Video interview with Cedar: Hamilton, ON, July 16, 2020
What if to express your gender you need a world without prisons?
“I feel like we get given this idea of identity that is detached from the circumstances that go into producing it. And if it supposed to be this free choice that we make, if it is supposed to express something about ourselves – which I’m not sure that it is – but if it is to be that then we need to understand that we’re making that choice in a world that is one of extreme constraint and contains a lot of coercion. So if we want to actually have this conversation about how do we actualize ourselves, how do we live with integrity, how do we begin to be free individuals – both on the level of gender and on other levels – then I think we need to also have the conversation of how do we get rid of prison, because I don’t feel that I can express myself in a world where I’m living under that shadow.”
On the gender binary in Canadian prisons and jails:
“Nothing is fundamentally different about how gender operates inside and outside the walls. Everything is just under much more pressure inside, and there’s also this element of hard physical categorization and sorting that takes place, in terms of moving people to different facilities. I think that the prison system, on both the federal and provincial level, tries to be even-handed between the men’s and women’s facilities, so it tries to do things in this way that’s equal, and I would say that’s just a liberal definition of equality because it’s one that seeks to look at people on the level of individuals as divorced from systemic forces that are producing them. So separating people from the oppressions that they face. So one consequence of that is that equality of treatment, or identical treatment, doesn’t produce an equality of outcome. So the example that I used in that text was food and access to food, and how in men’s prison these identical food trays that they get are usually experienced as insufficient and that’s tied to this culture of working out, and people are often released healthier, whereas in the women’s prison working out is discouraged, sometimes even on an institutional level, and then those identical food trays are then translated into people experiencing weight gain that they often feel is unhealthy and that intersects with patriarchal body-image and leads to aggravation of mental health things for people, which intersects with other stuff because almost everybody in prison is dealing with addiction of some kind and going through various forms of withdrawal, which is going to intersect with food and those types of behaviors.
“There are also examples where things are just bizarrely different, where every women’s facility I’ve ever been in you cannot see out the windows, you can’t see the sky, whereas in every men’s facility I’ve been in you can. I asked a lot of people about this because it seemed like a shocking and egregious difference that people are spending years in this place that they can’t see out the windows at all. They can’t even get daylight really. The best explanation I always got was that’s the prison system attempting to address this inequality that exists in terms of who’s more likely to experience patriarchal violence which the prison sees as being fundamentally outside of itself, because it itself is this bastion of equal treatment. So it’s like “we’re worried about people peeking or coming and harassing people through the walls so our way of dealing with that is that women don’t see the sky.” I just thought that is very interesting the way one oppression cascades into another when it’s put under that pressure of the carceral space.”
On state management, administration, and horizons of possibility:
“I feel like there’s this tendency toward institutionalization that gets targeted at people very unevenly in society and oftentimes that’s along lines of race or class, and also along the lines of gender, and that plays out differently. I’m thinking about ways that poverty gets really intensely managed by the Canadian state in various ways. Depending on whichever government is in power they might use a different rhetoric around that like they might make it sound more like it’s an income redistribution thing, which it absolutely isn’t and others might make it sound like it’s this bare minimum entitlement like a form of charity, which it also isn’t, and that produces this relationship to the state that often people who are incarcerated already have, like having their lives managed, being handed from children’s aid services over to the shelter system to the welfare system to the disability system, and each step of the way these processes are intensely gendered and racialized. So by the time somebody ends up being incarcerated, where the state has decided we need to manage every aspect of your daily life right down to what your socks look like, oftentimes institutionalization has already been put in place. So it becomes this process of shrinking horizons and containing what is possible and reducing that to this aspect of individualized treatment. The violence from guards and the prison seeing itself as non-violent, so even when the guards do things that the prison would consider egregious it get’s reduced to being individual because the institutional aspect is supposed to just be absent. Because they don’t want to talk about the institution they want to talk about people being institutionalized. They don’t want to talk about ways that people are being controlled by these services, by what is provided, by these supposed “acts of care” by the state, they want to talk about people being institutionalized, they want to put it back on them and their inability to function in the world. I think that one challenge that always exists and that I’ve heard, like in George Jackson’s book Blood in My Eye for instance he talks about the main task of the prison radical is just to show the people, show prisoners that they