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Category Archives: harm reduction

addiction and being wrong. some thoughts…

Okay. So the debate around these parts about prostitution/pornography/’sex work”/choice/feminism/etc/etc/etc is pretty hot. This outfit calling themselves “First: feminist advocates for sex workers rights” (or something, the name is ‘first’ for sure, am not sure of the subtitle) have recently released a short video about ‘sex workers’. in it, these five or six women are pictured, one at a time, talking about all their achievements. One is a classically trained pianist. Another is a writer. A third designs jewelry. One is pregnant with her third child. Another’s son said in a teen-boy-monotone; “I love my mom”. And so on. One of ’em, she’s the head of some ‘adult entertainment’ agency or something. Which is, as we know, just another euphemism for men buying women’s bodies. uh-huh.  There’s some text on the screen about how these women are just like other women, they are diverse and multi-everything, and … they are “sex workers” (I have to put that term in scare quotes because it helps to contain the gag reflex a bit. you KNOW i don’t think of it as work). Then after the text, these same women are shown proclaiming, “I am a sex worker”. One woman said, “I am a former sex worker”. and another muttered, “I am kind of a part-time street worker…”  The white women all smiled as they said it. One looked like she was trying for a ‘saucy, sexy’ look. None of the Aboriginal women smiled as they said it. A couple of them looked at the camera as if to say, “what are you gonna do about that? Wanna go?”

I know some of the women who are part of First. I know some of the women in that video, too. Not well. Not as well as I’d like to, some of them. Now, what i’ve noticed about those “First” women, the founders and the main spokespeople, and I don’t i know if there’s a correlation or not, but they tend to drink. A lot.

Now, ya know, I used to drink a lot too. And now i don’t drink at all and i go to these meetings and I have different ways now to deal with the rage and heartache of living in a misogynist capitalist patriarchy that hates me and all the folks who need me and whom i need. pretty much. So, given that, and my previous drug use, and my present understanding that my addiction is just over there in the corner, doing pushups–I am not casting aspersions on my sisters on the wrong side for their heavy use of anesthesia. No indeed. I disagree with them politically, and I think their ideology and tactics are harmful, but I still wish them well. I wish for them freedom from addiction. and I wish for their alliance. I don’t think i can have it, though.

i think  what they are doing; promoting prostitution as a ‘career choice ‘ for women, claiming to be ‘sex-positive’ and pro-pornography are –i think these positions are linked with active addiction. Not that all people (especially women) who hold these views are addicted, or ‘using substances problematically’, but i just notice a pattern. i can’t imagine how women can promote or condone the commodification and exploitation of women. some of these women, of course, have sons, and brothers and dads whom they love. some of ’em, these sons and brothers and dads, some of them are dangerous to women. In fact, I’ll wager that they may have raped and bought and sold and incested some of the very women who are agitating for their right to continue such behaviour. Certainly, they have had material benefits from male violence against women, even if they have done none of it themselves.

Anyhow. I’m trying to work it out. Why are these women using alcohol to such an extent? Why are they so strident in their defense of the prostitution/pimping industry? what is the connection? Is there one?

I heard one of these women speak at a book launch a couple of years ago. The floor was open for questions of the featured author and the person holding the microphone GAVE it to the “First” woman. dear me. Sister said, “My mother sold sex; my grandmother sold sex…” and went on to challenge the author about the lack of representation in her book about the real lives of sex workers. I think maybe she was not sober, and she rambled a bit. I don’t remember what the answer was to her comment.  But she made me think. She reminded me that women will reject any whiff of being regarded as incapable. And they (we) will interpret the status or label of “victim” as being synonymous with ‘incapable”. so if we say, “no. this was my mothers choice. i love my mom.” then we are saying, “she was not a victim, she was resourceful.” Of course, those of us who understand that women in prostitution are victims of male violence do not perforce consider them incapable. no. but we’re accused of being patronizing and judgmental. It’s not what we are saying, it’s what they are hearing. How can we say it different? How can we find a way to say to these “pro-sex-worker advocates” that they deserve better? We all do. It is possible to say, “I am a victim” or, “You have been victimized” or something like that, without talking down, without laying blame on the victim, without patronizing. Indeed, the POINT of saying the word “VICTIM” is to also say the word “PERPETRATOR” . If a woman has been the victim of rape, fer instance, a MAN has been the perpetrator. Rape does not just happen. it doesn’t float around in the air like a virus waiting for some hapless woman to breathe it in. Prostitution does not happen. Women do not just ‘choose’ to go out and suck dick in exchange for ten bucks. Someone is attached to that dick. And that someone, that man, he has gone out LOOKING for a woman to suck his dick. He’s gone out looking, and he’s found her among the women who are similarly responding to the demands of men for dick-suckers. She would not go out looking to suck some penis for money if  THE MAN had not sashayed up with all his entitlement and said, “hey, you. I got this here willy. It needs some hole to go into. you’ll do. here’s ten bucks.” This man, by his demand, his entitlement; he is making unreasonable demands on women and he his victimizing her. he is a perpetrator. she is a victim.

