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Sarah, The Bringer of Tea - Facing Fear
22nd November, 2009
03:25 pm

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Facing Fear
There are posts I want to do about the so-called Equality bill and the Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in London yesterday, but I need to be in the right mindset to do that, and right now I'm not.

But something happened last night that made me think about facing up to things we're frightened of. I think "facing ones fear" is a cost-benefit thing; on the one hand, there was the Reclaim the Night March that some of us briefly ran into last night after the TDOR vigil. I'm scared to go on this march, and I know lots of other trans women are. Ironically, I'm scared to go on it for a reason which may be very similar to the reason those women on the march did go on it...

When a woman walking home alone, in the darkness, she might encounter a man, or group of men walking along. These men probably intend the woman no harm at all, but quite a few men do intend harm, or at the very least, they intend to subject her to verbal and possibly physical harassment. Lots of women therefore treat all men as potentially suspect until proven otherwise out of simple self preservation. When hearing this, lots of men tend to protest - "But I'm not like that!", they'll say. Chances are they're not, but we don't know, and it pays to err on the side of caution, because erring the other way only has to go wrong once.

This is similar to how I, and I suspect many other trans women, feel around cis feminists, especially if they're involved in events which have a history of excluding trans women, or turning a blind eye towards those within their own ranks preaching hatred and exclusion of us, or sharing a platform with such people, or, as I understand has happened in the past, trans women have suffered violence at the hands of their "sisters" at such events.

I know, and associate with plenty of cis women feminists who are trans inclusive and work alongside us against discrimination and exclusion, but there are lots who seem to seriously hate our guts, and wish us harm. Such people have been, and continue to be associated with Reclaim the Night.

And I've heard the protestations, in past years and this time too, "not everyone there is like that! You're tarring us/them all with the same brush!". I've heard these protestations from cis women feminists, and from the odd trans woman brave enough to go on the march, "Nobody attacked me". Well that's fine - I've walked outside in the dark lots of times past men and not been attacked, but it happens, and once is once too often. The point is not that women like me would probably be OK on an RTN march, the point is that we don't feel safe.

I mentioned the cost/benefit thing earlier. There can be benefits to facing ones fear - I suffer a fear of heights, and in the past I've found this crippling. I also really like exploring cool places though, like the tops of mountains and deep canyons. This is incompatible with acrophobia, and I judged the benefits from facing my fear of heights and pushing through them to be worth the cost, which at times has equated to near blind panic. I'm much better now though, to the point where I can free fall 4 metres through the air from the top of a climbing wall before the rope catches me, and not even feel as though it's raised my heart rate, and that's good because I enjoy it.

With events like RTN though, I feel that the cost outweighs the benefits. Any sense of inclusion and solidarity I feel is only ever going to be tenuous and conditional at best, especially if it ends at a rally where people like Julie Bindel are speaking, which she has in recent years. Conditional acceptance and getting to listen to someone who would probably prefer that women like me didn't exist seems like a very poor payoff indeed for facing the sort of fear and heightened sense of anxiety that I normally reserve for walking home alone in the dark.

Originally posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/215517.html - you can comment here or there.

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From:auntysarah
Date:22nd November, 2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
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The one we encountered was on Charing Cross Road, just south of TCR tube. It was about 7pm, I think.
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From:minnesattva
Date:22nd November, 2009 08:50 pm (UTC)
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If a RTN march was to go through a park in the middle of the night, then I might have a bit more respect for them.

Doesn't seem relevant to me. A group of people going through a park doesn't seem anything like the experience I'd have on my own walking through an isolated area in the middle of the night.

Plus part of the reason for such marches to exist is to be seen; yes people are doing it for their own reasons and it's not just a spectacle, but if no one saw them, I'm sure many participants would feel some of the meaning behind the march had been lost.
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From:darkwaterfairy
Date:23rd November, 2009 12:29 am (UTC)

Resistance is futile

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Well sexworkers arent women, the rulebook says so!

Remember, (for the UK) women = cis, middle/upper class, vanilla, degree graduate, celibate, lesbian londoners.



Edited at 2009-11-23 00:35 (UTC)
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From:biascut
Date:22nd November, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
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Aaargh! I think the dismissal of people's very real, very sensible fears about transphobia almost makes me more angry than the fact that transphobic feminists exist. It's like all the different levels of well-meaning-but-fail: the closer your well-meaning is to me, the more infuriating the fail.

I hope the TDOR vigil went well. (Not exactly the right word, but hopefully you know the sentiment I mean.)

(ETA because I substituted lesbians for feminists - same feeling really, but I guess it's probably more feminists in this context.)


