Against; Not Trusting Men Again

‘For now, our orientation is: against this. Against this is a point of possibility, and in the emptiness of never agreeing what we are for, with hands gripping the edge, wet and slipping, we will finally agree that against is habitable, against has room for all of us. Against is not without conflict, it is not without pain, it is only brief respite before strategizing begins.’

– Lola Olufemi, Experiments in Imagining Otherwise (Hajar Press 2021)

I am supposed to be writing about why I don’t trust men again, but I keep thinking about women I’ve never met. Waking now, eastern time, later, on the west coast. Waking up to body as threat, to body as waiting room, to adverse possession. The doctors can’t come, the train isn’t running, the streets have curled up and the asphalt has melted in pools. You can’t go back, and you can’t go on strike because you can’t leave, and you can’t stay. This is an occupation.

Let me be clear, this is not my story. There are countless others better placed than me to tell it, and I do not presume to speak for them. But sometimes silence takes up its own subject position. In the words of Gayatri Spivak, ‘to say ‘I won’t criticize’ is salving your conscience, and allowing you not to do any homework’.[1] I want to try. Can writing be an act of solidarity? Can I write to tell you I’m listening? Can I acknowledge my ‘debt to those who came before’?[2] Of course, a ‘community must not mean a shedding of our differences’; I do not want to claim an ‘us’ we simply do not share.[3] But there is work in imagining, and I want to let you know it is felt.[4] If writing can be an act of reaching, of hospitality, then please take of me whatever I can give. These are only words, but others have meant so much.

I sat in a room full of American lawyers when they handed the judgment down. Phone lit up with messages, notifications, tweets, and re-tweets. Is this what a day that changes the world looks like now? I had read the articles about the dangers of ‘juristocracy’[5] but it is no less shocking. If not for the presence of literal, fleshy Americans around me, I wonder how this news would hit. There is less distance between here and Kharkiv than Washington, but this feels closer to what happened at the Capitol last year. I wonder if this Transatlantic fixation is part emigrant mentality, to be drawn to worlds I know we’ve passed through before.

I grew up in Ireland. In a country where you didn’t talk about abortion in religion class. Where ‘religion class’ was a kinder way of saying ‘Catholicism and alterity: a journey in three acts’. The only reason I had a view on abortion was because I was queer and thought no body of mine would ever carry a baby. They said abortion is sin, but then again, they said my whole body was sin. This was before I learned that none of that matters. No one is safe from unwanted pregnancy or unsafe abortion. Not just cis bodies, but trans bodies, disabled bodies, migrant bodies, Black bodies, Brown bodies, and incarcerated bodies. This is an occupation. But Roe is just one of their tactics and now the harmed are being treated like those who hurt. Is this what it takes to realise the prison is a house of violence?

To you, the words REPEAL sound like DESTROY, like BREAK. Like ABOLITION sounds like END or UNSAFE. To me, REPEAL is REPAIR. ABOLITION means MAKE. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore writes, abolition is about ‘presence, not absence’.[6] Saying body is choice isn’t enough. It is land, it is home, it is welcome, and ‘no, you don’t get to be here!’. It is the site of all possibilities. It is the last thing I will give away. And now I want to bury it under the weight of the earth.

My repeal came and now they took away someone else’s. So many who never had and never will. Sheila Hodgers, Michelle Harte, Savita Halappanavar, Izabela Sajbor, Agnieszka T., Ingriane Barbosa Carvalho. The names of others I do not know and the ones I will have to learn. Long before repeal meant the 8th amendment, in my country, it meant self-government. Before they starved us on our land, repeal meant home, not occupation. Repeal never came to the North; not really, not yet. None of this is a coincidence.[7] All bodies are occupied on occupied land. They start by saying the wrong is in our bodies. What is the opposite of privacy? Is it public? I don’t want to have to learn.