are the subjects of class oppression as prisoners and that they exist as a class and the prison is an oppressive space, because everything about it, even though it’s so obviously an institutional form of violence, everything about it is hyper-individualized. And it is also reproducing individuals who are more harmed more gendered more racialized than they were before in the sense of being exposed to the violence of those categories. So like people who experience more violence and exclusion on the basis of race for instance. In a liberal state like Canada when the state is confronted with that it tries to make those contradictions invisible again. In the last ten years one of the big things that happened in this area with provincial facilities was that a bunch of the older jails in the Toronto region were closed and they were replaced with these more modern, larger “super-jails” that allow for less staffing and are also less crowded and the conditions frankly are more livable, but another one of the things which is interesting is that the old jails were explicitly racially segregated – explicit like once you’re inside the guards talk about it the prisoners talk about it, it’s just an understood reality – you have some ranges which are mixed but most of them are racially segregated especially the Don jail. So in destroying those facilities what the prison was trying to do was to abolish explicit racism as being a tool of control, because they don’t want to be seen that way, they don’t want that to be a thing that they’re obviously doing. And I can see around gender issues and around specifically the inclusion of trans and gender-queer people within the more general population of prison is that it can be a similar push. The prison isn’t abolishing itself through this it’s not abolishing gendered oppression, it’s trying to just flatten out its most visible and explicit forms. So it can come back to a question where gendered violence in prison just becomes a question of like a male guard making an inappropriate remark which happens all the time, and is a problem, but is honestly trivial compared to just the fact that these buildings exist.”
What is the relationship between inclusion and harm?
“Control within the prison is always going in two directions. The origin of prison is separation as a form of control and is primarily a way of separating some individuals from their communities in order to expose them to this hyper form of control, and by extension also control the communities they are a part of. Within prison, segregating, breaking things up by security category or doing these forms of racial segregation that the prison system is trying to move away from or do differently, also forms of gender segregation. In the other direction it is trying to incorporate these ideas of inclusion that have become part of the legitimacy of states like Canada’s self image, and that’s also of course a controlling process because we’re talking about being included in a prison. Maybe I’m a bit of a pessimistic person but I feel like it has some images towards society in general where the idea of being included in society at large is also a space that is an enclosure, like it’s also a space that we can’t control, it’s a space that shapes us back, and so our idea of being a free individual within that space is kind of a joke. But it’s obviously much more physical, brutal and clear within the prison. Stuff like harm reduction is very real in that like being queer in men’s prison is extremely unsafe. I was in a position where it was easy for me to pass as a cis man but I got read as gay pretty frequently while I was in there, and a range of experiences around that, like nothing ultra-horrible, but… In some ways I’m grateful that when I was incarcerated more recently I had access to these other forms of treatment within the facility so I wasn’t experiencing this additional level of violence which is actually a garbage choice: it’s garbage to end up having to be grateful to the person who is harming you for not harming you more. That’s just toxic. So it becomes tricky, and any time we’re looking at prison closely it is really hard to stay on this pure abolition framework because that inclusion piece does make it more likely that people will survive this experience and return to the people who care about them, but at the same time I don’t think we need to join the prison and its project of erasing the kinds of contradictions that it doesn’t want to officially own that this society has, that, Yes we should oppose racist violence within the prison system, No we shouldn’t necessarily contribute to them building this vision of race-blind prison. In the same way I’m like Yes we should oppose both the integration of trans people into other prisons and we should oppose the creation of new trans prisons, and we should oppose trans people being in misgendering, more violent situations within prisons, but I think at the same time we can pick less-bad options within those. I just want us to not make it our project. In just the same way that we’re confronted with these bourgeois elections that these societies like to do that, like, I don’t really feel like I have a horse in that race. There are less-bad options and people can vote or not vote I don’t care, just don’t make it your project, don’t act to me like your values your desires as an abolitionist as a revolutionary are going to be represented by the NDP. You can argue that it’s worthwhile to pursue these reforms for other reasons but the biggest consequence of trying to do that harm reduction is just that loss of clarity, that the more radical perspective ceases to exist and gets subsumed within the internal conversation of the prison, of the broader democratic society. Sometimes finding clear lines of conflict and of ways of actually physically going against these things and be in rupture with them is a way of maintaining clarity even as we might engage on different fronts.”
