Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage

Note: The Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage was created by Dr. Maria P. P. Root, a psychologist in Seattle, Washington who specializes in multiracial identity and families.
It's kind of amazing, and one of those things that hits the "YES! Why did I not find this earlier??" spot.

A PDF of the text is available online at:


Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage
I have the right:

-not to justify my existence in this world
-not to keep the races separate within me
-not to be responsible for people’s discomfort with my physical ambiguity
-not to justify my ethnic legitimacy

I have the right:

-to identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify
-to identify myself differently than how my parents identify me
-to identify myself differently than my brothers and sisters
-to identify myself different in different situations

I have the right:

-to create a vocabulary to communicate about being multiracial
-to change my identity over my lifetime - and more than once
-to have loyalties and identify with more than one group of people
-to freely choose whom I befriend and love

— Dr. Maria P. Root


"what ARE you?"

"go ahead and guess; i kind of like this game."

"are you (insert brown ethnicity here)?"
only one person has ever been close to being right. most people just assume one of the "usual suspects" of brownness: hispanic or latina, Indian, Mexican, Spanish, Middle Eastern, Native American. some of the more interesting / out of the blue assumptions were Somalian (which is actually sort of close), Venezuelan (really?), Egyptian (this was when I had cleopatra-style bangs), black in general, Ethiopian, Brazilian...I've gotten pretty much every ethnicity with traditionally dark skin.

when i went to (finally!) register for a library card at the Denver Public Library today, the woman behind the desk asked what I was. she had a slight Middle Eastern accent and was also brown, so I thought maybe she'd get close, or at least have a more creative definition of my brownness. Nope. we played the "what ethnicity do YOU think i am?" game, and her answer was the typical "I'd say either Spanish/Latina or Indian."

this question happens almost every day. whenever i meet someone new, they'll ask "so what ARE you, anyway?" (either right away or eventually work up to it.)
when i was younger, my friends were one or the other. mostly one, since i grew up in a very white Roman Catholic college town. i had one friend whose mom was euro-white and her dad was Seneca...but she mostly only claimed the Native side of her background. i don't think she had the words to claim both.

i grew up with two white-skinned older brothers, one very fair white-skinned mom, and one very dark-skinned dad. everyone but my dad and i presented as very white, and while my dark skin was a cute novelty for everyone to comment on (and a really big tease in the hope that my mom wasn't my biological mother), i was treated as the anomaly among my whiter siblings and praised for looking "exotic." but even with that, i was always assured that i was white. that i should check that box in whatever school or camp forms i had to fill out.

my first act of advocacy came when i was in 4th or 5th grade. a very pretty older girl (blond hair, blue eyes, lived in the rich part of my neighborhood) on Bus 7 yelled at me on the ride home one day and told me to move, that she didn't want a "black bitch" to be sitting with her little sister.
i got home and stood at the kitchen counter and penned a letter to the principal, explaining what had happened and that i wasn't offended at being called black, although i wasn't, but that i was hurt by being called a bitch. i'm pretty sure i suggested our elementary school get some racial sensitivity training. (i was a little precocious, for a 9-10 year old.)
i was proud of myself for standing up against racism, and my parents were too, but i was confused. i was white, i thought. why would she call me black? i had tanning contests with my dad every summer, so he and i were both sporting our summer shades of dark brown, but I didn't think that negated the "Caucasian" i'd always been told i was, the "white" box I always checked at school. I'd never questioned it. until that day.

i always identified with the racial oppression we learned about in school and read about in history books, but i then felt guilty for identifying with it. what right did i have? i was white. just because i was dark-skinned didn't mean i had the right to claim racial oppression. that doesn't happen to white people. and i was white. ....right?

in high school, i started occasionally checking the "other" box when forced to check a box. when i could, i just left it blank. i had no idea what i was. i didn't feel white. i didn't look like the white kids in my school. i looked more like the puerto rican kids in the neighboring town, but i didn't get it.

finally, in my first women's studies class, i learned about white privilege. some things started to click in my brain: when i gave my ethnicity (at least, the one that's acceptable to discuss), i was European. but everyday people didn't encounter me as European. they encountered me as brown. after 9/11, my dad and i would routinely get stopped when we crossed the border into Canada. not because we lacked proper documentation (though my dad did once, and told the border patrol agent he was a "world citizen," and we were stuck there for 3 hours. thanks dad.), but because our skin is what i half-jokingly call terrorist-brown. add to that my dad's very middle eastern features and mustache, and nobody would ever assume he was white. and nobody ever assumed i was white. any and every variation on brown, yes. but never white. neither of us has ever been afforded the privilege of being white. it stopped making sense to try so desperately to claim white privilege when i couldn't actually access it.
i made the conscious choice to stop checking the box that said "white." from then on, it would be "mixed" or "other."

but i didn't even see people who identified as mixed-race or interracial until my junior or senior year of college, when I encountered a (now-defunct, i think?) group at Smith: MISC. i don't remember what the exact acronym stood for, but it was something along the lines of multi-ethnic & interracial students of smith college. MISC. that felt about right. miscellaneous. ambiguous. yep.

and then i graduated to the real world, and entered repro justice nonprofitworld. and i became the token brown girl. (and the token gay girl. i'm a two-fer! diversity people LOVE me.) nobody really bothered to figure out what kind of brown i was, but they knew i was brown, and so the racial sensitivity work was up to me. as a lowly entry-level employee, it was up to me to tell my supervisor that her supervisor had said something not-quite-right about outreach to Latina/o communities. as a new employee, it was up to me to explain to my directors why it mattered for us to take a position on a ballot measure that disproportionately affected undocumented immigrants. the organizations i've worked for have been on the right track, and are making huge strides to improve, but i'm still the brown girl in the historically white-rich-lady organization.

it's exhausting. i mean, i love being that voice and feeling as though i'm finally using that annoyingly ambiguous ethnicity for good, but...christ. it's exhausting.
and i still feel guilty sometimes. like i'm claiming something that's not mine. like i'm claiming oppression that i don't have a rightful claim to. because, sure, i've been treated similarly to other "legitimately" brown girls, but on paper, i'm still white. mostly. I'm just a whole lot of European (mom's side: French, northern Italian, English, German-Jewish, dad's side: Sicilian and English). It's the Sicilian that gives me my dark skin, and it turns out the dark skin is from some illicit/not-talked-about "fraternizing" with East African ancestors wayyy back, but on paper, it's still just Sicilian.

so i've decided on a new term, one coined (or at least adopted) by my mixed friend, Daniel (who, btw, is Japanese and Hawai'ian and Argentinian).

ambiguously ethnic.
brown, but ambiguously so.
another one that works: mix-y.

as it turns out, there's a not-insignificant population of mixy, ambi-ethnic, mixed, interracial, etc people out there. lots in my generation, and lots more growing up now, now that mixed-race couples are just an everyday couple. (sign of my age: it's just weird and unimaginable to me that people would have had a problem with that.)

among that not-insignificant population:
-this book that i just grabbed from the library: What ARE You? Voices of Mixed-Race Young People, a book/anthology by Pearl Fuyo Gaskins
-Dr. Maria Root's brilliant Bill Of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage (pdf)
-a friend i made during my summer in DC who's now doing amazing things out somewhere on the west coast: mirasian: notes on mixed race asian studies
-and others i have yet to find

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

here we go again...

Annnnnd we're back at it.

I'm working, again, against an abortion ban as a state ballot issue. And again, this one is the abortion ban ballot issue's second time around in as many years.

I'm feeling a curious sort of deja vu here.

Up side: this time, I'm in Colorado, not South Dakota. (No offense to SoDak - you all were fab! But let's be honest here. I'm not a rolling-plains kinda girl.)

