Monday, December 30, 2013

Long nights

There are nights, sometimes,
when your toothbrush
feels too familiar,
alive and serpentine,
dangerously caressing your gums.
The years fold up
like an acordion
exhaling, no breath left
to bellow in rage
at the origami map,
smoothing present over past,
past over present,
taste over taste,
over sound, smell, breath,
breathing in the crumbling aftershocks,
the choking synapses.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

That damn reading response...

For months now, I have been trying to write a reading response to a selection of history books dealing with gendered violence. It's a stop-start-write-delete sort of process, and thus far my writing has been sniffing in apprehensive circles around the violence itself that is contained in what I have read.

Social location, I would posit, can be boiled down to one's proximity to concentric circles of violence that interlink from the past into the present.

Years ago, a poem I wrote had the line, "I'm just another paper doll; a carbon copy in a line" as I was thinking about the prevalence of violence, rape, specifically, and how it ties us together in such powerful ways. But some of the women I read about are anonymous and reduced to the violence they experience so much that I don't know if they are even a faceless paper doll. They are linked circles of statistics, the slash and hole of a percent sign. Reading about the violence experienced by women in the past is triggering on a personal level, but also disturbing academically. Court testimonies of long-dead women are quoted from at length. We get a fleeting glimpse into the pain and shame of people who cannot consent to us reading their words, or worse yet, reading what was written about them.

Is it an act of justice to expose this violence, or an act of injustice to re-expose victims and survivors of violence to the scrutiny of the present, after they have already been trampled down by the past?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Don't Lie

Among the most infuriating things that the trolls I was arguing with this week said were "don't lie" and "stop lying." I was thinking about how much that phrase is used as a way of silencing survivors. This poem is the result.


Don't lie.
Don't lie, they said.
Don't lie; don't lie in the dust,
hair so blended with sand
it looks ashen.

Don't lie.
Don't lie down, curled in bed
in a cave that has
no true protective power.
Don't lie when you can't
face the day.

Don't lie, they said.

Don't lie; don't lie in that casket
face flat as the newspaper picture,
printed last week: "missing"
now wrinkled, forgotten.
Don't lie.

Don't lie silently in waiting
don't lie as we hang
on the gallows you built;
don't lie beside us as we hang silently.
Silently, those words,
they silence us: don't lie.
Don't lie down and weep
on the courtroom floor,
any sense of justice suctioned out,

Don't lie.
Don't lie so quietly
he'll think you're sleeping
so you're safe.

Don't lie. Don't lie.
Don't lie; no, lie legs apart
(keep them still; they're shaking)
no, not like that;
lie still as a corpse.
Didn't the magazines
say not to fight?

Don't lie.
Don't lie on our graves.

Why I Fight (the trolls)

I spent this weekend high on painkillers while trying to pass a kidney stone, arguing with strangers on the internet. This may seem like the least productive weekend a PhD student could possibly have - I didn't get a scrap of my own reading done! So, why on earth did I spend all this time in a vortex of hundreds of comments?

The first thread of comments I engaged with was an argument with a man who saw himself as qualified to give safety advice to women. At the outset, I responded assuming that he meant well, but that his privilege was showing prominently. As the thread went on, it became clear that he did not care so much about our safety but about his apparent right to be right - even, in one astounding comment, asserting that a black friend cannot possibly be a black woman, but is merely saying so for rhetorical purposes. Feminists can play that game for as long as misogynists can, and we did. Hours of back-and-forth commenting later (I have never been called a liar quite so many times, in quite so irrational a manner), he left, and I vowed to leave the group.

Then another thread popped up.

The UBC Take Back the Night March had, reportedly, some issues with including trans* folks. That was apparent from the event page itself - the wording was problematic in the way that revealed that organizers likely saw trans women as something other than, well, women. At the very least, it was clear that they hadn't done their homework, and that making a safe space was not a priority for this event. I didn't attend the actual march, but one attendee posted voicing her disappointment with the way trans* voices were silenced. I cannot comment on what was or was not said at the march itself; the commenting maelstrom that followed was, to say the least, everything but inclusive.

At issue here was the inclusion of a group called Vancouver Rape Relief in the rally. VRR has a problematic legal history of having excluded Kimberley Nixon, a trans woman, from their volunteer training group on the basis of her trans history. Their own website makes their position on the case clear. After a lengthy legal battle, the courts decided that VRR could legally decide who was and who was not a woman for the purpose of their peer counselling programs.

As a cis feminist who is absolutely committed to equity and justice for all women, I am appalled at their implication to decide who is and who is not a woman. Their decision to exclude Nixon from their work indicates that she was not enough of a woman for their purposes. This sentiment is not something that was simply buried; it is not a small fragment of VRR's history. This is something that came out, repeatedly, in the comment thread I was arguing in over the weekend. Several commenters claimed that including trans women as volunteers would undermine their peer counselling approach, because it was based on having a common experience, from birth, as women.

This idea of a common women's experience is what I particularly wish to address, now that I am not (kidney) stoned.

As a white, middle-class cis woman, raised in a feminist household, I would never presume that I shared a common girlhood with women who did not have the privilege of food security, a stable home, not being subject to racism, and being embraced as a girl from the day I was born. I don't remember ever being told by my family that I couldn't do something because I was a girl - those sentiments were new to me when I went to school. When I briefly aspired to be a pro baseball player, my family signed me up for preschool t-ball in the park. My t-ball failures had nothing to do with being a girl, or social prejudices, and everything to do with poor hand-eye coordination (something I still lack). I honestly do not remember being faced with sexism until I was nearing puberty. The other privileges I was born into diluted the privilege I did not have. Layers of privilege inform how and when women experience sexism. It is far from purely a function of how doctors judge what we have between our legs as infants.

The other point that commenters brought up was that of reproduction and relationships. To many of them, a common women's experience consisted of dreaming of weddings from a young age, or fantasizing about what to name our children. Anyone who has read this far will probably realize that - shock! - neither of those experiences have anything to do with being cis. I can say that from a young age, the idea of a wedding filled me with trepidation, rather than girlish dreaminess; even before I had a word for "lesbian," I imagined myself marrying a woman and I knew, somehow, that this would mark me as different. As I grew older, I learned that I could not legally marry - and that stung.

As for reproduction, well, not all cis women experience childbirth. Experiences of pregnancy intersect with those of abuse for some, but not all, cis women. No, a trans woman would not have the experience of growing a baby inside her uterus - but is that really the marker of womanhood? The millions of women who are not mothers, or who are mothers but do not give birth to their children, would likely disagree. Cis privilege lets cis women claim ownership over experiences such as motherhood - but they are not universally ours, and they are not exclusively ours. Women experience motherhood in myriad ways.

So, hopefully I have made a solid position for how I believe that cis women and trans women are all women, are all equally women, and can be peers - just as much as, say, women of different sexual orientations could be peers. I do wonder how the VRR supporters in the thread would have responded if someone had substituted the word "trans" for "lesbian" and "cis" for "straight" in their comments.

So, why do I fight if it is inflammatory? Well, I am fighting precisely because it is inflammatory. In fighting, I am trying to build fires, rather than extinguish them. Before I face a comment wall accusing me of arson, I should point out that these are metaphoric fires - and in this metaphor, fires are a good thing. Bear with me.

This is inspired by Khelsilem Rivers' metaphor of decolonization as the regeneration that happens in a forest fire. Persuading VRR to rethink their policies is not decolonization, but it is regeneration, and it is change. With leaves burnt off and trunks laid bare, we can see the fundamental similarities that unite us as human beings, rather than the cultural meaning that we have attached to various aspects of our bodies. Fire is also a source of community; it allows people to come together, to have dialogue, and to heal.

I engaged with these commenters because they are people who care, passionately, about eradicating violence against women. I hope they can begin to fight for the rights of all women, and fully include all women, rather than just those they feel they can relate to the best. I argued because we are all survivors, and we are all afraid, and often in pain from that. Not all of these women are trolls, even though some of them were awfully abusive to the trans* folks in the thread. They were arguing to defend an organization that quite possibly saved their lives. As a survivor, I respect their fear. Some of these women participated in other threads that denied rape culture, and we were a united front. I hope one day to see them defending trans women as vigorously and passionately as they'll defend cis women.

