June Jordan would want this to happen.
( image description of thumbnail image]: large screen with the image of writer June Jordan on it, wearing a black and white horizontally striped shirt, looking down, smiling with pleasure. person on stage at mike is
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarashina wearing a red slip]
As an emerging queer writer of color, I deeply needed writing arts spaces that got it - that weren't just focused around straight, dead white guys - and they were damn hard to find. They don't exist in most graduate schools. They are rare in community spaces. I've spent the past 13 years teaching writing and performance to badass marginalized writers to try and fill that gap and because I love doing it, through Supporting Our Youth's Pink Ink program, co-founding Asian Arts Freedom School and teaching with June Jordan's Poetry for the People program at UC Berkeley and in communities and colleges across North America. And 13 years later, I know there's still so much need for places to learn writing, stretch and grow fiercely as a queer writer of color.
But! I am so excited because I'm starting to teach writing classes as sacred space by and for two spirit, queer and trans people of color and TSQTPOC with disabilities. My first class, Sacred Texts, Collective Dream, is kicking off this November at the Living Room Project in West Oakland, CA, a physically accessible space. I'm also teaching this class online in December, in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible. Further, I'm teaching Frida and Harriet's Children, an online writing class for TSQTPOC with disabilities and chronic illness in January 2014. I am so fucking excited about taking the leap to make spaces of liberatory writing education for communities of writers I love the most possible. You can see more about the project here: http://www.brownstargirl.org/current-projects.html
Since I posted the call for participants three weeks ago, I've had a ton of people emailing and being interested in taking classes. This is awesome! I've also had a bunch of people asking what the scholarship opportunities are because guess what- a lot of two spirit, queer and trans people of color writers are broke! I have a number of Deaf folks who want to take the class, and I am fundraising to pay ASL interpreters to make this class Deaf accessible.
A huge part of liberation is making learning accessible in all ways. So- I'm writing to ask if you would consider supporting Sacred Texts, Collective Dream with a donation of any amount to go towards full or partial scholarships for folks who are broke/ low-income to take the class, and for access costs. Here's the cost breakdown: Cost of renting accessible space
: $120 Scholarship fund
: $600 ASL
: 2 interpreters at $60/hour for 4 2 hour classes= $960 Total goal: $1680
You can Paypal me at firstname.lastname@example.org, marking the donation as "personal" or "I'm sending money to family and friends." I'm bad at making GoFundMes and stuff like that, but this seems to work for most folks. Literally any amount of cash helps and gets you my love and support and thanks for helping collectively build zones of accessible creation as liberation.
If you're broke right now, I get it (believe me.) You can totally help by passing the word on! You can also help out by letting your folks know about the classes, posting about the classes and campaign on social media, or writing an article or blog post.
Thanks in advance for all the work you do, and all your love and amazingness.
photo by Naty Tremblay, taken at Maggie's Toronto's Reclaiming Revolution event, July 2013
hey all- amazing queer cis femme prison abolitionist organizers Lisa Marie Alatorre and Chanelle Gallant interviewed me for their blog, Everyday Abolition! Here's the link to the audio interview and the transcription of the piece: http://everydayabolition.com/2013/06/06/interview-with/
Everyday Abolition is an amazing new project documenting ways people bring prison abolition work into their lives every day. In their words:
"Everyday Abolition is an international political art collaboration between Chanelle Gallant and Lisa Marie Alatorre collecting stories, art, and interviews highlighting the ways PIC abolitionists practice, and live PIC abolition in our work, organizing, and personal lives.
Starting in February 2013, we began collecting submissions and conducting interviews with self-identified PIC abolitionists – a community of strong, resilient, brilliant, and committed people – whose stories and words tell us what it means and what it takes to live abolition, everyday.
We are sharing their genius on this blog as a living collection that we will add to for (at minimum) the rest of 2013. In addition, we will be self-producing a zine version of the blog, to be shared more broadly with communities off-line—especially our comrades inside cages and those navigating the PIC controlled streets who don’t have/want access to online activism and art.
This project has inspired both of us to imagine new strategies and possibilities and to get more clear with ourselves about what we mean by “Everyday Abolition.” If abolition is a long-term strategy and the forces opposing us are so formidable, how are we still creating it everyday? These stories, art pieces and interviews explore this concept with so much honesty and transparency, admitting the challenges and defeats while simultaneously claiming the victories for celebration and learning. What we are seeing is how we always come back to transformation and the healing powers of living for a world without cages. A world without punitive punishment and oppression. A world that invests in people and their capacity for change.
We are living it, everyday.
To quote from one of our interviewees Giselle Dias: “It seems anything and everything is possible when we create the space for it”.
ha! I wrote this and then I guess it got stuck in drafts. here's everything I did this spring.
Dear beloved family,
Happy Nawruz/ Spring Equinox 2013! This year feels so full of potential, and it's moving so fast and yet feels slow and mindful to me. I've had Octavia Butler's phrase "wild seed" in my head a lot lately. Everyplace I go, everything I do, I keep feeling and running into these magic connections, wild seeds sprouting with unpredictable futures. Reading cards for a client in a Toronto cafe, I look up and see my friend who, it turns out, is cooking up similar dreams for a queer and trans people of color healing land project to the one me and folks I know are. The world didn't end in 2012 the way some of us thought it might, but for a lot of folks I know, our worlds transformed and ended in other huge ways. And here we are in the afterfuture, figuring out what we're going to make next. And I'm also thinking about imaginal cells- the cells in caterpillars that completely liquify when they are in the cocoon trying to turn into a butterfly. The caterpillar has to turn into this
totally liquid goop on the way to it becoming something completely else. That's the time it feels like we're in, too.
So far for 2013 I've, among other things:
* travelled to Sydney and Melbourne Australia at the invitation of the Sydney Femme Guild, to keynote a conference with Amber Hollibaugh and Jaiden Pony, and to find my grandparents graves (they immigrated to Australia from Sri Lanka in the 70s and were buried there);
* been really excited about, with Cherry Galette, producing Mangos With Chili's first tour since 2009, as well as upcoming shows in the Bay Area, Toronto, Stanford and Kitchener-Waterloo, ON.
* met with other QTPOC arts producers in the Bay Area to talk about the work we're doing, resource sharing and challenges, and how we can build a network of strong QTPOC arts creators and curators
* started meditating
* considered going to my 20th anniversary high school reunion
* and had a month long fibro flare and huge RSI flareup that has made typing hard and made me change a lot of habits.
and a whole lot of other amazing shit that is listed in the events and updates sections below.
Oh yeah- I finally got Mail Chimp and started sending out occasional email updates that aren't me sending 500 emails from my gmail account! Cute templates! Columns! And stuffs. If you don't want to be on this, feel free to hit unsubscribe, but this will only come your way once a season at most. Feel free to pass this around, too.
with love and hope, for real,
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinhabrownstargirl.orgperformances, events and workshops!
I thought I was having a slow spring. I guess I was wrong. Here's some of the amazing readings, performances and workshops where you can find me over the next three months:
Wednesday, March 27, 5:30-7:30 PM, San Francisco Public Library, Latin@ Heritage Room. In conjunction with Women's History Month, Kearny Street Workshop proudly presents Sri Lankan Women in Their Own Words: Six Contemporary Writers in Conversation at the San Francisco Public Library.
Women writers from the global Sri Lankan diaspora representing Sinhalese, Tamil, and Burgher ethnicities will read from their body of work,and engage in a panel discussion about craft, process, inspiration, and the role of history and identity in informing their writing.
The six writers are Dharini Abeysekera, Nayomi Munaweera (Island of a Thousand Mirrors), Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Love Cake, Consensual Genocide), Seni Seneviratne (Wild Cinnamon and Winter Skin, The Heart of It), Pireeni Sundaralingam (Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry), and Arany Uthayakumar (Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton).
