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 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 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 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?'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 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 stays rough for a while but we're headed somewhere breathtaking, I swear it....

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Good, Bad, and the Hella Pretty

"The heart that breaks open can contain the Universe" - Joanna Macy

My friends and darlings and people I've been waiting my whole life to meet:  Welcome to the GoodBadblog!  Conceptual space on the internet for all of it.  All of it.

I'm sure you all woke up this morning thinking: "Damnit, I just need one more blog more stranger offering up their non-solicited opinions, another thing to read in an epic Portlandia reader kind of way."  I trust you all woke up this morning with the same words on your tongue as I had: "The internet is great...I just wish there was more content."   Well....prayers answered, sweethearts.  And, you're welcome!

Actually, what I'm thinking is this....maybe the great democracy of this non-existent place is that everyone, truly everyone, can carve out a little space of it and call it home.  And what if by showing you my home- I mean my real home with the floors un-swept and the cobwebs and the blunders and mercies and the terrible editing for a writer and beauty and joy and full blown culinary atrocities - what if that made you feel a little better in your own metaphorical homes?  Would that be a win?  I think maybe.  Maybe it only matters if it makes me even more ok right where I am.  It seems to be that I do the very best work when I am just existing as naturally as I can and appreciating the great, cosmic humor of myself.

I often feel in the midst of all of the horrible stuff that surrounds us daily that  we are also the brink of something great.  In truth, I dream of revolution.  I used to dream of the great big one...the Le Mis revolution.  But I'm a student of history and I've seen the ways every single one of those have actually panned out.  But the tiny ones?  The daily struggles to expand our compassion and our patience. . . or just not profoundly lose our shit on facebook?  What about those?  What about the beautiful and just anger expressed in just the right way at just the right time?  What about showing up as you are and fundamentally believing that will be enough?  I had a friend take me to a Korean bath house in San Francisco on women's day once....and I remember looking around and just marveling at how exceptionally beautiful everyone's different body was. . . just mesmerizing and perfect.  I kind of think maybe we all look better naked.  And we spend so much time worrying the fashion that we forget to take it off.  I worry the fashion all the time.  I also love taking my clothes off.  

So welcome to my house, my friends!  Help me make it a place of humor and rants and thoughts about fashion and our dogs and long spiritual walks together and some navel gazing and peeling the layers off one by one?  Help me make it real and sturdy and supportive and honest and fun!  It's just a little space in the middle of nowhere but with you...with you it's a home.  Come in.