Category Archives: Uncategorized

earth climacteric

wrong
and money
and strength
capitalizing on itself to mow down whatever
can be made grass
i needed something to rise
as whole and shining moving through the dark
it’s a time of flouishing within a hard
vigil that hurts as it goes
bumping and ripping our fingernails on the walls we try
to keep ourselves safe from knowing
the lives we share
in this world between we are midwifing
we’re weaving a dream we can’t see
on these screens and these waves and wires
in the skies the energy we draw and circulate back to earth in our bodies
and souls
we are keepers of what can’t be known,
what is a birthing to be made whole like a woman screaming herself
into being
for the first time
*This poem came after a gathering with about 25 lesbian radical feminists, sharing intensity for a short time that felt cataclysmic and transformational.  Part of what is always on our minds now (all of us) is the Earth's changes and our grief over human (euro-cultures, patriarchy, capitalist) destructiveness towards her and life.  Paula Gunn Allen, in her 1991 essay 'The Woman I Love is a Planet, The Planet I Love is a Tree,' used the terms 'menopause' and 'climacteric' for these changes, and said:

'Our planet, my beloved, is in crisis; this, of course, we all know. We, many of us, think that her crisis is caused by men, or White people, or capitalism, or industrialism, or loss of spiritual vision, or social turmoil, or war, or psychic disease. For the most part, we do not recognize that the reason for her state is that she is entering upon a great initiation-she is becoming someone else. Our planet, my darling, is gone coyote, heyoka, and it is our great honor to attend her passage rites. She is giving birth to her new consciousness of herself and her relationship to the other vast intelligences, other holy beings in her universe. Her travail is not easy, and it occasions her intensity, her conflict, her turmoil-the turmoil, conflict, and intensity that human and other creaturely life mirror. And as she moves, growing and learning ever closer to the sacred moment of her realization, her turmoil, intensity, agony, and conflict increase.
...

At a time such as this, what indeed can we do? We can sing Heya- hey in honoring all that has come to pass, all that is passing. Sing, honoring, Heya-hey to all the beings gathering on all the planes to witness this great event. From every quadrant of the universe they are coming. They are standing gathered around, waiting for the emergence, the piercing moment when she is counted among those who are counted among the wise. We can sing Heya-hey to the familiar and the estranged, to the recognized and the disowned, to each shrub and tree, to each flower and vine, to each pebble and stone, to each mountain and hill. We can sing Heya-hey honoring the stars and the clouds, the winds and the rains, the seasons and the temperature. We can think with our hearts, as the old ones do, and put our brains and muscles in the service of the heart, our Mother and Grandmother Earth, who is coming into being in another way. We can sing Heya-hey, honoring.

What can we do, rejoicing and honoring, to show our respect? We can heal. We can cherish our bodies and honor them, sing Heya-hey to our flesh. We can cherish our being-our petulances and rages, our anguishes and griefs, our disabilities and strengths, our desires and passions, our pleasures and delights. We can, willingly and recognizing the fullness of her abundance, which includes scarcity and muchness, enter inside ourselves to seek and find her, who is our own dear body, our own dear flesh. For the body is not the dwelling place of
the spirit-it is the spirit. It is not a tomb, it is life itself. And even as it withers and dies, it is born; even as it is renewed and reborn, it dies.'  http://www.feminist-reprise.org/docs/paula-gunn-allen.pdf
The above image, of many swirling and vibrating colors with different energies, including two focal points of red and many downward-moving energy spirals, was drawn by me in a workshop my wife Diana Signe Kline gave at our gathering.  It feels to me like a a good fit with the poem and with Paula Gunn Allen's theme of listening to our hearts and bodies in all their disturbances which are more than our own individually, and acting from that space.

Equinox thoughts

As a Jew I have always understood myself to be part of a people – could say nation, but we have no land or territory and no self-government. The Jewish religion, I have always understood to be part of that culture, essentially a tribal god and a set of rules or principles for how to live in the world. Stories, music and poetry are part of this, gratitude and acknowledgement of the gifts of life. Balancing ritual duties with meeting needs (you can break the shabbos or a fast if needed for health reasons). So I’ve kind of bracketed the patriarchal nature of the religion, avoiding it, keeping what nurtures me – the ethical principles, the poetry.

