Category Archives: Sexism

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

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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.

“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.

Aishah Shahidah Simmons on Love WITH Accountability (Rebroadcast)

Aishah Shahidah Simmons on Love WITH Accountability (Rebroadcast)

Book cover of "love WITH accountability", purple color, a tree with leaves appearing as blue, pink and purple flowers
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This week we re-air an interview done with Aishah Shahidah Simmons, who is a writer, community organizer, prison abolitionist, and cultural worker who has done just an immense amount of work over the years to help disrupt and end the patterns of sexual abuse and assault within marginalized communities. In this interview we talk about a lot of things, her background and how she came to be doing the work shes doing right now, how better to think about concepts like accountability, what doing this work has been like for her as an out lesbian woman, and about her book Love WITH Accountability, Digging Up the Roots of Childhood Sexual Abuse which was published in 2019 from AK Press.

This interview feels very important right now, because we are in a time of overturn, tumult, stress, and uncertainty, and I think that in order for us to really be able to knuckle down and go in this for the long haul itll be imperative for our radical communities to take solid care of ourselves and of each other. I hope you get as much out of hearing Aishah’s words as I did conducting and editing this interview.

Before we get started, as a content notice: we will be talking about some difficult topics in this interview. I will do my best to repeat this notice at regular intervals, but please do take care and treat yourself kindly (however that looks).

To keep up with Aishah, for updates on future projects and more:

To support our guest, in a time where much if not all of her income is in peril:

Some more ways you can see our guest’s past work:

And so many more links on her website!

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Featured Tracks:

Philip Glass – Metamorphosis 1 (mixing by William)

Clutchy Hopkins – LAUGHING JOCKEY – Story Teller 2012

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Transcription

TFSR: This week I am very excited to present an interview done with Aishah Shahidah Simmons, who is a writer, community organizer, prison abolitionist, and cultural worker who has done just an immense amount of work over the years to help disrupt and end the patterns of sexual abuse and assault within marginalized communities. In this interview, we talk about a lot of things: her background and how she came to be doing the work she’s doing right now; how to better think about concepts like accountability; doing the kind of work that she is doing as an out lesbian woman; and about her book Love WITH Accountability: Digging up the Roots of Childhood Sexual Abuse, which was published in 2019, from AK Press.

This interview feels really important for me right now, because we are at a time of overturn, of tumult, stress and uncertainty. And I think that in order for us to really be able to knuckle down and go in this for the long haul, it’ll be imperative for our radical communities to take solid care of ourselves and of each other. I hope you get as much out of hearing Aishah’s words as I did conducting and editing this interview.

Before we get started, as a content notice, we will be talking about some difficult topics in this interview. I will do my best to repeat this notice at regular intervals, but please do take care and treat yourself kindly however that looks. I let some words from Aishah’s introduction to Love WITH Accountability lead us into the main interview.

Aishah Shahidah Simmons: The conscious breath can be a grounding anchor. It is in this context that I insert the word breathe in between every five chapters to invite you to pause, take conscious breaths, and ground yourself while reading. Whatever you decide, please take your time and please take compassionate care while reading, imagining and working for a world without violence. Breathe. This is sacred space.

My name is Aishah Shahidah Simmons. My pronouns are she and her. I am a culture worker, in terms of creating work that’s used to, hopefully, make our culture and society better places to live in. And specifically, my work is on sexual violence, disrupting and ending rape, child sexual abuse. And focusing my center is in diasporic Black communities, because this is an international reality, sexual violence knows no boundary. I view it as work that transcends race, but very clear that my focus and my lens as a filmmaker, as a writer, are diasporic Black communities.

Before I could get to the anthology, I first started working not necessarily on child sexual abuse, but on sexual violence, through my film, NO! The Rape Documentary that I spent 11 to 12 years making from 1994 to 2006. And the film looks at sexual violence and accountability and healing in Black communities. And I start with NO! because Love with Accountability…without NO! I’m not sure Love WITH Accountability would exist. I am a child sexual abuse survivor, I’m also an adult rape survivor, I was raped my sophomore year in college. But while making NO! I couldn’t really touch child sexual abuse. And both my parents are prominently featured in NO!, they did not sexually harm me at all, however they were bystanders to the abuse because I told them what happened.

And I really think it’s important because I think that when those of us who are able to break our silence around the harm that we’ve experienced in our lives, there’s an assumption of like, Oh, I could never do that. Oh, you’re so strong” or xyz for anything, even while working on my film NO! I couldn’t even touch my child sexual abuse, so, with all of the work. And so for me, it just leads to like, the subtitle of Love WITH Accountability in terms of digging up the roots of child sexual abuse, because, for me, I’ve fully believe that child sexual abuse is foundational to all forms of sexual violence. And it is mainly because it’s for most of us the first places where we are violated and is the first place that we are taught to protect the institution known as the family. And so then over time as an institution expands to the church or the mosque or the synagogue or the temple, to the school, to the college university, to the activist organization, the community organization, to government. I think that it really begins at home and so that’s why I just want to like in terms of just recognizing while I was doing, I hope, important work around addressing sexual violence committed against adults by adults predominantly, that I, even as a child sexual abuse survivor, couldn’t even touch child sexual abuse until moving into this work called Love WITH Accountability.

And I started the project in terms of recognizing that there isn’t one answer, there isn’t a one size fits all, that it’s going to take multiple hands by multiple generations to address it. And so I really wanted to begin with an anthology, with a chorus of voices bringing a diversity of experiences, expertise, and ideas and visions about how we can not only disrupt it, but ultimately end it and how can we do it in a humane way that centers survivors — the most immediate survivors, recognizing that many who caused the harm are also survivors — without dehumanizing all those involved, but really inviting them in or calling them in to be accountable, and to change their behavior, and hopefully move towards a place where these things don’t exist anymore.

I view myself as a prison abolitionist. But when I say “I view myself there’s viewing and being, and it’s an exercise, I work at it every day. I don’t believe that there’s anyone who should be in prison, right? And then for me, it’s: what does it mean, what does accountability look like outside of prisons? And sometimes what I’ve observed happening is that there’s been a lot of kind of conversation on that, than it is around: how are we going to protect the children? How are we going to protect the survivors? And I think it’s a bothand, and not an eitheror, and I think that our society has set it up is that it’s eitheror.

And this is what excites me about the work that so many are doing around both transformative justice and also restorative justice. That people are really working towards both-and. We have to be mindful about how do we center the survivors needs, right? And that that doesn’t get lost in conversations around ensuring that people are not harmed by the state. Like, and so I want to do both.

What we know is that communities of color, and specifically Black, Indigenous Latinx communities are disproportionately incarcerated, so we know that. And most of those folks are not incarcerated for having harmed the members in their community, right? So while most sexual harm is intraracial, meaning within the community, it tends to be the interracial, outside of the community, sexual harm that gets the high profiles. And then it becomes like, what victims survivors get values, right who do we value more? And so we know that BIPOC — Black Indigenous People of Color women, femmes, trans folks, that we are not valued. Our voices, our experiences are not valued. They’re not valued in the criminal justice system and court of law so it becomes like, who gets prosecuted? What happens? So we just look at it that way, right?

