On learned suspicion, good faith, and asylum seekers

July 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

In the wake of Rudd’s announcement of massive changes to asylum seeker policy and legislation in Australia, I’ve been once again rattled into thinking about this problem, this huge political problem, of institutionalised racism in Australia.

In amongst the political analysis, the proof that Manus is hellish, and the arguments for human rights, I want to make a fairly simple point.

One of the less urgent, but I believe, important things that bothers me about asylum seeker policy is that it teaches Australians to be deeply suspicious of others.

Asylum seekers on the roof of a detention centre, banner reads “Are not we your neighbours/ Don’t mistreat the foreigner”, from wikimedia commons

It’s not just that legislators in Australia don’t care enough about asylum seekers’ suffering, though the suffering is great and the policies awful. It’s that, in asking us to accept their policy decisions, they ask all Australians to be intensely suspicious of the motives of others. Is suspicious even a strong enough word? In order to accept that chucking people in indefinite detention on god-forsaken islands is ok, we have to believe that they are shifty, disingenuous, dangerous. Most recently, in order to say, as a country, “you may never come here, you may never seek asylum here”, we are being asked to believe that these people in boats shouldn’t be asking asylum of us (relatively, globally speaking) rich people at all, and if they do, it’s for bad, bad reasons.

Maybe KRudd was right all along. This is not just a matter of fact but a matter of faith. If fact were the problem, this debate would be over.

We are being taught to believe, deeply and without proof, that people who come here by boat want something from us that they don’t deserve. We have taught ourselves to believe that these people are grasping, evil, dirty, sexist, fraudsters.

A bit of a personal story: my mum taught me to approach with good faith those who have little, or less than me. I remember walking through Maitland mall, and having Trevor, the homeless man who lived around there, address her by name and she would stop for a chat. Jimmy, the disabled guy down the road, would ask her about our dog every day as he walked by and she always had time.

This isn’t some idyllic memory. My feelings toward these men were mixed, and I was a bit scared of Trevor, honestly. Nonetheless it was my experience that most folks are eager to repay a kindness if they can. One time Jimmy brought us an old, amazingly sturdy fan in the heat of summer. I think my mum still has it.

I don’t think my mum’s attitude is so unique. I know there are generous people on both sides of politics. Why can’t we collectively believe then, that asylum seekers arriving by boat could be worthwhile residents and citizens of Australia, one day? It’s not such a stretch.

What I’m saying is that suspicion or good faith is learned, and Australians have been learning to believe for a long time now that those seeking asylum are undeserving. A frightening micro-politics of the self, if you like. I do not believe that asylum seekers are singularly bad, with bad motivations. I think the consequences of believing they are dehumanises not just the asylum seekers, but those refusing asylum.

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Dudes and sexual violence, Part 2

February 28, 2012 § 2 Comments

Photo by Morgan Carpenter via Dude magazine

When I posted my most recent blog to facebook, a conversation ensued that made me think the issue of transguys and sexual violence through some more.

The original post I was discussing was from Dude magazine and you can read it here.

In response to another friend’s comment on my page, Max Attitude responded with the below:

I’d be careful about generalising about transmen’s manliness. My experience is that trans men are often conflated with nontrans men in ways which are inappropriate. I’m interested to know why you think ‘trans male culture’ is “a space where it really needs discussion”; I can’t think of a space where it doesn’t. It seems likely some transmen would enact sexual violence in order to prove their manliness – this is how most man/woman sexual violence takes place, and there is a particular context to transmen’s manliness that warrants discussion/investigation. There’s are historical contexts for expecting transmen to “be better men” than nontrans men, (to be “better” feminists) – just as there are for transwomen – that are not politically savvy.

Sexual violence, its consequences, causes, social power it points to, should always be talked about. And talked about in ways which are useful. perps should own up and be dealt with. As perps (who can be of all genders/sexualities). Sussing out how someone’s social position factors in to their abusive behaviour is relevant, important, urgent. But trans people deserve for their transness to be dealt with with care (obviously not as an excuse), because it is a really fucking hard way to live – and nontrans people fuck up all the time. Just don’t blame the transness, I suppose. That does a disservice to all transmen, many of whom are freakin’ amazing, feminist, women-loving, nonabusive men.

This was my response, which I’ve expanded a little here:

I think that in any masculine gendering, trans or cis boys and men and masculine women, there are valid concerns about extricating misogyny from masculinity. What does it mean to be a dude and not be misogynist? It’s a hard question, but one of the reasons that I love Dude is that I think it – and even the post I linked to – does try to be that very thing (as well as heaps of other stuff of course). In my experience it is really hard to call out misogyny though, in any community, and especially in the face of (my own) ingrained ‘feminine’ behaviours, so I can understand those concerns.

Actually though, that wasn’t what I intended the original post to be about. Something I didn’t get into there was the idea of the gender of the survivor of sexual assault. Perhaps obviously, I was thinking when I was writing, that it was possible the survivor being spoken about was a trans guy or a woman. Of course it’s also possible that the survivor was a cis guy but that isn’t really what I want to get into here, either.

When I made a comment on the Dude post and wrote my post here, I was most interested in what sexual assault means for trans guy survivors. Amongst other things, what does it mean in terms of how masculinity is then experienced or expressed? I don’t have the answer to that question. But again it is important because I think if we can understand what sexual assault generates, we can start to communicate more effectively why it’s so important and why it’s not ok.

