Week 3 — it’s complicated and not so binary

Hello dear readers,

I have been very busy. Aside from the new job and 2 modules at uni, I am also doing freelance work (that was supposed to be finished in September but you know how things go) and got the flu. It was a lot and I felt very overwhelmed on Thursday.

As such, I’ve decided to stop auditing* the Queer History module. It’s not that relevant to my research, gives me no time to prepare for my dissertation. Also, the seminars are lackluster and don’t add much to the required readings. Interesting as those texts are, I can no longer justify the time.

Still, I’ve read quite a bit this week. Buckle up, it’s going to be a long one.


‘It’s nothing like a broken leg’: why I'm done with the mental health conversation
by Hannah Jane Parkinson

Anna shared this article on Thursday – the day of my mini breakdown – which was also #WorldMentalHealthDay. I think it’s positive that discussions about mental health are more mainstream. Some of my new colleagues shared stories that were beautiful and humanising. There were lots of tweets. I’m at that stage of the new job where it’s like “uh do I mention therapy or being queer or or or” and it’s nice to know there is a positive culture around it all.

Hannah calls this new visibility “The Conversation” which is “dominated by positivity and the memeification of a battle won”. But, for all the positive tweets, how often do we hear from people who are still in the throes?

But it is part of why I want to write, because another part of the problem is that we write about it when we are out the other side, better. And I understand: it’s ugly up close; you can see right into the burst vessels of the thing. (Also, on a practical level, it is difficult to write when one is unwell.) But then what we end up with has the substance of secondary sources.

The article is really good, if difficult to read. She goes into detail about her own experience, talks about the way mental health is viewed in society and gives lots of concrete actions.

The truth is: enough awareness has been raised. We – the public, the health professionals, the politicians – need to make our words and actions count for more.

Emoji summary: 🧠 💊 🗣

Extinction Rebellion need to focus on the fact that climate displacement will largely impact communities of colour by Sharlene Gandhi

This is tough. Climate change is the most important issue of our times. Ecological devastation is terrifying. But I don’t think that means that movements who are trying to tackle it are above reproach. Extinction Rebellion has repeatedly been criticised for their methods but I have yet to see any kind of meaningful response from them. I mean, they sent flowers to the police.

This article reminded me of the open letter from Wretched of the Earth and other aligned groups. Eco-fascism/colonialism is gross. Don’t support it. Listen to people of colour.

Emoji summary: 🌏 ✖ 🚨

Mapping the Margins
by Kimberlé Crenshaw

Speaking of listening to people of colour. Intersectionality is probably something we are all familiar with now. It’s become a popular term. I do wonder how many people have read the original article. I had skimmed parts of it before, but never a close reading. It’s one that’s worth coming back to.

The struggle over which differences matter and which do not is neither an abstract nor insignificant debate among women. Indeed, these conflicts are about more than the difference as such; they raise critical issues of power.

… when one discourse fails to acknowledge the significances of the other, the power relations that each attempts to challenge are strengthened.

The one downside to intersectionality becoming a buzzword is it risks being depoliticised and over-simplified. In a recent article, Crenshaw says:

Intersectionality was a lived reality before it became a term.

Today, nearly three decades after I first put a name to the concept, the term seems to be everywhere. But if women and girls of color continue to be left in the shadows, something vital to the understanding of intersectionality has been lost.

Listen to women of colour.

Emoji summary: 👩🏾‍⚖ ⚠ ⚡

Ain’t I a Woman? Revising Intersectionality
by Avtar Brah and Ann Phoenix

In the lecture, we watched this video of Alfre Woodard reading Sojourner Truth’s speech. It is very powerful.

What I didn’t know before is that “no formal record of the speech exists”. Sojourner was illiterate and the speech was transcribed by a white woman. She might not have even said the exact words “Ain’t I a Woman”, but the transcriber phrased it that way to conform to stereotypes.

The article users her speech to expand on the topic of intersectionality

We regard the concept of ‘intersectionality’ as signifying the complex, irreducible, varied, and variable effects which ensue when multiple axes of differentiation – economic, political, cultural, psychic, subjective and experiential – intersect in historically specific contexts. The concept emphasizes that different dimensions of social life cannot be separated out into discrete and pure strands.

and challenge essentialism and its manifestations today

… that a particular category of woman is essentially this or essentially that (e.g. that women are necessarily weaker than men or that enslaved black women were not real women). This point holds critical importance today when the allure of new Orientalisms and their concomitant desire to ‘unveil’ Muslim women has proved to be attractive even to some feminists in a ‘post September 11’ world.

