Theory 101

The other morning, i got in a bit of a….disagreement…with another driver over who had right of way. I think the “green” light in my direction should have clarified that. Or the “red” light in his. But after following me to my parking lot, he screamed all manner of obscenities at me, and told me that i should fear for my safety. He also called me gay, which i really rather enjoyed. Otherwise, i might forget.

I did my best to ignore him, but I’m starting to think I should have laughed. What better to let him know that such threat and vitriol was worse than useless?

Note: This is where i lost a whole chunk o text. So bear with me, as i try to reconstruct my argument. I was reading over another round of the rad fem/trans stuff, and was finding my blood pressure rising. Heart and Mandolin were going a few rounds, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, amen.

I tried to even imagine a way that one could stay on totally pure theoretical ground, and discuss why gender is fixed…i can’t do it, and i’m pretty sure that the creation of a fictive category implies harm to those so determined, but sure…let’s give it a whirl. Let’s say they could.

But even then, we’ve got a track record here. The discussion doesn’t stay in a imaginary and pure theoretical moment. It moves to conclusions, associations, allusions, supports, inferences, and hypothesis. And we’ve seen them to be hateful to queers of all kinds.

All because everything is being described in term of m/f. If that’s the only language you speak, you have to have an essentialism to fix your categories. You can obfuscate it all you like by claiming that it might be biology, it might be common experience, it might be yada, yada, yada. You have to fix your categories. Or it wouldn’t make sense to commit to m/f as a sufficient description. You have to have a tribe to have a tribe that bleeds, see? And if Heart hasn’t used that phrase herself, she’s still on record with material that posits a certain mojo to womens and something else to men.

Guess who you’re sharing the dance floor with now?

Sorry. if you can’t bracket gender, you’re going to end up needing to make a description of how you differ from the other kinds of essentialists you’re contesting with. And so far as I’ve seen…it’s all pretty thin sauce.

Which then leads us back to the defenses of why the rhetoric must go on. If you like, read what Heart is claiming as a history of trans oppression of rad fem communities…a bunch of it boils down to some queer folks not wanting to see a movie. Yup. We don’t want to see Gendercator. Ouch. That’s pretty harsh.

I commented over at Feline Formal Shorts on the issue
Heart in particular is committed to a victim status as proof of her moral superiority. WOC are oppressing rad fems, gay men are oppressing rad fems, lesbians who enjoy SM are oppressing rad fems, MOC are oppressing rad fems, sex workers are oppressing rad fems, transgender women are oppressing rad fems, transgender men are oppressing rad fems…

The list continues. What isn’t separated is injury from status. Someone might hurt me, but still be socially disadvantaged over all. If i get robbed on the street by a radical feminist (pretend!), i still have my dudely privilege to help me recover. It’d be a pretty lame argument to translate this personal experience into a theoretical understanding of the opressive nature of radical feminism. Or even if some of them shouted me down over expressly political matters. Extrapolation from anecdote is not going to give you a wall to wall universally applicable theoretical apparatus.

And most of us have conflicted status…a mix of privileges and disadvantages. But as long as their bet for moral authority is placed on coming out dead last in the power calculation…they won’t own up to the power they do have. Disguising that takes effort…mostly the kind of flailing we’ve come to know and love like this mess.

Kactus also notes over there that we shouldn’t assume that online representation of radfem causes does the movement justice, and that’s a fair proviso. But as far as I’ve seen it expressed by such folks as Heart, it’s something that I can’t be arsed with.

Does it look het-centric? Does it sound transphobic? Does it need my time and energy?

Yes. Yup.



PS: Since writing the original draft, i’ve heard something along the lines of Heart getting DDOS’d. That, of course, is about the worst way one can deal with conflict and is asstastical. Boo.

After much delay and frustration, acquired and installed a air conditioner that will work with SO’s uniquely tiny windows in NYC apartment.

Then read manual. “If unit has been tipped on side for any reason, wait 24 hours to turn unit on.”

Oh, no.

God, no.

Anyhow. Picking up from the latest rounds of crazy-baiting, i had to stop and think about words for a bit. I was writing my fun entry, and stopped myself when i got the words “I love thunderstorms, the crazier the better.”

Did sly just violate his own linguistic sensibilities? Would i attack an unsuspecting blogger for saying the same?

No…i concluded that it would be unlikely that my ire would be raised. And i worded it differently, just to avoid the whole thing anyways.

What is this magical difference in terms of what Sly raises his hackles over?

