I’ve seen a couple discussions of harm reduction and idealism recently, and i wanted to try some ideas out in response.

The question I put to myself when I want to get idealistic and take a hard line has been lately:

Who gets hurt? Who is risking the most by this stance?

If the answer isn’t me, i start to get worried.

I think of the discussion of harm reduction at GenderGeek. Without getting too far into the debate of if ending sex work or reforming it to give agency to those who participate in it is the legitimate goal of feminism…my challenge to anyone making choices about how to react is to examine how much we personally have at stake in this. The culture of objectification has broad implications, but there are very specific and individual risks being taken on by sex workers. Without their consent, a hardline stance on harm reduction might look suspiciously like throwing someone under the Revolutionary Bus, a seemingly endlessly amusing pastime for the liberal crowd. Pie Fight, anyone?

Falsifying the assent of a minority party for the purposes of power is not just a shortcut, it is a betrayal of the ideal of liberation to which end these maneuvers are supposedly serving. I think of BitchLab’s discussion of McKinnon here, and the cynical use of a few WoC voices to overrule third wave criticisms and marginalize other feminisms..

But this defense, “Look, see, there’s black women here and Asian women here and two working class broads, too. We can’t possibly be essentialist. We can’t be engaged in ahistorical, universalizing Grand Theory. See all the different peeps of the world we got on board Dworkin’s Ark?”

Edit: B|L responds here…i’ve also posted it in comments, despite HaloScan being awfully goofy right now.

Consent has to be real, active, and found in mutual relationship…so that our advocacy is grounded in knowledge of the reality of the world we are trying to unmake. If you’re not scared shitless of contracting AIDS from dirty needles, I’m not sure I want to hear your views on government supervised heroin rooms. If you’re not risking assault and mistreatment in sex work, I’d urge you to think about how your criticisms of legalization and unionizing sex work might be expressing power.

And because the the rule of this blog is that I shall not leave my own pontification untouched by my critique…

I’m forcing myself to drag my mind back over the civil union/marriage debate, and my rhetoric with that. It’s been my longstanding policy that civil unions are the barely acceptable placation of queer communities, and strongly risk the codification and solidification of second class status.

But when i look at stories about people being denied visitation rights, losing medical and legal battles with homophobic family members, no medical insurance, and all the daily dehumanization of a system that won’t recognize our families…

How urgent are my critiques of what is obviously an imperfect response to queer demands for equality? Are people who buy into civil union taking the rest of us backwards? Am i responsible for the backlash that pro-marriage talk might create?

There is a delicate balance here. The guideline that I am trying to adopt is that if I am going to insist on purity of position, I had better be in the front of the line of people who will be taking a risk. I’m blessed to have access to medical care, support for my education, and the ability to make choices about how to negotiate my queer identity. But for others, civil union might be the only way to hold things together in a hostile world.

I will make it very clear, especially to my community and allies, that i believe that civil union is a patch fix and must not be allowed to become a permanent marital segregation. But i will simultaneously be more careful in making broad critiques of the system, and be especially judicious in regards to my discussion of those who chose such compromises. It’s not my place to judge the measures other queers take to survive this fucked up culture of ours. For those with national voices, leadership roles, and the privilege to make more complex chocies with out facing financial ruin, healthcare nightmares, and legal dispossession…

Of those voices, i will be more demanding.

It is right to be demanding, perfectionists even, in the name of ending every last bit of oppression. It is also our duty to be careful in extending our work with the full participation and consent of the people that are to be liberated by our work.

-sly

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