Thursday, October 6, 2016

On the Eat Shit Collective: art, violence, death and fluids

Last week,  Galeria Border presented a performance by the Colectivo Come Mierda as part of it's annual thematic programming, Kamikaze.

We walked into the gallery a few minutes late. A cross-dressed, masculine presenting body bathed in a red light hung on the wall. They was visibly in distress, despite their dissociative demeanor and expression. On the floor, the artist(s) had arranged various objects, clearly meant to be used by us to engage with the body. All of the objects invited the viewers to become part of the spectacle, to take agency over the submissive form hanging on the wall using knives, scissors, pliers and other tools.

In speaking about torture, Elaine Scarry describes the language of this situation. The tools used against victims of torture serve as means of transference of power from the violated body into the hands of the agent. This becomes, in her analysis, a performance of power investing the fictions of power of the regime with the reality of the wounded body. In straightforward language what this means is simple: torture is enacted as a way to give the regime's story about itself reality; the wounded and de-personified body confers reality onto the ephemeral fiction of State (or other) power through the use and display of the tool.

No one in the space, besides other artists from the Colectivo Come Mierda, (The Eat Shit Collective), were willing to engage in this (re)presentation of torture.

The exhibition continued with several different (re)presentations of violence and humiliation. A thin, femme body walked on all fours, high heels on her hands and feet, facing up. When she became exhausted, she curled over herself and urinated abundantly on her own face; then she lay on the floor exhausted.

Another artist danced sexually to electronic music. The dancer rubbed their ass on one member of the audience who seemed visibly distressed at being touched without consent. After that physical engagement with a viewer, the dancing intensified until their body appeared to be at risk of collapse. From my vantage point on the floor inches from the dancer, it seemed that they risked not only collapsing and hurting the viewers around them, but also of breaking their own body in their ek-static movements.

In another moment, the artists carefully and tenderly take the suspended body of the wall. This scene was eerily reminiscent of the deposition of Christ.

Luis Hernandez. Deposición de Cristo, oil on canvas,  2015

The collective then placed the limp body on the floor in another part of the gallery, where another artist (re)presented acts of violence and humiliation on them. The artist spits on, caresses, and manipulates every part of the (“dead”) body while covering it in pitch-black ink.

While this is happening, another artist beats a hammer against a wall. Another artist sits in a chair while images of murdered, humiliated and disappeared men are projected onto their face. 

Another artist distributes print-outs of facts about corruption and violence in Mexico. This artist engages with the viewers directly. Asks us questions. Makes many of us uncomfortable. Throws the pages at some of us.

The performances end without a climax. The intensity has been static the whole time. There has been no narrative arc, no catharsis. I am left feeling defensive, on edge, ready to fight. A few people clap.

One of the artists, in a soft voice, asks us to leave the gallery so that they can clean up enough to make space for a talk. They invite us to have a complimentary cocktail while we wait.


I didn't know what to think or feel after this. It felt wrong. What are these (re)presentations of violence about when they are performed for an art-audience, in a fancy cultural center, in an up-scale and safe neighborhood?

And then I asked myself, am I the intended audience? Is this for people who live daily with (the threat of) violence and its aftermath?

In my own body, all could feel was panic and fear, a desire to fight back and take power from these young artists.

Slowly the dynamics of this performance began to make sense.

I was reminded of acts of violence that I have experienced in the same way, as more than just a voyeur. This relationship, between the (simulation of the) act of violence and the viewer is, to my mind, understated in how we tend to understand violence (in art); the language of violence, its poetics, depends on the gaze. Without it, I wonder if human violence would exist.

I don't want to explain; I want to tell a story:

I went to a Catholic primary school. And, even though this was in the 70s and 80s, the nuns were of the pre-Vatican II variety; there wasn't a drop of hippie-love or liberation-theology about them. Violence, humiliation and coercion were the norm.  One day, a little girl, our peer of 6 or 7 years old, took too long changing for gym class. Sister Mary Camille* became agitated. She started calling out. “Where's Linda?* Linda?  Linda?  What's taking so long? Come out right now. What on God's earth could you be doing.”

We were all dead quiet. Linda did not come out. We could hear Sister Mary Camille beginning to pant. She stormed from behind her wooden desk with a yard stick in her hand. We were shocked; the nuns never hurt the girls physically.

A second later, Sister Mary Camille drug the girl by her red hair to the front of the room. Linda stood there, mostly naked, in pink panties and a cotton t-shirt in her hand. Her body was covered in freckles. One of her tiny arms tried to cover her chest. She bent her knees slightly. She tucked her head slightly. She was too scared to curl up into a protective fetal stance. We all snickered at her. She cried.

“Stand up straight.” Sister Mary Camille slapped the ruler on the desk. “Now, tell the class why you are so important that we all have to wait on you.”

Linda couldn't speak. She smiled nervously.

“Class, do you think it's fair for one person to make all of us wait?”

A few kids murmured. Angela Du Lac* raised her hand. “Sister, it is wrong for one person to put their needs above another. We are all equal in the eyes of God.”

“Very good Angela.”

I don't remember how this ended. My memory stops here. But I do remember one thing clearly. Sister Mary Camille used us to harm this girl. Without us – without our gaze, nervous laughter, agreement, and our empathy for the victim – the poetics of this event would have been fundamentally different. As a kid, I understood these poetics in a naïve way:  this was merely authoritarian abuse; a woman in power terrified and humiliated a little girl in order to communicate to us that violence could spring at any moment from the vestments of (God's) power. But now, I see it as participatory. We created the fiction of the nun's (and thus God's) power by our complicity. Not only was our silence consent, but our identifying with the victim amplified a single act of humiliation into a means of social control. We knew that any one of us, at any moment, could be subject to the same treatment. Thus, we collaborated not only in hurting that little girl, but in amplifying the voice and power of her abuser, an agent of God.

The scene quoted extensively in the opening of Discipline and Punish makes this relationship abundantly clear. The effect of the spectacle being described rests on the identification between the regicide and the population; their gaze transfers and transforms the suffering of the criminal into  power in the body of the king.  The intervention of the clergy in this torture is key; we have to see the victim as a human being like us, worthy of care, for the power of the king to be reified in his suffering body.

