At Your Service (Tales From Community Service)

Article written by contributor who is currently serving a 120 hour community payback order, in which they are required to do a program of unpaid work for the terrible “community”1. This Article forms the First part of a short series detailing different aspects and analysis of the community payback program, from thinking about the actions being performed and their implications to offering a kind of insight into what this shit is actually like. Please distribute to anyone you know who might be about to get sentenced to community payback.

Part 2: Faggot Till I Die.

Identifying as Queer has never been a particularly easy part of my life- from growing up in a working class area where homosexuality was seen as either a mental health problem or an infectious disease, to social isolation from the gay community for my attraction to women as well as men, to getting beat up for wearing dresses and having long hair as well as a penis. Life more recently has been somewhat easier, it’s very easy to use the personal pronoun IT, fuck men, and wear makeup when you live in and around queer squats and have friends/comrades who are up on their queer theory, but re-entry into mainstream culture through community service has been something of an uphill struggle and challenge to my queer identity and politics.

The first time I really came up against it was my first day in the probation office; i sit down at a desk and start filling out this twenty page questionaire abo0ut my gender, sexuality, drug use etc so that they can tick all their boxes of inclusion, assimilation, and so called safe gaurding. I sit for several minutes pondering what to answer for gender- i mean clearly (at least today, at least when I am presenting to most of the world) I look like a man, I receive the same male privelige that other people with my body/sex recieve and most people (who don’t know me) would certainly pronoun me he/him/his; but that’s not the point, that’s not who I am, that’s not how I feel and that’s not how I want to be seen. I’ve struggled damm hard and found communities that accept the identity i feel so attached to: a fucking IT, genderqueer, who wears dresses some days and jeans others, and fucks with people who they like regardless of their gender.

I start thinking maybe it’s my fault; i’ve wrapped myself up in this little squatter/anarchist bubble outside of  questionaires,  jobs, mainstream straight culture and i’ve forgotten what it’s really like out there, what it’s like to feel singled out for the way you feel about your body/sexuality and what its like to be in conflict with hetronormitivty 1 and the gender binary 2. This first question, this tiny tick box on some stupid piece of fucking paper has really spun me out. In the end, I write a tiny, but perfectly formed n (for neither/neutral) in the space after the question; this might sound pathetic and teenage, but for one beautiful moment it felt like a tiny act of queer insurrection, like resistance to the straight culture. I smash the next question (spurred on by my aforementioned act), are you gay, straight, bisexual, other? with a swift tick in the other box and proceed through the rest of the sheet (mostly meaningless rubbish about my drug histories and mental health- both of which i lie profusly on) and hand the questionaire back to my case manager.

There is a brief pause as my case manager looks down at the sheet, after what feels like a year they look up at me and asks the fatal question, a question that to gender straight3 readers probably seems tiny and meaningless, but a question that smashes the resolve of my previous box ticking and brings years of “but you look like a boy”, “but your to straight looking to be…”, “boys can´t do that” flooding back to me- why have you put an N here? For a brief moment, i see myself standing proudly up and detailing the twenty one years it´s taken me, the specific moments of my struggle, and all of many reasons that I hate the male identity; but in the end a little whimper of “I just don´t see myself as a man” comes out, my case manager looks at me a bit oddly and (as i realize from future correspondences/notes about me) proceeds to gender me as male. Then comes the awkward explanation of the other tick box. In this respect, my case manager is at least not biggotted, but rather interested and wanting to learn; they ask me about what this means- explaining that they are learning about all these things (I feel something between appreciation for their consideration, and like an animal at the zoo) and want to know more; i explain this in more detail, offering examples and explaining my identity as queer and the various reasons I choose to use it rather than bi/gay, they ask a few questions and we move on.

Moving on to the interesting parts.

But before I do, one thing to mention here, to gender rebels, fellow faggots, feminists, anti racists and other people who generally find themselves in opposition to mainstream attitudes that may be about to start community service is that there is a constant conflict (at least there is for me) in picking battles about calling out sexist/homophobic behaviors which might be considered minor (e.g. use of “casual slurs” based on gender/sexuality etc) and seriously stopping/challenging more serious ones (street harrassment, threats of violence etc). The thing i found, is that sometimes you have to let words/behaviours slide (whilst still showing your dissaproval by refusing to enter the conversation/laugh at jokes) which you would normally call out, in order not to get labled as the weirdo/person with a problem with everything, in order that when something more serious happens you can make an effective intervention. In short sometimes you have to earn friendship/street cred in order to get any of your ideas accepted, and to be able to be effective at stopping harrassment/oppression.

