Monthly Archives: November 2011

Post the Thirty-Sixth or On Why Anti-Porn Activism is so 80’s

Once upon a time, a many, many years ago, there was a struggle of titanic proportions. It was a bitter civil war between middle class white ladies, partnered with their sensitive new age boyfriends, and the unwashed, uneducated sots who worked in the industry of carnal knowledge. This conflict was called the Sex Wars. The white ladies hurled insults at the sex workers, calling them brainwashed. They said that those poor women, because queers and transfolk didn’t count, were not respecting themselves and were participating in the ongoing war against women. They said that those women were participating in their own rape. They said that women could not truly consent to participating in those acts because, not only were they immoral, but also because they didn’t know any better. They couldn’t possibly know the damage that they were doing to themselves! Because if they did, then they wouldn’t do it. Besides, who would choose a life of such wretchedness? They believed that if porn was not abolished, if sex was not restricted to very precise forms of expression, then these middle class white ladies will continue to suffer and be enslaved in their middle class white lady lives.

But the sex workers set them straight, no pun intended. They told the white ladies that its much more complicated then what their limited experience showed them. They told them that, in fact, they have every mental faculty available to them that the white ladies have access too. And they came to the conclusion that sex work was right from them; although we now know that most of those cases involved middle class white ladies, right? The sex workers told them that their profession was not inherently oppressive, for look at the queer and straight men who were sex workers. How could you say that women cannot consent to it and yet in the same breath say that men can? The admitted that, certainly, there were many problems with the sex work industry, like lack of safer sex resources and police harassment. They said, however, that the solution was not to abolish it or censor it because that would lead to the whole industry to go underground which would result in poorer working conditions for them. Rather, the solution was to create supports and resources so that they could break into the business safely and also get out it if they wanted to. The solution was to promote their autonomy, not restrict them in any one place. And besides, sex and the body were amazing things, they said, and it should be enjoyed!

The middle class white ladies were so moved by the sex worker’s argument that they joined forces and created the most ethically run industry in the history of capitalism. And they all fucked their way to a blissful utopia.

Right?

It may come as a surprise to many of you but that was not the case. Obviously there were deep flaws in both arguments, mostly due to the lack of critical analysis of how race and racial exploitation factors into sex work and how the root of all exploitation come from capitalism. What is so shocking to me, however, is the amount of anti-porn sentiments still exist in many of our radical activist circles and in the wider anti-oppression discourse. I thought we left all this shit in the 80s. It’s 20-fucking-11, don’t folks know that anything involved in our capitalist system is going to be exploitive? Don’t folks know that because of the lack of resources and the amazing amount of poverty that effects communities of color that for many women of color sex work is their only option? Does it not occur to folks that instead of attack their only means of income we should be attacking the structures that make it so that it’s their only means of support? The same is true of transwomen, especially transwomen of color, who can’t find work because they don’t conform to the binary. When one is in that postion of sex work or starve, there is only one option. And don’t even get me started on anti-porn activists view of gender varient people.

The other thing that frustrates me about this discourse, specifically on the side of the white sex workers, is the lack of analysis around the experience of sex workers of color and how racism works in their lives. Women of color are part of the racialized “Other” in our white supremacist society. Because of that, their bodies are seen as exotic and by extension are seen as being always sexually available. Their brown bodies are perceived to still be the property of white folk. It is more difficult, therefore, to talk about how to support those women. How do we challenge racism and the objectification of the brown body while at the same time support those brown sex workers who want, and sometimes need, to do sex work? The first step is recognition and validation. The second step is attacking those racist institutions that force folks to rely on sex work if they don’t want to. If it is their calling, then we should be giving them the resources to do is safely and successfully.

I would argue that the most effective way to support any sex worker is the listen to them. Listen to their experience, understand that their experience does not speak for other people’s experience. Listen, and hear that they have to say. If we are going to make this world into a more equitable place, we need to start hearing each other and instead of saying, “This is what I think you should do,” we should ask, “What do you need?”