On holding space for conflict within abolitionist circles:
“It’s really hard because we are in this position where there are so many reactionaries, like we’re still in the context of this post-Trump rise of the right, so a lot of energy is going into just countering these aggressive, violent, positions that are still being put forward on this grass-roots level by these jerks, that it can be a struggle to articulate an alternative vision. It’s a bad position for us all to be in that the only critiques of Bill C-16, of this major change in how queers are going to experience Canadian society, are coming from people who hate queers and trans people. It’s a bad position because I don’t think Justin Trudeau has my back, I don’t think he got it right or did it perfect on his first try. I feel like there are a lot of things to say about this but we end up without the space to do it in because on the one side we have this liberal rights-oriented discourse and on the other side we have trans-phobes. It’s challenging. To me, the weakness goes back to the discourse of rights itself as a way of attaining social goals. There are reasons for this, there’s a long history of fighting for charters of rights being a revolutionary goal. I think that time is centuries ago. I think in our current moment when additional rights are granted rights are what is given to you after your freedom has been taken away and you are given back little pieces of it. In the same way that a torn-up sheet of paper doesn’t add back up to a whole sheet of paper, I don’t think any number of rights add up to a free life. I think we have a problem just on that fundamental level, where what the state is talking about is just giving you back these little pieces when what we actually want is something deeper, something that’s material, something we can talk about as autonomy that would then call into question things on a much more fundamental level. We’re talking about capitalist property relations, we’re talking about facing up to colonial and racist histories in this country, we’re talking about the ways that gender binary is upheld by these major institutions like prison, we’re talking about how class society is upheld through democratic institutions and the weakness of that is the inability to affect change. All of a sudden we’re fundamentally re-questioning these institutions that are based on this rights-based framework. To me that’s the starting point. This may be a little bit abstract, but just experiencing the rights of Bill C-16 through incarceration is pretty devastating in some ways. The process of self-identification which is mandatory (you cannot not self-identify), exposes you to different forms of violence, and not experiencing violence is not an option, but it gives you this ability to choose what character of violence you’d like to face, which in some ways is kind of worse. Because one of the tricks that democracy always wants to play is that it has these million inducements to participate. It comes back to that reform question. By always giving you a “would you like terrible or merely bad?” set of options it’s going to induce you to participate so that the bad option gets chosen, and then you just end up feeling a little bit icky because your own vision might have been going off on an entirely different direction, like your own set of desires for who you want to be as a person, what kinds of communities you want to build, how you want to relate to the world… but instead you end up with this weird democratic project that you never asked for and a couple of rights.”
What does it mean to perform gender in the context of state violence?
