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home. what is that, anyway?

Well. I arrived home on Wednesday night, August 9th. I didn’t go right home, i went to a meeting. you know. one of those 12-step deals. Better than arriving home alone right away, I thought.  Some of my friends were there, and they were happy to see me. They asked when I’d arrived and were impressed that I’d elected to go to be with them instead of right home. I dunno if “impressed” is the right word, really. What’s home about my apartment, anyway, really? Home. I felt at home in the UK, and I feel at home when i’m driving alone in the prairies–and when i’m with my brother, even if we’re arguing. I felt at home where ever I was if I was with my mom, even if we didn’t always ‘get’ each other. I thought, in the first year or so of my last love affair that we would be ‘home’ for each other. I was wrong.

As I drove through the prairies, then the foothills, then the mountains to the coast I saw a deer–an uncertain doe gingerly tipping across the dusky highway. I saw an eagle swooping down across the sun, focused on some prey out of my line of sight but right by the road. I saw a vulture (!) snacking on some roadkill on the sultry asphalt. I’ve never seen a vulture in the wild before. And I’d never seen an eagle so close up before, either.  Deer are as common as rabbits at Jericho beach, but it’s been a long time since I came across one on the highway like that.

When i was home, I visited with my friend Diana. We’d been friends since elementary school. We were both in the same Christian girls group, “Pioneer Girls” when we were, oh, I don’t know, 12 or so. I liked it because it was belonging to something, and it was all girls, and I had crushes on several of them at different times. I didn’t recognize my feelings as a ‘crush’ at the time, though. Diana and I went to the same schools too, and both of us name our Grade 4 and 5 teacher, Mrs. Neckay (then she became Mrs. Coene, but after she taught us, i think), as a positive influence. She was the teacher who inspired a desire to become a teacher myself. I got a bit derailed there for a while, but now I am teaching, and I still aim to uphold her standards. She had really high expectations of her students, did Mrs. Neckay, and she helped us to achieve those expectations too. Anyway, Diana. She’s living with her son again, and his wife, and their three young children. Her son is going to go back to school, and living with Mom will help to cut down expenses for everyone. I admire Diana for doing that, and it sounds like she’s bearing up really well and that she and her daughter-in-law are developing a pretty good relationship. It seems they are bonding, creating a space for each other and holding each other up as they hold the men, well, Diana’s son, to account. Sounds like her son is, um, asserting his dominance. Or trying to. The socializing force of patriarchy is extremely strong. I hope the women can stand their ground and that he will remember what his mom taught him about how to be fully human, rather than only masculine.

Speaking of the socializing forces of patriarchy — i went to a beautiful celebration gathering in honour of Joanna on Thursday the 11th. it would have been her 34th birthday. About 25 or 30 people came to Sarah and Justin’s home and we shared food and drink, stories and music to celebrate Jo’s gifts to our lives. And to remember her life, all the aspects of it. My job was to remind those gathered that she had been a feminist and a lesbian — and active and effective for those few years.

It seems impossible that someone so lively and smart, with such a bright spark, could have died. But she did. And it is up to us now to carry her story, each of us the bit of her story we have, into the rest of our lives. Even though Joanna turned away from a lesbian life in the last four or five years (I’d venture to say her feminism lapsed, too then), that is the bit of her story that I have to carry for her.

I remember, when we knew each other, she was one of only a small (infinitesimally small, one might say) number of young women (she was 26 when we became lovers) in her circle who were lesbian.  Most women her age who foudn themselves attracted to other women seemed to resist even calling themselves ‘women’ — much less ‘lesbian’. Nope. They were queer. Maybe trans. “Gender-Fluid” wasn’t yet as ubiquitous a label then as it seems to be now. Still, there she was, a feminist and a lesbian in a world that rejected binaries and reclaimed slut and encouraged ‘self-identity’ because no one person’s experience was the same as anyone else’s, we are all individuals, and solidarity is hopelessly anachronistic. It was hard. I can only barely imagine how difficult it would have been for her. Her first female lovers were her age, and she told me about the struggles she experienced to find common ground — they were queer, and she couldn’t make that label make sense to her.

I’m not just making this up, either (i do tend to ‘invent’ my lovers to match my desires, no matter who they are in real life. it’s a problem) — Here are her own words, at 26:

“…There was a queer ringing in my ear that I couldn’t shake. It rang about the dangers of labeling, and the discriminatory nature of women-only space, and the empowerment in “sex work”. It rang about utter acceptance, and about choice.

I heard a lot of ringing about ‘choice’. I heard it at work in reference to the incarcerated women who made a choice to commit a crime. I heard it in the media about the murdered woman who made a choice to go running alone. I heard it about the dyke who made a choice to become a man. It was the sort of ringing that is so pervasive, you can forget it is even there. It was soothing, even..acceptance, no distinctions..choice choice choice.”

She knew there was something wrong with this inordinate focus on the primacy of “respecting women’s choices”. Particularly as it pertained to the women incarcerated at the prison in which she worked. She could see, she heard their stories, she could put two and two together, fer cryin’ out loud. Those women were there because they had no choice. Had they any opportunities at all, they would have taken them. But they did not. Most of them were conditioned from a very young age to accept the poverty, the neglect, the male violence and degradation as their lot–they couldn’t imagine anything else. Much less decide to choose it.

There was another sound though, it was harder to listen to. Deep angry challenging – it hurt my ears. It was the sound of context demanding recognition. I resented this sound. With it came work, struggle. I tried to ignore it, and succeeded for a while in shutting my ears to it. I couldn’t shut my eyes however, and I saw the lie of ‘choice’ everywhere I looked. Choice was only part of the story – it lacked context, analysis. It lacked a complete telling.

