Tuesday, March 29, 2016

In Defense of Accountability, Making Mistakes, and Carol Adams

The inspiration from this post came from discovering that a friend of mine is being banned from events today for allegedly* being transphobic. This friend, Carol Adams, does extremely important work in feminism and nonhuman animal liberation. I have had the pleasure of seeing her speak about 6 years ago and again this year. Those talks differed. The talks grow and become more inclusive. I'm pretty sure Carol and I would not agree 100% on everything if we detailed every one of our beliefs to one another. I am absolutely sure, however, that she would believe me and listen to me if I shared my thoughts and experiences with her. 

Let me first say that this is not some "because this person is my friend, I am going to defend her and ignore anything she could have done wrong." Anyone who knows me in person knows I would rather have no friends than have to defend terrible behavior of many friends. What this is is a call for us to believe in mistakes, evolution, vulnerability, disagreements, and accountability. If we are going to hold people to every mistake they have ever made, regardless of if they have changed, then that makes all of the work and effort we put into "calling in" and accountability processes useless. Yes, useless. It also sets a standard for us to be constantly perfect. It creates a fear of doing work and becoming better because why try when you might make a mistake that will destroy the rest of your life? I also want to note that we all have internalized transphobia and transmisogyny (and every other facet of oppression)- including trans people like me- that inevitably comes out at times.

I am currently a queer transgender butch, feminist, anti-authoritarian, clean/sober 11 years, disability justice advocate, anti-racist, and many many other things. However, what I really want you to know is what I was 16 years ago. Content note: the next paragraph includes some words that may be triggering or difficult to read.

16 years ago- in the year 2000- I was 17 years old, graduating high school, and had no radical analysis. I was also severely addicted to drugs and alcohol and was 1-2 years shy of of graduating from prescription pain killers to heroin daily. I had no concept of consent, feminism, racism, etc. In fact, I often used oppressive insults (faggot, bitch, retard, etc) and intentionally made terrible and oppressive jokes that were hurtful and made people feel uncomfortable I am sure (these included rape jokes, misogynistic jokes, homophobic jokes, racist jokes, etc.) Sometimes I try to think of this as me defending myself using off-putting humor. By this time in my life, I had suffered a lot of abuse. But, really, there is no excuse for my former behaviors. In my addiction, I also treated people like garbage- I was manipulative and even violent at times. Again, the healing part of me wants to excuse my behaviors as being part of trauma, addiction, and constant ongoing victimization, but that doesn't mean I am not accountable for them today. I don't excuse them in myself or others. At this time in my life, the internet was not really part of my existence and smart phones were definitely not. If anyone would have filmed me or posted anything about me on the internet from this time in my life, I am absolutely sure that there would be terrible things about me immortalized in the internet world. If I was held to these things today by people on the internet, I guarantee you that I would not have the privilege of being friends and acquaintances with so many wonderful radical people today.

Interestingly, today, and for years now, I have had people tell me I am intimidatingly radical. People have told me they thought they weren't radical enough to be around me. They told me that I was creating fearfulness of making mistakes. I have tried to mend this over time and understand how call-out culture teaches us to slaughter others while forgetting our own pasts. I like to hope I am better today than I was then. Still, today, people see me as a fairly radical person. I have worked on and cofounded several nonhuman animal liberation groups, cofounded an anti-racist group that assisted white folks in unlearning their internalized racism among other things, organized many actions against rape culture, misogyny, homophobia and transantagonism, classism, capitalism, etc. I have grown a lot.

That growth does not change the fact that I was not always this way. It does not change the fact that I will continue to make mistakes for which I will need to be accountable. It does not change the fact that I will never be a perfect radical. It does not change the fact that I and other radicals will undoubtedly disagree on things, even when both of our opinions have truths in them. We are all growing at all times. If we refuse to allow people the ability to change, then all of the work we do in social justice, animal liberation, and so on is literally POINTLESS. If we only allow speakers who have been perfect their whole lives and have evolved perfectly with the times at every moment, we will have absolutely NO speakers. If we do not allow others the right to make mistakes, then we do not allow ourselves that right. If we do not allow ourselves that right, then we do not allow ourselves to exist.

