Processing Sexuality & Spirituality: On Queer Identity, Love, and Un-Identifying

There were two rather unexpected events that took place yesterday. ?If I look closely, I see how these two seemingly different events perfectly illustrate my life and my identity right now.

At two o’clock yesterday, I went for spiritual direction. ?Spiritual direction is a form of spiritual practice where you typically spend an hour or so with a trained and certified spiritual director to help you more clearly recognize grace, God, and love in your life. ?The reasons and methods are varied, similar to psychotherapy, but it’s not therapy. ?It’s like you become your own personal theologian over your own life. ?You investigate the joys, struggles, and thoughts and process them aloud with a director. ?They ask questions, dig around, and reflect back what they hear from you. ?Quite a simple method, yet very few people utilize this form of practice. ?The last time I went for spiritual direction was nearly a decade ago. ?My director’s name was John and I still think of that relationship every few months. ?It was that impactful.

I went to see Fr. Don Cozzens. ?A prolific writer, a progressive thinker, a graceful challenger to the modern US church, I sat with him for an hour to talk about my relationship between writing and my faith. ?Specifically, I came to him to talk about this hard stone of fear sitting in my stomach. ?A fear to write about what I truly want to write about because of my identity as a Catholic. ?I feel uncertain and off balance. ?At times I felt unsure how to answer his questions about my identity as a Catholic, as a women of color, as a feminist, as a writer.

He spoke at length about two things: ego and courage.

On one hand the ego of the writer is always pushing. Ego is always afraid of what others think, even when in hiding – which could be mistaken for lack of confidence – but is really about ego. ?(That took me a while to understand.) But it makes sense. ?On the other hand, it takes the “chasm of courage” to put yourself out into the world, to open up oneself for criticism and challenge. ?He remarked, “The challenges you reference – the hierarchy, clericalism, triumphalism, patriarchy of the church – these are big pieces to the block in your writing as you are describing, but I think there is something else. ?Something that is not church.”

Oh.

Well, I sat with that for a while.

He was kind and smiled warmly, “Forgive my arrogance. ?I’ve only known you less than an hour and am telling you what to do with your life. ?But here I go: there is something much deeper than the church you are fearing. ?Your friend who lost is job because of his progressive beliefs? It goes deeper than that. ?Your fear of being the Catholic community not understanding you? ?It goes deeper than that. ?So just sit with that.”

I did. ?I sat there.

He ended with what he began, “Write. Come what may.”

Four hours later, I left this priest who wrote controversial books for a living and drove to another college campus. ?At Kate State, my friend, Daisy Hernandez was giving a talk. ?The subject of her lecture was on feminism, women of color, sexuality, and Latina experiences. ?It’s hard to not praise her presentation when she gave a shout out to my work. (Insert any gif of shameless dancing.)

One of the things that caught my attention was how many college students brought up the word “queer” which Daisy used to name her sexual identity. ?I saw many college students nodding as she spoke and I saw even more wait for her after the lecture, standing there awkwardly, shifting from foot to foot waiting to ask her more about her queer identity. ?It was a word I am familiar with as many of my friends who date and love and partner with men, women, and gender non conforming people. ?Queer is a word to me to describe the natural continuum of loving, or being attracted to, or being in relationship, or just plain wanting another person. ?It’s an everyday word for me. Like “the.”

I thought about how and why I not feel the need to name my sexuality. ?I stopped identifying as anything several years ago. ?It was a personal decision I came to after years of examining my life, reflecting with my partner, choosing what felt most right to me. ?And what felt right was not to use any identifier at all. ?I didn’t reject anything, I just didn’t find anything that encompassed my experiences.

The decision to un-identify as heterosexual and my decision to not identify with anything else came shortly after an upsetting experience with a group of friends who questioned my life choices. ?Shortly after I was engaged to my partner, I made a comment that I knew I was ready to commit to one person because I realized what love meant. ?I didn’t love his gender. ?I didn’t love his sexuality. ?I didn’t love parts of him. ?I just loved him. ?That totality and consumption of another human through love wasn’t blind to these parts of his identity, it just didn’t stand out that way anymore. ?The more I understood how I loved him, the more I understood how to love others in general. ?Gender didn’t matter. ?I fell in love with a person who happened to be a man. ?Even with all the socialization, the cultural and religious influences in my life, I came to understand that love, for me, was not contingent upon gender, or sexuality, or labels. ?I shared with a friend that “it didn’t matter if it was a man or woman. ?I knew that I could have dated or not dated anyone and I would have been fine. ?I could have loved anyone. ?And in realizing that, I knew I was free to love whom I choose. ?And I chose him.”

