small victories

i don’t ever really know what sinks in when i talk to my kids about racism. about sexism. about ableism, heterosexism, cis privilege, imperialism, genocide, etc. i’m just winging it. trying to teach them to recognize their privilege. to see white supremacy, the patriarchy, police officers and capitalism for what they are. me and their daddy try to contextualize it so it intersects with their lived experiences. but who knows. this parenting thing is like making it all up when the script is supposed to be in front of you.

and i’m even more dubious when i talk to my 8 y/o. sure, he grasps more, but he’s not as attentive or empathetic as his little sister. he’s bright. but can still be pretty self centered. i dont know what lessons about the struggles of others really make an impression. which made the other night at bedtime especially thrilling. in an enraging kind of way.

elijah and i were snuggling in his top bunk. it was dark and we were just cuddling quietly. sometimes we talk, sometimes we share stories, but that night it seemed like we were just going to lay there quietly while he fell asleep.

after a few minutes of cuddles e finally broke the silence, startling me a bit. he started with the bold (but totally unshocking) statement that they’d read a racist book in class that day. i was intrigued, curious to see how he’d interpreted our informal lessons. the book is called “betcha” and is a tool for teaching rounding and estimation. elijah was angry because the whole book centers around two boys: one white, one black. and apparently throughout the book the white boy consistently, diligently does his estimation and rounding, thus getting every problem right. while the black boy just sort of guesses: sometimes getting it right but more often getting it wrong. ugh, right? but oh, so run of the mill.

we’ve talked about racism as it intersects with academics, the way teachers will differentially treat white students and students of color. especially black students. about tracking and school suspensions and all other manner of white supremacy in the classroom. and here it was glaring my kid in the face and he saw it for what it was. it’s a little thing, i get that. and he didn’t harass his teacher for reading it–which feels like step two in teaching your white kids to recognize racism. i can’t wait for step two, y’all.

so i’m just going to sit here and appreciate my little one and do a tiny, tiny shimmy of exaltation. and then get back to the work of raising white kids to see the world around them critically and resist the crazy bullshit at every turn.

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being the body

i love my body.  love it.  its softness, its solidness, its roundness.  the way the muscles pull and move under my skin.  the way i feel as i walk through the world with all the contained power and potential that is my body.  just this morning misty read us aloud an eduardo galleano quote that goes, “the church says: the body is a sin. science says: the body is a machine.  advertising says: the body is a business.  the body says: i am a fiesta.”  all day i’ve been affirming that my body is a fiesta.  and not just any fiesta, it is the kind of fiesta you want to be invited to.  and i want to be worshipping, nurturing and celebrating my body.  i want to be taking care of it.  but one day i will also want to risk it.

because my body is also political.  historically my body has been a protected body.  it is white, female, heteronormative (mostly).  it is the kind of body cops ache to protect; it is the kind of body they were made to protect.  men have been said to go to war for my body.  i am the antithesis of the brown male body, and still a far cry from the brown female body, the non gender conforming body.  those bodies have to be violently suppressed.  i am meant to fear those bodies, distance them from myself, remain pure and worthy of the protection i am given.  i am a body deified.  our culture sets the standard for beauty by my body.  i have all the power and privilege of my white female body.  and one day i will use that when i am ready.

last night i was sitting around talking with some friends.  talking about the sorts of community organizing i want to be doing in charlottesville, about the kind of work i want to be committing myself to.  and it’s clear to me that one day, in my future, i will be organizing things that are much too threatening to the systems and structures we live in and under.  because i want everything about my life to threaten and undermine the way we’re taught we have to live.  i want to be breaking this shit down and creating pathways to different worlds.  i want us to get back to the joy of living and let go of this struggle for survival that is capitalist culture.

and when what i’m doing is too much, when it gets to the point that the cops or whoever need to confront me and the other people i’m working with, i want my body to be in the middle.  i want it to be the first body that’s attacked.  because for centuries worth of history, all manner of bodies have been under attack, have been brutalized and terrorized by the police and others.  but not mine.  and i know in my gut, that part of my body that knows things before every other part, that i want to be in the way.  i want to be the body they have to get through first.

veronica talked some with me about the difference between being the voice and being the body.  how they both have their strengths and how you can really only be one or the other.  because being the body requires you to give up access to the voice.  because being the body is a different way of communicating and engaging altogether.

for now i’m happy to be a voice.  i like using my voice.  but i know that i am only being the voice now so that one day i can be the body.  and that knowledge sits heavy in my gut for now, hovers a bit around my heart, making it flutter from time to time and is beginning to permeate my whole self.  i feel grounded in it.  not particularly excited, but almost ready.

