Saturday, December 22, 2012

A picture of a child

As always, this is a regular thought I grapple with - do I forgive the people who have hurt me tremendously, most particularly the young man at the root of much of my trauma? Ian Brown at the Globe and Mail today printed a lengthy piece on forgiveness. He muses that forgiveness is on some level essential to move forward, yet on another level nearly impossible without a range of conditions, generally involving an extent of reconciliation between the parties involved.

Brown's conclusions are ambiguous at best - not the holy grail in this lengthy internal journey. He does raise, however, a critical point near the end of his piece. Why is the onus on the victim (oh, I do hate that word), on the person wronged, to forgive? Should it not be on the perpetrator of violence, or broader wrongdoing, to seek forgiveness? Why must I forgive someone who might be in a position to commit the same violence to another person as he did to me, to hurt others once again? In my mental imagery, this "someone" is a monster who cannot be forgiven in a million years; a person of true evil, who has done unspeakable wrongs.

And so I went to my high school yearbooks, which I dug up the other day. A person who has done unspeakable wrongs? Well, that is unquestionable. I have never given details on this blog as to what happened, and have always been vague, not just because it hurts me to speak graphically and anatomically but also because it is too disturbing for most anyone who might read this. There was more wrong done on that day than there is room in my mind to process it. But a monster, a person of true evil? I found his picture in with the grade eleven students at my school, a few pages ahead of my grade nine photo. I never knew what he looked like, as I had very little vision when I met him, and not much more the day he raped me; I've closed my eyes each time since then that I've seen him, so I could not be triggered. The picture I found was of a child. In my flashbacks, his face has aged along with me, such that he became an adult. But in his picture, taken a few months before that day, he was a grinning boy, trying to grow a mustache, possibly, in a shapeless school uniform. A monster, and yet, a child. Evil, and yet, a child. Perhaps an adolescent would be a better description, but there is something distinctly boyish in his smile that I was never able to see. I have forgiven the children who bullied me years ago, because they were children. But I have always conceptualized him as an adult. Now, a child. Is a child able to commit rape on his own accord, as a budding sadist? Or is he a victim as I was, learning from media that taught him that violence would get him sexual gratification, and that placed this narrative in his hands? Is it his fault? Does he wonder about what he did, and how it hurt me? Does he care? Was it just a blip in his life, that he could forget as easily as what he learned in math class that day?

Is thinking about him and his feelings cannibalizing my own agency as a survivor, or fueling it? If he came to my door tomorrow to ask for forgiveness, as a man instead of a simultaneously terrifying yet somewhat impish boy, would I forgive him? Can I? If I forgive the child he was, must I then forgive the man he has become?

My mind is spinning tonight, and etched behind my eyes is a picture of two children...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Required Reading"

Sometimes this blog serves as my own set of bookmarks - a spot to save links I like and want other people to see.

Please read these two articles on the Huffington Post! Most of my handful of readers are Canadian - if that's you, and if you don't know about the issues facing our Indigenous peoples, it's time for you to learn. If you're not Canadian (I've noticed that in the past month, folks have visited this blog from all around the world! I'm excited!) then this might shatter any myths you hold about Canada. And so it should. We're not the rosy place we sometimes pretend to be on the international stage.

Here are the two aforementioned articles:

Wab Kinew: Idle No More Is Not Just an "Indian Thing"

Obert Madondo: What Chief Spence's Hunger Strike Says About Canada

Friday, December 14, 2012

Little children

 Same old story; what's the use of tears?
What's the use of praying when there's nobody who hears?
Turning, turning, turning turning turning through the years...
Watching the news this evening about the shootings in Connecticut and the stabbings in China, all I could do was think back to similar shootings and all the senseless rhyming in the recent history of school shootings and violence. I wrote a poem about this for Virginia Tech, years ago, and it sadly still rings true.
Sometimes the World Ends

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another link to share

[potentially triggering]

Why can't we get beyond the body-shutting-down trope here? Grumble.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Taking back underwear and video games

I'm taking a break from the monotony of marking undergraduate exam papers to share a couple of feminist projects that I learned about today and found incredibly exciting.

In this video on Upworthy, Anita Sarkeesian tells of the harassment she faced at the hands of a cyber-mob after proposing to fundraise for creating a project exposing misogynistic tropes in video gaming. Her response to her experiences and the success she has had since then is inspiring. It's a long-ish video, but worth every minute.

Here, the Baltimore Fishbowl interviews two women who started a parody on Victoria's Secret underwear which is far, far cooler than any underwear I've seen in a mainstream market.

Plans for when I'm finished marking? Watch all of Anita's videos, and browse the net (Etsy, perhaps?) for underwear with this sort of awesome factor.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Another great TED talk

I blogged about disability the other day, so I was moved and impressed by this TED talk, which a friend shared on her Facebook. Watch it - it's worth the 21 minutes :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012


Geneviève Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Natalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Barbara Maria Klueznick
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Michelle Richard
Sonia Pelletier
Annie Saint-Arnault
Annie Turcotte

In the rising of the sun and its going down, we remember them.
In the bowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them.
In the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them.
In the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer, we remember them.
In the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them.
When we are lost and sick of heart, we remember them.
When we have joys and special celebrations we yearn to share, we remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are a part of us. We remember them.