And then in terms of the horrors that’s going on in prison there are all these jokes, oh, well, at least you gonna go to prison, like he’s going to get prison justice. I can’t stand it. It’s so rooted in homophobia. It’s just so barbaric. To me, somebody may have committed a heinous crime, but is that the response to then be heinous towards that person? Studies show that 40 to 45% of the rapes that occur in prison have been at the hands of correctional personnel. We’re not talking about other inmates, that people are being abused and assaulted by correctional personnel. And so if that is the case, who are you going to call? Who are you going to report that your body has been violated by the very people who are charged with quote, unquote, guarding you? There’s no real therapy, therapeutic sources happening in prisons.

So just this notion — unless somebody is doing life, which is horrific, and just completely inhumane that they’re going to serve their time and then when they come out, what were they taught? Was there any training? Was there any understanding of what occurred? I don’t think that we arrived here on the planet as molesters of children, as rapists, I don’t believe that. So what happened in their lives, that they started using violence in response, to either sexual desire, to power, to all these things, we have to understand that. And that requires a lot of work, and a lot of different types of resources. Because we know that the prison industrial complex is a multibillion dollar industry. So it’s not about not having the resources. It’s about what we choose to spend the resources on.

What would it be like if we created environments, they are healing spaces, where people understand the origins of the harm and heal from that, that is what we need. I want to transform society, I don’t want crime and punishment. Yes, people need to be held accountable for the harm that they caused. Yes, we have to make sure that they don’t continue to commit the harm. All of that. But I believe that we can do that, that is not punitive, that encourages all of us to call on our best selves.

We’re in a very mean spirited society. And to be clear, this country was founded on rape, genocide, theft of land, theft of people. So you know, I don’t want to act like oh, this is a mean society because of the person, the occupant, in the White House right now, I’m not going to be a revisionist. We haven’t really dealt with the origins of the fact that rape and genocide and theft is the very fiber, the very foundation, of not only this country, but all of the countries in the Americas and the Caribbean.

And Qui Alexander who is also one of the contributors to the anthology his piece is called Thoughts on Discipline, Justice, Love and Accountability: Redefining Words to Reimagine Our Realities, and Qui has done a lot of really important work working with the harm doers. I use harm doers and not perpetrators” and that’s very conscious. And I credit restorative justice and transformative justice movements with my understanding of that. We’re all learning and we’re learning from each other. And it’s on a continuum, it doesn’t just happen. Because I used to say perpetrators I didn’t think about it like in terms of harm. We need all folks on deck in terms of like, we need those folks who are going to work specifically with the harm doers, like and that is their calling. And that is the work in terms of really helping them to transform and do the work that needs to be done in response to the harm that they’ve caused. And then we need the folks who are focused on the most immediate survivors.

And I think one of the things that I appreciate about Cyreé Jarelle’s chapter is that they talk about what happens when you have disabilities. I mean Cyreé Jarelle talks about being autistic, and how they, how autistic children or children who have any forms of disorders, how they are, it’s like, it’s like “oh those poor parents. It’s just like we don’t see the children, so that even when they are being harmed, we don’t even see it, when they are more susceptible than the child who doesn’t have disabilities, when they are more susceptible to relying on care by providers who can also cause harm, and no one even really checking for them.

So just briefly, I was abused by my grandfather for two years. And I told my parents and they didn’t remove me from the situation. So there’s the two years of the abuse. It ended, and the only reason I know I ended was because of hindsight. So it ended but I still engaged with, loved, cared for, all of that, my grandfather. I’m 51 or will be. And so this started in 79 when I was 10. My grandfather became gravely ill in 2010. So we’re talking about a long time of no accountability. Not only him but by my parents. I didn’t seek any accountability from my grandfather.

And so it was a complicated thing where he became gravely ill and I played a role in saving his life. I was the person who was by his side and really advocating after a serious crisis occurred up until the point where my father and aunt were able to come. And it was there that everything imploded for me, that was 2010. And then my grandpa became an ancestor and I did not go to his funeral. In 2015, I realized that not only was a grave injustice done to me by my grandfather, but that by my parents, who are really incredible human rights activists who’ve been on frontlines of struggle, internationally, nationally for over 50 years. And I share that to emphasize we have to really move beyond these kind of notions and ideas of who the bystanders are, who the harm doers are. Like, I find that so much it’s like rooted and really classist, definitely racist, elitist versions of like, oh, who does it”.

So I started reaching out to them — they’re divorced — and signing my communiques love WITH accountability in the with was always all caps, so it’d be love WITH accountability, because I was essentially saying that while I love you, and I believe that you are love me that that love is not going to shield you from accountability. So that’s where it came from, didn’t, wasn’t thinking about a project, wasn’t thinking about anthology. In 2015, I was 46 years old and at that point, my film NO! had been out for, what, nine years?! And had been screened all over and translated and all of that, and was very much known as an antiviolence advocate. And again, I hone in on all of these things because I think that we have to really — those of us who are survivors be kind and gentle with ourselves about when or if we’re even able to face abuse. Because even with all of the work that I’d done and I was always out about being a rape survivors, especially I never could fully talk about my child sexual abuse. There was so much shame and I always thought it was because I was protecting Pop Pop, and I was protecting my grandfather, but I was really also protecting my parents.

And I also want to say that my grandfather, like all of us, are complex. He took care of my grandmother, for 10 years when she had Alzheimer’s. For 10 years. And he took care of her around the clock, it is because of him that she never set foot in a nursing home. And he did it almost single handedly. And I think that that played a role in my own silencing, right, because he was the hero who took care of my grandmother, and he was definitely my sexual terrorist.

And so, again, these complexities. And I just really think about this in this era of Harvey Weinstein being sentenced to 23 years and Bill Cosby is in jail and R. Kelly’s in jail I don’t know what’s going to ultimately happen — and not by any stretch of the imagination say that they should have not done horrific, unspeakable, outrageous, disgusting, inhumane things, to women and children. I want to be really, really clear. But I’m not really sure how prison is going towhat is prison doing? And each one of those men and all of the other people who have committed harm in our families, they don’t do it alone. There is a whole culture that surrounds them that enable them to do it.

So for me, my parents didn’t stop it. And I told, for all the people, the survivors, that we hear, I’m just thinking about celebrities, people told and nothing was done, because people were making money, whatever, all the reasons. And so this notion of Yay, Harvey is going to go to jail for 23 years. I’m like, who are all the people that allowed it to happen for decades?” Like and there is another Harvey Weinstein right now as we speak, happening, that we don’t even know about. So it’s like if we don’t really tackle the issues of who’s committing the immediate harm, but also all the people that are surrounding it, and then to think that therefore we can lock up everybody? Like, we’d be locking up most people, because all of us have, indirectly, even myself! I have to think about what are the ways in which I have indirectly allowed harm to occur, let alone the harm that I have caused, not sexual harm, but the harm I’ve caused my friends, my loved ones, that we make these people monsters, rather than saying no people commit monstrous acts.