In sharing this in an unsafe place, the comment was deduced to a cheap conversation about sexual attraction and dating history. ?My insight was lost in the torrent of questions if I was gay, straight, queer, bi…or what?

It took a few years to tell that story and I look back and shake my head because I still feel the same way. ?Why the need for label? ?Why the desperate grab to smack a word on my forehead so you know how to treat me. ?Why not just get to know me? ?Why not get to the know the person I fell in love with?

I fell in love with this person who, at one time, when he was employed as a minister, would dress in his finest suit to attend funerals for people he didn’t even know. ?Whether the service was overflowing or just a smattering of people in the pews, he put on his best clothes to pay tribute to someone who died. ?He attended because he believed in the inherent worth of every human that walked the earth. ?He wore his best suit because he believed that was the least he could do for the one person who came to say goodbye to their brother, father, sister, mother, or spouse.

I have these hazy memories of waking up and seeing him dressing in that black suit and knowing he was on his way to a funeral. ?“You don’t have to go, you know,” I reminded him. ?“No one would ever know the difference.” ?He’d catch my eye in the mirror and flash me a smile that I always found made my heart thunder away, “I’d know. ?I like going. ?I want to be there. ?Someone should, must be there.”

Someone that held that kind of perspective of human life, relationship, and wasn’t afraid to be made vulnerable by the emotionally heavy nature of a funeral is the kind of someone I continue to love to this day. ?It’s why I chose and continue to choose to build my life with him and why love is the only door I leave unlabeled.

I don’t need it. ?I know where I’m going.

* * * *

Fr. Donald Cozzens. ?Ms. Daisy Hernandez. ?The two faces of Catholic and feminist agitation yesterday. ?It was quite a day.

Audre Lorde: On “Jugular Vein Psychology”

Doing research for a writing assignment and found myself in arms/pages of Audre Lorde’s, “Sister Outsider.”
I wonder how some people survive without reading her brilliance. She is such loving brilliance.

The distortion of relationship which says “I disagree with you, so must destroy you” leave us as Black people with basically uncreative victories, defeated in any common struggle. This jugular vein psychology is based on the fallacy that your assertion of affirmation of self is an attack upon my self – or that my defining myself will somehow prevent or retard you self-definition. The supposition that one sex needs the other’s acquiescence in order to exist prevents both from moving together as self-defined persons toward a common goal.”

You see? We do nothing NOTHING for anyone, least of all ourselves, when we shrink to make others comfortable, when we pander to the least to avoid conflict or challenge, or when we prostrate ourselves to avoid confrontation of the mind and heart. I think maybe if we were all more fully realized, we would be capable of living our lives fearlessly and, consequently, more truthfully.

A Tale of Two Activists: A Feminist Writer of Color and an “Occupier”

It began with two poems.*

I had written “Rip Up the Streets” after weeks of agitation; agitation caused by the Occupation and directed toward the Occupation. His poem, “Wait,” was written in response to critiques of the Occupation, doubt, frustration, pain.

For a month I had been watching, observing, listless and not entirely certain why. I identified as an activist for twelve years and had my share of street activism. Sign holding, marches, chanting, crossing the line, civil disobedience, mind games by police and law enforcement, letter writing, petition signing, globe trotting, conference presenting-attending, proposal writing, grant pleading.

The Occupation, though, was annoying me. I could not precisely say why.

****** Two Weeks Earlier*******

A white woman holds up a sign, “Women is the Nigger of the World” during SlutWalk, a grassroots campaign geared toward raising consciousness about gendered violence. If you want to know more, read up.

I didn’t join the fray. I’d had my fair share of “feminist” movements and moments that proved unsafe, negligent, and downright unjust toward women of color, GLBTQI, transexual, transgender, and non-conforming folks all done in the name of “movement” and “liberal” and “freedom” and “justice.” Most of these acts, however, were White-identified mainstream swimming feminists. Distrust grows with each incident and “What would you have me do?” retorts/excuses.

It was just another brick to add to the wall I had been building about kyriarchal, heteronormative, “liberal” movements that ignore the stratification of power and privilege within the 99%. Moving beyond oppression Olympics, true liberation is about understanding the dynamic of hierarchal powers and its impact in movement building so we can identify, strategize, and create a movement that does not perpetrate the oppression we claim to fight against.

