tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
CW: explicit discussion of sex, rape, and sexualized violence

"The common erotic project of destroying women makes it possible for men to unite into a brotherhood; this project is the only firm and trustworthy groundwork for cooperation among males and all male bonding is based on it." -- Andrea Dworkin

I work at a company that provides its employees with free breakfast and lunch five days out of the week. (Dinner, too, at some of the other offices.) We have a free gym on-site. We get free yoga and meditation classes to ease the stress of getting paid generously to sit at a desk all day (though we also get expensive sit/stand adjustable desks for those who think that sitting will shorten their lives -- not as a disability accommodation, but for everybody) and we don't even have to wipe our own asses, because most of the toilets have built-in push-button-operated bidets.[*] We have on-site haircuts and massages. You can drop off your laundry and dry-cleaning at work and it'll magically re-appear clean. If the coffee from the automated machines in the kitchen on every floor isn't good enough for you, a barista at the free in-office coffee counter will make your drink to order. If you want to take a break and play arcade games, shoot pool, or practice the piano, you can do all those things without leaving the office; our comfort is considered important and valuable because it's supposed that the more comfortable we are, the more work we'll produce.

None of those things are enough for some people, though, without freedom of expression. Specifically, the freedom to create internal URLs with the word "fuck" in them. Somebody was, apparently, asked not to do that, and now everybody else is in a tizzy about this heinous abridgment of their free speech. Of course, it's not like they're going to be thrown in jail for saying "fuck", and nobody is telling us we can't say "fuck" at work at all, just that perhaps it might be a better idea to not use "fuck" in URL shortcuts. We could quit and go work for a startup, but then we might have to leave the office to eat lunch.

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

I like getting fucked. I can't talk about that at work, though, and I doubt anybody would argue that I should be free to talk about it at work. I don't have the freedom to talk about fucking as a source of pleasure, but I do have the freedom to talk about fucking as violence, as something that I could do to you. Of course, nobody says that either, we talk about how this or that piece of code is fucked up or about how it's fucking annoying that the kitchens on every floor only have healthy snacks. If something is annoying, then we know it's even more annoying if it's fucking annoying, because "fucking" is an intensifier because we all know being fucked is a terrible fate. Something that's broken is "fucked up" because to be fucked is to be damaged, to lose the asset of your virginity if you're a cis woman, or to lose your masculinity if you're a cis man. While (nominally) you can't directly threaten to fuck a co-worker, but every time someone perceived as a man says it, we're reminded of what he could do to us.

To be a man is to fuck, and to be fucked is to not be a man, or at least, not a man who's doing masculinity the right way. We're reminded of this with every "fuck that" or "fucked up." To be a man is to fuck, but of course you don't get the chance to prove to very many people that you are capable of fucking, so by saying it you get to remind people: "I could fuck you. If you fuck with me, then I'll fuck you up." One of the many ways in which cis men are fragile is that they react to being asked not to say "fuck", even if it's in an extremely limited context, as if they've had their manhood taken away, because if you could only prove that you are a man in front of people you fuck, who would know you're a man? If we stopped using "fuck" as a negative, then people might get the idea that being fucked could be a nice thing, and then cis men would have to find other ways to dominate everybody else.

Women get to join the party too, these days, but to be seen as a woman is to be seen as potentially fuckable; what terrifies heterosexual cis men is the norm that women are assumed to live with. So while you can say "fuck", while you can use the same words the men use, you can't do it without reminding them of your vulnerability. For men who are perceived as trans or queer, it's a reminder of our pitiful fate, to be born this way or to be in thrall to our uncontrollably peculiar sexual desires. We don't gain power by using the word, we just pledge our allegiance to heterosexual cis male power. And white heterosexual cis men react about as well to being asked not to say "fuck" as patriotic Americans react to people who don't want to pledge allegiance to the flag. "Fuck" is liturgy in the secular religion that worships heterosexual, cis, male sexual potency.

I mentioned that I like getting fucked. Every time I say "fuck you" or "that's fucked", I betray myself. It's something that's all but unavoidable if I'm going to fit in. Heterosexual cis men, at least those who don't like getting fucked, don't have to make this choice. They can bring their whole selves to work. I can't bring my whole self anywhere: if I say "fuck", I'm conceding that liking dicks in my ass makes me less of a man. If I don't say it, I'll still be judged as less of a man for my supposed prudishness. The same men who are so attached to their free speech rights would be pretty quick to curtail mine if I talked about what it's like to be a man who has a vagina -- and who likes getting fucked in it -- in front of them, or about what getting fucked in the ass feels like. They get to define the limits of acceptable discourse. Reminding us that they can fuck us is allowed, but reminding them that they, too, could be fucked is not.