Kearny Street Workshop (http://www.kearnystreet.org/
) is the oldest Asian Pacific American multidisciplinary arts organization in the country. Offering classes and workshops, salons and student presentations, as well as professionally curated and produced exhibitions, performances, readings and screenings, KSW makes artists out of community members and community members out of artists. For the past 41 years, KSW has nurtured creative spirit, offered an important platform for new voices to be heard, and connected artists with community. For more information, visithttp://kearnystreet.or
Saturday April 6: I'm guest performing with the Heels on Wheels Glitter Roadshow (http://www.heelsonwheelsroadshow.com/
) at SoleSpace!
@ 7:30pm [doors] 8:00pm [show]//$5-$15 // All Ages // Wheelchair Accessible; Please Come Fragrance Free!
SoleSpace, 1714 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, CA, 94612Heels on Wheels
is a queer performance art cabaret of radical extravagance and thought-provoking glamour. Our fearless performers rampage across the femme-inine spectrum serving up poetic theatre, hilarious performance art, and rocknroll you can sink your heels into! The touring artists are: Shomi Noise [NYC], The Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins [SF], Heather Acs [NYC], and Damien Luxe [NYC] + special local guests Meliza Bañales Annah Anti-Palindrome, Kentucky Fried Woman & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha!
FB event: http://www.facebook.com/events/271293946337075/
Thursday April 11- Friday April 12, I'm keynote performing and giving a workshop on transformative justice for Sexual Assault Prevention Month at Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH.
Friday, April 19, I'm the keynote performer at Day of Silence, Northeastern University, Boston, MA.
Saturday, April 20: With Mangos With Chili, I will be performing as part of the keynote performance at the (en)gendering resistance conference
at the University of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. http://engenderingresistance.noblogs.org/
Sunday, April 21: MY 38TH BIRTHDAY! And I'm thrilled beyond belief to be spending it performing with Mangos With Chili in our first Toronto performance since 2007!
**2 Nights, 2 Performances, 2 different locations**
$20-$10 dollars, sliding scale, no one turned away for lack of funds (WE REALLY MEAN IT!!!)
Sunday, April 21 - 8PM - The Tranzac Club 292 Brunswick Avenue (19+, accessible, open bar, and the fabulous Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha's Birthday!)
Monday, April 22 - 8PM - The Palmerston Library 560 Palmerston Ave (All ages welcome, childcare available, accessible)
We acknowledge that this event takes place on stolen, unceded and occupied Mississauga of New Credit/ Three Fires Conspiracy Indigenous land and acknowledge that settlers benefit from occupying Indigneous land.
We will have ASL translation!
Featuring performance by:
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
The Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins
Ms. Cherry Galette
Access info about venues:
In order that beloved community members and performers living with chemical injury can attend, please come fragrance free. Good information about how to do this is here:http://www.brownstargirl.org/1/post/2012/03/fragrance-free-femme-of-colour-realness-draft-15.html
) . Leaving off cologne, perfume and essential oils for the evening is a great place to start.
ASL is still being finalized, but we have the intention of providing ASL at both shows.
Childcare available Monday evening.
Both venues are fully wheelchair accessible, including bathrooms.
Friday April 26- Sunday April 28, 2013: I'm performing and giving many workshops as part of Evergreen State College's Day of Absence
. I'll be giving a rare performance of Grown Woman Show
and leading my Warrior Poets, Disability Justice and QTPOC With Disabilities Writing Workshops. ESC, Olympia, WA. Thank you to FIST (Feminists In Solidarity Together) for all the work that made this happen!
May 5, 2013, I'm performing as part of FSALA, the Toronto Festival of Literature and the Arts 2013
) , an amazing festival sponsored by my publisher, TSAR Publications, who have been publishing people of color and queer small press literature for a long time.
May 10, 2013, I will be screening a video as part of SPIRIT: A Century of Asian American Activism, as part of the National Asian American Theater Festival, curated by Celeste Chan of Queer Rebels Productions (http://www.queerrebels.com/
Tuesday, June 11, 2013, as part of the 2013 National Queer Arts Festival,
I will be producing and performing in Mangos With Chili Presents Free: Queer, Trans of Color and Two Spirit Visions of Freedom. African American Arts and Cultural Complex
, 762 Fulton Street San Francisco, CA.
Just how free can we get? How do we get there? FREE explores the ways Two Spirit, trans* and queer people of color have fought for justice on our own terms throughout history. We'll time travel, visiting with ancestors and future descendants to explore our freedom dreams. Come to a ritual space of conversation and transformation to imagine our beautiful futures. Featuring breathtaking new collaborative performance work by Qwo-Li Driskill and Natro, Cherry Galette, Juba Kalamka and Joshua Merchant, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Fabian Romero and Micha Cardenas, Manish Vaidya, and Anna Martine Whitehead, and video art by Adrienne Maree Brown, Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Julia Roxanne Wallace, and Vanessa Huang (other artists TBA), and a sneak peak at the new film Major, an autobiography of Stonewall warrior and TGJIP founder Miss Major. ASL translated, chemically and physically accessible.
amazing projects I'm involved with!
** organizing and cool shit!!
I'm a member of the BadAss Visionary Healers (http://badassvisionaryhealers.wordpress.com/
) , aka the Healing Babes for Justice. Who are we? To quote our mission statement: "We are a 6-person Bay Area-based collective of radical healers who build connections between radical healers in the Bay Area & beyond. We believe in an anti-colonial framework of healing that centers people of color & Indigenous knowledge, the brilliance of disabled bodies, and is all about the queers; sex positive & critical of professionalism & the fee for service model. We work to build a world beyond the medical industrial complex where healing is not for profit or the control of oppressed bodies, but where we transform the impact of generations of abuse, trauma, violence & oppression into/towards justice & healing. We also believe in twerking, good food, good sex, disability justice, that fat is flava and that all bodies deserve some radiantly luscious anti-colonial healing."
Our second seasonal dinner gathered 18 radical healers - 2 on Skype- to talk about Money on Monday, March 19! Notes and resources will be live on our website soon. We are at work on dreaming up a QTPOC healing and arts land project, more gatherings, and are looking forward to participating in the AMC Healing Justice Network Gathering this June.
Speaking of which- I'm helping organize the Healing Together Network Gathering (http://alliedmedia.org/#!/news/2013/02/06/healing-together-network-gathering-seeks-mini-sessions
) at part of the 2013 Allied Media Conference (http://amc.alliedmedia.org/
) ! As in, a gathering of radical healers at the best conference on the planet! The day-long Healing Together Network Gathering will take place on Thursday, June 20. We will come gather to strategize and develop a network structure that explores the barriers, challenges and dreams we have for a Healing Justice network throughout the continent. This will be a space for all genders and all bodies where participants can build upon last year's conversation and work. Our mission is to explore and strengthen the work that happens at the intersections of health, healing, media and organizing. To submit a session proposal by March 23, go here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1L8Ncsr9lqSu6KSW7HtF4YtpH0fm7p0YzfKn2_mVGDOU/viewform
I'm working with The Icarus Project (http://theicarusproject.net/
) , an amazing radical mental health network that just celebrated its 10th anniversary, on how to build racial justice and multiracial and people of color lead organizing around madness.
Mangos With Chili (http://mangoswithchili.wordpress.com/
) is currently in the very early stages of planning our fall 2013 tour- our first tour since 2009! We'll be bringing Beloved: A Requiem For Our Dead, our annual show remembering our queer and trans of color ancestors as well as those slain by violence, to audiences along the West Coast, Southwest, and Gulf Coast. Stay tuned to our website (http://mangoswithchili.wordpress.com/
) - to be relaunched in May 2013 with updated video, photos and a whole lot else- or Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mangos-with-Chili
) for more info, and if you want to bring us, hit us up at email@example.com
And I'm continuing to provide intuitive counseling services through Brownstargirl Tarot (http://www.brownstargirl.org/brownstargirl-tarot.html
) . Since I launched my business more full time in September, I've been honored to offer expanded tarot and numerological services to folks in the Bay and as far away as Germany and the UK. Emailbrownstargirl@gmail.com
if you'd like to book a reading. (Thanks to Jacks Ashley McNamara (http://www.ashley-mcnamara.net/
) for creating the beautiful design for my business cards and website- book them if you want something pretty for your business!)
