Tag Archives: solidarity

femme shame

graffiti-esque image of a big girl in strapless top dancing, wrists blossoming with pink ribbons...

(Isn't this hot?! Click on the image for more of LibDescent's photostream!)

Being back from tour requires a kind of re-entry –it’s, yes, a bumpy ride. I can’t wait to tell you all about these last 10 days on the road in the Southeast with Body Heat!

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A gorgeous ERC last night! There was cuckolding & an orgy & the truth about strapping on in the stories that folks read, plus so much more. Hot hot stories, tender stories, revelations, wantings, loss, fear, ache, plaster. Honest. We meet every fourth Wednesday of the month at the Center for Sex and Culture for the Erotic Reading Circle, and I’d love to see you out sometime soon!

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I don’t have a lot of time to blog this morning because I’ve been notebooking (well, journaling into the computer, which has gotten easier over time, with practice, more like handwriting into my spiral-bound notebook) about shame. Femme shame, in particular. Internalized femme shame, somehow distinct from internalized misogyny, the stuff inside that calls me stupid, ridiculous, craven, painted, slutty (and more, and worse, though all that is really bad enough) for wanting to be a visible girl, a feminine woman, someone with curves, shape, adornment, someone desirable. Particularly desirable, in my case, to butches (and yes, babe, to  a particular butch), from whom I am so very different in presentation. Do you know what I mean? I mean the stuff that says, when my feet ache after 6 hours on a plane because I’m wearing tight tall peep-toe heels instead of flip flops or sneakers, What in the hell is the matter with you? You’re breaking yourself just because you want hir to find you sexy? Because my answer is yes. And because I want the girls to find me sexy, too.

At the end of my writing this morning, I thought, I need to spend more time with, create more time for, my femme friends at home. On tour, we get to admire one another 24-7, we get to make admiring comments about one another’s just about everything. And we get to talk honestly, ask honest questions about Do you really think this looks good? How can I make this piece of clothing work? What do you mean I can wear skinny jeans? We did that with each other this tour, got so honest with it, got to offer up to one another the particular cadences of our own places of shame (well, let me not name that for others — at least, I know this is true for me), and here these women who I so admire and can get jealous of for their confidence, their style, their power, they met these tender places with care, a kind of cradling,

And that’s one of the reasons I love Tour, and why I crash when it’s over. Yesterday I wore a short skirt, tall boots, flowy shirt, to work, and not one person exclaimed. Yes, that sounds ridiculous, but the fact is that, on tour, we get to be one another’s cheering sections, we get to be the people who go gaga for one another, we get to gush with a particularly (I’ll say it) femme desire, pushing one another up and up as we admire and adore one another. And when it’s over, I miss it — not from a vanity place, no, but from a connection place; it’s not a safe thing we’re doing in the world, being visible girls/feminine women, and it’s necessary to surround ourselves with the voices of those who adore us, and whom, too, we can adore right back, who tell us that yes, we are right to want to claim our beauty, our gorgeousness, our ferocity. So yes, I miss it when tour is over and I move back into silence, back onto the concrete streets where women are trained not to make eye contact with one another, where the butches slide their eyes away from me, where the eye contact I can make is with men who just want to offer something lewd — moving back from open roads, thick green encampments surrounding us, daring conversation, owning my own artistry to these silent grey carpeted cubes, the hum of fluorescent lights, the tick of keys beneath my fingers pus(h)ing out dry database requests instead of conversations about desire, something stickier, something wet.

There’s more to say about all this, but I need to get ready for work. Still, here’s a call to my local femme friends: let’s get together soon, ok? I need you.

And yes, a write, a possible write: what’s the name of the shame you or your character are wrangling with right now? Want to take a few minutes, 10 or 15, and let yourself find some words for its shape? Do you see it connected to other shames, or as the flipside to some other feeling/desire?

