Category Archives: Listening 2 Lesbians

Lesbian voices about lesbian lives

We’re Back

Lesbian2On August 18th of this year my whole life changed forever.  I was waiting in a patient room with a close friend after undergoing a colonoscopy and the doctor walked in and said, “I have really bad news for you.  We found a tumor in your rectum that we believe is malignant.  We believe you have cancer that has spread to your lymph nodes, liver and lungs.  This is considered stage 4 cancer.”

It felt like a sucker punch.  I couldn’t breathe.  I fumbled with my phone to call my best friend and to Skype Liz in Australia at the same time.  I wasn’t able to function.  Once I got Liz on Skype she asked the doctor how long I had.  He told us “months.”

Months.

Back in July I had gotten really sick for the first time and ended up in the hospital for five days.  That is the first time that I said to myself I can’t work on Listening 2 Lesbians.  I was exhausted, ill, scared.  They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me because they kept ignoring my symptoms.  She can’t have rectal cancer, she’s only 42.  No colorectal cancers in her family.  No weight-loss.  Generally quite healthy.

It turns out this is happening to a lot of younger people.  Colorectal cancer is increasing drastically in 20-, 30-, and 40-year olds, but it’s taking a hell of a lot of self-advocacy to get the doctors looking in that direction.  It’s an older person’s cancer no longer, but not enough medical professionals are listening.  I had to demand a colonoscopy and I was referred very reluctantly.

I’m telling you my story so you know where Listening 2 Lesbians has been since July.  Why we stopped so abruptly after our big campaign against Facebook gained us a bit of additional attention.  How Liz and I have had everything change, from looking forward to immigrating to Australia in October to finding out Australia doesn’t let people with cancer into their country permanently, and many times, even temporarily.  How even marriage equality in Australia, if it happens, will have little to no effect on their decision-making process.  Liz is stuck in Australia and I am stuck in the USA with cancer.

And in the middle of all of this devastating news I have mourned the loss of my ability to work on Listening 2 Lesbians.  I have come to understand that my Purpose in life is to work for the safety and well-being of the lesbian community living in all corners of the world.  I have such passion for our community and I truly believe we can become a much stronger force for our own self-advocacy.  Whether it’s fighting Facebook’s discrimination, or standing up for and with our sisters in South Africa who face rape and death on a daily basis, we have a lot to do.  I believe we can make a difference, even in this fucked up world we live in today.

Luckily for me, my oncologist was pretty pissed off at that doctor who gave me months to live.  He told me simply that the median is 2-3 years, but everyone is different.  If you look at the statistics, people are making it years, decades even, past that median.  I’m young, strong, determined.  And I have Purpose.  That Purpose is you, dear followers of Listening 2 Lesbians.  I plan on sticking around for a very long time.

Moving forward I will be starting the news section of L2L back up again.  I am currently looking at my last round of chemo in less than a week.  It will be the end of my first treatment.  They will scan my body again and see if it worked.  After that, could be radiation, could be more chemo, or it could be both at the same time.  I will update L2L when I feel well and rest when I don’t.  So, while we are not back 100%, we are at least back up and running.  Please bear with us during this difficult time.  You may see a lot of articles you’ve already read as we try to catch up on recording acts of violence and discrimination against lesbians around the world.  You might not see many blog posts like we used to write.  We are going to do what we can with what we have.

I encourage every one of you to do the same.  Do what you can with what you have for your lesbian sisters.  We need each other more than ever now.  We are listening to you and for you at L2L.  It’s good to be back.

Best,
Lisa

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In Memoriam: Lesbian Murder Victims (July 2017 Update)

Day-of-Mourn-01-300x187

“Lesbians are very often undercounted as murder victims–both within the so-called LGBT community and by those who monitor violence against women. This is a beginning effort to honor the names of the lesbians that have been lost.”

This month we honor the following sisters:

Ariel Lowe, Nassau, Bahamas (March 2015)

Vanesa Gamboa Gutiérrez, Santiago, Chile (May 2016)

Lidiana Santana and Thayane Milla Mendes, Portugal (Probably in February 2016. Their bodies were not discovered until August 2016.)

Continue reading at: In Memoriam: Lesbian Murder Victims: May 2017 (Source)

Facebook: Listening to Lesbians?

we love dykes

We just had a really productive conversation with Facebook.  I can’t believe I just typed that, but it is true.  In a 45-minute discussion with a spokesperson who works with the Communications Team on content policy issues, we laid everything out on the table, and we were treated with respect and given answers to questions we have been asking repeatedly for the last few weeks.  It’s okay if you are skeptical.  We were very skeptical going into this.  As most of you know, neither Liz nor I, are pushovers.  So, if this spokesperson did a classic corporate number on us, she is very good.  But we don’t think that’s what happened.

Background

On July 5th, 2017 we sent our Facebook contact a 51-page PDF filled with screencaps of deleted posts and banned women.  This contact also suggested a conference call for a few days later to discuss the bannings and all of the questions and concerns we have been raising at Listening 2 Lesbians.  In the interim, she worked through the list and women slowly started to see deleted posts reappear with apology, and bans end early.  In the meantime, she was also reading our articles and our response to Facebook Hard Questions, which she said had been read and discussed by multiple people at Facebook.  Basically, she came into the discussion with an understanding of what our concerns were and a desire to work with us to address these issues.  We believe she came to this discussion in good faith.  Immediately prior to our conversation we sent her an additional PDF with more screencaps.

How the Deletions and Bans Happen

Our discussion started with a clarification of how the Community Operations Team really works, the role of the new AI and what has been happening these past several weeks with regards to the word “dyke”.  To start, Facebook does not consider “dyke” a banned word, but admits that the content reviewers are making major mistakes with understanding the importance of the word “dyke” to the lesbian community and the proper context for its usage.

There are two ways a post is flagged: it is reported by another Facebook user, or it is flagged by the AI.  Either way, the spokesperson says an actual human being, the content reviewer, reviews the post and makes the decision on whether or not it violates community standards.  We asked about suspiciously quick deletions/bannings and questioned how a content reviewer could get to them so fast and she said she did not know and needs to examine specific instances to determine what happened.  We will continue to follow up on that.

Facebook is aware that users have been testing their system by just typing “dyke” or typing it over and over again.  While they understand our desire to do this, their spokesperson said these particular kinds of posts are too void of context for their reviewers.  They are not always able to tell if the word is directed AT someone, or a group, or if it is a positive pronouncement.  We had been thinking about this ahead of her mentioning it, and felt that this was a reasonable concern that we, as users, might consider going forward.  So, while Facebook is admitting that it has been struggling with how to continue the positive pro-dyke communications, we may want to reevaluate using it with absolutely no context at all.

What is Facebook Doing about It?

As Facebook has been getting more information from us they have been working on ways to fix the problem.  According to the spokesperson, her team has been examining the posts we send them, they have been gathering data and retraining content reviewers on how to appropriately evaluate the word “dyke” in a post.  They are also bringing in “subject matter experts” to specifically address the use of reclaimed words, not only in the lesbian community, but in other communities as well.  She also restated that Facebook is hiring 3000 more content reviewers to better handle the load.

We talked quite a bit about the new AI used to locate hate speech in user posts.  She told us that when the AI flags a post it is not deleted right away.  It is first sent to a content reviewer for evaluation.  Facebook is now saying that the AI is not ready to be used alone.  They are now looking at the issues being raised with their use of Protected and Unprotected Categories.  She said they are aware of the problems and are working on it.

What about the Petition?

We made three demands of Facebook in our petition and we feel that Facebook is now attempting to meet those demands.

  1. We are asking for everyone’s support in calling on Facebook to end their discriminatory practice of banning women for using the word “dyke” in a self-referential manner and/or as a positive expression of our culture.  We also reject the idea that we must use a hashtag in front of our identity in order to not get banned.  We demand they follow their own stated policy, and allow us to use our own word in order to avoid restricting our ability to express ourselves on Facebook.

The Facebook spokesperson has said they have not banned the word “dyke” and hold only the intention of targeting actual hate speech.  They are working to put policy into proper practice.

  1. We are also calling on Facebook to do an investigation into the practices of their Community Operations Team, the content reviewers responsible for answering reports, scanning user posts, and carrying out bans and deletions.  We demand that Facebook determine if any of their employees responsible for judging user content are showing a bias against women and lesbians.  We call on Facebook to terminate the employment of any individual that has intentionally targeted women and lesbians for their beliefs and/or because they hate women and lesbians.  We believe this investigation should also be conducted with regards to other minority groups as well.

According to our contact who works on the team responsible for investigating Community Operations Team practices and content policy issues, they are investigating what has happened, why so many mistakes were made and ways to fix those mistakes so they don’t happen again.  They are determining if any content reviewers need retraining and that retraining is already occurring.  She has asked us all to continue the dialog with her through this process and to continue to bring forward evidence of deletions and bans that should not have happened.

  1. Finally, we are calling on Facebook to fix their hate speech algorithms to recognize the importance of the word “dyke” in the lesbian culture and to strengthen their approach to recognizing and addressing actual hate speech against lesbians.  While we are just one minority group affected by these policies, we feel other minority groups are similarly affected.  We ask for your support in settling this dispute with Facebook.

According to the spokesperson, Facebook is aware of this ongoing issue and is working on the algorithms to find ways that do not punish minority groups that use reclaimed words.

Moving Forward

At this time, we believe Facebook is making efforts to rectify the dyke ban situation.  We believe that our contact engaged with us in good faith and is truly interested in working with us to improve policy and procedure at Facebook.  WE WILL REMAIN VIGILANT.  Listening 2 Lesbians will continue discussions with Facebook about issues the lesbian community encounters on their platform.  We will also try to foster new lines of communication between Facebook and the lesbian community who use their platform

At this time, we ask that women continue to send in a screen cap of posts they had deleted for the use of the word “dyke” along with their profile url.  Please send those to ari@listening2lesbians.com.  She will be sending those to Facebook regularly.  We also encourage all lesbians to research and find paths of communication with Facebook.  If requested, we will assist in this process as much as possible.

At this time, Listening 2 Lesbians believes we have received satisfactory answers to our demands.  We will continue to monitor the situation and we hope you do too.

We thank everyone for their support!  Petition signers, sharers, law experts, human rights advocates, journalists, agitators; you all helped make this happen!  We extend a special thank you to those that took extra steps to push this issue forward.  We could not have done any of this without all of you!

Dykes Rule!

Lisa & Liz
Listening 2 Lesbians

Facebook Hates Lesbians

http://www.epochalips.com/2010/10/lesbian-history-dyke-a-quarterly/

Dyke A Quarterly

How are we doing?

No, this isn’t a website questionnaire asking readers of Listening 2 Lesbians if we provide enough material, or a positive attitude, or if all of your questions and concerns are answered by us in a timely manner.

How are WE DYKES ON FACEBOOK doing?

I can ask that question, but I know for sure we are never going to get a 100% response.  Why? Because as I type this, dozens of us are serving our time in Facebook jail for daring to call ourselves DYKES.  Many of us are on our second or third ban.  Some of us got banned again and again, within mere minutes of logging back on for the first time after a recent ban had been lifted.  We have had reports that these consecutive bans included posts that lesbians had posted on their own walls days to weeks in the past.  Imagine that.  Facebook waited for women’s bans to end and then reached back through their wall history to find another post to punish them.

