What Terror Looks Like

More than one year after the post electoral crisis, the terror created by the murders of protestors is still palpable here. Many readers of this blog will be familiar with these killings because you participated last year in an open letter to the families of the victims.

A few days ago Karen Spring wrote this excellent essay on the continued impunity for the killings.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the events of December 2017 & January 2018 are hardly in the past for many Hondurans. These killings were mentioned to me without prompting at some of our site visits, and my general impression both from these weeks on the ground and following social media is of a people where terror has genuinely taken root. I keep thinking of the many histories I’ve read or watched about societies existing under terroristic regimes, and realizing that in this moment I’m visiting one of those societies. And knowing that my friends and others live in it every day.

Nor are these impressions and facts far removed from the United States. Impunity for murdering protestors and the terror it spreads is creating an exodus of people arriving everyday at our border. To say nothing of the direct and indirect support for this terror provided by the US government itself. One example: the US provides funding, training, and “vetting” for various police and military forces implicated in human rights abuses including murder. We are funding terror.

The Songs of the Grandmothers

On Saturday I had the honor of hearing the songs of the grandmothers of COFAMIPRO, the Committee of Families of Disappeared Migrants of El Progreso. These women told us the stories of looking for their lost daughters and sons, who have been lost along the dangerous migrant trail between the US and Honduras or who lost contact with their families once arriving in the US. Rosa Nelly Santos told us about the heartbreaking work of repatriating remains, and how since 2000 she has walked with other mothers along the path wearing pictures of their children and asking around, hoping to find clues of where they were last seen. About the caravans, Rosa Nelly told us that they do not celebrate or agree with the migrant exodus because they would prefer to have people be able to stay in Honduras, but the most important thing is that no one disappears on an exodus. They may still die; but they will not disappear .

The women sang two songs they have written themselves: one for standing outside public offices demanding rights and recognition, and the second for when a person is found. It said “we don’t get tired of waiting.”

Together in a small circle, our Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective delegation cried with these women. We saw their pain, and held it with them for a few moments . We left them reluctantly in a flurry of hugs and smiles, always promising to share their stories.

Just Call Me They

The work of being trans is constant. It is tiring. It is exhausting. And it doesn’t really have to be that way. Is it too much to ask people to pay attention to me as a human being when they interact? To use my pronouns, use my name, and to do both correctly a majority of the time? It is not too much to ask, because how can I keep going in a world where that is too much to ask of the fellow human beings with whom I interact?

Taking people seriously as human beings starts with recognizing and learning how we are referred to in speech. This is not a preference. This is not a special request. This is a normal request for being treated with dignity like a human being and let me tell you, it is hurtful and embarrassing and offensive and infuriating and disempowering all rolled into one when it almost never happens. It is dehumanizing.

Let’s start with the name. I am a white person born in the US; unlike a great many people who must never even hear their names said correctly let alone spelled accurately, I belong to the dominant culture. Even so, my very white Irish German name, Meghan Krausch, is apparently not white bread enough and so I have spent my entire life checking every program, table of contents, and website in which it has ever appeared to see if they got it right. It has not gone well. For this and other reasons, I tried dropping the second half of my first name. But no, people cannot just call me Meg either. They want to try to call me Meghan anyway, usually failing.

Why am I going on about my name? Because I think this is related to people’s issues respecting each others’ pronouns. We insist in imposing our own cognitive schemas on other peoples’ selves. We do not take the time to copy down someone’s name as it is given to us, or to listen when they say it, or look at how they sign their own name. Instead, we are in a rush to fit people into a pre-existing box (in my example: ‘oh! I know that name: Megan’).

So as my name is violated in print, as others’ names are violated even more often and viciously, I am misgendered constantly. In situations where I might expect it, in situations where it was an honest mistake, and in situations where there is no excuse.

I get that there is a social transition. I get that this requires resocialization. And I do in fact understand how deep that socialization goes. I really, really do. In fact, I understand more than most people how early we are socialized to believe in the gender binary; I would argue that we are introduced to the binary before we even leave the womb. I am not sure I even believe that anyone can be perfect at using nonbinary pronouns in a society which is still cissexist.

