IM IN UR MOVEMENT.

I suppose it is more than a little surprising, that in my journey from being a wee little ‘un learning teh feminism when I was twelve, to reaching college age this year or next, that I can still call myself a feminist. Given the way it’s trodden down some of the folks real close to me. Especially given that – given the strength with which I’m told I don’t belong.

My click moment into feminism came when I was fresh out of primary school, an eager literature student starting to realise that media was verymuch about hetero/cis/sexual white men. And feminism was simple. It took a little shaking up of my good Catholic mind, but that’s okay, it needed that.

I still agree with the basics of feminism. Bodily autonomy. Representation in the public sphere. Equal consideration on equal terms. I’m not giving that up, not ever.

Then, when I was fourteen-ish, I settled on a queer identity (the word I used then was bisexual, but I don’t use it any more, for verycomplicatedreasons), and, well, that’s what intersectional feminism was for, wasn’t it?

The thing about intersectionality is that it still frames a certain model as its default. Feminism has become more welcoming to queer women than it used to be – I’ve seen that happen over the last few years – but there’s little hope of belonging if you live outside the West, if you’re coloured, if you’re postcolonial, if you’re genderqueer, if you’re disabled. I’ve seen complaints that feminism is supposed to be about ‘women’s rights’, so none of these aspects of identity should be agitated for by the feminist movement. That disappoints me.

Because – aren’t I a woman as well? Heaven forfend that I should be counted so, if I don’t fall into a certain mould of the model feminist!

Who are you to tell me that?

In the past, before I even started writing under this name, I’d see how little interest the big feminist blogs took in Southeast Asia – or even in Asia – unless it was sweeping generalisations about an entire region, aggregated as those-brown-people or those-beige-people or those-yellow-people. Or, basically, those-people, which means not-us.

I’ve been told that cultural appropriation is merely ‘borrowing’ or ‘paying homage’. I’ve been told to leave my postcolonial sensibilities outside the discourse when white/Western feminists step in to discuss issues that affect women elsewhere in the world. (‘It’s for your own good!’ is the prevailing undercurrent.) My disabilities are erased, are not taken into consideration. When I speak up on these, I divide the movement.

And so, my disillusionment.

The feminist movement is fragmented; but it is not these multiple identities that I carry which are to blame. The problem is the refusal to accommodate diversity, to respect all lived experiences under the umbrella of feminism.

So. So I still call myself a feminist, still.

Part of it is a lack of another label. Thursday’s fiddled with ‘equalist’, or ‘humanist’, but I refuse to use those words, myself, because those words have histories too. They’ve been used to silence feminism, to dismiss its role in society. And that’s the one kind of opposition to feminism that I can’t get behind – the opposition born out of patriarchy and a privilege-laden notion that feminism is an irrelevant irruption of hysteria. That’s the only critique of feminism I’ve ever met that’s turned my stomach so. (And if I can stand with you, mainstream feminism… why can’t you stand with me?)

Part of it is optimism, too. I like to think I can change things. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here, would I? Despite the threats and the microaggressions and the days when I’m hopelessly out of spoons, I still think that I’m part of something – that there are others like me – that could turn this wretched broken system around.

But as a concession, I realised I couldn’t call myself a mainstream feminist any more. I need to add labels now. And we’ve talked about adding labels – all those explanations that differentiating between ‘women’ and ‘trans women’, between ‘people’ and ‘queer people’, between ‘folks’ and ‘folks of colour’ – merely reinforce what the default is. Well, to hell with that! Because I know what the default is, and my compatriots, we know that too. What I’m trying to do is to remind mainstream feminism of how the default has been constructed.

Radical feminism is a term that leaves a dirty aftertaste, because it’s been used, historically and now, to mean a certain brand of feminism that resorts to binary essentialism and the exclusion of trans women and genderqueer people. But I couldn’t find another term, either. I’m radical because I’m on the fringes. I’m on the fringes because of what you’ve made the default, the mainstream.

Until I can find a better term, then – until I can wrest back that idea of being part of the mainstream – I’ve to resort to adding qualifiers. I’m an intersectional feminist, a postcolonial feminist, a radical feminist. Queer and coloured and Southeast Asian and disabled, all of those things. That kind of feminist lah. Those worlds are part of me, are within me.

And/But I’m not too ready to relinquish the word feminist, because IM IN UR MOVEMENT, BEIN MAHSELF, forevers.

Margaret We.,
Weekday Blues

[This post was written for Bitch Magazine’s Feminist Carnival.]

The rest is not silence but belongs to me.

Someone once said I could never truly be invisible.

