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My input on sex work and queer issues during last night’s #LSEanarchism panel

December 5, 2014 Leave a comment

Hey. This feels a bit weird/egotistical to write, as I don’t feel I’m the best at speaking and especially not writing (I’m not just being modest – there are things I kickass at! ;p ) and I’ve not come up with anything groundbreaking. I felt compelled to speak last night at LSE’s discussion on “Anarchism and Sexuality” because the panelists gave really interesting talks on historical Anarchists perspectives on sexuality, but a lot of views, particularly around sex work (looking at you Mujeres Libras!) are very dated and oppressive. Also questions came up around what contemporary Anarchists thought about campaigns for same sex marriage. Anyway, I gave a kind of nervous rant but folks seemed to like it and as the majority of those there last night (as least who spoke from the audience and who I spoke to afterwards) aren’t Anarchists and are interested in Anarchist ideas, I’m just writing roughly what I said.

On sex work, as was said during the talks, as Anarchists we believe struggles should be led by those affected, and so we have learned, especially from the sex workers within our own movements, that sex work is work, and not a unique case where “prostitutes” must be rescued from their degradation.

All work is degrading under capitalism. Why single out sex work, and ignore call centre workers, or those working in McDonalds or sweat shops? Under capitalism nobody really has freedom of choice, and our working conditions and the way we are treated is degrading. Those with truly socially important roles such as cleaning or care-work are looked down upon and undervalued.

Patriarchal views on sex are that, in hetero relations, the man (or top during same gender pairings) gains something, whilst the woman (or “bottom”) loses. This sexist garbage really colours social outlooks on sex work – whore shaming and rapes/other violent assaults on sex workers are the inevitable result. How much of our perception that sex work is inherently degrading comes from this? Do we view female sex workers, or rentboys in the same way as we think of gigolos? And there’s the ongoing double standard regarding males and females and the acceptability of casual sex.

To learn more I strongly recommend the Sex Workers Open University

The other thing I wanted to talk about was Anarchism and queer politics. We critique mainstream LGBTq obsessions with the pink pound and same-sex marriage as in large part being about sanitising queerness – “don’t be afraid, we’re not going to change social norms – we just want to be consumers and get married like the rest of you!” Apart from how this privileges certain LGTBTq folks over others – those who have money to spend and those who want monogamous relationships – its also irrelevant. Basic Anarchist principles are that you are free to do what you like, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. Why should we try to gain the acceptance of some mythical mainstream, when what we are doing doesn’t affect anyone else? Homophobia is not wrong because “look, we’re just like you”. We fight for freedom for all to live and love as they wish, straight or queer, monogamous or poly, kinky or vanilla, asexual, aromantic or celibate. As the panelists mentioned often same-sex marriage campaigns are driven even by those critical of bringing the state into the bedroom, because of how access to housing, pensions and insurance are dependent on marriage certificates – whereas actually housing etc should be available to all.

I think there’s another reason people, even Anarchists, choose to get married, and that’s as a marker of a life event. Celebrating stages in life, “hatches, matches and dispatches”, coming of age, and the changing seasons and years are meaningful to people. But the default ways of socially recognise such events, particularly important romantic/sexual relationships, is through a legal or religious marriage. Instead of criticising those who go down that route, we should find new ways of celebrating life events. We should evolve and create our own rituals and commemorations that recognise and honour relationships, rather than just the default of a state sanctioned wedding.

Anyway, that was pretty much what I said last night, I think. Afterwards folks wanted to know what groups I was involved with, where I’d learned so much and who was the “we” I referred to. The easy answer is that I’m in the Anarchist Federation, and in both the gender oppressed (women, trans*, nonbinary and anyone else who feels oppressed because of gender) and queer caucuses within that. But that’s just the formal answer. The real answer is that I have learned from living my life, and from doing so within communities that are also just getting on and doing it, trying things out, reflecting, chatting, listening and supporting. I guess I’m really lucky. We have formal meetings and discussions, but we also have long informal times, for example during the 7 month Free Hetherington occupation, or just whilst socialising with friends, and I feel that these are the most constructive. In a meeting, or worse at a “debate”, the goal is to win people over and sell a particular viewpoint. That doesn’t lead (imo) to learning or creating new ideas or philosophies together. For instance often we learn because of our fuckups – and its hard to share and collectively learn from those in a public meeting. Or getting pulled up on our shit, which we all have from our ongoing socialisation in a patriarchal, white supremacist culture. In informal settings we can play with ideas. The shy people find their voices. Those who feel they’re too new to contribute, ask questions and share their opinions, and blow the minds of the wise elders!