This Rosh Hashana I came face to face with the patriarchy in a way I couldn’t avoid. I wanted to relate to the holiday in community instead of in a solitary way or only by wishing my wife a sweet year as we eat apples and maple syrup. So I attended a service by zoom, done by a progressive Jewish Renewal synagogue in California. The service was conducted by several people together, there was music and drumming as well as speaking and singing. The primary officiant, a transman who carries the title of Maggid, or preacher, was highly dynamic and brought a lot of heart to the service, using humor and connecting the themes of Rosh Hashana to life and emotions and fears and needs.

I mention that this person is a transman because I felt a deep connection with them – pronouns are ambiguous and impossible to accurately convey this situation, since to say ‘him’ would deny the connection I felt with another female person entering into patriarchal archetypes. And it would flatten and reify the archetype of masculinity itself which I reject, along with the archetype of a violent masculine covenant of submission to abject terror and helplessness that is the essence of the religious significance of Rosh Hashana beyond the simple fact of an autumnal lunar new year.

The Torah portion traditionally read for Rosh Hashana is the ‘akedah’, the binding of Isaac to an altar as sacrifice to Abraham’s god. As we know, the god saves Isaac at the last moment, it was only willingness required and not the sacrifice itself. We can rationalize this any which way, consider it to be a reconciliation of the practice of sacrifice with preserving life (of a supposedly beloved child!) by making the deity responsible for both ends and worshipping the deity ultimately as both all-powerful and merciful. But it is a patriarchal vision of deity as an entity to be feared, an arbitrary power that issues commands having no inherent value that we can discern – indeed the deity’s reasoning is considered to be asymptotically incommensurate with our capabilities of perception.

The service I attended didn’t read the Torah portion (for which I was thankful) but the themes brought out invoked it implicitly. On Rosh Hashana it is said that the deity inscribes people in the book of life or the book of death for the year to come, and on Yom Kippur that fate is sealed. Well, we know that some people will live and some will die, it is sobering to contemplate our mortality and what this means for how we want to live our lives. But there is a theme of atonement for sins, asking forgiveness for all the ways in which we have disappointed our higher conscience, as if it is a matter of averting the imposition of a death sentence that the deity may arbitrarily impose for any reason of its own. This again is a patriarchal image of deity as sovereign monarch, a king ruling by decree, the best we can hope for is mercy. And that is not an inherent attribute of deity or our relationship to the sacred, it is a reflection of a particular kind of class society with patriarchy at its foundation.

The other patriarchal aspect of the ‘akedah’ is the covenant that follows the merciful saving of Isaac from a death sentence. It’s a male covenant with a male god, involving male circumcision. What is this for women? How are women even a part of the Jewish people?

There is in the scripture reference to older traditions that may have been matriarchal, including the marriages of the founding patriarchs to the founding matriarchs – Isaac and Jacob both returned to their mothers’ relatives to seek their mates, and Jacob spent a number of years living with those relatives in a matrilocal arrangement before uprooting his wives and household to re-assert the patrilocal arrangement he had intended. When Rachel takes the teraphim – the household gods – she is both asserting her right to them, and cooperating with Jacob in moving to consolidate a patriarchal society. (We don’t have to take these stories as literal to derive this implication.)

As a Jewish woman, already having rejected zionism as an expression of nationhood because it adopts the form and nature of white settler colonialism with inherent genocidal implications that are ongoing, and also understanding that the patriarchal religion is not salvageable – this is how I see my particular situation in the world:

I can choose to look within to invoke my own ancestors, known or unknown, that come in a good way. (Thanks to Veronica Agard, who conducts the Ancestors in Training workshops). When I connect with my ancestors, I invite them to the place where I currently make my home. They can communicate with me through dreams or other signs and it is up to me to discern meaning and take responsibility for what I do in response.

I have no homeland, most of my people came here from countries where they were being persecuted. The land of Israel or Palestine is not capable of being a spiritual homeland because of how it is being used destructively for genocide. I can’t ‘go home’ again. I was born on land that was original Lenape territory, in Brooklyn; now I live on land that was original territory of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy/Mohawk nation and also occupied and used by Abenaki and other nations through treaties. (The book Rural Indigenousness by Melissa Otis is a fascinating history though needs to be supplemented by learning more about the massacres which are not presented in detail.) When I connect to the land, I recognize the original peoples as custodians and their ancestors as well as my own. Connection to this land where I live – the particular place where I make my home, its immediate surroundings – has become a source of important meaning to me, communion and mutual energy and knowledge.

