RSS Feed

Love Letter with Warning Label

I’m teaching this semester.  three 3-credit courses, each with between 29 and 35 students or so. It’s the same course, so that’s a blessing. And I’ve taught it several times before. It’s called Educational Studies 401: Education, Schools and Social Institutions, and it’s one of many required courses for pre-service teacher candidates here at my university. I LOVE it. Well, the students, I love them. And mostly I like what we get to teach. A bit of theory, a bit of policy criticism, a bit of history, some sociology, a heap o’ feminism (in my case), and — increasingly — gender-critical feminist pedagogy. I don’t know if that’s really a thing, “gender-critical feminist pedagogy”, but it should be. Every damn year there has been more and more promotion of ‘trans-inclusion’, ‘support for trans and gender-variant kids’, ‘celebrating diversity’ and ‘queering the curriculum/language/inquiry/etc’.

One of the assignments for this course is a teacher biography. I could have decided to make quizzes or ask for one or two page reflections about something, or something that would be a bit more manageable to mark than 100 4-6 page papers. But I do so love to read their stories. And when they tell me what they  know about where their people are from, and what events shaped them, who influenced them, and what they’re learning about where they live in the political social  categories of class/race/sex–it is so profoundly moving and inspiring. I don’t always like everyone in my classes, but I can’t not love them.

A couple of years ago — three, I think, i compiled all their stories and wrote them a letter, which I read to them the day before they went off on their short practicum. I’ve only ever had one class before, so I could keep up better, and remember who was who faster. And putting their stories together helped me to know them better in class, too. Anyway, I think it helped to glue them together a bit. So I did that again last year. The year before that, 2014, I didn’t get it together to do that. I don’t know why, but anyway, that was the year my mom died, and i kinda lost the plot in the second half of the semester.

this year, I did it again. But I decided to write it the way I asked them to write their biographies, with references to the readings we’d done, and tying in the theory with what they told me about their experiences. For the first time, I added a couple of paragraphs about the danger to school children, and to females generally of the increasing and relentless promotion of transgenderism. Already, some of my students have told me, “no one is saying what you are saying about this, what if we think it’s good, will you fail us?” I won’t, but I urge them to come up with a compelling argument if they think it’s such a good idea, tell me why. But be sure to also discuss how this policy reproduces inequality and reinforces oppression. Because policy (written and unwritten)  is meant to protect the interests of the powerful. I would like to be wrong about this, but I don’t think I am.

I read it to them. For each class, I made reference to some of their specific stories, but also said about the same thing in each of the letters about policy, education, reproduction of structures of domination. Every time, I cried a little bit in one or two spots. I am always moved by how much some of my students tell me, by their eloquence and intelligence.  So I want them to know who each other is, somehow, who they are with in the room, and who’s going to be with them (metaphorically, anyway) in the institution of education.

This year, I’m way more “out” than I have been previously. I mean, I’m more open about my lesbianism, and about being gender-critical. I added that to the letters, as you can see below. After I read it the first time, to my evening class, some of them wrote me after to thank me–a few said they were grateful I’d opened a space to critique the trans stuff, because they’re of a similar mind set as I am, but there’s  been nowhere for them to explore their dissenting opinions. A number of them were moved by the stories, too, and appreciated that I took the time to tell me about their classmates. They really are lovely. I’m honoured to be with them for part of their journey.

It was all a reminder of how important it is to get to know each other’s stories, and to say the things out loud that make your voice shake and your palms sweat. I know most people don’t agree with me, but that’s okay. The important thing is to have the conversation, because then we can find some way forward, out of this dystopia.

Anyway, I want to introduce you to some of the people who will be teaching in the next couple of years– so here’s some part of our stories woven together:

I want to tell you your story, who you all are in the world, and maybe a bit of how you fit together. Look around you, really see each other, because you are really beautiful to behold. You are from everywhere – from Tswaassen, Regina, Toronto and Victoria, and cities and villages in Texas and New England, Korea, England, Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, and China. Your family emigrated from the former Yugoslavia—Serbia, Croatia, or from Italy or Lebanon. Your people are from the Plains Cree, Blackfoot, and M’ikmaq Nations, the Punjab region of India, the Scottish Highlands, Portugal, Quebec, and Galicia tucked in between Poland and the Ukraine.

Your parents and/or grandparents were university professors, high-ranking military officers, teachers, farmers in India and Saskatchewan, nurses and plumbers. Most of you are from working-class people, like most people in the world. Not poor, though, unlike most people in the world. Some of you are from the elite or owning class, and your decision to become a teacher represents downward mobility to your family.

