The past few weeks have been especially challenging for me. One of the places I thought was safe from a certain kind of bigotry turns out to be just as in-danger as everywhere else and it exploded my head a little. There's so much anti-trans hate and hate-fueled anti-trans legislation all over the country, but all of that is happening outside my personal bubble of trans-loving, queer-centered existence. So when this time the call came from inside the house it was like stepping on a rock I thought was solid and ending up neck-deep in the icy river.
At the end of last year's PAWMA camp I was excited the community decided to address what it means to be a "women's organization" serving a community that includes non-binary, trans, and gender non-conforming folks. In true martial arts fashion, we planned to face that question directly. A gender justice committee was formed to guide us all through these challenging and important considerations and the new board included some folks who were non-binary or trans (or both). It seemed like as a community we were setting ourselves up to journey together into a more inclusive future.
And then everything went horribly wrong.
After just a couple months, half the board resigned rather than suffer bigotry and abuse from their fellow board members. The half that remained manufactured a crisis to cover up their problematic behavior and overshadow their incompetence. The community initially tried to come together to help solve the issue, but the board refused. They refused information, they refused to sit down with other community members and talk it all out, and they refused accountability. Instead, they used organizational funds to hire a lawyer who sent out letters instructing certain people to shut-up about PAWMA, which was supposed to start a dialogue (their words, not mine).
To hear the current board tell it, some Bad Actor tried to forcibly take over the organization and they heroically thwarted the plot and saved the day. In reality, they made-up an imaginary hostile take-over which they "stopped" by performing a hostile take-over... the irony is not lost on me or anyone else in the community. The board battened down the hatches and then told everyone there was a storm coming. None of the explanations they provided for their behavior make any sense at all, but they just keep insisting their version of reality is what's actually happening.
The whole thing is absurd. If it wasn't unfolding before my very eyes, it would be unbelievable. It's like the plot of a bad made-for-tv movie. The board finally held a community meeting where their "experts" gave mini presentations that also didn't make much sense and mostly failed to address the matter at hand. It was a complete fiasco. And it made their narrative make even less sense. But somehow all the push-back and honest inquiry from the community they claim to be working on behalf of has not shaken their resolve to die bravely on this hill of poor choices they built themselves.
So that's what I've been working on in all my spare time (and a bunch of my non-spare time) over the last few weeks. Standing up for justice and accountability in one small place I may have a little bit of influence. Initially I didn't want to write about this situation because I wasn't sure if I was supposed to. I didn't want to tarnish PAWMA's reputation unnecessarily. I have come to realize this is necessary. Keeping quiet only serves to further invisibilize the people who were harmed in their service to this community and discount their experience.
Part of why it took half the board resigning and a pretend-data-breach for the majority of us to catch wind of what was happening is because those people didn't speak up about what was happening while it was happening. And I don't blame them. They probably didn't know whether the community would take their accusations seriously and provide them support, or do what happens in a lot of the rest of society and try to convince them the oppression they were experiencing wasn't real and it was all a big misunderstanding.
I should have known sooner. We all should have. And once we kick these bigoted folks off their current perches of power, we will have to put some systems in place to prevent bigots from running away with the organization ever again in the future. And we'll have to do it all out in the open. There is no such thing as saving face with this issue at this time during this moment in history. The only way for PAWMA to survive this scandal is by acknowledging the totality of this dirty, rotten, TERFy mess and restructuring to address and eliminate any future potential for its resurgence.
Maybe we could have accomplished the same ends with less collateral damage if the Gender Justice Committee had been allowed to do its work. Maybe they would have performed the mission the community tasked them with last fall. Maybe not. Maybe the community didn't understand how real and pressing this issue is inside our magical PAWMAland and it would have always erupted into an out-sized mess. Regardless of what could have been, this is where we are now: playing catch-up.
Catch-up seems to be the theme of this whole year so far. I thought it was just me until I came up for air and talked to some other folks experiencing a similar thing. All the authorities say the pandemic is officially over, so now it's time to actually process all the worry and fear and frustration and whatever other feelings we set aside during lockdown so we could make it through each day. That's a whole lot on top of regular, everyday life in modern times.
I also put a lot of personal life things on stand-by between January and May because tax season was off-the-charts busy this year. I barely had time to eat and sleep most days; I couldn't even fathom socializing. So the last two months I've been trying to re-learn how to exist in social spaces. I'm trying to be a human in the world who isn't working 100% of my waking hours and it's been a surprisingly challenging transition. And because I'm trying not to lean-in to my old protocols of control and containment, I'm sometimes not sure what to do with myself.
I'm trying to be gentle with myself about not yet getting to all the things I haven't gotten to yet. A lot of those old survival techniques included not letting anyone else know anything was wrong - a technique known as masking. Because I'm trying to reroute my survival systems, my default masking protocol doesn't always match up perfectly with what's happening, so the mask has been dropping itself in some unexpected ways and at unexpected times. Which is both new and scary in a good way and also sometimes makes it hard for me to just get shit done like I'm used to.
That and all the new catastrophes that just keep popping up. It would be super great if folks could stop finding new ways to set the world on fire for like five minutes so I could get all the way through my to-do list and take a nap. Then you can fire z missiles. So don't mind me, I'll just be over here crying for seemingly no reason and working through the backlog. If you also have a backlog, I hope you're being gentle and kind with yourself while you work your way through it.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.