...cannot be adequately accounted for either by nature (climate, site) or by its previous history…Mediations and mediators have to be taken into consideration: the action of groups, factors within knowledge, within ideology or within the domain of representations. Social space contains a great diversity of objects, both natural and social, including the networks and pathways which facilitate the exchange of material things and information.
I have a complex relationship with Chicago, my (always and forever) home town. While I've fully adopted Seattle, in its own right, as my home, I will still always be a Chicago girl--a bit coarse, with a certain attitude. At the same time, my feelings for that city are not without criticism; it's not a "love it or leave it" affair. I love Chicago; yet I also left it because I had to. When I come back to it, we always manage to have a good time together. But I would still have to change some personal things in order to come back for an extended time.
The complexity of my relationship with Chicago stems from the dual facts that I grew up there as a child and that I returned to it as an adult after graduating college. Granted, my time at university did not occur very far away -- just over 2 hours south in Champaign-Urbana -- and it involved constant returns during my time at college. Yet, with each trip back and forth, I increasingly became my own person. Things changed such that my experience of Chicago pre and post college are two distinct eras.
The typical growth and coming-of-age that happens in college ultimately changed things such that I came back to Chicago a different person, not the least of which involved gender identity, the resolution of which was still in flux. But there was still the gravitational pull of my upbringing, represented by the attitudes of many older generation family that lived there. Living in Chicago under these two facts was increasingly causing internal friction, which was only somewhat fueled by my wanderlust. It wasn't until I moved to Seattle that I was able to finally shake off some of that metaphysical schmutz that I felt inhibited my growth and forward motion--and that I could start jump-start from my standstill.
So while I'm proud to be a native Chicagoan, I had to flee. I am now also a proud ex-pat. In the past few months, I've been feeling quite wistful and nostalgic for my home town, especially given the growing and organized trans* activity in Chicago. At the same time, I'm taken back to lot of stifling, bigoted, and xenophobic nonsense that still casts a shadow over Chicago. Thus continues the tension about my home town.
The iron curtain
While still living in town, I had constructed an "iron curtain" in the greater Chicago area. Jokingly, the Tri-State Tollway (I-294, for you miscreants) separated the city and some nearby suburbs from the endless oppressive melange of farther suburbs. I wanted to spend most of my time in the city, which represented a cultural forward motion as I moved into adulthood. At the same time, I felt any motion back to the margins, back toward the iron curtain, was a step backward.
But this was a somewhat inaccurate boundary, actually. Most of my family live on the city side of the iron curtain. As a result, on a return visit after my emigration, I attempted to re-situate the iron curtain at Western Avenue. Many of my closest friends have always lived to the east in Rogers Park and thereabouts. Whenever I returned from hanging out with them and drove past Western, I felt like I was returning to a stifling land, right back into the jaws of an "apparatus of capture." At the same time, I realized that there are many things on the outer edges of the city, and even in the suburbs, that I like. Furthermore, limiting myself to a narrow strip of "safe zone" within the city would keep me from fully experiencing and reclaiming it. In the end, hard-coding a linear, physical boundary turned out to be a simplistic and foolish idea. It had nothing to do with a dualistic distribution of physical space.
Physical geography was a small and largely irrelevant part of the discomfort I felt in Chicago. It was more about some social and cultural aspects of the city that rubbed me wrong. Increasingly, I felt Chicago was far too gruff and "big-shouldered" for me, something I wouldn't fully appreciate until I'd lived in Seattle for a time. Additionally, it was largely personal and familial situations that made the unpalatability of Chicago that way. The layout of my personal Chicago geography is a lot more porous and jumbled now. My previous complicated feelings about the city are still just as complicated now. However, I can better articulate them. I can't say I've definitively resolved any of the previous tension but I have ideas on where to start with certain tensions.
Somewhat superficially, I can say that upon my visits now, I own this town. I walk confidently wherever I am in it in a way that I didn't before moving away, before transition. Ironically, I own the aforementioned gruff and big-shouldered attitude in my own femme way now. However, I am now like this in any town. So with respect to Chicago, most of my remaining discomfort revolves more about personal issues. Thus, I'd be lying if I said that I did not still feel tension. The following is an excerpt from my personal journal that I wrote when I last visited Chicago, my first visit post coming-out to my mom. [Present edits and addenda are in brackets]
Into the Heliopause.
