Monday, October 18, 2010

For Mama.

You, of mud and ruach
daughter of thunder and justice
mother sister lover
of life.

I first lived in your womb and was impatient
to be in your arms
to hear you and to know you
beyond the walls of blood cells and membranes.

And even when I came to you unannounced and unready
you signed contracts in contractions of blood
to love me--even as it pained you
and in my infantile foolishness
I tasted freedom between gasps of air in underdeveloped lungs
after they cut the cord that binded us.

And now that you're mud and ruach and thunder again
I'm trying to find my way out from under the weight of your absence
tracing my way back through my scars on body and soul
back to the place where we shared the same lifeblood
before you named our difference by naming me.

But all I have now are the phantoms of distant dreams of that place
of that connection too early lived to keep as memory
and my heart is heavy with regrets of trying to rid myself of that cord
from the space I now call
my belly button.

For Julie Gaither. October 23, 1963 - September 26, 2010
Your memory is a blessing.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Living the Questions and Sitting at the Crossroads

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

Is Change.--Octavia Butler

I haven’t updated in awhile. I always want to write, but each time I feel ready to, another emotional upheaval unsettles me. In these moments, I’m always stunned into silence, trying desperately to maintain the patience to undertake the arduous work of collecting shattered pieces of myself and how I understand the world and put them back together in radically new, unrecognizable ways. Language leaves me; time is suspended. I have more questions than answers, and I feel as though I’m failing because I’m not finding answers quickly enough. But things that’ve happened to and around me lately have challenged me to revolutionize my understandings, goals, and desires in finding these answers.

This very moment—for a lot of reasons—marks an end of an era. About three weeks ago, my mother and my hero went into a coma and was placed on life support. She has a progressive illness, so although we’ve been expecting it for years now, one is never really prepared for it. Amazingly, but not surprisingly, she pulled out of the coma twice and she’s back home now (Mama is seriously one of the most fierce, kick-ass people I’ve ever known). But as I sat there holding her hand as she was unconscious and on a ventilator, something in me broke—shattered, really. Although I’ve confronted my own mortality because of a very serious situation with my kidneys failing completely, and even though I’ve lost very close friends in traumatic ways, none of this affected/effected me as much as the thought of “losing” my mom. Memories that I thought I lost came flooding back in a storm that only a buried past can create. The echoes of our giggles while we painted Easter eggs filled every crevice of my being ; and I felt on my skin the sticky heaviness of the humid South Georgia air as I thought of us sitting together on the back patio talking as two adults about our fears, regrets , and goals. I told her, or her body at least, that I love her, that I’m proud of her, and I asked for her forgiveness for my part in the years long silence that engulfed us, and made us grow distant. It was a crossroads collapsing the past, present, and future into a single moment, linking Jeremy with Tali, of my mother’s cis, descriptively disabled son with her (gender)queer , politically crip child. It linked a mother who struggled in silence against seemingly insurmountable odds and who passionately and painfully struggles to accept me, with the courageous, powerful woman who lives with regrets and unfulfilled desires that I think she’s afraid to utter to another living soul. I saw her more completely then than I ever had before, and as I held her hand in mine, I also held her complexities, contradictions, and powerful fragility gently and appreciatively. And in the process, I’m allowing myself to do the same thing for myself.I’m still picking up the pieces and figuring out where they all go.

My best friend of four very intense years is moving to India for at least six months, maybe a year, on Wednesday. Kate, Kali, Katherine. I remember very vividly the first time I saw her. She was working at a tea shop in a mall—a place where lifeless consumerism flourishes. She still doesn’t believe me when I say this, but she breathed life into that place as she stood there with a dignified presence that literally took my breath away. I approached her, and she simply said “Would you like to try some tea?” I knew then, and even more now, that this was the start of a profoundly deep connection that would change me forever. And it has. Kate is one of the first people—one of the only people, who have shown me what true friendship is, who’ve given love in its more transformative form, and unconditional positive regard in its most supportive. In some ways, as I said goodbye to her for the last time last night, I mourned the death of who we are individually and the relationship we have now as both of us have said to one another that when we meet up again, we’ll be totally different people. We’ll have to re-introduce ourselves then. And although we’ll stay in touch, we won’t be able to feel each other’s touch—something, I think, we both need. Significantly, though, we’re going through this together. She’s going to India; and I’m going to California—both (metaphorically) totally different worlds than that which we know now, and in the process we sacrifice our sense of place, belonging, and connection in order to go on to the next and necessary chapters in our lives. The pain we feel is real. And although we say to each other, “see you later, friend,” both of us know that there’s a certain permeable finality to all of this. We committed to each other that we’ll push each other passed our fears and delusions of safety that comes with not taking risks and making sacrifices that we need to in order to recreate ourselves, to  become something wholly else and unprecedented.  So, crossroads again: holding at once feelings of intense sorrow that the end we always knew was coming is finally here, with the ecstatic excitement that the new beginning is just around the corner.

