Sunday, December 18, 2011

Being Good Enough

So I was lurking on, reminiscing through my emotionally charged rants and post-hardcore mp3s and started reflecting on this socio-muso identity of recent past. You know, it took me 9 years living in Aotearoa and after several maybe/maybe-not talk sessions with good friend bamboo to finally pick up the mic and do music again. I am 28-yrs old and do vocals with an all-feminist hardcore punk band- Melting Pot Massacre. We're still figuring out our sound and getting to know each other, but it's a good place to be right now.

I want to talk a bit about my internalised journey with making Music, how it changed and keeps shifting my sense of identity and belonging in New Zealand even today. I navigated from PunkDIYism as a societally tolerated phase of teen-early adulthood globally, to something Politically Expressive for the repressed Asian youth particularly, to a period of MUSIC IS ENDLESS NOTHINGNESS and only now, a way to kick off all those negativity about "not being good enough to sing/perform in New Zealand". But firstly, I need to be honest with you. I do not know much about whatever's going on with punk music, zines or social movements per se these days. I am so behind on it all, looking up for updates online, don't even attempt to download/steal music or have headphones on walking on the streets. In many ways I "sold out", getting less involved with any direct action politics. I also stopped calling myself an anarcha-feminist since the Anarchist conference in Christchurch in 2005.

All of these factors contribute to why I have actively isolated myself from doing anything musically or creatively with anyone in NZ. Because my passion for punk was in its propensity to politicise, and because I reduced my politicial activity, it was easier to let the noise, the music subside and lose its signifiance. I guess for a long time prior to migrating to NZ, punk music was MY REASON FOR LIVING. it was personal and truly political. i had creative scene friends, i ran a zine and distro, i was in two bands, i mixed with Grrrls, it was literally how i woke up and lived my life on a day to day basis in Singapore. And then i got to nz, and i struggled "mingling" with people at Uni, I was awkward and the few dudemates I had were asian pot-smoking metalheads. It didn't help that I didn't drink or could socialise comfortably in pubs. I was also going through a messy violent home then, and was the butt of a few painful racist encounters with REAL nasty skinheads.

Okay, so nevermind punk. Wat about just performing? One day, I saw this ad for Miss Saigon. It was going to be this huge musical production, and I'd get paid for practices. I was looking for a job and thought, hey they need an Asian actress/singer, I'm vocally trained, maybe I should try it out. Heck, if there was ever a chance for me to enter the performing arts industry in NZ, this could be that big break I need. I remember wearing this red chiffon dress under an oversied velour coat, trying to look 21 for a twenty-one year old. When I got to the Theatre, there were eight tall beautiful Asian-looking ladies talking to each other in kiwi accents. I stood in the queue awkwardly for about two minutes and ran off crying.

I just remembered thinking to myself, I'm not good enough. What was I thinking? Maybe in Singapore. But not in New Zealand. I can't even talk like.. them. How the heck am I supposed to sing?

That time, there was this talent show on TV, something like American Idol but an early NZ version. I watched intently with my parents one night, and thought wow Kiwi folks sure have pipes. How do they project their voices that strongly? My parents seem to have read my mind and they started comparing Asians' weak, nimble throaty voices to White people's rounded, powerful notes. My mother was convinced it's because our bodies are smaller, hence diaphragms were smaller hence vocal capacity limited. I believed her!

Slowly, I quietened my "voice" into a hum, then into a whisper, and then into "I can't sing". This voice that used to win talentshows and band competitions in secondary school. That voice that got me to lead my school choir on national public concerts. That voice that punched songs by Nightwish and Cranberries in my first deathrock band. One time, my dudemates in Christchurch who were in a band called me to join them for a session. When I disclosed to them I used to sing, they asked me to sing something then. I don't remember what song it was but sing I did in their garage. Theyjust looked at each other, didn't acknowledge it or compliment or anything. They just said, Aw yep, and moved on to their own stuff. They ignored me. I felt more stupid after that and promised to not sing to anyone no more. I thought, fuck this. If my own supposed friends can't see my talent, then maybe, I really don't have the talent.

I guess for a long time, you can say I lost my self-esteem gradually and systematically. It was just so hard to even believe that you ARE good, you ARE different and that is OK, when you don't have people around you that actually believe in you. It was only in 2008 when I met dumpling about Mellow Yellow zine that I thought, hey, I don't have to forget all that awesome stuff I used to love writing about, I can do this because someone else is doing this. And then when I met bamboo in 2009, and she was telling me about her band, I was like, far out! So it is possible to get out there and do music eh, Asian and that! I also rediscovered my fandom for Lane Kim in Gilmore Girls, MY Precious and Bloody Rejects, to remind myself, fuck what people say, if you wanna scream your lungs out, just do it! I tell you what, when you actively look for good people and role models, inspiration AND motivation kick in real quickly! Don't let one, two or three people in your life make you feel less or slighted, because at the end of the day, if you get out of this shell and let yourself go completely, you just never know what other awesome thing you're capable of! I have never screamed in a band before, but I thought, if I'm ever going to give this music another go, this is it, I am ready now. This is where I am today, having bandmates who support me goofing and experimenting with how my voice sounds and that has truly made the difference. And you know what: I am good!

In a lot of ways, I'm sharing this story of how I came to appreciate what I am, what I can offer and create, from an awkward 19-year old migrant to a 28year old vocalist for a hardcore punk band, to put the message out there to anyone out there who's ever felt that they weren't good enough to sing, dance, act, draw, play, write beyond their countries of origin. I've met a lot of people in my way, and many who would tell me they used to do this and that in their country of origin but would then tell me they're too shy or scared to do it in NZ, mainly because they feel like, they're not good enough, or their English is not good enough etc. And I guess I just want to tell them that I totally get what you're going through, and I do believe that there is that right time and place for everyone to fully realise their own potential. But NOBODY is not good enough. No matter who you are and where you're from. When you're clear in your mind and your heart, and you believe in yourself, and you surround yourself with people who support your ambitions and goals to be completely yourself, you can do wonders! Find those good people and cherish their friendships. Don't give up!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Take your individualistic ostrich head out of the colonial sand

“What is colonisation all about? I mean that kinda stuff happens all over the world, it's just what people do, it's always happened. And it was so long ago.. You can't really do anything about it.”

This was part of the conversation I had with a young gay asian man while a small, staunch and chipper group marching for decolonisation up Queen St, to the (re)occupy Aotea campsite. And it's been on my mind ever since.

What I would have liked to say in addition, would have been that “Yup, I suppose it's always been happening. That the powerful, for a long stretch of current historical re-memory, have taken, oppressed and subjugated those less powerful. Taken and occupied land, resources and people.”

So the question, or statement rather, in response to that kind of thing said to people opposing colonisation, is “Yeah well, it comes down to whether and how you care about, and want to do anything about social justice.” And many people don't.

People have probably always beat up, set on fire, hung and killed other people, whether just because they want their stuff, because they figure their god said it was all good, or just because they lived and expressed differently in some kind of way. That is an observation. It's not a justifcation, for not doing anything about injustice.

