this and that

27 03 2009

Sometimes I wonder if the familiarity with which I approach the bloggers I read is weird.

When someone whose writing I appreciate talks about any sort of challenges, and it occurs to me that someone I know might have insight, knowledge, or help – my inclination is to say “Hey! Let me put you two in touch! Make something happen! I’ll put in a phone call.” I suppose it’s sort of like networking, but I’m not really well-connected enough to get people jobs or anything like that. But you need ladybugs? Well, my grandmother is an avid gardner, and lives relatively nearby – I’m sure she’d be happy to let you come by and catch a few!

But then I try to pitch that to anyone, and I can’t even say “my friend” because I’m not necessarily talking about anyone I have ANY sort of relationship with. Not even someone with whom I conversate regularly online, even in blog comments. Just someone I read, sort of lurker-like.

I just think we should be helping each other out, especially when it’s so easy, and I like facilitating that. ::shrug::

Also, my life’s gonna get kinda crazy starting like, tomorrow. WAM (the Women, Action, and Media conference) is this weekend, and so is my kinda intense interview (maybe multiple) for a really awesome fellowship program I’m applying for. And I have lots of homework to do. And a house to clean because a good friend (also applying for said fellowship) will be crashing with me for the weekend. And I need to, ya know, keep working because rent is due next week.

Busy busy busy.

Probably little blogging. I’ll be tweeting from WAM, though, you’re free to follow!



24 03 2009

This is important.

It is the end of March, which means some things are looming.

Passover is in about two weeks. Do you have your matzah ready? Looking for a radical social justice haggadah? Go here. (It’s choose your own adventure-style. Be aware, it is not a Zionist haggadah, and if you’re bringing together a group of people with mixed politics on Israel, it’s worthwhile to plan ahead and choose readings wisely.)

Shortly thereafter is Easter. Which means right around the corner will be more cheap chocolate than you can ever consume. Don’t forget to brush your teeth.

Then comes April 15. Don’t forget to do your taxes. (Reminder to self.)

But what I’m really concerned about here is June. June is sneaking up on us, with its sunshine (or gloom, if you’re in SoCal) and warmer days and all sorts of loveliness. You know what else is in June, though? The California AIDS LifeCycle.

This multi-day, many-hundreds-of-miles ride raises an incredible amount of money and support for organizations doing important work in San Francisco and Los Angeles to advance the search for a cure for HIV/AIDS, and to support people living with HIV and AIDS.

This matters. I don’t even know how to begin to try to convince people of that, it’s so incredibly obvious to me. These are peoples lives on the line. Young black women form the demographic group with the fastest increasing rate of HIV infection. It is, sadly but not surprisingly, the same kinds of people and bodies that are routinely neglected by society and especially our healthcare system that are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS. It is women’s bodies, and queer bodies, and black and brown bodies, that bear the brunt of this epidemic. These peoples lives matter, and there are thousands of people who will hop on bikes, or into the cars and trucks that transport the support staff, to form a community working to save those lives, to make them better, more stable, more full, more vibrant.

I’m not riding, and I’m not on the support staff this year (although I’m thinking about doing it sometime in the future). However, one of my nearest and dearest friends has been doing the ride for 3 of the last 4 years, this will be her 4th. Her name is Dusty Klass and she is, by every measure I’ve found that matters, a really incredible individual. And she spends a huge chunk of her life training and preparing for this ride. She blogs about her movement here, so you can even see how much time she spends training. You can see what she’s doing to make a difference in the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS.

What are you doing?

You can support her, even $5 would make a difference, and both she and I would be super grateful. I’ve already donated (although I kept forgetting, and her reminder today was the kick-in-the-pants I needed to actually grab my debit card and do it), so I know exactly how little time it takes. I know that things are tough right now for a lot of people, but really… five dollars? More, if you can afford it. Please.

You can do it from her LifeCycle Bio page, and it only takes a minute.