And so I sit here at the crossroads, lost in torrential sandstorms, not knowing what’s on the other side or even how to get there. This is what it means to live the questions. The answers will come when we’re ready to receive them.

have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
--Rainer Maria Rilke

To Mama: Thank you for being a mother and a friend and for showing me that strength doesn’t always have to be loud. I love you.

To Kate: Thank you for being a friend and a sister and for being an anchor through some really hard times. Faire well, my love. You have what it takes.  I love you, too.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

For Fuck's Sake: On Negotiating Non-normative Embodiment, Shame, and Sex

I tend to write my blog posts in essay form--something, I've come to realize, that gives me an intellectual distance--one that keeps me shielded from becoming to vulnerable.But this one is different: it comes from a place of emotional anguish that I’m just now articulating in ways that I think-feel are concise and intentional. But I must preface this: Whatever I write shouldn’t be misconstrued as me implying that people who don’t live with these things shouldn’t have lovers, including multiple ones at the same time. What I’m writing about is the ways in which people with non-normative bodies usually become hyper-aware of how our bodies take up space and how, sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be much space for our bodies. And so it begins…
I often talk and write about loving one’s body, but I’ve realized recently that I continually fail to talk about something of utmost importance: the process of loving one’s body. By this I mean the ways in which we find and/or create language that articulates love for bodies, how we find connection with and through other bodies, and how occupying erotic spaces with another person/other people is a way of unlearning shame and insecurities. I think it’s important to recognize that neither shame nor insecurities about our bodies are existential, “inherent in the human condition,” or felt with the same immediacy and pervasiveness by all persons. Rather, they're products and processes of systemic oppressions that steal our bodies, and the language to describe them in erotic ways, from us.
We have to frame all of this in terms of ableism, fatphobia, racism, oppositional sexism, transphobia and transmisogyny, cissexism racism, sexism, classism, serophobia, and somatophobia (the impulse to conceptualize things in a disembodied way), and how they inform and create discourse of bodies and sexuality.* The tendency, though, is to depoliticize the ways in which we occupy bodily and sexual spaces by reducing these complexities to simple “preferences.” I read a lot of personal ads that say, “no fats, fems, or blacks” on sites like manhunt and okcupid. They then qualify it: “I have nothing against them, it’s just a preference.” This fails to recognize the ways in which non-normative bodies are understood only in the shadow of normality, and those of who are forced to negotiate living in that shadow end up internalizing it. Our bodies because repositories of shame; they’re desexualized and/or hypersexualized and/or fetishized, and some of us are read as asexual (not that there’s anything wrong with actually being asexual).
Personally, I’ve spent most of my life “comfortable” living in the shadows. I feel safe there. But I pay a tremendous price. I look around at my friends who have both normative bodies and multiple lovers, and I feel the sting of isolation, confusion, and sometimes resentment. I’ve been feeling that sting very intensely lately; I’m beginning to realize that I’m read as the very flirtatious, fun to be around friend. But, I echo Loree Erickson’s sentiment: "I want to be both a good friend and a good fuck.” I’m also tend to be a counselor of sorts, always inhabiting very intimate emotional spaces with people I love—and although I value it and understand it as beautiful and erotic, it always tends to end there. I sometimes feel that I’m in people’s headspace so much that they forget that I have a body—one that I’m trying my hardest to reclaim, recreate, and call home.
Perhaps it’s because I’m not as direct as I need to be, but I also realize that I simply don’t have the language to be direct. As someone who’s been the “good [disabled, asexual, desexualized] friend” for as long as I can remember, I simply don’t have the words to be blunt, honest, and open. I’m working on it, but I need people to meet me half-way. I need people to realize I can’t consistently love my body in a vacuum, that I need to be naked, fucked, and told that I’m beautiful in that extremely vulnerable place. It’s the only way any of us—especially those of who have to constantly resist oppressive representations of our bodies can develop ways to resist internalized somatophobia and shame.
I want to breathe Eli Clare’s and Audre Lorde’s words into me:

The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.
It is never easy to demand the most from ourselves, from our lives, from our work. To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society. But giving in to the fear of feeling and working to capacity is a luxury only the unintentional can afford, and the unintentional are those who do not wish to guide their own destinies.
This internal requirement toward excellence which we learn from the erotic must not be misconstrued as demanding the impossible from ourselves nor from others. Such a demand incapacitates everyone in the process. For the erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing. Once we know the extent to which we are capable of feeling that sense of satisfaction and completion, we can then observe which of our various life endeavors bring us closest to that fullness.
The aim of each thing which we do is to make our lives and the lives of our children richer and more possible. Within the celebration of the erotic in all our endeavors, my work becomes a conscious decision - a longed-for bed which I enter gratefully and from which I rise up empowered.
---Audre Lorde, The Uses of the Erotic

But it isn't only oppression that lives in my body, our bodies. The many experiences of who we are, of our identities, also live there. I know so clearly that my queerness, my disability, reside in my body--in the ways that I move, dress, cut my hair; in who I am attracted to and who's attracted to me; in my tremors, my slurred speech, my heavy-heeled gait; in the visceral sense of muscle sliding over muscle as I lie with my lover; in the familiarity of tension following tremor, traveling from shoulder to fingertip. Identity, of course, can live in many places all at once--in the communities we make home, the food we eat, the music we play and dance to, the work we do, the people we feel wild and passionate about, the languages we speak, the clothes we wear. But so much of who I am is carried in my irrevocably different body.
Irrevocable difference could be a cause for celebration, but in this world it isn't. The price we pay for variation from the norm that's defined and upheld by white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism is incredibly high. And in my life, that price has been body centered. I came to believe that my body was utterly wrong. Sometimes I wanted to cut off my right arm so it wouldn't shake. My shame was that plain, that bleak. Of course, this is one of the profound ways in which oppression works--to mire us in body hatred. Homophobia is all about defining queer bodies as wrong, perverse, immoral. Transphobia, about defining trans bodies as unnatural, monstrous, or the product of delusion. Ableism, about defining disabled bodies as broken and tragic. Class warfare, about defining the bodies of workers as expendable. Racism, about defining the bodies of people of color as primitive, exotic, or worthless. Sexism, about defining female bodies as pliable objects. These messages sink beneath our skin.
he stolen bodies, the bodies taken for good, rise up around me. Rebecca Wight, a lesbian, shot and killed as she hiked the Appalachian Trail with her lover. James Byrd Jr., an African American, dragged to death behind a pickup driven by white men. Tyra Hunter, a transgendered person living as a woman, left to bleed to death on the streets of D.C. because the EMT crew discovered she had a penis and stopped their work. Tracy Latimer, a twelve-year-old girl with severe cerebral palsy, killed by her father, who said he did it only to end her unbearable suffering. Bodies stolen for good. Other bodies live on--numb, abandoned, full of self-hate, trauma, grief, aftershock. The pernicious stereotypes, lies, and false images can haunt a body, stealing it away as surely as bullets do.
But just as the body can be stolen, it can also be reclaimed. The bodies irrevocably taken from us, we can memorialize in quilts, granite walls, and candlelight vigils. We can remember and mourn them, use their deaths to strengthen our will. And as for the lies and false images: we need to name them, transform them, create something entirely new in their place. Something that comes close and finally true to the bone, entering our bodies as liberation, as joy, as fury, as a will to refigure the world.
The work of refiguring the world is often framed as the work of changing the material, external conditions of our oppression. But just as certainly, our bodies--or, more accurately, what we believe about our bodies--need to change so that they don't become storage sites, traps, for the very oppression we want to eradicate. For me, this work is about shattering the belief that my body is wrong. It began when I found communities committed to both pride and resistance. It was there that I could begin to embrace irrevocable difference--come to know the grace in my shaky hands, the rhythm of tremor and tension in my muscles, the joy in my transgendered butch body, sun on my back, a lover's hand on my belly.
I am still in the middle of this work. I think of my lover cradling my right hand, saying, "Your tremors feel so good"; saying, "I can't get enough of your shaky touch"; saying, "I love your CP." Shame and disbelief overwhelm me until I stop and really listen to the words. Another layer begins to shatter… At the end of the day, I went to sleep adoring irrevocable difference.
In the end, I am asking that we pay attention to our bodies--our stolen bodies and our reclaimed bodies. To the wisdom that tells us the causes of the injustice we face lie outside our bodies, and also to the profound relationships our bodies have to that injustice, to the ways our identities are inextricably linked to our bodies. We need to do this because there are disability activists so busy defining disability as an external social condition that they neglect the daily realities of our bodies: the reality of living with chronic pain; the reality of needing personal attendants to help us pee and shit (and of being at once grateful for those PAs and deeply regretting our lack of privacy); the reality of disliking the very adaptive equipment that makes our day-to-day lives possible. We need to do this because there are disability thinkers who can talk all day about the body as metaphor and symbol but never mention flesh and blood, bone and tendon--never even acknowledge their own bodies. We need to do this because without our bodies, without the lived bodily experience of identity and oppression, we won't truly be able to refigure the world, turning it to a place where, to quote the poet Mary Oliver:
. . . each life [is] a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.

