Monday, October 31, 2011

Feminist Blogosphere

Read this if you still fail to understand the power of feminist blogging.

Oh and, this if you're one of those assholes who believes the brouhaha about 'slutty' Halloween costumes.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Activism: Part II 'Finding Myself'

I wrote this piece months and months ago but it's funny to me, in light of a new Jezebel article asking 'Why Would Anyone Become a Nun?'


My journey to becoming an activist all started with my desire to become a nun.

Let me explain.

Growing up, I went to Catholic school. In my house, we were definitely of the C&E Catholic variety. For the uninitiated, this is the type of Catholic family that will write down “Catholic” on their census but really only attend mass for Christmas and Easters. Oh and weddings and funerals, of course. (Catholics love the concept of ‘forever’).

My Catholic upbringing was rather non-existent except for some bizarro inclusions like the whole “No sex before you get married” thing which was mostly my mother’s quiet way of saying “Please don’t get knocked up and ruin your chances at a life”.

Because you see, my folks were also hella progressive in so many ways. I got the “It’s okay to be gay” talk at like… 4. And I routinely was told that I was smart first and pretty second and that I never, EVER needed a man to be happy.

I include all this because I really want to emphasize that Bible-thumping-Jesus-Praising just wasn’t a part of my reality. And yet, I really loved nuns.

See, I didn’t love Catholicism as a whole. I found the actual class boring as fuck. All the memorizing of prayers and scripture just seemed hella pointless. The occasional time that I was dragged into Sunday school, I hated the patronizing tone of the clearly-unhappy-at-home Sunday School Teachers.

The only things I loved about being Catholic was the stories and the rituals. I LOVED some of those stories. (Oh, I suppose I shouldn’t call them ‘stories’ since they are really just passages of the Bible but I can’t help but treat the Bible like Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes so yeah, they’re stories to me).

Obviously as a budding feminist, I loved the way Jesus was all down with Mary Magdalene’s sinful ways and I remember thinking “GET OFF YOUR KNEES WOMYN AND SAVE YOUR DIGNITY” when she went to wash the guy’s feet. I knew she was better than that.

I also loved this one story about a guy named Zack or something? He heard that Jesus was coming into town and he was so in awe of the guy, that he didn’t feel worthy of being in his presence. So for the fancy procession into town, little Zack went and climbed up a tree and just admired from a far. When the big JC rode into town on his ass, er, I mean donkey, he saw Zack and was all “Hey dude, come and walk with me. You’re obviously cool enough to join my posse”. (I’m paraphrasing).

I thought it was cool that Jesus was down with anyone and everyone. That he forgave folks, chilled with the disabled and homeless. He did to leprosy what Princess Diana did for HIV/AIDS.

Real talk.

And anyone who knows me at all, knows that I’m a fan of ritual. Or as my mother would say – TRADITION! (Only you have to say it in a loud booming voice while raising your hands, à la Fiddler on the Roof).

I refuse to let my parents buy a fake Christmas tree because it’s TRADITION! Tradition dictates that we go to my uncle’s, get a real tree and decorate it as a group. Then either my brother or I (we alternate years) put up the really hideous tacky star, the same star that my dad has wanted to change for years but I refused to let him because it was TRADITION!

Even as a lefty progressive person, I really value tradition and in particular, refuse to do something that is ‘traditional’ unless I know what the meaning of the tradition is. Since tradition is important to me, if I’m going to be passing it on, I wanna know what it is I’m replicating.


My love of nuns stems from this. Nuns are not only ALL ABOUT traditions but they are also hella devoted. And if there’s anything I love more than stories and rituals, is devotion. And so from afar, I would admire me some nuns. I never got to see them in real life until high school (more on that later) but the very existence of nuns intrigued me.

For one, they were the only ‘womyn’ I ever really associated with the Church. They also wore really interesting outfits and had wedding bands because they were MARRIED to God. If that’s not hardcore, what is? They also lived in some secretive convent where I first imagined giggling girl talk and later, some serious queer action.

The coolest part about nuns though is that they had been ‘called’. THIS is what I was all about. Womyn who had been handpicked by the big G-O-D to do his work. At the time, I didn’t see it as an oppressive relationship but more of a “God thinks you’re hella special? Then you’re special to me”.

As a youngster, I felt a ‘calling’. I wasn’t really sure what the calling was to do but I felt a strong feeling that I was meant to do something. Since I had no role models of other people who had a strong calling for their work, I figured this is it, I’m meant to be a nun.

Unfortunately, when I started high school where I was taught by REAL. LIVE. NUNS I realized that they actually sucked. Unlike “Sister Act”, they weren’t badass dancers in a penguin suit. They were actually homophobic, self-hating, hypocritical and BORING.

So then I thought “Fuck… now what?” If I feel a strong calling to do something and to work with people but I hate Christianity, don’t identify with nuns and quite frankly, don’t want to spend my life as a celibate, what the fuck am I supposed to do?

Thankfully for me, my parents wanted me to have what they didn’t and paid for me to move to Ottawa and get a post-secondary education. There I met tons and tons of people whose vocation was basically doing all the truly benevolent things that I wanted to do, without the colonialism and Jesus-lovin’.

My relationship with nuns has simply become this ironic fetish that involves nun action figures and Gothic Christian imagery. Got a picture of a holy virgin with some nice flashing lights and a crown of thorns? SIGN ME UP. But as for that whole “Life of celibacy and rubbing one out to pictures of a light-skinned Jesus?” No fucking way.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Activism: Part I 'Being Whole'

Lately, I've been doing lots of internal dialoguing and other fancy smancy shit that privileged activists like myself have time to do.

