Saturday, April 21, 2018

Weekly Not-Just-for-Patrons Activist Resources on the SF Patreon

Image Description: Watercolor of a pink-iced cake with blue roses and writing: "You can do something about it!" (Still a little mad at Tina Fey.)

Hi friend-o-ramas! I decided to do weekly free posts on my Patreon page with activist resources. I'm planning to do mini book reviews, pop culture recommendations, and of course activist activities you can join. This week, it's how to talk to Trump supporters if you're more chill than me and therefore capable of such a task!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Woke Misogyny Is Hard to Write About

Trigger Warning: Sexual assault, online violence

***PLEASE NOTE: I’m writing as a white cisgendered women, and every oppression that happens to me happens so much more often to women of color, trans people, disabled people, etc. My point of view is extraordinarily privileged in so many ways. As I write about the ways in which misogyny and rape-victim-blaming can intersect with the callout culture approach to social justice work, it’s likely it will seem like I’m forgetting that privilege. I am not. I’m interested here in what the identity of rape survivor really feels like in a body, and how misogyny and victim-blaming still exists even in the most well-intentioned circles. A disclaimer can’t assure that I won’t get it wrong, but this is the space where I get to get it wrong so I can learn. ***

A few weeks ago, I read the wonderful, wonderful, WONDERFUL book The Body Is Not an Apology ( by Sonya Renee Taylor. The book came into my life at a time when I was feeling stuck, and it felt like a lifeboat. The theme of the book, to wildly over-simplify, is that radical self-love is a starting point for making the world a less-terrorized place for bodies. Not just an I-love-my-curves kind of love, well that too but also a deeper love that celebrates even the difficult, ESPECIALLY the difficult, parts of the process each of us is going through. The book gave me space to truly love myself, even to forgive myself, and I felt ready to grow and serve the world better.

I LOVED The Body Is Not an Apology, I still do. I evangelized it all over town, I couldn’t help myself. My neighborhood even has a body-positive book club, and I joined even though I am super wary of groups. The problem is, Sonya Renee Taylor is a friend of some former friends of mine, and the IRL side of the life-saving book knocked me off of my radical-self-love square almost as soon as I got on there. The world, like depression-brain, will always find a way to remind me to live in self-criticism, to remind me that nothing I ever do will be good enough. The depression-brain part is on me, but I didn’t get this way in a vacuum.

While I was going on a kickass self-love adventure with TBINAA, the book club’s Facilitator was having a spoken word journey. This is where things went awry. A few days before the group was meeting for the second time, Facilitator posted a video of a poem to her facebook group. Not Sonya, that would have been lovely, but Mean “Body Positive” White Lady. M “BP” WL was a sort-of-friend of mine until she wrote a blustery post attacking Hillary voters (There may come a day when I’m over the 2016 primary, but this is not that day.) and, when I pushed back, called me a “vagina voter.” How can you call yourself body positive if my anatomy rules out my enfranchisement? Anyway, the usual things happened after that, some people pressed like, some people collected cultural capital by piling on and saying GOD KNOWS WHAT, I blocked the thread and moved on. Mean “Body Positive” White Lady, through very little fault of her own, became a figure of fear in the trauma-soup that is my once-beloved National Poetry Slam community.

For almost a decade, the thing that has made it hardest for me to hear and be heard in online interactions with the NPS community is the pile-on. In fairness, in about 2010 when I secondhand-witnessed my first NPS pile-on, social networking was fairly new. Troll farms, 4chan, revenge porn, etc, weren’t part of the public lexicon, and there wasn’t as deep an understanding of the violence that the online world can perpetrate on women, particularly queer women and women of color. Because of my magic/annoying PTSD brain, the mob-mentality aspect of the pile-on jumped right out at me.

The First Big Pile-On (meaning, the FBPO that entered my consciousness, not the first they had) didn’t happen to me, but also it sort of feels like it did. The details are fuzzy to me, but I’ll do my best. A White Lady Slam Leader was sort of live-facebooking the finals of a national slam competition in…2010? She was making the point that the options for how to be a woman and get slam points are very limited, and in making that point, she said something racist—NOT OKAY. I’m glad people spoke up about her misstep, but the response was wildly disproportionate, with everyone weighing in, comment after comment. To her credit, WLSL saw the whole thing as a learning opportunity, and I learned a lot too, but alongside our progress toward awakening came a clear message: You don’t get to comment on poetry culture, and if you do, you are eligible to be ripped to shreds. At the same time that the mass-pushback was helping us make progress and learn, at the same time that it was helping marginalized voices be heard, it was also sending women a clear message to stay in our place, to keep ourselves small and stop trying to comment on the culture as a whole.