It takes a long time for sparks to ignite a pile of soggy wood, but when we are cold, it is worth it. I hope the dozen or so of us who kept commenting have inspired at least some thought, some reconsideration, from other women on the thread. After a few days of arguing, I am out of matches - but if I have to, I'll whittle another one.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A "shameful" protest?

Today, this article came out to denigrate and shame UBC's Take Back the Night march.
Arno Rosenfeld, the author of the piece, writes, "But here’s what the activists decrying the RCMP and colonialism are missing: these assaults aren’t about rape culture or colonialism, nor are the RCMP or the university doing anything wrong. The RCMP aren’t victim-blaming by telling students not to walk alone. They are offering sound advice about how to stay safe at night."

I am nothing short of appalled by his statements. Rape is about rape culture. Rape culture is about rape. For a person of privilege to claim that it not about rape culture, or not about colonialism, is terribly inappropriate - colonialism and misogyny intersect and cannot be pried apart, thus colonialism is implicated in insidious ways. Just because they are not immediately apparent on the surface does not mean that they are there.

The problem, for me, with this march, was that Vancouver Rape Relief, an organization known for its discrimination against trans women, has been allowed to take such a prominent role. At present, there are 450 comments on a Facebook thread, which has women insisting that they are not transphobic yet defending an organization's idea of "women-only space" that excludes trans women. The event page has been entirely unmoderated, and the hate that has appeared there is astounding. Seeing the Take Back the Night event page on Facebook explode into a triggering platform for misogynist (including transmisogynist) trolls is disturbing. So yes, this march was problematic, and I am very concerned about its organization. However, it was thrown together by a handful of students who wanted to make an immediate response to a very pressing event. I'll forgive its inadequacies if these organizers learn from their mistakes and do better next time, particularly as the transphobic comments come from Vancouver Rape Relief supporters/volunteers/staff who were not necessarily affiliated with the march (their intensely problematic statements are another post for another day).

Shame, however? To tell survivors that their protest is shameful is putting salt in a wound. This march had issues, and there is an awful lot of work to be done. I am not ready to applaud the organizers for their work. But please, do not call women's activist work surrounding work "shameful." We have enough internalized shame to cope with, and we certainly do not need more. Shame on this culture, not the survivors who speak out against it.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween?

Let's play dress-up.
Dress like princesses;
long hair, flowing,
to cover handprint bruises
shadowy wings unfurling
around our necks.

Sparkling tiaras meet no reflection
in the ghost towns
of abandoned mines,
dank shafts nestled behind
moist contact lenses.

Eat daintily, for the memory
of flesh intruding in our mouths
makes the stomach, the
esophagus spasm
while the tongue flatlines.

Silk gloves hide the blood
the tangled, creeping vines
etching crimson scars on stone.

Dresses are a shield; so complex
their hands must walk a labyrinth
to find us inside.

Perfume masks the scent
of the place inside, where
serpents visit, swallowing,
swallow, just swallow,
swallowing everything,
leaving only the peel and
the core to rot (slowly, sweetly).

Stand tall; walk gracefully
eyes up, smile and wave.
Stand tall on your feet
shackled and devoured.

Stand tall, princess.
Stand tall; they'll never know.

Skirts don't cause rape. Rapists do.

A series of sexual assaults at the University of British Columbia are all over the news this week, and tonight some students held a rally to speak out against rape culture, and protest how police responses focus on women's actions (I did not attend this event, so I won't be speaking about anything that happened on campus this evening).

The comments on the event's Facebook page, however, are troublesome. In responding, yes, I fed a troll. Sometimes, though, the trolls dig up the skeletons that people with privilege hastily and improperly bury; we might as well dust off and reconstruct those skeletons, and have them out in the open.

"What if the sexual assaults were actually murders? Would we be mad at UBC telling us to be careful? Absolutely not. We would be vigilant and would see it more of just trying to protect ourselves."

I firmly believe that if these assaults were murders, the campus would be in lock-down mode by now, until the perpetrator was found. Security would be exceptionally visible. At present, it is not - I went to UBC for a concert on Saturday evening, and never once saw a police officer or security guard. Police telling students to be careful is unhelpful. Students know to be careful, but many of us have learned the hard way that being careful is not enough to prevent rape. 

One young man posted an article that pointed out the commonalities between all the victims thus far. According to, "all the victims were women, they were all wearing skirts, and they were all approached from behind." The man who linked to this article used this information to encourage his peers not to wear skirts, for the time being, and vehemently (albeit ineffectively) defended his position against the numerous people, myself included, who objected to this.
"If black people wearing hoodies, and only them, were being targeted and beaten by a random attacker, would you criticize someone who said "wearing hoodies for the time being is a bad idea"?"

Newsflash to this man - people did make such suggestions after Trayvon Martin was shot. But those suggestions, like his point about skirts, miss the point entirely. Trayvon's murder was not about his clothing, but how a violent man perceived his clothing in connection with his race. These sexual assaults are not about women wearing skirts (and indeed, that detail could just be a coincidence), but about the assumptions that a potential rapist makes about women wearing skirts, and about women in general. If everyone executed by a prison firing squad was wearing an orange jumpsuit, surely we would recognize that the problem was not the uniform, but the prison system itself.

"Sure, we should educate men not to rape. But what do we do with the mentally unstable, who can't be taught? What should the women do during the time in which education is still being applied and the unstables are still out at large?"

I am concerned about the implication that "unstables" "at large" are generally responsible for sexual assault. People who have mental illnesses are, by far, more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crimes. As well, many rapists do not necessarily have a mental illness, but instead grew up in a culture that normalizes sexual assault. Or they may have a mental illness, but that illness is not likely the cause of their violence. That being said, someone who attacks strangers certainly has a problem.
We need to support one another. We need to check in with our friends, and make sure that they are safe. We need to create a safe space for survivors of violence who are triggered by these events. Women walking at night don't need to be told to stay vigilant - most of us already are. And note that the women who were attacked fought back. Women are going to keep on fighting back, but we shouldn't have to fight alone. Yes, this man may have a mental illness, and this is exactly why there need to be better social supports and community services. It's unlikely that this was someone who was never troubled before and then, out of the blue, started attacking women. We need an infrastructure that will notice warning signs of people who might become violent, and intervene before they hurt somebody.

“Often being vulnerable is one of the characteristics. Maybe if they were intoxicated? That’s another way of a person being vulnerable.”

So says psychologist Bill Coleman. What he ignores is that an entangled rope of rape culture and misogyny make women vulnerable. I don't know if the women involved in the assaults at UBC were drunk, but intoxication is beside the point. Being intoxicated makes everyone vulnerable - but without rape culture, that vulnerability would be an increased risk of choking and accidents, not violence.

So many people are painting this as a matter of one violent man and a handful of unfortunate, vulnerable, or careless women. There seems to be this myth that rape culture is only applicable for things like "date rape" (I hate that term), or parties where young men "take advantage" of intoxicated girls. Rape culture is more than that. Rape culture is when men make suggestions about women's behaviour, without offering tangible support, joining us in resisting, and asking what they can do to help. Rape culture is pretending that this is an individual issue, rather than a systemic one, and ignoring where systems of privilege intersect. Rape culture is when trans* voices are pushed out of the conversation. Rape culture is when people argue that attempted rape, or non-penetrative sexual assault, is "not as bad." Rape culture is when white men ignore black women's experiences of their gender and race intersecting and contributing to violence. And rape culture is not abstract. Rape culture does perpetuate rape. If you are laughing at it or denying it, you are part of the problem.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I used to come home from school and watch Matilda. I was eight years old, and enthralled by her intelligence and social charm. The magic powers were a cherry on top.

