Friday, September 27, 2013
Thursday, September 12, 2013
When I tell you that I have never felt so alone in my life as I did in the Temple at Burning Man I do so with liquid squishing out of my tear ducts.
I live alone. I've raised a kid on my own. I've owned 3 houses on my own. I showed up to Burning Man, a middle aged woman, on my own and camped, on my own, in the desert. And last year I drove across Canada on my own camping.
So this feeling of being alone, the terrible poignancy of it, struck me sideways. The resonance of it, over two weeks later, had me waking up in tears this morning.
It is a feeling I no longer can run from. It found me in the Temple in the desert and it is not going away. That's what I recognized this morning as I woke and recoiled from the desolation of being faced with that alone feeling first deeply etched into my soul in the Nevada desert.
For alongside that memory of stark barren aloneness is a treasure chest of memories on the Playa that assure me that I am not alone, I am lovable, I am worthy and my life has meaning - my mere existence is a gift in this universe.
My pilgrimage to Burning Man has shed new meaning on old identities: yours, mine and ours. And despite the discomfort, I am willing to continue the exploration. The journey is fascinating!
Friday, September 6, 2013
She was fully clothed but wearing an object strapped around her hips and it jiggled towards me as I sat on the Playa watching her walk towards me.
I had once briefly worn such an object, years ago, courtesy of my drag-king performing lesbian sister. The sight of it made me leap up and run towards the young woman and grasp this familiar eerie-real-skin-feel toy and exclaim "aren't these great!". Impulsivity is a weakness with me, admittedly.
Her reaction was immediate and intense. 'She' was a she-he. A trans-man. She-he felt violated. Her-his pain was real. I empathetically responded albeit mystified.
In the drag-king lesbian community a flaccid strap-on is a prop worn under clothing in order to provide a bulge. When I wore it I enjoyed a playful small taste of what it would be like to have external sexual organs although without any sexual sensation. The young trans-man I met on the Playa last week felt that this object WAS her-his sexual organs despite the lack of any hard-wired neuro-connectivity.
She-he then admitted she-he was being a douche for walking around exposing her-his real-fake sexual organs.
Witnesses to this interaction were as perplexed as I was. Some of them hugged me as I proceeded to flashback to the terror I felt at the #radfemriseup conference where we received threats from people like her-him.
Later in the week a man dismissed me outright when I queried his statement regarding a two year old being transgendered. I asked him how was it possible that a toddler, years away from sexual reproduction, could feel or act as a gendered human. He literally walked away, frustrated that I could not understand the 'logic' of his claim regarding a two year old 'feeling' misgendered.
These two interactions made me realize how imperative it is to work towards eliminating the ever increasing the gender as a construct entrenchment in modern society. If we don't do so we risk, once again, the subjugating of females to mere objects of sexual satisfaction or reproductive sows - as is it is still the case throughout much of our world.
Thursday, August 8, 2013
I attended Mooseman: a precompression Burning Man regional event. Five days of survival camping in the forest of Haliburton. No water. No electricity.
The first 36 hours of the event were like a roller coaster of new experiences - both positive and negative, both personal and interpersonal. The first night I met some truly lovely people around a very large fire held in a large circle of stones. The following day I experienced a few interactions that were less than ideal. My physical challenges were brought home to roost and I considered leaving in case they worsened. The team of onsite Rangers helped mediate what was a challenging and baffling situation for me and I ended up staying due to their support. Two of the 10 Burning Man principles were driven into me throughout the beginning part of my experience at Mooseman: Radical self-reliance and Radical inclusion.
On the Saturday of the event after I had rested (I was exhausted from the emotional roller coaster and physical demands of survival camping set up!) I ventured back to the sacred circle. I was told that there was garlic braiding down at the main house (the owner of the property) and that it was a lot of fun. I decided I would rather take a walk through the forest which was set up with four theme camps and I wanted to see what they looked like in their finished state (I saw the skeletons of these camps on a Thursday night walk about).
The effort put into these theme camps is dumbfounding and humbling. One of the camps, Powder Monkeys, had a pirate theme and the decorations and plounges were so creative. This camp also hosted a Baconade on the Sunday morning and everyone who participated in that achieved Peak Bacon. There were two types of bacon, bacon dip, bacon brownies, bacon apple pie, bacon/cheese roll-ups, bacon chocolate chip rice krispies, etc.
On the way into the forest there was a Toga Toll Camp. These lovely people provided a candy tray that they also took throughout the event at times. There was bug spray on offer and other provisions if needed. Did I mention that all Burning Man events operate on a gift economy basis? No money exchanges hands. Every participant is expected to gift what they can and high octane volunteerism is the norm.
I didn't spend as much time as I would've like to at the Big Rig Rockin Robin's Truck Stop Jamboree. They had built a replica of a truck complete with a truck stop diner and a country store that I shoplifted a pocket knife from (I had lost mine). They had some fine trombone jamming happening on Saturday night when I was there.
Lastly there was a Hammock Camp at the end of the forest trail. Peace and tranquility was found in one of the hammocks hanging there :)
On Sunday afternoon after dancing in the forest for a few hours to some wonderful beats I remembered the garlic braiding and wandered down to the main house (past the coffee cafe which served delicious free coffee all weekend long!). Outside of the house was a circle of chairs and instruments of garlic disorder. I stood and asked the three people about what was going on and shared a bit of my food justice passion with them. Doug, the owner of the property, saw a fellow food spirit and he eagerly invited me to sit down and try cleaning some garlic myself. Silvie, another Mooseman attendee, patted a chair and proceeded to show me how to clean the garlic (rub the stalk and bulb with love to remove the dirt, trim the hairy end and brush out the dirt). In the course of learning this new skill, Doug, Silvie, another young man and I got into a wonderful conversation that alternated between philosophy, therapy, camaraderie and hilarity.
After a few minutes of this pleasant learning - interactive engagement Doug became perturbed while I was talking. I wasn't staying on task since I use my hands while I talk. He told Silvie to take me down to the shed to see the enormity of the garlic cleaning task at hand.
Have you ever seen 1700 bulbs of garlic in various stages of 'processing'? Doug had already informed us that it takes 20 passes through human hands to fully process garlic (now you know why most of it comes from China since it is so labour intensive!). So when I rounded the corner into the shed I saw how massive the operation was and how many uncleaned bulbs there were - well, that was when the disorder struck me.
I returned with Silvie and spend the next few hours mastering the art of conversing while cleaning garlic bulbs at a steady rate. I was rewarded with a fine meal from Lynn (Doug's partner) that included potatoes freshly harvested from their garden and the opportunity to braid my very own set of bulbs which I later purchased on my way out of the event. The ideas, love, inspiration and garlic imbued soulfulness of the experience will last my lifetime. In fact, the whole weekend will. The final of the 10 principles of Burning Man was cemented into my heart that afternoon and sealed with the burning of the Moose effigy that night:
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience. (source)
|Unbraided but cleaned fruits of our Obsessive Garlic Disorder|
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
I am 46 and sent my first message across the internet in 1986. I was a young university student studying math and taking a mandatory computer science course at the now quite well known for technology University of Waterloo. I didn't know that I was on the internet at the time and that term wasn't even coined yet. I was on an inter-university-governmental communication system that was spread all across North America. After 1986, when I was taking further courses in computer science (I ended up minoring in it, it fascinated me), I was exposed to vast repositories of knowledge and discussion on these systems. After graduating with my first degree and working for a year, I knew I had to come back and learn more. I chose to go into an engineering program at the same university that specializes in understanding systems. From 1991 - 1999 I pursued graduate work in the Management of Technology. I completed a Master's degree and am ABD on a PhD in the topic.
So I basically have over a quarter century of lived and studied experience in this space we now call the internet, or just the net. That's a fair amount and really makes me an elder.
I cringe using this word, elder. Inner voice: Who gives me the right to call me that? Newfound Voice, Calmly: "Your education and experience are legitimate, own it. Just because no-one is paying you to say or write this stuff doesn't mean it doesn't need to be said."
My personal growth in the last few years has taken me on a fascinating journey of self realizations and awakenings. The personal has become political in all sorts of ways. My longevity on the net has made me afraid of ego. I've been victimized online. I've only been not anonymous online for the past 8 years due to cyberstalking that occurred in around 1997. That terrified me and shut me up.
