Let’s talk turf.
Portland has been my stomping ground for twelve years. In 2012 when I organized the Radfem Reboot conference, women came from Canada, Australia, France, and Scotland to meet women they had known online for years. There have been over a dozen regional radfem meetings around the world since then, most of them organized quietly to avoid the threats of male violence that public feminism seems to inevitably bring these dark days.
But Portland is my turf and I know the lay of the land. I’ve made connections with Portlanders and know it as well as any cat knows her territory. If an open radical feminist event were to happen, I felt most comfortable having it in the City of Roses.
When I approached the venue that hosted Radfem Reboot to rent the same space for Radfems Respond, I responsibly warned them of the maelstrom of harassment about to land in their lap from transgender activists. On March 14 I brought the Multnomah Friends (Quakers) a fat folder with articles and news stories about radfems all over the world being harassed at home and at work and being no-platformed on every issue. I optimistically gave them an article on how the sex industry lobby in Tasmania failed to force Tasmanian Friends to cancel a talk by radical feminist Sheila Jeffreys.
They asked to meet with me and I obliged, ultimately spending an hour speaking with two clerks. They asked for biographies and websites for the event’s five speakers and I provided them. On March 26th the Multnomah Friends confirmed,
“We received your list of websites for the speakers for the “RadFems Respond: A Day of Discussion” and have reviewed them. We find nothing in them that would cause us to ask you to find another place to meet.”
I thought we were cool. Flights were booked, a house near the venue rented, and plans proceeded generally. Then a Quaker with a thing for licking machetes and calling radical feminists a “hate group” started a petition to exterminate Radfems Respond.
“Radical Feminists are often a bigger threat to the safety and dignity of trans women that [sic] society at large…The rate of suicice [sic] for trans people hovers around 50%. Many of these deaths were caused directly or indirectly by Radical Feminist attacks and rhetoric. Those who stand for non violence will agree that radfems have no place in a Quaker space.”
petition-starter Hollis Proffitt
Three weeks later, the Friends caved. When I reminded them of my fat folder and the predictable pattern of these harassment campaigns, three of the four Friends that Rachel Ivey and I met with admitted they didn’t read Hollis Proffitt’s petition. They were angry the petition went up and refused to look at it. My concern that their community’s response was distorted by the lies in the petition was met with this incredulous reply by a Friend who said he was a feminist and chose not to read Proffitt’s petition, “External pressures did not impact our decision.”
I took careful notes at the meeting and those were his exact words. When I asked why they changed their minds, I was told their decision-making was “a spirit-based process, not head-based,” made by “not individual facts or figures but as a matter of spiritual worship,” and that “It was a sense from our spirit about where we were led to move.”
Color me shocked that a religious order just sort of felt in their gut that women are untrustworthy and don’t deserve a public platform to speak. Rachel astutely observed that their intense de-politicizing and refusal to admit external pressures on their community aligns perfectly with liberal, third wave postmodernism in which societal systems assert no influence over the choicey choices every Friend who contacted the clerks apparently came to independently.
I hastily contacted the backup venue I had arranged (see above, “predictable pattern of these harassment campaigns”). The Multnomah County Central Library quickly confirmed Radfems Respond, and transgender activists quickly assailed them to shut down the event in the name of free speech. Some unhinged thug named “QuiddityQ” posted a call to arms on Portland Indymedia.
“We questioned the library administration about allowing a hate group who promotes discrimination and their response is that they cannot kick them out because of freedom of speech. So we also exercise our right to free speech in public space this Saturday to drive the TERFS and RadFems out of OUR library and OUR Portland!”
In the early oughties I self-published through Indymedia in addition to getting published in progressive newspapers because I believed in the potential for writer-activists to “become the media”. It wasn’t a total failure, but as has happened with Twitter and other online media, antagonistic bullies pushed out the genuine contributors. I don’t go to Portland Indymedia anymore because of their manarchist tendency to delete (called “composting”) even the mildest pro-feminism posts. A germane example from this week shows the site editors leaving up the incitement to disrupt Radfems Respond and another post titled “TERF: Cancer of the Leftist Movement”, yet rejecting to the compost bin a post respectfully criticizing the ethics of disrupting feminist events.