If you’re lucky, you might even get more artsy sepia shots of her bike shadow.


Image description: Photograph of the shadow of a bicycle and rider against the pavement of a street.

pulling together

24 03 2009

There are some things I’m trying to pull together that might just remain entirely disconnected, but this is how I’m present right now, so it’s just going to be this way.


I was in a bit of pain, tonight. I think I have a tendency to downplay or minimize my own pain or suffering, for a whole host of reasons, some that I’m okay with and some that I’m not – recognizing that with health insurance, my family’s financial stability, my grasp of english, my access to a car, my race, etc. whatever the problem, it’s going to be easier for me to address than it would be for someone without those privileges (I’m okay with those things as a reason for minimizing my own pain, a healthy does of humility & perspective, that perhaps works to offset an oppressive, internalized, inflated sense of my value in relation to others); recognizing that, as a woman, I’ve internalized all sorts of really problematic lessons about pain and suffering, and about being a caretaker and prioritizing my own needs (I’m not okay with those things as a reason for minimizing my own pain) – but tonight I was hurting. I still am, really. My job makes me sore. I don’t know what it’s about, because I basically just carry a clipboard around for 5 hours, but some combination of the cold and the walking and the clipboard always on my left arm – makes me really sore.

I’m not sure I have deep conclusions about this, but I’m trying to sit with the pain.

And I’m thinking about the other kinds of pain people are forced to sit with, on account of their jobs. Of the personal bodily risks people take to sustain themselves, their families, and their lives. And, again, of how minimal my sore shoulder is compared to all of that. I’m thinking about how our capitalist system organizes people by our means of employment, and about what it means that the bodies that are placed at the greatest risk of harm are so often the bodies of people of color, of women, of the poor.


I might have the opportunity to work on a building crew this summer. I’d be working for a friend, for his  natural building company – at which he prioritizes giving queer and trans folks, and cis women greater access to the trades – and every time I think about this opportunity I get more and more excited. It might not happen, for a whole host of reasons, but I’m simultaneously optimistic & trying not to be too invested. Mixed in with that are ideas about the kinds of productivity that I value, and that I perceive others to value; also about working in the trades, and with wood – the degree to which this is and isn’t something that feels like “my” space.

Physical labor, particularly as a means of supporting oneself, was not part of the upper-middle class world I came of age in. My friends’ parents, and my own, all had advanced degrees and were “profesionals” in that way that usually connotes an office, desk, and maybe even a secretary or administrative assistant, although some were doctors and nurses and I never pictured them having desks like those that were accountants and lawyers. My dad’s office used to have a popcorn machine, which was the only thing that seemed relevant about his job for most of my childhood.

And yet, despite all of that, I strongly associate carpentry and woodworking – and the attendent skills & self-reliance – with my father. A good chunk of our garage is taken up by his tools and workbench. I love the smell of sawdust, and I always thought it was SO cool that he built the house my grandmother now lives in.

I received my first hammer at a pretty young age. It was one of those little ones with a handle that screwed off to reveal a screwdriver, with a handle that screwed off to reveal an additional (smaller) screwdriver, and so on and so forth, until you got to the really small cute one in the end of the handle. That one was my favorite. Nowadays most of the hammers I see like that tend to have flowery designs printed on them. I suppose that makes them more girly? On the one hand, that’s annoying, that tools need to be pink to be appropriate for girls, but on the other hand, if one girl picks up that flowery hammer and finds use and power in weilding it that she wouldn’t have otherwise- awesome.

Floating around my parents’ house somewhere, there’s a picture of me ‘helping’ my dad build the cabinets in our kitchen. I can’t be more than 2, and I’m literally sitting in the cabinet, holding up a tool of some sort (maybe even that little hammer), so proud and excited to be helping my dad build.