As always, please email me if you'd like to book me for a reading or a performance, a workshop on writing, transformative justice or disability justice, a keynote or any damn thing else. I am currently booking my fall/winter 2013-2014 season. I am also working on beginning to teach writing workshops via Google Hangout- keep an eye out!
And finally- it's looking like Dirty River, the memoir I've been working on since 2005, is finally gonna be published real soon. Watch this space for more details!
To friends and folks:
Hi. As many of you know, I have a chronic illness. It means I live with chronic pain. Sometimes the pain is worse; sometimes, it's better. I've had this stuff since 1997, and there is no cure, there's just stuff I do to manage it. Sometimes, I fly or the weather gets cold and damp, and my pain gets worse.
Some things to keep in mind
1. Constantly "forgetting" that this is true for me and expressing surprise at me being sick again, using a cane, etc, is not helpful.
2. Like all sick and disabled folks, I am not either an uplifting inspirational heroine or someone who is a downer because I have that illness thing. I'm a ordinary, extraordinary crip, dealing with impairment and ableism and stuff. I am a complex human being, not a Hallmark card.
3.My relationship to pain is different than yours. I live a lot of my life basically feeling like I have a cold and/or am at level 5 pain on one of those hospital charts, all the time. That is with nutritional choices, aqua-aerobics, herbs, rest, stretching and acupuncture. Hurting and feeling tired is real normal. It also no longer feels "bad" with a capital B the way pain is for a lot of mostly able bodied folks. It's familliar.
Sometimes, I fly in an airplane or drive many hours or the weather and barometric pressure gets crappy and my pain gets real bad. Bad like I feel like I'm hallucinating. Again there are things I do to take care of this, but there is no magic cure.
Some things to keep in mind when I have a pain flare:
Not great responses:
2. Well, that's a drag!
3. OMG! What happened!
4. Uncomfortable silence
5. Looking totally uncomfortable and freaked out.
1. Sorry to hear that! Is there anything I can do? Do you want me to pick you up some food? Give you a ride somewhere? (Even if this shit happens pretty frequently and I seem to have a handle on it, even if I don't ask, even if I say no, I appreciate this. )
2. Oh man, I'm sorry. How bad is it today? (Normalizing it and just asking is cool. Freaking out about OMG YOU ARE IN PAIN isn't so helpful, but acnowledgment is nice.)
3. Offer to come by and do something low key- like watching videos, read in bed together, eating, is great. Often people want to "cancel til I feel better", and while I appreciate this, I'm gonna feel this way every two months til I'm dead, and if we cancelled everything every time I'm hurty, I'm not gonna see anyone. Sick isn't an all or nothing dichotomy for me, with wellness on the other side- it's a way of life. Sometimes I do indeed need alone time to chill, but sometimes, I like it if you come over.
Many of these things may also be true for other chronically ill/in pain/ disabled friends you have. Or they may not. Asking, hey, how can I be in your life in a good way when you're hurting? and listening to what the person says, is always a good way to show up for sick and disabled folks in your life.
This concludes this public service announcement. ;)
PS: Oh yeah- telling me about a magic cure or telling me I should slow down or if I just did X thing everything would be fine also doesn't work so great.
To add to the geek love, here is the Transformative Justice Science Fiction Strategic Reader myself, Adrienne Maree Brown, Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Jenna Peters Golden created for the 2012 AMC, where we critically examine books like Woman on the Edge of Time, Santa Olivia, Who Fears Death? The Fifth Sacred Thing, The DIspossessed and Parable of the Sower for how they deal with violence and harm. Check it out, read it, and share!
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The Allied Media Conference gets more and more geektastic every year. Probably the place that kicked off this (black and brown queer feminist) revolutionary nerdom was Adrienne Maree Brown's Octavia Butler Symposium and Strategic Reader Build (http://adriennemareebrown.net/blog/2010/06/20/the-octavia-symposium-aka-not-faster-caterpillar-butterfly/) at the 2010 AMC. Adrienne talked passionately and insightfully about Octavia's impact on her life and on movements she was part of, and shared the idea that all social justice organizers are science fiction writers, because we are imagining a future that doesn't exist yet. I was also impressed by the way she used a "fishbowl" (http://adriennemareebrown.net/blog/2013/05/24/dear-adrienne-how-to-do-a-fishbowl-conversation/) as a way of having an intimate conversation in a large group. The Octavia Sympoisum became a Strategic Reader, which inspired me, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Jenna Peters-Golden and AMB to craft a Transformative Justice Sci Fi Reader. Adrienne Maree started travelling around kicking off Octavia Butler reading groups. The ripples go outward.This year, when the 2013 AMC created a science track for the conference, I jumped out on a limb and proposed doing a similar
strategic reader build about Born in Flames, the 1983 underground Black queer feminist science fiction film that has been a deep inspiration to me and many other feminists of color I know. I was nervous, but the session, on the very last workshop slot of the whole AMC, was a huge success! Below are the notes I spoke aloud to the group, and the raw notes (captured by myself and by the amazing Jack Aponte). I wanted to capture them while they are still fresh. We are planning on crafting a strategic reader/instant blog, but this is what we;ve got now. And above is the entirety of Born in Flames, posted on Youtube. It had captions if you turn on CC.Here are my introductory notes about the film: Thank you so much for joining me for Stay Ready, the Born in Flames geekout. As a queer feminist of color, I am so happy to be discussing the ass kicking revolutionary ideas and images and lessons in this groundbreaking work of Black feminist science fiction. Born in Flames was made in 1983- 30 years ago. But as people continue to watch it obsessively on Netflix, have benefits where we show it, and there is a forthcoming academic collection of work about its impact. All of this proves that its resonance and vision hasn't ended. I believe that science fiction is a form of organizing, and these myths and tropes we come up with help us shape our movements. To recap, for people who have not seen it:
Born in Flames is a 1983 documentary-style film by director Lizzie Borden. Lizzie Borden is an underground, experimental New York based feminist film maker. Interestingly for the AMC, she has Detroit roots- she was born in Detroit in 1950. She also made Working Girls
, a feature film that was highly controversial in the 1980s because it depicted the lives of sex workers in a way that fucked with the happy hooker/ pitiful victim stereotypes and instead depicted sex work as work. Since then, she's faded from the public eye- the internet shows her shooting what look like random films and series for money.
The premise of Born in Flames is that it's 1983 in New York, and a so called socialist revolution has happened, but it's left out women, queers and people of color. Basically, socialist manarchists have won. Women may be working construction but their jobs disappear when they complain. Sexual assault, domestic violence and childcare are still huge issues. Adelaide Norris, the main character, is a fine as hell Black queer woman who goes to Lehman College in the Bronx at night and is working construction days. With the help of her mentor, Zena Wiley, played by iconoclastic Black feminist lawyer Florence Kennedy, she helps found the Women's Army, a non violent, direct action organization that confronts rape, job discrimination and all forms of oppression from a super grassroots stance. When the Army gets on the FBI's radar, especially after Norris travels to a Francophone African country to get guns from an armed African women's organization in the Western Sahara, she's murdered in prison. Repression rises, but women are seen resisting through protest, through creating underground radio stations that operate inside rented U Haul trucks, through hacking into the mainstream media, and finally, (spoiler alert) through blowing up the goddamn World Trade Center. Yeah, that's right! In this movie, queer Black feminists blow up the WTC!
