Saturday, December 13, 2008

victims, survivors, and everything in between

I don't know that I could articulate any of this better than Cara already has, so you should probably go read her post first.
I also don't think that my thoughts on any of this have settled into much of a cohesive post, so this will mostly be a stream-of-consciousness response / expansion on the coherent, articulate thoughts over at Cara's post.

I've talked about the troubling rhetoric around the terms "victim" and "survivor" before. That post, though, focuses more specifically on the trouble with the word "survivor," and the implications of that term and the universal "healing process" that it implies.
Cara's post, though, focuses a little more on the word "victim," and that side of the rhetoric. It's all part of a similar discussion, I think.

A little excerpt from Cara's post, to start it off:
I understand the desire by those who have been raped or abused to use the word “survivor” instead of “victim,” to take the focus away from what someone else did to them and gave them no choice about, to something positive that they themselves have accomplished. But let us be honest for a minute: is there more to it than that? Is there really something there that has to do with shame, with constant admonishments either directed specifically towards them or towards women everywhere, saying “don’t be a victim”? Is there a desire to get away from that embarrassing, horrible word? I tend to use the word “survivor” myself. And I have to wonder.

And if it’s about shame, about stepping away from “victim,” is there any way for there to not be a touch of self-blame in the reasoning?
“Don’t be a victim.” “I won’t be a victim.” “Women always want to play the victim.”

The insult in “victim” is that victims are weak and helpless. Victims are whiners, attention-seekers, cry-babies. They want to dwell on the negative.

My first response to her post was a loud (out loud), "THANK YOU."
It's always unexpected, and so incredibly relieving, to hear other people making arguments along the same lines that I've been making...the arguments that I assume are n the margins, are unpopular. Of course, just the fact that the two of us (and some of her commenters) are saying the same kind of thing doesn't mean that it's not a marginal argument, but it does mean that I've got a little company here on the margins. And that's always a pleasant surprise.

Cara, and a couple of the people in her comments, put into words the other side of my problem with the rhetoric; they open the conversation up even further, beyond my old discussion of why "survivor" doesn't fit everyone and into why it is that "victim" is such a derisive term.
Lea, in the comments of cara's post:
There seems to be a time limit on how long people are comfortable with someone being a victim. It might just only be for a day, or a week, maybe even a few months, but it is never on the victimized woman’s terms. But I think that because so many women are not believed about their experiences with violence, that ‘victim’ becomes a powerful word of acknowledgment. It grants permission to be vulnerable, fragile, to feel ‘degraded’ if she needs to, to take time, to break under pressure if that is all she is able to do. Disparaging the identity of ‘victim’ silences us, it says “get over it and shut up”. People don’t want to hear the rawness, the complexity of violence, they want it in tidy packages that don’t challenge them, or demand any recognition or support.

This, I think, is another big part of why I have been, and still am, so resistant to the limited rhetoric of "surviving" sexual abuse and assault.

I risk getting too personal, too "lying on the couch talking about my mother," but I think the only way to start this off is to acknowledge where my investment in this whole discussion comes from.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


This did actually happen to me (with the shorter, more everyday version of the word) in the Scrabble game played at my moms' house this Thanksgiving.
Come to think of it, this has happened in a lot of Scrabble games I've it because I'm gay?

(click image to go to original comic at

Related: did you know that the airport code for Charlotte Douglass International Airport is CLT?
This makes me giggle every time I look at my ticket from last weekend, which had me stop in Charlotte on my way to Kansas City.

Yes, I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old boy. And?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ann Coulter's Jaw Wired Shut

isn't it ironic? don't you think?

Despite how inhumanly hateful she is, I will not say that I'm happy that Ann Coulter was injured so badly in a fall that her jaw is now wired shut. (As an aside, WTF is it with the NYPost's blurb about this calling her a "leggy reactionary"? She's a hateful asshole, and the "reactionary" label is accurate, but what does the length of her legs have to do with that?)

For the most part, I'm in agreement with Rachel that a woman being hurt so badly that she is silenced is not funny. Especially before the cause of the injury was revealed. A reaction of "haha, bitch deserved it" to this news is absolutely inappropriate here.

However, that said, I'll admit that I did have the slightest tinge of schadenfreude.
And if anyone is ever unsure about or having a hard time understanding the definition of "irony" (Alanis Morissette, I'm lookin' at you), this should be cited as the epitome of all things ironic.

the ignorance, it hurts

I really should stop reading crazyface Steve Hickey's blog. The election's over, we beat him & VYFL decisively, and I have no real reason to keep tabs on the opposition. (I'm pretty sure that most of the hits to his blog come from SDCHF folks, anyway.)

For the most part, his ranting doesn't get under my skin. Mostly, it's harmless, far-far-far-right complaints about the "abortion industry" or how Obama isn't his president. Ridiculous. That stuff is easy to just roll my eyes at and move on to more interesting news and such online. When he makes personal attacks though, it gets to me. (like attacking me, or our campaign manager, or one of our field organizers, or our very brave spokesperson.) It also gets under my skin when his rants go past that line of "ridiculous" and far into the realm of "offensive."
The crap that he posted today is one of those offensive things.
I hesitate to link to him, because I don't particularly want him re-finding my blog and talking about how "hurt" and "angry" I am, and I'd rather avoid him repeating his offer of financial assistance for a therapy session. But here goes, anyway.

the title of his post:
SD abortion law would've stopped British father from raping his daughters for 30 years.
You can probably guess where this one is going.
A horrific story came out of Britain today. A man raped his daughters for years and years and years. The failure here is in the system; nobody asked the questions that needed to be asked, nobody reported things that they were mandated to report, and nobody looked into allegations of incestuous rape.
Crazypants Steve Hickey, though, is somehow...blaming Planned Parenthood? Or the potential Planned Parenthood? The imaginary one that supposedly "wouldn't do anything" if this scenario happened in South Dakota.

It's exhausting, really, continuing to argue for common sense and a realistic picture of the world, in this question.
But here I go again, briefly.

Banning abortion will not increase reports of rape, nor will it fix the broken system that mishandles almost every rape case that comes before it.
Here's why:
You can't scare victims into reporting their attacks.
And also because: Denial of reproductive health care in order to force rape reports is simply cruel.

So please, please, please. STOP already.

Monday, November 24, 2008

south dakota 2008, the conclusion (a little overdue...)

It happened three weeks ago, so this is old news, but just for the record: yes, we did win South Dakota.
Nobody thought we would -- hell, at the beginning of this fall, I was pretty sure there was a good chance we'd lose. But I, and everyone else, underestimated both the Campaign for Healthy Families and the state of South Dakota.
We identified and turned out a TON of voters for our side, winning by almost 40,000 votes. In South Dakota, that comes out to a ten point lead. Yeah. We pretty much kicked ass.

We ran an incredible field campaign, and our field organizers and volunteers and the rest of the campaign staff worked their hands to the bone to get this win.
Victory night couldn't have been sweeter. We watched the numbers roll in on SD's secretary of state website, refreshing the page about every 45 seconds, and as they came in, I kept waiting for them to turn against us. I knew we were probably going to win, but I kept expecting the other side to pull something, just like I expected the Republicans to pull something in the presidential election. But they didn't. The numbers held. The margin stayed at 55-45 the entire night.
First, my friends and I celebrated Obama's win. But then we remained tense, watching the numbers and waiting for the official results to be called.
Then, when the AP finally called our race, the campaign celebrated our sweet, righteous, well-deserved and necessary - and decisive win.

We won because South Dakotans made it clear to the country that government has no place in their family's medical decisions.
We won because it turns out that, surprise surprise, South Dakotans do in fact trust women and their families to make their own decisions.
We won because it's what had to happen.
And, of course, we won because our field campaign was tight, well-run, well-targeted, and actually focused on real voter contact, unlike VYFL.

((VYFL, of course, is not listening to the state's voters and giving up. We didn't really expect them to. I, for one, was hopeful, but I knew it wasn't a realistic hope. I don't expect them back in 2010 -- what would be the point with an Obama presidency and Obama nominees replacing the impending retirees on the Supreme Court? My guess is they'll wait until 2012, when Obama's up for reelection, and bank on the hopes of an anti-choice Republican presidential candidate.))

If you want to know why VYFL lost, here it is:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

s.d. campaign part two...

So I'm back in Sioux Falls. I'm so, so beyond happy to be back. As much as I love my little cafe in Florence, and as much as I miss my noho family, this place feels like exactly where I need to be right now. I flew back into Sioux Falls late Saturday night..and United promptly lost my luggage. It came the next day, thankfully. But not until after a late night wal mart run (I know, I know, there was nowhere else to go!) for underwear. Yep.

It's been wonderful to be back. I won't lie; part of me really does regret not taking this full time job back in July.