Yep. The personhood amendment is back on the ballot in this lovely Rocky Mountain state I can now call my home.  Losing by an almost 50-point spread in 2008 (73%-27% was the final count) was, apparently, not enough of a walloping for them.  Political strategists, they are most certainly not.

Coloradans don't actually want to ban abortion, and they certainly don't want to ban emergency contraception or in-vitro fertilization or some forms of hormonal birth control.  Thus, the 73% of voters who told them "No" last time around.  But it's back on the ballot, again, and so we get to fight it again.  I look forward to Nov 2nd, when Coloradans (again) tell Personhood Colorado No on 62.

It's a completely ridiculous amendment and painfully extreme, and I'm confident that with a well-executed field and media plan, the No on 62 campaign will have a sweet, sweet victory party on the evening of November 2nd.  But the amendment is still a little scary to me.  And here's why:

I'm voting no on 62 because I'm a survivor (victim? I still struggle with that label) of childhood sexual & emotional abuse.
I wrote something about this when I was on my way to South Dakota two years ago,  and seeing as my past hasn't miraculously changed in these past 2 years, I'll just go the copy-and-paste route (with some minor edits for grammar and to be applicable to Colorado instead of South Dakota):

I’m voting no on amendment 62 because I’m a victim/survivor of childhood sexual & emotional abuse.

I was lucky in that the sexual abuse by my older brother never resulted in pregnancy. I had my first period just a few weeks before the abuse finally ended. I mostly understood how pregnancy worked when I was 13, and so I was completely terrified until I got my period again…more than two very long months later. “Luck” is a warped gauge at this point, but I know I was lucky to not have to deal with a pregnancy as a result of that abuse. But imagine (as I often have) that I wasn't a late bloomer and had gotten my period a year or two earlier. Imagine that the forced intercourse happened more than once, more than that last incident, within that time. And imagine that, at 13, I'd gotten pregnant from the sexual abuse and needed an abortion.

I know exactly what it would have looked like if I lived in a state where this amendment was part of the constitution:

There’s no way I would have told my parents. They already knew the abuse was happening and done nothing, they were already neglectful and abusive, and at 13, I would know that they were not a place I could ever go for support.

So I would have gone by myself to a gynecologist, for the very first time. I would have been terrified to go, but I would have told her that I was afraid I was pregnant. She would have asked me if I was sexually active. My shame would have given me away, I'm sure, and she would have asked if it was consensual. At 13, I would have given a very confused answer, probably admitting that I knew it was gross and probably wrong but that I still thought there was some element of consent, because at 13, I didn't understand coercion, and I certainly didn't connect the word "abuse" with my experience.
If she told me that I was pregnant, I would have desperately tried to get an abortion, by any means necessary. So I’d have to go out of state. How I would pay for it or obtain transportation to and from another state for the procedure, I have no idea, but the last thing that would have been an option would have been to ask my (abusive) parents for help.

And if there was no option to get out of state for a safe, legal abortion, I probably would have looked up some dangerous d.i.y. form of abortion and done it myself. That risk would have been preferable to bearing for 9 months and having a child created by that abuse at the age of 13.

It’s not a matter of the authorities knowing or not knowing about the abuse. I did eventually disclose to a mandatory reporter when I was 15, so it was (or should have been) somehow reported. The state didn’t actually do anything with that information, but that’s another issue entirely. Bearing and having that child would have been devastating to me, as a 13-year-old, as a survivor, and as someone without a reliable family support system. The abuse was awful, of course, but if I had gotten pregnant as a result of that and lived in a state with an abortion ban like this on the books, it would mean that I would have again been denied the control that I’d never had over my body. It would have had nothing to do with protecting women from violence or catching sexual offenders. It would have been completely re-traumatizing, to say the least. And that’s not protection or compassion or justice. That’s just cruel.

The "yes on 62" side will usually respond with one of these arguments: 1) you shouldn't punish the "child" for the crimes of the father, and/or 2) by having abortion accessible to victims of rape and incest, you destroy the evidence and let rapists go free.

I call bullshit.
On both of these.
Argument 1: what about the woman?
Argument 2: what about the woman?

She doesn't really factor into either of these arguments, except as a passive bystander.  Why would you force a woman who's already been victimized and had control over her body taken away to again give up that control and go through 9 months of pregnancy because of the crimes of the rapist?
Why would you force a woman who's already been traumatized to go through, again and again, the less-than-perfect and often retraumatizing justice system if that's not a route she chooses to go down?

That's not protection. That's not justice. That's not compassion. That's cruel.

I'll end with a quote from a terrible post from the most anti-choice man I've ever come across. After I posted my story as I was en route to South Dakota in 2008, he posted a very, very personal response. And I know that putting my story out there in public invites responses, and some of the responses are going to be like this, but it still makes my blood boil and my skin crawl. And it reminds me of why I do this work. To try to shut down people like this.
This is his post in response to me. Now, excuse me while I go throw up.

An army of (mainly) angry, confused, hurting and misguided young people are enroute to South Dakota right now to fight the reasonable people here who think abortion shouldn't be available for use as a form of birth control.

This gal, named Jen,  is getting on a plane today to come here from Northampton, Massachusetts to work for two weeks with the Campaign for UNHealthy Families. Her blog is curiously misnamed "righteous revolution" which is typical for pro-aborts to call wrong right. This gal is hardly on the side of righteousness or justice. Abortion is a justice issue for the unborn and for women who are lied to and exploited by those who profit from abortion.

But her blogs screams… I'm hurting and I need healing! The subheading is… a raging river of tears cutting a grand canyon of light!  That's powerful and sad. It makes me angry at a lot of people in her life. Where is her sick brother today and has he been allowed to abuse other women? She uses the word healing eight times on her homepage. But she's fighting for something that leaves women in far worse shape. In her anger and hurt she's lashing out at the most innocent. It's not right to execute capital punishment on a child for his/her father's crime. If only her anger were channeled in a righteous direction - at those who lie to women to profit from abortion. Join me in targeting this gal in your prayers for these next two weeks that her pain would lead her to the Light and that she'd become what hundreds of thousands of other Roe v Wade survivors have become - a righteous army contending to a higher court on behalf of the plight of the unborn.
I hope you'll read her post in it's entirely because her real story comes out at the end. Read with understanding and compassion because she's hurting and misguided into thinking the best thing for women in these situations is to kill their baby. She needs to talk to my friend Dianne and I can set that up if she's interested.  I'll pay for the appointment, as many as she needs.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

so. it's mother's day.

mother's day was never really one of my favorite days. in my family, it always played very well into that well-established pattern of putting on a unified "Big Happy Family" front, trying to make invisible the million dysfunctions that made our family not at all happy. and it played well into the often-enforced "mother is always right" rule. and the "feel bad for your mother because she does so much and is such a martyr for this family" meme.

and so i would always buy a stupid little sappy card from hallmark and pretend like we fit into that image of the family whose emotions are perfectly expressed by lovey-dovey Hallmark cards. or i would buy a snarky card, the kind that walks the line between mean and loving, and pretend that i could honestly sit on the "loving" side of that line. and yeah, sometimes i meant it, and sometimes i could identify with the "love your mother" sentiments in these lame cards. but more often than not, mother's day was just another opportunity to fake our way as that happy loving family that my parents wanted so badly.