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Post the Thirty-Fifth or Beauty

My people are beautiful

They are strong (Trans)women

And powerful (Trans)men

They are wise crones

And rambunctious young bucks

They are sex workers

And artists

They are bearded

And flat chested

They are awkward

And graceful

They are petite

And massive

They are able-bodied

And differently abled

They are Black

And Brown

And white

They are poor

And they are rich

And each one of them holds a Mystery

The secret of a world between and beyond gender

My people are sacred

And yet we live in a world

Where we are not seen as holy

We live in a world where our experiences

Our wisdom

Our identities

Are invalidated

We live in a world that sees us

As sick

Deranged

Delusional

From the Medical-Industrial Complex

To the LGB community

To so-called radical feminists

To our families of blood

My people are being attacked

In a myriad and sundry subtle fashions

My people are being murdered before my very eyes

Falling in this endless, bitter war

Against bodies and genders that don’t conform

To their Binary

Against those who hold that sacred Mystery

And everyday I wonder if I

Or my partner

Or my friend

Will be the next causality in this struggle

But in spite of all of this

Despite all of the hate and violence

Both from within and without

We. Live. On.

And we remember those that have fallen

Keep them in our hearts

Draw strength from their memories

And know

That we will never give up

We will never surrender

And we will thrive


Post the Thirty-Forth or On Rewriting Myths

Myths surround and inform our existence. From the myth of the American Dream to the myth of how George Washington cannot tell a lie. In many, subtle ways they imbue our subconscious with the values and ideals of American society. However, many, if not all, of those values and ideals are oppressive. Because this country was founded on colonialism and the backs of brown and black people, the values and ideals that spring up from that foundation are bound to be rotten. From the ideal that hard work always pays off (you can ask the people on the Rez if thats true) to the value of profit over people, its obvious that the framework that America operates under is flawed.

Much of the work that we do challenges and attempts to transform those ideals. We use a variety of tactics to ameliorate the damages that those ideals cause, such as create community centers, get stolen wages back, and provide free therapy. We used education and leadership engagement to enlighten folks to the reality of the world we live in and give them the tools to change it. Which in turn leads to a lot of work to create change systemically so that those direct services are less necessary, such as direct action, protests, and grassroots organizing. We use those tactics to create a more equitable world. And while many of these address the underlying issues that cause inequity, I believe that we a missing an important element. That is, we aren’t challenging the framework, the myths, that inform and support the inequitable society that we live in.

How, then, do we challenge that framework?

We challenge this framework by challenging and changing the myths that inform that framework.

Take, for example, the myth of Thanksgiving. The myth states that sometime in November the pilgrims had a grand feast, back when the pilgrims were new arrivals, and invited the Natives. They threw this feast because they were thankful for the Native people for teaching them how to survive in their new and harsh environment. They joined together in peace and harmony and parted as friends, in happy coexistence.

The reality is that, after the Civil War, Lincoln wanted a holiday that would bring people together, especially a holiday that would help reintegrate the North and the South. So, he produced the Thanksgiving myth to foster a sense of community. However, its clear that the “event” that inspired Thanksgiving is a fabrication. Did Native people help out the pilgrims when they first landed here? Maybe. But despite that, the pilgrims were harbingers of a colonization and genocide of those  Native people. A colonization and genocide that is still going on to this day. And it is essential that we recognize that. Otherwise, this false ideal of “everyone can just get along” will be given currency when its clear that oppressed people cannot “get along” with colonizers because of that history of colonization.

So, how do we reclaim Thanksgiving? We must first recognize that we can’t divorce the holiday from its history; indeed we can’t divorce anything from its history because it is that history that gives the thing form. Instead, we need to acknowledge that history and endeavor to change it, moving forward. In the case of Thanksgiving, we can say that the holiday is about getting together with queer familia and not about pilgrims and Native people. We can say that Thanksgiving is about the radical action of gratitude, because capitalism has taught us to always want more, more, more. We can say that it is about honoring our madre tierra for supporting and sustaining us. In short, it can be about whatever we want it to be, as long as we remember the history.

It is by remembering our history that we can move forward and rewrite our destinies.


