Monday, December 16, 2013

Why They Hate Us and Why We Have To Live At The End Of The Story: For May Jawdat and Ryka Aoki

Presented at Glitterati: An Evening of Fierce Femme Sparkling Entertainment
For the 2010 Femme Collective Conference, Saturday August 21, 2010


FemmeCon 2006: Standing in a never ending line of femmes who desperately needed to pee, I watched a beautiful young woman float through the bathroom door and begin checking herself out in the mirror.  The line was very long...millions of femmes in corsets and stockings and NASA inspired under-clothing fueled with the liquid courage required to spend an entire weekend with people who reminded us a little too much of ourselves. The line was infinite and there were only two stalls.  Not a new story.  Because I was bored I watched as the woman in the mirror carefully checked herself for flaws, re-touching her hair, smoothing her dress.  And then, without the slightest provocation she began slapping the shit out of her own face.  Hard!  Over and over again - harder and harder - her own palm and finger prints rendering the precision with which she had applied her blush minutes earlier entirely useless.
She appraised her reflection mercilessly in between smacks as she began talking to the red face staring back at her: You stupid, ugly bitch.  You are so fucking ugly. So fucking ugly -smack/smack/smack - I fucking hate your ugly face, you disgusting bitch.....you fucking make me sick!
The entire bathroom was watching.  Silent.  No one was giggling tipsy or chatting to their friends - the lucky two people occupying the stalls in that moment stopped peeing.  I sucked in my breath and my shoulder briefly touched the shoulder of the curly-haired femme standing next to me.  She wasn’t breathing either. It felt like it went on forever and I wondered if it was going to get worse- I wondered if I should get help but then I realized that running into a club full of drunk gender queers shouting: “Help!  Help!  A woman is hating herself in the bathroom.,” would generate little sympathy.  
Eventually she put her make up back into her purse and left the without ever acknowledging the rest of us.  We started breathing and peeing again. A few of us laughed nervously.  
Earlier that night I had performed to my first large audience since I had moved to San Francisco eight months earlier.  Earlier that night I had performed for strangers,  and new friends and a small group of women who hated me for fucking the wrong femme’s ex in a profound moment of self- destructive Saturn Return madness several years earlier.   That night was transcendent because the punishment I received in my former city for the crime of falling into lust in my mid 20s was near total social isolation.   But San Francisco had seen that one or twice before and decided to embrace the better parts of me anyway.   I had been welcomed back into the fold.  I had come home.
The award winning writer Peggy Munson says:   “The isolation chronically ill people endure amounts to nothing less than socially sanctioned torture,” when she tries to explain what it is like to be a young, female artist slowly watching your own body decay - little pieces of you shedding off here and there all the time - all while the world keeps moving and your friends keep touring and no one wants to hear about the nest you’ve made on  the floor of your  bathroom because you are often too sick and too tired to crawl back to bed.  
The word she uses is : torture.  We cannot waterboard people who fall in love with our exes.  We cannot  force our dying friends back to health  with electric jolts and threats so we shun them.  We cast them out.  It’s fucking brutal- and Biblical - and it works.
In my mid 20s, I was a newly minted femme who fell into the wrong boi’s bed (and here I must pause to offer all of  my femme sisters a substantial  piece of advice which I hope will serve you for the rest of your lives....if the object of your desire invites you into their bed and it is covered in matching Spongebob Squarepants sheets it is ALWAYS the wrong bed to fall into.)  
My first femme mentor is an extraordinary woman.  She is a tornado of brilliance and charm and beauty - every bit as powerful and capable flinging your ass so far out of Kansas you have to decide really quick if you are meant to be a good witch or a bad witch. She taught me the greatest lie she ever learned - the greatest lie every single one of us ever learns.  She showed me who I was and then she taught me about scarcity.  “Here,” she said....”here is what you are  - look at your face in the mirror, do you see how beautiful you are?  Do you see how beautiful and queer you are?”  She taught me to love my shoulders.  She gave me “Stone Butch Blues” to read.  She showed me the first harness I’d ever seen and she held me while I sobbed after my first butch girlfriend broke up with me on Christmas day.  She told me there are not enough butches or boys to love us. She taught me that the only way to be seen sometimes was to make sure we are always well-lit - even if that means burning the people standing closest to us.  
No one ever tells you the person you look up to, the first person who turns your face to the light and gives you a name for all of the questions that have roamed inside of you  for years is really just a person like everyone else.
On May 31st, 2009 my femme friend, the gorgeous May Jawdat sent me an email with a link to a New York Times article saying  Dr. George Tiller had been murdered that morning in his Church in Wichita, Kansas.  Dr.Tiller was one of the three physicians in this country who possessed the technical skills, compassion and bravery to perform second trimester abortions.  Sometimes his clinic in Wichita had thousands of protesters.  His clinic was fire bombed in 1986 and he rebuilt it.  He was shot in the arms while in his car in 1993 and when he healed he went back to work.
Dr. Tiller wore a button almost every day that said: “Trust Women.”   When the clients who came to my abortion clinic were too many weeks pregnant for us to safely help them we sent them to Dr. Tiller.  Dr. Tiller died so that my clients could live.   He was shot in the eye at close range because he trusted women.
May asked me a very reasonable question that day.... “Why do they hate us so much?”  I have thought about it every day since because she deserves an answer. I did not know in August 2006 during my transcendent Femme Con moment that my own body was silently and swiftly decomposing.  Most of this time I have been an uninsured and unemployed American.  When there is no money there is no medicine, there are no tests, there are no treatments to halt the progress of the disease.  I spend 90% of my time alone, in a darkened room waiting for something to change.  And if that was the sum total of my story I would not be here talking to you tonight.