Not too long after that, my own work with the Philadelphia Poetry Slam started to feel like I was being used and like my work (We’d call it emotional labor now—YAY TERMS!) was being taken for granted, for only-sort-of-related reasons. For good and ill, the NPS community stayed with me through my friend feeds. That’s how, in that benighted spring of 2016, I got tangled in the tail-end of a much more upsetting pile-on.

A queer white woman had written a performance poem about her rape. Some of the language in the poem implied that her rapist was Mexican, when he was, in fact, white. THAT’S BAD! It’s upsetting and definitely a problem but also IT’S A POEM SHE WROTE ABOUT HER OWN RAPE. Even though she was a very privileged rape survivor, she was still a rape survivor, and I felt like a PUBLIC PILE-ON was maybe not the best way to address it. I’m a super-lucky rape survivor too, but I don’t think I could’ve made it through the NATIONAL TRIAL BY FACEBOOK that this woman survived. I’m sorry, but no one deserves that.

Like the WLSL, this poet was willing to learn from her mistake. The Woman Who’d Written Her Rape Poem Wrong wrote a public apology on facebook, including an apology for taking private time to heal. By now you’re yelling JANE! DON’T COMMENT ON THAT THREAD! Because I never learn, I commented. I told her she’s still a person, still entitled to self-care, and that taking time for herself was not going to make there be more racism. Then I blocked the thread, vaguebooked about how the NPS community can be shitty and misogynist and went to bed.

What I didn’t know was that the Queen Bully of Poetry Land, who used to be a friend of mine, was at the center of this pile-on. My phone buzzed around 3 AM, QBPL letting me know she thinks I’m as racist as Susan B. Anthony (There’s a certain line of thinking that suggests feminism can never be a thing because of Susan B. Anthony’s poor choices. If this same standard were applied to men, there would NEVER BE ANYTHING EVER.) She told me that I had failed at teaching not because I’d lacked self-care, but because of my own weakness and entitlement. Accurate, but not helpful. After I blocked her and went back to sleep, she texted my ex-wife/BFF to yell at her for having #blacklivesmatter on her facebook page, since clearly we both must be unredeemably racist for thinking a white rape victim is still a person.

No matter how much I distance myself from that NPS scene in my heart and mind and feeds, it still hangs like a tattooed ghost over my creative life. I was surprised when my jangledness about those years-ago pile-ons knocked me out of The Body Is Not an Apology Book Club, but I’m glad to give the Facilitator the chance to go on her spoken word journey without worrying about my weird residual triggers. Today, for me, radical self-love means admitting that this stuff still matters, that there’s still so much fear and un-worked-out pain, so much letting go of the ten-to-twenty-years-ago NPS community that still sometimes knocks me off balance. Mostly, that off-balance is good. Mostly, I’m getting somewhere.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Need Help Spoiling Your Creative Self? Join the Serotonin Factory Patreon Page!

I'm underemployed while I work on building up m tutoring business, but the great thing about that is having extra time to devote to blogging, art, and activism. So I've got this dream to CONTINUE having that extra resistance-ing time, and you can help! And get spoiled in the process. Consider taking advantage of any of the patronage/creative coaching options on my new Patreon page:

You can get goal sheets, art, mini-tarot readings and more. I think it'll be so much fun.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Victimhood Isn’t Shameful, Permanent, or Absolute

Fuck Tony Robbins. When he literally, physically pushed a woman repeatedly to prove that she was hurting herself with her #metoo anger and “victim mentality,” the world (or at least the world that shares my algorithms) was horrified, and he was indeed a terrible monster, but he was also pushing a belief that runs throughout all throughout pop psychology. Even though a crime happened to us, a terrible act of aggression and chaos that may have (or may not have!) jarred our lives onto a new course, we are not allowed to call ourselves victims. (Except Roxane Gay. She said at the beginning of Hunger that she doesn’t feel like she owes the world a heroic narrative, and it was SUCH a relief to read that sentiment.)

