We suspect that the outright rejection of the moral compass of good and evil, and likewise a rejection of us vs. them, will require more descriptive and polyphonic rubrics through which to communicate with one another about the world in front of us, and ourselves. “How do you feel?” However this feeling surfaces into language, it is never so much that we feel ‘bad’ as that we feel ‘ill’. And it is never so much that we feel ‘good’ as that we don’t feel ‘bad’. We know too much, and yet the knowledge hardly moves us an inch. We don’t have to actually see the bruises of the soft power regulating our movements to feel the symptoms. And sometimes we see actual bruises. Whether or not these feelings can be brought to light in words, there are ways of ‘knowing’ that exceed existing diagnostic frameworks. Self-care can’t cure social diseases. What is next? How do you feel?
The idea of a social body is not new. The seduction of membership to it has been leveraged by conservative forces who seek to groom this social body into a compliant mechanism which serves them their profit. Citizens of the social body deemed too dangerous are excised and disenfranchised. But we do not have to follow this order. We understand the natural, human, and animal worlds as interconnected and overlapping, subjugation as the disease affecting them all in kind, and healthcare (understood as caring for the health of one another) as the single most powerful method for bringing about the better world we seek.
HOW DO YOU ANSWER
“how do you feel?”
Most of us are not doctors. We are amateurs with no fear of the regimes of professional accreditation. Some of the most committed healers practice their work far outside of licensure (but rarely outside of consent). In sickness, we are encouraged to reach out and give this network its call to action, ask it to help us heal. In health, we are responsible for reciprocating this healing hand, out of love and gratitude, not debt. Nourished by all our relations, we are dividual. Your health and my health are reflexive of one another, and their health hangs in this balance. We reject self-care because we have never ourselves been alone. Against academies. Against the atomization of self-care.
PMS believes another world is possible. While pain is not to be feared, inflicted pain is not to be tolerated. While sickness is not to be feared, inflicted sickness will not be tolerated. We see the project of PMS as the prefiguration of an emancipation against the relentless illnesses of our times. Existing biopolitical structures are, of course, failing us. In many ways, the dominant modes of activity within the radical left operate on boom and bust cycles of militant resistance (led predominantly by notions derivative of virulent masculinities). We support this militancy, and we support the need for responding to emergent struggles with vigilance. But we will only give ourselves to a practice that is focused on setting strong roots; on sharing with one another the skills that are important for an ongoing struggle in the direction of that other place, and against those who would trap us there.
Most of us are not doctors. Most of us don’t know each other. But we are all tired of being told (by those in power) that we aren’t doing it right, that we can’t do it right without them or their tools, or that we must pay for our healing. Many of us are tired of feeling sick most of all.
We have all witnessed, benefitted from, and performed a kind of ‘healing’ that exceed conventional or holistic models of health. As such, we have no direct allegiance to or alliance with either. It is in this way that we can speak of a ‘we’, an indeterminate ‘we’, unified by our sharpening skills and tests of accountability. We are a small, shape-shifting, and growing group of simultaneous antagonizers and care-workers (waged and unwaged, but proudly amateur). We invite all the citizens of that other place.
Social diseases work their way into, and between us. We must contend with the urge to take-care-of-ourselves, and to immunize against one another’s bodies. To isolate us is the tactic of our enemy. Healing the social diseases that surround and threaten to reinfect individual bodies necessitates the deterritorialization of ‘sickness’ and ‘health’ as a general framework for assessing a body. We are all sick, because we have all experienced sickness as an event of disempowerment. As we stretch towards our own healing, we must not turn away from one another.
We recognize that one of the most integral aspects of state domination is to instill in us anxieties and panic about how to be political in the right way. This reflects in our practices of resistance around health; too often we are criticizing, discursing, panicking, doing almost anything but actually healing. Healing under capitalism is like obsessively fidgeting with a just hardened scab. But likewise, healing is not to be found in complete ignorance of the confines of a surveilled and fractured existence.