But it is devastatingly apparent to me that most of y’all don’t even try.

In researching this post, I found this story about nonbinary or genderqueer K-12 teachers who use the honorific Mx. There was a lot that resonated, but thing I identified with most was the teacher who said this:

“I had moments where I thought: I’m too much work, I’m asking too much of my colleagues and students, and that as a teacher I’m there to serve, and part of serving others is not always putting yourself first.”

I fight this impulse every day. Of course “they/them/theirs” is a political choice, just like not eating meat or riding my bike instead of driving. But it also feels like home. It feels comfortable. It feels like not faking being a girl and being worried that I would be caught as a fake. And it’s no more of a political choice than using “he” or “she” or eating meat or driving a car, which are also all political choices.

The work of being trans is constant and exhausting only because other people make it that way. It doesn’t have to be anything other than just being.

Here are some resources for those who have questions about trans pronouns, being good accomplices, and what to do when you screw up:

transsaurus-rex

List: Things that Outlasted My Prestigious “Job for Life” as a Professor in the State of Wisconsin

Things that outlasted my “job for life”:

  • Electronic drip coffee maker on sale at Sears purchased the night before beginning my exciting new dream job
  • Expensive brand name satchel selected to differentiate me from students and celebrate the completion of my PhD
  • $4 cactus purchased from Home Depot to beautify my office, variety “Peruvian Old Lady”
  • 300 unused business cards
  • Moist towlette left in the drawer from a first week take out meal, still moist!
  • Cheap ball-point university branded pen given to me during orientation, still full of ink!
  • Tide to-go instant stain remover stick, still functional and ready for use at whatever exciting new employment adventure awaits me! (Probably retail.)

Things that did not outlast my tenure track job:

coffee-maker-clipart-1

Lessons from the UW-Superior “Halloween Axe” One Year Later

Just over one year ago, everything changed for me and many others in the community of Superior, Wisconsin. Without faculty, student, or staff input, three administrators were able to eliminate and threaten a full one-third of the academic programming at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, including most of the liberal arts in which it offered majors and most of the critical disciplines on campus. A few months later, an eerily similar list of program eliminations was announced at UW-Stevens Point. A newer, more final version of these cuts was announced yesterday. The Stevens Point proposal will be the first direct implementation of UW administrators’ new power to fire tenured faculty without declaring financial exigency.

Perhaps at the end of one year of mourning UWS, it’s time to move on to the next i see human but no humanitytragedy. After all, we were not the first victims of austerity measures in higher ed, and unfortunately we won’t be the last. Plus it’s over. The drastic cuts at UWS, along with the clumsy and deeply damaging restructuring of the entire 2-year college system in Wisconsin, have already happened. And Wisconsin has even finally ousted Governor Scott Walker in favor Tony Evers who was the lone voice of opposition while on the UW Board of Regents. But on this one year anniversary, it also seems useful to ask what can learn? How do we pick up the pieces and survive, both as local communities and within the more decentralized community of academia? A few things are for certain: the devastation of higher ed is not confined to Wisconsin, and the election of Tony Evers won’t be enough to roll back the damage done to the once great system of public higher education in the land of milk and honey.

In personal terms, the last year has been one of massive upheaval on both a private and professional level. I was driven out of my tenure track job in my fourth year which in turn meant geographic relocation. I sold my first house shortly after buying it, and started over in a new city, yet again. I was not alone in this. As I began to speak out publicly against the unethical and unconscionable decisions and public statements made by the university’s top administrators, I did not anticipate the level of absurd and petty harassment that I faced throughout the year for which there was no formal remedy.

The more that I was harassed, along with a few others who were also singled out, the more that a climate of fear seemed to prevail around me. Much of what happened to me was risky to speak about in writing or online. Let this be lesson #1 for others: open the lines of communication often and early between departments and among faculty, staff, and students, so that it is harder to single people out. Make time and spaces for in person meetings. Check in with people regularly who are on the forefront. Be aware that distancing yourself from people makes it easier for them (or you) to become targets for administration. Pay for personal memberships to the AAUP and/or a labor union (regardless of the status of legal bargaining rights) because their experience and assistance is invaluable in this situation.