December 20, 2012
With the news earlier this month that Voyager 1 was approaching the edge of our solar system, the transition-as-voyage metaphor got me thinking of names again. I have been Amy for over 8 months now. It is entirely who I am now.
[More fascinatingly, in my personal historiography, it is retroactively who I was. We re-write our past every time we return; looking into the past is a present-day phenomenon. I've been re-writing my past increasingly without my former name. As a result, whenever I revisit my past now, I am still badged with my preferred name. Thus, I now think of my former name as nothing but a pen name that I once used rather than the actual person I was.] On one hand, realization of Amy was a re-ordering of extant things as they should be. It was not the end and a new beginning, nor was it a rebirth. Rather, it was/is still fundamentally me, relabeled and somewhat reconfigured to reflect the person I have always envisioned myself being.
On the other hand, though, it was like the explosion of a rocket embarking on long-overdue voyage. I was leaving behind some old nonsense and streaming full speed toward new horizons. I decided to leave the gravitational pull of my former name, because inhabiting its solar system was no longer tenable. [It was a solar system that implied a masculinity that I never felt I had, a masculinity that was always imposed upon me by other people. This was similar to my feelings about Chicago. I felt at the time that I had to move elsewhere in order to begin thinking about the possibility of actually transitioning. Maybe I just wasn't ready or willing to do what I needed to do but it felt like (my continued living in) Chicago wasn't letting me transition.]
Seattle gave me freedom and space to grow. I've been streaking through the sky at full speed since last April. I've [figuratively] left the solar system of my former name [and literally the solar system of my former city] and have entered new space.
[It's not so much that this new space is named Amy; rather, it's that I've painted my name on myself (or my ship, to continue the metaphor) and have been moving forward. Whereas my old name was a defined space keeping me "in my place", an uncomfortably male-gendered place, my new name is just me having broken free of that space and moving about with new freedom. It's an important distinction.]
Yet, for all my progress, I always feel like I'm slowed down at times and placed in a bit of a holding pattern whenever I find myself in...
For Reasons--mostly to not overwhelm my sweet mom with having to deal with every older, stubborn, judgmental Polish person--not every older-generation relative in Chicago is privy to my transition just yet. I barely see much of the extended family and family friends save for this time of year. And there are a lot of judgmental people who would likely cause my mom grief in that insidious concern troll manner. So, it isn't optimal but it's probably the best way to go forward... maybe... at least for now... possibly... kinda.
Having returned for my first holiday visit since coming out to my mom, I suppose I have throttled back my engines. There is no direct Polish translation for Amy but the Polish for Amy isn't really my former name. And that's the bargain I made for the moment. Maybe because it is spoken in Polish, getting called by my former name doesn't feel as absolutely weird as getting called it in English. It really does help that my mom does not call me by my old name when speaking or writing to me. I'm trying to be patient but my patience is wearing thin.
[As more time passes, this dissonance is becoming increasingly unbearable. I don't know why but I increasingly feel the need to have my family know who I am, even though I hardly see them and talk to them even less. Why do I feel the need for the bigoted, xenophobic, homphobic, racist parts of my family know? Is it further fueled by the disconnect that supportive younger-generation family are in the know?]
But now at this very moment in this place, I feel like something is trying harder to pull me and impede forward motion. It's power is weaker because my former name holds little sway over me. But it's undeniably still there. I am back in the heliopause, closer toward that old solar system.
Thankfully, I still have many good friends in Chicago. So I can power the engines back up. Still, I'd love for my mom to eventually call me by name, maybe my middle name, Anne, which is not only translatable in Polish but also has a number of adorable diminutives and permutations. I have always really liked that name and it is the one my parents had chosen for me.
I'd really like to not have to throttle back at any time ever again.
At the moment, it seems that part of my travels to Chicago involve ducking back behind some iron curtain. It's not the imperfect, physical iron curtain that I jokingly defined back in the late 1990s when I was living in Chicago as an adult. Rather, it's a familial, historical, social, and ethnic iron curtain. I don't want to minimize the brutal suffering that people experienced behind the actual Soviet Iron Curtain. At the same time, though, there is a delicious irony to the fact that the same bigoted, xenophobic people of my ethnicity who routinely hate on gay, queer, trans* people and people of color grew up behind the Iron Curtain. The real consequences of repression, conformity, and cruelty that occurs behind iron curtains are only slightly less devastating than that which occurred behind the Iron Curtain.