Your words are so important, and I’m so grateful for them, for you, for you, for you.

writing hands are strong hands (a new workshop begins tonight)

freedom/graffiti calligraphyVery sleepy here at my morning writing desk.  I have a cup of strong decaf brewed with cardamom and a dash of stevia — so no added sugar! I have Groove Salad slowly waking my auditory self, singing me into this Monday morning.  I have a messy desk, receipts to file, notebooks to type up, seeds to plant, and little notes on torn scraps of paper holding topics I want to write about.

A new workshop starts tonight, another group of folks coming together to dive into their creative selves, to make space in their lives for words-in-community, words that get to commingle with other(s’) words, words that feed and are fed upon dreams and synchronicity.

I get nervous at this moment, when the workshop’s just about to begin, when we all don’t know or remember each other yet, when we’re re-finding our way to our inner songs. This sounds a little simplistic maybe.  What I know is, the nervousness is about possibility, about my learning this particular chorus of voices and energies about to come together.

I love this moment, and I slide into ritual to keep me moving forward: write up the syllabus (which just means creating an outline of possible exercises for each of the 8 weeks, loosely associated with some themes that I came up with awhile ago as topics I thought we ought to touch on during workshops, or themes that often come up whether or not I intend/plan for them to: re-rooting, writing the body, fearless words, unspoken desire, and others), prepare the handouts, shop for snacks, shave and cut up the carrots.

(This is too focused, not morning-dreamy enough.  The poems live under your shoes at the sleepiest times (isn’t that what John Fox said, in the poetry he quoted?). I’d love to have an early morning writing workshop, 8am-10 or even 7-8:30, something folks would come to before they went to work, a space to collect with poetry, with dreamsong, with imagination and vivid interpersonal desire, with the sole purpose of haggling with meaning, a precision of tapping the right words, a sleepy-still writing time with others.)

Here’s what happens at the writing workshops: we write and rewrite our own songs and stories; we practice hearing and witnessing one another’s artistry (and, in so doing, we practice bearing witness to our own); we practice deep kindness.  Each of these are revolutionary acts, and when combined, they can be incendiary — the lit match to inflame our transformative desire, our desire for transformation.

What’s important is how folks use the workshops to transform their writing, their sense of themselves as writers/artists –and how we, over and over again, re-learn that we can trust the truth of our own voices.

There’s no reason this should work this way.  We sit in a room together, we put pen to paper alone, we read our new writing. Why should that be a liberatory practice? Why should we be willing to take that risk?

There’s no point here, and that is the point. Publishing is great, getting your work out in front of the world, whether you read it at a mic or have it appear in an anthology: this is important, plus maybe you get $25 or $50 to throw into your piggy bank.

But it’s not the most important thing, I think.  Or maybe not the most important thing for me, as someone who writes. What happens is we keep on gathering in front of our notebooks, creating something new. Risking again, that we can open and touch the mess and viscera, the hard blood, the stuff of loss and want, the trouble of impossible joy. The thing is that we resettle with these 26 letters and then some, and we try to make magic.

And what happens, in the middle of every workshop — when folks lift their heads from their writing, they tuck their pens behind their ears or keep clicking the ballpoint in and out, when we take a deep breath and say: OK. Who would like to read? — magic does happen. And it’s the simplest, most profound kind of magic: 1) someone has been willing (again! magic!) to risk finding the words to put to a truth that there are never enough words for, and 2) others receive that truth with kind eyes and strong hands (because, I’ll tell you, writing hands are strong hands). This is liberatory stuff: and not just for the writer. Witnessing is a difficult, necessary job. We write with the idea that there is a listener.  We speak to the page as though it has ears. When there are ears, that’s a whole new game.

And then this: in the workshop, we don’t analyze the writer, we don’t pathologize the content. We praise the metaphor, the maybe untended use of rhyme, we notice the repetition, the use of detail, the descriptions. We describe what was strong for us about the writing, and those who came into the room believing that they could not write have a little more weight on the other side of the scale, re-tipping our understanding of ourselves toward ‘creative being.’ Those who came into the room believing they did not have the mettle to tell a particular story, they start to learn different.