One of the things I like to see the most when I watch gay porn is a man who's obviously aroused just by getting fucked in the ass -- knowing that he's not turned on in that moment by anyone doing anything to his cock, just by being penetrated. I think I like seeing that so much because of the alchemy of taking a scenario that terrifies so many het men -- the fear not of being fucked per se, but that they might enjoy it -- is so powerful. And because it reminds me that being fucked defines what it means to be a man more so than fucking does -- fucking is an obligation to prove one's masculinity, while being fucked is an illicit thrill. Does any of this make you uncomfortable to think about? It makes me uncomfortable when people use my sexuality as a threat, a joke, or a warning.

To use "fuck" as an expletive is to participate in a social order that prioritizes hetero cis men's comfort over everybody else's safety. It's to reassure hetero cis men of their power while simultaneously agreeing that their mortal terror of getting fucked is reasonable. To reserve "fuck" for expressions of consensual pleasure, rather than for describing violence or disorder, is to refuse to reassure scared men that they'll always be the fucker, never the fuckee. The use of "fuck" as a swear is part of what keeps fucking as an action violent -- what keeps it something that I do to you instead of something two people do together. Like a barking dog, every man who uses it in this way is signifying both that he's in mortal fear, and that he's dangerous. If a woman says it, it's amusing, since she's presumed to pose no threat. But every "fuck" a man utters is a reminder of what he could do to you, or at least wants you to think he could do to you. Every "fuck" is a threat.

Why else would men get so angry if it's suggested to them that maybe -- at least when constructing shortcut URLs -- they could use some other word? Because there is no other word that carries the power that "fuck" does. If the worst thing that can happen to a man is to lose his masculinity, and if being fucked renders you less-than-a-man, then that's the worst thing you can threaten a man with. No wonder men don't want to give it up so easily. What would they have left? Actually doing it to somebody has consequences, sometimes, anyway. Just threatening to do it doesn't.

If it sounds like I'm conflating fucking with raping, then so is everybody else who uses the word. Andrea Dworkin and other feminists have been mischaracterized as saying that all heterosexual sex is rape -- but the ones who really believe that are hetero cis men, who talk about fucking as if it's something that nobody in their right mind would want done to them. To explain why women might appear to choose to be fucked, they need to say that women consent to it in order to get pregnant or to control men or to get a man to share some money or power. To explain why queer men might seem to choose to be fucked, they need the "born this way" narrative: poor things, we can't help it. To claim power as a man is to claim that sex is intrinsically an act of violence and aggression, and that you will always be the aggressor, never the victim. Our language gives us no other tools to do so.

People care about free speech because their words affect other people -- if they didn't, there would be no reason to care. By saying "fuck" you can evoke all kinds of unconscious fear, insecurity, desire, and accompanying shame. If you can make somebody feel those feelings, then you have power over them. Words can have a lot of power. I don't know if I will ever remove this word from my vocabulary. After all, "fuck" also serves to convey strong emotions or to express and reinforce social bonds. But maybe there are ways to express feelings or get closer to each other without evoking an ever-present specter of violence. I don't really want to participate in social structures that make me inferior because I like to get fucked by men and because I'm a man who has a vagina. But that's exactly what I do when I enact the ritual of renewing "fuck"'s negative connotations. "Fuck" works for cementing social bonds precisely because of what Dworkin wrote about how men bond -- it works so well for that that women can participate in the bonding too, if only as second-class citizens. And it works for expressing feelings because fear of emasculation is one of the strongest feelings men are allowed to have.

I doubt I'll stop saying "fuck" overnight, and maybe I won't at all. I'm much more comfortable using it in an overtly sexual context than at work anyway -- sex is always going to be messy, full of power imbalances, and hard to disentangle from violence, and maybe it always will be. I don't have the patience to save myself for the day when sex becomes completely unproblematic. But unlike in a workplace, sexual situations entered into with consent tend to encourage vulnerability rather than suppress it. (For that matter, unlike work, sex can be consented to.) I would really like "fuck" to be a sexual word, which is to say that I would like sex to be about sex, rather than being a proxy for all of our less thrilling and more petty desires for power and control.

So I don't think I need to be perfectly consistent or pure to say that I want to see the day when liking to get fucked has no more moral or political significance than liking to ride a bicycle or raise tropical fish. And if that day comes, I doubt we'll still be using "fuck" as a dirty word, as an insult, or as a threat.

[*] Paragraph edited for clarity about a tangential point.