A library official responded in a comment to the Portland Indymedia article,
“You may participate in the meeting by expressing your views and allowing others to express their views. You may not disrupt the meeting.”
Enough accolades cannot be given to the responsive staff and security guards at the Multnomah County Central Library. As much as I would love to say they were entirely magnanimous about their commitment to not only women’s freedom of speech but our safety, in all truth I think they got righteously ticked off at being pushed around by a bunch of intimidating jerks who refuse to accept “No” for an answer.
With the room secure, I had to douse another fire started by the threats when trafficking survivor Dawn Schiller called to say she was considering cancelling. Dawn doesn’t know anything about trans-anything, but she knows too well the credible threat of male violence when she sees it. As so many of us before, at first she was rationally afraid of the danger posed, and then she got mad that anyone thinks they can frighten women out of public participation. After the feeling of remembered trauma eased its grip on her, Dawn decided to stand up for her right to speak her story with the caveat that her daughter would stay safely away. Sadly, several registered women also chose to cancel rather than face the threatening scene transgender activists were promising to produce.
Not one protestor showed up.
You can watch Lierre Keith’s and Rachel Ivey’s talks for yourself, but at Dawn’s request we stopped filming while she recounted her time in prostitution. I only had one box of tissues on hand and it had to be shared. Dawn finished with a commitment to helping other survivors rebuild their lives and received a standing ovation, but not before saying how much she regretted not having her daughter there with her.
Kathleen Barry was her usual erudite self explaining the latest developments in prostitution laws and detailing some of her policy-setting activities both old and new. Near the end of her presentation she pointed to some empty chairs and defiantly exclaimed that they represented the women who cancelled because of the threats,
This is about this conference, and about the fact that Dawn Schiller almost didn’t come. And the fact that she’s been traumatized, and she had to deal with that trauma in order to come. Not just in telling her story here, but in order to come she has been traumatized. You know who the people are that caused that trauma. They’re the people who put up the call for taking on this conference, bringing in violence, all the aggression. As if we’re not all survivors of their patriarchy! I want us […] to keep this really clear, we sit here today, you and all of us, as victims of those people who called for that violence this morning. Look at these empty seats! They are victims, they couldn’t come because of fear.
Heath Atom Russell gave the final presentation of the day. She began with the jaw-dropping revelation about the Santa Barbara murders the prior night, news that was just breaking around the world. Sometimes threats of male violence turn out to be nothing as in Radfems Respond’s case, and sometimes they become terrifyingly realized. Heath continued with how she grew up in an oppressive family and saw transitioning to a man as the best way to escape the emotional pain. She changed her mind after a few years and now works to warn others about predatory medical industry doctors who promise to bring peace to minds with pills and surgery done to bodies.
The next day, while a woman-only group of radfems listened to Swedish author Kajsa Ekis Ekman speak via Skype about prostitution, the cowardly and monumentally ineffective transactivist “QuiddityQ” dropped a final word on Portland Indymedia,
“The Anti-TERF/SWERF Action Team strongly and unequivocally condemns TERF hate groups WOLF (Womyn’s Liberation Front) and DGR (Deep Green Resistance) holding their propaganda rally at one of our finest public institutions, Multnomah County Central Library. Given its stellar history, we strongly condemn the Library Administration for allowing hate groups to abuse our cherished Constitutional Rights.
We are indeed at war with TERF for our very own survival.
The City of Roses shall no longer tolerate feminism!”
I wrote the above recap in a mindset of recording the timeline accurately, but when I read it over I see something akin to a bad Hollywood script that I can’t doctor into sanity. The film industry’s collective creativity couldn’t conceive a plot with antiporn radical feminists, machete-licking Quakers, transgendered threat-makers, and half a dozen library security staff, but I had to write the press release and I had to write this event wrap up.
Stephen King said writers write either for truth or for an audience, and I have no doubt which kind of writer I am, but what to do when the truth reads so much stranger than fiction that it beggars belief? It’s difficult for me to believe for myself just how far women’s human rights have devolved in the time I’ve been a frontline witness, so I understand if my reporting from the trenches comes off as far-fetched. I didn’t sign up to be a war correspondent, and yet a war correspondent I seem to have become.
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