update: after i got the first couple of comments on this post, i went ahead & sent a brief, direct e-mail to the blogger in question, explaining how i felt about the way she referred to me & my writing. she was quick to apologize & posted an update on her blog clarifying her perspective. so. i feel a lot better & am glad that this didn’t turn into an issue. but maybe some of what i wrote here will continue to make people think about the culture of support & its limitations. supporting survivors takes a lot of strength & emotional energy, & there are a lot of seemingly innocuous things that other people can do to make that work even harder. i think it’s important for support people to take care of themselves & i also think it’s important for support people to remain intellectually & critically rigorous. a lot of support work is riddled with half-truths, mis-assumptions, & emotional meltdowns that detract in sometimes serious ways from the well-being of the survivors in question. i am a big defender of “gossip” & second-hand information, bit if we’re going to use those things as foundations for being in solidarity with survivors, we need to be careful of our intentions. i think this is a way bigger topic than i can cover in a paragraph, but…maybe it will expand into a larger conversation.
putzing around on the internet last night, i came across a blog by one of the people involved in the most recent accountability process in trying to get joe biel from microcosm to deal with abusive, manipulative tendencies. i was interested to see how the whole accountability attempt went (answer: not so well), & was especially interested in this person’s letter to microcosm, explaining her decision to remove her zines from their distro/eschew their publishing offers unless serious changes are made to the microcosm collective before the end of the year (specifically, a majority statement from the collective acknowledging joe’s history of abusiveness, & joe stepping downfrom the collective).
so imagine my surprise when i saw my own name in the letter! it was a really brief, almost passing reference in the greater scheme of things, but…i was somewhat confused, because as far as i know, i am only acquainted with maybe two or three people in the microcosm collective. i was surprised to find that apparently we are on enough of a first-name basis that a third party can casually drop just my first name & everyone will know who she’s talking about. but i was more upset & disappointed by the greater subtext of the mention. here it is:
“I read a blog by Ciara that was very inflamitory [sic]. I wrote a blog about how upset I was that Joe was continuing this behavior, then the next morning removed the blog because I realized I didn’t know exactly where Ciara had gotten her info.”
here’s a response i wrote this morning, which i haven’t sent…i don’t know if i will send it, or if the person who wrote the blog will find it here & want to reply/be offended/whatever…i feel that the issue of how support people are talked about is kind of thorny, because supporting survivors ISN’T about the support people (& i have very little patience for support people who make a fuss about how much they want support work to be resolved for their own sakes, because they are upset or angry that someone is being abusive, as if the people being abused probably aren’t a whole lot MORE upset & invested in finding a resolution!). at the same time, shit all over the support people & pretty soon no one is going to want to do it anymore. there needs to be a certain amount of respect for people who put the emotional energy into trying to do support work, & also a culture of accountability so they stay focused on the issue at hand & not about how super-awesome & badass they are for doing it. okay, my letter:
“i saw your most recent blog post, about microcosm & the end of the accountability process with joe. i was really surprised to see my name in the post. & i was pretty disappointed by the context.
“i am well aware of the blog post i wrote, which you described as ‘inflammatory’ in your letter to the microcosm crew. in no way do i think my blog post was anything but a straightforward statement of opinion concerning my personal feelings about microcosm & complicity in abuse & patriarchy. this is a subjective issue, but i do think referring to what i wrote as ‘inflammatory’ paints me as a drama-mongering shit-slinger who just wants get people’s hackles up & sow unnecessary divisiveness. this is far from the first time that people have used words like “inflammatory” in reference to me or other people making discomforting, but honest, statements about the sacrifices sometimes involved in supporting survivors. i do think that there are messed up, grandstanding, self-aggrandizing ways that some people support survivors, & sometimes those people can make choices that seem to do more harm than good, but i definitely don’t think my blog post falls into that category.