In liberation, there is no “most.” There is only “all.” The responsibility includes critical analyses of existing paradigms and pedagogies of oppression AND how we participate in those models. It is not enough to analyze the interlocking oppressions against marginalized communities, but to be awakened to the ways in which we have accepted and inhabited these practices of hierarchal control and mentalities. The effects of oppression are not just about the oppression of the 1% against the 99%, it’s about the social norms we have adopted within our own communities in effort to gain or secure ourselves at the expense of another person.

There is very little redemption for a movement that would condone using a sign with the very word that means structural, institutional, sinful, systematic oppression. What’s more disturbing is the fallout of that sign. The excuses, the “it’s only one person,” the “we can’t be responsible for every sign” only solidified my belief that many feminists *still* lack comprehensive education around oppression. They don’t get why you don’t use the n-word in a sign. I don’t care if that phrase was coined by Yoko Ono and later used by John Lennon. It’s a fatal literary wound.

If you don’t know why or how race – among many other facets of social stratification and identity – is still an issue today, you’re probably not the best person to publicly hold a sign about who or what women are today. Put your hand down. Don’t volunteer.

******* Present Day**********

I swear there’s something about young White women who feel compelled to dress like it’s the dead of summer and hold up political signs.

“Occupy.”

It should be “DeColonize.”

Why?

Well, read up for yourself on why language is the house of being and it’s more than just picking at semantics.

So, I have a dream about race, feminism, organizing and when I wake up, I write “Rip Up the Streets.” I put it out there for a few activist friends and one of them is in the Occupation. An “occupier.”

He writes me. He’s devastated by my poem. He’s emotionally spent, fatigued, and hurt.

He writes a poem and sends it to me.

We agree to do things the old fashioned way: talk in person.
We meet at my house the next day to hash this out face to face.

I read up before our meeting, trying to put my head in the write space and realize, how much I have grown and changed in my own political identity. 12 years of activism and I know who I trust: my own experiences.

I run Isaiah around in the hours before the meeting, hoping to tire him out and guarantee an afternoon nap. The stove is warming a big pot of nilaga, a Filipino soup/stew with lots of sabao. Knowing those soup bones are in my kitchen, something from my culture, something from me, comforts me.

I stir it gently. I know what I’m about.

Although I’m not sure what H* is going to say, or how he’s going to be, I know that our friendship and mutual respect can frame and contain our differences, however profound they may be.

In my reading, I see that Naomi Wolf is arrested. *eyeroll*
My distrust of the Occupation strengthens. Naomi Wolf.

H* arrives and thus begins the near 3 hour meeting in my living room.

He tells me about the Occupation. What’s happening on the ground.

I tell him about Poor. I share my skepticism based on years of observing, exposure, and a lifetime of unraveling what happens when people get rowdy over personal loss vs. communal love. (e.g. Being motivated because you don’t have a job vs. transforming life habits out of knowledge that poverty exists and and its entirely humanmade)

We share.

I talk about my skepticism about the Madison protests. The media coverage. The precious feelings of the middle-class who may or may not be concerned with anyone or anything else except their own economic security. Or, as better stated:

Let’s be real. The economic crisis did not begin with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in 2008. Indeed, people of color and poor people have been in a state of crisis since the founding of this country, and for indigenous communities, since before the founding of the nation. We have long known that capitalism serves only the interests of a tiny, mostly white, minority.

Black and brown folks have long known that whenever economic troubles ‘necessitate’ austerity measures and the people are asked to tighten their belts, we are the first to lose our jobs, our children’s schools are the first to lose funding, and our bodies are the first to be brutalized and caged. Only we can speak this truth to power. We must not miss the chance to put the needs of people of color—upon whose backs this country was built—at the forefront of this struggle.

I talk about Grace Lee Boggs and her message of sustainability.

Grace Lee Boggs' message to Occupy Wall Street - 10/9/11 from American Revolutionary on Vimeo.

He tells me about the education going on among the leaders, the need for diverse voices but the all the faces are White.

He asks what his role is as a hetero White male.