“I think every gender queer person will know that feeling when you can see somebody assessing you and trying to decide how to treat you based on the read they’re going to make of what your gender or sex is or something. It’s just taking that to an institutional level. In some ways the prison system, in responding to Bill C-16, has had to replace the categorization of biological sex (in part at least) with this categorization based on “real” and “fake” – so there is now “real women” and “fake women” – which is borrowing in some ways the language that people who hate trans people have already used. So in something like [the Coalition of Canadian Women’s appeal to repeal Bill C-16] they talk that language of “real women”… I just feel very aware in repeating that discourse that it has a long history of being used as a weapon against queers. But another way of framing that is closer to how other prisoners are experiencing it as “safe” or “unsafe” trans women. Because in some ways what was happening there was just people trying to assess whether I was a threat to them or not, which is already a transphobic position to be in, it’s already a position in which it is assumed that a trans body is more likely to be a violent threat than a non-trans one. But I can also understand that desire because when people are in a position where they have literally zero privacy or observed 24 hours a day, when you’re in a giant glass fish-tank surrounded by other people, and violence is just a constant, I can understand why that conversation about safety would feel more pressing and why these slight differences – like it’s not that different from the way somebody walking down the street might look at you, try to assess you, and decide how they’re going to interact with you – just in prison everything is just that much more heightened because that question of safety is that much more intense and that question of difference and sameness is under a huge amount of pressure. I say that because I don’t want this question of trans inclusion to be reduced to individual behaviour, and I don’t think that’s the individual behaviour of guards, I don’t think that’s the individual behaviour of prisoners. I really do not blame my fellow prisoners for any negative experiences I had or that other trans people in there had. I think it’s a product of 1. The way this plays out in society at large and 2. the way prison puts all difference under pressure. I feel like I can say that because of that coerced choice of either being “real” or “fake” – then I’m going to try to be “real”– that I think I can say today that my body is actually on a physical level different than it might have been otherwise had I not been incarcerated, had I not gone through that experience. I think to various degrees it’s probably true for most people, just in society in general, that our entire way of relating to our body is heavily conditioned by how the world treats us differently based on how we’re read. There’s a tremendous amount of gendered violence, and I’d want to say that it is less violent than in prison, like it’s less of a crushing constant reality on a day-to-day basis for many people. It’s interesting for me just to reflect on, and I think that gender is heavily, heavily coerced, and the idea of making a free choice around gender, or even gender expression as a site of liberation, is one that we have to be complicated about, and just understand the context in which that’s happening. There’s no small wins that make us freer or something.”
On the link between race, femme identity and queerness:
“Femininity in general in society is under more pressure, more scrutiny. All gender presentations are really racialized. Some Black feminists especially have talked about the ways that beauty standards are very white. So the ability for people of various races to present as beautiful or be read as beautiful in this world involves sometimes attempting to assimilate their bodies closer to white beauty standards. I don’t know what that experience is like, I feel like I get an easy time around that being a white person. But when we’re talking about transness definitely that becomes a huge factor, that it’s way easier for me as a white trans person to be considered to be “real” and “passing” than it might be for others. The weirdness around femininity having this racialized dimension is an additional obstacle. I feel really complicated around passing as a project. I feel like it is one that I have for various reasons, and that it’s just a thing that allows me to work or makes my life easier. But at the same time it is a thing that leaves other people out to dry, like the people who can’t or won’t. I feel like I come from this anarchist tradition in which this understanding around queer – and this exists in other traditions too – is around this form of negation, like it’s a refusal to attempt to assimilate to the existing norms, because we understand those norms, and the pressure to assimilate is violent. It’s a desire to produce our own spaces and our own norms for how we want to be in this world and relate to each other that are more freely chosen or less coercive. It’s a complicated thing when thinking about the ways we use analytical tools and stuff from the queer space gets taken up by broader society. I feel like the word queer itself has come to be a stand-in for the long acronyms and has lost some of its analytical power and specificity, which, whatever, words come and go. But it feels like there’s some urgency in this moment where Canada is moving forward rapidly on this process of inclusion to have some language for talking about the ways that’s harmful. If it’s not talking about queerness as opposed to assimilation and inclusion, then maybe finding some other ways to do it too. Actually finding ways to do that is a form of solidarity, especially racial solidarity, with people who are going to have a harder time being accepted and included on those bases. Feminism has this history that it’s trying to become more aware of over time that white people consistently throw non-white people under the bus as gains around inclusion get made and with trans inclusion especially. I saw people inside have way worse times than I was having. There’s pretty strong limits as to what you can do as another prisoner to make it better for anybody, but … it’s a thing that I don’t feel like I have the most to say about because I feel like it’s not my experience and it’s the thing I’m just thinking about and seeing from the outside but it’s a thing that I want to just encourage curiosity for and solicit the experiences of people who are going to be living that violence more acutely as this inclusion process moves ahead and maybe leaves them more isolated and with fewer allies in their own struggles for safety.”