I purposely did not make this entire post about Carol Adams for a few reasons: 1. I had the idea of writing this post without any urging from her and I do not want it to appear as if it is her idea not mine (though I did ask her consent before I began writing.) I take responsibility for my words. 2. Call out culture and refusal to allow mistakes is something that is virulent in all radical circles. It is something I have been guilty of countless times, however hypocritically. I want to mention my inspiration while also addressing that culture. 3. I am only one person with one set of experiences and cannot be the authority on all other peoples experiences.**

That said, I am going to devote part of this to her for the following reasons: 1. Carol is humble and easy to be around. I want people to know that in my experience and many others, she is approachable and kind. I want to inspire people to talk TO her rather than ABOUT her if they have issues. 2. Carol does extremely important feminism and animal liberation work even if you don't agree with every single thing she says. Her presentations and books have changed the world for the better. As have many others' work you may not agree with 100%. 3. It's personal. There were times I wish someone would have defended me. I have told myself I would do the same when I saw things happening I disagreed with.

I digitally met Carol Adams years ago. I had read her books and really enjoyed her work, but had also ran into dialogue online suggesting she had made transphobic comments. I felt conflicted as a trans person who loved her work and I wanted to talk to her about it. I sent her an email and she swiftly replied to me and we had several conversations. None of the conversations I have had, nor what I have read online, have completely helped me to understand what had gone down 16 years ago. What I did understand is this is a person who is kind, humble, and truly loves humans and other animals and wants to be accountable and do the right thing. She had also taken some steps to do the right thing. This may seem like something that should not be rare, but of all of the people in feminism and animal rights movements that I have written to about comments they have made, I can count on one hand how many responded with humility, kindness, and a desire to make things right, if they bothered to respond at all.

Over the years, Carol Adams started asking my opinion on things she wrote. She wanted to be inclusive, to get things right. She did not tokenize me or assume I speak for all queer people or all trans people. She asked me to proof read a response to some of the accusations which I did (though it was difficult because I was not present at the conversation between Adams and Mirha-Soleil Ross, I still do not understand what occurred, and everything I find online are vague accusations of guilty-by-association with another radical feminism who is terfy, disagreements between second and third wave feminism about porn/sex work that I do not believe are grounds for banning, or disagreements about talking about women and nonhuman animals' oppression as connected- which I disagree with.) I came into feminism around a lot of "3rd wavers" and I had wonderful interactions with this radical feminist from the "2nd wave." She has swung me in her direction on some things as I am sure I have swung her in mine. I'm telling you, as a transgender, kinky person, with some sex work history, who used to be pro-porn and is not anymore, I have had great, loving discussions with Carol Adams. I am not saying my experience is or would be everyone's. I am saying that when we don't talk to people, we can't know who they are. I am also saying that I really wish that second wave feminists, third wave feminists, and now transfeminists (some are calling this the 4th wave) would hold each other's humanity more.

I had not met Carol Adams in person until this past weekend. I was nervous because people who have any fame often are treated in weird inhuman ways and I didn't want to bother her too much. I walked in the door of the room she was in and she stood up and said hello and we hugged each other. I immediately felt safe and secure in her presence. I mean it when I say she is easy to be around. She seems to love interacting with people and she seems not to see herself as an authority on anything. She shared stories of feminist history and also stories of people trying to ban her from events for being transphobic. This was so hard for me to hear because her work has been so important and because conversations are not had when we ban people, especially over things that occurred 16 years prior.

In my conversations with Carol Adams, I have discovered work she is involved with that is greatly helpful to trans people. To detail this work would cause outing and lack of safety for the trans people being benefited by said work. I am being intentionally vague, so you will simply have to take my word for it (or not.) I have also watched her deliberately make her presentations, writings, and speech more inclusive of trans people and have seen her listen and be present to learn more things about trans issues. Lastly, I mentioned in a workshop we were in that there are both TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) and TIRFs (trans-inclusive radical feminists.) She lit up and came to me after the workshop, so happy to hear that there was something radical feminists could call themselves to separate themselves from TERFs. She mentioned a great love and dedication to radical feminism while also being hurt by the seemingly constant association of all radical feminism with TERFs. I am not saying that these things mean that Carol is perfect or that I am perfect. As I have already said, we all carry transphobia and transmisogyny within us. I am sharing this narrative in hopes to ad humanity to this dialogue.