One woman had 12 minutes between the time she sent Facebook an email protesting the bans and logging back into her account, before she was banned for a post on her wall from several days previous.  Email, then ban. Weird timing that was.  While she was serving out her 24-hour ban she received another pop-up message telling her another 24-hours had been added to her current ban.  No explanation why.  Now, bans usually happen in a sequence of escalating bans: 24 hours to 3 days to 7 days to 30 days to permanent deletion of account.  How did she get two 24-hour bans, one of which was given DURING the first ban?  Weird.

http://keepcalmandwander.com/pride-toronto-dyke-march-2013/

A large number of us had posts deleted. Many of us received 24-hour bans. Many lesbians are still saying DYKE all over Facebook.  Many non-lesbians are saying dyke all over Facebook.  Listening 2 Lesbians is trying to post all of the ones we could get, but frankly, there are only 2 of us and there are too many examples pouring in.  We can’t keep up.  Also, frankly, I’m pissed.  Listening 2 Lesbians’ own Liz was one of those targeted with the consecutive bans and one of the posts that got deleted was a link to our own post!  And it wasn’t the content of the post that earned the delete.  It was the fact that when she copied and pasted the link onto her status, the word ‘dyke’ was in the URL address!  (We can only assume this is the case, because we have only had 1 other report of a post with our linked article being deleted and we can’t see the top of the screen cap where the URL would be.)

What gives, Facebook?!

Last week, Listening 2 Lesbians wrote an article describing what we saw as a ‘perfect storm’ affecting lesbians’ abilities to call ourselves and each other dykes.  We talked about the Community Operations Team; those thousands of content reviewers that review posts reported for violating community standards.  We talked about the Network of Support; a group of LGBT groups that consult with Facebook on hate speech.  We talked about Facebook’s Online Civil Courage Initiative, started in January 2016 by Germany to force Facebook to eliminate terrorist propaganda and hate speech.  On June 15, 2017, just a couple of weeks ago,  Facebook announced that this new initiative includes an AI (Artificial Intelligent) that trolls Facebook looking for hate speech, groups that talk a lot of hate speech and people that need to be stopped. We were told that these content reviewers (Community Operations Team employees) still looked at all those posts too, to make sure they were evaluated for content.  Supposedly, a human being always made the final decision, so when we wrote Facebook’s Hard Questions (as asked), we not only asked about the algorithms, we also asked about what kind of employees are reviewing our content.  What do they think about lesbians?  About women in general?  Are they actually monitored extensively as suggested, or could one (or more) go about banning whomever they don’t agree with?  We didn’t get a response.

A couple of days later we were contacted by a radio show in Australia to talk about the bans and ‘dyke’ identity.  We were told a Facebook representative was showing up to explain.  After hearing the issue, that spokesperson never showed up, instead telling the journalist they would get back to us all on that.  We haven’t heard anything back.  This is particularly disturbing because a Facebook spokesperson told NPR back in November 2016, “It’s OK to use racial slurs when being self-referential.”  So if racial slurs can be used by the community reclaiming the slur, why can’t we?

In another example of comedic timing, the very next day, ProPublica released an amazing article written by senior journalist Julia Angwin entitled, Facebook’s Secret Censorship Rules Protect White Men from Hate Speech But Not Black Children.  This is a mind-blowing look at the contents of internal documents revealing how Facebook’s algorithms work and how those content reviewers are trained to tell the difference between hate speech and political expression.  It looks an awful lot like that perfect storm we were telling you about.  WARNING: The results are not good.

Now that we are caught up, I want to discuss what the hell this ProPublica article is saying and how exactly do these algorithms and content reviewer rules apply to us dykes.  I’m going to say right now that I can’t see it.  Seriously.  In a little bit, I’m going to describe to you how Facebook says it works and then I’m going to use examples of posts that lesbians got banned for and ask you, our tech-savvy readers, to tell us what you think.  You may want some coffee first.

Oh, Facebook, What Have You Done?

So, after years of Facebook telling us how they rely only (then mostly, then heavily) on users to report posts that might violate community standards, ProPublica reveals that content reviewers “scour the social network deleting offensive speech.”  Bam! Finally, they said it.  So right away we know that overworked employees, with ethics, social beliefs and political beliefs we know nothing about, are looking for WE THE OFFENDING FACEBOOK USERS.  Good to finally know.  Also, we kind of already expected this, didn’t we?  But here is some more interesting stuff.  ProPublica reports:

“One document trains content reviewers on how to apply the company’s global hate speech algorithm. The slide identifies three groups: female drivers, black children and white men. It asks: Which group is protected from hate speech? The correct answer: white men.”

ProPublica - Who Facebook's Secret Censorship Rules Protect

What?! How can this be?

I’m going to try to be brief here, so if it’s too brief, please read the full article.  You should be reading it anyway.  Really.  There’s a slideshow!

Facebook’s algorithms have something called “Protected Categories” (PC) and it is only attacks against these Protected Categories that Facebook will stop.

PC= Sex, religious affiliation, national origin, gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, serious disability or disease.

Non-Protected Categories (NPC) = Social class, continental origin, appearance, age, occupation, political ideology, religions, countries.

If someone is two or more of these categories they are a subset.  A subset can be a PC or a NPC:

PC+PC=PC or;

PC+NPC=NPC

So, for the three examples that were given to Facebook employees, the resulting equations were as follows:

Female (PC) + Drivers (NPC) = NPC

Black (PC) + Children (NPC) = NPC

White (PC) + Men (PC) = PC

Do you want to cry now?

The last bit of information you need is what exactly an ‘attack’ is by Facebook standards.  Types of attacks are: calling for violence, calling for exclusion, calling for segregation, degrading generalization, dismissing, cursing, a slur.  So, your post will get deleted if you use one of these attacks against a PC.  The equation is:

Protected Category (PC) + Attack = Hate Speech

‘Dyke’ is a Slur

So before our Facebook spokesperson hid tail and ran from our radio interview, they told the journalist that Facebook considers ‘dyke’ a slur.  Fair enough.  It is true that when someone who is not a dyke attacks someone verbally with the word dyke, that person is using that word as a slur.  Now, those of us in Dyke Nation (and other minority groups), know that words that can be used to hurt us, are also able to be reclaimed.  And just like other groups that have found themselves on the receiving end of this abuse, lesbians have been reclaiming ‘dyke’ for decades.  Of course, there are lesbians that don’t want to be referred in this way, just like there are lesbians that don’t want to be referred to as ‘queer’.  That is understandable and we should all respect that, but lesbians have been reclaiming dyke from the oppressors for so long we have it on marches, book titles, social clubs, motorcycle clubs, sports teams, plays, blogs, stickers, t-shirts…we even have it trademarked in the U.S.A.!  Dyke is out there!  And we are damn proud of it!  As Liz said on The Informer:

“‘Dyke’ is quite a strong word. It has a strong, evocative feeling, and it’s been taken over by women for decades as a symbol of strength and pride and resistance. It really is, to me, a symbol of women taking up space, like Dykes on Bikes. Everybody loves Dykes on Bikes. It’s about noise, it’s about women unapologetically asserting their existence in the world. That’s not something we see lesbians being able to do very often so I think that dyke is quite significant because of its guttural nature, you know linguistically it’s quite strong, because of its social connotations. And it’s not even a word that some women we were thinking about too deeply when they were using it more recently, It’s just become part of how we talk about ourselves. So, from the personal to the political, it’s quite a strong and important word and to see it removed, to see our capacity to use it removed is very concerning. “

From http://artvoice.com/2016/05/26/gay-pride-week-bother/#.WVgafIiGOM9

According to our content reviewer training, a ‘slur’ is “a term that combines an attack with a PC, so;

Slur=Attack + PC AND

Slur = Attack

It’s both apparently, at the same time.  A slur is a noun and a verb, but unless we are drunkenly slurring our slurs, slur is not a verb.  SO, I’m guessing what they meant is just that content reviewers are hunting down that equation: PC + Slur = Hate Speech

(Side note: Also, according to the training slideshow, “Each market has a list of terms that have been labeled as slurs by the Content Policy Team.”  We don’t know what those markets are, or what slurs are on each market list, but isn’t that interesting?  You can use some slurs in one market and not in others.)

Facebook Thinks Dykes are Bad

Let’s look at some posts that are good examples of what lesbians are being banned for; that Facebook has said violate community standards.

“I love that there’s a band of dykes that plays at the local farmer’s market.  Like, how perfect is that??  It’s total perfect.”

We need to remember that Facebook is using ‘dyke’ as a slur, not as a category.  So our category is ‘a band’ and the attack is a slur attack called ‘dykes’.

A band of dykes = NPC

A band is not a protected category. Dyke is a slur.  But dykes are lesbians so dykes would have to also be considered a protected category too.  Doesn’t matter though because either way you get a result of;

NPC+Slur = Not Hate Speech

Hmmm. Next one:

“I LOVE DYKES!!!!”

I = PC or NPC, but, let’s say “I” is the protected category ‘lesbian’.

I (the lesbian) love dykes.

PC + Slur = Hate Speech

She really just said she loves herself in this example.  She attacked herself with love using a slur that also identifies who she is.  I’m just trying to figure out what the reviewers were thinking.

“When dyke marches were still for dykes.”
(With picture of very first Dyke March)

Here the category is dykes, but since dyke is considered a slur and not a category, what does the algorithm do?  Does it switch to say that dyke is the protected category, making it both protected and a slur?

PC + slur = Hate Speech

Help!

“Actual Dyke”

I need a mathematician…according to the equation, is there even a category in this statement?

“People need to quit rewriting history. Dykes do things. #visibilitymatters”
(With historical image of Storme DeLaverie, a lesbian)

Dykes do things.  The slur is a noun again and it’s doing things.  Things are NPC.

“Does self identifying as a DYKE get you banned on Facebook experiment.”
(It did)

This is just another version of “I am a dyke.”

“I” can be PC or NPC again, because technically she could have lied, so;

PC+Slur = Hate Speech

NPC+Slur = Not Hate Speech

The reviewers would have had to assume she was telling the truth.

“Dyke dyke dyke dykety dyke dyke dyke!!”

LOL! I really do love dykes!

I’m sure there are smarties out there that are going to figure this out, but can you imagine what it’s like for content reviewers who are like most of us with average logic and math skills?  Human beings that have 10 seconds to figure out this equation?  It just seems totally arcane and it makes me think that there are other separate rules out there for dykes.  If just the word alone could get you banned, then wouldn’t those content reviewers scouring Facebook have a treasure-trove of dyke posts to choose from?

Is that the ultimate goal?  To find all of our posts and punish us?  What is the end-game here?

What Now?

Angwin explains in her article that Facebook does not follow American law, “which permits preferences such as affirmative action for racial minorities and women for the sake of diversity or redressing discrimination.”  Basically, Facebook has designed it’s algorithm to defend everyone equally (not with equity).  Danielle Citron, a law professor and expert on information privacy at the University of Maryland, tells Angwin, that the result of this approach will “protect the people who least need it and take it away from those who really need it.”

This sounds really familiar.  One lesbian reported referencing herself as a dyke and she was reported and her post deleted.  She was then called a ‘cunt’ for using the word and when she reported the attack, Facebook said it did not violate their community standards.  So dyke is a slur, but cunt is not.  Facebook also sent dykes a “We’re Glad You’re Here Video” in which Facebook picked images from user profiles for a “book” appreciating us as users.  Guess what?  That video included images of posts that lesbians had been, or could be banned for!  There was a great risk taken once you hit the publish button.  Don’t we call that entrapment?

I’m left with way more questions than answers for the dyke community.  Facebook is all over the place with how it is allowing content reviewers and algorithms to work on its lesbian users.  It is plainly obvious that some people are being targeted over and over again and it is hard to say how this is actually happening when content reviewers are supposed to be so well-trained and algorithms so perfectly designed to protect everyone.  It really does look like discrimination and it’s obvious that no one at Facebook is protecting dykes, that’s for sure.  And it is most certainly not Facebook’s place to tell the lesbian community that identifying as dykes is wrong.  Dyke is our word.