What’s really important is that we understand that healing is a journey, and it’s not a destination. That’s the first and key thing particularly with CSAchild sexual abuse and even rape but definitely in child sexual abuse and even if you haven’t come to grips with it until being an adult like, it’s so layered, right? And the other thing, and this is something I am constantly learning and relearning, is that healing cannot be contingent on someone being accountable to you for the harm that they’ve caused. Because there are so many instances where that will never happen. Either because they died, because they said I didn’t do it”. In Indigenous communities in this country and elsewhere, it’s like, in terms of the laws and Indigenous communities, so much of the harm happens externally, right? And then those people who are white are not even held accountable. Tribal law is outside of the US Justice System. And I bring that up — and I don’t know a lot so I’m not going to stay there, because there’s nothing worse than talking about something you don’t fully understand, and particularly not being a member of particular Indigenous nations I bring that up to say that, I’ve heard many Indigenous women saying that we have to focus on healing, and doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to fight and seek justice and accountability. But we have to focus on healing. And I would offer that that is the case for most of us in marginalized communities, right?

And again, like we know, the criminal justice system is flawed. We’re not even seen as being capable of being raped or molested, as children or as adults. It’s just not, we’re not even seen as the victims, so to speak. So we can’t rely on institutions and structures that don’t even see our humanity. That we have to rely on our own practices and cultures, many of which we’ve not had access to, because of enslavement, because of genocide, because of colonialism, because of forced migration. But then there’s so many of us where we are relearning and tapping into methods and modalities.

I believe, for me, I don’t know where I would be without therapy. I’ve been very, very fortunate to be able to work with a Black feminist psychologist who supported my healing journey by making her fees accessible to what I could afford, and sometimes what I could afford was single digits, literally. And then I practice meditation, that has been very powerful for me in terms of focusing on intentional and conscious breath, particularly in periods of rage and periods of sadness, to let my breath be an anchor. And intentional because we’re always breathing, until we don’t breathe. Being in community with other survivors who are working on healing, as a reminder that I’m not alone, I’m not the only person who’s experienced the harm. I don’t have to do this work alone. That I think that there are ways in which how we kind of come together around all kinds of really important political issues, and really trying to change our society the political system, the criminal justice systemthat we also have to make space to come together as survivors.

And I think bystanders and harm doers have to really do that work as well. I say this as a survivor, but also recognizing that I want all of us well. I want all of us well because I really want us to cocreate a world where there will one day be children who look back and say, they did that?”

This is why I call upon my comrade, my friend, my sister, Walida Imarisha, who talks about the power of speculative fiction. And that is envisioning the world that doesn’t exist. So often we’re like no to this, no to that”, and we have to, right? We gotta resist, we gotta say no cops in the schools, no prisons” “no rape, but we also have to do that work of envisioning. And when we think about all of us, in terms of our ancestors, we are the result of speculative fiction, particularly those of us who come from marginalized communities. That our ancestors before us didn’t know that I wouldn’t be here doing this work, but it is because of the choices that they made, good and bad *laughs*, that I am here. And so for me, I’m definitely wanting it to change right now in this instance. But I want to think about the generations that I don’t know I’m on that long distance, intergenerational run. And I think that if we think of it that way, then we can really come up with some, just incredible visions, and then begin to do that work. As long as we’re trying to do that one size fits all instantaneous we’re going to end it in one generation, how?! When we’ve got so many generations behind us. Like, how are we going to do that? And maybe if you can show me how we’re going to do it, great! I’m not saying we can’t do it, but don’t do it in a way that cuts off someone on the margin, because it doesn’t work with our quick program.

TFSR: And the one size fits all approach has is the thing that got us here in the first place.

AS: Exactly. Exactly. So NO! focuses on sexual violence committed against cisender Black women and girls by cisgender Black men and boys. So for me rape was something that happened to cis women at the hands of cis men. Period. Like, and I think it’s really important to share that, because to talk about the evolutionso often people share where they are in this moment, but they don’t talk about the process to get where they are. So for me, my vision for Love WITH Accountability expanded because of my understanding that sexual violence knows no boundary. It’s not about a gender. It is about human. So that trans children, gender nonbinary, men, boys, all are being harmed, and women commit sexual harm so we have to kind of move beyond that. We can talk about Yes, the majority of the numbers that have been reported, but new studies are coming out, for instance, that you know, gender nonconforming, gendernon binary and transgender children are the most susceptible to sexual violence.

And so Love WITH Accountability is not as expansive as I would like it to be. But I created a wider net, in terms of the perspectives that we hear, that we’re hearing from deaf survivors, from autistic survivors, from cis Black women survivors, cis Black men, trans men, gender nonbinary folks, because it was just to really encourage people to think beyond a binary. To understand that, particularly, as diasporic Black people, we know racism. Like, we know it. But then to say, we also have to know ableism, we have to look at the ways in which we are marginalizing within ourselves. We have to look at transphobia, how we are marginalizing within ourselves, so that it’s not enough to solely focus on racism, because if racism ended right now, we’re not safe. Most of us in our communities are not safe. And I want racism and white supremacy to end yesterday. But I don’t fool myself to think that once that happens, I’m going to be okay. That’s not true.

TFSR: I just really loved, specifically in your introduction that you wrote to this book, you were like, very compassionately diligent with just naming all of the isms: ableism, transphobia, racism, transmisogynoir, misogynoir, all of these things. And I think that that’s very, very key to further understanding the thing that we’re going through.

AS: Yeah, I viewed my introduction as like what I called “word libation. Instead of pouring water on the ground, putting words on the page to really set a context, starting from the beginning since Columbus came over here to this hemisphere in 1492 to really ground that what we’re trying to undo and I don’t want to romanticize and be like, oh, there was no rape in Africa or India, I’m not saying that at all, but in terms of this reality, in this hemisphere, we have to be aware of this continuum of violence, from the moment that the Europeans set foot here. Tragically, they couldn’t cohabitate with lovewith love and accountability! *laughs* And so that because it’s so easy to be like, oh, Trump, is this or that person is that and yes, he is, but he is a product of this continuum. An\d even how we treat each other and ourselves is such a product of white supremacy, of capitalism, misogynoir, misogyny, ableism, audism, you know? Like we have to understand it, that doesn’t let anyone off the hook from saying, Oh, well, because of that, that’s why they committed harm. No, no, no, it’s not excusing it, but it is to have a broader context. And I think that when we do that, then we have to say, what are we doing with prisons? Like what the hell?” You know, when we really understand the whole context it’s like, no, that’s not the solution.

We’re creating the Good Guys, Bad Guys. And as long as we do that, we’ll never see the harm doers amongst us, right? Because when our person, the person that we love, the person that we know, that we trust, when they have been accused or have committed harm, we won’t want to believe that because harm doers are monsters. But if we can see that harm doers are people who commit monstrous acts, who are dealing with their own fragilities and their own pain and trauma that again, doesn’t mean not focusing on what they’ve done — but if we can see that, we understand that this is why it’s so pervasive.

