doing justice

29 07 2009

I kick it with shit-talkers pop-lockers non-stopping hip-hoppers/kings, queens, seasoned fucking witch doctors medicine men/… trendiest trend setters and tenement-den dwellers/Tienemen square fellows/revolutionaries brilliant/resilient with hella truth to carry/I kick it with gay guys and women so queer they leave a homophobic rapper crippled with fear/My mother showed me hatin’ was fruitless/stupid and my God-brothers are Jamaican and Jewish/I never write you off for being white – not what my life’s about/but if white supremacy’s personified, I’ll gouge its eyes out

Senbei, Chameleon

A friend is, right as I type, participating as a facilitator in an experiential history project for queer youth. For a week, queer youth are guided around the city (a US city with lots of queer history that will remain nameless) and facilitated through workshops and programs that, it seems, are designed to give them greater appreciation of the kinds of queer genealogies and histories we can draw. I think. Or something like that.

It almost doesn’t matter exactly what they’re doing, except to know that it’s politically progressive/radical(maybe?), and involves queer and trans youth.

And, apparently, it also involves lots of workshops on oppression, and the trauma of oppression. And lots of intention, on the part of some of the facilitators, to make sure that the white gay cis boy doesn’t take up too much space. Or as they’d probably describe it, trying to make sure folks with identities that have been marginalized throughout history (remember this is a history program) are given space/platforms/support/etc. Which, you know, is important. Don’t get me wrong, I think this really matters. Platforms and space and centering oft-silenced voices.

I think what’s more important, though, is actually listening to people’s voices, rather than thinking you understand them because you’ve read about/heard other voices coming from people with bodies like theirs. And it sounds like that piece might be missing here, as it is far too frequently. When the white gay boy, this youth (so let’s be real, he’s probably not older than 17-18) has all eyes on him at all times, because he’s white and gay and a cis boy – and yet people don’t seem to notice that he is consistently stepping up to support the whole community in ‘unremarkable’ and unnoticed ways. Like ensuring that the dishes all get done, & one person isn’t left to do them. And calling out words of encouragement and support to his peers any time they seem to hit a rough patch. And participating in/encouraging spontaneous fashion shows in their downtime. Aren’t those acts of kindness as much who he is as his intersecting (and largely privileged) identities?

I’m not trying to needlessly attack other people I don’t know, participating in a program I’m not a part of, doing what sounds like mostly really exciting and valuable work. And I’m not trying to completely deride anti-oppression work, because I think it’s important. Necessary but insufficient.

It’s just that, in hearing about & talking about this program, and some of the dynamics coming up, I was reminded how damn common those kinds of stories are. How frequently those of us who try to incorporate an understanding of historical & contemporary institutionalized oppression & marginalization into our work end up doing so at the expense of the people involved. Because it’s not just about the white gay (seemingly economically advantaged) cis boy. It’s actually not even mostly about him, although I think he matters, too. It’s also about the poor trans woman of color – and what it means to distill who she is down to those identity labels, as though they could ever encompass and describe and communicate to anyone else the central tenets of her personhood. The labels we place on people, or those they/we take on themselves/ourselves, will never quite do us justice. When I tell you I am a radical queer fetch Jewish feminist environmentalist – you might be able to start to sketch a rough outline of some things that might matter to me, but you know nothing about how I love the people I gather to my heart. It tells you so little of what brings me joy, the moments for which I get up each morning, and even less of how the challenges I’ve faced have shaped me, what struggles I’ve overcome and what I’m afraid of.

Those boxes we can tick are not enough. Which is not to say that they don’t matter. Because I think they do matter. And I think there is great utility and importance in building community around points of intersection – but when those labels, boxes, and identities take precedence over each individual’s humanity – aren’t we, really, replicating a pattern of dehumanization? Aren’t we, once again, saying that the color of your skin/ the genitals of your lover/ your gender identity/your class background/your [dif]ability  is more important than understanding who you are as a person?