I shrug inside. Sometimes I don’t know what my role is as a privileged woman of color. “Lead by listening,” I tell him. “Respect communities of color enough to support them to solve their problems, tell their stories, and use your privilege with grace and generosity. If you want to know more about a person, be in relationship. If you want to know about their culture, go read a book. Lead by listening. Be a man of strength: show your vulnerability and how hard it is to live against the grain. Endure this.”

He thinks for a minute, “And I know that when I enter a room, I am a symbol of that oppression. And I know it’s not your responsibility or anyone’s responsibility to educate me.”

Right.

Welcome to the cruelty of white supremacy. See, for a long time, White people thought that it’s only people of color who cry racism when something’s wrong or when they want to even out the playing field. Not true. The effects of a system and nation dependent upon White supremacy runs deep in all of us. It not only feeds the legislation that criminalizes and kills the poor and marginalized, it feeds inferiority complexes and thwarts the human dignity of ALL. It robs us ALL of the gifts of people of color, and it dilutes and compromises the potentially rich relationship that can exist between people of difference. It’s not just about White people get everything, give me some. Racism is about loss. Deep, unretrievable loss. Loss of relationship, and its place, an illusion of sameness and control kept alive by unjust legislation and corrupt institutional powers.

We go deeper.

We talk about power, power dynamics within activist circles, gendered violence, the midwest and its (un)fruitful garden of support for alternative living. H* shares his career plans to go into community health, to go to medical school and use health as his foundation to encompass his passion for social justice.

He rubs his eyes and suddenly I am overwhelmed by the world, brought in through my front door on a blustery fall day. “What about you?” he asks.

I want to laugh, “Yes, what about me…”

“I can’t fly around the globe anymore, nor do I want to. I don’t want to go sleep on a sidewalk because I don’t believe that, at this point, that’s the best use of my purpose and presence. My concept of activism has changed, radically, as a mother, and I have yet to see the life of activism modeled for those of us who are not single or child-less. A family of activists is still a novel concept. We’re bound to each other and the Occupation keeps encouraging us to get out there and take space. Believe me, I am taking more space as a writer and minister than I can as an occupier.”

We dig deeper.

We talk about isolation, mental health, families of origin, nation-state, and what the United States may look like in two generations.

As we head past the second hour, my stomach growls, yet I don’t feel hungry. It felt appropriate on so many levels, like our hunger and thirst for justice took on a physiological state.

We never got to the nilaga. Just embraces and “you’re good for me” words muffled into each others’ shoulders.

Perhaps this is the face of change, of activism spurred by difference and led by openness. Hours in a living room, talking fervently in hushed voices so not to wake my sleeping child.

_____________________________________________________________________

*Rip Up These Streets

This land was not discovered,
it was TAKEN –
and in the taking of land
there was taking of lives, of women’s bodies
blood
was taken
to drink in the name of Christopher,
for who we
so ignorantly rejoice
and give favor
for murder, rape, and theft.

A hol(y)-day
of all things
we give to him.

A hol(y)-day
to do nothing,
to rest from labor and disturbance.

A day rooted
in the most evil disturbance
imaginable.

This SOIL. This LAND.
Is. Not. Ours.
And it’s not ours to claim to occupy –
or RE-Occupy.

Rip up these streets

The word Occupy is being used to
“instigate”
“agitate”
“educate”
but these roads were in need of cleansing
long before a “movement” of the 99%

We
of all people
who live on stolen ground
should know better than to cry
OCCUPY!
in the name of justice

Rip up these streets

OccupyNothing

OR

Occupy your mind
– listen –
to the lives
of the preyed and eaten,
not the lion’s tale –
the victor’s tale.

OccupyNothing
because it’ll take more than occupation
to transform a culture
a society
a nation
a life

Rip up these streets

and remake these pathways
with grass more livable
than concrete

with a plan more sustainable
than agitation

Rip up the streets in our hearts
that seek to fight the powers
because we want more
power for ourselves

MORE
MORE
MORE

Rip up the streets in our minds
which seek “fair and just”
for many
but ignore
those even more marginalized
and push them further out
to the isles of oppression

There is something more true than
Occupy

Rip up these streets

and DeColonize.
Your Self.

_______________________________________________________________________
H*’s poem which was written in response.

Wait

WAIT
Wait, they say.

Wait until the powerful willingly give up their power.
Wait until the time is right.
Wait, they say, until I finish my thesis,
in which I craft the perfect theory
of the perfect movement.

Wait.