One reason I felt sheepish speaking last night and writing this today is because nothing I’ve said is cutting edge in the communities I inhabit. So I guess that’s the most important insight perhaps from Anarchism on sexuality; by prefiguring the society we want to live in, we learn and grow and develop as individuals and communities far more than any amount of theorising or formal lessons can do. Direct action means those who are oppressed taking initiatives that change the immediate conditions of their oppression. By creating queer spaces and communities we challenge heteronormativity by trying out queer ways of being in safe environments – these can include pride marches or more confrontational taking of spaces such as queer occupations of sites of homophobia. We don’t try to appeal to the Daily Mail with exhortations of how we were just born this way so please don’t blame us, but instead we boldly state that yes we reject patriarchal, heteronormative gender roles and relations. That our bodies, sexualities and gender presentations are ours to do with what we will. I think in doing this we also offer liberation to those who might still choose heterosexual, monogamous, vanilla life partnerships because at least know that that is your choice, that you are not compelled to do so, but followed rather what suited you and your partner best, and actually had those awesome conversations with them, and made it explicit. Just like vanilla people can learn from kinky people about consent, and monogamous people can learn from polyamory about talking through boundaries and working through jealousy. In the end, in an ideal Anarchist society, none of this would be remarkable. There will be no “queer Anarchism” just like we have no need for “blond haired Anarchism” – without oppression there is no need to develop specific organising around identity and we can all get on with our awesomely diverse and meaningful lives together.

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None of the above – why I spoiled my #indyref ballot paper

September 18, 2014 2 comments

ballot paperSo although I have been planning this blog post, and indeed what I would write on my ballot paper, for a couple of years, in the end I’m just hurriedly writing it late at night, and I scribbled on my ballot paper on the bus home on Tuesday night just in time to post it for it to be counted.

I could have written this any time, but as many of you know I’ve been partly avoiding those conversations, and the long drawn out attempts at conversion that follow. At least now its too late for you all to make me your target! Also, I’ve been hella busy the last couple of years.

One person, on finding out that I wasn’t going to be voting yes, half jokingly called me a sofa activist and explained that this was because I wasn’t part of the yes movement and therefore clearly was just one of those activists who sit on their sofa all the time rather than trying to bring about change. Happily for my ego, a couple of friends were there who told him that I was more politically active than anyone else there. Not sure if that’s true, but who am I to argue? ;) I’ve more frequently been accused of being a Brit Nationalist. Because everyone’s got to have a nationalism, and if I’m not Team Saltire I must be Butcher’s Apron instead? Kind of like when Glaswegian’s ask you which football team you support, and anything other than Rangers or Celtic results in a “No, but which one do you really support”. Or “What religion are you?” and responding Jewish has them ask whether I’m Catholic or Protestant.

Apparently #indyref has brought a new hope and optimism and wave of activism to Scotland. Apparently if I’m not voting yes its because I’m lacking confidence in Scotland’s ability to “do it ourselves”, “go alone” and “rule ourselves”. I need to be shown the economic facts and figures. What’s more I’m pro foodbanks and austerity. Because voting yes is the only way to get rid of these. In fact that’s why so many on the left deserted or diverted anti bedroom tax organising into yes campaigning :( However, as those clever folks at kittens explain, austerity is an inevitable and necessary strategy by governments within our current capitalist system. “Independence” as offered by indyref does not really free the people of Scotland from the logic of capitalism and that logic leads to austerity, no matter the claimed ideology of those in power. To me, jumping up and down about whether the government is in London or Edinburgh is about as important as whether it’s Labour, Tory or SNP; that is, it affects only details. It describes what sort of scraps we might get. Labour will still cut the NHS and bring in the bedroom tax, and take us into wars. And so too if the government is based in Scotland – its not the tories that are the problem but capitalism and representative democracy.

Another repeated argument I’ve had has been that a government in Edinburgh is easier for us to march on than one in London. That we will feel more empowered by being geographically closer. I lived in south london in one of the poorest areas in the UK for years, a mile or two from Whitehall; I promise that did not make me feel empowered! Organising in my communities, in my workplace, and taking action to directly solve our own problems is what makes me feel empowered, not hearing Big Ben toll.