One year, for Christmas (that year it was definitely a Christmas present, not Hanukkah), he made me a really beautiful bed. It’s still my bed when I go home, and I love it. The stain is a beautiful deep shade, and there are built-in drawers underneath, painted dark green, with cream colored ceramic knobs. I remember so vividly the weeks that I wasn’t allowed to go into the garage when he was in there, and when I’d finally sneak in (while he was at work, or in the shower, or otherwise preoccupied) I would mostly just stare with wonder and excitement at the nondescript tarp-covered bulk in the middle of the garage. Once I peeked under a corner, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull the tarp back far enough to see more than a deep, warm, red edge. Christmas eve, I slept in the guest room, and I spent the night wide awake, listening to my dad and my uncle carry the massive bed upstairs, and then listening to my dad finish building it IN my room.

It is the most vivid Christmas memory I have from my childhood. I’m pretty sure that says something about what my subconscious values.

All of these things are swirling together as I think about this summer. Mostly I’m excited, and it feels like a really ideal way to spend the summer. I get this huge grin on my face when I imagine working outside, really feeling my muscles strain and grow; inhaling fresh, crisp New England summer; harnessing power tools beneath my fingers; creating sustainable, responsible, natural environments; how my hands can help give form to structures, and shapes, and milled pieces of lumber – and also how that lumber will shape and toughen my hands.

Hands. Soft, smooth, silky hands seem to be so strongly associated with class, and so I also feel the weight of my ability to choose to toughen my hands; to welcome callouses and roughness.


My mom is really awesome. Today, she sent me an email with a couple of grant and/or funding opportunities highlighted. She does this occassionaly, she’s connected to development, funding, grant-writing/-giving circles, and so sometimes she passes on interesting calls for proposals. But this time, it wasn’t even for me. It was for my friend, the one I might be working for, who she’s never met. It just struck me as incredibly thoughtful, and I feel really lucky to have had a woman like that in my life for, well, all of it.


I’ve been reading and digesting people’s thoughts on radical love, community building, organizing, sustainability, and accountability.

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday about someone she is growing close to. She worries about introducing him to some of her friends, to the people she loves and cherishes, because he hasn’t necessarily had exposure or access to the language & frames of analysis many of us employ with one another. And then I read these words today, by Nadia, at Now Snow Here:

feeling alienated in these conversations because of the emphasis on words and specific word choices – that is a conversation for writers, academics, people who spend time with pretentious adults. don’t want it imposed on me right now, it bothers me how judgemental people are when others don’t know or have the language for the *right* way to say things. hard to engage when its so easy to be misunderstood, not feeling like we give or get the space to make mistakes but maybe i’m wrong and just overwhelmed with the intense dialoging.

And between that conversation, and this paragraph, and all of the dialogue happening on Jess’ post at BFP’s (the “people’s thoughts” hyper link, above), I’ve been thinking about the tension this all brings up. About creating spaces to honor and affirm everyone, especially because of what Nadia is describing, but also even for people you don’t necessarily like or agree with, because it is important to honor and affirm their humanity. And I’m also holding on to accountability. I think it’s important to allow for vulnerability and not-knowing; to allow for that instability and uncertainity – I think within moments of uncertainty there’s great possibility for growth. But what do you do when affirming one person’s not-knowing and growth means allowing the negation of another? How do you balance competing, and conflicting, needs or truths? How do we both allow space for potentially screwing up, and simultaneously hold one another accountable?


There’s so much more I want to say on this, but it’s late and I really need to sleep. Hopefully I won’t be as sore tomorrow.

growth and springtime

16 03 2009

I should be running out the door, and don’t really have time to blog.

But… I’ve just been reading awful horrific things – most recently, this, at The Curvature (Serious Trigger Warning applies).

So I wanted to share happier thoughts.