At twelve, Matilda became a bedtime companion, hidden away under my pillow waiting for me to thumb through it each night. Reading Matilda's experiences, I'd travel back through my day, imagining how different it could be if I were her. This was my survival strategy, and a lifeline to earlier in my childhood. It was when I was "too old" for Matilda that I needed her powers the most.

Agatha Trunchbull was a formidable villain. She was, for me, more than just a caricature; she was genuinely terrifying. Agatha Trunchbull was alive, darkening the doorways of my education in the form of my grade six teacher, Ms. B---. While Ms. B--- never threw students across the playground (to my knowledge, she never laid a hand on a student), emotionally she was willing to throw students in the trash. She was, like the Trunchbull, vindictive and terrifying. Years later, I can bring myself to say that she was abusive.

Ms. B--- and Trunchbull are easy to hate as villains. But I wonder, now, how that complex characterization formed. Could Trunchbull have become hardened by some of her own trauma? Did she act so tough, using her physical strength as a shield to protect something softer inside? And what, then, shaped Ms. B--- into the figure I so feared? As children, we laughed at her weight; her appearance and mannerisms made her seem like an archetypal villain, not a real teacher. Was she once a caring teacher? What was her own childhood like? Did she hate children after years of bullying? Was she a bully from the start? Was she as afraid of us as we were of her? The only thing she admitted a fear of was, peculiarly, butterflies.

One scene in Matilda shows the children discussing whether they told their parents about Ms. Trunchbull's latest escapades. "They wouldn't believe me," says Hortensia. "I mean, would your parents believe it?" They cemented my decision, for some things, not to tell. And there are things I never told. At a sleepover the following year, my former classmates laughed about Ms. B---. War stories from her classroom are told as a neighbourhood comedy. I cannot quite laugh. So many years later, it still hurts.

My adult thoughts and attempts at analysis feel like a disservice to the twelve-year-old inside me, who hated feared school and cried each night, dreading each day as a teacher's bulls-eye. After finally breaking free of the worst of the tormenting that met me when I first moved to that school, now my teacher was worse than any of the other children had been. The furtive cuts grew wilder and deeper as I wondered why Matilda so seldom cried.

I cried, as silently as I could, at school. I could not stop. I sat in the front row, where my classmates could not see my face. I hope they know me as more than the girl who cried.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Today I attended a writing workshop entitled "writing from the ugly." Somehow, this was the result.

Futuristic dinosaurs
rusty metal, broken glass
crashing crosshatch.
It's a way out,
lifting boxes that dwarf us
lego bricks of giants
the stones in a corporate fort.

Fortitude; walls so high
we cannot know them.
Firewalls. Robocalls.

We are, perhaps, every one of us a fraud.
I often proofread to realize I've misspelled "privilege"
painted on a box
held aloft, then dropped
by futuristic dinosaurs.

Plastic dinosaurs; the
offspring, reincarnated
the devolution of evolution
figurines without revolution
stoic and immobilized
spectators of our fear.

If I dig,
perhaps I will find fossils under these lines
some formation of bones
to fracture the silence.
Fissures, scratched
in invisible ink.
Shining in sunlight,
white skin in ridges
upon white skin.

Last week, I think, someone told me
that a triceratops was never real,
but simply a combination of disjointed bones
mistakenly reunited.
When they reconstruct our bodies
how will they weld together
the skeletons of survivors?

There are tales we tell
a land before time, that
sugarcoat the past.
The pink smiles of cartoons
buried in the sand
metamorphizing and jailed
in liquid crystals
that distort their screams.

Deafeningly silent applause
of arms too short for action
a flailing distraction
from garburating jaws.

Hollow plastic, bobbing
herbivorous heads
intermittently visible
perpetually vulnerable;
a neck so fine is always on the line.
A body too big to be hidden
whispers "no" like it's fierce
and forbidden.

One day,
will our compacted remains
and the detritus of our veins
be fossil fuels
historic tools
and lifeblood for the dinosaurs?

Friday, October 18, 2013

I will be honest here; this poem is 100% about a cat.

It was.
And you might be a cloud
silently shifting
a soft shadow in the night.
Your silky backbone
under my thumb
that traces circles,
never spelling out
what was.

It was.
And it shattered your energy
drawing it up
as a shape in the atmosphere.

It was.
And you are a cloud.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Triumph Street

I've been working on writing more poetry lately (most recent one before this is a love poem that is frankly too sappy for public eyes!). This poem arose during a writing workshop at A-Camp this past weekend; I have edited it significantly, although I do still feel like it is too rhyme-y for what I would like it to be.

Bag with a beer can
tossed in the trash
leaking; dented
a kick in the ass
Legacies of neverland
crumble slowly in my hand.

Head out of the sand.
Head into the sand.

Tinkerbell drowns in a wishing well.
Her daughter crowns
with a decaying smell.
This woman's hell;
no hope in hell.

Emotions wane.
           Emotions wane.
Chilling rain pounds a dulling refrain.
Exposure makes grotesque mundane.

Clattering re-homed shopping carts
gather the seams
of broken hearts
that seldom matter
around these parts.

Bleeding starts.
Bruising smarts.

Heels glistening
Have I stopped listening?
Dulled to the beat
of blistered feet
working this street
behind my street.

In plastic bags
the bottles clink,
collide, and deride
her brink; his drink.
Do not meet eyes; it makes you think.
Don't blink.

A severed shoe.
An upturned cart.
No money for glue
to heal the heart.
Wheels spin on an upturned cart
singing the dissonance of a world apart.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thoughts after camp

This was not how it was meant to be. In May, the mountain was a haven, and a place of understanding, more or less universally. This camp was largely that way, but for one fellow camper who shattered my sense of safety.
Everyone else said she is a good person who merely said inappropriate things and has a crass sense of humour. And yes, of course she is a good person. Good people, however, do fucked up things sometimes. When I saw her bothering another girl about her introversion, her facial expressions, her looked more to me like bullying than horsing around. But it was the rape jokes that were hardest to hear. The threats were not genuine, but they were still disturbing. Oddly, the girl who was the target of those words insisted she was not upset; perhaps she was too drunk to recognize how bad those words sounded. Perhaps because we are women, it did not seem so serious. She saw herself as a bystander who should have intervened when the noise of their conversation kept me awake, and she apologized. But I saw myself as even more implicated, feeling too vulnerable to stand up and stop the hugely problematic things that were being said.
The others in the cabin were supportive, and fabulously so, totally there for me when I panicked and felt triggered. It was jarring to feel that triggered in what is otherwise a safe space, but I was relieved that most people there were focused on helping everyone feel as safe as possible in our cabin. I told a counsellor (for those unfamiliar with A-Camp - yes, we have counsellors, even though we are adults. And this is why we have counsellors. The staff are part of what makes this camp so safe, and so cohesive). She intervened, and the jokes stopped, but my sense of safety did not fully return. I cannot trust someone who says such things, even in jest, while intoxicated. I am saddened that none of us had the strength to discuss, in that moment, why this was problematic. I am worried that we see such "jokes" as commonplace, as innocent, rather than as a manifestation of rape culture. And it hurts to see this happen in a space that is otherwise so focused on safety, and that has otherwise been nothing but affirming to me as a survivor. The laughter and joy and pride and love at camp was there, but had to coexist with the vigilance, analysis, and fears that I had hoped to leave at home.

[I could easily write a gushing post about everything that was absolutely right about camp, and that I loved. I did overall have a wonderful time! But this here is my safe space to talk about things that aren't ok; people who know me in the real world have undoubtedly heard me pontificate about the good stuff almost endlessly, but I have not been as vocal about this part of the weekend]

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Musings on the TRC

What does it mean to be a witness? To observe, and also have survived? The Truth and Reconciliation Commission BC National Event opened entire vats of worms in my mind. I volunteered at the events as a settler, born into colonial complicity with a VIP pass in my pale, freckled skin. And yet I felt echoes of my own survival that seeped through me all week, on the brink of triggering me. While not in my case coloured by colonialism, I know so well how it feels to lose parts of one's youth, innocence, and control, and to have school become a place of fear.