My situation culminated at the end of the year when I should have been able to focus on supporting anxious seniors with their thesis presentations and nervous first year students with finishing classes. I was actually accused of committing “fraud” against the university. For what? I don’t know. How was the case resolved? I don’t know. I can only assume I was cleared because I was never reprimanded in any way. I was summoned to a meeting (at a time I was unavailable), I was not allowed to bring a witness, I was told I could not be given any information about the accusation in advance, and then I was informed that I had failed to comply. When I requested a copy of the report I was told it did not exist because it was submitted online. With some anxiety, I packed up the most important things in my office and took them home in case the university continued to ignore any semblance of due process and made a decision to suddenly terminate my employment. I tried to thread the fine line of my legal obligations to a workplace that clearly did not feel the need to observe basic legal obligations to its employees. Lesson #2: the university will not do the right thing (but you will survive somehow anyway). 

This story probably sounds extreme as you read it, and you may be thinking “that could never happen at my university.” But people never seem to think it’s going to happen to them, against all the evidence. Let that be lesson #3 from the Halloween Axe: it can happen to you, and you should already be organized to stop it. A great example of this problem is UWS’ own Dean Yohnk, the Dean of Academic Affairs at UWS who sold himself to UWS as a liberal arts champion less than 2 years earlier and then participated in these cuts. Yohnk managed to somehow parachute out of UWS and into UW-River Falls still as an advocate of the liberal arts. This is major head in the sand thinking on both sides. According to Yohnk, he had no part in the cuts and wanted to get away from that environment. So you go to another school in the UW system, still headed by Ray Cross and the Board of Regents? Good luck with that. And what is the hiring committee at River Falls thinking to accept someone who just lit a match and ran from the next door neighbor’s house? Lesson #4: be informed about the news in higher ed so you know what campus environment someone is coming from and you are prepared to understand their role in it when they arrive on your campus. And lesson #5: wishful thinking is dangerous. Don’t do it. Dramatic neoliberal austerity measures can happen at your university and they will, unless you organize against them. Let’s throw in lesson #6 here: elites network across campuses so we should too.

Actually, another thing to learn from what happened at UWS is lesson #7: these cuts have probably already started at your university or in your state. They don’t just fall out of the sky. They are ideological and they are part of a much longer game plan that takes many years to come to fruition. Look at all the planks in the plan to kill the Wisconsin Idea that needed to be laid before the final blow could be dealt to UW-Superior:

 

  • Act 10 eliminating collective bargaining rights for public workers;
  • weakening and effectively eliminating tenure protections throughout the state so that faculty throughout the university can be fired regardless of tenure without formally declaring financial exigency (not to mention the chilling effect);
  • changes to the hiring of chancellors and hiring committees (these have the effect of chilling efforts to call for resignation of current chancellor(s) because faculty are afraid that whoever is hired next will be worse, as they are assured of having no voice in the process);
  • dramatic changes to Chapter 36 and essentially eliminating the role of faculty in governance of the university;
  • free speech rules implemented via the legislature severely limiting the possibility of student protest on campus;
  • implementation of faculty post tenure review.

The cuts at UWS were only possible after all of this had been implemented in addition to devastating system wide budget cuts over a period of six years. There are many lessons to be drawn from this fact, but one important one for me is lesson #8: we have to somehow fight every austerity measure, even if it’s a losing battle. Don’t hand over an inch, because we are really always fighting the next battle. If we accept one measure without comment or struggle (as we did with many of these, knowing the Regents, legislators, administrators and often public were aligned against us), the right wing ideologues hell-bent on eliminating higher education will know that we aren’t organized to fight the next austerity measure. During my time in Wisconsin, I watched the implementation of several of these rules go on without comment or struggle from faculty who little imagined how they would be impacted later. And the result was that when the Halloween Axe fell, most of the faculty didn’t really understand what had happened to their tenure in Wisconsin, or what had happened to shared governance, or how would it actually affect them and not just their least favorite colleague. They knew enough to be scared but not enough to know what their rights still were or on what grounds we could fight. There was just too much catching up to do. Learn from our mistakes and find out what the reality is on your campus before there is a crisis. And inform and organize your colleagues now.