--Eli Clare, Stolen Bodies, Reclaimed Bodies: Disability and Queerness

* I think it's also very important to recognize that these oppressions don't effect our bodies, or how we understand them, in the same way, or even with the same immediacy. I'm still forming this thought, so bear with me.
Words and meanings--
transphobia - hostility towards, people who are transgender or who otherwise transgress traditional gender norms
cissexism - the belief that cis (non-trans) people are more "natural" or superior to trans people.
oppositional sexism - according to Julia Serano: Sexism that is rooted in the presumption that female and male are rigid, mutually exclusive, “opposite” sexes, each possessing a unique and non-overlapping set of attributes, aptitudes, abilities, and desires. It targets those who do not conform to oppositional gender norms.
serophobia - hostility towards people who are hiv positive. This can be direct violence, or something like outing.
trans misogyny - a kind of sexism that targets people on the trans feminine spectrum.
transgender - Also, trans; A general term describing people whose gender identities/expressions differ from what is expected. “What counts as transgender varies as much as gender itself, and it always depends on historical and cultural context,” (Stryker 2008: 19).
for more trans related definitions, check out Gendersaurus Rex.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Learning the Language of Butterflies

White butterfly trailed by yellow, blue, and pink linesI'm not interested in you telling me who you are. I want to know you ache for, what feeds your soul. I want to know if you can promise yourself to never again make apologies for your own intensity. I want to know whether or not your afraid to sit with yourself, and not move from distraction to distraction, and what that fear can possibly teach you. I want to know if you're willing to let the tidal wave of confusion and anger and rage and disappointment to wash over you, consume you. I want to know if you'll let sorrow, yours or another s, be your cocoon.

I want to know if you can teach me to remember always that storms will pass, and that we never wade it alone. I want to know if you're willing to learn the language of the butterflies so that they can teach you how to be gentle, but resilient, and that the only way we can make it to our destination is by braving life's strongest winds together. I want to know if you truly understand that we don't burst forth from the ashes like a phoenix, but as a butterfly, who experiences transformations slowly, painfully--and who understand that those transformations are necessary for survival. Can you, like the Monarch, feed on its own chrysalis as a life source, knowing that your past will always be a part of you? I want to know if you can treat others as butterflies. Can you allow someone to simply find rest from fluttering on the tip of your forefinger? And will you not hold them back when they journey without you?

In the end, it doesn't matter what you study or what your goals are. What matters is whether or not you know that a butterfly only lives about 24 days, and that you, too, have to learn to accept your own mortality.

Find beauty. Be beauty. And then flutter off into the sunset.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Claiming Napantla: Bridge-Building & The Need for Unsafe Space

We often talk about Safe Space in our activism: a space that is defined, at least implicitly, by the expected suspension of the dynamics of oppression and privilege in our relationships. it sounds nice, for sure--the world's unsafe, so shouldn't we attempt to create safe spaces in personalized places? Perhaps. But what're it's implications, meanings, and actual consequences? Who's responsible for safety, and who, in the end, actually benefits from it?