Watching Tony Robbins be a gaslighting creep onstage reminded me of the time (Waaaaaay before I’d ever thought about trauma work or survivorship or PTSD) my poor Aunt Melinda accidentally sent me to triggertown by quoting another pop psychology patriarch: Dr. Phil. “You teach people how to treat you,” she said, frustrated after listening to a relatively minor tale of roommate woe. I was speechless with anger, feeling the weight of every abuse I’d even been blamed (or blamed myself) for. I’m sure I said nothing helpful or articulate. I still feel the weight of that rage, that mute fury, but luckily there’s blogs and Twitter and being a street artist now, so I find the words. I’ll be finding the words for the rest of my life.

***PLEASE NOTE*** My beautiful anxiety brain is about to take us on a journey, in several leaps, from my personal trauma to the global trauma of history. I don’t equate my trauma to ANYONE else’s. This paragraph is to show the way my trauma helps connect me to the other much more serious pains of the world, and how gaslighting and victim-blaming helps perpetuate the smallest harms and the largest.***

I have never been able to separate “You teach people how to treat you,” from “you were asking for (rape, abuse, terror, etc.)” Did I somehow “teach” the group of teens who drugged, conspired to rape, and assaulted me that that was the kind of treatment I deserved? Did Trayvon Martin TEACH George Zimmerman that he deserved to die, or was that CENTURIES OF COLONIALISM, WHITE SUPREMACY, AND NRA INFLUENCE? For that matter, did the nations and cultures that were colonized, tortured, and sometimes even erased by Europe “teach us” that they wanted to be dominated and oppressed? No. We dominated and oppressed them because we wanted to. That’s what abusers do.

Aside from the abusive aspect of victimhood-stigmatizing, we do it to ourselves as well. God forbid I should accidentally call myself a “victim” instead of a “survivor” in a feminist thread—I’d be accused of demeaning myself and others, but why? Why should it be demeaning to admit that something bad has happened to us? (I’m worried that I’m accidentally plagiarizing Roxane Gay here. Seriously, read everything she’s ever written.)

I think it comes back to an ancient and stultifying thread of magical thinking. To calm the chaos of the world around us, humans still believe deep down that if something bad happens to you, you must be bad. On that idea is built every atrocity, every erased voice, every abuse from personal to global. Because of that magical thinking, we suffer instead of getting treated, we are pressured to perform heroic survivorship or at least general okayness, we try to empower ourselves with self-blame, we shut off every tributary of empathy. I was seriously once told by an opponent of Obamacare that I got hit by a car in the crosswalk because having insurance invited injury. That is how desperate people are to find order by placing blame, but why not place it on, I DON’T KNOW, the person who was driving?!

If we’re hurt, we must be bad, and if we care for the hurt, we just invite more badness, goes the magical thinking. Teaching the Universe how to treat us. Primal. Understandable, maybe, but the root of every violence and oppression.

Because I’ve had a bajillion years of cognitive behavioral therapy, I can occasionally question my own false absolutes, the labels we place on ourselves and others that can obscure the bigger picture. A few weeks ago, a teenage white supremacist facebook troll told me that minorities should “let go of (our/their) victimhood and be stronger.” He was wrong on every level and I told him why, but his ignorance helped make something clear for me: Victimhood can’t change anyone’s value—why would it? How could a thing that happened to us reduce our worth? A trauma or oppression may change our outlook, it may give us new insights and growth, or it may not. Victimhood may change us, but I don’t think I ever realized before, it isn’t us. The things that happened to me are not the same as what I am. (Pause for two decades of therapists to rejoice.)

The crimes and oppressions that influence us, our various forms of victimhood are not fixed or permanent. Engaging with them doesn’t make us worse or invite more misfortune. Recognizing the ways I am oppressed doesn’t take away my power, it gives me more. Understanding the obstacles that I and my fellow humans face can burnish us to alchemist’s gold, help us change the world, or just help us empathize with our own shitty/miraculous fate as we head off to conquer another day.

If I could take away one idea from the world’s consciousness, it would be the idea that if something bad happens to you, you must deserve it. It’s a toxic, rotten, compelling idea, a holdover from the time when we believed that illness came from demons, that misfortune must reveal some secret sin. It would be especially be good to get rid of this idea because THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO DO THE BAD THINGS! WHERE IS THE COMFORT IN BLAMING THE VICTIMS INSTEAD?

While we work on eradicating victim-blaming, I’m happy to be a little more free of victim-shaming, to see trauma as a shifting influence, survivorship as multifarious and not something at which I have to be amazing. It reminds me of when my BFF/ex-wife were watching Kesha’s Grammy Performance and Amy, eyes full of tears at Kesha’s monumental, beautiful, grumpy transcendence said “She’s too nice!”