I offer my lived experience as proof I can never be truly visible. At least, not in my lifetime. My revolution is a long way from now.

Because while we are supposedly taking down the master’s house, the master is laughing at us.

Bugger the master. I’m building my own house.

*

I am wary of groups. Groups mean labels. Yes, St. Thomas says if we have words for things it helps us deal with what they are. But groups — consciously or unconsciously — create and Us and a Them. There is rarely anything comfortable about having an identity built on such a base, for your comfort is someone else’s marginalisation.

& I have always been a Them.

I do not have the luxury of relying on a community to take care of my needs, to affirm my value as a member, because they continuously erase me, despite claiming to be in my interests. I feel as though there are bits and pieces of me that exist in some strange limbo that detach at will whenever I am with others, so that I am never whole. So excuse me for not conforming, because I don’t buy your assimilation bullshit.

I am everyone’s Them. & I will always be an Other.

*

We didn’t intend to.

Speaking as a Muslim, intent does matter. Especially when you intend to sin. But could you imagine walking into a shop, knocking over a vase, and then getting out of it by claiming you didn’t intend to? Of course not. You pay for the vase and leave quickly.

The difference is that human beings aren’t vases.

*

Words have power. I bear their weight, and the weight of my own truth. Because silence is hardly useful, or innocent.

Silence is not consent.

Voice is justice tearing through the nerve cells, reaching for one more dawn. & Voice is a terrible, beautiful thing. But even as it is claimed, it can be taken away, or coerced. Eroded, bit by bit.

Silence kills voice.

Silence is not consent.

The same people who tell you that you are cowardly to hide behind words are the ones whose worlds shatter when you speak. For criticism is nothing — nothing — compared to the unbearable weight of the system upon our shoulders, and the trials a voice goes through to be heard cannot, and should not, ever be trivialised.

*

I do not claim to represent a community. I speak for myself because no-one will speak for me. I do not believe in “solidarity” as-is, for I have experienced for myself the insidious nature of this very top-down relationship. I am not in solidarity with people who demand that I let go of my baggage, for if their ideal was so noble, they would not erase us.

& I do not believe that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, because with friends like these, I don’t need enemies.

*

Must we react? What are we reacting to? Can we never do things for ourselves, of our own volition, to explore the chasms inside ourselves that we have to cross, & cannot cross alone?

*

I struggle to know the worth of me and mine even if it has been trampled, glossed over, erased, and obscured in old books, in single sentences that leap at me on pages. I’m not interested in telling you how your world was built on the backs of me and mine. But every time you say I am angry, every time you shove your Oh So Privileged Voice in my face and expect me to be silent, to be complicit, my voice will be thunder and typhoon spilling from my lips. The clouds swelling in the sky over your head will make you tremble. I will shout until I have no voice left, and even then, even if you have crushed me until I am a speck of dust to the eyes of you and yours, you will still hear me roar.

*

I once wrote that kyriarchy had much in common with fruits. I never saw myself in that analogy, because being me is like being trapped in a small room where everyone is throwing things and they don’t ~mean to~ but the bulk of it hits you. Maybe an orange, being eaten while the others ignore it.

So I will try to be a durian. I don’t expect it to be easy, or less tiring. Weighed against what others suffer, what others have paid and are paying — their blood, their freedom, their lives — mine seem insignificant. Dusty skin does an excellent job of hiding the scars, and words never leave scars, do they?

But a price — no matter how small or how large — would have been exacted from me anyway.

For daring to exist.

What I would remind you is that durians grow on trees. With several others, that may grow at different speeds and from different heights, but all of them will eventually ripen. & break free.

I am not alone.

There are more of us than you think.

always talking cock.

i.

dekho dekho,
dekho wo kaise ban kar english bolti hai.

ii.

at home:
kals were kals,
please was pliss,
vowels ran unaspirated and rampant.

at school:
kals are cauls,
please was pleese.
vowels full.

Kals at home.
Cauls at class.
Cauls are always better than kals.

iii.

You’re from India? You don’t sound like it!
You’re from India? Your English is so good!

rinse, repeat.

iv.

teacher speaks a wird tae me
every nae and ken
ill-gab.
takken oot and replaced with spang-new
impruived
vyce.

v.

