Monday, June 2, 2014

Radfems Respond, WoLF, and MRAs

Radfems Respond, for those who haven't heard about it, was a conference that was hosted in Portland Oregon on May 24th.  It was organized by a group of radical feminists and was an inclusive event open to the general public.  We had five speakers including Rachel Ivey, Dawn Schiller, Lierre Keith, Kathleen Barry, and myself.  After the speeches of Dawn Schiller and Kathleen Barry, there was an open Q&A session where audience members could ask questions regarding prostitution, and at the end of Rachel and my presentations, we hosted a Q&A surrounding gender.

The last post I made detailed a campaign which threatened to get our event shut down by local trans activists.  I am happy to report that no such disruptions occurred.  There were no filibusters, no objects thrown at the speakers, and no violence of any sort.  However, the mere threat of violence was enough to prevent no fewer than a dozen women from showing up in the audience.  Dawn Schiller almost opted out of her presentation due to the threats and planned harassment of the presenters.

I am proud of those who showed up, except for maybe the MRA dude (I'll get to you in a minute, Sir), and I am saddened about those who did not show up due to the bullying of others.

Some of us in attendance showed up as representatives of a developing national radical feminist organization called the Women's Liberation Front, or WoLF for short.  Our website is currently still in development as we work through some of finer details of our organization's content.  Nonetheless, it was a thrilling experience to be able to unveil WoLF at Radfems Respond.  When our website launches, I will be sure to post about it here.

In terms of my speech, I debated about sharing the contents of my speech until the video gets released.  When that video goes live, I will insert it into this piece.  For now, here is the transcript of presentation.  For which I received some backlash due to an MRA in the crowd (wait your turn, Sir. I will get to you shortly).

I began my presentation by approaching the table wearing a jacket bearing a transgender symbol and the phrase "trans boy, some assembly required."  I pointed to the jacket, explained what it said, and that I had bought that jacket when I was in the midst of my transition, and had only worn it once or twice.  "But...it's hot in here, don't you think?" I smile, and to cheers and applause, I removed my jacket to reveal the shirt underneath, which read "I survived testosterone poisoning."  I then take my seat and open with requesting a moment of silence for the victims of the UCSB shooting rampage, of which the news broke just hours prior.  I thanked the audience for their silence and began.
      Hello, my name is Heath Russell and I will be discussing the effects of gender on our lives, how the current attitude about gender stifles feminist inquiry and action, and describing the type of society we want as radical feminists, as opposed to the patriarchy we currently have.

      From the moment it is announced that a child is female, society has already trusted her into a rigid gender hierarchy. Assuming she survives birth and is not victim to female infanticide, she has a code of conduct, expectations of appearance, and a second-class status. Any deviations from the norm face swift and harsh punishment.

      I was no exception to such societal beliefs.

      While I was lucky enough to play with so-called “boy toys” like Legos, Matchbox cars, and science kits, the depth of my gender non-conformity ended there. From a young age my mother dictated my appearance and at the onset of puberty things got worse. From stupid haircuts and painful waxing, I was told that this was the expectation for me. During one particularly nasty waxing incident, mom applied depilatory cream to my face immediately after a waxing, which made my lip swell and led her and I in tow to the grocery store, where she frantically asked the male sales clerks how to “fix” my face.

      I grew to listening to all of mom's problems about how she gave up economic opportunities so that her husband could go on to get the training and job she wanted in order to support his family. His perspective on life involved mocking Barbie for being a “bimbo” and always pointing out how women can't drive properly.

      From the age of 7 until 12 I was indoctrinated into the Baptist church. During my time there, I learned that God was a male who hated women, that the Earth was created in 6 days, and that all homosexuals would burn in hell. I went home from my church lessons to hear mom ramble endlessly about those “fuckin' queers.” For years, our garage had a “yes on prop 22: protect marriage” sign in case our lesbian neighbors would walk past, they would be able to see quite plainly that our family was “normal” and that my mom didn't support “abnormalities” like our neighbor and her partner marrying.

      However it was around this time I started to notice that I got crushes on girls, this broke my mothers heart to hear it and then she quickly pushed that pain aside, and pushed me onto every boy she could.

