Wednesday, September 28, 2016

on the politics and poetics of sexual violence, abuse, and accusations ... Part 6: why write? and why now

For months, Minka has tried to find a sense of her self and her own agency while living with me in Mexico City. For reasons that are surely obvious, the events recounted in these essays  (Part1, Part2, Part3, Part4, Part5) have made that almost impossible. Imagine trying to start a new life, in a new country, in a new language, when everyone you once trusted had turned against you, when every sense you had of yourself as a person, as an agent with value, was thoroughly destroyed. What our friends, family and community did to Minka is appalling. She was questioned, manipulated, terrorized, and depersonalized because a few influential people disapproved of a decision she was trying to make for herself. (Or, maybe, because they hated me so much they were willing to sacrifice their daughter's/ sister's/ friend's dignity on the altar of their disgust). I doubt anyone else in the world could have withstood these attacks with so much strength, love, and commitment; I am in awe of her.

In addition to these interior struggles, Minka found herself confronted with a partner whose entire sense of self, self-worth, and dignity had been dismantled by these very public and persistent attacks against them. Supporting me, after I was accused of the thing that I have worked my entire life to resist and transform, is a lot to ask of anyone. Minka has had to do so while navigating the cognitive and emotional distress created by the loss of her friends, family, home, and sense of self.

So, because adapting to life in Mexico has been so difficult, for the last few months we've been discussing returning to Knoxville, where Minka still has roots and connections, where life is seemingly not as dangerous or stressful, where there are mountains and rivers and quarries, where she feels it would be easier to build a new life, in her native tongue, despite all that has happened. For this reason alone (despite my desire for distance from this town) we decided to spend a few weeks in Knoxville this summer to see how things felt.

Almost immediately it became clear that the attacks against us continued. During the first week of our visit, a close friend of mine approached us about a legal matter he was experiencing. He explained that some people were making statements about me and Minka to agents of the court with the intention of discrediting him by association. Specifically, he said that I was being portrayed as a disreputable, sexually-violent danger to others, and that I was abusing Minka. He also mentioned that they would likely establish these “facts” with screen-shots of my blog and Facebook pages. He didn't tell me much more; he said he couldn't. I offered to cut ties with him if his association to me presented legal problems for him. He dismissed my offer because the claims had no merit.

I must say, I was dismayed; a year later, not only had I not received a single apology from anyone involved, but I was still being used to accomplish the fucked-up agenda of others.

This little story about a court case is only one example of the ways that this clique has set out to instrumentalize me by thoroughly discrediting, marginalizing, and defaming me. Even though  I don't actually care what zealots and moralists think about me, I do care that they are a real, tangible threat.

Let me explain.

I played a little drawing game with Minka the other day in which we wrote down some of the names in this clique and drew lines connecting them, to each other and former partners, by allegations (made to me or to Minka) of gendered violence, dishonesty, manipulation, rapey-ness, etc.. It was a colorful sight.

I still have no idea what violence they are accusing me of; but this group has its own history of violence and has made serious allegations about their partners, friends, and lovers; these allegations include: non-consensual sexual contact; emotional coercion for sex; physical and emotional abuse; violence against companion animals; and multiple patterns of dehumanizing and objectifying affective and sexual relationships. I don't know that these are unusually violent people. Sadly, this kind of violence is a normal part of life in many different circles.

Nonetheless, these behaviors are intolerable. But, they pale in comparison to the history of violence carried out by one of the men involved in the actions against Minka and I, Let's call him Barrie.1

This entitled, affluent, white man has engaged in multiple acts of narcissistic and masculinist violence.  He has physically and emotionally abused at least one former partner to such a degree that they had to be hospitalized. He mounted a smear campaign against this partner to discredit them in the event that they came forward about this abuse. He has also attempted to ruin the life of a combat veteran, with whom he had a personal problem, by accusing the man of rape (to employers and friends); however, there was no victim.  The "rape victim” was having consensual sexual relations with this man. Barrie disapproved of what he perceived as a sado-masochistic element in their relationship. None of this is hearsay. While I have confirmed this story from multiple sources, Barrie himself told me about it, in detail, while severely distressed at the dissolution of his marriage several years ago. I remember it clearly. I also remember thinking that he was spinning the truth to protect himself from the social scorn that would result if anyone found out about the harm he was causing. In addition to this history, two children, that I know of, have said that they feel uncomfortable around him; and, at least one of their parents has issued a directive not to allow him to spend unsupervised time with their children.