You were raised in poverty by hard working people, and you were raised in wealth by hard working people. Your parents were educated and middle class, but their home country was torn by war and genocide – they had to leave. So they decided to come to Canada to start over.  There are some stories they hold that you have never heard. Your grandparents have degrees and your grandma bakes the best cinnamon buns in all of Saskatchewan (well, mine did). You went to Catholic schools where you learned to lie, cheat, steal and manipulate nuns for fun, and you went to private school where you learned English and piano and how to ‘fit in’ to the life that your parents planned for you. Your lives were disrupted when your father died when you were a teenager or when your parents got a divorce when your mom finally found the strength and economic independence to leave her abusive husband–your dad. Your life turned upside down when your sister got cancer, or when your mom’s drinking got out of hand.  You got sober a while ago, and life went from pretty small and weird to a really big adventure (me too!). You live with your parents, and you moved out when you were young.

You were raised with a religious tradition, in a church or mosque or temple – and when it became clear you were gay, it was a painful time. How to reconcile your heart’s desire and the spiritual direction of your church and family? You found a way, and so did your parents. Now you’re here and you’re part of your family, too. So far as I know, I’m the only lesbian in this classroom, but it’s not too late!  Often that decision comes later for women than it does for men.

You were racist in your youth and learned things about Aboriginal people that reinforced your position of dominance. You were victims of racism and felt the sting of your classmates’ thoughtless insults and assumptions about you.

Your father was a bit overprotective of you, because you were a girl – but his fear on your behalf dampened your confidence in yourself – Or your father pushed you in a direction you resisted, he wanted you to be a “man’s man”, or to take up the family business. Sometimes there was painful conflict between you. Your grandmother helped to raise you and your siblings, or your people lived far away, and others of you lived with your parents, aunts and uncles and cousins—you tumbled together like puppies.

You are proud of your family history, and the culture and language of your Italian/Korean/Serbian/Scottish grandparents, or you don’t know much about your history. You had dreams of joining the US Peace Corps, and worked overseas for a while, but what you learned of US foreign policy and military actions broke your heart and turned you away from that work, and the ideology of imperialism that underlies that work. You are here because you want to inspired children to learn, to think critically, and to act. You are here because you want children to grow in knowledge and confidence the way you saw your father grow when he went back to school as an adult. Or the way you blossomed when you found your passion.

Some of you enjoyed your k-12 education very much – you had many friends, your teachers inspired and encouraged you, and you had opportunities to study and participate in sports—you swam competitively and played soccer, well enough to get college scholarships! This was much more difficult for the females. Not because you were not capable, not at all. But because you were born to the sex-class female, and your opportunities were limited only because of that. Some of you played on boys teams because they got the resources, the time on the field or the rink, and decent uniforms. You could keep up with them, and sometimes outplay them, even when they grew bigger than you did – but at some point, you had to settle for the under-resourced, relatively neglected girls’ sports teams.

You loved music, and sang, and you were in theatre besides all your course work – with the encouragement of your family, and/or the families of your friends. Some of you had a hard time—you were always the new kid, or you couldn’t sit still, or you were bored, or you didn’t understand – or you were frightened because your classmates picked on you or threatened you or beat you up because you were the only brown kid in the school, shy, or effeminate, or not feminine enough, or socially awkward — not the ‘right kind’ of kid. Maybe you were the bully, (sometimes I was) but you didn’t tell me about that. None of this makes you any less human, or any less worthy of compassion and a place to belong. Your house was the neighbourhood hang-out, or you couldn’t invite anyone over because your family was so weird, or wrong, or unpredictable. You were a leader or you were a wallflower. You were the jock or the bookworm. You were the drama kids, the music or the science nerds. You had a lot of stuff, or you went to the food bank often or you had enough.

Some of you described your class background as “lower class” or “upper class” – though these words do describe your class position relative to other classes, I prefer the terms “working class”, “owning class” or “ruling class”. I’m kind of old-fashioned that way, and besides, ‘lower’ to me implies ‘less than’, and as Freire said, the oppressor is more dependent upon those he oppresses than she is upon him.

Ah, speaking of pronouns, did you see what I did there, using the pronoun ‘he’ to name the oppressor, and ‘she’ to name the oppressed? That was a reference to Frye’s essay [Oppression in The Politics of Reality 1983]. Many of you mentioned that essay in your stories. I’m always happy that people find her work so provocative. Some of you hated it, and thought she was attacking men – but most of you thought, “hey! That makes sense to me – I can think of this and this and my mom and my grandma and – oh. Yea. Me too.”

