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.