I was lucky. Privilege meant that home was a haven I could always return to. For residential school survivors, home was an elusive dream.

Two stories stood out this week, for me. A middle-aged white woman came to submit a report to the booth I was volunteering at while the staff member was on her lunch break. This woman sat down beside me to share that she had passed away at residential school as a child and was now reincarnated and on a spiritual quest to find her own grave. She had no identifying information to guide us, but an hour of intense emotions to share. I am skeptical of the spirituality of a white woman who uses such a space to air her fears. This space is not for her, not for me, but for the survivors, who experience ongoing pain from their lived experiences of this particular trauma. I listened, not wanting to dismiss a stranger in need, but it seems to me like an appropriation, taking me away from survivors looking to gain closure from the event.

Afterward, I shared my unease with a few friends, also history graduate students. Generally, they felt that the process was meant to heal all of us - colonizers and colonized. That her whiteness does not negate her need for support. But that's at odds with some of the Indigenous activists who attended the TRC, often expressing anger that settlers have been using this space to heal at a time when many Indigenous peoples are not yet ready. I would rather see people like myself being troubled at such an event, rather than healed. Yes, it is a space for mutual sharing, but it is unconscionable that a settler should have a voice here at the expense of a survivor. I fear that it is doubly violating for a bystander to claim a survivor's pain as her own.

When I listen to someone in need, I listen fully, multisensorily. For an hour or so, I did not look up as this woman shared her spiritual visions. I tried to respond with empathy rather than skepticism. And I cannot shake the blurred image of an elder, a survivor, unheard and standing behind or beside me, waiting for a turn to share or for some answers. I don't know if anyone was there waiting, or if her sharing took away someone's opportunity for closure. I'll never know. This troubles me.

I am finding some peace in the words of one friend, who remarked that this woman's very actions shows the potency of colonialism; whether spiritual or delusional, it is significant that this woman's thoughts congealed around the particular issue and trauma of residential schools. Appropriative or not, this is something that needed to be heard. But, perhaps not then, there, in that venue. I would take less issue if she published it on the internet, where there is almost infinite space for voices to echo, heard or silent. Or even in a letter, that the TRC could read on its own time. But not in an arena, full of survivors doing challenging healing work.

This need to be heard in an appropriate--not appropriative--space is one reason why I blog. We all need to be heard, perhaps especially about the things that polite society would see as too personal or shameful for the internet. Here, I am heard. But what do I do when the tables are turned, when it is my turn to hear? How does one bear witness, then process internally? I have learned to handle my own pain, gently, and knead it into something that I can cope with. The far larger suffering of others remains a challenge.

One man approached me at the TRC, just wanting to talk. Perhaps my volunteer t-shirt was an invitation, or that I was sitting alone at a picnic table on a lunch break. Perhaps he'd seen me earlier in the day at the booth I was volunteering at, talking to other survivors. This man was upset that he did not feel ready to make an official statement, yet still wanted--or needed--to share the horrors and shame he had lived through. So I listened, before directing him to more qualified emotional support. I will not write down nor verbally divulge what he told me; suffice to say that the abuses he faced are the stuff of nightmares. Even in the context of this event, what he shared was shocking.

This man's story was too big to grasp. The word "I" is powerful, too painful to situate in a sentence that recalls such cruelty. And perhaps that is why he spoke in the second person. You saw. You heard. You felt. You. Now I am holding the slivers from the shrapnel of his pain, distorted yet implanted inside me with his word "you." And though his experiences are not my own, the perpetual ghosts of hands on my body are something I, too, have felt. The pronouns he used pierced into me, and now I am cradling something that is, a week later, still undulating and unexplainable, a sort of tumour that has eclipsed my capacity for words. And yet, to excise this, to share it or bury it, would dishonour his courage in sharing. And yet, my own pain feels fraudulent, appropriative. I try to empathize with the pain of survivors by feeling in the dark for bridges between what we have survived, yet there is a depth that I simply cannot understand fully.

I know better than to dive into these depths, bring up algae-covered memories and scrape them raw in a search for my own understanding. I know better than to drain or dam a lake. Reconciliation seems daunting; it seems like a process for the settler, and not the survivor. What I am wondering now, I suppose, is whether non-Indigenous Canadians can ever be more than an invasive species in this land. Some may be zebra mussels, slicing feet and causing immobilizing pain. Others, perhaps, are bougainvillea; a parade of colourful umbrellas marching through the rain, cheerful hues and singing masking the potential for suffocation.

How do we navigate past this bottleneck, this paralyzed and paralyzing interstice of privilege and pain?

Monday, September 23, 2013

The more I run
the less I feel.
The less I feel
the less it's real.
It isn't fair. I care. I care.
I care.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The sign on the door will not protect you

It seems like every few months I have a discussion with friends about safety, and bathrooms. Whether we should have gender-neutral bathrooms in public places, what this should look like, and so forth. I think whenever such topics come up, others are surprised that I'm in favour of gender neutral washrooms, even if this means not having a dedicated women's washroom. Likely they assume that as a rape survivor, I'd feel safer peeing in a space where men are not allowed.

Now, on one level they are right - I don't like multi-stall washrooms in general, because I don't feel safe there. Often the stalls go only partway to the ground, leaving lots of potential for someone to spy under a door. And that's just weird. So it is uncomfortable, but I've gotten to a point where it is less uncomfortable than a day-long persisting feeling of needing to pee.

So, why don't I mind men being allowed in the washroom? First of all, I don't think it's my right to decide who is a man and who is a woman - these are mutable identity categories. While I am not in a headspace right now to find research on the matter, I do know that many people are harassed or assaulted for not conforming to binary gender norms, and are not safe in any multi-stall public washroom. Gender-policing is more dangerous than the potential of a man in a women's washroom. I would hazard a guess (and please do point me in the right direction for studies on this matter!) that there are more transphobic bigots out there than there are perverts who go into women's washroom for a thrill.

In this statement I am absolutely not denying the violence that women can and do face in public washrooms. However, the sign on the door is not some sort of force field. It cannot protect us from violence. Men can enter the women's washroom in most public buildings fairly easily, and often might not be noticed (I should also acknowledge, of course, that not all sexual predators are men!). I know this personally. I was raped, by a male student, in a women's gym changing room in my own high school. Was he allowed in? Absolutely not. But this did not stop him. The little woman/superhero-in-a-cape sign on the door is meaningless to someone who intends to rape. He cared only that I was alone in a space; a gender-neutral space might actually have been safer, as more students sharing it would minimize the likelihood of me having been alone as the after-class slow-to-dress straggler.

So, an unsolicited element of my own experience, perhaps. But I don't want to see friends boxed into washrooms where they face transphobic violence all in the name of protecting survivors such as myself. We need to crush rape culture, but gender-policing peeing people is not the way to do it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A beautiful poem

It's been ages since I've posted, but I just have to share this beautiful piece I stumbled across tonight:

Alterations: A Monologue

The rest of her blog has some good stuff, too.

<3 br="">

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Just reblogging a link

This was lovely. Coupled with Hyperbole and a Half's recent post on depression, a good combination of things on the internet this week.

As for me, I've not been posting because I've been busy, and ok.

Monday, April 15, 2013


I invest meaning in things that ought not be meaningful. Like in tomorrow. Abstract, socially constructed regimentation of the solar calendar. I am trying not to be scared, triggered. Trying to use my emotions as productive energy. I cannot be eaten by a date, an arbitrary thread, imaginary line linking the present to the past. I will not be smothered by an abstraction.


That's how many days I've had this blog for (for the mathematically challenged, that's 10 years, less a day).

I'm doing a PhD in history. Studying change is something that I do. Studying stagnation, too. In 10 years I've seen change in the world, and I've seen it stagnate and go flat. Nothing changes, yet nothing stays the same. Same old story, what's the use of tears? What's the use of praying if there's nobody who hears? Turning, turning, turning turning turning through the years.

When I started this blog, it was all about me; my healing, my pain, my challenges. It was a private place; my mother knew where I kept my diary, but didn't know where to find me on the internet. Now, it's about bigger things, although the political is still very personal for me. Ten years ago, rape culture certainly existed, but wasn't labelled as such in popular discourse. The internet has given us a place for dialogue and social growth, but it is also a minefield, a sinkhole, a crevasse. Ten years ago, a teen was raped, but cell phones had no cameras, teens did not have Facebook, and text messaging was rare. Today, one click of a camera changes and ends lives. Perhaps it can bring justice, but not before bullying, stigma, and constant torment. The aftermath has changed immensely over the past ten years, and I cannot fathom how my horrors could have manifested themselves differently had they occurred in 2013, not 2003. Turning, turning, turning through the years; minutes into hours and the hours into years. Nothing changes, nothing ever can. Round and round the roundabout and back where you began.

Violence today has taken over the media; bombs went off in Boston at the finish line of the marathon, exploding bodies and changing and ending lives. Got me thinking about violence, and how we react to it as a society. Sudden violence brings sudden attention; everyone is asking whether the people they know in Boston are OK, clarifying the situation on the news. But not all violence is as explosive. People talk about rape how they talk about faraway violence in faraway wars - distant, abstract, a crime against bodies that are not our own. Civilian war casualties and rape survivors are unknown, anonymous, people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time; implicitly, people who did something wrong. Ten years ago, I hid my pain, my shame, my fear. I pushed it away from my mind for as long as I can. I talked about SARS, the illness that was terrifying Toronto, and not about the social ills that had hurt me. I talked about the war in Iraq, and not about the war and violence that is wrought daily on people closer to home. I had no words to talk about how I was hurting, and could only talk allegorically, abstractly.

Shootings, bombings, even natural disasters bring dialogue. It strikes at people that it could have been them, somebody they knew. And people talk about that. Rape is different. We hear about teens who have had their lives torn apart, but if people are thinking, "that could have been me," we don't say so. People talk about an abstract girl, usually one who did something wrong, a girl who should have, could have, done something differently. That girl is also me, could also be you. We are surrounded every day by people who have experienced horrible violence, and we are silent. Around the world, people die in wars with nary a mention in the media. But there is a war on our own soil, in every country in the world, and it's not the "war on terror." We are at war, in terror, changing our lives to avoid rape, averting our gaze while talking about rape in the assumption that it always happens to someone else, never to me, never to you. Invisible, silent, anonymous, insidious violence. It is probably eating somebody near you, consuming from within.

We see the blood, the physical manifestations of violence in Boston. But the explosions in the heart of a survivor, the daily amputations of parts of the soul - those are invisible. The marathon runners who witnessed and experienced trauma in Boston today will have a venue to talk about their fears, their pain. All violence is horrible, yet some violence is privileged in its social reception.

I do not mean here to silence the violence experienced by civilians targeted in war or terrorism, but there are parallels. We are abstract and silent on the massacres of people of colour in places far away. We are abstract and silent on the sexual violence faced primarily by women in places close to home. The emotional rawness that we see in discourses of non-sexual violence affecting people of privilege is absent when violence affects us at our most marginalized. Rape culture is silencing survivors, enabling and perpetuating violence. I have not lived in a war-torn nation. I fear that it may be appropriative to suggest that rape culture is a war, so this parallel is certainly problematic. Yet, with the barrage of abuses it entails, rape culture situates women's bodies, and other bodies that don't conform to hegemonic masculinity, in an abstract nation, far away. Like war, rape culture normalizes violence that happens in a far-away, abstract place. Like war, rape culture gives a louder voice to the perpetrators of violence than to its victims.

I've survived the past ten years. Personally, I've moved a long ways. I've won a battle. I am, and we are, still at war.

Must we always be at war?

Round and round and back where you began.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Adventures in mindfulness, part 4, or so.

The mindfulness group I've been attending all term ended tonight. I'll miss it. It was the hardest thing I've done in a long time, but really rewarding.

Dissociating has been my go-to coping strategy when things are really bad, for a good 10 years now. A few years ago, I learned to at least control it, and use it as an intentional coping strategy rather than a cop-out from my subconscious. I could get away from pain by taking a brief vacation from my mind and body, somehow. It's hard to explain if you've never dissociated. Five years ago, I managed to control flashbacks, so that I would dissociated into nothingness, rather than terror. This term, I've been working on being present, and riding with things that are painful. There were nights when that was crazily hard, but I got through. 

This term has been a bit like trying to fix a hole in a knitting pattern. In order to go back, you have to rip some stitches, and that can be tricky, as there is a risk that everything might unravel. Even once you do succeed, sometimes there is still a kink in the thread where the problem was. It takes surrounding the messy part with clean parts to make the messy part blend in and not look so significant. I unravelled some of my emotions a bit this term, and have been re-knitting them. It still looks bumpy, but I'm hoping to have a well-formed sock in the end.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

This morning, this appeared on my Facebook:

"The Day I Taught How Not to Rape"

I had several amazing teachers in high school. But this was not a conversation that we had. Ever. It was something that didn't happen to "people like us."

I can't help but wonder if this sort of discussion could have saved me from so many years of struggle.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Latest Case in the News...

I've been meaning for a few days now to post about the Steubenville case. I have, however, been too overwhelmed by other things to put my thoughts together coherently.

Other bloggers have done it, and quite well. See, for instance, this powerful post:

Of course she doesn't touch on everything - rape culture is far more exhaustive than any one post can portray it as. It is so insidious it is hard to sum up in writing.

I think the thing that hits me, when I read about Steubenville in the media, is that it's so much more than this case. This is the case that went public. These dramas are playing out around the world in courtrooms...and those are the minority that ever make it to court. Rape culture surrounds us. This is just its latest public manifestation, and we can watch people be outraged for a couple of weeks before it is slipped back under the rug, invisible, insidious, omnipresent, and hurtful.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

I am so triggered tonight. I can feel everything happening to my body. I haven't felt that way in a long time.

I am a survivor and I have healed a good deal. But some nights are still hard, hard, hard.

It's been almost 10 years. One of my students is harassing me, following me, and it brings me back to 10 years ago, when things were starting to escalate...the media today, portraying Steubenville (more coherent post about that some other point!), saying all the horrible things I said to myself in the days, weeks, months, years I did not report or talk about it.

It gets easier but dammit, it just doesn't go away.

I am safe and taking care of myself, but feeling too many things to process them.

[Edited to add: it's morning now, and with the help of a few good friends and one squishy orange cat, I stayed grounded all night. It was surprising and scary for me to feel so bad, after so long - but I am OK and going to distract myself today with work, as a form of self care]

Monday, February 18, 2013

Survivor-friendly feminist spaces

I've seen tips on the internet lately for how feminist spaces can be made safer for people of various backgrounds/experiences/social locations/identities. As a survivor of sexual assault, I've had several experiences in feminist spaces where I felt silenced because of my experiences, or where I was triggered in a space that was meant to be safe. So here goes...a potentially growing list of dos and don'ts, written with the assumption of an audience who already has (loosely defined) feminist values. The "feminist spaces" I am talking about here includes discussion groups, events, committee meetings...a range of things.

"Safe Space" is a tricky concept. As one survivor reminded me when I asked for input for this post, for some of us, there is no such thing as a truly safe space. For this reason, we are talking here about "safer" rather than "safe" spaces, and recognizing that there can be a continuum.

Tips for creating survivor-friendly feminist spaces:

- Include trigger warnings/content warnings when advertising events.
To arrive at a meeting, for example, to learn that discussing a rape prevention initiative is on the agenda can be overwhelming for some survivors. Wherever possible, make sure that potential attendees know about the plans for a meeting, the content of a film screening, and so forth. At some meetings, it may be helpful to sandwich such discussions between breaks; this gives people who would prefer not to be involved in such discussions the option of stepping out more easily, then rejoin the meeting for parts that don't contain potential triggers. Remember that, for some survivors, just discussing sexual assault can be triggering, even if there are no graphic details whatsoever.

