Friday, December 25, 2015

Nabokov was on a butterfly collecting trip in the summer of '48 when he started to write his masterpiece, Lolita. And I am not surprised. Nabokov was as privileged and white and male as Humbert Humbert, the deranged middle-aged protagonist narrating the book. And both clearly expressed themselves through cruel acts of appropriation and exploitation.

Whether chasing butterflies like the author, or nymphets (eroticised little girls) like his character, both acted out their desires by invoking and projecting onto reality a warped fantasy world – Nabokov called it "the meadow-world of childhood."

The end result was always the same. Either dead and pinned to a board close-fitted with glass for eternity or to a bed shackled for life by the demons of sexual trauma, the objects of these mens' personal preoccupations did not fare well in these encounters. Powerful white men, Nabokov and Humbert had the privilege of cultivating their unique selves at the expense of others.

Arguably, this "natural right" is what allowed Nabokov to write his classic and express his individual genius without reproach being any sort of barrier to his success. It takes a lot of privilege (a lot of sexual privilege) and cultural capital and a context of white supremacy and patriarchy to be able to reject uniformity, like he did, by praising in high speech the child molester.

No matter how hard I try, I just can't imagine a poor man, a black man, a brown man, a trans man or a differently abled man being permitted or encouraged or championed for dedicating himself to the task of composing more than 300 pages of intricate, evocative word play to sympathetically render a man physically and philosophically devoted to pedophilia.

It reminds me of millennial-golden-girl Lena Dunham and her offhand confessions of sexually breaching the boundaries of her little sister's body in her memoir, “Not That Kind of Girl,” a New York Times Bestseller (a fact that makes my soul exit my body and plead for death). Again, not a negligible cruelty. And again, not something I can imagine anyone but an influential white person from a wealthy (Nabokov), aristocratic (Marquis de Sade) or urban creative class (Dunham) background being rewarded for.

Only in a world shaped by power systems that center cis white male heteronormative sexuality can a story like Lolita be transformed into a gripping iconic cultural touchstone – celebrated at once for being entertaining and transgressive.

This quibble aside, I am quite enjoying the book!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Another white terrorist's name burned into the history books

What a fucking disaster.

While women's sexual and reproductive rights are heatedly debated in government and under threat from don't-know-how-the-female-body-works-cuz-I'm-too-dumb-to-be-alive socially conservative lawmakers and religious right, our Planned Parenthoods are getting shot up.

Since 2011, more than 240 laws have been passed in state legislatures that put women’s health at risk. And just days ago, another white man's whacked out anti-abortion agenda took the lives of three innocent people. All three were parents, leaving children behind. 

I am fucking sick of watching this play out. Of watching a basic tenet of any forward thinking, civilized nation get repeatedly kicked in the neck: the idea that women are autonomous beings and that our social, economic and physical health are directly tied to our ability access things like sexual education, cancer screenings, and critical family planning services like contraception and abortion access.

I have ovarian cysts. I won't humor you and tell you that this condition is "painful," when it's horrific. The size of marbles, these little demons are produced monthly by my ovaries. Sometimes they are silent and other times they get an A in evil and send shock waves through my body and knock me unconscious. Birth control is used to treat this condition by regulating the body's hormones.

I have health insurance these days, but in an embattled show of solidarity I will be going to Planned Parenthood to access the care I need. For most of my life Planned Parenthood was all I had and I'll never forget that. Loyal and indebted to this wonderful organization, I am proud to utilize its services and will be sure to write the biggest donation check I can on the way out.

Within the last week domestic terrorists have gunned down Planned Parenthood workers, cops and BLM activists, yet we are expected to believe that Syrian refugees pose the greatest threat to our safety.

Busy counting enemies outside our borders, we miss a host of foes at home who continue to kill us with impunity, like anti-abortion right-wingers who, in attempting to annihilate the other side, transform ordinary trips to a health clinic into something charged, political, urgent, reminding us that the personal is political and that our bodies are battlegrounds.

This is where we are in 2015 in America. And it is not normal. Gun violence, a culture of fear, attacks on a whole society's reproductive health (Planned Parenthood treats men, trans and non-binary people too) is not normal.

"Not normal" may not sound like the most compelling argument or mode of analysis but it is when the ever-present threat of violence against the largest single provider of reproductive health services in the US is so thoroughly normalized.

Please support your local ‪#‎PlannedParenthood‬ in whatever way you can. We can't let the DOMESTIC terrorists win.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Carrying on Tradition

Without a touch of self-irony people in the United States are falling for it. The recent attacks in Paris are hardening hatred against 1.8 billion Muslims and cementing Islam’s status as synonymous with violence, fanaticism and terrorism.

The other day over half of all US governors declared they won't allow Syrian refugees to resettle in their states, even though not a single refugee resettled in the US has committed an act of terrorism. If history is to be a guide, anti-immigrant activists, pro-life Christians and gun-toting, anti-government extremists have proven themselves more prone to terrorism than refugees.

Earlier today, writer and activist, Pamela Olson wrote on Facebook, “Soon we'll celebrate Thanksgiving, a commemoration of arriving in someone else's nation as migrants and refugees.”

It’s America’s defining irony.

A nation of immigrants always ready to decry the newest wave of immigrants.

Yet most of us come from mixed, murky backgrounds, forgetting “American” is not so much an ethnicity as a euphemism for white. “Everybody else has to hyphenate,” Toni Morrison reminds us.

