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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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On the 9th anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s death in Gaza

March 16, 2012 5 comments

Nine years ago today a small group of us spent several hours using our bodies to non violently defend family homes in Rafah, Gaza, from Israeli bulldozers. And then one of those bulldozers just kept on going, crushing Rachel Corrie, 23, beneath it; she died within an hour.

Rachel wasn’t fearless – I remember one day when we were standing as human shields as municipal construction workers were rebuilding a well that had been destroyed by the IDF (Israeli army) seriously compromising the Rafah water supply. We were there every day over several weeks as the work was carried out, and while mostly this was incredibly boring (ever hung out at a construction site?) at times it was terrifying as snipers would shoot towards us. Because we were clearly identified as internationals and were standing between an IDF watchtower and the workers, these were warning shots; on other occasions municipal workers had been killed by IDF snipers hence our presence. I imagine that the IDF soldiers are pretty bored too. They’ve been subjected to years of propaganda dehumanising Palestinians and this together with the sure knowledge that they can get away with it means that putting a rifle into the hands of an 18 year old kid is a recipe for such killings.

Well one day the watchtower snipers started up, but didn’t just shoot their normal couple of shots, but kept going. We had our banner declaring in English, Arabic and Hebrew something about us being internationals and Rachel used the megaphone to shout over and over again in the direction of the shooting that we were international human rights volunteers and to please stop shooting at us; we never knew if they could hear us or not. The shots were whistling past our ears. Sometimes they hit the ground just in front of our feet sending up bits of rock. Rachel’s voice was getting increasingly shakey. I was trying to work out how accurate a sniper could be at that distance – they were clearly trying to scare us as the shots got closer and closer and I know that they can shoot killshots at that range, but supposing the wind suddenly changed? The distinctive crack meant it was high velocity bullets whistling past so surely they wouldn’t be affected by wind? But supposing one of the soldiers did slip, or just thought “screw it” – our lives were in their hands. We were all terrified. Rachel would pause and we would talk about how we wished we had a cigarette and that we could leave and try and cheer each other up. Finally, approximately 40-60 minutes later, the shooting stopped and we went to a nearby friend’s flat for a very shakey cup of sweet tea with maramiya (sage).

The wells were rebuilt; infrastructure is repairable, unlike destroyed lives. And there have been so many lives destroyed by the occupation. Thousands and thousands of Palestinians killed. Millions of children growing up in traumatising environments in Gaza and the West Bank* A 27 year old friend in Rafah has lost dozens of friends over the years to IDF bullets. These are not necessarily fighters; they could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Like the street cleaner who was shot from a watchtower while smoking outside his house about an hour after Rachel died. We visited his family; apparently he had learning difficulties and still lived with his parents, and had no relationship with politics. And like so many other Palestinian deaths there has been nothing about him in the news, no accountability from the IDF, just another senseless murder in Gaza.

This post is a bit rambly, and that would probably have been a good place to end it, but I want to talk a bit more about Rachel. I only met her 6 weeks before she was killed, and got to know her a lot better after she was killed through reading her emails and other writing, and spending time with her family. To be honest I don’t know if we’d have been close friends if we’d just met normally. She had a very quirky sense of humour that didn’t match mine. I doubt very much that given a choice, it would have been my arms that she would have died in. But I did have that role, I stroked her hair and told her that she was loved as her body shut down.

I wish I had been closer to her, because from her writing an intelligent, compassionate and complex figure emerges. Within a short time she was aware of the complexity, the nuance, the conflicts of the situation. I’m going to stop with some of Rachel’s words. Please do as she did, and put the humanity back into how you think about other people. We are all individuals, with families, hopes, dreams, loves, fears, background contexts that affect our trajectories, and the ability to do amazing things in the world.

“we are all kids curious about other kids. Egyptian kids shouting at strange women wandering into the path of tanks. Palestinian kids shot from the tanks when they peak out from behind walls to see what’s going on. International kids standing in front of tanks with banners. Israeli kids in the tanks anonymously – occasionally shouting and also occasionally waving – many forced to be here, many just agressive – shooting into the houses as we wander away.” (Rachel Corrie, February 7 2003, accessible at http://rachelcorriefoundation.org/rachel/emails)

 

EDITED TO ADD : We’re having an event in Glasgow tonight to celebrate Rachel’s life. Its at Glas Uni but you don’t have to be a student to come :
Boyd Orr. Lecture Theatre E.
University Avenue just up from Byres Rd.
http://www.facebook.com/events/314851021908411/

* I will write about the effect that the occupation is having on Israelis soon. I absolutely condemn all civilian killings.

Celebrating victories

April 14, 2011 2 comments

Waving from the senate balconyI think this is an important post to make.  And I’m going to try and make it without sliding into depressing caveats about how small the victories are compared to the size of the problem.  Because yes, in the UK we are facing a huge assault on public services and the welfare state.  And yes, the cuts at Glasgow Uni are just a tiny microcosm of right-wing pro capitalist ideology that is still further funnelling resources towards the privileged.  But a cake is made of individual crumbs.  A forest is made from the growth of thousands of trees.  A sustainable, just, peaceful, free world is made from millions of incidences of individuals, communities, workplaces coming together and reclaiming power over themselves.

In the past few weeks at Glasgow University anticuts activists have started to make headway against a seemingly all powerful Senior Management who are determined to push our institution further away from learning and into making profit for private individuals and companies.

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Day 4 of the Free Hetherington

February 5, 2011 1 comment

So we’ve been occupying the former postgrad club at Glasgow University since Tuesday.  I just want to record how I’m feeling now about it, mostly for my own future reference!  For more details on the occupation try http://www.facebook.com/pages/Glasgow-Uni-Occupied/133691460021139

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Angst

August 6, 2006 Leave a comment

I feel like all my sparkle was sandblasted away a long time ago.

I like that phrase. I don’t very often come up with words that work well, but I think this does, and is quite descriptive of how I feel. I like the use of the term “sandblasted” as it was in a dry, dusty, semi-desert landscape where much of the damage occured. In the no-mans lands of Palestine, where heavily armoured, high-tech soldiers pounded away at civilians.

That pain of seeing what people are capable of doing to each other is now a part of the black stuff inside me. A scab that I can’t resist picking, even though I know it makes it worse.

In the blackness also swirls the murder of two of my friends, with the resulting, unasked for empathy with the millions of other people who have seen people murdered in front of them.