On Seeing Your Oppressor

Once when Operation Rescue sieged clinics in New Orleans I spent an intense Labor Day weekend producing a movement newsletter with Xavier, a very gay English professor from another institution, and Little Robert, an anarchist. He was known as Little Robert because he was short, mild-mannered, and very young.

Every kind of activist had converged upon the city to struggle against Randal Terry and each other. There were hip hoppers, punk rockers, Goths, socialists, radical feminists, NOW, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, Communists, transsexuals, lesbians, sex radicals of different styles, and drag queens, only some of whom were local.

All parties were very active but when it came down to such sober and meticulous actions as typing, layout, and other matters related to newsletter production, only Xavier and I had computers, and in the end only Xavier, Little Robert, and I had the kind of tenure-track stamina it took for me to renounce the beach, Xavier to give up Southern Decadence (an important drag event), Robert to miss the more colorful forms of activism, and all of us to condemn ourselves to a three day weekend of intensive work.

We did it in shifts, one person always sleeping eight hours. One afternoon Xavier was asleep and Little Robert and I were sewing the newsletters together somehow on the kitchen table. We were gossipping about the statements and antics of all the different forms and styles of activists. I said to Robert at one point, “Why do people like BDSM?” He said with certainty, “Because in an S/M scene you can actually see your oppressor, and it is liberating.” I do not know what a BDSM person would say about that, but I learned from it the importance of actually seeing your oppressor. I have always remembered it for that reason.


19 thoughts on “On Seeing Your Oppressor

  1. Wow! Great answer. Seeing your oppressor gives you the ability and the power to see and recognize them when they approach you. Otherwise, you’ll be vulnerable and in constant fear. You’d not know who to trust or not to and never have healthy relationships. They’d be corrupted with fear and anxiety.


  2. It it takes BDSM for one to see his or her oppressor I would have to wonder if he or she were in fact oppressed.

    I don’t need an image.

  3. CM – but in more general terms, what about a definition, though: as in, “you don’t see this, which is why you are confused, but you are being ‘powered over’ at this moment, and here is how it is working”?

  4. I see the simplicity with the putting a face on it, however the fear of distortion overrides such benefits. Often I hear of men who use a female to play the dominant role. If we look at it as a representation of oppression, will it not give him more of a reason to see females as wanting to take over the role of oppressor, hence, giving him more fuel to fight any sign of rebellion from anyone who can be identified as her, his oppressor?

  5. Perhaps it falls too close in the line that one must experience something in order to empathize with it. For example, will men ever sympathize and empathize with the fear of rape without having to be kidnapped and raped themselves by other men? Must I go hungry to know what famine feel like? Or have AIDS to care for an aids patient, etc etc etc.

    Forgive me, I am just highly suspicious when it is an activity that is most welcomed by the majority who are already in a position of power.

  6. CM – I don’t think Little Robert meant to say that BDSM was a necessary therapy, or anything like that … just his speculation on why some people like it.

    I don’t really have an opinion on BDSM except to note that yes, it is rather suspicious that it seems to be so popular among those already in a position of power. And also, quite a few of the BDSM adherents I have dealt with in real life did *not* leave their kinky power play attitudes at home in their bedrooms, but also brought them to work with them and so on. That is just anecdotal, of course, but it is my experience.

    But what I am interested in here is not BDSM but seeing your oppressor / identifying oppression … the importance of understanding what is happening, naming it for what it is, is what I learned from Little Robert.

  7. hey, professor. thank you for the comment & the link. about garcilaso’s lira, i don’t have time to actually go over the entire book now but maybe you’ll find an english translation here. let me know.

    i’ll see you here or when you visit antrobiótica.

  8. CM – Twisty has an interesting post on this (actually it responds to the kind of argument LR was making).

    Sonetero – thanks for this visit and the link to that article! It’s the Quevedo sonnet I do not understand, though (actually it is sort of relevant to this thread, LOL, because in it, the speaker seems to get shot with one of Cupid’s arrows and ends up hanging onto a tree trunk, it could sound sort of S/M-ish).

    Geoffrey, because the Klansman doesn’t hide … ?

    Kym, c’est vrai???

  9. [i know this isn’t relevant to this thread, but i linked the translation of garcilaso, cause i thought you were looking for one. here: “…everyone always quotes from it, or excerpts it, and I have decided it is time to write down the entire text, for those of us who have not memorized it. I have not found an English translation. ” anyway, i will try to provide you with one of ‘antes alegre andaba’.


    Thank you Sonetero, and now I get it! And – I really appreciate it, I am sorry if I came off as ungracious, I didn’t mean it! –Z

  10. So my naivete is showing: how is this done? I mean, it then has to be your oppressor you’ve got in bed … which means you have to achieve this … and then sleep with the enemy … or project enemy-ness into someone else … or am I being obtuse?

  11. interesting thread and post.

    “Perhaps it falls too close in the line that one must experience something in order to empathize with it. For example, will men ever sympathize and empathize with the fear of rape without having to be kidnapped and raped themselves by other men? Must I go hungry to know what famine feel like? Or have AIDS to care for an aids patient, etc etc etc.” –CM

    maybe that’s true? although, i think some people do sm for fun and it shouldn’t be overpsychologized.

    with that said:

    seeing your oppressor can be tricky. it isn’t like it is just one specific person. we all have a hand in the oppression. some of us are more responsible than others, of course. woman can oppress other woman as well. hmmmm..

    p.s. CM, i always want to comment on your blog but i forgot my blogger account info and am too lazy to fix it. 🙂 but i like your blog a lot.

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