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tim: Solid black square (black)
Last night, one of the worst domestic terrorism attacks in recent history happened in Charleston, South Carolina. A man acting in the name of white supremacy murdered nine Black people, most of whom were women, while they prayed at the Emanuel AME Church, the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South.

These are the names of the people who he murdered:

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

DePayne Middleton Doctor

Cynthia Hurd

Susie Jackson

Ethel Lance

Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney

Tywanza Sanders

Daniel Simmons

Myra Thompson

Please read more about their lives.

If you're a white American and have an income, I strongly suggest donating to organizations that fight white supremacy. Here are some suggestions from Valerie Aurora:

Equal Justice Initiative

Representative John Conyers, who has introduced legislation every year to make reparations for slavery to Black Americans.

We the Protestors

You can also donate directly to the Emanuel AME Church.

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)

Content warning: Discussion of violence against women, gun violence, death and rape threats, workplace harassment, suicide (and threats thereof as an emotional manipulation tactic), online harassment, abuse of the legal system to further sexual harassment and domestic violence, and neo-Nazis.

Italicized quotes are from Stephen Fearing's song "The Bells of Morning", which he wrote in 1989 about the École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.

It's All Connected


"Tonight I am speechless
My head is filled with pouring rain
As the darkness falls on Montreal
When violence is shrieking
The city streets will run with pain
Until the moon can shed no light at all"

"Gamergate": the word we dare not write on Twitter, for fear of a torrent of harassment. It started with a spurned ex-boyfriend doing his best to try to drag his ex's reputation through the mud. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, because she makes video games, and he -- as well as an army of supporters initially rallied using the 4chan hate site -- weaponized male video game enthusiasts' terror of women encroaching on their turf.

Why this fear of women? The term "witch hunt" is overused, but Gamergate is one of the closest modern-day analogues to a witch hunt. Teenage boys, frustrated in a culture that doesn't have much use for teenagers at all, were so dedicated in their zeal to spread lies and hyperbole that a major corporation, Intel, acted on the fear they spread. (I use "teenage boys" here to refer to a state of mind.) Like a toddler who has figured out something that annoys their parents and keeps doing it, and like the teenage girls of New England in the 17th century who figured out that they could set a deadly chain of events into motion, these boys are drunk on the power they have stumbled into. Their goal? Stopping a woman they believe to have strange powers: the power to pass off what they see as a non-game as a game, through bewitchment of influential men ("bewitchment of" here means "sex with"). I am being literal here. Read more... )

tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
Tomorrow is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). I was debating whether I should write about TDOR, because erica, ascendant and Monica Maldonado have already spoken so much truth on the subject. If you haven't read what they wrote, you should go read it. I'll wait.

The only TDOR event I've attended was two years ago, at Portland State University. To the organizers' credit, Tobi Hill-Meyer was a featured speaker. But other than her speech and showing of her movie, there wasn't a whole lot in the program that was on-topic. What I remember most about the evening was the "genderqueer acrobatics" performance, featuring a number of mostly white youths in furry costumes, cavorting. It didn't seem appropriate for a memorial, any more than a dance party -- which is apparently happening tomorrow as part of more than one city's TDOR event -- is. Do white people jump for joy at the deaths of trans women of color? One might be left thinking so.

I think that part and parcel of this fundamental not getting it is the characterization of violence against trans women of color -- which makes up the overwhelming majority of reported violence against trans and gender-non-conforming people -- as "transphobic violence" or "violence against transgender people".

It's no such thing.

As people like Erica and Monica have already written about, violence against trans women of color is fundamentally violence against women -- specifically, those women who are most vulnerable due to the intersecting oppressions (such as race, poverty, and participation in sex work) they experience. Being trans makes a woman even more vulnerable to violence, because there is no place in the world where law enforcement has much, or any, motivation to investigate a violent crime against a trans woman, particularly a trans woman of color who's not wealthy. It's not that violence against trans women of color happens because of some special kind of violence that's different from run-of-the-mill violence against women because it's rooted in transphobia. It's more indirect: yes, trans women make easier targets, but to understand the real story you have to understand misogyny, racism, poverty -- in other words, the same issues that make cis women vulnerable to violence. Strangely enough, violence (to personify it) seems to be more respectful towards trans women's genders than are the trans men and cis women who often organize events like TDOR. While the latter group seems to need to construct a narrative of transphobia to explain violence against trans women -- so unable are they to see that men commit violence against trans women because they're women -- certain men show that they see trans women as women, by treating them in the same way they treat cis women: only more violent.