Because my grandma immigrated to the US at 17, fleeing a poverty-stricken Switzerland, and didn’t receive citizenship until I was five years old, I grew up thinking everyone had a mitigating voice or presence somewhere in their family reminding them that we all came from somewhere. I thought everyone was consciously reflective of this fact. I was wrong.

George Carlin quipped this country was “founded by slave owners who wanted to be free.” In achieving their paradox, they fashioned a white supremacist society run on collective passions, virulent sectarianism, and divisive, dehumanizing rhetoric.

Today I am reminded not everyone has a close relative who saved up for a year for a ticket in steerage. So let me remind you that we all have a country of origin, and it’s not "America," unless you are of Native ancestry. We are all products of a colonial environment.

Today is a good day to remind ourselves that the stubborn, fear-mongering, xenophobic vitriol currently targeting Syrian refugees is nothing new, and neither are, on the other side of things, the reasons why Syrian men, women and children are risking everything to make the perilous journey from war-torn Syria to a better life elsewhere. 

By reminding ourselves we all came from somewhere, I hope you can see how silly and cruel are the calls to halt Syrian refugee resettlement to the United States. Here's a by no means exhaustive list of the huddled masses who came to America and why they did:

- The first African-Americans were forcibly brought here as slaves, but immigrant communities from all over Africa have resettled here, fleeing violence and poverty

- English-Americans fled economic and religious repression

- German-Americans, French-Americans and Dutch-Americans fled poverty, wars and fascism

- Chinese-Americans came for economic opportunities on the transcontinental railroad and in the gold mines

- Irish-Americans fled famine and The Troubles

- Italian-Americans fled poverty and political oppression

- Jewish-Americans fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe and Russia and The Holocaust (well sorta, US policy opposed taking in Jewish refugees during The Holocaust and we all know what happened)

- Polish-Americans fled the chronic poverty and oppression of Tsarist Russia

- Cuban-Americans fled Castro

- Iranian-Americans fled the ’79 Revolution

- Vietnamese-Americans fled the Vietnam War

- Mexican-Americans and Latin Americans fled poverty, drug wars and proxy wars

- Arab-Americans – Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians and Iraqis – fled war, economic hardship and dictatorship, as did Hmong, Karen, Bhutanese, Indian, Haitian and Somali Americans.

We are all descended from migrants and refugees, who came here in good faith hoping to escape the conditions that "crushed human souls." The loss of one's homeland is the saddest fate and today there are more refugees in the world than ever previously recorded – 60 million.

This Thanksgiving, if you are truly thankful, give generously and with open arms, pressure our government to take in more Syrian refugees and donate to organizations like the International Rescue Committee. Our country is indebted to immigrants and refugees for its prosperity and advancement and there's no future without them.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dealing with Street Harassment is Emotional Labor – And I Quit

A sex-obsessed Harry Block in the film Deconstructing Harry asks the prostitute he’s just slept with if she likes her job. Still under the sheets, she replies “It’s okay, it beats the hell out of waitressing.”

“That’s funny,” Harry laughs, “every hooker I ever speak to tells me that it beats the hell out of waitressing. Waitressing’s gotta be the worst fucking job in the world!”

Perhaps not THE worst job, waitressing is without a doubt ONE of the worst jobs. I’ve toiled away, overworked and underpaid, in a number of unenviable trades, including as a janitor hauling trash and scrubbing toilets, but what made waitressing so unbearable was that thing that often separates men’s work from women’s work: emotional labor.

Read the rest at Stop Street Harassment.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

It is an Incredibly Brave Act to Speak Up

It is an incredibly brave act to speak up. One way to make our voices heard is through the liberatory power of poetry. My own experience has shown me that a poem often starts with a lump in the throat and the determination to say the unsayable, not divine inspiration or lofty ideas.

A poem that shakes me to the core every time I hear it is Calayah Heron’s, “CornerStoreCandy.” In this poem, Heron – who first experienced street harassment at the tender age eight – details in haunting, evocative language the terror of being sexually objectified and preyed upon. Heron’s voice cracks with pain beneath a beautifully measured eloquence. Her words illuminate the deep, unnamed feelings that are routinely suppressed when we bottle up our rage, grief and disbelief.

By putting pen to paper, poets like Heron remind us that even if we can’t speak up in the moment, we can later. It’s never too late to reject the ritual humiliations of living in a world where men have been taught to feel entitled to our time, our bodies, and our lives.

Read the rest at Stop Street Harassment.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Andrea Gibson's Powerful Poem That's Meant to Be Used

Whether we’re carrying mace, a rape whistle, switchblade or scythe (I’ve considered them all), these weapons, like Gibson’s dagger-sharp wordplay, are symbols of the violence women face daily. They evoke with forceful lucidity our second-class citizenship. There is significant risk in defying this system, in defying the will of the harasser, even for those who might try to intervene on our behalf.

Read the rest at Stop Street Harassment.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Poetry and Street Harassment

Despite her themes of feminism, there is no Sylvia Plath poem about street harassment. If you type “street harassment” into the search bar at two of the largest poetry databases (The Poetry Foundation and you’ll get zero results. Type in “trees” or “love” and you’ll find hundreds or thousands of matching results.

It appears as if street harassment is not the subject of poetry. Which isn’t surprising, considering how historically male-dominated the literary world has been. Just like public space, cultural circles and high centers of learning are long-established male domains. Only within recent memory have women experienced some success in forcing the doors open, demanding a ‘room of their own’ in the literary world.

Read the rest at Stop Street Harassment.