I am extremely fortunate to have made it out from behind my personal iron curtain. Yet I'm still making trips back behind it. As time passes, the corrupt bargain that I seem to have made for convenience becomes increasingly untenable. Ultimately, my Old Chicago must burn. My being trans, and the aftershocks that its disclosure to the older generation will cause, is a crate full of Molotov cocktails that I'm still waiting to throw.
With word and deed, we insert ourselves into the human world, and this insertion is like a second birth, in which we confirm and take upon ourselves the naked fact of our original physical appearance. This insertion is not forced upon us by necessity, like labor, and it is not prompted by utility, like work. It may be stimulated by the presence of others whose company we may wish to join, but it never conditioned by them; its impulse springs from the beginning which came into the world when we were born and to which we respond by beginning something now our own initiative. (p.177)Of course, the literal "naked fact of original physical appearance" is not meant as our sex-assigned-at-birth but merely the fact that we appeared on this planet. Yet, uncomfortable as it may be, the former is a fact that compels us into action, something that we face and stare down. Action, then, becomes paramount. We act because we are. (Delueze would call it desire.) Arendt is all about birthing new possibilities, objects, figures, ideas, into the world. Furthermore, there is an agency to this. We "confirm" and "take upon ourselves" and we "beginning something now our own initiative." Thus, the very real feelings of birth, rebirth, "second puberty" and other beginnings and becomings that a number of trans* people express. Transition is merely a collection of new beginnings (social, legal, professional, medical, etc.) that we initiate of our own autonomy. While I am not without criticism of some of her ideas as layed out HC, I find her elevation of the vita activa -- the active life -- over the vita contemplativa -- the contemplative life -- to be be incredibly important. It is here that I spend most of time thinking about Arendt, much as Arendt spent most of her time emphasizing Action. I do not want to discount contemplation and introspection, for they are important. However, most trans* people I know (myself included) have spent too much time in contemplation. We now need to move out into the world, to initiate actions on our own behalf, to speak, to be seen, and build worlds of our own design for our benefit. Secondly, I want to address two problematic aspects of HC. For one, Arendt draws much from Aristotle. There are problems with Aristotle that sneak into Arendt's work, for example the fact that slavery is much of what made Aristotle's Athenian polis work. Although she in no way advocated for a return to it, others have made compelling arguments that perhaps she did not do enough to address slavery. Add to this, the fact that Athenian citizenship was based the additional exclusion of women and we can identify the potential for huge problems. However, my reading of HC has always kept these facts in mind. We've had 75,000 years since Aristotle; I believe we can identify and employ several Athenian ideas, as Arendt did, while being aware of the problems and without recapitulating them. We are in no way rebuilding Athens; rather, we are building our own world(s). For another, there is the problematic issue of Arendt's language. Her writing is a product of the post-WWII era -- The Human Condition was published in 1958. As a result, her language is steeped in the internalized misogyny of the times, namely in which men is synonymous for people and mankind for humanity. Normally, I would make a note of this and move on, preserving the original language out of respect for the author. However, as I am writing specifically about gender issues, there is an opportunity and an ethical obligation to address this point. I don't want to gloss over it as if it never happened; I want the language of the time to be held accountable. So I won't clandestinely change her words. At the same time I want it to be readable without triggering readers. Yes, seemingly innocuous word choice can have immense affect on people and that sort of gendered language (especially in the context in which I'm writing) is no small thing. Any reader believing this is trivial nitpicking on my part has unchecked cis privilege to examine. So I will either do the standard bracketed replacement or I will make my alterations visible via italics, the latter of which nicely emphasizes without reducing readability. Now then Hannah Arendt resonates with me in many registers. I don't have the source, but one writer described her as the theorist of beginnings. Indeed, her entire conception of Action is based on natality and initiative. Action, she writes, " Of course, the self-realization and self-actualization of trans* people is a conscious expression of beginning. Sadly at times, due to doubt by others, it is a recurring process of beginning and an re-assertion. Speech and Action What I love about Arendt is that she utterly destroys the false dichotomy of talk (speech) versus action. I have always despised this terrible false binary. With considerable aplomb, Arendt dismantles it: This, of course, has implications for the mundaneity of trans* existence, where the Twittersphere, for example, can be a productive medium not only for internal networking but also for external ADFA. My friend Shadi has been carrying on an ongoing deep conversation with RB. As a result, said celebrity has changed her formerly transphobic stance. Twitter, typically derided as mindless chatter, is being used to change minds... 