There are so many more things I learned in the last year as an academic, as an organizer, and as a community member of Superior than I can share in a single essay. I’m still mourning UWS and I’m honestly pessimistic about the long-term future for the community of Superior and northern Wisconsin more generally because something beautiful has in fact been lost. But I also know that marginalized communities can and do find innovative ways to survive and even, within pockets, thrive. Long term stability and permanence are myths that should never be counted on, especially within the dual realities of capitalism and climate change. While I mourn UWS, and while I mourn the broader closure of access to the public university to so many, I also look toward free schools, community run schools, and other models of more liberatory education. The public university has never been the only model of education so I choose to finish here with lesson #9: our dreams should always be too big for their institutions.

Everything for Everyone!

Art by Ali Cat. Leeds at Entangled Roots Press licensed Under Creative Commons License “CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.”

the fear of being out

I can remember that it all started when the ringleader boy looked at my legs and commented on their hairiness. The ringleader was a tall kid who was one of the first to pubescence, new to school and had a lesbian mother – none of this seems accidental in retrospect.

After that, he was able to engage almost every boy in the class with the exception of a few in giving me sexual nicknames, commenting on my body, checking my back for a bra strap, and, most damagingly, chasing me around and touching all over my body nonconsensually.  This lasted for most of the school year and was targeted at me individually.

When I was in sixth grade, I was the target of organized sexual harassment by a gang of boys in my public school.  At the first peak of awkward transition to adolescence almost every boy I knew touched my body in unwanted ways and made fun of me. I was not protected by anybody. I was effectively terrorized for being a girl, for not being enough of a girl, for not being the right kind of a girl.

silenceisnotprotection

Silence ≠ Protection by Crista Facciolla, Print. Organize. Protest.

I would now call this experience sexual violence. And yes, as an adult I can see that these boys probably participated more out of their own fear of being singled out and having their masculinity questioned than for any other reason. None of that makes it ok, however, or frankly matters very much to me, because if we didn’t live in a rape culture shot through with toxic masculinity in the first place, this wouldn’t have happened. And it was traumatic.

I felt like I had to hide what the boys were doing to me. I was made complicit in their terrorism. I’m still not sure I’ve disentangled why I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone. The simplest reason is shame. It was just so fucking embarrassing. If I was going to tell someone – an adult – I would have had to also tell them the insults and the things that the boys said. This would have meant discussing sex with that adult and relaying the insults that were said about me. I was way too embarrassed to do either thing.

If I told an adult what the boys were saying about me, I would have had to repeat the insults that were flung at me. In retrospect, it takes an awful lot of self-confidence to repeat the heinous thing someone else has said about you. Repeating it seems to just make it actually real.

After several months of this experience, something happened right in front of my teacher. I hoped that finally this would put a stop to the torment I was experiencing without me having to tattle, but the teacher did nothing. (There can also be no way he hadn’t observed anything before that because there were several incidents every single day.) It has taken me 25 years to tell this story to anyone, perhaps because when my teacher who I loved and trusted failed so completely to intervene, I decided that there was something wrong with me or that there would be no point in talking.

Instead I tried to find ways to resolve the problem myself.  Apparently I tried to fit into the kind of femininity that was suggested. If my back was going to be checked for bra straps, then I was going to wear a bra every day. No matter that I didn’t need one, that they were uncomfortable, that my mother was confused and that I was too embarrassed to even be seen looking at them in the store. I was going to be wearing one each time some boy checked my back and maybe they’d move along and not yell about it.

I went home and shaved my legs. I didn’t ask for any help with that either. I didn’t want to start a conversation or argue with my mom about whether I was too young, so I opted for stealing supplies in the shower and cutting the shit out of my legs instead. At least the cuts indicated that I had taken the hint and shaved. I was complying.

But something happened when I watched the Hannah Gadsby special Nanette. I wanted to tell this story for the first time. In the special, Gadsby tells the story of being beaten up by a man who thought she was hitting on his girlfriend, and the thought struck me like lightning: have I continued being just on the right side of feminine out of fear of exactly this kind of male violence?