Until then, they say, be silent.
Be silent about the pains you have felt.
Be silent about the suffering you have seen.
Be silent, they say, about all that is hurting in this world.
Be silent, they say,
and wait.

Do nothing, they say, until all is perfect.
Do not speak to your neighbors about the injustice you have seen and felt.
Do not have conversations about oppression and hierarchy.
Do not express your discontent with the status quo, they say, until all is perfect.
Until all is perfect, they say,
be silent and wait.

WAIT, THEY SAY.
Wait, they say, while prisons fill.
Wait, they say, while schools empty.
Wait, they say, while our minds and hearts and souls are corrupted by the oppressive structures of our society.

BE SILENT, THEY SAY.
Be silent, they say, while inequality grows.
Be silent, they say, while the powerful consolidate their power.
Be silent, they say, while everything we love and cherish and value is thrown into the fire.

DO NOTHING, THEY SAY.
Do nothing, they say, while the very earth groans beneath our feet.
Do nothing, they say, while hopelessness consumes those you love.
Do nothing, they say, while the future is lost.

This, my sisters and brothers, is how the oppressor turns us against one another.
This, my sisters and brothers, is how we tear each other down.
This, my sisters and brothers, is how those precious embers of hope that glow faintly in our hearts, those embers that allow us to believe, if only briefly, that a better world is possible, those embers that are at the very core of our humanity.

This is how those embers are snuffed.

89 Infants Recovered from Kidnapping Reveals More than Just Male Preference

The question always comes with good intention, “Why are you a feminist when women have already accomplished so much?”

Meaning, women in certain cases have achieved similar ambitions in life as their male counterparts, so why raise ruckus when women are doing so gosh darn well?

Well, for one thing, things like this are still pretty horrific in the world when you read a headline like, “89 Kidnapped Infants Rescued” At first glance, it may seem unrelated to women’s rights – just a terribly disturbing story – but when you take a close look, you’ll get why nearly all social problems stem from a kyriarchal problem.

In certain parts of the world where males are favored, it has disparaging effects on females. These effects ripple and grow in ways that most people don’t want to acknowledge. Gender preference, for instance, is no more prominent than in the birth and children industry. How many times do you see fathers’ congratulated when their first child is a son? And how many mothers do you see congratulated when their first child is a daughter? Answer: The former happens ALL THE TIME. And that’s just a mild US-centric example.

Look at China, where there is not only a warm glow placed on males, but combined with a strict one child birth restriction, forces women and children into human trafficking. According to the article, “The report said that police have uncovered 39,194 cases of human trafficking in China since April 2009, the majority of the cases involving women or children.”

It’s not just about preference. When it comes to kyriarchy – where boys born in a privileged family with resources in a country without birthing restrictions – the line is drawn and girls are left in unknown conditions of life. Human trafficking is modern day slavery where girls and women are made to be either domestic slaves, abused entertainers, exploited caretakers, or at the beating end of violence.

So no matter how many glass ceilings are broken by white-identified, privileged, economically advantaged US citizen-ed women, as long as 10 day year old girls are being born in secret to be sold into slavery around the globe, there is no true liberation taking place for anyone.

That’s why I identify as a feminist. I measure liberation by the freedom of the least visible.

40 Days of Writing, Day 2: Feminist Perspective on Lent

I’ve been a catholic for 32 years.? Every classroom that I ever received a degree from came with crucifixes on the wall and grace before meals.? My parents are from the Philippines, the last country that still does not legally recognize or condone divorce.? In grade school, I wrote essays on wanting to be a nun or a missionary in El Salvador and follow the footsteps of Archbishop Oscar Romero.? My husband earned one of his masters degrees while attending seminary to be a catholic priest.? I love fish fry’s and believe in the power of building community over donuts.

I’m a catholic alright.

I’ve identified as a feminist for about seven years, believed in its core values for 32 years.? I performed in the Vagina Monologues, taught a course in gender, race, and difference, and worked in a university women’s center for three years.? I write and edit with a grassroots and independent feminist magazine and speak at conferences about media justice, revolutionary practices of storytelling, and US feminists of color.? My marriage is built on values like ever-negotiating degrees of communication, respect, compromise, and radical love.? I support men and women, transgender women, transgender men, transexual wom/en, and non-identifying and non-conforming persons.? My first book project is an anthology of edited works by survivors of sexual violence written and created for other survivors of sexual violence.? My mother and I argue about Fox news and politics and then laugh over coffee ice cream while exchanging stories about my 14 mo old son’s latest antics.? I counsel and educate, advocate and vote.

