Archive by Author

Rapture and Risk on Campus in the Age of the Sexual Security State

6 Jun

Laura Kipnis and Jennifer Doyle Explain It All To You……

By Lisa Duggan

In 2013 I read a stunning short article on the notorious Steubenville rape case by Joann Wypiejewski in The Nation, “Primitive Heterosexuality: From Steubenville to the Marriage Altar,” with the subtitle “Straight culture teaches its children that sex is either of the jungle or the picket fence.” Wypiejewski rejected the stark melodramatic terms of reigning descriptions of “rape culture” to place sexual assault on a spectrum with the normative coercions and inequalities of heterosexual courtship. She then took an extra breathtaking step to indict the supposedly adult model of ideal marriage that ends courtship as the site for the very abuses assigned to “rape culture.” She closed by looking not to the expansion of marriage to same sex couples, but to queer sexual cultures for models of sexual ethics:

Frankly, heteros have nothing to teach homos beyond, maybe, how to endure childbirth. If the zeal to arrest toddlers for stealing a kiss and to lock away teenagers for having stupid, drunken, nasty sex is an indication, the lesson ends once the babe is through the birth canal. The opposite—that heteros have something to learn, from the history of gay liberation rather than marriage equality—is surely true.

This is not to romanticize homosexuality. Regardless of the subjects, sex is a mix of rapture and risk, sweetness and cruelty or something more humdrum. But because history did not present gay people with the open choice of the jungle or the picket fence, they developed an alternative culture, a relational language and set of ethics not just to avoid a trap but to have at least a decent experiment, a decent anonymous encounter, a decent first time—not necessarily a transcendent one (though maybe), but not an awful one—and a different sense of family. Gay kids may drink or damage themselves and others for all the reasons anyone in this society might and more, but gay culture doesn’t teach its kids that the surest route to sex is through a bottle and a lie. Straight culture teaches that.

So OK, maybe Wypiejewski romanticizes gay culture a wee bit, forgivable for a straight lefty feminist with a galvanizing point to make. She is also elaborating the point of Douglas Crimp’s famous defense of queer “promiscuity” as a resource rather than a scourge in the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In the current continuation of the various crises over sexual assault, Laura Kipnis has weighed in with a book that shares some of Wypiejewski’s points, but misses others. Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus (Harper Collins 2017) sounds a crucial, complacency piercing alarm about the way Title IX investigations of sexual assault on campus have veered widely afar from the goal of fighting gender inequality (as Title IX was designed to do when added to the Higher Education Act in 1972) to become an underground wave of secret tribunals with inconsistent and unaccountable rules and outcomes.

I think Kipnis is largely correct about what has happened since Title IX’s purview was expanded to cover sexual assault in 2011. Though the confidentiality rules prevent any of us from really knowing much, Kipnis makes illuminating use of a rare breach in that imposed silence—a cache of documents released by accused Northwestern professor Peter Ludlow, who left his tenured philosophy position midway through his “trial” without any confidentiality agreement. My own academic network confirms the widespread existence of Kafkaesque “investigations” in which “targets” are not given clear accounts of charges or allowed to defend themselves, in just the ways Kipnis describes via the Ludlow investigations. My informants are disproportionately queer studies scholars, far too many of whom are charged with sexual misconduct (which can include teaching “improper” materials in class) by unstable, closeted or homophobic students. Campus activists against sexual assault routinely ignore this dynamic and many others when they call on us all to simply “believe the students,” the current variation of “believe the women” and “believe the children.” Activist support for administrative procedures that empower accusers (too often simply referred to as “survivors,” a problematic slippage) without question, while minimizing the rights of the accused, is utterly wrongheaded and misguided. These activists do not imagine themselves in the role of accused “target,” but they should, they must. To imagine oneself as possibly accused rather than only as accuser can illuminate the stark imbalances at the core of current practices of investigation and adjudication. And this is one of Kipnis’ major points—empowering the administration to act under cover of confidentiality removes mechanisms of accountability. This is a dangerous path.

Unwanted Advances also makes a key point repeatedly: Narratives of endangered young women bent to the will of powerful male professors (even in the absence of any supervisory role) are not feminist. These melodramatic rescue narratives offer a hero’s role to administrators, who overreach in an old story of young women without agency violated and rescued. This is the territory of “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon,” the lynching narrative, the progressive era “white slavery” panic. Kipnis points out that efforts to educate young women about how to understand their milieu and defend themselves are too often interpreted as “blaming the victim.” Campus activists would do well to read feminist history and critically examine the emergence of what sociologist Elizabeth Bernstein has named “carceral feminism” and legal theorist Janet Halley has called “governance feminism”—political formations featuring a turn to often punitive state and administrative “solutions,” rather than organizing to address and transform social relations.

But here we begin to reach the limits of Kipnis’ book. The history of feminism that she provides actively erases larger framing contexts that are crucial to the dynamics the author wants to analyze. The story of the emergence of “sexual harassment” as an innovative feminist concept, eventually converted by corporations and university administrations into a military style anti-fraternization policy policed by liability lawyers and elaborated by paid consultants, is mostly missing as the important background to the current spread of Title IX investigations. In the world off campus the context of the feminist “sex wars,” the debates over sex work and sex trafficking, and the horrific years of the “Satanic” child sexual abuse panic in the 1980s, are barely mentioned. Kipnis takes the vocabulary and arguments of these earlier fights (the sex wars discussions of “pleasure vs. danger” and the debates about female sexual agency especially), but rarely credits them.

This narrow framing is symptomatic of the reversed melodrama at the center of Kipnis’ narrative, a frame that features the author in both the victim’s and hero’s role. She was the “target” of a Title IX investigation for an earlier article (and is currently being sued by one of the students she writes about in the book), and in response represents herself as fighting the good fight for free speech and sexual agency. In her book she rarely shares that heroic spotlight with historical or current figures. She likes to pose as the badass, throwing around provocative claims and standing up for those stricken silent by confidentiality rules.

This pose with its narrowing effect becomes especially clear when Unwanted Advances is read alongside Jennifer Doyle’s 2015 book, Campus Sex, Campus Security (Semiotext(e), 2015). Doyle was also involved in a Title IX case that did not go her way, but this experience does not center the analysis of the book. Doyle uses the “problem” of off the rails administrative procedures to widen her vision and take in the precarious state of “the campus” at this moment in neoliberal time. Drawing on the 2011 ‘incident” of campus police pepper spraying non-violent motionless students at the University of California Davis, Doyle makes a series of astute and revelatory connections between campus security and sexual politics through a series of short, staccato chapters filled with quotable insights. At UCD, the Chancellor worried that “non-affiliates” from Oakland (read young black men) would take advantage of “very young girls” on campus and put the university “in violation” of Title IX. From there Doyle looks at race and colonial legacies, the insecurity of students with high tuition and faculty with part time appointments, and the experiences of queer and racialized students and faculty under campus security regimes—considering the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal, the suicide of Tyler Clemeni at Rutgers, the Rolling Stone story of a gang rape later revealed as a hoax at the University of Virginia, the violent arrest of Prof. Ersula Ore for jaywalking at Arizona State, and more.

The point of Doyle’s analysis across all these instances is that the university finds itself vulnerable, positions itself as threatened, and deploys ramped up risk management and security measures for self-defense. In the Title IX cases the university is defending itself from being “in violation” and losing money, not protecting the “very young girls” who are imagined as the ideal accusers, without agency of their own. This comparative framing makes the exclusion of political economic context, and of critical race and queer theory, from Kipnis’ text very clear. Kipnis “includes” race and queer sexuality with a few random comments, one example involving black athletes (where the word “packs” is used), and a few same sex examples that are unintegrated into the analysis. Doyle’s book shows readers what it means to bring these analytic frames together, rather than just use add on unanalyzed examples.

But Doyle does slip into the insupportable “believe the women” posture occasionally. In concluding her account of the Rolling Stone rape hoax story of 2015, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely based on the unchecked facts of an unnamed accuser, she comments “Who cares, really, about what women say? For that matters, who cares about what women write?” (p.21) Um, what? Doyle twists herself into a pretzel trying to avoid criticizing either the accuser or the writer, instead going for the magazine’s staff. It’s a stretch, based on a melodrama of female innocence and male perfidy that she otherwise avoids.

This slip, and others like it, serve to illustrate how pervasive and apparently irresistible conventional sexual melodrama can be, all across the political spectrum. Though Kipnis is countering the melodrama of gendered sexual danger that frames the recent deluge of Title IX tribunals, she fails to note that this story is itself a reversal of another pervasive melodramatic tale—in which innocent men’s lives are ruined by scheming women. The tide of Title IX complaints is in part a justifiable effort to attack the assumptions that supported widespread dismissal of women’s accusations against serial harassers and attackers, who were often protected by administrators in the pre-Title IX era. The rage and frustration generated by decades of such dismissals in part fuel the relentless hostility to “targets” expressed by too many Title IX officers. Now Kipnis counters the counter narrative, with an again reversed tale of scheming women and falsely accused men. Though she acknowledges that this is not the whole story, that sexual assault on campus is real, and that harassers and rapists are sometimes excused and protected, these admissions are throwaway sentences that pop up now and then in the body of a text utterly devoted to a highly gendered melodrama featuring manipulative female accusers and vindictive unaccountable bureaucrats, versus men whose lives are unfairly ruined.

There is a moment in Unwanted Advances when Kipnis reports the events of one of her central cases to a psychiatrist friend, and recounts his speculative diagnoses for one of the young women accusers—borderline or hysterical personality disorder (p. 74). Arguably, this kind of third hand psychologizing crosses a line from hard hitting but illuminating critical analysis to personal invasion. Does this move justify my own speculation that Kipnis may have some unresolved oepidal issues? A father she wants to rescue from a controlling, scheming mother? Just guessing!

Ultimately, both Kipnis and Doyle, like Wypiejewski, want to replace the sensational, melodramatic tales of sexual danger with detraumatizing strategies for thinking about sexual assault (which would involve reducing the demand for anonymity and confidentiality, strategies that only reinforce stigma, and in the context of Title IX, prevent accountability). Doyle specifically calls for placing rape on a spectrum of normative sexual coercions including state regulated marriage and reproduction, while Kipnis points to the need to address “the learned compliance of heterosexual femininity.” Kipnis further calls for assertiveness training and self-defense—student initiated strategies for challenging male aggression. Why not organize, act up, create new contexts for social and classroom life, rather than call endlessly for more and better administrative procedures? Both books emphasize the danger of empowering administrators this way—and surely the example of the administrative persecution of Palestinian students and professors should show us that danger in action. Most broadly, it is the clear implication of Doyle’s book that organizing strategies need to reach beyond inequalities of gender and sexuality to address the context for them, in the political economic context of risk management and global securitization.

Another Day…..

6 May

Hypatia and Cultures of Critique

By Lisa Duggan

Image result for Hypatia journalIt was just another day in academia.  Another obscure journal, another specialized article. Another scholar publishing in a marginalized field, failing to cite the published work in that field.  Another peer review process ignoring the very existence of marginalized scholars and fields.  Ho hum…..

But then things got real.  Some readers noticed and complained, social media went berserk, some editors defended while others apologized, articles were written.  Things got a little crazy, tone wise.  Denunciations!  Accusations! Precious little good contextualizing analysis.

It started when the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia published Rebecca Tuvel’s “In Defense of Transracialism,” in their spring 2017 issue.  Tuvel, a tenure track assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis, compares the Rachel Dolezal controversy over transracial identity with debates about transgender politics.  She does not engage critical race theory or transgender scholarship. This kind of exclusion is ripe for legitimate critique, especially as practiced by a feminist journal.  Legitimate critique there was galore!

On social media, things heated up in a familiar way.  The derision and denunciation so often found there migrated, mixed with legitimate critique, into an open letter that called for retraction of the article.  It was eventually signed by hundreds of professors, grad students and others. The letter generated an abject apology (reading a bit like a Soviet confession, to my ears) from the associate editors of the journal. This apology produced a disagreement and objection from the editor.  And by this time the whole shabang migrated away from social media and onto the blogs, higher ed press, and more mainstream media.

And so by now everyone is in role!  The academic journal has marginalized critical race and trans scholarship within feminist philosophy, many of the article’s critics are making self righteous demands and personal attacks, some of the apologizing is positively creepy, while liberal and conservative pundits eschew relevant context to cry Witch hunt! Call out culture!  Oy.

Meanwhile back on social media, a few brave souls are cutting through some of the shit.  We at Bully Bloggers have picked out a few posts that illustrate a range of thoughtful, regretful and exasperated commentary that appeared on The Book of Faces to share with you here.  We will add more as we find the good stuff online.  Below are comments from Ani Dutta, with a very nuanced critique, Treva Carrie with a sigh of exasperation and some advice, Talia Mae Bettcher with a cri de coeur and sharp intervention, and Lisa Guenther with some second thoughts after having signed the open letter.

Image result for everyone calm down meme
Ani Dutta:
On Tuvel, Adichie, Dolezal and the Privilege-Identity Distinction
 