Sure she’s strong and resourceful and has all these other attributes. but he doesn’t want her for that. he wants her for her hole. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass if she’s a concert pianist or a brain surgeon. he’d rather she not be, but just so long as she shuts up about that and wanks him off, she can be anything. who cares. he doesn’t.

Take me, for instance. I drank, smoked dope and cigarettes for many years. Often i’d have a cigarette in one hand and a megaphone in the other.  I have been a feminist my whole adult life, and probably my childhood, too. i found feminism after I found alcohol, and for a while they seemed to go together. You know, drink beer, talk politics, foment revolution. There are lots of things to which i can attribute my predilection to addiction, (none of them having the least little bit to do with my mother–fyi)–and one of the significant things I think is that i am perhaps sensitive to suffering. And afraid. And pathologically optimistic. a bit, shall we say, Quixotic.

Had I been exposed to the sex-positives a little earlier in my life, or followed my youthful desire (I thought it was *my* desire, anyhow) to become a stripper (even though I really have no sense of rhythm whatsoever, and can’t even friggin’ two-step, let alone shimmy…), it is possible I would have remained an active alcoholic for much longer. Eventually, I realized that drinking was not so good for me. I had people around me who told me that i was in trouble. That I should maybe get some help. I was ready to hear it those times. and there was feminism, a foundation that was easier to stand on when i was sober and steady on my feet. radical feminism, at that, not the “you can do whatever you want” kind of feminism.

I’m really lucky. I know active, radical, disciplined and loving feminists. I’m an academic now which is kinda lonesome and confusing in some ways. Like, is this really work? am i really going to contribute something? I’m afraid a lot of the time. But I don’t have to go far to find someone who will tell me “no, you’re not crazy, you’ve got something helpful to say here. Just do it.” I think i drank so much before because, well, i became addicted, for one, and i was not sure enough of myself, my place in the bigger thing.

anyhow. I’m still working it out. there are lots of reasons to be addicted. Lots of reasons to keep using. Life is hard. hearts break. horrors abound. there is a war against women. we are women. and sometimes the only way to endure the war is to defend the enemy, try to stay on his good side, and drink up.

I want to be generous to my enemies, to hear their disagreement and criticism with an open heart. but i want them to change their minds, i want them to stop doing these harmful things. how?i can’t change anyone, but how can we find freedom with all these people in the way? littering the road with bottles and needles and used condoms and lies meant to protect the guilty?

How?

yikes

I’m doing a 5 k “fun run” today. I’m all anxious and stiff. anxious ’cause i hate running. my feet are all misshapen and icky, (bless them) and i’m asthmatic and you know, kinda…well whatever. I’m in good shape for lots of things, just none of them aerobic, really.