Post the Thirty-Third or On the Importance of QPOC Space

This world is not safe for most of us. For most of us, we are constantly being harassed, assaulted and otherwise harmed, either overtly or covertly. This world is constantly attacking us; through messages from the media, through small, seemingly harmless words. Through physical murder and rape. Through the continued colonization of Third World people, both here in Ameríca and abroad.

Moreover, we are constantly carrying the baggage that that history of oppression, colonization and subjugation gives us. And we always have our armor in place. Armor that chafes and restricts us from growth. Armor that keeps us from making a true connection with other people, people like us. But it is an armor that is absolutely necessary. For without it, we are defenseless against those everyday assaults. We are naked before the sword of oppression. And we are torn to ribbons. There are many draw backs to that armor, and it isn’t a perfect defense, but it at least keeps us safe, keeps us from losing our minds in this world that hates us.

And most of us don’t even know we have it until the opportunity to take it off presents itself to us.

We’ve had this armor on for so long, since our earliest childhood days, that it becomes normal. The armor becomes a seamless part of our being. How could it not, when it has always been there? Perhaps we feel its tightness when we get close to someone, feel the armor scrape against someone else’s but its so commonplace and so subtle that we dismiss it. We fail to realize the way we restrict ourselves.

In my case, it wasn’t until I entered a space that held only Queer People of Color that I finally realized the heaviness of the armor. It was only when I was surrounded solely by people who have experienced the same type of oppression that I had experience, who had baggage and armor similar to mine, that I realized how much SHIT I carried around with me everyday.

And in that space, I was finally able to put it down. I was able to let go of the armor and the baggage and allow myself to be vulnerable. It was in that space that I was able to grow and expand in ways that I never thought would be possible.

This is why QPOC only space is so important. Because it allows a healing that is not possible when white, straight, cisgender people are present. This is because even if they are the staunchest of allies, even if they are the most amazing of anti-racists, the history oppression and colonization that they hold in their skin, a history that cannot be erased or forgotten, is made apparent in many, many subconscious and subtle ways. Because we have been socialized since birth to place white people first, whether it be the first helpings of a meal or the most space in a conversation, we do not even know that we are doing it (and at times neither do they). And this subconscious knee-jerk reaction makes it impossible to put down the armor and baggage and allow for growth and expansion.

Now, I know what you are going to say. You are going to say, “Morgan! You are being a reverse racist! White is a color too!” And to that I would respond that reverse racism is impossible. It is impossible because racism is a system that involves institutional power. That power is held by white people. I can’t be racist against white people because I don’t have the systemic power to be racist. The other reason for the exlusion of white people, other than the ones already mentioned, is because every space that one walks into is a white space. This is because white is the societal default for people, spaces, things. When I say person, the image that pops into your head automatically is a white man (specifically heterosexual and cisgender). So it is with spaces. When I say “we all got together at my place”, the hypothetical “we all” is primarily, or all, white.

For that reason, it is important to state that it is a POC space. We need to carve out that space for ourselves because it is not given to us. We need to delineate those boundaries because no one else will do it for us. Not only that but any space given to us by white people is not a claiming of safe space. It is a segregation and ghettoization. It is relegating us to the back of the bus. When we claim that space for ourselves, by ourselves we creating a thorny island within the greater, mainstream, white context.

And if we are going to do the work that needs to be done to transform this world into the truly equitable world it needs to be, then we need these safe spaces. We need them to recharge, to facilitate self-care and healing. We need these spaces to regroup and come together as family so that we can be effective and transformative in our work.

We need these spaces to live and thrive.


Post the Thirty-Second or Rooted

The History of the World

He said

Is held in my hair

The roots

Digging deep and thick into my scalp

Into three different lands

The long black curls

flowing strong down my back

A river

Connecting African slave

with colonized Indígena

and white conquistador

That meeting

that Connection

That blending

is what makes

me

My hair

strong

It is that Mestizaje

That frames me

As my hair frames my face

It is this body

rooted in so many places

that frames my existence

And gives power

to my Voice


Post the Thirty-First or Heaviness

I always feel it most at night

When I’m with my lover

Our skin pressing against each other

I feel it there

The heaviness

The weight

In the safety of their arms

I feel the heaviness of

My colonization

The scars of oppression

surface

As I take off my armor

The rage and the pain

That I carry with me all day

I can finally put down

I can finally express

I can finally claim as my own.