once i was at college and far enough away from that family system to see how dysfunctional it really was, mother's day made me bitter. i was bitter that i still felt obligated to buy these cards that i clearly didn't mean, and i was bitter that i had to call my mom on mother's day and pretend that she deserved the honor that this day was set aside for. i was bitter that i'd tried to turn so many women into maternal figures over the years (i believe i was at about 15 or so at last count), and none of them had completely filled that void, and none of them had wanted to, and i probably couldn't have let them fill that void anyway. most of all, though, i was bitter at all the truly loving moms and daughters i saw around me, because it felt like a slap in the face. sure, i was happy for them, and i was glad that there were women around who had the capacity to be that truly "good mother" (read: able to love without narcissism/martyrdom), but i was bitter, and it made me feel cheated, and it made me feel sorry for myself. i hated feeling all of these things, which made me hate mother's day even more.

eventually, i started to open my eyes. by which i mean, i started to open my heart. all of the love that i saw around me between loving mothers and daughters felt more like warmth and less like a slap in the face. i stopped forcing myself to send my mother cards that had sentiments i didn't mean. one year, i just sent her a pretty card that said "happy mother's day" on the inside. that's it. i don't think i even signed it "love, jen." just "-Jen." the next year, i sent her nothing, and the next week, i cut her and my dad out of my life entirely. (she likes to tell the story that she got that letter on mother's day, that i planned it like that to hurt her. too bad mother's day is on a sunday, the postal service doesn't deliver on sundays, and i didn't put the letter in the mail until after mother's day. oh, drama queens.)
on one of those mother's days, instead of seeing what i never had growing up, i saw the mothers who i admired, and i saw the women who had mothered me in some way or another. i saw them for the love that they held, and i could honor them for that, without (ok, with only a little) bitterness.

(image: Nikki McClure, an artist in washington state.
i adore her work. you should go buy some of it.
no, really, you should. or, alternatively,
buy a print for me. you can do that here.)

this mother's day, i felt surprisingly little bitterness and sadness over the mother i didn't get from biology. i felt absolutely no guilt about not sending her a mother's day card, and only a little lingering guilt over estranging myself from my parents (that's guilt that i don't expect to ever completely go away).
this mother's day, i was able to fully embrace the fierce love i feel for the amazing mothers in my life. primarily, the mothers i've chosen to be part of my life, but also the amazing feminist, loving mamas i see around me all the time. not all of these women have had children, but that's the thing about the women i honor on mother's day: biology only sometimes correlates with great motherhood.

the two women who've taught me what maternal love looks like, who've filled my heart with that love: not anywhere close to biologically related. we don't even share a common ethnicity (they're both very white. me, not so much).
the two other women who took me in when i was a "stray" have stepped into some role between big sister and mom, who joke that they have to share custody with the former two women: neither has ever given birth or even (to my knowledge) been pregnant. they're only 6 and 7 (or 8?) years older than me. because you don't have to be related to someone to be a mother. and you don't have to give birth to know how to be a mother.
motherhood is so, so, so much more than pushing a kid out of your uterus. and maternal love comes in more forms than bio-mother/bio-child. i am so thankful for that.

so, today, i'm not bitter or angry about mother's day. i'm beyond grateful for the luck/fate that brought these women into my life and made my heart more full than i ever thought possible. and i am quietly rejoicing every time i see a woman who is or will be a great mother to someone who needs it, in whatever form that takes.

happy mother's day.

Monday, April 19, 2010

younger women, movements, and institutional feminism

I'm not entirely sure how to address this one. I want to both defend and call out the large national pro-choice organizations involved here, because I believe in their potential and I think they have their hearts in the right place. But potential can only be realized through critical analysis of strategies and approaches, so I'm going to try to do that, and to tread carefully here.

This weekend, Newsweek published this story by Sarah Kliff about a recent poll that NARAL Pro-Choice America just released on the attitudes of younger voters and reproductive rights. The poll itself was, in my belief, a way to prove what most young people in the reproductive justice movement already knew: that younger people aren't engaged in reproductive rights at the level they could/should be, and that major pro-choice organizations need to step up in their attempts to engage younger voters and activists.

That's not the way that Newsweek presented the poll, though. Disappointing, because Sarah Kliff is usually a remarkably good journalist when it comes to covering abortion-related issues. Kliff used the poll, and select quotes from NARAL president Nancy Keenan,  to make another hand-wringing case of "these young folks don't get it and they don't care and now we have nobody to pass the torch to and dammit, why don't any of them care?" Again. Because the (totally bogus) "young women don't give a shit about feminism" meme hasn't quite run its course yet, apparently.
Kliff did a lot of paraphrasing of Nancy Keenan's statements, so I'm not sure if they were accurately paraphrased. Maybe Keenan didn't disparage young women and just wring her hands in the way Kliff made it seem. Things like:
And what worries Keenan is that she just doesn't see a passion among the post-Roe generation—at least, not among those on her side.'s just straight-up bullshit, and I want to believe that Keenan actually sees and acknowledges the many, many young women working FOR her, in her own organization, who are phenomenally passionate.

But this isn't about calling out Keenan or the organization she represents.* It's bigger than that.

Younger women are passionate, and we DO care, as is evidenced by the responses to this piece.
-Jessica wrote a really great response on feministing today: The pro-choice movement would fail without young women."
-A friend of mine, Elise, just got her piece published on RH Reality Check: Reflections by a Young Pro-Choice Activist.
-And, because it's still relevant and still so well said, Shelby Knox's response to the hand-wringing over generational apathy (from during the Stupak debacle in health care reform): From a Young Woman to (Some) of the 'Menopausal Militia'.
Further evidence is here, from a PPKM action in December 2009, thanking Senator McCaskill (D-MO) for her opposition to the Stupak ban in health care reform. (I'll note that it was -5ºF during the visibility action, which was outside.) Of the 9 activists in that picture, 6 are under 30, and 2 are not much over 30.

Thing is, it's not a matter of the argument of whether young women care or not. While I haven't seen this poll data or methodology, the conclusion - that younger pro-choice women don't see abortion rights as an important issue when it comes to voting - seems believable to me. From the article:
A survey of 700 young Americans showed there was a stark "intensity gap" on abortion. More than half (51 percent) of young voters (under 30) who opposed abortion rights considered it a "very important" voting issue, compared with just 26 percent of abortion-rights supporters; a similar but smaller gap existed among older voters, too.
There is no "intensity gap" when it comes to my circles of friends...but I fully realize that the friends I select generally share my intense passion for feminist politics, and that we probably don't represent the majority of young women. I'll admit that my peers are not as intensely invested in reproductive freedom, and that some women in my generation do take their reproductive rights for granted.

The problem isn't in recognizing that younger voters aren't as engaged or invested in reproductive justice as they could be. That's a fact. I'll give you that.

The problem is in turning this into another bullshit "but NONE of them care!" argument. Playing that game means that the responses will be "but we DO care! and we ARE here!" It's important to note the contributions of younger women, but it's an unproductive game to play, because a) it creates a distrustful animosity between "postmenopausal militia" and "millennials," and b) it provides no options for moving forward.

Here's what the poll really means:
  • There is a big gap in engagement and investment in reproductive justice among younger voters.
  • AND there are a ton of very engaged, passionate, young "full-time feminists" who are doing great things in their communities to increase engagement and investment among their peers.
  • AND the large, national pro-choice organizations have not always done a great job in either recognizing the work of these younger feminists or in supporting their work.

See what I did there?
Both the "post-menopausal militia" and younger feminists are right.
My contemporaries don't always see how very tenuous their reproductive rights are. They do sometimes take it for granted, in part because of the incredible work that's been done by the generations that came before us.
Younger feminists are here, though, and we're doing some pretty incredible stuff. We're also doing it in a different framework than the abortion-rights framework of the generations before us, because the concept of reproductive justice is one that resonates more with our generation. We're ready to mobilize and engage our peers, the other "millennials" who are so often cited as the reason our entire generation has failed. We are also ready to take over, to share that torch with the older generations.
But first, we need to be acknowledged and supported by these organizations. And therein lies the way forward.