Typing this, I’m afraid that it’s going to read like “anti-oppression work is BS and we just need to hold hands, sing kumbaya, and love each other” which is really not at all what I’m going for. I’m not talking about a lack of accountability, or pretending that we should all just be friends and that it would be enough to right the wrongs in the world. What I want is to remember the humanness within each person we interact with; that they will always be more than their boxes and their elbows will always poke through the sides. And sometimes that humanness will manifest itself in beautiful moments of compassion and community, and people will surprise you. And also that humanness will be flawed, and people will make mistakes and be thoughtless and crass and they will have trouble learning and they might hurt you, and often those gaffes will be compounded by and entrenched with years of built up institutional inequity and privilege. And that privilege and inequity will probably make thoughtless mistakes more painful for those on the receiving end, and easier to ignore for those committing them. And we need to encourage learning and growth and accountability in those moments. But those are human errors, always. Not just straight errors or misogynist errors or white errors. Which, again, is not to say it is immaterial how heterosexuality and whiteness and cisgendered-ness and masculinity and ability and wealth play into the whole thing, or that they should be obscured, apologized for, or ignored (I’m all about identifying isms for what they are) but that those qualities of a person will never be the be-all-end-all of them.

When we let those labels become all encompassing, when we allow them to take priority over personhood, even if we are doing so in an attempt to counteract past wrongs – aren’t we going to make it impossible for us to see the person in our midst?

I guess I’m just thinking about so many of my friends, the people I love, and what would happen if you were to say to me, “describe _______ to me,” and I answered with “well, they are a queer person of color with relative economic privilege” – it wouldn’t tell you jack shit about what I love and value and treasure about them. It wouldn’t really do them justice, at all. And I mean, isn’t that the whole point? Justice?

PS The rap quoted at the top of the post? Follow the link beneath it and download the album. It’s phenomenal, and free.



16 07 2009

I downloaded the wordpress app for my iPhone. And while I can’t imagine writing an entire post like this, it does seem like a pretty good way to share with you the pictures I took today of butterlfies and larger animals at the Franklin Park Zoo.

I’m not sure yet exactly how the photos will show up, or how best to describe and tag them so they can be easily read by a screen reader, so I’ll just describe them here. There are three of butterflies, 2 of which are sitting on my hand. One butterfly is light yellow, one is a deep orange, and the third is a vibrant blue. There is also a photo of an adult giraffe eating in its enclosure, with a juvenile standing, looking very gangly, just behind it. I also snapped a shot of a Pygmy hippopotamus drinking water. Lastly is a photo of a snail on a beach. In Ptown. Last summer. Just for good measure.

vampire stakes and chunks of aggregate

6 07 2009

It’s 2:30am, so this probably won’t be a particularly insightful post, but I figure I’ll toss together a few things to get back into some sort of swing of writing after my month of living mostly off-the-grid.

EDIT: I actually finished after sunrise the morning I started it, so it’s more like 12:30pm now that it’s being published. Which basically just means I have fewer excuses if it is unintelligible. 

But first, a note:
One of the top searches that leads to this blog is “tight balls.” Um… yeah. I think that’s probably because of some post talking about tight balls and knots in my stomach? Mayhaps? I don’t even know. Weird.


Some of you, dear readers (all 3 of you… hi Mom!), might be wondering what exactly I’ve been getting myself up to for the last handful of weeks I’ve been absent. Well, there’s been a lot of driving, very little of it in my car (which is having its second heart transplant in 5 years, but is expected to pull through), and quite a few states have been involved. There have been two very queer Pride celebrations, a smattering of birthdays, a lot of swimming in lakes and ponds and reservoirs and former quarries surrounded by green mountains, one dead snake, two orange cats of profoundly different sizes, many nights on my now-trusty air mattress, excessive amounts of straw in uncomfortable places, very dirty clothing, quite a few ladders, a singular squirt of deet-free (B”H) bug spray into my eyes, numerous bruises, and multiple dance-filled evenings. Life has been full and vibrant and exhausting and beautiful and engaging and challenging and fun. 

