Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Post-#MBLGTACC Re-Thinking and Tolerance

Emi Koyama is my new activist crush.
I'm actually going to write something positive about MBLGTACC!  I figured I really need to, because despite some rather negative stuff going on, MBLGTACC was still downright awesome.  This has been my fourth one, and every one has been meaningful.

My highlight this year was going to a plenary speech as well as a workshop by Emi Koyama*.  I was going to do a recap of her speech, but I don't think I'd do her justice, so I'm going to recommend a few essays from her website and then expand on one of my current projects, which is to re-wire myself to be more tolerant.

I'm not direct-linking these because she has had problems in the past with people irresponsibly distributing her work, so I'll just title them and let you click them on her own site.  The two articles that I found most important (to this subject anyway) are Toward a Harm Reduction Approach in Survivor Advocacy and A New Fat-Positive Feminism**.

So I'm somebody who really has difficulty with devaluation of experience, something that's happened to me on many occasions.  My personal need to lose weight keeps me from fully involving myself in the fat positive movement, because this puts me in a position where my actions are constantly belittled by people who believe dieting and weight loss are inherently oppressive.  Experiencing "binary" male gender often makes it difficult for me to work with people who experience non-binary gender, due to the minimization of binary transgender experiences (for example, I actually sting really bad over a blog post somebody wrote about me criticizing me for being unhappy with an FTM top surgeon referring to his patients with female pronouns).  The way pansexuals describe bisexuality was central to the reason I did not refer to myself as pansexual regularly until very recently.  And my perception that others are appropriating language used to refer to transgender people makes me uncomfortable advocating for people with BIID and therians.

I'm not saying "Ugh, it's totally these peoples' faults that I don't help them out!"  Rather, I'm simply stating that I have built a lot of prejudices over the years, which I regrettably must own if I'm going to work through them.

That doesn't mean I can't be critical of certain aspects of a movement--after all, the way people have behaved toward me has in fact occasionally been quite shitty--but I need to learn to avoid taking the comments of a few people, or even many people, as a personal attack from a whole community or a reason to reject the basic principles of a movement, and when things do upset me I need to be critical of why they upset me rather than just assume I'm right and they're wrong.

Some manifestations of this re-wiring, so to speak... I'm bothered less about terms like "trans-abled" by people with BIID and "trans-species" by therians.  Although I still think people should consider the possibility that this is inappropriate appropriation, I remind myself that saying "therians who identify with trans-species are harming the transgender movement!" is at least in some way similar to statements like "transgender people are harming the gay rights movement!" or "polyamorists need to shut up about their rights until same-sex marriage is a thing!"

I also force myself to be less concerned with things like the ways people choose to modify their bodies.  Although it is certainly important that natural consequences of actions are known (something I specifically got from Emi Koyama's workshop on Saturday), it affects me very little if somebody is or strives to be very fat, very thin, to have a limb taken off, to look more like a non-human animal, to present or identify as a non-binary gender, and so on.  In the past, it has been my instinct to speak or write about how people who do these things are "going about it wrong," but I need to finally concede that it's none of my Gods-damned business.

Of course, there are plenty of things that are my business, but this should be confined to the ways people use their privilege or interact with others, and not what they choose to do or not to do with their bodies and lives.

* - Just another note, I feel I need to make it clear that what I'm writing here is my own interpretation of issues based on things inspired by Emi Koyama and my own personal experiences, so it should be taken as my opinion rather than hers; there's certainly no guarantee that she would even support what I'm writing here.  So just make sure you represent people accurately, aight?

** - Some other essays on her website I think are really useful are Whose Feminism is it, Anyway?, Disloyal to Feminism, and... well, everything there is pretty good.  Not that I am suggesting you agree with everything there, but she's a good source of inspiration.