There's a lot of very important things that happen in this film that resonate with me, that I want to lift up:
There are constant shots of Black and women of color getting together to organize, talk to each other, have sex. Scenes consist of political conversations that happen between Zena, Honey and Adelaide in a video game arcade, on a sofa, watching tv and rolling eyes at the white guy newscaster. Organizing meetings happen at kitchen tables.
Much of the film alternates between shots of the women organizing and living on their own terms, and of the FBI surveilling and discussing them. It's kind of amazingly meta that the film is so about representation- about the women representing themselves, and about the feds, the cops, and the mainstream media re-interpreting them- as terrorists, as a "girl gang", as crackpots. So much of those moments are eerily close to, say, the mainstream media calling the New Jersey 7 a "lesbian gang", rewriting their story of being 7 Black Lesbians fighiting back against a man who was trying to assault them
Adelaide has a mentor in Florence Kennedy/ Zena Wiley. It is so rare to see images of Black women, especially queer femiinists, hanging out mentoring each other, in any film anywhere. There's an incredible moment where Florence is wearing a red kaffiyeh and she says "We have a right to violence. All oppressed people have the right to violence! And i'm gonna tell you something- it's like the right to pee! you have to have the right place, right time, and you have to have the appropriate situation, and i am convinced this is the appropriate situation!"
There are many scenes of direct action- of women of color getting together without funding and standing up to rape and abuse.
In one scene, a woman is getting harrassed on the subway and Adelaide and another member of the women's army get in the guys face and ask him "WHy don't you leave the lady alone?" Wihtout using violence, but while being firm as hell, they make him get up and leave. In another, a woman is harassed and attacked on the street. She is about to be raped and we hear the sound of whistles. All of a sudden, there a shot of Adelaide and a bunch of other women of color on bicycles blowing whistles. They surround the rapists blowing the whistles until they are so freaked out that they leave. They comfort the woman and take her to safety. We also see women wheatpasting posters that say THIS MAN IS A RAPIST. None of these things happen through funded nonprofit organizing, and in fact, the funded, official "socialist women's groups" are depicted at being at odds with this organizing.
There are race and class splits. There are two underground radio stations run by women- one, run by iconic Black lesbian with shaved head Honey, one by what (to these eyes) today look like a bunch of white masculine of center genderqueers ;) who may talk a lot on the mic about "We are reforming a guerilla army" but don't seem to be doing a whole lot.The film captures what New York looked like in the 1980s. There is killer fashion that is everyday. And there is an everydayness to the people in the film. They seem like everyday women coming together to talk, argue, make art, organize.
Born in Flames has had a lasting impact. Thirty years old this year, shot on film, it just will not fade. In the mid 2000s when I lived in the Bay, there were more benefits for INCITE that consisted of showings of Born in Flames in someone's backyard with some sangria then I could count. Queers of color I know talked about the bicycle scene as a model for how we could directly intervene into violence constantly. Artist and INCITE member Ines Ixierda made patches consisting of a high heeled shoe held in a fist that said STAY READY which were sold at NJ 4 benefits. I still have one pinned above my bed. Invincible, Jean Grae and Tamar Kali names their 2011 tour Born in Flames.Then we showed a series of clips from the film- the bicycle scene, the scene where the intervene in the sexual harassment on the subway, the scene where the FBI is discussing Adelaide Norris.We then moved int
o the fishbowl and then small group discussion. I am so thankful to Jack Aponte for taking such detailed ones! Here they are; they're also up at https://etherpad.alliedmedia.org/p/12076#AMC2013_Stay_Ready:_
BORN IN FLAMES GEEKOUT SESSION
- Much of this film is shot in underground black feminist radio stations
- In fthe face of repression, Adeliade Norris, very attractive Black construction worker, basketball player in the Bronx by night, forms the Women's Army
- Women's Army does direct action without funding despite the fact that the government says it's all equal
- Many shots of Black women and women of color at kitchen tables having conversations, arguing about the best way to stop rape, organizing childcare, etc
- A lot of direct action against sexual assault, domestic violence
- Focus on creativity: music, poetry, fashion, many people broadcrasting
- Honey—black bald lesbian, main DJ of Radio Phoenix, talking very politically about what needs to get done in order to win the struggle
- Simultaneously, many shots of the women being surveilled by the FBI who is trying to take them down
- As repression increases, they think about how to shift their tactics. Already getting so slammed
- They make contact with women in sub-Saharan Africans who are in armed struggle to decolonize their country. They connect the struggles, will support each other. When Adelaide gets back, she's killed in prison, they say it's a suicide, the women must decide how to respond.
- Radio Regatta—white women's radio station, white women who take different approaches to allyship or lack thereof
- Moved to Bay Area in 2007; at that time INCITE! Had more active chapters than now.
- 4-5 benefits in the Bay in those first few years screened Born in Flames in backyards over those next two, which was striking
- We're all looking at a piece of cultural work and are using it as an inspiration for the work we're doing, e.g. against sexual assault. What would it mean to have a roving queer people of color bicycle gang against sexual violence? How would we deal with threats of violence against us?
- What are the questions and solutions that
Is there a lesson for organizing that you've drawn? Or a moment that's really inspirational? Challenging? Or a question that has arisen for your own organizing work
- Militancy of the film--I've been challenged by it when I think about organizing, because I have a hard time incorporating violence and militancy into social justice work, thinking about what that looks like in our movements, what we'd benefit from, how we do this work as militants without doing harm to people?
- I think about that also, in terms of organizing in general. Question of violence comes up in my work. When is doing the things we're always doing--signing petitions, doing things for an by ourselves--not enough? When does it get to the point where we do have to take the next step, use those tools that are there?
- I like to think about what my ancestors have done historically; don't have a lot of that context because that's been taken from me.
- Thinking about violence as a tool; maybe not even violence but getting to a point of we don't have a choice, a point where things are extremely real and necessary. I don't think it's at that point in Toronto, don't have to deal with that yet.
- I really like that bike scene specifically, using bikes and whistles; it wasn't violent intervetion, but it was agressive enough to stop the harm that was being done.
- Around the idea of armed reaction and response is the quote from the elder saying that it's like having to pee--gotta have the right place, the right time, the right circumstances, but when you gotta go you gotta go. If you know you have to go you have to make plans. Idea of escalation, building tactics.
- Sometimes we don't have a choice; I like the idea that this armed response and resistance is stopping violence. If we're not effectively stopping violence through tactics that don't include armed struggle, then we're allowing violence to happen.
- I love the framework that says marginalized and oppressed people are still going to have to fight for their very lives after a socialist revolution; for us, what does that mean for our long-term organizing now, so that when we've gotta pee we're ready?
- Break down how you know when and where. In Philly we're having school closings, prison expansion; there was a panel on organizing in moments of crisis. When it gets bad enough, is that when the people are going to rise up, organizations will use different tactics? I feel out of touch with how to know, what that's going to feel like, in terms of organizing and figuring out tactics and strategies.
- Bike and whistle scene--it's not aggressive but was rendered under the rubric of militancy by the state, announcer, mainstream in the film. Resistance by marginalized people is rendered as militant; you should be using state-sactioned activism when addressing sexual violence.
- Audre Lorde said that you can't use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house. I don't like naming that as violence. Thinking about different ways to take back those spaces, stop those things, as just stopping terrible things from happening. How is it going to end?
- There are really terrible associations with violence; I don't know if it means harming people. A lot of scenes show that there's other things they did reflective of using what the state would call violence to stop things from happening.
- Defining violence is important; it can be so broad. What is violence? Which of these acts is violence?
- There's a big scene at the end that in this particular political moment draws a big emotional reaction.
- Want to engage in a conversation about the media in the film; the film itself is media. I loved hearing the stories about where it's been shown.
- Within the film these displays of media that is mainstream; there are radical alternatives to those things, building bridges between doing things and talking about them.