But there’s more that I want to say about witnessing: witnessing is work.  It requires attention, intention. In the workshops, we are sometimes witness to stories that have never before been spoken.  We are sometimes witness to the awful, stunning details of trauma: we feel like we’re the birds who’ve slammed into a pane of glass. But we, every time someone reads, are witness to a brand new thing. Every time. And that is a place of extraordinary honor.

We were taught, maybe in school, maybe from something we read, maybe elsewhere, that we aren’t supposed to share first drafts — that they’re not worthy of a hearing.  I don’t believe that.  First drafts–even the stuff at the workshops that are the embryos of first drafts–these have a breath and a heartbeat and a thrumming energy. When we’re willing to share these with others, we begin to hear where we end and the poem, the writing, takes off on its own. We begin to hear where our magic lies. (And maybe I mean that in both ways.) We practice a deep trust. And our writing grows.

Something tender and tenuous that grows among the writers in every workshop — we learn the sorts of things that others notice, we learn, then, how to incorporate those things into our writing, if we want.  We learn from each other’s witnessing, from what others remember and mention. Our writing grows under this care and feeding.

There are those who’d call this sort of writing space indulgent. I say, especially for survivors of trauma (and how many of us aren’t?), we get to indulge (if by that you mean, have treated kindly and with respect) the parts of us that haven’t yet been able to raise their natty, knotty voices.

In the workshops, we get to indulge the parts of our creative selves that went underground.  Of course, we were/are endlessly creative in our survival — because survival is a creative act. Every decision we made, every new facet to our personality grown and honed to protect us: creative. Every yes yanked from our lips, every no danced around, every strategizing moment: creative.

Jane Hirschfield said, at the Healing Art of Writing conference, that she thinks agency is the antidote to depression. “When you are being creative, you are free,” she said.

Yes, exactly. And being free, in community, with others enacting the same risky freedom: that’s liberatory practice. That’s freedom in action.

A new workshop begins tonight. I’ll be there with poems and exercises, tea and snacks and notebooks and pens, ready for the revolution (yours, my own, yes: ours), again and again and again.

‘new’ survivors

Peace March flyer - be the change you wish to see This weekend, a couple of amazing women (thank you Kiki and Elicia!) organized a Peace March and Rally in Richmond, CA, to raise our voices and gather our energies in support of the high school student who was recently raped by a mob of young men — and, too, to speak out against all sexual violences: against all sexualized violence, against all the messages we teach our children equating masculinity with violence, femininity with passivity, against rape as a weapon of war, against sexualized violence as a part of our every day lives.

After missing the first part of the rally, Fresh! and I got to ride alongside the march for a minute, honking, making a whole lotta noise — and we were met with the voices and shouts of the marchers! Then he dropped me off and I jogged to catch up with the small march, raised my voice — it felt good to shout, and I had to cough a couple of times after being so loud: it seems my voice box has grown unaccustomed to loud chanting — and that’s one reason I understood it was good that I was there.

It’s been several years, it seems, since I participated in this sort of anti-sexual violence/pro-peace-for-all rally. It’s been several years since I walked through quiet neighborhoods and shouted: No Rape! No Rape! Was the last time in Maine? How could that be?

It’s not that I haven’t gathered, haven’t witnessed and participated. The last rally in Richmond, last year, for another gang-rape survivor, was a mostly silent candle-lit vigil. That sort of gathering carries its own weight — all of our stories, all of our friends’ and families’ stories, candlit and hungry, sitting just inside our mouths, held and honored and shared in that big big quiet.

I became aware, during the public rage that followed reports of this assault, messages and articles and furious notes I read and listened to online and from friends, of my presence in the aftermath. It’s where I live and work: in the aftermath of sexual violence. the workshops I facilitate, the writing I do, it’s about the after-story — what comes next. All the words I use are prefaced with “re-“: reclaim, restitution, resurrect. Doing over. Taking back. I don’t live anymore in the place of before. Because I can’t. My own body is an aftermath.