My sweetie and I decided to start a balcony garden, and made quite a day of collecting gardening supplies yesterday. We have a little raspberry seedling started, and I can’t wait to watch the rest of our tasty and beautiful seeds grow. I’ve never been much of a gardener, but all sorts of people are talking about how exciting gardening is, and all of the revolutionary and radical (especially BFP at flipfloppingjoy) possibilities – and so I’m giving it a shot.

I have to find worms.

I can feel spring coming in my little corner of JP, and it has my whole heart a flutter.

the price we pay; tight balls of anger and sadness; tiny broken pieces

14 03 2009

Some days, my heart feels like it is being torn into many tiny broken pieces.

Every week, it seems like more people I love and care about are making aliyah. Many of them are joining the IDF.

In those same weeks, other people I love and care about are mourning, or filled with concern, for their loved ones and friends injured and killed by teenage boys and girls wearing tzahal uniforms.

Because even when those friends making aliyah are liberal and thoughtful, even when their words aren’t filled with racist bile and their hearts are just full of love, even when they do not wish harm on others – they may still be standing on the other side of the uzis, and the tear gas canisters, and the tanks.

And even from thousands of miles away, I feel caught between, and my heart is breaking.

I can’t even quite put words to why I am so uncomfortable with this statement:

“I don’t support everything the Israeli government does, but I feel like I need to join Tzahal, I need to make aliyah now, when I’m young enough to join, so that I’ll be a real Israeli. I want to have an authentic experience in Israel, so I need to be in the army.”

It’s not just that I’m uncomfortable with that level of militarization in society (although I am). And it’s not just that nationalism like that makes me squirm (which it does). It’s really the tight ball of sadness and anger in the pit of my stomach that there are people I love who will hold and shoot guns at innocent people (because unless you think all Palestinians and their allies are inherently evil, you must concede that some, if not most, are innocent of anything but doing their best to survive perpetual devastation), who will – either by their own hand, or by aiding another – facillitate death, and injury, and destruction – for the sake of a greater sense of belonging, for the sake of *authenticity* or acceptance, or so that their words will carry greater weight.

How is another’s destruction NOT too great a price to pay?

Jim Collins Foundation

2 03 2009

Just wanted to throw out a quick plug for this organization, because I’ve been meaning to for a while.

The Jim Collins Foundation was founded (rather recently) by a friend/acquaintance of mine, Dru Levasseur, and another probably equally awesome individual who I don’t know personally, Tony Ferraiolo.

The Foundation’s goal is

to provide financial assistance to transgender people for gender-confirming surgeries… [A]ccess to gender-confirming surgery is impossible for most. Discrimination against transgender people is so prevalent that many transgender people struggle to survive, never mind save for surgery costs. Even for those who have health insurance, coverage is systematically denied. Many insurance policies contain a “Transsexual Exclusion Clause” which excludes all medical procedures related to a person’s transgender status. For many transgender people, access to surgery is out of reach.

The Jim Collins Foundation will work to give access to gender-confirming surgeries to those people in the transgender community who need it most.

(from the website linked above)

This is a pretty young organization, and one that is serving a vitally important need. Not all trans people require or desire gender-confirming surgeries, but for those who do, the procedures are often unreachable on account of systemic descrimination and marginalization both within the medical world and within the rest of the world. Surgeries are expensive, and for individuals against whom employment discrimination is legal in most states, and within a healthcare system that heavily depends on employment-based healthcare, well – the money for those surgeries can be hard to come by. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to trans healthcare issues and hurdles.

For more trans-related reading, check out some of the bloggers linked in my blogroll, especially TransGriot, Questioning Transphobia, and Taking Steps.

Just wanted to give folks a heads up that the Foundation is out there, and to keep them in mind – both as a resource for yourself or others, or as a place to give some money that you don’t need this week, month, or year.

Other relevant links/resources/organizations: The Sylvia-Rivera Law Project (SRLP) and the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF)

On Foucault and Sex Work

2 03 2009

I just had a “whoa” moment. Or maybe a “duh” moment, I dunno. Either way, there was revelation.

