Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Clarifying my NWSA post

So much for trying to be subtle.

It's been pointed out to me that what I posted and what I meant are not necessarily the same thing, so I want to correct any mis-impressions. This, of course, means being a lot more obvious about who I am and who is currently irritating me than I generally like to do on this blog.

I wrote this in my earlier post:
"If you come to a conference for the first time, instead of whinging about "where are all the panels about x" and "why is NWSA so racist/classist/etc.," you might think about why *you* didn't bother to propose a panel about x. And then propose one for next year."

I did not mean to imply - though it is clearly implied, anyway - that criticisms of the NWSA for being racist/classist/etc. are groundless. I've been involved with NWSA for about 11 years, and during that time, it has wrestled with inclusion, accessibility, and many, many other issues that have at times threatened to break the institution apart.

I also did not mean to imply, but nevertheless did, that I don't take such criticisms seriously. I do indeed take them seriously. In fact, on many occasions, I have made these criticisms.

What I *was* trying to address was a trend I've noticed in the bi/trans group particularly, which is to come to the conference and focus only on the panels and issues that are relevant to that interest group, and from that, to declare that NWSA is conspiring to oppress trans people. Now, NWSA still has a ways to go on trans issues, though I think it's worthy of mention that in a couple of years, it has done two things that I never, ever thought it would do: it's added "gender identity/expression" (I'm not sure of the exact wording) to its non-discrimination policy, and it's made a statement opposing women-born-women only policies. That doesn't mean we're out of the woods. But I helped found the bi/trans group a while back because the bi and transphobia were clearly evident (and I will write about my experiences with these at NWSA another time). I have definitely seen huge strides in the right direction since then.

So what I'm angry about has nothing to do with the practice of calling NWSA to account for itself, which I think is a healthy and important practice. I'm angry about people who come to the conference wanting to be pissed off; they enter without ever looking around to see what anyone else's interests/concerns are; they resist, year after year, making alliances with other groups and never bother to attend other groups' meetings unless they suspect that they need to show up to make a point about inclusion; they refuse to take part in the life of the organization, showing up at general assembly meetings only long enough to vote on their own interests - and on more than one occasion, asking other groups to support them in their votes and then skipping out before voting with those other groups on the votes of those groups.

It is not a coalition effort, and that is what I object to most.

And re. my point about taking responsibility for proposing the necessary papers/panels - I just mean that it's one thing to criticize an organization. It's another to criticize it as being too this or not enough that and "why isn't anyone doing anything about this" and then to state openly that you have never been there before, and you have no interest in getting involved, and you plan not to attend in the future, though you might be willing to do some guerilla consciousness raising. What the fuck? Why bother? What point, what greater transformation, do you hope will be made?

And to think it is a radical move to get on the committee that reviews paper submissions - thereby overhwelming the conspiracy to prevent trans panels from being accepted - is just silly, since there are open invitations to be on that committee, which anyone would know if they got involved in the organization and read the newsletters and the emails from the organization.

I keep thinking of the year when the bi/trans group attempted to torpedo the Feminist Mothering Task Force's (then called "Feminist Mothers and Allies) transition to a Caucus. What happened was this. I had earlier been to the bi/trans meeting as a participant, but also to ask for support for this shift to a caucus. The group agreed. But later, at the assembly at which we were all to vote on the shift to caucus-hood, one of the bi/trans group members suddently raised the concern that the name of the group excluded trans parents, and the group made clear that it would not vote for the Feminist Mothers group to become a caucus unless the name was changed. We saw no problem with discussing a name change, but the group needed to vote on the name change, and only a few members of the group were present (usually, a name change would be done over time and with the input of the group members).

That was not enough. And we came very close to losing the chance to become a caucus, after ten years of trying, during which I was the only member of the bi/trans group to become involved in the Feminist Mothering group.

Since the bi/trans group felt strongly about being included in the Feminist Mothering group - and I, too, feel that this inclusion is important - and made clear that members wanted to participate, we sent them a few invitations to participate in the group: to be part of the discussion about our name change that followed, to submit panels with us on parenting and trans issues, to join the caucus. We never received even one response.

And all of that I remember when I walk into a meeting and hear about what a horrible organization NWSA is and how oppressive it is, and I look around and see people who resist and refuse the effort that is necessary to transform an organization. The Women of Color Caucus, the Lesbian Caucus, the Feminist Mothering Caucus - we struggle with NWSA. But we also work with it. There are examples of groups that have, at times, succumbed to the NWSA's indifference, such as the Disability Caucus. But one cannot transform an organization if one refuses to be a part of it, and that, at bottom, is the root of my anger and frustration.


I have not yet discussed the safety issues at this conference, but I want to direct you to someone who does: Diary of an Anxious Black Woman. The only thing I want to add to what she's said is that I know of a couple of additional cases of men at the hotel harassing lesbian couples who were walking/talking together. Clearly, this was a white, middle-class, heterosexual environment, into which dropped NWSA.

I'd be interested to know if NWSA will follow up with a statement to the hotel of some kind, or to the St. Charles Convention and Visitor's Bureau.


Anna said...

I don't know anything about NWSA so I can only speak generally, but I can say for myself that it is always pretty clear where I'm not welcome. Honestly, I don't have a lot of desire to bicker with people who are a part of those spaces (on one hand because that would make me one of those awful pushy MTFs who has never discarded their male privilege, and on the other hand because it just ends up frustrating me and annoying the person I'm dealing with). For me, life is too short to make a point of dealing with people's ignorance.

Like I said, I don't know much about NWSA, but I would think that an academic currently working in gender/women's studies who isn't pretty well-versed in trans issues is probably to some extent purposely choosing to remain ignorant. The work and information is out there.

This probably sounds really awful and I don't intend it to at all!

plain(s)feminist said...

I would think that an academic currently working in gender/women's studies who isn't pretty well-versed in trans issues is probably to some extent purposely choosing to remain ignorant. The work and information is out there.

I think that's an excellent point. I do think that there's been a tremendous shift in the membership over the past few years so that the people in power have begun to support trans issues in a way that they never did in the past. But what you said still holds true.

Daisy said...

I am aware of NWSA problems from about 15 yrs ago, but have not kept up with issues very well since then. Your comments are so interesting!

There are examples of groups that have, at times, succumbed to the NWSA's indifference, such as the Disability Caucus.

Can I ask you to elaborate? There was no such caucus back in the day, so I am pretty uninformed about the controversies. (Links to whatever situations or incidents you refer to, would be sufficient, and thank you!)