The power of the state, the omnipresence of it, diminishes every time we look in the eyes of a friend, of a stranger, and listen to what they need. As we listen, we slip out of the regimes of extractive time and impatience. Fuck the fake heartbeat of clocks. Every time we educate ourselves and opt for the teacher and classroom that does not require pay, we strengthen horizontally, and we heal by putting no one under. Healing is honoring that resistance is a slow process, and declaring that we desire to see the increased strength, vitality, and well-being of our friends, neighbors, comrades, and full social ecologies more than we desire to see the state at all. There is no one person that deserves the cold shoulder as much as the state’s austere violences. In this condition, it shrinks, it desiccates. We share informal, illegal, and decentralized forms of care like they are the very waters which support a life in common (because they are). We fight to live because we see that the vulnerability of our bodies, and others bodies, teaches us patience and compassion and dedication every day. As we are able to provide for one another’s health, the state itself can’t but fall (or at least we would no longer care if it did).
Accountability is too oft left off the roundtable of revolutionary theory and discourse. ‘Accountability’ - or in German you might say ‘verantwortlichkeit’ - as we understand it is a kind of social responsibility. We could describe this as an ability to be called upon, an ‘answerability’, or a mutual responsibility that is held between friends and comrades. When we move through public space and we begin to see or feel a person around us fall, our basic instinct is to reach for them, or, at least support and recognize their state of momentary failure, by expressing minor alarm. To understand our own place within accountability is to recognize that even without knowing it, when we look out into space, we are always also looking for a person about to fall. The word has its roots in accomptare (to account), and can be understood as the ability to provide an account in social and political contexts. What would it mean to be accountable to, to answer to, the spaces and atmospheres we inhabit or create? Where and when do we draw the lines of our responsibility? Why are some of these lines more thick than others? What are the conditions in which they shift? We start with our own responsibility.
In situations of conflict, the options toward progress fall out from the answer to a simple question: will we continue to interact and partake in one another’s lives, or not? As we submit ourselves, through information, and through protected or exposed witnessing, to the reality of shared fragile condition upon the land surface of our biosphere, embedded as we are within vulnerable networks of life, we know that there is only one response; we must continue to nourish our living relationships above all else. We cannot just ‘drop’ people, just like we cannot deny the reality of the air we need to breathe. Not only this, but we must continue with a degree of responsibility and seriousness that we may have turned from before.
Acute health problems cycle back to longer term environmental, social or ecological weaknesses. In this way being accountable to health functions as a viable practice to bear forth in relation to every body, every situation. When we hold-ourselves-to-it, we’re able to draw the subject into a longer lineage of causation and interrelation. What are we doing when we hold a single person accountable for the event of their rage in a way that occludes the violences of systemic hate, apathy, or subservience? What would be the effect of bearing this process of deeper inquiry of accountability and dividuality, everywhere?
So these questions also get asked of the architectures of our lives. Who gets to take up space? Who do we make space for, and whose is taken away? What parts of our bodies and psyches do the spaces we occupy appeal to? In what ways do these spaces teach us how to move, talk, commune? Whose space is respected, and whose is violated? For whom do we hold space? To have, and to hold, in sickness and in health.
According to whose specifications is space structured and allocated? There are three vacant homes for every houseless person (in Portland, OR, USA) and palatial solitude for the rich. Space is distributed according to the logic of artificial scarcity. And then there is space as means, means as space. More broadly, forms of life are constrained by precarity; living paycheck to paycheck, there’s no room to breathe, especially in the basement. Racialized bodies are confined by various legalities and illegalities to segregated neighborhoods, or else warehoused in prisons.
Parcelized land, or so-called private properties, now hold the architectures of confinement themselves: the prisons, apartment complexes, and private schools. The question isn’t: “whose land is it anyway?”. Land, which is itself living, was never for any one species or body to use to take power. How do we address centuries of murder, rape, and the dispossession of harmonious ecologies from their right to an equal say in how development might happen? Is a ‘house’ the technology which differentiates the politics of space from that of the environment? Who and what make a house a home? What is at the core of the longing we feel when we say that we are ‘homesick’?
As we tolerate private, surveilled spaces, we also tolerate and perpetuate the gendering of space. Our movements through the world as women, cisgender or not, trans and non-binary, has been segregated into public and private, regulated and vulnerable, masculine and feminine. Pushed ever back into the confines of corporeal immediacy, we create technologies to veil our bodies, to brandish them. Flashes of warpaint from behind the flutter of a jeweled fan.