Post the Thirtieth or Mi Madres

What I am about to tell you is a lie but it is the utter truth. 

Indígena

I remember when I first encountered the white man. At first, I could not believe the rumors. People with pale skin and hairy limbs, it could not be possible. And yet there they were. I remember the councils that we had before their arrival. Some of us wanted to welcome them and learn from them, use them against our enemies. But the curanderos, the wise ones, told us that nothing good would come of our meeting. If only we had listened.

I remember those first men. White skin that was weather beaten and sun burnt. I remember their arrogance and their hard metal. I remember how they looked at us with disgust and contempt. And yet I could not understand why. We had done them no harm. But most of all, I remember their guns. The sound it made like a relámpago, thunder that could rip the sky in two.

I remembered the chaos that followed their arrival. The pestilence brought by the whites that our curanderos could not cure.  I remember the battles and the pillaging. I remember seeing my people enslaved and fighting against themselves. I saw my people betray our own cause.

I remember the violence and raping of my sisters. I remember my own rape. I remember running, trying to escape my pursuers. I remember the crashing gunshots and yelling in that foreign, guttural tongue. I remember the fear, the terror that I felt as when I knew there was no escape. I remember crashing through the brush and I remember stopping when I saw Her, Mictecacihuatl. She was dressed in rags, her fleshless skull grinning at me and yet knowing that she possessed an infinite sadness for me, for our people.  She knew as much as I that there was no escape for any of us.

I sensed more than felt what killed me and I was off.

Running.

Running..

Running…

Puta

            Running. Through the ravaged city streets. It hasn’t been 10 years since our subjugation and still nuestra ciudad, nuestra pueblo, is in ruins. I was running from my white john. He refused to pay me, so I kicked him in the nuts. He didn’t like that.

I could feel him behind me, his sword unsheathed. It seemed like he wanted to enter me a second time. I wasn’t going to let him. I took a quick left, and then a right and a right again. This part of the city was winding and confusing, it would be easy for anyone who hasn’t lived here their whole lives to get lost.

But somehow, my knowledge of the city had failed me and after the second right, I was lost. Perhaps it was destruction that still littered the streets. Or perhaps it was all the white invaders inhabiting homes that had once belonged to friends, family of mine. Or perhaps it was los Dioses, spitting on me again.

I heard the heavy footsteps of his boots behind me and knew that I needed to keep moving. I started forward, narrowly missing a fruit stand. I darted around a corner, hugging the wall. He rushed past me, not even giving me a backwards glance. I grinned. Another white man fooled.

I looked up at the rapidly setting sun and knew that I didn’t have enough time to find another john, nor did I want to risk getting caught. I sighed as I began to pick my way in the direction I thought my home was, knowing that I would go hungry tonight, again.

As I was walking down the ally I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It looked like a woman, clad in rags. She was impossibly thin, impossibly old. Her skin was stretched so taut over her bones that it almost seemed as if she didn’t have any skin. I turned my head to look and saw that there was nothing there.

And I was struck once again at how different my life was today than it was ten years ago. And as I remembered those hard years that I suffered and the hardness of my life now, I felt it come on again. That heart-stopping, head-pounding panic that starts in the gut and rips its way up my chest into my head and back down into my heart. I fell to my knees and clutched at my head, leaning against the wall. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. The only thing that was real was the panic, the fear.

I knew I had to breathe.

Breathe..

Breathe…

Por el Hueco

Breathe. It was so hard to breathe. Cramped inside this van, people stacked upon people. No room to move, no room to even think. The heat of the summer sun made the walls of the van scald to the touch; it was unbearable. But the worst part was the smell. The smell of the people pressed together. The smell of sweat, of feces, of fear. The smell of death.

And all the while worrying. Worrying that la migra will catch us. That I will be sent back to my war-torn country with no opportunity to do anything but die. Worrying that I will end up like my brothers, killed or exploited. Worrying about what lay ahead of me, in Ameríca. Knowing that my life there will be just as hard. But what choice do I have?