May Jawdat my beautiful, femme friend - my incredible chef/comedian/ all around wonder woman had a job in San Francisco preparing high class organic food for high class people while she and the rest of the kitchen workers burned the fuck out of their hands and arms, and cut and sliced themselves to pieces for $10 an hour.  May knows the name of every person she ever worked in that kitchen with, what country they came from, what family members they left behind.  
May earned $10 an hour working on her beautiful femme feet, with her heart breaking and her body being broken and May would send me $100 for medicine as though it were a roll of quarters.  An entire community of people, many of whom I’ve never met, come together in countless ways and continue to work to save my beautiful, imperfect, ridiculous fucking life.  And the overwhelming majority of those people are femmes.  My point is this....
If you are new to this community.  If you are a young femme and this is your first experience of femmes....even if this is not your first experience of femmes please hear me now when I tell you: Scarcity is NOT your inheritance. Scarcity is not yours to pick up and not yours to carry....Yes, my beautiful community there will be times when your heart is breaking.  Times when you will lose something so precious you think you should die from that pain but you will not, even if you pray for it the pain will not kill you.
I flew across the country in ugly surgical support hose to prevent  blood clots from floating up to my lungs and killing me at 30,000 feet to ask you with all of the humility and love I possess: Please Trust Women.
No one should lose their friends and their community for  falling in love - or taking the wrong person home one night...and if you think otherwise....if you disagree with me can you honestly say you have never loved someone who has not loved before you?  Has every single kiss you’ve savored been the first kiss of the person whose hand cups the back of your head to pull you in closer?  Is it our responsibility to make sure every fling is a brand new fling so as not to engage the wrath of others?
Imagine the Craigslist Ads we’re going to have to start writing! :
Single Femme bottom looking for Butch Top: Please be edgy and smart and have a good sense of humor.  And, please be sure you have never had a crush on/kissed/dated/fucked/played with/fell in love with anyone I know or may know in the future - and if you have please show me how much  you care for me by getting all of our friends to avoid that person and talk shit about them until they no longer feel comfortable going anywhere I may decide to go on a whim at any point in the future.   Must be over 14 years old and not a virgin - in fact you should be extremely sexually knowledgable.  I will also be asking you to sign a waiver on our first date stating you will never in the future do any of the above with anyone I know or the friends of my friends or anyone I don’t yet know but may meet in the future.  Can’t wait to hear from you!  420 ok- Safe Sex Only.”
I know the insane part of that entire hypothetical is femme bottom seeks butch top- but just roll with me for a minute.
Many years ago the great poet, and my friend, Ryka Aoki de la Cruz spoke about the portrayal of transgender people and queers in the media.  She spoke about how afraid they must be of us to constantly turn us into psychopaths or hapless victims  - but either way we always die at the end. We always die at the end.
My Dear May Jawdat: I I think they hate us because we cannot un-stitch the seams of desire from our bodies.  We do so much more than fuck - but we fuck spectacularly well.  And on our very best days we are not ashamed.  We are whole beings - despite how they see us - we are whole- we desire, we chase, we capture and we feast on it....for all that has been denied us in this world they can never take away the secret languages we pull from each other’s bodies.  They hate us for that, May. And after all of these days....sitting in a darkened room listening to my irregularly pumping heart I think sometimes we hate ourselves for it too.  Sometimes, May, we are them. When we utilize our power to take community away from people as a punishment for following their hearts that is us hating ourselves. When we work our asses off to get by and send ridiculously precious gifts to each other so that we might stay alive a little longer that is us loving ourselves.
My dear newest femme in this room tonight - my dear femmes who have come from smaller communities where there are not many of you reflected when you walk down the street I want you to look at me now:  I will be the least hot bitch in the collective - I will be a whole pot of polluted honey in the hive mind if you promise me to remember that there is more than enough love for you here. Scarcity is not your inheritance. Your inheritance is a collection of human beings owning the power of femininity and using it to make all of our lives better.  
As I was leaving the club the night of  Femme Con 2006 I saw the woman from the bathroom standing in the door flirting with a handsome butch - she kept her eyes on the ground -only fluttering up occasionally through her lashes to encourage the butch on.  If you are here tonight dear lady - or wherever you may be - I am so sorry I did not throw my body onto  the grenades of your fists before they had a chance to explode all over your face. I am so sorry I lacked the courage to hold you still enough until you could look into that mirror and see how absolutely stunning you are.  Next time I will be more brave.
Ryka dreams of stories where we live and thrive at the end.....and I like that dream.  If I could I would give each of you a blank notebook with the words: “Once upon a time....” on the very first page. I’d ask you to fill in those books over the next two years with whatever brings you joy or sorrow or intrigue....fill it with your recipes or the first words your children speak, or what you see when you look in the mirror with the intention to cause no harm....I’d ask you to count all of the ways love shows up for you, even when you are not looking.  .I’d ask you to trust women a little more each day between now and then and see how your life changes because of it.
I’d ask you all to bring those books back here for the next Femme Con thinking about May and Ryka and that girl in the mirror - And I’d want all of us to write the last sentence together - a line worthy of us....a line that makes us infinitely bigger than the hate they try to feed us-the hate we sometimes swallow.  I would want us to end that chapter of our lives with   a line we memorize and hold tight to us so that it becomes the very first words that come to mind when we wake up -the very first words  our daughters learn to say out loud:
Having loved as hard as I could possibly love these past two years I cannot help but pass a mirror and smile at the femme staring back at me, and because of that I will not lower my eyes to anyone for any reason ever again.