Violence, abuse, domination is always already participatory. The Colectivo Come Mierda recreated this structure for art. I am only left with questions. What did they hope to accomplish? What are we to do?

*not their real names

Thursday, September 29, 2016

mother-fuckers father-killers

I have intentionally not tried to define violence in my investigations into the poetics of violence. Recently, some really smart and organized kids from The ENAP (the National School of Fine Arts) in Mexcio City organized a congress on violence and power. And there, academics and activists presented their work – and “violence” could be understood as everything. There were analyses of violence in school that looked at power relations and hierarchies and described them as the worst kind of violence; analyses of architecture that described walls as violent. A city's structure was violence. Essentialism was violence. Discourse was violence. Images were violence. Analysis was violence. A concept was violence.... And so on. Hyperbole was the norm.

It's difficult for me to take this seriously. I kept feeling like the hyperbole was there to sex-up their chat, to give their arguments the kind of gut turning reality that images of gore offer. To state the obvious, there is a world of difference between a baton on your back, or a forced penetration of your body, and a teacher making her students be quiet and learn by memorizing a text. But, drawing a fixed line of separation is complicated to say the least, perhaps impossible. As you begin to try and define violence the boundary keeps moving and getting blurry. When you talk about a city, or an economy, where there are real physical transformations of bodies as the result of some indirect or organizational practice or another, how do you then conceptualize violence? In many parts of the world a job most certainly meets any definition of violence; imagine working in a mine in the Niger Delta overseen by armed guards. Is that any less violent than being beaten or gassed by cops in a march? But where do we draw the line? Should we draw a line? If we think of violence as the non-consensual transformation of a body by an actor – then indeed walls, schools, hospitals, etc. all sometimes qualify. These institutions certainly change our bodies whether we are okay with it or not. Maybe we should speak of kinds of violence. Maybe we should find other terms that are more descriptive and less sexy… This discussion could go on and on. But what happens if we ask another question instead of “what is violence?”, or “is this or that exercise of power some kind of violence?” Let's ask why is it so confusing and difficult to decide?

The answer to this question presents a much more complicated world, one that resists classifications because of the structure of the way human violence is created.

Maybe it's best to start with Freud. Whatever you might think of him, it's important to remember his impact on our culture, and not just on psychology. The legacy of psychoanalysis is, to my mind, the narcissistic, self-involved postmodern capitalist self. It's a self constructed on purpose as a means of political control (for a good overview of this I highly recommend
The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis) and maintained by a nexus of related institutions: the State, the hospital, the school, the university (even by us cultural critics)... This self is in crisis. And has always been in crisis... The point of its deployment has been to maintain (or exploit) that crisis. And as interesting as that story is, there really isn't enough time to go into it here and now. But, I think that understanding something of this self is essential to understanding violence. So the following sketch will have to do.

And to pick a convenient, if arbitrary, starting point into this “I”, I want to start with Freud because he retook a long tradition in philosophy, myth and literature, namely, the conflict between Apollo and Dionysus, between order and chaos, and sunk it deep into the individual. In each of us, theorized Freud, there were dark, hidden, violent forces over which we (or someone) had to have dominion. Psychoanalysis was the process of reaching that dominion when things ran amok. But the very possibility of keeping our dark desires under control was not at all obvious. After World War I Freud became exceedingly pessimistic about this possibility, when it became clear that the social corollary of the super-ego (the part of the self which resolved the conflict), the State, was responsible for the most atrocious deployment and mechanization of brutality imaginable. The project of the Enlightenment, the project to free ourselves from barbarity, had lead us to mustard gas and the machine gun. To put this in slightly different terms, we could say that our attempts to civilize ourselves had failed; we left home in order not to fuck our moms and kill our dads and ended up gouging out our eyes.

Why did this happen?

Because it was never our intention to not be mother-fuckers and father-killers. To understand the mechanisms of this no/yes we must take Bataille seriously.

For Bataille there are two realms we human subjects inhabit, that of the religious experience, of the erotic, and the world of work- of reason, of organization. The realm of the erotic is also the realm of violence. The rejection of this violence was the organizing principle of our humanity – that is our existence as linguistic, social creatures who generally observe certain taboos like not shitting and fucking in the street. In Bataille's story, “As taboos came into play, man became distinct from the animals.”1 Primeval man, confronting the dread and anxiety provoked by the image/ smell/ threat of death, sought “to set himself free from the excessive domination of death and reproductive activity (of violence that is) under whose sway animals are helpless.”2 The taboo was to function as our human domination of violence.

Bataille continues, “Life brings forth ceaselessly, but only in order to swallow up what she has produced. The first men were confusedly aware of this. They denied death and the cycle of reproduction by means of taboos. [But] They never contained themselves within this denial...”3 “... under the secondary influence of transgression man drew near to the animals once more.”4 So that, “Humanity became possible at the instant when, seized by an insurmountable dizziness [in front of violence], man tried to answer 'No'. / Man tried? In fact men have never definitively said no to violence (to the excessive urges in question).”5

We never intended to distance ourselves from barbarity because the structure of that distance reinstated the violence we claimed to abhor. The taboo (the mechanism of setting ourselves apart from violence), the opposition to violence, drew upon violence itself in some way. “... if some violent negative emotion did not make violence horrible for everyone, reason alone could not define those shifting limits authoritatively enough.” Bataille continues, “Only unreasoning dread and terror could survive in the teeth of the forces let loose.”6

The human world is then is a mix of the world of work and the world of excess. All human activity (as opposed to animal activity where the taboo does not exist) is a thorough blending of Apollo and Dionysus. To be human is to transgress. “Organized transgression [human violence] together with the taboo makes social life what it is.”7

This mixture is was what we realized as a culture in WWI, what made Freud so pessimistic and what prompted his nephew Edward Bernays to manufacture a means of social control through manipulation of our dark desire, to protect us from ourselves, from what “ the end we resolutely desire [,] that which imperils our life”8 – (This means of social control, this way of construing / constructing the self is the foundation upon which the spectacle of violence is built).

