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(en) European PGA* Conference Newspaper - UNDERSTANDING HETEROSEXISM IN RADICAL POLITICAL SCENES

Date Sun, 08 Oct 2006 10:07:40 +0200


some thoughts after a workshop in the decentralized PGA meeting in Lyon
To talk about heterosexism in society in general – about how it is
expressed in violence and legislation is one thing. Another, and often
more difficult thing, is to talk about how it appears in our own radical
political scenes, where most people see themselves as
“openminded” and innovative. One reason is the lack of
knowledge about what heterosexism is – both on a theoretical
level and on a practical, individual level. The lack of knowledge
makes it difficult for heterosexuals to take responsibility for their
position.

The attitude in radical scenes where heterosexuals are the majority
is often “homo-friendly”. This attitude easily makes
oppression and different positions of power invisible. The problem
with this “homo-friendliness” is that it will only hold as long
as the heterosexuals are not openly criticized – they expect a
“hetero-friendliness” in return, which has to be so
permanent that they never feel questioned. An example of this is
when the number of nonhetero persons in a heterosexually
dominated gathering increases to such a degree that they appear as a
collective rather than as individuals. They often then start to be seen
as a threat and some heterosexuals might start complaining that a
new norm has been created and that they have to hide their
relationships – without reflecting that what makes them want to
hide might be their own desire to be “politically correct” and
not to take responsibility for their position in society. Blaming the
nonheterosexuals for the fact that heterosexuals do not feel free to
show their sexuality is in fact heterosexist- how could it be the
responsibility of the “homos” to make the heteros feel
comfortable in a hetero majority situation?

Many heterosexuals confuse their own experiences of
experimenting with the norms of sex and relationships with the
problems faced by persons who permanently live outside the
heterosexual norm. (For example: many heterosexuals have
occasional sexual relationships with persons of the same sex or
experiment with / practice different forms of relationships that do not
conform to the norm of monogamy. ) The unwillingness to realise
that, even if you are experimenting and exploring your identity, you
have a heterosexual position in society, seems to sometimes block
the interest in informing yourself about the subject of heterosexism,
queer issues etc, and to reflect on your position.

Heterosexism also manifests itself in the reaction an individual from
the “nonhetero - collective” might get when this person
criticises how heterosexist structures are reproduced in somebody's
way of behaving or arguing. The discussion often then changes
focus from a structural level including the heterosexual him- or
herself, to an individual level focusing on the nonhetero's feelings of
opression. This way of changing focus implies that the structures
themselves are not the problem – the problem is how they make
the poor nonhetero individual feel. In the long term this kind of
reaction will silence the critics because you grow tired of being put in
the position of victim.

Another problem is the confusion between heterosexism on the one
hand and sexism/patriarchy on the other. This distinction is
important to make in order to be able to see the specific oppression
which people outside the heterosexual norm suffer. If you don't do
this, the analysis of heterosexism tends to disappear behind the
feminist issue (that is, a feminism focusing mainly on “gender
roles”). This distinction is also needed to understand
heterosexual women's position of power.

So... more knowledge is needed if we want to do something about
the heterosexism inside our scenes. This knowledge can be gained
by talking to nonheteros about their experiences and by reading texts
on the subject. But also by reflecting why you live the way you do
and which norms you break and which you don't - and how this
positions you in society.

Kristina Loretta Daphne

sexuality ? activism ? frustration !

On Wednesday evening in Lyon a group of people proposed a debate
entitiled “Sex, Activism, Frustration” followed by a party
ewith the theme “sex is political”. I was interested in
participating in the debate because, actually, there are tons of things
that could be said, and it is not really a discussion which is often
proposed. At the same time, I was a little apprehensive about the
form that it could take; it's not an easy subject for me and in this
space it would be with people who i didn't know well or not at all.
But I told myself that sometimes it's necessary to take a leap into the
darkness in order to make something happen...

So around thirty people met up and made a go-round, with every
person saying a little about why they came to speak about sexuality...
There were many different and wideranging contributions, but I saw
several strands that came up often: a critique of a sort of norm in
radical scenes that excludes visible signs of affection from public or
collective space, notably by monogamous couples, and expecially
when they are heterosexual – desire to break taboos more
especially when this affection is sexual, and so should be even more
hidden – the fact that girls especially are judged as
“sluts” when they have lots of sexual activity with different
people - critique of the way that sexuality is turned into something
sacred, or the opposite: to take everything just a little bit too lightly
– some men expressed the feeling of a malaise or pressure
because of ideas or demands for deconstruction of patriarcal
domination within sexual relations, and didn't know (anymore) how
they should behave – many girls made reference to sexual
violences reminding people that these experiences are really
widespread and so it was likely that they were not the only survivors
in the group. And that the representations of sexuality(s) that exist in
this society can in themselves be a form of violence. So that when
we talk about sexuality we should take into account that it's not a
simple topic and that we need to always pay attention to people –
some people expressed that, coming from a different cultural
background (muslim culture, non-western networks), they wanted
to understand other visions of sexuality, -etc.