We spent all of today in Huron, SD, about 2 hours northwest of Sioux Falls. We canvassed for about 8 hours today. I'm exhausted.
It was a pretty successful canvass, though!
A few highlights, categorized appropriately...

what the eff?
This was by far the most disturbing part of my day. It had nothing to do with the campaign, really. Which makes it slightly better, I suppose?
I was harassed and assaulted by an 8 year old boy.
I know - already, "what the eff?," right?
As I was walking to my last house (under the "heart sinking" category), I walked past a playground in a small park, where four 8 to 10 year old boys were playing. One called out to me, "Hey girl! Hey! Girl!" When I looked over, he pointed to his friend and said, "this boy has a crush on you!" I shook my head and walked on to the house. The boy with a crush kept sticking up his middle finger at me. I ignored him.
As I was leaving and heading toward the park to wait for my ride to my next canvass location, Crush Boy called out to me, "Hey! Hey Girl! I want to have sex with you!"
Again, I ignored him, and headed toward one of the benches. I called the field director, just to have someone on the phone while I waited, so I wasn't alone. She'd just picked up the phone and said hello when Crush Boy runs over to me, says, "Hey! I want to fuck you!" .... and threw a handful of the wood chips from the playground in my face.
I didn't really know what to do. I've never had experience dealing with that situation. So I brushed off the wood chips, sat down by the water, and told my friend what was going on.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them getting closer to me, and so I kept an eye on them.
But Crush Boy moved quickly. Next thing I knew, he was behind me, pulling back the neck of my shirt, and stuffing wood chips down my shirt. Then he ran away with his friends, back to the playground.
I screamed after him: "What the hell is wrong with you?!" I mean, really. Who does that?

As I was walking away, back toward where I came from in hopes of meeting my ride a little further down the street, Crush Boy grabbed his crotch in my direction. And humped the air.

Keep in mind that Crush Boy is probably 8 years old.

Good lord.

the Heart Sinking and Heartwarming after the jump.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

i <3 south dakota.

that is not something i ever expected to use as a title to a post.

but there it is.

i'm currently at the airport, waiting for my flight to board so I can be on my way back to Sioux Falls to work for SDCHF for the final push before and through the election. (13 days to go!)

while i wait, i'm going to post this video. you should probably watch it. and then send some money the way of SDCHF. if you're not in south dakota, it's one of the best ways to support the campaign.

because even though this fight is on the ground in South Dakota, and even though the rest of the nation is just now starting to slowly take notice, this isn't just about South Dakota.
if this passes, it will be a direct threat to Roe. the VYFL people are (inconsistently) trying to convince folks that Measure 11, the abortion ban, can coexist with Roe, but that's just absurd. Measure 11 is absolutely unconstitutional.
the majority on the Supreme Court right now is absolutely not undeniably in favour of Roe. our swing vote, Kennedy, wrote the majority opinion in the awful Federal Abortion Ban decision. we could very well lose it.

this is about the women in South Dakota. and this is about the women in every other state in the country. and this is about you. and your rights.

watch this video. and donate now.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

reporting rape and abuse

pastor steve hickey, an avid member of the opposition here in sioux falls, wrote about me on his blog last week. he named me as the "gal" coming in to south dakota from massachusetts, and called me an "angry, hurt, anti-life young person." i have no idea how he got to my blog, but i do give him credit, at least, for reading all the way through my post. (even if it does creep me out a little to have someone like him know that part of my life.)

at the end of my post about coming out to south dakota, i explained why my situation made me particularly empathetic to the victims of sexual violence that may need real access to the full gamut of reproductive health care -- which, yes, includes abortion.
Steve Hickey doesn't think that women, like me, who've been victims of rape or incest should have access to this service (he calls it babykilling, of course).
he also seems to believe that every single woman who's been a victim should be forced to report their attack. which means, bringing it back home to me, that he thinks i should have been forced to report my rape(s).
he links to a woman, Dianne Heynen, who, after accusing Planned Parenthood of wanting rapists to go free (a logical accusation for an organization that promotes women's rights...), claims that reporting rape is important, if not essential, to healing.

Dianne Heynen, my dear, you are wrong.

reporting rape is not essential to healing.
reporting rape is not important to every person's individual, unique healing process.
reporting rape can, in fact, be downright detrimental to healing.

if a woman chooses, with her own agency, to report her rape, then yes, it is a powerful tool of healing.
if a woman is forced into reporting her rape, into rehashing every ugly detail of every aspect of her violation? if it's not her choice, if she has no agency? that is not healing. that will only make things worse. that is repeating the violation -- forcing her to do something that she would not have willingly done. force at worst, coercion at best. this is not empowerment, nor is it helpful for any kind of healing, no matter how you look at it.

if i would've reported my rape, i would've been laughed out of the police station.
if i would've reported my abuse, i would have lost my family a full 7 years before i chose to cut my family out of my life. i would've lost my family long before i was ready or able to survive without them.
not reporting my rape or my abuse to the state saved my life. not reporting my violations is what enabled me to get to the point i'm at right now, to the point of calling myself a survivor.

i know myself and my healing process well enough to know that a report of the rape would make things a million times worse.
i know that by looking at myself, and i know that by looking at what was said to me, and i know that by knowing the laws that govern nonconsensual sexual relationships.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

s.d. campaign, day 1

there may or may not be an update every day. probably not. but today was kinda a big day, being the first (and only) full day of PP's Live Action Camp, so i'll do a little overview of the highlights.

-first was sign-making for the visibility that we did at a fairly busy intersection in downtown Sioux Falls. but wait. more importantly, what came before that:
coffee, from Black Sheep Coffee, the coffee shop that's pretty much right next door to the campaign HQ. they roast their own, and not all of their beans are fair trade, but at least some are. independent coffee house, so it's not shitty coffee like starbucks. i also had a soy latte later, which is my drink of choice, and what i'm most picky about. it wasn't the best i've ever had (the best is a tie between the ones i make and the one i got at The Buttery in boston), but it was pretty good. whoever picked that spot for campaign hq is a genius, and i would like to give them a huge hug.

-the visibility went well. more supporters than not, and only a few rude comments or hand gestures. far less than the supportive honks and thumbs-ups that we got. very encouraging way to start the day...even if we did leave the corner with numb hands and sorta hoarse voices.

-lunch, then phonebanking. phone banking was good, and it actually might be my favourite campaign activity.
it was great, until Mr. Jared.
Jared was a 33 year old male, registered Independent.
at first, he seemed unsure about the measure, so i launched into an explanation. he had intelligent questions that seemed based in simple uncertainty and a lack of information. i answered all of his questions the best i could, and i made a ton of really stellar points.
turns out, though, he was on the other side the whole time. or, at least, that's my best guess. he said or implied something about babies being more important than the woman's health. he talked about the "greater good" -- basically, telling these women whose circumstances aren't covered by this ban to suck it up and deal, 'cause overall, it's "saving more babies." he claimed, at the end, that our conversation had not only cemented his decision to vote for this abortion ban, but that he saw now that he needed to spend his time working against our campaign.
Mr. Jared is a douchebag.
I wasted 15 effing minutes on him.

-speaking of antis, i'm famous. an anti-choice pastor here in Sioux Falls who's pretty well-known actually mentioned me, by name, linking here, on his blog.
he called me an "angry, hurt, anti-life young person."
he has compassion for me, supposedly, nice, i guess?
i'm not gonna link to him, he doesn't deserve that. but...there'll be something later about his claim that all victims should be required to report rape because it's "good for the healing process." or something.
because it's not true, but i've not got the time or energy for that post yet.

-after phone banking was canvassing. sorta successful. the supporter houses i found were full of more than one supporter, so that boosted my numbers. but it was long, and i was tired, and the houses were far apart. however, everyone was very nice. i even met a republican man who's leaning toward voting no, and is also definitely voting for Obama on the 4th. he's sick of Bush. and he thanked us for getting out there and doing what we could to make change we saw was needed. very sweet. i liked him.

and now, it's about 10:30pm on my birthday, and i'm going to bed. for some well-deserved sleep.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

the south dakota post.

edited to add, 9/27/08:
Below is the post I wrote before I headed out here, in which I question CHF's strategies in not focusing or really talking about (from what I could tell) the so-called rape/incest "exception."
Now that I've spent a day and a half with the campaign (more about that soon), I want to add this: I get now why the campaign's not focusing on the bureaucratic b.s. of the rape/incest "exception." I should've known they had good reason, and they do. I've never really been great at "strategy," because I'm not really stoked about using messages that I see as missing anything. I understand why they're used, and I'll use them without complaint, but in my ideal world (which is, clearly, not reality), I'd be able to use the "abortion as basic repro health care as a human right" message. but i can't use that here, and I get that.
That said, this is the campaign's actual stance on the rape/incest so-called "exception," which I didn't understand when i first wrote this post:
The way the measure is worded creates an awful lot of bureaucratic red tape. Red tape that victims shouldn't be forced to find their way through. Reporting rape is not always in the best interests of the victim. It also, as with most rape laws, is really restrictive, and it'd require victims to fit a very specific set of circumstances to really "count" as victims. which is, obvi, bullshit.