The romantic in me would love a Scottish passport. And a yes vote would also piss off some people I really dislike, including but not limited to the leadership of all the main UK wide political parties, neofascists, the Daily Mail and Tory voters everywhere. Ooo, and the orange people. Definitely not forgetting them. :) But those are not rational reasons for making a decision.

The most compelling reason I’ve had to vote yes is because of migration. A Scottish government would have different demographic problems to a UK one, and that might bring in more xenophilic policies. There might be less attacks on asylum seekers, less ridiculous conditions on those wanting to come here. I spent many months considering whether I should vote yes for this reason. It was more plausible a probable outcome from a yes vote than that the UK would give up trident. However I was also weighing up other plausible outcomes from a yes vote, and one stood out very strongly – that corporations would have more power to undermine workers’ rights by blackmailing a smaller state that they would relocate south of the border otherwise. Salmond has repeatedly said he wants Scotland to be business friendly. And even if he’s not in power, that’s exactly what every party will do under capitalism. These conflicting issues, that of migration vs “business friendliness” meant that even when I just looked at what changes were plausible it did not give me a clear direction to vote.

I do not act to be awkward or different, I act despite this. Despite it being an unpopular choice. Despite the peer pressure. I have learned that the only approval I actually need is my own. I need to be able to look myself in the eyes and know that I acted in accordance with what I believed to be right at the time. I have in the past acted out of expediency. I have been convinced by others to put aside my misgivings and that the end justifies the means. That I should support something because it will lead to gains in the future, though it was not in itself something I supported. I was wrong. We have no way of accurately predicting the results of any of our actions, especially in something so complex as social change. There are too many interacting variables and unknowns, and unknown unknowns ;) … Rather than attempting the impossible and futile task of picking from what the possible outcomes are of my actions, instead I chose to align my actions to my principles and beliefs. In doing this I am not trying to manipulate others, or compromising for possible benefit ahead, but creating what I want in the here and now. I organise using direct democracy. And I do not agree to things that are against my principles because they might have a positive outcome in the future. When I look back, I am proud of those times I did what I felt to be right at the time, or at least refused to condone something I disagreed with. I am glad that I did not vote to accept the pitiful offer we at the Free Hetherington ended up taking – I was outvoted but I’m still proud that I took the position that I did, and that history showed to be accurate – the University management ignored all of those agreements in the following few months anyway, and we sold out Crichton Campus too. But that’s another, very long, post. I’ve abstained frequently on things, and often wanted my abstention recorded. Its part of being able to look myself in the eyes – I don’t vote for things I don’t agree with.

There’s a bunch of other things I’d like to write about here. About how Scotland is just older than the UK, but really has no more logic. Nationality is a social construct. That the yes campaign has actively harmed the class struggle, not just by diverting every activist and progressive campaign, but by encouraging cross class allegiances and obfuscating power relations. Despite claims that Scottish nationalism is not like UKIP’s brand, but “civic”, I’ve frequently heard talk of the “English”, whether non ethnic Scots should be allowed to vote, versus expat Scots. I’ve heard a lot about how finally we will have those like us in power – no, we will remain with the ruling class in power and their “ethnicity” is irrelevant compared to their role in governing us for capital. And this “If someone walks up to you in the street, and asks you to choose between a dish of shite and a dish of vomit, you wouldnae want to pick either.” (https://www.facebook.com/notes/jens-m%C3%B8lgaard/my-thoughts-on-the-referendum/10205136903610568)

I’m going to end with a quote from an awesome friend. Massive urgings to read the rest of her post.

A referendum isn’t direct democracy – it’s a question framed by those in power offering a choice they are willing to give, which of course is why it’s a question I don’t even particularly want to answer, because what they’re willing to offer is another capitalist state.

http://edinburghanarchists.noflag.org.uk/2014/09/referendum-rant-from-an-immigrant/

Whichever the outcome is, I won’t be too sad. As I said, a yes appeals to me for many emotive reasons. But a no is not bad. Whatever the outcome I’ll still be working with incredible people on projects that I do see as being the seeds of a truly better society. And I’ll know I rejected two options, when I disagreed with them both.

What Rachel Corrie gave me

August 28, 2013 Leave a comment

I was with Rachel Corrie on 16th March 2003 when she was killed by the military industrial complex, or more proximally by the Israeli army via a soldier driving a bulldozer who was just one cog of that particular machine.

This is something I only bring up with close friends before, because it is ridiculously narcissistic to be talking about what the ending of such an incredible life as Rachel’s meant for me, still able to walk and talk and love and laugh and fight for a better world.