- The interaction on the train, an intervention where a guy was encroaching on a woman's space; it wasn't violent, but it wasn't a pacifist intervention. I've never taken violent ways of conflict resolution, I do a lot more healing stuff; it's interesting to think of violence; interventions that aren't about being receptive to these other person's needs. Thinking about how militancy is about what my piece is in the movement.
- Where I might normally intervene, want to respect both groups in a conflict, I might be most concerned with the person to whom harm was done and not the other side, if there's a relationship even there in which to have a resolution process. Imagining scenarios where I can try being a different kind of facilitator, where it is necessary to just tell someone we're not hearing you, you did harm, you just need to sit with that.
- That's an interesting framework in the film: altneratives to police, incarceration, many are based around community mediation. Hardest stuff is around interpersonal violence, sexual violence, intimitate partner violence. In the moment of an eruption of violence, there are means necessary in that moment; it becomes very complex and difficult, gets to a question about what justice looks like.
- The film is coming from a specific framework of what justice looks like; useful and interesting for us to see where we agree and where we don't.
- I've been trained to respond in violent ways in my family; I was taught, when a teacher was violent towards me, my mother said if someone hits me hits them back. I find the militance in this film inspiring; I don't know how to marry that with my other politics.
- I've never seen the film, but have read a lot of Octavia Butler lately and have been really inspired. Watching the clips really resonates with my values in building community spaces, what can be done when people get together and organize shit that is not linked to an organization, is just because the community needs it and they feel like they need to do it. I've been part of spaces like that; recently became the director of an organization, and it's been a very difficult process in merging the worlds I believe in that can happen independently outside of organizations. I'm seeing more and more of the dance that has to happen when securing fundign for our movements, working within this very transactional relationship with other folks doing movement work. It feels like such disillusionment, feeling defeated in some ways, but also knowing the organization I work with is amazing and doing great htings. The collaborative part of it, trying to be strategic while also being really real and transparent, has been a struggle I've been witnessing more aend more. I'm trying to find a way to do this in a different way, work within the system to get change in our communities, but not sell out our spirits and hearts.
- That bike scene is totally inspriational, hell yeah we're making this shit happen; how to translate it into these systems.
- What that calls upon for me is the tension between anarchist ways of thinking about organizing and, maybe not reformist, but working within structures that already exist, not in an assimilationist old guard way, but in a way that many of us here imagine as turning it inside out. There's a tension--are we working from the outside or from the inside?
- One thing that y'all were saying--thinking about the bicycle scene, that's the reason we all go back to. It satisfies our desire to do something, it works, and it's satisfying. Strategically, is there a way when we're making decisions, think about what gives us that feeling, whatever it is.
- Whenever I look at the bicycle scene I think "yes, we won!" and then I think what would happen if someone dating someone in the Women's Army sexually assaulted someone? I was in a situation that was not a community accountability thing, people were so close, had to sit with lots of feelings about this being the real thing, not knowing what to do, being triggered and scared.
- The blend of wanting to fight and wanting to heal; the story's not done yet, in that situation it came to a middle ground between straight healing and [coming down on that person hard]; we have militancy, feelings of fierencess, and tenderness at the same time. A place where all of that comes together.
- whistles and bicycles are one of the most creative ways you can intervene in rapre, and one of the most nonviolent. and then there's the fast forwarfd where the white man automatically interprets poc as violent. it's violent if a black person steals from a whole foods, but not when were being forclosed. any
- they don't start practicing violence until everything they do thats nonviolent is squashed. they get to a point where nothing else is an options. reminds of black panterhs and young lrods. they weren't trying to fight, they were trying to self defend
- thinking a lot about organizing and what does movement building look like. when this situation happened in real life with the new jersey four. question is not is it violent/nonviolent, but legal or illegal? and leads to q of, should we use this tactic of legal reform? is this gonna get us what we want? when legal reform could be used against us later?
- lack of relationship building within community during campign. no opps to do that within campains. let's build broader campaigns, issues of few to issues of everyone
- i feel real emo just seeing a solid collective of people organize and do the work and have each other's backs. all i've really had is the talk of that togetherness. not having that in my body. in my own world we'd have to do some deep shifts in how we organize. how do we actually work together, how do we actually committ?
- media- these folks have their own low powered fm radio stations. . makes me think about controlling our own media and resources and setting that up in ways that can't be shut down.
- Showing women's hands at work, women in many different types of work; we can't exist without these people, but yet the white men are saying they're victimizing these men is cool. Don't know what you'd call it artistically.
- Had a very emotional response when the woman confronted the guy who was harassing womeon on the train. When I did drag (as a cisgendered man) I would get stalked, harassed physically; it was always cis women who stepped up and stopped that from happening. I'll never experience what it is to be a cis woman, but that allyship was so important.
- It was exciting seeing so many people getting excited about Octavia Butler's work; I so often find interest in media is about a more shallow alignment, participating in hype, building community around shared interests, but rarely had so many people in the space who had such transformative experiences with a set of media outside of a church context. In the same way, looking at this film reminds those of us who make images or consumable packagable moments of media about the possibility of what we create, the legacy, something that's 30 years old that we can still turn to and draw strength from.
- Filmmaking was a lot more expensive in that era, so it's really inspirational. Everyone can no have access to filming quality video. Besides whatever that means for more voices entering, it's such a powerful reminder that you can make things that have that lasting impact, that timelessness.
- There's a moment in the montage when they're talking about Adelaide Norris; one guy says "background," the other says "ordinary." That's so resonant, carries throughout the film. Adelaide is working class, is a regular person. She's held up as a charismatic character, has leadership qualities; reminds me of conversations about leadership at the AMC. That inspires me and is also a challenge. Even at the AMC and in many communities it's challenging to grapple with ideas of ordinariness and specialness. As someone who's been both very disrespected and lifted up, there's still a feeling that I'm just a regular person, who the fuck am I to lead a revolution?
- Scenes in the movie where there's a lot of old school organizing methods, just walking up to people, making connections, explaining. In activist communities sometimes we only talk to our 20 people; it can be scary to go up to people on the street and have these conversations.
- One of the black women in the Women's Army is just smoking a joint with her friend who dismisses the Women's Army; doing that ordinary work of sitting at a kitchen table, smoking a joint, talking about those differences, encouraging someone to check it out.
- Filmmaking style is interesting; making revolutionary ideas, the form should be revolutionary too.
- Idea of a revolution seems hard to imagine; the idea of having a revolution and that not being enough still is mindblowing.
- The content is revolutionary but very accessible.
- The work scene: sex work is matter-of-factly placed in the world of work.
- Glad we waited for folks to step up in the fishbowl!
- As we're creating, we think so much in the moment; how can this be useful today as well as tomorrow, timely as well as timeless, continue building on these legacies, honoring the folks who've come before.
- There can be a delay that's unperceieved; one of the fascinating but distrurbing parts of the process. You might not see the results of your own work; may be need to follow intuition about what the right work is.
- Recently felt excited about the gnostic lost Bible chapters, who decides the canon; coming back to being excited about these books or films that feel like a secret between friends, shared bond, but then find many other people who relate. Speaks a lot to why singular works can be really powerful, trasmitted, given, distributed, odn't know where it'll show up, especially where folks don't build big communities for a lot of radical support. Idea that these things become hidden, coded; figure out how to give these things to more people.
- Showed this film in a class about race and gender in science fiction films; many examples available for critique; conversely there's a much smaller numbner of films where it's being shown by the person who would normally be the "other," looking through the alien's eyes at us and we seem fucked up instead of the other way. This film was the only one that doesn't involve aliens; it's "sci fi" in quotes. It's just a little shuffle out of this reality, yet opens up so much space for people to enter into that, actually talk about revolution.