Like Gadsby, I too was a raised in a household where there seemed to be anxiety about my sexuality and sometimes openly expressed fear about how difficult life would be if I turned out to be gay. It was clear that it would supposedly be ok but it would also make everyone somehow sad. Much of this fear was just that, fear, and it was well-meaning, but it transmitted to me as a message that only certain ways of being were OK. Simultaneously, no adults were protecting me from the risks at school of male violence and I was under constant pressure at home to be more feminine.

I don’t think I can draw a straight (hah) line to explain how or why anything happened, but as I grew up I adopted a style that would hide my feminine body to deflect attention and yet I think I made modifications to remain “female.” At least just female enough. I didn’t want to (re)create the possibility of violence by being too masculine, nor did I want to attract attention with my body.  I’ve never felt as if I “belonged” in most highly feminine clothes, but looking back now I see what has held me back from going full-on butch despite the attraction it has always held. I was receiving so many messages about the possibility of queer-bashing at home, in the media at large, and from my own experiences that it was much easier (but more damaging) to just pretend to be straight  in a heteronormative world.

It’s not just that women, or those of us assigned female at birth or gender non-conforming in various ways are subject to overwhelming rates of sexual harassment and violence. It’s also that we, along with our sisters, girlfriends, friends, cousins, and classmates, experience so much sexual harassment and sexual violence that the threat of male violence regulates us so completely, so thoroughly, that it actually creates who we are.

Unsurprisingly my silence did not, as Audre Lorde says, protect me. Not my silence about the sexual violence I experienced in sixth grade, nor my silence about my queer sexual and gender identities. Instead they left me with a legacy of confusion, pain, and fear.  I was, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, afraid that I would do “woman” wrong and that I would be found out. Living a non-normative life is not easy, just as my family and Hannah Gadsby’s family predicted. But neither is living a life full of silence and shame. Silence is fragile, and carries so much less power than I thought when I was only a small person. Coming out of our silence is terrifying, and it is very hard, and it subjects us to real risks. But it also allows us to write our own stories, to try to create our own lives, and most importantly, to find each other.

How to Take Action in Solidarity with the Honduran People

image is of the altar for Berta Caceres at Utopia in Honduras
  1. Ask your Congressional Representative to Co-sponsor the Berta Cáceres Act or thank them for already doing so. The bill asks that the United States suspend all “…security assistance to Honduran military and police until such time as human rights violations by Honduran state security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice.” It is widely and strongly supported by Hondurans working for justice.
  2. Donate money or time (however small the amount) to an organization like Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective or Honduras Solidarity Network that works in solidarity with social movements on the ground so they can continue to do their work throughout this crisis, including accompaniment work. Avoid giving money to charity-focused organizations that do not seek to empower Hondurans to have autonomy over their own institutions.
  3. Organize a fundraiser for an organization like those above.
  4. Write an email to the US embassy telling them how disappointed you are in their position after informing yourself on the position of the US government in Honduras.
    US Embassy in Honduras Charges D’Affaires Heide Fulton: BronkeHM (at) state.gov
  5. Find and support local justice work in your community because these struggles are about more than just Honduras.
  6. Find ways to publicly let Hondurans know you support them in their struggles. This increases theur visibility by letting the Honduran government know there may be international pressure for certain humsn rughts abuses, and it is simply encouraging for people who have been marginalized to know that others are thinking of them and taking public actions (even pictures) on their behalf.
  7. Pay attention to what is happening in Honduras and tell people you know about it as well. Help others around you understand the connection between US foreign policy and the crisis in Honduras – this is a crisis created and perpetuated, in reality, on US soil, and we can change it by organizing on US soil as well. A few good resources are the Honduras Solidarity Network, Democracy Now!, NACLA, and the Upside Down World.

Last updated April 9, 2019.

Stop Telling Me I’m Brave: On Courage and Being Set Apart

As feminists we know it’s important for us to have each other’s backs in a shitty heterosexist world. We have often done this by reassuring each other that we are strong and brave people. The thing is, after the year I’ve had, I’m not sure telling our friends over and over that they’re brave works the way it’s supposed to.