The reason it's not the main message is this: SD voters are more compassionate to women with certain health problems not covered by these so-called "exceptions" than they are to rape victims, mostly because they believe that required reporting of rape will automatically mean more rapists in jail. It's an understandable belief, and one that a whole lot of americans share. It'd be great if it were true, and it'd be great if prison was really the best deterrent for sexual violence. But it's not. However, this isn't really the fight that the campaign is fighting right now, so it makes sense that combating that faulty view of rape law and the state's role in rape prosecution isn't a focus of the campaign.

That said, on to the original post.....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

for the record...

  • Sarah Palin as potential VP (i.e. president when mccain dies two days into office) terrifies me. Tina Fey, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the clueless Alaskan governor, however, is a genius.

  • Like Cara, I'm staying optimistic that Obama will win. Mostly because it's unfathomable to me that he won't. And I don't wanna have take part in that mass exodus to Canada on November 5th. (Although I won't lie; I'll have my passport handy while watching election results come in.)

  • Thinking about the economy makes my head hurt. And it makes me sad for what it might mean for my little baby cafe. So I'm not going to think about it. For tonight, at least.

  • I may be watching election results come in somewhere in South Dakota, if things go as planned. I turned down a full-time campaign (read: obsession-inducing, inevitably unhealthy) job with the SD Campaign for Healthy Families, but I'm still invested in the outcome of election day out there. I'm still looking for funding for a second volunteer trip out there for the couple weeks leading up to the election (contact me if you want to fund me yourself), but I've got one trip planned and booked. I'll be heading out September 26th (the day before my birthday!), spending a week and a half with the campaign, canvassing like my life depends on it ('cause really, it kinda does), developing a charming midwestern accent (don'chaknow?), and heading back to western mass on October 6th. Wish me luck! In the meantime, watch this new ad from SDCHF:

And my biggest wish, as of 8:30pm tonight, is to explain to this Vote Yes for Life woman, Janet Folger, what it's really like to be a victim/survivor of rape and incest. Because she so, so, so clearly does not understand. And in my optimistic state, I need to believe that if she understood, she wouldn't be making this absurd speech:

Sunday, September 07, 2008

community organizing.

I'm a day early on this one, but I've got a few long days of work/babysitting/etc ahead of me, so I'm throwing this up on Sunday instead of Monday. Which is probably fine, since this post doesn't really fit in the parameters of what tomorrow's virtual mobilization of community organizer/bloggers is supposed to be about anyway. I may still throw one up tomorrow, and maybe it'll actually fit into said parameters.

Tomorrow, a lot of bloggers will be blogging on community organizing. The idea behind this is to have bloggers who are community organizers blog about their experiences, about what being a community organizer means, and about why it's important work.

This is all in response, of course, to the "jokes" about community organizers at the RNC, coming from both Giuliani and Palin. Really? If you're going to make fun of Obama, you've gotta at least find some better material.
This whole thing is just absurd. The reason they need to mock Obama, though? Not because he was a community organizer. Because of what Ezra points out:
But look, let's call a spade a spade: When Giuliani sneered about community organizers on the "South side" of Chicago, it's pretty clear what he was saying: Barack Obama spent his time rabble-rousing among black people. It's no different then when the RNC called him a "street organizer."........
Community organizer isn't being used to describe a job but a background. Obama organized poor black people. Helped channel their anger and grievances and anxieties. That's change you can fear.

The RNC debacle created a wave of defense among a whole slew of bloggers, especially feminist bloggers.
As it should. Because grassroots, community organizing is vitally important to movements like feminism. Organizing on the personal, community level is how you build a movement. And community organizers are the people who do the dirty work, who make change happen, who are a lot more in touch with the people they're serving than "public servants" like politicians and most lobbyists ever dream of being.
The mainstream feminist movement? Not really all about building a movement. The mainstream feminist movement isn't really about community-building on a local level. They do great work on the state level, they do great work in legislative processes and working with bureaucratic bullshit and getting funding toward their causes. They sometimes provide important services to the community at large. But when it comes to getting into a community, becoming immersed in it, becoming part of it, so that they can be responsive to what people really need, they're usually pretty absent. That's not where their priorities lie.

When I say "they," I'm talking about the Big Feminist Organizations. The "career feminists" (most of them, at least). The feminist organizations in the beltway ("national" organizations) are mostly concerned with beltway politics. This is important, but they aren't organizing communities. They're organizing politicians. Rounding them up, gathering them together, getting legislation passed or working within the state institutions to make change. (I suppose politicians can be considered a "community," in some sense, but that's really not the kind of community I'm concerned with here.) This is great. It needs to happen. But it's not community organizing.
Even organizations that function within their individual states don't always engage with community organizing. NARAL Massachusetts is a perfect example. I have a million grievances with NARAL's political choices nationally, but even in Massachusetts, the NARAL organizers are not community organizers. I say this because I live in western Massachusetts. In my 3 1/2 years here, including 2 in college, I've heard about exactly one organized NARAL MA event here - meeting with an aide of western MA's congressman in Springfield. I almost went, but couldn't get off work, and didn't want to pay the gas to drive all the way down to Springfield. I think they drew maybe one or two volunteer activists from the area to that meeting. NARAL MA's priorities don't bring the organization outside of Boston or Beacon Hill. They lobby the state assembly and the state senators. I think they've held events for Obama in Boston. They probably work with some student groups at some of the many colleges that Boston is home to. But that's pretty much it. Their priority is at the state level. Their priority is purely capital-P Political.

What NARAL MA, and NARAL Pro-Choice America, and PPFA, and PPLM, and NOW, and so many of the Big Feminist Organizations do is organizing, I don't deny that. And, depending on how broadly we're defining "community," it could easily be considered community organizing, as well. But what I'd like to see celebrated and validated more isn't just that kind of Big Feminist Organization advocacy. What I'd love to see this movement, if we're really going to be a movement, doing more of is movement-building. Getting Obama elected and fighting court battles and working to get congressional funding allocated to abuse victims is important work. But it's not (necessarily) building a movement.

When I think of "community organizers," much like the organizing that Obama did on the south side of Chicago, I think of movement-building. Organizing state players is one thing. Organizing the community and building a base for this movement is an entirely different thing.

Which I guess is why I, like some other bloggers, are a little confused about why all of these big feminist bloggers are now coming to the defense of community organizers. An awful lot of them are career feminists. An awful lot of them have gone the "strategic" route in lieu of the community organizing, collective route (perhaps because we live in an individualistic culture and collective feminism is not what we do?), because collective organizing is not 'practical' or 'realistic.'
(Thank you, thank you, to the always amazing bfp for hitting the nail on the head and helping me understand, in sentence form, why the sudden rush to defend community organizers seemed so off to me.)

And now, with all of that said, this is how I see community organizing.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

hurricane gustav. not katrina part 2...right?

oh, look. the poorest of the poor, the ones without a real, safe opportunity for evacuation, are being conveniently "forgotten" yet again. color me surprised.

CNN has a story on some of the people who can't leave New Orleans to evacuate for Hurricane Gustav, which is headed straight for the gulf and expected to be even more devastating than Katrina.

and this AP article kind of makes me a little nauseous. at least, this paragraph does:
"This is the real deal, not a test," Nagin said as he issued the order, warning residents that staying would be "one of the biggest mistakes of your life." He emphasized that the city will not offer emergency services to anyone who chooses to stay behind.
Advocates criticized the decision not to establish a shelter, warning that day laborers and the poorest residents would fall through the cracks.

About two dozen Hispanic men gathered under oak trees near Claiborne Avenue. They were wary of boarding any bus, even though a city spokesman said no identity papers would be required.