I have a feeling that I’m not going to be riding any popularity waves with this one, but I wanted to register my discomfort with the way in which ‘trans / gender non-conforming’ and ‘people of color’ voices have often been essentialized and homogenized in the wake of the controversy on Rebecca Tuvel’s Hypatia article that defends ‘transracialism’ and makes analogies between ‘transgenderism’ and ‘transracialism’. I do not say this ‘as’ a trans/gender non-conforming person of color (categories I use with discomfort given their US-centric hegemonic senses), as I don’t believe that occupying those positions necessarily justifies or gives more credence to the points I’m about to make. But I am referring to these categories, in which I’m often socially placed, simply to make the point that some of ‘us’ (though there’s no ‘us’) might have differing takes on both the Tuvel article and the question of transracialism than the general stance of condemnation and dismissal that ‘we’ have been associated with. So here goes:
  1. The big underlying question first, I guess: I am an agnostic on the issue of transracialism and Dolezal’s identity, and frankly not very interested in resolving that debate any way or other, except to argue that I don’t think we need to dismiss the ontological question of transracial identity (and its defenses) in order to interrogate or critique some of Dolezal’s more problematic actions (e.g. lying about her family past, culturally appropriating the ‘Nubian soul’, taking on the NAACP leadership position, etc.), which are related to her position of white privilege. Though race and gender are obviously not exactly analogous, a similarity here is that one can occupy gender-privileged positions while strongly dissociating from related identities – and the Caitlyn Jenner analogy indeed applies here. Two months ago, Chimamanda Adichie made several extremely simplistic and problematic statements about (apparently all) trans women having ‘male privilege’ at some point in their lives, and many trans women in response pointed out that this was often not the case. In my humble view, the most nuanced responses were ones like Jen Richards’ piece where she pointed out that trans women (like any other gendered group) may have very different narratives and histories of gender dis/privilege. Some trans women or trans feminine / gender-variant people experience little or no male privilege due to early visibility or transition (e.g. Laverne Cox’s narrative), and others like Richards and Jenner have grappled with male privilege for much of their lives, both benefitting from and suffering due to their social assignment as upper-class white ‘males’. In slightly reductionist Marxist terms, in Jenner’s case, the surplus value she accumulated due to her erstwhile male- and continuing class-racial privilege literally enabled and financed her medical transition, over the backs of many less fortunate other (both cis and trans-GNC) people whose labor had gone to produce that surplus value. However, in diametrical opposition to Adichie, now it seems that any reference to some trans women’s past lives and erstwhile male privilege can be conflated with transmisogyny (a trend noticeable in some of the public posts/comments critiquing Tuvel). So, we’re stuck between either all trans women have (or have had) male privilege, or no trans women have male privilege and saying so is transmisogyny. I feel that one must remember that ‘privilege’ and ‘identity’ are distinct concepts and resist their conflation, both in the case of ‘transgender’ and ‘transracial’ identities / identity-claims. Indeed, gender is so crossed and constituted by class and race that many cis men might end up having less privilege than elite cis and trans women; and even cis maleness is not always a privilege in itself (as in the case of Black masculinity, often persecuted as a threat and enslaved through the US carceral complex). All to say that ‘privilege’ and ‘identity’ (social or personal) aren’t linearly correlated in any case, and thus, one can neither adjudicate identity claims based on privilege, nor dismiss mentions or critiques of gender privilege as being transmisogynist in and of themselves (unless one overgeneralizes and gaslights trans experiences of oppression, as Adichie did).
  2. As Tuvel has pointed out, several black/POC and trans scholars have taken complex positions on the question of transracial identity, and people like Kai M. Green and Adolph Reed Jr. have even taken sympathetic stances that inform my own argument in the previous paragraph. Though Reed’s argument, in particular, has problems such as biologically essentializing Jenner at some points, he makes a strong case for the privilege-identity distinction (he doesn’t exactly use that phrase), effectively arguing that one can’t dissociate Jenner’s womanhood from her (erstwhile) male privilege and politics, but the same time hold Dolezal to a rigid notion of white identity. Ultimately, these scholars underline the futility and impossibility of adjudicating ontological identity claims of any sort, and argue that one should rather focus on politics and actions – what one ‘does’ from any given positionality rather than what one ‘really is’. In that regard, as Green argues, the transracial-transgender analogy cannot simply be dismissed in entirety, and trans-POC stances on this issue can’t be essentialized in the ways they often have been in social media discussions during the Tuvel episode.
  3. This brings me more specifically to the Tuvel article: I agree that it is simplistic and problematic on several fronts, and especially fell short in its understanding of trans issues. As critiques point out, it reduces trans identities to a medical-surgical model of transitioning to another “sex” and ignores the trans-GNC critique of sex assignment (using phrases like ‘biological sex’ and ‘male genitalia’); further, it admittedly ignores non-binary subjectivities or practices, makes the sexed body the basis for both cis and trans identity, etc. Ideally none of this should have made past peer review, but these are far wider problems with entire biomedical discourses of transsexuality and are replicated across many academic disciplines, and even in some trans activism, rather than just this article in itself, and her article is not fundamentally making claims on trans identity anyway so they do not necessarily invalidate her main argument (which could still be critiqued, but that is a separate question). Her ‘deadnaming’ of Caitlyn Jenner – which she has apologized for – is again problematic but not reducible to the deadnaming of trans people in general, given that she mentioned the name specifically as a former appellation and not current description (which Jenner herself does on occasion, too), and also that Jenner’s past public identity and associated privileges are already very well known and hardly amount to violent exposure as such. Thus, to make the argument that the very existence or citation of this article amounts to ‘harm’ or violence against trans people and POC (as the open letter to Hypatia implies), to my mind, trivializes the concept of harm / violence and exaggerates the implications of Tuvel’s article (and inflates the importance and impact of paywalled academic articles in general). While I agree Hypatia and Tuvel should be held accountable to higher scholarly and ethical standards, I am uncomfortable with the scapegoating of this particular article and this (pre-tenure) scholar, sometimes by more powerful and institutionally recognized scholars, for much wider systemic issues that she did not initiate and which will not end with the retraction of any one (or multiple) articles. I also agree with critiques that Tuvel should have engaged more with TOC-WOC scholarship, but again this is a more systemic problem with (even feminist) philosophy and similar disciplines, and I wonder how many other Hypatia articles that deal with race in some form would fare on this count.
  4. Also, specifically responding to a public post by a colleague, the Tuvel piece has been accused of managerial whiteness and the violence of abstracting and controlling differences, deciding which differences are equivalent or not, etc. I do appreciate and agree with the argument that philosophy, and academic theorization more broadly, is often guilty of managerial violence and the violence of abstracting differences over material bodies and experiences that theorizers don’t inhabit or share. But again, it seems to be a stretch to zero in on Tuvel’s article as a particularly egregious example of a much wider systemic trend – especially given that she does not make a claim on anyone’s identity per se, nor lay out a cartography of valid / invalid identities, but rather, makes a more specific argument about the potential validity of transracialism as a phenomenon (which one could, of course, disagree with), in the face of widespread dismissals of the same. Further, we have to account for ways that many of us in academia are complicit with the violences of managerialism and abstraction even as we might be aware of and endeavor to work against material violence – for example, analysis or theorization of necropolitics and biopolitics (which I have myself done, among many others), is often literally enabled by the violences perpetrated on trans-GNC bodies, even as it lands us prestigious publications and helps us in the path towards tenure. “POC” scholars (such as myself) who follow the same academic-professional trajectories as whites, even if with more hurdles, are no less complicit in the governmental, biopolitical, managerial structures of academia and of academic knowledge production than anyone else. Further, queer-trans academics and activists – white and POC – have often made *careers* out of abstracting differences and laying out cartographies of identity and terminology. Moving beyond the aforementioned post, the general dismissal of ‘transgenderism’ as a potentially valid usage during the Tuvel episode is nothing if not a manifestation of such managerialism, abstraction and universalism – US scholars, many of them white, deciding for all of us which terms for gender-variance are politically+academically acceptable and which are not (even though white trans activists like Serano have themselves argued in favor of non-pejorative uses of ‘transgenderism’ as a term, as Tuvel points out). Many of my trans-kothi-hijra friends and sisters in India regularly use terms like ‘shemale’, ‘cross-dresser’, ‘transvestite’, etc. that are commonly outlawed in US trans activist-academic discourse. What are these tendencies if not managerialism and white / US-POC saviourism in the guise of protecting trans people from epistemic-linguistic violence, given that such attempts can invalidate people’s self-descriptions and alternative meanings? That a cis white ‘outsider’ scholar is being targeted in this particular case does not undo the wider potential ramifications of such attempts.
  5. Last but not least, moving beyond the specific Tuvel case, it seems important to introspect about why many of us (POC or not) have such a gut reaction to ‘transracialism’, racial self-determination and the analogy between racial & gender identity, while gender self-determination seems to be much easier to accept (even Adichie who generalizes male privilege onto all trans women seems to accept some degree of gender self-determination). Going by my preliminary and not entirely fleshed-out train of thoughts, part of it may have to do with the different ways in which ‘race’ and ‘gender’ are socially constructed, and these differences need to be interrogated more than they have been in recent debates. Broadly speaking, there is a relentless social demand that ‘gender’ be personalized and interiorized. Both conventional cisgender and more trans-inclusive epistemologies of gender (especially in the West) *demand* that we associate gendered embodiments, expressions, behaviors, words / terms, with a deeply *interior* identity (recalling the argument that Foucault famously makes about sexuality) – our gendered actions or embodiments must *mean* something in terms of the ontology of our inner selves, must correspond with a deeply held personal identity (even if that is genderqueer or fluid or agender, inasmuch as these are ‘identities’). Much of our hard-won struggles against biological essentialism and for gender self-determination often remain imbricated in this potentially oppressive ideology, being in some sense the obverse of the cissexist idea that social sex assignment ‘naturally’ corresponds to a gendered essence (inasmuch as an avowal of gender as a deep personal identity becomes the logic for social recognition). ‘Race’, in contrast, is etymologically linked with ideas of common descent and collective lineage, deriving from one’s position within a collective rather than a deeply held personal identity (indeed, US post-racial ideology asks us to [pretend to] forget that race matters for individual identification or social position). To my mind, this contrast between the personalization+interiorization of gender and the collectivization of race seems to be one of the underlying reasons for the discomfort with transracialism and the race-gender analogy. Regardless of the validity or otherwise of transracialism as a ‘real’ phenomenon, it ties us to the oppressive generalization of gender as an inevitable personal essence that all of us must ‘own up to’, in contradistinction to race or ethnicity that are assigned to us or derive from our collective social position. Inasmuch as many of us remain invested in and derive pleasure and validation from personal or ontological identification, I am not, of course, asking for ‘doing away’ with the concept of gender identity as per liberal humanist or TERF arguments. Rather, it is perhaps possible to bracket the question of personal identity in discussions of material differences, social positions and privileges, so as to enable the critique of social hierarchies and individual complicity in power structures, without needing to resort to an adjudication of identity through some external calculus or logic, or the attempt to fix an ontology that we can never really know (whether in the case of race or gender).

Treva Carrie:

this hypatia sitch. lordt.
 i’d like, in fact LOVE, to entertain and act on the idea that academic writing can and does do immense harm to people and communities.
but can we go all witch trials on someone good like George Kelling or all the Ivy league economists and mathematicians that created the financial instruments that facilitated the 2007 financial crisis?
or the inventors of predictive / algorithmic policing or the assholes who are still trying to make that hot weather and crime argument stick?

or if we’re feeling to need to cannibalize, I’d settle for going for someone like a Skip Gates, with his optimism for the molecularization race, his celebration of Linnean racist world geographies (find your roots, lose your healthcare!), or at least getting hyphy on the resurgence of retrograde cultural nationalism within critical race theory/theories of blackness?

Image result for becky with the good hair meme
 but Becky with the controversial argument?  ::yaaaaaawwwn::
Talia Mae Bettcher:

 I want to share my thoughts about the Hypatia controversy. But, I want to be clear that this controversy comes at a time of deep personal crisis on the home-front. This has meant that I have not had the time to process the Hypatia controversy as quickly as I would have liked. It also means that it has been considerably less important to me.

When I signed off on the letter to Hypatia, I didn’t agree with every point that was made. But I agreed with the spirit. For me, the chief concern (aside from the gratuitous “deadnaming” which should have been caught) is the following. It’s not merely that the article does not engage sufficiently with the relevant literature. It’s that while it explores both transness and blackness, it fails to adopt a framework that would centralize transness and blackness as loci of oppression and resistance.  And it fails to provide any evidence that the author reflected upon her subject position.  When non-trans people do trans philosophy, for example, they need to ask questions about their subject position – who are they are relation to oppression? What are their motivations in writing about the trans-related topics? What do they hope to gain? For me, the problem with the article is that there was no evidence of any interrogated subject position, largely because there is no real centralization of transness and blackness as modalities of oppression and resistance in analysis which would require such an interrogation. (If there were, I believe that results of the analysis would have been different).  Simply consider the fact that the author felt it completely appropriate to consider whether Dolezel could call herself black without asking questions about who she was and how she was positioned in asking such questions.
One way to put this is to say, evoking Stryker’s distinction, that while the article examines trans phenomena, it does not rise to the level of trans studies. After all, trans people have long been the objects of investigation. But to do trans studies (and trans philosophy) is to centralize the existence of trans oppression/resistance as a starting point. It is to recognize that trans people have long been curious objects, puzzles, tropes, and discursive levers on the way to somebody else’s agenda. It is to take seriously the idea that trans people can theorize their own experience while negotiating dangerous terrain.  To take part in such a project, as a non-trans person, requires careful reflection upon one’s own political power, one’s own epistemic limitations, and one’s stakes. To ignore all of this and to simply examine trans people on that way to securing some sort of agenda, is of course, to engage in a scholarship that leaves out the voices and the stakes of trans people.
But let’s be clear. This is hardly new. And I think it is important to place the Tuvel’s work within this broader context so that she is not selectively targeted. So many articles in feminist philosophy have been published that, on the whole, simply ignore the existence of trans oppression/resistance in ways that would have mattered. Definitions of ‘womanhood,’ for example, are laid down that implicitly exclude trans women or that take up the issue in ways that are deeply problematic from a trans political perspective. And those articles that do discuss trans issues in depth often fail to embrace the existence of trans oppression/resistance as a central organizing principle – as a core part of the analytic lens. If they had been held to the standard that we are asking for now, they would have never been published at all. This isn’t about Tuvel’s work, then. Her approach to trans issues is not new. This is clearly about feminist philosophy in general.
What is new is the fact that trans philosophy has come into its own.
I’m an old-timer. I was a graduate student when trans studies first began back in the nineties. I have been trying to do trans philosophy within and without professional philosophy for quite some time. When I first began publishing in trans studies there were very few trans people doing work in trans philosophy at all. It was a different time. I was speaking to an old sociologist friend of mine the other day about the controversy. She expressed some discomfort with the intense reaction to the publication of Tuvel’s article. It’s not as if this was J. Michael Bailey, she said! (We had worked together on a response to Bailey’s presentation of his work at UCLA many, many years ago). And it’s true. This is simply not comparable to hostile scholarship of that type.
As I worked, I also saw that some of the work being produced by non-trans people on trans issues were “off.” In part because I felt so isolated, I simply decided, either rightly or wrongly, to do my own work rather than engaging. If I didn’t do this work, who would? By now it’s clear, however, that trans philosophy has come of age. Trans philosophy is happening. And that means that it is imperative for (non-trans) feminist philosophers to ask themselves to what degree they recognize the existence of trans oppression/resistance in their analyses at all and to what degree they understand themselves within that framework. Is it okay to philosophize about trans people without doing trans philosophy? If it’s not, then what does that mean not only for Hypatia, but for feminist philosophy in general?
While this controversy may mark the coming of age of trans philosophy, it is also a bitter reminder of the continuous failure of many white feminist philosophers to centralize racist oppression in their analyses of not only gender, but race itself. After all, critical race theory/philosophy has be around since at least the eighties. These points have been time and again by feminists of color and yet the changes in (white) feminist philosophy have been breathtaking in their meagerness. Not getting the point by getting lost in the theory. Dear Trans* People (especially we white ones): If you think there’s going to be some huge change now, please prepare for disappointment.
All of this said, I care about Hypatia and I care about feminist philosophy. No doubt, different people have had different experiences with Hypatia. But mine have been positive. At time that I wrote “Evil Deceivers,” I doubt that there was any other venue in philosophy for publishing this type of work all. But Hypatia provided me with thoughtful and constructive feedback for improving the paper. And they provided me with this venue. They even went on to do a special issue on trans feminism. Because of this, my shift from my work in modern philosophy into trans philosophy became possible. Hypatia’s support of my work even played an important role in my getting tenure.
There are not many journals like Hypatia in philosophy. And I’m glad that it exists. And if (it’s a BIG if) we’re at all interested in doing work in professional philosophy, then we need journals like Hypatia. But this also means that we need Hypatia to hold itself to standards that are different from mainstream philosophy, standards that mainstream philosophers may not even understand. This puts Hypatia in a highly fraught position. On the one hand, it needs to be the kind of journal that secures reputability within the profession of philosophy. This is crucial in helping junior professors who do work at the margins be taken seriously. On the other hand, it can’t merely replicate the standards of reputability with the profession without annihilating its reason for existence.  Of course, this is precisely the dilemma that all of us who work at the margins face. It’s one of the many double-binds that characterize work at the margins.
All of this is underwritten by the deep intermeshing of oppressions. A journal that expressly takes up a single issues (feminism) is going to be compromised from the get-go. While work may be done to include other forms of oppression and to embrace an intersectional perspective, the very starting point inevitably yields a kind of distortion. Again, as anyone who tries to think intersectionally knows, their work will invariably have this same distortion. This is something that we work against. But it is also something that we, to some degree or other, fail at achieving. It’s the nature of the beast.
I don’t say any of this to excuse Hypatia for what happened. But I do think it is important to frame the issue within the larger context of a shared struggle in “doing philosophy” at the margins and to recognize the treacherous ground on which we attempt to work.
There needs to be accountability. We need to hear something from the Editor of Hypatia. And there needs to be the real work of finding a way to improve the review process that both holds to the appropriate standards without burdening trans people and people of color. This work needs to begin soon. But I do think that there are larger issues at stake.
This has been a painful time. Sea-changes of the type often are. And the fact that most of the discussion has occurred on social media has only made matters worse. I’m not a fan. I wonder if there’s a way to have a real conversation, face-to-face. I don’t even know whether that would be productive. But it would be better than what’s happening. The issues here are important. The changes here are important. And there needs to be something more than blogging and FB updates. Could there be an organized event/discussion to come out of this? And if so, what would that look like?
Lisa Guenther:

Over the past few days, I have posted a few thoughts about accountability.  A close friend (and a few strangers) have challenged me to account for gaps and failures in my own scholarship as a feminist philosopher, and for my responsibilities as a mentor to past and current graduate students.