Gloria Anzaldua, one of the most meaningful and transformative writers in my life, talks a lot about the affect of displacement, border-crossing (both geographic borders and ones of identity), and a radical conciousness that can come from these. She writes of the mestiza consciousness:

By creating a new mythos - that is, a change in the way we perceive reality, the way we see ourselves, and the ways we behave - la mestiza creates a new consciousness. The work of mestiza consciousness is to break down the subject/object duality that keeps her prisoner and to show in the flesh and through the images in her work how duality is transcended. The answer to the problem between the white race and the colored, between males and females, lies in healing the split that originates in the very foundation of our lives, our culture, our languages, our thoughts. A massive uprooting of dualistic thinking in the individual and collective consciousness is the beginning of a long struggle, but one that could, in our best hopes, bring us to the end of rape, of violence, of war.
But what work does the creation of this "third space" require, and of whom? She offers a suggestion in her introduction to This Bridge We Call Home--Napantla and bridge-building:

Bridges are thresholds to other realities, archetypal, primal symbols of shifting consciousness. They are passageways, conduits, and connectors that connote transitioning, border crossing, and changing perceptions. Bridges span threshold (liminal) spaces between worlds, spaces I call Napantla, a Nuahatl word meaning tierra entre medio. Transformations occur in this in-between space, an unstable, unpredictable, precarious, always-in-transition lacking clear boundaries. Napantla es tierra desonocida, and living in this liminal zone means being in a constant state of displacement--an uncomfortable, even alarming feeling. Most of us dwell in Napantla so much of the time that it becomes a sort of "home" (pg, 1, emphasis added).

For those of us who live at the intersection of identity--of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, dis/ability[...]--Napantla is a space of familiarity, as de-centering as it can be. I'm a queer, disabled, poor, chronically ill Jew, who, although I am learning to queer the way people read my gender, doesn't experience gender oppression/violence with the same immediacy as ciswomen and trans men and women (at least not yet). I'm also white, neurotypical, thin, an Amerikan citizen who is often complicit in economic and and political imperialism, who speaks English as my first language, and a child to non-migrant parents. I'm also not read as Jewish until people learn of my very Hebrew-sounding name and/or I'm wearing a yarmulke, so I don't experience anti-Jewish hatred in ways that Jews who don't "pass" do*. I'm also sheltered, have access to food (most of the time), and have shoes and clothes, so that I don't experience classist violence with the same immediacy as people who're houseless. I live in the interstices of privilege and oppression (as a lot of us do). If we do the work to recognize that oppression and privilege are systemic, conditioned, and often unmarked, how do we create a notion of safe space?

Again, Gloria clarifies:

[There] are no safe spaces. Home can be unsafe because it bears the likelihood of intimacy and thus thinner boundaries. Staying "home" and not venturing out from our own group comes from woundedness and stagnates our growth. To bridge means loosening our borders, not closing them off to others. Bridging is the work of opening the gates t the stranger, within and without. To [move] across the threshold is to be stripped of the illusion of safety because it moves us into unfamilar territory that does not grant safe passage. To bridge is to attempt community, and for that we must risk being open to personal, political, and spiritual intimacy, to risk being wounded. Effective bridging comes from knowing when to close ranks to those outside our home**...and when to keep the gates open (p. 3).

But this still begs the question: who's responsible for the work of bridging and leaving "home?" All too often, I think, the responsibilities to do so fall back on the people/aspects of our complicated identities who have no choice but to live in Napantla as a means of physical, psychic, and spiritual survival. To elucidate: Part of recognizing that there are no safe spaces is to accept the reality that dynamics of privilege and oppression are not only systemic in, but constitutive of our society, languages, his/her/zestories, literatures, bodies, and intimate emotional and sexual spaces. As my very dear friend, Mia Mingus writes about racism and white supremacy:

Racism and white supremacy are so pervasive, that we don’t even have to be consciously or intentionally doing anything to participate in them. It’s in the air we breathe; it’s how the machine rolls; it’s the default. It’s backed by everything in our society. That’s the thing about oppression, power and privilege: unless you are actively challenging it, you are colluding with it.

