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Notes by Tierney Finster and co.

On Thursday, February 8th, 20-odd femme identified and allied persons gathered in the penthouse suite of The Standard, Downtown LA to discuss sex, gender, power, violence, abuse, colonialism, scarcity, and the possibility of restorative justice. Among us were activist and programmer Alice Barker (of support.fm); writer and sex educator Ana Cecilia Alvarez; artist Amalia Ulman; activist and writer Cyrus Dunham (also with support.fm and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners); actress Dasha Nekrasova; writer, bookseller, and organizer Fiona Alison Duncan; net artist and activist Hannah Schmitt; queer academic Jane Ward; poet, erotic writer, and anti-violence advocate Larissa Pham; social justice organizer Paula Graciela Kahn; sex writer, filmmaker, and model Tierney Finster; and photographer Vivian Fu. This 3-hour event, titled “We’d rather be free,” was conceived and organized by Duncan as part of her new monthly sex, love, community, and communication event series, Pillow Talk. The following is a collection of selected notes and quotes from the event, plus videos from our pre- and post- talk livestream. More takeaways can be read on The Standard Culture.

Fiona Alison Duncan, note: If you like the work we’re doing here, please consider donating to our cause of the month: FreeFrom, a local LA org that helps survivors of domestic abuse gain financial independence and stability, cause resource dependence is so much of why and how we get and stay in abusive relationships.

Dasha Nekrasova in pre-talk livestream, quote: Basically every dangerous or potentially abusive situation I’ve put myself in has been in the interest to gaining access to resources, and leveraging my sexuality to try and get those things.

Collective note: Part of what appeals to us about life and certain kinds of work (for example, acting, making art, and sex work) is the intimate, seductive, embodied nature of the work. We don’t want to de-sex life and work.

Alice Barker, quote: Someone posted online the best way to not have your nudes leaked is to not take nudes, and the best way to not get robbed is to not have stuff.

[Collective laughter]

Fiona, quote: Lol like abstinence only education. Doesn’t work.

Collective, quote: Many of us said, “We are here to listen.”

Amalia Ulman, quote: With the film or sex industry, of course you can’t sanitize it. But it could be healthy. As long as the people involved are consenting and having their boundaries respected. The problem is that a lot of abusers breach consent, knowing what they’re doing is not okay, but that’s what gets them high on power, that’s what gets them off. But that’s not sex or work. It’s the abuse of power. It’s violence.

Paula Graciela Kahn, quote: We could have a totally functional society with a utopic version of sex work, but we’re not there right now. It could be like sex therapy. We’re literally being extracted from as if we’re another resource on the planet, and there’s no legal pathway for us to seek justice. And justice is militarized, so it’s literally our bodies versus guns and the state and everything…

Anonymous, quote: I’m thinking about how part of the reward of having power is getting to be abusive and violent…

Dasha, quote: Hollywood is already this perverted place, so of course perverts are going to be drawn to it…

Tierney, quote: Wait, what are you defining as perverts?

Fiona and Dasha, quote: You’re right! We love perverts.

Ana Cecilia Alvarez, quote: Perverts are not necessarily bad people. There can be ethical perverts.

Amalia, quote: Perverts and psychopaths are not the same thing.

Fiona, quote: Okay let’s call them Sexual Psychopaths. Is that a better term?

Fiona, note: With this stuff, it’s not just male perps. I knew someone who worked for a powerful woman, who he felt coerced him, her employee, 15 years her junior, into a weird sexual thing… He was like 24, and after was really fucked up about it.

Hannah Schmitt, quote: I keep thinking about this research that was done by people who worked in conflict resolution in big corporations. They kept finding people who worked really high up in corporations were really hard to do mediation with, and they were like, what’s the deal with that? They found that people who ascended the ranks in a corporate ladder, as they got more and more authority, became desensitized to the emotions of people with less power than them. This is a really creepy and fascinating finding, and I keep thinking about in this context…

Larissa Pham, quote: Even in a purportedly queer or radical organization, once it gets to a certain size, hierarchies of power and influence tend to come up… and it’s usually the usual suspects leading the show… power reconstructs itself so fast… What would institutions look like that asked people in power to be more accountable?

Jane Ward, quote: It seems like there’s a salaciousness around the Hollywood [#MeToo] examples, when there’s been great journalism around other industries, tech, Wall Street… We’re seeing across a number of industries that there are networks who work to cover up and quiet multiple incidences of rape and abuse. Part of why that is is there’s infrastructure built up around industries where men are hoarding tremendous power to protect and maintain that power — exploitative labor practices, racism…

I’m wondering what people think about the possibility of restorative justice models being used around issues of sexual assault? It seems like what we are seeing in the media is a liability model, where the reason this is a problem is because these corporations are going to get in a trouble, or a punitive model, where you just shouldn’t do this, because you’ll be shamed. That’s not why we want people to stop raping people. We want people to stop raping people because that’s dehumanizing and violent to do that. Restorative justice is a grassroots model that’s about a community coming together to create community-based accountability. It’s an alternative vision for how to heal somebody who has been violated… [You] create a system where the person who has been injured can identify what they actually need in order to feel healed, and what they want they want to have the person who violated them say to them or do for them so they can heal. Because, when you send someone to prison, they don’t go to prison to unlearn rape.