“I started to listen again, and I heard something more this time. There was anger – but also power and hope. The sound was more full, round. It offered a place to stand, a set for the story. It still brought work with it, challenge and struggle..but when I looked around again I could see my sisters standing firm, and heard them making this hopeful noise together […]

“I am 26, and I am a radical feminist.”(Joanna, 2009, emphasis mine).

In this piece she wrote, which she sent in to the lesbian journal Trivia on the topic “Are Lesbians Going Extinct?”, she wrote about the importance of having a context within which to define oneself as a lesbian, and a feminist. She talked about the political importance of  relationships with women, especially women with whom she shared a commitment to liberation from male domination.

After we broke up, (which was, by the way, the best break-up in the history of lesbian relationships–we went out for dinner and gave each other appreciations for the gifts we gave–for helping each other become grown-ups), within a few months she began to date men again. We remained friendly, but we no longer had anything in common.

She had a difficult time dating men, by all accounts. I don’t know the stories, but apparently, they were hilarious. Sounds like she encountered some nightmare men. in early 2014 she met Sean, and he wasn’t a nightmare. In February of 2015, he proposed marriage, and she accepted. In May or early June of that year, she was diagnosed with oral cancer, and they decided to get married as soon as possible.

The last time I saw her was at the party my advisor threw in honour of my successful defense of my PhD dissertation (finally!). Joanna came because she was there from nearly the beginning, and she always believed in me. She told me about Sean then. Of course she knew what I thought of the institution of marriage, and what a shitty deal it offers women overall. It has its roots deep in patriarchy and capitalism, and though it seems (to many people) like a benign celebration of love and commitment now, I just can’t shake that deep mistrust of it. I see people signing papers and i think “chattel”.  It’s an institution, is marriage.

Now, I like institutions, to be honest. Especially hospitals. I spent lots of time in hospitals when i was a kid and a young adult. i’m a very good patient. The “plucky, sweet” kind. It’s a lot like the institution of marriage, in a way –once you “know your place” you don’t have to make any decisions,  besides what you want to choose for meals — it’s helpful if you’re med compliant, of course, and you can depend on the doctors and nurses to give you the right drugs and treatments at the right time. people who are not part of that institution also understand how to relate to you if you’re in that institution. They come to visit, and they bring flowers (unless you’re in the ward where you’re supposed to keep the allergens or scents away), and they keep to visiting hours, and they defer to the Health Professionals too, ’cause that’s how it’s supposed to be. In the hospital, i assimilate into that structure, the role i’m supposed to play, and it’s quite comfortable. I am no threat to that structure. Except when i’m outside of it and then I’m more dangerous. From outside of it, I can see the way that the power operates, I can see how class and race and sex determine where we are in the structure and how much our compliance or non-compliance is tolerated or punished.

Oh! When i was in the Ancestral Homeland, one of my new feminist friends there talked about her analysis that marriage, weddings, are the ultimate in narcissism. Sounds right to me. It’s all nice to be in love and everything, but then you go and make all your loved ones come and bring presents and attend a big party that’s all about you and your  love life. During this conversation, i confessed that I had MC’ed a wedding last year, and i’m pretty sure i came down a peg or two in her estimation. “Why did you do that?” she asked. I was a bit embarrassed. it was the audience, (speaking of narcissism) and i brought the Accordion of Love (not Ruby, i didn’t have Ruby yet), there were many opportunities to provide a humorous critique of the institution, and, well, it was fun. I nearly backed out, But yes–much as I love my friends who got married, it was the attention I did it for. Well…I also liked meeting her parents, and his brothers–and their friends from away, and I liked hanging out with Steph, who was partnering with me on the MC gig — we were both pretty cynical about looooooove a the time, seeing as how we were both in various states of breaking up with our lovers, and kinda cynical overall. Anyway. weddings. Narcissism, compliance, assimilation…I did cave to the social pressure to conform to this celebration of patriarchal and capitalist dominion, and, well…it was a fun party.

anyway, back to my dear Joanna. and institutions of power….She turned away from lesbianism, and from active feminism, too. Especially once she received her diagnosis. how can you keep pushing against patriarchy when there are no lesbian feminists around you anymore and you’re facing a deadly disease? how? I don’t know. she had to decide. she’d already left feminism and lesbianism behind, it wasn’t a big step to erase it from the Joanna she showed the world from then on.

I kinda took it personally at first. Of course it wasn’t personal, I’m nearly sure of that. She knew what she was doing. She didn’t invite me to her going away party when she moved to be with Sean, we hadn’t been part of each other’s lives by then for about four years, nearly five — and she knew what i thought of marriage. I assume she didn’t want to put me in the position of either telling her why I wouldn’t be coming, or coming and being all awkward and weird. Nor would she be all that comfortable if I did go, I’m pretty sure. It was protective of her to do that.

She was a bright spark. While she was in my life, I could see the difference she made to people who were on the margins. she opened a space for them to at least glimpse a place of belonging for themselves. She was a brilliant communicator and could find a way to get practically anyone to step up to greater responsibility for themselves, for others. She made a difference. I kind of can’t believe she’s dead now. I wrote her a few times, in her last few weeks. the last time, I wrote  bunch of stuff about what i was doing, and planning to do. I said, “I don’t know why i’m telling you all this stuff. Maybe i’m kind of hoping for a miracle, that if I tell you about my plans for the future, somehow that will keep YOU here long enough for a cure, or something. Never mind. The miracle is that you were here at all, that you did what you did, and you befriended and helped all those women, and that you had an effect, a good effect, on the people you met and loved and worked with and played with. Including me. Thank you, Jojo.”

It seemed so small and pale to just say “thank you”. She set up a trust fund at the end of her life, called “Celebrating Home”, for agencies that provide housing to use for celebrations. Kind of the roses part of ‘bread and roses’. but also the bread, because people who get together to share a meal, mark an occasion, celebrate a birth or an accomplishment, well — they are glued together then.