Catholic while Feminist.

Catholic and Feminist.

A Catholic Feminist.

A Feminist Catholic.

There’s no better time to reflect on the two identities (although I pretty much reject the notion of “multiple identities” and just see them as ME) than during Lent.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning a Lent, the holiest time of year for Catholics, as it marks the 40 days before Easter.? No matter what is said or taught about Lent, it is a time for nothing else but absolute renewal.? Renewal of relationship, renewal of energy, renewal of spirit.? This “renewal” thing, though, is usually overshadowed by things in the media like the McDonald fish sandwich deals and Steven Colbert’s humorous mocking of catholicism and Ash Wednesday during last night’s The Colbert Report.

It’s hard to focus on the deeper meaning of Lent when you’re gnawing on fried fish sandwiches and dabbing your lips with a napkin to dry up the grease.

Few feminists I know and study provide in-depth reflections on Lent.? If there are some who do write on it, they are usually ivy-clad academics in feminist theology who talk in jargon that few lay people would understand.? So I feel obligated to self-educate and self-define this holy time of year for myself.? I feel one of feminism’s great tools that I have embraced is a wonderful gushing spigot of questions.? Many feminists are obsessed with answers and legislation and public policy and conference plenaries and blog posts and articles and book deals and marches.? Those things are all fine and serve great purpose because, let’s face it, spirited dialogue needs these things.? But, in my head, none of those things really matter if you don’t have the right questions.? Questions situate.? They point the telescope at just the right angle when you seek clarity.? Questions, more than anything, direct your gaze and concentration.

One thing that catholics and feminists do have in common is that some of the most ardent and vocal people in either sector are often the least educated or in touch with the everyday lives of women.? Neither the leaders of catholicism nor the leaders of mainstream feminism reflect who I am.? Those leaders are often white, have never spent much time building relationships with people and countries outside of the United States, without dependents of any kind, and favor sweeping generalizations in their speeches and homilies as if they speak the truth for everyone.?? They tend to make polarizing statements in the name of everyone else and the TRUTH.? They also talk to me like I’m just like them.

So the question is: Why stay?

Answer: it’s better to crack the walls from the inside than the outside.

It’s better to stay and fight then leave and complain.

It’s better to claim what is rightfully yours – church, identity, spirituality – than to walk away.

It’s better to write your narrative than to ignore your voice.

It’s better to admit you disagree than pretend you don’t care.

It’s better to breathe in the gray than suffocate in black and white.

And, for me, I just don’t walk away.? I get the oppression.? I get the pissed off feelings.? I get it.? I’ve had three decades of jaw dropping statements and humiliation and “I can’t believe the Vatican _______ ” kinds of moments. But, giving up catholicism is like giving up my skin color.? It’s like giving up my family.? It’s like renouncing my mother or shunning my siblings or ignoring the voice of my father.? It’s like writing, “I’m giving up being Filipino!”? And like many Latin@ theologians argue — simply walking away isn’t what our people do.? We stay in the friction.? We make movement.? We work toward resolution, not abandon the problems.

If I leave, who will ask the questions?

Lent is a time of renewal and you can’t have renewal without coming to grips with what you want to leave behind.? That kind of discernment, that kind of active, mindful reflection must be intentional.? It must be framed with question.

What do you want to leave behind?

Last night, I participated in Ash Wednesday service and was asked to help distribute ashes.? I love participating in any aspect of the liturgy and, smiled, when Nick was asked to distribute ashes beside me.? Serving others together as a married couple is one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.

The action is simple.? I dip my right thumb into a small bowl of dark ashes and place a cross on the forehead of the person standing one foot from me and proclaim, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

Eigh —

In terms of rhetoric, I wasn’t impressed by these words.? Hardly poetic. Not really moving and I have such complex issues with what defines “sin,” “faithful,” and certainly “gospel.” I told myself,

Get over it.? Now isn’t the time for theological argument.

There were over 500 people in the church and my line was overflowing.? I was unsteady, thrown by the massive crowd pushing toward me.? For the first ten people or so, I couldn’t look them in the eye.? The whole thing suddenly unnerved me.? Truly, it’s an intimate act to place your hand on someone’s forehead.? Try it.? Gather faces in your hands and tell me you’re not moved.? Let yourself be in a position where people come to you seeking something much greater than you; their eyes opening into yours.? Faces of all ages, colors, sizes, texture, ability.? Each one extraordinary.? Each one indispensable.