- Beauty of sci fi--people enter the space thinking it has nothing to do with the real world, so all the things that I am attached to, take personally, hold real close, I'll let it go. I don't want to talk about my white privilege, but I'll talk about aliens
- This film brings together women's liberation front movement in the early 70s, very white centered; 3rd world liberation struggles inside and outside of this country; pulls the best from both of them. Love that as a continuation of solidarity work; not only is the struggle global, but folks who are fighting in other oppressed places may have knowledge for us. Love that continuation and legacy of the 60s and 70s, Black Panthers, global ideology.
- It's important to talk to women as well; people think of resistance and struggle as dudes with guns. We went to the women, talked to them.
- So much to learn about every day organizing, talking to people, doing that small scale work.
- Contemporary narratives about people classified as terrorists, talking about where people are radicalized; what "self-radicalized" means. People want to hilgiht a moment where someone was turned, a moment of rupture or disjoint. Usually pointed out as a moment of clear shift towards violence.
- In traditional narrative, there has to be one protaganist; it's hard to paint social justice struggles in that way, "great man theory of history." There are many characters, many stories. You need to do that to paint the picture.
- The main character dies, but it still ends happy.
- Also think of "The Spook Who Sat By the Door." (Why isn't that seen as science fiction?) Also a book! Story of a Black man, first Black FBI agent but he's infiltrating to gain knowledge, resources; politicizes and arms street gangs in Chicago, stage huge uprising. Why is that not part of the visionary sci fi pantheon?
- Documentary: "Infiltrating Hollywood" on "Spook Who Sat by the Door"
- Also: "Brother From Another Planet"
BIG GROUP SHARING
- Acccessing different technologies from pre-Internet; using those modalities can make knowledge and movements more accessible. Walkie-talkies, smoke, drums, etc. Making a toolbox of these modalities for folks who don't have access to computers and internets. Also thinking of people on the inside [incarcerated], how to keep them involved, also keep folks with kids involved, chronically ill folks, etc.
- Seeing different ways in which people did the bike action--who did the dishes, did child care for people doing that action? Who's having sex with that person so they felt good enough to get up that day and be part of a bike action? Acknowledge the work that's always happening.
- Experiences of doing activism and having mainstream media destroy the messaging, related to that in the film.
- Powerful to see women of color in positions of power represented in the movie; lots of people doing activism that they're not calling activism. People are doing a lot of hard work already that's not necessarily framed that way.
- When the woman is being harassed on the subway; seeing actual interventions is beautiful and powerful.
- Micro-details: seems like the way the interveners on the subway intervened took any pressure or responsibility off of the woman being harassed to speak up; questions were posed to the harasser instead.
- Flo Kennedy is in the film as the elder--amazing civil rights activist and lawyer, did a lot of work around women's lib in the 70s; she worked closely with Gloria Steinem, many video clips where Flo Kennedy is the aggressive protector of Steinem
- Issues of leadership and charisma
- Many people were surprised to not have heard about the film before.
- Tensions around reformists, getting into the pacifiyng nature of 501c3 organizing. How much energy we put into it. How do we move outside of this? Prevent this fucked up noninclusive socialist revolution from happening so it's a powerful, inclusive, whole revolution in the beginning? Thinking creatively about how we can save creative energy in our work for the spaces modeled in Born in Flames.,
- Acknowledging multiplicity in POC spaces; acknowledging different histories that are being carried depending on who you are; using that as a place for doing the specific work that needs to happen to heal.
- Action idea: [I missed it, fuck! --notetaker]
- First Octavia Butler session a few years ago, created a strategic reader; want to post these notes, if there's more writing, art, action ideas, etc we can all submit it. We can talk about anonymity and all that stuff with it. We'll figure out the details!
- Concept of staying ready; we have to stay awake, ready to respond
- And finally- we ended on a quote Walidah Imarishah just made that day:
"Today I realized this: Every person who walks this planet (or any planet) today, who comes from communities with historic oppression and trauma, is science fiction.
You are the dream your ancestors envisioned, and then bent reality to create."Watch this space for more geekery!
Wow, I didn't publish anything on this blog for a while! Five months. I've been busy- I went to Australia and Vegas and Toronto and New York, came home, got RSI, wrote and healed and organized and was sick, and here we are now.I'll be updating this blog with new pieces again. For now, here's a piece I wrote
on my last tour. as a chronically ill touring artist, I've been learning to navigate being on the road for a minute. on my last journey, I thought I would compile some of the magic remedies I carry in my bag that help me hurt less. these are what work for my body- your mileage may vary, and I understand that many sick and disabled artists and people navigate different bodily constellations that mine. this is not *the* way, just *a* way. I was inspired by Adrienne Maree Brown's piece "way of the healthy nomad" here: http://adriennemareebrown.net/blog/2013/05/22/way-of-the-healthy-nomad/xoxoxochronically ill touring artist pro tips.
1. yin chiao. think your immune system is doing great for once? think you won't get sick on tour? think again. you are going to be on college campuses meeting a million students who all give colds to each other. you are going to be on a million airplanes and busses, or in a van, or in a student coop, you are going to be drinking water and eating food from all kindsa places, and you will get sick. if you pound these (3-4 3 times a day, at the first sign of getting sick), you won't get that sick, or sick at all. stockpile, as they are not always easy to find outside of health food store land or APIA communities. astralagus powder in hot water, a teaspoon a day, helps too as a preventative (you can do this all the time, not just when you're sick.)
2. sea salt. feel that tickle in your throat/ oh shit i'm getting sick feeling? hot sea salt gargles, stat. it'll stop the bacteria from going into your lungs. upper respertory infections are easier to treat than ones that get in your lungs. you can also throw some in a bath if you have crotch itch. it'll also help ease sore muscles. if you need to do a protection spell, ditto.
3. melatonin. at some point you will desperately need to sleep, but you will be in Australia or Grinnell, IA and your body will just be like, nope, we like our old time zone! and you will be fucked, fucked fucked. this will knock you out. benadryl works too but I like this better.
4. activated charcoal. at some point, you guts are going to completely fucking rebel from you deviating from your normal kale taco diet and subsisting off of the Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal Cup, yogurt parfaits, jerky, shwarma and burgers. at some point, you will eat day old tater tots and mayo that were in the van a little too long and you will hurl. these babies will absorb hthe gas and the badness and stop you from puking on a 15 hour Megabus run. ginger chews or just crystalized ginger will stop you from puking, too, and they often have them at bodegas and corner stores.
5. ibuprofin. vitamin I. just go ahead and take 800 mg every 8 hours. especially before and after planes and busses. it'l help inflammation go down.
6. a big scarf. cold on the plane or bus? van mates driving you nuts? can't sleep on plane? just need to shut out the world? put this over your face.
7. emergency protein. a friend once said "i'd carry around half a cow if I could." jerky, almonds, whatever. wild canned salmon from trader joe's is a life transforming game changer.
8. kale salad holds up at least 3 days unrefrigerated in a tupperware and gives you all the micronutrients you used to eat 4 times a day.
9. get a bigass mason jar, stick half a lemon in it, and fill it up once you clear security at the airport. voila, electrolytes and hydration. pick herbs by the curb or from a non sprayed garden for soothing waters. (Mint, lemon balm, lavender and rosemary grow in front yards in a lot of the west coast and east coast.)
10. nettles and various tea bags. it's going to feel really good to be able to nuke some water in the hotel or friends' house and make tulsi rose tea. nettles will save your ass, give you steady energy and vitamins and ward off the sick.
11. roll up a heating pad and take it with you! plug it in in megabus and the plane. or in the hotel or crash space if it's cold. game changer. you will hurt so much less and if the space is too cold, it'll help you not freeze.
