Friday, March 4, 2011
A day with anti-domestic violence non profit scene
There's a lot of organizational experience that I have gone through in the previous months related to gender, leadership, patriarchy, class and the like. A lot of what I am thinking through is related to those experiences, including also the trauma of having the organization's dysfunctionalism be blamed solely on me and my personality, and having many of those involved shirk their own responsibilities by conveniently blaming me. I have much reflection to do, many questions to ask, and many feelings to work through. Yet, I know from my experience that humility can be taken advantage of as a way for others to shift blame. I wont go into much detail but what I am thinking through with regards to gender and organization is related to this past organizational history which I am currently thankfully extricated from.
I recently attended a training hosted by the Northwest Network, a Domestic violence organization for and by queer and trans people. I had heard about this dope training when I was a youth mentor working in the non-profit world, making zines with queer homeless youth. No longer a "service provider," I felt kind of out of place in that setting full of non-profit DV social workers, but nonetheless, something compelled me to attend it. I think I am trying to understand what the new praxis around domestic violence is, both for myself as a survivor who is continually processing how to live in a way that is not bound by or replicating power, control and patriarchal interpersonal relationships, as well as someone who wants to build organizations with good gender practice, which includes understanding domestic/interpersonal violence, an experience that way too many women disproportionately experience.
Many many insights, and many questions too.Not sure if I can clearly formulate the questions in my mind. I usually hate non-profit social dem politics, but I am so thankful for the practice of the NW Network! Their shit comes from real experience of working with queer and trans folk in abusive relationships, where gender cannot be relied on as a marker of the abuser, where patriarchy cannot/should not be gendered masculine. They have developed a method (yeah!) that allows the service provider to assess the *complicated* dynamics bw abuser and survivor in same sex and queer relationships.
What happens, when the abuser is a queer woman, inflicting power and control on another queer woman, in the context of homophobia and patriarchy? Where does this point us to, in our anti-patriarchal practice and analysis?
As I am thinking through the questions and breakthroughs that the workshop has brought about, the best I can do is list out those that are particularly boggling to me, and hopefully over time, understand their significance in my own organization building experience. This is a work in progress.
- Are Patriarchy and Sexism interchangeable terms? Does patriarchy constitute sexism, and more? What is the analytical and organizational framework to approach the two terms?
- Anger vs. Power and Control
Acts of anger need to be understood in their context; Survivors use anger as self defense and anger itself is not a definitive marker of power and control. In fact, power and control in abusive relationships can happen in manipulative ways that are not as expressive as angry outbursts. So, the trainers emphasize needing to understand the CONTEXT in which people respond the ways they do. The worst things that a service provider/advocate can do is to tell the survivor that their actions for self defense against power and control/abusive relationships is in itself abusive. This is not to say we can't talk about how survivor's survival tactics are damaging and unhealthy. But that critique needs to be made in the spirit of encouraging and empowering the survivor the seek strength and renewal, not in the spirit of negating their self defense mechanisms.
I think this is a hella important distinction.
What I dont understand tho, is the relationship to patriarchy.
Granted, power and control patterns need to be distinguished from expressions of anger.
However, can expressions of anger have patriarchal and gendered impacts? Patriarchy includes in its definition, the institutionalized oppression, mental, physical and emotional, of women and various gender expressions that do not fall neatly into the gender binary system. The reality is that patriarchy doesnt take only the form of Domestic Violence aka power and control. It can take other forms too, so the assessment of patriarchy cannot simply rely on the assessment of the DV occurrence.
- How not to take survivor strength for granted?
I guess this is not directly related to the training and is more so related to my organizational experience. The tokenization of survivor strength was very difficult for me to handle. I felt that people I was in organization with tokenized me as a strong woman of color, and yet did not understand that my strength came from a lot of survival. Who I am today is not who I was a few years ago. Surviving DV and finding voice was a very difficult process which I am proud that I went through. Yet when I expressed those vulnerabilities, people either did not believe me, or did not think it was important. How to encourage survivor strength and renewal, but not tokenize that strength, and forget that it came through a process that needs to be honored? How to do this while also being humble and open to critiques, mistakes, learning?
I want to learn more about how to understand survival as a process that is lifelong, and not a "stage" that we went through.
How does that affect group culture? How can acknowledging ourselves as survivors prevent a culture of "walking on eggshells," fear, anxiety for saying the wrong thing? How can we have a culture that respects survivor process and strength, by being affirming, fun, creative with clear shared expectations and understandings? How to do this without making people feel over-exposed and feeling like they have to share all their pasts?
- How to distinguish between support seeking and rumor spreading?
My recent experience with a former friend/organizer was that she talked all about me behind my back under the pretext of seeking support from folks. Maybe this is true, maybe it isnt. I know she was going through a hard time too. But on my end I had tried to respect her confidentiality the best I could and so did not actively seek support from people. So, many people in our community heard her version and sympathized w her, and by the time I found out that people had taken such strong sides, and found out about the need for me to present my version of the story, people had their minds pretty much made already. She, in their minds, was the "victim," and me, with my apparently aggressive personality, was now the aggressor. I felt anything I said would be taken in that pattern/dichotomy. For other reasons as well, I could not trust the members of the community to be impartial, to be fair and I could not bear to put myself through any process with them any longer. The community space had become poisonous.
What to do? How could this other person, and myself, have sought support while respecting confidentiality? How could others have responded?
I dont mean this post to be an attack on anyone. I am trying to process what I have been through, in an organizational manner, in a manner that helps me learn what to do for the future. It's been a lonely and confusing process. To the extent that NW Network's training provided me with a framework to think through stuff, it's made formulating the questions somewhat easier and, less personal/painful.
For now, I can only identify that the dichotomy between the nonprofit world and the knowledge of DV practice, and the revolutionary left's theoretical emphasis on gender and patriarchy, with little/no organizational know-hows that is being passed down, is a cause of a lot of confusion for me.
I hope to engage carefully with the analyses and practice that DV orgs have acquired, through a Marxist feminist perspective. I was excited about the NW Network and their analyses of queer DV because for me, this organization is an institutionalized expression of the most liberating aspects of queer theory. The trainers and material were amazing. For now, here's the LGBTQ power and control wheel, a continual investigation into the dynamics of patriarchy and DV!