I often find in radical circles that, the people that can say the biggest baddest things in speeches or on the internet without any missteps are held up as heroes, while the people without that privilege of academia or access to our constantly evolving language and/or the people doing the hard work on the ground are torn apart. We need to be having more conversations and less dog piling of attacks. We need to allow ourselves and each other to be flawed.

I disagree on many things with other people. I also respect the work that I do not disagree with that they do. For me, the work of always trying to be accountable and grow is far more rewarding than the feeling of power when I point the finger at someone else's mistakes. This took me a long time to learn. I believe there are some things we absolutely cannot let slide that other radicals do. I believe in calling in, challenging each other to grow, and accountability. I even believe in banning people when they become dangerous and hurtful in ways that cannot be solved. I do not believe in refusing to allow people to grow or to have differences. I definitely do not believe in erasing all of the work they do that is good and beneficial because of disagreements or viral attacks.

The tl;dr version of this post and the main message I want you to gather from it is: Let's fucking talk to each other more and rely on tumblr and comments-section arguments less.

I welcome criticism and conversation on this post. I moderated all comments before and will continue to do so on this writing. Emotional and passionate responses are fine. Nastiness is not.

*I say allegedly because I was not there and have heard several stories about this that all differ.
**Please do not use this piece as a "token trans person says this is ok." I do not experience what trans women do, I do not understand proud sex work because for me, it was never proud or fun, I do not understand glorifying porn as liberatory when I have participated in and seen that which is absolutely the opposite, I only experience what I experience as a transgender butch and maybe I am totally wrong in this writing. I am right smack dab in the middle of waves and both sides in all their diversity will find something to disagree with me about. That's ok. Let's talk.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you Corvus. I was asked to remove Carol from the speaker roster before the Intersectional Justice Conference and, after doing some research, I chose to keep her on because I felt that the accusations of trans-exclusionary radical feminism were not based in evidence I could see for myself. I am grateful that she was present this weekend and I enjoyed getting to know her a little bit. I regret that I didn't find time to get to know you better during the conference but I'm looking forward to continuing to get to know you through your work and writing.

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  2. I am so sad to hear that this defamatory, completely unfair accusation is continuing to impact Carol, and by extension the entire social justice community. What you have written here is such an incredibly important expression of what intersectional justice can be/is all about, Corvus Strigiform. Thankyou!

    It has broken my heart to see the exceptional work of Carol J. Adams, and radical ecofeminism itself, devalued, misunderstood and misrepresented time and time again as a result of this difficult history. I have tried to sift through the pieces of it myself, and cannot for the life of me understand why this horrible myth persists other than through wilful ignorance. This has to STOP.

    I've followed the work of this dedicated activist and scholar for 25 years. Not only is she absolutely committed to justice, she embodies and practices the ecofeminist care tradition she advocates for...in part by sharing her views in a thoughtfully responsive (as opposed to reactionary) way with genuine heart. From what I have witnessed myself through her spoken and written words over time, Carol has addressed the false accusation leveled against her with consistent integrity, and patience.

    Thankyou for speaking out, Corvus. I absolutely stand beside you, and as a trans inclusionary ecofeminist myself, in full support of Carol J. Adams .

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    1. Thank you for your comment, I feel ya. It's important to note that the myth persists because trans people are under attack and very real threat from TERFs like Cathy Brennan making attacks at homes, workplaces, hospitals, and so on attempting to out and/or destroy the reputations, livelihood, access to medical care, etc of trans people. You probably already know that, but I want to make sure we are noting that there are indeed TERFs in radical feminist circles who are more detrimental to women, trans folks, queer folks, etc than the worst republican politicians. I am wanting to state that Carol Adams is not one of these people.

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  3. Thanks for writing this. I too had heard allegations that Adams was trans-exclusionary, but my experience upon meeting her at the Intersectional Social Justice conference was that if she had any of those views in the past, they have now changed. I know my own views on many social justice issues have changed radically in just the last few years. I too am not a trans woman and cannot speak to their experiences, but I am a non-binary trans person who attempts to be aware of transmisogyny and elevate the voices of trans women whenever possible.

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