and i’m anxious because i’ve got no money and no work (well, a couple of on-call jobs) and I don’t want a job, I just want to write stories and play my accordion, but i don’t do either because i’m a student and so i go on the ‘net and I read shit i should not read because i’m supposed to be writing my ethics approval form and developing a research protocol and i’m about to leap into research, which i always say i don’t like, but in truth, i’m just afraid. I’m afraid that i’ll go interview all these women (i want to do a study about how the whole harm reduction ideology has entered the social services AND feminist activism–and learn more about how HR has affected women’s understanding of their work and activism especially in regard to violence against women-and specifically women in prostitution. And I want to show just how fucking harmful ‘harm reduction’ is, we throw it at these women, ’cause it’s just a sop, and not a very effective one at that. We are abandoning the beautiful people, drug addicts, the women, the poor, the women, those beautiful haunted women, my sisters, myself–we keep them down and dependent on the stupid and the thoughtless so-called services…and i wonder if there might be other women, who do the work i used to do, the cooking, the cleaning, the playing crib, the facilitating groups, the planning programs, the outreach the advocacy–are they troubled like I am? are they frustrated and sad? Do they cry on their way to work? and I want to come up with revolutionary alternatives that women who do the front line work can take up and make into something real and effective so we can achieve our liberation together) — and i’m afraid that half of ’em will hate me because i’m an abolitionist, and i’m afraid that i’ll come across as too rigid and self-righteous (i know. hard to believe), and i’m afraid that no one will talk to me. And then i’m afraid that if they do talk to me that i’ll get tendonitis from typing up the fucking transcripts and then i’ll do all this fucking work and no one will want to publish anything i write, and my dissertaition, if i ever finish it, will sit on a shelf with all the other fucking ponderous dust collectors and i’ll get a fucking job at the local coffee shop with those loud tatoo’ed creatures with the weird things in their ears, and never pay off my fucking student loans, and start drinking again because, why the fuck not?

oh my god. see? see what i have to listen to day in and day out? Even when i’m reading a really good book, like Rauna Kuokkannen’s Reshaping the University: Responsibility, Indigenous Epistemes and the Logic of the Gift (2007), I can’t be fucking still and i’m sorry for all the swearing i’m doing here, i am a bit anxious, cause the run is coming up and i haven’t finished my ethics review form, and i’m afraid to start, and what if i don’t have the right idea after all, what if there is no possibility of change, and i really AM just tilting at windmills? But i’m NOT tilting at windmills, i’m stuck, i’m just standing here, one foot nailed to the floor, the other one wearing a groove all around. Give me a jousting stick and a windmill, it’s at least a little better than this spinning in circles wearing a groove in the floor…

Maybe when i get home i’ll take that tired old accordion out of her case and play a little bit. maybe i’ll do that. that might be a nice thing. even if i can’t really play, it’ll be at least a little more outside noise to stifle the inside noise.

the run will do me good. I’m sure.

Harm Re(pro)duction*

So. earlier, i wrote in a post that car-sharing is a lot like harm reduction, and therefore not so good after all.

What’s ‘not so good’ about harm reduction? How could it not be good? who wants to exacerbate harm?

well. no one, probably. But no one wants to give up the good stuff they’ve got, either. But if we are serious about reducing harm, we have to be serious about redistributing the wealth and power, too. And ‘harm reduction’ (or car sharing) doesn’t do that–not in a structural way, anyhow.

I’m gonna try to explain, then i’ll get to the analogy–

so. Harm reduction is a “pragmatic approach” to social problems, chiefly, proponents say, drug addiction. Harm reduction in practice includes needle exchanges, safe fix sites, free condoms to women in prostitution, ‘condom negotiation workshops” (i kid you not), ‘wet’ shelters, ‘barrier-free’ drop ins (people who are loaded can come in/stay; people can use at the shelter–sometimes it’s set up so that people addicted to alcohol can have a drink on the house every hour), methadone maintenance, and so forth.

In relation to women in prostitution–Harm reduction targets are women who are prostituted(ing) on the street, typically, not women in escort services, brothels, sweatshops, high school girls at parties, strippers, those advertising(ed) on craigslist, or women otherwise bought and sold through means not “in public”. That was a hell of a long sentence. sorry about that. Anyhow, the aim of harm reduction appears to be to get women inside. That’s the overall goal, ’cause ‘inside’ is safer than ‘outside’. apparently.

Tactics for these women include late night visits from outreach workers to offer them coffee, condoms, stale pastries from Starbuck’s (good corporate citizens that they are), lists of particularly nasty men (bad date sheets–formerly known as ‘bad trick’ sheets–more on them later) to watch out for, referrals (more on that later, too); “beauty night”; legal challenges to repeal solicitation laws (there are two such court actions going on in Canada at present); ‘low barrier’ shelters or housing (places that are staffed usually by earnest young women working overnights to pay for school–who will let women bring ‘guests’ in, then call the cops or bounce them outta there, when they refuse to leave after they got their blowjob); and other stuff.