no justice, no peace

i haven’t written much lately, not for lack of content, but for lack of time to sit and tell my stories.  or maybe for lack of something else.  and this is a piece i’ve been musing on for many months as i grow more honest with myself.  the first time this common rallying cry caught my attention and started to unsettle me was at the march for trayvon martin here in charlottesville some many months ago.  i simultaneously love and hate this chant.  hate is a strong word, maybe more accurately the words both thrill and frustrate me.  i started to gripe about it then.  and i get that most people are working to figure out what they’re willing to do to try to change this fucked up world and most people will not be where i’m at, but it seems fair that if you’re not actually willing to constantly disrupt the peace, you shouldn’t shout this chant.  because–unless youre one of these racist ghouls that thinks his death was his justice–trayvon martin and his family haven’t seen any sort of justice since he was murdered by george zimmerman.  but we arent in the streets.  we aren’t making it impossible for the george zimmermans of the world to kill the trayvon martins; we aren’t threatening the power structures that exist in such a way that they must be held accountable to us.  well at least not enough of us are.

the definition of justice seems important too.  we’ve been taught to seek justice through legal means, the proper channels for our frustration are paved with enough paperwork to bludgeon an elephant with.  and all along the way we’re convinced to relinquish our freedom and self determination.  will it be enough if george zimmerman is tried and found guilty of trayvon martins death?  can we claim justice for trayvon if more and more brown and black men and women are still being killed by racist cops and vigilantes alike?  i tend to believe that justice for trayvon martin is much bigger than a life sentence in prison.  i think it looks more like a total dismantling of the criminal injustice system in this country, a removal of armed cops from poor communities of color, and maybe a complete removal of cops altogether.  i think it looks like a total destruction of the culture that trains us to view brown and black skin as something suspect, that teaches young men and women of color that they can only be so many things in our culture, most of which are “criminal.”  and if that sounds like the kind of justice we want to be seeking, what do we have to do threaten the peace enough to kick start this change?

out in anaheim they are not letting the deaths of their young men go unquestioned, for days they’ve been marching and making it clear to the police that they are not welcome in their community.  i want this to be happening in more places, i want to be creating police free zones.  i want to be doing more to fight back against the normalcy of killing young people of color.  i want to do more than chant.

there was also, recently, a hunger strike at red onion state prison–a super max prison in southwest virginia–where inmates tell a terrifying tale of inhumane treatment and widespread physical and psychological abuse.  prisoners made a list of demands that seem pretty reasonable and outsiders were offered ways to take action.  as i was reading through the updates and stories of prisoners, again this common chant started vibrating through my spine, shaking my body.  and i was distraught by the limited possibilities offered to outsiders who wanted to “take action” and stand in solidarity.  its very unclear what continues to happen at ROSP.  officials said the hunger strike was over long before inmates said it was, officials made no mention of the intimidation tactics and cruel punishment meted out to strikers.  and theres been silence for nearly two months.  it seems pretty clear that nothing resembling justice happened at ROSP and again the question of what justice looks like is curious.  is it a regime change that brings little difference to the daily lives of prisoners?  i’d rather be breaking the prison industrial complex.  i in no way believe that imprisonment does anything to address “criminality,” fuck i dont really believe in “criminality.”  i think our culture creates criminals and creates the real people destroying lives as heroes of capitalism and despotism.  i dont want to sit by and make phone calls as men are tortured and left to die slowly in dark spaces.  i want to do more.

i am making this chant my mantra and my challenge.  i’m tired of playing along at being powerless and i am eager to find others interested in taking this chant at face value.  and i absolutely understand that complementary to destroying the structures and systems i oppose i have to be creating and building new containers, new ways to support, care for and build community with each other.  i am excited about doing both.

sex ed

i recently created an okcupid account, largely to learn more about a boy a good friend has started seeing.  but then i got sucked in and found myself embellishing my profile.  and while i struggled with some self messaging stuff, mostly i’ve been able to enjoy the exploration of it all.  and yesterday i got a most unusual and refreshing message.

it was written by a young man who claims to be questioning his faith and just beginning to explore his sexuality.  he makes it clear that he does not want any sort of emotionally connected relationship right now, but is seeking a sexual guide and teacher.  now i am not sure that i am really a suitable fit for him, i feel young in my own sexual evolution, but i am definitely intrigued.  and i have to admit i love the request: both in a self flattered kind of way and in a mad respect and appreciation kind of way.  in a world where men are taught to be sexually dominant, i have super love for a man who is vulnerable enough to admit he doesnt know everything.

