The Writing Ourselves Whole book tour!

Cover of Writing Ourselves Whole bookJen & the Writing Ourselves Whole book are headed your way!

This past weekend, I got to bring Writing Ourselves Whole to Portland, OR, for a stop at In Other Words Feminist Community Center, followed by a beautiful private house party.

The tour heads next to Colorado, then to New England and Southern California. 

If you’re based in any of these areas and would like to bring Writing Ourselves Whole to your school or organization or in for a house party, please let me know!

February 23-25: Pacific Northwest

Friday 2/23 Evergreen State CollegeCancelled.
Fierce Hunger: Writing Survivor Desire
A writing group with Jen Cross

Sunday 2/25 – In Other Words (Portland)
We are more than a hashtag
Reading and conversation with Jen Cross (1:30-3pm)

Sunday 2/25 – Private House Party (4pm)

 

March 3-5: Colorado

Saturday 3/3 – Boulder Bookstore
Writing as Radical Self-Care
A writing workshop with Jen Cross
Saturday, March 3 (my birthday!)
2-4pm
Tickets are $40, and include a copy of Writing Ourselves Whole
1107 Pearl St, Boulder CO
303-447-2047

Sunday 3/4 Tattered Cover Colfax Ave
Using the Power of Our Own Creativity to Recover and Heal From Sexual Trauma
Book Talk & Signing
2pm
2526 E Colfax Ave
Denver, CO

Monday 3/5 – Arapahoe Community College
“How I Became A Writer”

 

April 6-10: New England

April 6 – Boston; Amherst-Northampton, MA

April 7 – Amherst-Northampton, MA

April 8 – Providence, RI

April 9 – Hanover, NH

 

April 26-30: Southern CA

 

Watch this space for updates and more details! Can’t wait to connect with you out on the road.

Be easy with you, ok?

omg sex panic!

graffiti of a woman holding her cheeks and screaming Ok — here we go again. Bear with me, my friends.

Now that a very small handful of men have suffered some consequences for their sexually-assaultive behavior, we’re apparently heading into a witch hunt and on the cusp of a full-blown sex panic. No one is going to have sex any more, at least, not the way we have been or want to or like to. No one’s going to get to joke anymore, and all the men have to be worried that anything they say can be misconstrued, and they’ll get in trouble even though they didn’t mean anything bad by it. They are worried that they’re going to have to monitor their behavior, that they’re going to have to think before they speak, that they’re going to feel constrained in word and deed.

Welcome to the indoctrination every woman has gotten since birth, my friends.

News articles evoke the limits (the risks!) of believing women, the dangers ( if there’s any chance of any false reporting ever, we just shouldn’t believe any of them until we see some proof), the limits to challenging, changing, calling out and transforming rape culture.

I feel frustrated and tired and not even a little but surprised that so much of the media coverage, ostensibly about the pervasiveness of sexual violence in our country,  has turned to whether or not we can really believe women, and to what extent we really want to change our culture. Don’t we just want to focus on the few bad apples at the top? Do we really have to ask men to change their behavior at home and at work and on the bus and on the street and on military bases and in government and in school and on campus and in the fields and and and

Masha Gessen raised the specter of sex panics, evoking the language used during the early days if the AIDS crisis, when gay men (and straight women) were dying because the government refused to acknowledge that this disease was a problem, and the main message we got was to be afraid of sex because sex could kill you. Queer folks fought back against this fear-mongering, celebrating our bodies, laying claim to all the protection and latex barriers we needed: we deserve pleasure, we said, we deserve joy, desire, sex, whether with strangers or in a monogamous long-term coupling or with a good friend now and then — pretending to be straight married people was not going to save us. Money for research for a cure and a vaccine was going to save us, and with that not forthcoming, we were going to have to save ourselves.

This is not the situation we find ourselves in now. The situation we find ourselves in now is that men suddenly (after decades –even generations — of being told that their behavior was hurting women and other folks) are expected to be accountable — or maybe are just afraid of being held accountable — for their actions. This expectation has arisen in social media and on news channels for about five minutes, and now we’re asked to worry about a sex panic: All flirtation is about to come to a screeching halt because god forbid you flirt with someone at a bar and she didn’t want you to flirt with her and now she’s called the cops and ooh you’re in trouble!

Because that’s the world we live in. Where women are the problem.

The thing about the sex panic — please. I am trying to take it seriously, to respond thoughtfully, but it sounds like backlash and redirection to me, and I’m sorry to see so many women writers and reporters taking up the mantle of edgy and rebellious to sound the alarm. God forbid we expect folks to be intentional about their sex, their sexuality. But I’ll tell you what — the crisis for these men in the workplace (or college campus or in the home, or when training olympic gymnasts, or…) isn’t that they’re afraid they won’t get to have sex, but that they won’t get to do what they want, when they want, with impunity.

stencil graffiti of a screaming womanIt’s a power panic, not a sex panic my friends.

God forbid you should have to take some care around how you approach a potential sexual partner, or even a whole sexual encounter.  There are folks who apparently have no idea how hot it is for a partner to ask you if they can kiss you or if they can touch you, exposing their desire while also leaving room open for me to say no. That option to say no is as important as the option to say yes; I mean, if I can’t say no, then I can’t actually consent. I have no patience with people who freak out about the Antioch rules, who blubber that it’s just not going to be sexy if he (or they or she) has to say, every step of the way: Can I kiss you here? Do you want me to touch you here? Can I stroke this part of you? And when folks describe these steps, they use a mincing, mocking, emasculated (of course) tone, disrespectful toward any man who would deign to ask for sex. Because men – well, men are not supposed to ask for sex or anything else — they’re just supposed to take it. We’re hamstringing, even castrating, our men, turning them into (gasp) women.

Because it’s women who ask permission for things, right?

Imagine that scene played out with a whole different tone — breathless, obviously hungry, and vulnerable. Yikes. Scary, right?

I’m going to tell you right now that interactions like that one changed my life, my relationship to sex and sexuality, my desire to have sex, my sense of my own power, autonomy, integrity: all because it happened one day in college that a lover listened when I said no, even though she was hungry and wanting. That act, that moment, made yes an entirely different animal for me.

I feel no sympathy for men who are upset that their sexual lives are about to be upended because they can’t harass women with impunity anymore (for this particular moment in time). I feel no sympathy if you are looking at your own behavior and wondering if maybe you hurt your friends or coworkers or subordinates or classmates or former partners. I feel no sympathy if you are upset that now you need to be more cautious in your approach to sex.

(And why are we talking about sex panics when the focus has been sexual harassment in the workplace? Of course we should redirect attention away from the idea that women should be treated like human beings and not potential receptacles for your dick, should be treated like coworkers and not a visiting sorority party, are not at work to meet a husband, to complete a MRS degree, to find sex partners (there are so many apps for that now), or augment your workday by providing eye candy or “harmless” flirtation — nope, women are at work to work and get paid, just like you. What a concept. But apparently expecting men to put a lid on some fraction of their sexually-inappropriate behavior is akin to asking them to put on a chastity belt and sit in a corner with hands tied, mouth taped, sad and lonely and pathetic and emasculated — yikes — and is somehow going to cause the downfall of society because some people met at work and fell in love at work after they flirted or fooled around and now that’s not going to be allowed anymore and then no one will get together and no one will have any more babies and America is going to wither and die because we can’t grab the secretary’s ass anymore or ask her what kind of porn she likes.)