Like we were, all the different people gathered to honour Joanna, and each other, on the day that she would have turned 34. We were there because at some point in our lives, we knew and loved Joanna, and now we know each other a little bit, and our lives are a bit bigger, and better, on that account.

ah. it’s too bad that she figured she had to go away from feminism and being a lesbian in those last years. It’s too bad for us, and too bad for her. I think I get it, we are certainly not in a time of women’s liberation, far far from it — and i think when you’re young, and without a context of a vibrant movement, when things get really scary like they did for Joanna, I think you’re gonna go for the relative security. I don’t know. Maybe. But whatever it was, I do know that she was carried to her death in many loving arms — her mom, her sisters, her brother (who I may add was particularly threatened by her lesbianism, I’m sure he was most relieved of all of them when she became heterosexual again), her husband, her dad, her aunties and uncles and cousins — friends from around the world, too. Louise made a beautiful slide show of Joanna’s Vancouver years, which of course showed her at Michfest, and the folk fest, and the Lesbian Feminist Dinner Party (for a while a few of us hosted a monthly dinner party together, a little political, but mostly just social. lovely lovely). It was almost like she was with us. And because of the pictures and stories and mementos, in a way she was.

She had a home. One she was born to, one she created, and she merged these together. In honouring her memory, we created a little home space for each other too.

I’m better now. When i left for the UK, i was very lonely. I know i have friends and colleagues and many people around me who love me. But I felt restless, unsettled, sad. ‘Away from home’, you know? Something happened when i was away, though, and as I returned to Vancouver. Joanna’s party added to that feeling, too. It’s like now i have home with me. I don’t need to be somewhere in particular. It’s here. I found a place to belong everywhere i went in Alberta, Saskatchewan, London, Cornwall, Wales, Edinburgh — I walked on those old streets and through parks and museums and shops and pubs, and I was all alone surrounded by the ancestors. They’re with me still. I’m home.




Why I wear the iron maiden: One woman on dressing modestly in everyday life

Funny. Chilling, too. I laughed,  reading this, but felt a bit squirmy doing so….

Here’s glosswitch:

We live in a very shallow society, where far too many women are obsessed with moving, speaking and not being dead. Wearing an upright metal coffin, with sharp spikes going through my internal organ…

Source: Why I wear the iron maiden: One woman on dressing modestly in everyday life


dear god. I just spent the morning at the Faculty of Education orientation at the school I’ll teach for this fall. It was supposed to go to 3:30, but i left after lunch. Which was delicious.

what the fuck is going on? Every christly institution of power is relentlessly “inclusive” — it’s fucking madness. there’s this thing, I don’t know, it’s a focus of the teacher ed program or a study focus or some goddamn thing, called “Teacher Education is for Everybody” — I don’t even know what that means. this dude, some teacher guy, talked about how terribly marginalized and endangered are the non-binary trans youth, and told us a heart-warming story about his daughter who is trans — and so smart and wonderful of course — and another young woman in Prince George who eschews all things girly, so she must be a boy (named Milan, who has said she was a boy since she could talk and has been relentlessly bullied her whole life) — but now thanks to TEEB or whatever the fuck this thing is, she’s a well-adjusted teenage boy (which is in itself an oxymoronic concept, but never mind) and thriving in her school because the goons are surrounding her and criminalizing anyone who would dare to say, “um, the emperor, there, has no clothes”.

i could barely contain myself when he was speaking, especially when he talked about his son (daughter, he called him–but no social worker is going to investigate mr. mulligan for child abuse because a. he’s white and middle class and b. Inclusivity! Diversity! ffs), I nearly stood up and yelled “He’s a boy who likes dolls fer cryin’ out loud,  you are conducting a creepy experiment on your own kid, ya weirdo!” And of course promoting similar experimentation on other kids as well. Then some other jerk presented about something like community engagement or whatever and talked about getting his students to make an “inclusive” bathroom — including a black flag for the ‘asexuals’. which sounds like kids who are going, “fuck off. I’m not ready to be sexual or genderual or any of this weird bullshit”.

I swear to god. thankfully I was sitting next to a couple of Aboriginal women, who were a bit mystified by this whole thing, as well as a curious about my frustration — I couldn’t contain myself–and one of them, she said, “i’m Algonquin, and we don’t have distinctions between ‘he’ or ‘she’ in our language. The older people always get mixed up”. Made me think of what one of my Indigenous friends told me about the We’tsuwet’en language having no word for prostitution, either. Or the Gitksan, I think–in any society where women and men are equal, there is no concept like prostitution, no one is commodified. maybe no one is ‘gendered’ either. that would be nice.

I did talk to another friend who is just lovely, and she’s teaching a bunch too this year, and she was similarly impatient with this bullshit. Not as ‘set yer hair on fire’ mad as I am, of course, because she didn’t have as much coffee and most people are a bit calmer than I am in general, but she agrees with me about this stuff. that was refreshing.

this is it, right, the institutions of power are in cahoots — Education, Medicine, Social Services, the Justice System — all these big things that run how we are supposed to think and relate to each other, and what we are supposed to value as equality and justice. They’re smart, these big machines–they know how to reproduce their domination. it’s in the interests of the rulers to push this so-called inclusivity and identity. Not solidarity, affinity, analysis, resistance and comradeship, nope. But individuality, diversity, choice, identity — nothing will change with that emphasis. jesuswept. Diversity, Division, Diversion — and the powerful stay right where they are, giggling fiendishly as they keep climbing and scooping up all the land and the stuff and the power they can.