On political oppression and being an anarchist in prison:
“The problem in the Canadian Women’s Declaration [on the appeal to repeal Bill C-16] is that it is doing exactly what the prison system wants people to do which is to make the violence of the system itself invisible, and to situate the violence that people experience as coming from other prisoners. Which is already a thing that the system does. Part of the threat that it uses to keep people in line is that if you go to prison you’ll experience these forms of violence and frequently and explicitly sexual violence, so it’s like a reason to just obey all possible laws at all times. It’s just openly reactionary in that way. I think there are criticisms to make around Bill C-16, I think there are reasons to look at how trans inclusion is playing out inside, and how that restructuring of prison fits within our other priorities, but I don’t feel the need to listen to people who are reactionaries like that and who share the project of the prison system in terms of sorting bodies and isolating people based on difference. It feels not interesting.
“I’d say foundationally what prison is for is a way of controlling and managing threats to the established order, and that can take various shapes. Often times black market economics and forms of economics that happen outside of the taxable and legible economy get criminalized, so do people’s attempts at doing various kinds of street justice or dealing with things in their own way without relying on the violence of the police gets criminalized. So do a whole suite of other things, and one of those things is various forms of political struggle that are determined to break with that liberal democratic container, because one of the reasons that democracy is a resilient system for carrying out oppression and exploitation is that it contains its own critique. It has a lot of ability to suck back in the people who see the violence going on and swirl them around inside this process and use it to add to its own strength, even as it tries to flatten out the contradictions and oppressions that aren’t important to its goals at that moment, and its goals typically just involve accumulating wealth and producing inequality. All the times I’ve been incarcerated have been because of anarchist struggle. My first time getting locked up was for organizing the G-20 protests in 2010, then I was convicted of some things around the anti-pipeline campaign through this area, and then more recently for some anti-gentrification protests that happened in Hamilton. Between those things I got sentenced to about two years of time and did about a year, and spent a little over two years on house arrest. In some ways that produces an exceptional experience of incarceration because I think for a lot of people incarceration is part of this trajectory of other circumstances in their lives that are more typically criminalized and oppressed in a lot of ways, and come out of these experiences of things like addiction or intense poverty or things like that and it’s not that I don’t experience these things necessarily it’s just that my experience of incarceration didn’t come through those more usual pathways. It also meant that when I was there I’d have more outside support which also often came with a different understanding or a different energy towards it. One of the things that I found most surprising is that most people believe that they deserve to be there and if they don’t believe that they deserve to be there they believe that at least that person over there does. So I think oftentimes I would feel and often be situated as an outsider because I would come and be “no, this is wrong. All prisoners we got to be on the same side against all guards, we need to build this form of collective power,” and start undermining some of the ways that visions exist among prisoners. Struggle is happening within prison all the time too, and it also happens across many axes. In some ways I don’t think my experience of prison is exceptional because these are just forms that challenges to the existing order take in the same way that survival crime is a challenge to the existing order and is a challenge to property relations. Inside the bar for what the prison accepts as expression is much lower. The prison is not a democracy, it doesn’t attempt to contain its own critique, you have no rights to assemble or organize or anything like that, so all attempts at advocating for yourselves as a class are met with repression. Outside of prison, prison is the tool, inside of prison it’s accentuating these forms of confinement and separation. Traditionally that’s been use of segregation, which got limited in the last few years – you can’t use segregation for more than (I think) ten days as a punishment now – so one of the things they’re doing instead is to have that intersect with another major challenge that the prison is trying to restructure itself to deal with in addition to gender which is overdose deaths. So actually using measures that are put in place to try to reduce drugs entering the institutions to repress organizing among prisoners. People form things and might call them gangs or might call them groups of friends or something else – the prison usually calls them gangs but basically associations of people who look out for each other’s interests in defiance of certain institutional norms. The prison is in this permanent process of identifying gangs and breaking them up. So one of the main tools that they have for that now that they can’t just seg people for months at a time is to accuse them of holding contraband, so just exposing them to these repeated body scans. If you get an ambiguous result in a body scan then you can be held for 24 hours under observation and they repeat the body scan. So it means that they can hold you indefinitely they just have to take you down to the scanner every day, which is also a humiliating process, like all these forms of having your body controlled and assessed, it’s literally just somebody shooting an x-ray at your genitals and looking at it on a screen, blowing it up and discussing it with other people. So obviously I don’t love when that happens to me. A lot of my friends inside were being targeted with that form of repression, were constantly disappearing for weeks at a time, then coming back just having been scanned every single day until they eventually managed to get ahold of their lawyer and launch some sort of challenge.