You are logical and erudite but we’re terribly sorry, your accent is heavy, says the TOEFL to my mother.
we look at each other
then to the radio tuned to the BBC
I spend a week listening
You are logical and erudite, but we’re terribly sorry, your accent is heavy, says the TOEFL to me.

vi.

move to new country
they were colonised once too,
they’ll know how it feels.
try kal at school
everyone act blur
try caul at school
why so cheem.

vii.

i’ll lurk in the airport toilets
when you’re changing your lips
i’ll catch every word
every code switch
every slip
of your syllables
store and pickle it
Ye Olde Standarde English Shoppe

forty percent off if you buy a non-rhotic R.
no refunds.

viii.

i suka-suka write. where got square, where got circle, where got accent, where got anyone tok liddat one.

ix.

amma picks up the phone
listens to the nice Amreekan speak
I am terribly sorry, she says,
enunciating each word
you are logical and erudite
but your accent is too heavy
please speak to my husband.

An Open Letter to Writers

Dear Writer,

The most important thing for you to consider is your audience, correct?

This is also the most problematic.

Kyriarchy means the “audience” you think of is less universal than you think. In fact, I’d go straight out to call utter bullshit on the idea that any character, or any story, really, is ~universal~ because the mosiac of human experience directly contradicts any notion of complete universality. It’s when you try to impose a default, to say that this is the human experience captured in literature, when the bloody idea of it becomes nothing more than a bad joke. It’s like parading a cat in front of your family and saying this is the universal representation of all animals. I still see this perpetrated by many, many others like you who decline representation because it’s pandering to ~special interest groups~.

Isn’t that just the thing, though? The imaginary audience. What you need to realise is that stories about the most privileged group are everywhere. Seriously. There are hundreds of thousands of millions of stories out there for them. You get AWARDS for just writing about this specific class of people and nobody else. You get even more awards for writing for the privileged gaze!

But guess what! The majority of the world isn’t in that demographic. The majority of the world is sick of having to read the same characters over and over and over. They will support you. They are the ones paying for you. They are the ones who will spend hours kneeling on the floors of bookstores and petitioning libraries looking for your work. They care, because you cared enough to write about them, about telling them their stories existed, their stories mattered. I’m willing to bet they don’t really bother with your style, because it’s your content they care about, that spoke to them, that ignited their imaginations as readers. The spark that says I am a human being damnit, I matter!

And to do this, you need to approach the issue humbly. Be willing to learn. Be willing to question what you have been told, be willing to understand you will make mistakes, and that if you do, it is your responsibility accept them gracefully and move on. Try again. Do better. Because, by now, you should have realised the point of my letter. And that is that writing for a privileged audience doesn’t change anything. They don’t care: they will toss your work aside. There’s thousands of other books about them. But we, we are the ones who will pick them up, dust the cover, read the blurb and think, this might just be worth my while. We, the ones who don’t get to see ourselves humanised, the majority of us, when are you going to admit you need us, huh?

A Guide to Every Troll You Meet When You Talk About Cultural Appropriation

So the trolls are roaming around.

And of course, Thursday, now proudly waving keoi’s reverse racist card, has to snark at people.Because it’s not upsetting anymore, it’s really, really amusing.

1. Mx I’m Showing Appreciation/I’m Promoting Understanding.
By engaging in these activities, I’m showing respect for the source culture.”
Translation: By breaking into your house and stealing your stuff, I’m telling you I love you?

2. Mx This Wouldn’t Be Happening If You Would Just Share.
People like you are separatist and elitist, preventing us from appreciating diversity.
Translation: Why are you stopping me from sharing my horribly distorted view of reality with people!!

3. Mx Don’t You Have Something More Important to Worry About Like Poverty and Stuff
Isn’t this distracting you from REAL ISSUES?”
Translation: Self-evident, I think.

4. Mx You’re too PC
You’re just looking for something to be offended about.”
Translation: Indeed, marginalised peeps spend all their time hiding under bushes on the roadside waiting to jump out at people like me.

5. Mx I Don’t Find This Offensive
I don’t see how my actions are offensive. I/my friend/random person from source culture think it’s ok.”
Translation: Y U NO LIKE ME STABBING YOU IN THE GUT RE? MY FRIEND WAS OK WITH IT.

6. Mx Marginalised Peeps Appropriate As Well.
White people get appropriated from as well! Look at how much chromatics make a fetish of our culture!”
Translation: It’s all about me and my feelings. Even when it’s about you.

7. Mx Colonialism Was A Long Time Ago!
Colonialism is over! We don’t do that now! And even if we did, we don’t mean it like that!”
Translation: I can do whatever I want with your culture because I’m a good person because I said so, & you know I’m a good person because I told you!

8. Mx Tone Argument
I’d listen to you if you were more civil!
Translation: Y U SO MEAN RE

9. Mx How Do I Not Appropriate It Is So Difficult
I’m scared of appreciating things because of the hordes of angry chromatics.”
Translation: It’s so difficult for me to not be an imperialist douchefuck! GIVE ME SYMPATHY!

