tgstonebutch: (reality check)

About content: this post speaks openly (and in some detail) about trans oppression in queer communities (with a focus on the ways trans men are targeted), gender border wars, purging, and gender-based coercion and abuse in relationships. Most of that discussion is in the first section, so if you want to avoid it, skip to the section titled My Response to Grandmother-nei-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds.

My Own Context for Reading Rose Lemberg's Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds

I remember the hardness of the chairs in the auditorium. I remember the buzz of the fluorescent lights. I remember trembling in my seat, my stomach in knots. I remember the energy in the room feeling dangerous to me, like if I moved I might get noticed, get hit by the violent storm.

I don’t remember what exactly people said at that queer town hall meeting. I have tried, today, as I write this, to recall those kinds of details. But I can’t access them. I don’t know how I ended up in that room. I don’t know who I came with.

It was 1996, probably. I think. Twenty years ago. And it was the first time I heard queer cis women speaking openly about the reality that some of their partners, some folks in queer women’s community, were transitioning.

I say speaking openly, but that is too measured a description, and a bit too kind. Because what they actually were doing was debating. Debating whether to allow this. Whether to purge these men from their lives and their community. Whether they could possibly bring themselves to ever date someone trans. Articulating their feelings of betrayal. Naming the ways they felt hurt and victimized that lesbians were disappearing. Describing the ways they felt trans men were erasing their queer cis womanhood, making them even more invisible than they already were. The ways their identity and community felt so intensely threatened by the existence of trans men.

They told proud stories about how they tried to convince, manipulate, and coerce their partners into not transitioning. They offered advice to each other, describing the emotional blackmail that was most effective in preventing their partner from discussing transition. They had this intense righteousness in talking about dumping long-time partners who pursued medical transition options. They consistently named the trans men they talked about as women, as lesbians, using she/her pronouns the entire time.

I knew purges well. Knew how this could turn in an instant from venting to something even more ominous. Recognized the danger electric in the air. Held the clear knowledge in my body that my ability to dance carefully on the margins of queer women’s communities could twist into a brick wall in my face. That really it was just a matter of time before that happened. I held very very still, sick and trembling, and waited for it to be over.

It wasn’t over when I left that night. Instead, it got worse. These conversations were everywhere, and sparked like flash fires any time I was in queer women’s spaces. There was no escaping them. They didn’t stay in those spaces either. Groups of cis lesbians would show up at the tiny trickle of trans men’s events that began to happen, in order to stand up and demand the conversation center on them and the ways that trans men’s existence hurt them.

I quietly attended a trans men’s open support group (one that welcomed allies), month after month after month, not telling anyone in my life that I was going. I never said a word in the group. Continued to present as and be read as a femme cis dyke. The men in the group all thought I was an ally. They were confused why I kept going. No one else went that wasn’t openly trans, even though they were technically welcome. At least not after accompanying their trans partner the first time. I didn’t have a trans partner, had not begun talking about my own gender with anyone. At the time, I didn’t even really know why I was going. My experience of gender did not match the experiences described in that room. But it was urgent inside me. I needed to go. It hurt to miss a meeting.

That time, those memories, are intertwined with my first moments of recognition of my own transness. That feeling of being deeply afraid, stuck still and trembling, dreading being recognized. That feeling of sickness in my stomach and shards in my throat as I listened to people I thought were my community, and even people I thought were my friends and family, debate my welcome and the welcome of people like me. That certainty, yet again, that who I was meant that I would be rejected, would not find love or sex or wholeness in relationship.

I was a late queer (and trans) bloomer, was part of queer community and doing queer activism without dating pretty much at all (after one terrible disaster). I had never had a romantic relationship with anyone, had pretty much only had casual sex with cis straight men (and one queer man). I identified as bisexual, but hadn’t had sex in a few years at that point. I’d spent most of my out queer life having unrequited unspoken crushes on cis women friends and friends who were queer cis men. This realization that letting myself be trans meant accepting that I would lose community, lose friends, lose my queer family, be treated like an enemy, and never find a partner, was a central part of my sense of myself as a trans person, from pretty much the beginning.

It seemed inevitable, that I could not be trans and be loved or even welcomed by queer cis women. That they would see me as the enemy, if they thought of my transness as real. That if they did love me, or welcome me, it was because they didn’t actually think my gender was real. Those were my choices, my only options as far as it went with queer cis women. To be rejected as enemy or accepted and loved not as myself. I literally could not imagine anything else outside of that framework. It seemed like nobody could, that we were all stuck and spinning and hurting with no way out.

It took several years before I could step enough outside my own trans reality and pain to recognize the ways trans women were (and still are) erased in queer women’s community. The ways transmisogyny was operating in those conversations. The ways that as women, to be rejected and erased from women’s communities was (and still is) an intensely harmful act of cissexism and transmisogyny.

It took many more years before I considered pursuing any sort of medical transition options. At one point, I was asked by my primary partner to promise that I would never go on testosterone. And I agreed.

It took longer before I recognized that attempting to coerce, convince, or manipulate your partner into making particular decisions about their gender or attempting to limit your partner's gender expression is abusive behavior.

From pretty much the beginning, I imagined not letting myself be trans. Hiding, so I could stay in dyke community, so I could keep relationships, so I might possibly be able to find a girlfriend someday. It took a long time for me to choose something else. It felt like such a huge risk to do so, a leap into a future I could barely imagine as anything but bleak and lonely.

My Personal Response to Grandmother nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds

I brought this personal history to my reading of Rose Lemberg’s Nebula nominated Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds.

Quite literally. After reading it, I relived the visceral memory of what it felt like to be in that room at that town hall meeting twenty years ago, lay in bed frozen and trembling. That feeling rolling round and round in my head, of stuckness, of being caught, of deep fear at being recognized. I saw myself, a future I could have lived, almost did live, in Bashri.

It hurt to read a story from the point of view of a cis woman who sounded so much like those women in that meeting, who struggled so much to hold the reality of her grandparent’s transness, and her sibling’s non binary identity.

It hurt, and it healed at the same time.

This story felt like such an emphatic clear answer to the framework that had taken me about a decade to think my way out of. Not an easy answer, not a simple answer, but such an insistent one.

My first cogent reaction to this story was: I wish I’d read this 20 years ago. I needed this story when I was first coming into my transness and trying to imagine my own future and what it could be.

This story, written by a trans writer, that centers two trans characters with very different genders. This story that works against a cis gaze even as it is told from the point of view of a cis woman. This story that broke open old wounds and helped them breathe. This story that insists on the reality that our transness cannot be muted without cost, and will need to be faced eventually. This story that offers a vision of queer family that cannot hold stubbornly tight to rejection of trans family, that instead needs to figure out how to hold us, perhaps a bit more loosely than before.

Considering Grandmother nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds as a Trans Writer

When trans authors write trans characters in a complex nuanced way, there are folks who won't get it. Especially cis folks.

It won't fit the prescribed form that cis people are told they need to follow in order not to be fucked up in their representation. It will be more complicated than that.

Because the prescribed form is written in a simplified way, that assumes that cis people have less nuanced analysis of and experience with trans oppression, transmisogyny, cissexism, dysphoria, and internalized trans oppression.