Here’s the difference between the behavior that’s being called out and those consensual relationships at work — the word consensual. That’s the difference. This isn’t something that should need explaining, and I don’t think it actually does — I think those who are raising the fear of witch hunts and sex panics know exactly what they’re doing. They’re doing what abusers (and apologists for abusers) always do when their behavior is called out and made visible, when someone tries to hold them accountable for their actions: they turn the tables and begin scrambling to put the blame on victims and accusers, on anyone who tells them that they are responsible for their actions, that they are responsible to not actively hurt the people in their lives.

That fourteen year old at the mall? She was asking for it. It’s her fault. It’s their fault. If you tell, everything’s going to fall apart, and it’s going to be all your fault.

These conversations don’t seem hard to me, and they don’t seem as complicated as this particular cultural moment wants to make them. Don’t rape anyone today. Don’t rape anyone when you go out into the world, or take someone out on a date, or go to a party, or go to church for your shift at the altar, or tuck your kids in to bed. It seems actually quite simple to me. 

And yet, these days, those whose power is under some small threat are trying to make us feel guilty or bad that they have been forced to attend, to some tiny extent, to the consequences of their actions. Witch hunt, folks are crying. What’s the quote I saw in a recent article: women have the power and now it’s the men who are afraid!!1!1! The tables have turned, we’re supposed to understand, and women are going to do to men what men have been doing to women since there have been such things as women and men in our cultural collective consciousness —

graffiti of woman screamingDogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

Meanwhile, back in reality, let’s just have a look at the news, shall we? Parents are having endless children and chaining them to their beds. A man, over decades, sexually assaults over one hundred and fifty girls in the guise of gymnastic coaching. The pope, this new liberal pope we love, calls those who expect him to take real action on sexual abuse in his church stupid leftists. Teenage boys rape teenage girls and share the video live on social media.

 And yet, older “feminists” call younger women entitled or weak or whiny because they won’t just “take it” or — are you kidding me, Caitlin Flanagan? — insisting that when we were taught to keep our knees together, sure, it was sexist, but it taught us to stand up for ourselves, to slap someone who went too far, to keep a dime in our shoes so we could call for a ride home if our dates got too handsy — wait, what? Are we saying that, back in the day, girls weren’t raped or “pressured into having bad sex they didn’t really want?”

While we are busy worrying about whether Aziz Ansari is a dick to his sexual partners. women and children are being raped en masse in war zones across the world. Everytime you write about a Weinstein or a Cosby or a Allen, all those guys get is more press. This is not a Hollywood problem. When are we going to turn our attention to the cultural forces that trained the women who were drugged or raped by HW or BC, who taught those women what was expected of them, who touched them in their bedrooms or grabbed at them on the street or expected them to be available for the looking, the touching, the fucking? When are we going to turn our attention to our homes, our classrooms, our schools, our streets, to the so-called private places where parents are given leave to do whatever they want (because: parenting is sacrosanct! You can’t tell me what I can do in my own home! A man’s home is his castle!)?

What he did wasn’t as bad as HW, we say, so let’s just give hum seven or eight thousand more chances to get it right — he’s basically a good guy! He says good stuff in public! He does good work for the church! He didn’t mean it! It was just a joke! maybe he’s learned something!

Whatever. Let’s keep on excusing the behavior. That’ll do the trick,

It’s not as bad as  can easily be translated to, it’s the fucking baseline for. Aziz Ansari-type behavior is  just a little bit bad, right? Not so terrible, just a bad date — not like he forced her down and shoved his dick into her, right? Not like he threatened her job or to kill her or anything? So let’s give it a pass. Let’s let it get worse before we take any action.

Please pass this rationale on to the women brutalized or killed by male partners, women who went to the cops to try and get some protection only to be told, Well, what he’s doing isn’t technically illegal, and we can’t do anything until he breaks a real law. Harassing you endlessly, calling your phone so often you have to change numbers, stalking you at home and at work, threatening to take your kids, threatening to harm himself, even just intimating he might do you harm — well, that stuff’s not arrestable, He’s just kind of a jerk, right? Maybe don’t have gotten involved with him next time. That’ll fix you right up, honey.

Maybe let’s just give those guys a pass. They didn’t know it wasn’t ok to treat a woman like a receptacle, like it’s her entire job to give him sex, it’s her reason for existence.

He just didn’t’ know! No one ever told him! Well, now he’s gotten the message, I’m sure. And lots of other guys have, too — and here’s the message they’re getting: Keep on doing what you’re doing; there are women who will stand up for your right to be a shitty asshole when it comes to sex, especially if you’re kind of a good guy out in the world.

You understand (right?), that giving the Azizs and the Francos a pass is what builds the HWs. HW didn’t start out raping women over hotel couches. It doesn’t work like that. He built up slowly, and people gave him a pass, over and over and over and over and over again. He didn’t know it was wrong! He just went too far. He was just too handsy. Don’t be so sensitive. It’s just part of the job. Suck it up, little camper. Didn’t you say you wanted to be an actress?

I’m not saying, of course, that Aziz or James Franco or any other guy who pressures or shames or guilts a partner into sex is about to become our next mass rapist — who knows if they will. I’m saying some other things. I’m saying that when we excuse shitty behavior — whether or not it’s technically against the law — we normalize it, we make more room for it in our culture, we strengthen the baseline for more violent behavior, we reify rape culture.

It’s not that difficult to know when someone wants to have sex with you. But, of course, I’m over here trying to have a conversation about enthusiastic consent and women’s sexual agency, and over there, the rapists and rape apologists are on a different planet, one where men want sex when they want it, and women are there as catalysts or providers or receptacles, but the words yes and no don’t really come into the equation. They don’t really matter, they aren’t part of the game, because in this other game, women’s words don’t mean much, anywhere — in bed or in court or in the office. I’m trying to have nuanced conversations about consent with people who refuse to concede the capacity of women to consent, or that consent is something that matters in sex, or that a woman’s desire is something they should take into consideration at all.

This is a distraction, this talk of sex panics — let’s obfuscate the issue so that we don’t have to respond to what’s really being said, which is that it is unacceptable to subject anyone to unwanted sexual behavior, and if you do it, there are (maybe) going to be (sort of) negative consequences (for a few perpetrators), but at least the conversation is louder, and a little more difficult, for the moment, to ignore.

~~ ~~ ~~

I’m hoping, soon, to be able to write about something else here. In my notebooks, I’m writing fairy tales and novel chapters. What about you? What creative projects are percolating around the edges of your rage and fear? What words will you offer into the world today?

 

I can’t even — ok, well maybe I can

Picture of little white girl sitting crosslegged, looking at a bluebird, beneath the words, "If you get tired learn to rest, not to quit! -Banksy"Good morning, good morning.

Deep breath. Ready? Ok.

One more time. I’m going to try one more time to write this post. Hang on — this is a long one.

Yesterday I was talking with a friend, who is in a tough work situation. He is well-spoken, articulate, smart, and has decades of experience in his work, yet whenever he speaks with his boss (someone who consistently undermines and then gaslights him), he gets tongue-tined, feels silenced, mute. There’s nothing I can say, he tells me. I feel stupid, practically like a child.