And so it was that I felt, too, on this Saturday, that our gathering was kind of the saddest sort of welcoming committee for this young woman. She is one of us now. She has a new name: survivor. Victim. The debates bat those words back and forth, but the fact is that she wears them now. Like we do. She has been violently delivered to our side of the battle ground. And we are standing up to show her she is among our kind now; we put our hands around her and we tend her wounds. These wounds are of her now. She lives in and with them. As we do, too.

I don’t want this for her. I don’t want this for her family or friends. I don’t want this for any of us. I want other options. I don’t want any more rallies of survivors to have to gather at the gates of the next rape, the next rape, the one happening right now. Right now. Right now. Right now. Right now. I want us to be able to disperse these energies, move on to other work — raise our voices in praise of love, not in rage and sorrow.

I raged on Saturday, was grateful for all those gathered, and on Sunday I cried. I felt, again, the big, high vision of the hawk that flew over our gathering toward its end: from up high, I can see that this change won’t manifest in my lifetime. I won’t live to see it. But if I don’t continue to hold on to the hope, hold hands open to the possibility that we as humans can learn to relate to and with one another through something besides the veil of violence and rage, then I close one more light shining the way — does that make sense?

I don’t see how we can make the changes we want to make. I don’t see how we can get there, when sexualized violence is an ever-present option for men, for women, for anyone in power over any other one. I can’t see it. I can’t.

But — here’s the but: I stand together with a group of folks who might otherwise pass one another on the street in judgment, we raise our voices too loud, just loud enough for a Saturday morning neighborhood, we listen to one another’s words and possibilities, we hear young men and women stating new ways, and I hold my hands open to the change one more time. I let my heart imagine it. I listen to men hold men accountable. I listen to women holding one another accountable. We are accountable to one another or there’s nothing left.

If we don’t keep working — which means imagining, which means speaking the possible — saying, yes, this can change. We can change — there’s nothing for the next generations carrying the torch, lighting the way. Right?

I don’t want to be in one more ‘welcoming’ committee, bringing blankets and hotdish and tea and notebooks and pens and oranges and candles to the newly fallen — and still, yes, that’s where my work is right now.

How do we reframe (there it is again: re: frame) this — life? This human-ness?

Does this make sense? Tell me what you think —

Stewardship: a whole new possibility

this is a bit from my Writing Ourselves Whole newsletter for November:

Trauma Stewardship book coverLast month, I attended a day-long training on Trauma Stewardship, with Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (this training was hosted by the Domestic Violence Coalition, CUAV and the Asian Women’s Shelter — thank you so much!). Here’s what I want to tell you: there’s not anyone I know who wouldn’t benefit from the ideas and the possibility that Laura (and her coauthor Connie Burke) offer in this training, and the corresponding book. Although it’s written primarily with those who work with survivors of trauma in mind, what I know is that all of the communities I participate in are traumatized right now, and so nearly all of us are going to experience trauma exposure response — which means we could be doing trauma stewardship.

As someone who has come up with every reason there is not to take care of myself (too busy, too guilty, too tired, not as bad off as others, etc — you know these, don’t you?), I’ve been in need of a change for at least a year (some might say longer), and couldn’t figure out how to make space in my life for self-care. And often, I couldn’t honestly believe that I deserved it.

In her introduction, Laura says this about the book (Trauma Stewardship: An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others), and about the ideas of trauma Stewardship as a different way to walk with the work we’re doing in this world:

“This book is a navigational tool for remembering that we have choices at every step of our lives; we are choosing our own path. We can make a difference without suffering; we can do meaningful work in a way that works for us and for those we serve. We can enjoy the world and set it straight. Taking care of ourselves while taking care of others allows us to contribute to our societies with such impact that we will leave a legacy informed by our deepest wisdom and greatest gifts instead of burdened with our struggles and despair.”

Laura’s concept of Trauma Stewardship has turned a lot around for me. With deep and loving kindness, and fierce compassion, she called all of us out in that room at the Women’s Building: if your work in the world isn’t including time to replenish, and if you are not coming to the work from a place of powerful and rooted centeredness and choice, then your work is going to be unsustainable, and you’re going to end up not recognizing yourself in the mirror.