Ain’t that easy. I know it when I see it, and i won’t promise get out of jail free cards just for showing up early and asking for rules. That’s a good step, and i’ll tip the hat to you for it. But a whole lotta things matter. Context, attitude, reception, and perhaps last of all, intent.

What has been a common factor at the references that really dig me and have gotten my strongest fire has been the reference of a negative stereotype or image.

Language that goes beyond a casual reference to crazy and elaborates to “clinically insane” or talks of folks need straight jackets. There is a power in such images and you damn well know it. That’s why you chose those words to denigrate your rhetorical Other. But, sad to say, they got used on us first. They continue to be used against us. And anything that makes those words stronger, the fear of us more entrenched…

It hurts. It poisons. It kills.

Simply, it infringes upon the right of my community to exist. And I for one, do not stake a claim to that right based on the largess of political correctness. I declare it because we exist, whether you like it or not, and I will not stand by while our lives and dignity are made cheap.

These rhetorics can and will be deflated, shown to be without substance. My advice?

Don’t hide behind ’em.


At 8:59 AM, Ivory Bill Woodpecker said…

On the Net, one could say “2+2=4” and offend someone, somewhere.

Because, really, making slurs is the same thing as telling the truth.

I really should have a perma page for this sort of thing…I’ve been writing such pieces on the importance of language for a while now, and it just never ends.

What really galls me after all this time is the strange flip of fixation that goes on. After all the accusations of fixation fly, that we’re a bunch of oversensitive types who are making a mount of a molehill…

Why is it that it was so important to use *those* particular words in the first place. The reliance on slur in some leftist discourses is nothing more than a revelation of weak thinking and poor organization. A more coherent community would have already exorcised such problems of language because the affected members of the community would be respected when they raised issues. And a superior analysis of the issues would lead one to make truly germane remarks over simple name calling.

Why is it that Shake’s Sis has to post a huge ass warning not to call Frau Coulter a transexual? Why?

Why in our leftist community, do we have to be warned that you can’t call her a dude without being a misogynist and transphobic arsehole? Why is it that I can’t get down my RSS feed for the day without seeing a crazy slur? Why do we go ten rounds every month or so over if it is permissible to imply that a woman is a whore in the service of ending patriarchy? Why do liberal bloggers race bait and resort to blackface?

Why for the love of the Holy thing on top of the High Place, do we have to do this dance?

Because there are some folks out there who refused to open their minds, and are a impediment to progressive politics.

The question is what we choose to do in response. Who is this we that can stand up for something better, and how to do we find each other?

Go read thinking girl at Slant Truth for more on that.

sly out

Dearest Sister, Brothers, Siblings, and Friends;

What the hell just happened?

I saw the thread a Twisty’s fairly early on, and for some reason I thought it might go the way that 99% of twisty threads go, with limited uproar at certain venues. A full scale blogwar, complete with delinking? I must be dreaming.

That said, y’all picked a good one. Transphobia is a steaming pile of shit right in the middle of the living room of the 2nd wave, and it’s a right moment when somebody calls that out. But it’s unfortunate in so far that such fights are rarely rewarding. Nobody is in a particularly good mood at the end of it. BFP and BA, my confidential to you is to send my love and/or beer. Take care and we’ll see you around soon.

About the only thing I can pull out of this is a reminder of how important it is to think about where the State is when you do your work. My friends, intellectual and activist co-conspirators, consistently tend to de-center the state when speaking about the future. Born of a deep distrust of the claims to justice and law given by the same, this aesthetic of dissent has about jack shit for time when it comes to promoting what desperately reeks of the old order. Whether it be welfare “reform,” the State backed “knowledge” of gender essentialism, or the criticism of whatever kink or expression came under fire today, I just can’t be arsed to see such profound differences in your project and that of conservatism. Yes, your motivations may be pure as something really pure, and so, so, soooo different than that of the state’s. But surely granting that y’all have a very legitimate grievance, must it be said that in responding, not all targets are fair game? When you find yourself lining up with the most powerful forces in society in getting squicked by genderfuck…what conclusions do you draw?

That genderfuck is pro-patriarchal?

This projection is why i stick out my tongue at Heart for claiming that Rad Fems have but only advocates against the all powerful might of Pornsitution. Yes, they as Rad Fems control few of the major resources at play in the Feminist World. Sure. But when Johnny Law is in your rolodex, and you have a history of snitching? Oh, see that’s a different game. So your “idle” talk of getting rid of blowjobs and S&M (which Heart explicitly endorses*) isn’t so idle.

Did you know that: until recently, sodomy was criminal in several states and that these laws enacted the marginalization of queer community? The more you know, because knowledge is power.