This Girl is on Fire: Queer Misogyny and the Consumable Queer Femme Body

Note: 

Because I am a poet  it will probably serve me to start with the facts  since I am bound to get lyrical up in here eventually.  I am a white cisgender working class crip queer femme woman.  I have been a writer, performer and activist for twenty years.  I love my community very, very much though every time I critique the tremendous and rampant misogyny and transmisogny embedded within my community I am accused of the opposite.  

 I will not begin to pretend that what I am about to write is true for all femmes or that my experience can really speak for anyone but myself.  But I like to think of the act of writing as similar to getting a plane off the ground.  You pull up and back long enough and suddenly the entire world is within view.  My great hope in crafting this is that other femmes might read it and be encouraged to write their own truths down or dance their own truths out or find one of the many gazillion ways of expression and use it to hold a light to their own lives which I  would like to know more about.  I write because I am ever-weary of femmes being written about by folks who do not live our lives or honor our lives.   I write this because I love my community very, very much and I know for a fact that we can do better.}
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"Nobody told us: The path divides, and divides again, in many directions....How many ways can gender expression multiply - between home and work, at the computer and when you kiss someone, in your dreams and when you walk down the street? No one asked us: What is your dream of who you want to be?"  -Minnie Bruce Pratt


*It's the early 2000s and I am sitting in a darkened audience assembled for a night of performance to cap off a conference for FtM  and masculine identified queer folks.  I'm sitting there at the request of a  femme friend  of mine who had been asked to perform that evening by her partner who is the organizer of the event.   It is no secret in my community that the organizer has a history of beating his femme partners.  He has publicly admitted it, in fact.  I know as I sit there waiting for the show to start that my friend, a classically trained singer,  had wanted to sing that night but she had been told it would be better if she stripped.  As the music starts - My Heart Belongs to Daddy, of course - and she starts to work her tease I can tell that she's high.  Her beautiful dead, dead perfectly made up eyes.  I know that her back has not been  the same ever since he picked her up and threw her against that wall - something for which he apologized to the community.  I recognize her awful, hollow smile as guys all around me start whistling and yelling at her.  She is beautiful and she is taking off her clothes.  Yes, they say, hungry for the sight of her body and oblivious to her pain.   I watch the conference's keynote speaker, Patrick Califia, stand up and walk slowly to the front of the stage where he makes sure everyone can see him staring directly up her skirt  before he throws $1 at her.  Afterward, in the lobby, I watch as people jostle to get up closer to her and touch her without permission.  All the while her perfectly made up eyes were dead. No one cared that she wanted to sing - no one was curious about her voice. No one asks the hot femme what she thinks or feels or dreams of - she is here to serve and arouse.  This is not the first or last time she and I will be on the receiving end of this message.

*It is 2006 and I am living in San Francisco.  Rumors start to fly that photographer Kael T. Block has raped a femme and was beaten up for it by one of her friends.  Block, who photographs some of the most well known trans*men and masculine identified queers in our community, is about to have a show.  The gallery is besieged with calls and they revoke that show from him.  Block is publicly defended by some of the most famous queers in the city.   They say what will become an enduring refrain for well known masculine identified queers who are called out on vicious acts of misogyny and transmisogyny:  You are just jealous.  We are popular.  We are significant.  You are haters and you are trying to tear apart "our" community.  Why can't we support each other? Why are you so hurtful?  So hateful?  It is so much easier to tear something down than to build something and we are the builders.  Why can't we support him and his artwork while we figure out if this charge has any merit?  Block is a French citizen.  He promptly flees the country before legal charges can be brought against him.  In the ensuing months and years it comes to light that he has viciously and sadistically raped and assaulted many femmes on both sides of the Atlantic.  Not long after he flees the country Block makes a "Top 100 Butches" list.   This is not the first or last time the sexual assault of a femme will be deemed far less important than the reputation of her rapist.  I personally know dozens of femmes who have been raped, assaulted and/or abused by butches and FtMs and not one of them feels safe enough to report or even ask "the community" for help and support.  Many of their perpetrators use this fact to continue to torment and stalk them.

*It's February 2011 and I am opening for two well known trans*men who are on tour.  I am a poet.  An essayist.  A performer.  I have been reading and performing in my community since 1999.  I have never been a burlesque dancer.  Not once.  It's winter and the guys I am opening for are wearing jeans, t-shirts, flannels, work boots.  I am wearing a thin satin mermaid skirt and a cloth embroidered corset.  I open for them.  They do not bother to introduce me.  Later I make a joke to one of them that I am probably getting too old to read in bars - that I grow weary of trying to shout out words to audiences who care more about drinking and flirting.  He reaches out and puts his hand on the top hooks my front-hook corset.  He rubs them and says: "Maybe if you undid a few of these people would listen to you more."

I have so many examples of misogyny and femmephobia at my disposal that it is almost difficult to sort through them and figure out which ones might help illuminate the nature of this epidemic in my community.  I've been trying to write this for days and, honestly, it makes me feel like puking.  I know from experience that some femmes will read this and feel appreciative but that challenging dominant misogynistic institutions rarely encourages the people who most benefit from those institutions to divest themselves of any privilege or unfairly acquired power.  One of the more insidious ways that dominance asserts itself is by proclaiming the feelings of the dominant group to be far more important than the physical, emotional and societal well-being of everyone else.   It does not matter that we have lovingly explained, gently asked and downright pleaded for years and years to be listened to or that we have been repeatedly ignored.  What matters is that we respond to inexcusable behavior with anger - and that anger makes people who participate in that behavior feel badly for a little while;  and that is not ok.

It does not matter that femmes are constantly made invisible inside of our communities as punishment for our femininity.  It does not matter that the fact of refusing to publicly acknowledge the existence of femmes to the point where we cannot even be served in dyke bars we have frequented for years without a butch by our side amounts to nothing less than emotionally abusive gaslighting.   It does not matter even when they know we have been here fighting since Stonewall and before.    It does not matter that femmes have been writing about femmephobia and misogyny and transmisogyny for years and years and years - when a new femme asks to see herself reflected in our world she is almost always directed to one of a handful of masculine identified queers who have written marginally-positively to positively about femmes and have been praised and rewarded significantly (both financially and in terms of social status)  in the community for doing so.

So here's the most honest and loving and vulnerable thing I can say at this stage of my journey as a femme:

My Beloved Community,

A. Your lack of commitment to ending femmephobia causes femmes harm.  Even if you are not actively one of the people who say and do horrible things to us your lack of standing up beside us publicly when that happens causes us harm.

B.  Wearing leggings for a day and noticing, for a few hours, the brutal emotional/societal abuse that is the public shunning of femininity by queers toward queers does not actually give you insight into my life.  At best, it only provides insight into how little you have ever had to notice this  in your own life.  http://www.autostraddle.com/fat-booty-butch-wears-leggings-confuses-world-confronts-self-204824/

C. Please stop telling me that I experience "femme privilege" because as a cisgender woman I can use public bathrooms more safely than you.  Femme is a gender and it is most certainly not limited to cisgender women.  Lots and lots of femmes also face danger when they use the rest room.  What I have in those situations is cisgender privilege and I am actively working toward alleviating myself of that privilege.  Femme privilege does not exist.  If it did butches who wore leggings for a few hours would not feel compelled to write whole essays about how hard it was for them.  If it did femmes who were assaulted and abused by their masculine identified partners would have resources for help that were community supported and driven.  If femme privilege existed it would not be my job as a writer to explain to the countless people who ask me to take my clothes off for "community" fund raisers that that is not what I do.  Femme Privilege does not exist.  Period. The following quotations introduce Maura Ryan's essay: "The Femme Movement: Why We're Here, Why We're (So Damn and Beautifully) Queer, and Why You're Gonna Get Used To It" in Visible: a femmethology Vol 2.  Please read and consider them the next time you wish to embark on a treatise about femme privilege.