140 characters at a time. Space(s) of Appearance It requires a public realm. It requires stepping out of the private There's lots of talk in trans* circles about visibility and it's uses and limits. By being visible, we indeed insert ourselves into the world. Yet, there needs to be more than just visibility, the internal talk goes, for there are significant problems to address. We can reframe visibility as Arendt's appearance, which gives passive visibility a more active connotation. Visibility as Appearance and Appearance as Action and Action as Initiative imbues this idea us sharper political teeth as one means to create political power and subsequently build a better world for ourselves. The emphasis is not on being visible or being seen; rather, it is about being seen acting and acting visibly. What I love about spaces of appearance is that they are never stable. They are always manifesting and always collapsing. In this respect, they are very Deluezian desiring-machines, in that they function by breaking down. There is power to this reDSDS. After all, it is the re-instantiation of the space of appearance, for example between myself and each one of my particular friends, that reinforces who I am. Granted, this works on all our behalf; however, I'd argue that it is of even greater importance to a trans* person (or any other marginalized person, for that matter). Conclusions It wasn't until after transition, when I announced my name and pronouns to everyone, that the faint drumbeat of Arendt's concepts in the back of my head grew louder. When I read other trans* peoples' stories of living out loud and proud, the theory and the practice finally connected. Eventually, I realized that my literarily-mundane announcement - I began to really understand the force of her thought. demand a sort of personal enfranchisement I, specifically my trans-ness, had moved from the private realm and became firmly rooted in the public realm. Like Arendt's "shining brightness", I 1. For many, being genderqueer is exactly where they want to be, like trans* is where I want to be. Let me be unequivocal in stating that genderqueer is NOT a midpoint toward transition. The two are different things.
Gendered, single-occupancy restrooms are pants. The restrooms at Bauhaus have never really been policed as such and Bauhaus does appear at Safe2Pee. Yet they do remain signed as gender segregated, unlike, say, the single-occupant restrooms at Trabant in the U-District. The staff and most patrons never seemed to care about or be put off by any of this, however.
So it was with some amusement that I watched the following conversation unfold in the women's room at Bauhaus. It intrigued me not only for the gender issue, of course, but also for the fact that the photos represent a conversation through graffiti.
This showed up around Feb. 19th:
It was augmented by Feb. 24th, apparently by a more gender-exclusionary customer:
Don't pee on the seat is a generally good idea. But it happens. In which case, I don't get what aversion people have to take a second to wipe the seat.
Finally, someone with good sense responded:
Which... fuck yeah. As much as I detest a wet seat, or a wet front rim on an open-rim seat, a wet floor in front of a toilet is equally annoying. Sometimes you have clothing that touches the floor when you use the toilet.
I do agree with the very first sentence of this Guardian piece. After that, it snowballs down a hill of cis privileged dismissal and nonsense. Using Lucy Meadows' former name, incorrect pronouns, and calling her "selfish" (if I had a nickel every time I heard that line about a trans person...), and making assumptions about her teaching qualifications in no way show that anyone "sympathizes" with the victim.
Sympathy would have been demonstrated had Littlejohn not questioned her qualifications to teach based solely on her transitioning. Her previous qualifications and experience remained intact. Sympathy would have been demonstrated had he examined the notion that the cis-gender world was selfish in expecting Meadows to continue life perceived as male. Sympathy, most tellingly, would have been demonstrated had he used Meadows' correct name.
Sympathy would have also caused Littlejohn to use correct and preferred pronouns. Pronoun usage is hugely important for many if not most trans people, as many of us have been and continue to be extremely sensitive to it. It's somewhat like "cocktail party phenomenon" in high gear all the time because there are so many opportunities and words that can misgender us. It's like tinnitus that rings in our ears constantly. To me, words like he, his, man, sir, and sometimes even the neutral dude dropped quickly and innocuously into conversation hit me like a punch to the gut. I can't not hear them. They stick out; they're louder in volume than the words around them. They are impossible for me to ignore. When done innocently and accidentally, I can be gracious about it, to a point.