We live in a time where the seductive and manipulative system of belief is that if you put your mind and energy to it, you can do anything. Inequality and inequity is merely bad luck or circumstantial, but once you actively engage in the fair and level playing field, you can achieve anything.

It's a pretty handy belief system. Also because it feels pretty empowering to a certain point.

It's one that the Model Minority (usually Asians) and many middle class gays, lesbians and queers happy champion. The possiblity of social mobility, being poor and then getting richer, combined with civil rights, do not mean that a system is fair and just and level. But many people think it is. And many people are pretty ok with the current system as it works pretty well for them. Until it doesn't.

The way we live is far from just. It's not close to serving most people most of the time. But we'd like to believe it is, because it's less work and less scary that way. We'd like to ignore rates of rape and sexual abuse, family violence, intergenerational wounds, poisoned rivers, toxic lakes, shrinking old forests, animals suffering, people living in poverty, poor mental and physical health, youth and adult suicide rates, and the ever widening gap between rich and poor. They are just unfortunate, circumstantial, and not indicitive of the way we live.

Its a great belief system because we don't have to do anything about it, and when anyone fails, it's just bad luck, or more likely because they haven't tried hard enough. So it's their own fault really.

Its hard to see, or want to see, structural oppression. It's hard to explain structural oppression to someone with an individualistic liberal framework, in a tasty soundbyte. It's because structural oppression is the whole platter, the table, the kitchen, the house, and the very land the house is on.

And that's hard to fit in a soundbyte.

But how about a story.

There is a family. Who lives in a house. One day another family turns up and moves on in, and forces the first family into the back shed out the back. The new family then takes over most of the vege garden and nine out of the ten fruit trees. The new family then moves in lots more of their cousins. The new family poison the rest of the vege garden they didn't take over, and chop down the fruit tree belonging to the first family.

The new family don't allow the first family to speak their language and do their own way of health care. When the first family protests at being kicked out of their house, their vege garden being taken or poisoned and their fruit tree cut down, they are thrown in the cellar. They are then told they've breached laws the new family made up and wrote in the new families own language. It's their own fault really.

Many years pass.

The new family's great great great grandchildren still live in the house, have most of the vege garden, and write the new laws in their language. The great great great grandchildren of the first family still live in the shed.

There are many more great grandchildren of the new family. They don't call themselves that though. They call everyone, including the first family descendents, New Housers. The descendents of the new family let the first family descendents have some veges and visit the house every now and then. They can't understand why the descendents of the first family suffer worse health than they do. They figure it must be about the first families descendents attitude to life.

And while we're telling tales, here are a few more.

Our fair and level “justice” system convicts Maori at higher rate than Pakeha for the same crime.

Our fair and level housing system favours Pakeha and European applicants.

Our fair and level job system favours Pakeha and European applicants.

And to all those Asians that love up the Model Minority Myth, those gays, lesbians and queers that think things are pretty level and fair, and if you don't “succeed” you're just not trying hard enough; here are some tales for you.

The Youth07 report that surveyed nearly 10 000 high school students, tells us that only a bit over 50% of Chinese youth are proud of their ethnicity. It also tells us that queers are over-represented in much of the negative stats including suicide, drug and alcohol abuse and all forms of bullying.

Shakti Community Council, that tends to Asian survivors of domestic violence is run off their feet.

We might think we are “ok” but we can't pretend our youth are.

If this feels like wet-blanket-party-pooping-negative talk, I will happily identify as all those things, if that's what telling our societal ostrich to take its head out the structurally oppressive sand is doing.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Statement in Support of the March and Rally against Poverty and Structural Oppression

As Asian tau iwi living in Aotearoa, we recognise the past and present injustices against tangata whenua.

We also recognise that through British colonialism and the theft of Maori land, the Pakeha-dominated political system has created wealth and a nation that provides "opportunities", "standards of living" that have become available to new migrants, old settlers and their descendents. These benefits and privileges we get from living on this land created and maintained by colonisation do not justify the violent process of colonialism.

We support calls to decolonise the "Occupy" movement and the 99%. Many of our homelands have been 'occupied' by colonial or imperialist forces in the not too distant past. The violence and destruction caused by imperialism has left a legacy in many parts of Asia and continues as an oppressive force through neo-liberal globalisation. The gap between the rich and poor is growing globally and the root of the problem includes colonialism, patriarchy and racism. The effect of poverty is racialised and gendered. It is no coincidence that 1% is mostly white men, and the most impoverished are people of colour. As a global movement seeking to address economic inequality, the "Occupy" movement must also address the roots of this problem instead of perpetuating further injustice by ignoring or sidelining the struggles of indigenous peoples.

We know that as Asian tau iwi living in Aotearoa, racism exists everywhere. Racism not only works to disadvantage ethnic minorities and tangata whenua, but it also works to divide us through negative racial stereotypes.

We choose to seek paths of justice that do not simply partake in further colonial injustices against tangata whenua.

We choose to look at social justice and our tau iwi responsibilities, not solely from a Western/Pakeha perspective, but from ancestral perspectives where our elders have experienced colonisation, imperialism, and perpetuated these injustices also, which continue to have impacts on sections of the Asian population.

We do this so we don't have to hand on legacies of grievance and injustice to our children and grandchildren, as has been handed to us as Asian tau iwi settlers, migrants and citizens.

These are the reasons we support tino rangatiratanga and encourage other tau iwi/migrants/refugees to join this march and rally!

March and Rally against poverty and structural oppression in Aotearoa!

18 November · 17:00 - 21:00

Britomart bottom of Queen St to Aotea Square

Created by:

More info
Rise up and Decolonize Global Action Day: Lets get free!

Decolonize Aotearoa demands global and local economic justice. Indigenous peoples of the world Unite Together!

An action by indigenous peoples and movements and non-indigenous peoples and their movements throughout the colonized world who have always been part of the 99%.

We express our solidarity with those peoples who have lived under colonial and continue to live under neo colonial occupations.

This rally has been organised to claim space as indigenous peoples and peoples of colour within the Occupy Movement. When we imagine decolonization, we do not make demands of those in power or those who are behind Occupy movements; we create power and frame the alternative.

This event is organised by a coalition of Maori movements who are not part of the organizing body of Occupy New Zealand or of any the Occupy movements around the world. Because this land has endured colonial occupation and domination at the expense of Maori, we cannot promote or endorse the concept of occupation. Our engagement with Occupy movements or attendance at their demonstrations serve the purposes of claiming space for Maori and articulating the movement to decolonize on a local and global scale.

We continue to observe brutality in the legacy of capitalism, a system that relied upon the enslavement of African and Caribbean peoples, the genocide and displacement of Indigenous peoples, and the violent seizure of lands for colonial profit. Economic exploitation of labor and resources is only one process of continuing colonization that disproportionately impacts Maori and other indigenous communities and third world peoples.

We envision intersectional and comprehensive social justice that extends beyond limited narratives of class conflict. Struggles for self-determination have been waged for centuries by our ancestors before us, and will continue through the descendants who follow us.

In the strength of “making our own power”, we have organized our own international Call to Action titled “Rise & Decolonize! Let’s Get Free” on November 18, 2011 at 5:00 pm. We invite all those who have a genuine willingness to engage and listen to attend our solidarity rally and become an ally in continuing the work of decolonization.