“I think it’s interesting to think of what are the forces that stop change. Because we can make all these critiques. People have been aware of the violence of prison for a long time, people have been talking about abolition for a long time, but what are the forces that prevent it from becoming a reality? Any time we want to have these critical conversations we need to talk about repression and understand that it looks differently outside and inside, and necessarily organizing will look different outside and inside. But I think taking these things seriously on the outside we need to consider this element of recuperation, which is when the existing system attempts to take up aspects of your struggle and make it its own as a way of undermining the threat that you pose. Because that also becomes a way of isolating the most intransigent people. If you take away all the people who are willing to compromise then you’re just left with the ones who don’t and that’s where you can use the violence of the cops, that’s where you can use the prison walls. I feel like that’s one of the areas where a motivation in writing this text [Female Keep Separate] is just wanting to contribute within queer spaces and feminist spaces to building a sharper analysis around violence and around repression. Because I think sometimes we can get into this mode where we think change happens through discourse and through opinion and changing people’s minds and I don’t think it does, I think it’s material. I think that’s part of it but I think often times people’s perspectives run along behind material changes. People adopt themselves to different facts on the ground that people have typically self-organized to produce. Like a lot of queer acceptance didn’t just happen because a number of people got rationally convinced, it happened because queers organized for their own safety and visibility and made the fact that there are out queers just a fact that people just had to get used to. That had steps forward and steps back and then got incorporated into the system where the system was hostile against it and we see all these different reactions but the fact remains that people self-organized to do that and faced up to repression and I think sometimes we can forget. Or the idea that “pride is a riot” has just turned into a cliché when we’re actually like no, physically imposing your presence is what got us to this point.”
Prison will be destroyed by the people who are touched by it:
“The discourse around abolition can forget that if prison is going to be destroyed it’s going to be by people who have been touched by it. It’s not going to be by the mass of people who don’t care and are content not to think about it. In prison organizing that I do I always try to go towards the incarcerated people or the people who have been incarcerated or have families who are incarcerated rather than towards the general public, because it’s where this change already being developed. Where are the seeds of this. Sometimes attempts at supporting growth and political development with prisoners unfortunately ends up reproducing the dynamic of the prison itself where it happens as a service provision model. The framework prison gives is programs. So an expert or a service provider is allowed to enter the prison under certain circumstances and some prisoners can go an access this program that is pre-vetted and determined by the prison itself. So I would say just finding ways to break out of that paradigm and refuse to engage with it and find way to empower prisoners to do that political education work themselves and do that personal work themselves on their own terms is one way of thinking about it.”