- Recognize that anybody can be a survivor.
Women, men, genderqueer folk, and people who identify in other ways are survivors. Assuming that only the cis women in your group are survivors silences many other individuals [partly for this reason, I am using a gender-neutral singular "they" as a pronoun to describe survivors of all gender identities throughout this blog post]. Survivors may be privileged or marginalized in a wide variety of other ways. Sexual violence is a marginalizing experience, so someone who is privileged in other respects may feel extremely marginalized by their experiences. This doesn't mean that survivors shouldn't have to check our own privileges - just that it is another dimension of privilege of which everyone should be aware.

- Never assume that a survivor is comfortable talking about their experiences.
Personally, I write quite willingly and regularly about sexual assault, though very rarely about my own experiences in any detail. I have difficulty, however, speaking about it in front of other people. Just because somebody is an activist and is somewhat open about being a survivor does not mean that they want to discuss it. For some survivors, it is easier to communicate in writing, and/or; if you're looking for input from survivors, allow us the option of contributing to a discussion in alternative ways. Many survivors will not be comfortable with other people knowing that they have survived sexual assault, and nobody should be forced to disclose whether or not they are a survivor.

- Consider having a physical space where survivors can go to take a break from a main event.
Many feminist groups have limited space available. Often, a main meeting space is designated as "safe space" and operates as a safe space quite effectively. However, there are survivors who may become triggered by posters (for example, "No Means No" campaign posters - even when the overall aim of these images is positive, it can still be overwhelming to be faced with posters, books, pamphlets, and stickers with statistics and images about something that is traumatic) and media in some rooms. If you have the resources, offering a second break-away room can be invaluable. Other possibilities include having seating in your meeting space where a survivor would not directly face posters or other media about sexual assault. 

- Remember that women, even feminist women, can perpetrate sexual assault.
This means that even in a designated safe space, people may not feel entirely safe. Being told that we are in a safe space even if we don't feel that way can be demeaning. Recognize that members of your group, of all genders, could have unchecked privilege surrounding sexual violence.

- Know that not all survivors feel that they have really "survived" and that many of us are working through difficult parts in our healing.
I use "survivor" to refer to any person, of any gender, who has experienced sexual assault. It is not perfect, but it will have to do for now, for lack of another word that is not clinical or demeaning. Not everyone is comfortable with that vocabulary - if someone prefers to refer to themself as a victim, that is their right. Allow people to name their own experiences. Remember as well that being present at a feminist event and intellectually knowing that sexual assault is not the fault of the survivor does not mean that said survivor emotionally does not carry grief or shame with them. For some, "survivor" may be an identity or status; for others, it is not.

- Allow survivors to take the lead on issues surrounding sexual violence, if and when they are comfortable.
If you are someone without lived experience of sexual assault, and you lead a feminist group, consider inviting survivors to take the lead on survivor-related campaigns you run, to the extent that they are comfortable doing so. Never push a survivor to lead an initiative - it is too draining for many people to be that involved with their own trauma.

- Check in with people before, during, and after events.
You don't know what history people bring to your group/event/space. Offering the opportunity to check in, as part of a group and individually with a facilitator, can mean the world to survivors who feel uncomfortable.

- Consider how other elements of privilege and marginalization affect a survivor's experiences.
Violence can, and often does, intersect with any and all elements of a survivor's life. This goes for gender, race, and sexual orientation, but also for less obvious manifestations of power. A survivor who is poor might not be able to afford the self-care that is often suggested for them. Many survivors feel unsafe in spaces that police fat or disabled bodies. These intersections are very often invisible, so for an anti-oppressive space, it is important to be aware of all forms of oppression that can affect survivors, and make a safe space free from racist, classist, able-ist, fat-phobic, heterosexist, and other oppressive comments.

- Recognize that violence is not abstract for us.
Someone who has not experienced violence might be able to talk about it in a detached, political or academic way. It is personal. Melissa McEwan on Shakesville says, "It is unfair to ask a woman to leave aside her personal experience and discuss feminist issues in the abstract. You are discussing the stuff of her life. Asking her to "not make it personal" is to ask her to wrench her womanhood from her personhood. Don't play Devil's advocate. Seriously. Just don't." This is the case for survivors. Some of us can leave our personal experiences aside, and some of us cannot - but how we use those experiences is entirely up to us, as individuals.

Other things to remember:
- Our feminist values may or may not be linked to our experiences as a survivor.
- Our experiences as survivors are unique; please avoid comparing one survivor's experiences with another.
- Everyone has the potential to experience sexual violence.

Please help to build and refine this list - please let me know if you have additions, suggestions, etc.

Adventures in mindfulness, part...I forget

Oddest injury ever, and one that ought to only happen in movies:

I was doing a body scan (mindfulness exercise) yesterday morning, when my foster cat came to check out what I was up to. When he snuggled against my face, I sneezed, prompting him to swat at my nose. I am now sporting a cute little scratch on my schnoz.

There are certain things that it's hard to be mindful through, and that was one of them. I had to stop my practice for the morning and go and do first aid. Dang. Mindfulness and cats can only mix to a certain extent.

Mellow Yellow: Adorable, but too inquisitive to be a good mindfulness buddy!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Privilege and Protests: A Reflection

I am unsure whether to post this, as it likely reeks considerably of privilege. But this blog is a place for my thoughts and voice - so I post with the caveat that I realize that I am on unceded land; I am middle class; I am white, educated, stably housed. At the same time, I am still a survivor. I post tonight as a mix of all of these parts of myself and my experiences.

I went to the Women's Memorial March today in Vancouver's Downtown East Side. For those who aren't familiar with it, the DTES is known as "Canada's Poorest Postal Code" and is quite a dangerous place for women, yet also a vibrant community with a completely different style from the rest of the city. It's more than just rough around the edges; for those of us who are used to a more privileged life, it's uncomfortable. As one woman, Betsey Turtle Bruyere, says in her video, "Be uncomfortable. But listen. Learn. No apologies here."

This was my first time participating in this march, and I had been expecting something more similar to the Take Back the Night marches I'd participated in in Toronto and London. The Toronto march takes place in a different low-income community each year, so that women from across the city have a chance to reclaim their streets. London's march is more centralized and less grassroots in its feel, and has more conflict between the "women's bodies not for sale" and the "sex workers' rights" chants. Toronto's march is overwhelmingly in favour of sex workers' rights, as was today's march in Vancouver.

I hung towards the back of the march with some friends. Partly this was unintentional as it was just where we happened to be when people started marching; however, I didn't feel it would be appropriate for me to rush to the front of the march and lead chants the way I would in another setting. I live outside this community, and I have a level of safety that the women who organized the march do not have. We are marching to honour women who have gone missing, and who have been murdered. Even though I am a survivor of violence as well, my experiences are starkly different from those of Vancouver's missing women. I don't mean in terms of the violence we experienced, as I don't believe in a hierarchy of whose experience is more horrifying. But there is a key difference in that I did survive. I am here. I have privilege through that. Privilege over those who did not survive what happened to them, and yet, I don't have the privilege of having not had to survive. Perhaps that is a right, not a privilege. But I digress.

After my friends left the march to go to various other commitments they had, I started to get a bit emotional; without friends to distract me, the realities behind the march sunk in. It was cold and gloomy, and I began to hurt a bit; I can't quite describe it. I had a card in my pocket that a woman gave me earlier in the march: 

"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." You must do the thing you think you cannot do."
At this point women were singing a First Nations drum song; I know little about this music and don't honestly know if it would have been appropriate for me to join the singing, as a white person, so I kept silent. At the same time, the card in my pocket made me feel like I belonged, to some extent. Not as part of the DTES community, but to an acknowledgement of women's survival. This is getting very sappy, but that's how I felt it at the moment. I don't belong in that circle of women, but they were willing to let people in from the outside without asking questions, and to give us cards to affirm our ability to survive as well. Would there be the same crossover at events regarding violence against women outside the Downtown East Side? The card for me was a grounding object for the last part of my time there, and one that I needed very much; it's something I will hold on to. I don't know the woman who was distributing those cards, but I wish I could thank her for giving those affirmations to those of us who wanted them.

