Friday, December 28, 2012

it was the end of times, it was the best of times

Times are a changing. I know that there was a lot of speculation, misunderstanding and generally racist assumptions being made over the past months leading up to the end of the Mayan calendar cycle. People were talking about end times in on of the most widely spread ways I have seen in my lifetime. The speculations made their way onto network TV shows Raising Hope and the theme of "end of the world as we know it prevailed, with shows like Revolution, Terra Nova, Continuum, movies and books like the Hunger Games. The pop culture world is buzz with schemes and plots and story lines built around what comes next, or how to survive the coming end times. Meanwhile, other interpretations of the end of the Mayan cycle explain that this cycle that has just ended is one of the paternal and the start of the maternal, emotion driven, heart centered time of shift. I connect this with the falling of the great empires of our time, which appears to be happening. This also seems a very logical connection to the large scal organizing that is happening and bringing women indigenous leaders to the forefront of political action and change, like Chief Theresa Spence who is in day 16 of hunger striking in attempts to arrange a meeting between PM Harper and First Nations leaders. The actions associated with Idle No More are challenging the paternalistic, oppressive systems that have dictated this place and the people within it for too long. The movement is spreading world wide and people are calling for an end to colonial structures of oppression. The Zapatistas re-emerged from their already established and highly secret autonomous communities in the largest public action since their armed uprising in 1994. Their demonstration was silent and presented upwards of 40,000 people. Mean while across canada rail lines, border crossings, malls and highways are being blockaded and filled with the sounds of war drums and the songs and dances of people tired of living under opposed colonial rule. So maybe the world didn't all end at once, the polarity of the earth didn't immediately shift, computer systems didn't cease to operate, but I would like to hear how this is NOT the end times. The end of colonial times, the end of paternalistic oppression at the hands of the rich white men who have been in power for far too long. Maybe the needs to stockpile food and prepare weapons aren't the same ways that TV has prepared us for, but being prepared for the boats to stop delivering your tea and oranges all the way from china may be a pretty good idea. Oil is becoming more and more expensive and there are 1000s of people putting their lives in front of oil development. We are at a point to choose to stay the same, or move forward choosing light and love and self sufficiency and community support.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bullying: Hot Topic

This week I have noticed, and how could you not, the explosion of press attention given to bullying. Following the death of Amanda Todd after online disclosure of extreme bullying, school boards, radio shows, community organizations are once again stepping in to say that something must be done. This seems like something that I have seen ebb and fall, as another death or high profile case hits the mainstream, people get really worked up for a spurt before having the issues of bullying return to the closets, PM feeds, and notes passed in the backs of class, under the eyes but without the attention of the millions. I want to throw my own thoughts about bullying, and how we need to address it as communities affected into the ring. I wish to self identify myself from the start as a former victim of school yard bullying, and a trans gender adult who continues to see bullying behavior play out on the street side as a witness and target of this attention as well as occasionally the bystander who has spoken up and stepped in. I would like to add some of my thoughts about this idea, about bystanders not standing by and what it takes to step up or step in. A prominent memory that flashes into my head when I think of school bullying, takes place in my aunts kitchen. My mom was working as a house cleaner for her sister, while I would be occasionally hired to watch her daughters. This particular memory may have followed a particular incident, or it may have just been a point where a dam broke, and after years of teasing, exclusion, name calling and physical violence I couldn't hold it together anymore. I remember buckling over in tears, sputtering through my gasps to my mom and aunt the ways that I had been targeted. I cried and asked them in earnest if it would ever stop, why the other girls at school were so cruel, and what I would need to do to protect myself. I was able to tell even at that point, probably 7 or 8 years old, that the specific details that the bullies would pick out and make a scene over never seemed to run out. Coming from a working class family where clothes were either home made or second hand, being tall and lanky at 6' 0" by 6th grade, religious associations, not fitting gender expectations, being asthmatic, being double jointed, music tastes, and intelligence; it didn't seem to matter, there was always something to be picked out. At this point, 7 or 8 years old, I was unsure I could maintain the pressures. I thought about getting out of the school system, but also had known the bullying