None of which actually reduce the harms that women face, ’cause they don’t address the source of the harm. and, of course, they place the onus for change and self-protection on THE VICTIM. It’s okay to say victim in this context,too, no matter what the pro-pimp side will say about prostitution being a choice for women, and potentially empowering and so on and so forth–There’s this whole debate going on over at the Economist: http://www.economist.com/debate/days/view/572

it’s flawed from the beginning, because the question posed is “Should prostitution be legal?” so, it just assumes that there are only two possible answers “yes” or “no” and does not take into account the complicated tensions between those who would abolish prostitution because women are morally corrupting men via prostitution and those who would abolish prostitution because it is a form of male violence against women and represents the deep inequalities between men and women–there is also nothing in there about how women’s ‘choice’ is used as a weapon against them, as in, “some women choose this and enjoy it” without questioning why men choose to buy women, and why it is overwhelmingly men who do the buying, set the terms, make the demands, not women “setting the terms of their employment”. fah.

ah. I digressed. Anyhow, so, what effect does “harm reduction” policy and practice have on the women who are providing these services to women in prostitution? what do the outreach workers, advocates, activists think of this? We started out,(some of us, and mostly those of us in it for a decade or more, anyhow), in the front-line work because we thought it was a way to get beside women with less than us–or as a way to ‘give back’–help other women outta the pit that women had helped US out of–or because we saw it as an organizing tactic. Some of us thought that if we take care of some of the immediate physical needs, we could figure out a way to fight the patriarchy together, gain some ground, at least SEE freedom from here. I don’t actually know (yet) what other workers/activists think about harm reduction, though i have some informed suspicions–and I aim to find out. I will keep you posted.

i don’t think we figured on the patriarchy and capitalism being so fucking resilient, actually. They got around us by throwing medicine at us. We saw how sick and crazy mens violence and harassment made women. Some of us, I think, we either invited medical interventions or we went into medicine or psychology to try to help. The Man saw, too, that women were driven mad by Him, so he gave us drugs, treated the symptom rather than looking at the cause. ‘Cause, you know, an anesthetized woman is even better than a dead one, ’cause she can still cook and clean if you don’t go too heavy on the dosage…so…

And then there came harm reduction, which emerged from medicine and epidemiology (study of epidemics), Turns out it is a good way to keep some people on the bottom of the social pyramid so they can be the raw resource for the human services industry–social workers and the like…the very women who do the work I used to do before i went back to school, (’cause my heart kept breaking, and I wanted to figure out what was wrong with this picture, and how to change it). I didn’t very much like that my job, my living wage, depended upon there being so many people that had jack-shit. I loved them, and they annoyed the hell out of me, and we gave each other some joy and strife–but we are completely dependent on each other, and not in a good way. My living depended on their degradation. gross.

This is too simplistic, but I have been fiddling with this for too long, i have to get to the point…

Anyhow. So here we are, we have not ended male violence against women, there’s a whole bunch of people who think that there is such a thing as “sex work” which is separate from “survival sex work” which is also separate from “trafficking”–so they want to legalize prostitution and if they do that, then all the “sex workers” will go inside, out of the rain, and out of public view, and all the “survival sex workers” will…um, well, hard to say what they will do if ‘sex work’ becomes legal…but they’ll for sure still go to the drop-in centres and stay in the shelters and take the free condoms and try to take care of each other and themselves and probably use drugs to get along so they’ll be ‘clients’ at the safe fix sites and clinics and so on (except for when the men who buy them and/or beat them are also clients there, so then they’ll have to wait).