We can take all of this to mean that we failed in our project of the Enlightenment, because the project itself was a sham. It was never what we wanted to begin with. Instead: We are tragedy. We are mother-fuckers and father-killers and eye-gougers, by our own design.

But the situation gets more complicated.

The primeval process of becoming human comes from anguish in the face of what Paglia calls the chthonian, the womb filled with rot and death. As Bataille puts it “Anguish is what makes human kind.”9 And even though all of life is excess unto death, the sun burning itself out, we as subjects in the world are characterized by a lack; we lack something very important in Bataille's edifice – continuity. And as discontinuous beings, “who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure,”10 (15) we “yearn for the sexual experience of death because it restores us to the continuity of all beings.”11 We carry a “nostalgia”12 for this continuity.

But Bataille is ambivalent about the possibility this sexual or spiritual union; love is not the answer.

First, continuity is not experienced in the act of consummation of sexual urges, or murderous ones, or whatever the desire might be, but in the desire for the beloved object, in the experience of lack(ing her). Says Bataille, “continuity is chiefly to be felt in the anguish of desire, when it is still inaccessible, still an impotent quivering yearning.”13 So the moment of transgression (from isolated mortal to something akin to Freud's oceanic) is anguish, the very same anguish which caused early humans to try and distance themselves from violence and death, which then leads us in return to violence and death. And worse, the promise of “a total blending of two beings, a continuity between two discontinuous creatures”14 is (or might be) a lie. Says Bataille,

Love reiterates: “If only you possessed the beloved one, your soul sick with loneliness would be one with the soul of the beloved.” Partially at least this promise is a fraud. But in love the idea of such a union takes shape with frantic intensity, though differently perhaps for each of the lovers. And in any case, beyond the image it projects, that precarious fusion, allowing as it does for the survival of the individual, may in fact come to pass. That is beside the point; this fusion, precarious yet profound, is kept in the forefront of consciousness by suffering as often as not, by the threat of separation. … Only in the violation, through death if need be, of the individuals solitariness can there appear that image of the beloved object which in the lover's eyes invests all being with significance. …15

Bataille goes on to say that this absurd confusion and suffering reveals a “miraculous truth. There is nothing really illusory in the truth of love. The beloved being is indeed equated for the lover, – and only for him no doubt, but what of that? – ”16

What are we to make of this situation? We desire a suffering in which (the illusion of) our continuity is maintained only in so far as we continue to desire some beloved object or action – a lover, a thing, a god, a murder, etc. This anguish of desire is the only rest we have from anguish. Consummation is a fraud in which we no longer experience continuity through the fear and trembling of want. Once we have that thing or action we so desired unto death, once we find the truth of love, then we are back in our isolation and discontinuity.

Perhaps you don't feel this way in your life. Perhaps you do. I think that it's beside the point anyway. What matters is that this vision of the discontinuous self, exaggerated by the all the spectacles of consumerist lust that make up postmodern capitalism, is both the source and effect of the spectacle of violence we are living with in Mexico.

1 Georges Bataille, Erotism, (San Francisco: City Lights, 1986), 83.

2 Loc. Cit.
3Ibid., 86.
4 Ibid., 83.
5Ibid., 62.
6Ibid., 63.
7 Ibid., 65.
8Ibid., 87.
9Ibid., 86.
10Ibid., 15.
11 Jonathon Dollimore, Death, Desire, and Loss in Western Culture, (New York: Routledge, 1998), 255.

12 Georges Bataille, Erotism, (San Francisco: City Lights, 1986), 15.
13Ibid., 19.
14Ibid., 20.
15Ibid., 20,21.
16Ibid., 21.

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.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

on the politics and poetics of sexual violence, abuse, and accusations: an insider’s view. Part 5: Minka's responses

The following are two essays Minka wrote responding to this situation (Part1, Part2, Part3, Part4).  I am reprinting them with her support and permission.

This first essay was published today on a Facebook post attacking me. It is a response to a document written by Corinne. I respond to that same post here.

I’m not sure where to post this, but I wanted to respond. Feel free to share my response wherever. I’m using “he” for Jorge instead of “they” because I think it’s clearer for writing.

First of all, neither Jorge nor I want to attack Corinne, and we definitely don’t think that she was the only one responsible. I firmly believe that she was trying her best to do the right thing, and Jorge also wrote about how her intentions were clearly from a place of concern. It also sounds like she is aware of how her actions were hurtful, and appears to be holding herself somewhat accountable. It's a good start, but she needs to do better. Much of what she wrote sounds like “I fucked up, but I think Jorge does vile things so it’s ok.” Either way we don’t want people to attack, marginalize, or isolate her in any way. That’s not fair to her; but, more importantly it detracts from the problems here. This was not a one-person thing. I’d like to call out everyone involved and have them hold themselves accountable, but I’d also like to question a culture of feminism that prioritizes protecting women and femmes from any possible harm, even at the expense of truth or justice. I could write a lot more about this, but I’ll just say that I think it’s unfair to her and to us to act like she’s the only one who did anything wrong. Isolating a person without talking or thinking about it, or trying to understand what happened, won’t help anything. Many of the things Corinne defended herself from are things she never did, and Jorge didn't allege. I want to make this clear. She was central to the story. She took advantage of bias, but the biases that fed this did not come from her.

David is saying that Jorge is specifically targeting women and femmes in his writing. We really don’t know all of the details of everyone involved, and we have tried hard not to include the names of people whose role is unclear. So, most of the names mentioned in Jorge’s writings have ended up being names of women. Neither one of us thinks that there were necessarily more women than men responsible here, and we definitely don’t want to demonize Corinne and let everyone else off the hook.