After the round table a slightly difficult discussion started, often
jumping from one subject to another, without managing to go deeper
into any of them (such as is often the case with discussions in such a
big group. And the fact that there was alcohol and so on going
around didn't so much help the possibilities to talk about the subject
with the necessary delicacy...). I don't feel capable of reporting
everything that was said, so I'll just talk about a few contributions
which made an impact on me.

The discussion revolved around questions of gender power
dynamics, and the search for ways of relating to one another that can
manage to break out of the frame of domination, when a man
claimed that it was completely impossible to have sexual relations
(he wasn't specific, but I suppose he was speaking of hetero
relations...) without domination, and that that was part of the
attraction(!)... this provoked a few murmurs in the crowd, but the
only concrete response came from a girl who said strongly and with
some provocation that she practiced an S/M sexuality and in this the
dynamics of domination could be turned around. Then she added
that these power dynamics were consensual, but I really regretted
that she didn't take more time to explain more clearly that power
dynamics within S/M practice don't have so much to do with the
structures of domination between men and women precisely because
they are done in a consensual way. Personally, I'm not into S/M, but
after quite some conversations with people who are, and also reading
around this subject, one of the things which to me seems very
interesting about it is this very idea of consensuality. To reach an
agreement it is necessary to communicate well and many people in
the discussion had been talking about the big difficulties in
communicating around these questions. So OK, I felt we missed the
opportunity to talk more about this, it was limited to a provocative
affirmation of a sexual identity, rather than a wish to exchange views
and go deeper into this subject.

I tried at other moments to raise the idea of proposing what could be
other rules of the game if we want to reject existing sexual norms. If,
for example, we want to disconnect our sexual relations from the
demands of fidelity, what other sort of engagement can we imagine,
to not just fall into the trap of “everyone does what they want
with no attention to anyone else”. I would call that a sort of
“responsibility” but this term doesn't seem to connect with
the representations of many people. I had to repeat the explaination
three times before being understood, which shows that it is very
complicated to understand, because we don't use the same words to
describe things. But that also made me question that the idea of
engagement with or responsibility towards other people always
returns only to norms, restrictions and very traditional visions of
“sexual things”, in short, limitations which are in opposition
to any form of liberation. It seems to be that even if we want to
deconstruct things, we are also constructed by this society. And in it
there is notably an idea of the hyper-sanctity of sexuality. So I don't
see so much how it is possible to construct other relations without
reflecting on the ways to create bases for trust, to allow all
individuals with their different personal histories to gain from this
“liberation”... We've already seen sexual revol utions that
actually were nothing of the sort.

A last point to which I would like to return concerns the reactions to
a comment by a girl about the lack of intergenerational exchanges
on this subject. I don't know what annoyed me the most between:
“I don't really know what we're talking about, what is the
connection between sexuality and my grandparents?” (1) and
“When it comes to sexuality, I have more in common even with
my worst enemy than with my grandfather” and a girl who
seemed to find it very funny to make out that she was fucking her
grandfather and crying out “oh, papi”. Maybe it was the fact
that some of these reactions came from people who had organised
the discussion and therefore claimed to want to struggle against
norms and taboos. In this moment they seemed completely closed to
the idea that older people could have fun sexually...

* I left the discussion at this moment, and I walked out frustrated.
With a bit of afterthought, I saw at least the value of having brought
up some possible starting points for reflection, but unfortunately
without going any further, without really putting in any content, and
without honestly questionning the representations made. If it is
enough to put on sexy (2) clothes and to “fuck without
limits” in order to be “liberated”, then the job would be
much easier. Don't misunderstand me, I've nothing against it and for
sure it's also a way to find other ways to relate to sexuality, but I
think things are much more complex than that. And I don't think
that there are on the one hand“liberated” people and on the
other “blocked” people who just need to relax a little.So there
are moments where I tell myself that maybe I, a survivor, with a
sexuality that isn't so spectacular and with a whole bunch of things
that I really don't find easy, maybe I am actually closer to a
self-determined and un-normed sexuality, one that makes me feel
good and takes care about others, than some of those who live out
their sexualities in an extravagant and spectacular way...?

Just a short remark to finish: my intention is not to contribute yet
more to the confinement of people inside categories, and I'm also
conscious of the fact that I don't know the people who participated in
the debate very well, so please don't see only the expression of my
anger and of my subjective impressions that maybe are wrong. Take
this text instead as an invitation to debate more sincerely, to give
ourselves the means to treat these topics with the finesse which is is
necessary for everybody to feel comfortable.

igor

1)As a kind of answer, I want to give you a little something to
contemplate: maybe your grandparents have the sort of sex life that
you could not even begin to imagine... 2)And what does it mean, the
word “sexy”? To leave behind the norms we could also
reflect on what we eroticise and what that reproduces...
==========================
* PGA is an antiauthoritarian anticapitalist direct action network
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