I had to leave after lunch. I only had one dessert, too. But i have some ideas about how i’m going to deal with this when it comes up in class — and it will come up. I’m going to outlaw the use of words like “cis”, “identity”, “inclusion” and “diversity”. And GENDER! Don’t say the G word! you mean sex, so say sex. ffs. These highly educated people at this orientation, I tell you what, they’ve mainlined the kool-aid, they’re swimming in it-talking about ‘binary’ this, and ‘gnc’ that. I was sitting there muttering to myself, the other people at my table kinda leaned away from me, I think…

Tell me what you really mean when you say those words, I’ll say. and when you pick an education policy upon which to present, take a critical look at it. Don’t say, “the trans-inclusion policy is good because”, tell me what problem it’s meant to solve, and then go about discovering why it serves only the interests of the powerful and in fact limits the possibilities and opportunities for the children those who imposed it claim it’s supposed to protect.

I have, every time i’ve taught this course, for the last five years or so, deliberately not included anything about this madness in the curriculum. But every year, more and more, some students want to address this trans stuff in a laudatory way. So I tell them, “okay. but read this, or this”, and now I tell them to go to and look around, too. This year, I’ve added a couple of readings to the syllabus — one by Rebecca Reilly-Cooper for instance, (here).

I’ve been a bit nervous to bring it up, but every year it comes up, and now the pressure is ENORMOUS to shove every damn kid into a gender box. This year, I’m going to really push the structural analysis, and talk about sexism, racism and classism — and compare it to this i-dentity ideology — I hope I can do it in a way that’s accessible and that will awaken their curiosity and build solidarity. we’ll see. Maybe i’ll let you know how it goes. I anticipate some discomfort for everyone. Oh well. No pain, no gain.

wish me luck.





a rain and a gale

For all my sisters who’ve ever been invaded.

pressing, pushing

into our space

into our bodies

into our lives

“accommodate me, listen to me, let me in, take it, say yes”

forever receptacles

constantly making room for others

for their problems, for their bodies, for their time, for their needs

grieving the loss

of our time

our lives



don’t let go just yet

for I am with you


pushing back


for our rights


for what is rightfully ours

we are not receptacles

we are full to overflowing

we need our own space



don’t give up

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Only People Who Subscribe to Gender Ideology Can Misgender

This is elegant. Wish I’d written it. But I’m very glad that someone did. Thank you Lesbian+Feminist. Here’s an excerpt:
“Not only is the concept of gender identity not personally useful, it is based on patriarchal sex roles and used to dismiss and cover up the violent, coercive, and the misogynistic meaning, use, and origin of said sex roles aka gender roles. Subscribing to the concept would make me complicit in that dismissal and cover-up. Identifying with the ideology of female oppressors would be a form of self-harm. Even if I thought that identifying that way would benefit me, it would be egocentric to the point of misogyny to do so despite the implications for other females.”

Lesbian + Women's Liberationist

Since the vast majority of people are referring to the male sex when they use the terms he, him, and his and the female sex when they use the terms she, her, and hers, they do not misgender anyone with pronouns. Some of these people have called me he and him, but that’s because they thought I was male, not because they thought I had any particular gender identity. They sex and mis-sex people with pronouns, but they do not gender or misgender anyone with pronouns. Most people don’t even know what gender identity means, so they certainly aren’t ascribing any gender identity to anyone.

Only people who subscribe to the concepts of gender identity and gender-based pronouns (rather than sex-based pronouns) can misgender, and they can only really misgender people who share those ideas. They can’t exactly misgender people who don’t identify with gender, but they can misidentify…

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Passport blues

August 2 —

On the train from Edinburgh to London. This will be my final train journey, probably. except for going to Gatwick on Saturday morning. And I’ll go on the tube, probably, not the train. I lost my wallet with my passport in it sometime between Saturday afternoon (when I went on a tour of Mary King’s Close, a cavern of streets and shops and small dwelling places running beneath modern Edinburgh) and Sunday morning. There was also a bunch of cash in it, too. dammit. Oh well. I have my credit cards and my driver’s license and my debit card, too. It could be much worse. ALSO! if the bureaucracy runs on the same kind of schedule as the trains do, I might be here a little longer. About which I will not complain.

I’ve met some wonderful women here. Connected with some family here — the genetically related variety and the politically and spiritually aligned variety. I hung out with lively sweet cousins and dead grandparents, ancestors from all the ages. I landed in a a nest of feminists and lesbians, and sought out some other family in recovery. I took a million pictures! English, Welsh and Scottish sheep, Scottish cows–the ones with the Viking-looking horns– Welsh ponies, grand workhorses, little stone cottages and great grand cathedrals. Underground passageways said to be haunted by the ghosts of old women and little children, broad hillsides sweeping down to ocean cliffs and pressing up against the wind. It feels like home here. Not in the way home feels like home –but something different. Like I belong here, somewhere. It’s a place of return, even though i’ve never been before. We’re almost at king’s cross now. then it will be a big trip to Trafalgar Square.

Later that day….dear god it’s humid! now i have a gazillion forms to fill out and a bunch of money to lay upon the good people at the Canadian embassy. They only do the passport thing between 9:30 and 12:30, so i have to just hang in till then. Took me FOREVER to find a passport photo place. that was fun, though. I went and had a burger at Byron’s, it hasn’t been a very nutritiously enlightened day for me. the only green and crunchy thing i’ve had all day was the pickle with the burger. Sweet pickle, at that. I was expecting dill. I’m glad i left my luggage at King’s Cross. For a king’s ransom they will hold your stuff for you. £25 sounds MUCH nicer than $45. Which was what it cost. oh well. no way I could have struggled all the way to Trafalgar Square, Canada House, to the closed photo place, back to Canada House, to the burger place, to the post office, then to Piccadilly Circus where there WAS a photo place, and then back to King’s Cross with 520 lbs (what is that in stone?) of ‘fridge magnets, tea towels, coasters, calendars and Cornish fudge. Anyway, I’m doing alright, i’m happy that god made credit cards. kind of. and my picture doesn’t look nearly as sweaty and disheveled as i feel.

August 3–

Alright. On Friday morning i can pick up my emergency travel document, and then when i get home i can apply for another passport. I was sad to lose my old passport, I think I looked kind of fierce and wild in the picture. It was one of me with long hair. I am not all that good about my hair — i just kind of leave it to do what it will. sometimes i look like a cartoon character. When i told my parents that i was a lesbian (thirty years ago! so long), Dad wanted to know what they had done wrong. Mom said, “Oh, John, we didn’t do anything wrong, she’s an adult, making her way,” but she was devastated by the news. She was worried I would be lonely, told me that I was either born ahead of my time, or behind it. She said, when she told me ab0ut Dad’s reaction to my letter, that she would have done some things differently (not connected to preventing my lesbianism, of course, just in general). I asked what she would have done–“Well. I would have spent less time on your hair…”

I still think that’s funny. Anyway, the old passport photo, that was at the tail end of the “i’m not getting a haircut until I finish my damned dissertation” days, so it’s about three years long. And you’re not allowed to smile, right, for your passport photo anymore. And I remember it was a very sad day when i had that picture taken. So i looked kind of serious and “braveheart”-ish. This new one, though, I’m wearing the labrys I got in Wales. and a t-shirt that says “Scotland” on it. Still stern, not as sorrowful. tidier hair. It’s so fraught, isn’t it? getting these ID photos.

I’m staying in London with a new friend — a radical feminist lesbian academic, that rarest of creatures — I tell you what, in Vancouver, I have been feeling a bit — marginal, you know? I have lots of friends, a good number of allies and a few women I count as intimates — sisters in one way or another. But I’m kind of peripheral to political feminism. Oh, I go to the events and demos and write letters to newspapers and politicians and so on, but i’m not part of a group, a movement. And at work, I’m certainly an anomaly. There are very few radical feminists anywhere in the university (as is the case in all “big I” institutions), nearly all the lesbians i’ve met are “queer” or in varying states of fluidity, and my students seem to regard me as kind of anachronistic. Every semester there are one or two of them who find my opinions and analysis relieving and interesting — and a few more who find me threatening and/or ‘close-minded’ (I respond, ‘you don’t want to be too open-minded, after all, a lot of good stuff will fall out, then’). I wouldn’t be doing my job if people weren’t challenged and a bit unsettled by my classes. Anyway, I’m always a bit wary, a bit defensive, and usually lonely at work. It’s reassuring to know that there are other women in institutions of higher learning who are openly out of step with the mainstream promotion of gender and “diversity” (which is code for ‘assimilation’ now).  She’s got a regular gig, too, has something like tenure and her employer is supportive so far. Mind you, North America seems to have reached a fever pitch of anti-feminism in a way that I don’t perceive here. Could be because I’m not from these parts, though.

What i mean to say, here, is that no matter what, no matter where I’ve gone (this trip, or others over the years), I’ve found other women who know, women who are not fooled by the emperor’s clothes, women who can imagine a path to freedom (if not freedom itself, at least the way toward it). These past two years have been pretty tough in many ways. More losses and endings than beginnings. My confidence has been shaken, I’ve been flailing about a fair bit. Not only solitary, but lonely.  Not at all sure of myself, and filled with grief.

You remember a couple of months back, when i wrote about my ex lover’s impending death? As she was dying, those last few months, I checked her facebook page almost daily. Several of her family members and friends sent pictures of beautiful things every day, and notes of sweetness and love. We all knew we were walking with her, as close as we could, to that final doorway. She had been a proud lesbian and feminist during the time we knew each other, and I admired the way she thought, and how she communicated with others. She was very smart and generous, and had a way of bringing out the best in others. Our lives went in separate directions after we broke up, though, pretty fast. She started dating men, and I fell in love with a woman who — well, it’s complicated — less said about that, the better. I last saw Joanna in July of 2014, at the party my advisor threw after my defense. that was when she told me about her new boyfriend. She was pretty determinedly straight by then. Within a year, they became engaged, then she found out she had cancer and then they married. She had no room anymore in her life for feminism. I think she knew. She knew she had to use all her energy to attend to her treatment and her closest relationships. I was inspired by her grace and courage in the face of her impending mortality, and saddened by the erasure of her feminist and lesbian past.

I decided then, in late May, about two weeks before she died, that I wanted to shake the grief and sorrow that had come to characterize my Vancouver life, and go somewhere I’ve always yearned to go. So, Ancestral Homeland, here I come. I bought a ticket, a train pass, and sent word to friends I knew lived there, and the two cousins I knew about (one family I had met 33 years ago, the other, I knew only from Mom and Uncle Tom’s stories). Everyone responded. My brother and I made plans to bury Mom’s ashes, gathering some cousins to meet us at the Regina cemetery. I think i posted about that, some of it, earlier.