Yet, this is not at all what Littlejohn did. He continually misgendered Meadows and dismissively mocked aspects of her person and life. It was a hate piece, fueled by fear and mocking wrapped under the false pretense of protecting children. As more and more parent friends tell me, kids couldn't care any less about this. They usually say "OK" and move on. I have yet to be misgendered or feared or rejected by a child who has been told that "Amy is now a girl."
People talk about agendas of using somebody's death for political aims. Let's back up a bit here. Littlejohn appropriated Lucy Meadows' life as expendable fodder for his own agenda. Let's also question Littlejohn's exploitative appropriation of children as a vehicle for his own hang-ups.
That Littlejohn's piece ignited a shitstorm of press is not his fault. It is, however, his fault that he aligns with an organization, the Daily Mail, that's an quagmire of ethical excrement. Were his concerns genuine, there would have been far more mature ways to write about them. Thus, it is also his fault that he chose to write a piece that blithely trashed a woman who was a good teacher and who did what she needed to live her life meaningfully.
It's funny--by which I mean depressingly and crushingly sad--that some adults here have acted far more immaturely than the children.
Writing that there is "no clear link--indeed any link" between Littlejohn's column and Meadows' death is disingenuous. It's a bit like saying that hearing anti-gay language has no effect on gay teens who commit suicide. It's just an ethically gymnastic lie that people tell themselves to morally absolve them of the fact that their words and speech harm others.
It's fairly typical cis obliviousness to the thick lines connecting the dots--as part of the larger phenomenon of privileged groups ignoring connections oppressed groups see plainly, like whites failing to see systemic racism or men failing to see sexist behavior. But what's betrayed isn't obliviousness, but attempted plausible deniability. If this was just an innocuous article, then one wonders why the article disappeared down the memory hole and was taken down from the Daily Mail's site. Why are the dots that may be connected being pre-emptively erased?
If trans people are allegedly jumping to conclusions, it's only because many of us have seen this pattern and have heard this rhetoric before. We've seen where these roads lead and we know where they are going with far too depressing accuracy. We know, as Jane Faye writes, how this will play out in culture and in "the whining, crocodile tearing lily-livered national press of this country. Maybe they played no great part in this tragedy. But they tried. And for that, they stand guilty as any common thug."
Plausible deniability and dubious press ethics outweigh the death of another person. [Edited to add: Except that emerging information confirms what we suspected... and expected.]
Let me be unequivocal: there is a direct moral line connecting the devalueing sentiments expressed in writings like Littlejohn's as well as the subsequent mistreatment by the press to the suicides of trans* people.
Given my post on bibliographic violence and to set up for a forthcoming post responding to a colleague's response to it, I'm moving this from my personal blog so that it is on record here since I'll probably reference it in the future. I'd say that I have an abiding interest in ethics but I find that statement silly. We should all have an underlying interest in ethics that suffuses our everyday lives. What follows is not a brainy theoretical discussion of ethics; rather, it's a simple, personal moral compass.
I started jokingly talking about these in the various places where I blather, so I figure I should probably commit them to writing since I think I've finally solidified them. People often ask atheists, and militant agnostics like myself, about their moral codes. When it came up in family conversation a while ago, it challenged me to think of something simple and coherent.
The short answer: empathy. To quote my Twitter friend, Kat Haché (@papierhache) "there's not enough empathy in the world and it's unfortunately devalued." She's correct; I sometimes see so little empathy in the way people treat each other that it depresses me. Unfortunately, I have no idea how one teaches empathy, if that's even possible. I don't know, I think I just learned empathy by watching my mother. Toward that end, maybe it is something that one picks up being seeing (feeling) other people do it.
Looking back, I have to say that my mom has been a great influence on my moral compass. As I've frequently said, she is the only person with a bigger bleeding heart than me. I have always admired how she regarded people, even strangers from afar. I remember her saying things like, "people just want to live, agreeably and justly." So here goes, this is what guides me; my 3 Demandments1 as it were:
Corollary: You are allowed to defend yourself. In the course of defending yourself, it is occasionally alright to be snarky, to be angry, and even to be unkind. Although perhaps it's a good idea to let these three ideas keep you from going off the deep end without warrant. In any case, just remember that when you are finished delivering a rhetorical beatdown, put an equally proportional amount of positive goodness back into the world somewhere.