As for the rest, it is open and indefinite, and unfinished. Being part of ‘the mixed multitudes’ is what diasporic identity means if it is an identity at all and it may be a history more than anything else.

There is a legacy of ‘tikkun olam’ that might be the best of what I inherit as a Jewish legacy. Survival strengths and understanding ourselves as both/and, inside and outside, a people dispersed among the nations, needing to find ways to repair what has been harmed and having the perspective to see from inside and outside at once. We have also inherited some intense fear, both from our own patriarchal covenant religion and from the persecutions we have undergone throughout history. So we can’t come to the world, or to tikkun olam, as beggars, as beings tainted by an original sin of homelessness mixed with patriarchal ambitions, crying to a sovereign king worldly or otherworldly for mercy. Moving into our place within the mixed multitudes, we have been and are part of reinventing woman-centered power as creative intelligence and order (see Paula Gunn Allen, The Sacred Hoop). That is a paradigm I am tentatively adopting as a both/and way of exploring matriarchies (cultures centered on mothers as beginning with spiritual, social, economic and political implications). It may be that the two are the same but that as a lesbian raised in patriarchal culture I see ‘mother’ in a restrictive light. I am also especially interested in exploring original forms of law from this perspective, and connecting this with the possibilities that may or may not exist still to exercise creative intelligence through law-giving either using the political structure of states (can they be transformed, are some already functioning as anything other than a violent paradigm of arbitrary sovereignty?) or in any other meaningful ways.

Binaries as balance vs hierarchy

Thinking about the sex binary and the existence, or possibility, of non-patriarchal forms of gender as cultural meaning given to the sex binary or to the existence of binary forms generally as a principle of social organization.

Women in modern capitalist patriarchy have a legacy to contend with that posits gender as complementarity, entangled with the hierarchy that is gender in patriarchy. Cynical glorification of women’s ‘place’ in the home, women as civilizers of men, ‘the angel in the house’ serves the purpose of flattery that works alongside threats to induce women to cooperate in their (our) own oppression (Max Dashú discussing the work of Collette Guillaumin). Feminists are rightly cynical about gender that maintains separate spheres of activity or enactment of archetypal cultural forms for women and men because of this entanglement and the subjugated relationship of women to its creation and maintenance.

We have been confronted with the need to articulate the difference between binary sex as a reality of our physical existence as a mammalian species, and the gender binary that socially constructs a hierarchy of sex-based oppression. We affirm the sex binary in itself as a neutral fact and contest the gender one. But we are left without a way to describe or imagine the possibility of social binaries other than as hierarchy, within western feminism.

Yet such binaries are all around and within us at the subsistence level that both underlies and resists capitalist patriarchy. Matricentric cultures treat social binaries as a form for balance and dynamic stability. This is fundamentally different from hierarchy.

My experience of balance in a relationship comes from loving another woman. She is my balance, something I feel as a counterweight connected to myself and inseparable in that sense. In a binary relationship as balance, each side exists in itself and in relation to the other. This felt experience of binary as balance allows me to move outward and appreciate the possibility of balance between the sexes in matricentric cultures and the potency of other binary forms such as clan arrangements that similarly differentiate and connect people in complex relationships of balance within a society.

In contrast to balance, hierarchy entails both dominance and a substitution of quantity for quality. Quantity in the sense of more than or less than, stronger or weaker, superior and inferior – comparison along a yardstick that is presumed to be uniform for both parts of the binary but is in fact (as we know from gender) based on the one that dominates. That is inevitable since the original form of binary as balance brings together two entirely different qualities, neither of which can measure or be measured by the other.

This shift, this imposition of a quantified relation based on dominance on a relation of balance between two entirely different qualities (which then also substitutes quantification and comparison for qualitative difference), would appear to be key to the original appropriation or dispossession of women as a sex class by men as a sex class. I started thinking about this from Max Dashú’s discussion of Collette Guillaumin’s insight that the exchange of women, which she considers fundamental to any form of patriarchy, assumes that women are already socially construed as objects capable of being exchanged. The ‘sexification’ of women – turning women into objects of sexual and reproductive use-value whose worth along the yardstick of the sex-class binary is qualitatively inferior to that of men and whose ‘worth’ can then be measured by men in terms of quantities of objects of exchange – is said to constitute that violent appropriation of women by men, for men’s use. Relating this to the substitution of quantity for quality links patriarchy – the original dispossession of women – with class society in which elite classes, primarily but not exclusively the men in those classes, use other human beings and both constitute themselves as the yardstick of measurement for social worth as human beings, and presume to measure the value of those they dominate as economic units serving the aim of the masters, in contrast to relation among differentiated social groups as qualitatively distinct cooperators in maintaining balance that each serve both the aims of society as a whole and their particular existence on its own terms.