Here is part I that I wrote a little while ago:


Anyone who knows me well knows that I am an intense person, yes, but I laugh at funerals, use sarcasm when I probably shouldn't and really do believe in a silver lining.

If you know me well you also know that there is no room in my life for religion or even much of spirituality, either. I call myself agnostic, but really I'm apathetic and really over all discussions of the sort. It just doesn't interest me in the slightest.

I say all this because the following might seem incredibly out of character but it's something I've been thinking a lot about lately.

I am deeply concerned about activism in my community lately and rather than complain about it, I want to make a call for a better environment and see who is interested.

I've been doing activism in an official capacity for about 8 years. Like most people, I've done things that would constitute activism for much of my life, but it's only been since I've lived in Ottawa that I've made a concerted effort to do activism and to identify it as such. The overwhelming majority of my work has centered around womyn's lives and in particular, violence against womyn, access to abortion and equity in education.

I've previously written at length about my feminism and how I came to do the work that I do now, so I won't get into that.

My issue is that the environment in which I do my activism has become ugly and I have really struggled with how to deal with it.

I know that I am a product of my environment but I am also part of my environment.

As activists, we are not car mechanics or meteorologists whose work is limited by the tools and physical structures available to us. We are the tools and structures. The only limits are our imagination.

So it is frustrating to see how people buy into the idea that we are tangible, objective entities rather than the subjects of our own doing. The rules that govern what we do or how we think are subjective and arbitrary.

There is absolutely no reason why we must treat each other the way we do.

Everyone I've ever known to have left the activist community, the feminist movement, social work, etc. did so because of the environment and their colleagues and not because of the actual work. Let me repeat this.

People whose jobs it is to listen to horrific stories, to support people who feel hopeless and to advocate for a better world in a political environment that is pessimistic and discouraging, end up leaving the work not because of their clients or because of their 'enemy' but because of their so-called allies.

This is often treated as fact; an inevitability.

By setting ourselves up in this way, we are doomed to fail again and again. And every time we do, the enemy wins. And I'm not okay with that.

There is no reason why we must treat each other this way.

I came into this world 'whole' and I intend to leave it the same way.

My mother is Native and an incredibly spiritual person. I deeply admire her for this. (The spirituality part, not the Native part. 'Cause no offense, ma but you had no say in the other part!)

She believes that when someone is deeply hurt in their life, either as a child or an adult, they lose a part of their soul, a part of their 'being' and then spend the rest of their life looking for it.

I believe this.

I believe that most of the issues within activist communities stem from people who've experienced (or who currently experience) deep, deep pain. Whether that pain was because of the work they're doing, or is part of the reason they started this work in the first place, they carry that pain with them. Because we've set activist communities up as 'warrior spaces' where nobody gives up, everybody does 110% and nobody admits defeat, people bury that pain. They bury that pain and bury that pain until they can't anymore but when they lash out, it is to the nearest person; regardless of whether or not that person has caused them any pain.

As people who've spent years and years listening to horror stories of violence against womyn, we do not lash out at rapists, anti-choicers, politicians, or judges. We do not lash out at racist education systems, sexist media or ableist institutions.

We lash out at our comrades.

And this needs to stop.

I am not the least bit delusional about the fact that many activists are damaging to us. Many people who claim to be activists, myself included, have done things (or do things) that are racist, homophobic, ableist, etc. We all need to challenge each other in ways that are productive and about improving the situations and not simply about lashing out.

We need to remember that the enemy is not in the room.

I firmly believe in my heart of hearts that anyone who dedicates their life to ending violence, fighting for equitable education, fighting for access to clean water, etc. is an ally and someone who should be worked with, not against.

And so as things get uglier and uglier (and then better and then ugly again, as it goes), I question why I'm here, why I do what I do and whether it's worth it.

I believe it is.

I do not believe that the revolution will cease without me or that it will fall apart. I believe that there will always be good people in this world who want to fight for a better one and who will step up and replace us all if/when we leave.

But this work is in my blood, it is a fabric of my being and I want to find a way to continue.

So this is what I'm proposing:

I want to build a movement based on the premise that anyone who joins does so in good conscience.

I want to build a movement that is a safe space for everyone, including those who have much to learn.

I want to build a movement that refuses all buzzwords, all lip service and all cliches. No more alienating people with academic language, no more preaching self-care but refusing to partake in it or demonizing those who do.

I want to build a movement that recognizes that just as survivors of violence and womyn who've had abortions deal with their lives in ways that are unique to them, so do activists. There is no 'one way' of doing activism. If you sign every petition and letter that comes across your inbox, hooray! If you march at every protest and raise your fist high, good on you! If you stuff envelopes and write letters behind the scenes, thank you! If you call out your co-workers at the water cooler and take on your racist grandpa at Christmas, you rock!

I want to build a movement that understands that sometimes, your organization is a business unlike any other. You just happen to be in the business of kicking ass and taking names. But you still need to spend time making sure you've crossed your Ts and dotted your Is. You need to be accountable to your stakeholders, you need to respect different forms of leadership and you need to know your role. A movement that understands that sometimes, you just gotta get the work done and not bog it down with checking up on every one's feelings and pussy footing around things that are 'touchy'.

I want to build a movement that is optimistic, realistic and practical.

I want to build a movement that truly recognizes that womyn are equal, that we are strong and that we need not break down into tears to be heard. We are valuable because we exist and that is enough.

I want to build a movement that rejects martyrdom, embraces creativity and remembers ALL of Andrea Smith's work ( In particular, the parts where she calls out activists for creating a movement that is depressing, reactive and not focused on being proactive and engaged.

I want to build a movement that allows people to enter 'whole' and to exit with all their pieces intact.

You with me?