that extends to the ever awkward and outside of social norms 'homeschoolers'. My aunt tried to assure me that it would get better, that eventually I would come out on top stronger for it. The "it gets better" mentality around bullying and harassment is a long time stand by. Dan Savage kicked off his campaign a little more than two years ago, which now hosts over 30,000 videos of people giving their version of the hold on, get through, it will be better on the other side message. Although from the best intentions, from my aunt in her kitchen, and from thousands of strangers on the internet, it falls short. I would like to point out that once I got through school, bullying didn't go away, and in some ways, it got worse. Primarily because navigating the systems in which to find support and hold bullies accountable in the work place, in the housing market, and while walking down the street, are a lot less easy to identify than the pamphlet filled offices of the high school guidance counselor. When I worked as a bike messenger, my dispatcher was a bully, later working in a bike shop, a older male owner was a bully, trying to access community spaces I've encountered bouncers and bar tenders exemplifying bullying behaviour. I've become well practiced at filing complaints, leading boycotts, and finding ways out before situations get beyond my control. One of the things I have learned, as a life long victim of bullying, is that often outside the school yard, people call it something else. It's sexism, it's homophobia, transphobia, it's predatory sexual advances, it's discrimination, classism, ablism. I think it's time that we start calling bullying what we call it when it happens to adults. I think that calling sexism and predatory sexual advances bullying down plays what it really is and how it affects those on the receiving end. We could serve the victims of school aged bullying by giving them the empowerment involved in acknowledging their struggle as real; I think the cultural perception of "bullying" discounts the experience as people imagine thumbs on noses and lines of taunting. Let's call it what it is- a wedgie is an act of physical assault. Posting photographs of someone without their consent is theft and in many cases of 'school aged' cases, distribution of child porn. Bullying is a softened word that describes the intersectionally oppressive practice of abuse, harassment, violence, destruction of personal property, character defamation and use of hate language. Surviving ongoing onslaughts of this type of behaviour is a challenging and commendable feat. Finding ways to thrive are that much more important. The ways that the 7 year old girls would make fun of my pants being too short with taunts and exclusion, the ways the 10 year old girls convinced my only friend that she could be cool if she stopped acknowledging my existence, the knee of the 10 year old boy bruising my pelvis in response to my attempts to play soccer with the boys, the way that the 11 year old girls excluded me from their spin the bottle and truth or dare games rationalized by my yet to be developed breasts, the way the 13 year old boys named me "manchild" as a way of drawing attention to my failures at performing "girl", the way that the grown men employing me as an adult woman would make explicit suggestions and inappropriate and unwelcome advances, the way that sales people direct me to the side of the store they feel would be more appropriate to my perceived gender and the yells I hear walking down the street when the bars let out. They are all unacceptable, they are all "bullying", but they are also so much more. Understanding the intersectionality of these issues is important. I have heard a lot of media around vigils being held in Amanda Todd's honour today. Today is also the day that queer and trans communities have been drawing attention to these issues within our communities for years already. A few more weeks and we will be approaching Trans Day of Remembrance, another case of communities who have been living with a personal understanding of how these issues affect us for a long time, that have been finding ways to address and honour the victims for years. I am glad that more school districts are recognizing that these are issues to talk about up front, but I challenge them to find ways to look at what has already been happening and integrate the energy into a unified front. School districts and community organizations organizing vigils and discussions this week are calling students to step up and not be silent bystanders. I think that this is an important step in creating safer schools and communities, I think it's vital to look at what taking a stand takes. Many times, the threat of becoming the next target keeps bystanders silent. The threat of retaliation for being a 'narc' from cohorts is real. As well, many people don't speak up, as they don't see the behaviour or don't recognize its problematic nature. As well, knowing what will happen if attention is drawn to an issue is an important factor going into the choice to step up. When threats of personal harm are on the table, and we aren't sure that our actions will have any affect, or an affect we agree with, it can keep witnesses silent for their own calculated interests. I believe having upfront and open conversations about approaches of justice in schools, work places, and communities could prove incredibly valuable. Knowing if a student bully would