This brings me back to the two previous posts on dispossession of women and the fact of life that everything matters, when we are facing dispossession as women continually do in capitalist patriarchy as it maintains itself over us. Every dispossession no matter how slight it may appear, no matter whether it comes in the form of confinement, force, law, custom or flattery, is a fundamental (and qualitative) shift from original balance (connection of qualitatively distinct existences) to hierarchy (domination and measurement of relative worth as a prerogative of the dominator). Balance is still possible at the subsistence level of life that capitalism cannot expropriate from us without killing us all, and as it is fundamentally about re-shifting the nature of relationships, including our relationships with nature, it cannot be done in isolation but only by means that put into practice the end, respecting the independence and connection of qualitatively distinct existences and rejecting any binary relations that entail quantification or dominance. (I have to thank Sally Tatnall for her presentation on hierarchy which planted a seed in my mind about the unity of forms of hierarchy that informs what I am struggling to express here.)

Revisiting the dispossession of women: prostitution

Thinking about prostitution and sex work debates.

I agree with the tenet of radical feminism that maintains selling sexual access to a woman’s body cannot be dignified as empowering work. It is a form of violence – sexed and sexual violence that appropriates women as the object of men’s sexual drive and social entitlements. Unionization and campaigns to ‘improve working conditions’ normalize sexual violence and rationalize its subjection to regulation without disturbing the central dispossession that defines the character of this particular way of earning a living.

If earning a living is how one defines work, however, selling sex is a way that women have earned money. When running away from sexual abuse at home, or as an alternative to becoming economically entirely dependent on one man in marriage, or giving in to the demands for sexual access made on women in work settings and any public or private space, prostitution can appear as the way to take control of violence that will be done to you one way or another. The sex trade encapsulates what capitalist patriarchy means for women as the bleakest and most cynical opportunity for direct participation in the market economy – equally available for contract exploitation, unequally sexed or ‘sexified’ (as Max Dashú translates Collette Guillaumin’s concept of ‘sexage’).

But abolishing prostitution through law and policy (e.g. the Nordic model designed to criminalize sex buyers and pimps but not sex sellers, and to support women to exit) will not change the conditions that bring it about. It will not free women from either sexual predation by men or economic marginalization as a part of the labor force easily reduced to contingency and precarity. (This marginalization is not new nor does it refer to the US 1950s campaign to install the middle-class housewife as prime consumer. Marx talks about it in Capital and housewives were considered by Chinese communist feminists to be an important group to mobilize politically, see Finding Women in the State, by Wang Zheng.) I support the Nordic model as an imperfect strategy to combat a particularly intense form of sexual exploitation but need to dig deeper and link the abolition of prostitution to the full inclusion of women currently or formerly selling sex in the defeat of capitalist patriarchy. To the extent any of us use strategies of survival or advancement that rely on acceptance of violence, exploitation or dispossession we need to be able to confront them and release them with all the grief they have caused us.

The subsistence perspective promoted by Veronica Bennholdt-Thomsen and Maria Mies, which relates closely to the land dyke movement discussed in my earlier post and to modern matriarchal studies and the movement for a maternal gift economy, offers a more holistic way to understand the exploitation, appropriation and dispossession by capitalism of women and others whose labor produces and reproduces the necessities of life. Importantly it offers a way to think about a way out of capitalist patriarchy through persistence and care for the necessities of life. As Jeanne Neath has said in discussing the subsistence perspective, capitalism can’t survive without subsistence underneath it, but subsistence can thrive without capitalism. (Or as Buffy Sainte-Marie sings in ‘Carry It On,’ ‘It ain’t money that makes the world go round, That’s just a temporary confusion.’) I’m still reading the Subsistence Perspective book, so stay tuned for further reflections and feel free to comment with your own knowledge and insights.