Facebook, start going after the people that want to kill us.  The ones that want to rape us and hurt us.  The ones that are calling on all their friends to report us in mass reportings just because they hate us and can use Facebook’s flawed censorship machine to kick us off the platform.  Start actually looking for employees that have a suspiciously high number of bans and deletions against lesbians.  Stop over-reacting to the call from European countries to punish hate speech.

We lesbians, we DYKES, love ourselves.  It’s not hate speech when we say it, it is love speech.  And we are not going to be silenced by your hate.

Author’s Note:

On June 27, 2017, Facebook’s Hard questions said this in a statement on how it monitors hate speech:

“On other occasions, people may reclaim offensive terms that were used to attack them. When someone uses an offensive term in a self-referential way, it can feel very different from when the same term is used to attack them. For example, the use of the word “dyke” may be considered hate speech when directed as an attack on someone on the basis of the fact that they are gay. However, if someone posted a photo of themselves with #dyke, it would be allowed. Another example is the word “faggot.” This word could be considered hate speech when directed at a person, but, in Italy, among other places, “frocio” (“faggot”) is used by LGBT activists to denounce homophobia and reclaim the word. In these cases, removing the content would mean restricting someone’s ability to express themselves on Facebook.”

Facebook: We are NOT a hashtag!

We are a CULTURE.

We are a COMMUNITY.

We are a SISTERHOOD.

We are a MINORITY.

We are a FAMILY.

We are DYKES.

REJECT Facebook’s rule that we must hashtag our IDENTITY to stay on their platform.  This is DISCRIMINATION.

We have referenced all images in this article, however, if you see an image you own and you would like us to remove it, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Dyke Tear Drop

Dykes on Bikes Queensland & Listening 2 Lesbians Take on Facebook Dyke Bans on The Informer-JOY 94.9 Melbourne

The Infomer FB

Is ‘dyke’ a dirty word? Facebook seems to think so and keeps banning lesbians from using it, including Dykes On Bikes Queensland & Listening 2 Lesbians.  Listen to Listening 2 Lesbians’ own Liz Waterhouse discuss Dyke is a Dirty Word. (START AT 09:35)

***Facebook was supposed to show up for the conversation, but told Shannon Power “We’ll get back to you on that”***

TRANSCRIPT:

Participants:
Shannon Power, “The Informer”, Joy FM (SP)
Jules Raven, Dykes on Bikes Queensland (JR)
Liz Waterhouse, Listening2Lesbian.com (LW)

 

<sounds of cheering and motorbikes>

SP: That’s the sound that almost anyone who has been to an LGBTI pride march has heard. It’s the distinct tones of the Dykes on Bikes opening this year’s Sydney gay and lesbian Mardi Gras. Every year the Dykes on Bikes have the honour of opening Pride parades to crowds of excited onlookers. Dykes on bikes are an international lesbian motorcycle club with chapters worldwide but a number of those chapters are at war with social networking site Facebook about whether or not dyke is a dirty word.

Jules Raven heads up Dykes on Bikes Queensland.

Jules thanks so much for joining us. Now I’ve noticed that the Dykes on Bikes Queensland chapter has some interesting spelling on its Facebook page. There’s a space between the D Y and the K E S of Dykes. What’s going on there?

 

JR: about five years ago we originally set the page up with the official Dykes on Bikes Queensland all spelled correctly and looking lovely and probably about four years ago I woke up to an email from Facebook and they had actually removed our name completely. So we originally changed it to, we were only able to get Dyes on Bikes so we had D Y E S and then probably about six months ago after further investigation we were able to put the D K and then the space and then Y E S so it’s been a bit of a battle between us and Facebook. They haven’t given us a reason as to why other than the fact that they felt that it was offensive.

SP: so when you spell dykes the correct way what happens?

JR: it just comes up saying this is offensive and unacceptable for Facebook.

SP: and so you’ve been trying for 4 years and you’ve never had a real reason from Facebook other than the word is offensive?

JR: we’ve never had any contact from Facebook.

SP: right

JR: other than an automated email coming back to us from all of their contact points. I actually got to the point where I wrote them a letter and posted it to their headquarters in silicon valley and we still had no response.

SP: Yeah right, okay

JR: it’s been very frustrating.

SP: yeah so I mean for yourselves Dykes on Bikes we all know in this community and out side of the community. Is this a big deal? Why is it important to have your name spelt correctly on a Facebook page?

JR: it’s a huge deal given that Dykes on Bikes is actually a big international group. Now back in about the 80s, early 90s, the San Francisco club, because it was quite popular, had a bloke came around and started trying to sell T-shirts that had Dykes on Bikes written on it so the American chapters thought they’d better trademark that name. Now what happened from there is to trade mark it they put the trademark application form in and it was rejected because the name dykes was offensive. So they actually fought in the High Court in America and went all the way to the Supreme Court in the USA and won that case. So it’s a bit ironic that an American company of Facebook is the company that’s not allowing us to use that particular word and that name. That’s why we’re fighting for it. That’s why we want to get it right, to be on Facebook. It’s quite stunning to think that a group that has a trademark within their own country is not able to use the name. It’s been very disappointing.

SP: yeah

JR: if we didn’t need to use Facebook we wouldn’t but obviously it’s such a big media hub for us it’s worth us trying to fight and trying to make it right not just for our group but for any other gay and lesbian groups that want to put their own stamp on it and trans groups. We need to be able to, within reason, I do understand that there has to be some barriers but within reason I think you know them not allowing us to use it because they find it offensive isn’t really an excuse any more.

SP: Liz Waterhouse runs the listening2lesbians blog with her partner lisa mallett. They’ve both noticed an increase in censorship of queer women using the word Dyke on Facebook. Liz has been banned, and is in fact currently banned, from using Facebook over her use of the word Dyke.

LW: Women being banned for saying I love dykes, for saying that they are going for a walk with friends who are Dykes, for talking about lesbians politically, socially, just you know really casually we just see post after post being removed, We see woman after woman being banned and it’s a very concerning pattern because for centuries lesbians have been silenced, and erased, and discriminated against and harassed and you know subject to corrective rape and death and we see that around the world still. At listening to lesbians we blog about women’s experiences of discrimination and harassment around the world. We use Facebook to reach out to women around the world, we’ve got a following in you know Africa talking about you know the experiences of African lesbians because of this platform and it’s very concerning that what we are seeing is something which is going to stop us being able to reach those women.

SP: liz and lisa have published numerous posts on the issue on their blog and have reached out to Facebook multiple times for guidance on why people that post the word dyke keep getting into trouble while other hate speech slips through the cracks. Liz explains to The informer why it is so important for persecuted communities to reclaim language that was historically used against them as a slur.

LW: it sounds like it’s just about a word and what can it possibly matter and just stop saying it but either we end up being self censoring, and I was self censoring when I got reported and removed the last time actually. I’d stopped using the word dyke which upset me but I was still reported and removed because it was in the link in my comments, I could see it. But more than just a sort of a social thing and isn’t it a first world problem, which is a question I’ve had, it’s actually something which is going to inhibit us reaching out and forming community around the world, and it’s going to stop us being able to collate information about our collective experiences. And if we can’t collect our experiences together and see a picture, we can’t agitate for change.

SP: the word was once used against them. Can you tell me why dyke is such an important word in terms of reclamation?

LW: so a lot of people have words to reclaim, the word dyke, like in other groups the slurs that are used against us. Some of them are able to be reclaimed, some I’m not so sure about. Dyke is quite a strong word. It has a strong, evocative feeling, and it’s been taken over by women for you know decades as a symbol of strength and pride and resistance. It really is to me a symbol of women taking up space, like Dykes on Bikes. Everybody loves Dykes on Bikes. It’s about noise, it’s about women unapologetically asserting their existence in the world. That’s not something we see lesbians being able to do very often so I think that dyke is quite significant because of its guttural nature, you know linguistically it’s quite strong, because of its social connotations. And it’s not even a word that some women we were thinking about too deeply when they were using it more recently, It’s just become part of how we talk about ourselves. So, from the personal to the political, it’s quite a strong and important word and to see it removed, to see our capacity to use it removed is very concerning.

SP: the informer reached out to Facebook who did get back to us and let us know that they’re doing a preliminary investigation into the particular cases brought up by the Dykes on bikes Queensland and Liz and Lisa from listening to lesbians blog. They’ve told us early on that dyke is considered a slur word and they do need to take into consideration their audience of 2 billion people but will continue looking into the matter and will get back to The Informer at a later date, so we look forward to having Facebook come back on joy to let us know exactly why they think dyke is a dirty word.

 

Listening 2 Lesbians Asks Facebook the Hard Questions About “Dyke” Bans

Banned Dykes

From: Listening 2 Lesbians

To: Facebook Press and Hard Questions at Facebook (hardquestions@fb.com, press@fb.com)

Dear Facebook Press:

Listening 2 Lesbians is a blog with a mission to report on discrimination and violence against lesbians.  You may not be aware, but discrimination and violence against lesbians, because of our sexual orientation and because of our female bodies, is rampant in today’s world.  From no-platforming to corrective rape, to job discrimination, to murder, we are constantly aware of the silencing of our community and the attempts to control and harm our bodies because we are lesbians.  Because of this, we have been deeply disturbed to learn that there have been a rash of post deletions and bans by your company for women that post status updates with the word “dyke” in their posts.

Perhaps you are not aware of the history of the word “dyke”, or of lesbian culture, or of the act of reclaiming slurs from the oppressor to be used as acts of self-empowerment and identity by minorities.  Dyke has been and can be used as a derogatory term (hate speech) to attack same-sex attracted females.  We hope at Facebook you acknowledge that all such speech should be banned from public spaces.  However, dyke is also a word that has been reclaimed by the lesbian community to represent our lesbian pride, sisterhood and power as female loving females.

We are deeply disturbed that lesbians and women showing support for our community, are being banned for expressing their love and respect for our culture.  We are also deeply disturbed that women are being silenced when they express their views on what it means to be a dyke.  This is a conversation for lesbians only and should not be controlled or manipulated by anyone outside of our community.

Here are examples of posts that have been deleted and women who have been banned for using the word dyke in a post.  Be aware that we are not convinced you will accept emails with images attached, so we will simply quote the text.  Please read our blog, Facebook Has a Problem With Dykes, at https://listening2lesbians.com/2017/06/24/facebook-has-a-problem-with-dykes/ for full images and information on the situation.

Quotes from women that were deleted by Facebook and/or caused the woman to be blocked/banned:

“I love that there’s a band of dykes that plays at the local farmer’s market.  Like, how perfect is that??  It’s total perfect.”

“I LOVE DYKES!!!!”

“Only lesbians are dykes.  Only females can be lesbians.  We are still here.”

“When dyke marches were still for dykes.” (With historical image of a dyke march)

 “People need to quit rewriting history. Dykes do things. #visibilitymatters” (With historical image of Storme DeLaverie, the lesbian who started the Stonewall riots.)

“Does self identifying as a DYKE get you banned on Facebook experiment.” (It did)

Again, this is just a small set of examples.  Please visit our blog for more information.