I nodded as he spoke, then said to my friend, this sounds so much like the relationship I was in seven years ago — by the end, I told him. I was convinced that I was actually a terrible communicator, that I literally did not have the ability to communicate with other people, that there was not just something wrong with my ability to connect, to convey my thoughts and to interact with another person through words, but that I had deluded myself into thinking  that I could communicate well.

My friend looked wide-eyed at me, so surprised, given that I center my life and work around deep and open communication. I laughed at myself and the situation, maybe a little more gently than I’ve done in the past — maybe I’m beginning to forgive myself.

I tried to explain to my friend what I’d learned from the analyst I was seeing back just before I left that relationship — that my ex had created a closed system around us, and I had to agree to the terms he set for this system, or I was violating the system and harming him. Either I agreed with his worldview and outlook or I was against him. Layer on top of that insinuations of (my) racism and classism, as well as my history, and you can see why I was in knots and, like my friend, tongue-tied for the better part of eight years.

Unfortunately, this mirrored another relationship I’d been in, the one with my mother’s second husband. Closed system, setting the terms of the conversation, the debate, setting the very terms for reality — and you either agreed, or took your life and the lives of those closest to you in hand.

I have been experiencing a similar tongue-tied-ness, muteness, around our entire public “conversation” about sexual violence in the last couple of months.

Yesterday I went back through a big handful of blog posts I’d started and abandoned, twenty pages of stops and starts, of trying to get in, of trying to figure out what I wanted to say about each new major issue that bubbled to the top of our media frenzy about rape culture: the hierarchy of violence (is it really that bad if he’s not Harvey Weinstein?); the idea of a witch hunt; the fear of a sex panic; women suddenly having all the power and wielding it indiscriminately (unlike men, of course), bringing down any guy who just happened to look at them wrong or who, you know, shamed or cajoled or pressured or guilted or threatened them into sex; female sexual agency (what’s that?); enthusiastic consent — so many important issues about which I have a great deal to say, and yet each post would trail off after some thousand words or more, and I’d be unable to bring it to a close, unable to find a particular point I wanted to make.

I often look back on a particular phone call I had with my stepfather, late in his abuse of me

 

and my sister. I was in college, a junior at that point; it would be almost a year before I was able to get away from him. I was at a payphone on the first floor of my dorm, a newer, non-descript building that felt like a cavern every time I walked in the doors. In my memory, I am clinging to the black receiver like I’m holding onto a life raft. My stepfather has said the word incest, he has used the word: Sure, it’s incest (technically, he probably clarified), but it’s only a problem because of this repressive, sex-negative culture we live in.

I didn’t hear much else during that call.  He used the word, the one he’d denied and avoided for all the years he’d been assaulting me. He claimed it, took it away from me — he would not allow that word to have any power. And I understood several things: He knew exactly what he was doing, and what he’d been doing for years; I was not crazy to think he knew he was harming us; and he wasn’t going to allow me to talk my way out of this, though he’d pretended to offer me that possibility for years. He would always reshape the terms of the debate to serve him, to favor his interpretation, to keep himself in the right and in power and in our beds, There was nothing I could say to make him acknowledge my experience or admit his wrongdoing.

Photo of a poster that reads Mister, Mister Get your laws off my sister, above an image of the woman's symbol with a fist at the center

So we come back around to why it’s been so difficult to talk or engage in writing in this larger public conversation — do I have to use the hashtag? — about rape and sexual violence and male power and privilege and entitlement. The trouble is that this is another closed system: if you want to enter the conversation, you have to agree to the rules of the game — and the rules are, you have to let them frame the conversation, and you have to talk about what they want to talk about, the way they want to talk about it, if you want to be heard (or delude yourself that you will be heard).

This is where I got stuck. I don’t agree to the terms.

I said to a friend, it’s like a theoretical mathematician having to talk about something they know intimately and in profound depth, but they are only allowed to use the terminology of second-grade arithmetic. We are still only able, or allowed, to talk about violence against women (and children, and others) in incredulous, lurid, simplistic terms.

I saw a quote recently on the facebooks —  it said something about it being ok not to engage in arguments with people who are determined to misunderstand you. We who are insisting that rape culture harms absolutely everyone are being asked to define our terms and defend our positions over and over, endlessly, made to prove our points, to offer evidence in the form of our experiences and our bodies, repeatedly, to those who will, every time, find ways to deliberately misunderstand or misconstrue or misdirect or straight up deny what we’re saying, simply because they don’t want to have to be accountable for their behavior or make any changes in their lives or thinking. The hope is that, if we have to explain ourselves over and over (and over and over and over and over) and over again, eventually we will get tired (as I have gotten tired) and just go away and let things stay the way they’ve been for, oh, I don’t know, millennia.

It’s not that hard. Folks who have power don’t want to let go of it — any of it. Neither the rapist nor the rape apologist, neither Trump nor Sarah Sanders, wants to give up the power they’ve got in this culture. There’s power in being able to shape the conversation, the narrative, to demand that your accusers, those insisting on cultural change, prove their very right to speak endlessly, until they are exhausted.

So, in order to enter the conversation, I have to accede, accept, the terms that, for instance, it makes sense that a radio announcer in 2018 will state, breathlessly, that we’re seeing sexual harassment in all sorts of workplace environments (what, really?) — or accept the idea that a hashtag constitutes a movement (thereby agreeing to ahistoricize it, pretend like we just got started, decontextualize it from, let’s say, feminism and the generations of women (and others) who have named sexual violence and its harmful effects, demanding something better.  I have to agree that there’s a hierarchy of sexual violence and then weigh in on whether someone who isn’t systematically torturing victims over decades is really doing something all that bad; I have to agree that rich, white women started this “movement”; I have to hop up and down, the little kid in the back of the classroom, saying Ooh ooh ooh, me too! Me too! Hey, me too!

Even if I don’t agree on the terms, I have to agree to debate them — to discuss them, if I want my contribution to be even remotely relevant.

But these conversations are so ludicrous to me that I can’t even engage them seriously. A sex panic? Honestly? A witch hunt? Weighing the relative violence of acts that don’t violate criminal law (but are obviously deeply problematic/ impactful/harmful and create lasting impact, and undergird a system of violence that supports more violent acts)? Are you kidding me with this?

How to enter the conversation if you don’t agree to the terms of the debate? Maybe you don’t.

I’ve had this trouble for years. There are simply debates I can’t enter. I won’t talk with you about the relative merits of Lolita. I won’t discuss how great William Burroughs’ Queer was (because I haven’t read it, and frankly, I’d rather not have him in my queer lineage at all, thank you very much), you know, in spite of the fact that he shot his wife in the head (as though that were a side note in his life, a quirk, a small biographical detail). Is it even sort of of ok for a guy to have sex with a girl who’s drunk and not actively shoving him off her because she’s too out of it? Nope. Is it ok that David bowie had sex with children? Nope.

I am not your girl for those discussions. (But no worries — there are many thousands of folks who will talk about these things, so no one’s missing out on anything.)

It’s not just that I don’t agree on the terms of the debate — I don’t even agree that any of this is debatable.

I can’t engage seriously in any conversation that begins with, “Why is it difficult for women to come forward about experiences of sexual harassment at work?”

I can’t take seriously a “movement” to end sexual violence globally when it’s centered around rich (mostly) white women with access and power and is supposed to, what, trickle down to the rest of us?

I can’t take seriously any panic about witch hunts and male fear when children are still being raped in their beds across the planet, and the pope still protects the rapists in his ostensibly-Christian ranks.