"The problem is," said Pictor Soto, 44, of Peru, "there will be immigration people there and we're all undocumented."

bfp has a post with links for how you can help.
i've already sent some money to INCITE!, whose members are working on getting help to low-income women of colour, and i suggest you do the same, if you can. and/or donate to the red cross. and check out BFP's post on how to help prisoners in New Orleans.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


(full disclosure for this post: i have a personal investment in the subject of spelling. here's why: i was thisclose to making it to the national spelling bee when i was in 8th grade. at regionals, i missed the word that is the title of this post - peerless - because the word-giver [is there an actual job title for this?], who i have yet to forgive, pronounced it "perilous." the sentence she gave could've gone either way. had i asked for a definition, i would've easily gotten it -- and every other word that would've fallen on my turn -- and, most likely, gone to nationals. but instead, i spelled "perilous," and was eliminated. and no, i'm not still bitter about a contest that happened over ten years ago. why do you ask?)

according to this article on spiked (via), some "progressive" educators are arguing in favour of de-emphasizing correct spelling and, instead of engaging in the tedious task of correcting students' spelling, accept the most commonly misspelled words ("truely" in place of "truly," for example) as "variant spellings." they claim that an adherence to correct spelling is elitist, discriminating against people from "disadvantaged backgrounds."

my first thought: have these people not seen Akeelah and the Bee? a young girl, quite disadvantaged, from south LA, wins the National spelling bee on her first trip there. a talent for spelling did not elude her, so why should it elude other similarly disadvantaged students?

thought number 1.5: what kind of generalization is that? assuming that "disadvantaged" (read: low-income, people of color, inner city, Other) kids can't spell? talk about elitist assumptions.

my second thought: ok, there's a good possibility that kids who've grown up and have been placed at some kind of educational disadvantage perform less well in spelling than their more advantaged counterparts. it's not as if educationally disadvantaged students are the only ones consistently employing these "variant spellings." really. this fact comes from a girl who was educated in a very good public school and attended a top tier college. even if it were confined to those "disadvantaged" students, the answer is not to meet them at their misspellings. maybe a step would be to, i don't know, stop de-funding education, put a little effort into these neglected schools, actually make the educational changes we've needed to make for years.

maybe i'm a spelling purist. if it's "progressive" educators that are lobbying for the acceptance of "variant spellings," maybe that makes me "conservative." for once, for the only time in my life, i'm ok with that label. literacy is not a luxury of the elite, and correct spelling is an indispensable facet of literacy. illiteracy is not a badge of honour, or, like the article rightly bemoans, a "virtue." spelling is not arbitrary. spelling things incorrectly does not show your self-expression or creativity.

there is a place for self-expression and creativity in literature, of course. literature would not continue evolving if that weren't the case. it's ok to sometimes cast off some of the restrictive grammatical rules in order to expand literary creativity. you'll notice that i rarely construct sentences that include capitalization, and that often, i include sentences with one or two words - not a complete sentence, by definition. this is not, however, because i don't understand correct grammar or sentence construction or literary rules. i generally do not capitalize the first word of sentences for aesthetic purposes. i like the way paragraphs look without the interruption of capital letters. (i could probably make an argument challenging the hierarchical nature of capitalization, but that's really not my motivation.) my incomplete sentences exist for the sake of the literary voice that i've chosen. the voice i write with reflects the voice i speak with. i think that's an important similarity for a writer.
the difference here is that i know what the literary rules are. i'm consciously choosing to break them, for reasons that are defensible in the literary world. misspelling words due to ignorance of their correct spelling, though? that's not "variant" or "self-expression." that's just an aspect of illiteracy.

lastly, a note on the argument Frank makes near the end of the article:
In essence, variant spelling is a true companion to the idea of variant truths. Contemporary cultural life has become estranged from the idea of Truth with a capital T. In academia, social scientists never tire of informing students that there are no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers. Instead of the truth, people are exhorted to accept different perspectives as representing many truths.

The demotion of the status of truth calls into question the purpose of gaining knowledge. Celebrating variant truths, like variant spellings, is presented as a pluralistic gesture of tolerance. In fact it represents a reluctance to take education and its ideas seriously. And not surprisingly, those who do not take ideas seriously are also not very worried about how they are spelled.

as an avid challenger of accepted capital-T Truths, i disagree with this. the calling into question of the status quo, of long-accepted social Truths (i.e. normativity and homogeneity) does not call into question the value of gaining knowledge. on the contrary; gaining knowledge is one of the things that allows the status quo to be challenged. the academy is certainly not the only place that Truths can be challenged, but it's been an important front in that for a while now. for example, i (and many feminist scholars) absolutely disagree with the long-accepted "Truth" that small children have inherent differences based on their genitalia. little boys can be just as sensitive and pink-loving as little girls, and little girls can love to play with trucks and do science experiments just as much as little boys. challenging that Truth had absolutely nothing to do with employing "variant spellings." there is absolutely no connection.
seeking and accepting a pluralistic version of truth(s) doesn't mean taking ideas less seriously. making the connection between progressive scholars advocating for the acceptance of a variety of truth and "scholars" advocating for the acceptance of "variant spellings" is a red herring, and an ineffective one at that.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

leslee unruh: traces of humanity?

normally, just hearing the name "Leslee Unruh" or seeing a picture of her face gets a whole lot of angry blood pumping through my system. it's not often that one person can incite that much negative energy in me. Leslee, though, is a sure bet. she infuriates me...and, as much as i hate to admit it, she scares me. not because i think she can win this fight she's working so hard at, but because she can come close. because, unfortunately, she's a good strategist. and because there's just something about her that instills fear. when i worked on the campaign against South Dakota's abortion ban a couple years ago, my friend Christine told me that some of the CHF staffers had dressed up as Leslee for Halloween. it would be a totally appropriate, totally horrifying costume.

so normally, my reactions to Leslee range from terrified to horrified to hate-filled to infuriated.
which is why this article, published in the most recent issue of More magazine threw me off. i expected to be angry. i expected a description of the work she puts in to limit women's lives and choices, and i expected to be appalled that this woman could exist. that a human being could exist like her.
my reaction followed the same lines as Cara's: she called it "creepy and compelling." on some level that shakes me up a little, it also intrigues me. she intrigues me. and i'm a little more convinced that maybe there's a little bit of human being in her still.
and my grand Theory of Leslee has changed: maybe instead of being just pure evil incarnate, maybe she's just possessed. because little bits of humanity peek out in this article.

it was written by Amanda Robb, whose uncle, Barnett (Bart) Slepian, was an ob/gyn and abortion doctor back on my home turf in Western New York. He was murdered in 1998 by an anti-abortion activist. it's an incredibly well-written article - for journalistic value only, it's worth the read. Robb was somehow able to get close enough to Leslee to make her seem human. real. it showed her for how crazy she can get, but it also showed her as a real person, with what appears to be a trying past.

i could look at the article, at the discrepancies between Leslee's story of her life and the lie that Robb catches her in and call her a dirty liar. i could look at the legal/safe (though not incredibly well-executed, patient-advocacy wise) abortion she got a while back and call her a hypocrite. i could look at the manipulations that Unruh describes, the manipulations that make up almost all of Unruh's campaign work, and say that she's utterly deplorable. but i'm not going to. because even though it was a very long article on one of the people i most deplore, i wasn't left with a nasty taste in my mouth. i was left wanting to know more.
i was left feeling....well, i feel kinda bad for Leslee.

what else has she gone through to make her feel this need to construct her life around controlling everyone else's sexuality and sexual choices? what does she gain from this? does it really give her the satisfaction and fulfillment that (i'm guessing) she's pursuing? and if so, why does the control of other people fulfill her? what void is she trying to fill here?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

south dakota? colorado? where to, this time around?

two years ago this november, i went to south dakota for a week to volunteer with South Dakota Campaign For Healthy Families, the coalition formed to oppose the ban on abortion (Referred Law 6, that year) that was placed on the ballot by the same coalition. (for the few of you not in the know: the south dakota legislature had passed, and the governor had signed, a ban on abortion in march of that year. putting it on the ballot was safer than going through the courts system to make the ban go away.) it was a totally amazing, incredible experience; i missed a week's worth of classes, flew to a state i've never been, mostly closeted myself as a queer (...well, sorta. that is, if making out with a girl in the front seat of our rental car still counts as "closeted"), picked up a midwestern accent, and actually made change. saw a victory, and was part of it. incredible.

we won by a pretty decent margin...but in a weird way. the way that the campaign strategy worked, we opened ourselves up for exactly the ban that's currently on the ballot for this year: the ballot initiative, this time, includes the exceptions for rape, incest, and women's health that were our strategic points last time around.
(i fucking hate leslee unruh.)

so it's back.
i'm working on finding a way to get back to south dakota for november, to volunteer again with the SDCHF. to work again with some of the people still kicking around SD, still working against the ban, to work for this amazing coalition, to help them win again (they have to win again. we have to win again.).

footage from SDCHF's and PPMNNDSD (planned parenthood of minnesota, north dakota, & south dakota) follows:

(also see PPMNNDSD's blog, Stand Up South Dakota)

now, though, i'm torn.
do i go back to south dakota, work again with the coalition i love, work against the crazy that is leslee unruh and her campaign?
or do i go to colorado, where there is a full zip code full of evangelical woman-haters (focus on the family's frightening hq is in colorado springs), where there's another abortion ban on the ballot for november?
the campaign against this ban in colorado is Protect Families, Protect Choice. (interesting how they both use the emotionally loaded word, "family," in their campaign names.)
this ban is really frightening for a lot of reasons. mostly, because it's not explicitly a ban on abortion; instead, it's a "personhood amendment." meaning that it would change the state constitution of CO to define "personhood" as beginning at fertilization. this definition extends to the sections of the state constitution regarding due process, inalienable rights, and equality of justice.
this, by extension, makes abortion illegal. this makes a lot of forms of birth control illegal. this makes emergency contraception illegal. this has no exceptions, whatsoever. not for rape, not for incest, not for the health (maybe even the life) of the mother. nothing.