Because trans writers choosing to engage with the trans oppression of cis people that we know so intimately from having been targeted by it in so many ways and internalizing it in so many ways…we are going to engage with it differently. We bring a different lens, the complexity of our personal history, an on-the-ground analysis of oppression that comes from being targeted by it relentlessly. We tell different stories about it, because we are writing from deeper lived experience, because we have different reasons for telling them, and are often writing for different audiences.

Lemberg discusses this in their recent post about this story:





“The viewpoint of Aviya was difficult for me. It is a viewpoint that begins from a place of both love and at the same time rejection of our truest selves, which is so familiar and so incredibly hurtful for many of us with cis and/or straight family members. When I am writing a viewpoint of a cisgender family member who is loving, but only conditionally accepting I am both writing the other, and writing from a perspective which is excruciatingly and deeply familiar to me. Like many trans people, I have been pressured to learn this perspective, to internalize it, to center it before my own.”




This is a story that lives in the tension of holding firm in trans perspective and reality, and engaging and connecting with the internality of a cis perspective that deeply struggles to honor and accept trans reality. Connecting with cis perspective is something that is a common experience for trans people, as Lemberg points out. To engage with it while holding firm on a trans lens for the story itself is a nuanced balancing act that trans writers are much better placed to do. We have a lot more practice.

If this story were written by a cis person, it wouldn’t work.

I would never advise a cis person to write a story about trans people and tell it from a cis character’s point of view. I would especially advise cis writers not to describe the ways cis characters struggle to accept and love and be decent to trans people in their lives. Those stories mean something really different when told by cis people. Those stories are told in really different ways when they are written by cis people.

In Cheryl Morgan's article for cis writers, on “Writing Better Trans Characters,” she talks about the cis gaze:





"There is such a thing as "cis gaze"; that is, a book can be written because cis people are fascinated by trans people. They want to see us doing those weird trans things that they think we do. Or they want to see us as victims that they can feel sorry for and rescue."




That is what cis gaze does in a story. It sets trans people up as Other, as objects, as "fascinating", "interesting", "strange", sources of learning. It sets us up as objects of pity and rescue and study, far from the assumed cis readership. It does that in the structure of the story. This isn't about the POV character's gender, but about what the story does, how it frames the trans characters, what information it decides to share about the trans characters, what language it uses, what questions it grapples with.

This is about stories that turn trans people into objects for cis people to learn from, pity, manipulate, and use. Where trans characters are empty vehicles, not complex nuanced people.

It is important to distinguish the cis gaze in a story from the POV of the story. They are different things. You can write a story that is deeply entrenched in a cis gaze from the POV of a trans character. I've read a lot of those. You can also write a story from the POV of a cis character that is not written from a cis gaze.

Of course, it is possible for trans people to write stories from a cis gaze, because we can internalize it.

But it is also possible for trans writers (like Lemberg) to write stories from a cis character's POV that do something else, something different. Stories that do not come from a cis gaze. In my read of this story, it does something different, and powerful. Something that felt deeply needed for me personally as a trans reader.

This story is told from the POV of a cis person mired in the same framework I described in the first section, a framework that can’t imagine how to do relationship with trans people, can’t conceive how she as a lesbian might grapple with a trans man partner, or how to hold the trans and non-binary realities of her family members. Aviya is stuck in that framework I knew so well twenty years ago, a framework that purges trans people from queer women’s lives because it cannot figure out how to hold onto relationship with them. She is stuck in her own ableism and cannot fathom honoring the non-binary identity of her autistic sibling.

But the story is told from a different framework. A trans and non-binary framework. A framework that holds trans and non-binary realities in their complexities. That insists that Aviya recognize her love for her family and partner is critically important and worth struggling to hold onto, even when she is freaking out and can’t figure out how. That textually challenges trans oppression and cissexism. That illuminates the ways language structures can be hugely important barriers for trans and non-binary people. That insists on honoring the trans reality of a non-verbal autistic character.

This story engages actively with internalized trans oppression, ableism and misogyny. It does that in a way I found quite deft and careful. These things are textually challenged, again and again. It doesn't use unnecessary hurtful language. It works to slowly shift perspective over time. It's not overly blatant or didactic. That's part of what makes it work.

This story shows how stuck all these characters are in trans oppression, ableism and misogyny, both interpersonally and especially structurally. It shows the pain of trans oppression, from the POV of someone who realizes that she has been hurting her loved ones.

It's a hard story.

And, I think, a critically important one.

Final Thoughts

Grandmother nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” has been nominated for a Nebula, and I find that to be a very good thing.

I am awed by the fact that a story centering a queer family, focused on queer love (both familial and romantic), is honored in this way. I am awed by the fact that a story grappling with the limitations of gender and language, told by a trans author, is honored in this way. I am awed by the fact that a story which insists that the reader hold the complex realities of trans and nonbinary characters is honored in this way. I am awed by the fact that a story by an autistic trans author centering an autistic trans character with powerful and beautiful magic is honored in this way.

Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” has so much in it that moves me, so much that feels important and necessary and full of the kind of respite that I ache for.

I urge you to read it. To let this story in. To hold it in its complexity and nuance. To consider what it has to say.

Read Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds" for free.

(cross posted on WordPress, Tumblr & LiveJournal)

tgstonebutch: (boot)
Posted something on my website today that may be of interest: a roundup of edgy erotica. Some other items that went up somewhat recently: a list of erotica calls, a rant about how too many stories about fat women getting naked for sex have them immediately covering up their bodies afterwards and why that's fucked up, and a post describing what I love about pinching that includes a story about how I learned to use clothespins and a discussion of how disability intersects with my kink practice. 
tgstonebutch: (boot)
I have recently posted a resource list on Writing the Other, on my fairly new writing website:
http://xanwest.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/resources-on-writing-the-other/

There are a bunch of links of interest on that site as well, including erotica round ups and calls for submission.


That site will be my main site for writing news and reflection, though I will continue to post here occasionally.
tgstonebutch: (Default)

Most erotic stories that I’ve read are from the bottom’s POV, or use third person omniscience. The ones from the top’s POV are more rare. That is one of the reasons I’ve written quite a few stories from the Dominant’s POV. This afternoon, I went back and looked at some of these stories, and thought about who is the center of the story, who is vulnerable in the story, who transforms.

“Nervous Boy” (Love at First Sting: Sexy Tales of Erotic Restraint ), which was the first story I wrote from the tops POV, has this somewhat omniscient top voice that is attuned to the bottom and what he is feeling, and is focused on facilitating his transformation. (An example of this voice: “I watch him carefully as I free my cock. His eyes widen. Is that fear? Excitement? Both, I decide, stroking my cock as I watch him. He is scared—what if it isn’t how he wanted? Or worse, what if it is? What if he really is a cocksucking fagboy who gets on his knees for strangers in alleys?”) Similarly, “Facing the Dark” (Backdraft: Firemen Erotica) and “My Precious Whore” (Best Lesbian Erotica 2011) are both written from the POV of a top facilitating a cathartic scene for a bottom. None of the tops in these three stories let you in much to their inner experience in a vulnerable way, though there are smaller moments of that. Instead, you witness the transformation of the bottom and desire for the bottom through their perception…their focus is on the bottom while you are inside their head. “Knives” (Best Gay Erotica 2009) is even more closed, where the top is fully in inscrutable armored dominance and seducing the reader by talking about all the ways that he uses knives in play.

