The Bridge

Radical feminists hate sex work. They see it through a lens of complete and overwhelming oppression. There is little room for shades of meaning and for them it is clear – prostitution must be eliminated and those imprisoned by the system of male sexual right must be rescued if women are to enjoy equal rights and full empowerment. This is a key aspect of the dismantling of patriarchy that is their goal.

Radical feminism has also come to understand transgender people (especially m2f) in a similar way. Their position questions the authenticity of individuals, the acceptance of gender stereotypes perceived in the transgender experience and the harm of body modification often entailed in realignment procedures. Radical feminists also want transgender women excluded from female only spaces, such as women’s circles and feminist conferences. They often see transgender women as those who parody ‘real’ women and in the process, make them unsafe. Both of these views have been subject to challenge and debate among the feminist and queer communities.

And yet, it is impossible to completely dismiss the radical feminist agenda, especially in the context of the creation of knowledge about the wide-ranging negative impacts of patriarchy. Radical feminism has a provided keen insight into the systemic nature of the oppression of women, revealing deep cultural harms and interlocking structures that keep women down. My understanding has been greatly expanded, in part due to the research and thinking of those in the radical feminist movement, especially from the heady days of the 1970’s.

But my heart is elsewhere, and it is with sex workers and trans people in their quest for justice, rights and respect. Which is why I took a great deal of interest in the online discussion that Kimberly Dark (and friends) had recently. A Facebook friend, Dark’s posts are intellectually expansive, which is an impressive achievement, given the narrow thread of conversation that typifies sites such as FB. And these words have been haunting me.

I’m tired of how social justice movements bring people to consciousness by teaching them the words and phrases du jour, what to enjoy and what to disdain – rather than teaching them to be bold thinkers, question-askers, system-challengers and self-seekers.

And these words:

People who have identities that are bridges between opposed communities have privilege. Like me: I do a lot of speaking to rich white Republican cismales these days – a place where my radical transman identity wouldn’t be were it not for class, educational, and passing privilege.

And these:

I think about this general issue a lot (ie, how to bridge, when you have the capacity to act in that way). I find people respond well to respect, and humility. Curious questioning that demonstrates listening … I sometimes also tell my own story, of how I evolved as a human being from being a conservative, pro-life identifying, somewhat homophobic 18 year old by people not writing me off.

The idea of living as a bridge between communities that are at odds appeals on a number of levels. The metaphor is rich with insight about the role. Firstly, from the position of the bridge, multiple perspectives are likely. A wider landscape and appreciation for diverse viewpoints is powerfully encountered in this open space. Secondly the bridge is located between fixed points and encourages movement back and forth. It is not meant to be a static construction but highlights interconnection, change, adaptation, shared experience and points of great difference. The third understanding comes from my own experience with a local ‘bridge.’

I often walk to the beach with my dog. As we go, we must cross an in-between space, which is different every day. On one side is the ocean, rhythmic waves and tides which create the pattern of the seashore. On the other side is a small river, an inlet, which does not extend to the sea but stops short, as the waterway further up the mountain has been dammed. In between these bodies of water is the sand, a shifting bridge that separates the ocean from the river. Occasionally, though, these two meet and influence each other. In very high tides the ocean washes into the river, cleansing the still water and bringing new energy to stagnant ponds. Or the dam is released and the tannin-stained water floods the ocean, bringing colour and foam to the seascape, allowing fishy creatures to rush out to the sea. But always the individual bodies of water return to separation, and what remains between them is a passageway, a place to stand and cross over, sometimes wide, sometimes narrow. This in-between island is a porous place, profoundly influenced by both bodies of water. It is neither safe nor permanent but is subject to fluidity. The sand bridge is a place of occupation, allowing both sides to ‘be’ and to interact without eliminating either one. It is an alive space.

What is particularly appealing about this picture is the porousness of the island bridge. It is constantly being submerged in water and overflown with salty, crusty, fresh water goodness and debris. To push the metaphor a little further, maybe this can help address the concern that Dark is raising with social justice teaching. It is only a deep, life-long, daily porousness that can help us move beyond the shallows to what lies beneath, and to where we are changed into more loving and just individuals in community. That comes about through immersion, through dangerous immersion, through experience that does not leave us the same but shifts our ‘sandy’ selves around. And it comes by being willing to enter into that process with others, those on either side of the bridge, those water-givers of life and challenge, who flood our consciousness with their voices of truth and disparity and difficult demands. This is how we move beyond phrases de jour and into the contentious, life-affirming realities of social justice movements.

The bridge is indeed a beautiful and privileged place to be.

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