it reminds me of an old comment thread about  creating a society of priestesses who teach young men about sexuality.  the current cultural programming around heteronormative sex is pretty fucked up and unhealthy.  my story is certainly unique but i do not think by any means an outlier.  i grew up curious about my sexuality.  in high school i explored some sexual freedom but still found my boyfriends of that time frame self centered in their sexual attention.  in fact my first real sexual experience involved me performing oral sex on a boy i liked, it happened multiple times without any thought on his part–or mine even–of reciprocation.  the sexual story is still strong: sex is for the pleasure of boys and girls are there to serve the pursuit of that pleasure.  yuck.

then i backed away from my sexuality through the first part of college, feeling unsafe with male sexuality.  i held onto my virginity, in that limited vaginal penetration sense, and waited until i felt safe and trusted my partner to honor my body and my pleasure too.  years passed and i thought i had found someone i could trust, i was working up the courage to be vulnerable with him.  and before i could, i was raped by another man.  and i spiraled again, feeling like no matter how much older my partners and i got, there was no escaping the reality that sex was something that would happen to me.  that was something like three years ago now, and i am healing, but it is a tricky process made harder by my well trained inability to ask for what i want, my fear of stating boundaries, my slowly shedding mistrust of male sexuality.

and as i think about how enthusiastically sexual i am now, and how hard that journey has been, how violent and violated, i think of my younger sisters, of the girls in my life.  and i know i dont want any of them to have experiences like mine.  i dont want any of them to feel like the tool of someone else’s pleasure; i dont want them to have their boundaries crossed by boys who may or may not realize what theyre doing; i dont want them to be afraid to state boundaries or ask for what they want.  in fact, imagining any of them in that position makes me want to punch these future, unknown boys.  makes me want to scream and smash things.  makes me want to cry bitterly.

so how do we change the sexual story?  i think boys seeking sexual guides is a brilliant first step.  the idea of a young man really seeking sexual wisdom from a woman makes me effusively happy.  we need to teach our boys that sex is as much about their partners pleasure as it is their own, we need to introduce them to the secrets of a woman’s body so they can be attentive lovers.  but we also need to teach girls that their worth is not determined by their ability to please and attract a man, to keep a man.  we need to teach her that her sexuality is a wonderful, healthy thing, a thing to be celebrated.  that she deserves to feel safe and celebrated by her partners.  that asking for what you want and saying no when you want to say no are both important and acceptable.  we cannot let women continue to fear the repercussions of stating their own needs and boundaries.

so i may have to defer the request made on okcupid, because i dont yet feel capable of teaching others, but i will certainly consider the role of sexual educator in the future.  and relish it as a future possibility.  and until then i will work with the girls in my life to deconstruct these bullshit stories about our sexuality and our roles as pleasers.  what will you do?

reclaiming beauty

for most of my remembered life, the concept of beauty has been used against me, as a tool of violence so thoroughly internalized that it has been hard to unroot.  either i am considered beautiful and made to understand that if i deviate from whatever physical presentation i am lauded for, then i will lose my power and access to love.  or i am considered ugly and i have to do anything within my means to achieve the beauty standard; in fact that should be my top priority.  neither option is healthy and both sides of the beauty coin ruin my self esteem and self determination.

pax and i have been fighting a lot about the concept of beauty lately, he’s got a dueling blog up here.  he maintains his right to having his own personal relationship to beauty, in which he has physical preferences that translate into an experience of beauty.  of course theres a shadow side to his personal relationship, because beauty requires a counterpart.  yes, he admits, there are things he finds unattractive.  i hate this.  i hate this so much.

but there are two layers to it for me: the first is how he uses his power in connection with his concept of beauty.  i have called him out for loudly broadcasting his preference for long hair on women and it’s impact on the girls and women in his life who want to maintain his affection and attention.  in fact it came out in the course of girls studies that his messaging about long hair had negatively impacted one of the girls in the class.  this is where i most hate it.  but the second layer is how his personal relationship with beauty impacts the subtler messages he sends into the world, how he chooses to engage with individuals based on the attraction factor.  and how that perpetuates the beauty myth just as insidiously.

i almost always feel beautiful.  but i have shifted my definition of beauty and want to work on reclaiming it.  for me beauty is defined in our attention to our self care, our confidence and self esteem, our willingness to face our fears and our bullshit, to be uncomfortable, the ways we engage with the people in our life, how easily we smile, how quickly we cry, the joy we see around us and the joy we bring into the world.  it is rare that i look at someone and dont see some sort of beauty.  you have to be more invested, you actually have to get to know someone, but its almost always there.