Anyway, this has been a journey of renewals, discoveries and beginnings. Finally! I discovered that some of our ancestors, on Dad’s side, had been loyalists during the American Revolution. Our cousin Bev digs around with genealogy a bit, and told me that. So those Scots have been gone from the land of moors and heather for many generations. In Wales, my cousin Alun showed me the house in which my grandpa grew up, and told me a bit about their relations — Alun’s father was Thomas, and Thomas was the younger brother of Tudor, David and Katie Williams — who were the children of Tom and Edith Williams who took Grandpa in when he was orphaned at nine. Grandpa was David as well, so whenever Alun talked about him, he said, “Uncle Dave Morgan” to distinguish him from “Uncle Dave”. who was a tailor, and who never married and lived in the Brynna house until he died in the late 198os (I think, maybe the 1990s). I saw the graves of Grandpa Morgan’s mother, Mary Williams Morgan, and his father, John David, and of their infant son, Thomas William. They are buried on the grounds of an ancient priory at Ewenny. I said hello, and thank you, and i told them i loved them, and i loved their son my grandfather. I told them that he had a hard life, but he made good, and he had been a wonderful grandfather, and I’m proud to share some traits in common with him (stubborn, opinionated, competitive, impatient, loyal, generous, honest, loving — in case you’re wondering). I put £10 into the donation box in the medieval church, took a couple of cards and wrote a little thank you note in the guest book. I cried all the way to the highway on my way out of town.

oh! i rented a car for four days! that was exciting. I drove through a torrential rainstorm, on the left side of the road, and stayed in some guest houses in North Wales that were absolutely charming. North Wales is kind of like the wild west. except with those delightful little Welsh ponies.

right. I told you about my new friends in Edinburgh, right? Radical feminists, lesbians, holding to a fierce and difficult vision of freedom, steeped in history, never far from their ancestors, not really. There is something solid about them. Rooted in a way that settlers in the new world can never be — squatting, as we are, in someone else’s living room. Of course it’s home now, Canada. Vancouver is home. As much as any place can be, I guess. Soon i’ll return. I fly out on Saturday morning, back to Calgary, and then i’ll drive back to Vancouver on Monday or Tuesday. I’ll arrive in time to attend a celebration of Joanna’s Vancouver life. Her death was part of the catalyst for this trip.

I didn’t know what I wanted to find, but I did know that I wanted to rise through a tender grief into a different vision of possibility. I still don’t know what freedom is like, of course not. But now I am not so lonely. Solitary, yes, that will be the case for a while yet. But I belong now. Again. I’m bigger than i was before, more confident, more solid than when I left. The beautiful people here to whom I am related by blood and political commitment,  those proud, ferocious radical feminist lesbians — radiant and flawed — know I can depend on the gifts we have shared. If we never see each other again, (and I’m sure we will), we will always be in each others hearts.

now i’m gonna go looking for a meeting….




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right. I STILL have not covered all of the conference, and then there’s a troubling thing happening in Vancouver, all “I-dentity-politicky” that it is. The city hall has passed recommendations to make city facilities “more inclusive” to a new acronym — TGV2S — people. that stands for “trans, gender-variant and two-spirited”. At least the city is no longer pretending concern for women (except those women who are calling themselves ‘transmen’ or bois or gender-fluid or whathaveyou. Just so long as they are not calling themselves women or female or — heaven forfend! — lesbian). Nope. This is all for the trans. I would say, at the expense of women and girls. But at least they’re not pretending anymore that any of this has anything to do with lesbians. or gays, for that matter.

Now, I’ve said for a long time that men know what they want in a woman, so they are of course much more qualified to BE women. Indeed, in some of the coverage of this stuff, a teen boy who thinks he is a girl is featured. He says that all he wants is to be treated as a girl.

Does that mean he yearns for other boys to snap his brastrap? To shout sexual comments (‘nice ass!’ ‘wanna sit on my face?’) wherever he goes? Does he want other boys to throw coins at him that represent the value of his looks? Maybe he wishes that his teachers would ignore him in class in favour of other boys who may be less competent than he is? Or perhaps he wants to be restricted more in his movements, taught to fear going out at night lest a strange man attack him and rape him. Or steal him from the streets, from his life…

there are millions of ways that girls are treated that chip away at our confidence, our belief in our abilities, and restrict our movements and the opportunities before us. We learn early the qualities men look for that give us our worth–I dare say no one wants to be ‘treated like a girl’.  I kind of understand why there are so many more young women claiming to be ‘trans’ now — the list above is only partial.

I don’t think I was aware of all that (some of it for sure) when I wanted to be a boy. I did see the endless work that my mom and other women did, work in our homes that everyone took for granted, and which seemed like drudgery to me. Also, i wanted to be big and strong and fast on my feet. Something I saw boys were, and men on tv, and I was most assuredly not. When i was very young, I thought perhaps if I were a boy, I wouldn’t be asthmatic. And I could run around all summer with no shirt on, and climb trees and run barefoot without spending the next night or few days in the hospital. Has nothing to do with sex, I know. But it’s magical thinking, anyway, and it is something that kids do a lot of. It’s normal. What’s NOT normal is when adults go along with it.

I got into a little argument with one of my facebook friends a while back. She took issue with something I said about the trans trend. I said that if I were young now, I would be in danger of being diagnosed trans, possibly put on puberty blockers and so forth. She said she was a tomboy too when she was a kid, but that didn’t mean she was male. No, she said, that wouldn’t happen to us because we were not persistent in our belief we were boys. Well, of course we weren’t. Our parents and teachers didn’t see our ‘gender fluid’ behaviour and tastes as signs that we were born in the wrong body or having boy brains or other nonsense. Had they responded the way parents and teachers are now responding to young people who have behaviours and tastes that are stereotypically those of the opposite sex, our beliefs would have become persistent and fixed. That boy, the kid who wants to be treated like a girl, he might grow up to be a perfectly healthy and well-adjusted gay man. Why not leave him the hell alone to do that? Rather than make him stay in pink, pee in the girls room, and continue to believe that his normal, healthy, male body is wrong. This is abusive.

