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.