If you want to understand why a lot of us are getting together in this, why oh why it seems like there is a posse, cult, sliced bread appreciation committee, or other organized groupthinking going on, all you have to do is read Janet Halley’s “Sexuality Harassment” and then Bfp’s blogging on Oaxaca. Then, if you enjoy puking in your mouth, re-read the BJ and Trans wars, courtesy of Texas’ most abstractly queer woman.** For deeply held reasons, there are POC and sexual minorities, persons in poverty, and assorted other radicals, and combinations thereof who find themselves looking for alliances with people who get it. Who are just plain suspicious of state power and the reproduction of it’s values. Who understand that the Oppression Dick Measuring contests are all pointless, when the fact is you have to be alive in order to participate. Judging by that, there are two things I can tell you:

1. There is someone, now dead, who was until very recently way more oppressed than thou, causing said death.
2. You have something better to be doing with your time.

With this firmly in hand, alliance looks a little different. Like Halley points out, not all things converge onto a single point. The language of one struggle may choke when taken to new territory. And most of all, it forwards a new vision of conflict. If one struggle for liberation conflicts with another, I’m not looking for which one has to go under the bus. Understanding someone else’s movement from the perspective of how useful their idenity is to your cause is a problem. If your language and frames of thought require this conflict? Hold fast to what is good. And incinerate the rest.

Lesbian SM play parties are not going to bring down the revolution. Consensually kissing the ass of a human being is remarkably less damaging than consenting to kiss the ass of the state. And whether or not you explicitly reference the state in your post-radfem apocalypse or not, the fact of the matter is that it’s right there. There is a history of not only state interference in certain sexualities, but of radfem cooperation with the same. Halley speaks to this in the article linked above, where emerging theories of feminist law and practice increasingly engaged the state. But as Halley notes, the act of legislating sexuality in the work place both provides protection as well as creating a mechanism capable of legally excising queer idenity.

Moreover, you are speaking in state vocabulary. The mere act of thinking to remove an act of sexual expression from the face of the earth, is not just impractical or impossible, but a fantasy deeply rooted in the kind of sexy sexy power that only a legitimate monopoly of violence can afford. Community organizing your way to the end of porn? You’re kidding me. The claim to powerlessness requires that we actually believe that this is their sole avenue of recourse. Yet you have a state, just standing there, waiting to do the same. Coincidence? Sure.

The state continues to enact extra-legal harassment, as witnessed in the devastating violence levied against transpersons by police, both directly and by the consent of inaction. Cries that “real women’s” issues will get sidetracked in the great trans conspiracy evaporate into nothing when two of the headlining causes that the radfems (SaltyC cites Slade’s article) claim will go away as “men invade feminism” are sexual assault. Uh, what? WHAT?

Most of the rest revolve around health care access that respects the needs of individual women. Which is also not an issue for transwomen. *headdesk* Do you understand the words coming out of your own mouths? Just by the taste alone, you might realize that your speech is unsavory, but I’ll keep calling it out if I have to.

Now go do something better than reading.*** I believe hugs and/or consoling alcohol is in order, so go show love for everybody who got targeted, everybody who got derailed from their work, and remind each other that we’re here for a reason.

It would warm my queer heart.


* I am aware that the charge that rad fems want to ban X, is a controversial one. A fair reading of Heart gives no other option. In the comments at “Are Feminists Allowed…” she states an open goal of eliminating certain sexual practices. There is a special level of irony of decrying the ability of Rad Fem to impose internal standards, all while engaging in sexual bullying of those engaged in alternative sexualities. Why for instance, a straight woman takes it upon herself to police the content of lesbian space in the name of feminism is beyond me.

** Twisty’s actual sex life is, duh, none of my fraking beeswax. Her public writings on sex, however, are fair game. As Belledame has written about (sorry, can’t find it right now. Belle?), twisty’s focus is consistently on heterosexual sex, mores, practices, etc… The fact that queer perspectives are getting conflated with “pornstitution” in her thought seems to hark from a heterocentrist feminism.

*** I hereby announce the Nth semi-regular Radical Fun Day, if BFP would be so kind as to let me borrow the idea. Formal announcement pending approval and the cessation of my impending hangover.

I realized the other day that I’d snaked some conceptual framework without proper attribution. That’s no good at all. Thus, a brief explanation and elaboration of my adapted phrase “Look, it’s a faggot” in describing the reaction to Ted Haggard being outed.

Most likely, several of you have already caught the similarity to the language of Frantz Fanon in constructing the primal scene of racism.