"There's nothing worse than a femme girl who's basically a straight girl in disguise-one of those girls who wants to settle down, be wifey, be a lazy-ass bottom, and then pretend that she gets some sort of queer credit for wearing red lipstick.  When it comes down to it-hell! I think I just described all femmes."
-A queer stranger's response to hearing about my dissertation topic.

"That's great! Can you figure out a way to get rid of them for good?"
-A queer stranger's reaction to hearing that I am researching femmes in queer communities

"Could you tell me why femmes are such selfish bitches?"
-A genderqueer-identified person who said he was in love with me.

"Femmes are always selling out lesbians."
-A genderqueer-identified friend of mine who dates femmes.


D. Please feel less comfortable talking and writing about femmes in essentialist ways, even when your intent is to flatter us.  When you are tempted to do so please take a beat and read or study the work of any or all of these critical and necessary femmes instead.  Encourage people to go to femmes to learn about what femme is.*: Minnie Bruce Pratt, Dorothy Allison, Amber Hollibaugh, Pratibha Parmar, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha, Tara Hardy, The Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins, Jewelle Gomez, Joan Nestle, Peggy Munson, Alex Holding, Cyree Jarelle Johnson, Krista Smith, Ryka Aoki,  Ulrika Dahl, Courtney Trouble, Julia Serano,  Heather McAllister, Nomy Lamm,  Emi Koyama, Kate Bornstein, Michaela Grey,  Ms. Victoria Cruz, Amanda Piasecki, Sossity Chiricuzio, Tanisha Johnson, Chaia Milstein,  Jac Stringer, Shawna Virago, Evan Emerson, Dr. Carol Queen,  Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Cherry Galette, Jessica Halem,  Annalise Ophelian, Amber Dawn, Alex Cafarelli, Zoe Whittal, Debra Anderson, Cindy Emch,  Hanne Blank, Rosie Lugosi, Jen Cross, Meliza Banales, Dulce Garcia, Gina de Vries, Mia Mingus, Kathleen Delaney-Adams, Maggie Cee, Asha Leong, Kiki DeLovely, Damien Luxe.   These names are but a trickle in the bucket.  This is an infinitely expandable list.

E. Please stop asking me to respond to a world that does not see, value or center my life with vulnerability and love.  I wear armor because my world is not safe.  I use my tongue as a sword because I am a survivor and I have to fight to make my voice heard in every world I walk into.  I fight because I love myself.  I love femmes.   I am protective of young femmes and desperately want a better queer world for them than the one I inherited.  Prioritizing your feelings over the well-being of femmes is not what solidarity looks like.

F. Please stop equating my legitimate anger and frustration in the face of injustice with destroying the community I have devoted my life to.

Many years ago I wrote the following poem.  I tell you with all of the love and vulnerability I possess that I wish it did not withstand the test of time so well.


Stone Sculptor

They walk each other
past the end of the tether they

go out walking after
midnight                  it is a two-step love affair

then dawn comes on,
a sweet persistent cramping
of every muscle they have ever flexed

for one another

They are a dance in black and white
Fred and Ginger with a twist

look at the girl

swaying red nailed stone sculptor
she is a tone poem                call her by her name

call her land and set sail

Her badge of courage read as blood smeared
across lips

before lowered to his ears

she whispers into the granite
of his night

"go on home boy."

She is the house of cards that
mercy built

she is a harder stone
for sure

so hard he cuts his teeth on her
and when she drinks his blood
he is the body

She says:

Boy, if you were your charm
I would take these potato picking baby shelf
hips & turn tornado for you

I am hypnotized by the music of
your scent which I carry on my tongue

Boy,

you damn the serpent who
sees you

as though she lost you paradise by
way of the fruit

we are a two-step love affair
we are a dance

I am no less for the lipstick
I am no less for the lipstick
I am no less

for holding the music
like I hold you

up in the granite of
the nights we tumble through together

and when I arch my back to the work
of you

you are the body you were
born to be

I am a house of cards
impossibly built to
shelter your fickle intentions

Boy,

I may be charmed
and I may be dancing for you
but I've got a mouth full of venom
I am a hard thing to break

so look at the girl

swaying          red nailed        stone sculptor

she is part of the dance
whether you claim her  or not

call her by her name

call her            hard blood smeared thing

who cuts through the granite of your night
like a diamond









*This is not a complete or fully representational  list by any stretch of the imagination but it is one constructed with the help of many femmes I admire and respect when I asked them who their personal femme heroes are.  Their assistance and brilliance are infinitely and lovingly appreciated.











  

  


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

For Evan Who is 40 Today

Do you remember that day back in 2006 when we met and we were going to run some errands in the morning before attending your fire spinning performance at the pansexual play party in  San Jose later that night?  How we agreed that we were going to dress scrubby and you showed up looking like a vintage dreamboat from heaven?  And then I literally kicked your ass until you made yourself look slightly less amazing (as if that is possible) to match my truly scrubby nature?

The night when we made the whole club dance like us and I made you drink redbull and vodka and you woke up with popcorn in your hair the next day even though there was no popcorn anywhere?

And the Miss. Havisham pre-Folsom party we had that same year when Folsom was really our deal all weekend long?  Do you remember how you Evan'd together the best outfit in the whole world for me?  The way you kind of always Evan together the best outfits in the whole world for me.

Scouring the SPCA during work?  And me instructing you: SMILE AT THEM!!  They are working!

Do you remember how you pilled Zelly that day at the airport when our hearts were exploding in our chest because we both knew it was wrong for me to be leaving - that I was leaving the right people for the wrong person and how it wouldn't be the same anymore but you still drove me to the airport and pilled the cat?

How I came back not long after and lived in your basement during what had to be one of the worst years ever....how we came through that even though it seemed impossible at that time?

How I fell in love with your beautiful, brilliant, vibrant children.  How they became my family?