This means that the "suspension" of privileged/marginalized positionalities in safe space is not only disingenuous, but detrimental to our work and relationships because fails to challenge unmarked privileged and invisible oppression. Those of us in marginalized positionalities and who argue for safe space, I think, have internalized the notion that feelings of alienation and displacement are only ours to feel and experience. It is, in many ways, using the the master's tools to dismantle the master's house.***

Those of us in privileged/centralized positionalities are afforded the illusions of safety precisely because of our privilege/centralization. We must be willing to be betrayers of our privileged race, gender, sex, class, non-disabled, neurotypical, non-ill positionalities precisely because we understand that if we don't risk our own safety, we are complicit in maintaining complicated networks of violence and domination. We must act on the understanding that it is our responsibility to do the majority of bridge-building and not expect marginalized people to our work for us, and not be the only ones who feel the displacement, alienation, and woundness that comes with it. The act of decentering ourselves is our alone, and we must perform it as a duty of love and solidarity for those who we explicitly and implicitly oppress.

At the same time, we in marginalized positions must ensure this happens as an act of love for ourselves. The work for justice cannot be romanticized in such a way as to abstract it from the hurt of holding each other and ourselves accountable. It's a painful and "violent" process that notions of safe space both miss and prevent from happening.

All of us must learn to claim and live in Napantla together. It's the only way that we continue our fight.

* This becomes even more complicated within the context as my (marked) status as a Jewish convert. I often have non-convert Jews tell me that I'll never really be Jewish because I don't have Jewish family, I didn't lose family in pogroms and the Shoah, and that I'm able to escape systems of anti-Jewish hatred because I pass. This fails to acknowledge, however, that family isn't necessarily biological, that I did lose my queer and crip family members and lovers through because of Nazi/American eugenic sciences, and that Nobody Passes.

** Closing off ranks to those outside my home, like I'm doing now, is just as important and necessary to my growth/well-being as keeping the gates open.

*** I recognize the possible issues of me using Audre Lorde's idea of the Master's House/Master's Tools as a white person and to describe oppressions other than those grounded in the historical and present forms of slavery. Please feel free to let me know what you think.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Let Peace and Justice Kiss: Ruminations on Criplove

My good friend, Bethany and I use the word criplove quite often. I meditated upon this for the past couple of days, and I’ve realized that it’s more than a charming neologism of our community/ies. It’s an epistemology of and expression of a radical kind of love, desire, and resistance.

Foundational tangent: I was talking with my incredible friend, Amariah over at Radical Politics, Radical Love about what it means to be perceived as weak, especially in relation to the risk of exposure and vulnerability when we express our love for another. Weakness. What's it mean? What’re its connotations?

1. the state or quality of being weak 2. a deficiency or failing, as in a person's character.

failing imperfection imperfectness insufficiency inadequacy a lack of competence fatigue flaw helplessness impuissance impotence impotency powerlessness

I still feel the sting of shame that I get when I'm so sick that I'm too weak to bathe and feed myself. I cry and scream as a result, even though I know that the shame is a process and product of internalized ableism. There are those of us who are oppressed and marginalized--who have to fight to exist—the queer of color disabled (im)migrant chronically ill poor trans gender nonconforming nonchristian neurodiverse fat poz deaf intersex multiracial twospirit transabled femme butch womyn man—who have to struggle to form our own language to articulate our own experiences. How can we develop a linguistic cultural armor that helps us from ingesting the poisons of self-doubt and self-hate? How can we resist the compulsions to be “on” all the time, to fight, scream, and work—especially when we have to deny our own physical, mental, and emotional limitations do to so. In the end, we pay the price: not only do we realize that we’ve been screaming into the void this entire time, but now we’re weary and tired and disappointed and jaded.

I think that we need to revolutionize our understandings and experiences of weakness (in all its forms) as something beautiful and necessary. A softened, quiet strength that lets us relinquish control so that we let our friends, comrades, and lovers have the space to nurture and carry us when we’re too weary to do it for ourselves. It warrants the recognition that our work is hard, and that we refuse to be slaves and robots to it. We need to do that for one another. Our path towards justice must have moments of serenity in it—moments where we scrub off our war paint and look at each other with no pretenses or illusions. Moments where we touch each other, feel each other, skin to skin.