And I feel like we need multiple teams. Like for me, my work is not to necessarily work with the harm doers, or bystanders, that’s not my strength. I want to work with survivors. But there are people who do want to do the work with the harm doors. And I think that that is critical, we have to have that, in a way so that the survivors, immediate survivors, don’t feel like they are being sidelined. And it’s hard work, I’m still- my mother is a contributor to the anthology, and she writes about how she did not protect me. She is the only public bystander in the book being accountable. And I have to say, I’m on the journey with my parents, both of them, in very different ways. And I recently just shared because it’s like stop and go, and it’s very painful, you know cuz I do, I still get very angry, and I’m hurt. And I think particularly for my mom who’s like, really trying and she feels like nothing she can do is enough. And all of that is real. And I just had an epiphany, I said, you know, mom, we’re dealing with 40 years of trauma it’s not even with all the progress that we’ve made and we’ve made a lot of progress — it’s not gunna…40 years versus 3 years of us doing this work *laughs*, you know what I’m saying? And my parents are incredible in terms of they get it, they, they they want, we talk about reparations, we talk about all of these things that we understand we’ve got to undo centuries of this and that, but then it’s like, it gets hard when it becomes like, how do we undo this harm? Right?

I mean, and I know for myself I’ve caused harm. I’ve caused harm to my brother, who is nine years younger than me. So that means he was one when I started being abused as a child. And there’s a saying that Alice Walker said and it’s very heteronormative, I wanna say that, but it’s like, the husband beats the wife, the wife beats the child, the child beats the dog. And it becomes like, we abuse those who are less powerful. And I say that in terms of my brother, like I was being abused, no one was takingno one rescued me, so then I took it out on my brother and there’s kind of a legacy of that. And he and I unpacking that and doing that work. I mean, we’re good and grown now. But just me even thinking about the impact of the harm that I caused as a child who was being harmed. That’s why I said, it’s like, everybody’s been- we’re responding to our harm. And that stuff is hard. It’s hard. I’m not a parent and I have so much remorse about the harm. And I’m not talking about the little Aishah, I’m talking about, like how that legacy continued well into adulthood.

So being accountable in those ways…this is hard work. And I think that that’s why so many people are like “just lock them up, throw away the key, because it’s not easy for the person who is locked up, but it’s easy for us because it’s like, we don’t have to think about it anymore. Well they’re gone, Harvey Weinstein’s in jail. Like, you know? We don’t have to think about, well, wait a minute, what happened here?

TFSR: I’m wondering like, how this, how doing this work has been for you and your daily life? What kinds of responses have you gotten to NO! The Rape Documentary and to Love WITH Accountability and to your other work?

AS: Thank you for that question. I, um…I’m gunna say it’s hard. I’m gonna just put myself out there and say that this is hard work. I don’t know where I would be without therapy and meditation. So and my partner Sheila has been, she’s been a Rock of Gibraltar, and has had my community of kindred spirits and friends. And my brother, and you know, the work I’m trying to do with my parents, my parents are trying to do with me, and it’s taken its toll. What I will say that NO! was different, because I’m not in NO! I would offer that I’m throughout NO! I am a rape survivor. But I’m not in NO! My testimony is not in there, at all. So there was a way that I think I had a barrier, as opposed to Love WITH Accountability. I write I’m in it. I talk about my abuse in the introduction. My mother, then she’s the first chapter, she talks about how she didn’t protect me. So it’s there. And in addition to that, I’m very, I’m digging up the roots, I’m digging up the roots in my own life. So it’s a lot harder than NO! and I struggle.

My PTSD comes up. My complex PTSD comes up, it definitely comes up and I go through periods of rage I’m sad, I’m depressed. All of that, because of therapy, because of meditation, because I have tools. So I’m aware like, Oh, this is coming up. And then I have community who are like, I’m checking on you, I haven’t heard from you. What’s going on? Are you okay? You know and then I think, like really trying to embody what I’m talking about, in terms of love with accountability, rage, meditation, action, healing really remind I tell people take a breath when you get upset and then I try, I have to remind myself like that, just step back, give yourself some breathing room. So it’s hard, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I made NO! to save all those Black women survivors out there and in making NO! I saved my life, because it was making NO! that led me to Love WITH Accountability.

When I started working on NO! I was 25, it was 1994, I was a filmmaker. Like, NO! it was just gonna be this quick project, and then I thought I was going to Hollywood! And this is pre- you know, Netflix, pre-anything. And then NO! took 11 years because no one wanted to fund a film about sexual violence and healing, committed against Black cis women. And so it was just kind of likeyou know, HBO turned me down, PBS turned me down, Sundanceno one was interested. So it’s very fascinating to me, right? Like, this is not the trajectory. But then doing NO! then led to this work. I mean, my grandfather, and then I wrote an essay in this important text called Queer Anthology: Queering Sexual Violence, Radical Voices from Within the Antiviolence Movement, edited by Jennifer Patterson. And so she invited me to write a chapter in 2010, it was right when my grandfather became ill. I didn’t get into all the deep details in that I touched on it in Love WITH Accountability — but that led to this work, to the Love WITH Accountability work. So it’s really it’s one of those things is like: is life imitating art, is art imitating life? And I think that for so many of the people in NO!, the survivors, the activists featured in the film, and then definitely the folks in Love WITH Accountability, this may not be their sole work, but it is definitely a part of the commitment in terms of their work. It’s like, we know this horror, we lived with it and we don’t want it to happen anymore, you know.

And so I just found out that Love WITH Accountability was named a finalist for the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards. So we’ll find out on June 8, if it actually wins. But I’m just honored that it was selected as a finalist. I’m really, really honored about that. The Noname Book Club, they selected Love WITH Accountability as one of the two books for March. And why it’s so important for me is that my teacher, Tony Cade Bambara, it’s the community you want to name you. It’s the community you are accountable for. And that’s the things I always had to fall back on with NO! like, because I didn’t get this big grant or I didn’t get — while making it, ultimately, I did get a big grant that made it accessible in terms of translation, captioning, from Ford but it just took a long time. The blessing about all that was that I could, I made my film. I didn’t have to meet the rules or regulations of the big funders, right? And so, because I’m not accountable to the funders, I was accountable to the community.

And so why I’m excited about Noname Book Club naming Love WITH Accountability is because it was selected by a brother named Dawud Lee, and he is the facilitator of SCI Coal Township prison chapter. And this brother, if he says he’s innocent I believe he’s innocent. Like based on his case, and what I’ve read, it just seems like another form of railroading another person in prison particularly Black body in prison, because it’s not just Black men, it’s Black cis women, Black trans women that are disproportionate in prison. And the fact that A) that there’s been access to books, because for many prisoners, they’re not even getting access to books in prison. And that this book was chosen, as a resource, as a pick, like that just, for me, back to Tony Cade Bambara, is just like, the community you want to name you. That, for me, is really important. That he, and Noname Book Club which is really picking up radical and revolutionary books and committing to send them out to inmates to marginalized communities throughout this country. And that this book is a book that they’re lifting up as a resource and a tool is just like, wow, this is powerful.

I am working on another book project, another book project called From Love to Justice. I’m really going in, in terms of, I have historically curated and collected and shared the wisdom of, I guess now total of about 70 survivors, advocate, scholars, all diasporic Black, around addressing adult sexual violence and child sexual violence, and while I’m a part of the, clearly, a part of the work, I want to hone in on what I’ve learned and shared that as as a resources as an intervention. So that’s my next project.

In terms of reaching me for I have two websites, there’s NoTheRapeDocumentary.org and LoveWithAccountability.com. So those are the two websites that focus on those two bodies of work. I’m on social media, on Twitter and Instagram @afrolez, that’s A-F-R-O-L-E-Z. There is a Love WITH Accountability Facebook page. I have an Aishah Shahidah Simmons cultural worker Facebook page, and then there’s a Love WITH Accountability Instagram page and a Love Accountably Twitter page, but usually like, if you go to notherapedocumentary.org or lovewithaccountability.com, the social media handles are there.