In an NPR article entitled, From Hate Speech To Fake News: The Content Crisis Facing Mark Zuckerberg, a spokesperson for your company told NPR:

“It’s OK to use racial slurs when being self-referential. A black person can say things like “my niggers.” But no one can use a slur to attack an individual or group. That’s prohibited. A white person cannot use the word “nigger” to mock or attack blacks. Blacks can’t use “crakkker” (in whatever spelling) to offend whites.” (http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/11/17/495827410/from-hate-speech-to-fake-news-the-content-crisis-facing-mark-zuckerberg)

Clearly, there has been at the very least, a misuse of the Community Standards at Facebook, and at worse, a misuse of power and position by Facebook employees.  This is why we have some hard questions for management at Facebook:

  1. If a Community Operations Team employee is responsible for banning and deleting all reported posts, can FB monitor if an employee, or group of employees is showing political or social biases in their decision making? For example, is it possible for an employee to get away with targeting a select group of people for deletion or banning, even if their posts don’t violate Community Standard?
  2. What groups or organizations are influencing the content and wording of Community Standards? Have they demonstrated lesbophobic and/or misogynistic language or tendencies?
  3. It appears as if certain women who are part of certain Facebook groups have been targeted more than others. Is the new AI you are using to fight terrorism and hate-speech (The Online Civil Courage Initiative) also capturing feminist and lesbian-only groups in its net and considering them a cluster?
  4. If the new AI that you are using has algorithms that can understand context, and you are using this AI on Facebook users in lesbian and women’s communities, why is it unable to differentiate between a pro-lesbian dyke post and a post where dyke is being used as hate speech?
  5. If all AI flagged posts are also seen and evaluated by a Community Operations Team employee, why are they also not able to read context?
  6. Will Facebook investigate the issues we have brought forth to you today?
  7. If you find that an individual employee, or group of employees, has been abusing their position at Facebook to target and silence lesbians and other women they do not agree with, will Facebook tell the communities affected and issue a public apology?

Thank you for your time.

Liz & Lisa

Listening 2 Lesbians

www.listening2lesbians.com

Facebook Has a Problem With Dykes

By Lisa A. Mallett and Liz Waterhouse @ www.listening2lesbians.com

Banned Dykes

For years many of us have repeatedly reported revenge porn, child exploitation material, harassment and misogyny, rape and death threats, and been told that what we have reported, “doesn’t contravene Facebook’s community standards.”

We are now seeing an ever-increasing number of women, lesbians and our allies, having posts deleted and being banned for using the word dyke.

While it has been wonderful to see women clustering informally around this issue in defense of lesbians, the Facebook control mechanisms, as illuminated by this wave of removal and banning, are alarming.

“Dyke” a banned word?

I started hearing about women banned for using the word dyke in early 2017.

Prompted by an irate post in a lesbian group in June 2017, I went to look at the San Francisco Dyke March page, having been advised the event page included anti-lesbian content.  This is far from the first such occurrence, with the recent Chicago Dyke March 2017 explicitly telling female only, same-sex attracted lesbians to keep their bigoted selves away.

In response to the comments I had read on the SF Dyke March, I made this comment:

2017-06-23_LI.jpg

(It should not be controversial that women’s sexual boundaries should be respected and that our sexual orientation should be supported within the broader LGBT community.)

Then a woman in my group told me about this happening;

No automatic alt text available.

It had been posted on the very same page.

These two experiences, as well as reports I had been hearing since early 2017, prompted me to make a public post calling for screen caps of the word dyke being banned. Sometime later, I could not access the SF Dyke March thread or my comment, even through notifications, and assumed it had been deleted. Furious, I posted a screen cap of my comment to my page saying;

“The San Francisco dyke march deleted this comment from their wall. The lesbophobia is staggering.”

I didn’t tag the event, or broadcast it beyond my friends list, but soon afterwards discovered that the post had been deleted.

 

LW deleted comment_LI

I’m not sure if the post was reported or auto-removed by Facebook.

And then it turned out that I was banned from Facebook, for calling a dyke march lesbophobic.

LW blocked

I took from this that it was socially acceptable to:

  • tell lesbians that lesbian includes anyone who identifies as lesbian;
  • tell lesbians that dyke includes anyone who identifies as a dyke;
  • tell lesbians to stay away from lesbian originating events;
  • prioritise absolutely everyone over lesbians, even at nominally lesbian events.

As my 24-hour ban began, I started receiving screen caps and stories from women everywhere:

You say dyke like it's a bad thing.jpg

I love dykes!!! breaches standards_LI (2)

And these are just a small sample.  Please scroll to the bottom to see the Hall of Shame for more images and stories of banned, blocked and deleted dykes.

So this is only words and who cares about the identities of others, I hear you say?

Why do we care?

Well, words matter. If every single term used to describe us (female, woman, female-only same-sex attracted, lesbian, dyke) is redefined to either include others, or explicitly exclude us, how do we describe ourselves, and analyse what happens to the group of women who form their primary focus around women? And in a male-centered society, the (attempted) removal of that capacity has strong political meaning.

Even if you don’t agree with where we draw the lines, it shouldn’t be forbidden for lesbians to defend the language we need to discuss ourselves. We certainly shouldn’t be told we are not allowed to reclaim our own word and declare them with pride.  In an age of endlessly touted freedom of speech, it is telling who is told to shut up and who does the telling.  It is becoming increasingly obvious that dykes are on the losing end and are experiencing systematic erasure from public spaces.

 

So what IS Facebook’s problem with dykes?

Facebook has always logistically, socially and ethically, had issues with censorship.  It has managed to dig itself deeper and deeper with every new algorithm, AI, program, corporate/NGO cooperative, and office it creates, to deal with the over 1 billion users using its platform.  As many have noted over the years, transparency at Facebook has been lacking with regards to many of the company’s functions, but perhaps most importantly, how it decides what content we are allowed to post and see.  This lack of transparency makes it extremely difficult to determine how and why dyke content is being censored, as well as why we believe there has been a very recent increase in the number of women experiencing post deletion and bans or blocks, by Facebook.  What we are left with is reporting on what we do know and asking questions on the rest.  At Listening2Lesbians.com, we believe we may be witnessing a perfect storm brewing.  The convergence of programs, politics, social discord, hate speech, censorship and Dyke Pride, that Facebook management understand very little about and show very little regard for, allowing unchecked erasure of lesbian content, interaction, movement and cooperation.

Here are the old and new storms heading towards a dyke post near you.

The Community Operations Team

The Community Operations Team is actually a bunch of teams located in California, USA, Texas, USA, Dublin, Ireland and Hyderabad, India that uses Facebook’s Community Standards to evaluate posts for, among other things, terrorism and hate speech.  Time and again, Facebook has declared that the team relies mostly on users reporting questionable posts (Sherr, 2016) and that every post that is reported is looked at and acted upon by a member of the team, for content and context (Green, 2015).  Julie de Bailliencourt, Facebook’s Safety Policy Manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, has stated that it is a myth that the more a post is reported, the more likely it will be deleted and that, “one report is enough” (Green, 2015).  Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management has also confirmed that they rely on user reports, that all reports are viewed by an actual human being, but added in 2015 that Facebook had no plans to automatically scan for and remove content, otherwise known as an algorithm (Goel, 2015).  However, we now know that Facebook is indeed using algorithmic tools to scan news content and now, user posts.  It’s just unclear to what extent it is being utilized and how.  More on that later.

There have been few insights into the inner workings of the Community Operations Team, but what we have been able to learn is truly disturbing and has potentially huge consequences for dykes on Facebook and all of Facebook’s other platforms.  That interview with Julie de Bailliencourt took place at Facebook’s largest headquarters in Dublin, where it was reported that the team is under immense pressure and often has heated arguments about what content meets community standards.  “We don’t hire people to just press the same button X amount of times per hour,” says de Bailliencourt. “We hire people with very different backgrounds, and they sometimes disagree. It feels almost like the UN sometimes” (Green, 2015).

However, there are hints that the troubles run much deeper.  In 2016, NPR was given rare access to employees working on the Community Operations Team and found that many feel they are in way over their heads.  Sources told NPR in 2010 that Facebook found it needed more workers fast to carry the immense load the team was under.  At first they tried crowdsourcing solutions like CrowdFlower, but eventually turned to Accenture who made a team of subcontractors consisting of several thousand people in offices located in the Philippines and Poland (Shahani, 2016).  If these locations scare you, they should.  Poland was ranked the third worst country to be LGBTI in Europe, according to a 2016 report (Sheftalovich, 2016) and although the Philippines has shown tolerance for LGB people, it is generally viewed as a country that does not really understand homosexuality, or support it.

Adding to the climate of these countries with regards to lesbian rights, are further reports that these subcontractors are worked extremely hard, are expected to make a decision on a piece of content in 10 seconds and often are not able to view the entire post for content and context.  This has led NPR to conclude that Facebook’s Community Operations Team may be, “the biggest editing — aka censorship — operation in the history of media” (Shahani, 2016).

In order to grasp the potential consequences of the functionality of Facebook’s Community Operations Team on the lesbian community, consider this example.  In the same NPR article, it was reported that when India first opened its office, employees interpreted French kissing as inappropriate sexual content and senior management was floored.  They had not anticipated such a cultural influence on interpretations of Community Standards.  Seriously, what was Facebook thinking? It appears they weren’t.  So the questions are: “Who is sitting in the cubicle judging your dyke post?”, “Did they even see your post?” and “What exactly do they believe about dykes”?

Facebook’s Network of Support (NOS)

In 2010, Facebook responded to bullying, harassment, hate speech and increasing suicides in LBGT youth by forming a consultation group of LGBT advocacy organizations to offer guidance on what, how and who to monitor for hate speech against LGBT youth.  The organizations are GLAAD (formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) , GLSEN (formerly known as the Gay, Lesbian and Staright Education Network), The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), PFLAG (formerly known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and The Trevor Project (Facebook, 2017).  Although we don’t have enough information on the extent of their influence seven years later, we do know that several of these organizations have taken adversarial stances against lesbians, including changing definitions of lesbian and woman and working against protections for women and girls.  Many in the feminist community know that members of the radical feminist community do not support these new definitions.  Regardless of how someone feels about this, it is crucial to understand the impact that organizations can have on influencing what can be seen by the public, and that someday, these organizations might just decide to come after you through mediums like Facebook.  At this time, that focus is on limiting the voices of lesbians and their allies and it appears a lot of people are okay with that.  More on the NOS later (and algorithms!).

Facebook’s Online Civil Courage Initiative

In January of 2016, Facebook was experiencing extreme pressure from European countries, led by Germany, to combat online hate speech.  The result was a pilot program called the Online Civil Courage Initiative, which focused its efforts in France, Germany and the UK.  By September 2016, they had decided to expand their program by offering advertising credits and marketing advice to NGOs and other groups willing to work online to “counteract extremist messaging” (Toor, 2016).  On June 23, 2017, Facebook announced that it had officially launched this program in the UK to “curb the spread of hate speech and extremist material online,’ by offering “funding and training to help local organizations track and counteract hate speech and terrorist propaganda” (Toor, 2017).

Just a week earlier, on June 15th  2017, Facebook announced new measures it was taking to combat terrorist propaganda and violent material.  Organizations that participate in this program will be able to communicate to Facebook via a “dedicated support desk” (Toor, 2017).  They also announced a new series of blogs, to be released over time that Facebook will use to convey to its users information about how it works behind-the-scenes, especially in the area of controlling its content.  The first blog, entitled, “Hard Questions: How We Counter Terrorism”, was written by By Monika Bickert (see above) and Brian Fishman, Counterterrorism Policy Manager.  In the first section labeled “Artificial Intelligence”, they lay out the following methods Facebook will be using.  I will add Facebook’s own description of each, but in abbreviated form.