It was very poorly communicated in the article, but that's what this poll really says. It gives numbers to the truth that younger people in the reproductive justice movement - and especially younger people who've been involved with these larger pro-choice organizations - have known for years: that resources haven't been adequately or efficiently expended to engage the generation of younger people. And, therefore, that those resources need to be adequately and efficiently used to do just that.

Pro-choice organizations who are so worried about not having anyone to pass the torch to should (as Jessica said in her feministing post) look within their own organizations. There are plenty of young women working for them, doing the field work. Pro-choice organizations also need to start valuing these individuals, and need to start cultivating leadership among their younger activists.

Don't know how to do that? It's ok. If you stop making us invisible, we'd be glad to help you. There are plenty of younger feminist organizers who really get it, and who would be glad to help you craft a field plan to organize younger voters. You could ask the Obama campaign for help with engaging young people. Ask Choice USA, if you want to connect with an organization that really has their shit together when it comes to youth organizing.
Most of all, though, if you want to expand your base to include more young people: listen to the younger activists who are already involved in your organizations. You've got too many resources and connections and history within your organizations to let it go out with the retirement of your current baby-boomer leaders.

I truly believe in the potential of these organizations. And I truly believe that they want to do right by younger activists/progressive voters. I don't think that the Newsweek article accurately portrayed the way that NARAL, as a whole, sees younger people. But I think it did show that major pro-choice organizations have a long way to go to truly engage and honor the younger activists and leaders that they have.

*There's a lot of bullshit that should be called out for this article. The "moral complexity" piece is problematic. There is a place for that conversation. The general disparagement of younger women in the movement is a problem, as is the part where Kliff (paraphrasing Keenan, maybe or maybe not accurately) makes invisible the many younger women working in this field. But that's not where I'm going with this particular post. This time.

Friday, April 09, 2010

quick hit: my life, bullet-pointed

  • I moved to Denver! Still in the repro justice nonprofit world (as I always will be -- I'm a lifer), but now, with mountains!
  • In KC, I was working for an organization that did both direct services and political advocacy, so the line I had to walk was sometimes complicated and tricky. In Denver, I'm at an organization that only does political advocacy & civic engagement/voter education. I still have to walk a fine line sometimes between 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) activities (I hate tax law, but thanks to the lovely folks at Alliance for Justice, I sorta-kinda-almost understand it. Sort of.
  • I have the. cutest. apartment. ever. Garden level, but not basement-y. Hardwood floors. Exposed brick in the living room. Adorable little kitchen, complete with a totally adorable breakfast nook. The nook has a little heart in the detailing on the leg. ADORABLE. Plus, the sweet adorable apartment has wide window sills, where kittyface contentedly spends most of her days.
  • I submitted my piece to this call for submissions (which, btw, has been extended to May 1st. You still have time!) I won't lie; it was kind of terrifying to send it in. It felt like one of those secrets you're not supposed to tell. But luckily, I had a couple of smartypants feminist friends who were willing to read through it first and reassure me that no, I won't lose all credibility as a queer woman or a victim/survivor or a feminist if I submitted it. Here's hoping they're right.
  • Speaking of secrets that feel like they're not allowed to be told, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Check out National Sexual Violence Resource Center's SAAM page, and check with your local rape crisis center, statewide coalition against sexual assault, and/or local college campus. They probably have something going on this month. Fun/not-so-fun fact: I've already been to one SAAM event, by the CO Coalition Against Sexual Assault as a representative of my new employer-organization. I forgot how much it sucks to have to act professional and pretend like the stories of assault and abuse don't hit so close to home. Sigh. At least I've had lots of practice at putting on a good face?
  • Lastly, a quick hit blog post that I love. One of those Shakesville posts that leaves me saying, "Shit, why can't I express it as succinctly and clearly as Melissa?" I've tried to make this argument before, on why "exceptions" to abortion restrictions are bullshit, but Melissa does it so much better than I ever did. The post is here. And here's a little excerpt:
    How ridiculously incapable of self-reflection can one be that one is able to acknowledge that rape (forcing a woman to do something with her body she doesn't want to do) is a Terrible Thing, but the denial of abortion (forcing a woman to do something with her body she doesn't want to do) is a Moral Imperative? I'm really hard-pressed to see why I should be any less contemptuous of a man who sits at a big mahogany desk in Washington making decisions about my body without my consent than I should be of a man who used physical force to make decisions about my body without my consent. Undoubtedly the Exceptioneers would be outraged and horrified to be compared, even obliquely, to sexual predators.

the end.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

(re-posted) Call for Submissions: Queering Sexual Violence

(re-posted from womanist musings)

I think I may submit an essay for this.
This is something that I've been frustrated by for years. I wrote this (ugly-messy truth) post almost 2 years ago. I spent my last semester at Smith immersed in theory and stories of and around queer survivors of childhood sexual abuse, writing a paper on how these stories are told. Thesis, way boiled down: aside from a few incredible, brave exceptions, these stories are not told. Not in a way that allows one to link (in a queer-positive way) the identities of being queer and being a survivor.

Almost 3 years later, I still think about that paper every other week or so. I still have it in a beat-up manila folder that I carry around with me when I'm heading to coffee shops, re-reading it and seeing what can be edited.

All of this to say:
I'm stoked that this project is happening!

And, like I said, I may very well submit an essay. We'll see.

Call for Submissions: Queering Sexual Violence

An anthology of LGBTQ writers, survivors and activists confronting heterosexual privilege and the gender binary system while creating a dialog about the limitations of the anti-sexual violence movement in hopes of creating change.
Edited by Jennifer Patterson

Queering Sexual Violence seeks 20- 25 LGBTQ writers who are interested in submitting pieces that confront the current state of our anti- sexual violence climate. Part memoir/ part criticism/ part call to action, this anthology seeks to address the limitations of a society that is not only unequipped to deal with rape culture but also unable to look at it without the lens of heterosexual privilege and through the interests of a gender binary system. The anthology seeks to destroy the image of the “perfect survivor” and motivate the anti-sexual violence community to embrace a more radical perspective in order to foster sustainable change.

For general purposes, the definition of Sexual Violence attached to this anthology is as follows:

Sexual Violence is an unwanted or non- consensual act, whether completed or not, that is sexual in nature and violates a person physically, emotionally, spiritually and/or politically.

To be more clear, Sexual Violence can be a range of non-consensual sexual exchanges, from unwanted interactions on the street, to non- consensual rape from either a stranger or within a relationship, to incest or also invasive sexually based comments in regards to ones gender presentation or identity, among many other things.

The pieces submitted should be of the writer’s personal experience and explore the intersections of ability, sexuality, race, class, religion, citizenship, gender identity, sex, age, ethnicity and how these either magnify or minimize your experience/ work and your history with sexual violence. I encourage you to write about living as a “survivor” but also the ways in which you navigate and celebrate not being a “typical” survivor (as I am sure most of us are not, by the larger societal definition.)

I believe that organizing from the center of our many different and overlapping marginalized communities could do nothing but improve the current anti- sexual violence movement.

I am looking for pieces 1200- 2000 words, Times New Roman Size 12, double-spaced in length. Upon publication, I will supply moderate compensation for pieces picked. Also, please provide a short bio (150 words or less) with your submission.

Please send submissions and/ or questions to by March 31, 2010. For extension requests, please write.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Justice for Dr. Tiller

Scott Roeder was convicted today of the murder of Dr. George Tiller.