10. Mx Fashion/Culture/Fiction Borrows From Everybody
Fashion/culture/fiction borrows things and it’s not racist.”
Translation: I’ve never seen an atom so they don’t exist.

I haven’t covered them all — people are constantly amazing me with how creatively they can be arseholes. Nonetheless, a good thing to remember duckies, when we talk about race, people with race privilege should sit the fuck down & listen, because their self-evident, self-defensive “rebuttals” are about as warranted as someone blowing their nose on my sleeve.

A Handy Guide to Appreciation of a Marginalised Culture

Tired of being boring ol’ white? Want to add a bit of spice to your life & get hippie street cred in the same bargain? Look no farther! Thursday’s written this simple & unadulterated guide to appreciating a marginalised culture. We guarantee we’ll make an imperialist douchefuck out of you before you can say ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’, or your money back!

So, here we go.

1. Choose your target.
First of all, all white people have the right to another person’s culture, especially you! Fashion, art, & fiction have always borrowed from other sources, but don’t worry, there’s plenty to go around! Poke around in the storage closet & remember to pick one that truly speaks to you. Or you don’t even need to pick only one, you may change every other week or so to keep your friends interested.

2. Dive in.
Got your new culture? Excellent, you can start promoting cultural exchange right away! Start a blog to show everyone how much you love your new culture. Complain that not enough literature is being translated from their language to yours. Make a new exotic friend! Wear their clothes. Use their greetings. Eat their food. Jabber in their language — oh you don’t need our help to butcher those phonemes, surely! Change your name to a nice native-sounding one, & if it’s the name of a god in their pantheon, it’s perfect for you!

& if you feel extra-kind, pop over to their country and get a fresh ~perspective~. Take pictures of random stuff without asking permission. Mention (loudly, & several times) how it’s such a shame they’ve remained as they are when their history & culture was so glorious. Remember to look shocked when they speak English, or better yet, point & laugh. (Bonus points if you’re in China, you get to use ‘ching chong’.) And if you feel very ambitious, why not get a tattoo of a phrase in their language? Or several? Don’t worry if it’s complete gibberish. No one cares.

3. Mix & Match!
If you get bored, you could always mix & match! Bellydancing to bhangra music! Sioux headdresses with hanboks! Dhotis with Maasai weapons! Why stop there? Be creative!

4. Dodging the PC PoliceTM.
By now your enthusiasm would have attracted unwanted attention. Their attention. How do you know who these people are? Well, they’re always looking for something to be offended about, & that makes them as subtle as a monkey on crack. They’ll use the keywords: ‘inaccurate’, ‘racism’, ‘cultural appropriation’, & ‘white privilege’. & if you’re really lucky, you’ll also get: ‘povertyporn’. & if that’s not a clue, there’ll probably be hordes of them, too, sending you angry messages.
So, here’s what you do: say they have no right to tell everybody what to think! Hmph! Nobody would know about ~diversity if they had their way. Then, call in your friend from step 2! They know your reasons: you’re promoting cultural exchange ~respectfully~, & white culture totally doesn’t speak to you. Disassociation happens to everyone!
Next: you‘re not offended by your actions, so it doesn’t matter.
& lastly: don’t they have better things to do, like, solve poverty & stuff?

5. Haters Gonna Hate.
You’ve still got people left from step 4? That’s all right; keep on doing what you were & they will eventually give up & go away. If you see any of your haters refusing to engage with you and/or saying they’re out of spoons, CONGRATULATIONS! YOU WIN!

& if you have any questions or concerns on how much of an impact you’ll make using our Handy Guide, you may contact us at 555-GO-FUCK-YOURSELF.

Academic Whiteknighting Students FTW

Something that annoys me very, very much is how the subject of queerness is treated. I’ll be talking mainly about the pre-university and undergraduate landscape of this country, because that is what I am familiar with, though I suspect that my experiences and observations will be applicable elsewhere as well.

You will notice that quite often, students like to talk about queer issues when discussing ‘a controversy or noteworthy social topic in your country’, or something like. Sometimes the conversation will be about assimilation, sometimes about equality. Rarely does the lecturer or teacher set it as queer rights and queer culture directly. Most of the time the group decides on their presentation subject themselves.

Already we perceive a problem. I have noticed that these groups tend to typically be either majority or exclusively hetero/sexual people (a word which I parse as straight and sexual). The fact that they choose such a topic is a form of anthropological curiosity. It becomes a way of demonstrating their edgy, pseudo-progressive viewpoints, while doing nothing for the queer community, and while doing nothing for their own blinkered ignorance.

Wednesday is very annoyed.