and that is really what i notice as beauty, but i also recognize that women have a lot of healing that needs to be done to recognize the beauty of our own bodies.  and all of our bodies are beautiful:  to take in the curves, the lines, to sit naked in front of a mirror and giggle at how lovely our bodies really are.  and i want to know how to do that in a way that doesnt reinforce everything we’ve already built up around the socially prescribed concept of “beauty.”  i’ve been thinking it should be woman to woman messaging: when you see a woman out on the street and she smiles and you notice, stop and tell her how radiant she looks.  but even moreso with our friends, appreciate them for all of their complicated woman selves: for their strength and bravery, for their compassion and generosity, for their confidence and honesty.  for whatever it is about them that draws you to them.

women spend so much time being seen as one dimensional.  there is only one time when i feel ugly, when i despise my body, and thats when i am being seen solely based on my appearance.  i remember walking out on a beautiful morning, enjoying the movement of my body, its strength and agility, the power of my thighs as they carried me.  as i walked further, my experience soured from one of self love and joy to almost feeling nauseated.  in the course of my short walk i was seen by more than 30 men, of them maybe 5 looked at me like i was a fellow human being.  all of the others were merely checking me out, sizing me up and passing some judgment on me based on my appearance.

and thats why i think this has to be a female led reclamation.  it is hard for me to trust a man when he tells me i am beautiful, hard for me to know what they mean by it.  all those boys who want to be our allies can support us by checking their own messaging on beauty and deconstructing their paradigms of what is attractive and what is not.  but i think the power lies in women celebrating women.

also, i wan to recognize that this post does not touch on the way beauty as a form of oppression differentially impacts women of color, women with disabilities, or non hetero normative women.  there is so much more in this discussion, just want to get it started.

thats a good daughter: on gender as an illusion

not ten minutes after i put up a facebook status about preparing to hitch hike my mother was texting me asking me where i was going.  i tried to reassure her in that poor media that i was just headed out to twin oaks and had safely and successfully done the trip many times before.  and then i offered to text her when i was safe at my destination.  she wrote back, “that’s a good daughter,” and i couldnt help but laugh.  i quipped back and told her that “i am a bizarre twist on the good daughter.”  she laughed.  touche.

it has been awhile since i’ve hitched and i was that mix of nervous and excited as i tried to figure out what to wear.  i was afraid that my new hair cut–half the hair got buzzed to a quarter of an inch recently–would render me more gender ambiguous than i usually am and diminish my hitch hiking success.  so i threw on a wild bright pink dress and packed some strappy sandals to change into after i’d biked to my sisters place.  but more and more the act of dressing to my gender is becoming increasingly stressful.  it’s not that i dont love throwing on a dress and embracing everything i love about being a woman, but when i have to present myself as a woman in hyper-scrutinized circumstances like hitch hiking, i remember how absurd the gender binary is.

my gender identity is with some frequency a point of contention with strangers.  yesterday, i was walking to my sisters house and stopped to chat with a little girl on her power ranger.  we talked a little bit and then she abruptly and adamantly told me, multiple times, that i was a man.  because men can wear their hair long and only men have mustaches–which is what she considered the whisker like hair on my chin.  i tried to counter her certainty but quickly realized that i didnt actually want to be defending my definition of gender with the arguments at my disposal and, anyways, she was pretty clearly convinced.

but it reminded me of a conversation my housemate relayed to me.  she works at a local market that i frequent and one day a co-worker who had seen her and i together asked about me.  stumbling through a conversation with awkward questions, he asked if i was a transitioning transgender man.  she reassured him that i was woman bodied and identified and i still grew out my chin hair as a nod to embracing my body, every part of it.  until my housemate told me of his line of questioning, i hadn’t even considered the possibility that i would be confused for being transgender.  i found it amusing and frustrating at the same time.

we are still so stuck in the rigidity of gender stereotypes, gender roles and gender presentation that the only wiggle room we get is an ambiguous understanding of that it means to be transgender.  i have been considering playing with that more.  for awhile i’ve been wanting to do something with this unusual physical appearance i embrace.  the idea would be to pluck the hair from one side of my chin, tape down the opposite breast, and create some costume outfit that was part stereotypically male and part stereotypically female.  it seems like now is the time to do it, while my head reflects that split gender presentation.

and even this doesnt feel like exactly what i want to be doing.  i want to represent the possibility of a spectrum of gender identities and there’s something limited in the split presentation piece.  i would be interested in working with others to play with this.