This global action also supports the local and global occupy movements of the world who have bravely put themselves before the might of police states throughout developed first world countries in the pursuit of justice and freedom from capitalist imperialism's exploitation and control of the worlds wealth and resources in the hands of the elite few, the 1 percent. Nga mihi ki a koutou katoa!

We therefore invite you to share this event with us, tena tatou!

RSVP and invite your friends on Facebook here!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Daily effects of white privilege, by Peggy McIntosh

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.

11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person's voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.

12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

16. I can be pretty sure that my children's teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others' attitudes toward their race.

17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.

18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.

19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.

25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.

26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race.

27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.

28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.

29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.

30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.

31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.

32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.

33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.

37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.

38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.

39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.

40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.

43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.

44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.

45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.

46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.

47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.

48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.

49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.

50. I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Some "normal" responses to rather unwell societies

Mental health and society.

There are a whole bunch of stigmatised ingredients, flourishes, elements, and parts of people, in the society we live within. One of those is mental health.

Mental health, or mental wellness is something I’ve struggled with since my late teens. I’ve struggled with feeling a flat-grey-colour-and-joy-leached-hopelessness-no-motivation type of depression, where even just getting out of bed to make a cup of tea and get dressed feels overwhelming.

But another level of struggle around mental wellness for me, is the feeling bad-guilty-ashamed, about feeling down. This is the internalised societal stigmatising and prejudice around mental health. This is feeling that if I could stop being a wimp and just get on with it, harden up, stop wallowing and complaining, things would be better. That I should be stronger than this. It’s feeling like I shouldn’t be feeling like this, because I don’t have it that bad compared to other people in the world.

Luckily a good friend told me that this is a ludicrous notion, because in that projection, there would be only one person in the world who would be “allowed” to feel bad, because everyone else wouldn’t have it as bad as that person.

With my struggle with the dynamics of sometimes not-so-good-mental-wellness, the feelings, and the validity of feelings, it can sometimes help if I think of it as “bad fat arse syndrome” (as opposed to good fat arse, not that binaries are to be lauded, but for the purposes of this demonstration...).

Bad fat arse syndrome: Most of us with pretty basic feminist understandings, know that there are no “perfect” bodies, just billion dollar advertising campaigns. Mass global marketing ideals to aspire to, via consumption, and to maintain and control power via imaging and (mis) representation. However, no matter how much we know this, we still have the odd second, minute, hour, day, week etc, where we think we have a fat arse and think this is a “bad” thing, and wish we did look like supermodels and celebrities, even though we know they don’t really exist outside of photoshop.

This is to be expected due to the constant barrage and thick saturation in almost everywhere, of messages to the contrary. That pretty and handsome people have more fun, are more successful. That it is of utmost importance to have a job, career, perfect job, partner, family, house, car, social life. That good people are pretty and handsome, don’t have depression (unless they are tortured artists or musos and then that’s OK), don’t ever feel negatively about their bodies. That if you’re fat, poor, or struggle with mental wellness, it’s your own fault and you’re just not trying hard enough.

Socialisation cannot simply be read, theorised, talked or argued away. It’s constant and un-ending. So a large part of living in this world and trying to struggle for things to be better, is learning how to live and manage that constant barrage of (often false and misleading) messages. No easy task..

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The un-seen, un-wanted, work of Freedom, or, "what we can learn from the Israelites".

I grew up on vivid Bible stories etched brightly on my child's mind. Daniel hanging with the Lion in the Lion's Den; Jonah running from God's orders then ending up in a whale belly; horses, chariots and Egyptians drowned in a Moses parted Red Sea.

One story that makes me think of why “anarchy” is difficult, is one where the Israelites demanded a human king from God.

If you're sitting comfortably, then I'll begin.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mellow Yellow #4 @ Auckland Zinefest!

Mellow Yellow issue no. 4 is out now! We launched it this year at Auckland Zinefest last Saturday 16th July; it was probably our first time hosting a stall together, PLUS bamboo spoke in a panel discussion on "Zines as tools for political resistance" which was pretty choice. Response has been great, apparently we sold over 40 copies of number 4 that day alone, plus tens of nos.1 , 2 and 3. People also took well to our awesome "..Asian Invasion + BMW" fundraiser. Then on Sunday, the Mellow Yellow crew spoke about their experiences behind making Mellow Yellow together at the "Zines for the revolution" session hosted at Blackheart infoshop, a new anarchist-vegan friendly zines/clothing space on K Road, Auckland. Lots of lols and good fun.

Anyway, check out pics from our weekend (most downloaded off Auckland Zinefest page:

If you'd like a copy of the zine, drop us a message at Out-of-Aotearoa folks: we do our best to send you copies as much as we can afford postage from our fundraised koha, so do get in touch.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Radical Masculinities?

I started thinking about this amorphous topic for a number of reasons.

One was in the context of being part of butch femme dynamics where I've been challenged a number of times by femmes, on my masculine privilege, assumptions, misogyny, and ways of working and communicating.

Another is upon starting to take testosterone, needing to think about how my body and its readings will be eventually absorbed more solidly into gendered dynamics, particularly masculine positionings. This is in contrast to now, when people read me as male, it's a young pre/pubescant male, until I begin to speak; or I'm read as a queer female/dyke.

So wanting to look at my behaviour now as a butch, and eventually when I will be read as a man, both readings within a vague but powerful category of “masculinity”.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

my fun time at Camp Betty: queer and trans activist conf in Sydney

Camp Betty Sydney 2011 rocked. Here is a link to what they've said about themselves then what I say about Camp Betty.

I conceptualised Camp Betty as a queer and trans activist conference, and it kicked off at the Red Rattler with a cranking pechakucha combined with regos. There were three or four blocks of presentations, with half hour breaks in between where everyone could drink and mingle and buy Camp Betty merchandise. Some of the speakers blew me away, and spoke on topics from no-borders refugee activism, whorephobia, sex work with disabled people, disability and sexuality, colonisation embodied, conscious hip hop and blogging.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

White dominant discourse, the word "Slut" and missing the real issue.

 The following is a copy and paste of the email sent to

To the Organisers of Slutwalk Aotearoa,

Thank you so much for sticking your necks out and organising this event. I know that it's no easy task, especially with all the attention that the event has been receiving - both positive and negative. It's a lot to take on and I do appreciate the effort. I write to you with some concerns that I have been mulling over the past few weeks about Slutwalk Aotearoa. I write personally as a young, educated, privileged, middle class, asian feminist, woman of colour. These are my concerns, although I am sure I am not alone in them. I apologise for the timing, I am aware that it is only a week away but I feel as though there is enough time to genuinely address my concerns in this time as well.

I feel that the name of Slutwalk is its biggest downfall. It is exclusive of class, race, culture, and age. What I mean by this should be explained further on. I am hesitant to begin this discussion with you as I feel it is unfair that I, as an Asian person, need to constantly 'educate' white people about their privilege, amongst other privileges that you hold in being the organisers of the event. If your privilege is invisible to you, it definitely isn't invisible to me. It is important to acknowledge the power you have and to use it in a way that empowers and shares that power amongst the people you wish to represent.