I just can’t even.

You understand this feeling, the I can’t even feeling. I think anyone who has experienced or is experiencing oppression, and seeks to create change or simply have the reality of their situation recognized, acknowledged, for what it is, can understand this feeling.

I can’t even lives on the other side of the tongue-tiedness, but is mostly spoken to those who stand with us, who can hear is, who understand all that we are not saying, who read us without our even having to speak. Because having to speak the same fucking things over and over, having to reaffirm our humanity and the violence done to us, having to articulate, again, the harm that violence did and does, is exhausting. It takes work not to fall into the crazy-making mire of gaslighting and but-what-abouts and reverse oppression and backlash … I can’t even comes before the deep breath, the closed eyes, the sigh, the restating what we have been saying for decades, generations:

Yes, this entire system was set up to serve and protect those in power, by those in power. It’s just that simple.

I’m sorry, William Macy and Frank Bruni, if it’s hard to be a white man in this moment (well, at least in these conversations — are you having a lot of trouble, as powerful white men, outside of discussions involving racism or sexual violence? I didn’t think so). That’s not quite true, of course. I’m not sorry. Because I don’t believe it’s hard. I believe you’re experiencing some discomfort, sometimes, in some conversations. And that’s discomfort you can choose to feel or not; you can step out of the conversation. You can turn to another part of your life and never have to think about these things. The people who are inviting you to feel this discomfort? They — we — can’t step away.

I have been feeling “I can’t even” several times a day, most days, if I choose to engage in any media consumption whatsoever, for months now. And then I take that deep breath and close my eyes and sigh and pick up my hands and drop them on the keyboard and try to engage and find myself frozen. It’s not fear that freezes me, I suppose, but rage. The NYT magazine this weekend has a piece about female rage, about how and when (and which) women “get” to be angry, and how readily angry women are dismissed from any conversation.

Folks who’ve been oppressed for generations aren’t supposed to be angry about it — we are supposed to forgive and move forward with our oppressors. Women of all races; folks of color; queer folks — forgive and move on! Things are better now! Don’t be so angry. Why are you so angry? Don’t you know if you bring anger into the room, no one will take you seriously? You’ll just make people uncomfortable.

And anyway, what do you have to be angry about, women? Some men who abused women have been fired! You got what you wanted! Some men are — well — thinking about their language sometimes, in mixed company. Isn’t that the revolution you were looking for?

What I noticed was that a lot of those blog posts I started and then abandoned were really fucking angry. I am so tired of having to DEBATE the relative harm of different forms of sexual violence in a culture that is built on and shaped to protect male sexual entitlement, hello. Every piece of it, that is, every instance of sexual violence feeds the system, and tangles with every other instance. Every Aziz Ansari who we dismiss as not that bad and just needs to learn and didn’t know he was doing the wrong thing is laying the groundwork for a Harvey W., and is communicating to every woman everywhere what she can expect, or what she has to defend or armor up against, if she wants to have sex with men or masculine people.

If we repeat it enough, will you hear us? It doesn’t seem likely, but we keep saying it, just not for you — but for us. For those among us who need to know that we are not crazy for being outraged or triggered every time we turn on the news; that there’s nothing wrong with us for expecting our sexual partners to treat us like human beings who deserve respect and even adoration; that there’s nothing wrong with us for having expected those who were tasked with the job of raising and protecting us to do just that and only that; and that there’s nothing wrong with us for wanting a break from the litany of abuse stories sometimes — it doesn’t make us bad survivors, or unsupportive.

Sometimes you have to leave the room, quit trying to talk to people who will insist on misunderstanding you so that they can exhaust you into submission and silence. Sometimes you have to shift into another part of the house, with people who are interested in a different kind of conversation.

Be easy with yourselves out there, ok? Write hard, write whatever the fuck you want to, as angry as you want to write it, and then take yourself out for some ice cream or popcorn or even a non-food-related treat (which I just can’t seem to be able to imagine at the moment). I am grateful for each of you out there, and stand with you in the moments when you can’t speak, when you choose not to,  and in the moments when you do. Thank you for your words today.

Brief Write Whole postponement and more…

Just a quick note! We have had to briefly postpone the start of our Winter Write Whole session – we now begin next Wednesday, 1/17! We still have a few spaces available in that group, so contact me if you’d like to join us!

Here’s what we’ve got coming up this month:

~Write Whole: Survivors Write
Open to women sexual trauma survivors
8 Wednesday evenings, 6:30-9:00pm,
January 17-March 7

o In the *Write Whole: Survivors Write* workshop, you’ll gather with other trauma survivors to create new art and new beauty out of life’s difficult and complicated realities. Learn to trust the flow of your own writing, and receive immediate feedback about the power of your words! Remember: we’re open to all women, and ‘survivor’ is self-defined! Fee is $375; partial scholarships are available for all trauma-centered writing groups. 

~Meridian Writers
A general-topic group open to all writers – begins tomorrow!
8 Wednesday mornings, 9:30am-12:00pm, beginning January 10

o *Meridian Writers* invites you to join a community of writers who are connecting more deeply with their writing practice. Find your center and write your story. Coffee and/or tea will be provided, as well as light snacks (sometimes even including homemade bread). At the end of our eight weeks together, you will have a new creative community, and a strong body of new writing. Spaces are limited to 9 writers per workshop session. Fee: $425. Fees from this workshop support scholarships for Writing Ourselves Whole’s workshops for trauma survivors.

~Writing the Flood
Drop in and write!
Third Saturday of every month, 1-4:30pm
Except for this month, when we meet on January 27 (because: women’s marches on 1/20!)

o *Writing the Flood* is a writing group for anyone looking to prime the writing pump: using the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we will write together in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories, poems, essays, images and voices that have been stuck inside for too long. This is a time to work on a larger project, get started on new work, play on the page, or write yourself through a block and back into your writing voice. Fee for this workshop is $25-50, sliding scale.

Join us!

No previous writing experience necessary! All groups meet near BART station and other public transportation options. Spaces are still available, though limited, and pre-registration is required! 

Questions or concerns? Write to me at jennifer(at)writingourselveswhole.org.

um … this is not a witch hunt

painting of Baba Yaga in her cauldron, flying over a green field

If it’s a witch hunt you want, let’s get Baba Yaga on the job…

Good morning, good morning. It’s very quiet here, except for the wind, which is a rush and howl through the trees, up the hillside. The eucalyptus dance like coral underwater. It’s all so beautiful, except that these same winds are whipping up the fires in Southern California, just as they did in Sonoma. What a painful, frightening, difficult season.

We had a beautiful launch event for the Writing Ourselves Whole book on Tuesday night: the room was full of support and … many folks took photos and video; we’ll get some clips up on the Writing Ourselves Whole YouTube channel soon (which, for the moment, is mostly Sophie videos :).

~~ ~~ ~~

 I get a little bit nervous whenever I hear folks, especially a group of men, talk about all the sexual harassment scandals (“scandals”) in the news right now. There’s panic in the streets because a very, very small handful of men have been called out publicly and some even smaller number are suffering some negative consequences (golden parachutes, extensive paid “leaves of absence” and the like don’t really qualify as negative in my book, though). A tiny number of sexual assailants have lost their jobs.

But this tiny number is greater than zero, and so now we are hearing men raise the alarm about a witch hunt.

A witch hunt. If that doesn’t add insult to injury.

