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We are some cis and trans women and non-binary poets in the Bay Area who are concerned about ongoing issues of misogyny and gender/sexual violence in our communities.
We are writing now with some urgency. In the past weeks we have heard many stories regarding acts of sexual violence and/or sexualized intimidation perpetrated by men in our communities.
We feel it is crucial that we share this information publicly.
Accusations have surfaced about the following people: Zach Houston, Claiborne McDonald, Steven Trull (who goes by Janey Smith), and Nicholas Sung. The individual accounts of the consent violations are all somewhat different and come from multiple sources. Some are as intense as rape. Some are probably closer to intense harassment.
We are not a judicial body, nor are we interested in putting these men on trial. We know there is a lot of confusion about these stories circulating in our communities. Some people want us to share the specifics of what we have heard. But this is not our work. If survivors wish to tell their stories publicly we will do all we can to support them. But we also want to protect those survivors who do not feel safe and do not want their stories shared publicly. Some of us have expressed interest in developing restorative justice and community accountability processes around these issues. Others are not interested in those measures. We cannot predict how any one person or group of people may respond if one of these men decides to attend a poetry event. It is likely that some people will choose to confront the perpetrator and ask him to leave the event space.
We are speaking out because we want to protect ourselves and our friends and share information that might make it easier for other people to do the same. We have not always done a great job with this, but we want to do better. We want to make sure that as new people (not just women) enter our communities and attend readings, they will have the information necessary to make informed decisions. We want organizers of reading series and public event spaces to have this information, too.
It would be naive to think that these accusations represent the only instances of sexual violence in our communities. Because misogyny and sexual violence are so pervasive, it’s difficult to know where to begin. We understand that these problems exist all around us. We understand that the continuous oppression of feminized and racialized bodies is structural and necessary to the everyday functioning of capitalism and the state. We recognize that sexual and gendered violence is contiguous with the male-dominated culture that defines our domestic, semi-private, local, non-institutional (and institutional!) creative and intellectual spaces. We also understand that if we were to name every person who dominates the conversation, jokingly grabs our ass, mansplains feminism to us, misgenders us, fetishizes us, erases our presences, aggressively pursues relationships with us when our disinterest is obvious, doesn’t speak out when someone is roofied at their social space, or destabilizes our lives and children’s lives by acting violently inside the relationship or family structure, the list would be endless.
People have argued that, in calling out some names, we run the risk of deflecting attention away from the forms of relation and politics of gender that produce misogyny and sexual violence in the first place. But we believe that we have to start somewhere. And our work won’t stop at naming names. So this is not the end, but the beginning. While we are not a group, and do not claim to speak on behalf of anyone, our hope is that this work will continue in the years to come. And if we have to keep writing statements like this, we will. We will also be having frank conversations with some of you that are not on this list but who we feel are contributing to the general atmosphere of harassment. Many of us are committed to calling this stuff out. But we hope we will not be doing this alone.
Our communities are also full of cis and trans men who are, or want to be, allies, and this is an acknowledgement, too, of all those who have supported us and who are engaged in uncomfortable, ongoing conversations. And while we have focused this on the Bay Area, we know the Bay Area is not in any way unique, and our communities are international. So this is also to acknowledge those in other geographic locations. We welcome all who want to struggle together to transform the structural problems that foster sexual violence.