They are:

  • Image matching: When someone tries to upload a terrorist photo or video, our systems look for whether the image matches a known terrorism photo or video.
  • Language understanding: We have also recently started to experiment with using AI to understand text that might be advocating for terrorism. That analysis goes into an algorithm that is in the early stages of learning how to detect similar posts. The machine learning algorithms work on a feedback loop and get better over time.
  • Removing terrorist clusters: [When] we identify Pages, groups, posts or profiles as supporting terrorism, we also use algorithms to “fan out” to try to identify related material that may also support terrorism. We use signals like whether an account is friends with a high number of accounts that have been disabled for terrorism, or whether an account shares the same attributes as a disabled account.
  • Recidivism: We’ve also gotten much faster at detecting new fake accounts created by repeat offenders.
  • Cross-platform collaboration: [We] have begun work on systems to enable us to take action against terrorist accounts across all our platforms, including WhatsApp and Instagram (Bickert & Fishman, 2017).

They also acknowledge their use of “human expertise” through the Community Operations Team, as well as their partnerships with governments and organizations to run these initiatives.  Finally, they mention something called “counterspeech training,’ in which they have partnered with NGOs and community groups to “empower the voices that matter most”.  Even in a counter-terrorism context, this sent shivers down my dyke spine.  And now we see that there is an AI actually running amok on Facebook looking for those voices that don’t “matter most”, partnering with organizations that are dictating what those important voices are saying (I’m thinking here about Network of Safety!) and being judged by an underpaid and overworked Community Operations employee from I-don’t-know-where, who thinks I-don’t-know-what about lesbians and our right to exist anywhere, let alone Facebook.

Remember, algorithms are not neutral and an AI is a bunch of algorithms written by people with a mess of biases and prejudices.  We all know that logically, none of these entities at play here are chock-full of dykes and dyke influence.  In fact, if history holds, it’s quite the opposite.  So if you’ve been seeing your dyke posts getting removed faster and faster, and your bans getting longer and longer, look at what policies, procedures, programs and personnel Facebook has been bringing to their platform over the last seven years, and especially over the last year and a half.  And if you have seen, like we have, a huge increase in anti-dyke activity by Facebook in June 2017, look at what Facebook has introduced in this month alone.

But wait…

The perfect storm continues…

US Pride and Dyke March

So we know Facebook relies heavily on its community members sending in reports of material they deem inappropriate and those hard working Community Operations employees get to work putting our posts into context and pushing the red button or the green button.  They see lovely posts that say “I LOVE DYKES!!!”, laugh, and hit the green button and they see “DYKES BURN IN HELL!!!”, get very angry, and hit the red button.

Yeah, right. We wish.

As we explored earlier, it just doesn’t work that way at Facebook HQs around the world and we’re all smart enough to know that any algorithms are going to struggle with having to make a distinction between nice dyke posts and hate speech.  We also have no idea who is actually influencing the Online Civil Courage Initiative, or the guidelines for “counterspeech’ measures.  So, into this Facebook created hell we bring US Pride Month and Dyke March!

Yesss!

Oh no.

You would have to be living under a rock (or not be a dyke) to know that the L is having issues with the GBT.  Whatever side you are on, we are where we are.  Dykes are being told to stay away from Dyke Marches if they won’t accept dick into their life and Pride has become a practice in extreme queer theory with a tendency to alienate and shame lesbians for being all about each other.  Again, believe what you want, but June has been an intense month for lesbians.

What I am suggesting here, and I’m sure many of you have guessed already, is that trolls are abound this June and any dyke-positive group or individual is at greater risk for being reported, even if we are just a bunch of dykes going out for a walk.  However, this is only a piece of the perfect storm that is converging on June.

Victoria Brownworth wrote:

Lesbians are being no-platformed out of our very existence, whether through the insidiousness of silencing or the oppressive demands of compulsory heterosexuality or through violence that at best leaves us shattered and at worst, dead. Lesbians deserve the same level of autonomy as any other group, be it minority or majority. If you aren’t supporting that autonomy, then you are inadvertently or directly a participant in the erasure that is perhaps slowly but very definitely steadily, wiping us off the face of the earth. (Brownworth, 2015)

Here’s What We Can Do

Join Listening2Lesbians in asking Facebook the hard questions.  On June 15th 2017,  Facebook said, “the decisions we make at Facebook affect the way people find out about the world and communicate with their loved ones” (Bickert & Fishman, 2017).  They also said, “we take seriously our responsibility — and accountability — for our impact and influence.  We want to broaden that conversation” (Schrage, 2017).

This sounds really good to me!  Dykes are awesome at conversation!

Send your dyke concerns, screencaps, stories, experiences and more to hardquestions@fb.com. Listening2Lesbians will also be sending a version of this piece.  Let’s try to find out what is going on and raise a stink.  Speaking out about the silencing of dykes needs to happen now, because we really don’t know what it’s going to look like for us once this storm passes.

UPDATE:
Here is what we wrote to Facebook Press and Hard Questions at Facebook (hardquestions@fb.com, press@fb.com): https://listening2lesbians.com/2017/06/27/listening-2-lesbians-asks-facebook-the-hard-questions-about-dyke-bans/.

They have not responded yet.

Thanks

We would like to thank all the dykes out there for coming together and helping us see what has been happening to us on Facebook these days.  We would also like to thank our bisexual and straight women allies who also threw themselves in front of the Facebook bus to test out this theory.  Their love of dykes got them the ban hammer too.  Looking back at the last couple of days, we actually created women’s space on the very ground of the oppressor.  We did that.   We can do it again.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Less than 3 days after posting this story I was banned again after posting this article with this commentary:

banned again postbanned again

HALL OF SHAME

Women who have had their posts removed or been banned for a pro-lesbian use of the word dyke:

 

  • On the same SF dyke march thread, another lesbian had this comment removed by Facebook for apparently breaching the Facebook Community Standards:
    No automatic alt text available.

 

  • This lesbian was had her post removed and was banned for 30 days for enjoying a dyke band at a farmer’s market.

 

  • This lesbian was banned three times for posting this picture – once in January 2017 for 24 hours, once in early March 2017 for 3 days and once in late march for 30 days.
    You say dyke like it's a bad thing.jpg
  • This was also removed in March 2017 but without a Facebook ban.

    Enter a caption

Other comments removed for breaching the standards:

  • Another post removed in the context of identity and US dyke marches
    Dykes are lesbian
  • A telling example is the woman, a lesbian ally, who posted “I love dykes!!!!” to test for us all if dyke really was a banned word. This post does nothing but support lesbians and still she had the post removed and she was banned from Facebook for 7 days.I love dykes!!! breaches standards_LI (2)Banned for I love dykes!!!!
  • This young lesbian posted this video of the lesbian avengers starting dyke marches with the comment “When dyke marches were still for dykes ❤ “.
    Her post was removed.
    She was banned.
  • An older dyke, well known in international lesbian circles, had a post inviting friends to go for a walk in nature (with dyke in the text) removed three times for breaching Facebook Community Standards. She was later banned.
  • Kate Hansen, also lesbian, was banned for 30 days after posting that lesbians were getting banned for using the word dyke.
  • Another woman posted, on a rainbow background, “I love dykes! Dykes for Dykes!” Her post was removed for breaching community standards and she was banned from Facebook for 24 hours.
  • The post of this tweet was removed on June 10, presumably for the comment about dyke action and visibility. The poster was banned for 24 hours, banned for another 24 after that and threatened with a permanent ban after 9 years on Facebook without any warnings. She submitted an appeal which Facebook did not respond to. Others reposted the original tweet without the comment and were not banned.
  •  Another woman posted about dykes on bikes, with hearts, and the post was removed. This ocurred in Pride Month.
  • Another woman had a photo of her and her partner, captioned dyke pride, removed, again still in Pride Month.

Other women have been banned by Facebook for using the word dyke but we haven’t been able to contact them due to their ban, which speaks to the power of banning and consequently isolating women.

Removal and ban photos and stories sent to us after this was posted:

  • This lesbian had her post removed and banned after sharing the video of the Lesbian Avengers starting dyke marches and was banned for 3 days. Facebook has not responded to her appeal.
  • This woman has had yet another dyke post removed (her 5th that we know about).
  • Yet more removal and blocking for self determination 
  • Dyke removal and block experimentation

    Post 3 remains up so far…
  • Max Dashu, legendary lesbian herstorian of the Suppressed Histories Archives, had her post removed and was banned for 7 days for using dyke in a post introduction. The article she posted was apparently this one: “Facebook “censoring feminism” with ban on mentioning women, say activists“. Women who shared her post have also been banned.
  • Some of these are plain ironic
    weird dyke ban
  • Not lesbians
  • A lesbian was banned for posting “The debutching of Alison Bechdel”
    What is dyke

If you have more screen caps of lesbians being banned or having posts removed for using the word dyke or pro-lesbian statements please:

References

Bickert, M., & Fishman, B. (2017, June 15). Hard Questions: How We Counter Terrorism. Retrieved from Facebook Newsroom: https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2017/06/how-we-counter-terrorism/

Brownworth, V. (2015, March 5). ERASURE: THE NEW NORMAL FOR LESBIANS BY @VABVOX. Retrieved from A Room of Our Own: http://www.aroomofourown.org/erasure-the-new-normal-for-lesbians-by-vabvoc/2015

Facebook. (2017). What is the Facebook Network of Support (NOS) and what NOS resources are available for LGBTQ people? Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/help/202924156415780

Goel, V. (2015, March 16). Facebook Clarifies Rules on What It Bans and Why. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/bits/2015/03/16/facebook-explains-what-it-bans-and-why/?referer=

Green, C. (2015, February 13). What Happens When You ‘Report Abuse’? The Secretive Facebook Censors Who Decide What Is-and What Isn’t Abuse. Retrieved from Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/what-happens-when-you-report-abuse-the-secretive-facebook-censors-who-decide-what-is-and-what-isnt-10045437.html

Schrage, E. (2017, June 15). Hard Questions. Retrieved from Facebook Newsroom: https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2017/06/hard-questions/

Shahani, A. (2016, November 17). From Hate Speech To Fake News: The Content Crisis Facing Mark Zuckerberg. Retrieved from NPR: http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/11/17/495827410/from-hate-speech-to-fake-news-the-content-crisis-facing-mark-zuckerberg

Sheftalovich, Z. (2016, May 11). Latvia, Lithuania and Poland worst countries to be gay in EU. Retrieved from Politico: http://www.politico.eu/article/latvia-lithuania-and-poland-worst-countries-to-be-gay-in-eu/

Sherr, I. (2016, September 9). How Facebook censors your posts (FAQ). Retrieved from CNET: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnet.com/google-amp/news/how-zuckerberg-facebook-censors-korryn-gaines-philando-castile-dallas-police-your-posts-faq/

Toor, A. (2016, September 22). Facebook is expanding its campaign to combat hate speech. Retrieved from The Verge: https://www.theverge.com/2016/9/22/13013440/facebook-hate-speech-campaign-expansion

Toor, A. (2017, June 23). Facebook launches program to combat hate speech and terrorist propaganda in the UK. Retrieved from The Verge: https://www.theverge.com/2017/6/23/15860868/facebook-hate-speech-terrorism-uk-online-civil-courage-initiative?yptr=yahoo

Banned Dykes

 

Lesbian spaces are still needed, no matter what the queer movement says

As lesbian bars continue to close and lesbian-only spaces continue to be attacked, Susan Cox highlights the disproportionate damage queer politics has done to lesbians and our spaces.