I have seen this trend in most of the (rather rare) stories I’ve read that are from a top’s POV, where tops are deeply in the sense of themselves as all knowing, all powerful, invulnerable. Where they are inscrutable even as we are reading from their POV, showing off their prowess and strength and knowledge, displaying their bottom as a possession for the reader to admire, displaying their cruelty to seduce or impress the reader.

I get why these stories are hot, and some of them are crafted very well. And, as a top who is reading them, I need to be high on my own dominance to enjoy them and ride alongside them…otherwise they feel competitive, and full of posturing. (Much like these kinds of tales can feel in real life when tops tell them to me. If the top is not being vulnerable and focused on their own experience, struggles, and questions, but is instead solely focused on what they did to the bottom, and the impact it had on the bottom, it often feels like competition, posturing swagger, bragging. Especially, in my experience of it, when masculinely gendered tops tell these stories, particularly when they are talking about play with femmes and/or women. It can feel like the kinky version of locker room talk, and is often heavily laden with misogyny and disrespect for the hard work the bottom is also doing in the scene.)

Some well-thumbed examples of the kinds of erotica stories I am talking about are “Cocked and Loaded” by Thomas S. Roche (Taboo newly out as Sweet Danger: Erotic Stories of Forbidden Desire for Couples) “Harder” by Ian Phillips (Roughed Up: More Tales of Gay Men, Sex and Power), “A Beating” by Karl Van Uhl (Rough Stuff: Tales of Gay Men, Sex and Power), “Little Girls” by C. Lee Lambert (Tough Girls: Down and Dirty Dyke Erotica), “A Girl Like That” by Toni Amato (Best of the Best Lesbian Erotica), and “Feathers Have Weight”, by Alysia Angel (Say Please: Lesbian BDSM Erotica). These are stories that are compelling, well written rides on the top side. (They also reflect my biases and kinks, which is why I remember them...many are from older collections.) The tops they depict, even when you are inside their head, are still basically invulnerable and inscrutable. Which I think reflects the image of tops (esp. masculine tops) in BDSM communities as a whole.

In contrast to these kinds of stories on the top side, I have deep love for Robin Sweeney’s “Dress Leather” (printed in Switch Hitters: Lesbians Write Gay Male Erotica and Gay Men Write Lesbian Erotica) precisely because it shows a deeply vulnerable top devastated by the loss of lovers to AIDS who has no idea why he survived past forty and is trying to build connection again with a twenty something boy, as the ghosts of his dead lovers swirl around him. It’s a heartbreaking, compelling, well written cathartic scene from the tops POV, where the top’s catharsis is at the center, and it’s gorgeous, and has stuck with me since I first read it in the late 90s.

As I grew as a top and grappled more with the inscrutable image of tops, the ways that tops are assumed to be invulnerable in life as well as play in kink communities, I have shifted my agenda when writing from the tops POV. I want more vulnerability in my tops, want the reader to see them struggle more, need more support, second guess, even when it is the bottom’s transformation that is the focus. My more recent story “Strong” (Say Please: Lesbian BDSM Erotica) has a top who is facilitating a complex cathartic gender play scene, and who shows vulnerability while doing that, and I tried to create many more moments that illuminate the top’s vulnerability, and the way the bottom supports the top in that. I know that I’m at the beginning of pushing this agenda in my work. I’m looking forward to writing more stories that centralize top’s vulnerabilities.

Passages like these from “Strong” are the kind of thing I mean when I talk about illuminating the top’s vulnerability. As a heads up, they describe intense Ds, pain play, and rough sex.

“I need to see that she wants this, all the way through, and she knows how much I run on adrenaline when we play this way, how it reaches into my core and twists. I need to start fast, and hard, almost dare myself into it, because this scares the shit out of me, and that’s the only way to get over the mountain of fear that builds in me as I know we are going there. The more fear there is the rougher and faster I need it. I was especially rough that night, ignoring the gagging, groaning as I forced tears from her eyes.

‘That’s right, choke on my cock,’ I said gruffly.

There was rushing in my ears as I watched her choke, tears streaming down her cheeks, her eyes locked on mine, soft, reassuring. “

“Sinking into thud roots me, pulls me deep into myself. Using my whole body helps me re-establish, find my footing. He’s not the only one that needs to put himself back together, and he knows it. Knows that this is for both of us, that I need this as much as he does, and his job is to feed the energy back to me, to help keep it cycling between us.”

In contrast to those where the bottom’s transformation is the center, my “First Time Since” (Hurts So Good: Unrestrained Erotica) has an almost entirely self-focused top (the reader may even worry a bit about the crushed out bottom getting his heart broken), where the top leads himself through grieving a M/s relationship and recovering from that grief—the top facilitates his own transformation, and the scene with the bottom is just one tool for that. In my more romantic “Willing” (Leathermen: Gay Erotic Stories), a jaded vampire is slowly led to realize that he might have found a long term companion—it is the bottom who facilitates the top’s transformation. (I’ve also written stories where the top’s transformation is alongside the bottom’s, from the bottom’s POV…but that’s another thing altogether.) I’ve been playing more with centering the top’s transformation and catharsis in my work. I recently taught a class on *Edgeplay from the Top*, and became even more invested in this as the participants openly shared my hunger for stories of tops pushing their own edges, taking risks, struggling, getting hurt. I know how much the communities I care about need stories like this, need images of more complex and vulnerable tops.

tgstonebutch: (Default)

A wider context for gender dysphoria

 

(Originally posted on my tumblr)

 

I've often felt that common trans narratives of gender dysphoria are limiting and don't reflect my experience, partly because of this sense that gender dysphoria is completely separate and other from similar experiences—I can't decouple my gender dysphoria from my sense of body dysphoria that I connect to fatness, or to disability (especially in the context of capitalism); I can't tease it out from the impact of violence and trauma on my relationship to my body, from the legacy of intense misogyny that I've been targeted by most of my life. I can’t tease any of that out of my experience of being stone. In my body and experience and self-understanding, these things are all intertwined with each other. And I don’t want to break myself into pieces to try to figure out cause or cure.

 

Gender dysphoria makes more sense to me when it is placed in a context of body dysphoria in general, and of body disconnection and dissociation, when I don't try to keep it separate. When I examine it as one of many ways that I feel disconnected from my body, feel struggles in my body, it makes more sense to me. Especially when I connect it to of a broader analysis of the ways that ableism, trans oppression, misogyny, racism, capitalism, violence and fat oppression (to name the ones that spring most intensely to my mind) impact our connection to and experience of our bodies, create intense feelings of alienation, wrongness, pain, loss, and disconnection, and create conditions where in order to manage the ongoing onslaught we disconnect from our bodies, change our relationship to our bodies, change our bodies. If I look at a wider context of dysphoria narratives, beyond traditional trans narratives of gender dysphoria, I can find myself more easily.

 

When I place dysphoria in that wider context, I also have a different sense of what to do about it, how I want to respond to it, where the battle is, and what needs changing.