      At 17, I had found and started speaking with people online who identified as “trans-men.” These “men” had relationships with women, without fear of retribution, wore “men's” clothes, and were tough. One day, at a bookstore with mom, I saw a female-to-trans clerk who had a transgender symbol drawn on her hand. I pointed it out to mom, who then turned to me and asked, politely but loudly, if transgender was what I wanted to be. I replied with a firm “yes.” For my senior year of high school, I cut my hair short again, adjusted my wardrobe with more “masculine” clothes, and decided on a new name for myself. Mom still forced me to wear makeup to give my valedictorian speech. I held back tears all day, and then proceeded to curse myself for crying and not “being a man” about it. In college, I toyed around with my identity. I lived in an all-female dormitory, but I identified as “genderqueer.” My then-girlfriend referred to me as her “boifriend” (which is spelled “b-o-i friend” but still sounds like boyfriend when spoken) in public when discussing me, and she encouraged my delving interest in the path of transition. A couple of years, and a couple of failed suicide attempts later, I told my family and friends that if I didn't transition, I would end up dead.

    So, I began transitioning both medically and legally, as in changing my legal documents to reflect my “new” gender. The psychiatrist I was seeing agreed with my self-diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder, despite not knowing much about the condition herself, and I was cleared for hormone replacement therapy (HRT). My doctor had me sign a packet offering my informed consent for treatment and my first injection was administered on January 4th, 2011. The physical changes delighted me. I was growing a beard! My voice deepened! My period stopped! It made me happy on the inside because of how others saw me on the outside. These feelings of elation didn't last for very long because I was binding my breasts and I didn't want to keep wearing a binder, so I knew that top surgery was likely in my future. However much I detested the unwanted attention my breasts always gave me, I still had reservations about getting them “reconstructed.” Which, in queer theory language, is just a fancy way of saying “lopped off.” 
    Before I knew what radical feminism was, the mere idea of removing healthy breast tissue scared me senseless. Let alone the horrifying photos I had seen of “successful” bottom-surgery. My thoughts about continuing down this path came to an abrupt halt as I realized that the hormones were raising my heart rate, I was experiencing heart palpitations, and my properly-fitting, and properly-worn chest binder were making my ribs hurt, undoubtedly warping them. I ceased hormones at the end of 2012, without my doctor's knowledge. I also started to walk about freely without the binder of my adulthood or the bra of my adolescence. My heart rate lowered, I had no further heart palpitations, and my ribs began to heal very slowly. 
    For my senior project in college, I studied the feminist perspective of transgender people in the feminist movement. I had a difficult time finding sources for my research, but I found “Unpacking Queer Politics” by Sheila Jeffreys, which was my first taste of radical feminism. At first, I was livid. How dare this woman question my identity? However, it didn't take long for my anger to subside.

    As I interacted more with radical feminists and immersed myself in the books written by some of the pioneers of the second-wave of feminism in the 1960s, I discovered that my own self-hatred was misdirected anger that should have been aimed at the injustices of society, in my case misogyny and lesbophobia. 
    Radical feminism illuminated the concept of gender in such a way that I hadn't before considered; gender as an imposed reality, as a hierarchical system of domination, as opposed to a malleable identity. It taught me that all of my shortcomings in terms of “womanhood” were not the fault of my own, but rather the fault of an external, structural, institutionalized system that needs to be dismantled.

    This was a tumultuous time, due to the backlash that immediately followed my decision to detransition and embrace radical feminism as a logically sound course of social justice activism. My detractors spared no time in making their objections known. 
    When I came out publicly with my decision to detransition, a friend of mine hosted me as an interviewee for his talk show, “Out Here in the Redwoods.” No sooner had the video gone live that I began being stalked by a local male-to-trans individual, who told me he would follow me wherever I decided to “spread my hate and lies.” My fiancee Carolynn and I received hate mail on a daily basis, from people who remained anonymous, but still gave enough personal information for us to know their identities. About a month or two after my appearance on local television, Carolynn had her car vandalized twice. The first time, someone had slashed her tires. After Carolynn removed her rainbow bumper stickers off the back of her car, she took to facebook lamenting about the incident. Carolynn remarked in a comment “at least if they had keyed dyke into my bumper, I could still drive to work.” She replaced her tires and within a week, she found the word DYKE keyed into her car.