The nervousness trembled and then an unexplainable stillness rested over me.? My vision narrowed and I just saw faces.? Like a human conveyor belt, their faces came one after the other.? Hopeful, searching, distracted, downcast, excited, curious, detached, grieved.? I saw them.? I saw their faces and thought,

People are so beautiful.? And good.? And they try so damn hard to do their best.

Over the organ and choir, I kept repeating the phrase over and over – maybe 200 times with little pause in between each one – Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.

I was saying the words, but I had no feeling behind them.? Then I heard a translation. My own voice in my head.

Stop making destructive decisions.

Go. Live!

Come out? of your sadness.

Choose to love.

You are not alone.

Find yourself.

I’m here.

I have no flipping idea where those words came from, but they popped in my head like subtitles at a french cinema.? Were these commandments for me or for them, I wondered.? I wasn’t sure and then I was sure it didn’t matter.

I felt their spirits.

The experience took me back to my own wedding ceremony when Nick and distributed eucharist and, again, I was overwhelmed by the faces appearing in and out of my eyeline.? At my wedding, the faces were all known, all beloved.? I compared that day to heaven – a gathering of those we do not want to live without.

Yesterday, though, it was a parade of unrecognizable faces but their beauty was so undeniable I felt embarrassed that I didn’t live more gently with my neighbors.? I felt silly that I was so quick to indulge in gossip and share in news of misfortune.? I didn’t feel short, but I felt ashamed I didn’t choose to stand taller.? In those minutes, I knew there was nothing more important than those faces and coming to that realization of how precious each face was, I knew my face mattered as well.

They matter, therefore, I matter.

In the quiet recess of your mind, do you truly believe in the undeniable sanctity of each person?? Of yourself?? Your body?? Each woman?? What if we honored all the baggage that people show up with as forgivable and common? Or –

how would your life change if you saw what I saw last night:? God.

And this I can report back — God sure ain’t sexy, but It sure is crazy beautiful.

Gendered Pain: A Free Write on Birth, Partnership and the Woman’s Body

There’s nothing sexy about pain.? There’s nothing even remotely redeeming, glorified, cute, or remarkable about pain.

I came into this realization quite quickly Sunday morning when I was dressing Isaiah for mass. I began lowering him to the floor, felt a horribly familiar pop! in my lower back and I immediately recognized that telling radiating heat that spread throughout my lumbar region as I fell on one knee. Isaiah screamed in my ear as he harmlessly wobbled back from me so he peer into my face to see what was wrong.? All he could see was my face going paler by the second and my breath quicken in short spurts and outbursts, trying to control the pain.

No.? No.? No.? No.? No.? No.? No.

Not again.? Not again.? Not again.? NOT AGAIN.

I just got back to the gym this week.? I just started getting back on the treadmill, back in the zumba studio, back for my first swim in the pool.? I just …

I just got over my back injury from last month.

Remembering my phone was in the inner pocket of my purse, I slowly walked to my purse on the ground and gently leaned forward.? I reached and immediately fell and screamed in pain.

I somehow got my phone, I don’t remember how.? (A friend told me that when her back went out, she blacked out from the pain.)? I remember feeling calmed by the smooth surface of my phone, thanking God it was charged and relieved that Nick was only 5 minutes into his day, ahead of me, and on his way to work.? I whispered frantically to Isaiah that everything was fine and threw him a toy as I winced in pain.? He hobbled away, whimpering at the site of his mother in such disarray and distraction.

I burst into tears and could barely get the words out to Nick, “My back…w-w-went ou-ou-out a-a-a-gain…”

It was at that moment that I retreated from the world, the pain was overwhelming, almost blinding.

A co-worker told me later she saw Nick walking on the street when he was talking to me, all dressed up for work, briefcase in hand, but in an unusual walking speed, “a near run” she told me.? So she stopped and offered him a ride to wherever he was rushing to.? “Home,” he said, “Leese threw her back out again.”

It’s hormones, my chiropractor told me yesterday.? All the hormones and chemicals that loosen the pelvis and back, readying the body to deliver a baby, are still in your body and, likely, the lumbar region isn’t as tight as it was before and isn’t as strong.? Doing household chores and lifting things can sprain, strain, and injure the lower back, says the doc.