What does this have to do with car-sharing co-ops, you may ask? Well. It’s harm reduction, see? We don’t have to pay insurance or buy gas or maintain our own cars, we just put down a $500 refundable deposit and pay a bit per usage ($3.00/hr in our case + mileage–not so much, i don’t know what) and then we  can drive pretty much any time we want to. The more members, the more cars there are, so it’s not inconvenient. And I don’t know about others, but for me, it just keeps the craving for a car of my own ALIVE. I think if I didn’t have a car, or access to one, I wouldn’t want one. I don’t ever need one, or hardly ever–this is a big city with a pretty good transit system and I have a bike and strong legs, there’s never a need for a car. There is just the desire. Just the craving. The obsession. And the obsession is stoked every time I get to drive the little Mini Cooper at Main and 13th, or the Nissan Cube at Cambie and 10th, or the Versa, or the Echo, or the Mazda truck, or…sometimes i just book a car BECAUSE I CAN. and i get all these fucking karmic points for not owning my own car, for having a “small carbon footprint”–and it’s a sham, really it is. I might pay less for a car, but I’m a member of the fucking car co-op, I own HUNDREDS of cars, all over the city! And the addiction stays alive, the monkey’s on my back (oooh. I want...) . It’s like the so-called safe-injection site–as long as there’s a place to go where you can take your drugs and be “safe”, why would you want to take the risk and experience a clean and sober life? Why would I want to take the risk and go without a car, especially on rainy gross days?

I dunno. At a certain point the metaphor breaks down, but I will stop writing just before I reach it–the main thing is, car-sharing is like a gateway drug. If you’re like me, you could get to a place where you are just jonesing all the time for a carbon fix and you want to get into one of those beautiful new, nimble fast cars and drive. And crave your very own car. someday again, i will…

it’s kind of torture. it is kind of like still being addicted, but not having access to the drug as often. The craving, the obsession, never goes away. The hole is still there, never filled. See? Harm reduction just keeps the addiction alive, it doesn’t change anything. not. one. fucking. thing.

sigh.

*That parenthetical syllable inserted into “harm reduction” extends from a verbal description of ‘harm reduction’ by a radical feminist ally–it more aptly describes the effect of harm reduction (not the intent).

bye for now…

I’m going to Denmark in a couple of days! Denmark! whoa. I don’t usually use exclamation marks, i think they’re a bit shrill.

but — Denmark!

okay. i’ll stop that now. I’m going to a summer school for grad students on the topic of lifelong learning inside and outside of formal schooling situations. the paper i’m gonna present is about how, well, broadly, how the discourse about prostitution has been increasingly medicalized, and feminist analysis and voices calling prostitution violence against women have been erased. Even as women in prostitution have been both pathologized and abandoned by promoters of ‘harm reduction’. you know what harm reduction is, eh–condoms galore, ‘bad trick’ sheets, outreach workers, street nurses, ‘condom use negotiation workshops’, etcetera– these things and more are supposed to help women be safer, seeing as how they ‘choose’ to be in prostitution anyhow, and it IS the “world’s oldest profession” after all.

bullshit. farming is.prostitution is oppression, not profession.

and so fucking what? slavery’s been around a long fucking time, too, can we find people who think that enslaved people “choose” it?  And hey, rape, battering, child sexual assault? Men have been doing these things a long time. Okay with you? Nope. I bet not. And if it is, you’re not likely to say so in public, are ya?

But prostitution, now, that’s something else entirely. That’s business. or, well, maybe it’s a health concern. No kidding. On page 6, I think, of a recent report called “the Challenge Of Change” produced by a special subcommittee of the Canadian Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (or something, I don’t have it here right now, i forget the exact title)–the authors wrote that prostiution is  “above all, a public health issue, and not only a criminal law issue”.

fer cryin’ out loud. Mostly they’re concerned about the health of the public, not so much the ‘public women’. Though it does seem that concern for women in prostitution is high. It just seems that mostly, public policy makers and service providers and just about everyone has given in to cynicism and despair and don’t want to really address the demand.

Like ‘wife battering’, ‘rape’, ‘incest’, ‘sexual harassment’…it is an identifiable group that is responsible for ALL of it. All of it. Men. They do it, they get away with it, and even the guys who DON’T do it have more space and power and stuff because other men do it — to women. We are all victims of male violence. Even if no man has ever touched us, we’ve all seen the advertisements, we’ve heard the stories, we’ve been trained to be alert to the possibilities, we’ve all taken the ‘bad trick’ sheet home with us and studied it.