We both put a lot of effort into making Jorge's narrative of these events as accurate as possible. A few months after all this happened, I wrote a letter describing my experience and feelings and added that I didn’t know exactly what happened, and that “any clarifications or additions would be appreciated.” I got a couple additions to what I thought happened, but not one person said that anything I wrote was wrong or untrue. Jorge's recent essays just expanded on what I wrote. We both have gone through all of our social media from last summer and made a timeline of what happened, including screenshots (which were then included in Jorge’s writing). Jorge is basing his writings off of this information, my writing, and the memories of the one or two people who were willing to talk to us about this. We don’t want to lie about anything, and so I’ll repeat that any additions or clarifications would be appreciated. As far as we know, everything that appears in Jorge's essays is factually correct.

I read through Corinne’s writing multiple times, and have racked my brain, and I still don’t have any idea of what this “concrete proof” of Jorge’s abusive pattern is. The most substantial thing I’ve heard is that Jorge has some past partner somewhere who felt harmed somehow. I don’t want to discount this person’s feelings, if this person exists, but I do want to point out that with enough digging around, I could certainly find someone who has felt harmed by every individual I know, and I imagine it wouldn’t be difficult to find proof of hurtful actions that fall into the category of abuse. The thing about relationships, especially close relationships, is that we are all flawed and we all make mistakes and hurt people. What has Jorge done (un-consensually) that every single one of us has not done countless times? I felt very hurt by the actions of some of my friends last summer, and would consider these actions abusive, but I would never fucking try and save or help anyone from dating any of y'all. Not only would that be absolutely ridiculous, but it would be insulting to your ability to change and learn, and insulting to the autonomy and freedom of choice of your partner.

In addition, Corinne states that I told her I did not want to go to Mexico. This is not true. I never told anyone I didn’t want to go to Mexico. Also, she uses two of Jorge's writings to justify her actions. These two posts were addressed in his writings. One was co-written by me and it was an erotic fiction, and the other was about feminism and BDSM.

The details of what happened at the meeting by the quarry are a little foggy for various reasons, and I wanna give a little context for our emotional states before this even started. We had met about 4 weeks before this meeting, and during those weeks we both went through our own separate break-ups; I was having an emotional, psychological and financial crisis about going back to school; Jorge had a serious medical emergency and was facing a possible amputation in a country where he had no health insurance; I was trying to find a place to live; and, we were also planning on going to Mexico in the next couple of days. We were both under a lot of stress already. Jorge was at the quarry already because he was swimming and I knew that, but I didn’t think about it because I figured our meeting would be short and friendly. He (rightly) figured the meeting would be about trying to make me mistrust him, and he was hurt and upset that I was having this meeting where I knew he would be. After the meeting (which I wrongly assumed was the end of all this) I tried to convince myself and Jorge that nothing had happened and nothing was going on, and that nothing else needed to be talked about or discussed. I doubted this at the time, but, as I am generally conflict-averse and was already feeling stressed, I just wanted everyone to get along. That night, I was more worried about meeting Jorge’s parents for the first time and then packing to go to a foreign country the next day, than I was about these concerns from folks who I thought were well-meaning. It’s possible that people offered to meet with Jorge or both of us, but I remember saying that we were all friends and no further talking was needed, even if we had had time for it.

When this first started, Jorge contacted all three of the women in Knoxville with whom he had had anything resembling a BDSM sexual relationship (the only solid accusations we have heard were from Rachel Milford, saying that he had a “history of sexual violence against young women in Knoxville”). All of them told him they felt unharmed and knew nothing of these events. In addition, we both went back through everything we know about this, and we don’t remember anyone discussing any kind of accountability for Jorge with either one of us. The conversation was always about me, and protecting me, and neither one of us have any memories of people wanting to meet and talk with Jorge. (There was one person, mentioned by Corinne, who reached out early on to discuss her involvement, but her involvement seemed really simple and understandable and minimal, and she wasn’t talking about holding him accountable. Also we wrongly thought this whole conversation was over at that point anyway). This never felt in anyway like trying to hold Jorge accountable for anything, let alone vague things that no one can actually state. And now it kinda feels like he’s supposed to hold himself accountable for being the subject of other peoples’ shit-talking and hate. There is an incredible amount of responsibility in making a sexual violence or abuse accusation. I think it’s really irresponsible, and also extremely demeaning to the stories and experiences of actual survivors and victims, to make and spread these kinds of accusations if there is no real substance behind them, especially against someone who has so thoughtfully, tenderly, and creatively responded to their lived experiences of sexual and gendered violence.

What Jorge wrote about this being a question of aesthetics seems really spot-on; there are no real accusations, and no substance to these allegations that we have heard, but people were so quick to assume that they were real. The assumption that everyone involved was straight and cis and white was wrong and thoughtless of both of us. We went through the people we knew were involved (we didn’t include people only marginally involved) and decided that we were sure they were all cis/straight/white, which was dismissive and erasing of different identities and we're sorry. Jorge says he will gladly amend the essay to say “mostly.” Nonetheless, any outsider would be able to recognize that y’all belong to a single (though diverse) sub-culture.

It seems there isn’t a lot that Jorge can do here. He is attacked for not responding to these accusations, but when we ask what the accusations are, we only hear, repeatedly, that accusations exist. If he ignores them, he’s proving his abusive patterns to be real, and he’s allowing the rumors to continue (which they are). There are still no real accusations to respond to, so it seems like the only way for him to have any agency in this situation is to write about his experiences. We each initially wrote a one or two things after this happened, and Jorge later deleted his. Now, a year later, Jorge is deciding to write about this again in an attempt to make sense of it. This hasn’t been a year-long attempt at attacking or marginalizing or slandering anyone. We have both been mostly silent about this for the better part of a year.

The situation actually feels dangerous to us. There are real potential consequences here for both of us. Not doing anything, and acting like nothing happened, while he is slandered in court, threatened, marginalized and humiliated over and over seems ridiculous. No one has expressed any sorrow or apologized for what y'all have done to him. He is still specifically excluded from his community; he is shunned by many of his long-time friends; even people who treat me with kindness and interest leave bars or cafes when I walk in with him. This is just hateful, and makes me so disappointed in this community that used to mean so much to me.