And AfroLez is like, my name *laughs delightedly*. It’s something that I came up, developed, in 1992 when I was a very young baby dyke, 23, and it was my downpayment on the future. Because I was like, this radical, raging dyke and I was happy and very proud of it. And people were, particularly elders, like elders like my age and I’m like, Oh, my God, I’m an elder” — but yeah, I would say, Oh, yeah, when I was young, I used to be like that, but you know, you’ll mellow out. And so little Aishah or young adult Aishah — *laughing* I’m being pejorative to me, not to anybody else who’s 23 — was just like “NO!!!” And so I created Afro Lez. And I have to tell you there was some part of me that knew because there are times when I’m just like, Oh, my God!” because it’s very, it’s part of my whole thing. It’s AfroLez Productions, it’s AfroLez-it’s everywhere!. In terms of me my identity. And I’ve had people say, is that AfroLez?” (pronounced “lay”) You know, it’s like, there are those times when, because I don’t feel safe, it‘s like, Okay, I’m dealing with rape now I got to also come out about being gay? it’s like all of that. And I was like, Oh, yeah, 23 Aishah knew”.

So it‘s my constant accountability about like, no, you’re not hiding in terms of that. And because it has been hard at times, because it gets into the, oh, is that why you’ve been raped? Or because everybody’s always trying to pathologize us about our sexual identitysexuality, or gender identity. And at the end of the day, all they’re doing is they’re saying your sexuality is wrong, or your gender identity is wrong, and I need to get to the root of it. Because they’re not really concerned about if I’ve been raped or not. It’s like, Oh, is that why? And this is like, really? So now, I mean, I love AfroLez. I definitely, I love AfroLez.

But it’s just, it’s funny, in terms of that. Even now, like in contemporary people, because I always say I’m a Black feminist lesbian. And for me, it’s really, all those identities are very important. People will want to drop lesbian before they’ll drop feminist. It’s very fascinating. Very, I mean, it’s not fascinating, it’s homophobia. But I mean it’s, it’s interesting. And it’sand I learned that from — I didn’t know her — but I learned that from Audrey Lorde. And where would I be if I didn’t know the people who identified as lesbian. So I mean, I’m out from my own survival, but I’m also out for people to know I’m here, you know? I’m here. I’m here. Like, my dad used to always say that, you have to let people know you’re in the room so that they know they’re not alone. And so because I have the privilege unfortunately it is a privilege in this society to be able to say, I’ve been raped. I’ve been molested. I’m a dyke. I believe I have a responsibility.

TFSR: Absolutely. And I resonated with that so much, in in your introduction and what you just said, because as somebody who is also like a survivor of childhood sexual assault and adulthood sexual assault, and as a queer, trans man, I hear this just all the time. And you’re like, No, no. I believe I would have been a queer trans man had none of this happened. This is not, don’t pathologize people’s sexuality, their gender identity, all of these things and don’t weaponize something that is so rooted in trauma for the individual, and trauma for communities to be homophobic or transphobic. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for that.

AS: And you know what I’m so glad about? And not that I need this, but I have journals. I used to keep journals when I was a kid. And when I was like, before my molestation, I created a list of people I was like, I don’t know if I’m gonna marry a woman or man, or “girl or boy” is what I wrote as a kid. So, you know what I’m saying? Like, I was just like, Yeah, I was always queer, and it doesn’t matter! Let’s just say, let’s say I wasn’t always clear, it doesn’t matter. Like, just, I’m gay now. It doesn’t matter. We don’t have to understand how- how did you get that way? Why are you straight?

TFSR: Do you see the look, see the look on people’s faces if you ever posed that question? Like it is, isit just blows people’s minds.

AS: It really does.

TFSR: Straight is not the default. You know?

AS: Exactly.

TFSR: Most, most people think of themselves as straight, but straight is not the default, it is a colonial, colonial construct.

AS: It really is, and what would happen if people had the space to be who they were, you know what I’m saying? Like ifwould people really consensually and safely, let’s be very clear — live it all out? Would they, would they really? Would they be? You know, those are the questions and we just don’t know. And that’s what excites me about the young people — like, young young, I mean you know, not even, nowhere near 18 — because there’s studies are showing there are many more young people who don’t identify as straight, you know? That there’s just a space and a freedom for them, which I think is the fear of the Right. I mean, that’s a whole nother conversation *laughs*.

TFSR: And a fear of the young on the part of establishment, folks we see, every single generation has some kind of problem with young people. It was tongue clicking, it was vocal fry, it’s the skinny jeans, it’s all of these things, and it’s just like, no, you’re just afraid of growth, and you’re just afraid of this world not feeling like your own and you know what, that’s legitimate that’s fine. But like, please don’t demonize people about it. People are learning and growing, and like, not being so straight and *smiling* I’m here for it personally, you know?

AS: Mhm, me too. It’s a fear of change, is really a fear, you know? And ultimately you know, me getting all esoteric it’s a fear of death. You know, I don’t, I’ve yet to and probably will never — learn Snapchat, right? Because I was like, I just can’t do it

TFSR: *laughs* Same.

AS:
*cracking up* I’m like, I’m doing Instagram, I’m on Twitter, I just can’t. And I’m sure I could, but it’s just like, it becomes a comfort zone, right? So then you, we all just want to keep it this, this way. And I think then I think it’s extra intense in this country, where we’re really monolingual, or not as a country we’re not monolingual, but the way it’s enforced being monolingual. And it’s happening elsewhere, though, I mean, you see what’s happening in India with the new prime minister. I mean, it’s just, it’s everywhere. It’s just the rise of fascism, it’s really scary, cause we keep talking about change, but I’m just like, we’re like, it’s almost like the turn of the century is repeating itself. It’s like we’re in 1920!” Like the rise of fascism, it’s just, it’s, it’s frightening.

TFSR: And also, we’re dealing with a global pandemic too these days

AS:
Exactly.

TFSR: –which is a whooole nother, sort of, how its interfacing with capitalism with the prison system.

AS: Exactly. And then this whole kind of Yellow Peril thing, you know? Just the racism towards it’s just as disgusting. You know, last year was the second hottest year ever. And then there are all these viruses that are frozen, or were frozen that’s what was keeping us all safe. So as things melt, other viruses are going to be coming up. It’s scary. And then people talk about revolutionI’m not talking about this kind of the craziness that the pundits do like, *mocking voice* “oh, we’re gonna have a revolution. I was like, You all don’t, that’s not, that’s not how, you don’t have a revolution at the *starts cracking up* ballot box necessarily”– but even with a talk about revolution, as a feminine femme identified survivor, queer, Black, anti-gun, prison abolitionist…I don’t feel like I’m safe. You know I’m not safe you know revolution doesn’t necessarily make me feel safe — not that I want this craziness that we’re in — but it’s just kind of like, it’s just, it doesn’t feel safe. Everybody has guns, like it’s just I, I have a lot of concerns about where we’re all headed as a nation. And which is all the more reason why this work matters so much, because I want to feel safe in my community. And I don’t necessarily, right? And we all know about the outsider coming in for us” — and we can define how the outsider is — I want to feel safe with the insiders on the inside.