Even after I removed my anonymous shield I've been leary. However, my recent journey has led me to the point of I just don't care anymore. I will say what I want and if you think my motivations are ego driven I can assure you, with the core of my being, that they are not. What I see is driven by my raison d'etre, driven into me in my youth and surfacing regularly throughout my life: I want to see the world left in a better condition than when I arrived. I don't want to be part of the problem anymore, I want to be part of the solution.
Pussyfooting around egos is not working. Ego is not part of the solution. Ego = ME. Community = WE. I have come to the point in my life, with Daughter grown, that I am willing to actually die for this belief in the necessity of community.
I see a lot of ego in Social Media. I might even argue that it is literally out of control. This latest fiasco over rape threats has highlighted this fact because some of the detractors to the abuse button petition are people who have benefitted from calling out abusers. If their 'skill' is replaced by a button, how will they garner attention? They don't say this, of course. There is a new Newspeak and many internet users are expert at it.
Back in the discussion board days there were moderators appointed that had experience and longevity and were respected by board group members. This doesn't exists in the mainstream social media sites of today and if it does on the lesser known platforms (like on reddit or 4chan) the sites themselves are still largely patrolled by men who think 'post your local weather girl pix' are fine. If I were to call that out I would be called a prude and told to get over myself. I have backed away from these environments long ago because as a woman I have been targeted for too long. 27 years is a long time and it is most of my adulthood. I am tired. But now I'm seeing that a critical mass of women is developing online and perhaps now is the time we can try and put measures in place that ensure online spaces are safe.
I believe all communication systems, throughout millenia, need appointed moderators. Moderators that might be paid but are appointed by users not shareholders in the capitalistic marketplace. Moderators that have a full understanding of the limitations and strengths of healthy terms of service agreements and can work with employees to improve them. In the early 90s there were tons of people kicked out of discussion groups for behaviours that today get called trolling and laughed off. A rape threat would have incurred banning them for life immediately.
I fear that our ego celebrity driven world is making the online space too toxic for women. I also fear that the online space is the only way women can gather enough in numbers to truly liberate future women from human trafficking and violence. Men run everything, still. Everywhere, still. Twenty years ago on the fledgling internet there was a much greater understanding of inappropriate behaviour online. The community was so small that 'policing' it was manageable. It is now out of control (like I said before).
I hope some social media company somewhere takes this suggestion to heart. We need moderators. If they are looking for a current very successful model in order to develop a strategy they could look at the Ranger community at Burning Man. It has long fascinated me and as with many things Burning Man, it is quite innovative.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
In those days, he was labelled retarded. Today, looking at pictures and knowing a lot more of my family history, I recognize that he clearly had what we identify as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. So yes, that means that my grandmother drank her way through his pregnancy. I can imagine her now, always with a waterford sherry glass filled on an afternoon and a waterford tumbler with gin and tonic in the evening. She was a champion national golfer and I really need to flush out a wiki page with more information. She has a brief mention here.
In 1952, in a pseudo-upper-middle-class Victorian Cork household, this high functioning level of drinking was perfectly acceptable. In fact, she continued drinking like that until her death in the early 1980s. I had a complicated relationship with her due to the fact that she clearly loved my sister better than me. I wish I had an opportunity to have known her as an adult.
But back to this uncle and his uniqueness. When I spent time with him as a child during brief visits back to Ireland I was astonished and thrilled with his Lego collection. He was mentally very close to my age so he actually was kind of mean with the Lego. He would only allow me access to a very small portion of his vast collection. I see now that he was likely retaliating at the limited amount of contact he was allowed with me, his eldest niece. By the time I was 19 we were both allowed free access to each other and I was able to enjoy him 'showing off' his more mature obsessions: taking photographs and stamp collecting. He was a bit of an idiot savant (I see that in hindsight). His cobbled together panoramic pictures were exquisite in their perfection. His thoroughness in documentation of his stamps suggested a commitment to detail that I still admire in others.
But his infamy? Alas, that's where the real story begins. It's one I just recently shared with Daughter and was surprised that I hadn't previously although it really does require a mature mind to understand it.
You see, this uncle was not only a fetal alcohol syndrome victim. As is common with many FAS children, he was also sexually deviant. However, in the early-mid sixties in Ireland, that was not the label given to him. He was retarded, and, a pervert. So, as a pervert, his contact with my sister and I was severely limited (to the point that when my sister and I spent a summer in Ireland during my early adolescence, he was shipped back to Canada for the entire time). By the time I was 19 he was very heavily medicated so the situation was 'under control'.