The difference between women in prostitution and women not in prostitution is mostly that the women in prostitution are in danger from men who buy them AND men they live with or have relationships with, and women not in prostitution are mostly only in danger from men they know.

feminist anti-male-violence activists know this, but who listens to us? Well, for a while, in the 70s and 80s, it looked like more people were hearing us. Another study, published in 1985, the Fraser Committee’s report on Pornography and Prostitution in Canada was obviously influenced by feminism. At the very least, they understood that women in prostitution were most at risk from men who bought or sold them (i can’t remember what page that’s on, either). And there was lots more discussion in that report about women’s poverty, and male domination, and how we have to start educating people early about sexuality and all that.

By 2006, all that discussion disappeared, as had a feminist voice in the public discourse. Time to bring that back.

that, broadly, is what my paper’s about. Lifelong learning.

yep. Denmark’s gonna be fun.

because i am, after all, easily riled, I’ll likely do some blogging when I’m there, but who knows, maybe i’ll be too busy lookin’ at castles and arguing with academics from Portugal and Turkey.

so, you know, bye for now.

Zombies are taking over the world

I’ve been around for a while now. That is to say, i’ve been an organized and active feminist, radical feminist, since the mid-1980s. And I ought to know a thing or two about organizing and getting shit done and rousing up the movement to accomplish something meaningful in the name of our shared liberation.

But I’m hampered. I am constrained by…femaleness. Not the physiology of being female, or the feeling of being female– the training. The training. I can’t shake the feeling that what i say/think/do doesn’t really matter. I HAVE TO take myself seriously, and I’m still drifting around like a fucking 15 year old — BOY. all cute and saucy, but with no…gumption.

And of course, i’m NOT a boy. Nor am I a ‘boi’–that shit’s ridiculous and dangerous. and not in a good way dangerous. Not in a ‘we are changing the structures within which we have been formed and live’ kind of dangerous…

We are all raised in some way or another, to be princesses. Even when the training doesn’t really ‘take’, as in my case, clearly–there is something ‘girly’ that clings. tenaciously to our way of being in the world. Like cat hair on a white shirt. Like spinach on an eyetooth. sigh.

Not ‘we’, I suppose, all the time. I know LOTS of women who are ‘take charge’ types. Women who stand out front. Who hold one hand back for us, and one hand up to fend off  THE MAN. But they can’t haul me around forever, i have to step in front.

The time is now. I think writing in a weblog is perhaps not the best way to spend my time. But I also think it’s a little useful in order to improve my writing. And I’m kind of, in a weird, disconnected way, meeting new people, for whom I have some admiration. They are reading my work, and I am reading theirs. and while so far we’re acquaintances, I am beginning to know that I and my local allies in Vancouver are not the only women in the world who are trying to stop the fucking zombies from taking over…

anyhow. now i want to write about some things the zombies are doing, that we need to stop–

Some of ’em are small, some are big. Here’s one:

Harm reduction

this is a dangerous set of practices. Dressed up as benevolence, it is a metal cage that keeps the marginalized in. They don’t mind it there, either. Like me, in my comfy little apartment, reading blogs, fussing with cockroach spray, tucking my pants into my socks–there are a million things to do before going about the business of gaining freedom. The addicts, now, the addicts and the prostitutes and the folks who are ‘beyond the pale’, they have a million things to do too, there on those narrow crumbling margins they inhabit. And Harm reduction will help them with all those millions of things, and keep them safe. safe but not free.

They have to find the needles, and the pipe, and suck the cock so they can get the dope or rock to put into the needle or the pipe, and on the way to the safe injection site, there’s a research project where they can tell an earnest young graduate student about their story and get ten bucks for their trouble, which, after they take their fix in the safe injection site, they can use to buy another hit. Those researchers, they’re a real boon to the ‘hood, ’cause that’s usually one or two less cocks to suck for some of the women.