Engaging recently in Facebook pages of both the Auckland and Wellington chapters, I am alarmed at the surprisingly limited and narrow views on what causes rape and sexual violence and no one keeping these people informed about what the real drive and message of Slutwalk should be. I think there has been a conversation I had on the Slutwalk Aotearoa: Wellington Chapter's page that will save me from repeating myself and give context about the attitudes I speak of. I am in no way suggesting that any of the other people engaged in that discussion are the sole perpetrators of these views -

I would like you, the organisers, to pay special attention to the following part of that conversation:
"when I originally was invited to join this walk: the description implicitedly encouraged people to 'dress like sluts and reclaim the term'. That's where my thoughts lie and remain. If they really wanted it to be inclusive they would have taken more regard to the multiple opinions of it being exclusive and acknowledged that the conversations were surrounding the name of the walk. We don't need to follow suit precisely to the T. NZ has been known to set new trends despite how small we are in comparison to the world so don't even try to give me the excuse that this is just one of many other walks around the world."
- The 'it' I refer to is the event under the banner of "Slutwalk" and the 'they' is you, the organisers.

If proportionately more rape is by acquaintance rape then why is it that we're addressing stranger rape caused by dress and appearance? Does that not seem any bit contrary to the goal?" - This is relevant to this conversation because I really believe that the general public and a very large proportion of the slutwalk supporters miss this point. The title "Slutwalk" refers to that origin of the march, but does not speak to the evolvement of the march in addressing all forms of gendered and sexual violence.

I think that it would be relevant to engage with conversations that have been had overseas where other slutwalks have been organised. Here are some that speak to some of the things I bring up, each with their own angle which will provide a wider perspective.

I am genuinely interested in supporting this event and cause, I'm just not sure that Slutwalk in its current form speaks to the core of the issue of sexual assault and gender violence towards women. I hope that this letter gives you the information to address my concerns and that you are able to amend the issues I have raised. Please feel free to contact me if you need to, I am offering myself to be available for further discussions, within reason, if that's what you so wish.

Yours sincerely,
Giang Pham

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Courage Unfolds

On April 19, IGLHRC launched the Courage Unfolds Campaign, which features a 4 minute trailer on YouTube as well as an invitation to take several actions – the hope is that the campaign and trailer will go viral to build momentum for the release of the full 33-minute video. IGLHRC is releasing it on May 17 -- web release on Vimeo, screenings in multiple countries starting in May, DVDs shipped next week.
Please do check out the Courage Unfolds website and the trailer. Share the trailer with your Facebook and Twitter networks.

There's to be an Auckland screening of the film on Tuesday, May 17 at the HRC - Level 4, Tower Centre, 45 Queen Street, Auckland. Email or call the Auckland HRC office on 09 309 0874 for more info.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

relying on the kindness of "men".

have you ever felt awkward relying on other people's kindness, particularly men? throughout my life thus far, i have found myself confused as to what a gesture means or may not even mean. some say it's a matter of maturity, but really? like my mum always told me that it is never good to accept gifts as it means indebtedness until it is repaid to the person. this was pretty much normalised, as an understanding amongst our community in singapore. but this kinda screwed up my system in new zealand, where my encounters are with people who aren't as calculative as how I've been brought up to be. Then on the notion of men. When men offer to pay for meals, my feminist convictions teach me to go dutch - pay half - but really it's based on that assumption that we're playing ownership games and refusing the other the satisfaction of having the woman indebted to the man for whatever it could be - from another date or casual sex. This becomes more problematic, when I met a few "good" men who seem like they are pro-feminist to some extent AND behave chivalrously. you would think, a fine-mannered man like that, wouldn't be problem? i'm not so sure anymore. you know, i've been thinking: just like how in social-conscious movements where "white" people behave over-compensatingly or apologetically for the horrible deeds past and present, of "their" people to "our" people? Maybe the same is happening amongst men. While the mainstream consists of all these backlashes, bringing a revival of "Man-hood" that dominant, sexist patriacrhal, misogynist masculinities streaming through the media, advertising and social spaces, the "few good men", perhaps as a way to adjust or re-define their space and masculinity, find themselves off-centre towards that pro-feminist gentleman leanings. And if especially, these pro-feminist gentlemen are heterosexual, you wonder, what is their agenda? surely not confined to the advancement of gender equalities.

My issue is with this man who seem pro-feminist, gentlemanly, and social-apparently heterosexual. He has been very nice to me in many ways, from small gestures like buying me dinner or dropping me off after work, and seem to casually challenge our physical boundaries. This is not the first time I have had an experience like this; it has happened with at least 3 other men before, that is, when I felt uncomfortable with their "kindness". recently i felt slightly threatened but majorly awkward being in a position where he was basically always in my face, or hovering over me a lot. I felt quite panicked and extremely uncomfortable and this was in an environment where there was another person in the room who did not take notice perhaps. But I quickly escaped from that space, rather apologetically (which is another thing, how do i stop myself for feeling sorry for how i feel??) and tried to shift conversations away from him. I think he also noticed this strange transition but did not say a word. He later just said that this has been a stressful few days, and I just acknowledged it and tried to leave the situation as it is.

When I spoke to a female friend, she said that I was so naive to not have picked up the signs prir to this built-up situation. I don't think she was judging me, but plainly stating the obvious. But what are these signs? Through my different socialisations with different types of men, this becomes very confusing. When do I accept a gift, a ride, an act of kindness from a man, without feeling like that was code for "you owe me one" or "i own you bitch". these signs are so subtle, and becoming increasingly subtle as masculinities keep changing and taking different forms of being in everyday life. I just feel so mistrusting especially when socialising with pro-feminist heterosexual men. At the end of the day, these social identities were created as cloaks to fashion our bodies, and sense of being in the world. It just feels even more unsafe now, more than ever before, when they come into our circles, in our struggles as feminist women, and somehow us referring to them as these "few good men".

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Responses to Responses of "Misogyny out of Mantrol!!"

In case you haven't read "an abusive relationship is moving train" it's another account of the patterns of abuse and responses to it over the last 10 years in the anarchist/socialist movements in Aotearoa.

Just to keep the conversations going, here are some comments made about the previous post I want to address.

From anon1:
I have some questions about anarchism that have always concerned me. If we abolished the state, courts, rule of law etc don't you think there would be much greater instances of violence against women, children, LBGT and other marginalised people? (...)

I think that really depends on where the society is at in terms of understanding and challenging patriarchies, homophobia, racism etc. But this is exactly the reason why these struggles against gender/'identity' oppressions shouldn't be left to deal with 'after the revolution' but should be an inherent part of the anarchist revolution. Anarchism is meaningless, freedom is meaningless, if social hierarchies still continue to exist without a state. That's not my idea of anarchism at all.