I'm not really in a celebratory mood; I'm glad that the jury delivered justice for Dr. Tiller's family, but a doctor, father, husband, and friend is still dead. Those who work for abortion providers are still at risk every time they go to work...or sometimes even when they think they're safe at home. I'll echo the sentiments in Planned Parenthood's tweet after the verdict was delivered: "We strive for the day when women can enter clinics without fear of harassment and doctors can provide care without threat of violence."

On this day, I hope for the safety and peace of Dr. Tiller's family and of reproductive health care providers around the country. And on this day, I remain committed to ensuring that women have safe access to this necessary legal procedure, and sexual and reproductive health care in general.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

remembering Ariel, less-than-profound thoughts on loss, and thankfulness journals

This is the service they held for Ariel Grace Lawson, on Monday, January 11th, at her alma mater (my sorta-alma-mater, though I transferred out after they went coed in 2004), Wells College. I couldn't afford to travel back for the service, but Wells videotaped it and posted it online. It's here:

kim, her partner, was one of my first friends at wells, and one of the closest. i've talked to her a few times since ariel died, and she's doing mostly ok, but i never know what to say, other than "i love you," which seems so incredibly inadequate. what do you say to someone who just lost the love of their life? when that love of her life was only 23 fucking years old?
death is hard enough when it's someone old, a grandma or a parent who's at that age where, well, people die. but there's something so much more fucked up about it when it's a 23-year-old girl.
like i said. these are not exactly profound thoughts on loss. but there they are.

as i cried my way through watching the service on that video, one of the things from that video inspired me. kim, ariel's sister, and a couple of ariel's friends read from ariel's Thankful Journal. every night, ariel would write in this journal a few of the things she was thankful for. one day, she wrote "i am thankful for flowers, love, and Mylanta." little things or big things or serious things or silly things. the point was to remember all the things you have to be grateful for. she and kim would do their thankful-fors every night when they went to bed. kim told me it was one of her favorite things that she and ari had done together, that it really kept her grounded.
i started a thankful journal. i'm writing in it every night. just a few things, serious and not, big and little, every day. this was my entry the other day:
I am thankful for: weather above -17ºF, wells sisterhood (which is insanely strong), deep breaths, and facebook.

it's such a simple idea, but committing to writing in it every night, really being mindful of all of the good things that are there, all mixed in with the not so good a pretty powerful thing.

thank you, ariel, for that inspiration.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

profound post-mortem thoughts

or, at least, that's what I feel like I should have for this blog today.

a beautiful, dear friend of mine died on saturday, january 9th. i still don't know all of the "how" or "why," but Ariel was in a bad car accident late Friday night. she was on life support through saturday, when her partner and her family decided to let her go.
Ariel was 23.

i feel like these things should elicit some profound realizations about life, its brevity and fragility, about love, about the importance of staying in touch, about the importance of expressing that love.

and it did, kind of.
before I became a Smithie, I spent 2 years at Wells College, in Aurora NY. Wells women are easily some of the most amazing women I know. the way that we've all come together over the past couple days is incredible, and speaks volumes of the bond that sisterhood can create. i've told more people how much I love them over the past couple days than I have over the past year. and i'm so thankful for the people i have in my life, for the Wells women I still have, for the family and friends that i love so much.

maybe that's all of the profound wisdom that can come of something so senseless. maybe that's it.

she was only 23.
i miss you, ariellie.

Monday, November 30, 2009

post-thanksgiving giving of thanks

This is kind of blog-cheating, because I posted this on facebook already. To make up for the kinda-cheating, I'm elaborating - a little - on some of these "i'm thankful for" bullet points (and, of course, editing out some of the identifying information).

giving thanks. 2009.
so, sure, thanksgiving's past is steeped in really f-ed up politics of pilgrims "civilizing" the native people they came upon when they landed on this country, and celebrating thanksgiving with pilgrim hats and fake-traditional native headdresses is beyond offensive. i could go on and on about how we celebrate a time that resulted in mass genocide of native peoples and their cultures. there's certainly a place for that.

but i'm not going to go there right now, because thanksgiving may have a f-ed up history, but it's become something very different. giving thanks is something i (we) should be doing every day, but there's nothing wrong with having an entire day devoted to eating delicious food and giving thanks for the blessings in our lives.

so, a completely cliche but also completely necessary exercise in thanks giving:

I Am Thankful For:
  • the family that i've found in massachusetts. even when it's not easy, it's still the closest thing to family that i've got, and they're still a better family than i'd ever expected to find.
    (this was one i was going to elaborate on, but...there's not much more to say. surprisingly enough for this verbose girl, simplicity sometimes best exposes the depth of emotion.)

  • northampton/home. i read tracy kidder's book, Home Town, a couple months ago, and i got wicked homesick. that "homesick" thing is kinda new. it's pretty amazing to have a hometown i can be homesick for.

  • coffee. no, really. everything about it: the making and the drinking. i love making pretty and delicious coffee drinks at my lovely cafes (both home in northampton and here in kansas city), and i really love drinking it. i'm so thankful for this wonderful beverage and all of its incarnations.

  • courage. that is, having the courage to extract myself from a family that was toxic. my lovely friend wrote this post over at feministing last week, about taking a risk and being prepared to be wrong, as she did when she left home before graduating high school. i'm thankful that i had the courage to take that much-needed step away/step toward the rest of my life.

  • Reproductive health care providers (including abortion providers), and the political movement that helps them to keep their doors open. mostly, I'm thankful for their existence in general. but more selfishly, I'm thankful for the really satisfying employment that they offer me. the people i work with in this movement are really incredible, and the people i get to work with across the states of kansas and missouri are some of the best & most amazing people i know.

  • eleanor maya (the cat). and, last week, emma (the denver dog). ellie makes my life in kansas city so much more bearable and less lonely. emma is...well, she's emma, and totally adorable, and totally a pup i'd drive 9 hours to denver to pet-sit anytime. (as long as it's at her owner-mama's house -- she would eat my cat if given the chance.)
    i'm thankful that ellie is exactly as cuddly and snuggly as i need her to be...even if that cuddle means i will forever have a light layer of cat hair on every item of clothing i own.

  • pumpkin-based foods. like the beyond delicious pumpkin-apple-butter pie (with streusel topping) i made for thanksgiving this year, and christmas last year, and will make for pretty much every holiday it fits into. (from  pumpkin pies and pumpkin bread and pumpkin cookies and pumpkin muffins and pumpkin spice egg nog and pumpkin butter and and and... yum.

  • related: egg nog.  it's now after thanksgiving, so i've now given myself permission to buy my first bottle of egg nog.  unlike most people, i never reach that "too much egg nog" state.  i'll continue to buy egg nog, at least a quart a week, until they stop making it.  this year, i'm SO SO STOKED to be living in kansas city, where i have access to the most delicious egg nog i've ever had, from Shatto Milk Company.  if i gain extra weight during the holiday season, it's not from holiday meals -- i eat pretty normally through the season.  it's from egg nog.  (straight up, no rum. rum only distorts and distracts from the deliciousness of the egg nog.)

  • smith college. the education i got there, the connections i made, and the smith connection that continues past graduation.
    also: the financial ability to attend smith, thanks in large part to the generous aid package they offered me. sure, i'll probably be paying off student loans until i die, but i was able to get those grants and loans, and i was able to make smith college a financial possibility.

  • and, of course, my friends. the people who make being in kansas city bearable, the people who make life in general so much better. from old friends that go back to preschool to the ones i just made out midwest/west (Denver). there are some really incredible people in my life, and i'm really grateful that they're around.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What a feminist bibliophile coffee connoisseur's dreams are made of

The wonderful thing about almost-impossible dreams is that even if it's 100% not feasible (at least not yet), it's still surprisingly fulfilling to daydream about. It doesn't cost a thing to make plans or have ideas.