I can think of multiple times in the past couple of years where people in this community have tried to ruin the jobs and lives of others for no good reason other than maybe a minor disagreement. Rumors and accusations can easily get out of control. For Jorge, his only available response is to address the ideas, beliefs, and ideologies behind the rumors and accusations that have hurt us. This is at least understandable, if not outright necessary.

Some kind of meeting, or restorative process, might be possible in the future, but at this point just writing about all of this makes me feel anxious and exhausted and sad, and I doubt anyone now would even listen to Jorge. He’s going to keep writing about this and I’m going to keep supporting him while continuing to maintain emotional distance between myself and this whole situation. If you want to support me, as most of you claim you do, listen.

This second essay, Letter to my Knoxville Community, was written in November of 2015.

A few months ago, a few people organized to save me from what they perceived as an abusive relationship with a person I had just met. Now, months later, I would like to address the only harm in this relationship – the actions of the people intent on saving me from myself and from him*.
Knoxville was the first place I felt at home as an adult. I felt that I actually had a role in the community, that I mattered, and that people respected me for who I was. I felt that our community had the potential to create a lot of positive change in the world around us.

I think I had such a strong attachment and feelings of connection and trust for my friends that when all of this started, I was unable to see it for what it is. I tried really hard to see everyone’s actions as being in my best interest, as being well-intentioned and well-thought out. When it eventually became clear that I was not being helped or empowered, all I felt was hurt. I felt betrayed by the only community that I had ever felt a part of. I felt as if all the thoughtful, heartfelt conversations that we had all had together about friendship, understanding, community, and support had been forgotten. I felt as if all the people who seemed to understand and empower me, were only concerned with their motivations and feelings. I spent most of my last month in Knoxville feeling really hurt and betrayed, but also trying to convince myself that the community I loved so much was still there, that all the people who were hurting me were just misguided, that they would apologize soon. I think this stubborn optimism, combined with how hurt I felt, made it impossible for me to really address the situation in the way that I wanted; I ended up just hastily forgiving everyone before I left, without talking about or addressing the issues. So before I consider returning to Knoxville again, I want to express how I feel now that I’ve had some time and distance to think about it.

It doesn’t really matter what everyone’s intentions were -- whether people were trying to help me, or control me, or project their traumas onto me, or to try to look heroic to their friends. I want the kind of community I thought I had before all of this happened, made up of people that respect me even when they don’t agree with me, people that support me and trust me without questioning my sanity or my judgement, people who love, or at least respect, the person that I love. Everyone I thought cared about me, had no problem accusing the person that I love of being abusive when they had no proof of it, and of excluding him from a community in which he had felt safe and included for many years. And I can’t think of any justification that would let me forgive people who have so thoughtlessly and violently harmed him.

It seems like a lot of this was done in the name of “feminism.” Telling a woman she is too weak or delusional to make her own decisions is not feminist. Telling a woman (or anyone) that the way that they choose to have consensual sex is violent, abusive, or not actually consensual (I don’t understand this logic either) is disempowering and definitely not feminist. The goal of a feminist community shouldn’t be to police the personal decisions of a community member; that is exclusive and judgmental, not community building, supportive, or feminist.

I should also point out that even if I was being harmed (no one listened when I said I wasn’t), the actions that were taken were thoughtless, uncritical, disrespectful, and harmful. I was made to feel as if I couldn’t trust my own judgment, and as if my whole community questioned my sanity. I felt isolated and hurt by the very people that I should have been able to reach out to for help if I needed it. I also read the article that Corinne sent out to multiple women (not including me) about how to deal with abuse in an activist community, and it is clear that nobody followed the advice in that article. The article talks about “prioritizing the self-determination of the survivor” and allowing the survivor the “right to choose to lead and convey the plan” (which you can’t do if you won’t even include the “survivor” in the discussions).

I also hope people think critically about what their response to this situation says about their political positions on restorative justice and punishment. Even if there was some validity to whatever rumors and biases you as a community decided to take seriously, your actions against Jorge were wrong and misguided. You excluded and dehumanized a long-time contributing member of your community based on a vague suspicion that they may have committed some moral wrong. Is this really the way that we want to address problems of justice and harm in the world? As people who (supposedly) oppose the prison industrial complex, shouldn’t we apply the same principles of understanding and compassion to members of our community? With no proof other than the feelings and rumors of a few, you all felt justified in trying to ruin someone’s life, sense of personal dignity and humanity, and opportunity for redemption. You followed a course of action based on moral codes strictly defined by powerful members of the group. You, perhaps inadvertently, created the same structure that fuels the prison-industrial complex. Furthermore, your actions led directly to placing me and my partner at physical risk of incarceration, involuntary psychiatric detention, physical harm, and even death. Because of your actions, we are now unable to travel freely, and are constantly at risk of interventions in our personal dignity and freedom. These are hardly the actions I would expect from self-defined radicals.

Although this was all supposedly about me, I wasn’t included in any of it and mostly know what happened through rumors. Any clarifications or additions would be appreciated. I’d planned on visiting Jorge for 2 weeks in August, and right before I left, Corinne, Rachel Millford and Tasha wanted to talk to me to express their concerns that maybe I was being harmed in my relationship. I clearly said that I was fine. At the time, I thought that was the beginning and the end of the entire thing. I found out recently that before this meeting there were Facebook messages and discussions about Jorge’s moral character and how I needed to be “helped” and “protected.” I was never once told about these by anybody, and as far as I know nobody once stepped in to say how ridiculous (and inappropriate and exclusive and self-righteous and judgmental) it was to talk about me needing help without ever asking me how I felt, or inviting me to participate in discussions about my own life. In addition, I had already told the one person who talked to me about their suspicions (Corinne) that Jorge and I were happy together and that I felt loved and safe. This story should have ended here.

I feel really resentful towards everyone that knew about this and didn’t talk to me. I feel really resentful that after stating that I was not being abused at the meeting, people kept discussing my private life as an issue in the community. After I had stated several times to several people that I was in no way being harmed by Jorge, there was at least one more meeting, apparently described as an “emergency meeting,” to save me from the horrors of Mexico and my partner. I was not invited to this meeting. I only heard about it through vague rumors, and later, remorseful apologies. (Also I wasn’t even in Mexico at the time, not that anyone bothered to ask me).