We must make do with secret handshakes because the urgency of the need for a room of one’s own is overwhelming but access, for many, is choked. All the bodies straining for space adopt orphaned places, reeling from the slash and burn of capitalism. Movement at anxious intensities, voluntary or involuntary, betrays a life in flight. The migrant body in a new land is assaulted by its environment, forced to create new immunities. Too often, a failure to thrive in the farce of welcome. The dark gift of barren soil.
In a lot of ways, accountability is a process that makes systems of people stable from the inside out, at each smallest vector within a broader network. This self-determination and selfgovernance is autonomy, as something coming from the ground upwards. Too often the notion of ‘autonomy’ is misunderstood or used as an excuse to act selfishly or irresponsibly. To ‘take care of oneself’ at the expense of taking care of one another.
But we are all situated within a world that is composed of many moving parts - other people, things, bodies, plants, etc. We should be working to break down the borders between us, built by lusts for individuality. We know that life-giving intimacies come from working together with others in a struggle. This is connected to a responsibility we have toward other things that give us life: soil, water, plants, animals, and the vibrant and contagious freedoms that reflect among us when we pronounce our love, care, and gratitude. Because we would not actually survive as individuals, aided and abetted only by our lonesome, we cannot prefigure a form of autonomy that operates in isolation. Thus we acknowledge that we cannot bring this form of life into being. This isn’t what the post-rev looks like, sorry. We have to actually deal with the real shit on the ground, with the reality of our corporeal existence, and with each other. If we can’t do this, our work won’t take traction and will trample over those for whom the option of exit is not available, the beautiful lovers holding it all together for us. Conflict is an integral aspect of human relations, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be authoritarian.
When we practice accountability, we set ourselves up to become more proficient care takers all the while being less reliant upon professionalization, accreditation and legitimization. In health, when you treat a symptom or illness, you treat it though, with, and despite the habits of a body. The reverse is also true. When you treat a body any kind of way, you affect its eventual illnesses or wellnesses, and in some way you palpitate those which persist in that body, from its past.
As this body is treated, you can also treat the relationship of that body to something broader - the system which caused or enabled the harm. Both the experience of trauma, lived or witnessed, and the experience of this trauma’s treatment can then lead to a reconsideration of the old tool that failed, that cut or crushed the body. This is the process of accountability and we are pursuing, and in that process understanding and repositioning ourselves in relation to structures of power.
“When you come right down to it, our bodies are not the issue. Biology is not the issue. The issue is power, in all the ways it affects us.” Here Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English from the text Complaints and Disorders are speaking about biology in terms of essentialized sex within the female/male binary. This text was written in 1973, so their language around gender can seem wholly insufficient today, but their analysis of power within the medical industrial system is still insidiously relevant.
Queer the text presently and it holds a truth; we (the gender hackers and trans among us especially) know that biology is definitely not the issue. Literally, who cares?--we fuck with biology: we make friends with our microbiome, we alter our body’s appearances & systems and we know we are all just animals. It is capitalism and the church that has created the idea of essentialized biology and sex throughout much of Western history.
The real issue is still power, and how power disciplines and normalizes conceptions of biology in our bodies. It is the insurance companies that deny our gender affirming surgery, it is the loopholes we jump through to get hormones, it is getting harassed for presenting the way we feel, or simply existing in bodies granted different permissions, and it is the gendered violence we experience on the street. It is when we are misgendered by the doctors, our bosses, and family.
Ehrenreich and English further that self-care is not enough, because we are dependent on the medical industrial system’s technology. In many forms of healthcare this is true, but for gendered health care, such as the need to access to hormones, electrolysis and surgery, this is especially true. So this question burns: What would an autonomous trans healthcare look like?
It would look like this: seizing the technology that keeps us bound to power.
