Sunday, March 23, 2008

Getting some hits

My statcounter tells me that an old post of mine is getting hits lately. It all goes back to an interesting post by Maia at Touchingly Naive in which she describes her political journey on the subject of the transgender community.

Maia's posts got a lot of comments and she's closed the thread. In the comments, the question came up, that if you wanted to have women-only space, where do you draw the line?

Belledame commented:

And I’ve been in plenty of spaces where the line is perfectly well kept. People who live fulltime as women, surgery -not- required, and yes, it’s taken on the honor system, but you know, in my fairly extensive experience with trans-inclusive womens’-only spaces, generally, gawking fratboys who just want to see the wimmins’ commune and dress up in drag for a gag don’t exist outside of movies like “Sorority Boys.”

As for why they want to come: because they’re women, because they’re feminists, because they have things to offer the community, because they’re (sometimes, yeah) lesbian, for the same damn reasons everyone else wants to be there.

This thread is going to appropriate this issue for a different community altogether. My community is that of anti-imperialist activists. I've been doing this ever since October of 1983 when the U.S. invaded Grenada and pissed me off permanently. But, one thing we like to do as we plan our activities, is to get together with other groups who are specifically anti-imperialist and who agree on the issue. If this is not your issue, then go somewhere else and find someone else to play with, right?

However, the anti-imperialist movement has had to deal with spies in our midst. You can read about the FBI's harrassment of people working with the people of El Salvador here. Looks like their up their old tricks again. There's a long history of the Red Squads as well.

So any activist who wasn't born yesterday pretty much has to assume that there are people out there trying to invade our space, spy on us, disrupt our activities and generally be a pest. It's not paranoid, because it keeps happening. And it's also not particularly bothersome because the antiwar movement is strong and effective. We've learned their tricks and we refuse to fall for it. It will grow to be a bigger problem as the date approaches for the Republican National Convention this September.

In recent years, I've learned to identify the police spies fairly easily. At an anti-klan rally in St. Paul in 2001, the undercover cops were fairly ludicrously out of place in their tie-dyed bandanas and Birkenstocks as they tried to stir up violence within the anti-racist groups. But I never assume I'm right. One time I thought I had a fellow pegged, but when I talked to him I discovered he was a visitor from Germany with some kick-ass ideas about anti-war work.

I'm wondering why anyone who holds an event in which 7,000 or more people attend, the Michigan Women's Musical Festival, can think for even a second that their event is completely devoid of men or any other kind of "spy". Of course there will be spies trying to figure out what you are doing and if they can find some kind of secret information about what you do. They may be police spies, they may be conservative women who hate feminists, they may be men. And they will be there, one way or the other. It's something to be expected.

Look around the internet. Google "moon-bat" and "anti-war" and you'll see all kinds of anti anti-war activists who attend anti-war events just for the opportunity to call everyone they disagree with a commie, flag-burning moonbat.

I assume spying is going to happen. I want to learn how to react intelligently. How about we say, "Yeah, there may be one or two spies, but that in no way detracts from the value of what we do when we bring together people who want to change the world."

I just don't get why feminist think that our activities will somehow be devoid of all the crap every other activist group has endured for years. Read about Cointelpro. Read Agents of Oppression about the FBI's war on the American Indian Movement and the Black Panthers.

If you are at all effective, you have to assume that there will be spies out there.


And just to make it clear, I absolutely object to the transhating that was going on in that thread and I acknowledge a bit of guilt for taking the discussion to riff off another issue entirely. To make up for this, I encourage you to read some awesome transgender voices, including:


Questioning Transphobia

Little Light

Sexual Ambiguities

Nix Williams


I know I'm missing important bloggers here. Help me out and I will add to the list!


Purtek said...