And all of the nonsense we've gotten into at Harbin and hot tub joints across the Bay?

Your wedding day.

How you held me up during the heartache...and the heartache...and the oh my God breaking heart?

How you wrote me so sweet and shyly when you were transitioning to see if I would still love you.  How I could not scream loud enough through the computer - I will always love you and joyfully welcome all of your gorgeous incarnations!  Because I will always love you and all of your incarnations.  And I welcome them. And you. Always.  In all the ways.

How you paid my electric bill that January when the power was going to be shut off?

And stood by my side during the next heartache.....and all the scary stuff that ensued?

How you flew me home and femme'd me back into myself this year.  I have this picture of you in my head sewing those silk flowers onto the parasol you made for me to carry at Dore because you were really re-stitching my heart back together.  And you were meticulous and perfect about it.

That dinner with you, me, Justin and Billie where you ran into your old high school friend and introduced us as your family...do you remember how we all sat up a little higher in our chairs because that was true?  And after all of these years and everything we have survived together we have a family who we can be proud of and depend on because we're not going anywhere.  And that's what family is....people who love you who aren't going anywhere.

You are a piece of my heart.  You are a great and brilliant joy who makes me laugh like no one else in the world.  You are beautiful and smart and fun and weird and fucking important.  Brave and kind and thoughtful and self possessed.  I have never met a person so committed to living a decent and honorable life and I strive to be a better person because you inspire me to it.

You are my family and I thank God every day for it.
I sit up taller because of it.
And I don't despair because of it.

I am so grateful that you were born.  And I feel so lucky we found our way to each other.  I love you with all of the joy and gratitude I contain.  I have wrapped up all the stars in the sky to deliver to you later tonight...your life is as big as the whole sky and as shiny.  I will love you for the rest of this lifetime and through many, many others - I am sure of it.

All of the presents and spanks are for you today!

Happy Birthday my great platonic life partner and femme of my heart!!  It is only mildly annoying that you look so fucking ravishing  and handsome with salt and pepper hair.  Only mildly.  A million happy returns to you!!




Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Body is A Haunted House - Ableism and The Long Night of The Soul

I opened this space with the intention of documenting my truth especially where it intersects with the multiple and beautiful communities I exist within and around.  I opened it because for the past several years I have been having tremendous difficulty writing.  I'm not blocked.  I have ideas for days.  I have at least three books in my head.  You know how many books that is in real life?  Writers know.  It's zero books. A book is only a book once it has room to spread out on a page, and I have not been giving my ideas and words that luxury for a long time now.   Any writer worth her keyboard will also know that if I'm not blocked I must be completely terrified.  I am.  I'm scared of the blank page.  I'm more scared of what I fill it up with.  I'm terrified, honestly.

Here is what happens to folks with big "S" kinds of stories, the ones with stories that make you say to yourself: "Glad that's not me!"  People  flee you or they put you on a pedestal.  They call the pedestal "strong" or "brave" or "amazing," no matter what they call it they never seem to understand how truly impossible it is to stand in that one place for a whole lifetime.  The people who flee, even in minor ways, say with their actions: "You're too much.  It's too hard to love you.  It's too hard to witness you.  I can't.  I can't."  This happens so often and with such high quality people that you begin to organize yourself around these reactions.  People love strong.  Be strong.  When you are not strong, fake being strong.  It is better for some people to love some parts of you than for no one to love no part of you.  Of course I'm talking about ableism, right?  Of course I am.

I live with a politicized, misunderstood disease. I live with a disease that attacks my body and my spirit and my mind every single day.  Right now my brain is hosting a huge dance party for millions of tiny, baby bacteria who are running wild over the terrain.  My brain won't regulate my body temperature- and that is problem when one lives in the South and also has a severely infected heart and lungs.  My brain forgets even the most basic directions when driving to places I've been a thousand times before.  My brain drops words, forgets grammar, it stutters.  It fails.  It makes my arms and legs shake.  It makes my head tick back and forth.  Worse than any of this is the wide, blank, terrifying void of depression it ushers into my consciousness. And running up behind it comes depression's best friend: shame.  I forgot to mention the shame, huh?  The collective weight of 8 years worth of well intentioned:  "But do you exercise?"  and "Maybe if you just tried harder" and "My uncle gave up gluten and completely cured his own brain tumor why can't you do that?"

We are so divorced from the concepts of pain and mortality - so obsessed with longevity and happiness - that as a culture we cannot allow for the basic and necessary understanding that to live is to suffer.  To live is to decompose. These lives of ours are nothing more or less than great, awe-inspiring, streaks of stars shooting across the night sky.    And because we fear this we turn away from it.  We turn away from the living things whose stars are close to being extinguished.  We do this to spare ourselves pain.  It doesn't work.  The only thing it does is rob us of connection during the small moments of time we are allowed to shine for each other.

I write about this a lot and yet there are so many things I keep to myself for fear of being abandoned to the "too hard"  "too much" pile.  No one ever comes back from that pile.  Humans are nothing if not definitive evidence that survival of the fittest rules the natural world.  There are weeks and months and years when I absolutely do not live up to the "Strong" I've been anointed with in my holier and better moments.  And the shame of that sends me spiraling even further.

In these past eight years this disease has taken from me the only place in the world I've ever felt at home, three lovers and big loves, countless "friends", all of my money, my ability to house myself at times, my ability to eat at times and access to any kind of health care that might save me.  Most days I want to grab a bat and smash everything in sight until the unfairness of this stops sitting on my chest threatening to drown me.  I am most definitely not saying it is unfair that I am sick.  I am no unicorn or snowflake.  Eventually every one's body gets sick.  Unfair because right over the horizon...past big pharma and their tanks full of money and Blue Cross and their army of lawyers and a handful of corrupt doctors lying on the sidelines is medicine that would likely put me back into the game.  On my very best days it feels like I have the flu or mono.  Those are my *good* days.  Those are the days I have to get 80% of my necessary life tasks done.