 

I have been struggling toward embodiment for most of my life. It is one of the central struggles in my life. I know I tend to want to “get it right” and “fix it” or “get there”, and sometimes get into perfectionist ideas about my own sense of self-worth or embodiment…like “getting it right” is a pre-requisite for my being the kind of activist, being the kind of person that I want to be. Like I have failed if I struggle in my embodiment, if I have pain or disconnection in my relationship with my body. I get trapped in a spiral of that, of feeling like I’ve failed and none of my internal work has stuck, cuz here I am again, will I ever get there? That’s what happens to me when I think of it as an endpoint to reach. It feels like that paradigm is a trap, and when I’m in it, I can’t figure out a way out, a way around, a way to perceive it any other way. I’m stuck, and it increases my sense of self-loathing…I beat myself up for not feeling better about myself and my body.

 

And, the other thing about seeking it as an endpoint, for me, is that I get into a way of thinking that’s about putting off what I want to do, what I desire, until I get there. And seeing the getting there, getting “cured” of dysphoria, as a pre-requisite for what I want to do (have sex, wear clothes that I want, be the gender/body/person I want, have relationships, do the work I want to do)…that I need to get “fixed” first and then I can have the life I want. This feels so deeply about entrenched fat oppression and ableism for me—that’s where it resonates in my experience—the need to “cure”, to “fix”, to “get healthy”, and then you get to start living.  This is part of how oppression that is intensely tied to medical narratives operates (because medical systems are premised on curing acute disease or injury): they say that you cannot live until we have cured your fatness, your cancer, your crazy...so just wait. Wait to figure out how to do the work you need to do in the world. Wait to have the body you “should” have, to wear that, do that, be that. Wait to have sex, have relationships, have kids, perform, eat delicious things, seek what you desire. Wait. Your job is to be “cured” first, to be “healthy” first. Then maybe you can do that other stuff.

 

Of course, medical systems based on the paradigm of curing an acute disease or injury has not come close to figuring out how to engage with chronic diseases or conditions. They may be able to address a broken leg, but they are pretty close to clueless and simply are not built to address MS, or schizophrenia, or autism, or addiction, or diabetes, or PTSD. So that kind of thinking around things that are ongoing, long term, chronic…does not work. These things (like fatness, chronic medical conditions, psychological conditions, disabilities) rarely actually have a cure, a fix it, an end point. Engaging in the “cure” pathway is likely to take as long as you’ve got, and require constant maintenance, and make you feel at war with yourself and your body and constantly helpless. You never get to live, you just get to keep on seeking the cure, maintaining the remission, being constantly vigilant.  That’s one of the reasons why fat activists, and mad activists, and disability activists alike have often rejected the concept of “cure”, even as we engage in a variety of different strategies to manage our experiences and our bodies and our “health”.

 

Many transsexual narratives have embraced the idea dysphoria=disease with a cure. And with that comes a concept of dysphoria as the main symptom of that disease…that we then can be “cured” by, with medical options that are supposed to end up “fixing” the dysphoria. There are a lot of reasons for this, and many of them are about access to medical options. And, this adoption of a “disease” with a “cure” has deeply impacted the ways that we understand our own experience of dysphoria, something I am deeply challenged by in grappling with and understanding my own dysphoria.

 

Perfectionism, and waiting for the “cure” feel like they are right smack in the core of the ways systems of oppression work, especially the ways they feed self-hatred and alienation and disembodiment. Because of that, it feels like they are not useful in addressing disembodiment or grappling with dysphoria, that they take me right back into the frameworks that feed those things in the first place.

 

So, at this point, I try to change my framework. I don’t want think of embodiment as an end point I reach…a perfect place to wind up, a cure for my dysphoria or dissociation, a thing I need to wait for to seek and do the kind of life I yearn for. I strive to think of seeking embodiment, honoring embodiment, celebrating where my body is even as I wish it were different, as an ongoing priority, an ongoing seeking, as a key part of the way I want to live. And, simultaneously, as something that is not going to stop being challenging. I have reached periods of varying comfort and connection to my body…and they change, they don’t stay static. My body doesn’t stop changing, I don’t get free of the oppression that impacts my relationship to my body…so it makes sense that my embodiment keeps changing too. And it doesn’t make sense to wait…but instead, no matter the pain (psychological or physical), whatever the condition of my body right now, I want to stop waiting for it to change, for me to change. To seek the life I yearn for, to live my life the way I want it to be, to embody what I need and want, right now, as much as I can, and to know that there is no perfect way to do it, that it is about bringing as much intention, compassion, and care as I can.

 

(This post is partly in response to boygirlboigrrrl's recent post,  Some Honesty About My Body Image)

 


tgstonebutch: (Default)

I just read Being Real, by Wheelchair Dancer. It’s worth reading, and pondering, as is her blog in general. (I particularly recommend her latest piece on Being Pushed.)

 

I am particularly struck by the ways that part of what she talks about building disabled identity around a disability that is fixed, unchanging. Not one that cycles in and out or that flares and subsides, not a progression of changing and intensifying impairment/pain, not disability that strives for/moves towards remission or lessening impairment/pain. A different disabled world, a different disabled understanding, from mine. One that I have no personal experience with, have no way to really understand.

 

My experience with disability is all about change, all about chronic conditions that ebb and flow, flare and subside. Even my experience of endometriosis was one of cyclical and increasing impairment and pain, and then one of surgical intervention that basically eradicated symptoms. In short, of change. This idea of a fixed bodily state to build a disabled identity on is one that is outside my experience.

 

She says: “I'm also surprised by a new awareness of how much I relied on my body… I saw myself as a confident series of muscles, bones, metal and wheels.” I remember the intensity of shock when I first realized that I could not control my body, could not count on it, the level of fear and despair and self-loathing that came alongside it. How hard it was to accept limitations, impairments, to treat them as real, to treat my pain as real, to realize I couldn’t gut my way through it, couldn’t actually “overcome” it, and most intensely, that it was not the constant I thought it was. (Yes, that experience and my understanding of it was deeply impacted by internalized ableism.) That first experience of it was so fucking intense, and one I went through without supportive community that really got disability, without a deep analysis of ableism to help me unpack the ableist thinking that I was doing in that moment.

 

The other reverberations, as things kept changing, as I kept changing, were not as jarring as that first experience, though they still held shocks. The jarring part about those was much more in the social meaning, in the ways that medical systems responded, the shock in those moments of acceptance of these new conditions as real, the intensity of ableism I experienced in myself and others. I had already been jolted out of taking my body for granted, what I could do for granted, my capacity for granted. Though there were still shocks to be had, still things I took for granted, the big game changing shock had already occurred…I was not coming from as deep a sense of surety in my own body.

 

My experience of disability has not felt fixed or sure. The shock of newly acquired impairments have reverberated through my life multiple times. The changing nature of chronic conditions continually inspire cycles of fear of intensified impairment that my current life cannot hold, that would mean more and intensified change. And, change is what is constant, the changes keep happening, I keep needing to shift my life in response to them. I have been taught that, again and again…that when I start thinking I’m in control of a chronic condition, it changes, it flares, it does something new and unfathomable. It surprises me, shifts the ground under me, changes the air pressure around me. It feels like what I keep hearing from the depths of my disabilities is this message: “you can’t know me, you can’t control me, I won’t stay still for you.” It all feels deeply temporary, even the things that seem like they may be still and stay still for a bit.

 

I have other changing senses of myself, which feels like they give me more experience with this, perhaps a further capacity to sit with continual change. I was gender fluid for about 10 years. Even though I’ve been fairly constant in my gender (at least comparatively) for almost that time, I continue think of my gender as changing, temporary, in flux, not to be assumed or counted on to stay the same. My size has also shifted throughout my life, many many times. I have not been anywhere close to thin for most of it, but how fat I have been has changed, quite a bit, over time. And I do not assume I will be the same size, in fact, I assume my size will change. My body has changed a lot over the past 5 years, as I’ve been on T, and that is yet another continual experience of bodily change among many. I think that shifting in these ways so much has given me a large capacity for changes in myself, and a general sense that I expect myself to change, in core and basic ways that many people do not expect or are deeply afraid of.

 

She says: “I will have to start with the idea that my body is beyond my control.” I want to control my body. I want so deeply and desperately to be in control, and to feel in control, both. This is not a surprise—I am deeply interested in control, particularly in being in control of myself. It is a central part of my sexuality: control, consent, exchanging control, creating opportunities to demonstrate self control. It is a core part of my emotional armor, my stone. Control is a big deal for me. I have a deep and abiding desire for it in all arenas of my life. And I find it intensely frightening to feel like I am not in control.

 

I am reminded of a novel series* I continue to reread that describes a character (equally invested in control) grappling with a new metaphysical ability, who wanted to be “in control” of it, but what that really meant was actually that she wanted to get rid of it, to be able to shut it down. The novel series talks about a different interpretation of control: needing to get close to the power, make friends with it, create relationship with it, work together with it. I wonder sometimes if my desire to be in control is about wanting to shut it down, get rid of manifestations of my disabilities…or if it’s about creating relationship with them, getting close to them, knowing them, working collaboratively with them. I am sure that the first is not possible, even if I fantasize it, and I do…and I know that’s ableism at work in me. I think of the second description as one that is mutual partnership…and cannot reconcile that with the concept of control outside of deep negotiation and conscious use of power. Can I negotiate a D/s relationship with my disabilities? I’m not sure I can, that I can get to that kind of communication…especially since what I get in a general sense is this insistence on un-knowability.

 

I am used to being in relationships with TAB folks who move through the world thinking of their temporary able-bodiedness as permanent, not fathoming the likelihood of acquired disability in their lives. I’m not the best person to have around to maintain that thinking, I poke holes in it a lot. But, I do think that there is often an unshakeable certainty that folks feel in what their bodies can do, that fathoming that as temporary is hard to hold onto, it slips away, hides, is a scary thing to hold and sit with.

 

Most of the disabled folks in my life (and I don’t really have disabled community) experience the kind of chronic, changing disability that I do. I had not thought of disabled folks counting on their bodies as unchanging. (I am not assuming that this is the case for Wheelchair Dancer; I don’t know if it is, or if there is more complexity there for her. But her work made me realize that there might be a whole bunch of disabled folks out there who see their bodies as constant, their disabilities as fixed.)

 

It feels like this could be a deep important difference between folks who are disabled in ways that feel constant, and folks who experience ever-changing disabilities. Like the way we think about our disabilities, the way we experience them in the world, the way we deal with medical systems, the way other people respond to us, the way we form our sense of selves as disabled, could be substantially different.

 

I have felt, in my very limited experience of disability community here in NYC, that folks with chronic changing conditions (like me), are not considered when thinking of disability, are not part of the stories or the conceptualization of disability… particularly for psych disabilities, and disabilities that are not immediately apparent, but not just those. If that is not just my experience, but a deep part of disability culture here, then working toward a wider diversity might mean grappling with this set of differences around changing/constant. I do know that to really be in community with me, connected to me, is to sit with the constant change, to see the ways it reverberates, to know how it shapes my experience of disability. The community I wish I were part of is one where that is part of an understanding of how disability can work.


*Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, by Laurell K. Hamilton
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Originally posted by [livejournal.com profile] afro_dyte at can't not say it anymore
Do you know any White men? Good. Make sure they read this so they can stop doing it and stop hurting me.


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It's official, I am teaching at NOLOSE this year.

Queer Fat Activism: Why Sex-Positivity Matters

This interactive workshop offers a framework for thinking about queer fat activism that illuminates the importance of sex-positive analysis and strategies. It examines how sex-positivity and body-positivity feed each other, the need for embodied activism, and the ways tha sex-positivity can encourage us to bring our whole complex selves to the table. It covers pitfalls of a simplistic sex-positive politic, how sex-negativity supports multiple oppressions, and ways to respond to sex-negativity.

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Photo courtesy of Lady Grinning Soul

Welcome to e[lust] - Your source for sexual intelligence and inspirations of lust from the smartest & sexiest bloggers! Whether you’re looking for hot steamy smut, thought-provoking opinions or expert information, you’re going to find it here. Want to be included in e[lust] #23? Start with the rules, check out the schedule and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!

~ This Week’s Top Three Posts ~

Erotic asphyxiation: treatments of kink in therapy and the media - Kink and BDSM practitioners often come to an enhanced understanding of their own desires through the emphasis on personal boundaries and communicative consent which arises from a responsible approach to power and pain play.

Mirror, mirror - I found myself back there again, perched on the edge of the white expanse, spreading myself shamelessly in front of the glass

Worry - I’ve been thinking about rape culture more than ever before. On the outside, much of K’s and my play looks like sexual abuse. It’s not, because consent is always central.

~ Featured Post (Lilly’s Pick) ~

gender and misogyny: responsibility and erotic writing - I spent a good portion of my adult life being gender fluid myself ..., and have partnered with several gender fluid folks as a top. Creating representation of us and our eroticism feels so vital to me, so important.

~ e[lust] Editress ~

Help End the Backlog - Speaking out works. Taking action works. Silence doesn’t. Politicians on every level need to hear your voice saying “this is unacceptable”. 76%. 3/4. That’s how many rapists get away with it on a national level.

See also: Pleasurists #111 and #112 for all your sex toy review needs

All blogs that have a submission in this edition must re-post this digest from tip-to-toe on their blogs within 7 days. Re-posting the photo is optional and the use of the “read more…” tag is allowable after this point. Thank you, and enjoy!

Erotic Writing

A Tryst By The Car
Compliant
Fantasy: Brand New Day
First-Time Sex: How I Lost My Virginity
Happy New Year
Hysteria
Indiscretions Vol. 1: Caught And Wild Chlid
Like Mother, Like Daughter (part two)
Loving her, Mounting her, Owning her
Merry Christmas Baby
O/One
Should Have
The Starlet
Undiscovered
Wax Off
Whenever I'm Alone With You
Yeeees. Date Night

Thoughts & Advice on Sex & Relationships

Breaking Up, Polyamory Style
Computer Sex
Douchebagopolis - When Communication Fails At A Swinger Party
Epiphora's best and worst sex toys of 2010
Good Head
Hormones & Biological Clock Ticking
Lockets, Sins and Ink
Off My Chest
Swing Shift Volume 39- One and Only
Semi-Rant Part Two

Kink & Fetish

Barely Cooking Christmas Party
Camp Smack That Ass!

Fucked in bondage
Fucking bitch
How He Does It
Master's Good Medicine
Paddled and Fucked
Parodies and Pizza Boys
Photographer
School Girl Night
shes and me...
You Know It Was Good When...