    Before my detransition, I was recruited to serve as a board member of our local Pride organization. They sought “diversity” on their board, and having a trans person there meant they could get ally-cookies. However, I was blogging about my experiences with detransition, my gender-critical perspectives, and calling out people in my local community for sexual assault. I kept the Pride organization separate from my views. Except for one passing remark I had made about serving on the local Pride board.Trans activists in my area were frankly pissed off at my fiancee and I, and they demanded action from the rest of the board. Carolynn and I both knew we no longer had our hearts in helping them organize, nor did either of us have the time or ability to continue, so we both offered our letters of resignation from the board, effective the day of the festival. After weeks of hearing nothing from the rest of Pride, we both received emails out of the blue explaining that due to our politics they requested we relinquish our positions, effective immediately. 
    We had already resigned in good will, and they had to rub salt on the wound. 
    Luckily I had already finished my education, so I didn't need to see any of these people at my college anymore. In fact, the only time I would need to see them would be at local “LGBT” events, which I no longer desired to attend anyway. Carolynn wasn't quite as lucky, and on one particularly frightening day, someone she knew sent her school schedule to her, explaining that they knew where she would be and when, and that “she better watch out.” 
    Eventually we decided to jump ship and leave the area, since avoiding our former friends was unavoidable in such a small town.
    It didn't take me long to realize that our harassment was not an isolated incident, but rather it's the norm for radical feminists. 
    Gender-critical feminists face various barriers to speaking openly about gender and the harms the gender hierarchy contains. We are the targets of smear-campaigns, both on and offline, subject to stalking, threats, harassment, de-platforming, cyber-attacks, and sometimes even outright acts of physical assault. There have been a few recent documented examples of this, notably involving activist sisters of mine in attendance today, including but not limited to Rachel Ivy, Lierre Keith, Sam Berg, and myself. In addition to personal sabotage, we have also observed situations where people discourage participation in any activities or actions organized by, or even involving, radical feminists.

    Blacklisting, silencing, protesting, censorship, violent revenge. These are our daily reminders that our place is to neither be seen, nor heard. 
    Yet still, these courageous, intelligent women brush the dust off our backs and press on. When our blogs get hacked, we slowly recover the content and information. When we are threatened, we seek legal action. We plant our foot firmly on the ground when men demand access to our spaces, both physical and mental. We name and shame our assailants. We assure our sisters they are not alone in being bullied and shoved around. We stand as one unit, despite never being taught how to do that, in fact, patriarchy ensures that women are kept fighting, in order to obfuscate the culprits of our oppression. 
    In terms of the patriarchy we already have, lesbian feminist author Mary Daly offers us a sobering, yet realistic account of what our current situation is under patriarchal-rule. 
    The fact is that we live in a profoundly anti-female society, a misogynistic "civilization" in which men collectively victimize women, attacking us as personifications of their own paranoid fears, as The Enemy. Within this society it is men who rape, who sap women's energy, who deny women economic and political power.” - Mary Daly 
    Mary Daly envisioned a world beyond “God the Father” and I consider her perspective to be one in which I follow.

    So, allow me in this moment to paint a landscape for you of what this alternative society would look like. Close your eyes and visualize with me a world full of living creatures. Patriarchal civilization, industrialization, and resource extraction become a horror of the past. The species, both plant and animal, killed off by male-supremacy we can no longer bring back, but the plants and animals once on the brink of extinction are now thriving in complete, living biospheres. Can you see the frogs, the squirrels, the otters, the hawks?

    Breathe in this new life. No longer a world based in plastics nor petroleum. In a pro-female society, we now turn our focus towards the women. What were once wounded cries of sorrow, anguish, and terror are now filled with laughter and courage. She is whole again.

    In this world, women are free to wear the clothes we need to keep us protected from the elements, to walk freely about no matter the time of day or night, to discuss issues pertinent to women without fear of violent retribution. When a woman is scared or in danger, be that danger physical, psychological, or spiritual, we flock in as sisters to defend her from harm and to help her heal. In this world, women have complete control over our reproductive capacities; we familiarize ourselves with herbal approaches to our bodies. Gynecology, a practice created out of a fear of “hysteria” is replaced with women knowing our bodies and taking complete control for knowing what is best for our bodies. Men no longer pen laws dictating how, when, or how often women are to reproduce. Women no longer fear rapists, batterers, pimps or johns because the mere thoughts of such atrocities are just as unfathomable as practicing cannibalism. In the instance of a man harming a woman in this society, he would be shunned and exiled and the woman would be given immediate refuge away from him.
     
    In the world I picture, lesbians are not only valued and prioritized, but are seen as role models. Lesbians are neither masturbation-fodder for men obsessed with threesomes, nor targeted for beatings or corrective rape to become heterosexual women. We are no longer punished for not conforming to prescribed feminine norms, and we are seen as expressing a different side of womanhood. Lesbians are respected for prioritizing women not only as a group of human beings, but for extending that energy to our personal lives as well. We are living proof that women can exist, and have fulfilling lives, without men. Women would be encouraged to explore sexuality, whether with other women, or by ourselves.

    Just as well, this world would have societies full of women-only gatherings, festivals, and even entire neighborhoods. The women watch out for themselves and each other and they create and maintain their own arts, culture, and stories. Women would be able to congregate without fear and without institutionalized male ideologies or religions.
    In this world, women have intrinsic value, as opposed to value measured by what she can provide for men.

    We are wise leaders in times of prosperity and in times of crisis.