“To pretend the decline of lesbian spaces is merely a sign of progress is totally inconsistent with reality. Rosenthal implies we have reached a kind of utopia, with regard to female sexuality, stating, “It wasn’t too long ago that identifying as lesbian carried a huge stigma.” But she also notes that in Portland State University’s recent “survey of students and their identities, more students identified as ‘pansexual’ than lesbian” and quotes a young woman (who dates women, albeit some who identify as “non-binary”) saying, “‘I have never felt comfortable with the term lesbian.’”

Hmm. That sounds like… what’s the word… oh, yeah: stigma.

This “progress” explanation not only falls flat because stigma around lesbianism remains, but because it fails to account for the fact that spaces for gay males have remained largely intact. In my hometown of Philadelphia, for example, a peek at any “gayborhood” calendar offers a plethora of events catering to gay men, including: gay bingo, gaybill (musical theater night), gay burlesque roulette, free country line dancing, gay antiques shows, and a best gay mac and cheese contest.”

Continue reading at: Lesbian spaces are still needed, no matter what the queer movement says (Source)

In Memoriam: Lesbian Murder Victims (June 2017 Update)

Day-of-Mourn-01-300x187

“Lesbians are very often under-counted as murder victims–both within the so-called LGBT community and by those who monitor violence against women. This is a beginning effort to honor the names of the lesbians that have been lost.”

This month we honor the following sisters:

Andreza Souza Dos Santos, Manaus, Brazil (February 2017)

Larissa Massaroli, Cabixi, Brazil (April 2017)

Kandis Major and Terri Seibeck, Illinois, USA (October 2009)

Lerato Moloi, Naledi, South Africa (May 2017)

Nonkie Smous, Maokeng, South Africa (April 2017)

Continue reading at: In Memoriam: Lesbian Murder Victims (Source)

What we know so far about recent rapes and murders of lesbians in South Africa

Lerato Tambai Moloi

Lerato “Tambai” Moloi found stoned to death on May 14th.

South Africa is seeing a sharp rise in the rape and murder of women, including lesbians, in the last couple of months.  On April 1st, a 26-year-old lesbian was raped, beaten and stabbed by three men outside her home in Mohadin, Potchefstroom.  Three suspects were arrested, two minors and a 19-years-old, but we have no further information on the status of those charges.

On April 4th, the burned body of Nonkie Smous, an out lesbian, was found in Kroonstad, but her identity was not confirmed until 4 weeks later.  She was laid to rest on May 13th.  It is believed that Smous was raped and murdered before being set on fire.  According to Mambaonline, three men were reportedly arrested in connection with the murder, but 2 of the men were released and one was charged with robbery and is no longer in custody.

On May 14th, the body of Lerato “Tambai” Moloi, an out lesbian in Soweto, was found covered in stones by a man cutting grass by railroad tracks.  Tsotang Petros Mokgethi‚ 38‚ and Jacob Alofayo‚ 35‚ stand accused of kidnapping‚ rape and murder.  It is believed that Lerato Moloi was the victim of corrective rape before being stoned to death.  There are reports that she was also set on fire, but we are unable to confirm at this time.  The Gauteng provincial government announced on Wednesday it will assist with the burial cost and psycho-social support for Moloi’s family.  The news of Moloi’s murder comes as the Love Not Hate project launches a new campaign demanding justice for LGBTI victims of hate crimes.

lerato+protea4
Zodwa Moloi, right, the mother of Lerato Moloi, supported by Thandi Mathanjana at her home in Protea, Soweto. Picture Credit: Sandile Ndlovu.

This same weekend, the bodies of Popi Qwabe, 24, her friend Bongeka Phungula, 28, were also found in separate, but nearby, areas of Soweto.  Owabe and Phungula were roommates living in Zola, but here is no mention of their sexuality.  Both women were raped before they were killed.  One suspect is in custody.

The burned body of Nombuyiselo Nombewu, a 15-year old, was found on May 14th and 32-year old Tshepo Seth Manyikie has been arrested for her rape and murder. This follows the rape and murder of Karabo Mokoena on April 27th, by her boyfriend, who doused her body in acid and set her on fire.  The hashtag #MenAreTrash is now being used by women in South Africa to share stories of acts of abuse and femicide by men they know personally.  While these women were not lesbian, their rape and murder do reflect the level of misogyny and violence all women in Soweto have been dealing with in recent months.

There is a fourth body of a woman found at a dumping site in Mfolo, also on Sunday.  Her body was burned beyond recognition.  There is evidence that she was also raped before her murder. Listening 2 Lesbians will be following this story closely.

25/5/2017 UPDATE: None of the suspects mentioned by police in connection with Lerato Moloi’s murder appeared in court.  As of this date there have been no arrests made.

http://www.mambaonline.com/2017/04/07/lesbian-woman-raped-stabbed-potchefstroom/

http://www.mambaonline.com/2017/04/05/burnt-body-feared-young-lesbian-woman/

http://www.mambaonline.com/2017/05/08/dna-results-confirmed-lesbian-murder-victim-nonki-smous-buried/

http://citizen.co.za/news/news-national/1514567/horrific-photo-circulates-after-murder-of-lesbian-in-soweto/

http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2017/05/17/Bail-hearing-for-Lerato-Moloi-suspects-delayed-as-SAPS-press-ahead-with-investigation1

http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2017/05/17/EFF-leaders-at-Soweto-court-for-Lerato-Moloi-corrective-rape-trial1

http://citizen.co.za/news/1517059/details-four-women-murdered-found-dead-soweto-one-weekend/

http://www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/stnews/2017/05/14/Horrific-details-of-Karabo-Mokoenas-gruesome-murder-emerge

http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/three-men-arrested-for-murders-of-3-soweto-women-20170517

http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/gang-raped-joburg-woman-is-pregnant-9180269

https://www.ofm.co.za/article/local-news/243478/klerksdorp-murder-accused-stays-in-custody

http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/2017/05/18/lerato-was-killed-by-people-she-knew-it-was-a-hate-crime

http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/attacks-on-lesbians-a-hate-crime-9252891

 

 

In Memoriam: Lesbian Murder Victims (May 2017 Update)

Day-of-Mourn-01-300x187

Listening 2 Lesbians will provide news of any updates to the “In Memoriam” blog on a monthly basis. This amazing record of the loss of those in our lesbian community to violence is not complete, but it is also the only record being kept at this time.

This month we honor the following sister:

Kathleen Ann Barrientos (March 18, 2017)

Continue reading at: In Memoriam: Lesbian Murder Victims: April 2017 (Source)

Tell Ardrossan Accies RFC to Condemn Actions of Innes Frazer in Sexual Abuse of Lesbian Teenager

NO

#CondemnRapeCultureArdrossanRFC

On December 17, 2016, Innes Frazer, a rugby player for the Ardrossan Accies RFC, coaxed an 18-year old autistic lesbian into a storage container at Ardrossan Rugby Club in Ayrshire, Scotland.  He kissed the teenager, touched her breasts, exposed himself and forced her to touch him and then told her to lie about what he had done.  This is after Frazer had introduced the young woman to his friends as “the autistic lesbian” and himself as, “the only one who could turn her straight.”  Despite the victim being a lesbian, despite her having said “no”, and despite the judge explicitly stating that Frazer abused a vulnerable teenager for his ‘own sexual gratification’, he cleared him of sexually assaulting her.

A source close to the victim’s family have told Listening 2 Lesbians that the young woman is, “gutted at the verdict” and that “it took everything she had to go to the police in the first instance.”  The source also shared that the Ardrossan RFC have not given any support to the victim or her family, and have not condemned the actions of one of their members.

We are asking all of our sisters and our allies to join us in demanding that Ardrossan RFC make a statement condemning the sexual abuse Innes Frazer enacted on his victim and remove him from any association with the club.  We also demand that Ardrossan RFC prioritize the exposure of rape culture, including corrective rape culture, within its organization, and make appropriate steps to address and eradicate all forms of violence against women perpetrated by its members.

Please join us in contacting Ardrossan RFC on Twitter and Facebook:

@ArdrossanRFC (Twitter)

#CondemnRapeCultureArdrossanRFC

@ArdrossanRugby (Facebook)

Sources:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4440944/Man-cleared-sexual-assault-disabled-lesbian-teenager.html

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3329281/rugby-player-sexually-assaulted-teenage-lesbian-after-saying-he-was-the-only-one-who-could-turn-her-straight/

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/04/26/rugby-player-abused-lesbian-teen-for-his-own-sexual-gratification-judge-says-as-he-clears-him/

https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/861067/disabled-lesbian-sexual-assault-groom-to-be-storage-container-ardrossan-rugby-club/

In Memoriam: Lesbian Murder Victims

An amazing blog dedicated to the memory of lesbians murdered.  Listening 2 Lesbians would like to thank the blogger who is doing this important work.  We will update this post as changes are made to the original blog.

“Lesbians are very often undercounted as murder victims–both within the so-called LGBT community and by those who monitor violence against women. This is a beginning effort to honor the names of the lesbians that have been lost.”

Continue reading at: In Memoriam: Lesbian Murder Victims (Source)

Lesbian Choices: An Indian Tragedy

A recent murder case in Gujarat India highlights the plight of lesbians who are trapped in abusive situations in countries with high rates of family imposed sex-based abuse and homophobia and where living independently as a woman and lesbian is difficult. Where there are few to no legal or social remedies to prevent violence against themselves and their loved ones, abused lesbians may have no meaningful choices other than to remain in danger or breach legal or social rules. All courses of action open to them will be harmful, and possibly dangerous. Retaliating to stop the violence may stop familial abuse but results in exposure to significant legal sanctions. The emotional and psychological toll of facing these choices and their consequences adds to the tragedy of women trapped in this way.

In early April 2017, the body of a man, Yunis Maniya, was found in Bharuch dictrict of Gujarat, India. A woman (Mayaben), reportedly the lesbian partner of the victim’s daughter (Jaheda), and an unrelated male (Jayendra) have been charged with the man’s murder. The motive for the murder is reported by the local police responsible for the investigation as the ending of sexuality-based domestic violence:

“The motive behind the murder was the victim’s opposition to the lesbian relationship. The accused was having an affair with the daughter of the deceased. He used to beat his daughter in a bid to discourage her from having a relationship with the accused. This incited the automobile broker who later hatched the plan to murder him,” said deputy SP of Bharuch N D Chauhan.

Information on this case is scarce in English and the articles do not appear sympathetic to the plight of the abused daughter or her partner accused of the murder. What isn’t clear, reading only the English articles, is what the options would be for women experiencing domestic violence on the basis of their sexuality in a country where sex-based violence against women alone is endemic, homophobia is widespread and women’s capacity to leave the family circle is limited.

While domestic violence is illegal in India, women and girls remain highly susceptible to abuse within the family. In 2016 it was reported that so-called honour killings had risen by 800% year on year, although it is unclear whether this represents an increase in the killings or an increase in reporting.

Lesbians are particularly vulnerable given the criminalisation of same sex activities under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, introduced in 1860 and only repealed in 2009. In 2016 the Indian Supreme Court committed to reviewing Section 377 after a 2013 decision had reinstated the law . Only months before, a 2 judge bench of the Supreme Court named homosexuality “a social evil for some” in a tax ruling on a Gujurati film on homosexuality. The Supreme Court action was reportedly the last chance for law reform, save only an appeal to the conservative politicians of India.

Although the legal sanctions are not directly applied, they remain a potent backdrop to social sanctions and persecution in a country where national surveys report a 75% disapproval rate of homosexuality and in which lesbians face a double oppression as both women and lesbians.

A brief reading of lesbian writings about their life in India demonstrates some of the risks lesbians face, both on the basis of their sex and their sexuality.