When trans men organizing TDOR celebrations talk about the suffering of "transgender people", when academics like Dean Spade make their entire careers off talking about the litany of ways in which "transgender people" are oppressed, they're being wildly misleading. Perhaps not intentionally, in most cases. But it still comes off as self-aggrandizing when college-educated white trans men (like myself!) talk about how they could be killed for being trans, when the worst thing they've ever experienced was someone looking at them funny in the men's room, once.

I don't mean to say that even the most privileged white trans men never face oppression for being trans. Health insurance companies are allowed to deny us needed medical care because we're trans, which affects all but the very richest of us. Many of us can't get government-issued identification that reflects our sexes correctly, which is humiliating if nothing else. I've personally known trans men who had trouble getting employment due to being perceived as trans men. I could go on, but I won't. There are issues that affect all, or almost all, trans people, regardless of their privilege along other axes. And no one should feel that those issues aren't important to work on just because someone, somewhere is suffering more.

So I am totally not opposed to someone working on health insurance discrimination in the US, for example, because that's the issue that moves them, even though having health insurance at all is a privilege many trans people lack. What's wrong, though, is erasing and distracting from the experiences of trans women facing intersecting oppressions by blurring the boundaries with the phrase "transgender people". That phrase groups together trans people who, in fact, profit from white supremacy and unequal distribution of incomes (hello, like me) with trans people who are being profited off, and implies a common set of interest where there is none. The same set of forces that means trans women of color often get the rawest deal even within a particular underclass is the set of forces that allows me to earn a very comfortable living by pressing buttons on a computer all day.

Therefore, for me -- or someone who resembles me -- to go on a stage tomorrow and talk about all the violence that "transgender people" suffer would be wrong. It would be self-aggrandizing. For me to pretend that there is something significant that makes me more similar to a trans woman of color doing sex work and living in poverty than I am to a white cis man running a well-funded Silicon Valley startup would be dishonest. And it would be hard not to see that as a cynical attempt for me to use dead women as instruments to advance a political agenda that -- because it serves the most privileged rather than the least -- isn't really about much other than a self-perpetuating machine of publicity and fundraising.

The rhetorical sleight of hand in grouping all trans people's experience together with the phrase "transgender people" is not just inaccurate and imprecise. It's actively harmful in a way that's very much like the use of "die cis scum" as a rallying cry for some white trans people. The ability to prioritize cis people's oppression of trans people as the most piercing injustice is a reflection of privilege: the privilege of being someone who expects to be in a position to dominate others, but is blocked from being in that position solely by being placed as transsexual and/or transgender. Just as seeing cis people as the only threat is a luxury for those who can rely on white trans people to have their back, garnering sympathy because one could be "killed for being trans" is a privilege reserved for those who can identify a unitary threat to their rightful place of privilege, a single reason why they can't live life at the very lowest difficulty setting.

Clearly, we white trans people (and the cis people who love us) need a common enemy to rally against. But because there's so little violence against us that could reasonably be called "transphobic" (there's a movie called "Boys Don't Cry" because it is indeed so rare for a white trans man to be attacked; if there was a movie about every trans woman of color who met a violent death, there could be an entire category for them on Netflix), it's hard for us to make our movement seem vivid enough to get people interested. Health insurance exclusion clauses, medical gatekeeping, and state bureaus of vital records that refuse to change gender markers on birth certificates are not exactly the stuff of which an attention-getting crusade for justice is made. But the answer isn't to steal stories from people whose lives have inherent value because they were, or are, who they are, as opposed to because a more socially privileged person can use them as an instrument.

What's the harm in all of this? Isn't it always good to raise awareness? But when a group like the Transgender Law Center gives an "Ambassador Award" to Chaz Bono, a man who told the New York Times that testosterone made him feel bored when women were talking, you have to wonder whether ameliorating misogyny matters to self-styled trans activists. (The same group saw it as a priority to help Bono file a legal name change, something that many trans people of more modest means do on their own, without help from a nonprofit.) I think there's a connection between how many groups that claim to be concerned with "LGBT rights", or even with "trans rights", serve mainly the most privileged, and the treatment of trans people's experience as unitary that's exemplified by TDOR and its accompanying rhetoric of "violence against transgender people". The result is a fundamental misdirection of resources. It's been pretty rigorously shown that trickle-down economics doesn't work, and I don't believe that trickle-down social justice works, either.

If it makes you feel good to watch candles being lit and listen to people who look like me mispronounce the last names of people who, well, don't, then it's possible that nothing I've just said will change that. I'm mainly writing this to sort out my thoughts. I've been wanting for a long time to do more than just write about trans activism, to get involved, but I've never been able to see a place to start that clearly does more good than harm. So maybe that's a sign that it would be more effective to work for health care and fair working conditions for everyone, cis people and trans people.


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

October 2016

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