hold on

hold on, the space of this life
like a spider stepping out lightly into air and brilliant sun

no one has freed me
the dark leaves shadow a shiver of creation
where we dream what could be if the tragedies common to all of us
had not happened
if we had only the sun and not the shadow

we became love
and food with each other

our transformations where one goes away out of pain that cannot be withstood,
and then reminds herself
light and dark and pain
and hunger and cold and thirst and laughter
still rile us,

life with the skin sensitive as fire we
curl and protect 
then open
and close again

Dispossession of women

I was listening last night to David Harvey’s lecture on part 8 of Marx’s Capital, which feels like ‘this is the real dirt on capitalism’ that Marx set aside for the purpose of making his argument in the early chapters. Original accumulation or accumulation by dispossession, i.e. private property really is theft on a massive and systematic scale. The existence of capital and labor-power as the two essential components of the capitalist economic system cannot be brought about except by violently dispossessing people from the land and their homes, taking away from them the ability to work for themselves. This continues most obviously through colonialism but is also present as a feature of the continual evolution of capitalism in all its stages. Harvey cites Rosa Luxembourg for this and also gives the example of the subprime housing crisis as continuing expropriation within a developed capitalist economy.

What struck me beyond capitalism itself, is applying the accumulation by dispossession to male-female relations. The trans movement in its demand for gender identity to supersede sex is, from women’s point of view, nothing more or less than a reassertion of patriarchy by the aggressive and violent accumulation of social capital on behalf of the male sex at the expense of the female sex.

There is no need from a human rights and non-discrimination point of view to dispossess women from the spaces and institutions we have created for ourselves – chosen, created through hard work and advocacy, for love of ourselves and other women – in order to recognize the existence of gender diversity and of social groups that help to expand this diversity. It is true that we use the terms ‘women’ and ‘men’ to mean both sex classes and something more that has a range of cultural overtones varying by culture, (language!), and individual. That is why I use the terms transwoman and transman in order to acknowledge those individuals’ personal identities. They are outlier identities just as lesbian, dyke, butch are outlier identities. We exist in a similar space on the edges of our cultures’ mainstream gender norms and expectations.

My awakening to the problems with transgender advocacy came primarily from reconnecting with the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival after a hiatus of many years and finding how much the energy of the women who continued putting it on and attending was being sapped by vicious attacks on the livelihood of performers and the existence of this female-centered community in itself. Michigan was, I used to think, the premier cultural institution of lesbian feminism in the United States; everything that was being discussed or worked out in our community, whether theory or practiced, came through and the festival’s handling of it showed the rest of us one way (or more) it could be addressed. So it was with the Womyn of Color tent, DART (oh help me out with what it stands for – an area set aside for disabled women and a hub for access needs), areas for non-smoking and smoking, chem-free and chem-tolerant, quiet and noisy, Twilight zone where anything goes. So it was also with transgender attendees. Despite the known presence of transwomen at the festival including on the work crews which were its core community, transgender activists attacked the festival as transphobic for its stated intention that the festival be for ‘womyn-born-womyn’ only. In lesbian feminist culture, intention is important in shaping the spaces we create and the future we desire. It is an affirmation and projection of ourselves into material reality without violent insistence on our own way. Why did transgender activists attack this festival and count it as a victory when the festival’s entrepreneur Lisa Vogel decided to retire after the 40-year anniversary, if the aim was to create space for gender outliers rather than to dispossess women?

Many current debates among gender-critical feminists (my definition: women who are actual feminists, advocating the defeat of patriarchy/male dominance and who reject the contention that gender identity supersedes sex) center around the degree to which any of us are willing to acknowledge the social group of people who consider themselves to be transgender. Some women refuse to use the terms transwoman or transman or even transgender, as they consider these terms to give too much ground. They consider that ‘gender identity’ as a concept contains in itself the aggressive dispossession of women – the political and legal erasure of women as a recognizable social group ourselves. On the other end of the spectrum are those who would concede to transwomen some inclusion in the category of women for some purposes, but would protect female-only spaces particularly in situations of vulnerability such as spas and changing rooms, prisons, shelters, hospital and rehabilitation settings, and in sports. Some of us like myself want to recognize the social groups of gender outliers by the names and concepts they choose for themselves and believe this can be done without accepting that ‘gender identity’ is a universalizing concept by which everyone can be reliably classified so as to displace sex. I do not think it is warranted to allow any members of the male sex to be considered women for any purpose, given the impossibility of justifying this according to a materialist feminist analysis and the need to maintain and nurture women’s resistance to patriarchy, our ability to reliably create female-only space for ourselves, to protect and defend lesbians and lesbian cultures.