However, presently underlying structures of support spring up, even if they are only bandaid solutions on the surface of the medical industrial system. We look to Yocheved Zenaida Cohen, a trans woman of colour in the U.S. who raised $10,000 for herself to go to electrolysis school and buy an electrolysis machine so she could provide affordable electrolysis for other trans women. We look to trans health message boards. We look to friends and strangers sharing hormone prescriptions. We look to healers making medicines and spells for transition—in whatever form that is taking. It is walking your friends home at night while carrying a knife or glass bottle ready in hand.
Complaints and Disorders ends once these words are taken into the domain of personal responsibility, “This, to us, is the most profoundly liberating feminist insight — the understanding that our oppression is socially, and not biologically, ordained. To act on this understanding is to ask for more than ‘control over our own bodies.’ It is to ask for, and to struggle for, control over the social options available to us, and control over all the institutions of society that now define those options.”
I am changing and all of a sudden, as if ejected from his seat, he is fumbling for scraps of clothing to shield me from something invisible to me. He says ‘someone is looking at you through the window’ I am wondering if he thinks my breasts emit a kind of poison.
How can we stigmatize the exchange of currency for sex when we realize that we all, in some way, exchange capital for sex, sensuality, care? That all work consists of lending one’s body, against one’s will (necessarily half of the definition of “for pay”), to the purposes of another person or entity (a capitalist).
All work is coercive, that’s what makes it work.
The stigmatization and criminalization of sex work usually comes down to either a moral judgment that considers the laying bare of the transactional aspect of sexuality an impropriety, or to a deep discomfort with agency on the part of women burdened with the role of providing the feminine as commodity, but it is rarely concerned with improving the material conditions of the workers. Law enforcement has always meant the protection of private property and established economic relations. Sociallysanctioned police violence against sex workers establishes the value of certain women over others, through whom race, class, and gender norms are maintained.
You ask what leads some women to sell sex. We ask what pressures other women not to.
What sex work raises is the primacy of the relationship between sexuality and social reproduction. Sex work - economically and ideologically - reinvests the feminine commodity into itself, and into networks which support those relations guided by these knowledges. Physical labor, laying bare the operation of the sexual economy in everyday life, these networks of workers and subjectivities return us to the possibility of suffrage and a form of gain, and to ‘labors of love’, not exchangeable for capital.
We have no desire to collaborate with the powers at be, no desire to be complicit with a reformist agenda, will not settle until we have abolished waged work in its entirety, will not settle until we can return ourselves to these ‘labors of love’, where creative and cumulative education is a byproduct of corporeal effort, and not capital.
In contemporary healthcare practices, diagnosis and treatment has the tendency to reduce ourselves, others, and experiences to a language of illness. This illness is understood as an the wickedness to be exacted out from an otherwise sanitary body and mind. Instead, we wonder what critical education in responsibility can come from the trauma of an ailing body, especially when this is witnessed and respected by care providers. What happens when this is weaponized by those suffering?
This practice can’t be empty; it can’t be purely discursive. We simultaneously reject the notion of organization-fororganization’s-sake while acknowledging the tyranny of structurelessness. The more we accept accountability as an ethos for living in our everyday lives, the more resilient we become in the face of forces and technologies that seduce us toward purchased escape.
“I don’t want to have children” I said when the mechanic asked me if I had plans to settle. He said “well, I guess you’re old enough to know by now...” It was a first for me.
The process of exit is increasingly understood as a tactic for the ultimate realization of one’s personal or national political autonomy (eg. Brexit, Grexit, ghosting, the alt-right’s Sexodus, etc.). The subjectivity of the feminine remains tethered to the liability of caring for and with others. How does self-recognition work within these systems of accountability and these feminine subjectivities? How can these be operationalized, communized, desirable, or even weaponized? Self-recognition or knowledge inside this system doesn’t come from identification, but instead through representation through nodes of experience, which account for everyone’s different expertise. This reality submits us to the common experience of the inability to exit, and the joy of being a body accountable to the web of life that intersects with and supports our own.
This body is any body. A human, an animal, a non-human person, a plant, an ecology, a body of water. Accountability means thinking of health before blame, recuperation or education before culpability, failure, or punishment. It means believing that you must play a part in healing, before you are unable to play a part at all.
US IS THE
Prague, 22, 23, & 24 Sept 2017
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