“Look, a Negro!”…It was true. It amused me.
“Look, a Negro!” The circle was drawing a bit tighter. I made no secret of my amusement.
“Mama, see the Negro! I’m frightened!”
…I made up my mind to laugh myself to tears, but laughter had become impossible. I could no longer laugh because I already knew that there were legends, stories, history, and above all historicity…the corporeal schema crumbled, its place taken by a racial epidermal schema.

Black Skin, White Masks 111-112

The child’s identification moves to objectification, entering into a relationship defined by hostility and fear. But the movement is not seamless, at least it can’t be if we’re going to have that little thing called hope. You can argue with me on this, but I’m of the mind that there has to be another path away from the recognition of difference. (The most convincing counter claim here is that the recognition of specifically constructed patterns of difference precludes positive response. But I’m not willing to go there. You’ll see.)

So what happens that turns this sour? This may be over analysis, but personally, I’m interested in the semantics. So here goes. On a basic level, the sentence parses as such:

The implied you is the subject, look is the imperative verb, and Negro is the direct object. But this seems incomplete in terms of a theoretical understanding of the base unit of racist expression. Simply, it doesn’t get us anywhere. Let’s try it this way. The implied We is the subject, look is the declarative verb, and “there’s an Other” is the dependant clause. This seems more complete. In-group formation emerges as the function of gaze is re-inscribed. It’s not just that the child identifies an Other, but that the speaker designates a specific group that is in power. The “we who look” are naturalized as having the power of examination over the surveilled subject.

It’s not “natural” that we sort out humanity by skin tone over and against other attributes. But it is outwardly visible. And thus a patched together system of “recognizing” racial attributes and fixing racial identities by sight emerges. One of the most persistent pipe dreams is Beige Heaven, in which race and racism are finally defeated by the intermixture of races that make this visual fixing process impossible. But beyond my anxiety about a history that ends with the annihilation of race (and thus races) lies a more basic critique. Will it work? Colorblindness is a proven way of making white folk comfortable with their own unacknowledged racism. The American Sociological Association opines:

Those who favor ignoring race as an explicit administrative matter, in the hope that it will cease to exist as a social concept, ignore the weight of a vast body of sociological research that shows that racial hierarchies are embedded in the routine practices of social groups and institutions.

I keep coming back to this unease with the tactic of outing, and this is my latest attempt to resolve the origin. Gaze on queerness is not primarily built on an allegedly objective visual attribute, but rather on varied judgments on sexual and gender practice expressed as stereotypes. One of the functions of outing is to muddy the gaze by throwing up varied examples of unrecognized queerness. But as communities of color have learned, the frustrated gaze does not just give up and recognize the futility of sorting humanity by a made up category. The naturalization of race and gender get entrenched, and “one-drop” rules patch over the anxiety.

I was reading this undergrad’s blog that rails on against a fellow Divvy, accusing her of all kinds of apostasy from Holy Mother Church. The star moment is when he states that there is a “union” between a priest and church, would be ecclesiastic lesbianism if women were ordained. Yeah, no link, on account that that’s freaking weird. But you should see how  insistent he is. It’s just unimaginable that things could be any other way. The instability of the categories of analysis don’t bring this young fellow to skepticism, they bring him slam his shoe into the table.

There’s no Ambiguity Beyond the Sunset. There is a difference between a practice of resistance and a eschatological solution. And so, I want people to at least be asking what their ends are. Immediate and tactical resistance to self-haters who rise to positions of power is a whole different ballgame than a expansive campaign based on the fiction that America can be shocked out of it’s homophobia if enough passers fall. In my experience, ambiguity is a reactive measure, one that attempts to bring creativity and agency to the problem of being assigned privilege based on a fictional system. (I should note that there are some differences in the two projects here. Think less about ambiguity as essential trait and more as a matter of presentation. Rhetoric and intention around how to theorize ambiguity…dilution vs. progress for instance…are more important than particular skin tone. I’m not trying to get into paper bag tests, but get at how ambiguity is discussed and fetishized.)

Ask why we’re still using race as a category of analysis. Question why the academy and the activist are still using language that originates in Het-Culture to talk about queerness. Ask to what extent our reaction is locked into relation with their problems. But be very careful of the messiahs who proclaim a world beyond it all. In the time between now and salvation, we need to protect ourselves from the onslaught of the domination systems. And I believe that this requires the self-conscious tension between responding to the terms of our oppression and creating something new.

-sly civilian

Yes, I’m listening to Dead Prez.