I have a new pie-in-the-sky dream to daydream about.
The last time I had a dream this pie-in-the-sky (we're talking, like, Balloon Boy altitude here) was two and a half years ago.
During my summer internship in DC, my Smithie roommates and I were daydreaming about a nonprofit based in the Bay Area that would serve mostly (though not exclusively) female victims of domestic and sexual violence. We even drew up some google documents. Lauren even took some time out of her internship on the Hill (during the slow time of August recess) to create some business plans in a binder, and did extensive research on 501(c)(3) certification and the political/lobbying limitations of such a nonprofit classification. We talked at length about the mission statement, and whether it would encompass only direct services or expand into policy advocacy and grassroots activism, and if the latter, what kind of lobbying we could & couldn't do as a (c)(3) nonprofit. (What can I say? We were total nerds like that. This is why I count these women as some of the best friends I'll ever have.)

That dream's not quite as compelling anymore; we all found our passions in slightly different forms of feminism. Both Lauren & Elizabeth are in law school on opposite coasts, and here I am in the middle, the underpaid and overworked grassroots organizer doing my best to stretch the hours long enough to make these red states slightly friendlier - or at least not more hostile - to the idea of reproductive freedom.

So we're all in different places, and I'm not sure what Lauren's & Elizabeth's dreams are anymore. (Are law students even allowed to have dreams?)

While I love my job and I love the politics of Kansas & Missouri (it's exhilarating to work in the same states as Great-White-Hope Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and the always lovely Hunger-is-a-Positive-Motivator Cynthia Davis (R-MO), among other d-bags), it's not perfect. I think it's the flatness. Maybe if I were down near Springfield and Joplin, with the Ozarks closer, it'd be better. But then...I'd be near Joplin. And, well, no thanks.

So a girl gets to daydreaming.

Mostly, I daydream about Denver. There's something about that place that just snuck into my heart and set up camp there, like a really wonderful heartworm. Or maybe some metaphor less parasitic, but it's late, and that's what I've got.

But yesterday, a new and exciting daydream entered the picture.
I happened upon this lovely twitterer, @SugarAndSass. Well, to be accurate, she happened upon me, started following me, and I followed my email notification to check her out.

Eventually, it led me to her blog.
Here's her profile:

Um. Hi, soul mate. What's up?

I sent her a short direct message on twitter (lemme tell you, it's hard to convey the message of "Oh my god, I think you and I may be soul mates. I love your idea, and I think you might have stolen my dream. Tell me more about your dream coffee shop/bookstore/sex ed resource/awesomesauce establishment so that we can geek out over feminist coffee sweet greatness together? Email me at this address." in 140 characters or less. I ended up using 2 direct messages. Totally bad Twitter etiquette [twitiquette?], I know.), and she sent me a long email in response.

After telling me her pie-in-the-sky ideas (notice how I'm using the word "pie" a lot when referring to a potential bakery? so clever, i am), she asked me to share mine.

They're all of 24 hours in the making, but here goes.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sen Kit Bond doesn't care about rape victims

The note below is the letter I sent to Sen Kit Bond today in response to his "no" vote on the Franken Amendment.

First, watch the Daily Show segment calling out those who voted against Franken's amendment to protect rape victims:

Feel free to copy & paste what you want -- or write your own letter -- and send to your own Senator if they were one of the 30 male Republican senators who voted against S.Amdt. 2588. (Find your Senator's vote here.)

I cannot WAIT to replace this man with Robin Carnahan.


Senator Bond:

I'm writing to express my extreme disappointment with your vote two weeks ago on Senator Franken's amendment (S Amdt 2588) to the Defense Appropriations Bill (HR 3326). You, along with 29 of your male Republican colleagues, voted against his non-controversial amendment to protect rape victims. His amendment will deny the granting of federal funds to contractors that prohibit their employees from pursuing their full due process rights for certain crimes.
Your "nay" vote on this amendment protects these companies, putting their financial needs above the needs and rights of their employees. It troubles me that one of my Senators, elected to represent me and the people of my state, would prioritize corporations over rape victims.

There are a lot of things I do not understand about your vote, and I am genuinely curious to hear the reasons behind the decision to vote against this amendment.

I heard one of your colleagues argue on the floor that this bill targets Halliburton, and is a political move against one corporation. This amendment, though it does mention Halliburton by name, does not limit its scope to one corporation. Any company found to be participating in these practices would be denied federal funds.
The denial of federal funds due to unethical practices is nothing new. You voted "yes" to Amdt 2355 to HR 3288, prohibiting federal funds from going to ACORN. This adds a particularly troubling aspect to your vote: You are willing to deny ACORN funds based on the unethical actions of some of its employees. You are not willing to deny Halliburton or KBR or other similar companies funds based on the unethical official company policy.

The fact that it seems as though you are willing to side with large corporations over rape victims scares me. Last year in Missouri, one rape was committed every 5.5 hours (this number does not count any unreported or statutory rapes, or rape committed against male victims).* It concerns me that a representative of a state with such a serious problem with rape would not take the needs of rape victims seriously.

Jen L.
Kansas City, MO

*MO's 2008 crime statistics on rape can be found here:

Friday, October 16, 2009

how to write about rape & sexual abuse

But first:

How NOT To Write About Rape & Sexual Abuse
I'm sure that with a simple overview of my internet history from the past couple weeks, I could come up with a list of about 50 articles from mainstream media sources that exemplify the utter failure of most journalists to accurately and sensitively write about issues of rape, sexual abuse, and sexual violence.

I don't have the time or the patience to compile that list, though, so I'll just stick with the one that most infuriated me.
This story is also local to Kansas City, as is the better one I'll highlight below.

On October 11, the Kansas City Star printed a story from NY Times writer Michael Cieply. The KC Star version wasn't published online, but it was an abbreviated version of the full article, published on the NYT website here.
Surprisingly enough, the full version is actually slightly less offensive than the abbreviated version that the KC Star published. They left out some of the (still problematic) nuance that Cieply provided, giving a vomit-inducing, unmistakable narrative of "gee darn, no more sex with the young'uns! Weren't the good old days grand?"
For proof, I give you this picture of the headline subtitle that I took with my phone, as seen in the print version of the Star on Sunday, Oct 11th:

I hate how often I need to say this, but it seems to bear repeating. Again.
Rape. Is. Not. Sex.
Polanski did not "have sex" with the victim. Even the article itself includes this line (though it's mentioned & not addressed again): "...even while acknowledging that the victim [name redacted] had offered grand jury testimony of forcible rape."
Cieply's article was bad enough in its original form.
And somehow, the KC Star managed to take a terrible article and make it even more offensive.

Now, I get to the better part. A publication that is responsible AND responsive. This is also partially a story of how much I love Twitter.

How To Write About Rape & Sexual Abuse
On Thursday, Oct 15th, the Pitch Plog's Twitter feed (pulled directly from their postings) showed this:

I was pretty sure that "child sex" was a misnomer, so I followed the link (the pic above is linked to the tweet pictured). Sure enough, the article that followed the misleading headline was in fact about a child sexual abuse case. The copy of the article was actually pretty well-done - factual and to the point, without any offensive mentions of "sex" with children.
I expected better from the Pitch, which is one of KC's local more alt-news papers. They're generally pretty liberal and responsible when they cover serious issues like this.