Roughly three weeks later i´m out on a site picking up litter and cleaning up an old cemertary. Your kind of classic pub banter about homosexuals, men fucking, and the latest celebrity faggots is being rolled out and as usual I’m standing silently in the corner refusing to be involved in the banter, but not wanting to speak up both for fear of alienation (which I accept is weak and also only possible because i can fairly easily appear to assimilate) but also because I know someone is going to say something really bad at some point and I am going to have to intervene. Then one of the people in the group does it, “I think, personally we should just shoot all the gays, i mean when they kiss in front of us, it’s just it’s fucking disgusting why do they do it- we should shoot them.”

I flip, i pipe up and shout ok big man, do you want to kill me hey, take your fucking spade and kill a fucking gay then- cus you know what i’m a faggot till I die  and (turning to everyone else to try and make a slight joke in order to undermine this dick head) given what you’ve just said that might just be today! Everyone erupts, and the questions start flying- “so you take actual dick in your mouth/your arse”, “you actually fuck boys?”, “what, how do you do it”, “can’t you just like choose to be straight”. To be honest, at this point in my life it’s all quite normal  and actually conversations like this have become something of a challenge, how can I maximise both the education experience for the people I’m chatting to whilst simultaniously making as much of a joke out of it/making it as uncomfortable for the homophobes as possible. The highlight of this situation comes when someone asks me if when I fell off a wall and broke my wrist my boyfriend was there to catch me in his arms- “no,” I responded calmly “I Landed on his erect dick, ruined my arse hole and split my spleen, yano it’s a normal gay thing we also get the worst injuries us gays, cus we’re so busy getting our bums raided that we can’t do any of that stuff the straight people do without someone getting a collapsed sphincter”. There is a general uproar of laughter, disgust, and actually begrudging acceptance- sometimes when you say the most extreme things, people seem to accept you more (not that you should say this unless you feel completely comfortable with it, and are aware that it might mean having to fight or be hurt for what you say) at least in community service where so much seems to be about front and attitude.

I wish I could have gone back to the project where all this happened, it felt like at the end of that day I was really getting somewhere, like people were kind of accepting in as a normal thing, like maybe just maybe people were learning something. Sadly I got moved to the quite charity shop i spoke about in the last article, moved to the quiet middle class environment with the gay manager and the general acceptance of the assimilated homosexual´- where as long as you don’t talk to much about the specifics or kiss people of the same sex it’s all fairly above board. On the plus side, I can always escape back to my sheltered little queer circles where everyone is supportive about the situations I face and people have similar experiences to myself, but this doesn’t really feel like enough, I mean sure it’s safe and comfortable and really really fucking nice, but I do feel like on the projects I could do something, I could chance peoples minds, and I could fight the fight of the queer struggle.  I don’t really know what the answer is, but hopefully some of this is useful to someone….

Faggot Till I Die.

1. Hetronormitivity is the assumption people make when they see a man and assume he is attracted to women or visa versa.

2. The Gender binary is the societical assumption that there are only two genders, male and female. Queer theory argues that this is not the case, that there is a vast range of different relationships people have to their identity and that our identities should not be defined by our sexual organs

3 Gender Straight- Living and wanting to live as the gender that you would naturally be assigned based on your sex, socialization etc.

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At Your Service (Tales from Community Service)

Article written by contributor who is currently serving a 120 hour community payback order, in which they are required to do a program of unpaid work for the terrible “community”1. This Article forms the First part of a short series detailing different aspects and analysis of the community payback program, from thinking about the actions being performed and their implications to offering a kind of insight into what this shit is actually like. Please distribute to anyone you know who might be about to get sentenced to community payback.

Part 1: Honor Amongst Thieves.

I’m going to dive straight in, it doesn’t really matter how I got to this moment; from the hands of thugs in blue uniform, to the loving embrace of the sham judicial system weighted against the poor/non white and indeed anyone who doesn’t fit the citizen factories standard model, through the hands of a lazy probation office more concerned about why I identify as  gender and sexuality queer than my welfare, broken wrist or what work I’d like to do; and finally into a council estate in Sydenham (South London) where i’m expected to clean railings for seven hours a day with one half hour break and a theoretical further two fifteen minute fag breaks for no money whilst some middle aged, wanna be screw gets on my case every time I miss a spot.

I arrive at five to nine,and spend ten minutes looking for the room that we’re supposed to be in; by the time i find it it’s about ten past nine- todays particularly jobs worth supervisor decides that time will be taken off my hours and will therefore have more to complete. Suddenly there is an explosion, five guys (two of the literally jumping out of there seats) start kicking off, fighting MY corner, telling the fucking supervisor that i don’t deserve to loose 15 minutes from my days work and that they should give me a break. After about ten minutes the arguing subsides and low and behold by the end of the day i’ve been given my full time- this is the vein by day begins in, I feel like one of the tribe.