    We are no longer held captive sexually, emotionally, or reproductively.
     
    The world that we know and cherish as it currently stands as a livable space is running out of time. Perhaps now that male scientists are echoing what women have been saying for decades, people will listen. Instead of discussing alternative, or “green” energy, which is just another form of resource extraction, we must rather focus our efforts on living within nature, rather than outside of it. A friend told me that all humans require energy in some form, and to me that is both reasonable and acceptable, if we were to be thankful for what we already have, but that is not the case. Instead, I see deeper holes being drilled into the one home we have, more pipelines being built, more dams staying in place.

    To me, it is apparent that our current trajectory is leading us down a dead-end path. We must treat all life with as much respect as our hearts can fill.

    Now, open your eyes and come back to the brutal reality we live in, and hear the advice I leave you with today: be untamed shrews, trust women, and let us build this future together, for it is possible. 

Within 24 hours of giving my speech, a man who had been "secretly" filming me from the crowd, (a man who I had locked eyes with when he heartily applauded my speech, a man who I had a bad feeling about from the moment he had asked Lierre and Kathleen a question about firearms an hour prior to my speech), had uploaded that video of me to youtube.  He took the last third of my speech where I discuss what a world without patriarchy would look like.  My friends advised me not to go looking for the videos or the comments, so I haven't.  Regardless, I have been receiving some traffic on my blog from a couple of their websites, so, thanks for the traffic, bruh!  Now go back to whatever subreddit you crawled out of, /r/creepshots, perhaps? Seems fitting for a coward who covertly films others.

So what? You got a video of my speech in which I talk about peace and a safer world for all species because patriarchy has been dismantled.  We have a video of Elliot Rodger (an MRA) before he went on a shooting spree.  Checkmate, Sirs.  Seems like it is MRAs who are causing violence, not feminists, and things are looking bad for your "movement" anyways.

Regardless of the harassment that I've been gleefully avoiding (much like how I avoid men, haha!), I have been receiving dozens of messages of support for my speech.  I have been told that the work I am doing is important and meaningful to women, which is what I wanted all along.

Onto more important topics than MRAs!

Some words of gratitude are in order:
  1. I want to sincerely thank the main organizers, including Sam Berg for securing a venue for our conference and for enduring the attacks against us even having the event with grace and dignity.  Hats off to you for being in charge.
  2. Thank you to the staff of the Portland Central Library for reminding attendees to keep the dialogue respectful, open, and non-aggressive.  I want to especially thank them for being present during the conference and for keeping a watchful eye on all of us.
  3. Thank you to our security team for also being observant and on alert for and trouble, which luckily didn't happen this time.  I felt safer with all of you around.
  4. Thank you to our videographer, Carson, for filming the presentations and for his knowledge/efforts of the technology for the day.
  5. Thank you to my wonderful partner, the Evil Feminist, for being in charge of food for the weekend.  It's an important job, and someone has to do it.  Keeping activists fed keeps activists happy.
  6. Thank you to those who had donated to our fundraising page in order to offset the costs of food, lodging, and renting fees.  You are every bit as important as the people who attended.  Your generosity won't be forgotten with me.
  7. Thank you to those who attended who helped with set-up, directions, and other activities.  Countless hours went into organizing, and countless more went into setting up.
  8. Finally, thank you to all of those people who have supported me behind-the-scenes in telling my story.  I don't know how I would have pulled through if I didn't have the encouragement, the inspiration, and the wisdom I have gotten from my feminist friends and mentors.  It's an honor having met you all and to call you my colleagues and friends.

5 comments:

MiepRowan said...

Really first rate, Heath. Kudos.

Sam Berg said...

Thank you for being the generous and compassionate person you are, Heath.

Anonymous said...

I was there and your presentation was well done. I had really thought of not coming, as I just don't want to deal with the haters in any way. But I thought of how many people would probably not come because of that, and I just didn't want to be one of them. You all deserve better...so I made sure my butt was in one of those seats that day. I was exhausted from a severe lack of sleep and almost nodded off a few times that day, my sincere apologies to any presenter that thought that was rude...but that's how important I thought it was to attend. Keep on keepin' on, sisters...

Anonymous said...

Kudos Heath

Ursula said...

It's a fuzzy thought I have : many feminists suffer from the harassment and threats coming from trans/SJ attackers. A possible workaround would be to have someone else moderate and handle the publication and the comments, such as a moderation team that wouldn't be the writers directly.
By separating both groups, the writers can be protected from most of the abuse, and the moderators can team up to handle it without being directly targeted.

I'm thinking this WoLF website being set up might need some strategizing as it'll be targeted.
Have a nice day !