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‘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 —

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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?

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Podcast Answers – Day 6: How do the workshops impact survivors?

A couple weeks ago, 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 six!

6. What has been the impact of the workshops for survivors of sexual abuse?

metal sculpture of phoenix rising from the ashes
I love this question, and it’s a challenge for me to answer: while I can say what’s been my experience, I can talk about what I think happens for some folks sometimes, but I can’t speak for all the survivors I’ve written with. So I’m going to say some things I think about the workshops can impact or have impacted folks who’ve participated (myself included), but I’d love to hear your thoughts, too!

(Note: there’s a little bit of sexual language in this post — just fyi!)


We have our bodies. We have our hands and feet thighs legs arms eyes noses breasts mouths bellies chests butts foreheads fingers lips toes and yes genitals yes cunts and cocks yes they always are of us. Through [this] writing, I open to the world around me. I walk around heavily awake, I smile more amply, I touch the cats on the ledge with my eyes. I am seen and I see. I am witnessed. I am heard. I am differently present. This is the opposite of dissociation. This is the practice of embodiment.


We can change the world this way, through writing deeply and openly—I mean, with this and other practices of knowing and living ourselves into the vast elemental of art. Don’t ever think that our work, the very practice of writing—the very fact of taking the time to sit down with one’s own thoughts, committing them to paper, doing so in community –is not revolutionary. We undermine and examine the old teachings. We take the old language and turn it inside out. We name our hidden truths. We true our hidden names. We crack through the surface of the advertised world and take hold of the reins of our lives. As long as we keep on writing and knowing each other as constantly changing peers in this process, as long as we are free to tell ourselves and our stories however we choose, as long as we play in the memory and myth of the thickness of metaphoric language, as long as we climb into other writers who speak to us and experience their words viscous with reality (whether those words are published in a collection or read aloud in a writing group), we will walk ourselves, together, into freedom.

stones talk: trust, strength, focus Remember the guidelines of the AWA method writing workshops (as developed by Pat Schneider in her book Writing Alone and With Others):
1) Confidentiality: everything shared here stays here;
2) Exercises are suggestions;
3) Reading aloud is optional;
4) Feedback is positive and treats all new writing as fiction.

We build trust in a space in which we hold ourselves and each other in confidence. Writers have the structure and possibility of exercises offered by someone else, and the freedom of interpretation and play. We can then choose to “perform” (read aloud) our new writing, or not. If and when we choose to share what we’ve written, we know we will receive a warm and strong hearing that focuses on the artistry of our words, our language, our imagery. We ourselves aren’t deconstructed, analyzed or pathologized.

 Many writers in these workshops seem to “break open” right from the beginning. And that power is magnificent. We do it because we can and we are ready. We have a kind of “public performance space” that is also private, confidential. The writing room becomes our stage and our quiet bed. We have the assurance of privacy, which allows for the audacity, bravery, and cojones of recital. We come and write because we know someone will be there to hear us, and that we will be able to construct ourselves in the sight of others and yet not be held or tethered to any one permutation of ourselves. Finally, it’s out in the open, and other people are talking about it. No longer do we as individual (so-called) victims have to remain silent: we have a place where we can receive others’ stories, experiences, recovery, struggle, contradiction while offering our own.

In this space, no one has any authority over another in the realm of experience. How I receive a piece of writing is how I receive it, and how you experience it is how you experience it. What we hear and like might be similar or disparate, but any disconnect in our experiences/hearings does not render one or the other more right or better or more important. Also, each person’s interpretation of an exercise is correct. butterfly heart

For survivors, those of us–so many of us, in so many different ways–trained into wrongness, trained into silence, trained into the invisibility of our language: when I say that the workshops are “transformative,” I mean that we create ourselves a space in which to alter how we have come to know ourselves through words. When we tell newly-re-framed stories and we are heard… how can that not empower and open the heart?

This can take awhile to sink in for writers in the workshops. But you know how it is: Over time, and through hard and serious risk, each person learned the primacy and power of their words, their experience, their interpretation, their artistry. It’s revolution. It’s gorgeous.


Now, it’s y’all’s turn: What about for you? Have you participated in this or another AWA-method workshop? What’s been your experience about how survivors can be impacted by this work?

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Body Heat: queer femme tour kicks off tomorrow, 4/3

I have the great privilege of being a part of the Body Heat: Femme Porn Tour, which kicks off here in San Francisco tomorrow, 4/3, at the Center for Sex and Culture at 7pm.

Femmes, as some of us know, still bear an interesting burden of invisibility — our right to call ourselves dykes is called into question sometimes even still, because we don’t bear the masculine markers of more “visible” dykes (which turns into an interesting paradox), and our sexual agency is still, I think, considered to be determined by our lovers, rather than by we ourselves.

There are LOTS of fierce femme writers & performers who are calling into question these and other misunderstandings around femmeness, and I get to be on tour with three of them — Vixen Noir (aka Veronica Combs of the incredible Liquid Fire fame), Celestina Pearl (di-va writer, filmmaker & performer!) and kathleen delaney (spoken word artist out of Atlanta & a dear friend from back when I lived on the East Coast!)

More info below — I’ll be blogging about the tour here and at my myspace blog: www.myspace.com/writingourselveswhole

Wish us luck, good driving, and sleep! 🙂

———-

~Body Heat: A femme porn tour~

Body Heat is a collective of fierce, sassy, irreverent Femme artists setting
ablaze performance art communities and smashing Femme stereotypes. Porn, Kink,
Smut, Erotica – Body Heat is not reclaiming our sex so much as OWNING it.

We will turn you on.

We will challenge all of your gender, sex, feminist, social, & political boundaries & assumptions.

We will entertain the hell out of you & we will leave you panting, begging, dripping for more.

April 3, 2008 @ The Center for Sex & Culture, San Francisco, CA.
April 4 @ The Rubber Rose, San Diego, CA.
April 6 @ Rag Tag Cinema, Columbia, MO.
April 7 @ Chicago — Location TBA
April 8 @ Pi Bar, Minneapolis, MN.
April 9 @ A Women’s Touch, Milwaukee, WI.
April 10 @ Havana, Columbus, OH.
April 11 @ Mount Holyoke, Northampton, MA.
April 12 @ Truth Serum hosts @ Lily Pad Gallery, Boston, MA
April 13 (2 shows) @ MIKO & Brown University, Providence, RI.
April 14 on Diana Cage’s Radio Show SIRIUS in NYC, NY
April 15 @ Tritone, Philly, PA.
April 16 @ Phase 1, Washington, DC
April 17 @ The Eyedrum, Atlanta, GA.
April 19 @ The Jolie Rouge Asheville, NC.

Spread the word and bring your friends! Visit http://www.myspace.com/femmeporntour for more info!