Some of the women in this class told me about your relationships with abusive men, boyfriends or co-workers or bosses.  You told me that when you were in your early twenties, you were reluctant to align yourself with feminism, because aren’t women equal now? And you didn’t want to be seen as a ‘man-hater’. But still, you notice that you’re quiet around your male colleagues, or you sometimes hesitate to walk alone at night, and you noticed at work that men would talk over you, or speak your ideas as if they thought of them, or ignore you. Some of the women here were acutely aware that the boys in your family got more attention, encouragement praise and stuff then the girls. Some of the men here noticed their relative freedom compared to their sisters and female colleagues, and you noticed that there were no women at all in your workplace. And some of you recognize that you’re at a loss now that you have to keep your own home, because growing up, the girls and the women in the house did all that stuff. This is an example of what Freire meant by the oppressor’s dependence on the oppressed.

I’m going to stick with sex for a minute here. As in the biological fact and the political category. You’ve heard me mention in class that ‘sex’ refers only to our reproductive organs. Humans, like all mammals, come in only two varieties: male and female. Males have a penis and testes, and females have ovaries and uteruses – and we have hormonal systems to go with these reproductive organs. That’s it. Gender, on the other hand, is a toxic, hierarchical structure that s imposed upon us at birth, and to which we are made to conform, based upon our sex, by a complex system of rewards and punishments[1].

Some of you described yourselves as “cis-gender”, and you will note when I finally get around to sending your paper back that I say, “cis” is an insult. We will talk about this in class, I promise. Well, now’s the time. Every year, since I started teaching in the teacher education program in 2011, someone has brought up the issue of transgender children. This has ramped up a lot since 2013 when the VSB passed the “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” policy. I know you don’t hear what I am about to say from very many people, and I know the Faculty of Education has promoted the ideology of trans inclusion as if it is a good thing, and moving us toward social justice and celebration of diversity – but hear me out, please, and think on what I’m going to say –

Diversity and Division have the same root. And it bears investigating what this whole celebration of diversity is in fact accomplishing. Especially the obsession with “Queer and Trans Identities”. This ideology is promoting the erasure of females. Much as the promotion of multiculturalism promotes the erasure of Aboriginal people, as Verna St. Denis (2011) warned. Men who claim to be women are most often taking up typically feminine ways of dressing and behaving. Women who claim to men are fleeing their womanhood, mostly because they both reject femininity and are attempting to protect themselves from male violence and other forms of sexism. This is how they are getting out of the birdcage. But such measures reinforce gender stereotypes and masculine domination. These measures, as well, divide women from each other, and atomize what could be fruitful alliances into a million different ‘identities’. The cage remains, and it’s getting crowded in there.

No one is “born in the wrong body”. No one. When adults say that boys who like dresses and dollies and princesses are girls, they are also saying that these traits are innate to only girls. Several of you said that when you were little girls, you were tomboys. And at least one of you recognized that you were blessed with parents who raised you as genderless as they could, encouraging you and your brother and sister to cook with Dad and make your bed and play soccer and roll in the dirt and wear dresses or pants as you pleased. When adults tell girls that passivity and cooking and pleasing boys and ineptitude with math and longing for pretty sparkly things are innately female—and these girls don’t like that stuff, nor do they like catcalls and sexual harassment – these girls may think that the only way to escape that fate is to become boys. You see? It’s not transforming anything. It’s abandoning children to deeply sexist and harmful stereotypes. Don’t buy it.

Okay. Back to you – most of you mentioned the class layer cake. And most of you recognized your discomfort as you took steps forward and backward. When you looked around, those of you in front told me you felt embarrassed, uncomfortable, or sad. Some of you were a bit defensive. “My family worked hard” you said, “they came from somewhere else, they had it hard, we are not oppressors.” But all of you made some links between what you experienced during that exercise, what we were reading early in the semester, and what you remember from your life. So by the time you were writing your biographies, you told me, you understood that what you have or what you do not have is much less about how you “identify” and fundamentally about where you are located in the layers of class, race and sex.

Though you still talked about your identities[2], many of you have were struck by the way the layer cake exercise illustrated your positions within a class structure. How you personally identify may be related to what you understand of your social class, but does not have much to do with how people treat you, or behaviours and values you have learned through your relations with others of your class (sex-class, racial-class, socio/economic-class). Like the old saying goes: “Class consciousness is knowing what side of the fence you’re on. Class analysis is figuring out who’s there with you[3]”.