But I really think that with the state system that we have, so much violence still continues and the legal system, prison system isn't invested in prevention or rehabilitation. It rarely even brings about true justice for survivors of abuse, in fact, it's often re-traumatising and continues the violence and increases the hardships for survivors (and their children). With the system that we have right now, gender violence (or at least reporting rates) are increasing. It's not effective in solving this problem or ending this oppression because it's part of the problem, not the solution. It's not the government but NGOs that do the majority of the work to ensure safety of survivors and develop support systems.

I believe that society can function without oppressive hierarchies if people at the bottom organise collectively and create a social environment where it's 'not cool' to dominate and control other people. The power of social pressure and the threat of ostracism can hypothetically stop someone from trying to gain power over others. An underlying premise of anarchist theory is that humans are inherently social beings and need other people to survive, so fear of isolation and ostracism can make people think twice about taking action that's going to harm others.

There's more comprehensive answers to this question and others in this book: Anarchy Works.

From anon2:
Forgiveness and compassion is of course out of the question in this narrative. Doing anything of that sort, of second chances, or new beginnings, rebirth and regeneration is nothing more than weakness and part of the dominating, abusive rhetoric that enables men, particularly cis men to continue exercising their privilege, power and domination in order to subordinate womyn.

... so basically we're evil feminist bitches who don't give second chances? If only it was simple that abuse can just be forgiven and then the abuser will change and suddenly re-born into a new and respectful person, like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly after spending some time as a chrysalis. If only...

Firstly, in order for forgiveness/new beginnings (etc.) to happen, the abusers/perpetrators must take responsibility for what they've done and to take initiative to make amends and change their pattern of behaviour. Most of these misogynist abusers and supporters in the anarchist/socialist movement continue to MINIMISE, DENY or BLAME THE SURVIVOR for the violence they inflicted. Forgiveness is also not something anyone can give, it has to come from the person who suffered the abuse to be relevant. I can't just randomly forgive someone for what they did to someone else, it's not up to me.

Secondly, it is actually really dangerous for survivors of intimate partner abuse to hold on to hope that their partners will change, and to continue to forgive them. Abusers may feel remorse and then ask for forgiveness and the survivor takes them back, then the pattern of violence repeats! I have seen this pattern way too many times, where womyn have gone back to their abusive partners and get assaulted again. It's a cycle and the easiest way to break it is to break up. And I think it's our responsibility as a community of people who understand the power dynamics to first and foremost support survivors of this abuse rather than focus all our energy on changing the abuser, which is important work but shouldn't be done instead of but as well as survivor support.

From anon3:
You say that a woman who accuses a guy of abuse should automatically be believed. I object. I'm a male who has been falsely accused of sexual abuse. False accusations happen. Males can and occasionally are victims.

I think the 'benefit of the doubt' should always be given to the survivors of abuse (regardless of gender). It's not easy to disclose abuse or histories of abuse to a community who will doubt you first and I think it's important that responses to 'accusations' of abuse should be survivor-centric. The alternative of questioning and 'investigating' a survivor of abuse puts them in a really unsafe position. The last thing that survivors who speak up about their experiences need is people to question and interrogate them about what happened, and are thus automatically disbelieved.

There's also the concept of 'power of definition' where survivors should have the right to define what happened to them. Sometimes people's definitions or perceptions of what constitutes as 'sexual abuse' are different. Not long ago in the West, the concept of 'marital rape' didn't exist because wives are just their husband's property. Having a good understanding of consent is really important to preventing sexually abusive behaviours, assuming there's some level of respect for sexual partners. Silence is not consent, someone who is passed out cannot consent, a child cannot practice informed consent. Getting a 'yes' after emotionally blackmailed or threatened is not consent. Here's some zines on the topic of consent which discusses these issues really well:

Consent, Sex and Violence

Learning Good Consent

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Misogyny out of Mantrol!!

Trigger warning: Some of the content in this rant may be triggering if you have experienced gender violence or abuse.

I can’t even count on my fingers the number of male anarchists who have abusive misogynist patterns of behaviour anymore. I can’t even count on my fingers on the number of womyn I know who are survivors of male violence. How many womyn have to be beaten or sexually assaulted for the whole anarchist/leftist community to give a fuck about gender violence? To take feminist practices seriously? To hold perpetrators accountable for abuse? To wholeheartedly support the survivors of abuse instead of blaming them?

What is it about the sexism in western societies that so often condones sexualised violence or partner abuse? It’s not even that people don’t know about it, or that it’s a particularly taboo topic. It’s a wilful silence by most men in the anarchist/left movement. I don’t understand why there is such an unwillingness to take a strong stand against gender violence and partner abuse, is it because it’s seen as a secondary issue to more important “public” Political issues? Is it because relationship abuse it still considered as being part of the ‘private sphere’ where it’s none of our business what goes on in somebody’s personal relationships or in their homes?

These attitudes seriously set the goals of feminist/womanist movements back decades. It just goes to show the continued disrespect so many male anarchists have for womyn’s liberation, and that this culture of violence is not taken seriously amongst people I thought were comrades.

Some fucked up comments I’ve heard from male anarchists/anti-feminists in response to gender violence perpetrated by their peers:

But she’s crazy”

As if womyn with mental illnesses deserve to be beaten, or that’s she somehow asked for it and it is her fault she was assaulted. This isn’t just a misogynist comment, it also stigmatises women with mental health problems and doesn’t take into consideration the relationship between ‘craziness’ and long-term psychological abuse. But also, it's easier to dismiss the survivor as insane than have to confront the abusive actions of your friend/comrade.

“I don’t know what to believe, he’s my friend. And it’s just “he said, she said”, you did a BA degree, you know that there’s no real truth in anything.”

This was probably one of the most ridiculous attempts to use intellectual analysis to avoid confronting the issue. Firstly, it’s “he said, THEY said” although it shouldn’t matter if it’s just one womyn saying it or multiple, she should be believed. Why do these people turn up to anti-war or Middle East democracy solidarity demonstrations if ‘there’s no real truth in anything’? Isn’t it just “they said, they said”? The dictators and occupiers have their side of the story too. Why take a political stand on anything? Complicity perpetuates violence and injustice. Neutrality encourages the oppressor.

Learn to connect the dots, it’s not that hard. It’s about power relations, that makes a difference to who’s stories you listen to, especially if you call yourself an anarchist.

“I’ve talked to him, he’s alright now, he’s been to that anti-violence course and he’s done everything he needs to do.”

Don’t you love it when male anarchists decide that a perpetrator has done everything he could so he should be allowed back into the community? Isn’t it just so empowering for womyn and survivor of the abuse for them to make that decision for us?

“He’s not going to assault anyone at the party”

Whether or not an abuser is going to pose a physical threat to womyn in a social setting or not doesn’t address their history of abuse. It completely misses the point that the effects of abusive behaviour are long-term for the survivors and if you’re going to include someone in a space, it is going to make people who care about survivor support feel uncomfortable.

“It was a mutually abusive relationship”

This is often said after a break-up caused by a male activist assaulting his partner. It has become such a common excuse for abusers so they can minimise the abuse and shift the blame to their partner. People who say this often do in a context where they actually blaming the womyn for what happened to her.

“Do I sense a hint of misandry?”

Organising a community response to a male abuser must equate to man-hating right? That statement also an underlying assumption that all men are abusive, isn’t that in itself misandry?