And they are fortunate, here in one of the most livable cities in the world, that there is a neighbourhood just for them. There in the Downtown Eastside, they can walk one block in any direction and get:

a clean needle;

A sandwich

A loaf of bread

a pair of jeans

shoes

a haircut

some mascara

shampoo

a shower

internet access

a reading group

condoms, (lubricated or not)

a crack pipe

a “safe” filter for the crack pipe

a rock of crack for about five bucks

a flap of ‘down’ (heroin) for about ten bucks

a couple of T3s (codiene) for three bucks

a single cigarette

an INXS CD

A mountain bike

ten assorted pop cans

50 cents in exchange for the pop cans

a single cigarette for fifty cents…

and so on.

You can get a t-shirt from the safe injection site, too, that says on it, “InSite” and has a flower on it.

And if you’re a woman, and you’re out on the street in the middle of the night, you can get a cup of coffee from the folks in the MAP van.

If you live in one of the hotels down town that is run by one of the non-profit societies, you can get stale pastries from the young people who sit behind the desk and push the button to let people into your home.

What you can NOT get–not from the soup kitchens, or shelters, not from the safe fix site or the researchers, not from the politicians or from the MAP van, not from the drop-in centres or the property management companies or from the street nurses or the outreach workers–

is freedom.

Or responsibilities

you can’t get clean. you can’t get sober. you can’t get feminism from the folks who are giving you harm reduction. you can’t. You can just lurch from one fix or bowl of soup or pair of second-hand socks to the next.

Women who get clean, who get off the street, who get out of prostitution–they don’t get out by participating in research projects. They don’t get out by filling out affidavits. They don’t get out by sucking cock, taking a new pipe and filter from an outreach worker, buying a rock and lighting it up and sucking in the smoke and feeling a release from the feelings of despair. Nope.

They get out when someone SEES them. Someone sees them, and says to them, “hey. You know, you could do a lot better, eh. You don’t deserve this. What about you and me, we work on getting you out of here, getting you a better life?”

not, “well, it’s your choice. you do what you like. i’m not going to judge you. here have a coffee”

Not, “here’s a tourniquet, here’s a little mirrored booth. When you’re done shooting up, the nurse will watch so that you don’t o.d. There, there.”

Not, “we do have a detox, you can stay up there for three weeks, and you can’t leave the building or have any visitors, but it’s safe…”

Not, “you deserve to be respected as any other service provider. you deserve to be revered as a seller of very fine blow jobs”.

Now, it may sound as though I think that everyone who does the work of handing out sandwiches and clean needles is evil. One of the Nation of Zombies. But I don’t think that. I think that all the people who do that kinda work do want better for people. But they can’t imagine what better looks like, exactly.

not that I can, either…

But I do know, I know for SURE, that staying addicted is not better. no matter how safe and clean and disease-free is the delivery system, no matter how caring and safe the safe fix site is–it’s still prison and it’s not a better life.

Women get out when they have other people (womenpeople, or childrenpeople–not usually menpeople) who need them. And when they have support to do what is needed of them. When we matter to others, when we have responsibilities and when we belong somewhere…that’s when we can imagine freedom.

and by ‘belonging somewhere’, i don’t mean ‘lowest common denominator’.  I mean women, all together, taking the lead and saving the world. it’s work. and we make mistakes all the time. and we chicken out and make spectacular failures. And we don’t trust one another easily (nor should we), because we’ve all been raised up in a Capitalist Patriarchy where women are hated and despised and put on a pedestal and invented. How can we know how to trust each other when we don’t even know we exist?

We do exist, though. This gang of women here on the internet, and the folks in our own communities who KNOW us, and who expect things of us, we are all together going about the business of existence. in spite of. in the face of.

in spite of Capitalist Patriarchy

in the face of daily Mortal Danger

some of us have, as Andrea Dworkin reminded us, “more slack in our chain”.

Harm reduction is a chain. a silken chain with the strength of steel. it asks for nothing and gives everything. and leaves the recipient empty.

Look. The emperor has no clothes. While you are addicted you are not free. while you are addicted you cannot be beside me. While you are addicted your mind is not your own.

look at the source of the harm. reduce THAT. men’s unearned power. overconsumption. White people’s un-examined entitlement. free market economy.