But now more than ten years on, I’m going to write this on my personal blog.

That day was like a pivot that I swung around and everything changed. I remember even just a couple of days afterwards looking with this fresh new clarity and certainty at what I’d thought before and feeling astonished. It wasn’t that I was naive about what occupation, war and capitalism could do, but that before my role in changing this was more like somebody playing an engrossing game – after Rachel was killed it became my life’s purpose. Afterwards this is what I can and do give my life for, whether that means because I die directly fighting for what I believe in, or because its what I dedicate the hours and days and years I have alive for.

Here’s a not too gruesome picture of just after she was run-over by the bulldozer.  I’m on the left with bleached hair. About now she says her final words “my back is broken” and all pictures from this scene show me holding her head, stabilising her spine as I was trained to by uncle Doc Rosen.

Who was Rachel to me that her killing was so pivotal? A friend, but not a close one. I attach to folks slowly and we’d only known each other about 7 weeks. I liked her well enough, but she was not someone who’s personality I instantly felt an affinity and close bond with. I imagine that that would have changed as time does to relationships especially in such intense surroundings. As I said, I did like her but she was not so close that her death would have changed things as much as they did.

A patient? Well yes, she was one of my first patients. And now, with ten years of caring for people as first aider and nurse, there is a particular hard to describe feeling, like a mixture of responsibility and mission and protection and advocacy, towards my patients, but I had yet to develop that back then.

No, it was because she was trying to make the world a better place. She had taken herself to Gaza, knowing it was dangerous and uncomfortable and scary, in order to try and change things.

My original motives were less clear and altruistic to be perfectly honest. Yes I wanted to make a difference, but I also wanted to experience a different culture and travel some more. I was curious and interested. And I hoped to also help some people. But it was a bit of an adventure as well.

And then the Israeli state apparatus killed Rachel in front of me. And the next day, in partnership with the USA government, tried to physically claim to her body whilst she was in the Rafah morgue.

I was with some other internationals in an internet cafe desperately emailing and reporting on what had happened. The media storm was in full swing. And I was informed that the Israeli army had given an ultimatum that either Rachel’s body was handed over to them, or that there would be a military operation (with scores of Palestinians inevitably killed in the process) in order to recover it.

And that’s when I felt it. No, no the people who’d killed her were not going to take her body. Not without getting through me first. And that was not going to be an easy thing for them to do.

I found this strength solidifying in me. Something I had felt before on occasion but never to this extent. Resolve. Like an iron rod running from the crown of my head, down through my spine and grounding me. I had power. Power to say No and for that to mean something. For me to be able to prevent something happening. That I was strong and capable enough to stand up to both the Israeli and USA states.

We all agreed it was wrong. A violation that the Israeli army should take the body of the person they had killed. I felt a surety that Rachel would not want this, and I knew I wouldn’t had it been the other way around. I also knew that we didn’t want anyone else to be killed, but I felt absurdly confident that it wouldn’t come to that, and I was right!

I don’t want to just now write again about the practical details of what happened, and the twists and turns, the wranglings, the intense cunning we needed, the taking chances and resourcefulness but Will, Greg and I somehow did it, and successfully arranged for Rachel’s body to not be taken by the Israeli soldiers, but to travel safely to Tel Aviv in a civil ambulance with one of us (Will) with her all the way. It was a few hours of focus and belief and determination and creativity that I just don’t think I would have been capable of before.

A crisis like that is a fire hotter than anything I would wish on anybody else, but within it swirling, confused, contradictory parts of me forged into purposeful solidity. Within it I changed at an essential level. The trauma of it all has taken years to get over, and like anything with a half-life, will never totally leave me. But that profound purpose and power and resolve will not only never leave me, but has only grown stronger over the years.

Those people and systems that poison and degrade precious life and beauty and environment? Each new wound that you inflict has an unpredictable, inverse effect that will lead to your deposition. Within each of us that witness and experience the depths that you will sink to, purpose and focus develops and resonates. And even still now, over a decade since she was killed, I will still meet new people who will find out that I was with Rachel Corrie and tell me how they were shocked and angered by her killing and took up or deepened their struggles for a better world because of it.

So, this then was the narcissistic version of Rachel’s death. And sheepish as I feel in posting it, this is my personal blog. And this was the effect that 16th March 2003 had on me. It was a fulcrum. You killed Rachel, and that created in me a strength and lifemeaning and clarity that is part of a growing global, timeless movement for a decent world.