Above all: always pay it forward. The gift must keep moving. This is the 4th demandment, actually.
They are not exceptionally profound but they are easy, simple things that I try to keep in mind. In researching the 3rd one, I ran across the amazing Kate Beaton demonstrating all four with exquisite grace.
Thus to end on the injunction of a positive right: be excellent to each other.
1. Pop culture reference #1, fans of 1980s wrestling, of all ironic things.
2. Pop culture reference #2, fans of mediocre minor cult films.
Not knowing their preference, I'll refer to the person about whom I write with the neutral-singular they/them/their.
In constructing a bibliography, I went to my university library to get a citation for a source that I was reading. Naturally, the library record showed the author's full name. Normally, there is no problem. Except that the author is trans*.
I have written how I personally made peace with my former name. Additionally, I performed the appropriate mental recalibrations. It was either that sanity-saving maneuver or disowning my past writing, which was not an option, personally.
So it may just be that the author has come to terms with this as well. Let's for the moment assume this to be the case. My reaction to coming by this information was, first, a jolting shock joined very quickly by sadness and downright anger. First, this in not something that I had any right to know about the author. Nor was it something that I had wanted to know. I do not mind when trans* friends tell me their former names, as long as it is something they do of their own free choice. And that's where the sadness comes in. This record robbed the author of their agency to decide, or not, to disclose this to me. Rather, I feel not only like I had walked into the room as they were in an unflattering position, I felt a little like I had just been non-chalantly shown some of their most personal records for entirely gratuitous reasons. (Which is what bibliographic records are, of course.)
That's where the anger comes in. I have absolutely no curiosity about the author's former name nor, quite frankly, should anyone else. Yes, this is exactly as much about me as it is about the author. And that's because I'm trans* too. This is a sticking point for many of us, largely because it's a cheap jab employed against us. Over the years, I've grown tired of the fascination we have with knowing people's birth names. It's all over celebrity pages, newspaper stories, wikipedia, etc. I've also known quite a few cis folk who have had deep problems with former names and I've respected their discomfort and preferences. For trans* folk, of course, former names can take on added layers discomfort and lead to possibly dangerous situations. Furthermore, getting to the point of taking on a new name is usually a profound point in most trans* people's lives. We need to have agency and control over how much of our histories we disclose.
Of course, the preceding is the better of the two alternatives. Above, regardless of my feelings, the author is unfazed by the betrayal. Yet, what if the author is not unfazed. For example, suppose the author releases a personal copy of their work augmented with their chosen name. Regardless, the library's record will still betray them. Librarians, this is unacceptable.
Regardless of what the actual situation may be, the fact stands that there are not mechanisms in the system to creatively address these potential alternatives--outside of my first dichotomy of Accept versus Disown. We can throw our hands up in the air and declare, "well, we've always done it this way... what's written is written." But those fixity-bound arguments are less convincing in these days of fluid digital text. Not everybody wants to be linked through a 400a field. I think that we can go back and just plain change the 100a with informed consent and understanding of the bibliographic risks involved. After all, in some states, people can correct their birth certificates these days; the purity of our bibliographic records is even less sacrosanct. Surely, we can come up with something much better than translating the ossified status quo into the digital realm.
The other matter is that authors do not even know possible courses of action. I arrived at my own course of action largely on a whim. And I'm a librarian myself.
In the meantime, things can't be unseen, as the saying goes. Now, when I run across the author, I'll have to fight this guilty knowledge in my mind. And that makes me sad; it's not a power that I ever wanted to have. Should I ever meet them, I feel like I owe them a big hug and an apology.
Edited to add: There's room for a discussion on very practical aspects brought up by this. However, I also want to point out that there's some larger philosophy: namely the idea that dry, ostensibly matter-of-fact bibliographic records aren't value-neutral... in fact, not at all. And some of the non-neutral values they carry with them can be hidden to most eyes.