Let’s start with my own scholarship.  My book on solitary confinement doesn’t engage _at all_ with the fact that queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming people, and also people with disabilities and mental illness, are subject to outrageously high rates of police surveillance, incarceration, and solitary confinement.  Nor do I develop an analysis of the way gender or class shape carceral systems, or the intertwining of gender, sexuality, ability, race and class.  While writing the book, I did my best to engage with the perspectives, analyses, and testimonies of people who have survived solitary confinement, and those who have been crushed by it.  But I myself have never been incarcerated, and the people who are closest to me – my family, close friends, and loved ones – are not, by and large, targeted by carceral power.  My life was not torn upside down from one day to the next by an encounter with the police, or the arrest of a loved one.  I still stand behind the book, but it has many flaws, gaps, and silences that I would want to address if I were writing it now, and that I would probably critique in a peer review process.  I’m thankful for criticism of the book, even when it’s painful or difficult to hear, and even though there’s nothing I can do to un-write the book.
But I have never had to contend with personal attacks or insults about my work or calls for retraction, and I don’t want to underestimate the very different kind of pain that this inflicts on a person.  And I want to express my admiration for those who have been supporting Rebecca Tuvel as a person throughout the past week.  I want to apologize to her personally for any pain I caused by signing the open letter requesting retraction, especially given that I was a member of her dissertation committee.  I did not sign the letter lightly, and I do not consider the call for retraction a personal attack.  The letter was addressed to Hypatia as a journal, and I continue to see it as a demand for accountability, made in a very intense, fraught moment, in an effort to stand in solidarity _with_ and _as_ black (and) trans feminist thinkers whose scholarship was marginalized in this article, but not only in this article.
So in the same moment that we condemn personal attacks, I think it’s absolutely vital for us, as a community of feminist philosophers, not to conflate personal attacks with substantive critique, and not to silence black and trans critics of Tuvel’s article by dismissing the critical response as a mob of haters who didn’t even read the article.  Structural inequalities in power and authority compound vulnerability.  White feminists can and have deployed our own vulnerability as a weapon against others whose position is more precarious than our own.  I say “we” here because I want to be clear that this is something I am deeply implicated in, and also because I want to participate in what will no doubt be a long and fraught process of abolishing white feminism and committing to a practice of feminist philosophy that is creative, responsible, and liberatory.

“The Asian was told to leave. He was given an explanation. Nevertheless, he persisted. So he had to be carried out on a stretcher.”

16 Apr

On Compliance, Complicity, and Beating Up Asian America.

By Eng-Beng Lim

UnitedYikes

For Asian Americans and other professional elites of color who think their class privilege or “whiteness” protects them from the racialized brunt of U.S.-America’s corporate-nationalist wrath, the bloody “re-accommodation” of 69-year-old Vietnamese American doctor, David Dao, on an allegedly overbooked United Airlines (UA) flight might be their “get woke” moment. Just to be clear, it involves police and neoliberal capitalist terror, corporate bullying, and Asian shaming. Dr Dao sustained “a broken nose, a concussion, two knocked out teeth and sinus problems that may require reconstructive surgery.” All for refusing to vacate his seat to accommodate UA’s administrative inefficiency.

But “getting woke” may depend on your level of subscription in the club of denial and complicity. Those with premier benefits might find it hard to relinquish their bad love. For denial has its own rewards, and complicity its wanton rationalization and even perfume.

Membership, afterall, has its privileges. What exactly is the cost of your membership’s privileges? Who is paying the price for your preferred status and clubby jaunt?

“Re-accommodation” is a term used by UA CEO, Oscar Munoz to characterize the forced extraction of seated passengers “randomly” selected by the computer to make space for four crew members. They had to catch a connecting flight that would otherwise be understaffed, delayed or canceled. The flight in question was not overbooked or oversold, as airlines officials originally claimed. That few if anyone is picking on this lie only shows our level of compliance with the fungible language of bureaucratic corporate procedure. We are so inured to gaslighting and alternative truth that a white lie is a just white lie (switch the color and you are most definitely a liar). Let’s give companies and the men who run them the benefit of doubt, and beat the crap out of consumers who do not comply.

Dr Dao was illegally ejected from the plane in violation of 14 CFR 250.2a. that prohibits giving preference to airlines employees over paying customers, especially if they have already been seated. Part of the dispute will hang on whether the employees who are considered “must-ride passengers” can unseat paying customers on a full flight. But it does not get to the spectacular violence against the doctor, and the seemingly inexplicable assault on the American consumer and Asian America. To sort out this mess, let’s start with a quick recap of the world we live in, and an earnest question:

Could it be that the corporatization of the Senate and the vindictiveness of male-centered egos exemplified by conservative and rightwing ideologues like Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and their cabal of mediocre apparatchiks, naysayers, white supremacists, 1 percenters and security thugs now go hand in hand with the thuggery of state-sanctioned oligopolies like UA that operate as their armed, air travel functionary disguised as service?

A nation’s divisions, arrogance and toxicity do not just spring out of nowhere. Their escalation has been facilitated by ultraconservative white supremacist rancor and gaslighting running the spectrum of racism/xenophobia, anti-gay/misogyny, anti-refugee/Islamaphobia. It’s almost mechanical at this point. But that we should entertain the idea that gaslighters are outraged that their crimes are “leaked” to the press rather than being outraged at their crimes is a real kicker. It is a rich ethical perversion that gives perversion a bad name. The vacuous shorthand, “a nation divided,” only compresses the deniability of those who start wars and fires by demagoguery or political poison. Enter the Bully-in-Chief with explicit instructions for his devotees and initiads, which include white nationalist groups:

“Knock the crap out of him, would you? Seriously.”

“I’d like to punch them in the face, I tell you, would you?”

“I love the old days. Do you know what they used to do to guys like that in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”

More than just Trump’s expressive nastiness at his rallies, these opportunistic incitements to violence have a long history in U.S-American nationalist bravura, machismo, belligerence, imperialism and gun culture. But as corporate performatives, it is virtually unheard of unless we examine the violent deeds of corporations as the very enactment of these words.

Yes, those are exactly the words that UA is saying to Dr. Dao who is carried out on a stretcher, and by extension to Asian/America. You know, the time when Asian exceptionalism means you can be legally discriminated against because the law does not apply to you – the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese incarceration camp, just to name two – or, clobbered to death with impunity (Vincent Chin RIP).

Regarding Trump’s incitement to violence, multiple lawsuits filed against him state how “black residents were brutally attacked by a white mob,” including a plaintiff who was “kicked, choked, shoved, punched, scratched and referred to as nearly every racial slur known.” Though the racial violence is specific and contextual, the abuse is also generalizable of Trump’s treatment of African Americans, especially powerful black women like Susan Rice, Maxine Waters and April Ryan. The intersection of race, violence and corporations that has fueled Trump’s business empire and the rise of his despicable Presidential persona is also at the heart of UA’s treatment of Dr Dao.

To put it plainly, it’s about corporations punching people in their faces, sometimes without them knowing because it’s in the gut so to speak, and sometimes in the flesh, knocking them out senseless. The continuing fetishization of choice in this regard is laughable to say the least. Trump’s response to the incident is for airlines to increase the compensation for bumping passengers off the aircraft as if that would create more access and equality for air travel. And lo and behold, United has quickly announced an upper ceiling of 10k for those bumped out of their seats in the future. That is the solution? Some people are excited about how this is an enticing option to game the system. Who do you think will benefit from? The Dr Daos of the world or those “in the club”?

Let’s put it this way, you may think you are choosing or benefiting freely as a consumer but you have no say about the options from which you choose, and how you are treated in practice. When the options are lousy, they are lousier for those at the bottom whether it is U.S. air travel, healthcare or the school system. They are about creating insufferable conditions for the majority so that the super-privileged who can afford Platinum-level service can take up ever more space and resources just because they can. Because corporate entities love revenues more than anything else. Does this sound like a bloviating cheeto-maniac sucking up all the oxygen in the room, and making everyone parse his gibberish just because he can? That’s the kind of treatment we’re being trained to accept from POTUS Inc. which hails from the neoliberal business world where such disciplinary technique, from Walmart to Wall Street, is justified in the name of financializing everything. Cheap prices and ruthless profits rule the day.

Dr Gao’s plea, “I want to go home, I want to go home” resonates in this echo chamber of hell like a desperate, lonely cry in the woods. Like a bad Hollywood movie where a hero played by Harrison Ford/Liam Neeson/Tom Cruise enters an altered realm of reality where he is met by violence and punishment disguised as law enforcement, Dr. Dao found himself stranded in the limbo of the oversold flight. But while the white Alpha male Hollywood hero is always right and always vindicated, Dr. Dao was knocked unconscious for his efforts on behalf of righteousness and dragged unceremoniously from his seat.

Non-Stop-Liam-Neeson_MAIN

He was told to leave “politely” but he refused as a consumer who paid for his seat. He was given an explanation about how “we [United] have a number of customers on board that aircraft, and they want to get to their destination on time and safely, and we want to work to get them there.” No explanation was given as to why he was not one of the customers that UA wants to get to “their destination on time and safely.”

header

Nevertheless, the Asian doctor persisted in defiance of his extraordinary exclusion from the airline’s articulated customer base. So the airlines summoned the full force of airport security, including the Chicago Department of Aviation and Chicago Police Department whose officer promptly smashed his face, rendered him senseless, and eventually carried him out on a stretcher with blood oozing out of his mouth. All the doctor could say in the end was, “Just kill me now.”

david-dao

Now imagine Senator Elizabeth Warren being carried out on a stretcher for refusing to abide by Mitch McConnell’s controversial rebuke to silence her during the nomination debate about Jeff Session as U.S Attorney General. Or, for that matter, citizen Warren being dragged out like a rag doll through the aisle, her hair disheveled, and her glasses askew on her face as she is rendered incoherent. All because she refused to shut up or give up her seat. Not so long ago, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted”?

image

For those who missed this political theater, Warren had sought to read Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter regarding Sessions’s discrimination against black voters. The meme that went viral encapsulated the public’s response to the blatant sexism of the Senate that voted 49-43 along party lines to shut her up. Degrees of indignity aside, the different scales of violence tell a story of how gender and race are inflected by notions of privilege and proprietary that shape our political and social sympathies. It would be unacceptable for Senator or even Citizen Warren to be taken out the way the body of the limp and anonymous Asian doctor was treated. In fact, the discomfort of witnessing the Asian American doctor’s infantilization and breakdown struck such a raw nerve that reports have eschewed the racial spectacle unfolding before our eyes. He was some Asian man, maybe a doctor, no one was sure, and many commentators cast doubt about him being a doctor at all based, presumably on the way he looks.

bonnie-says-united-airlines-apology-dr-david-dao-ftr

In a sign of the times, a doctor standing his ground on a humanitarian appeal (he had patients to meet the next day) was of no consequence to UA in Trump’s nation where self-serving corporate prerogatives come first. There is a lot more to be said about the terrible entanglements of corporate personhood, profit, policing, and biopolitical regulation. Suffice to say, Dr. Dao’s treatment is not exceptional in the context of ubiquitous bullying and killing across the country. They are only intensifying under the toxic charge of Trump’s administration. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of those being bullied or killed are folks with names like Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Danny Chen, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, Isabella Cornell and David Dao.

We might return to take a closer look at the scene where Dr Dao is carried out on a stretcher with blood oozing out of his mouth, and notice this time a different set of actors laughing in the fuzzy background: Team Agent Orange oligarchs, politicos and airlines executives feasting on their bloodied meat. We might add Dr Dao to the names of those who are targeted for harassment and even gunned down because they refuse (or are perceived to be refusing) to comply with bogus rules, corporate prerogatives, heteronormative policing, and white nationalism. The violence produced at the systemic level between colluding regimes and corporations are enduring and far-reaching.

To what extent is complicity – “the state of being an accomplice; partnership or involvement in wrongdoing” – and especially the complicity of cluelessness, detachment or apathy an alibi of colluding forces? Now more than ever, raising questions about complicity’s new faces is also a crucial inquiry about our moral and ethical coordinates as an American, witness, neighbor, ally and friend not only in the U.S. but around the world.

The satirical jokesters at Saturday Night Live suggest that in Trump Nation, complicity is a political pathology for sale in a seductive package. Their metaphor is a bottle of perfume. In an episode that indicts Ivanka Trump for her foxy agendas, Scarlett Johansson’s hyperbolic portrayal of Ivanka vamping it up for a line of perfume makes clear the businesswoman’s product placement comes before the public office she holds (to everyone’s incredulity). One can only wish the public’s wishful projection for Ivanka to be the progressive women’s voice ought to have ended in a recent television interview where she declared, “I don’t know what it means to be complicit.”

Complicity Perfume

Complicity’s feminine two-face (Johansson is herself accused of being complicit in Israeli settler colonialism for defending Sodastream’s factory as legitimate in the illegal settlement on the West Bank) blurs the good and the bad with no commentary on women’s participation in compulsory whiteness, colonial violence and clueless privilege. What looks good and desirable, like Ivanka or the perfume, might help to obfuscate what is making the lives of the disenfranchised even more miserable.

It is nonetheless a club that draws many members, including bourgeois apologists of color, other white liberal allies, and the pinkwashing homo-matrimonial types who want to smell nice. Everyone in this club is trained to love an arsenal of amnesia-inducing denials and blindspots: “I cannot see what you see,” “It doesn’t rise up to that,” “I need more information,” “They did nothing wrong,” “He was belligerent,” “He’s an illegal,” “Who cares?”

To be complicit is to approve the collusion of corrupt power, money, and imperial projects. It is to give your tacit approval of using violence, harassment and assault on people to protect corporate mandates and personhoods, the belligerent police-military state, and colonial whiteness at all cost. The stakes are higher as bombs matching the egos of a bumbling and bloviating team in the White House are being detonated in Syria and Afghanistan to legitimize their violent and morally bankrupt worldview. To speak out as many did on the plane where Dr Dao was assaulted is to reject the normalization of complicity as our moral code.

As we bear witness to the return of an angry U.S. police-military state and the increasingly swampy topography of corporate malfeasance and assault, how many of us will turn a blind eye or do nothing at all?. How many of us will be caught in the victim-blaming, smear campaign against the next “Dr Dao,” or be bought off by the new 10k reward for bumping off passengers?

Do people care? Over 240,000 comments and 550 million views are recorded a day after Dr Dao’s assault on China’s Weibo (the equivalent of Twitter), not counting the millions of views on related YouTube videos. United Airlines’s share price has dropped, and calls to boycott the airline are stronger than ever. So, yes, people do care and they make a difference.

The centrality of the question of complicity tells us we are desperately, urgently needing a salvageable moral and ethical position to live and to flourish in Trump’s America. This is an America where witnessing violence against a neighbor seems to have become a sport, where apathy and cluelessness are quickly becoming the new alibis of complicity. It gives new meaning to sitting tight with privilege in the face of trouble, and sometimes a face says it all:

Calm Guy As Asian Doctor Screams

Screenshot of a widely circulated video of an unidentified man sitting calmly as Dr. Dao screamed in the background.

Exiting the Roach Motel

1 Mar

or What’s the Matter with the Democratic Party? https://ae01.alicdn.com/kf/HTB1XTK5NXXXXXb2XXXXq6xXFXXXP/Reusable-Plastic-Non-Toxic-Eco-Blue-Color-Cockroach-Bug-font-b-Roach-b-font-Motel-Catcher.jpg

By Lisa Duggan

Tags: Dexit, Demexit, Dem-olish, Demogrets

What’s a commie pinko queer feminist to do?

Trump is in the White House, the far right is gaining ground globally, the left is under siege in Latin America, the Arab Spring has been winterized, the police removed the water protectors at Standing Rock, illegal settlements are expanding in Palestine, and the new US administration just sent the gender police back into children’s bathrooms. As everyone knows, this is a long list. It revived my heart arrhythmia.

There is resistance! Lots of things to join and do, and more popping up daily. Here is one thing NOT to do—give one more drop of blood to the undead Democratic Party.

My social media feeds are full of debates between liberals and leftists, especially since Perez beat out Ellison for DNC chair. But these debates are frustratingly framed as comparisons between the two individual candidates, and disputes about the importance of the chair’s job. Wake up, people! It’s not about the candidates or the chair’s position! It’s not about the positions on issues taken by the contending forces. It’s about the money! Follow the money!

The Sanders campaign was a historic event, not primarily because of the stances the candidate took on issues. My own politics are substantially to the left of Sanders. I was never happy with his global vision, nor with his grasp of the dynamics of empire and settler colonialism, nor with his understanding of race, gender and sexuality as just an issue of populations seeking inclusion and representation instead of structurally embedded historical social formations. But I was all in with the Sanders campaign nonetheless for one primary reason: it was a campaign that achieved nationwide, energized mobilization with no corporate or mega rich donors. The Sanders campaign proved the settled wisdom–that there can be no successful national campaign without mega donors–to be wrong. Sanders almost seized the nomination and therefore the party apparatus. He might have won the presidency WITH NO CORPORATE DONORS. This is the crucial fact, not his views on the issues alone. This fact is what made that campaign a historic game changer.