When you call someone brave you pretty much mean to say that they’re doing something that you’re not sure you would do in their situation. And that’s a compliment, but it also pushes that person away from you by making them different. When I spoke out openly about my experience as a stalking survivor and the incredible failures of the institutions that were supposed to protect me, it started to feel less like “brave” was about having my back and more like no one else was “brave” enough to have my back.

It started when I was doing things that did not feel like they even involved a choice, let alone courage. What I learned in surviving stalking is that even if you think you don’t want to go on, you pretty much do because there just aren’t that many other choices available. With the exception of suicidal depression (which I’m not minimizing, but I didn’t have), you will have to get out of bed sometime. I missed more days of work than ever before, but still I couldn’t just stop going altogether. I wasn’t so out of it that I couldn’t calculate those risks. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and showing up. Surviving.

My acts are not what I would characterize as “brave” necessarily. They are acts of resilience, like the acts that human beings who have survived worse things before me like intimate partner stalking, colonial wars, and daily racist police violence. Human beings are, at the end of the day, apparently pretty good at surviving some pretty terrible things, but that doesn’t make us all brave, and being called brave, when I was busy just surviving stalking, was almost like salt in the wound. Because all I felt, all the time, was fear.

I advocated, loudly, for my safety in my campus workplace. And, because I am a feminist activist, I did this in a way that I hoped would benefit future stalking victims and tried to point out how inevitable it is that this problem would happen again. I published my story with a major web outlet clarifying why I thought we needed better procedures on our campus not just for myself but for all of us, and called out my campus for their shameful disregard of the safety of my body and their refusal to “set a precedent.” I went forward with this story publicly even after I was issued an ultimatum insisting that it needed to be published anonymously or it could not be published. In each case, I was told by my friends and colleagues that my actions were very brave but in each case, I felt like I was simply doing the only right thing.

When my friends were calling me brave, it really felt like they were just letting themselves off the hook for not taking actions that were similar to mine or, worse, for not joining me in solidarity in the ways that they might have been implicated. I do not think my friends consciously meant anything negative when they told me I was brave. I think they really meant it. But what it usually means to say someone is brave is – what I heard–was, “oh wow, you have so much courage. I could never dare to do that.” What I needed to hear was: “man that situation sucks! Let me join you in this struggle.”

As a feminist method of support, bravery seems to work okay when we assign the label to ourselves. The women who wrote the groundbreaking All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave obviously got a lot out of it. There were times when I liked the idea too, but only when I decided on my own to do something that I felt was brave. When the idea of bravery backfired, it was when someone else called me brave. Like a lot of terms, there’s a big difference between applying it to yourself and having it applied to you by someone else.

The concept of bravery though is one that always sets people apart. It’s an idea that’s usually associated with extraordinary individuals. Extra-ordinary. And maybe that’s why it hurt me so much, because I was already feeling so isolated. Bravery just seemed to set me even further apart from the pack.

But there are other reasons to avoid setting people apart, even when they haven’t necessarily survived something traumatic. If we want to build social movements that will change the world, we will need groups of people, not a few extraordinary individuals. I don’t dispute that to do this work we will have to be brave, but maybe we need to stop calling each other brave. Instead we have to find ways to be brave together. The first step to doing this will mean not holding each other up on pedestals too tall to reach but alternatively trying to learn how we can better support and understand each other’s necessary and chosen risks. Here in the United States the cliché is that one person can change the world but the reality is that it takes many people to change the world. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., did not boycott those buses on his own. Assata Shakur didn’t break herself out of jail. Although in the course of history we’ve exalted only these single individuals, their names would mean little without the movements full of other people around them. If they had been set apart in their own time as singularly brave individuals, as merely exceptional people, we wouldn’t even know who they were today because nothing would have been accomplished.

I know by telling me how brave my actions were that my feminist friends were trying to be nice and supportive. I can see that I was moving from surviving to advocating and that people wanted to pat me on the back for that forward movement. But what I want is to change the world, and for that I need my friends to join me, not laud me. I want my acts, just like my feminist ideals, to become ordinary, not extraordinary.

solidarity is our weapon

“Solidarity Is Our Weapon. International Women’s Strike.”