If I am to understand this phrase in this context correctly, what those who use it seriously mean is that they’re afraid that women will look around them and see evidence of sexual violence behind almost any action a man makes, no matter how innocuous or innocent—every joke, every hand on the shoulder (omg Garrison Keillor), every even side-glancing reference to sex will be used as evidence that a man is akin to the most violent back alley knife wielding rapist (as though those are the rapists and violators most of us really have to be afraid of), and they’ll be pilloried ion social media and maybe even asked to look at their behavior, asked to (gasp!) reconsider their actions and act differently in the workplace or even with friends or — oh no — at home! They might even lose their jobs!

Do you know what they won’t be? Killed, like accused witches were.

Do you know who got (and still gets) witch-hunted? Women.  To draw a comparison between what is happening to an almost infinitely-small percentage of sexual abusers the world over and the murder of over ten million women who were stoned, drowned, raped, hanged, burned alive, tortured , or otherwise killed or maimed—very likely, in not a few of those millions of cases, because they refused a man’s sexual advances—is almost beyond-the-pale insulting.

Using “witch hunt” in this current cultural moment, is intended to diminish the actual historical atrocity that the phrase describes while simultaneously elevating the status and pain of those few, overly-powerful men who have, for this moment, at least, been brought low (-ish). We are intended to see them as persecuted without cause, and we are asked to be very careful in our accusations toward additional men, lest we fall into the same trap that men did (not all that long ago, actually).

Do what we say, the patriarchy tells us, not what we do.

I’d like the assailants and their apologists to find another phrase. Call your fear something else. Sexual-abuser hunt, maybe. It’s simple, direct, clear… just what you want in a slogan.

The reason this phrase is being used right now, of course, is to make women and other survivors more afraid of coming forward—it’s meant to paint them with the witch-hunter’s brush. Of course it’s the accusers we should be looking at with suspicion, the victims who are speaking out now (and have been speaking out for decades, and longer) and finally being attended to and believed (well, sometimes, and some of them, and not really), and not men who have been raised in a culture that indoctrinates them into the belief that they get to do what they want with their body or anyone else’s body.

Asking men to reconsider this indoctrination, to shift their conception of masculinity, and to stop fucking, touching, easing or threatening with or through sex is not akin to witch hunting.

Don’t let them fool you. This is not a witch hunt. This is a truth telling, and it’s barely even begun.

 

not apples and oranges, but apples and apples

graffiti: text reads, Oh, good morning. It’s a Monday again. How did the weekend treat you? Were you kind to yourself? Did you make some room for your words?

~~ ~~ ~~

Don’t forget about the Writing Ourselves Whole book launch party next Tuesday, December 5! (Click for more deets or to RSVP!)

~~ ~~ ~~

As may not be surprising to you, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we talk about sexual violence in our culture. How are you doing with all this media coverage? Myself, I’m feeling both grateful and totally triggered much of the time. Ugh.

The media are doing an interesting thing now, trying to figure out how to talk about different kinds of sexual violence and sexual violations, and they are setting up a kind of ranking— or, really, reifying a long-standing hierarchy: which one is worse? This has been played out over and over these last couple of weeks — if we are asking Roy Moore (RM) to drop out of his senate race after sexually assaulting teenage girls, shouldn’t Al Franken (AF) have to resign for sticking his tongue into the mouth of an adult woman on stage? Aren’t they the same thing?

I listened to commentators carefully articulate why it was that, even though what AF did was bad, it certainly (obviously, clearly) wasn’t as bad as what RM did and has been doing for decades. This is the trouble with looking to the criminal justice system to give us our moral code, to tell us what’s right and what’s wrong — if it’s not illegal, it must, in some sense, be ok.

Let’s see — which assault is worse than the other? Let’s weight them. Let’s compare. Let’s get into that game of the Trauma Olympics: Who had it worse. Who deserves more sympathy, more punishment. Whose assailant was just making a joke, didn’t mean it. Who is the real victim of a  real predator here?

Let’s look at the flip-side of this game: what was done to one victim is not as bad as what was done to another. Having an adult man jab his tongue down your throat, when you’re an adult woman, is not as bad as having a man assault you when you’re a teenager is worse than having a man fire you for spurning his sexual advances is somehow “better” than having a man holler at you on the street and then call you a bitch when you don’t smile at his catcall — but one isn’t better than the other. It’s all different versions of the same fucking thing: misogyny, patriarchy, male supremacy, rape culture.

In my years leading writing groups with sexual trauma and sexual violence survivors, I have repeatedly had women voice concern that they didn’t belong in the room — they weren’t raped, they weren’t sexually abused as children, what happened to them wasn’t anywhere near as bad as what happened to other women. They were just harassed at work for a few months or years. They just had a dad who talked to them inappropriately as they were growing up, or liked to watch them when they came out of the bathroom after a shower. They just

It’s that “just,” that minimizing voice in our heads, that the media response to AF is building up right now. We who have been the targets of any form of sexually-based violence are familiar with that minimizing voice — it wasn’t as bad as what happened to her — it could have been worse. It could always have been worse. We shouldn’t complain. We should be thankful he didn’t do something worse.

Maybe those who assaulted us in whatever way told us this directly — but usually they didn’t have to. Our families and communities do this for them. The media and the criminal justice system do it for them: through categorizing some acts as misdemeanors, some as felonies, some as not criminal behavior at all.

And so we play down what was done to us and we question our responses — why do we feel so sick and angry and scared? What makes us think we have the right to add our #metoo? What happened to us just wasn’t that bad. So why are we replaying his words over and over in our heads? Why are we acting like it was such a big deal? Why can’t we just get over it? Why aren’t we strong enough to just let it roll off our backs? Why can’t we just take a joke? Obviously, he didn’t mean to hurt me. He meant it as a compliment/ just likes me/ was just joking / misunderstood something I did or said or am.

We tie ourselves in knots with the self-questioning and the minimization, and that’s one more piece of the violence. If we are tied up with this spinning and self-doubt and self-demonization and cognitive dissonance, then we won’t be rising in the ranks of our professions or instigating revolution; our energy will be drained elsewhere. We will have less energy for resistance and revolt, for art and creativity and wonder.

This hierarchizing of trauma, this ranking of violences, does further damage to survivors, we who have already been taught to minimize our own reactions: we hear the media telling us it wasn’t that big a deal, or not as bad as X (or not so bad that we want to lose this guy’s vote in the Senate, or whatever).

But it is as bad as X. If we have experienced any sexually-based violence, what was done to us was bad, period. The acts and actors, violences and violators, all work together, don’t you see, to create what we have been calling “rape culture” for decades.

AF didn’t have to threaten to violently rape the women he assaulted; they already knew that the possibility existed, by virtue of growing up female in America, and he had already demonstrated his willingness to violate their personal space, boundaries, and human autonomy. It’s not “just” an unwanted kiss, somehow in isolation from everything else this woman has experienced. It’s one more instance of sexual violation.

Sexual violence is sexual violence. It takes many different forms, but we who are survivors know how damaging it is to play the comparison game, and to buy into this mainstream story that some violence is worse than others. Every form of any form of sexual violence experiences a similar aftermath: rage, shame, self-blame, grief, guilt, fear, isolation, loss. The details of our experiences matter and every act of sexual violation is unique. But it also all exists in the same realm, not on a continuum so much as of the atmosphere surrounding us all the time —we are reminded that we could be next, if it happened once it could certainly happen again, if it happened to her or them it could happen to me.