What I didn’t say in my first post is that when I was thinking about this ‘idea of the survivor’, I started to realise the extent to which that persom is gendered feminine. Which is obviously problematic given the intense violence that is directed toward trans people both because a) like women, they are not cis guys and b) they threaten the gender binary and power structure (and heteronormativity by association, thanks Judith Butler).

So, at all stages of transition (some more than others) trans guys are affected by sexual assault. And that is a big part of what I was attempting to ask questions about. Again, in my view, these questions are important in any discussion of sexual violence in any community. What does sexual assault create and destroy, for both perpetrators and survivors?

Thinking through this reminds me of how much potential there is for solidarity amongst trans guys and women. Although perpetrators can be of all genders/ sexualities as Max says, with the exception of certain incarceration systems, survivors are far more likely to be female-bodied or trans people. So while feminism has a history of being really shitty at acknowledging the (in my view overwhelming) need for solidarity with the queer and trans communities around sexual violence, I think it’s a hugely important and positive opportunity.

This is a community of men that has an interest in stopping sexual violence. At the same time it’s also a community that has particular (and not so particular, of course people have sex everywhere) vulnerabilities to violence of many kinds – normative, physical, sexual, the reiterated violence of the everyday.

So, important questions, and important solidarities are what I take from this.

Dudes and sexual violence

February 23, 2012 § 3 Comments

Hint: it’s not what you think.

Image by Morgan Carpenter via Dude Magazine

For the best part of the last year, a friend of mine, Max Attitude, has been working on Dude Magazine. Dude is a magazine (mostly) by and for transmasculine folks and those that love them, hang with them, and are part of that community or category. You can read what they’re about in their own words here.

Given that I fall into the “love them” and “hang with them” categories, I have been enamoured by Dude from the start. I am particularly into the fact that Dude is very cool about issues of gender identity – the mag represents a bunch of different iterations of transmasculinity, and a bunch of different bodies and stages of transition. I particularly enjoyed a recent interview with Alix Iron, who IDs, amongst other things, as trans-ish. Cute.

So, given said love, I follow the Dude blog. I opened a post in my email inbox not quite a week ago, and read something which I’m going to repost at length here:

Stand up against sexual violence in our communities

***trigger warning – this post is about sexual violence***

This is Jez Pez, the Editor of DUDE. This week we were informed that a rapist was possibly going to attend our Brisbane launch party. It is something I want to talk about and something I think we should all be talking about. Sexual violence or any form of violence is completely unacceptable, but unfortunately it is so heartbreakingly common.

Once we were notified we were in a position to take responsibility and accountability as event organisers, as feminists, as male identified people and as community members. I want to express sincerest thanks for being notified so that we could work to make our event safe for everyone and also take action in the community.

It was important to me and to the other people I worked with to address this matter, that  we first and foremost respected the survivor/s, without question. Something which I think the legal and judicial systems fail to do. Something which I think society often fails to do.

Another reason why I am posting this statement is to advocate against sexual violence and domestic violence in our communities. It happens, it is happening now and it isn’t OK. And nobody is exempt from this. It hurts people and destroys lives and it hurts communities.

I’m going to post some links below. Some are fact sheets on sexual assault and some are radical and anarchic community responses to sexual assault, including workshop kits about consent. Please take the time to read, share and generate discussion in your community. This shit can’t be swept under the rug.

Stand up against rape, against rape culture and against slut shaming.

You can access the links Jez mentions by going to the original post.

Dude has always seemed to me to have feminist sensibility. I’m into ‘stand up against sexual violence’ and I think it’s good that this post was made.

At the end of the post though, I was left with some really big questions.

I wondered about what the transmale community creating and supporting Dude thinks about why and/or how sexual assault is a problem, how it affects the transmale community in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and anywhere else, what the effects of the violence are, and how transmasculinity affects experiences of assault and vice versa (real and threatened, perpetrated and perpetrator).

I ask these questions because I think that talking about sexual assault in our communities is useful when it addresses the specificities of experience in that community.

I think it is important not just to discuss the fact that sexual assault is bad, or what it is, but what it does. How is sexual assault generative, what does it create or destroy for people?

I think this is an important question for different queer and especially sex-radical communities (which aren’t always the same thing obviously, but I think it is fair to say there is crossover). How do questions of consent/ assault and masculinity/ and of transmasculinity interrelate?

This is hard stuff to answer and to say. I’m not suggesting Jez’s post should or could have covered all of this, but I would love to see these (and other) questions begin to be answered at some point. My reason is that as a feminist, I think that if an answer to these questions is something like “sexual assault dehumanises survivors,” then we can start to get a handle on why it is so fucking important.

To try to answer some of my own questions here: one result of sexual violence that I’ve seen and that has affected my life, is the diminishing of capacity to engage with others. I’ve also seen sexual assault set up a constant fear of disapproval and rejection. One quite tangible result of this was difficulties in accessing social opportunities and trusting relationships, which is (always already) gendered territory anyway.

These questions are painful, and I don’t have any obvious answers, but I think maybe being in a position to ask them is a hopeful place to be.

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