But it looks like encouragement. He’s lauded as brave, his parents as oh-so-progressive. Everything looks all shiny and social justicey. But really, none of this changes anything at all. Not structurally. Gender roles are reinforced with rebar and concrete, and women and girls have smaller and smaller, fewer and fewer spaces that are only for females. Anyone who is non-conforming is in danger now. Especially lesbians. Young lesbians don’t have the women’s liberation movement I had when I was coming out. And we don’t tell our coming out stories anymore, either. Because no one is in any closet, and everyone’s queer. There’s no context, only I-dentity.

no matter, you know that boy will likely never be treated like a girl. Already he has a sense of entitlement—he is given so much encouragement and appreciation for his so-called choice. This is nothing like the way girls are treated. Ever. His way of “being a girl” is limited to what he knows from observing girls–who will only give him part of their stories. They might share with him things like make up tips and how to dress or something, but they’re not going to share their experiences of menstruation or fear of sexist attacks from boys. not because they wouldn’t necessarily, but because he’s not going to want to hear about it, it’s not in his realm of ‘girlhood’. I’m not 100% sure of this, but I’m willing to bet that his girlfriends won’t share that stuff with him. It’s not in his experience, not the way it is every girl’s experience. Of course, we don’t always share that stuff with each other, either, but we very rarely share it with males.

anyway. enough of that. I’ll have to deal with it in some way or another when i start work in september, I’m pretty sure.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

on to the fun stuff — The Old Country! Yesterday I bought a suitcase because i’ve gone mad buying tea towels and postcards and fridge magnets and all kinds of other Welsh shit to give away. It’s a bit disordered. As if i’m worried I will forget what this is like, and I want to tell everyone, and I want to be, to have part of this and to fix it in my memory — so I bought stickers to put on my car and give to people, and i got a book that’s supposed to teach me conversational Welsh (simple conversations), and another book at a second hand shop about wild animals of Britain, and guidebooks for every damn museum and attraction i’ve been to, and ‘fridge magnets and slate coasters and a couple of small Welsh flags, plus a big one, and recipe books and a couple of calendars — it’s embarrassing. I already know I’m coming back. I know it. I don’t need all this shit. And neither do my loved ones. but they’re getting it. be warned.

Every day I am moved to tears. The Welsh language is beautiful and ancient. It sounds like a holy song. When people greet you here, they say, Y’awright? As in, “are you alright?” and I don’t really get how i’m supposed to answer. Sometimes I go, “ya, fine, um….how are YOU?” and it’s kind of awkward, because they are working, and they just want to know if I want tea or coffee. Or it’s a nicety — like that drunk guy weaving down the street last night, who peered blearily at me, (i was using my cane, it’d been a long day, my knee was tired), and slurred, “ya’awright?” I knew that he didn’t care if I was alright or not, he was just being neighbourly. I said, “hiya”, which seemed to satisfy him and he gave an unsteady wave and lurched off.

It was quiet. I put on a hard hat and the woman at the counter gave me a big old flashlight, and I went down a bunch of uneven stone steps into the remains of a cavernous quarry. Hard work, hard hard work, that slate mining. The dust hangs in the air when the men are digging there, and they breathe it in and then it kills them. Eventually. Inevitably. They start young there, as they do in all mines and it would seem in all of the resource industries. Start young and die young.

I left Porthmadog this morning and drove all meandering to Llandudno. I am staying at the devastatingly charming guest house called Craig-ard. It’s a tall, narrow family outfit—looks Victorian. There’s a small dining room in the front on one side, and a tiny little pub on the other. Fireplace in there, comfy chairs. A little family of ceramic gnomes cheerfully standing in the front garden to welcome guests.

One of the last nights I was with Alun and Sian, Alun asked if there was much of a pub culture in Canada. I said that I didn’t know, I don’t drink so I don’t go to bars anymore, don’t have a sense of that culture if there is one. But today at the meeting, I was telling that story—come to think of it, there’s such a strong recovery culture in Vancouver, I suspect the pub culture must be pretty active too.

Ah, I keep wanting to write, too, about Coity Castle. It’s an old Norman ruin near Bridgend, only about ½ hour walk from the bnb I was at. It’s neatly kept and serene. The remaining turrets are quiet and imposing. Holding the ghosts, the sounds of the people who lived there, the village that grew in its shadow. I met a young man and his little boy there. The man asked where I was from. I just say ‘Vancouver, Canada’ here. I don’t tell them the prairies, because really, in the settler society, we’re kind of only ‘from’ the place we now live. I’m really from here. This island, these people. Not that I belong here, really – Oh who knows. He told me that the Normans came and drove the Welsh north to the poorer land. “They took the south and pushed the Welsh to the hills in the North”.

I asked the man if he was Welsh, “oh yea,” he said proud, “we’re Welsh, aren’t we Noah? This is our castle, isn’t it?” and the boy said, “Our castle. I wanna climb” – so the man said good bye to me, and wished me well and they climbed the stones.

July 29,

Where was I? oh. Right. The Craig-ard guest house in Llandudno. Now I’m in Manchester at the Manchester Piccadilly train station. There’s a woman across from me talking on her cell phone. She has an American-ish accent. She’s kinda fancy, but casual. Oh, there she goes. Off to somewhere like Lockerbie or something. Now across from me are an elderly man and woman, and a boy I presume is their grandson. He has cerebral palsy and a fit of the giggles.

Last night I went to a meeting. Oh, that was nice. I’ve been to three now, in my time here. Which is three times more than I’ve visited a gym here. I’m getting a bit antsy. I did bring my resistance bands, and I’ve used them a bit. That’s something. Anyway, fer cryin’ out loud, I’m in the (dis)United Kingdom, why would I want to go to a gym when I can wander about in 3500-year-old copper mines, and walk along “permissive footpaths” and eat Scottish kippers for breakfast (as I did this morning)? Anyway, the meeting was lovely, lovely. There was only one guy who had a Northern accent that I found a bit difficult to understand, but really, we speak the same language, I could tell what he was getting at. I got a bunch of email addresses and we swapped invitations to visit, or visit again. Then I rode the bus back to Llandudno with one of the guys who was there, who told me a bit about the town and the things to do there.