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My erotica feels inextricable from my identity as a kink educator. Both are intensely about taking responsibility for what I say, what impact my teaching, my writing, my actions might have, managing the potential risks of that. I have taught subjects that I no longer teach, because I cannot figure out a way that I feel like is responsible enough to teach them. I have written stories that I may never share with anyone, because they feel like they may do harm in the world, might invite people to take risks I'm not comfortable inviting people to take, might give people tools without enough knowledge to know how to use them responsibly. I am very careful, perhaps in ways that some may find counter-intuitive to their thoughts about eroticism or creativity. And my care is deeply informed by my own erotic lens, by the ways I think about kink ethics and responsible uses of power and authority, by my own sense of sex positivity and what it means, and by my critical analysis of oppression and power.

I know that there are folks who don't want this from their erotica, who don't want a deep context, want to be able to sink into fantasy without being pulled back into a context or reminded of risk. Those folks may hate the very things I find necessary in my writing, the things that I struggle with, that I spend so much energy on. The way I see it, I am accountable for what I put out into the world...particularly when once I do that I have no control over how it is used. My stories are where I take the most care, want to be the most deliberate, because I am not in conversation with my readers beyond that text, most of the time, and I don't get to influence what they see in it, beyond what I put in it to begin with. My control is only so much, and then I need to let go completely. So I set the highest bar for myself there, around publication...am the most careful. (I'm generally a big fan of taking care--it's one of the things I endeavor to incorporate throughout my life.)

I revised a story of mine several times in the past few weeks to prepare to submit it for possible publication.

It is one of the edgiest pieces I have written, involving some intense play with misogyny, from the top's perspective, and I spent a lot of time thinking through ways to be comfortable sending it out into the world and feeling ok with it.

I asked some people to look at it, and I am very grateful for those folks who gave me such useful feedback. These conversations, about ethical ways to present BDSM play with oppression in text, what makes it feel responsible, how to make the characters feel fully real and three dimensional and not reduced to misogynist tropes, what would make a story not do harm...these conversations are so vital to me, so important. I am grateful to have folks I trust, people I can think through this kind of thing with.

One of the things I came to is that I needed to make the misogyny inextricable from a consciousness about it's risks, and a care around it's impact. I needed to really embed such a deep respect and knowledge and support between the characters, so that it was clear the play was only possible for these characters because they came to each other with those intents, and that level of intentionality. I needed the moments of playing with intense misogyny to be balanced, to be inextricable from a context that was conscious about using it in play. I hope that I have achieved that in this story. And that I'm able to do that without being too obviously didactic, that I don't overbalance the hotness, because I want it there, I want the reader to get why this play is hot for the characters..

It is also one of two of my stories (so far) that describe gender fluidity in scene, where a character shifts genders and you see them play in more than one gender. This one is more explicit and gives more time and energy to that. "A Lesson About Gender" (published in Pleasure Bound) was shorter and was focused on a recollection of a relationship where their top celebrated them in a variety of genders. This story is from the POV of a top who has a scene with a partner in one gender and then there is a deliberate gender shift and there is a scene with that same partner who is now another gender. This kind of gender fluidity is extremely rare in erotica, and it was really important for me to take my time with it in this story.

I spent a good portion of my adult life being gender fluid myself (including basically all the time that I bottomed), and have partnered with several gender fluid folks as a top. Creating representation of us and our eroticism feels so vital to me, so important.

I hope that this story is accepted to the anthology I submitted it to. It is very important that it get published in an explicitly queer context, and this call seemed perfect for it. At any rate, it is good for me to be in a place where I feel comfortable taking some of my edgiest work and putting it out there in the world. I spent several years thinking it was too dangerous to publish; it's good to know that I could find ways to be comfortable putting it out there.

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Watched Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. I have not read the books, though I hear they took substantial liberties with the plot.

 

So, there are several central characters, including the main character, who are disabled in our world and not disabled in the mythical world. The centaur teacher is wheelchair bound in our world. Grover the satyr (though I hear he was a faun in the book—hello racist hypersexualization of black male characters; he also was the comic relief, and the sidekick, in case you are looking to score in racist tropes bingo) has two goat legs that need no assistive devices in myth world but walks with crutches in our world. And Percy has ADHD and dyslexia in our world…which don’t trouble him in myth world and in fact turn out to be related to his demigodliness—his mind is hardwired for ancient Greek, and his ADHD creates awesome battle instincts. There is no explanation for the crutches Grover uses in our world, except as cover, and none offered for Pierce Brosnan’s wheelchair at all, though we got the sense that it was similarly about cover.

 

So, disability is actually magical brilliance in Percy’s case. Oh gee, I know that trope. And in the other characters…animal legs translate to physical disability aids. Yknow, I was actually excited about all the disabled characters in the first 20 minutes of the film. Let’s imagine characters that are disabled and still heroes, without being supercrips; lets imagine a world where you could be a faun with crutches, where a guy in a wheelchair could be your teacher at demigod training camp. It’s doable, people. Do we have to seek disabled pride (and I gather that was one of the main points of the book, it was written for the authors kid who had ADHD and dyslexia) by erasing the disability? C’mon…we can do better than that.

 

 


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Thinking about my lens, how I see things.

I was surfing the twitter tonight, ran across a tweet that was likely supposed to be hot and kinky. And I read it as about violence.

This is not the only time such things have happened. It occurs frequently, especially when I am not looking at something that is specifically marked as kinky, and sometimes when I am.

I am a kink and sex educator and smut writer and a dominant sadist; these identities are core to my life and central to my connections and communities and my lens. And, I work in the field of interpersonal violence, and am a survivor of violence, including violence within a kinky relationship; this work, that I have done for close to two decades, is also central to my daily existence and how I see things. These lenses are not in tension with each other, they are integrated.

Unless something is specifically coded as kinky, I am not likely to read it as kink but as violence. I have definitely met folks that will read kink onto things that are not explicitly coded as kinky; I cannot and do not do that. Sometimes when something is explicitly coded as kinky, but it is about getting off on the appearance of or resemblance to real world violence, I am just as likely to read it as violence. 

I engage daily with violence, so that's not surprising, I suppose; I'm not looking to translate things otherwise or pretend violence is not there. I also know how violence and abusive power operates interpersonally, really well; it is one of the places of my deep awareness and knowledge, one that I know has deeply impacted how I see things and what I'm willing to let myself see and know. I know that alone makes me fairly unusual. Hey, even my willingness to see and sit with stuff thats hard and not pretend its not hard or not there or cooperate with hiding it or denying it's reality is unusual enough...that I do that around violence and abusive power...pretty damn unusual.

Here is another part of the picture. Because I am a survivor of abuse within a kinky relationship, because I teach classes for survivors and hear story after story about abusive kinky relationships, I don't witness kink and assume it is free from abuse.

What I find particularly interesting about my lens around this  is that much of my kink might look like real world violence to other people. That it disturbs kinky people in a kink context to witness it. For them, the context may not be key to how they see what I do.

Part of the core of why I experience my kink as not identical to real world violence is not just the presence of deep consent from all parties (which is crucial) but also consciousness around power and intentionality around power and it's relationship to real world violence and oppression.

I get off on making someone cry in the context of a kink dynamic, not on tears absent a context of kink and consent, even if I caused them. If I hurt someone's feelings that I love and that makes them cry, or if someone I care about is in so much physical pain from a disability or health related issue that they are crying, those tears don't get my dick hard. Context is meaningful, incredibly meaningful to me and the way my lenses work, my eroticism works.