The media does not need to buy into doing the criminal justice systems’ job for them. Commentators don’t have to play the game of ranking: it’s just another layer of rape culture, just another part of the problem. When asked whether some form of sexual violation is worse than another, I’d like folks to consider that there is no such thing — It’s not apples and oranges. It’s two different kinds of apples. It’s all assault, it’s all the assertion of power over another person’s body, autonomy, humanity. It’s all degrading, dehumanizing, objectifying— disregarding the well-being of another person, and believing that you have the right to do so. It’s sexually-based violence in different forms, and each act is woven into the net of every other act of sexual violence, past and present.

~~ ~~ ~~

Be easy with yourselves this week, ok? We’ve moved firmly into “holiday” season — sometimes that brings up painful or difficult memories. Just keep breathing, please. Be tender with the tender parts of you. Thanks for all the ways you are gentle with those in your community, and the ways you allow others to gift you with their gentleness and kindness, too. Thanks for your words, today and every day,

 

Winter ’18 Workshop Schedule: We’re Back!

Companer@, I know that you are hurting but you are still alive you will survive and together we will dismantle the systems that broke our heartsHello writers & writers-to-be!

I am delighted to announce that we’ll be offering a full workshop schedule beginning next year! While it’s been good to have a break from the work of running a business while I was in school, I have very much missed the energy and power of the groups — and given all that’s happening in the world these days, there’s just about no place I’d rather be than in a room full of powerhouse writers laying claim to their own voices and words.

As we move into this time of fertile dark and reflection, you may find yourself seeking a space that can hold the fullness and complexity of your deepest stories. At Writing Ourselves Whole, we believe in the power of story, the joy of writing, and the breadth of human creative resilience. We believe that community can hold, witness and celebrate the stories that we have been told are unspeakable.

Here are the writing opportunities we have coming up this beginning next year at Writing Ourselves Whole:

~Write Whole: Survivors Write
Open to women sexual trauma survivors
8 Wednesday evenings, 6:30-9:00pm, beginning January 10

o In the *Write Whole: Survivors Write* workshop, you’ll gather with other trauma survivors to create new art and new beauty out of life’s difficult and complicated realities. Learn to trust the flow of your own writing, and receive immediate feedback about the power of your words! Remember: we’re open to all women, and ‘survivor’ is self-defined! Fee is $375; partial scholarships are available for all trauma-centered writing groups. 

~Meridian Writers
A general-topic group open to all writers!
8 Wednesday mornings, 9:30am-12:00pm, beginning January 10

o *Meridian Writers* invites you to join a community of writers who are connecting more deeply with their writing practice. Find your center and write your story. Coffee and/or tea will be provided, as well as light snacks (sometimes even including homemade bread). At the end of our eight weeks together, you will have a new creative community, and a strong body of new writing. Spaces are limited to 9 writers per workshop session. Fee: $425. Fees from this workshop support scholarships for Writing Ourselves Whole’s workshops for trauma survivors.

~Writing the Flood
Drop in and write!
Third Saturday of every month, 1-4:30pm
Upcoming groups meet on November 18, December 16, and January 20

o *Writing the Flood* is a writing group for anyone looking to prime the writing pump: using the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we will write together in response to exercises designed to get those pens moving, and get onto the page the stories, poems, essays, images and voices that have been stuck inside for too long. This is a time to work on a larger project, get started on new work, play on the page, or write yourself through a block and back into your writing voice. Fee for this workshop is $25-50, sliding scale.

~ Dive Deep
An advanced, manuscript-centered workgroup
First 2018 cohort opens to new members on Thursday, January 4

o The *Dive Deep* workgroup is for those who have delved into (or are ready to commit to) the deep dive of a large writing project, such as a novel, memoir, or poetry collection. Though writing is a solitary pursuit, no writer has ever completed a long work alone: Divers meet three times per month for writing, project check-in and accountability, feedback, coaching and peer support. This group can help you meet your writing goal, and provide community and encouragement as you go deep into a writing project. The fee is $225/month, with a three-month commitment required; the group will remain closed for those three months, in order to give Divers the opportunity to set long-term goals in an established and supportive community.

~ Write Whole Online
Open to all sexual trauma survivors
6-week online writing group begins on Sunday, January 7

o *Online Writing Groups* are designed for those unable to attend in-person workshops, or for those uncomfortable with or less inclined toward joining us in person. Participation in the writing groups is all asynchronous: you access exercises and readings, write and post your responses, and offer feedback on others’ writings as works best for your schedule. No special software required–just a web browser, Internet connection, and desire to write into your deepest stories. Fee: $250 (sliding scale).

Join us!

No previous writing experience necessary! All groups meet near BART station and other public transportation options. Spaces are still available, though limited, and pre-registration is required! 

Questions or concerns? Write to me at jennifer(at)writingourselveswhole.org.

the violence they hold in their sticky fingers

Stencil graffiti on a blue background, a woman's symbol with an A inside, next to the words "Make feminism a threat again"

(Yep, I’m pissed today. Aren’t you?)

Good morning, good morning. How are things where you are this morning? It’s quite chilly in my house today — I’ve got the heater on my feet, trying to thaw out my toes. (Please note: this is my California-acclimation talking — in Midwest or Maine-winter terms, it’s balmy today.)

***

I feel like I should be responding to each new story, each new guy, each new revelation of some prominent figure’s past (or present) sexual violence. Of course I am grateful they are being called out, called forward, called to account, and I am grateful that a certain portion of society has decided that these reckonings are worthy, that we should pay attention now when (some) victims come forward with their stories. We tell ourselves that we are in a moment of change. And maybe we are. I hope we are. It would be a powerful thing if we are. But I keep thinking about the number of tellings that are still ignored, denied, squashed, the number of victims and survivors who have told and are telling now and are being denied or punished.

In Sacramento, there are male politicians who are refusing to take meetings with female staffers or lobbyists — because they are afraid of what will be said about them after. This means that they believe the women who are telling about their experiences of assault and harassment and abuse are lying. that they, as men, must protect themselves from these lying women. And they are punishing the women who have told. They are communicating exactly this: ok, if you don’t want to play our game by our rules, then we’re going to shut you out. Again.

Those in power do not like to be told that they cannot do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it.

And yet women and men and folks of all genders are taking courage from the survivors who have spoken up already and are, at least for the moment, being listened to and (mostly — well, sometimes) believed.

I feel doubtful. I wonder, what’s happening under the surface, behind the scenes. Whose voices are we not hearing? Who do we still not believe?

Last night I listened to part of an interview with Caitlin Flanagan, who has written about Bill Clinton getting away with rape and harassment for years, and reminded us that powerful women and feminist leaders excused his behavior. We look at the voters in Alabama who are excusing R.M.’s actions and ask, how could you? We look at the people who voted for Trump and ask, how could you, when you know what you know? But we who call ourselves Democrats or leftists, if we excused Bill Clinton or thought of Paula Jones that she was a liar and a gold digger and a white trash slut or we listened to Hilary Clinton call Monica Lewinsky a — what did she call her? Oh yes, a loony toon — and didn’t call foul, we are the same.