TFSR: That is such a good reframing of that, though, of the issue of safety in a time of increasing, escalating instability.

AS: And that’s the work I think that you know, I feel like Love WITH Accountability tries to do in tandem of what so many people are doing on the ground. As a cultural worker, I want my contribution, I hope, is the work that I produce as resources and tools. And I learn also from what’s being done on the ground. So those are things for me, that’s really important. And I think that it’s hard for us to talk about child sexual abuse. And not that it’s easy to talk about police brutality, it’s not. But it’s easy only in the sense that we can identify the quote unquote, enemy, right? It’s the outsider, it’s that cop. It’s that white vigilante. What do we do when it’s the leader of our movement, or it’s our father or our sister, you know what I’m saying? That so much more complicated. And that’s the stuff that, for better or for worse, I’m drawn to I don’t know. *cracks up*

TFSR: It’s hard and it childhood sexual assault and rape still exists within this sort of lattice or network of silence. And I think that there are some really badass people, yourself included, who are trying to fly against that tendency that people have to just brush it under the rug or not talk about it or anything, because that’s not, that’s just not how we’re going to move forward. And we can’t move forward until things are right at home. You know?

AS: Yeah, I agree. And that’s how in the opening of the book, I use two quotes from the Tonys”, I call them, Tony Cade Bambara and Toni Morrison. Bambara saysif your house ain’t in order, you ain’t in order. It’s so much easier to be out there than right here. And then Tony Morrison wrote, what you do to children matters, and they might never forget. And I think that we have to understand that because a lot of us are wounded healers, are wounded leaders, and unbeknownst to us, if we’re not doing some form of therapy, or healing or something, we’re replicating. We’re replicating that which was done to us.

And it’s not necessarily sexual it’s not like, Oh, I was abused, sexually abused, I’m sexually abusing someone. No, no, no, there are other ways in which we can replicate the behavior. So we have to be mindful though because we want to create healthy movements, we want to create healthy societies.

TFSR: And I think that the only thing that’s gunna push us through these times of escalating instability are the health of our communities. Like, I think that we are gonna be really tested.

AS: You’re right, we are so tested. I mean, I’ve just like, as an independent contractor, my livelihood is based on speaking engagements, all, everything, it’s just a twinkling of an eye. It’s all gone, right? For now, at least. We don’t know, right? And so I’m just like, how am I gonna live?” Like literally, I don’t know, right this second. There’s no socialized medicine, there’s no social program, there’s nothing in the way in which other countries have, specifically Europeans.

And then we arethe way in which our societies are such, right, this society, US society so many of us are disconnected, maybe by choice, and also by situation, like from family of origin, or community, you know? It’s like we have to create these networks of care. Which is what alicia sanchez gill actually, that’s the name of her chapters — Networks of Care. We have to, we have to do that. And in order to do that, we’ve got to be safe and loving and caring and accountable with each other in those communities.

TFSR: Are there ways that listeners can help support you? Is that something that you’d like to throw out here?

AS: Oh! I hadn’t, I mean, I haven’t thought about that *bursts into laughter* I welcome it! I would like that. If you look up @AfroLezProductions on PayPal, it’s there, Aishah Simmons but it’s AfroLezProductions. And then Venmo, @AfroLez and Cashapp it’s $AfroLez. So I hadn’t thought about that because I’m not a 501(c)(3), a nonprofit or any of that, I hadn’t even thought about asking or trying to seek donations. So thank you for that offer.

Fortunately, it’s just me me, I mean I have a partner, but meaning I don’t have kids. I don’t know what I would do if I was responsible for children. And I’m thinking about all of the frontline workers and you know, the restaurant industry. I mean what’s happening? I don’t want this situation to bring out the worst in us and it’s just the racism, the xenophobia, the transphobia, homophobia, the guns that are just everywhere I’m scared. I feel like, Oh, my God, are we in an Octavia Butler novel? Are we in Parable of the Sower? like I’m really a little nervous about where this is all going. That’s my fear. So all the more reason why we have to be compassionate and loving with each other and ourselves.

I think, I think the big thing is to take care. To take care of ourselves and take care of each other and, and the planet. The planet. We can’t, this is our home. We can’t live without the planet. I don’t know what people are thinking, and the powers that be, but we have to take care of the planet. And breathe. Intentional breath. Take timebecause people can’t go on retreats and nobody wants to go on a retreat at this point anywaybut just to connect to your source.

TFSR: It’s amazing to me how many people are going through life holding their breath. And I think that many of us who are marginalized by capitalism, by racism, by white supremacy, by hetero patriarchy I think so many people go through their life just braced for the next thing, which is really real, but sometimes it’s great to allow your body to just breathe.

AS: And that’s something that you, we can all do. And I really, I credit Ericka Huggins, who was a Black Panther, and an educator and teacher and just incredible human who was incarcerated with a newborn. On trial for murder. I share this because she talked about how she taught herself to meditate and that’s what got her through solitary confinement. They can take our breath away, as Eric Garner, we know that, but until they do that, they can’t take that innate power. That is our own. Easier said than done, but I’m just talking about our wage jobs, our salary jobs that you know, all of these thingsthey cannot take that power away.

TFSR: If you are interested in seeing more work from Aishah, visit our blog post at TheFinalStrawRadio.noblogs.org or scroll down to the show notes if you’re listening on your phone. We will post all the links in those places. If you’re interested in reading her book Love WITH Accountability, visit AKPress.org for more information

Reclaiming Our Power: Aishah Shahidah Simmons on her work and anthology, Love WITH Accountability

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This week I am very excited to present an interview done with Aishah Shahidah Simmons, who is a writer, community organizer, prison abolitionist, and cultural worker who has done just an immense amount of work over the years to help disrupt and end the patterns of sexual abuse and assault within marginalized communities. In this interview we talk about a lot of things, her background and how she came to be doing the work she’s doing right now, how better to think about concepts like ‘accountability’, what doing this work has been like for her as an out lesbian woman, and about her book “Love WITH Accountability, Digging Up the Roots of Childhood Sexual Abuse” which was published in 2019 from AK Press.

This interview feels very important for me right now, because we are in a time of overturn, tumult, stress, and uncertainty, and I think that in order for us to really be able to knuckle down and go in this for the long haul it’ll be imperative for our radical communities to take solid care of ourselves and of each other. I hope you get as much out of hearing Aishah’s words as I did conducting and editing this interview.

Before we get started, as a content notice: we will be talking about some difficult topics in this interview. I will do my best to repeat this notice at regular intervals, but please do take care and treat yourself kindly (however that looks).

If you are interested in seeing more work from Aishah, visit our blogpost or scroll down to the show notes! We will post all the links in those places.

If you are interested in reading her book, Love WITH Accountability, AK Press is doing a limited time sale on all their books on their website. Visit akpress.org for more info.

To help support community bookstores at this time of greater economic precarity for such places, consider visiting our affiliates Firestorm Books, who are currently doing online sales from their brick and mortar location. More about how to order at firestorm.coop!