So, in a display of what I was pretty sure was naïveté, I sent this reply tweet to the Pitch:

And here's the part where I love the immediacy of Twitter.
Within a couple of hours, the headline had been corrected, and read as follows:
Settlement reached in child sex abuse case naming former KC bishop
Thank you, Pitch. (And yes, I thanked them on Twitter, too.)
I wish all media sources were as responsive when it came to journalistic sensitivity and responsibility around sexual violence.

Oh, and I received this lovely direct message from @pitchplog on Thursday night:

There you have it.
It IS possible to get it right, and to admit when you've been wrong.
Well done, Pitch.
(Disappointed, KC Star.)

Friday, October 09, 2009

quick hit: rape culture 101

So much has been said lately in the media about sexual abuse.
Unsurprisingly, the media has more often than not been pretty awful in their reporting. (See, for a quick example, MSNBC's story on Tyler Perry's revelations of childhood physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in which they describe his abuse as being "seduced" by a friend's mother at age 10. Yes. "Seduced." MSNBC: You cannot seduce a 10-year-old.)

There's a lot I could write about, from Mackenzie Phillips' memoir that reveals the drug- and alcohol-fueled sexual abuse by her father to Tyler Perry's recent revelations of childhood abuse to the debacle with Roman Polanski finally being (re-)arrested for the rape he committed 30-some-odd years ago.

But I won't, for now.
I don't have the emotional and mental space to hold all of that today. It's been a tough week.

Instead, I implore you to read Liss' post over at Shakesville. Read it. This is not one that you should pass over. This is one that every person who interacts with any other human being needs to read.

Rape Culture 101.

A long-ish teaser:

Rape culture is 1 in 33 men being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Rape culture is encouraging men to use the language of rape to establish dominance over one another ("I'll make you my bitch"). Rape culture is making rape a ubiquitous part of male-exclusive bonding. Rape culture is ignoring the cavernous need for men's prison reform in part because the threat of being raped in prison is considered an acceptable deterrent to committing crime, and the threat only works if actual men are actually being raped.

Rape culture is 1 in 6 women being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Rape culture is not even talking about the reality that many women are sexually assaulted multiple times in their lives. Rape culture is the way in which the constant threat of sexual assault affects women's daily movements. Rape culture is telling girls and women to be careful about what you wear, how you wear it, how you carry yourself, where you walk, when you walk there, with whom you walk, whom you trust, what you do, where you do it, with whom you do it, what you drink, how much you drink, whether you make eye contact, if you're alone, if you're with a stranger, if you're in a group, if you're in a group of strangers, if it's dark, if the area is unfamiliar, if you're carrying something, how you carry it, what kind of shoes you're wearing in case you have to run, what kind of purse you carry, what jewelry you wear, what time it is, what street it is, what environment it is, how many people you sleep with, what kind of people you sleep with, who your friends are, to whom you give your number, who's around when the delivery guy comes, to get an apartment where you can see who's at the door before they can see you, to check before you open the door to the delivery guy, to own a dog or a dog-sound-making machine, to get a roommate, to take self-defense, to always be alert always pay attention always watch your back always be aware of your surroundings and never let your guard down for a moment lest you be sexually assaulted and if you are and didn't follow all the rules it's your fault.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

autumn is the most delicious season

Quick update, 'cause there's a lot happening that should probably be recorded.

So, here's September, in a very small nutshell that's probably leaving out a lot:

I went home! I spent a glorious day and a half in lovely Northampton with the fam before heading to a weekend conference. I got a fantastic massage from my masseuse, paid for in part with gift certificates from my friend-mom's café. (i really wish i had a title for her. friend doesn't work, but surrogate mom is awkward, and i'm not sure what's in between.) It was really, really wonderful.

The weekend conference I went to was the amazing Women & Power conference at the Omega Women's Institute in Rhinebeck, NY.

The theme was "connecting across the generations," and I met some absolutely incredible people. One of my roommates there, Nina, is a freelance writer for WireTap. I met Katie, a 17-year-old high school senior from outside Boston. She started her own nonprofit when she was 14. No, really. Now 501(c)3 official and has spread across the country and everything. Minga is a completely youth-run nonprofit that empowers other youth to take action against the child sex trade. Ann from Feministing and I had a bonding moment over midwestern feminists. (There weren't many of us there. And we're kind of amazing.)
There were so many other incredible people there, I can't even begin to explain. Feministing live-blogged the whole thing, which was great. And we really did connect across the generations. Sure, there were problems. There was a serious lack of queer representation, for one. But it was great, and amazing, and on and on and on.
AND Omega is absolutely beautiful. Mmm.

My heart broke a little bit when the fam drove me to the airport on Monday afternoon. It breaks a little bit every time I leave my beloved valley next to the Berkshires. And then it melted when my 5-year-old little bro wouldn't let me go to get through security. And when he reached for his mama's wallet so he could "use all your money so jen can stay."
Broken, melty heart all over the place. What a mess.

Two days after I got back to KC, I left again, this time for Denver. First was a training for work -- we're switching data management to the VAN, which my inner geek couldn't be happier about. And then I stayed in Denver for the rest of the weekend with my friend. I spent the day wandering around downtown, we went to a show, I met & kissed a cute girl, we went to brunch, we hiked Red Rocks, and it was wonderful. As Denver always is.

And I decided that I'm 95% sure that Denver will be the next stop on this journey. (Always leave 5% of certainty to unexpected twists of fate.) Possibly, this will be soon. My beloved employer, like most employers and most nonprofits, is having a rough time, financially. The future of my position in the organization is no longer sure, and is currently only funded through a grant that will end soon. I could stay here in Kansas City if I lose my job. A friend offered to help me get a job at the used bookstore chain he manages -- which, to be honest, is a pretty close second to the work I'm so passionate about doing now. I could stay here and volunteer at what would then be my former employer and make my money slinging coffee and selling books.

But I would have to want to stay in Kansas City.
And, to be honest?
I don't.
It's not that there aren't amazing people here -- there absolutely are. I'm amazed and in love with a lot of the incredible, wonderful people I've met here. And some of them will hopefully stay in my life after I leave.
And it's not that I'm unhappy -- I absolutely love my work. I love the politics of these red states. I love the challenge of finding common ground. I love that it's not east coast politics, and not everyone thinks alike. I love the political champions I've met, and I'm impressed by their willingness to stand up, even in the face of the secret hotbed of crazy that is Missouri and the sometimes-violence that is Kansas.

But the place doesn't feel right.
I didn't know that place could have such a profound impact. Or maybe I did, but I thought maybe if you carried "home" and love with you, place wouldn't be a big deal. There's just something about Kansas City that doesn't fit with me, with who I am. Maybe it's the energy. I think it has a lot to do with the flatness. I grew up in the foothills of the Alleghenies and found home in the foothills of the Berkshires. There's beauty in the flatness, but it just doesn't feel right. I couldn't settle down here. I've learned and am learning so much, and I've grown and am growing so much. But I'm almost ready to go, to move on to the next thing.

Denver, though. Denver feels right. For one: mountains. Serious mountains. The Rockies don't mess around. For another: the feel of the city. The energy of it. It fits.

I mean, look at this place. It looks like a postcard, but I swear, this is real. I took it with my own camera and saw it with my own two eyes.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

News Flash: Operation Rescue Lies

Surprising, right?

Yesterday, my friend Taylor and I trekked up to Bellevue, NE (outside of Omaha) to join almost 200 pro-choicers from around the country (17 states!) to defend Dr. LeRoy Carhart's clinic, the Abortion & Contraception Clinic of Nebraska (ACCON).

It was an amazing experience, and I do want to write more about everything that happened, from the insane to the inspiring, but that'll have to wait.