I want to write more about what’s happened for me, the changes I have started making in and for my life and work since this training, but for now, I absolutely encourage you to visit her website and buy this book — share it with your organizations and communities and friends. We are all stewards for one another right now, and we need to be as kind and gentle with ourselves as we can be during this strong and gorgeous and difficult life.

sheep in the wolf

It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, memory, or maybe it’s the other way around: how the devil slinks up into the backs of my brain, flashes of what’s lost or what used to be; what could have been. This is where we are now, stuck in a new reality. I’ll start over when I turn the page. I’ll start over.

It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, memory is, or maybe it’s the other way around, a sheep in wolf’s skin, the history that pushes up my spine into awareness some nights brings bared fangs and glisten, brings those eyes with the yellowing whites, brings that battered, matted fur and the thin possibility of escape from steamy breath in chilly summer fog evenings.

But what’s on the underside of that cartilage, that exoskeleton, that drape over the shoulders is the sneaky inside shape of dingy grey curls and lambs wool, the sweet breath of how we used to wish on falling stars and clap fireflies into jelly jars and sickle the summer afternoon air with our swinging pumping legs.

I mean the good and lovely hides inside the loss, the way an angry dinnertable altercation hides within it the careful way my sister and I made the evening salad, how we tore the iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes into bright rubies, nettled the carrots into shavings with a grater. The memory of my stepfather’s rage is the overcoat

and underneath was how my sister and I could bear up under that grey weight, learned – what do I want to tell you? – about keeping a straight face while telling lies I mean, we learned ourselves the uses of wearing the wolf or the sheep as needed. The way the memory at first glance is so often a covering for the deeper, quieter memory hidden inside the first the way dreams go: you see one layer and when you’re waiting or telling that one down, another layer emerges, another part of the dream, another figuring

and I am grateful for the way my brain pulls the wool over my eyes, reveals the difficult stuff first because it knows that I am not so trusting of beauty, and it slips the pure stuff in to my consciousness sideways and beneath a red cape it shows me the strengths I carried, my sister carried, even as all I could see at first is the terror: the way we were edged to resilience, the sheep the wolf, the hidden simplicity inside the mask, the way what I think I remember is never, at first, the whole story at all

Podcast Answers, Day 10 – What’s giving you hope?

Back in November, I committed to posting longer, more well-thought-out answers to the questions that Britt Bravo posed to me during our Arts and Healing Network podcast conversation. Here’s my answer for day 10!

10. What gives you hope right now?

A kuffiya 'ribbon' in solidarity with Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon; image from http://www.reziststicker.com/stickers.htm This has been a hard question for me to answer. I’ve been slipping between feeling very hopeful and deeply hopeless and heartsick – there are beautiful moments and possibilities and still horrors inflicted in every moment and how can we talk about hope except that without even the mention, the word, I think we lose everything.

Every week, the sort of writing *and* the sort of communal engagement and solidarity manifested at the writing workshops gives me hope that we can create the space we need for deep change and amazingly honest openness in our worlds/lives —

And then there are other places of hope for me:
1. Resistance to empire and other hierarchies of power.
2. Lemon squeezed into water.
3. Hot coffee in the morning.
4. The way some folks are willing to make eye contact with strangers while walking through downtown San Francisco on a weekday morning.
5. The cracking open and brilliance of emotion and voice that happens in the writing workshops; the deep open-hearted kindness of folks’ responses to one another; the joy we receive in recognizing the artists in each other, and having recognized the artists in ourselves.
6. (The very possibility of) Laughing with my lover after some difficult weeks.
7. My sister. just her.
8. The way friends can reach out across years and miles and difference and still create a net for me to fall into, even when I think I don’t deserve it.
9. The fact that our local farmer’s markets are still going strong.
10. All the folks who are writing and reading. Everyone telling their stories everywhere. I mean it.

There’s more, and less, but this is my count for now.

What’s giving you hope right now? I mean, in this minute?