1. the state of being present and honest about or needs, wants, and desires; that simply be-ing is enough. 2. the recognition of our own power and limitations as embodied, living, loving healer-warriors.

beauty mutuality courage relinquishment survival solidarity community beautifulimperfection honesty.

That’s criplove.

It’s a love of becauses and not even thoughs:

I love you because of your intensity, your rage, your passions.

I love you because of your meekness, your timidity, your quietness.

I love you because of your scars, both physical and emotional.

I love you because of your dreams and your nightmares—your hopes and your fears.

I love you because you feel so strongly in a world that tells you not to feel at all.

Others call it depression. I call it empathy.

I love you because of your crooked hobble, your twitching, tremoring hands, your slurred speech.

I love you because you let me love you.

I’m here to tell you that I don’t need to fix you, because you’re not broken.

I’m here to tell you that I don’t need to make you whole, because you were never half.

Let me take care of you when you need me to.

And help me learn that it’s okay for you to take care of me when I need you to.

We seal the rifts of the world when we cradle each other in our arms.

“Let Peace and Justice kiss” – Mother Tongues

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Coming Here and Leaving There.

I posted this today on Facebook after serious meditation about the people and things that I (don't) need in my life. While it's probably not the best way to start a blog, it establishes my politics and how I understand collective liberation, mutual caring, and intersectional anti-oppression work.


On Why I Love the Community, and Why I'm Leaving It.
Friends and comrades,

I've been thinking-feeling a lot lately about the issues of being in a community where we attempt to address the ways in which systemic oppressions are interlinked and inter-sustaining. In these spaces where solidarity and allyship are understood as acts of love and loyalty, I've experienced profound and meaningful moments of belonging. But those memories and experiences are also tainted by the reality of my own isolation within it. This isolation usually takes one or both of two, or possibly more forms. Both/all of these are deeply rooted in ableism and the lack of disability justice within our work, our spaces, and our relationships as comrades, friends, and lovers.
In one aspect, the isolation occurs when the architectural-attitudinal spaces that we find and/or create remain inaccessible (in terms of both physical and social space) and where ableist privilege and oppression remain unmarked, in tact, and unchallenged. As one of the very few (the only?) disability activist with a disability within the community, I am expected to embody disability resistance by constantly asking and reminding people about inaccessible entry ways and bathrooms at community centers and other meeting places. More often than not, the politics of inaccessibility are read and configured as an afterthought ("I've never really thought of/noticed it before;" I haven't been to the [meeting place] so I'll check I'll have to check it out). Now, I know very well that Atlanta (and the rest of the country) is inaccessible -- that we valorize stairs and non-disabled bodies and minds because of a very complex and convoluted history, aesthetics, and meanings of ableism. That's why I, as well many other cripfolk, have been homeless more than once. Here I'm not making any one person bear the responsibility for all of this, but part resisting it as an ally is to really think about the ways in which our society/culture/architectu
re/technology is catered to your body by shoring up the boundaries of the normate (Rosemary Garland-Thompson) and the "natural." This means recognizing that accessible entryways and (and trans/gender-nonconforming safe) bathrooms are not luxuries to be thought of in terms of mere (in)convenience, but rather integral parts of anti-oppression work.
The other aspect, defined and sustained by the first, is much more nuanced, subtle, and pervasive. It's the messiness of it all--the part that lacks cohesion, coherency, and any form of intelligible articulation. It's about how ableism constitutes the very dynamics of how we interact with each other and the group. It's the about the very real alienation and backlash I constantly experience when challenging non-disabled supremacy, either in language/rhetoric that we use in our work, the fact that disability justice/ableism is very rarely, if it all, at the forefront of ant-oppression organizing. It's about the ways in which non-disabled people (un)intentionally enact ableist privilege by regulating where, how, and when critical discourse of disability justice takes form. It's about diminishing the effects/affects of my rage and anger in my own resistance to internalizing ableist violence through sef-doubt, deprecation, and body/mind hate. it's about centralizing non-disabled people in the discourse in such a way as to prevent me from speaking/somatically feeling my truth and all the anger and rage it takes to face the demons of erasure, denial, and oppression head-on, without backing down. It's about non-disabled people using privilege to ensure the illusion of safety and of being comfortable in ways and times that only their privilege affords them in the first place. It's about people expecting me to remember that privilege is systemic and conditioned so that mistakes are inevitable, and then deny me the ability to be angry and hurt by it. It's about people being self-congratulatory for putting in ramps or doing other work, and then accusing me of holding grudge, being ungrateful, or diminishing their the work that they have done when I say that it simply isn't enough and that there's still a lot of work to be done. It’s about people asking, demanding, and expecting me to teach them about how to be a better ally.It's recognizing the fact that I am the one who experiences this oppression, and all too often I am the one who is solely responsible for resisting and correcting it. It's about the amount of energy I waste because I'm forced to carry this for long periods of time by myself. Most importantly, it's about the failure of normates to recognize cripculture, language, history, literature, and politics that includes all of the interstices of race/ethnicity, health/illness, gender/sex, class, body type/size, age, sexuality, and geographic (dis)location. Part of being a non-disabled ally is to learn this history and language and literature, and taking on the challenge of unlearning the ableist things that you've been taught about it. How many of you have read the works of Eli Clare, Simi Linton, Chris Bell, Tobin Seibers, Leonard Davis, Kenny Fries, Nancy Mairs, Rosemary Garland-Thompson, Nancy Eiesland, Nomy Lamm, Sunny Taylor, Emi Koyama? Know and love the art/music of Frida Kahlo, Riva Lehrer, Jessica Blinkhorn, and Leroy Moore, Loree Erickson? Read the blogs of Mia Mingus, Stacey Milburn, Joe Stromando, Bethany Stevens, Jill Ford, Katherine Mancuso, Moya Bailey? How many of you came to the Disability Film Festival at Georgia State over the last two years? These are our stories told in our language. It's important that you listen to us telling them.
I’m not only disabled. I’m also quite ill. I live with very limited amounts of energy, and tremendous amounts of pain. Christine Miserandino-Donato’s “Spoon Theory” has helped me to conceptualize this. After reading it, I would ask you to think of all the spoons I’ve given to individual people and the community over the years, even in the midst of debilitating pain and fatigue.. I’m simply asking for some in return. I'm also asking us to think about ways that oppression affects our bodies and minds as a direct cause of chronic illness.
In conclusion, I’ve realized now that there is no room in this community for me, and it has a lot of work to do until I can come back to it. So, I’m leaving with no grudges or expectations. I’m doing this for my own well-being, and while it may not seem like it in this note, I do love and respect the majority of you. It’s my hope that you process this with an open mind and an open heart. To hear the desperation in my voice.