To keep up with Aishah, for updates on future projects and more:

@lovewithaccountability Instagram

@afrolez on Twitter

Love WITH Accountability FaceBook page

Aishah Shahidah Simmons Cultural Worker FaceBook page

To support our guest, in a time where much if not all of her income is in peril:

PayPal: to Afro Lez Productions

Venmo: @afrolez

Some more ways you can see our guest’s past work:

NO! The Rape Documentary, streaming for $1 on her website

Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from within the Anti-Violence Movement book that she is in.

No Name Book Club where Love WITH Accountability was picked as one of the books for March.

https://lovewithaccountability.com

And so many more links on her website!

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Music for this show by:

Philip Glass – Metamorphosis 1 (mixing by William)

Clutchy Hopkins – LAUGHING JOCKEY – Story Teller 2012

The Ovas Speak on Living and Fighting in L.A.; La Concha, the Psyco Brigade, Feminism, and Anti-Racisms

The Ovas Speak on Living and Fighting in L.A.; La Concha, the Psyco Brigade, Feminism, and Anti-Racisms

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This week I had the chance to interview three people who organize with La Concha, which is an anarchist space in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles that does many projects such as prisoner solidarity, legal and popular education, reading groups, bike brigades, and lots else. We talk about their work, and how the three came to be doing what they are doing right now, and also about the incursions that they’ve been experiencing from authoritarian Communists in the area. I felt great getting to have this conversation with them and really energized to build where I’m at, but also to help build more bridges between places all over so we as anarchists can enrich and nuance each other’s thinking and praxis.

Big thanks to the folks at Firestorm for putting TFSR in touch with La Concha! Here’s to many more colabs and for a furtherance of anarchist, Indigenous, and decolonial spaces.

To learn more about La Concha and the Psycos, you can follow them on all their social medias:

-On Instagram for @la_conxa, @ovarian_psycos, and @psycobrigade

-FedBook is at https://www.facebook.com/ovarian.psycos/

To see all their merch, which is how they raise funds for rent on their space, you can go to ovarian-psycos.zibbet.com

For a website to visit to see some of their initial writings and blog posts, you can go to ovarianpsycos.com

You can learn more about the Institute for Advanced Troublemaking you can go to their website at https://advancedtroublemaking.wordpress.com/

To read the zine they were mentioning called AlwaysAgainstTheTanks, follow the link!

Also if you come across a documentary about the Ovas and are curious to watch it, get in touch with them for a copy! For this inquiry and all others, say if you have something to contribute to the zine they were talking about, you can email them at ovarian.psycos@gmail.com

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Music for this show is by:

Xela de la X – Red Star (musical break)

Clapback – La Marea Vuelve (outro)

Digital Security / Tenant Organizing / #MeToo and Updates from Hong Kong

Digital Security / Tenant Organizing / #MeToo Hong Kong

This week, we feature three portions.

Lauren Regan of CLDC

art by Ar To
poster by Ar To
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First up, we share a chat with Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, or CLDC, to chat about safer practices around technology for activists, as well as the “reverse search” warrant used by the NYPD with Google to capture info on antifascists and the Proud Boy attackers last year. More at https://cldc.org. An article about tech security and phones that Bursts references is called “Never Turn Off The Phone” [starts 10m 08s]

Palm Beach Tenants Union

Following this, Withers (a new collective member at The Final Straw) shares a chat with Adam and Amy, two organizers with the Palm Beach Tenants Union out of Florida about their work and the sorts of mutual aid disaster work they’ve done with Hurricane Irma and advocating for and organizing with renters in their communities for dignity in housing. More on the Union at https://pbctu.org and more on how you can get involved in mutual aid up at https://mutualaiddisasterrelief.org. There are a number of donation sites around the region to prepare for this Hurricane season, as well as distribute support to Bahamas that you can find by searching social media for DRASL (Dorian Response Autonomous Supply Line), as mentioned on itsgoingdown.org. [starts at 54m 06s]

#MeToo and Updates from Hong Kong

Finally, you’ll hear a conversation with Enid and Rebecca, who feminist activists in Hong Kong about the current state of protests there. Content warning, that segment deals in part with organizing around sexualized assault by police and by protestors. To hear our prior interview with Ahkok on protests in HK, check our website and see the great articles up at crimethinc. Also, the guests talk about the term 自由閪, or “Freedom Cunt” as a re-appropriation of a misogynist insult by police from the protests. [starts at 1hr 15m 51s]

*Correction to the HK conversation: The full name of the IPCC mentioned in regards to the establishment of an independent police inquiry is called the Independent Police Complaints Council. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam appointed two new committee members to the already existing committee, not independent investigators. However, the IPCC has hired five foreign investigators to participate in examinations, though it must be clarified that the role of the IPCC is observational rather than investigative. The IPCC has no jurisdiction to either call witness nor collect evidence for the independent inquiry called for by citizens.

If you’re listening to the radio version, as usual, we suggest that you check out the podcast version for longer versions of all three chats in this episode as well as Sean Swain’s audio this week. You can hear that at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org or via various streaming platforms we publish to, such as youtube, soundcloud, stitcher, pandora and so-on.

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playlist ending

On Nurturance Culture w Nora Samaran

On Nurturance Culture w Nora Samaran

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This week, Bursts spoke with Nora Samaran, author of the essay “The Opposite Of Rape Culture Is Nurturance Culture”, which became the seed of her book “Turn This World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture.” This book is recently out from AK Press.

We talk about harm, entitlement as relates to positions of power like masculinity or whiteness in our cultures, the need for connection engrained into our biology and sociality, accountability and healing among other topics.

You can find further reading up at norasamaran.com. You can find a list of suggested further reading by searching “How To Not Re-Injure Survivors.”

Announcements

ACAB/PansyFest Reminder

Next weekend is the Another Carolina Anarchist Bookfair (or ACAB) happening in Asheville, NC. Events start on Friday with a welcome table at Firestorm from 1-7pm. Simultaneously, there’ll be presentations on Veganism and non-violent direct action, trans-national and indigenous poetry, anti-racism in Appalacha, Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement and anarchism in Puerto Rico. That night, Pansy Fest begins with a show at Sly Grog Lounge at 7pm. This sparks a weekend of activities from 11am til 2am around the city. If you want to learn more about either event, check out acab2019.noblogs.org and pansycollective.org or give a re-listen to our August 4th episode of The Final Straw. And please come visit our table if you’re in town on Saturday or Sunday and say hi.

Sean Swain’s 50th Bday

We’re lucky enough to include Sean Swain in this week’s broadcast. If you’ve been missing him on your radio emissions, you can find a link to his audio essays up at our website, he produces one every week, find updates on him at Sean Swain.org or now follow him on twitter at @SwainRocks. Please be aware that his 50th birthday is coming up on September 12th, so send him some loving kindness. Also, if you’re in town for ACAB, swing by The Final Straw table on Saturday, August 24th before noon to participate in a birthday surprise for Sean. Shhh, don’t tell him.

Other Notes

There are some updates on the case of anarchist prisoner, Eric King up at his support site, supportericking.org. And stay tuned to our website and podcast stream for some special audios about him. Also, keep an ear out for the August 2019 episode of BADNews in the same places.