In particular, recognition that ‘race’, social class and sexuality differentiated women’s experiences has disrupted notions of a homogeneous category ‘woman’ with its attendant assumptions of universality that served to maintain the status quo in relation to ‘race’, social class and sexuality, while challenging gendered assumptions.

Emoji summary: 👩🏾‍🦱 📢 ✍🏻

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On to queer history…

“Lesbian-like” and the Social History of Lesbianisms
by Judith Bennett

This week’s Queer History was focused on pre-modern history. What is interesting but unsurprising is how little information there is about lesbians.

…if we want to write about actual women whom extant sources explicitly associate with same-sex genital contact, we have, as best I can tell, about a dozen women for the entire medieval millennium

Ok sidenote but “same-sex genital contact” may be my least favourite way of describing sex. Moving on.

Bennett aims to

resist the heterosexist bias of history-writing, especially as seen in the history of women

by formulating the term “lesbian-like”. It’s not without criticism but I found it an interesting approach. Kind of turning the “straight until proven gay” on its head.

“Lesbian-like” can allow us to imagine in plausible ways the opportunities for same-sex love that actual women once encountered, and it can allow us to explore those plausibilities without asserting a crude correlation between our varied experiences today and the varied lives of those long dead.

Emoji summary: 👭 📜 🌈

Female Sodomy: The Trial of Katherina Hetzeldorfer (1477)
by Helmut Puff

This article takes a similar task as Bennett, but with the much weirder term ‘female sodomites’. I hate it. And I’m suspish of any term that includes ‘female’ and all its terf connotations.

However, there is a quite hilarious description of how she made her dildo

she made an instrument with a red piece of leather, at the front filled with cotton, and a wooden stick stuck into it, and made a hole through the wooden stick, put a string through, and tied it round

Important historical discourse. Sadly, in the end, she was drowned for her efforts.

Emoji summary: 👩‍❤‍💋‍👩 🍆 🌊

‘Introduction’ in Christianity, social tolerance, and homosexuality
by John Boswell

This book chapter really jumps around. It suffers from its generalising, universal statements but also has to be taken in context with the time. It was written in the 80s and explicitly political.

I did learn that translators often edit out the gay

…the longevity of prejudice against gay people and their sexuality has resulted in the deliberate falsification of historical records concerning them well into the present century

including, Ovid’s Art of Love, Michelangelo’s sonnets, Persian moral fables of Sa'di, the ghazels of Hafiz and more.

Emoji summary: ⛪ 📜 👬

To compare with the other texts, Boswell used the term “gay” as an expansive, umbrella term (as opposed to homosexual, which he viewed as very narrow). It is interesting to note what is considered an umbrella term and who’s stories are lost in that representation. Labels can be liberating but they can also be violent. Is it even appropriate to apply our contemporary understandings of sexuality and gender when describing the past?

Another question the three texts raise is one of social construction vs essentialism. The lecturer says this binary is the underlying paradigm that social historians grapple with. Boswell is the most essentialist ‘there have always been gays’ but that becomes problematic when contrasted with the feminist readings against an ‘essential woman’. Bennet’s focus on behaviours rather than identity suggests a more constructionist view. I think it’s complicated and not so binary. Much like gender amirite.

Also…

Survival of the fittest, piecemeal work and management by algorithm by DotEveryone and Comuzi. Early insights from their research with gig workers. I’m interested to see how this project progresses, especially with Comuzi involved. They consistently do thoughtful, interesting work.

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We Aren’t Here to Learn What We Already Know by Kyla Wazana Tompkins. Academy-focused text on pedagogy and how to come up with critical questions. Useful in uni seminars, but the principles could easily be applied to the workplace as well (how it fits in with the wider picture, stay jargon-free, admit when you don’t know something, leave your ego behind). And I just love the title.

We aren’t here to learn what we already know.


*auditing is basically taking a module informally, without it going to final credit.

Credit:

Emoji summary is 100% nicked off my favourite art critics The White Pube. I support them on Patreon, so I hope they don’t mind.

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