At some point during all of this, Corinne and maybe other people decided to call my sister Sasha and tell her that I was being abused. This got my mom involved, who dragged in the rest of my family, who all drove to Knoxville late at night to save me from what my mom assumed to be an attempt by a “sexually deviant” Mexican to sell me into sex slavery and/or turn me into dog food (I’m not making up this rhetoric). She threatened multiple times to put me in a mental institution and beat up, or jail Jorge.

It makes me really mad that my friends and community would decide to call my sister, who wasn’t in Knoxville and could only understand what was happening through the things that people told her. I’m still mad at Sasha and feel hurt by her participation in all of this, but I’m also really angry that people called her without considering what that would mean. I’ve talked multiple times (to Corinne and others who might have called) about my mom’s tendency to be racist and delusional and abusively aggressive. There is no way that a conversation with my sister could have happened while she was living at home without my mom finding out and making her own conclusions. My mom already believed that my friends in Knoxville were drug addicts, “sexual deviants,” and “bums.” Your misguided decision to include my family in your actions against my relationship could have endangered all of you if she hadn’t been able to find me immediately when she came to Knoxville to “save” me. Your actions did endanger Jorge and I. My family broke into my house with an off-duty member of law enforcement based on the information you all passed along.

My mom has threatened violence against me and Jorge, as well as all of my friends, who she considers a bad influence on me. She has recently stolen thousands of dollars from my bank account in order to blackmail me. She has convinced my whole family I’m mentally ill, uninvited me to thanksgiving, and called me all sorts of names. Worse, she told a member of law enforcement (her partner) that Jorge is a sex-slaver, drug-trafficker and pedophile. She has threatened to call the police multiple times to have me involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. The list of things she’s said about us is long and absolutely ridiculous, but she firmly believes all of it and her actions are directed by these beliefs. Because of your decision to include my family, I haven’t been able to talk to any of my family about anything other than convincing them I’m not mentally ill. I haven’t talked to my mom in months. And your actions have made both Jorge and I unsafe. We cannot move freely in the United States without risking intervention from my family and law enforcement. I don’t know if this reaction could have been predicted, but if anyone had taken any time to think about it (or talk to me), they would have realized that getting my family involved in any way was a terrible and potentially dangerous idea. Your corrupt feminism ended up being really dangerous and unjust. You should never have contacted my sister or my family.

I think a lot of this was motivated by sexual morality and fear of dissident sexualities. Many people felt uncomfortable with our relationship because of our age difference, and assumed that there was an inherent abusive power dynamic (this also strikes me as somewhat ageist). More importantly, many of you expressed horror at the fact that we were having enthusiastic, expressive, mutually-affirming, and violent sex. I think people just felt freaked out by this.
Neither Jorge nor I can find any legitimate source for rumors of his “history of sexual violence with young women.” Also, neither of us felt, or feel, that our relationship is abusive. Only in a community with rigid sexual morals could these rumors have gained any traction. Maybe people assumed I was being coerced and abused because they could not imagine that anyone would want to fuck violently. Maybe people felt that they needed to protect me from my own sexual desires. This seems really close-minded, oppressive, and exclusive, things that our community often says it stands against. Also, in the article that Corinne sent out, there was an entire section on how s/m is not abuse, but I doubt she or anyone else read it.

I also think it’s important to point out that Jorge is a Mexican and I am a white woman. I wonder if some of the passion with which y’all vilified him might be explained by the current discourse in the US about Mexicans, Mexican violence, and rape. Furthermore, I wonder if this vigor isn’t equally explained by the inherent sexism in viewing me as incapable of determining my own life. I am not a commodity you need to protect. And even if you think Jorge doesn’t deserve to fuck me, I get to choose whose genitals I play with, and how.

The intention to help and do good does not negate the harmful effects or suspicious motivations of your actions. I want people to really think about this self-critically. It is clear that while intending to fight for feminism, justice, equality, and a strong and safe community, you instead managed to recreate the very things you were fighting against.

Throughout this entire thing, the only people who were really harmed were Jorge and I. Our friends, our community, and my family harmed us. But, it is unbelievable how often we have been blamed for this. Many people, many times, have told me that none of this would have happened if: I’d just answered my phone that one time they called me; or, been more adamant when saying I wasn’t abused; or, if I’d acted more in keeping with my character, like not randomly leaving town; or, if I’d been more open about feeling lost and depressed before any of this started. This is clearly victim-blaming; no one is holding themselves accountable for the harm they did to us. Instead everyone is blaming Jorge’s immorality and my lack of “correct” responses.

Also, saying this was done because people love me doesn’t excuse it either. Loving and caring about someone does not give you the right to try and control their choices and their bodies.
I think it’s important to call out the people who harmed us the most; they should be held accountable for their actions.

( I have talked to some people who have taken responsibility for their role in all of this, but at this point I honestly don’t know who exactly was involved and how much. Most of what I know is from second hand accounts. I would like to suggest that if you participated in these actions or if you were in a position to intervene and didn’t, then please listen to what I am saying and hold yourself accountable.)

Corinne had a large role to play in this, and I hope that she is being held accountable. She directly asked if I felt harmed in my relationship with Jorge, and I clearly and directly told her no. There was no ambiguity in my answer. However, she continued to organize discussions and meetings about my life and my decisions after this. As someone who I considered a friend, she definitely had a responsibility to stand up for me and my choices. From what I have gathered, she was one of the primary organizers and initiators of everything that followed and I find that really hurtful and inexcusable.

Both Rachel Milford and Alex Pulsipher, who I consider acquaintances at best, felt it was important to let me know that my sex life was personally concerning to them and that I should maybe not have sex in the ways that I wanted to. In any other circumstance, this would have been just humorous proof of southern sexual repression and morality, and people’s self-righteous ideas about others’ personal choices. However, in this situation it served to further the narrative that I was being coerced into doing something I shouldn’t, and that Jorge had taken away my personal agency.

