind of send us off with, like, how Wilde speaks to us today? Because I think that this book is something that we can learn from in our current moment. So, yeah, any anything in that line that you want to kind of send us off with on Wilde, the utopian anarchist.

Kristian: Yeah. You know his utopianism makes sense, given his aestheticism, given the emphasis on the imagination and on sort of the fanciful and the artificial and the the creative possibilities. And therefore, he didn’t see Utopia as this thing that we achieve and preserve, which might be more of the Puritan model. Instead, he saw Utopia as this this aspiration of humanity that was always just past the horizon. And so it kept us moving. And so he says in The Soul of Man Under Socialism that all the progress is a realization of past utopias. And the utopia is a country where once we land, we immediately set sail looking forward again. And so there’s the idea that in order to achieve progress, we have to be able to imagine the better world. That once we achieve the world that we think we want, we’re going to imagine a better worlds still. And that, rather than that being a frustrating Rosero problem, in fact [it] is this beautiful hope that we can always be doing better. And, you know, right now I think we are pretty desperately in need of some utopian imagination, you know, with the pandemic really throwing our our usual social practices into question, and revealing the threadbare nature of many of our institutions, and the failure of hierarchical leadership structures to address the crisis in any sort of meaningful way, along with the increasingly present effects of climate change and the existential danger that that poses. And then also with the bizarre and perverse political culture that we inhabit in the United States, with the kind of polarization that makes every position a point of conflict and makes any sort of like of, I don’t know, reconciliation or even notion that we will arrive at an understanding of shared humanity, seem increasingly remote. We really need to be able to imagine something better. The alternative, I think, is a very bleak nihilism that just sees the future as only an extension of the present. And I think that from that view, nothing good can come. I saw a picture of some graffiti that said, “another end of the world as possible.” And I think that that that captures pretty well the need for utopian thinking right now.

Scott (TFSR): Yeah. That even the dystopian stuff has dried up, I think. Yeah. I mean, you just said it pretty beautifully, so I don’t really have anything that I really want to add. I really love spending time with Oscar Wilde’s thinking and writing, and just thinking about him as a person. And you do, I think, a really important thing in kind of bringing him out as an anarchist thinker and bring him to us right now. And maybe it’s just like something worth living for. Like that in the end is like something, you know, he, sorry, my mind starts going in all these different directions…

Kristian: Oh, good! That’s what I’m aiming for.

Scott (TFSR): Yeah. I mean, going from like living up to the blue China to dying so that he doesn’t have to see his wallpaper. But I think Wilde actually took things seriously in a way that’s instructive, even for all this kind of humor and artificiality. So, yeah, I don’t know. Again, I’m like really grateful for the book and for the chance to talk to you. And if you have any last things you want to add or also any other places you want listeners to go to the to access your work or whatever you’re up to at the moment.

Kristian: Yeah, I have a modest website it’s kristianwilliams.com, Kristian spelled with a K. Whenever I have a new article or whatever, I put something about it there and put a link to it. And then there’s some sort of category-based archives that you can look and see what I’ve written about the criminal legal system or about literature or about comics. And yeah. So if you’re interested in seeing what else I’ve done, that that would be a good place to start.

Scott (TFSR): Cool, and yeah I recommend people pick up this book, Resist Everything Except Temptation, and of course, Our Enemies In Blue is super important too. But yeah, I’m grateful for the time that you gave to talk about Wilde with me.

Kristian: Yeah, well, I appreciate the invitation. It was a good conversation.