Edited at 2009-11-22 18:31 (UTC)
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From:auntysarah
Date:22nd November, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
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Thanks, that's a really helpful reply because at one level, it's difficult not to feel like I'm making a fuss/overinflating things. The fact is though that these things make me nervous as hell, and I know I'm not alone - experience suggests that at best I'm going to come away frustrated and disillusioned.
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From:valeriekeefe
Date:22nd November, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC)
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Well, one must follow the same tactics then, a group large enough to reclaim the night from misogynistic violence should be matched with a group large enough to reclaim feminist space from trans-misogynistic violence. I wouldn't advise going along alone, but I'd advise you to go with a half-dozen, dozen, other trans women.
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From:snakey
Date:22nd November, 2009 11:52 pm (UTC)
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I would think it would take a lot more than a dozen trans women to be safe. :/
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From:ailbhe
Date:23rd November, 2009 12:30 am (UTC)
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Could non-transphobic cis women help with numbers?
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From:auntysarah
Date:23rd November, 2009 12:41 am (UTC)
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I'd like to think so. I am, after all, married to one :-)
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From:ailbhe
Date:23rd November, 2009 12:43 am (UTC)
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Not sure how you'd vet for non-transphobia without knowing people though. TLL style perhaps!

(In unrelated news, I *wish* I was asleep, but urgh, no).
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From:auntysarah
Date:23rd November, 2009 12:52 am (UTC)
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This is a problem. I went to a panel discussion on transfeminism as part of the London Transgender Film Festival a couple of years ago, as an audience member. Plenty of cis women turned up, and some were really great to discuss things with. There were a few who decided that they wanted us at their events and liked to assert that they "definitely weren't transphoboic", but there were two sat behind me who were rather vocal in defending one Guardian journalist. When some of us (the trans women - there were trans men there too) objected, one turned to the other and stage whispered, "They are just like men, aren't they?"

During refreshments they were overheard bemoaning how all these trans women had been there - they'd hoped something proporting to be a discussion on transfeminism would be all about how "FTMs thought feminism was still relevant to them".

I quite felt like punching the wall after that.
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From:ailbhe
Date:23rd November, 2009 12:56 am (UTC)
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The wall? How restrained of you!

BTW, thanks for being so vocal and helpful about all this; I really appreciate the information and insights I get which I otherwise really mightn't. I know it's not *for* me but I benefit nonetheless!
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From:auntysarah
Date:23rd November, 2009 01:19 am (UTC)
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Thank you, that's really kind. It's helpful for me to think about this stuff to the point where it's clear enough in my head to be able to write it down, and once I've done that I figure why not write it down? I'm happy if others find it useful, and it also helps me get some other perspectives on things I might have missed, so I guess everyone wins. :-)
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From:cericonversion
Date:22nd November, 2009 10:44 pm (UTC)
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It seems like one of the hardest things in the world sometimes is to trust our own judgment. But it reads to me like you've thought through the problem and understand what you're facing inside and out, and I very much approve of your inclination not to participate.

I seem to have become a bit radicalized lately on the theme that we must not coddle monstrosity, and that if there must be some compromise for bigots and the rest of us to deal with a matter of common concern, let them do the compromising for a while now.
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From:jessie_c
Date:22nd November, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
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It's this exact feeling that's been keeping me away from doing more overt feminist activism. I've had too many people derisively tell me that I'm not a "real" woman and don't belong. It's especially bad here because far too many feminists in town subscribe to the sort of second-wave nonsense Janice Raymond, Germaine Greer and Andrea Dworkin spout off : (

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From:auntysarah
Date:22nd November, 2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, you've had to face down some pretty unpleasant stuff there. It's a shame, because when I visited, years ago, I really liked the vibe.
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From:jessie_c
Date:22nd November, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
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The vibe is good; it's just that there's a nasty undercurrent that most people don't see. Gee, where have we seen that before?
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From:amokk
Date:22nd November, 2009 07:15 pm (UTC)
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The surface waves always look nice and inviting, but no one can really see the deadly riptide underneath.
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From:jessie_c
Date:22nd November, 2009 07:35 pm (UTC)
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And it's a selective riptide. Cispeople don't experience it.
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From:haggis
Date:22nd November, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)
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The other difference between the two situations you mention is that it was your choice to face your acrophobia. It's a completely different situation when someone else is pushing you to risk transphobia (probably because it would make them more comfortable to believe RTN is not transphobic).
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From:auntysarah
Date:22nd November, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
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That's a good point, thank you.
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From:scattermoon
Date:22nd November, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
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I think I'd be terrified of being told "but you're one of the ones we're reclaiming the night *from*"...
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From:auntysarah
Date:22nd November, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
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I wouldn't regard that as entirely unlikely. Bitterly ironic that it took place on the same day as the London TDOR vigil.
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From:blazingrowan
Date:22nd November, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
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Thank you: that's interesting and valuable to read.
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From:auntysarah
Date:23rd November, 2009 10:11 am (UTC)
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Thank you.
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From:cheshire_bitten
Date:22nd November, 2009 11:29 pm (UTC)
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This is a really good write up.
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From:auntysarah
Date:23rd November, 2009 10:11 am (UTC)
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Thank you. *hugs*
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From:darkwaterfairy
Date:23rd November, 2009 12:37 am (UTC)
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you might be interested in my thoughts on TDoR @(http://darkwaterfairy.livejournal.com/296720.html) as they cover similar ground.
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From:buddleia
Date:23rd November, 2009 09:54 am (UTC)
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*wince*, yeah, I suppose the Schrodinger's Rapist theory holds true for Schrodinger's Transphobes...
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From:auntysarah
Date:23rd November, 2009 10:10 am (UTC)
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Yeah...
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From:steerpikelet
Date:24th November, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for writing this - I found it very helpful. Particularly paragraph 4.
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