You can move ‘up’ in the class ladder, sometimes you can ‘pass’ for another race or sex, but you you can’t change where you come from. You can’t escape that fundamental training. Maybe you don’t want to. There are some of you from working class families who went to private schools with members of the elite classes. You experienced a kind of culture shock. Just as it will be when you’re in front of your class, and you will see the working class or poor kid who is trying to fit in with the rich kids, or the working class or poor kid who is responding to the inequality by disengaging. Watch the quiet ones, if you can. Try to get beside them, or get them in the middle of the class—give the quiet ones or the obstreperous ones an important job to do, and the resources with which to do it. Watch what happens.

You are all excited about what you will accomplish as teachers. You are nervous about the responsibility (that’s understandable), and you are determined to take it up. Remember. Remember how you felt when an adult you admired saw you, and recognized your abilities and gave you the attention and tools so that you could achieve something. All of you had someone who gave you that. Every one of you. Might’ve been your mom or your dad, your grandmother who was an inspiring teacher all her life, your friend Dian, your friend Sharde, your coach or your high school math teacher. You are capable and worthy, and you don’t have to be alone. Indeed, we’re pack animals, we can’t thrive if we live only in solitude. You can be that inspiration for some of the people in your schoolrooms, too.

You are part of each other’s lives now, and together you have so much to offer one another. You are together humanity. You are together divine. You are together the best teacher EVER. Don’t forget your story; tell it and other stories often, and listen close for the stories of your colleagues and your students. Everyone can learn, everyone can teach, and we are all capable of making an essential contribution. We need each other.

Freire, P. (1970/1990): Chapter 1 in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos, revised 20th Anniversary Edition. Continuum Press, New York (pp. 25-51).

Frye, M. (1983), Oppression. In The Politics of Reality. Crossing Press, A Division of Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA. pdf.

Denis, V. (2011). Silencing Aboriginal curricular content and perspectives through multiculturalism: “There are other children here”. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 33(4), 306-317.

Appendix 1

Some definitions for those who don’t seem to understand that transracial and transgender politics refer to the same thing

 

Sex: a binary that refers to which reproductive organs you have (males have sperm, females have eggs)

Race: a system that organizes people based on melanin levels in the skin and place of origin (labeling varies, but physical differences exist between races)

These two are physical realities, in which people of some categories face oppression because of their presence in those categories. The term “black woman” says nothing about her beyond a basic physical appearance.

– – –

Gender: a collection of stereotypes placed upon individuals based on their sex (i.e., girls like pink and shopping, boys like blue and sports)

Transgender: the belief that one “feels” like the opposite sex

This is fundamentally impossible without the assumption that male and female minds are biologically wired to conform to gender (aka stereotypes) which is demonstrably untrue and incredibly sexist

Transracial: the belief that one “feels” like a different race

This is fundamentally impossible without the assumption that the minds of different races are biologically wired to conform to certain stereotypes, which is demonstrably untrue and incredibly racist

– – –

You cannot wear the identity of a marginalized person like a costume. Males are not female, white people are not black, and heterosexuals are not gay. All of these are obvious facts, and yet only the first seems to be considered radical.

“Identity has become the axis of so much university activism because, for all the radical posturing associated with it, identity politics does not threaten the established order of society. It promotes a moralistic and self-indulgent anti-politics, where a person’s use of language and the purity of their thinking matters more than confronting collectively the material conditions and social relations under which they are forced to live. It creates a simulation of political struggle – one that doesn’t merely fail to challenge the material inequality and unfreedom of late capitalism, but fundamentally aligns with the dynamics and interests of its atomised, spectacle-driven society. It is a perfect mirror of consumerism, playing-upon the individual’s desires for real freedom, only to perpetuate and prettify the conditions of their alienation.”

http://waragainstintelligence.tumblr.com/post/149879735380/identity-has-become-the-axis-of-so-much-university  accessed October 23, 201

[1] See Appendix 1:  http://sparksparkboom.tumblr.com/post/149337624658/some-definitions-for-those-who-dont-seem-to

Accessed October 22, 2016.[2] Again, see Appendix 1, or link to http://waragainstintelligence.tumblr.com/post/149879735380/identity-has-become-the-axis-of-so-much-university  accessed October 23, 2016.

[3] http://lazarapress.ca/books/broadsides/class/ Pat Smith. Accessed October 23, 2016.

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

institutions

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 4thwavenow.com 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.

 

 

 

Invasion

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

control

choice

don’t let go just yet

for I am with you

struggling

pushing back

fighting

for our rights

solidarity

for what is rightfully ours

we are not receptacles

we are full to overflowing

we need our own space

time

respect

don’t give up

View original post

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…

View original post 747 more words

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….