12. for the love of god, if you can, give yourself days off in the middle of weeks on the road. or at least plan that you are going to be just fine, ecstatic even during tour, and then crash like a motherfucker once you get back. don't plan anything but netflix, laundry and water for a couple days after if you can help it. also, think about how much you can do- for me, 2 friend visits a day is plenty. don't let them schedule you to do 3 workshops and a one person show in one day! also, remember that being outside your comfort zone and having to negotiate public transit and neighborhoods you don't know (or know access info for) is its own stress.
13. look up where the community acupuncture spots are on this map: https://www.pocacoop.com/clinics/
, and make appointments with them.
14. if you're a y member, make use of the AWAY (Always Welcome at the Y) program. Most places, if you have a membership you can go to any y for free anywhere. tell them you get free towels! soak in that hot tub!
15. Go ahead and get shellac or gels or silk tips before or during tour if you do your nails and this is chemically accesisble to you. your hands are going to look like shit and having durable nails may make you feel better.
16. bring fragrance free laundry detergent in a ziplock. no one will have it and you don't want to have to buy a box.
16a. also in a ziplock: coffee. and a couple filters for it.
17. bring a portable altar- it can be a small candle, an ancestor image, a rock, a place to put water. keep them in ziplocks.
18. as a part-time cane user, I bring a cheap folding cane so I don't lose my wooden cane when my brain fog is up and I'm moving a lot and I start forgetting where everything is, losing stuff, etc. I ask for wheelchair assistance, even if I'm feeling more mobile at the beginning of tour- because I know that my pain and fatigue levels are going to skyrocket during tour, and airports are huge and body-wrecking. wheelchair assistence means getting to the airport early. oh yeah, i also ask if there is a crip line if I don't hook up wheelchair assistence and know that my legs will give out if I stand on a really really really long line.19. I make sure I ask people I'm staying with for what I need, and to be specific, sometimes more than once. for me this means smoke free rooms, heat, a bed or pull out couch, quiet after 11 PM, and proximity to a food source, no stairs or an elevator, a door that shuts.
don't assume that non crips will get it the first time you say what your needs are, even if they're going "oh yes" and being real polite.20. the la quinta inn has a hot water dispenser in its breakfast bar! which means hella nettle tea!
if you get a hotel/motel, ones with mini fridges and microwaves rock.21. most hotels are able to not use fragranced cleansers and take the air "freshener" out first
if you ask in advance.22. bring some cute cotton underwear. you need underwears that can stand up to hours on busses and planes. nylon just helps candida go nuts.23. menstruators: the menstrual sponge, cup or cloth pads are my favs. cloth pads can be shoved in a ziplock, and can also be shoved in underwear to absorb 12 hours worth of blood while you're on megabus.
hey y'all. thank you for the outpouring of support for the suicidal ideation article- it's been a little over 24 hours and my little blog has gotten 3,500 hits. it's been amazing and overwhelming. however, I'm glad that this piece has been helpful and thought provoking to so many folks. I'm taking a break from the internet over the next couple days to rest and recharge. so far most of the discussion has been awesome. I hope people can continue to self moderate, be kind, and listen to each other rather than attacking or prescribing. I also wanted to list a couple resources for folks looking for more info about radical mental health resources. one, http://theicarusproject.net
, is a radical mental health network with some great resources about community support and madness and social justice (they were kind enough to repost this blog. the other, http://fuckyeahselfcare.tumblr.com/,
is a great compendium of some different spots on the internet that talk about radical self and community care. and there's another queer femme of color healing/mental health tumblr that I know exists but I'm hunting to find- hang in there and I'll post when I've got it. And Alexis Pauline Gumbs' http://brokenbeautiful.wordpress.com/
is some of the best Queer Black Survivor medicine I know.when I wrote my article responding to b. loewe's "end to self care" article, I did this, and I'm going to do it again: if you like the piece and have a buck or two (or more) feel free to donate via paypal. I'm a chronically ill, working-class raised freelance writer and organizer. back in the day when more presses and print magazines existed, it was not uncommon for folks to get paid for writing. nowadays, most blogs don't pay for content, and the pool of existing presses and magazines that pay anything continue to shrink. there's absolutely no obligation - but if you like this work and have a little cash
, feel free to drop an offering in my online tip jar. ;) there's a paypal button on the front page of my website, or you can paypal directly to brownstargirl at gmail. (if you make it a "living expense" or "gift" , paypal doesn't take a cut.) I want to donate some of what get to a friend of mine living with chronic health conditions who is attempting to finance a move to a safer housing situation.towards what we are building and all we don't know yet.leah
(please note: this is probably one of the most vulnerable pieces I've ever published. It's a work in progress and I don't feel like it's fully done, but after working on it for six months, I wanted to put it out there to the community- especially at a time when many folks are struggling. please take care as you read it, and please keep in mind that, while I am open to feedback, I would appreciate it if folks could temper critique with kindness)suicidal ideation 2.0, queer community leadership, and staying alive anyway. by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha for my beloved dead, and for Kyle and Wendy, and for all of us still here.trigger warning for discussion of suicide and self harm
I've come to hate it when folks start texting me with cryptic messages saying, "Did you know so-and-so?"
For the past two years, each summer, my beloved community in Toronto has lost someone because they killed themself. This year, it was Kyle Scanlon.
And no, I didn't really know him- not well- but I knew of him. Kyle was one of the first transguys I knew who came out within Toronto's queer community in the late 90s. After he passed, many, many trans folks I know remembered how Kyle had come to their workplace or school and told his story, how he was the first other trans person they'd met. How his story and presence helped them name themself as trans and do what they needed to do to affirm the gender spirit that made them feel alive. Kyle was one of the first workers at Meal Trans, the 519 s ( Toronto's queer community center) free dinner program for broke trans folks. He won awards and did trainings. He was one of those queer/trans community-bred and based leaders that everybody thanks, leans on, asks for favors, and is grateful for.
And he killed himself.
After he died, there were the blog posts saying we had to love each other harder and do better. There were the memorial posts that listed all the Distress Centre hotlines for the province. There were the postings of his various memorial articles in the queer biweekly paper on facebook, and everyone's memories. It's what we do. And it so wasn't enough
Moments like this are grief and crash and immense loss. And they're also - maybe- an invitation to go deeper. To be real about suicide. I mean really really for real for real- about shit that people don't want to go there about, or want to boil down into a simple narrative of don't do it you have something to live for! call 911!
Even the narratives we have that suicide is the colonizer, is the white supremacist capitalist colonialist ableist patriarchy whispering that we should just take our selves off the planet, that narrative has stopped me from reaching for my Ativan and bourbon or cutting when I didn't want to. But it's also not enough.
I was in Toronto the week after Kyle died, with my family. Everyone was hurting . Some of us at Femme Heartshare Circle were talking about it. About how Wendy Babcock, an amazing street sex worker activist, mama and law student, had died of an overdose last year, and how folks weren't sure if it was intentional or not- and how Wendy's family had used Wendy's history of struggle to discredit her courage in breaking silence to about the abuse she'd survived from them.
One of my friends said, what should we do? Should we have regular red flag check ins with each other, the way we do about relationships? Should I go up to you and ask, Have you been thinking about killing yourself lately? And I thought, if anyone came at me saying, HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT KILLING YOURSELF LATELY?, I'd automatically lie and say hell no. The way I have to every single doctor, social worker and most therapists in my life. I don't want anything I can prevent on my permanent record, and I definitely don't want Danger to Self or Others. I've been fighting this my whole life, and I've seen the oppression and hardness that that label can mean to folks in my life who've had it.
But if you normalized it. Because it is normal. This secret. That so many of us wrestle with suicidality. Then maybe, maybe just maybe I'd tell you where it was at.
And maybe we could map the terrain of those ideation places better.
I don't know why Kyle killed himself, and I'm not going to dishonour him by speculating about why he died. I can only talk about how his death, and the regular punctuation of queer and trans and Two Spirit suicides in our 40s in my communities, makes me think.