Everywhere you go. I visited Caernarfon Castle yesterday, too, on my way from Porthmadog to Llandudno. You know, I should have just decided to stay the heck in wales this whole time. But when I left home, I didn’t know if I’d ever come here again. Now I am certain that I will. I’ve driven on highways, in villages and cities, and taken money out of electric banks and I can say “good morning” and “thank you” in Welsh (Bore da and Driolch – I think. Actually, I can’t yet say ‘thank you’, but I think I got the spelling right). Thanks to my generous friends and cousins, and the meetings I go to in both the Sisterhood and the Fellowship, I have people everywhere I’d like to go. Today I’m going to Edinburgh, for example, and I’m staying with one of my feminist comrades for a couple of days, then at a b and b for a couple of days. Then I’ll go to Newcastle-on-Tyne for a night or two. Then back to London.

I went to the aforementioned 3,500-year-old copper mine today. You can go down into it, the lit tunnels take you down 18 metres under the earth, which is, I think, about half the way that the Bronze age miners got to with tools made of stone and bone. It’s a self-guided tour, you pick up a hard hat at the beginning, and watch a five-minute film that describes the discovery of this mine. It had been a copper mine in the 18th and 19th centuries as well, but it wasn’t until excavations began to turn the site into a car park that they discovered evidence of a very extensive and ancient system of tunnels and shafts. So they brought in the archeologists and pieced together the story. It’s pretty amazing. Those tunnels are narrow – the signs told us that children started working in those mines when they were five or six.  I got a little claustrophobic down there, even though I typically kinda like small, enclosed den-like places (like a dog. I’m practicing for my next incarnation as a golden lab). I imagined those people crammed into those dark, narrow caverns, working by candlelight with rough stone hammers. Of course I thought of later miners, like my grandfather in the coal pits, too. Crouched beneath the earth so deep, the air was close, the light was dim, the walls must’ve felt like they were wrapping tighter around them every moment. No wonder Grandpa went to the Canadian Prairies – with the limitless horizons, and nothing between your breath and the sky, nothing to close you in or make you stoop. Grandma had a photograph of Grandpa from, I don’t know, maybe the 1930s – he held a big horse by the bridle, and he was looking straight at the camera, a happy grin on his face. His shirt sleeves were rolled up to his biceps, and his pants were held by suspenders, I think he wore a hat, too, one of those flat caps that farmers wore then, and hipsters wear now. He looked tall and powerful and happy. On top of the world.

Plus it was very cold, windy and rainy today. Bracing. I loved it. I bought a cheese and onion sandwich from the café at the Orme in Llandudno (the mountain, it’s Llandudno’s main industry, looks like, that big hill. That’s where the mine is, and an ancient burial chamber, and feral goats and an amazing view). It was terrible (the sandwich, not the Orme). I only ate half of it. I threw the rest out. I never throw out food. It wasn’t a very good sandwich. But I also had Welsh cakes, and I broke down and spread some butter on them. It did improve them (because “bacon and butter makes everything better”), but as I said on my facebook page, if they used butter in the recipe, they wouldn’t need butter on the finished cake. Other than that, there were no disappointments in Wales at all; my expectations were exceeded.

I went down into a slate mine, and a museum about the clay works in Cornwall, and today I went down into the ancient copper mine, and yesterday I visited a woolen mill. All these places are really sites of human sacrifice. Imagine going without metal or wool or clay–no porcelain or bone china or slate roofs or baking stones or blankets or axes or forks or … but the cost of extraction – I thought of that a lot, every day. The human cost as well as the environmental cost. I never did see the mine in Brynna where my grandpa worked as a boy. Nor any other coalmine.

Then I drove with no trouble right into Manchester – I only had to turn around twice, and got to the train station in LOTs of time. As I do. I wasn’t due back with the car until 4, but I get all anxious, you know, about getting lost. Even though the bossy woman gave accurate directions. She got a little snappy those two times I missed the turn. But there you go. We got there okay, and now my phone is almost out of charge, and I’m on the train for the rest of this journey.

We’re in Scotland! The minute we crossed the border, seems like, everyone’s accent thickened to a brogue. There’s a man sitting across from me, he looks a bit like Daniel Craig, sharp blue eyes and angular lines framing his mouth and eyes. Looks pretty Scottish to me. I have to listen hard when he speaks–that accent, a voice like the winter sea.

One time, when I was still working at the mental health drop-in centre, we had a man come to repair some of the water pipes in the kitchen. He was a Scot. He looked at me and asked, “are you a Scot”?

“partly, yes,” I replied.

“You’ve got that look. The shape of your face, you look like women at home,” He had been in Canada for many years, but hadn’t laid the Canadian accent very thick over his Scots one.

Tomorrow I’m going to Ghostbusters with Jackie and some other women who are anti-pornography activists in Edinburgh—that’ll be fun. It’s going to be good to be with other women again, feminist women. I love this traveling around business, but I’ll do it differently next time. Next time I’ll pick a spot and stay there. Get to know it, and the people who live there.

It’s gonna be hard to choose though. So far the Scottish countryside is every bit as glorious as Wales and Cornwall. My people come from here, too. But many generations ago. Cousin Bev said that some of our ancestors came to Canada from the US – they were Loyalists in the American revolution. They would’ve left here as those stone fences were built and before. Two or three hundred years ago. But we’ve still got Scotland in our bones.

I really miss my accordion. That was a bit of a non-sequitur. We’re arriving in Oxenholme. About an hour out of Edinburgh, now. A little more. Oxenholme is the home of the University of Cumbria, and Gateway to the Lake District, according to the station signs. Okay. Lookit, this is a really long post. That’s all for now.