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.

IUD’s, anthony comstock and bleeding huts

i spent several hours the other day with the fully fabulous caroline, hanging out in the kids playhouse behind morning star, stretching out our achey, menstruating bodies.  caroline pointed out that we were in our very own bleeding hut.  and we rose to the occasion, talking about: sex, lovers, future dreaming, girlfriends and the absurdity of the crusade against reproductive rights and a woman’s control over her own body.  we marveled at how we had survived through our own socialization that women should fear and be ashamed of their sexuality, that we should abdicate control of our bodies to men who  cannot know them the way we do.

it reminded me of the marge piercy book i was reading, sex wars–a historical fiction piece narrated in turn by elizabeth cady stanton the famous suffragette, victoria woodhull the first female stockbroker and outspoken advocate of free love and healthy sexuality, a young immigrant woman who makes quality condoms out of her home to support her family, and anthony comstock the self appointed “right hand of God.”  it is a cast of inspiring female characters who overcome all of this same socialization, who give a big fuck you to society in their pursuit to reclaim their sexuality, their right to control their bodies and to write their own story.  all balanced by the male crusader for morality, anthony comstock, who ruins many lives in his pursuit of “evil.”

yesterday i drove myself to planned parenthood to have my new paraguard inserted, the copper IUD.  i’ve been trying to get it for months and going through the application process for a free one.  so when i got the call the other day, i was stoked.  as i turned into the driveway at planned parenthood i saw what i had never seen there before, a lone protester, a woman holding a depiction of some sort of religious figure.  maybe the mother mary.  as i drove past her i felt fury well up inside me.  just the day before caroline and i had been talking about the voice of choice campaign.  the idea is that people call those protesters who call and harass abortion doctors, etc., speak calmly and respectfully and ask them to stop harassing others.  and in that moment i knew i couldn’t do it; i couldn’t be calm.  i pulled into a parking space and like a peacock, confident and proud of entering this space that that woman and many others hated, i sashayed into the offices hoping she saw my small act of defiance.

as i waited in the lobby beforehand i read more of my book, feeling as if we’d made such little progress in this bitter battle around a woman’s choice and her right to control her body.  thinking that anthony comstock had never died, that he lived on in myriad form.  and i was happy to be taking control of my body.  shivering with power and the clarity that i was doing for myself exactly what i wanted to, i waited for the procedure to begin.  all to the sound of car horns, presumably encouraging on the lone protester outside.

then my nurse/midwife, the woman who would insert the paraguard, came into the room and i was delighted.  she was flipping through my paperwork and it was with a bit of relish that i corrected the intake nurse’s mistake, explaining that i had had sex just the night before and not three nights before as my chart indicated.  she asked me how i was feeling and i said excited.  she asked me again and i said a little nervous.  she knew better than i did what to expect.

it was awesome, and then it was a bit painful.  ok, it was crazy painful for a little bit.  but that’s because the pathway between my cervix and my uterus is a little unusual.  once the midwife figured it all out it took no time at all.  it’s true, my body went into a bit of shock and it took me awhile to get up off the examination table, and then off the floor.  when i got to my feet i slowly walked to where i would pay for the procedure.  i put my debit card on the counter and sat down in a nearby chair.  the woman who processed my payment encouraged me to rest if i needed to before leaving and i reassured her that i was planning to.

i sat in the lobby once again, reading a sex wars chapter about anthony comstock viciously pursuing a well known and highly skilled abortionist.  the chapter follows the arch of his pursuit and her eventual suicide before being sentenced in a court of law.  and i thought of all those people who protest outside of planned parenthood, of all the people that harass abortion doctors.  and i was furious again.

finally i went home and spent several hours laying in my empty house, not able to do much through the pain.  eventually one of my partners picked me up and took care of me through the night.  this morning i woke and felt mostly better; the more painful cramping had subsided and i was back to full excitement about the choice i’d made.  this morning as i was explaining the experience to a male friend, he told me to enjoy my new toy.  i told him with a mischievous smile that i absolutely would.

it feels incredible to be a sexually liberated woman making educated choices for my body.  i still have plenty of learning and growing to do in this area, for sure, but i’ve come a long way.  and i want that desperately for all of the women around me.  now i’m going to feed my body some tea in appreciation of its amazing capacity to heal and accomodate.  ps. i highly recommend sex wars!