“i was also disappointed that you said you took down your own blog post specifically because you realized you ‘didn’t know where [i had] gotten [my] info.’ i don’t need to tell you that this is yet another way that people silence survivors & their supporters, by impugning their knowledge & feeling entitled to all the sordid little details before they make decisions about how much to believe. by saying you withdrew your blog post for that reason, you cast doubt on the veracity of the facts i offered in my own post, & set the stage for people already inclined to disbelieve me to join you in saying, ‘well, how does she know this stuff? joe never abused HER, right? isn’t it kind of gross that she’s sticking her nose into someone else’s personal relationship? she’s probably lying about this stuff anyway because she has some personal vendetta against joe.’ these are all accusations i have had to weather time & again for the last ten years.
“i’m reluctant to make a fuss over any of this, because i don’t want to be all ‘woe is me, supporting survivors is hard!’ being a survivor is obviously a hell of a lot harder. but i do think an important part of supporting survivors is contributing to a culture where support can flourish, & that means that it’s helpful when supporters don’t throw one another under the bus to make their own work look better or more credible…which is kind of the vibe i got from your blog post. like, ‘ciara said all this stuff & i found it upsetting & responded to it with a blog post of my own, but then i realized that, you know, ciara could be a big axe-grinding liar, so i formed an accountability team so i could get access to all the facts & every side of the story & all the information, & my accountability team found that pretty much everything i’d heard was in fact true.’
“this is weird, because it’s not like i specifically want credit for being right. i have never called joe out because i was waiting for vindication or my day in the sun or anything. i called him out because i really do think that financially supporting an unrepentant, un-self-aware abusive manipulator like joe contributes to a culture of patriarchy & silence within a sub-culture that matters a lot to me, personally & creatively. so while i don’t mind that no one is throwing a parade in my honor, i do mind being cast in the role of “inflammatory possible liar, compared to a semi-professional accountability team that came to the exact same conclusions i did casting themselves as somehow very objective & in possession of huge amounts of auxiliary information.
“it kind of reminds me of a situation where someone says, ‘hey, i was abused,’ & someone else says, ‘really? tell me every last detail of everything that happened before i decide whether or not your feelings are accurate & true, & whether or not i personally can feel like supporting you is the right choice.’ that was my take on the accountability thing from the get-go, but i didn’t say anything because i hoped something productive would come of it. & it looks like something has, & i acknowledge that sometimes these are very gray issues where there’s no clear-cut villain & no one obvious way to support someone. but still.
“i am also reminded of when i was super-involved in dealing with a serial rapist in my local community…i was kind of the face of calling this dude out, & all the different women he violated were coming to me with their stories & wanting me to somehow disseminate them without using their names or identifying details. i got unbelievable personal amounts of shit from that, bodily threats, etc, & when we had a community meeting to address the issue of sexual assault in our radical community, the facilitator (a friend of mine) asked me not to sit next to her because she thought she wouldn’t seem ‘objective’ if people saw us socializing. in other words, i was crazy accusation-spouting ciara, well-intentioned but maybe a liar or too ‘inflammatory,’ while she was trying to approach things in the ‘correct,’ objective way where no one would really be challenged to make a hard decision about their loyalties.
“you know it’s not easy to do support work. it’s even less easy when the people you consider your allies abandon you, or create dichotomies where you are pitted against each other–the ‘good’ supporter & the ‘bad’ supporter. again, it’s harder to be a survivor…but i think fostering a second wave of aggressively objective, agonizingly un-inflammatory support people that use the information & groundwork already done by the first wave of supporters (the ones without access to things like accountability processes, a community familiar with the accusations & eager for resolution, etc) while painting those first supporters as somehow reckless or divisive helps contribute to a culture where it’s hard for survivors to find any support at all. i know that after all this joe biel shit, i feel a lot less inclined to stick my neck out for someone & endure the slings & arrows, only to be shit upon by the relief squad when they show up. i still think it’s the right thing to do; i just don’t know if i have the emotional energy for it anymore.”
feedback welcome. i really am having a tough time discerning whether this is actually worth being upset about, or if my nerves are just flayed on this particular topic, because there’s a whole ten-year history of bullshit behind it.