Tag Archives: trans

all of our body can hold different parts of our stories

graffiti, wheat pasted maybe, of a young male deer beneath a green treeI got up extra early today to do my morning pages, before coming to the computer.  Maybe it will have been a good idea, but right now I’m tired and would like more sleep. Yesterday was a very quiet day — perfect. No time on the computer — 2 old movies (a Doris Day & a Katherine Hepburn) and 1 more recent, Hook. A day for baking, for reading in the sun, for cafe writing.

Two nights ago, when we got home from dinner with Alex after Body Empathy, there were at least two deer nested down back beneath the big tree directly in front of the carport. We tiptoed out of the car, lugging bags of stuff, materials, workshop business and food, and said hello to them and told them how pretty they were. They kept their eyes on us, ears up, watching, but didn’t move. The bigger one didn’t move, the mama maybe — the smaller, behind, she’d stood by the time we were done unloading. Yesterday afternoon I wandered back to where they’d been, wanted to see the outlines of bellies on the ground, in a pile of leaves maybe, but all I saw were the small hoofprints all around the back area where the giant pile of leaves used to be. Maybe they were snacking on new blackberry cane growth, or maybe there was something good in the neighbor’s compost pile. I knew they might come up to the house and push their heads to the tomato plant I’ve got that’s going crazy now, suddenly flowering and budding, growing tall and almost wild — I knew they might come up and get a taste, since F! has seen their footprints in my lettuce pots behind the fence! It’s ok, though. They can have some and can leave me some. I’ve heard their feet clacking on the sidewalk, those dark hooves striking sharp and simple, like it’s a normal sound, deerhooves in my ears. They won me over.


It was a beautiful Body Empathy workshop on Saturday, all of us risking that slow possibility of being in our bodies. We started off a little discombobulated, got to be imperfect, because no one was there to open the church for us, & thus our meeting space, until 9:30 — which was when we were supposed to be getting started! We’d invited folks to start arriving at 9:30 so they could get breakfast and settle in, but those who arrived at 9:30 got to help us set up (thank you!) or got to wander a bit around the bowels of First Congo, checking out what was new and fresh in progressive christianity. After the coffee pot wouldn’t work and the stovetop wouldn’t come on, finally we got things together (many thanks to the Mr. Fresh! who went out for a box of Peets!) and moved into some gentle and poweful work. Thanks to all who were there, and, too, to my amazing co-facilitator, Alex Cafarelli, who reminds me often how ok it can be to be in these bodies we carry around with us, even it it’s not ok sometimes. this morning I’m doing some stretching, some spinning, that gentle loving kindness movement that Alex offered to us, as though we deserve to love and be loved by and in our bodies. And we do.

These were two of the quotes I handed out on Saturday, with our guidelines & practices:

I write to understand as much as to be understood. Literature is an act of conscience. It is up to us to rebuild with memories, with ruins, and with moments of grace.
—Elie Wiesel

I love the body.  Flesh is so honest, and organs do not lie.
—Terri Guillemets

Organs do not lie. What does that mean? I appreciate the opportunity, the invitation, to consider. This quote reminded me, while we were doing our work on Saturday, of Nancy Mellon, who I had the chance to meet at the last Power of Words conference. Nancy writes and works with the idea of storytelling as a healing art, and wrote a book called Body Eloquence: The Power of Myth and Story to Awaken the Body’s Energies — she talks about the information our organs hold, our inside parts hold, and how we can access those stories and truths. She’s an amazing storyteller, had us all completely transfixed in the Haybarn there on the Goddard campus, as we waited to hear what the lungs could do, what the blood knows, what our small intestine can tell us.

What does it mean that all of our body can hold different parts of our stories, our lives, our histories, our truths? It’s scary to me, sometimes, this possibility — the fact that my organs (say, my liver, which I wrote about some this weekend) can hold some information about me feels outside my conscious control — and it is, at least in the way that my western logical ‘rational’ mind things about conscious control.

What does it mean that all of our body can hold different parts of our stories? It means that we are (still) whole — that our bodies know our truths, and that we can access those truths, through somatic work, through movement and dance, through art and creativity, through myriad right-brain activities, those ways of being and thinking that step gently and kindly around the rigid left brain that wants to think it has the exact right ways to know.

Thank you for your words, for the way you risk speaking without words, too, all the different ways you say, you listen, you witness and share.

After reading Minnie Bruce Pratt’s “Justice, Come Down”

(one of my writes from last Monday’s workshop: the prompt, as mentioned in the post’s title, was a reading of Minnie Bruce Pratt’s poem, “Justice, Come Down.”)

I don’t like to write this story, but this is where I wait, with the blackened ash on the back of my tongue: I’m waiting for someone to look there, for someone to see, I want you to notice what I’ve lost, I want it to be a stain, a smear by degrees on my skin. This is where we weather the battle, but I hate war metaphors — it’s inherent in the word survivor, someone who made it through alive. I want a different word, a different metaphor.