Had Sanders won the nomination the Democratic Party might have become an organization worth fighting with and for. Without corporate donors, the parameters of the possible would be exponentially expandable. Small d democratic debate might have transformed the previous limits of the possible. This fantasy, of a Democratic Party without corporate donors, has only just now been finally, fatally crushed. At least for the forseeable future.

After the defeat of the Sanders campaign, there was still a wee chance to seize the party as a site for more expansive democratic debate. Keith Ellison planned to hew to the small donor funding model, and fire up the grassroots rather than empower the fundraisers. THAT is what made his candidacy important (though it was a nice plus that the party might have had a black Muslim chair). THAT is what made him a threat. THAT is why the Democratic fundraising machine sent in Perez as a spoiler.

Many commenters are busy on social media remarking that Perez and Ellison are similar on many issues. That is true! But it’s also beside the point. Perez supported a return to corporate mega donor funding, and voted accordingly. Ellison represented the alt-political universe of small donors and grassroots activism, vs mega-donor fundraising as the central task of the party apparatus. And this is why it matters: with mega-donor funding, the Democratic Party will never back single payer, never support justice in Palestine, never seriously interfere with business as usual on Wall Street, and on and on. Progressive party activists might get little wins, but as long as corporate funding and paid political consultants constitute the core apparatus of the party, they will NEVER get anywhere on most core issues.

The dead hands of the donor class strangle every living thing in sight. https://i2.wp.com/technuovo.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/zombies1.jpg

The best the corporate Democratic Party had to offer was Barack Obama, and he brought the Citibank boys into his administration the minute he was elected. He brought us drone strikes, kill lists, mass deportation, aggressive prosecution of whistle blowers, and a reformed health care system still in the hands of insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Obamacare didn’t even include the popularly supported “public option.” In fact, Hillary Clinton later sent Dem operatives to Colorado to defeat a proposed single payer system there. And this is the best the Dems, as currently constituted, will ever do, because the funders set the limits of the possible. Garbage in (big money), garbage out (bad policy).

Advocates of working with the Dems say that the Trumpocalypse is an emergency—and indeed it is! And they say we must work with the Dems because they have the organization to defeat Trump’s agenda. Here is where things go awry. Let’s face it: the Democratic Party helped create the conditions that produced Trump. Without Democratic Party supported trade and labor policies, deregulation of Wall Street, police and military actions and so on, the wasteland of misery that nurtures the resentments that in turn greased the wheels of the Trump machine would not exist.

Trump is not some singular disaster, and our goal should not be simply to dethrone him. He represents historical conditions that will only keep producing nightmares like him and other slash and burn Republican politicians like the ones empowered by this election. We need to alter the conditions. And the Democratic Party, given the funding structure it has just recommitted itself to, will never do this. If we work with the Dems against Trump, even if he goes down, we will only enable once again the continuation of the neoliberal policies that made his ascent possible. We will be living in the vest pocket of the beast, beating our little fists against its chest forever.

The Democratic Party is a roach motel for leftists. We go in full of vision and energy, like the Sanders kids, like the Ellison supporters, and we get crushed and stuck in the slime. Sanders and Ellison had to play by the rules and call for continuing support for the Dems after their losses. Having played the game, they were stuck with the rules in the roach motel. Once you go in, you may never come out. https://bullybloggers.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/60be1-screenshot2013-05-23at9-44-23am.png?w=255&h=286

But we do not have to keep doing that! It’s not entirely obvious yet what we should be doing instead. There is a lot of vision out there, and a lot of energy. The Movement for Black Lives Vision Statement is one breathtaking effort to bring some of that diffuse, creative political power together into a productive alliance. What an amazing start it is! But it’s still not enough. We need to build on that document, to realize its potential right now. We need the water protectors and indigenous analyses, the insights gained fighting for clean water in Flint, the visionary scope of the prison abolition movement, the innovative energy of queer and trans* organizations, the organizing acumen of the fight for fifteen and the progressive, global labor movement, the global connections of the environmental justice campaigns, the historical insights of anti racist and anti imperial struggles, the deep commitment of the Occupy veterans, the passionate throngs of the Women’s March, and so much more.

Our challenge at this moment is … can we bring these forces together? Not to “unify” them, but to build alliances and share resources? Can we identify some core issues, and support a widely inclusive and flexible interconnected field of radical democratic leadership? It won’t do to default to the anachronistic vision of one big labor union of workers—our situations defy such easy unity. We are debtors and sex workers, prisoners and street kids, artists and tribal elders. Alternatively, if we bring our collective energy into the Democratic Party, then we are doomed. We will die in the roach motel while “responsible” neoliberal elites reestablish control. We need what José Muñoz called, borrowing from Ernst Bloch, “concrete utopian” thinking.

There might be some room at the state and local level for insurgent left candidates to unseat the establishment Dems. But joining the party apparatus will ultimately suck the blood of such insurgencies. Alternative electoral party organizations like the Greens and the Working Families Party in New York also do not have the creative energy and momentum to move us forward right now. Perhaps we might abandon the whole idea of a “party,” and create an alliance project for street action, new thinking, and electoral insurgencies? Perhaps.

In any event, we need to abandon the empty shell of the Democratic party, where https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/c6/7f/5f/c67f5f3059583e06ff3ad99da96536d2.jpgfunctionaries and fundraisers would rather keep control than win elections. Trapped in the roach motel, stuck with Trumpublicans and Donorcrats, what we need to do, metaphorically, is crystal clear: we need to burn that shit down.

 

Aside

Fidel: The Comeback / José Quiroga

14 Dec

 

CastroObit_848x480_818017859511.jpg

I had forgotten about Fidel, other things were on my mind:  a Trump piñata, the Frank Ocean CD, the North Dakota Pipeline. The economic collapse of Puerto Rico and the junta Washington imposed. Turkey leftovers from Thanksgiving. Not falling back onto “business-as-usual” after the election fiasco. Aretha Franklin letting the fur drop like a natural woman facing Carole King and Barack and Michelle Obama.

For three nights before the Event I had been waking up every other hour–those awful nights when I smoke and read and then  go back to bed. What was I reading that week? Cuban poets translated by Kristin Dykstra, an essay by Barbara Johnson that was extremely hard and superbly written, Lina Meruane’s account of temporary blindness titled “Seeing Red,” and every so often anything on “Moonlight,” because for a film conceived and taking place in Miami its refreshing to see that there’s only one self-confessed Cuban there, and a passing mention of black beans. We were not part of the picture, so magical effects of sand and skin and light could once again move to the front.

I heard the news from my lover, when I woke up at six or seven in the morning to read. But I left the book on the desk, took off my glasses and went back to bed. I mumbled to myself that I should turn on CNN, get immediately on the internet, wake up my nephew who was visiting from New York, and consume whatever visuals I could find. But sleep rules with upside-down ethics at moments like this, and I let myself sleep.cortina_roja

The room turned hotter by the minute, with the thick and sticky sort of humid miasma that, once upon a time, made flying insects easy to catch and pierce with a needle dabbed in alcohol for display. All around me the miasma turned into a black and white blob–like silly-putty but translucid–shiny from the inside. And the blob slithered down the stairs. It sucked up the pile of dishes in the sink, the roasted brussels sprouts, the turkey and the turkey sandwiches, the toy soldiers and the board games, the replica of Apollo 13, and the Lunar Module, the cast of Lost in Space and The Time Tunnel, the collection of postage stamps in the Citation album, a Davy Crockett hat with a matching vest, a velour sweater, vand a collection of Cuban LPs assembled over the past forty years, albums re-mastered and re-packaged in Mexico so that no revolutionary chants would ever find their way directly to any part of the U.S. mainland or territories.
fidel-castro-habla-en-la-asamblea-de-la-onu-el-26-de-septiembre-de-1960-1

I’ve been immersed in that blob for a week, unclear as to what part of me died, what part of me remains. I had a hard time visualizing that body in Havana, just as I had a hard time recognizing my father in that open casket in San Juan: death does a body no good, even the clothes look unreal.   We never got to see the body, but I’m convinced he was cremated in the uniform he used as a  Commander in Chief. After all, there were only three costume changes in the three acts of his life. First, the suit and tie, in two permutations: white suit and black suit.  With that outfit he was a student, a husband, and a lawyer; the father of one child, the man who raised funds in Mexico and in the U.S.A for an invasion aimed to liberate the country from the dictator Batista.  After that, and from 1959 on, he wore an olive green military suit, sometimes shiny for matters of State, at other times not so much a uniform but a radical interpretation of the priesthood–he was a jesuit with a gun and boots. (How many boots did he have?) The black suit and tie made a discrete comeback towards the end–just long enough to leave us with an idea that he could have been, under different circumstances, a “man of State.” But soon enough he settled into the jogging suit and sneakers that he wore the rest of his life.

Was it a stylist who came up with that jogging suit as a deliberate lack of style? It worked as absolute contrast to the heroic black and white and sepia photographs that sealed his place in x. It defined the present as an always a diminished past. It made him approachable, even if it lessened the gravitas.  In his old age, one could imagine him as a man on the move, stubborn in his ways, paying no attention to all those who counseled rest. In the end he was an old man in his comfortable but not luxurious house, with a purple rattan patio set, an easy reclining chair and a tray table to watch the Brazilian soap operas on TV, or write long “reflections” on the present state of the world.

 

gabinete-ordo-amoris-taxi-limusina-1998

 

Of course he had to come back, even if only to die. It was at the end of November when the hurricane season is over; when the days are cool and the nights are colder, and there’s only tourists on the beach. Others may question the true existence of that paradox–the Caribbean winter–but for us the magical, muted lights of December, invite us to ponder the future and the past–a past always lived anticipating this moment as the clearest notion of the future, hence, of change. All accounts agree that the mood in Havana was subdued; the few lucky souls that have internet at home posted videos of empty, silent streets–a ghost town in the land of music that has gone silent.

All the protocols had been put in place with military precision a while ago, in Havana and Miami.  “Cubans are volatile by nature,” I can hear this as the lead for an early  briefing at the police headquarters all around Miami-Dade and points beyond

 

tonelThe sum total of fifty-eight years under his rule will take some time to process. Those who visit Havana these days will surely understand one just doesnt leave a city like that without intending to come back, even if you have to fight for every last inch of territory. And yes, they left, they were kicked out, they escaped, they understood they had no other option. They were not all from Havana but most of them were.  In the 1960s they went to Miami, Elizabeth, West New York, or San Juan. In the 1970s some of them tried to turn exile into civil war and lived in a world of secret pacts, bombing raids and training camps in the Everglades.  In the early 1980s they turned up at La Escuelita in Manhattan–fabulous drag queens that couldnt walk straight, couldnt think straight, couldnt march straight, couldnt wear their hair short and part it on the side, or tuck their shirts inside their pants. The fact that in Cuba, of all places, “extravagance” was regulated by the legal code belies a twisted notion of social hygiene predicated on the narrowest and most obtuse delirium or desires of normative masculinity.

And in the end, the colosal failure of his plans and demands allowed Cubans to survive the revolutionary reassignment of the Nineties, as the State shed its old skin and created a “mixed economy” that’s closer to kleptocracy than capitalism. When the state legalized some private commerce it just moved it above ground, and when practicing religion did not count against you, its acts of resistance–it turned out–had been plain enough to see for those who had paid attention all those years. Homosexuals flaunting it and sashaying up and down the Malecón flipped the orthodox “New Man” dreamt by Che Guevara time and time again. In fact, only by defying the law did Cubans survive when the Soviet Union collapsed, and in the process laid to rest the idea that prostitution was solely a by-product of capitalism. When Spanish and Canadian tourists came to see what sort of utopia 40 years of Revolution had conceived, they had to pay a bribe to sneak the women into their hotel room and wait until they wrapped leftover restaurant food in a napkin so the rest of the family could eat. The tourists had front seats to an unravelling they could not quite understand, so they just viewed it according to their own “realistic” understandings, and reminded (more often, lectured) the complaining Cubans on the fate of the poor Haitians, or Bolivians, or even Mexicans.

belverdere_ibarra-cuba

 

 

 

But revolutions are not fought and won by populations dulled and overdosed on realism and the first decade of the Cuban Revolution is certainly an example of that.  In the give and take of survival, one side was always fooling the other, and that side in turn pretended to be fooled. Those who think that repression explains the survival of the Cuban state fail to understand that those old Chevys are still running in Havana as a result of an improvised mechanics capable of passing them off as the real thing.  In a similar fashion, by the time his rocking chair was placed on the terrace so that he could enjoy the smell of over-ripe mangoes falling from the tree in the patio, each and every one of his edicts and imperatives and policy decisions was undone, revised, annulled and forgotten.

That hundreds of thousands assembled to pay him their last respects should not surprise the citizens of a country that has now voted Donald Trump into office. Even if both make no secret of their dictatorial streak, it’s clear that to compare one to the other is absurd. Cubans were never suckered into voting or fighting against their own self-interest, by counting the pennies and cents that some “others” receive for social welfare and deciding it’s still too much for the richest country on earth to sustain.  Cubans, on the other hand, were seduced by the prospect of everyone having more, of distributing it fairly, and freely, for the good of all. If it was an ideology that called for sacrifice and frugality, it was built upon a foundation of largesse. Everything was bigger than big, every achievement surpassed previous goals, and every disaster was catastrophic. The particulars of his rule are overshadowed by such collective endeavours; his immortality was gained at the expense of individual lives coming off as accidental, selfish, blinded by petty desires–sore losers, after all, the scum of the earth, the “Cuban Mafia.”

GettyImages-625849002.jpg

“Making money was our best revenge,” said the losers, and they point with pride at two of their “rags-to-riches” sons taking center stage in a US presidential campaign heavy on xenophobia and racism. They were expected to celebrate, in order to make that death absolutely real, and celebrate they did– in the gaudy sandwich shop that sits on an otherwise lifeless avenue. Not because there are no suitable places in Miami where you can find collective redemption–the Freedom Tower comes to mind, where at least two generations of Cubans got their refugee checks upon arrival. But Cubans know better than to celebrate a political victory, they know that in spite of being the “model minority,” the “token whites” of the Hispanic world, they have to tread lightly.  Miami-Dade went for Obama and Hillary, and Marco Rubio lost his own state in the primaries. The Cuban Representative for Miami-Dade is the Republican staunch conservative Ileana Ross-Lehtinen who for years kept secret the fact that she had a transgender son until the Miami Herald published the story in 2010. If she had previously voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, she was later the sole Republican who voted to repeal it, and is the only Republican member of the Congressional LGBT Equality caucus. She has always supported her son, just as Gloria Estefan has done the same for her daughter. It’s not clear if the Estefans celebrated Trump’s victory but I would not be surprised if they borrowed an ordinary car to honk their horn around the streets of Little Havana.

In Miami the video of an old Cuban lady went viral: she suffered from advanced Alzheimer’s, was shown his official picture as one of the dead, and she immediately recognized him for what he was But her dancing and her joy are not the most important parts of this story.  as her daughter told her he was dead, She miraculously knew precisely who the Monster was, and jumped and danced and raised her stroller for the cameras. In Paris, in Memphis, Barcelona, Ecuador and Los Angeles, that same day, Cubans individually filmed their thoughts, as scattered as the diaspora of which they form part. A Cuban woman walking home from work in Rome, says she doesnt give a fuck about the corpse, because she has worked very hard to eliminate him from her life. And to all those that want him alive forever, she grabs her tits and slaps her ass and says “you’re never gonna have a piece of this.”

 

 

 

 

Before he died in Miami a couple of years ago, Lorenzo Garcia Vega, one of the greatest Cuban poets, was fond of stating that our Republican period, from 1903 to 1959, had been neither a drama or a tragedy nor a farse, but actually a light opera, a musical comedy, a cartoon strip on the Sunday paper. After the Republic collapsed like a soufflé,  Lorenzo left Cuba, found himself in New York, spent a brief period in Caracas and then moved to Miami where there have always been old Cubans and few poets. He worked as a bag boy in Publix and spoke about his job in many of his poems and books. He called himself “the great loser,” not with the sense of classical beauty that Elizabeth Bishop moulded into a perfect line (“the art of losing is hard to master”), but as the starting point for a slipshod, messy, dirty aesthetics of repetition and reiteration.