Twenty-three years ago, these women were shot in their university classroom by a man who blamed feminism for his personal failures. On one hand, things have changed dramatically for women in education since 1989. On the other hand, reading the comments on nearly any mainstream media article about the Montreal Massacre will show that the gunman's hatred of women and feminism is alive and well in 2012 (see, for example, this national post commentary on the need to keep holding vigils for the Montreal Massacre). This fall, people around the world were outraged by the shooting of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, a schoolgirl in Pakistan shot simply for daring to learn. We have a long ways to go.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Where to Draw the Line, or, Why I Hate Radio Buttons and Like Ticky Boxes

Today is the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The Disabled Students Campaign in the United Kingdom is encouraging students to "come out" as people with disabilities in their Facebook statuses, and a few of my friends have done so. Awesome!

I thought about what to write in my status, and realized it would be a blog post rather than a 140-character snippet. The long and short of it is, I don't know whether to self-identify as a person with a disability, because of all the connotations associated with the word, and the fluidity of my own human experiences. Occasionally, surveys encourage me to self-identify as either having, or not having, a disability. I never know what box to check.

It's easy for me to identify with specific conditions. For example, I'm asthmatic. That's not up for debate. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act lists asthma as a disability. By their definition, I am a person with a disability. But is it that simple? I have asthma, and take three medications to keep it under control and to stay healthy. I can run ten kilometers; asthma doesn't stop me from attending school, having a job, getting around, and enjoying myself. Inconvenience? Certainly. But disability? For me, using that word to describe my chronic health concern trivializes the experiences of people who are marginalized because of differences in ability. I am inconvenienced, rather than marginalized, due to my asthma.

My vision makes this more complicated. Presently, I have a minor visual impairment. With glasses, I legally can drive, but cannot see some signage, writing on chalkboards, and so forth at the same distance that most people can. This level of vision is relatively new for me; for several years, I used magnification or large print or else contended with eye strain and painful headaches; I was unable to see the board in class; double vision made me even clumsier than I would otherwise be. I relied on Accessibility Services at my university to enable me to write tests and exams. There was a period in which I was legally blind, and the vision consultant with my school board worked with me to help me learn to navigate the school building. Large, colourful stickers helped me to find my locker, but I depended on other students to help me find my friends in a large room. Baffled teachers allowed me to listen to books on tape during class, rather than finding a way to make their lessons accessible. Looking back, it is obvious to me that, at that point, I had a disability. I never used that word, however. There was too much stigma attached to blindness, and so I shied away from calling myself blind. "Visually impaired" gave me more leeway to show people what I could do, before words would erroneously tell them what I could not do. Disability was also always something that happened to somebody else; using a word meant acknowledging that I was different from my peers.

Mental health has long been a complicated issue for me. I see my diagnoses of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder as labels that have helped me to get the medications that I need, rather than as an identity. Those labels, to me, describe perhaps a reaction to my past; my mental health is part of a general trajectory of my life. I frame it as troubled mental health, rather than mental illness. Illness implies that something is wrong, whereas I see my frame of mind as normal. I would be more concerned if I didn't react in the ways I do to challenging situations. Post-traumatic stress disorder has been useful to me as a label only to the extent that it has helped mental health professionals to understand my frame of mind with somewhat less talking on my part. Were it not for this pragmatic point, I would steadfastly refuse to let a psychiatric system pathologize my thoughts and feelings.

Doctors seem fixated on labels, with certain labels connoting disabilities, and others not. It is hard to find health professionals who will acknowledge and work within a middle ground. A psychiatrist once suggested that I may have Asperger disorder, putting me on the autism spectrum. I neither meet the diagnostic criteria for this disorder, nor do I find it a useful label for my lived experiences. The way I interact with others may occasionally be challenging, but it is not a disability. It is simply me. The possible labels for my physical/neurological health stymie me even more. This much is clear: I am a clumsy person, and am clumsier on the right side of my body than the left. I struggle with fatigue at times, as well as chronic back pain and odd neuropathic symptoms - burning, itching, tingling, and bizarre aching that comes and goes. Inconveniently, I have a single lesion in my brain that is consistent with demylination. But I don't meet the diagnostic criteria for anything in particular, and most of the time, I feel just fine. Sometimes, I would consider this to be a disability; there have been days when my right foot drags so much when I walk that I avoid stairs so as not to trip over myself, or when my balance is too poor to stand on the bus. But it's transient, and I am usually as "able" as the next person. Self-identifying as a person with a disability would not acknowledge, for me, these fluctuations in my ability. I find it more empowering and true to identify with the very specific health issues that I have written about, rather than with a monolithic label.

I am sure that many people would argue either that for me to identify as a person with a disability would be trivializing the experiences of people who have difficulties far greater than my own. Others would emphasize the need for people with invisible disabilities to recognize them as such, and show how varied the spectrum of ability is. But if ability is a spectrum, where do we place a line for who is, and who is not, disabled? Can it vary, person by person? Can it move? Need there be a line at all, if we acknowledge that disability is socially constructed and thus strive for a society that does not only accommodate, but celebrates, diversity?

Ultimately, there needs to be another ticky-box: "It's Complicated."