This Gujurati case represents the catch-22 lesbian around the world can face – how do lesbians being abused for their sexuality and relationships defend themselves in societies where violence against women is endemic and where homosexuality is punished? This is a no win situation for lesbians who are trapped in violent situations with few options for escape or defense, and where retaliatory violence exposes them to far greater legal sanctions.

When lesbians have no safe way to leave or stay, what meaningful choice remains?


We have tried to ensure information presented in this piece is accurate, however if you notice any inaccuracies or accidental misrepresentations, please email us with additional information at liz@listening2lesbians.com or lisa@listening2lesbians.com.

Sources:

More on the legal situation and processes:

 

 

Lesbian a banned Facebook page username word 

Since we posted in fury at being unable to have a username @listening2lesbians for our Facebook page, we discovered that many words are banned.

What’s particularly interesting is the list of what is and isn’t banned, particularly around sexuality.

Lesbian is the only group in the LGBTIQA community who is point blank banned.

This time we screen capped it all for clarity and proof.

Lesbian is a banned word:


But all of these other labels are allowed:

The word gay is fine.


Gay women are also kindly permitted:
The word sexual itself  is banned


But, bi, biwomen,and bicurious are allowed:


Questioning is fine:


Queer is fine:


Intersex is fine:


Trans, transman, transmen, transwoman and transwomen are all permitted:


Broad terms are fine:


We wondered about words used both as insults and identity and dyke is allowed but faggot is banned.


Tellingly, hetero is permitted but homo itself is not:

Lastly the suggestion was made to us that lesbian was perhaps banned because it’s used as a pornography category. Not only would this be the wrong response to fetishising women but it’s also not accurate since the word porn is totally fine according to Facebook username criteria.

So there you have it. Lesbian is banned when others are not. Only homo and faggot were also banned.

Does this mean Facebook thinks the word lesbian is itself an insult or is it a case of deliberate discrimination and silencing?

Side note: we put our username in capitals and used an lowercase l for the I to get our username so it is @llstening2lesblans but it looks ok in uppercase as @LISTENlNG2LESBlANS. We couldn’t bring ourselves to drop the word lesbian.

We were keenly aware of the irony of listening also being banned in Facebook page usernames but in the few days since we originally posted this seems to have changed as per the pictures below. 

The Beginning: A Lesbian’s First Blog

Fear Erased

I got involved with Listening 2 Lesbians back in October 2015, a couple of weeks after falling madly in love with a woman I met online in a Facebook group for lesbians.  Technically, I had barely even met her.  She would comment on other women’s posts and I would find myself enthralled with everything she said.  She started commenting on my posts and my stomach did all those painful, but lovely, flip-flops and cartwheels.  She was so smart.  And funny and witty and political and…did she just flirt with me?!  Yeah, it was like that.

Neither of us was looking, but that didn’t matter.  To me, she was like a political/social machine, a force unto herself, that I both admired and adored.  And she was super busy.  All the time.  So busy she really didn’t have much time to hang out and flirt with me.  So, when I found out about her blog, Listening 2 Lesbians, and how badly she felt for letting it go recently, I stepped in and offered my services.  One way or another, I was going to have an excuse to keep being near her, even if I would need to work really, really hard on a blog that wasn’t mine.  I was up for this challenge.

Turns out she was having all the same feelsies for me, so I really I didn’t need to work on the blog at all.  I know, this all sounds awful.  I thought I could win her heart by working on something she cared deeply about and once we were totally and happily in love, we just kind of stopped the blog again.  And she felt bad again.  And I felt bad again.  So, here we are April 2017 and Listening 2 Lesbians has been reborn…again.  I started the news feature back up in a less time-sucking manner and Liz and I have been dusting L2L off and planning new content.  I’m so happy to be working with her again.

I’m guessing some of you are wondering if I’m committed to this venture this time.  Sure, true love is great and all, but what about the lesbian community?  Am I a stayer?  Am I a doer?  Or, am I just going to blog ‘em and leave ‘em?

Good questions.

doubt &amp; fear signI began reading Dispatches from Lesbian America today and right on page 16 Pippa Fleming and Giovanna Capone asked me, “What are you willing to do today, to help re-create a visible, viable lesbian community and culture that is a place of honor for ourselves and each other?”

Well, I’m doing news on Listening 2 Lesbians today, Pippa and Giovanna!  Isn’t that enough?

Is that enough, Lisa?

I took a bath.  Don’t ask me why, I just felt the need to sit in water and think.  I thought about being a lesbian.  I thought about coming out in college.  A women’s college.  In the 90’s and in the middle of it all.  I thought about all of the strong, smart, amazing young lesbians that helped this baby dyke through her first year.  A year that included getting disowned, losing my family, and being forced to leave school because I couldn’t get financial aid on my own.  A year that included seeing Ani Difranco at Smith College and Indigo Girls at Amherst College, working parking at the Northampton Lesbian Festival and greeting Tribe 8 as they rode up to the gate.  Seeing Go Fish in an actual theater!  Mind.  Blown.  Going to my first ever Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.  Once I knew I was a lesbian, there was no turning back.  I had community and I knew how to use it.  I was home.

Flash forward 22 years.  All of us change a lot in 20 years.  Hopefully, we’ve grown wiser.  Kinder?  Sometimes.  Me?  Well, I grew fearful.  Fearful?  Really?  Well, yes.  Our community has changed so much in the last two decades.  I see fragmentation.  I see disillusionment and anger.  I see women afraid to say the word “lesbian” and a generation of young lesbians rejecting their biological realities.  I also see so much love and desire to “do the right thing,” while simultaneously ripping apart the very fabric of what it means to be a lesbian.  Sitting in the bathtub, I realized that I was, indeed, afraid.  How can I help the lesbian community become more visible, when I have become terrified of speaking my own truth?  My own lesbian truth?  Sticking to the news was safe, right?  These are other people’s stories after all.  These lesbians, for bad or good, are now Out There.  I don’t want to be Out There.  I’ve seen how lesbian truths like mine are treated Out There and it’s pretty terrifying.  I’m scared of being hurt.  I want to be safe.  Sound familiar to anyone?

“So, Lisa,” you are probably thinking, “what are you so afraid of?”

Here is where I begin fighting the fear.

I’m afraid of saying the “wrong thing” to the lesbian community or about the lesbian community.  I’m afraid of posting a bad article and people getting mad at me.  I’m afraid of talking about my coming out story, which is awful and wonderful, and getting shit from any family that might stumble upon this.  I’m afraid that if I talk about my 20’s, which could also be titled, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” someone from my past will see it and have some choice words for me.  I’m afraid that if I talk about the pain of becoming a transwidow, that my ex and her friends, or the entire transactivist community, will attack me for it.  I’ve seen it happen.  I’m afraid that I will be so exposed that all of the skeletons in my closet will just pop out and start dancing and I’ll soon find myself on the edge of a personal disaster for all to see.

But, then what?  What happens if I keep letting this fear control what I say and do?  What happens if I don’t share my experiences?  What happens if I just shut up and play it cool, posting my relatively safe news articles about other lesbians in other places, with other lives?  Okay, probably not much will happen for those of you reading this right now, but I have a strong suspicion that I’m going to feel like complete shit.  For   someone who used to be so brave, it’ll probably feel like I’ve given up and given in.  I don’t want to feel that way.  I don’t want to be afraid.

So, now I ask myself, “Am I visible and viable as a lesbian voice?  Do I feel honor?  Do I want to be a part of re-creating this lesbian community and culture?”

My answer is…YES.

Lesbian a banned word in Facebook usernames?

We’re trying to get listening2lesbians back up and running, particularly for current news items. 

Apparently the word lesbian isn’t “allowed on Facebook”.

The silencing of lesbians lurks beneath the surface everywhere… 

Transparent disrespect for dyke culture

Transparent disrespect for dyke culture
Guest post by Karen Thompson; cross-posted with Liberation Collective

Editor’s note: This post by Karen Thompson is in response to an episode of the television program Transparent, which disdainfully and contemptuously parodied the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and the women – mostly lesbians – who called it home for 40 years.

(1) One of the things about festival that is so fucking amazing is the sheer magnitude of female competence. The stages, the sound, the tents, the everything is put together with such care and consciousness and that everything — made out of spit and bandaids — can look like something so polished, so professional, so ON POINT. It’s not that we make nutloaf; it’s that we make nutloaf for THOUSANDS OF WOMEN over OPEN FIRES in all weather. For free.

So the general fucking HINKINESS of the look of the “Idlewild” shit pissed me off because it looked jacked up and like someone threw a camping party in someone’s backyard instead of the sheer magnitude and scale of ability that is demonstrated at fest the minute you walk in the gate. And that lack of attention to that sort of detail (when the slickness and smoothness of everything else on that show is never skimped on), once again ignored female competence and what we can do without males.

Which was one of central liberatory aspects of Festival for me.

(2) The sheer scale of the place. We were thousands. We were legion. This wasn’t a handful of whatevs. We are a city. We are a people. We are a culture.

And yes, I get it. TV. Budgets. There is only so much. But DAMN. Undermining our decades.

(3) The yelling “MAN ON THE LAND” which, as we all know, no one fucking does like a chain but as a beep beep of vehicles.

So once again, no one is fucking seeing the WHERE and WHY and HISTORY of why that had to be done. And no one is talking about the threat of men coming on the land with guns, or hanging barbie dolls in trees in Gaia, or any of the spray painting of dyke that we had to cover up. The leering at naked bodies. The reality of male violence that made that rapid alert system necessary.

(4) No kids? Really? Why would that be? I don’t know why that bothered me, but it did. It made the nudity seem sexualized instead of just that we have a place where we can be nude when we get hot or whatever. Just cause. Because we are safe to do so there.

(5) Safety. Ali said something like “this is so NICE.” and there was a weird moment of rape free something. But there was nothing that made it clear what it feels like to be in the woods and not worry about someone leaping from behind a tree, putting a knife to your neck, and raping you.

Yes, women rape. And they have at Fest. But women have not stranger raped using weapons or by kidnapping someone from their tent in the middle of the night. And that is a real talk moment about why Fest was important.

(6) Policy.

What bothered me about this is that the whole place works on intention. The whole place was trusting women to not be assholes. And we weren’t. For the most part. That you are expected to behave a certain way and trust and honor. And that is how we were able to do what we were supposed to do. And so the importance of that intention as a community ethic was lost.

(7) Fuck the Indigo Girls

Your moral code made it impossible for you to play at Fest again but was totally cool with you being in this crazy depiction of yourselves at this FARCE of a representation of Michigan?

Seriously, that along with Syd Mutschler’s breakdown about their playing at venues operated by racist, women hating scum and having no issues with THAT just…I don’t know. Just not okay.

(8) Also do you really think it wasn’t a CHOICE to not show, say, the WOMYN OF COLOR tent?! Because then we would have had to have a real talk about separate space for oppressed people and how Fest is one of the rare places that saw the battle against racism as a community value. As opposed to that weird scene where someone was appropriating Native American culture and mocking how we create our healing spaces.

AGAIN. I GET IT. THIS IS TV. NO ONE CARES. I GET IT.

But this was a lesbian who has made a show that has been deeply stewed and thought about and respectful of the experience of a group of people. She has ethically created space for trans women and men to tell their own stories, to be there, to be present, to be shown in their truths.

And yet, she gets to dyke culture and suddenly we turn into this flattened version of ourselves. If she was going to do it? Why not do it? Why make us the cartoons in a series that was all about detail and finesse?

I don’t think I need to tell you the answer to that.

