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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.

On squatting, homelessness and haircuts

October 27, 2014 Leave a comment

When I was eighteen I moved back to London on my own, away from my parents and the small town in which I’d survived my teens. Working as an office runner for Saachi and Saachi in pre minimum wage days, the pay was terrible – all my coworkers were young guys still living with their parents. A platonic friend had let me stay in his spare room until I could find something better. That plan was shortlived – within a couple of weeks he’d acquired a new girlfriend, and she was not keen on me staying there. Refusing to give up on London so quickly, I spent a few days rotating amongst my new workmates’ sofas and then discovered by chance that there were a lot of squats out in East London, where folks were protesting the building of the M11 Link Road, so I headed over and ended up living there for a few months.

I lived in a few different places along the route, until I ended up in a big old shop which had been abandoned years before. The shopfront was huge, and above it there was a 2 floor apartment that would have originally been used by the shopkeeper. The flat looked to have been abandoned years before the shop itself, and had been reoccupied by pigeons. The squatters were taking a room each and doing the disgusting cleanup needed. I couldn’t face that though, and stayed in the shopfront, keeping my stuff out the way during the day and pulling out my bedroll at night. The original squatters were super sweet, and looking back on it, had probably seen my vulnerability as a young female, and so invited me in. We had communal meals, rotated tasks and talked about green politics, the state of the world, philosophy and history. I quit my shitty job at some point and threw myself into the campaign against the road, and against the Criminal Justice Bill which was about to become law.

To get to the shop from the rest of the protest site I would shortcut across a small park with some benches in the middle, always occupied by a few street drinkers. They felt threatening to me, though I don’t recall them ever even saying anything to me. They had unkempt shaggy hair and filthy old clothes and random bags of belongings. As I hurriedly walked past, they stank of stale sweat and alcohol. One evening I got back to the shop and, to my horror, was introduced to one of them, John, who was coming to live with us. I felt like me home was being invaded by one of the people I looked to it to escape from. The squatters had taken me in however, and though I felt really uncomfortable about this old alcoholic moving in, I didn’t feel able to say anything.

As I said above, though I really should probably have taken responsibility for cleaning out one of the rooms above, the stench and filth of years of being used as a pigeon loft had put me off. John however just got stuck in. Full of enthusiasm he carried out to the bins bags and bags of yuck, and began bleaching the surfaces, which I had to admire. I was out most days working on the campaigns, or skipping for food or whatever. John didn’t seem to notice how warey I was of him, and was friendly and welcoming when I got home.

One evening he asked me for a favour. Could I please cut his hair for him? He had scissors ready and insisted he trusted me, though I kept telling him I’d never done it before. His hair was below his shoulders, neglected from living on the streets. I had no clue where to begin, but he was kneeling on the floor expectantly, telling me he was sure I could do it. Ok, here goes!

It was actually easier than I thought it would be, and kinda fun! I quickly chopped off the ragtails, and copied what I’d seen hairdressers do, took chunks of it between my fingers following the arch of his head upwards, I shaped a close crop, leaving it a bit longer on top. It took a while, as I experimented and figured out how to not leave choppy steps, but sort of merge it all together. My fingers were covered in grease from his unwashed hair, but I figured I could wash them and they were still cleaner than his were after he’d been cleaning the upstairs rooms! Afterwards he was really thankful, and had a shower and a shave. I felt much more relaxed around him too. But for other reasons, a few weeks later I moved out as I’d found a new place.

***

A few years later I was at a demo in London. I can’t remember what about. A pleasant looking middle aged couple approached me, the man seeming really pleased to see me, but I had to admit to him that I couldn’t remember who he was. Well, of course it was John. Story was, after I’d left, he’d began a romance with the florist next door and now they were happily married. He’d spotted her and had wanted to smarten himself up, I presume hence the haircut! And then I learned even more. He had been much younger than I’d first thought, and had only been living on the streets for about 18 months. In a really short time he’d lost his job, and then his partner had left him and he’d lost his home and that was how he’d ended up out there. He was drinking because it was cold and miserable and suddenly he’d gone from having a half decent life to being outcast.

***

He thanked me, but never knew how much I had judged him. How much I’d just seen that stereotype of street drinker and hadn’t thought about how he’d ended up there, or how he might move on. The squatters who’d taken us both, and who knows how many others, were making good use of abandoned buildings, creating a home and small community that transformed John and I in different ways. For John it saved him from a brutal and probably short life on the streets. Though his eagerness to get his life together was what made most difference to him, as I can imagine others wouldn’t have found such a dramatic change. That he was relatively newly homeless must have helped – he didn’t yet have years of drinking and ill-health to contend with. I don’t know why the squatters invited John particularly in to the shop – maybe they’d already interacted enough to realise that it would be mutually beneficial. I was brought face to face with my prejudices, and also experienced communal living in a non capitalist environment. Squatting is now much more difficult due to laws brought in to target such terrible people. Did I mention yet how the building was empty, abandoned, given over to pigeons before the squatters moved in and transformed it into a home? That the only reason at John and I ended up there was due to poorly paid or insecure work?

Anyway, I didn’t want to end on a downer as to me this is a really uplifting memory. I’ve probably got some of the details wrong, but I’ll never forget the sensation of John’s greasy, matted hair as I snipped it off, nor the shock of the handsome, happy man he was just a few years later. :) Yayy for the squatters who took us both in and who put so their time and energy into creating such a great little communal home.

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.

Bhopal diary snippets – first 10 days.

December 22, 2013 Leave a comment

I meant to have written more, to document and describe the situation as I learned, but it is still too overwhelming and confused in my brain. I have been keeping a daily diary, and intend to continue to throughout my trip. So here are some excerpts. I would like to be able to write something more coherent, but nothing coheres, there is just a jumble of feelings (mostly anger and sadness) and images and data swirling around. I could write something but it would be formulaic and I would be more conforming to a rhythm of am article than actually saying anything meaningful because there is no narrative in my head yet.

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Arrested anticuts activists charges dropped

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Today 9 anticuts activists in Glasgow who were arrested over the last month for political demonstrations have had the charges dropped against them.  Arresting and charging protesters is designed to waste our time, cause us stress and intimidate us from fighting for a fairer world. Read more…

No Mr Cameron. It is inequality and injustice that is wrecking communities

April 14, 2011 3 comments

“Immigration is wrecking communities” according to Etonian David Cameron who leads of a UK cabinet of whom 2/3 are millionaires.   He claims that it is a large influx of migrants that is placing stress on schools, housing and healthcare, attempting to divert blame from Government policies of privatisation and cuts.   But it is inequality and injustice that is actually wrecking communities

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