serve punishment, and what that punishment could be is a make or break element of this challenge. If a bully is given a suspension as a result of bullying, all that means is that they have time off campus to prepare a next assault. It could mean that a bully is laying in wait, right off the school grounds, right outside of the arm of the schools' jurisdictions for the 'narc' to walk into their trap. Whereas, engaging students, employees, community members in ongoing accountability dialogues, wherein issues can be identified, addressed and explored can create a container for the pain and trauma which causes people to enact hateful and violent behaviours on each other. Within this container compassion can be bloomed, understanding can be planted, and cycles of violence and trauma can begin to heal. This type of dialogue and process cannot exist in a bubble. It cannot exist in divided categories where the queer and trans youth are discussing homophobia and transphobia in segregated settings, without the support of het and cis allies. This type of dialogue cannot happen once a year, in a large group setting without ongoing follow up. This type of process requires a large scale commitment to delve into the really hard and painful things that lie under the surface of 'bullying'. Addressing the ways that the legacies of colonization and institutional racism spawn slurs on the playground, addressing the ongoing sexism that exists in the "binders full of women" world we live in, addressing economic inequality, addressing child poverty and sexual exploitation of minors and alcoholism and drug addiction and ablism are not easy one afternoon topics, that can have a candle lit for them and have them go away. They don't get better when you survive the institution, especially if you are living in the intersections of oppression. Addressing oppression is required to end bullying, so when we talk about making schools safer, we must realize that we are really talking about a societal paradigm shift. Perhaps this increased attention will be a key piece in creating that shift. I hope that as the topics enter conversations online and off that you may be a part of, you can challenge the idea that bullying is a school yard problem. I hope you can be a part of this change within your own families, communities, and work places and I look forward to hearing about the ways that this is working where you are.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

First times, hopefully gentle.

The facebook status I most recently posted said: “…. is rallying all the glamour of fairy queens past, present and future where they rest in my closet dancing to Abba to properly honour the momentous occasion that is Castlegar Gay Pride. THIS IS A REALLY BIG DEAL. I am so excited to be able to bring my wholeself to Castlegar, a place that I usually leave a few of my selves at home or in the car when I go there. A place that I have felt a need to butch up to feel safe. And tonight, we will create safety in numbers. An opportunity to celebrate our diversity, fabulosity and create space so we won’t have to check ourselves at the door, and most importantly the next generation of people growing up around here may never have to learn this survival mechanism at all.” _______________ I wanted to share with you internet about how incredibly excited I am for this incredibly important occasion. As my followers know, I have been living and finding space for this genderfucked fancy self in a part of rural Canada that has a pretty decent reputation of being radical, accepting and weird. There are 2 small cities equidistant from my home. Nelson being one, and Castlegar being the second. Castlegar is where I usually go shopping, as the thrift stores are amazing and they have much cheaper groceries. Sometimes occasionally I will go see a movie in Castlegar since Nelson doesn’t currently have a theatre. But almost always going to Castlegar takes some degree of warm up, a specific kind of outfit, appropriate footwear etc. I think preparing to go Castlegar is sort of akin to what some people who are closeted must wrestle with every morning. How much can I be real, and still be safe? What can I pull off and slip under the radar, not raise any eyebrows or red flags? Usually I butch up when I go to Castlegar. I very rarely bind, but I like to wear overalls, baggy sweaters or a distracting amount of layers when I go to Castlegar. This got me into trouble when I first arrived. I over heated and passed out while in Fabricland. I have to say, if there is a good place to pass out, a fabric store is it. My head was bolstered by a bolt of polar fleece and I awoke to a small crowd of grandmothers, retired cardiac nurses and quilt crazed cougars. I wasn’t sure how they would react to my trans-ness. They were shocked at the amount of clothes I was wearing, I passed it of as being attributed to adjusting from a recent move from the coast and not being able to warm up in the ice yet. I was taken to the hospital in Castlegar, which is very small. I remember a room with out 5 or 6 beds in it being the ER, possibly even the whole thing. I told one of the paramedics that I was trans, and tried to explain that I didn’t really want it to be a thing. I don’t really remember how exactly everything went down, but I remember being generally impressed. Which says a lot, I’ve had lots of experience with hospital emergency rooms, and I am rarely satisfied, let alone impressed. The