When I bring this idea up with my students, often it’s triggering, because we’re letting our anger lead. A student who might be anti-police and self-proclaimed prison abolitionist is ready to partner with the police on this issue because they want their rapist to go to prison.

Tierney in post-talk livestream, quote: This notion of restorative justice… The idea is even people who are against the prison industrial complex and who don’t trust or feel safe with the police, the rage and trauma of sexual assault, can propel folks to be like, put him in jail! Kill him!

Fiona, quote: In Conflict is Not Abuse, Sarah Schulman talks about how our current vision of loyalty is taking sides, banding together in this tribalism of aggression and judgment, so say some dude did something shitty to you, I’m going to be like, that dick hole! fuck him! let’s take him down! And that’s the way that I show care for you, is creating an enemy out of someone else…

Dasha, quote: That’s the problem with trauma. You just want to give it to someone else. That’s why restorative justice… I don’t know how to conceptualize it in a sexual violence framework because trauma is this really… twisted thing…

Ana, quote: I’m thinking about consent in terms of our general conditions. It’s like sure, I can learn how to consent to sexual relations, but also what does it mean to consent to fucking someone if many people can’t consent to the air that they breath, the water that they drink, and the types of homes that they live in, and health care?

Paula, quote: After #MeToo, I wrote about how it’s entangled with colonialism, and lack of accountability for colonialism and slavery, and just this entire culture of impunity that has been built on taking our bodies away from us. When the Europeans came to the Americas there were different societies, there was a lot of diversity amongst many of the civilizations and smaller groups living in the Americas, many of them were matrilineal and many of them shared the labor with the men, there was a variety of gender identities. Colonizers, like English men that came to the Americas, or European men that came to the Americas, saw that the sex and gender relations were different, and used it as a huge point to justify colonization, because they called the indigenous men weak. There was just a lot going on with ideologies around property and like family structure. There was critique about how women were sharing the labor, and how they were too sexually open, and how women should just be confined to the home, and raise the children. It was a justification that the native men of the Americas weren’t man enough. One of the ways that colonization was effected was through the mass rape of women, also men, and it was used as an embodied tool to create the foundation of this new globalization. The world we live in is defined by systemic rape. There’s just so much to untangle, it’s really tangled…

Fiona, quote: What do you think about levels of consciousness? I’ve been thinking that the kind of consciousness that accounts for mindless consumerism may explain grey area date and campus rape. I feel like a lot of ppl are brainwashed. Or ignorant. Operating on fear and conditioning. Just not paying attention. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Or They Live. I feel like I was… brainwashed… or just young. When I was younger I used to think older man / younger girl relations was hot. But now looking back, my consciousness has changed so much, I understand how that’s fucked up, because my perception and ability to negotiate the world is so much vaster now. When I look at teenagers, I’m like, in a different realm of consciousness than them, so it would be taking advantage of them, if I were to engage with them…

Amalia, quote: I think that’s the argument a lot of guys charged with statutory or other rape make–that the girls wanted it. But a young person might not know what they actually want, what the consequences are, or even how to want.

Larissa, quote: It’s hard to have those conversations without taking agency from your younger self. I’ve been thinking a lot about early consent education. How do you teach empathy? How do you teach boundaries?

Ana, quote: One practice I’ve been trying to implement is active empathy. Mindfully doing this has made me realize how little I do so in most interactions and how that was almost never really taught to me, or suggested in most spaces I’ve been in…

Fiona, quote: Empathy I think is imagined as a liability a hyper competitive, scarcity-based economy and culture.

Anonymous, quote: People who experience trauma, there’s a sense of wanting that to be seen, that’s healing. But we haven’t quite learned or don’t practice relating empathetically like that…

Amalia, quote: That might have to do with the experience of pain. It’s very hard to describe pain and for people to imagine it. Another example of abuses of power and authority is with doctors, the most recent public example being Larry Nassar [the American gymnastics coach]. I’ve been hospitalized by myself, with no one around to advocate for me, and the lack of agency we have against doctors… They often try and manipulate you to take whatever course of action they’re being paid to tell you. While you’re medicated and vulnerable. The people who were actually healing me were the nurses, which is very common. It comes down to our belief in authority. It would be a good practice to start questioning authority in general. :)