The question of separatism is re-raised for lesbian-feminists, and our separatist cultural and political forms are flourishing. Sarah Hoagland commented once that the anarchist/socialist debate was reflected in lesbian feminist community as separatism/radical feminism. I don’t yet know where to go with that thought, and hope to explore with Sarah how she sees it, but my inclination is some of both. There is always a material reality underneath the social forms that, if we can gain independent ground we can stand on to mount a resistance. (I have also recently read the account of Emma Goldman’s involvement with the Spanish anarchist movement – in Emma Goldman in Exile, by Alice Wexler.) Land is a source of independence; some women are creating a high degree of self-sufficiency for themselves through subsistence living, creating all-female land communities, and/or simply re-orienting ourselves to what it means to live in the world based in relationship to land rather than the socially overdetermined spaces of cities. For women this is a meaningful lifting of the male gaze and male intrusions; while we have to defend ourselves we have greater scope to defend and the time and space to think for ourselves and think through personal and collective strategies.

At the same time I am aware of how small a percentage of women, even of lesbian feminists, the land dykes represent, and the many obstacles to accessing land and living sustainably (for oneself) in rural areas of the United States – knowledge of country skills, economic resources and access to livelihood, race/ethnicity discrimination, misogyny and homophobia facing women buying home or land and arranging for work to be done that we can’t do ourselves, uncertainty and precarity of all kinds. The distances between our lands is great for the most part, though there are clusters in a few places. If we could create (or fan the flames of) a vibrant lesbian-feminist land culture and develop it politically to the point where it could pose a real alternative for women in general, we would face violence and other threats to our existence. It seems to me sometimes that women in this land culture may have mixed feelings (and send mixed messages) about openness and inclusivity (among females), aiming for spaces to be refuges for women and a land base for women’s freedom but also wanting to curate the women admitted into these communities and maintain them as personal rather than collective refuges for those who have made the community their home.

I am a lawyer by training and profession, practicing international human rights advocacy. That is about as far from land-dyke separatism as possible, but I do live in the country, on some land, with my wife. We are part of the larger far-flung land-dyke community and recent visits have reaffirmed this connection. I am not sure whether land-dyke separatism is a refuge that allows me to do my work – that nourishes me in so many indescribable ways – or whether my work involves the theorizing of projections into a future where this way of living will be one among other sustainable ones available to human beings if and when capitalism collapses in on itself with as few casualties as possible.

Power

I think we need a renewed excavation of power, among feminists and other movements.

Power has gotten a bad rap because for many women it is associated with men, with abuse, with violence. Anger has similarly gotten a bad rap. It seems the only time power and anger can be made safe for women (or anybody, but only women are paying attention) is through therapy. If a therapist, or your collective, affirms that you are in the right, that you are defending yourself, that your power has been taken away by an abuser who is definitively in the wrong – and of course that abuser is characterized as someone who is in love with power, who likes being powerful, who isn’t ashamed of their power – well, then go ahead. Do what you have to do, you have the stamp of approval.

But watch out – somebody else may be paying attention who didn’t go through that program with you. They might call you a Karen (see Glosswitch’s post) or crazy, they might lock you up or get you killed depending on who you are and who they are and your relative power and privilege on a social scale.

So what do we do if we genuinely don’t want to abuse anyone at the micro and macro levels, we want to be conscious of both internalized oppression and implicit bias (against ourselves or others) and the ways we inadvertently oppress others? How can we do this internal and external work to upend and destroy the hierarchies that construct power at the collective level, while understanding power simply and neutrally as the force we wield through our will and action and communication, apart from hierarchies and not in itself good or evil?

When I was learning Aikido, my male teacher – someone who I sensed did not think well of himself and who was a combat veteran and probably an abuse survivor – responded nervously and misogynistically to my delight at completing a technique successfully at an early stage of my training. I had done a wrist lock on a very nice large and gentle man, done it fast and just as I was shown, and it made him wince and brought him to his knees. Being able to subdue someone twice my size, doing a martial arts technique successfully, was not a power trip. But my teacher responded, ‘You like the power, huh’ as an implicit criticism. My technique never really recovered.