I can see why you'd feel a little guilty...I've deleted like four opening sentences to this comment already, because of a slight sense of guilt and not wanting to say this wrong. Because, of course, the reasons for the individuals in question wanting "in" to each of these spaces is very, very different. One group actually does intend to undermine the stated purpose of the events that are occurring, while the other wants to actively participate in them.

Which actually makes your point even stronger, imo: as an anti-imperialist activist, you accept that problematic cases are going to occur, that you cannot possibly protect against all of those cases, and that even given that, you will come out ahead of the game in terms of people you've helped or positive impact you've made for your cause. Sometimes this means taking very big, very real risks in the presence of a spy.

When we're talking on a theoretical level about transwomen in women only spaces, the pro-trans side tends to talk about women who want in because they're women and they want to participate in what's going on there. The radfem side presents a slippery slope, worst-case scenario "what if" of a *man* who wants to infiltrate, mock, appropriate and harass. So what you're saying here is: I accept your worst case scenario model, and I think the risk/reward is worth it anyway.

Personally, I think the "risk" of the worst case scenario actually coming true is far lower than it is in the situations you describe (because, as many others have pointed out, jackass frat boy misogynists aren't actually very *good* at acting like women, so these nefarious underground "spy" types are actually pretty darn easy to spot), which means the reward side of the equation balances out that much higher.

belledame222 said...

What purtek said.

And the thing is: "spying" makes sense when you're talking about a political organization that has active, concrete plans to challenge the State or some other concrete institution. Something like a pro-choice group would be similarly attractive to "spies" as such.

But a music festival? What is this, the Myaenads? ffs. the only "spying" people are really concerned about is, again: scenario where drooling boys want to look at nekkid boobies, or worse.

It still begs the question: how exactly do they prevent such things -now-? They don't do panty checks at the door; even assuming there were hordes of transwomen with sinist0r motives, if they "pass," they go undetected, and that's entirely dependent on yep gender cues (secondary sex characteristics, presentation, body language, etc).

And it's bullshit, ultimately. Most non-gender incongruent men are not going to be spending whatever the entrance fee is and going to the length of dressing up or whatever just to go listen to folk music and maybe catch a glimpse of crunchy granola feminists strolling around topless; most people outside of tinfoilsville understand this.

So what it really boils down to is: the fear that

1) trans women are dangerous and scary all by themselves, which is, yep, bigotry by any other name (see lucky's ranting about "Buffalo Bill" and so forth), thus all the handwringing about the handful of "infiltrators

2) if they can't draw the line there, they won't be able to argue against non-trans men qua men coming in too and there goes the "womens' festival." which point I already argued against. look at how other trans-inclusive womens' fests do it. as for the rest: grow a spine, look at -behavior-, not gender cues. If you have to, sure, enact a rule about no naked penises in public spaces. And then? I predict it'll be exactly the same as before, except with less rancor and possibly more attendees.

Daisy said...

Oh dear God.

I've met lots of spies, or rather, people I later learned were spies. Interestingly, I rarely felt betrayed, but that I had just experienced a very damaged, "split" personality, exactly like Philip K Dick's nark in a SCANNER DARKLY--who eventually starts narking on himself.

A cop who wanted to be a hippie; a hippie who wanted to be a cop. This way, they both win.

Donna said...

I think it's the word "spy" that makes you uncomfortable, because that's not quite it. Every organizer has some idea in their head about who will be with them, and then someone unexpected comes along that they didn't consider. It reminds me of the Bernice Reagon Johnson post that Fire Fly did, where the white women planned their feminist meetings and rallies for other white women and suddenly had to accomodate black women who showed up. So I am appropriating the subject you appropriated by injecting a discussion of racism too! lol

Purtek said...

But a music festival? What is this, the Myaenads?

Damn, I can't stop laughing at this.

Ravenmn said...

Welcome, purtek! I thoroughly enjoy your blog.

Donna, perhaps we can create an appropriation-a-thon. I think Jerry Lewis is available!

nixwilliams said...

heya - thank you for the link! :)