(one of my big fears: the colorado campaign will go the way of the SD campaign and use the so, so problematic strategy of opposing it based on the lack of exceptions. it worked in sd two years ago, sure, but now the ban is back, with a much worse prognosis for us than before. please, colorado, learn from this. please please please.)

so, decision-making time:
south dakota?
(or maybe california, where that fucking parental notification bullshit is back on the ballot again?)

où vais-je?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

(my) truth about causality, queerness, and abuse

When I came out to my birth mother, one of her first questions (or, more accurately, accusations) was: “This is because of what happened with your brother, isn’t it?” She couldn’t speak the words that held the truths of my life; “this,” for her, was as close as she could get to admitting that her only daughter was queer. “What happened” was as close as she could come to admitting that her only daughter had been abused by her own son. The causal link that she saw linking these two unspeakable truths about this girl she birthed was terrifying to her, but at the same time, made it easier to dismiss and refuse to engage with each hard truth.

These are my terrifying, real, hard truths:
I am queer.
I am a survivor* of childhood sexual abuse, a survivor of emotional abuse and neglect, and a survivor of rape.
I do not see these aspects of my identity as separate, or separable. They do not exist as isolated truths. Each identity plays into and informs the other. (Yes, intersectionality applies here, too.) I cannot say that the abuse does not affect my current sexuality, just as I cannot say that my sexuality wasn’t an aspect of the abuse as it happened.
I was victimized in part because my sexuality was already a point of vulnerability.
And here’s the other part of this truth that nobody wants me to say, nobody wants to hear: I am queer because I was sexually abused.

Yep, I said it. The way my life has panned out, there is a connection. There is a link. It is, at least in part, a causal one.

Which isn’t to say that every queer woman is drawn to women because she was sexually assaulted (although the number is a little overwhelming), or that every woman who was victimized “goes gay.” But it’s my reality. And I do not think I am alone.

I’ve spent almost the entirety of my “out” life (5 years now) running away from that truth. Denying it and downplaying it and making it not mine, fitting myself into the mold of the (already marginal) rhetoric of queer survivors of sexual violence. I was terrified to lose that legitimacy as a queer woman, terrified to open up that most painful part of my past to scrutiny and disbelief (as if it weren’t already). And maybe, in most people’s eyes, and certainly in the eyes of the mainstream alphabet-soup (LGBTQ) movement, I just lost my claim to a “real,” “legitimate” queer identity. But when it comes back to it, this is my truth. This causal link between sexual violence and my queer identity is real.

(so much more to say after the jump)

Here are some more truths about that link:

immigration is a feminist issue

just in case you needed more proof that immigration is, indeed, a feminist issue:

the vast majority of women are sexually assaulted on their journey across the US-Mexico border.

According to experts, rape is now considered "the price of admission" for women crossing the border illegally.

But this scourge goes largely ignored, and is suspected to be vastly underreported. Not surprisingly, few women care to describe their ordeals to authorities in stark government detention facilities.
Civilian border-watchers tell of hearing these women's cries.

"I thought the wailings we heard at night were the coyotes barking at the moon," one volunteer told The Washington Times. "I didn't know until later that those sounds were the cries of women being raped in the Mexican desert, some less than 100 yards away from the border. There was absolutely nothing anyone could do about it."

The rapists are known to hang women's bras and panties from tree limbs as trophies.

read the whole article. really.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

coming soon to this space

check back soon.
there's an almost-done post on queer survivors of sexual violence coming up.

(similar to the last paper i wrote at Smith, on queer survivors of childhood sexual abuse, but less academic / with more heart. also, dissimilar in that i don't think this post will come close to killing me in the way that paper did.)

{ETA: the post is now up, but I'm leaving this one up so that I can keep the totally awesome sytycd videos up.}

in the meantime, enjoy this, my love from SYTYCD (sadly, eliminated last week).
not gonna lie, half the reason i love her so much is 'cause she danced to Ani. what? it's an easy road to my heart.

also, her totally fucking amazing (also Ani) audition:

trauma, bodies, healing, revolution(izing)

what she said.

Unfortunately, what I most often witness is people’s trauma around their bodies getting in the way of uniting. As queers, as fat people, as people with disabilities, as people of color, we have often located so much of our pain in our bodies. We internalize so much anger, we get sick from it and throw up walls and make divisions. I get inspired when I see the connections made on an individual level. But on a larger scale I don’t really see it happening yet.

I think there are two main obstacles: 1) Most of us spend a lot of time outside of our bodies. I’m not sure how many people are willing to get into their bodies in the way it would require in order for this kind of movement to build. Phat Camp was an amazing place to witness people going through this. They come in with their brains in a tizzy, wondering “What is empowerment? What is self-acceptance?” and then they realize we don’t want their brains to do the work—we want to go to a deeper place. A place where all of our bodies are unified in the struggle to be whole and real.

2) People who don’t have to think about their power usually don’t. Sometimes I wonder if we can really build anything effectively without figuring out how to cross over and get people to examine their privilege. There is so much mythology about health and wellness, that it’s hard for me to picture having a deep moment with someone who more than anything believes I just need to lose weight. Even if we agree that the prison system needs to end and Bush is a motherfucker.

I see the goal of all work like this to be community building, healing, and revolution. In that order.

(via bfp, via nadia)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

mothering as a feminist act*

*i was tempted to title this post, "mothering as the ultimate feminist act," but that felt wrong. it felt very hyperbolic, similar to "Bean is the cutest two year old that ever existed." true, on some level, but really only true-ish. (but not truthiness, because there's legitimate truth in there) Bean is, indeed, an unbelievably adorable 2-year-old, but creating a hierarchy where she towers so far above every other adorable two year old is a little silly.
because while mothering is an absolutely vital part of taking feminist action (at least, a certain kind of mothering that i'll discuss herein), it is, of course, not the absolute most important feminist act one can take. there's no hierarchy here. it's all important. but in this post, mothering - truly feminist mothering - is the focal point of feminist action(s).

when you think of "feminist action," most people think of petitions, marches on washington, lobbying your congressmen & women, taking it to the streets, working for legislative change, working for community change. most people do not think of family as a site of feminist action. at most, they'll think of family as the breeding ground for feminists, raising feminists by instilling ideals of equality and social justice in their kids, so that their kids can one day take these more obvious steps we call "feminist acts."

the family, though, IS a site of feminist action.
or, at least, it can be.
(i will speak directly to the act of mothering here, because that's what i can speak to most eloquently and knowledgeably, but that of course does not preclude other kinds of parenting, and it does not necessarily apply only to women.)

mothering is not black & white, but, if you'll allow me some brief essentialism, it can pretty much be boiled down to one of two forms:
feminist mothering,
and anti-feminist mothering.

my mother, despite identifying (somehow) as a feminist, engaged very intently in anti-feminist mothering. her self-proclaimed identity as a feminist did not stop her from acting toward her daughter (and her sons) in distinctly anti-feminist ways. it's pretty clear to most people who know me that i have plenty of grievances to file against my mother and the way in which she chose to mother me. here, though, i won't air the particulars, because they're not especially relevant to my point.

in general:
anti-feminist mothering is unloving mothering.
anti-feminist mothering plays into sexist and misogynistic views of women - in either/both blatant or subtle ways.
anti-feminist mothering refuses to empower daughters to exist in a powerful way in our racist heteropatriarchy. (it also refuses to teach sons how to exist in a privilege-conscious way in our racist heteropatriarchy.)
anti-feminist mothering expects daughters to pick up the slack of the mother's lost opportunities, not for the sake of the daughter's opportunities, but for the selfish sake of the mother's need for approval and validation. i.e. not encouraging the daughter to succeed on her own merits or of her own volition, but instead, to succeed for other people.

on the flip side, and what i'd much rather talk about, is feminist mothering.
(which isn't a given when a feminist becomes a mother. see, for example, my own mother. and also, Alice Walker.)

