BUG Spray Community Profile: Michelle Dang (Vol 2 Iss ii)
It’s our pleasure to be interviewing Michelle Dang for this issue of Bug Spray. Michelle is a Vietnamese migrant settler, living and working on the stolen land of the Jagera and Turrbal peoples. Michelle's alternative practice, Healing and Justice focuses on supporting people to respond to trauma and violence in a context of safety, dignity and social justice.
"I want to be clear that safety isn't just about inclusion or representation. The presence of more women and gender non-binary people in a group dominated by cis-men doesn't equate to more safety for the former. Groups need to ask themselves: who is making the decisions, who holds the power and whose voices dominate the group?"
Michelle, how do you define Consent in your practice?
Consent is when one person agrees or gives permission to another person to do something. Consent is freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic and specific. It means agreeing to an action based on your knowledge of what that action involves; its possible consequences and having the option of saying no. Consent is not just about sex, it is a practice and life skill resisting the use of coercion, control and violence on people.
At Modifyre, we are comprised of a collection of Theme Camps, which are essentially mini-venues run by diverse groups of participants. What are some out-of-the-box ideas that Theme Camps can do to help create a space that feels safe for everyone?
It sounds obvious, but I think the most important thing to do to create a safer space is acknowledge power and privilege. But I want to be clear that safety isn't just about inclusion or representation. The presence of more women and gender non-binary people in a group dominated by cis-men doesn't equate to more safety for the former. Groups need to ask themselves: who is making the decisions, who holds the power and whose voices dominate the group? Creating safety requires listening, de-colonising, and centring the people with the least power.
I also think is important that Theme Camps and Modifyre creates a culture of community care, especially around accountability. No matter how much we educate each other around consent and safety, I think harm is always going to happen, people are always going to violate or transgress people's boundaries. And so rather than leaving it just up to the individual who has been harmed to do 'self-care', we have to care for each other. There is extra responsibility for organisers to understand what collective care and accountability means.
What does a kind but effective collective community response to consent violations look like to you? What are its hallmarks?
Organisers need to be clear about what ethics are they operating from when intervening in consent violations. My suggestion is people to read things on transformative justice and community accountability. But some of the key tenets of transformative justice work is you need to centre the person who has been harmed. You need to ask them what they would like out of a community response. Creating a safety plan with them is important. Once you get clear about what happened, what it is that is being requested and a safety plan, you can then approach the person who caused harm.
There is a lot that is involved in accountability conversations, but I think we need to make sure that people keep connected to the person doing the harm. We also need to focus on accountability for violence and not micro-managing people's lives and relationships.
What do you wish the average participant knew for conducting themselves in a situation that is experimental, adventurous and full of unknowns?
Everyone transgresses, regardless of your intentions. Engage in the adventure whole heartedly and be mindful of verbal and non-verbal queues and adjust your actions when you receive feedback.
Find out more about Michelle's practice here.