“You’re being divisive”

Yeah, I’m being divisive, not the misogyny or sexism or the violence against womyn that’s divisive. Yeah, it’s the people trying to challenge sexist oppression in our communities that’s being divisive. Makes total sense. Perhaps what is dividing the left is the difference in analyses of gender violence and patriarchy. One side condones it, one side doesn’t or rather one side is complicit, one side isn’t. The division is caused by ideologically opposing standpoints, so how can there be unity?

Minimising, blaming, denying, ignoring

That pretty much sums up anti-feminist activists’ response to gender violence in the ‘community’, which is a continuation of the emotional abuse already inflicted by the partner/perpetrator.

Understanding abuse: POWER AND CONTROL/”MANTROL*”

Intimate Partner Abuse is a political issue, it’s about power and control within a wider context of (hetero)sexist gender expectations and male privilege. Abuse is not just physical assault, it’s not just sexual assault; it’s the matrix of emotional abuse/manipulation, verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, intimidation, isolation and using political rhetoric to control someone. These are components of an unequal power relationship of domination and subordination. This is a cyclical pattern of behaviour. This is the product of a society that privileges white heterosexual cis-men. This is political. Yet this is not a core priority for so many anarchist men to fight against. It becomes secondary to class, or state political violence (if it is even on the agenda at all).

Misogyny is out of control and the responses from other activists just seem to get worse with each new incident. What might’ve began as outrage to gender violence a couple of years ago (perhaps due to a stronger anarcha-feminist contingency in Auckland) is now complacency and survivor-blaming mentalities. Some people even deliberately excluded survivors at social events so the perpetrators of intimate partner violence can go with their new girlfriends. This can’t keep happening! Enough. Is. Enough.

  • Support survivors
  • Challenge misogyny, ok maybe understand what that actually means and the different ways misogyny manifests in your behaviour, your speech, body language, perceptions, in group dynamics etc.
  • Shoot the manarchist in your head
  • Critically analyse your privileges
  • Learn to not dominate, abuse, manipulate other people
  • Make it a serious priority

*If you haven't seen those TV ads and billboards, "Mantrol" is a term that's been used in advertisements to stop drunk driving, targeted at men. There's been a huge increase in man-focused ads lately, this just one of the bunch. You can watch it on youtube, it is pretty ridiculous.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Book Review - Revolutionary Women: A Book of Stencils

Recently, the writers of Mellow Yellow were asked to review Revolutionary Women: A Book of Stencils edited by Queen of the Neighbourhood. This book began as a zine and I remember when it first came out; I was 15 just getting into to radical politics, and it was so exciting to read the short biographies of revolutionary women's lives from different parts of the world which had been completely ignored by the 5th form history curriculum (except Angela Davis was briefly mentioned in relation to the Black Civil Rights movement as one of the 'militants'). The book is not a lot different to the zine except with more stencils/women, biographies and no cut'n'paste writing. The introduction is more detailed and thoughtful, taking into account the default white feminist lens through which the biographies are reconstructed and the women are selected.

The book contains stencil-able images of 30 revolutionary women in chronological order by date of birth, beginning from 1820 with Harriet Tubman to 1978 with Malalai Joya. It covers women from Asia, the Middle East, the Americas, Europe and Aotearoa. Through the many herstories outlined in the book, it is quite clear the priorities and goals of their revolutionary struggle varied based on the multiple layers of identity and political contexts they were in. Most non-white women were/are heavily involved in national liberation struggles against colonialism and imperialism while fighting for gender equality, while most revolutionary white women were more focused on class struggle and labour issues.

The aim of the book is to counter-act and challenge all the male revolutionary heroes who’s faces are prolific in popular culture, like Che Guevara and Bob Marley, by providing a resource of brief and accessible biographies of women involved in revolutionary struggles who’s faces are no where to be seen in the mainstream and their herstories untold and untaught. However, as the introduction outlines, the selection of women and the biographies are narrated from a white (presumably radical/anarcha-) feminist perspective. What gets included and excluded is formed by the subject positions of the editors and authors, and how the women’s lives and politics are interpreted/translated and labeled is informed by such lenses.

I really like stencils as a form of art and communication, especially when they are on the streets. There’s almost an inherent revolutionary aesthetic to stencils. It encourages DIY ethics and can be easily reproduced and sprayed all over the place. But what I've noticed over the years is the capitalist appropriation and commodification of stenciled revolutionary icons and imagery. Che Guevara and Bob Marley’s faces are constantly used over and over again to sell shit to people, like another brand. And I do wonder despite the prolific images of Che and Bob, how many people that see their faces or use their faces understand their politics and struggles, and whether that imagery inspires revolution or just becomes decoration on the walls. Likewise, when the faces of these women are stenciled onto public spaces without explanation, without names, what would it mean to the viewer?

I found the explanation of Eva Rickards’ absence in the book really interesting and does make me wonder about how some of these women or their families would feel about having their faces stenciled or their stories told in this particular way, considering the diversity of cultural backgrounds included. When Eva Rickards’ family were approached, they were concerned about her face being misappropriated by people who did not understand her struggle:

“Influenced by her own ideology, her family members are opposed to the propagation of her image, and particularly her moko (facial tattoo), for potential capitalist gain and/or misappropriation by the public at large who have no concept of her culture and her struggle.” (p.11)

This is a really valid point and it is also quite relevant to many of the other women included in the book whose struggles and cultures could be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be fair to assume that the readership of this book is only going to be middle class white feminists and for me, I did appreciate the inclusion of non-Anglo/European women, but the issues around representation and appropriation still remains. Their stories and biographies are pieced together and narrated by people who have no direct understanding of their cultures and struggles – can that be done in a respectful manner? Or is taking on the power of narration to tell stories of non-western women problematic and an exercise in white privilege in itself? I don’t have any answers, but I think the politics of representation is always a tricky subject.

In the end, I think the book serves its purpose as being a 'kick to the groin of deep-rooted patriarchal history' and has definitely provided inspiration for me. I cried reading some of the biographies, but not because what these women have been through was devastatingly horrible, but because despite all the suffering, pain and violence many of them have been through, they fought back and continued to resist despite all odds. Many were simply struggles for survival. And I hope our generation (whatever that is) can learn from that and keep fighting back against oppression without compromise. I hope these stories of revolutionaries do not just remain ink on paper or spraypaint on walls, but may they be continued in the actions of our generation and the generations to come until all oppression is ended. These women remind us that revolution is a lifelong struggle and giving up is not an option.

This book is available from PM Press and Cherry Bomb Comics.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Interview about Community Accountability

Hi all!

I'm Anna Vo, and I live in Europe, but lived in Australia for 20 years, and Aotearoa for 8 years before that. Melanie from Berlin, interviewed me for
The rest is explained in the interview. More conversations about racialistic stuff to come, in future posts :)

1) how did you come to anti-violence work?