I have to go meet up with my advisor now. Maybe i’ll write more about zombies another time.

things are working out…

Well. still not done the chapter.worked all day at the transition house. first time in MONTHS. on-call work is so fucking unpredictable. but it was so fun. overall. Love that place. All those women helping each other figure it out, cooking and playing with the kids and laughing and crying and cleaning and making plans and holding each other up and trashing men…that’s seven different kindsa happiness, that is.

but I will finish that chapter. and not fighting with my girlfriend anymore. that’s nice. it was just a little thing, anyhow, you know, the kinds of things that happen when the day has been long and fraught and there are not enough words spoken, and when they are, they’re spoken in *that* tone of voice…

and i’m not fighting with the people who sold me my bed anymore either. I sent off a fairly strongly worded note (no cursing, no blaming, no insults–just the true story and a wee threat), and I talked to the woman who has to handle all the calls, and she apologized to me and told me the rude man would call me. He DID today! and he was nice, even, and said he’d come by today. so i’m all good. Uh. he didn’t get here, but he did phone. we have a tentative date for Monday morning.

People want to do good. I think everyone does.

we all fuck up though, which i suppose is a mechanism designed to keep us humble.

if it works. Sometimes my humility button doesn’t engage, though.

other times it gets stuck in the “shame” position.

at least i no longer pour alcohol on it to try to unstick it. there’s that.

so, here’s the thing about harm reduction. I started on that rant a few days ago because of being all remorseful and frustrated that i’ve permanently damaged my capacity for breath (it appears) by smoking for such a long time. and being asthmatic. which isn’t my fault, (the asthma bit) or anyone’s, but it’s a contributing factor.

anyhow. i wanted to say that harm reduction doesn’t. I know people say that safe fix sites save lives, and clean needles save lives, and free condoms to women in prostitution save lives, and ‘safer smoke kits’ for people who smoke crack save lives and yadayadayada.

They don’t.

At the very best they might stabilize a wrecked life at a tolerable level of ‘wrecked-ness’ . These things are not even SUPPOSED to save lives, they’re supposed to be PALLIATIVE CARE. yup. That’s what harm reduction is supposed to do, or what it was initially designed to do–arrest the spread of disease (especially HIV/AIDS), and provide people who were hopelessly addicted with a bit of comfort. Um, and get them off the streets so the nice people who are NOT hopeless wouldn’t have to see that raw suffering, while they’re on their way to work.

I sound all harsh and humourless, don’t I? but i’m neither. I just think we can do way better.

I know we can. but we all need more in order to do that. women need more money. and homes where we can invite friends to come, and to share a meal. And we need friends. Community bonds, people who have our back, and vice-versa. We need to believe in ourselves and take responsibility for the well-being of others and we need to matter–to be part of something bigger than our own small frightened damaged selves. Maybe a big farm in the country where there are no men. As my friend said recently, “a healing place”

I do not think that harm reduction is any kind of solution. I call it “harm re(pro)duction” and spell it with them little brackets in the middle to look all edgy an’ post-modern an’ shit. Cause all it is, is it’s a cheap ‘make work’ project for the folks who can’t get jobs in forestry or engineering or whathaveyou. it’s a way to keep the ‘raw resource’ of the desperate and disenfranchised hangin’ out in the soup kitchens and shelters and drop in centres and safe-fix sites and…so that the nice shiny young people can get a job handing out needles and giving out looooong earnest looks of compassion and sandwiches and little sayings like, “i don’t judge you”

which is a total lie, actually. OF COURSE we have judgments about what people put into their bodies. and how people live. and how they behave.

what they’re saying, when they say, “no judgment, man” is, (and this may NOT be what the individuals who say it  mean at all, really, it’s just what THE MAN means), “you’re not really worth any more than this. here. have a condom. have a clean needle. see ya next time”.

people want to do good. and we are told that harm reduction is good.

but that’s a lie.

harm reduction is something.

and it looks kinda good, kinda nice and sweet and kind.

but it’s really a cynical abandonment of the beautiful people. it’s not good enough. I want those people, the junkies and the drunks and the “public women”–I want them beside me, not beneath me. I want all of us to be “us”. and if the drug comes first, and if the john calls the shots, and if THE MAN says, “this is what you’re worth”–

it’s really hard to believe that you are worth much more.

alright…i am still sorting out how to make this argument better. but i have a freakin’ paper to write. almost there….