Many of you know and respect Barrie. And you have good reason to. He identifies as a feminist.  He is a respected member of Knoxville's activist community. He organizes actions, cultural events, meetings, etc..  He is also fun at parties; he dances, plays music, wears funky clothes. All I want here is for y'all to reflect upon this situation, in which someone with an actual history of violence tries to marginalize and delegitimize my person and anything I have to say. It's telling, from my point of view, that someone with such a public presentation of virtue hides a private monstrosity.

I wish that Barrie were the only person worth indicting here; but, his is not the only bit of dangerous hypocrisy (aside from those mass actions already indicted in previous essays). Another remarkable enactment of masculinist violence comes from yet another respected activist leader, let's call them Larry.2 According to statements made to me and Minka by their victims, this asshole groped and kissed a sleeping person without consent, and emotionally coerced another two people for sex. They has recently made vague threats of physical violence against me for speaking out about everything that has happened to Minka and I.

identifying information redacted at the request of one of his victims

It is simply a fact that all kinds of rapist and abusive people operate freely and openly in this greater community.  In my small social circles in Knoxville (where I haven't lived for four years), I personally know of other well-respected people with social and economic power who have sexually assaulted multiple women, or, physically, emotionally, and/or sexually abused their partners. These people are community leaders, business owners, activists, your friend at the bar, etc..

A friend of mine, who I deeply admire, outed her rapist ex-husband on Facebook. Despite multiple independent accusations of sexual assault against him, he continues to operate freely and openly in this community with the support of at least a few of the folks who attacked Minka and I. And he, like Larrie and Barrie, will likely harm again. Of these situations my friend said:

So why am I writing these essays now? Because this situation is dangerous and harmful: to the community, to my partner, and to myself. I have one hope here. That some of you will consider these essays as a mirror to the deep and pernicious problems y'all need to solve in yourselves. At the very least, I hope that bringing these issues to light will destabilize the relationships that allow for this violence to continue. Even though the actions and whisper campaigns against me have thoroughly delegitimized my person and my voice, have cost me most of my long-term connections in Knoxville, I still hope that we can untangle the mess that living with this kind of violence entails. In the essays that follow, I will begin to put forth a conceptual and practical framework for how to deal with this complex and infuriating set of situations. For now, I want to posit a basic observation: the harm that is occurring in this community results not only from abusive and powerful people, but also from the well-meaning reactions of those of us who are motivated by a desire to reduce harm and increase accountability. Trauma, insecurity, and discontinuity are complex problems; and, we all need to look critically at ourselves before acting out in ways that perpetuate the culture of violence that we seek to resist and ultimately transform.

Ya basta.

1 I have struggled with whether or not to name this man who has harmed, and is harming, multiple people. There is no clear right path. On the one hand, I want to denounce his actions and hold him accountable for the harm he is enacting. On the other, I refuse to participate in the kind of witch hunt carried out against me. More importantly, his current and former victims fear him and the actions he might take if I name him publicly. I do not feel that this risk was present in naming the folks who enacted racist and sexist violence against only (to my knowledge) Minka and I. I have chosen to tell the story concealing his identity. I recognize that this is not an ideal solution.

2 I am concealing their identity for the same reasons.

Note: I haven't taken action against any of these abusers because: 1) Many of the events either happened, or came to light, after I left town. And 2) I firmly believe that the victims of violence should have the final say on how these situations are handled; their narratives belong to them. I have respected their wishes.

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