As a queer or trans or Two Spirit adult, we live within narratives that say that if you just live to grow up, it gets better (Dan Savage is an asshole caveats aside.)
But: what if it gets better and transforms more than you ever expected, but there are also times where it's still crazy, hurts so bad? Maybe hurts worse because it did get better, it got so much better, and also, the struggle did not stop? You ended up sleeping in the back of your station wagon on a mattress pad. Your book went out of print. Your mama died. You were still crazy after all that cum and all those tears. And no one prepared you for a life narrative where maybe struggle and therapy and herbs and miracles healed the pain, but the pain didn't go all the way away. Maybe, as you survived and succeeded, it just got more complex.
Take me. I know it because I am also one of those community leaders. I am one of those community leaders who is 37 now and still sometimes feels so low. My life did get better. I am not the same tortured, dissasociated girl I was. I look good. I'm happy. I'm not strangled by self hatred in the every day every single second of every day way my 18 year old brain knew. I have had the gay sex and art and travel and books and home and all of it. My brain and my spirit and my life and my relationship to trauma has changed, deeply. And I still have suicidal ideation on the regular.
I've had suicidal ideation (where you have repeating thoughts of "I should just kill myself") since I was at least twelve years old. When I was younger- from when I was about 12 to 21- I had periods of months or years where I had to seriously fight suicidality. When I was twenty two, I got away from my abusive family, left the country, made my small, quiet, safe room, and started healing hardcore from the shit I'd grown up in.
Since the therapy and the small quiet safe room and the poetry and the dancing and the friends and lovers and the herbs and the words, since shit stopped being as nuclear fucked up as my childhood was, I don't really really wanna kill myself anymore. I don't have a plan. I don't actively want to do it. I love my life. I am blessed. I am joyful. I am happy. But at times- at times of deep grief, or deep stress, or sometimes even times that aren't even that fucking deep- sometimes, I sit for hours, my wrists on fire with the desire to cut.
I won the Lambda Literary Award this year, and it was one of the best feelings of my life. And three days later, for no damn reason and every damn reason, I left therapy and felt my mood crashing. I tried to drive to a friend's birthday party, but the directions were complicated and I circled five times before giving up and driving home. I crawled into bed at 3 PM and found myself staring at the pillbox on my dresser, thinking, I've got 5 Ativan and a bottle of good bourbon, is that enough?
And I thought, whoa
. And I thought, I am 37 and I just won the Lambda Award. I can't tell people I want to kill myself. On my Facebook status update.
I slept. I texted a lover I'd had the sweetest access intimacy with to ask about Wellbutrin. I called friends. I called my witch naturopath in Toronto, who saw me, on Skype, for $20, and asked me, 'What does the depression feel like?" I told her it felt like a slow soft river, that it was good I had a lot of great things in my life, but even when I was in them right then, I couldn't really feel them. And when things did get bad, the direct line to Ishouldjustkillmyself
was well marked out. I talked to my therapist, and I started taking 5 HTP, a serotonin precursor.
We believe that working for justice and healing, creating art, and being badasses on our own terms will be part of what heals our hurt. And it is.
But our communities also put enormous pressure on the community based queer leaders we look to, and are. The leadership paradigm that exists within queer and trans social justice communities is still that of the movement/ activist star. As much as we may critique it, we don't quite have another one yet. (Edited to add: When I say "activist star", I want to be clear what I mean. I don't just mean people who are particularly visible or raised up for their leadership- though I think folks in that position face some unique pressures. I think, however, pressure to not be open about depression, suicidality and the hard places we go
hits almost all of us within queer/trans and other identity based communities. We want to have it all together. We don't think it's going to make us more desired or cool or sexy or beloved if we're honest about this stuff. And "community leadership" is sometimes so relative and easy to achieve- it can mean running a small bike program or reading at an event or being the contact person for childcare or any number of things. And for those of us who, because of multiple marginalizations and oppressions, find ourselves feeling the brunt of being undesirable within both mainstream and oppressed or oppositional communities, shit can feel like, well, we're already not beloved, so who will give a fuck if we're not here? (For more info and an amazing analysis about the politics of desirability, and especially how it intersects with transmisogyny, look at this blog post: http://gudbuytjane.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/dating-from-the-margins-1
/) In my experience, sometimes, but not always, we can move from leader to semi-visible to undesired in quick succession in our communities, and back again. Thank you for the feedback that pushed me to be clearer about what I was talking about.)
We have complicated feelings about leaders. We need role models We want to celebrate folks who are talented organizers and artists. And we also dont know how to practice horizontal leadership. We lift people up and pedestalize them- expect them to be perfect and with all the answers. we tear them down, expect them to be perfect. We murder folks who look like and unlike us when we fuck up, make mistakes, aren't able to be always on call, or just politically disagree. And that murder, that cut-eye, that exclusion from chosen family or community- it's some of the hardest and most dangerous things we do to each other. Believe me, I understand that people need to end relationships, set boundaries and not see each other for many good reasons. But when we are each others' safety net, some of the casually cruel exclusion we do is life-threatening.
We don't know how to let people be gifted and imperfect. And when we are those people, going from being a nobody to being a movement star, well, it doesn't leave a lot of room for complexity. Or to feel comfortable being honest about wanting to die when so many people are looking to you for a reason to live.
And our communities are still struggling to know how to care for each other well. For real. For the longterm. Without shame when it doesn't get fixed permanently and forever. When the need for care may be lifelong.
When I've wanted to kill myself- when it's hit strong and knocked me to my knees, familliar- there's also this thing. It's felt like, in that moment, I can feel all the ways I really have been without agency in my life. And in that moment of feeling the deep grief and sadness over the impact of oppression, killing myself has felt like one clear way I can have agency. I can have total control. I can't control the WSCCAP. But I can go to the stars.
And it hits fast. With Wendy, with Kyle and with other folks who've killed themselves in my communities, it's not uncommon for folks to say, I just saw them the other day. They were happy
. They were fine.
And, they might've been. They might've been also holding a lot of hard shit they didn't know how to talk about. And they might've gone from wonderful to deeply despairing fast- and not had room or words to talk about what it felt like for that transition to happen so quickly. Or felt deeply ashamed of freaking out, yet again.
What does it mean for those of us who made things better, who are shaped in the shape of I will come through for you
, who have organized and created curriculum and built programs and won awards and fought and mentored and let folks crash on our couches- what happens when we are, again, the crazy hurting deeply sad inside places? That are so different from the ones maybe so many outsiders know? (And what happens for those of us who are not 'gaymous', and who are also struggling with depression and suicidality?
When sometimes we ask for help on Facebook and miracles come through, and sometimes we do and our ChipIn falls flat? When we are afraid that we were hurting 6 months ago, and we're hurting now, and what is the tipping point when people start thinking, there they go again, they're always freaking out
I think about the deep stigma of crazy. The reality that even in radical communities where sometimes we are better about loving people who are "too much" we also know the fear of crazy. the reality of community that is love but also just likes to kick it and be casual. Of the post in the house I looked at that said, we're cool with you having mental or physical health concerns as long as you take care of them on your own and don't bring that shit into the house
. I think about how the crazy take care of the crazy and when we're not in crisis ourselves we want a break.
We don't want plattitudes or uplift or people telling us we're loved. I mean tell me. But I know I'm loved. Sometimes hearing that helps. Sometimes I am still deeply, deeply sad.
I don't have the answers, but I am intersted in collectively creating them. I am interested in all of us who dance with dying talking about all the different and real things that suicide can mean to us. All the things that allow us to stay here. And more than that, I am interested in creating models of happy-mostly queer and trans adulthood where we can be leaders and still be vulnerable, where we can be open that it's not happily ever after. Life models that encompass falling apart and reforming not as a failure, but as a life pathway. Ones punctuated with whirlwinds and whirlpools, that Coatlicue/Kali/Oya energy that dismembers. And gifts.