feminist mothering is based in love. because true feminism is, at its base, all about love, feminist mothering necessarily has true love at its base as well. (the "true" part of "true love" there is important; wounded, selfish ways of loving do not allow for a feminist action of mothering.)
this basis in love is really what informs all other aspects of feminist mothering.
feminist mothering is empowering, because it teaches (through example) self-responsibility for actions & feelings. feminist mothers teach their daughters how to embrace their own power, how to use their power to protect themselves.
at the same time, feminist mothers protect their children. not in a smothering way, not in a disempowering way, but in what should be an expected way. a protection based in love. it's not selfless, none of this is. to be selfless is to give up the self, which is anathema to the idea of self-responsibility. feminist mothers create a net of safety for their children, a place where their vulnerabilities (being female, for example) are not open invitations for abuse or mistreatment.

the best way i know of to identify feminist vs. anti-feminist mothering is this: feminist mothers are those mothers whose interactions with their children give me - and, i think, most people with a developed feminist consciousness - a warm, full feeling in my heart.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

dear lesbians,

this is why you should care about what's going on in the reproductive justice world.

because refusal clauses cover more than just those pills for those straight girls.

because Guadalupe Benitez represents more than just one wronged woman in California.

because people like Americans United For Life, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, and the American Civil Rights Union (the asshole counterpart to the ACLU) are organizations that all hate you, my fellow queer women, just as much as they hate women who've engaged in PIV intercourse and want to be able to exercise control over their bodies.

because these organizations and people aren't just going to stop with trying to control contraception and abortion, which applies more directly to het women than to my women-loving women friends. because you've got vaginas too, my dear lesbians. and the anti-choicers? they want to control your vaginas (and the rest of your reproductive systems), too.

yes, what happened in Benitez's case, when she was refused IVF (in vitro fertilization) treatment because she was an unmarried lesbian, is different from the use of refusal clauses by pharmacists, hospitals, and doctors when women are denied EC or other contraception because these health care professionals have "moral, religious, personal, or ideological objections" to providing this kind of health care. of course they're different. the individual discrimination in Benitez's case isn't always involved in your everyday invocations of the "conscience clause." but they're fruit of the same fucked up tree.
make no mistake: these doctors were able to refuse to treat Benitez based on her sexuality exactly because of the groundwork laid by anti-choicers. this "conscience clause" that they've pushed so hard for has worked...on a much larger scale than we usually recognize.
it's worked on a level that directly affects us, as queer women.

now, my dear lesbians, i know that there are few of you that i need to speak to here. most of us already have what seems to be an odd, misplaced investment in the reproductive rights movement. from the outside, it seems weird that all of these women who aren't engaging in PIV intercourse and don't usually need ready access to contraception or abortion would care so deeply about repro rights.
i don't have sex with people who have organs that can get me pregnant. i don't really need to care about whether or not my pharmacist is going to be able to refuse my prescription for birth control. except...i do.
because i might want a kid someday. and i might want to use a fertility doctor to make that happen (for my partner - no baby is squeezing out of this vag). i don't want my doctor to be able to cite some bullshit piece of legislation that says he doesn't need to treat my lesbian partner, and i don't want to sit in that office, years from now, and think, "fuck, i guess i should've paid attention to that refusal clause shit."

this movement is something i need to be invested in.
this movement affects me, directly.
and, my dear fellow lesbians, this movement affects you, directly, too.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

perpetuating the legacy of woundedness (creating a new cycle of truth)

some facts:

-from the time i was 6 or 7 until i was 13, my older brother sexually abused me.
-when i was 9, my parents walked in on it, did nothing (aside from scolding me). this was not the first or the last time they failed as parents, not the first or last time they failed to protect their child(ren).
-i come from a wounded family. my mom was sexually abused and raped. so was her mother. my dad grew up in a less-than-supportive household. my mom's first husband, my oldest brother's father, was an abusive alcoholic rapist. my brother, the one who abused me, was sexually abused. it was not a family of love. it was a family of facades, of falsehoods. our family dynamic is based squarely in denial.
-i am healing. my parents are not. my brother, the one who abused me, is not. my oldest brother has some stuff he could work on as well. (thus, part of the reason i am extracting myself from this family, immersing myself in one that loves me, one i chose.)

every so often, i look at all of the terrible, abusive/unloving (unable to love) parents, and my heart breaks, ten times over. and i wonder: why the fuck are these people bringing children into their lives?

which brings me to the underlying reason for this post:
my brother's girlfriend is pregnant. 11 weeks along. (only one more week for a legal abortion in virginia...but she's not going that route, and as much as i wish she would, i can't - and wouldn't, even if i could - force her. obviously.)
she's keeping the child.
my brother, the one who abused me, is going to be a father.

i'm not going to go into the individual feelings of obligation i feel toward this child, to save this kid from the abuse that may or may not happen, or to alert hir mother to the possibility so she can save the child if/when the abuse starts. (projection much?)

i will, however, go here:
the continuation of the legacy of abuse.
people talk all the time about breaking the cycle. they'll say, "it stops with me."

but does it really?
how can you know that for sure?
in most places, there's no way you could lock up your abuser for long enough that he'll no longer be able to find victims - the law doesn't work that way in a rape culture such as ours.
you can't control your rapist's/abuser's life to the point that he will not have access to more victims.
you can speak out, you can call him out, you can name the abuse for what it is. he may or may not believe you. if he believes you, he may or may not get help. if he gets help, he may or may not change. you have no control over that.
sure, you're naming it. you're coming out about being abused.

but what does that really do, outside of yourself? can you expect it to do anything outside of yourself?
if "it stops with me," what power am i claiming for myself here? and is that really power i even have access to?

fact is, i can't control anything outside of my own individual reality. i can't make ashley abort this child. i can't make john not abuse the kid, and i can't prevent anything when it's outside of my own existence.
i know, of course, that if john abuses his child, it's not my fault. there's nothing i can do to stop it. and that, right now, if i were to decide to fulfill that perceived obligation and not detach from my family, i wouldn't be taking care of myself in any way that would allow my presence to be beneficial to this child.

what's the point, then, in speaking out? outside of oneself, i mean. if there's no chance of controlling your abuser's life to the point of preventing him from abusing again, how are you breaking the cycle of abuse?
i guess the answer to that (or, at least, the best i can come up with now) is:
the point is making it known. the point is speaking it so that other people can continue to speak it.
the point is creating a new cycle, one of truth and words and speaking and listening, in whatever form(s) those things may take.
in speaking, in making it known, you're creating a second thought for those rapists and abusers. you're not being a passive victim, and so you're making it harder for them to abuse someone else. on a societal level, your voice is disrupting the rape culture. on a community level, your voice is carrying to others, creating a space for others to speak. on a personal level, your voice is creating a space for you to inhabit, a space of truth, because life is not possible or worthwhile without truth.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

quick hit: some south dakotans really hate women. still.

Leslee Unruh and her ilk are at it again. for real this time, though.

(leslee spearheaded the anti-choice campaign in South Dakota two years ago, heading both the lobbying for the abortion ban law - passed by the SD legislature and signed by the still-governor mike rounds - and the "vote yes for life" campaign that answered Planned Parenthood's campaign (the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families) challenging the law and leaving it up to the voters. she's pretty much pure evil.)

just last week, leslee's new campaign - Initiated Measure 11, which does the same thing as the 2006 law, with a couple important differences - gathered enough signatures to put the abortion ban back on the ballot for south dakotans to vote on in november.

in 2006, SDCHF's approach was thus: the abortion ban passed by the legislature was extreme and didn't even include exceptions for health of the woman or for rape or incest.
i took issue with this strategy, since it kind of avoided the whole abortion as a basic human right (i.e. abortion = choice = bodily autonomy) and kept abortion in that shame-full closet. and it opened up the door for exactly this:
the same measure, but with exceptions for health, life, and rape/incest.

we only won with 56% of the vote last time around.
i do not doubt that we'll lose those crucial 7% who will vote for this law to take effect because it has those exceptions. because, you know, it's ok to control women's bodies in general. just not in those few anomalous cases where the pregnancy is endangering her health or the even rarer occasion when she's willing to come forward about her assault.

i'm saddened. and angered. and disappointed. and disillusioned.
i may be going to south dakota again this year. i'd better start working on those long "o"s and my midwestern accent.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

straining my voice.