Thanks to Colleague Cheryl's gentle and supportive urging, I dropped my Sunday afternoon plans and started assembling my exam bibliography. As I looked over the emerging list, I was immediately shocked by how white it was. I realized that it was a personal academic failing to neglect non-white, non-European perspectives. It is illogical to accept that my topic areas, whatever they may be, cannot be and have not been viewed through any other lenses. And privilege being what it is, white theorists and narratives predominate in the academy. There's the cynical charge and risk tokenism, of course, but I need to look elsewhere.
Several years ago, I had taken a class with Prof. Cheryl Metoyer (no relation to Colleague Cheryl) of the UW Information School, my Masters alma mater. Prof. Metoyer's class, listed as "Native perspectives in information science", would best be described as "red methodology" or "indigenous epistemology", as gleaned from the course readings. It struck me as a good starting point to strengthen my bibliography. First, my topic areas will likely be North America. Native perspectives obviously speak to historical property theft and political disenfranchisement close to home. Beyond that and more importantly, however, current indigenous scholarship highlights the agency of indigenous groups in recent times. Secondly, as I am interested in the ground-up re/appropriation of space, indigenous movements and actions throughout the Americas have produced ample knowledge on insurgent actions and tactics in space. Finally, as capitalist wealth accumulation as well as the concept of private property are always in my critical cross-hairs, it seems indigenous perspectives complement my existing sources. For example, there is my beloved, old Lefebvran saw of use value versus exchange value. Many indigenous approaches to property privilege use over exchange, at least as far as land (usufruct) rights.
In any case, I went back and I've drawn up a list of sources from Prof. Metoyer's class for follow up. Additionally, there are many other areas to explore, both for theory but especially for street-level and everyday-life tactics/methods. We have covered some of them in Mark Purcell's democracy seminar. There's the EZLN, for whom I've had much respect, but I'd like to look more into the ANC in South Africa, perhaps, both for their street-level work as well as their political organizing. At some point, I'll need to zoom in and figure out what exactly I'm looking for--or what emerges.
It should go without saying this is not an attempt to get a diversity cookie1. Rather, there's a huge world of experience and thought. And limiting myself as I was--even if inadvertently and unconsciously, cuz that's how privilege operates--to only white, mostly European, thinkers largely because they are the dominant voices in the academy is not only intellectually sloppy and stifling but it also reproduces within the academy the marginalization and disenfranchisement happening outside.
1. Everybody should print this out and post it on their wall: The Angry Black Woman's "Things You Need To Understand #9 – You Don’t Get A Cookie". Retrieved from http://theangryblackwoman.wordpress.com/2008/04/29/no-cookie/
Plate 76. A well-crafted blog post. Note lines of flight
into and out of the vaguely-circumscribed post.
I was having some "meta" thoughts about writing this evening. Specifically, I was thinking why academics need to blog (or otherwise publicly write) and why it is as important, as a parallel project, as traditional publishing. These thoughts were prompted by a whole host of reasons and one blog post.
Something the comes up frequently in Becoming Poor meetings, especially when we read from The Europeans (which *cough* is most of the damned time), is how they all seem to be referencing one another without bothering to tell us that. As they are so thoroughly well-versed of each other, it's almost like an in-joke among them. Still, it would be nice to know sometimes where all that is coming from. Relatedly, we've talked on occasion of various citation styles which make it easier or more difficult to reference others' works. Thirdly, we spoke at the very top of our last meeting about the various emerging models of academic writing and publishing. Finally, I am perpetually interested in public scholarship. Part of it is uncertainty at the look of the academy when I am finally ready. Secondly, in my chosen topics of interest and fields of study, I do believe I have a social responsibility.
I was reminded of those thoughts tonight while reading Natalie Reed's essay, "Discourse and Intersectionality". I'll quote liberally, as she makes some great points:
Here’s the thing: nothing I write is original...
Absolutely NO single trans person can speak for that immense diversity of experience.
I’ve often said, especially to cis people who discovered me by proximity to the Skeptic and Atheist communities, that if I’m the only trans-feminist you’re reading, then you don’t understand trans-feminism or trans issues. I meant that. I really really meant that. I can speak about a lot of things, but I cannot, by definition, speak to the actual range of gender diversity. No one can. The only way to understand trans is to understand it from as many angles and experiences as possible. Which is an effort I make as best I can.
My writing is informed by that.