A few things out of class yesterday, that I realized that I wanted to come back around on. We were trying to get at the ethical and moral framework that we’re using when we evaluate Nat Turner and other Christian leaders of black resistance against slavery. The prof was trying to get us to clarify why we seemed to be sympathetic to Turner, yet not taking up arms in the present moment.

I went to Mark Lewis Taylor’s work to make my explanation, and talked about the way that the the system projects justice and fear, the carrot and the stick than creates us as subjects, locked into social location.

His question was about if I thought that the sense of fear is more pervasive now. I almost answered yes, but on reflection, I think i need to talk about the differences, not the magnitude. As Foucault talks about in Discipline and Punish, there is a modern construction of gaze. The Panopticon becomes conceptually imagined and technologically possible in the same historical moment. I dissent from him when he states that the difference is that we moderns internalize this gaze. I tend to think that internalization is historic, even if it may be easier to enforce now. But the Panopticon, the all pervasive and inescapable examination and scrutiny of the modern nation state is a different matter than the localized gaze of white power in plantation life. Degree is the wrong term, because in that world there is only the local. The geographic and imaginative world of that era is limited, and for the African American in slavery, their entire cosmos is more or less under surveilance. The overseer and the master have a extensive, if not complete, view.

The modern system of white power offers a larger geographic and imaginative world, by media, travel, commerce, and cultural dispersion. But it wraps that now larger world in a system of near total surveilance. The panopticonic state can utilize and enforce terror at a whim, deploying militarized police forces against the “social debris” that is created by the economic workings of priviledge. With the use of terror and the prison complex, it has the capability to produce an ever tightening grip of gaze at the same time that it otherizes the subject as criminal, terrorist, enemy. Such a state has a comprehensive power structure that bounds the horizon just as well as when the horizon was much smaller.

David Walker discusses in his appeals of a radicalizing experience of watching brutality. White masters force a child to strip his mother, and then beat her to death. For the audience, this is an incredibly intimate act of violence. Today, the acts of terror are more carefully clothed, but what they may lack in intimacy, they compensate with pervasiveness. No matter what we think the relative brutality of that act is compared with the violence commited against Rodney King, but the broadcast and reach of that act of violence is most assuredly far wider.

I’ll try to swing back around and think about relative and selective invisability, the other component to our discussion. But I’ve got a full writing docket already, so I need to do some catching up.


It’s not really the shoes. It’s not really the clothes. It’s not the ribbons or the bows or the boning or the heel or the random odd sucking of whatever sticks out. It’s how we assign meaning to these objects and actions. And those meanings will vary from person to person, some folks investing them with deep symbolic resonance, others with barely a second thought.

And Witchy replies:

However the individual assigns meaning to objects or actions, or not, the patriarchy has the final say and that makes the assignations of the individual totally meaningless in the great scheme of things.

We have ourselves an interesting start to a post. Skimming though my backlog of RSS feeds lest too much information not read my mind…I found this at Anti-Princess’ joint.

And I nearly hit my monitor, a habit which I need to avoid. Especially at school, since watching a grown man take on his LCD screen complete with cussing…makes that dude look like a psychopath.

The Patriarchy has the final say.

Really? What we have here, as the conversation at AP’s identifies, is that Witchy Woo is using a philosophical black box. Outside of observable social process, Patriarchy “overrules” individual ideas. This is the Humanities version of magic.

Okay. What I believe is a much more believable depiction of “definition” happens thusly. Individuals make their meanings for themselves, informed by previous meanings made by other individuals and their own information or values…and that these agreements, compromises, including, and perhaps especially resistances comprise the substance of the social definition of an activity/sign.

Yes, even conscious resistance, one of the few ways of changing societal consensus on a definition, can contribute to the current conceptualization.

The opposite of agreement is not resistance, but confusion. The negative of one idea is the total misunderstanding and lack of apprehension of it, because they share no cultural space. The resistant definition, by function, occurs in the same space, and by it’s knowledge of the previous definition, refers to it as well as the future one. No definition ever gets to have the stage alone. That they are produced by social negotiations always calls up the other voices. The Patriarchy is affected by the sense of individual resistance of a self-defition producing woman, but that woman is never free of sensing the Patriarchy. Any observers to this transaction are a tossup, depending on how visable the confrontation is.

It’s a frightfully complicated process, by which the constructed Social Voice is made by us all. But there is much to play with, deliberate misunderstanding, subtle resistances, outright counterclaims to meaning. Complicated also means dreadfully fun. And dreadfully serious. The consequences of our play is the production of possibilities, additions to the range, and giving others a sense of conscious agency in their contributions to that imagined Social We.

My latest sidestep in the debate of choice.


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