On my hard days I scour craigslist for guns for sale.  There are weeks sometimes when the only comfort I have is the fantasy of ending this nightmare.  Nights when the only thing that keeps me from pulling out my own hair is to graphically imagine the taste of that gun.  The way my tongue would curl around it.  The way I would wait to see if it started to dissolve like the body of Christ inside of me.  My body is a haunted house.  My only dreams are of deliverance.   There is a reason that people with Lyme are killing ourselves left and right and it has everything to do with this dynamic. It has to do with the strange way we fetishize some diseases like cancer, and completely ignore others like lupus or Lyme.  And when I say we fetishize or ignore the disease what I am really saying is that is what we do to the people living with those diseases.   It has to do with facing a hostile health care system at our weakest.  It has to do with standing in line for 5 hours for food stamps on a day when we shouldn't be standing or driving at all.  And it has to do with the fact that one cannot live any kind of life, let alone a challenging one, on top of a pedestal inside the community or from the outskirts of that community where we've been chased.

Part of the reason I am afraid to face the blank page is because I have been actively shamed for the work of documenting what this feels like in the desperate attempt to reach other people who might feel as alone and fucked as I do.  "Fishing for sympathy" or "Making yourself feel better by venting."  Sometimes people - sick and healthy - like to juxtapose what I do with folks who adhere to the "Stiff Upper Lip" mentality.  Complaining is for babies.  Asking for help is begging.  Anything less than an upbeat, positive attitude that constantly "inspires" the able-bodied/Enabled is weakness exemplified.

But deep down inside of me I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this requires so much more courage than pretending I am fine.  To live is to suffer but to deny the reality of life and to force all of us to face that reality alone while in each other's company for fear of being perceived as less than is madness.  And worse; it's a lie.

On my healthy days I dream of plucking that unearned "S" right off of my chest and tossing it onto a bon fire.  I dream of being able to do that and not be chased from my communities.  I dream of not having to juggle a million obstacles every day to just arrive at the same starting line as my peers and colleagues.  I dream of my peers and colleagues committing to not being those obstacles anymore.

I don't end my life because the world is a beautiful place full of beautiful and difficult truths.  I, like you, have been sent here to witness and experience and reflect back.  This is my job and working-class bitches don't quit.  We don't ever quit.  But we do get weary and discouraged and even a little jaded.  What I wish is for all of us, myself the most of all, is to expand ourselves to let the hard  and scary enter us.  I wish I saw 70% fewer articles  about "How to be happy."   I do! I really do.  What we need is information that teach us how to be real.  And vulnerable.  And trusting.  And kind.  What we need are instructions about how to sit with our unhappiness and still be ok.

I wish for the time when I could walk home from work through the Mission with all of the freedom and curiosity  in the world.  The time when my life afforded me the luxury of writing about anything other than this - because you're wrong, shaming friend -  I hate pity.  And I am not fishing for it.  I would give my right arm to be able to write about anything other than this.  My Polish, working-class family loves the saying:  Shit in one hand and wish in the other and see which fills up first.  Indeed.  In my heart I write only love songs.  But my heart, as we all know, is not the strongest one if the world.

I have no idea how to end this and I want to stop writing it now so maybe just this little prayer:  May my chosen family and any strangers reading this find at least one part of it that resonates and makes them feel less alone in this fight.  May my beloved Lyme community receive the care and support and money we desperately need to have a fighting chance.  May the friends and lovers who do show up know, know, know how rare and precious you are.  May you know how many lives you save by being able to stay present with other people's suffering.  May all of us open - may our consciousness develop and broaden and grow in love to incorporate all of the pain and pleasure and messiness of the great living world we call home.  May there be many future days during which we are nothing but grateful we never picked up that gun or swallowed those pills.  May the madness end.  May compassion reign.  May love win once and for all.   Please God let me be brave sometimes but do not make it a prison sentence.  Let me ebb and flow as I was meant to.

And so it is.  <3

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Here! I've MISSED YOU!

Darlings........hello!  Please keep your eyes peeled for many more updates from this blog......I've been out in the world, away from the internet,  collecting "experience" as the kids say....lots and lots of experience.

I can't wait to share it.


In the meantime....before today gets away from me:




HER NAME IS CHELSEA MANNING.  AND I STAND WITH HER 100% .  WE ARE PREPARED TO FIGHT TO HELP OUR OWN.  WE ARE PREPARED FOR IT.  YOU'VE BEEN INFORMED.





Monday, June 24, 2013

In Defense of Dangerous Spaces - A Survivor's Thoughts on "Safe" - Part 2

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”  - Hannah Arendt

“There are no dangerous thoughts; thinking it-self is dangerous.” - Hannah Arent




Wow, that was a lull I was not anticipating.  Where were we?  Right.....atrocious, ridiculous, 'you are one those Big Story kind of people, aren't you?' childhood...and the idea of "safe" can blow me.  That's where we left off, yeah?  Ok....well, this next part probably has taken longer to write because there's just so many places I can go from there.  But first, let me say.....safe can blow me - but I understand it's sticky, sticky lure.  I understand it on a profound and fundamental level, my sweethearts.  I. Get. It.  I spent 365 days a year for over 18 years believing that if I survived safety was my right.  For the rest of my life safety was my RIGHT, my reward for surviving that which should have been unsurvivable.  That belief served me well.   Or, it was the cause of every single humiliating cliche I ever turned into.  Probably the latter.  It's also caused me more suffering and loss of soul than I probably could have afforded to lose.  

Be wary the sellers of safety...they do not love you.  They do not love themselves.



One of my favorite political theorists Hannah Arendt published a book called: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil in 1963.  Arendt was a Jewish woman who had escaped Germany before Hitler's rise to power and reported on Adolf Eichmann's trial for The New Yorker.  From Wikipedia:

"Arendt states that aside from a desire for improving his career, Eichmann showed no trace of antisemitism or psychological damage. Her subtitle famously introduced the phrase the "banality of evil," which also serves as the final words of the book. In part, at least, the phrase refers to Eichmann's deportment at the trial, displaying neither guilt nor hatred, claiming he bore no responsibility because he was simply "doing his job" ("He did his duty...; he not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law." p. 135)."