*i started this post almost a month ago, and promptly lost it among the drafts here. it's still totally valid, still totally appropriate, so here we go again. updated, finished, published, done.*

i've been developing an intense knot in my shoulder/back over the past month or so (ever since dinner with my parents, now that i think about it.)

i've been noticing it as it's gotten worse and worse, but i've been mostly unsure about what it was stemming from. i had some ideas, mostly related to the cafe and the rest of the general stressors in my life, but none of them were all that convincing to myself.
still, i was ready to dismiss it as your general sore muscles, as general stress-related tightness.
(aside: it's times like these that i especially wish i had the funds for massage/bodywork on a regular basis. my friend tried to help me out, work it out a little bit at work, but there was only so much she could do for me. a full massage, though? where i could get to the bottom of what's really causing this ever-growing knot? would be amazing. so, those of you who know me: this isn't a bad idea for a birthday (or any-day) gift.)

this morning, though, i noticed a distant soreness in my throat. i pressed down near my larynx, above where my vocal cords lie, and...
i felt the pressure of my fingers on my throat...directly in the center of this knot in my shoulder.

my vocal cords connect to this pain, this soreness, this tightness.


i'm still a little unsure as to what exactly this means.
is my voice/body sore from speaking these things i've kept such a tight lid on for so long?
or is my voice/body sore from still not speaking those things i'm still pushing down, under that tightly sealed lid?

i wanted to lean toward the first. a big part of me wanted to believe that this work i'm doing, this incredibly hard, painful, excruciating work, was actually doing damage instead of good. a big part of me was searching - is always searching - for a reason to abandon all of this entirely.
...but after therapy a couple weeks ago, the large, large knot loosened a little. not a lot, barely enough to be noticeable, but still, enough.

and so this, i guess, is what speaking does. the act of speaking those unspeakable things, those unspeakable truths, is going to make you sore.
but keeping those unspeakable truths unspoken and pushed down underneath that ever-tightening lid...that is what causes the most pain.

i've tested this theory recently, this theory that keeping silent causes this pain, this bundling of energy into a painful little knot.
i went to Rowe Camp & Conference Center up in Rowe, MA (in the hilltowns/berkshires) last week for a self-designed personal retreat. despite the miles i spent hiking (including accidentally hiking up Todd Mtn) and the unfamiliar mattress/pillows, when i returned to northampton, that huge knot was significantly smaller. despite spending almost the entire 25 hours i was at rowe thinking about and speaking (to myself/in writing) my truths about family, trauma, abuse, love, all of these things that are so hard to think, the knot that's tied to my speaking parts (my vocal cords), was alleviated.

in the past couple days, i've thought a lot about the prospect of removing my parents from my life, of really & truly prioritizing this more real chosen family here in northampton. which means i've thought a lot about what it would mean to NOT do it, to take the easier(?) route of continuing with the self-sacrificial peacekeeping of the family, to continue caretaking my parents and the rest of the immediate family.
and the knot has re-emerged. with a vengeance.

keeping it quiet, squelching it, smothering it beneath this happy-family pillow of so-called "protection" and "peacekeeping" is painful. actually causes pain.
the process of starting to compose letters of separation to my parents, of facing and writing and really acknowledging the truth of my life was heartbreaking...but it was a welcome soreness.

to analogize:
sports aren't always apt metaphors, because the athlete culture is usually one of self-sacrifice, but in this case, i think it's appropriate:
when you pull a muscle, it fuckin' hurts. i pulled my groin last fall playing soccer. i tried to play a full game when i hadn't taken the time to get back into soccer-playing shape. bad idea. i rocked that game, sure, but i could barely walk the next day. i spent most of the day sitting on a chair in my kitchen, rotating between bags of frozen corn & frozen peas. i only got to play one or two more games for the rest of the season, at half-speed it seemed, because i'd pulled my muscle. i'd actually hurt myself.
when you wake up the day after going for a long, intense run, your muscles are sore. even if you've spent the time to cool down, to stretch before bed, to get that acid out of your muscles, there's going to be a little soreness. but it feels good. so good. it hurts, but not in a painful way. it hurts in an accomplished, satisfying way.

i don't want to be out of commission for weeks like i was when i pulled my groin muscle. i don't want to suppress my own truth to the point that i seriously hurt myself and have to take months of extra time to get back to a place where i can start to even think about my truths again. the heart-soreness that i felt at rowe hurt, sure, but in that same really good way that my calves and quads feel the day after a long run. i want more of that. i want more people to feel more of that. i think our culture would be a much more welcoming one if people weren't so incapacitated by their refusal to tell/face their truths, if people felt the growing/muscle-building pains of what it meant to tell/face their truths more often.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

family is.... (take two)

i'll start this post the same way i started this post, last month:
new memories are fuckin' hard.

(seriously? new memories every month? is this going to become a trend? 'cause i'm not sure i'm really up for that.)

with that said, on to "family."

i was reading a piece in Skin, Dorothy Allison's collection of essays, today. her keynote from OutWrite 1992, "Survival is the Least of My Desires." i think i need to transcribe for you/for me the paragraph that spoke directly to my heart:
I know the myths of the family that thread through our society's literature, music, politics - and I know the reality. The reality is that for many of us family was as much the incubator of despair as the safe nurturing haven the myths promised. We are not supposed to talk about our real family lives, especially if our families do not duplicate the mythical heterosexual model. In a world in which only a fraction of people actually live in that "Father Knows Best" nuclear family, in which the largest percentage of families consists of women and children existing in poverty, we need to hear a lot more about those of us who are happy that we do not live inside that mythical model. But I also believe in hope. I believe in the re-made life, the possibilities inherent in our lesbian and gay chosen families, our families of friends and lovers, the healing that can take place among the most wounded of us. My family of friends has kept me alive through lovers who have left, enterprises that have failed, and all too many stories that never got finished. That family has been part of remaking the world for me. (p. 215-216)

sometimes, it seems like dorothy allison takes the words directly from my heart and places them on paper, visible so that i can read them back to myself.

to illustrate d.a.'s point....
tell me which one of the following families sounds like a real family to you. tell me which one sounds as though it has the capacity to heal wounds.

Family 1.
i share their genetic structures. they fed me and clothed me and gave me physical shelter and some financial (loan) assistance for college.
when i came out about the abuse at 15, my birth parents acted shocked, told me that they had no idea that this was going on. told me that they would of course have stopped it if they knew.
but when i was 9, my birth parents walked in on it. (i've told this story for years until now as: my mom walked in, my mom scolded me for "teasing my brother," my mom failed to protect me. i realized today that i don't have to protect my dad, and i don't have to protect myself from the truth that he was there too. i learned today that i can't deny reality just to save myself that one "good parent," because i can't keep hoping that he'll come through as such.) my mother told me i couldn't tease john, because "boys can't always control themselves." my dad hovered in the doorway to my bedroom as my mom told me this. they believed my brother when he said he didn't know what i was doing, what i was thinking.
and they continue to maintain that they knew nothing. my mom continues to believe that she would protect me if she knew someone (her fantasy "husband" for me) was abusing me.

Family 2.
have never blamed me for the abuse. have extended love and compassion and non-judgment. when i've told them about what happened, they get angry, or sad, or both. when i put up defenses like excessive sarcasm or laughing off my pain or dismissing painful situations or shutting down entirely, they call me on it. they don't try to control it, they just point it out and let me do my thing.
they push me, past what i think are my limits but not further than what my actual limits are. they see those limits. they care that i have them.
they think i'm a good person.
they trust the decisions that i make for myself.
some of them i work with, some of them i work for, all of these members of my family give me far more as an employee/co-worker than financial support, and they all make this post-smith-college food service job something i look forward to going to at 5am every day.
every member of my family, in some way, relies on me, but they aren't co-dependent. most of them are aware of why they do the things they do. most of them are willing to look at that and change.

they love me, unconditionally. i feel that love deep in my heart.

i think it's probably pretty obvious which one fits into the category of "family." it's clear which family is more family-like.
it's not hard to tell which family has more potential to re-make the world. to revolutionize the world, abolish these structures of abuse that undermine the revolutionary potential of the idea of "family." that undermine "family" in general.

like dorothy allison said, family should be a site of re-making the world. making it into one that's not only free from abuse and neglect, but full of love and support. families (biological AND chosen) are exactly where our children should be learning these values - of love, support, awareness, etc - so that they can go forth and create their own (biological + chosen) families and communities in which to perpetuate these ideals.

changing the world through love, on a grassroots, familial/community level.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

what is family, anyway?

i've recently come to the conclusion that the family i was born into - in particular, the parents i was born to and the brother i grew up with - does not constitute a "family."

my brother, for obvious reasons. ("family" doesn't do that to family.)

my parents, for somewhat more covert reasons.
i share their genes, yes.
i appreciate that they fed me and clothed me and kept a roof over my head.
i appreciate, also, that they took out loans for about half of what was left to pay for my B.A. after grants and scholarships.
i understand that they love me in the way they know how to love. and i totally get that they truly believe that they know how to love in a loving way.

but they've never protected me.
i gave up on my mom being a mother a long time ago. i was ok with that, with seeking out maternal figures in increasingly healthy ways. there's still a small (and shrinking) part of me that still holds out hope for her, hopes that she'll change of her own volition, but i know i'd never accept her attempts at mothering me anymore. it's well past that.
i've found mothers outside of, beyond, better than her.