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.

over exposed

i am used to being seen: being pointed at, whispered about, openly scorned and a source of exaggerated disgust.  but the sheer density of those experiences as i’ve been visiting in south carolina has been overwhelming.  there have been many moments when i’ve felt so close to tears, like i just want to hide from all those pointed looks and unforgiving stares.  then yesterday, after about a day of reprieve, i was again sitting around feeling bitter and falling out of composure.  reminding myself that i chose this physical presentation, that i knew what i was getting into, that at least i have the option of altering this physical piece that makes me a target of hate.  my skin is pretty tough, but clearly not tough enough.  i let my absurd self-blaming thoughts swirl around me, salting my wounds, in the hyper material, hyper artificial world at the mouth of a target, surrounded by other big box consumerist spots.  alternately hiding behind my half a head of hair and curiously watching the people that pass in and out of the store, i find that the pain is either made worse or eased depending on the brief interactions.

then as i’m feeling a little lower in this volatile dance, i notice a woman leaving with her daughter and son.  the son is holding onto a bouncy blue ball and the little girl, dressed in a glittery pink dress is clutching an identical pink ball to her chest.  her mom is saying something about going to another store when me and the little girl catch each others eye and share a smile between us that lingers briefly.  and she is not looking at me with eyes that shine with scorn, like so many of the other people who have looked at me lately.  no, instead she is simply taking me in, trusting my smile and i hope, nearly beg her with my eyes, to take away this image, squirrel it away and use it as a thing that will absorb some of the attacks against her body she’s already fighting off.  i want her to carry this image of a girl in a pink romper, with hairy legs and armpits and chin, with half a shaved head and a mischievous errant curl as another possibility of what girls can look like.  it seems she will, but maybe i hope it too much to see anything else.  then as quickly as she came, she’s gone.  and again i feel tears hot beneath my eyes, but this time the sensation accompanying them is relief.  for a moment in this mean world i am reminded of part of why i weather the frequent judgments and mean words whispered loud enough for me to hear.  yes, part of it is a real love for my body, a real desire to celebrate every last piece of it in spite of everything else i’m taught.  but it is also to offer little girls another possibility of what a girl can look like.

it makes me want to get back into the grrrrrrrls studies guide.  it makes me want to scream and curl into a ball and hide.  and i know i must offer myself both of these acts of self love, to nurse the wounds and coax myself out of this dark place i’m currently inhabiting, and then to keep fighting.  and to keep fighting in a way that brings in the truth in the analysis from my self blaming thoughts of earlier–that acknowledges the even heavier shaming done to bodies of women of color and how i am choosing to wield my body as a weapon against beauty standards.  but first to remind myself how much i love my body.  because really, i do love it.

back home in the land of burning clay

i’ve been traveling on a slow moving southbound train most of the day–slow moving by mandate of the CSX heat advisory: instead of traveling at 79 mph we’re stuck at 59 mph. and it feels appropriate.  no one rushes in the south, not really.  its too hot, you see.

traveling south again always fills me with a wild set of ambivalent feelings.  there is nostalgia and romanticization that cloud my judgment, but there is also bittersweet and upset.  there’s a lot i love about the south and a lot i cannot stand.  it’s a region of warmth and beauty and ill concealed demons.  all of the forms of oppression that hide insidiously in the shadows in other regions are on full display in this home of the confederacy.  in this land of states rights.  and i know the south is not unique in this, but all the weight of history–both public and private history–presses upon me as i race and race, homeward bound.

just yesterday i responded to an email, asking me to recall the summer i lived and worked in jenkinsville, sc.  and now as i get ready to step onto familiar ground and breathe in air heavy with magnolia and the smell of scorching earth, my stomach ties in knots at the memory of that summer.  each small town we pass through is bigger than jenkinsville, sc.  jenkinsville is a collection of houses and churches along a few miles stretch of two lane highway.  each small town has its own story, its own unique personality, but they all whisper similar truths.  you just cant always hear them, or more likely youre not paying attention.  i went to jenkinsville to hear those truths and stories and that summer has had a powerful effect on how i move in this world today.

i went to jenkinsville to run a listening project, to tease out the community’s relationship with its nuclear power station, VC Summer.  i was not invited there, i didn’t know anyone; i went alone and lived in a small upstairs apartment in the house of a woman riddled by loneliness.  i stepped into a community that i was not from and could not identify with: 96% black, high poverty rates, low high school graduation rates.  when i started knocking on doors warning folks i would be coming around with others to talk to them some, they assumed i was from the very utility i was actively working against.  but i was white and living in jenkinsville and so it made sense to assume i was from the plant.  i was suspect.

i met the locals largely through the senior citizens group at one of the churches.  they let me stay, even though i was too young to be there and they let me play bingo with them, even though i couldnt juggle nearly as many cards as they could.  they teased me in the same breath that they cooed and tutted at me about riding my bike on the small two lane highway between the church and my small home.  they didnt know that many of those days i biked home furiously to fume and color a map of the county mindlessly in front of a box fan.  each day that i got to know the people there the more furious i felt at the utility who was ruining their lives.  the nuclear power industry likes to claim its a clean and healthy energy source, but there is something known as bioaccumulation.  and in a community that lived off of house gardens, fishing in the lake that cooled the nuclear reactor and hunting off of the land, the people of jenkinsville are daily consuming high doses of radiation and the community is full of sickness to prove it.  at one house an old woman who’d lived in the community her whole life pointed to each house on her street giving me the names and ages of the people in each who had died or were living with different cancers.