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playlist

SWOP Behind Bars with Jill McCracken: Sex Work, Incarceration, and Intersections

Sex Worker Outreach Project Behind Bars w/ Dr. Jill McCracken

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This week, William spoke with Jill McCracken, codirector of SWOP Behind Bars, or the Sex Worker Outreach Project, Behind Bars chapter. Jill is also a professor at University of South Florida at St. Petersburg teaching rhetoric and gender and sexuality studies, with a focus on sex work, prostitution, and trafficking in the sex industry. For the hour we’ll hear Jill speak about the work that SWOP and SWOP Behind Bars do, FOSTA/SESTA and some realities faced or worked through by sex workers in the U.S.

The mission statement for SWOP Behind Bars reads:

“SWOP Behind Bars is a national social justice network dedicated to the fundamental human rights of people who face discrimination from the criminal justice system due to the stigma associated with the sex trade.  We advocate for full decriminalization of consensual sex work, ending cash bail, drawing attention to the effects

of generational poverty on sexualized violence against marginalized and vulnerable women while providing services and support with a focus on ending violence and stigma through education and advocacy.”

More about SWOP Behind Bars can be found at https://swopbehindbars.org and more about SWOP in the U.S. in general can be found at https://swopusa.org with other groupings findable online. You can email Jill’s group at swopbehindbars@gmail.com, find them on twitter or fedbook!

One person name dropped by Jill during the interview was Magali Lerman, a consultant at Reframe Health + Justice consulting, who said that a product of FOSTA was to destroy the middle class of sex workers.

Announcements

Blue Ridge ABC events

First, a reminder that Blue Ridge ABC has a plethora of events this coming weekend here in Asheville starting 6pm sharp on Friday, Feb 1st at Firestorm with a showing of Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal about the prisoner, his writing and struggle for freedom. Then at 8pm, VVITCHGANGCoven will present a showcase of local talent from their crew and beyond at The Mothlight. Local Hip Hop and Beats, ya know? It’s a benefit for Blue Ridge ABC, so come visit the table. And on Sunday from 5-7pm at Firestorm, BRABC will host it’s monthly political prisoner letter writing event.

Resist the KKK in GA, Feb 2nd

If you’ve got the means to travel, on Saturday February

2nd in Stone Mountain Georgia there will is a call for people to oppose white nationalists at Stone Mountain, GA and their call for a rally there. The racists don’t have a permit and are pissed off that they keep losing their racist monuments around the South. For those opposing, we interviewed an organizer with Front Line Organization Working to End Racism (or FLOWER), about what it’s all about and what to expect. You can hear that on our January 13th episode.

Jason Reynard Walker still facing repression

Jason Reynard Walker is a prisoner who has been punished by prisoncrats in Texas again. He was transferred on

January 11th to the Allred Unit and his supporters are very concerned about the welfare and health of Mr. Walker. He reports being denied his  prescribed medications; being forced to stand outside in the rain; being denied basic necessities of blankets, sheets, toilet paper, soap, etc.; being served food he is allergic to; being denied requested medical services. All these abuses must be corrected immediately. You can find info on how to support Jason up at the IGD article entitled “Abuse at the Allred Unit”.

Sean Swain is Back!

Sean Swain’s segment is back! Listen in and he’ll update us on how he’s been. Past segments, all available for listening, broadcasting and sharing, can be found here.

You can write to Sean Swain at his NEW / old address at:

Sean Swain #243-205
Ohio State Pennitentiary
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd,
Youngstown Ohio, 44505

To read more of Sean’s writings and keep up on his case, check out seanswain.org

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Playlist

Black Women’s Defense League on Feminism, Anti-Blackness, and Sexism

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Black Women’s Defense League

This week I spoke with Niecee X of the Dallas Texas based group Black Women’s Defense League, which has been in existence for a bit over 2 years. In this interview we speak about BWDL and the circumstances around its formation, the work it engages in, and the political climate it exists within. We also speak about feminism and misogyny within this context, as well about the status of and tools for addressing anti blackness and sexism in anarchist scenes.

The interview you are about to listen to has been edited down for broadcast, and we will release the longer version for on the podcast feed. On top of that, this is the second of two interviews that we recorded, and in the coming months I am planning to synthesize the two conversations into one long podcast version, which we’ll announce once it is ready for listening.

If you would like to get in touch with Black Women’s Defense league, you can go to http://blackwomensdefenseleague.com, hit them up on Instagram or Facebook by searching their name, or email them at blackwomensdefenseleague@gmail.com

Announcements

For folks in the Pacific Northwest:
The Tilted Scales Collective will be holding workshops called “Fighting Charges, Strengthening Movements.” On Monday, April 10th in Olympia there’ll be 2 workshops, the first at 3:30pm at Evergreen College in Lecture Hall 6 and the second at 6pm at Last Words Books.

In Seattle on Wednesday April 12th at 7pm in the Bannon Science Building at Seattle University, check it out in rm 102.

On the 15th Tilted Scales will be in Eugene, on the 16th in Portland and ending up at the Humboldt Anarchist Bookfaire on Saturday, April 29th in Arcata, CA.

To get the details on these events, check out:

Tilted Scales Collective Launches ‘Fighting Charges, Building Movements’ Tour

For folks in the South and South East of Turtle Island:
Tomorrow, Monday the 10th in Durham, NC, there will be a “No War With Syria Rally” at CCB Plaza, 201 N. Corcoran St at 6pm. Word is that this event is being planned by the World Workers Party, a Stalinist and Russian-apologetic organization that has a knee-jerk reaction to support anyone the U.S. is in tension with as anti-imperialist. So, make up some nice anti-Assad, Anti-US, Anti-Russian, Anti-Nation-state slogans for your signs and engage the organizers. Anti-war should mean ALL warmongering governments and groups, not the populations that suffer the bombs and torture https://www.facebook.com/events/578045858910409/

Friday, April 14th at 9pm in Asheville, the HEX 1 dance party benefit for OurVoice will be taking place at The Mothlight at 701 Haywood Rd in West Asheville. The event will be DJ’d by DJ Lil Meow Meow, DJ Malinalli & DJ Abu Disarray. The beneficiary, OurVoice, is a non-profit rape crisis center in Asheville that offers counselling services, offers many educational workshops around consent and other topics, does outreach to bars around decreasing drug-assisted sexual assaults and does a lot more. More info on the project can be found at http://www.ourvoicenc.org Keep an eye out for future HEX Asheville benefits. https://www.facebook.com/events/172150079956978/

In Louisville, Kentucky, on Friday, April 14th at 10pm there’ll be a benefit for Louisville Anti Racist Action. The show will be held at The Cure, 1481 Shelby St, in Louisville. The bands include Blind Scryer, Boneclaw (Evansville), Satellite Twin & Black Kaspar. Louisville ARA self-describes as “here to help build, defend, educate and create an effective cultural resistance against fascism.” https://www.facebook.com/events/948681725268377/

Saturday, April 15th in Asheville from 1-7pm, local rads will be hosting the Anarchist Field Day community event in the West Asheville Park at 198 Vermont Ave. It’s an all-ages, potluck event that brags kick-ball, face painting, grilling with vegan and gluten-free grill space and food, friend-making and May Day banner-making. You can find them near the baseball diamond in the park and if rain chases folks away, there’s a reschedule date for a week later on April 22nd at the same place and during the same hours.
https://www.facebook.com/events/1860190510916621/

Playlist: http://www.ashevillefm.org/node/19744