Important notes: Please don’t think that I’m calling for Oppression Olympics. In no way am I intending to suggest that my oppression is worse than others. I’m also not seeking to invalidate or diminish the work that you do for disability justice, but it simply isn’t enough. I DO NOT want to stop maintaining individual friendships. I’m risking a lot of alienation/backlash here. Please think about this. And please, id you choose to respond, please don’t say something like, “I’m sorry that this is the way you feel[, but…]. It’s not about feeling; it’s about recognizing the reality of the situation. Also, I’m up for talking about strategy , but please be mindful that I will not entertain any discussion about what doesn’t constitute ableism.

"I am looking for lovers and teachers to hold all my complexities and contradictions gently, honestly, appreciatively. Looking for heroes and role models to accompany me through the world. Looking for friends and allies to counter the gawking, gaping, staring...I am looking for friends and allies, for communities where the gawking, gaping, staring finally turns to something else, something true to the bone. Places where strength gets to be softened and tempered, love honed and stretched. Where gender is known as more than a simple binary. Where we encourage each other to swish and swagger, limp and roll, and learn the language of pride. Places where our bodies begin to become home."--Eli Clare, "Gaping, Gawking, Staring"

"Damn right, you better look. Look long and hard. Watch my crooked hobble, twitching body, my whithered legs. Listen to my hand sign a language you don't even know. Notice my milky white eyes as I no longer hide behind sunglasses. Look at me straight on, because for all your years of gawking, you've still not seen me."-Eli Claire

“If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you recognize that your liberation and mine are bound up together, we can [work] together.” – Lila Watson

PLEASE watch/read these:

So, You Wanna Be An Ally, Huh? - That's What Ze Said

In Solidarity, Rage, and Love.