This skeleton in my family's closet cloaked a poisonous veil around sexuality and that was how the topic got raised with Daughter. Narratives around sexuality that are driven by church imposed guidelines are bad enough but when you've got an actual 'pervert' in your family it is quite another matter. I am just beginning to see the effects it had. It has affected my inability to give voice to the difficulties I have faced in my own situation with multiple sclerosis and the effects it has had on my sexuality.
In today's world (in Canada) this uncle would have been identified as FAS fairly early and, ideally, his sexual deviance would have been identified early and given appropriate treatment and support. In early sixties Ireland, his inappropriate advances were responded to with panic and medication and deafening silence. He was isolated from his only nieces and many others. His world was very small. And, at 39 years of age, after over two decades of carcinogenic medication, he was riddled with cancer and died within 6 weeks of first going to the doctor with a pain in his shoulder.
What lessons do I feel my uncle and his sorry tale leave me? Part of me will always feel enormous sorrow for my uncle. A victim of alcoholism and the pharmacological medicalization of his deviances. But, also, I feel his story allows me to start to see the tendrils that skeletons leave scattered throughout a family. His story gives me a deeper understanding of my family's narrative around sexuality. It gives me a personal understanding of my grandmother's plight as a woman blazing new trails in golf clubs in Ireland (and elsewhere) with a sorry state of affairs back home. And, at the heart of it, his story gives me a nugget of courage to start to tell my own tale. Watch for more, in this space.
Friday, July 12, 2013
It was a smaller gathering than expected because of the threats of violence faced by the organizer's and the venue. Women get scared. Systemic oppression does that. Rape victims don't want to be triggered. Exited sex workers don't want to be outed. For conference attendees who brought children there was a feeling of enormous guilt about exposing their offspring to possible violence. All of us are still processing this ugly side of our event. Here is a short description by one fellow attendee. Here is another attendee's writeup.
Last fall I met a young man who lived in Yugoslavia during the country's breakup. His family eventually refugeed to Canada. He discussed his childhood back in a land under war. His recollection, as a child, was that of many family members being around and supporting one another. He had siblings and cousins about all the time. They played while the parents pulled together to survive. These are his happy childhood memories and he spoke of this fondly. In his new country families are disjoint: including his own. His story comes back to me as I try and capture the experience I had last weekend. Because that's ultimately how I will remember this gathering. An infant played while the womyn pulled together to work towards liberation.
But make no mistakes about it: we were terrrorized. Anyone dismissive of that reality for a group of a couple of dozen women is oppressing my reality. You were not there. You did not live through what we experienced. And while we were terrorized we managed to listen to many speakers from all across Turtle Island tell us about the state of oppression towards women: in this country and around the world. The facts are frightening. From toxic/rape/porn culture that leads to youth suicide to human sex trafficking that the pornstitution is behind. Aboriginal women and the Pickton house of horrors. The centuries long ongoing process of eroding womyn's reproductive justice. History lessons that revealed the true sources of any societal change that has occurred in the last few hundred years. And finally, actionable items that will help mobilize a few more womyn that are actually interested in liberating women rather than mere empowerment.
In the course of our baptism into radical feminism we forged bonds through personal stories and sharing of insights. And I had many tears. Tears of rage when hearing of a mother dropping off her own daughter and grandchild to a homeless shelter because the mother's boyfriend was inconvenienced by the baby. Tears of horror when hearing of torture survivors struggling to communicate their story with drawings: they can not talk of it. Tears that were triggered when I saw, for the first time, how thoroughly patriarchy had brainwashed me into the liberal feminist narrative and how damaging that might have been for newly adult Daughter. Tears for the direct violence I experienced in my own life yet did not clearly recognize until last weekend. Tears of gratitude that a group of womyn continually risk their safety so that womyn like myself can learn more.
Yes I cried a lot. And if you are not crying about the continuing state of oppression of women in our world then I really think we can no longer be friends. There is a war on women. I've chosen to work towards liberation.
|Nigerian dwarf goats: also discussed at RadFemRiseUp|
(to be explained later)