What's interesting about the way things work these days in terms of social media is that we often see things outside of context, we often communicate without context. One of the most useful things I have ever realized is how important it is for me to use media carefully in recognition of that, and to try to frame things as much as I can.

I write and teach this way too. I talk about the context of what I'm teaching, some people feel like I spend too much time on that. I place kink between my characters in context, will lead in quite a bit, and make sure that the reader knows the context between the characters, knows this is consensual. I do that because of how my kink works, how my eroticism operates. For me, context is crucial, the thing that makes it real and complex. The thing that makes this erotic connection specific, that lets the part of my brain that reads violence easily know that there are good reasons to read something else here.

tis time

Sep. 2nd, 2010 09:47 am
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Well. It is time to nail down the workshop I am giving on fat activism at NYU next month.

I have been asked to teach a fat activist workshop that addresses some aspect of intersectionality.

These are the two topics I had thought of earlier:

  • Queer Fat Activism: Why Sex Positivity Matters
  • Creating an Inclusive Vision of Fat Activism

One of the things that I have been thinking about is the ways fat activism sets itself up in opposition to disability activism by insisting that we are healthy or on HAES. I see that as a similar reactive tactic to other tactics taken by other activist movements. I think that's really important to name and discuss and is a more natural fit for the second topic.

That being said, I have so much more experience and things to say about sex positivity, and the ways it is both important and needs to be complicated. I am drawn to the first topic more deeply right now, am full of things to say, and have so much more credibility on that subject. I think they are connected, and can bring in that point about disability and health pretty easi;y, it just wouldn't be the focus.

I had also considered coming up with something new and specific for this workshop. What would you want to go to?

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Loving this disability blog, which I found via [info]undeconstructed.

This made me cry. In that good way.

roundup

Jul. 7th, 2010 09:40 pm
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thoughts?

May. 31st, 2010 08:05 pm
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I want to make this class happen in NYC. The facilitator is amenable, I'd be willing to do the legwork. Any thoughts about who could host or how to make it happen?

The Double–Edged Sword: How Do You Write If You Fear To Offend?
Cecilia Tan

One of the adages fed to writing students everywhere is "write what you know." But anyone who writes only about themselves is likely to be accused of lacking diversity and needing to represent under–represented voices/characters more. How do you get around the double–edged sword of needing to present realistically diverse stories and characters without being accused of appropriation? And how do you keep this struggle from empowering your internal censor to the point where you are too paralyzed to write anything at all? We will tackle topics of fetishization, tokenism, exoticism, the need for self–discovery in writers, and more.
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This seemed partiularly appropos of my class tomorrow.

Rainbow Brite has been made over taller and thinner. (She doesn't look like a child anymore. Can there be no dolls that actually look like children, even in the imaginary RainbowBrite world? Do they all have to be sexy dolls? Maybe this is to catch her up in age to the new Strawberry Shortcake and the new Dora the Explorer. Kids won't get to see themselves reflected anymore--just older, sexier thinner versions of everything.)

Whole foods to offer higher employee discount to thin employees.

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This is worth a read. And a think, many thinks ideally.

It makes Me think of something that I spent a lot of time pondering in Myself and other white people--the ways that white folks often want to say some variant of "I'm not that kind of white person", meaning "I'm not racist", usually.

Often, I think that we try to separate ourselves from that white monster by differentiating gender, or class, sexual orientation, or ability, villify working class southern white men, villify ruling class fat heterosexual white businessmen, point at a simplified image of an enemy that is steeped in privilege or invested in blaming it's disenfranchisement on people of color, whatever feels the most different and other, so that we can truly feel that the white monster is that other, is that different from us. Particularly we justify stereotypes about working class bigots, southern bigots, lump all bigotry together into this monstrous image of those other white people that I am not.

We use our self image of "good" whiteness and mark it against "bad" whiteness. We desperately want to be "good", be seen as "good", be trusted to be "good". And good needs to be measured against bad, so we continue to co-construct this monstrous white person as the other, so that we can be "good" in comparison. I remember thinking about this about 13 years ago or so, and reading a book at the time, written by nuns about white antiracism, and thinking about the way that they explained the pitfalls of "good whiteness", and wondering if this was about a Christian value system, and if so, had it been embedded so deeply into the U.S. that it was intrinsic to the value systems that we use for ourselves, such that "good" became a magic word? (Because it is a magic word...no question. Just talk to anyone who does consensual BDSM--particularly D/s--about what it means to be a "good boy" and you can see how magic it is.)

I think about this a lot, because I see this as a barrier to actually dealing with our racism and privilege. That mirror of that monster white person that frightens us, that makes us ashamed to be white, that we desperately don't want to be lumped into...I think that mirror is so important. I try to look at Myself and see where I am that white person. I try to look at Myself and see why I so desperately (sometimes) don't want to be that person, or be seen as that person. I think part of it is cultural, this idea of identity thats about goodness, and also (for Me)about intelligence/education, because I was raised to see racism as stupid and ignorant, see? And nothing was so shameful in My family than to be stupid or ignorant, except perhaps to be crazy. But the kind of racism that I was raised to see that way is really just a small part of the way racism manifests. And this simple image of good/bad whiteness does not see that, does not allow Me to see that. And that is where the real problem lies, for Me...in the ways this creates barriers to Me getting it, and knowing the ways that I am enacting racism.

The white supremacy that structured My life, My childhood, My class mobility and class in general, My sense of gender, My relationship to My body...that white supremacy that shaped Me in so many innumerable ways...it is part of Me, every day. If I spend My energy denying that, pretending it isn't true...I cannot see where it is Me. I cannot catch Myself being that white monster, cannot recognize it when people call Me on it. If I invest so much in being defended against the taint of that, I cannot do something about the presence of it in My blood and bones and language and assumptions and vision and actions.

I see it as a common pitfall of whiteness, this idea of good/bad white people, this image of the white monster. It's not going away, it's the place I go in My head when I'm not paying attention. So it's part of My red flag system, part of how I watch Myself.

And let Me also add that I think it's vital for Me also to look at "good man" and "bad man" while I'm at it, as that is a gender I am commonly read as, and that deeply shapes My sense of My masculinity. But that's a subject for another day.
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Hi folks. I think this is really important to read, esp. if you are Jewish. So important that I am reposting it here.

 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kevin-coval/searching-for-a-minyan-ou_b_327597.html
for an interview with Josh go to: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1122325.html
 
Searching for a Minyan: 
Israel, McCarthyism, & the Struggle for Real Dialogue
by Kevin Coval and Josh Healey
 
This weekend, J Street, a new Jewish “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” PAC and Washington-based organization is holding its first national conference. The two of us, along with another artist, were to perform and read poems at several sessions during the conference. Specifically, we were invited to lead a workshop on how culture and spoken word create democratic spaces that sift through difficult issues and ensure a multiplicity of voices are heard: and how that can be used to open up the Israel/Palestine debate. Instead, we have been censored and pushed out of that very debate.
 