Sasha was in a situation where she could have really improved the situation for me and Jorge, or really made it worse, and she chose the latter. I think she should be held accountable but I also think her involvement was a lot more complicated and was influenced by many other forces which she had no control over.

There’s no way that I can prove I’m not being harmed in this relationship, and the people that still believe it are just going to read this and see it as proof that I’m being manipulated. I’m not writing this letter to change their minds, but instead to ask for support from those of you that consider yourselves my friends. I would also ask that everyone hold themselves and each other accountable for the harm they have caused. Many people were willing to come forward and try to save me from harm that I consistently denied was happening, and still firmly deny. But very few people (the only one I know of is Jonathan) have openly tried to support and protect me from the harm being perpetuated against me and my partner by my community and family.

Ultimately, I feel let down and disappointed that y’all managed to recreate all of the things that we had joined together to fight. Your assumption that I needed help was sexist. Your belief that Jorge was harming and abusing me was ageist, racist, and moralistic. Your methods of trying to save me were alienating, destructive, and mirrored the criminal justice system we are trying to fight, and ended up using state and familial violence and threats of violence.

If I ever decide to return to or visit Knoxville, I don’t know what I expect from my relationships with the people involved. But, I would hope that no one presumes that they have been forgiven, or expect warmth and friendliness from me when encountering me in casual or social settings.

* My partner identifies as queer/gender-fuck, but for the purpose of clarity in this letter I will use “he/him” pronouns


Monday, September 5, 2016

on the politics and poetics of sexual violence, abuse, and accusations: an insider’s view. Part 4: Witch Trial

Note: This essay was mostly finished before a recent spate of responses (including arguments against my character and the truthfulness of these essays) on social media. All I ask is that you read this continuation through your own interpretive lens and not the one imposed on this narrative: a social media feud.

I don't actually believe that there is much of direct relationship between our story and any historical witch trial. Marginalizing and dehumanizing me, and controlling Minka's body, appear to have been the only clear objectives in the actions of our friends and comrades. In this way, using the term witch trial is wholly ironic. There was no trial at all, no formal process of any sort, not even the intention of allowing for recantation, redemption or avowing right-thinking. I wasn't even allowed to drown or float before the sentence had been handed down. To call this a witch trial is an insult to witch trials.

Given all of this, it might seem a little surprising that I ended the third essay on a somewhat optimistic note. I suggested that the racism and sexism enacted by our friends was more like an emergent property resulting from the interactions between mostly decent human beings. I suggested that they were maybe merely misled by narcissism and an uncritical need for belonging. It's possible that they were also misled by powerful and charismatic people in their friend-group; or, maybe it's easy to get carried away when your feelings are echoed by everyone around you...

We left Knoxville the day after Minka's family broke into her house. We packed my van and started driving west. All of what had happened (summarized in Part 2)  nearly destroyed Minka; she began showing signs of severe emotional and cognitive distress. Most of what I felt could be described as sadness, fear, jealousy,* and material insecurity. Nonetheless, we committed to enjoying ourselves on a road trip across the country on what was likely going to be our last week together. Minka had decided not to go visit Mexico.

Likely because everyone now believed that they had won, that Minka and I were broken up and that she was “saved,” suddenly the phone calls stopped. Very occasionally, a family member or closer friend would call; she didn't answer. And despite our recent traumas, we managed to be loving, supportive, playful, funny, and  sexy on this week long trip.

When we got to southern Texas, things became emotionally tense between us. Minka clearly wanted to tell everyone to fuck off, and continue with me to Mexico City. I wanted to avoid any perception of wrong-doing. And so I insisted she buy a ticket home and decide later. Eventually, she bought a bus ticket from Austin to Knoxville. And still she couldn't decide what to do. I talked to her. I listened. I tried to empower her to make the right decision for herself. She couldn't. So I suggested calling the one person who had expressed support for her.

We were sitting in a lovely park in Austin. The first words out of their mouth were “do you feel pressured by him?” Minka didn't tell me much more about the conversation. But it seems that they echoed some of their communities concerns. She decided to get on the bus and head home. I was heart broken. But I dropped her off at the bus and got on the freeway towards Mexico.

Before parting, we posted all of the pictures from the trip on social media. The next morning, I posted pictures of crossing the border and tearing down Tamaulipas highways.

Up until this point, I have been very careful to be factually accurate; but, since neither one of us were present for the for the rest of this story, I am reporting the little I have been told.

About the time Minka was arriving back in Knoxville, a few people met at the Birdhouse, a radical community space in town. Present at that meeting were Corinne, her partner Matt and at least one other person, Brian. They looked through my social media, saw that Minka and I were traveling together and that I had posted pictures of the border. According to what others told Minka, Corinne said something like: Minka's in Mexico, we need to figure out how to save her; and, Corinne and Matt seemed to get more and more worked up as they talked to each other.

The next day Corinne sent out a mass text-message calling for an “emergency community meeting” at another “radical” space, The Hawthorne House. No one called Minka to see where she was, or if she could attend the meeting, or if she needed saving.

During the emergency community meeting, Minka was safely back in Knoxville, crying alone in her apartment. I, furious at my community, posted this intentionally provocative statement on my Facebook artist's page. It read:

A former neighbor of mine, who I hardly knew, posted a moralistic, judgmental comment on this post. I eventually deleted it, even though I wish I hadn't. This was Minka's response to him, which gives some clue as to the paternalistic, moralistic shit he said:

It's impossible to know exactly what went on that day between my former neighbor** and Corinne, Rachel and their partners, both named Matt, and whoever else they included in their concerns. And I don't know if my neighbor and his wife were at any of the meetings; but, as they are close friends and collaborators with some of the folks involved, it seems likely that his statements about me choking and hurting my partners “everyday, repeatedly” constituted the history of sexual-violence that circulated through the community.***  Either way, the details of the "emergency community meeting" are telling.