  • Eichmann's inability to think for himself was exemplified by his consistent use of "stock phrases and self-invented clichés," demonstrating his unrealistic worldview and crippling lack of communication skills through reliance on "officialese" (Amtssprache) and the euphemistic Sprachregelung that made implementation of Hitler's policies "somehow palatable."
  • Eichmann was a "joiner" his entire life, in that he constantly joined organizations in order to define himself, and had difficulties thinking for himself without doing so. As a youth, he belonged to the YMCA, theWandervogel, and the Jungfrontkämpferverband. In 1933, he failed in his attempt to join the Schlaraffenland (a branch of Freemasonry), at which point a family friend (and future war criminalErnst Kaltenbrunner encouraged him to join the SS. At the end of World War II, Eichmann found himself depressed because "it then dawned on him that thenceforward he would have to live without being a member of something or other" (pp. 32–3)."

At the end of World War I Germany was destroyed.  It was an anti-safe space.  It was the ground zero of famine and despair and danger.  When humans despair it is in our nature to fling ourselves hard and fast in the opposite direction.  When we despair en masse it is our nature to do so while abandoning all critical thinking skills.  One of the greatest war criminals of all time displayed no trace of antisemitism or psychological damage.  Mostly, he was just a joiner searching for something to join.  

What are we asking for when we ask for "safe spaces"?  I mean, really?  Isn't the concrete answer to that question always: a wall that separates me from danger?  A wall that separates me from them?

On a most basic level that's what a safe space is.  We identify who the danger is and we try to keep him out.  

What happens when we identify incorrectly?  What happens when we fail to identify ourselves as possible evil doers?

Maybe George Zimmerman who is currently on trial for the senseless and brutal murder of innocent child Trayvon Martin can answer that better than I can.  

Probably not, though.  Evil lives inside of me, too.  I've never taken a life but I've been evil.  I've betrayed my deepest held beliefs and myself more times than I care to admit here.  My brilliant therapist is always telling me about this brilliant theory forwarded by a shrink whose name I can never remember, probably because it suits me better that idea came straight from adored therapist's perfectly manicured head.  It goes something like this, and friends who share the PTSD diagnosis - this one's for us especially: Victim, Rescuer and Predator and infinitely and intricately connected and looped.  If you identify as a victim you will become a rescuer and then a predator...you will have no choice.  Who needs safety the most?  Victims do.  Victims very rightly do.  The problem is, without the application of serious ass critical thinking skills we victims take that shit and run with it...and more often than not our attempts to rescue via "safe spaces" just become re-hashed predatory nightmares.  We re-create the exact dynamic we are trying to eradicate.  It can't be helped.  It simply can't be undone.  

This dynamic concerns me most in my own communities, obviously.  I am a white, anti-racist, working-class, sick and disabled, queer femme cisgendered woman and an artist.  Those are my primary communities.  And the call for "safe space" runs amok throughout them all.  Famously, we queers have been battling for a while over something innocuously called: The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival held every year on some place called "The Land" near Hart, Michigan.  It's only a few months younger than I am at 37 years and has been billed as "The Original Womyn's Woodstock."  It was created by second wave feminists seeing a need for a space that was defined by women "womyn", organized and created by women and for the exclusive benefit of women.  These kinds of things popped up a lot in the 70s - and many, many women -  many many lesbian feminists found tremendous hope, healing and....safety inside of those spaces.  So why the battle?  Because MichFest has a woman-born woman only policy which bars the admittance of transgender women.  Ironically and infuriatingly, masculine identified butch women and transgender men are allowed through the gates.  For MichFest safe=born with a vagina.  That's the criteria.  So, based on their standards the International FtM serial femme rapist I know (who I won't name so I don't have to lie and say "alleged rapist") can walk right on through and sit down among all the peaceful festival attendees and rape away! That's totally within the realm of possibility.  Trans women performers and activists and music lovers who have never harmed a fly in their lives, nor would they, are excluded.  They are identified as "not safe."  They are a "them."  You see how that makes no bloody sense whatsoever, right?  Did I mention that my born with a vagina mother is the person who dressed and packaged me to deliver me to her father at the age of 3?  I did.  Did I mention that when I finally told her about my abuse at the age of 27 she called me a liar?  And that the next time I flew home I found the only picture of me that had ever hung her house had been replaced with a silver framed photograph of my grandfather?  So...you'll forgive me if I cannot possibly imagine born with vagina equaling safe on any realm.  You'll forgive me if even through really important stories of lesbian feminist history I can not help but climb up onto the very highest mountain I can find, face Michigan and shout BULLSHIT at the top of my lungs.   I understand the impulse.  I understand why people felt and feel MichFest needs to be that.  Just like I probably would have understood the despair and fear of Germans living in post World War I Germany.  It doesn't mean the execution of these safe spaces wasn't/isn't fucking disastrous and harmful beyond all comprehension.  The execution of MichFest in 2013 is nothing less than modern day segregation, it is on the wrong side of history and it's shameful.  

And on top of all that, it's not even "safe".  

There's also something just so very, very Western and privileged about the concept that we, as American and Western activists, can compel these "safe spaces" into existence - while paying taxes that launch drone strikes over Pakistan and Afghanistan murdering thousands and thousands of  innocents.  I think about International Activists like Ken Saro-Wiwa and Nelson Mandela and Arundhati Roy demanding "safe spaces" before acting...before flinging their own precious lives and brains into the fray and doing what they were born to do.  It seems laughable.  It is only our relative comfort in respect to the rest of the world and the brutal and hideously evil ways we go about securing that for ourselves that allows us the naivete to believe safe was ever a possibility in the first place.  

Us/Them isn't real.  It's the most false and dangerous dichotomy known to the human race.  Our addiction to Us/Them will ultimately be our undoing.  And the only cure is sobriety.  The only cure is thinking - always, constantly, deeply.  Most people never consider whether they are capable of evil until it is too late.  The light we shine on ourselves and our world needs to be steadfast and rigorous.  Everything depends upon it.  Simply everything.  