listening project are unusual and powerful tools and i wish they were being used more.  the idea is that you create a survey of questions which culminate in questions about individuals’ relationships to whatever topic is of interest.  in jenkinsville it was the nuclear power plant.  folks canvas in teams of two: one acting as the empathetic listener who is paying attention to the emotional content of the interviews and asking the questions, judging when to probe and when to move on; and an intellectual listener who is taking notes, trying to capture accurately the content of the interview.  you dont record anything so as to protect anonymity.  often the topics are touchy and sometimes dangerous to challenge.  and the power is in genuinely listening and finally being heard.  by focusing on the voice you remind it of its own strength.

but traditionally you are invited into a community, or you are part of whatever community you’re working in.  i knew i wanted to be working in opposition to the expansion of VC Summer and i knew no movement of resistance would be powerful without the directly impacted community informing the strategy.  but i didnt think about what i was committing to and what archetypal narrative i was stepping into.  i was well meaning, privileged and enthusiastic.  a historically dangerous combination.

i did not consider how lacking any community connection initially would weaken the power of what we were able to do with what we heard, about the possibility of being told–as a paid activist at the time–that this was no longer a priority by my non profit bosses.  i didnt think of becoming just another well meaning white person who would let down a community struggling to challenge forces that could make them pay for their disobedience, while i walked back into my other life.

it wasnt quite like that but it wasnt too far from that either.  in traveling back to this place i travel the roads i did as a young, green climate activist kid.  whenever i think of jenkinsville my whole body aches to go back: to repent maybe, to actually dig in in a way that feels honest, to reconnect to a community that opened itself to me.  and i am still so unsure.

i havent posted anything of my own in a few days, but this is brilliant and explains a lot of where i’m at these days. thanks donna for re-posting!

FeministPlus

[I don’t think this post needs any warnings, but let me know if I’ve missed something.]

Having seen some more conversations around ally behaviour, and done some more ally-ing and been allied-to some more, I’ve had a few more thoughts on how to navigate this area.  I’ve realised that my original thoughts missed and crucial dimension of what it means to act as an ally:

Power

Power is one of the pervading dynamics that we’re grappling with when we do anti-oppression work. We’re analysing which groups have power over other groups in society, and trying to reveal and counteract this. Power also plays out within all smaller groups, and this is deeply connected to the wider power politics. So a group that is fighting for their liberation is struggling against groups that hold societal power over them, and this will probably involve fighting against individuals or groups who wield that…

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a summer practice

my life seems to be cycling with the seasons and i am ready for summer: bright, overexposed, extroverted summer.  about a week ago i made a commitment to myself that i would start documenting those juicy, vibrant, delicious moments that are so abundant in summer so i can savor them later.  so i bought a journal just for these moments, because my best chance at recreating the texture of each sensual experience is with my words.  and i love it.  i write in it every day and in the past six days have captured 12 different memories from the smallest moment to longer experiences.

and it’s proven to be a practice that feeds itself.  as soon as i started capturing these moments, i now hold it in my consciousness to pay attention to everything around me more carefully.  to follow all of the sensual experiences in the smallest of moments.  to pay attention to the juxtaposition of colors around me, the things i’m hearing, the touch of the sun on my skin, the touch of a lovers lips, the hidden planes under shirts, the feel of the darkness, the smell of the heat.  everything is more magical when you are really paying attention.

for example, on saturday i went to see snow white and the huntsman.  i was disappointed overall with the old messages about beauty being the seat of a womans power and the lack of more complex female characters outside of the queen and snow white.  but as i was sitting there waiting, i tuned in.  we had made it through the trailers, through the ads and then came that short pause between adverts and the movie you came to see.  the theater goes darker than it will be at any other point and there is a short breath, pregnant with everyone’s enthusiasm.  the air is heavy with muted noises: the sound of people talking fast and quiet words, the sound of people eating popcorn, the scratch of plastic on plastic as straws slip through lids.  it has the same ambient nature as crickets.  and then the screen lights up, the movie starts and all of those noises are still there but everything has changed.  the moment is fleeting, but rich.  i encourage you to pay attention the next time it happens to you.  pay attention to how giddy it makes you feel.

or after the movie.  i was slipping into the beginnings of a pouty moment.  we had ridden into town in the back of the truck share.  everyone had piled out of the car, kassia was the last person still out there with me and asked if i wanted to talk or if i just wanted a minute.  i just wanted a minute.  i sat perched delicately on the corner of the truck, absorbing sunlight through my black, sparkling cardigan.  paying attention to the blue and white stripes crawling across my dress and the layer of ripped gray tights revealing the shape of my thighs.  i hid behind the curling locks i still have on one side of my head, my face turned down to the privacy of the pavement.  alternating my gaze between the gold sparkles in my rich brown hair and the mesh of sun and shadow speckled pavement.  just taking in a moment by myself and enjoying the intimacy of the sunshine.

i highly recommend this practice.  it’s been an absolutely magical experience.  and it really does make me experience every moment more vividly.  every sense is alive and aware of what is happening around me.  its actually quite intoxicating!

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