i didn't give up on my dad until this past monday. when i finally shattered the illusion of my dad as the Good Parent, the one who actually unconditionally loved and supported me, who actually knew how to parent in a truly loving way.
i thought he could do these things.
i know now that i was wrong. quite wrong.

so yes, i am, in some ways, now an orphan. i am parentless. at 22, i shouldn't need parents anymore, but when you've never really had them, you still long for it. maybe i'll always long for it. even parenting myself, or doing what i can do to parent myself...i still miss it.

and it still fucking hurts. i'm still grieving that loss, even though i lost something i never had in the first place. i still grieve.
maybe i always will.

where i want to go with this:
family does not mean blood. family does not mean genetic ties.

maybe this is totally radical, but i think maybe it would do us good to completely sever those two aspects. make "family" mean something else entirely, make "family" mean all of the things it already means/is supposed to mean, but not have it dependent on or default to the genetic link.

i know i haven't thought this through, and there'd be all kinds of complications, and it's totally not realistic.

but it's appealing, to think up a cultural meaning behind family that would support - not attack, not challenge, not simply tolerate - a cutting of ties with abusive biological families. a complete cutting of ties.

as things stand now, i see absolutely nothing wrong with a person, in an attempt to (finally) take care of herself and not neglect her own needs, cutting off the ties that hurt her. that have traumatized/still traumatize her.

i'm so fucking sick of hearing people talk about how it's selfish to do so, to take care of yourself when your "family" needs you (i.e. needs to be able to continue to abuse you). i'm fucking sick of hearing people talk about "rash decisions" of cutting out your biological family. i'm fucking sick of hearing people speak of that decision as if it were the most radical thing you could do.
(i'm sick of hearing the people i thought supported me buying into this bullshit about family being primarily biological and using that line to judge me.)

here's my dream: a world where making this decision did not ostracize you, did not make you vulnerable to attacks based on "selfishness." a world where this decision was fully supported by everyone around you, where your chosen family - the people who actually love and support you, unconditionally - holds a lot more prevalent position in your life than the people who birthed/raised you.

i dream about a world where it is understood that the definition of family is dependent not on biological connections, but on spiritual/heart-connections. on the giving and receiving of unconditional, no-strings-attached love and compassion and support.

that's family.
the people who share my genes and witnessed (or denied/ignored/neglected) my growing up? they absolutely do not count under that category.

somewhat related, and really important reading:
Concerning Forgiveness: The Liberating Experience of Painful Truth, by Alice Miller.

Monday, April 14, 2008

speaking out, speaking truth, speaking the unspeakable

just fyi...there are a couple other posts in the works right now, still in draft form (one is about straining / finding my voice, one is about anger). they'll still be posted in chronological order, based on when i started them, so there may be two more recently posted pieces below this one.

i went to smith's sexual violence speakout last night, the cap of their Sexual Abuse Awareness Week.
it was small, not incredibly well-attended, but it was still a great event.

almost everyone who was there got up and spoke. it was beautiful to see people giving voice to the places they hadn't expected to be able to speak from.
as happens most years, though, there was one woman who especially struck a chord in my heart.

i am totally in awe.
and in shock.
my mind? mostly blown.

a very young (but very old) first-year got up to speak last night. this, in itself, isn't astonishing - there are a ton of first-years who are victims/survivors, just as there are a ton of sophomores, juniors, seniors, and alumnae who are victims/survivors. her age didn't surprise me. the fact that almost every person there had something to say also didn't surprise me.
what astonished me was what she spoke. what she gave voice to.

speakouts are for talking, for telling your truth. that's the point.
there are certain truths that are spoken, certain ways of telling your story, certain "rules" of speaking that are generally followed. most people don't deviate from that, despite its limitations and shaming capacities. i, personally, have never seen anyone really deviate from that prescriptive speech. at a speakout, you do some or all of the following things: you tell of your victimization, with or without details. you demonize and vilify your abuser. you express anger or grief -- but only toward those outside of yourself. usually (but not always), you end with something along the lines of "but now, i'm empowered, i'm keeping myself safer, i'm standing up to him/her/them, i'm doing advocacy for other victims."
this is all well and good, and these are all important words to be spoken, but they do tend to (quite effectively) cover over all of the many more complicated realities.

this first-year, though, told something else. about her older brother. (this, itself, isn't so common at speakouts. just as in every other dialogue about sexual violence, sibling abuse is usually unspoken or very quietly spoken at these events.)

but she didn't only vilify and demonize him (although she did acknowledge how many boundaries he crossed). she also spoke of the love she felt for him. and the anger, too. she talked about how he coerced her -- she was excited to receive his attention, and so she went along with it.
she actually spoke that part.
out loud.
at a public speakout.
she spoke that truth. (that truth that's almost always unspoken, but is so fucking common for so fucking many of us.)

she talked about silence, too, but not in the usual way (that is, of the rape culture silencing all victims in general). she spoke to the silence within and of the survivor movement with regards to sibling abuse. she spoke to that, to the shortcomings of this survivor movement that we're supposed to be a part of, to the shortcomings that are so, so rarely named.

she spoke. she spoke all of these things. (seemingly) unafraid.
and it blew my mind.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


i haven't had much time to write in this past week. or, i have, but i've been reluctant to delve too deeply into any thoughts, because this week, i'm a little afraid of where those thoughts would go.

it's sexual abuse awareness week at smith. it took over my life and swallowed me up last year. and to a lesser degree the year before.
i've had a wonderful, fantastic couple of weeks. there was that wonderful, fantastic, inspiring CLPP conference. i wrote a check for the awesome, fabulous new apartment (house, really) that we move into in may. i've been in charge of the cafe while the boss is on vaca this week, and it's gone so well. i'm reconnecting with a lot of women, sisters of mine, who i'd lost touch with, some from as far back as high school.
it's been great.
but this week brings with it a lot of reflection. on the things that haven't been so great.

and also, given that it's SAAW, the clothesline project is up at smith. so it's brought a lot of reflection on not only the very personal difficult things, but also reflection on what it means to break silences, what it means to speak, when and where it's ok to speak. (there's a whole lot of controversy around and resistance to the clothesline at smith. long, long story.)

on top of all of that, i'm still totally unsettled on what my idea of "home" is.

funny how this process of re-definition / re-processing never seems to actually end.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

in which jessica hoffmann blows my mind.

in such a good way.

An Open Letter to White Feminists.

this is exactly what we've been talking about all weekend at this CLPP conference.
this is also exactly what i'm afraid will never stick in the minds of white feminists, the mostly white, mostly student activist attendees of this conference.

but here's hoping.

and here's hoping that Jessica Hoffmann's open letter reaches someone who needs it.
i can't imagine how it could not.
it's one of the best, most incisive, insightful, concise critiques of white feminism i've read since the last INCITE! anthology i held in my hands.

read it read it read it.

Friday, April 04, 2008

clpp conference: healing, arts, & activism.

quick recap from the first day of the super-awesome, super-amazing, super-inspiring CLPP Reproductive Justice Conference, here in western MA at Hampshire College:

there was one workshop session today. i chose the Arts & Activism one. it was fucking incredible.

Cara Page, Tanya Karakashian, and Olga Candelario were the speakers.
(Tanya & Olga are both local, Cara lives in Atlanta.)

they were all wonderful, of course.

but i was especially blown away by Cara Page.
she's the national director of CWPE (Committee on Women, Population, & the Environment), which is sweet. what was totally incredible, though, was hearing her talk about this new project she's doing.

my renewed purpose in this social justice thing is to bring healing into the movement, make it part of this struggle toward social change. to help people understand how crucial it is to heal, and how self-defeating all of this unhealthy energy around, and unrealistic expectations of, organizing is killing our organizers. it's burning out our activists, and it's making them jaded and cynical instead of inspired and hopeful.

cara's new project?
has to do with exactly that. well, that, plus art. which is a totally logical addition, since the following equations are absolutely true:
healing=an art.

she's calling it Deepening the Dialogue, and she's interviewing healers who are also organizers. i talked to her a bit afterwards, and i'm going to be emailing her soon, i think. but she was saying exactly what i'd been thinking about the state of our movement. how none of us take care of ourselves, let alone take care of others. how crucial this healing aspect is, so that our movement can be sustainable. and how art - whatever form of art it is that heals and moves you - is a perfect avenue to integrate this kind of healing into activism.

of course, i didn't think that i was the only one who had ever had a thought regarding the traumatized, wounded status of a large portion of our movement. but it's not something that's talked about at the high, mainstream level. and so, to meet someone who's invested in it, invested in documenting it, invested in making it more a part of our movement?
it was mind-blowing.
(i hope to have my mind blown many more times this weekend. i think it will be.)

i wrote about how broken my heart was yesterday.
and it's still broken. that much doesn't go away.
but now, it's also full. and swelling with inspiration and community.