The shorter answer, though, sans weekend adventures, is that I’ve been building. Natural building, technically, and specifically, I was installing straw bale walls in a timber frame house in Hartford, NY, applying a rough coat of earthen plaster to a house in central Vermont, and mostly doing prep work for the finish lime plaster coat on a house in Deering, NH. I did get to do a bit of finish plastering though (just filling in and smoothing out cracks in already plastered panels), and damn, that’s fun and satisfying. 

I’m sort of blown away, and at the same time not at all surprised, by how much I’ve been enjoying building this past month. The days are long, regularly 10+ hours, and the work is more physically demanding than anything else I’ve done, but it is also satisfying and rewarding and challenging in very new and exciting ways. I’m on a hiatus from building for the next month or so, with perhaps a few days excepted, but hopefully will be back at it in August. Tragically, the finish plaster coat on the house in VT we just rough plastered is happening in September, and I’ll be busy getting my community organizer on, so I can’t be there. 

Building is great on its own, but it’s additionally really phenomenal to be working with and for the people I do – people who center the health and well-being of all involved, who understand natural building to be a comprehensive, holistic approach to building with a prioritization of social justice, ecological systems, community building, and the creation of safe, enriching, beautiful spaces. Very simply, that feels good, and I like it. 

My boss/friend also teaches natural building, specifically natural wall systems, and has been talking about building a curriculum that explores the histories and genealogies we can trace for natural building. An alternative to the narrative that is mostly filled with straight white homesteader couples “finding inspiration” from indigenous practices. I’m excited to explore and learn with him, to follow and draw those trajectories. I think that outlining our histories, tracing the lines that connect us physically, emotionally, and intellectually are incredibly important, and I feel full of anticipation.

There’s a lot more that I’m holding on to, have been thinking about and tossing around. I’m not sure I’m ready to put them all in one place, to consolidate scattered ideas into some semblance of coherence, so I’m going to leave things off here. But now I’m back in Boston for at least the next few weeks, with reliable internet access, and hopefully more time for blogging.

I’ll leave you with some pictures. 


Me, flat on my stomach, sandwiched between two bale courses in a wall, in the process of squeezing bales into a tight spot between the roof pitch and wall framing. Taken by boss/friend extraordinaire.

Me, flat on my stomach, sandwiched between two bale courses in a wall, in the process of squeezing bales into a tight spot between the roof pitch and wall framing. One of our crew, natural builder and solar power mistress, adjusts the bale positioning from a ladder. Taken by boss/friend extraordinaire.



A very sharp bale wall corner on the house in NY. Photo credit to AC.

A very sharp bale wall corner on the house in NY. Photo credit to AC.


Me applying a rough coat of plaster to a wall section of a strawbale house

Me applying a rough coat of plaster to a wall section of a strawbale house. Taken by boss/friend extraordinaire.


The sand pit, a former quarry-cum-swimming hole in East Montpelier. Photo was taken at dusk, and shows surrounding green hills and clouds reflected in still water surface.

The sand pit, a former quarry-cum-swimming hole in East Montpelier. Photo was taken at dusk, and shows surrounding green hills and clouds reflected in still water surface.

Fellows and growing and building and justice

13 05 2009

Life has been taking over, and leaving me little-to-no time for blogging and writing. I literally have five or six posts that I’ve started in the last month and a half and never finished. I’m going to finish this one, dammit.

A couple things, mostly personal. There are other important not-about-me things to write about too. I care about them. They are mostly contained in those aforementioned drafts. I am going to try to get some quick hits up soon, at least.

Like something about the Allied Media Conference. And how you should support people doing really important radical media justice work. And throw a little bit of money their way, to help mamis of color get to Detroit. I can’t be there, but those links above are to people whose work and writing I love reading, and on whom I have serious activist crushes, so you should probably go or help more people go, because it should be awesome.

And there are other things, too, of course.


me with a look of deep concentration, routing the edge of a piece of rough-cut lumber

me with a look of deep concentration, routing the edge of a piece of rough-cut lumber

I like building things. And, huzzah, I get to build things this summer!