Understanding the world and the self through a Queer, Foucaultian lens makes the condemnation of sex work really damn difficult, if not downright impossible.

The two bits of knowledge and thought that just connected for me:

1. Sexuality, by Foucault’s definitions and paradigms, is not personal. It is not, actually, something that we “own” or can lay claim to. It’s not just a personal, individual thing. My sexuality, and anybody else’s, can only exist in the context of our presence in a society that has defined sexuality in vary particular ways. I am not “bisexual” because I was born that way, per se*. My bisexuality is a construct that society defined – particular behaviors are assigned a particular signifier, and it is a signifier that is specific to our social contexts. (I don’t want to go into extensive detail about this point, but there’s a lot of really interesting writing that exists on, for example, male homosexuality in Latin-America or in the Muslim world, and how those religio-socio-geographic contexts alter definitions of and understandings of sexuality.) Homosexuality or bisexuality or heterosexuality don’t take the same forms around the world or in different times, and don’t mean the same things. (And it’s not just a matter of mistranslation, although language is also a big part of forming conceptions and constructions of sexuality.)

Thus, sexuality is neither individual nor personal. It is socially constructed and contextualized.

That’s thing #1.

2. This blog: Flooring and Whoring. This post, specifically, was when my “whoah/duh” moment occurred.

I’ve never been really vocal about my feelings with regard to the anti-sex work/pro-sex work feminist debates. I definitely feel more aligned with the sex-positivity end of the feminist spectrum, and I am profoundly uncomfortable with the way that a lot of “radfem” feminists berate and criticize sex with men, sex work, femininity, and other things in those realms as “anti-feminist.”

However, an anti-sex work stance assumes that a woman’s well-being (or the well-being of all women) is negatively impacted by selling sex. This, as I understand it, presumes an inherent connection between “self” and “sexuality,” as though sexuality is individual and inextricably a part of one’s self-worth.

I’m not trying to argue that they are entirely disconnected (one’s sexuality and one’s selfness), saying that sexuality is a social-constructions doesn’t mean that it is “fake” or “irrelevant;” social constructions have very real implications and impacts on people’s lives. However, recognizing that something isn’t “natural” or “inborn” allows us to also deconstruct it. And if sexuality, in the way we think about and define it, isn’t inborn or inherent, a person can, theoretically, have a whole and undamaged sense of self even if their sexuality has been commodified.


So how do you reject sex-work, flat out, if not on the basis of it being inherently damaging to women? How do you reject and deny these women their agency, make claims about false consciousness or having been co-opted? Maybe for some women, their sense of self, sexuality, and the sex that they have aren’t all tied up together in the ways they are for someone else. And maybe that’s okay. And a part of all of us navigating this web of power, resistance, and oppression.

This, of course, isn’t to ignore or deny that there are women who are coerced or forced into prostitution or other roles within the sex industiry. And that’s beyond deplorable. And I don’t even feel good about calling what they are doing sex, because when it’s forced it’s rape. And there are economic circumstances in which women *choose* to do sex-work because it is their best option, and that’s not the same as those who make the choice unfettered by financial concerns and obligations. All of these things are true, and awful. I do not, in any sense, condone them.

But these are different issues. They happen in some of the same realms, but coerced “sex,” for money or not, is rape. Rape is not sex. Sex is something that people choose to do consensually, sometimes for money, sometimes in exchange for other things, sometimes in all sorts of arrays of negotiated power and control, but always because they want to. That which is not consensual is not sex. And the various kinds of sex that people have may or may not be fundamentally tied to their sense of self and self-worth, and it is not upon any of us to dictate to others in what ways their sense of self-worth and value is being compromised.

*I don’t actually identify as bisexual. I identify as queer. But talking about how society constructs queer sexualities is a much longer, more involved, and probably not singular, post. That’s part of why I identify with it. But, for the case of this example, we’ll go with “bisexual.”