That was Cuba to Lorenzo–the trains never ran on time, cars kept breaking down and the traffic lights were out of sync. It was a complicated musical comedy with so many implausible twists and turns and plot devices that at certain points surely everyone becomes a martyr only to end up acting like a thief. And what about sacrifice, fatherland or death? It could be even funnier if it weren’t so tragic, if it didnt have such complicated grammar, if it weren’t aiming for nothing short of utopia. Lest we confuse Lorenzo with a cynic, let us underscore his time in Purgatory at Albino Beach (his name for Miami) where you may find a way out of poverty and lack of means because from poverty of spirit there are no survivors.

In the end, the world more or less survived his foolish play with the nuclear arsenal. And if the past sixty years have rendered Cubans into beings Cubans themselves fail to understand, by turning families against each other, and demanding that friends betray their closest friends and attack them for attempting to leave the country. In the midst of all this, it bears repeating one simple fact learned from these past five decades:  it is no small consolation that one can come out of material poverty and need,  while not even the Chinese doctor can cure you of poverty of spirit.

A nation overdosed on history can respond to solemnity with a pork croquette.After retracing the route of his triumphant march to Havana in 1959, his ashes were placed inside a brown granite rock that, they say, was not painted olive green lest it look like a turd.  And that’s the end of it all.  Like the great Maria Teresa  Vera said, “Play a rumba on top of that tomb”

for José M.

December 4, 2016

Moonlight, the Sea Body, and the Color Blue by Macarena Gómez-Barris

3 Nov

moonlightIn director Berry Jenkin’s new film Moonlight (2016), the intimate view on Black queerness astonishes. While the film is a painful coming of age story, it is also a lively rendition of alternative frameworks of embodiment where the powerful ocean, or sea body, is omnipresent and rendered as a space of longing, transgenerational memory, migration, and witness represented by water and light. During a recent viewing of Moonlight with a group of friends at Lincoln Center, I was surprised to find myself so completely absorbed in the filmic experience as to feel saturated by the film’s sensuality, or what Laura Marks’ might call its haptic sensuality “where even small events are arenas for a universe of feeling” (2002: p.1).

Moonlight is not an easy viewing experience, not only because of the homophobia that is directed against Chiron (Alex Hibbart). It is also because the shy nine-year old rarely experiences relief from multiple forms of violence and subjectification that brutalize his psychic and physical form. The film is indeed organized around how Chiron’s Black queer personhood is conditioned by the drugs and violence of Reagan-era Miami and by the taunting racialized violence of adolescent masculine becoming. In a moment of janelle-monae-moonlight-compressedexteriorizing others prejudices, Chiron thoughtfully turns his head and asks his mentor Juan (Mahershala Ali) “What’s a faggot”? Even though he is the local drug dealer, and regularly supplies to Chiron’s mother Paula (Naomie Harris), Juan is also a gentle protector and ally. After exchanging glances with his girlfriend Teresa, exquisitely played by Janelle Monáe, Juan responds to Chiron’s startling, yet knowing question with a simple and profound statement, “It’s something people say to make gay people feel bad.” Teresa becomes a resonant presence in the film. Throughout his childhood and adolescence, Chiron, aka “Little,” returns to Teresa’s house to eat, sleep, and to generally find a cocoon within an environment that otherwise offers little respite. With an ethics of care that is carried out with a playful tinge of an island accent, Teresa figures as the source of acceptance, hope, and loving support, especially within a US landscape where “being oneself” is anathema to a culture that devours and disposes of its Black queers.

If Teresa’s care for Chiron represents a rich portrait of island relationality and the ability to address differential power and political economies of difference through non-reproductive intimacy, there are several other moments in the film where Miami is thoroughly infused by what Jacqui Alexander refers to as diasporic crossings (2006). For Alexander, feminist and queer crossings are a site for trans-generational memory, where historical and layered crossings force open a reckoning with the embodied meaning of the sacred, and, the spiritual dimensions of experience. Amidst a hardened world where the worst forms of structural violence impose themselves upon Black queer bodies, there is an excess that looms large in the film, one that cannot be absorbed simply by naming Moonlight a coming of age story. Alongside and as a direct witness to Chiron’s story is the aliveness of the sea, the body of water that stretches between the Caribbean Islands to the Biscayne Bay, and it too becomes a protagonist in the film.

 

Whether as a view from the window, or lapping alongside Little and Kevin’s sexual encounter, or as an enveloping presence as Chiron first learns to swim, in a palette that moves between midnight black to light turquoise green the oceanic touch and feeling is never far. Describing the “newness” of Moonlight in a review for the NY Post, David Kaufman recently said, “There has literally never been a film like it.” US cultural criticism often contains this kind of hyperbole and ethnocentric management of racialized and gendered representations.342734c3-f1dd-4f41-b25b-a4fd6c07d71a We might counter such exaggerated declarations by noting Karim Aïnouz’s extraordinary Madame Satá (2002), a film that chronicles the life of legendary Queen and performance artist Joao Francisco, or point to the Cuban film Fresa y Chocolate (1993), directed by Tomás Guitierrez Alea and that complexly considers queer nightmares, although admittedly race is scantly addressed in the film. It may be true that Moonlight is different from many of the recent Hollywood films that feature Black masculine subjects, such as Nate Parker’s The Birth of the Nation and 12 Years a Slave, as The NY Post compares. And, it’s true that Moonlight clearly shares important resonances with Pariah (2011), whose cinematographer Malik Hassan Sayeed uses blue and pink hues in novel ways. However, if we considered a broader world of filmmaking and influences, a more apt comparison might include f5ff4fb3-49bd-4f13-8bdb-f2692e1fd77fGirlhood (2014), director Céline Sciamma’s coming of age film about a French immigrant young woman growing up in public housing in suburban Paris. Both Moonlight and Girlhood share how race, sexuality, desire, and vulnerability are central to the experience of living on the margins, and how every day violence in the lives of Black youth compounds the need for embodied modes of escape. Similar to Moonlight, where the color blue is a filter, a costume, a painted wall, in Girlhood blue functions as a contrast to the overseen use of murky palettes. In dominant representations, dull and mutated tones visualize “the margins,” “the inner city” and “the outskirts” as spaces of lifeless blight. To counter such conventions in both films the color blue, in all its shaded richness, becomes the medium for a parallel narrative of an outside to extreme pressure. In short, the color blue offers the potential space of freedom as the imaginative and the intuitive. In the case of Girlhood, a vibrant and pulsating blue infuses the most important scene in the film, a scene that is organized around a beautiful and exuberant dance amongst friends to Rhianna’s song “Diamond.”

e09bfc81-e60d-400e-8eb7-3acd07596b5b

In one of the most moving and much discussed scenes in Moonlight, including in Tavia Nyong’o’s piece posted on this blog, the camera lingers on undulating waves and Chiron’s black body as his head is gently cradled by Juan. Teaching Chiron how to swim, the two Black bodies float alongside and entangled with each other in a lingering choreography of embodied sensation, floating between jade and shimmering waves. At various points during the scene, the camera half submerges underwater, capturing limbs and embodiment both above and below the water’s changing surface. This submerged visuality is not only about the camera’s dipping below the overlay of human relations, or about forgetting the conditions of violence that surround Chiron. Instead, the scene of non-scripted intimacy offers another way to see Chiron’s supposed submission to the world of hetero-masculine tauntings. Juan teaches Chiron how to swim for himself in the sea, as the camera lingers over the touch of Black skin and the mesmerizing mutation of turquoise green waves. Indeed, the pastel tones and lush colors reflect the light of Miami, but also the dreamlike quality of what Jenkins has referred to as the “beautiful nightmare” that is this city. Drying off at the end of the scene, Juan reveals to Chiron that he is from Cuba, where there are a lot of Black people, despite the fact that you don’t see them here, an allusion to the visibility of white Cubans in Miami’s elite political and economic machinery. Through the blue-green glistening sea, we are reminded of the Middle Passage, its histories of collective death and commodification, but also the sea as a quintessential site of freedom.

The sea is visualized a dozen or more times in the film, as a lingering presence, a witness of adolescent sexual exploration, and as Little’s return home. Coming back for a visit to Miami in adulthood, Chiron meets up with Kevin, his adolescent friend and with whom he shares the powerful memory of teenage desire and touch. At a restaurant by the sea where he works, Kevin prepares Chiron a special dinner. Chiron asks, “Oh, you Cuban now?” “Only in the kitchen, papi,” Kevin responds. Given the ever present ebb and flow of the sea and the hovering moonlight, Kevin might have added “also by the ocean.” Within the arc of small exchanges and moments that are filled with dreamlike potential, the Caribbean is threaded through the main narratives of Moonlight. a589d215-eee2-4d80-ac7c-5249ada39747

In this sense, ocean water might be read as a powerful symbol of the Orisha and goddess Yemaya. In Santeria, Yemaya is the source of all, the constantly mutating and transforming force that is both protector and the mother of all life that rules over the seven human figures of the pantheon. Given the Yoruba-based worship that traverses Caribbean and Brazilian Afro-diasporic memory (Yemanjá in Brazilian Portuguese), Yemaya represents a powerful and even queer force of the natural world, untamable and in constant mutation and represented by the sea. In an early scene that takes place within Juan’s mother’s apartment, the ceramic and humanized figure of Yemaya is dressed in a blue and white robe and sits upon a simple shelf in the backdrop, a symbol of Paula’s possible immigrant and diasporic roots. In fact, the color blue as sea, in the openings towards the sky, and as painted walls within domestic spaces, as well as at Chiron’s high school, is so prominent as to become the powerful symbolic language of what might be called a “blue cinema” that color adjusts, to invoke Marlon Briggs brilliant documentary, for Black diasporic visuality and memory. Even amidst the alienating and violent environments that Chiron is exposed to and must survive within, the spiritual symbolic of the African diaspora explodes in the most of the scenic backdrops. Thus, while Moonlight inhabits the conditions of structural violence, it also invokes its spatialized transits — between the Caribbean islands, the economies of empire and sexual tourism, the non-spaces of historical memory. Meanwhile, the color blue, the sky, the ocean become the means of metaphorical escape. This secondary symbolic level, is where the director touches other dimensions of experience that pass through Black diasporic cultural memory and embodiment, reaching into the shadowy and liquid transits of the Caribbean basin and the trans-Atlantic. With the title “Moonlight,” other cosmologies are subtly made apparent, the reflection of the sea tides, the references to other ways of knowing, being, seeing and thinking that find routes out of hyper-visible political and material operations.

Moonlight exceeds the frameworks that criminalize queers, diminish Black life, and individualize the logics of racialized gender as determining of particular outcomes. Moonlight is the other space, the parallel world of ancestors, the shadow world, the porous line between living and dead, the drowned and floating worlds as histories of crossing and being otherwise. And, it is also the Orisha world where all is not ruled by the human condition, all is not tamed by capitalist materialism, and all is not predetermined by the structure of violence that forces Chiron to become a muscular man who dare not touch another man, even well into adulthood. The moonlight of the film is cast on Black male bodies, that during adolescence find their intimacy with each other. And in the last scene of the film, holding each other by the light of the moon is the moment of release and of finding one’s own and another’s sense of belonging.

bdd47e93-20f7-442e-8bbc-7012d05e7de1

STRAW DOGS

27 Jun

On the massacre at Club Pulse

By José Quiroga 

June 27, 2016

“…in the struggle for mastery, the Negro is the pawn.”

James Baldwin

Orlando vigil in PRThe twenty-three Puerto Ricans that were killed at Club Pulse in Orlando had two things in common: they were Puerto Rican or identified themselves as such, and they were killed at a business that catered to the LGBT community in Orlando, Florida, by a man who had legally acquired his gun. These facts may not clarify the event nor shed light on its cause—they just make the sadness specific to stories I know, to narratives I’ve lived with. This is how my work of mourning begins.

Puerto Ricans have been moving to Orlando at least since the 1980s to escape the alarming criminality of an economically depressed island, where an exhausted political compact with the United States has produced mass unemployment and social insecurity. Talk to any Puerto Rican living in central Florida and she or he will recount a similar tale of options foreclosed, mass layoffs, and diminished expectations. And the story will most certainly include robberies at gunpoint, bullet holes in windows and cars, someone killed. “In the dead in Orlando, Puerto Ricans hear a roll call of their kin” was the title of a June 14 New York Times article written by Lizette Alvarez and Nick Madigan, which noted as a “bitter twist” the fact that a “spectacularly high crime rate” partially accounts for this migration.

At some point in the past, all of those Puerto Ricans killed had pondered the balance between reality and a life unlived, and had opted for the most difficult part of that equation, which is displacement. That we mourn the fact that they were killed because of their sexuality does not exclude the fact that we also mourn them because they had no choice but to restart their lives as lives defined by diaspora, exile, and bureaucracy: one-way plane tickets , a new home, re-localization and moving fees, mail forwarding, new license plates, voting rights lost and gained, taxation. And of course they took with them the traces of all those other migrations Puerto Ricans have collectively endured.

Peoples (and nations) are crafted out of the complexities of nostalgia and regret, homelands occupied, or lost, or re-gained at the end of some journey. But Orlando has not given us an image we can place alongside the great migrations of the past, perhaps because the middle-class flight of an educated workforce lacks the drama of poverty and survival inscribed in those heroic tales of hot rum in a small room with red lampshades, while snow flurries dance outside on uptown winter nights. Orlando doesn’t convey a dream of upward mobility, but an attempt to preserve a certain way of life, an alternative future out of the island and its endless struggle to re-define a political relationship at an impasse. Behind each and every one of Orlando’s well kept lawns there is the horn blasting dysfunctionality of pot-holed streets in the native land, incessant traffic jams, dirty beaches, roach-infested central plazas, and corrupt municipalities. Every Puerto Rican business in Orlando represents a successful middle-class escape from the whole mess of a U.S. colony in the midst of a massive default, and, because of those same colonial laws, without the legal benefit of bankruptcy such as was given to a city like Det Detroit.

Background SomosOrlando rainbowWhat does that all have to do with the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, one that targeted those who were partying and dancing at a disco in Orlando during “Latin night”? In the days following the massacre, the tangled, confusing plotlines that tie central Florida to a broader context were exposed. While Obama once again had to respond to a senseless act of violence abetted by the easy availability of guns, Hillary Clinton showed us how presidential she could be, and Marco Rubio announced that he was seeking a Senate seat. JetBlue offered to fly relatives to and from central Florida, and a local campaign called #SomosOrlando was set up to receive donations. Donald Trump, in the meantime, once again revealed how acrobatic the human brain can be, that it can talk and say nothing at the same time, just blame Muslims for not policing their fellow Muslim neighbors. In Puerto Rico, Governor Alejandro García Padilla extended the period of official mourning on the island, with all flags at half-mast, and the left-wing socialist pro-independence weekly newspaper had not taken note of the event two weeks after it happened. San Juan prepared itself for what turned out to be its biggest LGBT March on June 26.

Hurricane season in the tropics doesn’t care for complicated sets, or issues too complex to rhyme. At each and every invitation to grieve, someone collapsed. Students were given posthumous degrees. Desolate towns where every third person had already packed their bags and left, welcomed the bodies of men and women with the dignified acceptance such complicated crises invoke. Some of the victims, it was said, had not “come out” to their families, or didn’t identify as lesbian or gay. The toxic encounter of money, identity and sexuality ensured that only two Latino men were interviewed by The New York Times, in a massacre where 90% of the victims were Latinxs for a piece which in turn tried to balance race and gender. It was an attempt to give voice to a collective grief by recalling the gay bar as a refuge of the past, precisely the wrong thing to do at this point in time.

The whole messy, complex, unhealthy and toxic atmosphere of a bar, a disco, a speakeasy, or whatever, was never a quasi-religious “safe space.” It wasn’t safe back in the days when John Travolta ran off with the girl in “Saturday Night Fever” and it wasn’t safe back in the days of the Anvil or the Saint. And had it not been for the careful monitoring that every bartender at The Eagle bar in Boston had for this 17 year old Latino coming out of the backroom, who knows what sorts of negotiations would have had to take place when I opted for the Fenway instead of the Combat Zone.

So let’s remain for a while in this mausoleum, this sticky space of the gay bar that the Times seems to want to foreclose. Latin nights seem redundant in a city like Orlando on a Saturday night. Ten or twenty years ago Latin nights meant trying to bring in people on a Tuesday, or a Wednesday—enticing those seeking a midweek escape from the nine-to-five. They would pull in those young enough to stay up all night and up the next morning, perhaps with a hangover, and head to work after a hot shower with the borrowed shirt. That’s the world as it was back then. At this point in time when the finger on the trackpad can just click on a profile onscreen, zooming in on the full frontal, it’s difficult to draw them in even on a weekend. Waiting for a stranger naked in bed, ass up and lubed, sounds safe in comparison, if not more expedient.