After centuries of economic co-dependence and exploitation, there was no choice. My country is a war-ravaged slum and my only chance at living a life that I want, without fear of death by starvation or worse, is to go North. And the only way to get there is by risking my life.

But I had hope. Hope that, despite all my worrying and the hardship that I knew awaited me, I would survive this harrowing journey and arrive in Ameríca. I had hope that I would be able to make my own life for myself. I had hope that I would happy and most of all safe.

I had hope.

Sometime later, we stopped. The heat had abated so I knew that it was dark. Something didn’t feel right. I felt like we had stopped too soon. I heard voices outside and my heart nearly stopped. I couldn’t tell if they were the voices of the truck drivers or of others. I could feel the tenseness of the van triple. The stopping and the voices could only mean one thing.

We were caught.

The door flew open. The sudden brightness of the flashlight, after so much darkness, blinded me. People were being pulled out of the van roughly. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to escape too. They grabbed me by the arms and shoulders, hauled me bodily off the van and dumped me unceremoniously onto the ground.

The night was clear. The half moon already high in the sky, providing some illumination of the surroundings. Desolation and scrub land as far as I could see. When they got all of us out they told us that they were leaving us here. That we needed to walk the rest of the way. They had guns pointed at us, to emphasize the gravity of their words.

But I had had enough.

I had enough of being thrown around like some rag doll, with no say or input into what was to be done with me. I was through with others controlling my own destiny. I was finished with being powerless.

I pulled out the makeshift knife that I had hidden in my boot and cried that there were more of us than there was of them, that we could take them and force them to take us further North. We wouldn’t be stranded here to die.

I rushed forward and stumbled, for the enemy that I was rushing had suddenly become Her. La Santisima Muerte. Our Holy Lady of Death. I stopped, agape. I heard the gunshot, but I did not feel the bullet enter me. I collapsed to the ground and it seemed that her bony hand caressed my face. I felt no pain. And as my lifeblood spilled upon the earth, I was at peace. I felt myself rise again and take Her hand.

And I wandered

Wandered..

Wandered…

Colegio

Wandered. Through the corridors of academia. Wandered lost through rooms full of white liberal academics that told me the way things were, the way things are, the way things will become.

But their story rang hollow in my ears. For their stories were not my stories. They did not tell my story. They could not tell my story.

They could not understand what it meant to be colonized, for they were the colonizer. They could not understand what it meant to be subjugated, exploited because they were the exploiter. They could not know how it felt to die a thousand little deaths everyday because they were the murderers.

And yet I clung to it. I clung to the structure and the proponents of that structure. Because it was safe.  I clung to it because I was “accepted”. I had numbed myself to all those small deaths. I felt comfortable in that nagging discomfort that something was wrong. That nagging thought that, yes they said they accepted me as their equal, but they acted in these subtle ways that told me that I was still their property, their play thing. They were humoring me.

But most of all I clung to it because I had forgotten all the old ways of knowing. I had forgotten all of the olds ways of being. Forgot the memories and the scars that my body held, down the deepest strand of DNA. Forgotten the feel my mi madre teirra underneath my feet. I forgot where I came from. Forgot the miles that my people traversed to get here, so far north. Forgot the Diaspora that comes with colonization.

Olvidé a mi famila.

But this state of numbness, this state of forgetfulness could last for only so long.

In a dream, She came to me. Dressed in sumptuous robes the color of midnight; she touched her skinless finger to my forehead. And I remembered.  Remembered the lives of mi madres antepasado. The lives of those strong women on whose shoulders I stand on. Remembered the truth of my blood, my body, my spirit. In that dream, I was awake.

Now awakened, I could not return to the sterile, white halls of academia. I could not return to the cold, dispassionate nature of those people, those rooms. I needed the warmth of family, the heat of community.

I needed the understanding of those who know as I know, who feel as I feel.

And I knew, in that family, in that community is where we can truly decolonize our bodies. It is only when we remember our beloved dead, when we reach into the past and know as they knew, feel as they felt, live as they lived, that we can heal the wound that colonization has inflicted on us. It is only by returning to that point of spiritual origin that we can throw off the chains of mind and soul.

And reclaim what is ours.