Where Do We Stand?

13 Oct

When oppression is reproduced in our struggles for social justice.

I have been in and out of groups working on different issues and struggles for years now. Entering them because of a cause, an ideology, an identity. Leaving them because of disillusion that revolves around one of two themes, ineffectiveness and the second oppression. In the past few years I have focused my work around sexual and bodily rights. This in turn brought me into  a lot of identity based organizations. Ones that were LGBT, LBT, Feminist and Queer. In each one there was some sort of friction around what it was we were doing and how we were doing it. The focus was always on the bigger society, on what was happening externally to us as groups and identities that we forgot to look at how we were working and living with each other. How we were reproducing some of the very things we were fighting. These include sexism, harassment, bullying, and the reproduction of hierarchies of race, class, and privilege.

These oppressions were reproduced in some of the ugliest ways. As a queer woman in gay circles I was referred to as Mrs.__________ (my partner’s name). I was given male names and many other infractions without a thought to what I desired or if I consented to these practices. I didn’t  give my consent, and I made it very clear that I didn’t. They didn’t stop at first, but continued until my objections were a loud repeated scream. But that was not the worst offense;  the transgression on my body, that happened repeatedly, without  my consent, was the worst, the breast grab.

Ever since I have had gay men in my life (about 15 years now)  there has been no shortage of grabbing, staring and joking about my breasts. I’ve been places where a  gay man would not shake my hand or hug me but squeeze my breast as a hello. This happened a few times with him laughing and “complimenting” me about their size and me shouting at him to stop. Since then I have learned never to get within arms reach of him. I have worked in a gay bar where they were always prodded and poked. I have worked in an office where a colleague would hold his hand over my breast, knowing it would antagonize me. I asked him to stop every time during and after the incidents, but for a full year he never stopped until he turned me into a violent harasser and I went for his balls. Even then the incidents didn’t stop they just decreased drastically. I worked in an office where I had to travel a lot, my two male colleagues missed me, and to express that they sent me a picture of two melons on my desk. All these men I speak of are gay. Most of them are “activists”,  all of them were told NO. If you ask any of them why they are fascinated by boobs and I asked many, they would say  things like “it isn’t sexual” or “they are beautiful”, or “we can’t have them”. They would also tell you they are against harassment, they will even go as far to include the harassment of men too in their discourse. Yet, they themselves are harassers, they do not see it because it isnt sexual, they desire breasts, and they are beautiful. .

Sexual harassment is about power, about privilege and it is a transgression. These transgressions are reproducing dynamics of oppression that we deal with on a daily basis and go back to, patriarchy, heteronormativity , post colonialism, homophobia, racism to name a few. . The sexual violence, the sexist comments, the deference to men are only some examples of how these things play our in both society and within our activist circles. but, for them to be reproduced within our circles of social justice movements is unacceptable. We can not be shouting for our liberation(s) in the public sphere and then internally reproduce these same systems. We need to be be modeling and embodying the values and the beliefs we preach.

What is happening in Lebanon is saddening at best. Women have spoken up about sexual violence they have endured within an organization that positions itself as a support group for LGBTs. And the response has been slut shaming, ridiculing, silencing and many other damaging behaviors. Facebook wars have erupted, media wars, blogs, twitter feeds, tumblers shouting to drown out the other side. Personal attacks launched in public and private and no one taking a minute to pause and think about what is happening and how it is larger than 5 or 6 people. What is happening today is a chiasmic issue; a moment in time when we as activists of sexual and bodily rights (identity or issue based) need to look and take stock of not only what we do in the public sphere but internally too. And how this is about naming our historical and current oppressions, embodying what we fight for, and standing up to the power,  privilege and history that has allowed it to happen. To stop and say enough.

And in saying enough really taking stock of the things that can make this wrong right, and how to go about them. This includes a breaking down of the idolization of our institutions and leaders. Everyone of us is fallible and in accepting that and accepting that a wrong has happened we can start to move forward and truly break this cycle of violence. This does not negate any of the good work these institutions or leaders have done. It doesn’t take away from their credibility. But this obstinateness, that because we have saved the gayz we are pure and good and can do no wrong, we are activist, no LGBT activist, so there is no way we can sexually harass women, is a fallacy that will delegitimize organizations,  activists and the movement.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done within the Lebanese sexual rights movement to move towards a just resolution of what happened this year. It will take years for this wound to heal and it won’t happen if the current situation continues. Today, people are violently attacking each other and have forgotten that there are women who have been violated. They have forgotten that these women need to be heard. That these women are not only trying to take a stand but are also reliving a lot of hurt and trauma. They have not been asked for how this situation can be resolved. They have not been asked how safety can be provided for them. They have not been asked how support can be given. They have had to go out and ask for it and sometimes it never came and other times it was met with more violence.

In thinking of how this will be resolved, I am at a loss. I can only keep saying that safety and healing is needed for everyone involved, yes everyone, including the men. Justice is needed for the survivors and accountability is a must for everyone. How to get to any of these is a long process. And today each of us is in a different place when it comes to understanding what any of these concepts mean. The process to getting to them also means different things to each of us. And so, I do not see a resolution close at hand.

What I do see is a fractured movement and not just in Lebanon, but regionally too. In speaking to people in different countries, in hearing about reactions, it is obvious that people are being polarized. Some around the issues and some around the people involved. Others yet are being ostriches burying their heads in the sand. I see no problem in this fracture. It is about time we really took stock and made our positions clear on where and how we stand internally amongst ourselves rather than just politely smiling and nodding our way through solidarity. Social justice and solidarity are about standing up against the tide when things are not right. And before we go out and change the world we need to be looking inside and working on changing ourselves. To unlearn the heteronomative, sexist, patricachy. To embody what we believe in and really think about how we stand against all the isms that have and continue to oppress us internally and externally. To no be afraid to take a stand.  I took a stand and I stand against sexual harassment, I stand against sexism, I stand against misogyny. I stand with my sisters. I stand with my sisters to break this cycle of violence. Where do you stand?

Author: S

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: