Problematic people

CW: mention of sexual assault

The last post on this blog didn't hit the internet in the way I would have liked.

At the time when I published the previous entry, I didn't yet know any name for the presumptive trans woman (whose last name is Merager, and who I will refer to by that name for the remainder of this post) who had been present in the women's section at Wi Spa on June 24. I first had a thought to write something a bit solidarious vis-à-vis the Wi Spa situation in July, shortly after the first antifa-vs.-MAGA clash in Koreatown, Los Angeles, on July 3, which is when I first heard about it. Alas, life happened and I didn't get too far beyond the draft stage—plus I still had another entry to finish up.

In an article published by Slate on July 9, it was said that the initial incident had simply been a hoax—or at least that there was strong evidence to suggest that it hadn't actually happened, e.g. there was no evidence that any trans woman had even been present at Wi Spa on June 24. I don't read Slate, but perhaps the lefty/progressive sorts of journalists and/or Twitter personalities I was getting my information from do. At the very least, they were saying much the same thing.

At the time, I found the idea that it might be a hoax credible—which is to say, I'm not gonna put it past a certain kind of rightist to fabricate a story like the one that was being told in order to generate a useful controversy.

By the time I got around to actually putting together some sentences for the “Solidarity” post, however, it was already late September, and there had been some developments in the story. For instance, the Los Angeles police had issued a warrant for a suspect, who subsequently told her side of the story to a person employed as a journalist (and apparently that person was Andy Ngo, writing in the New York Post) before turning herself in to police. Slate updated its July 9 story on September 3. Of course, lazy hack that I am, I used a Wikipedia article on the Wi Spa affair to get myself up to speed; consequently I got some of the facts of these new developments mixed up, as I admitted in the October 2 update to my October 1 post. Wikipedia is often good enough for the sort of research I care to do, but that was absolutely not true in this situation, because several of these details were missing from the Wikipedia article at the time when I was writing my post.

I stand by what I wrote and, to some degree, how I wrote it—which is to say, I think I had a good idea of what I wanted to do, and what I fucked up was the execution. The Wi Spa affair, which was at its origin a controversy about some exposed “private parts”, provided an obvious and relatively contemporaneous example of a situation in which nudists had a clear stake as nudists. I thought that articulating both the how and the why of those stakes might be useful. First off, I wanted to challenge a certain part of the naturist internet (in some ways, the most promising part, insofar as it has some kind of interest in doing quote-unquote “politics”) to transcend the single-issue activism mindset. Second, I also wanted to direct some energy from among those who read these posts (and I guess there are a few of you?) towards an ongoing issue that should have been of some concern for anyone with even half-decent attitudes about trans people. This would have worked a lot better if I had managed to publish initially in July, not October, but it is what it is.

It was always clear to me that Merager might be, at minimum, a person I wouldn't want to be seen defending—but also that nothing short of full-throated condemnation, never mind the available facts, would be enough to convince those whose minds are captured by transphobic, paranoid animus that I was not defending her. For these folks, my simple usage of the pronoun “her” in respect to Merager is enough to mark me as on the wrong side of a Manichaean fight between Good and Evil.

This project—that is, the blog “nudism as an illegalism”—is about changing culture for the better. But, that second part, for the better, won't be self-evident to people with different ideas about nudity than mine (or perhaps yours) and not much interest in changing those ideas.

A lot of the time, too, there is political opportunity in mobilizing and enlisting a sort of common sense—often founded in ignorance and/or paranoia—that stands against change in how people live their lives, what will and will not be permitted in public, and so on. This is basically all rightism really is!

All movements to change culture, whether in a progressive or a reactionary direction (however you might define these terms personally), will face some kind of opposition. In the present moment in much of North America, Europe, and elsewhere, rightist coalitions are stepping up to do just that in order to mobilize against the civil rights of LGBT people writ large, or in countries where that fight feels decidedly over and done with, they try instead to isolate the T from the LGB, the better to target that letter specifically.

If the “option of nudity” and/or “make nudity legal” camp was ever to enjoy a decade of “gains” similar to those enjoyed by trans lib, as a cause, between 2010 and 2020 (which is unlikely, because there is no such movement to speak of, at least at this time), we would be facing a similar situation. By this, I would mean there would be increased familiarity with our basic philosophy about clothes and bodies (without, necessarily, an increased acceptance of those ideas) as well as more accurate and/or sympathetic representation of nudist characters in popular culture (like Arthur Meyer's nudist character in High Maintenance!) and legacy news media. Correspondingly, as with trans people, we would become more visible to those with an ideologically grounded grudge against us, and we would factor more and more frequently into narratives of civilizational decline.

The thing is, no movement nor any significant population of people is completely devoid of shady characters, ugly representatives, and bumbling buffoons. Merager, and a few years ago Jessica Yaniv, are to trans lib and/or the trans population what a certain woman from Berkeley—whose last name is Taub and whose first name (not the one given to her by her parents or recognized by the government) is an ethnic slur that she probably has no good reason to use as her personal moniker—is to the cause of decriminalizing public nudity and/or to nudists.

Let's talk about this person. Taub was arrested on December 19, 2019, over accusations of stalking, and attempting to kidnap, a 14-year-old kid who had been friends with her son. I leave it to the reader to do more research into the nature of the accusations if they so choose. What is important is that, whenever her name comes up on r/nudism and r/naturism—usually to discuss the nude protests that she was involved in organizing in the Bay Area over the years, starting in the lead-up to the 2013 ban on public nudity in San Francisco and continuing afterwards—there are invariably comments to the effect that, first of all, she is mentally ill and/or a moral wretch (and these two things are typically often conflated) and that, second, it is wrong to “support” her.

There is never any question, of course, of actually supporting this woman—who has apparently spent the last two years in jail, mostly during a pandemic—by providing her with money for canteen, organizing a rally for her release, or trying to break her out of prison. Simply commenting positively about her activism from circa 2011-'13 is framed as some kind of comprehensive endorsement. Or at least adjacent to such endorsement.

To my mind, though, Taub is simply an important historic figure—at least within the limited scope of, say, the recent history of street activism in the Bay Area (which is not my concern) or the recent history of getting naked in public, and trying to make that option more available in general, anywhere on Earth (which is). She is, in other words, worth discussing for her deeds and her impact, within the scope of conversations on these subjects.

Although I am hardly an acritical supporter of her tactics or her ideas, I also think it's fine if some people, i.e. supporters of the minoritarian position that it should be okay to get naked in public, are a little bit inspired by the reason she is well-known. She actually did the thing, after all, rather than just posting on the internet about what she thinks would be cool and right.

I don't think we should ignore her history of inappropriate behaviour as regards young people (nor should we do the same for any other well-known activist or other historic figure), but that shouldn't be the only thing that can be said about her. Because, the thing is, almost no one wants to talk about Taub the whole person in these sorts of conversations, anyway. They only want to talk about Taub because she's a good starting point for a different sort of conversation, namely about a great political idea. Usually this is the most rudimentary, Reddit-brained sketch of a nudist utopia imaginable, but honestly, that's fine.

Also, to the extent that people just want to shut down a conversation about nudist street activism and/or nudist utopian visions before those conversations can even happen, simply because someone started that conversation by mentioning Taub, I actually think that that's not cool. All it is is derailing.

Merager, in contrast to Taub, is not an important historic figure at all, at least not yet. The Wi Spa affair as a whole, however, might be historically important. Perhaps it could constitute one chapter of a zine on the great West Coast political brawls of the early Biden administration. For my part, having months earlier decided to write about the Wi Spa stuff, I was going to have to say something about the person who had been arrested once I found out that had happened. The way I talked about Merager was then opportunistically used to derail any (online) conversation about the ideas in that post from manifesting, and to put forward instead a combination of uncontroversial truisms (like “protect women and children”) and specific anti-trans animus. I was also told that, by “supporting” her, I was destroying my own reputation going forward.

So, what did I say about her? Well, apart from saying that I don't think she should be in prison, like an anarchist would say, I also presumed that I don't know everything about her just because she has a documented history as a sex offender, I did the pronoun thing (be mad about it), and I reiterated a basic idea among nudists, namely that seeing a penis is not an emergency. I suppose that a lawyer representing Merager's interests in the courts of the state could argue some version of that last thing in order to get her a better deal of some kind, but that lawyer probably isn't reading this blog. Part of what motivated these words is that, broadly speaking, I support the goal of trans liberation—which is to say, the end of specific oppression of trans people by, like, society or whatever.

I have done nothing to support Merager as an individual, though. Certainly I have not sent any money to her defense fund.

By way of conclusion, there was one comment I saw on r/nudism that I actually did appreciate. It reads as follows:

Any sex offender, regardless of gender, should lose access to spaces where nudity is present. I see no reason that they should be admitted.

As someone who has experienced sexual assault, the place I feel safest is at the landed naturist club where I am a member. I find the bar is set much higher in terms of zero tolerance for harassment and in shared values. I feel far less safe in other clothed places, for example pumping gas or buying groceries.

The idea of safety in gender segregation is false. It's past behavior that is a much more realistic indicator.

I agree with this person, though I have a lot of problems, personally, with both the notion of a state-administered sex offender registry, as well as the actual reality of it in California and many other places. That's because 1) I am an anarchist and 2) I read Foucault in university.

I don't think there is anything wrong, in principle, with identifying sex pests as such and excluding them from spaces where, for instance, people are going to be naked. I have more experience of this happening in demonstrations, occupations, bookfairs, and conferences—and while there were sometimes situations in which that process of exclusion was bungled and/or where I had serious critiques of how decisions were made, I think that, overall, it's usually worthwhile to keep verified sex pests out of situations where it is predictable what will happen if they are allowed to come.

In other words, exclusion is always complicated, but I don't think it's off the table. It can even be justified on lesser grounds than, for instance, being a sex pest.

My concern, I suppose, is how do we assess the distance between cruelty and stupidity when it comes to trusting people to not keep fucking up? And, in a world where collectively used hygienic facilities were more normal, how could we categorically exclude a class of “offenders” without replicating something like a neo-Foucauldian conception of a prison society? These questions may not bother all nudists, but they should bother anarchist nudists.

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