I went hiking once, to these hot springs in a lush and empty valley on a mountain in Washington State.  This land was old and very few people were ever on it.  I went with a group of friends who were infinitely more fit to the task of off-path hiking and comfortable in that environment.  I'm the sort of girl who always shows up to those sort of things in the wrong damn shoes, and that's exactly what I did that day.  Old, Payless Teva-knock offs are not the shoes you want to be wearing while hiking a mountain, off path.  Appropriately and hilariously those shoes broke and I was forced to walk down the mountain bare foot.  Not remotely comfortable.  At one point as we were descending I slipped and started falling backwards off the side of that mountain and there was nothing between me and a hideous and steep drop of hundreds of feet into rocky, icy, glacier water.  As I was falling everything slowed down and I caught the look in my friend's eyes.  If I could translate that look it would have sounded something like: "Holy shit, we're about to watch Fran die.  Holy shit!!"   And then, at the very last possible second, my back hit squarely against the one, small, young tree between me and that drop.  And it caught me.  It caught me.  And if I could translate the look in my friend's eyes that came next it would sound something like: "Whooooooo!!!  Fran didn't fucking die!!!!!"   When I think of that story what I remember most clearly is that second look.  That second look and the feeling of being caught but only after knowing I was dead for sure.  And I also remember the surreal beauty of that place.  Though such landscapes are inherently dangerous to me it's beauty has forever been imprinted unto my soul.  It's part of me.  

What I remember is that I lived.  I still live.  And one day I won't.  And I would rather have a lifetime of negotiating hard and dangerous space than one of safe malls and being spied on. I want to know that I can meet people and that some won't be ok or good but they are all gifts to me in some way...they are all me in some way.   I want that for you too.  I don't know who ever said this was supposed to easy or safe.  Certainly not Buddha.  Certainly not Christ.  Certainly not Muhammad.  None of our great truth tellers have ever told us such nonsense.  Much the opposite.  They all also pretty famously told us there is no Us and there is no Them.  There is only ONE.  The path to eradicating evil lies within us...not outside the doors of "safe spaces."   You already have every single gift you've ever needed to live your precious life.  No go fall off a thousand mountains and tell your stories.  You have nothing to fear, really.   Except the NSA..  

Monday, June 17, 2013

In Defense of Dangerous Spaces - A Survivor's Thoughts on "Safe" Part 1

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”  - Pema Chödrön




My darlings, this essay has been cooking in my brain for over a year now.  Over a year.  One of the reasons I find it best to live by myself is that I work out my writing by pacing.  I pace obsessively.  Often in the dark. Often in vintage nighties.  I talk to myself a lot while I do this.  You can see how that would weird people out, yes?  I am a working-class girl.  I'm a working-class artist.  So very working-class that it took almost fifteen years of creating before I allowed myself to say: writer - artist - and, oh my god...poet.  So you can also imagine the ease and comfort with which lines like this spew from my lips: Look lover...roommate...friend...this is just my process! I need you to respect me while I walk around in the dark mumbling to myself so that I might make magic for all of us!  Yeah, mostly I just apologize and hobble off to watch The Golden Girls.   

I must have walked miles for  this.  And I think that's ok, I think the benefit of a good pilgrimage is that it forces us to drop the unnecessary and focus in very tight on the point of it all.  And I need that focus now because I am about to beg you to do the least intuitive thing you can imagine.  I need you to take a walk with me into the possibility of unsafe.  I live here.  And I'm a pretty good guide.  I'm tempted to tell you I'll keep you safe but.... :)

A few days ago news broke that Virginia Ramos, best know around San Francisco's Mission district as "The Tamale Lady" would no longer be able to sell her amazing food at beloved bar Zeitgeist.  You know this song...permits and ordinances and what ifs...what if?  What if the what if led to a law suit and no one can afford that and what if?  When I moved to San Francisco in early 2006 on the heels of a break up and some particularly rough and ugly time served as a femme in my former city of Seattle my friends Pete and Gordon took me to Zeitgeist.  They took me there and fed me bloody marys and beers and we sat on those benches until it got a little easier to see that life would somehow happen again.  I would be ok.  But you can't sit and drink bloody marys for hours without food...and like magic The Tamale Lady would come with her beautiful steamed wares and it wasn't just  food....it was the right food.  It was the kind of food that said: You are not finished being delighted by life, child.  You don't know what you don't know.  I ate it and I never once got sick.  Never once.

Earlier today I was watching some unfortunate video from the recent Miss. U.S.A. competition.  A contestant was asked about the NSA and our phone and internet records. "Is it ok to do that?  To keep us safe?  Why or why not?"  I don't need to pound the poor child...I don't think I'd answer questions super elegantly if millions of people had just been encouraged to judge my ass in a swimsuit.  But what she said was kind of perfect when you really think of our society (and I paraphrase because I love  you but I CANNOT watch that again.)  "I don't know....I look around and well, it seems like it's not safe to do anything anymore.  It's not even safe to go to the mall.  I don't mind if they listen to me on the phone if it keeps me safe when I go to the mall."  Capitalism have fun crashing into feminism right there.  You're both going to need aspirin in the morning because that intersection has no stop lights and a history of enormous, disastrous,  WRECK. 

Here comes something hard.  I cannot give you a trigger warning.  Not within my own writing.  It is hard but I mean you no harm.  I never mean you harm here, ok?  If you feel harmed you can say that to me and we can talk about it.   I will hear you and bring you to my metaphorical chest and hold you and tell you how sorry I am.  But I can't go about my life assuming the truth of it is something from which you need protection. I've tried that and it almost killed me.  Safe often asks us to mask the truth, and the truth is not our enemy.    I understand if you need to turn away from this right now so that you  can make it through this day.  I'm cool with that.  I am no unicorn.  What I am about to say happens thousands of times every day in the world.  So it needs to be said.  It needs to be said often and loudly until it fucking stops being ok with all of us.  Keeping you safe from this kills women like me.  And I'm growing sick of that with age.

When I was three years old my mother and father bundled me up, threw me in the back of the station wagon and drove me straight to my mother's rapist house.  And then they left me there for a week.  When they picked me up my little body was so devastated and bloody for months that I was tossed into Yale Children's Medical Center and misdiagnosed for a time with stomach or colon cancer.  While in the hospital I was raped again by two different men.  The effect of all of this on my tiny little psyche was that I tried to kill myself three times before the age of five.  No one ever asked me why.  That's the abridged story, anyhow. 

Admittedly, I am no expert on "safety."  

I do know a thing or two about surviving;  and I have glimpsed thriving somewhere on the distant and blurry horizon.  Neither of those were won to me by doing anything even remotely safe.    Still here?  Good.  I know that's ugly.    Keep walking with me....it stays rough for a while but we're headed somewhere breathtaking, I swear it....