I’m going to spend 2-3 weeks of June working in upstate New York, doing natural building. We’re going to be in a little town called Hartford (I think), it’s about 60 miles north of Albany, just over the Vermont border. The job is a strawbale installation, which, explained very loosely, means using strawbales to build a house, and no it’s not going to blow down. Google it to learn more, it’s really interesting. I actually don’t know if the job is a house, or some other sort of structure, or a wall, or part of a building, or something else. But it’s a pretty awesome building technique, I’m super excited to learn more about it, and it also is a really great use of a resource that would otherwise be used for Halloween decorations and pumpkin patches.

Plus I’m working with someone for whom I have just overflowing respect and admiration, and a perpetual friend-crush.*


I got a job! And a fellowship! Well technically, they go together and were contingent on each other. I don’t want to talk too specifically, because this blog isn’t totally anonymous, but I’m going to be participating in a community organizing fellowship program, and working with a local organization that is, quite literally, down the block. (Assuming our landlord doesn’t raise the rent so much that we have to move in October.) I can bike and walk to work in less time than it takes me to drive or take public transit work now. Plus, it should be a great and challenging and rewarding experience.

It will also mean being part of a Jewish community that is really committed to incorporating an anti-oppressive political analysis and critique into social justice and community-based work, and I am SO amped to build that kind of a community. My Judaism and my radical politics go hand in hand, but they are often forced apart, so it feels really good to see them coming together outside of just me and a handful of friends.


Our garden is growing! We got off to a rocky start, but my partner’s parents were visiting, and her mom helped us replant some things, and now we have seedlings!

close-up of a nasturtium leaf in a metal pot.

close-up of a nasturtium leaf in a metal pot.

the first leaves of our one-day-to-be-a-bush raspberry plant

the first leaves of our one-day-to-be-a-bush raspberry plant

assorted pots with growing plants

assorted pots with growing plants

We have assorted vegetables and other edibles growing in our little pots, and most of the plants in the peat pots are ready for transplanting into larger containers. Hurrah!


And finally, on something not so self-centered…

The Angie Zapata murder trial feels like old news, in the rush of blogging, but I think it’s still important to be talking about. My feelings were really complicated and conflicted, and really they still are. The first US hate crimes trial for the murder of a trans woman resulted in the highest possible guilty charges and sentencing. Ray Allen Andrade won’t receive the death penalty, which I’m also glad about, but I have no sympathy for him and I think he is the lowest of the low despicable people in the world.

And yet… there’s this. Which is just so right on. And my stomach tightens because even as I feel relief hearing the verdict, I know two things:

1. This verdict won’t bring her back. If it brings any measure of comfort to her family, friends, and loved ones – that is something – but it won’t bring her back. I’m also not convinced it will do much to reduce the threat trans people, especially trans women of color, live with every day.

2. The prison industrial complex is NOT the answer. Another man of color locked up, even one who did a terrible awful cannot be excused disgusting heartbreaking thing, is not how I envision justice. Does that mean I think Andrade should get off scot free? Absolutely not. But I don’t think the current criminal justice system is the answer to bigotry, hatred, and violence. I think the prison industrial complex is further dehumanizing and degrading, and breeds just those evils.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I know it’s complicated and I feel conflicted. Because I think that every message that says that trans people’s lives are valued is important, and mattes. And I think that every time another man of color is thrown in jail, it matters, and serves to perpetuate individual and institutional racism.

Nezua has a post including links to other people who have been writing about the trial and verdict. Go there.


There’s more. Always more. But I’m wrapping up for now. Good night.

*I’ve found that the term “friend-crush” is not always clearly understood. It means the feeling you have when you are very excited about building a friendship with someone, and it sort of feels like you have a crush on them, only it’s platonic. So it’s a friend-crush. I might have one on you.

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.


25 02 2009

Also, totally unrelated to anything I wrote about in that last post…

I FINALLY got a long-overdue haircut, and I’m super excited about it. It’s really short and sassy, I can totally style it into a faux-hawk so I fit in with all the hipster queers in my little corner of the queer-iverse, and I think it brings out my eyes, which are my favorite feature.

okay. </self-absorbed superficial narcissism>