Perhaps it is. But as we watch our affective lives fall under the regulatory zeal of the State, the police, the courts and private business; and our eccentric, fabulous and flamboyant social spaces give way to the demands of normativity, perhaps it is time to bring back the conversation to issues that were never resolved by marriage “equality.” Issues that include acceptance and recognition for our forms of kinship with our own set of rules and responsibilities, the right to be free, to have sex as often and as much as we want to, the right to dance in gay bars and straight bars, and the right to include a significant other to receive benefits, medical and otherwise, without having to produce the legal, normatized validation of a marriage certificate.

These days, Puerto Rico has no path other than civil resistance to a hostile Republican-controlled U.S. Congress imposing a fiscal control board—unbelievably known by the acronym PROMESA–that will not craft a sustainable economic base but on the contrary, defend the interests of junk bond investors. In Orlando, self-preservation once again will entail mastering the grammar of avoidance while busing tables, standing at the cash register, getting a perm, or going to the doctor. Last call will be hasty and swift with part of the crowd sobering up while the other tries scouts the room in one last ditch attempt at sex.

It would be a fine thing at this point to offer a message of hope. To believe that things will go back to normal, that our bars will not close down because of gentrification or fear, or more efficient ways of hooking up. But as long as lesbian or gay stands for the exclusionary site of a mode of isolation and not the inclusive site where different classes, ethnicities, pasts presents and futures openly put on display all of their perverse possibilities and their different ways of understanding sex and gender and kinship, we will just be left with some maimed possibility of ourselves, some phantom subject unhinged, with our tacit acceptance and permission.
José Quiroga is our newest Bully Blogger.  He is Professor of Comparative Literature, Emory University. He works on contemporary Latinx and Latin American cultures, queer and gender studies, Cuba and the Caribbean. Quiroga’s books include include Mapa Callejero (Buenos Aires: Eterna Cadencia, 2010), Law of Desire: A Queer Film Classic (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp, 2009), Cuban Palimpsests (U Minnesota Press, 2005) and Tropics of Desire: Interventions from Queer Latino America (NYU Press, 2001). In collaboration with Licia Fiol-Matta he directs the series New Directions in Latino American Cultures for Palgrave, and is completing an edited collection titled The Havana Reader, and The Book of Flight. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012, and is always aiming to be a better escape artist.

The #Orlando Syllabus

24 Jun

Eng-Beng Lim

Orlando victims-collage-first-slide

Week 1 From Gender to Gun Performativity

Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

Think Gender is Performance: You have Judith Butler to thank for that!

 

Week 2 Surviving Killabilities

Gender” (Halberstam) and other relevant keyword entries “Race,” “Sexuality,” “Militarism,” “Brown,” “Queer,” “Empire,” “Religion.”

Jose Munoz, “The Future in the Present: Sexual Avante-Gardes and the Performance of Utopia”

After Orlando, Middle East Research and Information Project

LGBT People of Color refuse to be erased after Orlando

American Ugliness: Queer and Trans People of Color Sat “Not in Our Names”

Chelsea Manning, “We must not let the Orlando nightclub terror further strangle our civil liberties”

Start Making Sense Radio Program, “Life and Death in Gay Orlando”

“He’s Not Done Killing Her’: Why So Many Trans Women Were Murdered in 2015.

Queer Suicide: A Teach-in

Malik Gaines, We Are Orlando

Transgender man forced into clothes and jail for women settles with Toronto police

Understanding HB2: North Carolina’s newest law solidifies state’s role in defining discrimination.

Former Minuteman Militia Leader Found Guilty of Molesting 5-Year Old Girl

 

Week 3 Laughing at Masculinist Rage, Corruption and Mass Shooting

Helene Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa

Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger”

Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women

Chela Sandoval, “New Sciences: Cyborg feminism and the methodology of the oppressed

#SayHerName: why Kimberle Crenshaw is fighting for forgotten women

Wendy Brown: How Neoliberalism Threatens Democracy: YouTube video

Puar and Rai, “Monster, Terrorist, Fag: The War on Terrorism and the Production of Docile Patriots”

Charlotte Hooper, Manly States: Masculinities, International Relations, and Gender Politics

Jacques Derrida on “phallogocentrism”

“I’m a gay man. Don’t use an attack on my community as an excuse for Islamophonia”

US House Oks Koch Bros Bill on ‘Dark Money’ Election Donations

Overcompensation Nation: It’s Time to admit that toxic masculinity drives gun violence

 

Week 4 Getting Toxic and Terrifying

Considering Hate, Whitlock and Bronski 1-71

Cairo, and our comprador gay movements: A Talk

Toxic Masculinity in the U.S Gun Phallocracy

The Hypermasculine Violence of Omar Mateen and Brock Turner

Terror Begins at Home

Toxic Masculinity and Murder

Student Op-Ed: Toxic Masculinity

Understanding Toxic Masculinity: Why Defending Men Isn’t Enough (a conservative take)

The Under-Discussed Role of Toxic Masculinity

Viet Thanh Nguyen, “Bob Kerrey and the ‘American Tragedy’ of Vietnam”

*

Considering Hate, 71-147

What the actual f*ck is going on with the Oakland Police Department?

Gun control’s racist reality: The liberal argument against giving police more power

UCLA Shooting suspect identified: Thoughts on Race, Violence, and Graduate Studies

Two Dead in UCLA

Berkeley gunman kills student taken hostage

25 years later: Henry’s hostage crisis remembered

Drag Queen: Anti-Gay Terrorist Omar Mateen was My Friend

Sullivan, “Troubled. Quiet. Macho. Angry. The volatile life of the Orlando shooter.”

Police: Man who killed singer Christina Grimmie was ‘infatuated’ with her

James Downs: Stop saying Omar Mateen was gay

“Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila tackles homophobia, Islamophobia on U.S tour

The perception of Asian dads and masculinity

“While Press Fawned Over Cops Guarding LGBTQ Bars, NYPD Charged Orlando March with Horses”

Racist at vigil sends online message

Queer, Muslim, & Unwelcome at the “New Stonewall”

 

Week 5 Empire, Trump

Andrew Hewitt, Political Inversions: Homosexuality, Fascism, and the Modernist Imaginary

Lisa Lowe, “The International within the National: American Studies and Asian American Critique”

Klaus Theweleit, “Male Bodies and the ‘white terror’” 143-269, Male Fantasies Vol 2

Trump says, ‘Ask the Gays,’ Gays make him regret it

Aaron Belkin, Bring Me Men: Military Masculinity and the Benign Façade of American Empire

Amy Kaplan, “Manifest Domesticity”

Amanda Taub, “The Rise of American authoritarianism

I can’t stop watching this bizarre, terrifying and beautiful Trump ad

The braggart with the ducktail who would be president

Meet the shock troops of Trump’s America

As Britain Mourns MP Jo Cox, Her Killer Is Linked to Neo-Nazi National Alliance and Pro-Apartheid Club

Activity among white supremacists continues to surge

States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2016

A journalist went to a Donald Trump rally yesterday and came back shocked. Here are his tweets

How not to study Donald Trump

If more guns make America safe, why did Trump ban all guns from the GOP convention?

American Horror Story

A Note from Mike Davis about the Second Amendment

 

Week 6 Orlando

Junaid Rana, Terrifying Muslims

Paricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought

June Jordan Papers

Sarah Haley, No Mercy Here

Disney and Orlando: Creating the Happiest Place on Earth.”

Shanghai $5.5 Billion Disney Officially Opens

Gunman Pledged Allegiance to ISIS (titled changed from “Orlando nightclub shooting: 50 killed in ‘domestic terror incident’ at gay club; gunman identified”)

Orlando massacre was “revenge”, not terrorism, says man who claims he was gunman’s lover

The massacre at a Mexican Gay Bar that no one talked about

Orlando Victim says Shooter tried to spare black people: he said black people had suffered enough

Hoax: Canadian Prime Minister and opposition leader share kiss to denounce Orlando massacre

The worst mass shooting? A look back at massacres in U.S. history

How G4S incubated the homophobic hatred or Orlando’s IS Terrorist

Blood Ties: Queer Blood, Donations, and Citizenship

 

Week 7 Gun Phallocracy: Colonial and Capitalist Deadlocks

Taussig, “Culture of Terror, Space of Death. Roger Casement’s Putumayo Report and the explanation of Torture.”

Chong, “Look, An Asian!” The Politics of Racial Interpellation in the Wake of the Virginia Tech Shootings

1000 mass shootings in 1260 days: this is what America’s gun crisis looks like

The NRA’s Complicity in Terrorism

The gay rights movement could take on NRA, and actually win

The Next Time Someone Calls an AR-15 an assault rifle, show them this

The Orlando massacre was one of 43 shootings yesterday

Why the Orlando Shooting Is Unlikely to Lead to Major New Gun Laws

Stop the gun violence: Ban assault weapons

I was able to buy an AR-15 in five minutes

After Sending ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ to Orlando GOP House Chair Blocks LGBT Protections Bill

Strict military gun control should be our model

We need a radical movement for gun control

NRA Tells Parents to Keep Guns in Kids’ Rooms For Safety

The NRA’s Response To The Orlando Shooting Needs to Break the Pattern

Since Sandy Hook, a gun has been fired on school grounds nearly once a week

Connecticut’s Senators, Who Know Something About Gun Violence, Blames Congress for Orlando Slaughter.

Breaking: Senate Blocks Gun Control Measures and Accomplishes Nothing After Orlando Shooting

NRA-Owned Senate Just Told American People to go F*uck Themselves on Guns

Brock Turner and Me

Republicans Are Erasing LGBTQ People From Their Own Tragedy

The Democrats are Boldly Fighting For a Bad, Stupid Bill

The Use of Error-Prone and Unfair Watchlists Is Not the Way to Regulate Guns in America

 

Week 8 Performance & Patriarchal Pathologies

Bechdel, Fun Home

Tennessee Wiliams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Munoz, “The White to Be Angry”: Vaginal Crème Davis’s Terrorist Drag

California pastor celebrates massacre at Orlando gay club

No Way to Prevent this”: says only nation where this regularly happens

Halberstam, “Mackdaddy, Superfly, Rapper: Gender, Race, and Masculinity in the Drag King Scene” and Female Masculinity

Sylvia Plath reads “Daddy

Diana DiMassa, The Complete Hothead Paisan

Split Britches, Belle Reprieve (feminist lesbian adaptation of Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire)

No reason is a reason: Zabar’s customer accidentally shoots self while ordering bagel

 

Week 9 Queer nightlife: safety, joy, erasure and complacence

Ramon Rivera-Servera, “Quotidian Utopias: Latina/o Queer Choreographies”

Christina Handhardt, “Broken Windows and Blue’s: a queer history of gentrification and policing”

I was Born On the Dance Floor: A Playlist for Pulse

I knew 17 who died in Orlando

More than a Safe Space: The Meaning of the Queer Latin Dance Night

Gay Space Cannot Be Straight Women’s Safe Space Until It’s Safe for those who are gay

One kiss and 50 bodies: The Orlando shooting is a reminder that gay people are still hated

Only when I am dancing can I feel this free

Richard Kim, Please Don’t Stop the Music

In praise of Latin Night at the Queer Club

 

Week 10

Please add to Week 10 of the syllabus with your suggestions of a rubric, book chapters and articles in the comment section below. In solidarity #orlandosyllabus 

Queer Complacency without Empire

22 Sep

Lisa Duggan

When I teach undergraduate Queer Studies, we begin by listing all the meanings that students can generate for the term queer. Then we group them into three categories: (1) Identity, or queer as a synonym for LGBT populations; (2) Practice, or queer as a broad umbrella term for dissenting sexual practices and gender expressions, and (3) Politics, or queer as a designation similar to feminist that appears quite independently of an advocate’s identity or sexual/gender practices. Our discussion of these divergent meanings usually leads us to understand that they all exist simultaneously, often used by the same individual at different moments. Though I prefer the third usage, I often find myself unselfconsciously using the first two. In the context of Queer Studihttps://i1.wp.com/www.theory.org.uk/queermap2.gifes, it’s important to sort these meanings out in our readings and conversations. Each has different resonances and implications.

The most recent special issue of differences, “Queer Theory without Antinormativity,” volume 26, number 2 (May 2015) edited by Robyn Wiegman and Elizabeth Wilson, runs through all these meanings without much attention to the distinctions among them. In the introduction to the volume, Wiegman and Wilson alternatively refer to queer theory, queer studies, queer inquiry and queer critique, also without any noted distinctions. But perhaps most fatally for this issue’s project, they use the terms norm, normalizing and normativity also with little effort to map the historically shifting and overlapping meanings of the terms.

It’s not that they make no effort to historicize. They do point out, via Foucault and others, that the juridical meaning of norms as rules that order and restrict shifts to a biopolitical, statistical meaning of norms as averages at the beginning of the 19th century. Their critique of queer theory (or studies, critique, inquiry etc) rests on the arguments that (1) queer theory is universally underpinned by a foundational antinormativity, and that (2) this antinormativity is dyadic and oppositional, based on the earlier notion of norms as rules, rather than on the more generative, expansive, individualizing concept of norms as averages that require variation.https://i0.wp.com/blogs.worldbank.org/files/publicsphere/norm2.jpeg

What is wrong with these arguments? Everything. Though the editors’ introduction provides a wide-ranging and inclusive survey of work in queer theory, their grasp of what underlies the scholarship published after 2000, especially in the field of queer of color critique, is faulty. They seem deeply familiar with work published in the 1990s, but when they extend their critique of that work forward in time they run rapidly off the rails. For instance, beginning with Licia Fiol-Matta’s Queer Mother for the Nation, published in 2002, much new work in queer studies abandoned the notion that queer identities or practices are somehow inherently radical, or that queer politics is necessarily oppositional to historical forms of political and economic power.

Fiol-Matta’s study of the deployment of the queer figure of Gabriela Mistral as a support for the dominant forms of racial capitalism and nationalism in Latin America decimated those assumptions of inherent queer subversiveness, and deeply influenced the flood of work to come in queer of color critique and transnational queer and feminist studies. Wiegman and Wilson’s readings of that post 2000 work are flattening and distorting; in describing it all as underpinned by a dyadic antinormativity they are blind to the major developments in queer thinking that emerged with this work over the past 15 years.https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/413FN1JS7WL._UY250_.jpg

But that isn’t the only stream of queer publication that they get wrong. They also search out instances of dyadic oppositional antinormativity in work that they otherwise acknowledge does not fit that frame. In discussing Lee Edelman’s NoFuture, after acknowledging that he generally evades the oppositional framing they argue underpins the whole field, they find one footnote where he appears to fall into that trap. Via that footnote they include him in their survey of the field united in their version of antinormative error.

In addition to misdescribing “the field” that they variously name as queer something, Wiegman and Wilson also offer a narrow and ahistorical definition of norms and normativity by which to measure the adequacy of those terms in the work of queer writers. They hew to the Foucauldian definition, and chide queer authors for using a “wrong” notion of norms as restrictive rules. In this they are wrong on two counts: (1) There is no historical supersession of statistical norms over rule based norms, both are in wide current use in the social and political world, and (2) They totally neglect the civilizational, imperial history of norms as racial ideals used to measure the “development” of inferior races. Developmental norms are pervasive in the history of empire and settler colonialism, and they appear in psychology also as “developmental” norms drawn from the highest racial “achievements” of prosperous male Europeans. Queer work that engages with racial capitalism, empire, transnationalism, and decolonial movements invokes these kinds of norms as ideals—the nuclear monogamous family, the “democratic” capitalist state, the rise of rationalist science, etc. These of course include sexual ideals as norms, appearing as the very logic of racial, class, gender and religious hierarchies. This work does not propose any simple, dyadic form of queer antinormativity as opposition. Nayan Shah, Roderick Ferguson and so many others map complex forms of aspiration for inclusion as well as modes of exclusion in a constantly shifting historical political economy.

(My own use of the term homonormativity does not focus on dyadic opposition to dominant norms, but rather maps a complex set of changing historical relations to an unstable political economy—homonormativity only becomes possible during the 1990s in the capitalist “democracies.” It takes an unsympathetic, even hostile reading to reduce this term to one pole in the abstract dyad norm/antinorm.)