I’m done. I’m just done. I have no more in me to be down with people in this community who have no respect for dyke culture. None. And I’m done with those in our community who don’t defend us against that flattening and that laying down to the people who support that sort of lesbophobia and caricature.

So yes, we know each other. We will always know each other. We are here and I, for one, will not stop speaking our truths.

Also, I do want to say there were a bunch of things that were awesome sauce. I will never say no to many different women’s bodies being shown in their glory. I will never say no to the fact that we show the world that being a gender non-conforming female doesn’t make you trans (the cameo by the bearded woman, Jennifer Miller). I will never say no to the fact that she showed diverse women as dykes. I will never say no to the REALITY of the fact that trans women come to festival and no one has laid a hand on them and that we can hold disagreement with respect (which, ironically, Maura was unable to do). Plus, a really fucking insightful and necessary insight in the circle around the fire (ALSO ON POINT!) which was that PAIN and PRIVILEGE are not the same thing and being in pain does not mean you weren’t privileged.


Please add your thoughts in the comments below. If you are interested in writing a guest post please email me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

 

On the Indigo Girls Boycotting the 2014 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival

On the Indigo Girls Boycotting the 2014 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival
Guest post by Syd Mutschler, cross-posted with Liberation Collective


Editor’s Note: This commentary by Syd Mutschler is originally from June 2014, not long after the Indigo Girls reneged on an agreement to play at MichFest in August of 2014. At the time, they made quite a public show of their sudden boycott of an event that the Indigo Girls as a group and Amy Ray individually had played many times. They gave the organizer of the event very little notice that they were pulling out and did so well after brochures, posters, and other materials had been printed and women had bought tickets expecting to hear them at the Festival. Treating women who had supported them financially and in other ways over many years this badly would be ugly enough, but they undertook this boycott after many years of the exact same controversy, yet it hadn’t stopped them from playing and spending time at the Festival at any time before that. This was very likely a decision based purely on finances (they were afraid that they would be boycotted, yet they continued to play at a venue with an owner with extremely questionable ethics), not deeply-held beliefs about “inclusivity”.
As the yearly debate about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival heats up, I have been having a lot of thoughts around boycotts, artists pulling out from the line-up, or artists who have stated they will not play again until the intention of the festival is changed from a gender/sex separate space to only a gender separate space. Artists and trans activists such as Red Durkin have made a lot of statements about why they will not play or why the festival should be boycotted, but I find them to be vague, condescending, emotionally manipulative, and intentionally inflammatory.
The artists’ statements, while varied, all imply that any connection to MWMF and Lisa Vogel is untenable. This claim deserves deconstruction. Let’s try playing Ok Cupid! With this situation, shall we? Let’s imagine that artists and venue owners fill out a political survey and the results will show the percentage of friend/enemy each match is. We will start with Lisa Vogel and the Indigo Girls.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to guess that Lisa Vogel, Amy Ray, and Emily Saliers agree on most subjects, except for the fact that Lisa Vogel believes sex is a class, that the female sex is a subjugated class, and therefore believes that separate space can be framed by that class. Since the Indigo Girls indicated they would play again if the intention was changed to one only based on gender, we can assume that they do support class-based separate space. That leaves us with Lisa Vogel believes sex is a class, and Indigo Girls do not. I will estimate that the test will put them at 99% friends, and 1% enemy.
Being from New Orleans, my next selection will be a venue Indigo Girls often play here, Tipitina’s. Tips is owned by Roland C. Karnatowski III. He is a white, heterosexual, wealthy male who owns somewhere around 7,000 rental properties around the Gulf Coast. His landlord practices are questionable (Google search for yourself) and the Tipitina’s Foundation (a charity) scores so low on finances and transparency, it certainly makes a thinking person wonder what’s going on there. As a straight, white, male, it’s doubtful he has ever spent much time thinking about the benefits of class-based space. Karnatowski has the privilege of not speaking his intentions about anything, unlike Lisa Vogel. Beyond that, since he will take anyone’s money at the door, I guess that makes him a good and enlightened guy. Is that the bar we are setting? Someone who is willing to profit off anyone?
I just used the venue in my hometown as an example, but many of the venues the Indigo Girls play are owned by questionable people. I did some investigating of House of Blues, for example, and could have used them as well.
Do we even need to think about who these venue owners might vote for, or who might make the greater contribution to the Lesbian community or the GBT community? Do silence and capitalism trump the contributions and integrity of an outspoken and compassionate community member like Lisa Vogel? Of course, artists can refuse to play for anyone, but if one does choose to set a political bar on that choice and the bar is set at Lisa Vogel, the bar has been set extremely high. I have to assume that this bar will be applied to everyone, and not just one lesbian who has stated her intention for a sex and gender based space. In the case of Roland Karnatowski III, it is clear he falls below that bar. He makes zero contribution to the Lesbian and GBT communities, has questionable practices as a landlord with working class people, has supported political candidates accused of racism…what do we think? Let’s go with 5% friend and 95% enemy.  Goodbye Tipitina’s!
Lisa Vogel and many womyn who support the festival understand that each of us – not just the performers among us – is responsible for the way our money affects our community. This is why MWMF has no corporate sponsorship. None. This isn’t Lilith Fair or Dinah Shore. Politics and capitalism are hopelessly intertwined, especially in the U.S. Once upon a time, we were much more thoughtful about politics and our money. I don’t see much of a discussion happening about how our dollars are circulating when we buy a ticket to MWMF versus when we purchase a ticket to a show at a place like Tipitina’s. Where are our dollars causing the most good and where are they causing the most damage? Capitalism permeates everything, and those who are ignoring this cannot stand up to their own moral high-grounding.
When politics lead someone to a place where they call for and/or participate in a boycott against an event like MWMF, I have to seriously question those politics. Boycotting is a strong weapon, one that has serious consequences.  Boycotting MWMF is not political. It is female socialization. It is internalized misogyny. I reject this as political. For myself, I will put my dollars in the hands of MWMF without hesitation and with total confidence. The boycotting artists have made me think more carefully about the other places I put my money. After looking at the venues and their owners in New Orleans and stacking them up against MWMF, I will not be going to many shows other than at festival. I will support the artists I love in other ways, such as buying their music directly or contributing to musicians’ funding campaigns.
Why is all of this important? Your money is political. Everyone in the community should be thinking about the impact of their dollars, especially if they are supporting or contributing in any way to the boycott against MWMF. The Indigo Girls are looking me in the eye and asking me to refuse my money to Lisa Vogel while having no problem asking me to give it to Roland C. Karnatowski III. Girls, we have a problem.

Please add your thoughts in the comments below. If you are interested in writing a guest post please email me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

 

Michfest – going home, leaving home

I close my eyes and I am back in the Michigan woods, lying in fern and leaf litter, listening to the woods and the voices of women. I open my eyes and the shadow of leaves and voices remain while the sounds of Australian birds and the smell of Australian plants intrude. They’re not ferns, but they’re what I have and they are glorious.

Banksia

Not remotely fernlike…

This year, for my first and only time, I went to Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, started by Lisa Vogel 40 years ago. I had gone with as few expectations as possible, helped by the flurry of activity in the weeks before I left and the daze I walked through the gate in.

The experience was a revelation, in expected and unexpected ways.

While listening to CC Carter sing about her hips, I realised with a rush that this is what representation might feel like. Listening to a woman sing about her female lover, with love about her body, in a clearing full of women, many of whom were lesbian, I realised what it felt like to be the part of the norm as a lesbian, and not the unrepresented minority.

not even close to being ferns....

Not even close to ferns…

We didn’t need to explain. We didn’t need to justify. We could safely assume safety, kinship, shared understandings. A week of woman and lesbian as one of the defaults (not het-excluding, note) made clear how fragmented and scattered we were, how unrepresented we were, even by cartoon representations, how even at LGBTI events, groups and gatherings you often cannot assume kinship. So bittersweet, to experience that but for so fleeting a moment. And there are so many ways in which lesbians have even less representation, along lines of race, class and more besides.

More than just experiencing representation though, we spent a week honouring the real diversity of women and girls as the default. I know that in a way that was unfamiliar I felt SEEN, not unusual or singled out, and not invisible, but visible and normal. We saw each other. We greeted each other. We hugged and smiled and trusted and we could just BE, however we wanted to be. I can only imagine what this experience could be for women who feel less seen and accepted than I do.

Neither fern nor oak

Neither fern nor oak

And with that visibility came a level of safety that is hard to describe. On the land I anticipated no trouble whatsoever. I trusted women. They trusted me. We assumed good will. A guard I didn’t know I had up was lowered. And for a week we were enough, and not too much. I wasn’t too loud, too pedantic, too round, too feminist, too woman centred, too lesbian, too vocal, too ANYTHING. I just was, without needing to reduce myself. And the second and third thoughts in my head weren’t there because I was so connected to what was going on that they didn’t need to be. I was just in the moment.

We said sister and we meant it with sincerity and love. I grew up doubting that the sisterhood was something I could rely on, skeptical that women would be essentially more reliable, not understanding the political meaning and intent behind the concepts of solidarity and sisterhood. At Fest I understood what it could mean at its best.

Sisterhood and solidarity

Solidarity – liberty – sisterhood – self determination

I understood, perhaps most of all, that there was a different way to be. Betrayal is not inevitable. Violence is not inevitable. Fear is not inevitable. The things we have come to expect as women in our society are not inevitable, they are chosen values that align with and are created by our social order.

At Fest thousands upon thousands of women wandered the land, day and night, in varying degrees of dress and undress, from jeans to corsets to nothing, in varying degrees of intoxication and sobriety, in populated and deserted areas, without thought of rape. Unlike the recent stories of endemic rape at music festivals, we managed to celebrate and party, not to mention randomly nap in the leaf litter among the ferns, without experiencing or perpetrating sexual violence against women. What we were doing, wearing, how we were behaving, who we were with, what time of day or night it was – none of these factors mattered. This showed that there is a way for women to be, other than at constant collective risk of rape and abuse. It wasn’t the absence of factors often considered to be provocation. It was the absence of predators and perpetrators. While we know from bitter experience that women cannot be essentialised as angels, we also know that the central problem is socially sanctioned and promoted male violence against women. In the absence of it, we relaxed in safety.

And in this context I learnt, at a profound level, that I can trust women. Not just the women I know and trust, but women in general.

And these realisations were both political and personal.

Familiar horizons, new horizons

Familiar horizons, new horizons

At the healing circle, which was moving and profound and upsetting, all at once, I saw and felt women’s intense grief and pain. And I started to forgive myself.

I saw a mother hugging their small child and I pined for mine, suddenly struggling with our separation. I grieved for the abuse I couldn’t prevent. I grieved for the abuse I didn’t know about until years too late. And I let myself acknowledge that I was not responsible, that while I should have been able to protect him as a mother, we were both victims. Not being omniscient and omnipotent doesn’t damn me as a bad mother, and intense grief and regret can exist without assuming guilt.  That which I know for other women, I started to know for me.

While so much of what I experienced on the land was so personal, it reflected back on our socialisation, the framing of women’s lives, the framing of lesbians. It reflects the way in which women are routinely denied space to meet alone lest we realise this all.

Even now, derogatory comments are made about fest, even as women revel in their perhaps first and definitely last experience of it.

We might live in a society that doesn’t want women to love women, but most of all, it doesn’t want us to love ourselves, individually and collectively.

Everlastings

Everlastings

So it is a political act to meet alone as women, to love women?

Let’s be political then, and meet alone as women, form and connect with our tribe.

We can start imagining new ways to live then work to make them a reality.

We can be the acorns from Lisa Vogel’s mighty oak.