I don’t tell my story, I share the facades and shards, the shelved legalese, the patina of identity markers. Telling the story means drooping into vulnerability, means letting in the possibility that you’ll stagger aside after hearing me and let your eyes drop with pity and disappointment.

This weekend on the planes I read two books that maybe aren’t the best light travel reading: Alicia Seybold’s Lucky, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the latter a nihilistic, post-apocalyptic testimony to father-son love, and the former a stranger-rape story.

I read rape stories because I think they will show me how to write my own. F! questions me for buying it, as we’re perusing the heavily-politicized shelves at Modern Times (but what bookstore’s shelves aren’t heavily politicized?)– he wants me to get something upbeat. I tense and swallow and explain that these tellings are upbeat for me — even if it’s not in the way he means. H means a story that doesn’t involve violence or rage or depression, though the book that doesn’t contain any of those is not probably a book I would find in my hands.

What I need are examples of how to write a story I can’t remember in a linear way, and so I read trauma narratives. I watch how the writer folded the story into a line for the reader, or I take note of how they don’t try to keep to a straight line at all. I try to determine how they wrangle with what they don’t remember, what they’re ashamed of remembering but tell anyway, what they hate to remember and forget to mention. How much detail to give, and where they keep it sparse.

Seybold’s is the story of the perfect rape victim — the narrator of this piece (Seybold, yes, but now we’re talking about a book) was raped by a stranger at 19, she was a virgin when she was raped, she called the police and told them everything, remembered details like she’d recorded them with a video camera, she testified in court, she wore all the right clothes and did all the right things according to our current legal system — she was the Good Victim, she hadn’t been drinking that night, she became a successful teacher and writer, she got to have her story appear in mainstream print media and then on Oprah.

These perfectly narrated stories (with, granted, details that she took from court transcripts instead of pulling from her memory whole) always make me feel like yanking at my hair a little — I’m left feeling like my own telling is impossible. I understand that her linear, this-then-this-then-this-so-help-me-god kind of memoir is constructed; maybe she doesn’t really remember it that way. But I want to see something different, something much messier and more true to my life, my head, my remembering and un-remembering., more true to the frenetic and discombobulated way memory smacks around the insides of my life.

Maybe that story’s not publishable, wouldn’t sell, who knows. Does that matter? I still have to find a way to gather it together on the page.

Saturday 11/21 — Body Empathy

Body Empathy:
A day of body mindfulness, gentle movement and writing for queer, genderqueer
and trans survivors of sexual trauma

Facilitated by Alex Cafarelli and Jen Cross
10am-4pm, Nov 21, 2009
At The Space, 4148 Mac Arthur Blvd., Oakland
(The Space is wheelchair accessible)

No previous experience necessary! Pre-registration required. Fee: $50-100,
sliding scale (Please check in with us if funds are an issue—payment plans are
always possible, and we may be able to work out trades or other arrangements
as well!) Please write to jennifer@writingourselveswhole.org to register.

What if we could truly experience empathy for our bodies as they are – and
then, by extension, for ourselves, as we are?

As queer, genderqueer & trans survivors with a wide array of backgrounds and
identities in a sexuality-/gender-restrictive culture, our self-protective
tendency can be to “check out” by detaching mind from body to such great
degrees that it can be dangerous. Physical activity and writing are two ways
to check back in with your embodied self.

With deep respect for the privacy and variety in our personal experience of
gender expression and our individual histories, this workshop will create safe
space for participants to embrace our bodies as they are, and to write the
stories our bodies have been wishing to speak, while allowing possibility for
the integration of identity and physical presence. Using brief writing
exercises and low impact body mindfulness exercises derived from
improvisational theater, Zen meditation practice, and the internal Chinese
martial arts, participants will have the opportunity to fully embody our
gender complexity in a healing and playful environment.

The exercises we practice can be easily incorporated into our daily lives and
can enhance our ability to reflect mindfully on our experiences, while
interacting with others from a place of self-acceptance, internal power, and
confidence, as we move through the world as the fabulously feisty queer &
gender warriors we are…

Your facilitators:

Alex Cafarelli is a Jewish genderqueer femme trauma survivor with a background
in 17 years of martial arts training. Currently teaching body mindfulness
classes in Oakland, Alex also works as a gardener specializing in
drought-tolerant and edible landscapes, does Reiki/massage bodywork, and
develops and leads element-based rituals to support women, queers, transfolk,
and genderqueers in moving through transitions and healing from trauma. Cntact
Alex at petals_and_thorns@yahoo.com.

Jen Cross is a queer incest survivor and a widely-anthologized writer who has
facilitated survivors and sexuality writing workshops since 2002. She offers
two weekly AWA-method workshops (Write Whole: Survivors Write and Declaring
Our Erotic) in San Francisco. Fnd out more about Jen at
writingourselveswhole.org or write her at jennifer@writingourselveswhole.org.