So on Thursday, I gave a presentation at the wonderful Girl Talk night in San Francisco, now in its fourth year. The show’s curated by Julia Serano, Elena Rose (Little Light) and Gina De Vries, and was a night of fantastically witty, clever women and one tenderhearted genderqueer in DavEnd. Amazingly, the show’s curators have already got some of the video up, including my piece.
Elena Rose, a tall Filipina-Ashkenazic woman in a red dress and brown belt. She has amazing hair:
So, our next performer is someone that I’ve been begging us to bring for years, and then finally she was on the right continent to pull it out, so that’s handy. Emily Manuel is a Greek-Australian becoming Jewish writer, blogger, editor, sometime-academic, musician, partner, mother to four cats, and beekeeper. And as she told us, she found a bee and she kept it – that’s the first rule of bee-keeping. She is editor-in-chief of Global Comment magazine. Her work has also appeared at Questioning Transphobia (shout out!), Tiger Beatdown, Billboard Magazine, Bitch magazine and many others. She has a PhD in English from Murdoch University in Australia gathering dust in the corner and believe me, she is cleverer than you. She’s making faces like it’s not true. Come on up to the stage, Emily Manuel...
Emily Manuel, a tall Greek-Australian woman with long brown hair, wearing a white, green and black dress and a black cardigan:
Hello Wisconsin. [awkward laughter]
At the start of the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud, he of cigars and cocaine fame, asked the famous question “what do women want?” And of course he just as equally famously found no answer to this question, in part of feminine mystery etc and in part because he couldn’t comprehend what women would get out of being women in a patriarchy.
While Freud certainly did not include trans women in his question, it seems to me that this is a question we are rarely asked: what do we want? Gatekeepers ask us this question and then supply their own answers, while the media in general ventriloquises us based on their own feverish imagination. And radical feminists, well, you know how that goes…
And in our discourse, so much is occupied – as it must be – with survival, with the necessary fight for hormones and housing and education and work. And documents and treatment for HIV and on and on…. Our thinking and activism is triage, and so many of us are street medics in a certain sense, quite literally in Elena’s case, healing up the wounds of transphobia, sexism, homophobia, racism, classism and ableism. The tremendous damage done to us by kyriarchy.
Last Friday night, I was at a Shabbos dinner at my synagogue when I choked on a piece of beef about this big [makes gesture of about an inch]. I was suffocating, very close to passing out, when my friend Nicki performed the Heimlich on me and dislodged the meat. She saved my life. Sometimes the line between life and death is as small as a piece of beef, as a doctor’s appointment, a couch on a cold night. I don’t want to demean the first aid that we engage in for ourselves and for others by any means. Because we must, we must. And when you fight for survival, even just a small reduction in pain is a luxury. But what do we want, beyond survival?
We certainly need far more space for sexual self-determination, all of us. Over the last few months, we’ve seen quite starkly the desire of the right-wing in particular to remove contraception, which becomes this material evidence of women’s fucking (sorry trans guys and non-binaries, you don’t exist). As though if you could remove the Pill, from bedside tables, medicine cabinets, and purses, you could remove the desire itself, the threatening abyss of women’s desire.
And again, when the Occupy movement arose last year, there was the repeated invocation for the movement to narrow itself to one demand, as though the multiplicity on display on signs and in chants weren’t obvious – let’s call it the heteronormativity of desire – political desire. Because if you have one demand, then you only have one problem, and the evidence of systemic failure can be airbrushed from the frame.
The English Conservative Member of Parliament Louise Mensch argued that the fact that some protesters could purchase Starbucks coffee was evidence for the natural superiority of the capitalist system they were protesting against. Well, I’m sorry, but personally I want a little bit more than a bloody cup of coffee.
As amazing as coffee is, and evidence of a benevolent and loving divinity etc, I want more. I don’t want to merely survive, I want to thrive in a just world.
And so, I have prepared a list of things that I want [cheering and clapping]. which should be taken primarily as lines of flights, escape from oppressive systems rather than prescriptions for new ones (even though I have some ideas for concrete way). If we can’t see the path yet, we can at least look together to find one. But here is what I, Emily Manuel, desire today:
Actually, I want a cup of coffee. Could you sort that out, Rose?
I want that strappy 50s style dress I can’t afford. I want to not have to worry that the breeze will lift my dress, that to wear short skirts and not feel like I’m putting myself in danger.
I want to not have a migraine every week, and to have a painkiller that actually works, and my partner to not have to work through excruciating pain five days a week.
I want my in-laws to use the right pro-nouns for me, all the time.
I want free access to hormones and surgery, without gatekeeping. I want easy access to the right documents, to the correct bathrooms, changing bathrooms, changing rooms, public facilities, without fear. I want the next generation of trans children to grow up without being as traumatised as so many of us were.
I want a decent living wage. No fuck it, I want a decent global minimum wage.
I want universal heathcare, and universal education, and better education that engages with how we actually learn through play without coercion. And free housing and meaningful work, and universal access to the means and knowledge to produce our own food, and our own clothes, and our own art and theory and the tools to disseminate them. And universal socialised childcare and universal bloody homecleaning – oh dear God I do not want to have to clean a house by myself ever again. [laughter]
If there’s a field of human endeavour where we can do it together, and make each other’s lives better, I want to socialise that.
I want to live my life without contributing to the oppressions of others at every step of the reified production, distribution and consumption chain of commodity purchase. I don’t want my life built off misery.
But that is not all that I want.
I want the salty warmth between your legs,
to search you out
like a diver swimming for pearls
I want the strangeness of dragons
and the familiarity of tea
I want scratch and caress,
clenched fist and open palm
six am and noon,
New Year’s and Tuesdays
eucalyptus and red dirt,
the mystery of the Sphinx
and the order of the Acropolis
I want tears and blood
and sweat and snot
I want heaven and hell between these legs,
these arms, these lips, these ventricles
I want totality
just one hair,
one tiny breath.
I want just one word from you,
So what do you want?
Elena Rose: I’ll work on getting that cup of coffee for you.. and the rest we can all work on together…
So yes, that was my presentation. We ran out of time to have the Q&A we planned, so if you have questions I’m happy to answer here. Video of Julia Serano, Dominika Bednarska, and Thea Hillman is up (not transcribed yet), and I’m sure the rest will be up soon on the same account soon.