I think about privilege a fair bit, in both my academic work and my day-to-day life. It's something that troubles me, as I have a lot of privilege on many levels. In the circles that I move in, the more marginalized parts of my identity aren't even particularly marginal. So privilege is always an undercurrent. It rarely hits me quite the way it did today, however.

After feeling uncomfortable (not to mention that I was getting cold and hungry!) for about 15 minutes after my friends left, I decided to head off even though the march was still going on.  As I do every so often when I'm feeling a bit emotionally unsteady, I headed for the nearest wool shop to admire yarn. This particular one was warm and colourful, and had the added benefit of a friendly cat. I got to chatting with the owner, since I really felt that I needed some human connection to stay stable. Turned out that I didn't get what I needed there...this particular woman was quite opposed to such a march happening. It was slowing down the buses in front of her store, and besides, if women didn't want to get murdered, they shouldn't be out on the streets like that, should they? I asked her further what her thoughts were on the area; after all, the people in the DTES have been there for a lot longer than her shop has. Those people are bad for business. They have markets - of used goods, you know, not the sort of thing my customers would buy. My customers don't feel comfortable walking through the area when they have their market. She spoke to me with the assumption that she'd found a sympathetic ear to her grievances. I was to stunned to respond, and left the shop without buying anything.

I don't share the views of this shopkeeper, of course. But I do have the same privileges she has. At the end of the march, I could find some sort of solace - however tenuous - in a local shop, and not have my presence in the area questioned or policed. I could go get coffee and soup to warm myself up. I could go home in the evening and navel-gaze on my blog in a safe space.

Women - united - we'll never be divided they chant at many marches. But is this true? The One Billion Rising campaign has many detractors among feminists - see, for example, Natalie Gyte at the Huffington Post and the multitude of comments on her post. There are problems with One Billion Rising, I'll concede that. But at the same time, what else do we have? It has momentum. The Women's Memorial March is publicized on the One Billion Rising webpage (notably, the publicity does not seem to run in the other direction, and I'd be interested in knowing what politics there are behind this). Yes, One Billion Rising is run by people with privilege, and that's problematic. But at the same time, is it fair to say which survivors can and cannot organize? Gyte criticizes the premise of healing by dancing - and yet, for many people, there is significant power in dancing. For me, there is so much power in dancing that I have trouble doing so. She criticizes the idea of "rising" - but if we don't rise, will we sink? Or stagnate? To me, "rise" in this context does not mean to pull oneself up by the bootstraps, but rather, to refuse to be silenced.

When they say to rise, I think of Maya Angelou:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
Even when we protest, we are divided. Even for the privileged, it hurts. I want us all to rise together, to survive together - but I cannot fathom how.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Adventures in Mindfulness (part 3?)

Not much to reflect on today - I fell asleep!

My conclusion is that if my body wants to sleep, rather than be mindful, I shall let it. So I had two brief naps this evening, in lieu of body scanning. Oh well. I did also go for a lovely run.

Vulnerability, shame and the Internet

I've had friends and family question why I put such personal things on the internet. And that's a tough one, because obviously the content in this blog is very personal. Ultimately, though, there are thousands of people who blog about recovery from illness; about grief; about other challenges that they face. Perhaps that's personal as well, but I do wonder: do those people get the "why do you blog about that?" sorts of questions that I quite often do?

I found a great post online today, in which a woman discloses her experiences of abuse. And she talks about why it is important for her to tell the internet. You can read it here. Since she is a public figure in certain spheres of the blogging world, for her, it's a way of humanizing herself and showing her vulnerability.

For me, posting here is about reclaiming space and a voice when I've had so much taken from me; it's a way of clearly saying that there is nothing shameful about my experiences, and no need for it to be a secret, even though it still hurts me to talk about it in any way other than writing it down. This is a space for healing, a space for vulnerability, and a space for thoughts and for change. It's a way to say that there is no need for secrecy. By sharing things that many people would say are shameful, I am taking them and making them no longer shameful. They are what they are, and what happened has happened.

I am careful about who I tell, at times, because people pry and ask questions at inappropriate times. I am careful because of my safety. That is why I am anonymous on here; unless you found this blog through me, you wouldn't learn my name from it. But nothing about that is because of shame. Shame implies that one has done something wrong. There are things in my life that I am ashamed of, but being a rape survivor is not one of them. Surviving is about the things in my life that I did right.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Adventures in Mindfulness, Part 2

Just some short observations today. I've found that when trying to do things mindfully, rather than doing them mindfully, I find myself thinking quite intently about the need to do them mindfully. It's like there's a layer of wrapping around whatever activity I am doing, that I have not yet penetrated. This also means that even when I am not intending to do things mindfully, I find myself thinking that I should be.

Seeing as mindfulness is meant to be an intentional activity, does the very fact that it's intentional mean that we're thinking about it, and therefore, is that a problem? I've created a circle in my brain here.

Still the same deal with texture and food. I can eat, but not fully mindfully. It's weird now realizing that I've been neglecting a sensation for so much time.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Second post of the night - but more thoughts about engaging with my body and physicality and movement coming out of mindfulness, since one of the exercises we do is a body scan. I've devoted this evening to self-care, and out of self-care comes thinking, and out of thinking comes blogging.

After being asked the other day whether I enjoy dancing, I've given some thought to it. I've been uncomfortable for years with dancing, since I'm clumsy and self-conscious. Ballet teachers as a child had little to say to me that was positive, and I stopped dancing unless required to for some reason by the time I was about 10 years old. Dancing became something that was forced out of me, and an activity in which my control over my body was taken away from me. It was something exposing, and where I was almost invariably criticized and made to feel uncomfortable.

I danced willingly when I was 17, at camp, and enjoyed it, being in a very safe space and knowing that I was not being looked at. I've danced willingly at some queer and feminist events, when the vibe is right and where safe space is very engrained. These days, I dance only in specific situations. I have to feel very safe to willingly do so. There is something too sensual about it, and it draws attention to my body and how I move, and dance seems to always have an implication of sexuality which is often discomforting. I find it exposing and it makes me vulnerable. Sometimes, I dance anyways, even though I don't feel comfortable, because it draws more attention to me if I am on the sidelines.

The image here is something I made as a backdrop for a university production of the Vagina Monologues in 2008. It was my attempt at a self portrait. I am still quite attached to it.
These Scars Cannot Stop Me From Dancing

At around the same time as I drew this, I was on a Melissa Etheridge kick and listened on repeat to her "Dance Without Sleeping" quite regularly.

I danced at a conference last weekend (it's the sort of conference where one dances). I felt very uncomfortable at first, particularly being sober when most others were drunk. Even when someone drunkenly groped me, I kept dancing and did not leave. I was proud. I will never be a dancer, but I will still dance. I will probably not dance well, but I will dance without fear. Here is a new goal, a new mantra.

Adventures in Mindfulness (part 1?)

So, I'm doing a mindfulness program through the health and counselling services at my university. This is the second mindfulness-based therapeutic program I've tried out through the same service, and I'm feeling optimistic. The previous one was helpful, to an extent, but there were things that didn't sit right with me, that I won't get into here and now.

Back to mindfulness. I've tried meditating before, but it hasn't been good for me. Clearing my mind of everything has sent me into a dissociative spiral, and/or brought up things that are too scary for me to handle when I'm in the vulnerable space that meditation seems to put me into.

Mindfulness seems different, though. It's about being physically aware, from what I can gather - the opposite of dissociation. Knowing where my body is, how it feels, and how my feelings manifest themselves physically. This particular program asks for a lot of homework, meaning that aside from sleeping I'll be spending more time on mindfulness than on any other single non-academic activity in a given week.