Because Operation Rescue posted a story on their website today, detailing yesterday's events. I'm not entirely sure where they were yesterday, but the events they're reporting on is certainly not the same Operation Rescue-protest / clinic defense that I witnessed/participated in on Saturday the 29th.

Now, it's not that it surprises me that Operation Rescue would lie in their account of what happened; they're notoriously good at stretching the truth and falsifying things and filing false charges. I expected them to try to spin this weekend's events into an OR-sympathetic story.

But the lies in the story are just too egregious to not address.

So, point by point, as thoroughly as I can while maintaining my composure, here's how it really went down.
I don't want to link to them, because I don't want to drive any traffic their way, so instead, I'll do an old-fashioned copy & paste.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Young Feminists VS. Older Feminists? Or Young Feminists WITH Older Feminists?

2nd wave vs 3rd wave.
Old biddies vs young visionaries.
Wise women vs ungrateful little girls.
Maybe even: mother vs daughter.
"This is not your mother's feminism."
"Young women don't know what feminism is."

We've heard all of these before, from each side, staking out their territory in generational wars. This is nothing new. Feminism has been declared dead over and over, sometimes even by older women who've dedicated their lives to a feminism that no longer exists in the way they knew it.

I come to this...debate? disagreement? full-out fight? one of those supposedly ungrateful, lazy, selfish young feminists. I'll admit that I get awfully sick of the older generation disparaging my entire peer group, condescending to us, not trusting us, and refusing to pass on that torch.
But I do understand where a lot of the distrust comes from. I'll also admit that I do have peers who don't value the wisdom of the older generation, who don't want to be passed the torch so much as either rip the torch from the older feminists' hands or try to reinvent fire altogether.

This older generation of feminists that so distrusts my generation has been through a hell of a lot. They've had to fight like hell so that we don't have to fight quite so hard for the same things. Most of them were around when abortion was illegal, and know firsthand what exactly we'll lose if Roe falls. A lot of them were trailblazers in their field, entering predominantly male workforces and facing intense, overt discrimination. They might have been getting married when spousal rape was still perfectly legal. They've got stories to tell and wisdom to share. And yes, there are some in my generation who don't really care, but really: most of us do care.
It's a respect thing, but it's also just a logical strategic thing: if there's wisdom there, learn it. You don't need to reinvent the wheel.

This generation gap / fight / debate / disagreement / whatever is a little tiresome. For everyone. When we waste our energy fighting with each other over who gets to carry the torch, we sacrifice our ability to blaze any trails.

This is why I'm super stoked to be going to this conference at the Omega Institute in a few weeks:

Women & Power: Connecting Across the Generations. (video will automatically start playing)

The Women’s Institute at Omega is breaking new ground and bringing women of different generations together for one electrifying weekend. Featuring more than 34 amazing trailblazers, Women & Power: Connecting Across the Generations will get you charged up to make a difference in your life, your home, your community, and the world.

Join us for a weekend of celebration, uplifting speeches, entertainment, and panel discussions with women from different backgrounds and generations. Award-winning novelist Isabel Allende; Alberta Nells, youth leader of the Navajo Nation: feminist icon Gloria Steinem; singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant; and playwright, poet, activist, solo-performer, Sarah Jones; are just a few of the diverse women coming together to share, unite, and inspire.

It's got a pretty rockstar list of faculty:
Isabel Allende
Lori Barra
Maya Breuer
Cathy Collins
Ann Friedman
Carla Goldstein
Angela Hucles
Charreah Jackson
Sarah Jones
Jensine Larsen
Andrea Lee
Elizabeth Lesser
Jana Long
Donna Lopiano
Courtney Martin
Jessica Mendoza
Natalie Merchant
Pat Mitchell
Elisa Mott
Samhita Mukohopadhyay
Alberta Nells
Ana Nogales
Sarah Peter
Adrienne Ressler
Eliza Reynolds
Sil Reynolds
Lateefah Simon
Gloria Steinem
Gail Straub
Helen Thomas
Jessica Valenti
Vanessa Valenti
Sakena Yacoobi
Miriam Zolia Perez

My homegirl Gloria Steinem will be there!
And OMG. Helen Thomas. I have such a grandma-crush on her. (i.e. I would like for her to be my grandmother)
And Isabel Allende!
And and and and and...
I'm stoked.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

How To Write About Abortion Providers

There's been a lot of linking among my pro-choice friends to the article that ran in Esquire last week. The Last Abortion Doctor has made its rounds to pretty much every major feminist blog: Shakesville, feministing, Feministe, and I'm sure plenty of others. None really commented specifically on the article; their posts just sent readers in the direction of Richardson's craptastic article.
Yes, craptastic.
I don't know if I'm in the minority in thinking it was so awful. Lots of people commenting on these posts loved it. I know, though, that I wasn't the only one who really hated the way that John H. Richardson wrote about Dr. Warren Hern.

Dr. Hern is an abortion provider in Boulder, CO. He is one of very few doctors in the US that will perform late abortions, usually defined as after the 22nd or 24th week.
Dr. Hern is a wonderful doctor, and I'm more grateful than I can express that he's continuing to do his work after losing his friend and colleague, Dr. Tiller, to the same threats that he receives daily.

John Richardson, however, is a terrible writer and ruined what could have been a great profile article of the personal side of an abortion provider and the life he must lead just to be safe. Not only is the article riddled with inaccuracies, he insists on calling Dr. Hern "the abortionist," a vilifying term coined by the anti-choicers...and one that Dr. Hern explicitly requested he not use.

So, the subject? Fantastic. The actual article? Piece of crap.

(At least one blogger agrees, and wrote a great piece about all the reasons John Richardson's article was terrible: see Ema's post at The Well Timed Period.)

Today, I found another profile of another abortion provider who is now performing more late abortions. This time, it was written by a journalist who actually knows how to write without ruining really fantastic subject matter.
Newsweek created a video a couple weeks ago:

And Newsweek published an article yesterday, The Abortion Evangelist: Why LeRoy Carhart Won't Stop Doing Abortions.
Sarah Kliff, who has covered abortion-related issues for Newsweek for at least a couple years, did a fantastic job with the article. She spent time with Dr. Carhart, got to know him, and told his story. She turned him into a person, and crafted a simultaneously emotive and informative profile of Dr. Carhart. She understood abortion politics, did not refer to him as "an abortionist," and, well, acted like a professional journalist.

This is how you write a personal profile of a doctor who provides abortions.
This is a good article.

And when you want to write more of your own personal narrative in a journalistic context? You do what Sarah Kliff did, and write a separate piece about your experience in watching an abortion procedure. Read that one, too: Watching My First Abortion - Competing Emotions

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mapping Our Stories

I absolutely love this idea and this project.

Ariel, a guest blogger at Feministe, came up with this great idea. Using Google Maps, she is having Feministe readers map all of the places where we feel strong on a collaborative google map. A collective geography of strength.

I love that.

It's already getting pretty well filled in, and she's had the post up for less than a day.

Check out the map here.

As with most new Google technologies and tricks and widgets and whatnot, now I really want to incorporate this into the rest of my life. (I've already hooked most of my coworkers on Google docs.) Google really is made of genius. Most days, I wish I were much geekier and knew more about computers so that I could go work at that Google castle in the sky...or wherever their HQ is at.

I think I want to map my story.
Ooh! I could also map the history of reproductive rights & reproductive justice in the US.
And, and...oh, the possibilities are endless.....

I may or may not post the link of my mapped out story. Working in repro justice in the midwest, so close to where Dr. Tiller was killed, I worry about what will make me even more identifiable and easier to target. (aside: how fucked up is it that I have to worry about these things??)

Either way, I fully support this kind of self-reflective geekery, and I'd encourage anyone to map their story like this.