This week, some right-wing blogs and pseudo-news organizations latched on to various lines of poems Josh wrote and churned the alarmist rumor mill saying that hateful anti-Israeli poets are keynote speakers at the J Street conference. This is not surprising. The radical right-wing, including the growing Jewish right-wing of this country and abroad, hates complex discourse, especially when it brings to light truths they seek to systematically deny. The Weekly Standard, Commentary, and their AIPAC-influenced brethren have been attacking J Street for weeks, scared that the conference will bring together the majority of American Jews who do favor a more rigorous peace process. When they found Josh’s poems and took lines out of context, they had the perfect straw man: the Van Jones to J Street’s Obama. Again, this is not surprising.
 
What is disappointing, and troubling, is J Street’s response in caving to this sort of McCarthyism. The executive director of J Street called us to say  “I know what I’m doing is wrong...but there are some battles we choose not to fight,” before canceling our program, and disinviting us from the conference. This accommodates their red-baiting and is the wrong response. Rather than give in, which only emboldens the right and legitimizes their attacks, we need to stand up for our principles and engage on that front. Van Jones is another perfect example: after the Fox News venom became too much and he resigned last month, the radical Right hasn’t stopped attacking Obama, or more accurately, the alternative, progressive voice they fear he represents. The Right stands by its politics, and practices solidarity with their allies. Too often the Left doesn’t. And that’s why we often lose – on health care, on global warming, and on Israel/Palestine.
 
For the second time in two months Kevin, who is Jewish, has been told not to come to a Jewish conference because of what he will say about Palestine and Israel. This past August, the evening before the International Hillel Conference, conference planners said if he were to read poems about Palestine, they’d rather not have him. Today, Josh, who is Jewish, has had his name thrown into a mudslide of blogs and hate emails. All this  because we are practicing the Jewish maxim of the refusal to be silent in the face of oppression, anyone’s oppression.
 
One of the key teachings of Judaism is the insistence on wrestling with and debating ideas. There are a thousand years of codified arguing, recorded in the Talmud and Midrash, over the meaning of the stories in the five books of Torah. Jews debate everything. There is the old adage, “when you have two Jews in the room, you have three opinions”. Our families cannot come to agreement about what constitutes a deli as opposed to a diner. (A deli must have pickles on the table with poppy seed rolls, etc....)
 
But when you try to talk about Palestine there is silence. When you talk about the role the United States plays in supporting Israel and its military coffers, there is no room for discourse. If you bring up Palestinians’ right to return to land they were forced out of, or mention that this past January over 1400 Palestinians, mostly civilian, were killed in Gaza, there is no room to speak in Jewish-centric spaces in this country.
 
There are many reasons why this trend of censorship is disturbing. We believe in democracy, in the right to speak and be heard and in the right be disagreed with. We are disheartened and outraged by the lack of democratic discourse in the American Jewish community and within the country as a whole.
 
Why are we scared of what will come from an honest conversation? What do we have to lose, or discover, or admit to if we question the policies of Israel or America’s support of its government and military? It can be unsettling for one’s worldview to unravel, the intricate web of white lies and half-truths pulled apart. This can be disconcerting for generations of Jews who have accepted the propaganda of a chosen people and the acting out of geostrategic nightmares via military might.
 
Kevin works at a Hillel for Hashem’s sake! He is charged with the task of addressing why so many young Jews are distancing themselves from the religious and cultural practice of Judaism.  This is one of those reasons! American Jews are told at shul to repent for our sins, but silenced if we bring up the sins of the country that acts in our name. We need authentic, honest discourse in the American Jewish community. It must start today and it must be about Palestine and Israel.
 
So, we are searching for a minyan—a crew of progressives and progressive Jews to build and connect with. We want to have a conversation. Not wait for the conversation to be dictated and have borders and walls built around acceptable topics,  but to have a conversation determined by us, Jews That Are Left, that are on the Left. A conversation that is honest and open and genuinely reclaims and considers our progressive past as well as forges the future world. A conversation engaged in the work of tikkun olam for real, the work of repair and healing and wholeness.
 
Progressive American Jews where you at? Holla at us! For real: jewsthatareleft (at) gmail (dot) com. Let’s reshape the conversation. Let’s build a minyan, a coalition of progressive Jews and gentiles who want what is just and right for ALL people and all people in Israel and Palestine.  
 
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I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a “good” patient, a “good” sick or disabled person, and in general, a “good” recipient of services (whatever sort). I have been thinking about this, partially because I’m not always (or even often) a “good” patient, and I sure do get punished for it. I’ve also been thinking about it because that’s My job. I tell victim service providers how to help victims of crime, what way to help them meets the standards…and I set the standards for that. It is quite literally, what I get paid for. And often, we have this image of “good” victims, in terms of the ones we want to help, the ones the service systems were built for, the ones that cops and prosecutors wish all victims were like. It does not look that different from the model of the “good” patient…or for that matter, the model of the “good” prisoner, or the “good” student, or…really any person who is embedded in a system that is supposed to change them in some way for the “better”.

 

If you sum up the “good” recipient of services/participant in a system into one word, it would be a combination of docile and obedient…perhaps “compliant” is the best word.

 

So, I find Myself having conversations (with colleagues and with friends in hospice) about “good” cancer patients, and “good” victims, and how we can shift people’s thinking about healthcare/victim services so that it can support patient/victim self determination. (A great idea most agree upon in theory…but it’s the practice that gets sticky.)

 

It’s really an exchange, no? In exchange for being a “good” patient, we may not get blamed for being sick (or staying sick). And in exchange for being a “good” victim, we may not get blamed for being victimized. And that's just a start...because in exchange for being a "good" victim, we get services...services we do not get if we are "bad" victims.

 

Jill Davies, in her groundbreaking position paper about why we need services for domestic violence victims that decide to stay with their abusers, describes this very problem, as leaving abusive relationships is one of the primary ways to be a “good” domestic violence victim: “The view that leaving is the answer to domestic violence is so strong that it has become the standard by which victims are judged. Leave and you are worthy of the full range of services and protection. Stay and the resources may be limited, the consequences sometimes severe. Victims who don’t leave are often unfairly judged to be making poor decisions, viewed as “not being serious” about stopping the violence, or as somehow responsible for not preventing it.”

 

Lesley on Fatshionista.com talks about this in terms of current debates on health insurance, and her essay “On Health and Personal Responsibility” is well worth a read. Smart, precise, and asks really good questions.

 

Now, to be clear, I think that the concept of “good” disabled or sick person is not equivalent to that of the “good” patient…but I do think that one aspect of being a “good” disabled or sick person is being a “good” patient (it’s just not the only aspect). We are supposed to be compliant with medical providers, do what they say, let them poke and prod us in all the ways that they choose, not advocate for our emotional and physical needs. There is more that we get in exchange than less blame. We are supposed to be “good” patients, and in exchange, they may (if we are lucky) share the information we need, help us access the care we need, sign off on paperwork we need, and not get quite as hostile or arrogant (partly because they are not being challenged).

 

Yesterday, I was a “bad” patient. I self advocated for a medicine I wanted prescribed, for information I wanted explained, and for a test I wanted the doctor to do. After he agreed to the test, I said thank you, that it would make Me feel better to know. And he said, “that’s my job”. I’ve been thinking about that ever since…the idea that his job might be to address My emotional and physical needs as I see them, within his capacity to do so. It was literally the first time I had ever heard a doctor articulate that as part of his job. It was so radical that I have been marveling over it ever since. I was a "bad" patient, and I got what I needed...how amazing!

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