It's very odd being aware of my body. I've spent years and years trying to shut it down, because of the memories attached to it, or because of physical pain of various sorts. It was actually surprising to find that engaging with my body was not a painful experience. I can feel things, physically, that are not pain, without having to do anything to feel other than think about feeling. As in, in the past I've only felt non-painful sensations in my body if I intentionally work to bring them on, such as through exercise. Perhaps this is something that most people take for granted; for me, it is not. This sort of connectedness has stayed with me for a few hours after I do mindfulness exercises, so that I have a non-painful engaged body for extended periods of time.

People who have read far back on this blog remember my rants about how academics detach bodies from people. I'm beginning to rethink that approach, seeing how detached I've always kept my body and my mind, and how marginalizing that is. I am not entirely sure what I am trying to say here, but I am trying to say something about reconceptualizing interactions between the body and the mind.

Mindful eating is another battle. It seems that I have for years shut down to some extent if I have anything in my mouth, to avoid triggering myself. One part of our homework this week is to eat one meal mindfully. I hadn't even realized how detached I was from touch-related sensations when I was eating, until on successive days I had to mindfully eat a raisin, then an M&M. I've always tasted what I eat, but somehow I think I haven't been feeling the texture of foods, or acknowledged that something is touching something in my mouth. I'm not sure how to explain it.

I haven't had PTSD triggers in quite some time, but eating mindfully means engaging with how things feel in my mouth, which is triggering. I became very triggered after eating an M&M in the Thursday group - the one that isn't working quite as well for me, for other reasons - then had to run to class. It wasn't a good way to work through the day, and I may leave the Thursday group, partly because of needing self-care time afterwards and not having a chance for that with my class schedule.

I suppose I've buried lots of memories in my mouth. I'm working very slowly on this. Very slowly. Today, I ate a corn chip mindfully, then had to stop. I'll work up to bigger things, I suppose. We'll see how it goes.

An odd thing came up in our group session on Wednesday. We did an exercise where we had to visualize a well, drop a (visualized) stone into it, and see what came up, in terms of our reasons for being in the program. I'm not sure if I'm explaining this particular exercise very well. At any rate, the purpose I assumed I came for - the stone I dropped in - was healing. I'm on a healing journey, right? That's why I signed up for mindfulness. Ultimately the word that came out of the well was, oddly, productivity. At first, I thought that was a sign from my subconscious, or something, that I was done healing, and now had to channel my healing energies into more productive things, and focus on my work. After trying some of the exercises at home, especially the mindful eating, I've realized that there must be some sort of blended purpose. Part of me is obviously aspiring for greater productivity - that's obvious. I am often stunted in my work because of my anxiety, and mindfulness will help me focus, academically. But the healing isn't over. I'm not sure whether healing ever will be over, whether it is finite. I am hoping this is the last painful bit I'll have to uncover, but I am not certain. There is a lot of uncertainty here.

At the very least, I am accompanied in my at-home mindfulness practice, for the next week or so, by Mellow Yellow, the Laziest Cat in the World, who flops down beside me and imitates my posture when I do body scans. It is comforting and brings a sense of camaraderie.

This has been a lot of navel-gazing, and I feel like writing a post to publicly muse as to why I feel a need to make all this healing public - I do know that I feel a need to, but haven't put it into words. That's for another night, I think.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Don't Let the Macaroni Burn Down the House!

I'd like to share a really great post by my sister. On Wednesday she spoke at the Faces of Recovery event for Eating Disorders Awareness Week. She's posted the text of the talk she did for other people.

It's a really fabulous piece about fighting the urge to sabotage oneself. While she's talking specifically about eating disorders, everybody should read it.

Don't Let the Macaroni Burn Down the House.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


I've considered myself to be non-theoretical in how I approach academic questions, and I'm often skeptical of how some historians use theory. Several people in the past few days have commented that I seem quite theoretical, in fact. So now, I am wondering: have I become so accustomed to whatever theories I use that I no longer see them as theory, but merely as the normal way of looking at the world?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Random thoughts

Bizarre things come into my head while reading.

* As researchers, are we eating ourselves, or eating each other?
* Is sex an object of violence? A subject of violence? A means of violence? A catalyst to violence? A resistance of violence? [I have trouble conceptualizing it as being entirely unconnected to violence except in theoretical situations]
* Is self-injury repeated rape of the self? [I derive this from reading too much into symbols, with a blade or flame being a phallic object that repeatedly penetrates the body]
* Are experiences of violence socially constructed? Or is making such an argument a violent erasure of experience?
* I think, therefore I am. What about when I'm meditating?

Monday, January 7, 2013

A few more links...and corresponding ranting

I haven't written much of my own stuff lately, although I have something in the works.

In the meantime, here are a few things to read/see:

This graphic shows the magnitude of rape, and how often it is for rapists to actually be well as showing those who are falsely accused (hint: very few!). I can't comment on the accuracy of the statistics, and indeed lots of comments on the Washington Post, where I have linked to (comments have huge potential to be triggering due to victim blaming and sheer dismissal of rape survivors), dispute the numbers. OK, so the quantitative picture may not be exact. But qualitatively speaking, it's pretty clear what the general trend is here.

Another recent must-read is Soraya Chemaly's latest post. Again, a huge potential for triggering as it talks about rape unreservedly, and with a few graphic bits. But she eloquently pulls together what's happened in India recently with rape culture as a more global issue, that recognizes India's tremendous problem with rape culture without giving an undeserved cookie to other countries that have perhaps less dramatic, but nonetheless heinous, examples of rape. The absence of justice for rape survivors is globally pervasive, and the situation is worst in countries with a more patriarchal political and judiciary system. And perhaps culture...I hesitate to talk about "culture" as I am not an anthropologist and it's hard to talk about culture without seeming racist. And India has such a diverse group of cultures. So I don't know whether the issue of "Eve-teasing" (read: everything ranging from garden-variety sexual harassment, down to fetal gang rape, smooshed together under one blanket that suffocates and minimizes the issue as something natural for men to do) is cultural, terminologically speaking. But the vary idea that there is one singular thing of "Eve-teasing" is symptomatic of something being very, very wrong.

I digress. On the flipside to Chemaly's piece, there is Doug Saunders' recent commentary, looking at the same issue. He makes a good point, but I feel like he exaggerates the extent to which Canadian and other "western" (problematic concept...) feminists dismiss the movement in India as just part of a global trend. One could read that into what Chemaly's post argues, but she has more nuance than that. India is an extreme example, yes - but it's not an exception to an otherwise feminist, well-behaved world.

A few more articles/blog posts for tonight. Kate Adach at Higher Unlearning (might be triggering for sexism and some violence, although it's not specifically about rape "jokes") blogs about sexist "humour" and why it sucks. She makes some good insights; I'll leave that for you to read. She also touches on issues of silencing, which led me to think of this piece on xoJane about everyday sexual assault/harassment in a bar setting. The author, who was groped in a bar by a drunk stranger, talks about how she wasn't sure how to interpret his actions, even to herself, so ended up mostly keeping silent and justifying it with light humour, as though it's no big deal. And perhaps for her, his touch wasn't a huge deal - but it's symptomatic of systemic issues that are a huge, huge deal. Silence is political. Humour is political. I don't mean to condemn her for keeping silent; whenever this happens to me, I don't usually bother telling people either (and, of course, she went along to blog about it; while she says she was silent and "did nothing about it," she did quasi-anonymously tell the internet. I'm sure most of us respond in ways fairly similar to hers (minus the blogging, presumably, for most folks?)...and in doing so, we perpetrate rape culture while being at the receiving end of it. It's a horrible place to be put in. If we speak out, we are "those women" who can't take a joke, who make everything in to such a big deal, who are unable to cope with the realities of our world. But if we are silent, it keeps happening. Do we let it keep happening, or are we tacitly forced to sweep it under the rug as a survival mechanism? Perhaps that's a blog post for some other night... (in the meantime, for some middle ground and a way to anonymously break the silence, there is always the Everyday Sexism Project [some posts there may trigger]).'s time for chocolate cake.