This meeting took place the day after Minka got back to Knoxville, on the lawn in front of the Hawthorne House. We have heard various estimates of attendance, ranging from 10 to 40. It seems likely that there were between 15 or 20 people there. Even though the purpose of the meeting was to develop strategies to save Minka from me and Mexico, the reports we have show a different focus.

According to these reports, many people arrived unaware of what the emergency was, and were confused by the somewhat manic description of the situation offered by moderators Corinne and/or (accounts differ) Matt. Once the meeting began, it seems that the majority of the meeting was spent going around the circle asking people if they had ever had any negative or uncomfortable experiences with me. Some people said things like, one time Jorge did this thing that made me feel sad/ disrespected/ threatened/ not listened to/ etc.. A few people repeated vague things they heard about me and “violence” with former partners. This went on for more than an hour. I have asked folks who were present, over and over, if there were any substantive accusations of any wrong-doing. All of them said no.

At one point in the meeting (again from friend's reports), one of the people in attendance asked why not just call Minka and find out from her what is going on. Corinne and/or (accounts differ) Matt responded that that would not be possible as it might just drive Minka farther away.

I was also told by one of my friends, Johnathon, that he unambiguously told those in attendance that what they were doing was wrong. To my knowledge, he is the only member of this “community” (would “clique” be a better word?) who spoke out. Another person, Brian, later told us that he and another person, Tasha, said that they had sided with Jonathon. Another person reported that the general feeling at the meeting was some thing like: “WTF is happening here?”

WTF indeed. I'm gonna be a little bit speculative now; but, as we weren't included in any of the meetings, and very few people are willing to talk to us about it, speculation is the best I can do. This group of people seem to have been operating under the assumption that Minka was at great risk being with me in Mexico. What then could they have done? And this is what really troubles me. When you dehumanize and marginalize someone so thoroughly, and add the perception and urgency of imminent material risk, it makes one wonder to what lengths they were willing to go. They seem to have worked themselves up into a panic. They had already gaslighted Minka for weeks. They had already tried to enlist the help of family they new to be racist and dangerous. They had already enlisted at least one agent of State power. What could have been next? Were they willing to kill me? To have me killed? Incarcerated? This sound ridiculous. I really want to say that this seems unlikely. But I don't know. I like to think that they were just digging around to find some real “wrong” I had committed, to be able to finally convince Minka to leave me.  Either way, it seems to me now, that the parallel goal of all these activities was to push me to the breaking point.

I didn't really notice what was happening, or how it was happening, until recently. Minka and I were talking to someone who was at the meeting, someone I insulted in an email afterward. And after we pried as much information from him as we could (he was clearly unwilling to inform on his friends who he repeatedly said “are good people”), he called me out. He said “Last year, when you called me a racist piece of shit, I saw that you were not the kind of person that I thought you were.”

And then it all made sense.

I wrote two slightly aggressive letters shortly after this meeting, naming names and criticizing the racism, ageism, and sexism of these actions.

And while I got some of the names and facts a little wrong, I think my response to this situation was pretty understandable; but, no one reached out to me. Just the opposite.  I was attacked.  And these attacks continue; I have recently been threatened with physical violence for writing these "fantastical" essays.

What's happening here?

In the summer of 1988, I was beaten up by cops and held in solitary confinement. I was 16. I was alone in a 3' by 8' cell, after being choked, beaten and denied medical attention, for three days. When I was finally before a judge, he didn't see the bright, dynamic child I was before. He saw a shattered human being on the edge of violent outbreaks. The result? I was held in involuntary psychiatric confinement until I was willing to intern myself a year and a half later.

At, the Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, I was held for 30 days in an “observation” ward. This same logic applied here. The guards, I called them the gorillas, would stress us, and then punish those who couldn't take it. One way they did this was through their version of an emergency community meeting. They would sit us down in a circle on metal folding chairs and put one kid in the center. Then they would tell the kid everything he'd done wrong. And then they would ask us what we felt. And we'd tell him everything he'd done wrong.  Every time, without fail, a frightened, traumatized, cognitively or emotionally different child would freak the fuck out. He'd stand-up screaming and crying. He'd throw chairs. Attack kids or guards. And every time the result was the same; the kid ended up being beaten through pillows (no marks), strapped to the floor, and injected with sedatives.

I have other examples, but the point here is simple:  This community painted me as a monster to achieve an end. Any response of mine confirms this monstrosity. If I am patient and nonreactive, it is because I am a calculating predator. If I am angry, it is because I am an unpredictable danger. If I defend myself, I am deflecting. If I criticize, I am bullying. And so on.

The stress that all of this has placed on me and my partner has been incalculable.  I can't imagine how easy and beautiful our relationship might have been with the support and love of our families and communities.  Instead, we have had to struggle to love, care, and support one another, mostly alone, isolated, and distrustful of others. Imagine starting a relationship under these conditions. It's been endlessly hard.  But that's not why I am writing all of this.

Both Minka and I were closely involved in political struggle in Knoxville.  We both felt affirmed and empowered by the different roles we each played. When I was active there, things were happening: we were opening radical spaces all over town; food not bombs regularly served scores of meals every weekend and supported marches and actions in the Southeast; multiple independent cultural spaces and activities thrived. Only a little of this remains, despite the hard work and commitment of dozens of activists and organizations that continue to do good and needed work. The reasons for this decline are certainly complex; but, one element has to be the ideological apparatus, bias and violence that this part of the Knoxville activist community evinced when confronted with a difference that made them uncomfortable.

My goal here is not accountability, or justice, or restoration; this segment of the community, from where I stand, is beyond redemption. My goal here is to take agency by telling a story, and in so doing, hopefully, understand what went so horribly wrong. This is one of the things I have always done when confronting fucked up shit; I read, write, and make art about it.

End Part 4

* In the classic sense of the word, a fear of loss of connection; wonder why I felt that?

** I might explain, in detail, the need to conceal his name in a later post; for now, I'll only say that this man has harmed, and is harming, folks who have asked me not to write about their situation lest it make them materially unsafe.

*** Just to point out the obvious: consensual bdsm, including breath play, is not violence.