In a way it commonly starts, I think, a situation occurred between two friends of mine, and being someone who has experienced partner violence, stranger violence - both sexual and non-sexual - they came to me for support. I found that, as commonly happens, the survivor had trouble expressing and asserting their opinion/will/intention, and the perpetrator was quite vocal, defensive and aggressive. There had to be some common ground for mediation, but both were too emotionally invested to find it themselves, so they asked for mediation.
I currently offer a mediation support service in a social centre in London, but I find that people would rather turn to friends that they can trust, rather than someone they have never met before! Which is totally understandable. Especially if they are specifically seeking support that is non-institutional or non-professional.

2) why have you stayed with it so long? what in the work continues to challenge / interest you? what do you get from it?

It's hard to explain, but basically, I find that there are always so many subjective truths and perspectives, and often people can't see from other points of view. I've always had an observer type of position, and believe to be fairly capable of achieving a more objective or neutral perspective, and usually am okay at communicating that to people. Of course there are always lots of hurdles, and no matter how you word or approach some things, some people will refuse to accept what is being expressed. It's really tough, and can be very frustrating. Also, my bias is usually with the oppressed or less vocal party, and that can really rub the more aggressive or defensive person up the wrong way. I always want to be the good guy, but often am intensely disliked because I am a messenger of sorts, telling people things what they don't want to hear about themselves… how their behaviour is not so great sometimes.
So what do I get out of it? It's idealistic, but I try to defend people that find it hard to defend themselves. And I really really love that moment, the click, when both/all parties start to understand the other… when there is a concept or emotion that has been evading them, and blocking them from feeling empathy… and then after lots of hard work or talking, it suddenly becomes clear and they can see another person's perspective/experience. It's not something I do full time, just when the need arises, or else I would be pretty drained if I was doing this every day!

3) what do you do to promote your own healing and self-care while doing this work ? do you see this work as a part of your own liberation (and how)?

As I do this once a week, I make sure that the evening of that day is a time I spend in a non-demanding environment. I make sure I don't follow it up with another activity or interaction that is draining or emotionally demanding. I try to keep it low-key (like a movie at home, or a book in bed) or nurturing (like a good hearty meal, or a nice time with a loved one). Other than that I constantly am revising and self-analysing the way I interact, the words I use, the manner in which I communicate, and how it affects others. I write a lot, about my thoughts and feelings and challenges, and even fiction helps me see situations from afar, the forest for the trees. I also make music which is a satisfying way to get out of those heavily emotionally and psychologically engaging sessions.

My own liberation? I suppose the best way of learning about oneself is looking outward. Which is difficult to apply at times, because I'm quite stubborn, but I'm doing it slowly, and can see common patterns or processes of behaviour in myself and the people around me. And when I see negative ones, I try to constructively avoid them by communicating to myself or others that that is what I would like, for those things to not happen again. Sorry if this is too vague or abstract. But what I'm talking about is passive aggressiveness, defensiveness, shame, blame, victimisation, accusing language, extreme language, black and white concepts, ultimatums, threats, avoidance, dismissiveness, unnecessary conflict, misdirected anger, lack of communication, self-righteousness, authoritarianism, patriarchy or sexism, feelings of powerlessness, lack of assertiveness, lack of accountability or responsibility, lack of recognition of privilege, and other feelings and behaviour that are conditioned in all of us, through television and movies, and the people around us when we were growing up. Like many, there was a lot of violence, aggression, and absence of communication in my family and it is difficult to wean these patterns out.

Generally speaking, my ultimate goal is to make people aware of how they behave, and how it affects other people. Mutual aid, active care, and co-operation. With no motive of gain or recognition, except to make other people feel better instead of worse.

4) in terms of comm accountability and transformative justice processes, you mentioned that you have a lot of experience with mediations and confrontations, and generally dealing with perpetrators of violence. can you share anything from those experiences that might be useful for others working on the same stuff? successes, failures?

As I said before, it's usually very difficult to communicate with someone that what they have done has upset someone else, especially if they associate themselves with feminism or fights against general, theorised oppression. What occurs very often is that people involved with a lot of activism find it very difficult to admit to their own destructive or insensitive (or violent or abusive) behaviour. So that is the initial challenge, and I am still trying to find a nice way to say " this person feels that you're a perpetrator". No matter how its communicated, there is usually a pretty aggressive reaction. So, with them, while this is happening, I try to explain it in other terms, in analogies that they can relate to. If I know something about their lives, I equate it to a situation where they may feel like a victim, like if they are riding a bike, and a car driver cuts them off… I know this sounds trivial and simplistic, but sometimes it has to be an external example that doesn't threaten people, which then you bring back to a real situation of violence, where the stakes are higher, and then people start to understand the feeling of having less power in a dynamic. Obviously perpetrators usually have more power, and they are unaware of it, or reluctant to admit it. So those are initial steps. Of course, people usually believe they are acting to the best of their knowledge and ability, and to explain to them that there was an oppressive or abusive result regardless of this, can be really difficult. Sometimes, people immediately recognise the situation and are really sorry, which cuts out that step.
But next is figuring out what the survivor wants to happen, what the perpetrator would like to change or act on in light of the circumstances… and every situation is different. A common resolution is that there is social separation of the two parties, where they arrange to not be at the same events at the same time. Or maybe the perpetrator will be excluded from activities for a period of time. Usually the community supports this by organising around that, (eg. if both are facilitating at a workshop event, etc), but sometimes it's a difficult matter of confidentiality, where a community may be needed to support the outcomes of a survivor's requests, but it is part of the request that people don't speak of the event, or of the specific details of the incident.
Then, thirdly, there are the processes of realising those defined terms. As usual, things in practice don't pan out as well as they do in theory, and conflict usually arises out of that, especially when people are missing out on things, eg. events, that they resent missing out on, or resent sacrifices in general that they hadn't thought of in beginning the mediation process. So continual mediation is necessary to iron out those things. Some things don't get resolved, and some requests get ignored, so there are a lot of tense and angry emotions surrounding this process.
Another issue is the reaction or behaviour of the community surrounding said people. Lots of people will have formed a judgement about a situation, and it is tiring and sometimes futile to remind people not to make decisions about circumstances that they aren't knowledgable about! This results in character judgements, prejudices, gossip, all manner of puerile, high school behaviour, and is very disappointing. What is good to remember that even in a violent incident, one of intended or accidental assault, there is always a set of conditions that determined that behaviour, whether we understand them or not. And working through these conditions is the only way to help avoid another similar occurrence. If there is patience and understanding, then people can really work through their shit if they want to.

5) especially for me, as someone with far more theory than praxis, i'd be interested to hear how your practicing of community accountability has affected how you feel about / see the theories?

I think the main thing is that trust is really important. If people don't trust me as a mediator, then it's not going to work, and it's better to find someone that they feel like they can relate to more. Me being of a certain race, class, gender, sexual preference (non-white, immigrant, working-class, female, mainly hetero), means that some people will relate to me more, and others not. And that is what decides if they want to to talk to me or trust me. So in the past, people that have come to me either know me personally, or know me by a reference from someone they trust. I am finding that now that I am in a foreign country and city, where people don't know me; less people come to me for support - the trust and pre-knowledge just isn't there. Especially as this is a group of people that don't normally trust their personal lives to strangers…

6) what do you envision for future work for yourself and your communities? what would you like to see and be a part of creating?