So far I have concentrated on the introduction to the special issue. (For more, see Jack Halberstam’s previous Bully Bloggers post.)  Only a few of the other essays in the issue actually echo or support the framing offered there. Essays by Annamarie Jagose on Judith Butler and Wiegman on Eve Sedgwick continue the stuck-in-time 1990s focus of the issue. Heather Love provides a historical frame, offering post WWII sociology of sexual deviance literature as a site for productive excavation for queer scholars. She seems to be addressing scholars in the literary humanities only, as those of us trained in history, anthropology, sociology or the interdisciplinary fields are generally quite familiar with this literature—and perhaps more critical of it than Love? Rod Ferguson’s Aberrations in Black draws from his PhD training in sociology to offer a critical framing that brings together sociology of racial and sexual deviance to produce a wide ranging critique of the normalizing work of sociological knowledge production—normalizing in the racial imperialist, developmental sense, not the dyadic rule bound or statistical sense. Anthropologist David Valentine’s Imagining Transgender provides an observational, empirically based ethnographic study that probes the racial and class meanings of language shifts in political context. Love’s isolation of the work on sexual deviance, and her largely uncritical observational stance, give her article an unintended overall tone of political, especially racial complacency compared to the vigorous critical lens provided by Ferguson. And when she cites Sharon Marcus to critique the “dominant” deviance paradigm in queer studies, and argues that the field is invested in the idea of an impossible absolute withdrawal from the social (p. 89), I honestly have no idea what work she could be talking about? That paradigm went out by 2002 (in the queer studies “field” that I read), and the withdrawal from the social characterizes only a tiny archive at this point.https://i0.wp.com/orig04.deviantart.net/298e/f/2008/257/7/a/antisocial_avenger__g_by_asylumactas.jpg

The last three essays, by Madhavi Menon, Erica Edwards and Elizabeth Povinelli, seem not to belong in this issue at all. These three essays are confined to the section on “Case Studies” in the issue, perhaps because they bring in the political economy and the state? They position their discussions of normativity within a complex historical, racial and imperial frame that cannot be reduced to the abstract framing norm/antinorm. In “Sex After the Black Normal,” Erica Edwards draws upon and extends the long bibliography in black feminism and queer of color critique to make an important contribution from within those fields. In her richly documented article, she argues that black women’s sexuality has been used to facilitate neoliberalism in the U.S., and also to support collective alternatives that expose its instabilities. This is precisely in line with the arguments that Rod Ferguson and others make, and does not flatten those contributions, or elevate her own as somehow so much more complex as to be different in foundation.

Elizabeth Povinelli’s article “Transgender Creeks and the Three Figures of Power in Late Liberalism,” is in my humble opinion outright brilliant—original, provocative and important. Drawing on new work on the nonhuman world and the active environment, Povinelli extends the possible meanings of “queer studies” in hugely productive ways. But in doing so, she also draws upon, incorporates and extends earlier work, and invokes the normalizing force of neoliberal markets and extractive capitalism, via a discourse of sexual pathology and normalization in a settler colonial context. In these usages of the notion of the norm, she blends the Foucauldian meaning with the imperial one. She is working from the complex multidimensional work on norms, that Wiegman and Wilson reduce to simple dyadic oppositional antinormativity.

It’s hard to understand the motivation behind this issue that works so hard to diminish work in queer studies through reductive readings and via a singular definition invoked as an abstract standard. I have the uneasy feeling that the motives are political, that the work being reduced to unrecognizable simplicity is somehow too left, too committed to the critique of racial capitalism for these editors. They don’t seem to be offering renewed vitality or renovated methods and approaches in their return to the work of the 1990s in particular. They seem to be calling for a new queer complacency, where we revel in the norms that, in averaging differences, reflect our beautiful diversities (cough, gag):https://i2.wp.com/m5.paperblog.com/i/57/572241/when-is-minority-political-activity-represent-L-QKSsND.jpeg…..more Queer Theory without Empire than without antinormativity.

Triggers and Lions and Vegans, Oh My!: From a Comment War to a Conversation about Cecil and the Ethics of Eating

27 Aug

By Will Stockton and Karen Tongson

[A little disclaimer from your friendly neighborhood Bullies: We don’t usually host debates on this site, but when we do, they always involve tofu! Read on.] 

Will:

On July 1 2015, an American dentist and big game hunter named Walter Palmer killed a lion named Cecil in the Hwange National Park in Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe. According to widely disseminated reports, Palmer and his guide  lured Cecil out of the sanctuary, wounded him with an arrow, tracked him for the next 40 hours, shot him with a rifle, and then skinned and beheaded him. The killing of Cecil sparked outrage across much the world, with Palmer and his guides accused of grossly poaching an animal who was well known to park visitors and not aggressive towards humans.

In the middle of this wave of outrage, much of it on social media, I posted a question – or, honestly, more of a declarative statement – on my Facebook page. “Remind me,” I wrote, “what the difference is between killing a lion named Cecil and killing any cow, chicken, pig, or fish?” I had in mind animal rights philosopher and law professor Gary Francione’s 2007 suggestion that there is no significant moral difference between the actions of Michael Vick, the widely condemned NFL player found guilty of dogfighting, and anyone who barbeques a pig.[1] In both cases, animals die for the sake of human pleasure, be it the pleasure of sport or the pleasure of taste. What ensued in response to my post was nonetheless not the discussion about the ethics of veganism in which I often engage. Whereas I am accustomed to arguments about the relative immorality of killing legally protected animals and animals one does not eat, Karen Tongson averred that there is a crucial ethical difference between illegal ecotourist hunting and the consumption of animals for cultural purpose. “Eating meat,” she wrote, “actually brings people more than ‘pleasure.’ For some it is a deep expression of their cultural heritage and belonging; a spiritual homage to our families, tribes, regions; a ritualistic celebration of a time when we couldn’t afford protein, or were deprived of it in times of war, occupation and conflict.” Debate ensured regarding the presumptive white universalism underwriting my advocacy of veganism.

Because Facebook and similar social media forums do not always lend themselves to the most considered and sustained dialogue, Karen and I decided to engage in this exchange again over email. We did so because we both believe much as it stake: for myself, the status of animals, and indeed of all sentient creatures, as ends in themselves; and for Karen, the need to preserve cultural traditions, especially minority cultural traditions, against blanket assertions that the killing of animals is wrong.

Karen

I’d like to begin by thanking Will for transferring our exchange from the hot-button, quick-trigger setting of social media to a format more akin to an old-fashioned, analog correspondence between thinkers. That said, I’d like to begin by exploring how—in the quick-take environment of social media—we each had to address some pretty sweeping, starkly defined opinions amongst a motley assortment of our Face friends, not all of whom share the same codes, references and systems of understanding.

When the Cecil news broke, I shared the story on my own Facebook page with a one-word remark about Palmer, the dentist by day, big game hunter on vacay: “Asshole.” Like many lesbians, I am a stereotypical pet lover, more specifically, a lover of cats, so commenting on the big cat-related viral news of the day wasn’t out of character. When I noticed Will’s post, and some of the commentary afterwards, I felt hailed. I decided to enter the fray after Bully Blogging editrix extraordinaire, Lisa Duggan, appeared to be taking fire for suggesting that there might be a difference between Palmer’s arrogant display of killing for sport, and the indisputable horrors of mass meat production. I posted the comment Will mentioned above about the different cultural reasons people consume meat, to try to break us out of what felt to me like a closed discourse about the morality of veganism vs. other practices of eating. A slew of dismissals and comments came as a result of my remarks, many from people I didn’t know. I won’t reproduce those comments here. Suffice it to say that the comments on Will’s initial thread ranged from the simply dismissive, to a casually racist quip about not eating meat because it gives us fond memories of “living under thatched roofs.”

Sure, I understood some of the contradictions and conundrums in my defense of my right to “grieve the lion,” given that I’m a notorious carnivore who likes to post pictures of the meat I make and consume. My careful preparations of this meat, the amount of time I’ve spent learning how to prepare it properly, and to use as much of it without waste, combined with my efforts to learn and teach courses about foodways and the heinous practices of Big Ag, is, I believe a way of honoring my food and my cultural and familial relationship to eating. My efforts to purchase more ethically cultivated and produced meat (once I attained a certain level of economic solvency), are also part and parcel of “honoring” the meat.”

More broadly, my Filipino upbringing informs my relationship to food. We are a food-obsessed culture, if largely because of the ways in which we learned to subsist and survive through over half a millennium of colonialism at the hands of Spain and the United States. I was born in the Philippines and lived there for most of my childhood until I turned 10, when my family immigrated to the U.S. At our home in Manila, which had a little bit of land attached to it, we always kept chickens and the occasional goat. I recall we even had a pig at one point, though not for very long, since it was brought over for the sole purposes of prepping it for a large, celebratory feast. Unlike most urbanites in my age range raised in the United States, I don’t have a purely mediated relationship to my food from farm to package. I’ve spent time with animals killed for my consumption. I’ve seen them slaughtered right before my eyes, even if I didn’t participate in killing them myself. And I still ate them.

Given this experience that might seem unique to many Americans, but certainly isn’t on a global scale, especially amongst those of us who are from, or were raised in the so-called “developing” world, I got pretty pissed off when my efforts to make a simple statement about cultural differences determining our food practices was characterized as ignorant, naïve and merely compensatory. This is why I continued to participate in the thread on Will’s page, getting into a conversation about ethics, morality and veganism that is, for the most part, “beyond my pay grade,” as they say. Much of what I had to contribute did, however, come from my extensive reading in scholarship about race, foodways and food culture (most of it for my own edification, or for my teaching, but not for my research). While I comprehend the philosophical nature of the debate—i.e. the need to inhabit “strategic essentialisms” around moral claims of what food-practices are “right” vs. “wrong,” as one commenter remarked in a sub-thread—I just can’t endorse the way this framing of the debate forecloses anything that contradicts the moral superiority of vegan practices.

Perhaps this is why we were talking across but not to one another.

Will

Although it probably won’t shield me from charges of self-righteousness, let me go ahead and own “the moral superiority of vegan practices.” But let me qualify for whom I think they are morally superior. Let me also clarify that I understand “superior” as a synonym for “best” rather than “perfect.” I am not going to claim that veganism abolishes all violence against animals. Rather, I argue that going vegan is the least most people can do.

For most people, too, food has emotional and familial connections. We bond with family and friends around a shared meal. We learn to cook by having our parents teach us. Cultural differences also help determine food consumption – the kinds of food we eat and the way we prepare it. I grew up in Atlanta, and although most of my meat came from factory farms, I would suggest that my southern culture is no less food obsessed than your Filipino one.  I’ve hunted, fished, and crabbed. I’ve killed, gutted, cleaned, cooked, and eaten animals in an effort to both bond with friends and family and “know” my food. Now I’m a dog-rescuing queer with a menagerie that rivals Michael Vick’s pre-fight barn, but with no need to differentiate the rights of my pit bulls from the rights of a chicken or a cow. The choice to make no such differentiation accordingly causes minor strains with friends and family. People worry about how to cook for me. I am routinely teased for not eating the Thanksgiving turkey or the Fourth of July barbeque. Some of this teasing is passive aggressive; some of it stems from a sense of loss about my refusal to participate fully in a norm; and some it is defensive, coming from people who are uncomfortable with their own consumption of animal products. But bonding over a meal or participating in cultural rituals need not cease because someone tries to make that meal or ritual less violent. Diminishing violence against animals more than justifies amending our cultural and familial relationships to eating.

I also want to clarify why I’m a vegan as opposed to someone who eats “humanly raised” meat. Maltreatment is one kind of violence against animals. Death is another. Because both violate an animal’s interests, I pause over your claim that you are “honoring” your meat by making sure it’s ethically sourced. More precisely, I worry that you are romanticizing brutality. There’s no honoring an animal in a slaughterhouse – especially not when that animal is being slaughtered well in advance of its natural end-of-life to feed people who don’t need to eat it. You and I are two of those people. As tenured professors, we are both people of considerable privilege. We have the financial means to eat vegan (which the latest economic research shows to not be prohibitively expensive[3]) and the ready availability of vegan food. Every time we chose not to eat vegan – as I did for many years – we are choosing to prioritize our pleasure or convenience over an animal’s life.

 Karen

I’ve always been very clear about respecting people’s chosen food practices, if largely because, as you acknowledge in your own comments our region, race, religion, class, politics etc. determines our relationship to food. And I appreciate you clarifying that what you see as the “moral superiority” of vegan practices is as much about what you personally construe as the “best” practices for eating and consuming amongst the classes and communities who are afforded choice—i.e. whose “choices” might actually be ascribed the attributes of “morality” and “consciousness.”

But this is where I think our priorities diverge, especially when it comes to discussing the status and sanctity of “the animal” while underscoring the moral failings of the humans who continue to consume them. This is when we start getting into the irksome (at its most benign), and fascistic (at its worst) neoliberal rhetoric about choice and consumption in veganism gussied up as the only acceptable set of practices if we strive to for ethical and moral relationships to eating. I personally don’t aspire to any practices or systems of belief framed through the discourses of “ethics” or “morality,” where there is little room to express alternate foundations for our systems of belief. To me veganism, as a chosen lifestyle in the name of the animal (at least as it manifests in the Anglo-American-Euro context), has come to assume the status of a moral imperative to the detriment of other peoples, nations and classes even though it purports to reduce harm in general.

Much of what chafes me about the “superiorities” of veganism are the hypocrisies covered over in keeping its “bestness” in place as a moral directive. For example, in another thread related to the one you and I began on FB, some of us questioned how we could even begin to hierarchize the harms caused by our practices of consumption, and our global foodways, since most global farming and agricultural practices are unquestionably brutal: brutal for the environment, brutal upon laborers, brutal towards the communities—animal and human—in its immediate geographical radius, etc.

I think about the numerous ways the same standards of “suffering” applied to animals, and righteously trotted out in debates about veganism might also be usefully applied to the horrendous labor practices and indentured human servitude inherent in nearly all forms of Big Ag, whether or not its at the slaughterhouse, or at the vegetable processing facility. I visited one of these vegetable facilities in Ventura County with my class on food cultures last year. Its carbon footprint and the political orientation of its proprietors were both horrifying, yet they remain one of the largest and most profitable distributers of organic produce nationally, for retailers popular with vegans like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and even local co-ops.

All vegans, in other words, aren’t consuming “consciously” or ethically, or even reducing harm to animals, let alone humans who are caught in the radius of these violent, profit-driven food ecologies. Many vegans happily support odious, unethical businesses like Whole Foods, or “craft” quinoa importers who have reinforced class divisions in the Andean region, or Big Ag almond growers who have wreaked just as much havoc on the ecosystem—animal, vegetable, mineral—as some so-called “ethical” meat producers who participate in the same artisanal and creative economic production models that source vegan lifestyles.

In fact, this rather thoughtfully considered piece on the quinoa controversy of a couple of years ago does an excellent job of highlighting what I would characterize as the narcissism of small differences between say, your practices of creative class consumption (though I don’t purport to know exactly what they are beyond what you’ve shared with me here), and my own.[4] (hyperlink to URL in footnote)

One of the marked differences is that your eating practices boasts its “superiority” (through the ethos of “bestness” you described above): it’s “the least most people could do.” You seem, in that remark, to be arguing that the rest of us should follow those practices. I, meanwhile, am inclined to concede how fucked up it is to feed humans on a large scale, while remaining disinclined to assume that any one set of practices is fundamentally more “moral” than another. We all consume plenty of things we don’t need and which cause tremendous harm in this world.

I hope some of what I’ve said also addresses your question about whether or not I’m “romanticizing” the brutality of processing and eating meat in my earlier remarks. To the contrary: I acknowledge the brutality that inheres in feeding humans on a mass scale in general. Indeed, I would propose modifying the last line of your previous comments to say that every time we choose to eat, we are choosing to prioritize our pleasure or convenience over others’ lives, both human and animal. Unless one is proceeding with some of the same painstaking precautions certain Buddhist sects use to minimize harm to all other lifeforms; unless you are growing your own vegetables in a sustainable manner, and subsisting entirely on what you have cultivated; unless you have given up quinoa and almond milk, and have forsaken the pleather shoes or car seat covers you’ve bought from a company that outsources its production to child laborers in the developing world, I cannot abide by the notion that my non-vegan practices are fundamentally more destructive, or driven only by “pleasure” and “convenience.”