I want to write about how I don’t trust men again. I don’t. But I don’t know when it started. It took me my whole adult life to trust a man with my body. A cis man. This is important; there is something about cisness which interrupts queerness. I can only describe the experience as the first time I felt like a girl/woman. Queer bodies are these wonderful things; malleable, and amorphous—tentacular, even.[8] I had wondered if ‘it was a female thing, this fear of men’, long before I lost familiarity with what the former really meant anymore.[9] I used to wonder: is it original sin? Is Eve’s body where it broke? The rotting apple, glutting in her gut. But it’s not just a few ‘bad apples’, it is every single one of them, and in any bite, you might find the worm. I trusted him, but the doubt never went away, not really. I don’t know what I wanted from him. To be proven wrong? To tell myself it didn’t matter? Maybe I just wanted care. To find where it starts; whether there are traces of the misgivings I feel whenever a man’s eyes graze over me on his skin. If men broke my trust, I thought they might have the answers. He didn’t. I am not sure there are any answers except for moving forwards, beyond, away from this.

The loudness of the Tube reminds me I am on this side of the Atlantic and must remember where I am going. Everything feels right so long as you keep moving, as if inside this shoal of bodies, I am no longer one of them. I think, what if we can just stop it? Make one big clot of human mass, a fatberg, a rat-king. Wrangle it out to find something loving: what if(is) mine is(if) yours? Would you take it if you could feel it? I want to see what you see. Please, I insist. Sit. Let’s light candles and eat. When we’ve finished, we will walk away as friends.

The hardest part is ‘how to keep doing now’ while none of it ever stops. No day is safe from news of it. I am exhausted, but the bus is coming. Zoning out, and you just asked me a question. Nodding off to sleep, but my stomach drops, my mind snaps back. There is so much healing to be done in this world but where to say it starts? For me, right now, it means I need to stop writing to be among others. Someone, a friend, a lover, is brewing the tea upstairs and I bought nectarines and chocolate. These precious things are fewer than we think they will be.

Oddly, the most practical thing to do seems to be to hope. I can’t go upstairs and be sad for her. The practical thing is to hold each other. Gather the rage and the sadness and be among others. Solidarity means when you can’t stand it, others will hold your ground. When I woke, I wanted it to swallow me up, to feel the mourning of blackened things. Instead, I feel the warm, quickening rot. There is life in this compost; so much daunting hope, it overwhelms. Little things are making better of it, organisms churn the mulch to something softer. When it turns to earth, we’ll make a world where none of this feels unliveable.[10] The soil is wet under our fingertips. The harvest has come and there is plenty. No one is uninvited.

Author’s note

None of this is my story. The vocabulary I write with only exists because of the imagined possibilities drawn from the words of those I cite. There is care in their words, and care in reading them. I only hope they do the same for you.

1. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues (Routledge Publishing 1990), 62–63; bell hooks, Writing beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice (Routledge 2013) 36.

2. Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Duke University Press 2017) 17.

3. Audre Lorde, ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’ in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Crossing Press 1984).

4. Lola Olufemi, Experiments in Imagining Otherwise (Hajar Press 2021); José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York University Press 2009).

5. Samuel Moyn, ‘The Court is Not Your Friend’ (Dissent Magazine 2020) <https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/the-court-is-not-your-friend>

6. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, quoted in adrienne maree brown, We Will Not Cancel Us: And Other Dreams of Transformative Justice (AK Press 2003) 1.

7. Begoña Aretxaga, Shattering Silence: Women, Nationalism, and Political Subjectivity in Northern Ireland (Princeton University Press 1998)

8. Donna J. Haraway, ‘Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin’ (2015) 6 Environmental Humanities 159, 160.

9. bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (Atria Books 2004) 23.

10. Porpentine Charity Heartscape. Psycho Nymph Exile (London: Arcadia Missa, 2017).

Caoimhe Ring is a 24-year-old sociolegal researcher from Ireland. She is working on a doctorate about climate-friendly technology. She is interested in abolition feminism, law and political economy, and climate justice.