Uhm, I would like to start an open, transparent though confidential, trustworthy collective of people doing what I am trying to do - counselling and mediation. I would hope that it encourages people to talk about their feelings and conflicts more, and practice self care, and care for others. This year I've lived in Berlin and London, and have seen some people completely ignore what I feel is very obvious - the suffering or need of others, or the needs of themselves. In these places and in America and Australia where I've also lived, I've witnessed many times over:
- avoidance of emotional issues in favour of humour or courtesy, because people feel like that shit is 'heavy' or personal, and they want to keep things light,
- complete disregard for others that are suffering or clearly need help or guidance, sometimes out of apathy, laziness, or resignation, or sometimes because the novelty of having a 'fucked-up friend' is more valuable or humorous than helping them,
- hesitation or difficulty in asking others about their emotions, communicating about feelings and very evident problems, in spaces, group dynamics, social interactions, etc. One example is accepting a couple in a peer group, even though one is visibly abusive to the other, because it's too much trouble to say or do anything, and people don't want to cause conflict. This to a point of not even talking about it between other friends (!?),
- people that have trouble refusing or saying no. Often people who are very active or helpful will agree to a lot of involvement/participation in different things, which results in their own anxiety or depression or stress. This extends to personal situations, eg. sexual encounters. They don't promote self care, which can be very destructive!
- people will flat out refuse accountability when approached about oppressive or abusive behaviour, when someone is upset or uncomfortable as a result,
- and finally, although this list is in no way definitive, people who don't know how to ask for help. People that are in trouble or need support or an ear or a friend, feel guilty or shy or don't want to 'burden' someone with their problems.

It would be awesome if I could one day see less of this stuff happening, and people being more open, direct, and accountable.

7) you spent some time in germany, i'm not sure how involved in anti-sexist & queer anti-violence work you were here, but i'd be curious for more international perspectives on 'definitionsmacht'. thoughts? comparisons with the discourses in australia and other places you've spent time?

any thoughts on how to bring definitionsmacht and transformative justice together?

I was only counselling in one situation in Germany, and there was definitely an inclination towards both parties defining the situation. It started off as the survivor labelling it and describing it, but after a while, with some mediation, it became clear that the situation was not so simple, and it was important to take into consideration the experience and opinion of the perpetrator. The survivor then changed their opinion after the other perspective was explained, although there was definitely lack of communication and accountability by the perpetrator, which totally sucks. I am not familiar with the debate surrounding definitionsmacht, but I think it's important to take into consideration all parties involved without any prejudice. So whilst my judgement is non-biassed, my advocation will always remain on the side of the oppressed. I try not to get caught up with theorising, and try to focus on real-life situations that re always individual and relative.
This applies to any location and situation, and also definitely applies to transformative justice processes. That practical bias, of listening and vocalising for the defenceless, is of utmost importance. But a rush to make decisions and judgements don't benefit anybody.

8) as community accountability / transformative justice stuff is still very much theory, or dream in some ways, there are lots of elements of these processes that remain undefined / in question. from what i've read from other practitioners, and for myself, those questions are tied up in issues of :
-maintaining confidentiality while trying to have transparency with others
-how to assess the situation so as to evaluate options for action without questioning or doubting the survivor, or putting them "on trial"
-if a conflict arises between the needs / wishes of the survivor and those of the community, other survivors, others involved in the process. or a conflict between the needs / wishes of the survivor and peoples' commitments to social justice.
where do you have questions? (and any answers!)

To maintain confidentiality, I try to remain as general as possible, and share experiences that can be transferred to other situations, eg. a member of a touring hardcore band takes advantage of his/her position of power and has non-consensual sex with another person. Unfortunately this is a common enough occurrence that it should be shared with other people in order to benefit them in future situations, and should be made public if it is in danger of happening again. It isn't necessary to state the origin or the genders or the details of the incident; and if it can be resolved privately, then that is ideal. But the importance of sharing some aspects far outweigh complete privacy.
Only in situations where the perpetrator refuses to participate in the resolution process, must people need to listen to the survivor alone. However, no one need be on trial, because there is no sentence/verdict involved, and this is purposely outside of a court of law. Therefore, the options of action should generally involve the survivor's self-care, and their perception of their own life/behaviour/mental process/situation. If they wish for an external punitive process that inevitably involves the unwilling perpetrator, then what usually happens, is that each member of the community (ie. the jury) will decide for themselves if they want to act on the punitive process or ignore it. No-one can force members of the community to act against their own opinion/judgement, the only hope is that their opinions and judgements are fair and without prejudice. It's tough one, but hopefully we can build groups of people that can view situations as objectively or fairly as possible, and are committed to social justice, rather than buy into patriarchal ideas of sexuality, morality and social standing.
Questions I have?
When will every single person drop their pride and ego for long enough to accept that they have an effect on others? And that sometimes it is a very very negative effect. I just hope somehow, one day, people learn a little bit more empathy, and drop their defensiveness, and that will make it easier for everyone to take responsibility for their actions! And then these processes won't be necessary anymore!

9) i've talked to a lot of people who feel that community accountability is a pipe dream because it requires a strong community and already understands itself as anti-sexist and anti-oppression, and they just don't see that around them. what do you think about this? do you see opportunities for accountability, even in the messy, problematic, and under-equipped communities around us?

I think, in places like Berlin, there is a lot of potential for community accountability to form, maybe if people overlook the pedantic, administrative details, and focus on the parties and emotions at stake. I felt, living there, that anti-sexism, decentralisation and horizontal organising, were really strong themes entrenched in the society there. And if that can transferred across to social and economic circumstances (eg. in conversation and friendships and community accountability), and not just professional ones (eg. females in bands or carpentry or metalwork and other trades), that would be a good start.
In other cities, and countries, it might be more difficult, if you look at how people were brought up (eg. Mexico, Vietnam, Japan, Italy, in patriarchal, authoritative, or Catholic socialisation), but those are just generalisations. Under a microscope, in every place, there are pockets of promise, where there are enough people striving for mutual aid and social accountability, so I think it's possible, if people are more altruistic in their behaviour and motives.

10) how do you live out accountability (and its contradictions) in your own life?

I'm not sure. I try to help friends and strangers who ask for help, so appear to need help but don't ask. I'm hyper aware of how I make others feel, to the point of annoying others, but in other ways I appear completely insensitive. I'm wracked with guilt every time I do things that scream of my privilege (dissent, veganism, advocating, using academic words or theories) and constantly apologise. I ask for consent on even the smallest things, like hugs, or if I can ask them about something personal. But sometimes I forget and people remind me that they don't want to be touched or talk about some things, which is good that they speak up. I try to speak up for people that I can see aren't equipped to speak for themselves, but often that makes me seem like a self-righteous self-appointed representative, which backfires often. I try not to upset or hurt others. I try to make people around me happy. I immediately apologise when I mess up, although sometimes that is really difficult, when the behaviour is deeply conditioned. I try to remind people around me that there are people in this world fighting for their lives, or their freedom to move, or for their families' survival. I try to call strangers and my friends out on their shit, because I would like to think that we are struggling for a common goal of social justice.