Flash forward a day or to and I’m at another site in another part of the city sat under the shade of a tree, all of us (there are 4) convicts sharing a spliff and talking about our various crimes. I feel more at home here than i have in a long time, we take it in turns to watch each others backs, pick up the slack of the guy rolling the spliff, and cover for each other when someone wants to sneak off to the shop (an offense that can get you sent home, and therefore breached which means going back to court and potentially facing prison). Everyone here is friendly and helpful, of all the guys i’ve met on these “projects” not one has done any harm to an individual- all us are victims of a system that targets us for our poverty, ethnicity, or lack of complicity with our own oppression/refusal to assimilate.

Like in the workplace, or the community, organizing happens through a series of friendships, and through organization we are stronger. Similarly to the workplace our organization is most apparent when we are in opposition, when we must fight for our survival, when we come into direct conflict with the authorities that are enslaving us. When a supervisor attempts to send one combatant home for not working quickly enough, our collective action, our friendship, and our realization of what this would mean enable us to combat effectively the wishes of the supervisor (who in this case has no understanding of the loneliness and alienation of the court room, the bias of the judge, or the reality of  the prison) and protect our comrade through the threat of non compliance.

Isolation is a parasite. In the footsteps towards our current situations, each of us was singled out, plucked from the homogenous mass by the camera, the state thug, the security guard, the ticket barrier, the bank; isolated from our friends,our comrades, our lovers (physically in the cell, the prison, the courthouse, and mentally in so far as our charges, our convictions are our individual crosses to bear), and attempted to be individualized, demonized and disconnected. In finding each other, in sharing our stories and in experiencing struggle together we come a step closer to liberating ourselves both from our physical situations and our subconscious labels as outcasts; our hi visibility jackets become a symbol of our brotherhood where they were intended to mark us out, to other us and power shifts back into our favor, away from the hands of those who oppress us.

Friendship sticks, there is honor amongst thieves. Many friendships form from our “projects” which extend beyond the parameters of the seven hour days in which we are forced together. Many combatants drive each other to and from the days slavery, we socialize after “work” and we learn more about each others situations, we build solidarity, we advise each other on claiming benefits, personal security against state intrusion, and on basic methods of survival in the face of capital. Together we make each other stronger.

And then the state strikes me a blow. The phone rings “Hello Mr/Mrs/N/A ———, i’m just calling from the control centre to tell you that you have been redirected to an A.P placement 2(see footnote); from now on you will be working X/Y/Z day in a charity shop; you will be the only community payback member at this placement” End call. I protest to every level of authority, but thats just the problem I am forced cap in hand as an isolated individual to the feet of my oppressor, without my fellow combatants to back me up I inevitably loose my battle and I’m shunted to the charity shop a few miles from my home. It’s ok there (at the shop), the days are easier and as an individual I’m treated more fairly by those who own the rights to my body for seven hours a day than on the “projects”, but I’m isolated and alone in my struggle against my detention. I find some solace in my sisters, brothers, and gender fuckers enslaved on the workfare program 3/4 (what we share is of course that our bodies are the property of someone else, and our labour <which is of great value to our slave masters> does nothing to improve our material conditions) who are similarly the victims of their own low economic status; but it is not the same, because whilst our struggle is not connected; we are not organizing for the same freedoms or against the same oppression.

After my first day I call up a friend from one of my old projects. I discover that they too have been moved onto an A.P placement and are finding the adjustment similarly hard. We hang out and we chat about it, and we conspire to fight it, and we vent; but our ability to act in solidarity with each other has ultimately been stripped from us and it is hard to feel that same feeling of camaraderie when we are not fighting shoulder to shoulder any more.

I continue to meet my fellow combatants from the “service” of the terrible community, and i will continue to do so; the state can not take that away from us. I will continue to talk with them, to share with them, and to publish with them tales from our enslavement; we will never surrender.

My advice to anyone about to start on the community payback program would be to try your dammed hardest to get on a project, not an AP placement. You can help this process along, by answering your initial assessment questionnaire (which will be done by your case manager) in a way that makes it seem like you may need supervision. If they think you are likely to steal anything (bring up previous convictions or fixed penalties for theft if you have them), hurt yourself or anyone else or anything similar to this, you will almost certainly have to be put on a “project”. Good luck to all future combatants.

Combatant A, South London Forced Labour Camp.

1.)theoaklandcommune.files.wordpress.com/ http://theoaklandcommune.files.wordpress.com

/2011/3/tiqqun-theses-on-the-terrible-community-1.pdf

2.) AP or agency placement means a program of work that is not directly supervised by serco/the state; it is outsourced to a charity or other organization who feels it can benefit from our slave labour in order to lower its running costs and maximize profit; from sercos point of view these placements are goldust since they reduce staff costs massively (taking away the need for supervisors, much of the infrastructure etc) and from the states point of view they are a perfect tool in isolating, alienating, and reducing our power; if we don’t see each other we can’t organize.

3.) For more info on workfare see http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/

4.)For More info on workfare see http://www.boycottworkfare.org/