Finally, my position would be to encourage us to learn more and to find approaches to our foodways and consumption based upon an expansive set of criteria, including the economic, ecological, cultural, spiritual, and healthful; in other words, a holistic approach.  I would eschew “the moral” altogether as a fundament for how we should imagine our relationship to eating unless we have an orthodox relationship to our religion and are proscribed to do so.

At base, Will, we are obviously not invested in the same things. I see no need to persuade others to eat in the manner I do, and have engaged in this dialogue, because I felt I was “shut down” (as they say) from expressing a dissenting opinion in a vegan-centric conversation about ethical priorities and contradictions. Personally, I am much more committed to seeking out justice for, and the ethical treatment of, our brethren whose brutalization continues to be ignored because of their race, class, gender or sexual status.

I’m curious what you think of our conversation in light of the #IfCecilWasBlack meme? I felt like I was sucked into the frenzy of all this—into a lot of anthropomorphic rhetoric about the protection of animals in our conversation and beyond—while failing to engage in some of the concerns members of our community in the #BlackLivesMatter movement have about the social media mobilization and uproar (pardon the pun), over Cecil the lion vs. the relative silence about brutality towards African-Americans in the U.S.

CLQM_nGUkAAEewA

Will

Let me take your closing question first, as I think it encapsulates what you perceive as one of the difference between us – that difference being that my concern for “the animal” trumps my concern for my fellow human animals. I understand the #IfCecilWasBlack movement probably much like you do: as a keen identification of how fucked up it is to mourn the death of one lion in a world where black bodies are brutalized on a mass scale without a similar outpouring of collective anger. I agree that this lack of perspective is entirely fucked up. I just think it’s equally fucked up to focus one’s outrage on the death of one lion when we kill 56 billion animals (excluding fish and other aquatic animals) annually for food.[5] So much about the outrage over Cecil’s death was wrong. To point out the latter wrong is not to endorse the silence over racial violence; nor is it to prioritize animal lives over human ones. It is possible to be both anti-racist and pro-animal at the same time. These stances – ethical and political – are deeply intersectional, as both stem from an opposition to oppressing sentient creatures on the basis of irrelevant criteria: skin color, ethnicity, and species.

Cecil the Black Lion

The real difference between us begins to emerge, I believe, when you state that you “don’t aspire to any practices or systems of belief framed through the discourses of ‘ethics’ or ‘morality,’ where there is little room to express dissenting opinions,”

Your comma after “morality” suggests that you find all discourses of ethics and morality equally forbidding. But you clearly haven’t abandoned these discourses or ceased to develop ethical/moral sets of practices or systems of belief. You object to “unethical businesses” like Whole Foods. And you state your commitment to “the ethical treatment of our brethren.” In both cases, the discourse of ethics is perfectly conducive to protesting brutalization against humans. On what grounds do you believe Whole Foods to be unethical in its treatment of humans if not an ethical one?[6] How can you measure “ethical treatment,” or even determine what constitutes “brutalization,” without a sense that some sets of practices – economic, cultural, political, etc. – are more or less ethical? I’m not just trying to catch you in contradictions; I’m trying to suggest that this kind of aversion to ethics only tends to crop up when one’s personal practices regarding and beliefs about non-human animals are called into question.[7] Indeed, I presume that you would have no problem terming human slavery unethical, no matter how deeply human slavery is ingrained in cultural practice or belief, and no matter how thin the line sometimes is between slavery and “ordinary” employment in a capitalist economy.[8] I’m also fairly sure you’d agree that rape is unethical, no matter how much the rapist dissents, no matter how much the victim believes that she deserved it, and no mater how much consensual sex is itself imbued with power differentials. I realize these comparisons to rape and slavery are potentially inflammatory, but I make them for the sake of pointing out that what we disagree on, most fundamentally, is the ethical status of the animal – whether the animal “counts” or not, or to what degree. Hence my reason for asking you whether you believe animals have an interest in not being harmed – a question you did not answer.

In any case, without a discourse of ethics or morality, the “holistic” approach for which you advocate approaching food consumption falls apart. Never mind that veganism goes a long way towards addressing many of the problems you raise, given that most of the food we currently grow, and the land we grow it on, goes to feed the animals we raise to kill.[9] How will you convince me, as you seek to do in the first part of your response, to even consider the injustices done to human workers, cultures, or the environment unless you presume, like me, that there are better and worse ways of relating to people and the planet? How will I determine what constitutes injustice? And how can I begin to set up this “expansive set of criteria” if I don’t know what goal or ideal those criteria are helping me measure?

11061330_10102138452740488_6643203433287468390_n

I know that you are trying to characterize my veganism as a forbiddingly ethical practice or set of beliefs, but I would hope that this exchange testifies to my investment in not shutting you down. Looking back, I would argue that much of what went on during our initial Facebook discussion was just plain disagreement. Before it descended into red-herring charges of cultural imperialism and, far more bizarrely, mansplaining (this latter one not from Lisa Duggan, not you), this disagreement turned on the fact that you and I both hold that not all opinions or systems of belief or structures of reasoning are equally compelling. And, indeed, it ensued because we approached Cecil’s death with different ethical frameworks – mine, a framework that condemns violence against animals for reasons of pleasure, amusement, convenience, or cultural difference; and yours, to quote, a framework that condemns “paying thousands of dollars, destroying someone else’s ecosystem (economic, social, spiritual) with your crass tourism, and taking prideful photos of yourself slaying a physically superior beast with a weapon for actually NO reason at all.”  Although I would point out that Dr. Palmer did have a reason, and a very simple one – pleasure, he wanted to kill a lion – I otherwise don’t disagree at all with your framework. I was simply trying, and still am, to expand it.

When I claim that veganism is the “least one can do,” I hope I’m clear that I mean exactly that. Once could do far more to address the injustices within food production. You are right to point to the myriad forms of violence against animals and humans involved in food production.  You are right to point out that “we all consume plenty of things we don’t need and that cause tremendous harm in this world.” But it’s fallacious to jump from the bad employment and environmental practices of an organic produce manufacturer to the claim that vegans are not “even reducing harm to animals, let alone humans.” (You seem to equate “reducing” with “eliminating,” when I am not arguing that veganism is a panacea. Otherwise, it’s hard to argue that a vegan diet doesn’t reduce harm to animals when there’s no animal on a vegan’s plate.) It’s fallacious to respond to my claim that we shouldn’t eat animal products by claiming that veganism works to the “detriment of other peoples, nations and classes even though it purports to reduce harm in general.” (As noted above, the evidence is overwhelming that veganism does reduce harm in general, and while peoples, nations, and classes still do suffer new and various detriments related to increased consumption of plant foods, those detriments are not themselves arguments against going vegan.)  Finally, it’s fallacious to jump from my point that you have a choice about what to eat to impugning that choice as so much neoliberal rhetoric when your position on diet is essentially a libertarian one that maximizes such choices as personal or cultural.

To respond to the other Facebook thread you mentioned, I would hazard that we can begin “to hierarchize the harms caused by our practices of consumption, and our global foodways.” It’s important that we do so if we are to have any hope of diminishing these harms. At least we can hazard that one of the roots of all those harms within our foodways is our excision of the animal from the sphere of ethical concern. It is very easy to exploit human labor, adult and child, when you regard the laborer as less than human. That’s why it’s not enough to protest rampant dehumanization; we must ask ourselves why it’s somehow right to exploit, use, kill, and enslave sentient creatures just because they are not human.[10] That’s the debate we should be having.

Karen

Will, I hope you know that I’m not in any way suggesting that I know how you move through the world as a consumer, or that I have my own little window on your personal practices with craft quinoa, almond milk and Banana Republic button-downs. Nor am I suggesting that veganism as a philosophy or practice is necessarily hypocritical, though I’ve encountered more than my fair share of vegan individuals who are incredibly aggressive and ‘splainy about their viewpoints, while neglecting the other conundrums and dilemmas that arise in relation to all “first world” forms of consumption—including some of the ones I mentioned above.  In short, all I’ve tried to say here, and all I really tried to say by extension on that FB thread, is that non-vegans are NOT all stupid, ill-informed people who haven’t taken the time to learn about animals, industrial food production, the rhetorics of animacy, and the vicissitudes of ethics and morality.

I think you overstate the extent to which I, and others, were “focusing” all of our outrage on the Cecil the Lion incident. Again, what intensified this particular debate is the aggression, some of it rather masculine, scolding and ‘splainy, that was directed at myself and a few others who suggested that it might be OK to register the heinousness of that act, despite having different perspectives on food and eating.

I appreciate that you decided we should take the conversation elsewhere, though I do still feel like the moral universe you are advocating is an absolutist and narrow one. I don’t think, for example, that appealing to one’s cultural heritage or explaining (in short form, mind you) some of the socio-cultural foundations for my own diet necessarily equates to a “neoliberal logic” or the advocacy of personal choice. In fact, what I tried to explain is that how one eats for most of his or her life is rarely a personal or individual choice: there are entire affective, economic, spiritual, historical, (post)colonial systems that undergird what we perceive as “choice,” and many of them actually have nothing to do with “pleasure,” as you keep referring to non-vegan ways of eating with a tone of dismissal. Though honestly—and I say this as a hedonistic Wildean maenadic type—what would be so wrong with using pleasure as our guide? Unfortunately, as an uptight Virgo, I don’t always live up to that aspiration.

But seriously: I have no investment in telling people NOT to go vegan. If you are committed to the practice, then more power to you. I have no interest in convincing you or anyone else to eat meat, dairy or the things that you have excised from your diet for political and moral reasons. Nor would I say you are “missing out” on anything. What I’ve made an effort to do in this exchange is to point out some of the hypocrisies that have fueled certain expressions of vegan vehemence, especially those that manifest in as moral directive and rhetorical aggression towards others who do not share the same priorities. I have also tried to reject the evangelical nature of veganism, at least as I encountered it in that thread and in other situations (I actually co-exist rather peacefully with plenty of vegans and vegetarians in my life—I’m a lesbian after all).

tumblr_miifpqwa7P1qgrxobo1_500Neither have I tried to suggest that you or other vegans are “prioritizing” the animal over human animals, and that we should focus our political efforts on “people” above all else, though I have tried to underscore the fact that for some vocal vegans, other political commitments to racial justice, reproductive rights, you name it, tend to fall by the wayside when “the animal” becomes the vector of projection and anthropomorphism—much as you and others have described happened with Cecil. I’m not saying you individually participate in this. I’m speaking from some of my other encounters with evangelical vegans who are capable of advocating so passionately on behalf of animals, but who refuse to acknowledge the racism and brutality of some of their other practices of consumption, or in their attitudes towards others who don’t share their principles of eating and being.

To finally answer the question you keep trying to get me to answer in this exchange: “Do animals have an interest in not being harmed?”

I really don’t know. I wouldn’t purport to understand how animal consciousness works. Nor do I think it would be the same across the board for all animals. Nor do I think it would in any way resemble human consciousness or affect. Some animals seem to be driven by a survival instinct, whereas others do not. But ultimately, who am I to know this? How am I to know this? I assume my cats have a whole range of feelings, many of which I understand are my own projections upon them. Do they avoid pain and hurt? In most circumstances they do, but in other circumstances they actually seem to seek it out. But I could be wrong because I have no real access to animal sentience except for lay-knowledge from articles in magazines at the vet, Nat Geo documentaries about the “secret lives of cats,” or 99 cent Reader’s Digest booklets on “how to communicate with your cat.” Mostly, I have to assume that whatever I’m interpreting about my cats’ behaviors is being generated by my own desires.

I want to close with a final note about morality and ethics. You might not know this, but I actually wrote my dissertation on ethics and excess in Victorian non-fiction prose, so I have a very specific take on ethics, morality, the differences between them, and their applicability to styles of living, and the cultivation of the subject.  This is a much longer, and separate conversation, but I want to clarify that I do not see ethics and morality as the same thing. To put it simply: morality denotes a set of imperatives and actions governed alternately by law, religion and culture. Ethics, meanwhile, describes the theoretical inquiry into these actions and helps us interpret the articulations that compel moral behavior and practice.  To assess the ethics of something is, from my standpoint, as much about assessing the form and style of articulation meant to incite moral behavior than it is to describe whether or not a point of view is “good” or “bad.” As I already said above, I am loathe to subscribe to a world view that is driven by moralism, precisely because moral claims cannot, by definition, be challenged. They are unassailable imperatives to behavior that—as the long history of the world has shown us—don’t always come from a good or righteous place.

Morality, for example, has been used to persecute and prosecute most of my “behaviors” as a queer person. It has been used to challenge my reproductive rights as a woman. And, by way of a response to your remark in footnote 5: the discourses of morality were also used to advocate on behalf of slavery, not merely to speak against it. Many scholars of African-American literature have argued that some abolitionist writings have a sentimental, patronizing and moralizing tone about slavery, and reject that kind of advocacy. W.E.B. DuBois himself rejects this manner of being spoken “about” and “for” by moral grandstanders who were allies. Personally, I am more interested in a Deleuzean “ethics after morality,” and in an encounter with ethics as a as a practice of reading and understanding the expressions that compel behavior. This is probably why much of what I’ve had to say in this exchange is hung up on the style and rhetoric of our disagreements and hostilities, and the manner of address that offended my sensibilities.

In the end, I hope that you feel you’ve derived something from this exchange, if merely that it strengthened your own resolve! I, meanwhile, will return to my brutal, savage, heathenistic, hedonistic and hypocritical ways (and I say this with a wink, and a smile, since tone is obviously very important to me).

Will

Do I note the irony of being called an evangelical on “the queer bully pulpit” that is Bully Bloggers?  I’m already an evangelical faggot, so I’m happy to accept the “evangelical vegan” label, too. Most of us in academia, especially in the humanities, are evangelists for something. We just tend to give it a different name: activism. We also tend not to our arguments “’splaining,” We call it criticism.

In any case, I am glad we engaged in this exchange. Talking to people about veganism is important to me, and not as a means to strengthen my own resolve. As I said in my first round of remarks, much more is at stake: the many millions of animal lives we humans unnecessarily take each year in the name of what I will continue to “reduce” to pleasure. Honestly, I just get frustrated that efforts to engage in argument so often get hung up on questions of tone. But if there’s a more tonally appropriate way to persuade you to go vegan, please let me know! I’d happily re-engage.

Footnotes

[1] Gary Francione, “We’re All Michael Vick.”

[2] According to Jonathan Safran Foer, “96 percent of Americans say that animals deserve legal protection, 76 percent say that animal welfare is more important to them than low meat prices, and nearly two-thirds advocate passing not only laws but ‘strict laws concerning the treatment of farmed animals. You’d be hard-pressed to find any other issue on which so many people see eye to eye.” See Eating Animals (New York: Little Brown 2009), 73.

[3] Jayson L. Lusk and F. Bailey Norwood, “Some Economic Benefits and Costs of Vegetarianism,” Agricultural and Resource Economics Review 38.2 (2009): 109-24.

[4] Tim Philpott, “Quinoa: Good, Evil, or Just Really Complicated.”

[5] The Animal Kill Counter, which takes marine animals into account, sets the number much higher, at more than 150 billion. http://www.adaptt.org/killcounter.html.

[6] You will not find me defending Whole Foods, one of the leading purveyors of “happy meat.”

[7] There’s a larger philosophical issue here regarding the Derridean provenance of animal studies, but that’s beyond the scope of this one response to explore. See Gary Steiner, Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism (Columbia: University of Columbia Press, 2013).

[8] I’m hard-pressed to imagine anyone on the Left agreeing that arguments for the abolition of slavery in US were too extreme or crassly moralizing or fascistic/absolutist, deafened by their own self-righteousness to complications that would ensure from abolition – mass unemployment, starvation, vagrancy, unchecked violence, etc.

[9] These figures are widely available, as is abundant evidence regarding the outsized impacts of meat consumption on environment, wealth inequality, and personal health. See, for starters, the 2010 UN report “Assessing Environment Impacts of Consumption and Production“; and their 2006 report “Livestock’s Long Shadow.”

[10] I am reminded of Sunaura Taylor’s anecdote about the mother of an intellectually disabled child who objects to Taylor’s comparison of her own disabled self to an animal. For this mother, the animal deserves to be treated worse than a human, notwithstanding Taylor’s point that disabled “people and non-human animals . . . are often oppressed by similar forces” (762). See “Vegans, Freaks, and Animals: Toward a New Table Fellowship,” American Quarterly 65.3 (2013), 757-64.