“It’s only one song on the album,” I said, and that’s how I feel about all of this. Kesha’s survivorship is a diamond-brilliant facet of her artistic identity, but so is her goofiness, her feverish dance beats, her sly romance. For anyone to reduce her or the #metoo movement to stigmatized victimhood is only to see a very, very narrow part of the picture. Everything I make will be an attempt to break that narrow lens.

Monday, April 9, 2018

What America Owes Hillary Supporters (Besides an Apology)

This story starts with a #janeworldproblem that would surely make Roseanne Barr think I deserve whatever abuse I’ve gotten, but nonetheless: On my way to my monthly get-the-Trump-out massage appointment on Saturday, I got triggered by one of my favorite and usually-most-comforting podcasts, Pop Culture Happy Hour. Without any kind of disclaimer or warning, they lead off a review of the (fascist propaganda) reboot of Roseanne with a quote from the show’s rotten-to-the-core title character. The line was a contemptuously delivered slur against Hillary Clinton, calling our rightful president a “liar, lair pantsuit on fire.” I’ve been writing a lot lately about feeling the chill of real evil, and the horror of it hit my spine before I banged on the button to turn off the car stereo.

And so, I drove the rest of the way to my appointment steaming with frustration, feeling hurt and betrayed that a trusted podcast would inject something that awful into my afternoon. Remember when John Oliver told everyone to write a sticky note that said “NOT NORMAL” to help keep us from getting sucked into a moral cesspool after Trump’s (stolen) election? DID POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR LOSE THEIR STICKY NOTE? Is that why they were reviewing Roseanne as if it were a regular sitcom and not a love letter to the fictional “white working class” whom we’ve somehow excused for voting for a racist, misogynist monster because being poor somehow entitled them to their hatred? (Please read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The First White President for the history of the “white working class” as it is used to support racism throughout American history.
The Roseanne line triggered physical fear and anxiety because of the abuse that I and my friends took when we were working our asses off to get Hillary Clinton elected. Unfortunately, as I’ve written about many times, that abuse did not just come from the right. In fact, the worst hatred I encountered during the 2016 election was during the primary, in the form of the (We now know it’s Russian troll farm fueled openly misogynist, fanatic zeal of Bernie Sanders supporters.

Primary flashbacks had resurfaced a few days before when a local feminist educator and spoken word leader I’ve admired for a decade posted a “Bernie 2020” themed article on her facebook page. In the conversation that followed, I learned that she hadn’t known about the Russian interference or about the misogyny. (Admittedly, the troll farms part doesn’t prove he was a bad candidate, just that Russia saw him as destabilizing. I can’t really see destabilizing as an inherently bad thing.)

My friend kindly asked for some articles to send her in the direction of my viewpoint, and I sent them. (Remember how Roxane Gay at one point felt afraid to endorse Hillary?! ROXANE GAY! ) But honestly, I was a little frustrated, because so many of us have been telling this story for TWO YEARS and my friend had somehow missed it. Algorithms, probably, but still. I kinda wish that instead of sending articles, I had just asked her to believe me.

Hillary-trolling abusiveness has a much more important effect than bumming me out on the way to my massage appointment or making me misogyny-splain on facebook. Though I’m with the Women’s March for life and I believe we’re much bigger than our (often hateful-dude-admiring) leadership, many of us were inspired to fight the patriarchy off of our march last year when they tried to make Bernie Sanders one of the lead speakers of our conference. This week, the Women’s March partnered with Bernie voters’ “Our Revolution” group, which is the opposite of intersectional in that it views economic injustice as the only valid form of injustice.

To me, Hillary-bashing is partly “identity politics”--both Trump supporters and Bernie Bros seek to erase the importance of identity in the struggle for justice, while Hillary’s campaign was built upon acknowledging ALL forms of disparity. Many of her speeches include some variation on this sentiment:
“And we Democrats agree on defending all of our rights – civil rights and voting rights, workers’ rights and women’s rights, LGBT rights and rights for people with disabilities.(PA primary victory speech, 2016

When people on the right and left dismiss “identity politics,” they’re trying to erase one of the few political candidates who made me feel fully included in her speeches, who cared about the struggles of the children I teach and the children in my family.