On keeping out attention on the inside:
“Right now at the time of this interview we’re in the middle of an historic wave of prisoner protests happening within Ontario. There have been hunger strikes at at least four facilities in recent weeks against the intensification of conditions within prison supposedly in response to the Corona virus. There’ve been some inspiring gains, like prisoners in our local jail here in Hamilton, the Barton jail, were able to force the prison system to reinstate visits and to discard certain pre-made meals that were being considered especially objectionable. That is a huge win. I think it also is understanding that we’re in a moment when there’s going to be repression and I think that’s true on the outside too. Struggles go through crests and troughs, and sometimes when a struggle’s at its highest moment people think it’s going to go one forever and our power’s just going to keep growing but actually when you’re at the top of that peak it’s actually when you’ve started to already come down, and that process of descending, of decreasing support, also means increasing isolation for the most active elements. So I think it’s a time for us to begin paying even closer attention to what’s going on inside and not being content with these gains we have made, and actually watching for what happens next because the repression is coming. Like it’s started to fall I know some people just spent the night before we’re doing this interview outside a police station in Toronto waiting for people to be released as part of this cracking down on anti-racist demonstrations that have been occurring. Remembering that change is not a peaceful process. If we’re actually talking about cracking one of the pillars of the democratic order which is prison, then we’re also talking about entering into a material conflict with those vested interests.”
Is there an authentic trans identity separate from violence?
“I’m not sure if there is an authentic transness or queerness separate from violence, because I think that violence shapes people in so many ways. I think if anything people talk about gender negation or gender abolition for that reason as well because the words that we have are all essentially just referring to forms of violence. Which is partly why people want to step away from using these many different labels for different ways of being deviant around gender and sexuality and move towards a word like queer which was initially picked up because it was an insult. People picked that up because it got spat at you as a way of excluding you, marking you as an other. People were able to pick that up and make something else out of it. But we’re starting from that place of violence.”
On the messiness of gender:
“The ways that I see transness existing in the world play out relative to people whose gender is not in question, so it exists as this kind of outside. I think some people try to respond to that by bringing in the lable “cis” as well as the label “trans” to make visible people whose gender is not in question. Which is in some ways interesting but nobody’s cis, nobody’s gender is straight forward, everybody’s gender is coerced and is in relation to these violent systems so it just feels messy. I think that messiness is a good thing, and the push to incorporate these definitions into liberal society into the rights-based framework involve pruning away that messiness and coming to neat definitions that are uncontroversial and don’t engage that whole complicated web of violence and oppression that people experience. I think leaning into the complicated, multiple and messy ways that this stuff plays out is a promising direction.”
What if our associations with each other were actually free?
“I think we can think about it on a different basis, like what if our associations with each other were actually free? What if they were happening on the basis of our own choosing rather than on the need to participate in capitalism, on the need to be able to walk down streets that are owned and managed by hostile outside forces? It’s a bigger question. Talking about collective care can seem like such a small, humble thing but I think what we’re actually talking about is what if our lives and survival were on an entirely different basis? What if our most important relationships were to people with whom we are building deeper understandings of this world rather than to the economy, rather than to the state?”
On safety and the pressure to perform the gender binary:
“We’ve been talking about gender in prison a lot in terms of transness and queerness, but I think it’s just important to note that everybody’s gender is under intense pressure inside, and cis gender people as well are under this pressure to perform the more intense forms of that gender while they’re inside often for just safety reasons. Like in men’s prison it becomes this factory for producing this hyper masculine more patriarchal modes, it’s a factory for producing homophobia and all these things. People are put in this situation where they have no safety and there’s very little ability to diverge from this group mentality and then get pumped back out into their communities. That culture gets worse with time. Since the last time I was in a men’s prison I’m on a phone line where we get lots of calls from prisoners to just talk about conditions and one thing that’s changed is that it’s now too gay to do squats. Not only you can’t say banana now but you can’t do squats either because that is too gay of a form of exercise. It’s to a comical level, but then on the day-to-day actually people’s safety is in line so people do fall into that. I feel like that pressure to be a “real” trans person that queers may experience inside rather than existing in this in-between space where you’re just going to end up in segregation for the whole time is also felt by others for similar reasons. It feels important to me to remember that there is no uncoerced gender. It is violent.”