riot for trayvon martin

i first read the story of trayvon martin on the crunk feminist collective blog, which everyone should be reading.  and then i heard it had made it into the mainstream news.  and then today i heard the 911 calls play on democracy now.  three yells for help, clearly from 17 year old trayvon, then two gunshots, then silence, then other news.

i couldnt hear anything else that was playing for awhile; couldnt follow the other stories at all.  until the sound of lamenting white men came across the radio waves and broke through the wall of horror i’d built up around myself.  73 OWS demonstrators were arrested last night or some night or something and a white male voice was speaking the horrors.  and while it was horrible, something in his sheltered experience of horror made me angrier than anything else i’d heard earlier in the program.  then not much later i heard george clooney speaking about how he’s just asking the sudanese government to stop killing, raping and starving its citizens.  i wanted to laugh in that maniacal way of someone who’s had enough, or really too much.  instead i went spinning again, full of a rage that made me want to punch and break things and scream.

it made me think of all the people who called the tottenham riots senseless.  it made me think of my falling out with occupy charlottesville.  it made me think of this picture i’ve kept on my computer for awhile, calling for riots for oscar grant, another black man killed, simply because he was black.  today, in 2012, in the united states of america a white man who has a record to prove he cant be trusted to act reasonably when on his neighborhood watch duties, is free after killing a 17 year old black boy who had nothing suspicious on him unless you consider skittles and iced tea threatening.  police are using a flimsy ass “self defense” argument to justify their inaction even though an eye witness stated that trayvon was the one calling for help and despite the fact that the 911 dispatcher told george zimmerman NOT to pursue trayvon on his own.  and then the motherfucker did anyways.  but i’m sure he’s innocent, i’m sure he only acted in self defense.

we talk like we live in a world that can be reformed into justice.  we talk like we’ve made leaps and bounds since we were lynching black people in trees in this country.  we talk like we dont have to face issues of racism, classism, sexism, etc. because its divisive.  when will well meaning white folks wake up and realize that our issues arent at the core of what is really wrong in this world?  when will we stop and realize that actually there are people living every day in a war zone they call home.  where their sons and brothers and daughters and mothers are constantly under attack, where they arent safe, where they experience economic violence, police violence, racial violence and all manner of other violences every fucking day.

i am furious tonight.  furious that anyone who comes from a place of privilege has the audacity to tell young men and women that their fierce anger about living in constant fear of being considered “suspicious” because they are not white skinned, and that they could be killed for being “suspicious” is senseless.  furious that even our american version of revolution is lost in the hands of
reform minded white folk who consider addressing our own deep rooted and well internalized oppressions a strategy of division meant to side track any real work from happening.  furious that we are still letting men and women of color die entirely as a result of their skin color.  furious that there is no accessible form of recourse against these gun toting vigilantes.  furious that more people arent furious.

let me add some names to rest alongside trayvon martin and oscar grant.  1) brian fillmore, 2) danroy “dj” henry jr (the cop who killed dj was later given the “cop of the year” award), 3) luis mendonca (beaten into coma WHILE handcuffed), 4) jesus manzo, 5) deaunta farrow (12 years old-shot to death), 6) clarence beard, 7) kwende williams (shot three times, kicked and called a n***** by cops after shot, paralyzed), 8) billey joe johnson, 9) reginald doucet, 10) raymond robair, 11) connell lindsey, 12) bryan jones, 13) danny rodriguez, 14) henry glover, 15) john t williams, 16) carlos la madrid, 17) jermaine williams (tasered to death), 18) sylvester villasana, 19) emmanuel o okutuga, 20) audrecas davis (tasered to death), 21) david arnulfo lopez, 22) decarlos moore.  this is not an exhaustive list.

are you still reading??  are you angry yet??  did you know that someone could be tasered to death??  did you see that a 12 year old had been shot to death??  we cannot reform this world into justice.  we have to destroy whole systems while creating new ones, we have to untangle our own internalized and institutionalized oppressions, we have to stand up and riot.  riot for trayvon, whose 17 year old, scared voice will haunt my dreams tonight.  riot for clarence beard.  riot for danny rodriguez, riot for jermaine williams.  riot for the men and women who havent died yet but will.  because cops have guns and more often than not immunity.  because the whole system is standing behind a “self defense” argument and we dont know who’s going to die next.  rioting because men and women are being killed for being black and brown and their murderers are going free is not senseless.  sitting back and letting this system kill those men and women is more than senseless.  it’s complicity.  it’s violent.

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