hospital staff grabbed one of their mental health workers to drop by and introduce himself before he left for home. I was introduced into their system, considering that I had all sorts of warning signs; new to the area, depressed, isolated and overwhelmed. I met with one of their workers for a bit, which in some ways felt like I should have been transcribing a book called, “how I feel about being trans in this place.” I don’t really feel like that is the best way to encourage healing and balance in my life so I dropped out. Castlegar is the place where I usually won’t try on dresses or skirts without buying them, and sort of convince myself that I am buying them for a friend. I try to pass, trying to access as much male privilege as anyone will give me. Tonight I will be busting it all out. Two outfits, one to appear in, and one to change into as the night lets loose. But neither one of these outfits is attempting to pass as male, or straight, or normal. Tonight is the Pride party. For the first time in Castlegar, gays (their language not mine, I think the crowd will be a lot more queer+) will organize and appear en mass publicly. Tonight we make history.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Groaning and Toning

these times can be dark ones. I won't lie and say that the adjustment to living in a new place, a rural place, a place where I know very few people, have very little structure and am facing mental health problems that I have been attempting to hide, be too busy for and run away from head on in some pretty intense ways is easy. It's not. I've been watching a lot of downloaded movies and TV, catching up on entire series that I had otherwise missed out on for what ever reason. Including Harry Potter, Star War, Skins (the british show), Weeds, and United States of Tara. Most recently I have watched 4 x-men movies. I quite enjoyed them, I liked the superhero meets mutants take on civil rights and overcoming oppression, but I found myself particularly fond of the character Beast. The story presented in the movies I have seen is about a mutant boy genius who can make super cool inventions and can run really fast and hang upside down with his 2nd hands on his feet. In "first class" he attempts to make a cure for the visible parts of the mutations that both him and Mystique face attempting to exist and blend in in the human world. It back fires, targeting and enhancing instead of decreasing the effects of mutation. He becomes blue, hairy and super ripped. His attempts to hide, change himself in a way that would make him invisible instead made him so super visible that in some ways he is tasked with being an advocate and leading the cause for mutant rights. This morning I took a call from an organization that is hosting a conference I am interested in attending. I called them after attempting to apply, when I got to the second question that was a drop down menu requiring me to choose M or F to be able to submit the form. I became an advisor to their application process and gender related policies as well as an applicant. I feel, at times, I have little choice declaring my transness, as it is something that I feel is visible all the time. This is what feels honest to me, this is what feels genuine. Beard and pearls, deep voice and long hair, skirts and work boots. This is who I am and I cannot pretend to blend in. I think this will be especially true if I become pregnant, which is a desire of mine. I think in some ways seeing the story line of Beast and his injected attempt to "fix" how visible he was instead made it impossible for him to ever hide again is the closest I have ever seen my relationship to Testosterone represented in film. I feel stronger, and more truly me living with the legacy of having injected t, but I cannot expect to ever be cisgendered, even as a femme with a cunt in a dress, my transness is always going to be a part of that. As beast comes to terms with being a mutant, a visible one, a strong, fast, hairy one, so do I. I feel really lucky to have a beautiful hall to go to a couple times a month to explore voice and sound with. A facilitator leads different activities in our bodies, our voices, our emotions, some interacting with each other, cooperating in creating a resonant truth in the space, and other times just being totally honest with our own. It is the type of thing that to an outsider walking in it would look like a whole bunch of crazies (and I say that as one) writhing on the floor and laughing hysterically, chasing each other around like cartoon villains, and sitting in circles for extended live vocal looping. Its beautiful, and magical and at times challenging, but it is one of those times where my facing my transness, if only for myself, is unavoidable. The effect of 3 years of T on my voice is that of extended range, occasional cracking and a general state of not knowing what might come out or for how long. I haven't done much singing out of the shower since I was a young kid singing in church, so exploring what my voice can do, its range, its growing strength and comfort in itself is empowering. Through the squeeks and cracks, through the growls and snarls, I am coming into myself. Mutant and proud, Trans and proud. Knowing that I have something, that living between genders is a super power, that it is useful and powerful in the world. To be a superhero I must train, know my powers, know their limits and control them so they don't control me.