Three years or so later, my teacher eyed me quizzically with another implicit criticism, after I had taken a fall when another (male) student had actually failed to perform the technique successfully. I was somewhat intimidated by this student’s advanced standing and felt unsure of myself in calling attention to his failed execution, though we were all supposed to be each others’ teachers.

I can’t make a direct link between the two incidents, but both reflect a misogynistic environment that denied women the free use of our own power – in the one case our physical power and in the other, our authority as knowers of the art we practiced in common. (I use the plural but for most of my time there I was the only woman present on a regular basis.)

I liked the dojo and enjoyed casual friendships with some of the men I practiced with, hanging out after class. It was small, in my neighborhood, and I practiced nearly every day for much of that time.

It ended after an act of sexual abuse by a senior male student in the act of doing a technique, when we were attending a seminar given by the teacher of our teacher, at another dojo. My teacher gave me no support when I told him about this, and only years after I left and encountered him in the street he told me that I was right to consider it a problem of the dojo and he had eventually spoken to that student about his behavior. Too little, way too late.

I don’t think that women should have to create our own female-only spaces in order to experience our power safely and freely. I treasure female-only space and especially lesbian space. There is a richness to our connections, seeing each other, toughening up in our mutual abrasiveness and basking in our mutual tenderness, that nourishes me to my roots.

But if I am obligated to seek out that space for safety, I am not free and I am not strong. And it’s not only physical safety, safety from violence and aggression that we should be and are concerned about, it’s safety *to* be our full, big selves. We can and should share our knowledge and strategies for exercising our power out there against male aggression and its collective, corporate and institutional organized forms. But we have to understand that power is not something that needs sanitizing or processing through a feminist collective, or therapy, in order to be safe for women, in order to be satisfying, in order to be good.

The good or evil of power is our choices about how to use it. We have to own our power in order to make these choices – not power as privilege, which becomes an obligation to political correctness, but power as power, inherent in all human beings or any life. Power as the force behind one’s will, and will (as readers of this blog may know) is the human right to universal legal capacity.

We don’t need to point to some kind of intersectional identity – anything but the status of being female, which is once again being shoved into the mud, made animalistic, shameful, and irrelevant to human rights and non-discrimination discourse – in order to understand ourselves as having and using, wielding and exercising power. It does not have to be butch or femme, does not have to be Jewish or Black or Brown or Indigenous, though we need to know, analyze, feel and move with the ways these intersectional oppressions take power from us and complexity the barriers we face in exercising it (and the strategies we use in affirming and claiming power for ourselves).

We do not have to see power as all or nothing either, or shared as if it were a pie. My power is not the same as yours, I don’t have to divide mine for you to have some. ‘God(dess) bless the child that’s got her own.’

On Not Throwing Anyone Away


This workshop took place on April 24, 2021, presented by Tina Minkowitz.

Description:

“This workshop brings together concerns and interests of mine in the areas of disability human rights (abolition of forced psychiatry, guardianship and institutionalization), restorative justice, and how lesbians and feminists create community.

“I am interested in our politics towards the world outside our lesbian communities – which impacts us and in which we also play active roles as leaders, activists, workers, etc. – and in our internal community practices and relationships.

“I am committed to feminism that is relevant to all women (female human beings) as liberation from male domination and all other forms of oppression. I am also committed to the abolition of forced psychiatry and similar practices, and have shaped international human rights law to uphold this position.

“I have more questions than answers, regarding some big and little issues where disability, restorative justice and feminism intersect. Two of these are the question of women’s relationship to the state, and whether calls for inclusion – ‘everybody in, nobody out’ – end up exploiting women, or if we can envision and create practices that make this work. (By inclusion, I am not referring to males in female-only spaces, but such things as the right of all adults and children to live in the community and not be institutionalized.)”

Recording can be accessed here: https://soundcloud.com/user-855766643/on-not-throwing-anyone-away-1

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On not throwing anyone away 

Tina Minkowitz 

What does it mean? 

Societyʼs garbage cans – prisons, psychiatric institutions, other institutions – what else? 