You can see, right, that we are all the same? We want to excuse the one we believe in. We want to make excuses for them. We want to believe that they didn’t really mean it. that they will do better next time, that they said they were sorry, that they won’t do it again, that they didn’t do it at all. We want to believe the lies. The folks in Alabama who are supporting R.M. — I want to judge them — and, of course, I do. I am enraged that anyone would listen to a woman (and then another, and then another, and then…) describe this man’s actions toward her when she was a child or a very young woman and make excuses drawn from religion (Well, Mary was just a teenager when God raped– I mean, when she had Jesus) or call the woman a liar or decide that nobody actually holds on to experiences of terrible assault or shameful harassment for decades without reporting it or telling anyone (which is, of course, patently absurd — and how many of the men who are accusing R.M.’s victims of being liars are at the same time sending veiled or not-so-veiled threats to the women and girls that they themselves harassed once upon a time?)…

Take a deep breath, Jen. If we are going to hold men to account for their behavior, it has to be all men, not just the ones we aren’t politically aligned with. I remember being astonished and disappointed that left-wing women excused Clinton his assaults and harassment. 

Women across the political spectrum have shamed and silenced women who came forward to tell the truth about men we admired and wanted to believe in.  If we want to see a change, if we want this to be a moment of real change in our society, a moment in which we can see the tides of history begin to turn, the moment when it stopped being acceptable or even positive for a man to harass, assault, or otherwise wield sexuality as a weapon, when men stopped treating this violence as just part of masculinity, part of being a man; when men said no to other men, when men began to push back against this particular aspect of masculinity, and when men also began to fear the larger consequences of his harassing , assaultive behavior and actions, when it became too risky to take the action — not because he didn’t want to do it, not because he didn’t still feel the desire, but because he was too afraid of the actual consequences in the eyes of other men (it will be an even greater step when one day men care about the opinion of women, but that’s not a day we’ve reached yet) — then we have to hold all perpetrators accountable. Period. Bill Clinton doesn’t get a pass. Fucking Al Franken doesn’t get a pass. The Pope doesn’t get a pass for covering-up rape in the Catholic church system. Men across the political spectrum engage in these acts. Spiritual leaders, social justice warriors, queer folks, transmen, men taking women’s studies classes, men who call themselves feminists, men who say things we really want to hear men say, men who are standing up in public for women — folks who will perpetrate sexual violence show up all around us all the time.

Why am I reiterating all of this? I know I’m preaching to the choir, as it were. I guess I’m disgusted this morning with women across the political spectrum who excuse the behavior of assaultive men in order to get their own political capital, for expediency’s sake, women who will throw women under the bus or step on their heads just to get a leg up. We do it to ourselves. We do it to each other. We don’t want to listen. We don’t want to have to believe this thing about daddy, about our husband, about that nice guy we liked so much, about our friends, about our pastor or priest or minister or rabbi or imam or guru or leader. We don’t want to have to believe it about the actor who is so pretty and seems so nice. We don’t want to have to believe it about the nice guy up the block who just doesn’t act like a bad guy when we’re around him — how could he do all those things that women are saying?

But men are doing all these things that women are saying. That children are saying. That other men are saying. That folks of all genders are saying. If this is a tipping point, that would be a beautiful thing. Only time will tell. We’ve certainly got a long way to go before women aren’t walking armored into every interaction they have with men.  A far better solution, in Sacramento and everywhere, would be for women to stop taking meetings with men until men prove they can “behave themselves” — that is, not engage in sexually harassing, dismissive, hostile, or violent behavior. Let this be how it works in business, in the media, in Hollywood, in politics, let women rise in power while leaving the perpetrators behind. Let those men scramble to prove themselves. Let those men feel left out in the cold. What a day that would be. Can you imagine it? I can imagine it. I think we can get there. Of course, ideally, we would all rise together. But let’s be honest. There are some rapists and abusers who are not going to want to or be able to let go of — and those men are going to have to be left behind. 

Be easy with yourselves today. Write if you can get to it. Play music loud in the car or in your room and sing along. Let the tension, the rage, move through your body however you need to. I’m going to try to do the same. Thank you for your power and your ferocity today. Than you for your words.

 

all violence is domestic violence

stencil graffiti showing a spray-painted fist with leaves, flowers, and roots going out of it, surrounded by the words (There’s language of domestic and racially-motivated violence in this post. Just be easy with you, ok?)

Good morning, good morning. What’s the sky like where you are today? Here it’s still grey with night fog. The sun’s coming though, I think. The sun’s coming.

October was Domestic Violence Awareness month, and just this week another man killed a lot of people out of what looks like domestic-vioence-related rage. That’s got me thinking about the larger systems at work in our country right now.  I’m trying to work something out in this post today, something that feels complicated, that has to do with what’s happening in our country to support the escalation in extreme violence that we’re seeing. Here goes:

Whenever an abuser thinks they’re beginning to lose control, they will often escalate their violence in an effort to keep their victim or victims in line. I don’t say last-ditch effort, because the abuser never believes it’s last-ditch — they don’t think the victim will ever get away from them, will ever leave. They believe they have the victim or victims so far under their control, so terrified, so manipulated, so brainwashed, so gaslit, so unable to think clearly or make decisions, and so isolated — and on top of that, so afraid of the physical manifestations of the abuse, the physical and sexual violences enacted on themselves and/or those they love — that the victim will never be able to go. The abuser will sometimes call this love or dependence. They could never leave — they need me too much. They love me too much. They’re mine. I own them. I control them. They’re mine.

And when the victim begins to show signs of slipping this grasp in spite of all the forms of violence marshaled around them, the noose will often tighten — by which I mean, to avoid using the passive voice, the abuser will often tighten the noose. Make scarier threats. Assault more violently, more brutally. Threaten to kill or actually kill. Most folks know (right?) that the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is when they leave the relationship — move out, or otherwise escape. This is the time when most victims who are murdered by abusers are killed.

The abuser feels well within his (and sometimes her, and sometimes their) rights to do whatever he wants with what he believes is his to control, his property. He feels entitled. 

So I’ve been seeing this in our country for a while now when it comes to male supremacy and white supremacy: systems that experience themselves as losing control, and escalating their tactics in order to rein in those they would subjugate. When a perpetrator believes he is about to lose control of his victim, he will nearly always escalate; so what does male supremacy do when it feels its losing control of its victims, losing its rank at the top of the heap, losing access to what it was promised in the form of bodies and control? It escalates: it makes, let’s say, weapons of mass destruction of various forms available to those who would use them to kill, whether indiscriminately or targetedly.

There is nothing coincidental about the way our lawmakers, lobbyists, manufacturers, and citizenry are working together to desperately keep a hold on this male supremacist system. (I’m not speaking only of gun manufacturers; I’m also speaking of tech/online-systems developers, among others).

The system has been under attack for decades — women are working outside the home, women have more control over their reproductive systems than ever before in history, there are laws against most forms of rape (even if those laws don’t deter most rapists and would-be rapists, given the systems still in place to produce, encourage, protect, and replace them); women have access to some positions of power in this country, more women than men are receiving college educations, women are controlling some percentage of wealth and resources; there are powerful female leaders of governments and countries…

And so, at least in the US, what do we see? A steady increase in mass shootings; a nostalgia for the “good old days”; the development of online systems in which women are consistently harassed  or perceive the threat of harassment; among other escalations of violences toward women.