Feel free to substitute trans above with whatever. The point is that in these days of blogging and linked text/media, there is no excuse to not promiscuously link, footnote, or otherwise reference others' material. Personally, I love to footnote even in blogs. At first, I thought it a bit pretentious until I realized that I owe a great debt, even in "mere" blogging, to others whose writing I deeply respect. After all, I am finding that some of the best thinking and theorizing is being done in the blogosphere these days. And I like to give others shout-outs and link traffic. When we link promiscuously, those reading us will at least be started on a path toward different angles and perspectives. So we should do this, including sources with which we disagree. Most importantly, in our networked milieu we should tear down any disciplinary walls, flatten hierarchies, and link to people, based on who, not what, they are.
This format is preeminently suited to overcome the aforementioned European Non-attribution Problem. We identify intellectual lineages in group discussion all the time. And this digital format makes it absurdly easy to unobtrusively link out to and acknowledge all of the influences in our writing. It also gives us license to link to crazy, half-baked, and even downright insane material. This is not something we are afforded in august realm of traditional academic writing. So we should make the best use of this treason, especially as we think about the coming new forms of academic publishing. If there was ever any format to practice the theories of rhizomes, multitude, and plurality, this one is it.
If we need a reason why to do this, read all of Natalie's post. We in Becoming Poor are an extremely privileged bunch; we can't ignore that. And in traditional publishing, a lot of voices are left behind, effectively silenced, in our writing. This format allows us to bring more voices and experiences to the table, not to mention possibly interact with them. At the risk of sounding terribly net.utopian by saying this format "democratizes communication"... well, there can be a certain truth to it.
Compared to the gate-keepers and editors in the publishing realm, this realm is much different. We can certainly use it to rebuild some of the old gates, or we can help tear them down to help atone for being complicit in the exclusionary apparatus of tenure-track publishing. Again, whatever community you are personally substituting in, it comes down to privilege and representation:
After that many iterations of paring-down the breadth and diversity of what “transgender” is, you end up with just a tiny sliver of us positioned to represent a whole that no individual is able to represent.
...What we need to be is a discourse. A communication, a range of voices interacting and sharing and learning and challenging and pushing and driving forward, with compassion, working together. What we need is for the full diversity of trans lives, and it alone, to stand up to represent and speak for the full diversity of trans lives.
There is an undeniably gorgeous political project in these words, perfectly summed up in that last sentence. It is the move from representation to direct presentation. It is also a radically pluralistic project. As a format, the online realm creates a living discourse compared to the deader one of traditional published materials and facilitates this project. Academics cannot ignore it. I'm not advocating wholesale book burning here,
but a controlled burn of selected publishing practices and houses would open up some fertile new ground but I am saying that if we are going to be socially-engaged and public scholars, we need to participate in multiple formats, especially the participatory ones.
One day after I drafted this post up to this point, beautiful serendipity floated across my transom. Along an entirely different train of thought, a friend point me to this essay in which author Whitney Erin Boesel basically wrote my earlier post and which ended with a description of Donna Haraway's citation style:
Friends, colleagues, and students (both past and present) made this point over and over again: that Haraway went out of her way to cite even email threads and in-person conversations, even with her students, and that her commitment to making these citations had had positive impacts—both professionally and emotionally—for the people she cited.
Those repeated expressions of praise and gratitude made an incredible impression on me. They reminded me how important it is to cite the people who influence our thinking, and made me realize that citation can be an important political act. What I took home that evening from “Messing With Haraway” was not only a deeper appreciation of an extraordinary scholar, but also an updated picture of the scholar I aspire to become.
Citation matters, folks. Sure, we can’t all read everything—but when we don’t do due diligence in referencing the people and work we have read and do know about, we make it easier and more acceptable for other people both to do likewise and to avoid discovering that work in the first place. Failing to put Harawasian effort into our citations makes it easier for more powerful voices to be heard, and contributes to drowning less powerful voices out; more often than not, it also leads us to produce work of lower quality
As I've been quoting liberally in this post, I'll echo Whitney's near-final words, as I agree with every one of them:
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I want a different Academy—and while I probably won’t get one in my own lifetime, I remain committed to working toward that goal.
Just like with publishing practices, I'm not advocating a wholesale inferno, but I'd gladly take a torch to certain parts of the Academy.
Please send any feedback or questions to Urban Archives.