ʻThrow it (them?) away where? The world is roundʼ People arenʼt fungible – relationships not commodities 

Challenges 

Freedom to separate and set boundaries Freedom to refuse care and attention Kinship-based societies vs market-based 

State as both oppressor enforcing hierarchies/exploitative relations, and guarantor of safety and basic needs 

What has been your experience? 

Have you ever experienced one or more of societyʼs garbage cans? Been threatened with one? 

How does that affect your relationship with the world? 

Do you have good experiences with caring and attending in times of crisis? 

How do we deal with each otherʼs needs, flaws and limitations, without being overwhelmed or making outcast? 

Large-scale and small 

On small scale, we can all develop personal resilience and collective resilience – I mean that in the sense of, over time, learning enough from ups and downs to not be harmed by them 

Separation for a period of time or forever, is always possible – there are no guarantees 

We give each other slack as imperfect people relating to imperfect people – enter into honesty to create structures, values, practices that reflect who we are separately and together 

… and large scale? 

On large scale itʼs harder, isnʼt it? 

State and the big wide world that is defined by racial capitalist patriarchy, but in which we all move and act nevertheless – in resistance and in ordinary creativity and agency 

Defund the police/ decarceration/ transformative justice/ community safety – how do these relate to women? 

Do police and prisons stop rapists/rape? Do they stop/prevent femicides? (Is there anything that does?) 

Caring isnʼt actually optional 

Letʼs pick apart the patriarchal overlay
Mothers and infants canʼt separate from each other without harm 

We often have ongoing relationships that are not entirely our own choice – not because anyone is forcing us but because they involve complex obligations, interrelationships, needs – we canʼt make everything to our liking 

On the larger scale, we have duties to one another – we are all connected – women originally have public role but how do we claim it now? 

Matriarchies, gift economy, the earth 

Do matriarchies allow for societal garbage cans? 

Can we guarantee universal caring/attending without corresponding control? 

Speech and gift – ʻhearing into speechʼ, incipient speech/communication, can everyone be ʻheardʼ? 

ʻSitting with discomfortʼ – prescription or description – (why/when) is it worth it to listen? 

ʻFractal binary of the giftʼ – circles connecting with circles 

Law, politics 

Dismantling the features of law that maintain hierarchy and oppression 

(including targeted paternalistic control such as guardianship, psychiatric commitment, juvenile PINS, economic policies that result in disability-related institutionalization) 

State as organizer of resources? 

Does community safety/ transformative justice work stop rape and femicide? Can it? What would it take for that work to deeply be accountable to women as women, along with all the other dimensions it needs to be accountable to (race, class, disability)? 

Jewish holidays as transformation and community building

Passover is just ending for this year, and I had been thinking, for no particular reason, about feeling a lack of connection with my ancestors; not having any descendants myself either. I was thinking that I didn’t have a way to talk about, approach, the historical trauma that affects me as a Jew.

We had had a really good seder on the first night, and I felt connected with both the ancient story and the modern freedom songs and the poetry (especially Irena Klepfisz’s Bashert) included in the Haggadah we use.

And it came to me that Passover itself is a ritual for the transformation of historical trauma. That this has been here in plain sight, and I was already participating in it. We have the container within our own culture, and we can make it more meaningful (I can make it more meaningful) by acknowledging that this is what it is.

That is my connection with the ancestors, and they gave it to me just as I was feeling the need for it.

Other Jewish holidays that commemorate liberation from oppression – Chanukah and Purim – are different kinds of transformation rituals. Now I’ve just been through Pesach, so am in the grip of this one which is the most intense and even grueling.

Then I think that Shavuot and Succot are nation-building or people-building rituals. And our high holy days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are community-building more than they are simply a matter of inward contemplation. We ask one another for forgiveness, we ask forgiveness in community. These are all part of the transformation of historical trauma as well. Building community is the nurturance we need, after we have been through hell and come out alive.

Even the story of the Akedah, which we retell on Rosh Hashanah, we tell in order to emphasize that the sacrifice did not take place.

There is something in this that nourishes me and leads me out into the place where I am born, where I am connected to the whole and enter into community that is mine.

Submission to UN SOGI Expert

‘This submission is to clarify that there is a stance taken by feminists who maintain that sex matters and needs to be acknowledged as separate from gender identity, and who reject any attempt by religious fundamentalists to use us as a wedge against ‘gender ideology’. ‘

Read full submission here.