            In addition to the all-identities-but-straight-white-male-erasing ethos of Bernie and Trump, the horror my body feels about that Roseanne quote comes from the good old fashioned gaslighting of it all. Because of the erasure that comes from the right and from the (mostly white male) far-left, I’ve had to check the numbers many times to remind myself that we won. We chose her. We voted. We won. And then I watched formerly peace-loving friends go off the rails entirely, accusing us of theft, defending the chair-throwing, doxing, vicious homes-of-delegates-calling entitled white voters in the name of being “progressive.”

            Other than the physical toll that it took to watch Bernie and then Trump gaslight Hillary/America in rallies and on debate stages, other than the troll-trauma that still lives in my body, why is this still important? Why not just let it go in the name of unity?

            Mostly, I do. I’ll defend the Women’s March to anyone who questions them, even as their leaders make misogynist alliances. I’ll canvas alongside neighbors who would have called me a stupid shill if they’d known me in 2016, I’ll join marches with local justice groups who have carried “Killary” signs in the past. I continue to participate in a political system that defaults to punishing women who get involved, because the only way it’ll get better is if people like me stay involved. But the compromise costs me, it takes a physical toll no matter how much I prioritize self-care.

            To Pop Culture Happy Hour, I would say, for those of us deep in the struggle, you weren’t just sharing a quote from a mean lady saying a stupid thing. You were placing into my otherwise pleasant afternoon one of the most poisonous, vicious, damaging ideas to ever hit the American airwaves: that women, especially ambitious women, cannot be trusted. We are not liars. It’s past time to believe us. To America, I would say, hear us and take our side. It’s time for you to stop punishing us for trying to save your asses from Trump.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Activist Kids Rule!

I thought Wednesday morning, March 14th would be a solitary moment of street art for me,in solidarity with the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER’s National School Walkout. I live a block from C.W. Henry Elementary school but I had no idea if they planned to walk out, so I printed out my own series of “No More Guns” posters and planned to staple them around the neighborhood’s phone poles. The Walkout was planned for 10 A.M. in every time zone, seventeen minutes to honor the people who were killed at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School a month before.  As a self-employed teacher, (The Sandy Hook shooting happened three days before I completed my student teaching.) I felt that it should be a moment of connection and solemnity for me.

I had just started putting up the posters when there they were, the Henry students with their teachers and principal. The children were silent and serious, well, as silent and serious as elementary students get. Kid art is my favorite thing in the world, and these children’s signs, most of them on orange poster board (orange is the gun control color), saying things like “Our Lives Matter,” and “Enough,” “Guns have no place in schools,” and “Protect kids not guns,” illustrated in painstaking detail. I’m happy to say that no art I make will ever be as beautiful or meaningful as those signs. Feeling like a mini-Shepherd Fairey, I gave the kids the rest of my own posters, then stood back with other neighborhood adults to marvel and support.

“How lucky we are to be alive right now,” goes one of my favorite quotes from Hamilton, and those seventeen minutes were as complicated and bittersweet as that line.

When the seventeen minutes were up, the neighborhood cheered and the kids proceeded silently back to their classes. It was beautiful to see them speaking up for themselves and the school being so supportive of their efforts. As I watched the school walkouts follow the time zones across the country on facebook, I felt a powerful sense of hope for America, my natural optimism galvanized by my seventeen minutes with the brave kids of Mt. Airy.
Art by Cece Mulcahy, bedazzled by me post-walk-out because I wanted to spoil the neighborhood. 

On Saturday, March 24, my best friend and I were among the 800,000 people who joined the Parkland students at the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C. It was the same solemnity and power that I felt with the Henry walkout, multiplied by thousands and soundtracked by Andra Day’s anthem “Rise Up,” Lin Manuel Miranda’s new single “Found/Tonight” which reprised lyrics from Hamilton including, most importantly, “Tomorrow there’ll be more of us.”

It was at the March for Our Lives that I met Zahlia, a six-year-old young lady marching for the first time. When she saw the sparkly butterfly on my sign, her eyes lit up as though I were the queen of the universe. I asked if she would like the sign, since it was clearly meant for her. I’m so proud that I got to be a small part of her march experience, that I was able to give her just a fragment of the joy and celebration she deserves.

Sometimes, its hard to feel worthy of the children that I teach, the children that I share a movement with. They are so bright and generous, so beautiful and courageous, shining with a light we are lucky to stand near, lucky to be edified by.

It shouldn’t be their job to save us. The Parkland students should be working on their school plays and goofing around on Snapchat or whatever new weird things the kids are into these days. But instead, they are serving their country, helping us to be better and safer and wiser. I’m excited to see the country they’ll create, and I’m here to help in any way I can.