Many, many people who benefit from and support the ideas of white supremacy, whether intentionally or subconsciously, are doing the same thing. White folks feel that their control is slipping. And so what happens? How does white supremacy reassert its power and control, in a desperate attempt to keep its subjects under control? It fosters racial animus around the country, taps into the same old bullshit fear-mongering it’s used (and used effectively) since Reconstruction (or before) to whip up fear and hatred among white folks. Legislators work with manufacturers work with lobbyists to make their weapons of mass disruption and destruction available to a citizenry that will wield them in such a way as to terrorize and harass and threaten and even kill. To say that the escalation of murders of Black folks by the American police force isn’t a manifestation of white supremacy trying desperately to hold on to power is to be naive and willfully ignorant of the systems of control we live (and struggle) within. 

So where am I going with all of this? Folks called and continue to call Trump an abuser. And he is, of course, But he is also, further, a tool wielded by the larger structures of power and control, a form of violence thrust upon us, a threat made good — you think you’re going to get free? Just wait and see what I do to you next.

Male supremacy and white supremacy, in a frenzied and desperate attempt to hold on to control, play their constituencies like marionettes, creating frenzy, fomenting violence and assaults, increasing the violence among those meant to protect and serve, currying fear, depression, and hopelessness, fostering the conditions in which an obvious abuser like DT could be installed as president. DT is not the ultimate abuser; those who wield him are.

***

When you are working as a advocate with victims of domestic violence, you are trained to help folks develop safety plans, particularly when they are getting ready to leave, to escape their relationships. Do they know where their keys are, can they keep a bag of clothes in their car, make sure their car is tuned up and that the tank is always full, talk with a trusted friend to ask if you can come to their house to stay for a while, keep some of your kids’ things in the car, too, hidden, ready; have money there, your kids’ birth certificates, whatever documents you need, listen to your gut, because your gut will tell you when it’s time to go. 

So this morning I am wondering how we safety plan when living inside a country, a society, that is abusive and controlling? The vast majority of us aren’t planning to escape to another country. We plan to stay. (There are those in other countries who will look at us with astonishment — why are they staying? Don’t they know the danger they’re in? What’s wrong with them? How can they say they love that country? don’t they know that’s not what love is supposed to look like? Love is not supposed to be fearful or extracted with threats of violence…but remember that to shame the victim for staying is only to drive her further into the arms of the abuse, and there are many many victims who are simply unable to leave for financial reasons, or because they would lose access to family and other loved ones, or because they fear harm coming to those they’d leave, or because they don’t believe they deserve anything better–they have been brainwashed to believe that what they’re living in and through is the best possible option (no one will ever love you as much as I do, the country says) —  or they truly believe that things can change.

All violence is domestic violence. At a time when so many of us are triggered constantly by the news, are reminded of our own experiences of physical or sexual assault, harassment, the times we feared for our safety or the safety of those we loved at the hands of those who held some position of power or control over us — we remember that the seeds of violence are planted at home. Home is the place in which each citizen is trained into the systems we live within,  where we are trained into silence or self-protection. Home is where many of us are trained to understand that there is no safety if we do not follow the rules, and that those who harm and cause pain are lauded by others, and not expected to account for the harm they cause.

And we who stay resist in the ways we feel safe resisting. We mount small and large insurgencies, we speak up, we show that the emperor has no clothes, we hope that others are looking. We seek out large and small ways to protect ourselves and those we love. We cultivate strength and trust in our intuition, in our creativity, and we encourage those we love to do the same. We tell our true stories and listen to the true stories of others. We learn to hear what is painful to hear. We learn to hold and support one another on a battlefield, in the midst of a war that is not likely to end in our lifetimes — but we act anyway, to stand up for those who live now, and to plant new seeds, to create the possibility for new conditions for the next generation, or the next. We teach our children history, teach them how to navigate the maze of hostilities and violences out in the world, we teach our children how to stay safe and we teach our children how to resist. We create art, we write, we spray paint walls, we feed the hungry, we seek nourishment of our own hungers, physical and emotional and spiritual. We seek restorative justice, well-being for all, a fundamental change in the systems we live within and in which we participate. 

Be easy with yourselves today. Thank you for the safe space you help to hold for others; thanks for allowing others to help hold open safe space for you. Thank you for your stories today, your creative genius — thank you for your words.

 

 

in the aftermath of more mass violence, how do we grieve?

Not again.

I’m sending you love and gratitude on this Monday morning after yet another mass shooting in America. These are difficult days in this country and around the world. It seems that every day we are confronted with another — often more than one — report of atrocity, violence, or hatred. We witness hostility in our own communities, both online and off. Somehow, we are expected to just keep going — go to work, go to school, keep appointments with friends, get together for beers, act like everything is normal.

Yet, many of us insist that this is not what we want our normal to look like. We don’t believe that violence should be normal. We don’t think we should be able to just pick up where we left off in our conversation when we hear the news that twenty-six people were shot at church. We believe something should come to a halt, there should be a moment or more of silence, we as a people should acknowledge the tragedy, acknowledge what it does to us as loving human beings  to live in a place where such actions are considered acceptable.

(Because, of course, if they were not acceptable, more would be done — both by those who are ostensibly in power and we the people — to undermine the conditions necessary for such violence. We would demand that our legislators make changes in our gun laws. We would rise up as a country seeking to keep our neighbors and children safe. We would shout down those who insist that automatic weapons are necessary safeguards for the average citizen. We would vote out of office any legislator who had refused to vote for even the most basic restrictions on gun access. We would insist that all men and boys in our country be taught, over and over again, how to deal with their anger and shame, how to grieve, that violence toward others doesn’t make them a man, that other men will no longer celebrate their “accomplishments” when they attack, brutalize, murder, harass, or otherwise violate the lives of others. It would be men who drove this struggle to change the definition of American masculinity, American manhood. It would be men who, so ashamed at what they’d become, would stand up and finally say, “No more. We don’t want to be this. We don’t want to do this to others. We are ready to stop.”

Just imagine if that were true.)

But as a country, as a people, we don’t make this kind of time for grieving or even deep acknowledgement of each tragedy anymore. There are so few moments of silence in the classroom or workplace. Newscasters are don’t break down as they read reports of children killed, folks of all ages and genders sexually-assaulted at work and at home, people of color murdered by police… they cannot break down. They have to keep it together, to report the next bit of terrible news.

So how do we take care of ourselves? How do we speak of what’s unspeakable? How do we create the space around ourselves and those we love to honor loss, to create room for horror and grief to move through our bodies, to take the time to even understand how we feel? How do we create the space to remove the armor we must wear just to walk out into the world (again, both online and off) and come home again relatively unscathed?

One of the ways I create this kind of space is to freewrite about it. I sit down in the dark morning hours, light a candle, open the notebook, and find room on the page for all that sorrow and rage and horror. I allow myself not to make sense, not to censor or edit as I write. I allow myself to be more vulnerable than my country seems to want me to be these days. I let the words fall out the mouth of my pen, messily or gently, and I do not judge — not my words, not my feelings. (This is the intention, anyway.)

If I am part of a community of writers, I can take the risk to write what I am feeling and struggling with and share it with the room, knowing that they will respond to my words, my creativity, and bear witness to what the words communicate with tenderness and gratitude.

See if you can give yourself ten minutes, even fifteen, to write however you are feeling, whatever you are thinking on this first Monday of November. What if you gave yourself that sort of time, to be more vulnerable, more real, more free? What if you held open room for those you love to do the same?

Thank you for your words today, and everyday.