All of this from hormones?? Still?? It’s been 14 months.

Hormones and chemicals can linger in your body, doc says.

A number of friends – all who have given birth in the past two years – have confided of their recent and surprising chronic lower back pain, some so severe that it prevents mobility.? Few have found comfort.? All have tried natural healing, gym trainers, chiropractors, physical therapists. This strange community of back pain mothers comforts me.

I toss two pills of Alleve in my mouth and tried to smile at Isaiah in the kitchen.? He put his chubby arms up for me to carry him and starts grabbing my clothes for leverage, like trying to climb a tree.? Nick immediately scooped him up and tries to cheer him up with a jolly, overly boisterous voice.? The shriek out of Isaiah’s mouth was one I could interpret instantly, “What’s the matter with you?? Why won’t you pick me up?”? He’s taken away from me and, out of nowhere, I have an image of him being taken away from me the moment he was born when all I wanted to do was hold him.? I shake my head, and gently stir the boiling orzo.

Is this what birthing mothers deal with, I asked my head as I stare at the back of Nick’s body.? His is so strong, so solid.? Simply clad in jeans and a white tshirt, Nick’s body looked beautiful to me; his wide and capable back seemed fearless.? His stride was fluid, like a complicated piece of piano music keyed effortlessly.? I look down at my body.? A staccato mess of surgeries, stretch marks, and my skin’s opinion of the pregnancy weight gain and loss. ? I see my scarred belly from three surgeries with another scheduled in the summer to fix an umbilical hernia.? My inner eye sees an exhausted and red lumbar region, a weakened lower back throbbing with stubborn stiffness.? It strikes me, with almost a pin needle acuteness, that Nick’s body hadn’t changed at all since we had Isaiah.? Nick’s body remained intact, with no incisions, no stretches, no torn anything.

I pause in that realization.

His tongue had never mistaken water for metallic liquid.? His nose never became so sensitive as to be able to detect the cleaning fluid on the floor of a grocer.? His heart ventricles never widened to allow more blood flow.? His calves and feet never swelled with unbearable water retention.? His chest never billowed with heart burn.? His mind never clouded with postpartum depression.? His nipples never cracked with pain so deep that his shoulders shuddered.? His skin never broke out in rashes.? He never vomited from anesthesia or used his foreman to protect a 6 inch abdominal incision against a winter chill.? He never had a catheter put in at the same time as a suppository while compressors pumped blood away from his legs.? He never had an abrasion in the back of his eye because the surgeons forgot to completely close and protect his eyes before surgery.? He never had to take pills to stop, prompt, or control a menstrual cycle.? He never felt a flutter of life in his belly or feel the hiccup of a new being inside his womb.

Because he doesn’t have a womb.

Nick did and does everything a parent could possibly do.? He transformed his emotions, his life, his commitments, and reformed his schedule to accommodate me and every little thing I needed throughout my pregnancy and birthing experience.? He respects anything I tell him or request.? Nick continuously and gladly lays in a metaphorical railroad track for me and our son.? If that’s what needs to happen, that’s what I will do, he says.

But in the confines of my bed, nursing this near paralysis, when I hear Isaiah’s laughter and Nick’s efforts to keep him occupied, I realize, with ringing clarity something that I could not have known or respected prior to going through it myself: our bodies are entirely different and our needs are entirely different.? My body endured all of this and my body cried differently than his. I knew this beforehand, but I never really Knew It beforehand.? Maybe my body never really cried until I became a mother.

So this difference between Nick and I exists.? It exists as sharp as a paring knife, as real as our love.? That difference – that my body changed while his did not – initially sprouted a rocketing resentment against anything him, society, and anyone else that didn’t Get It.? It = women’s bodies are a terrain that only we ourselves can travel.? It is not for anyone to lay laws upon.? It is not to be conquered, violated, disposed, or mishandled.? Along with the resentment, I also noticed a widening reverence for my body.? From which new life travels, the woman’s body is the canal to existence.? It is from our very bones, the calcium of our teeth, the marrow of our own breath that the woman’s body offers and sustains a new being.? The woman’s body is the epitome of automated self-sacrifice.? It is the ground zero of renewal — if the environment agrees that her life is valuable and the time to recover is respected.? We women, we give birth.? And we are also born into a new identity and a new body.

Give.? Birth.

Give.

Birth.

Are there two more powerful and daunting words in the English language?

But we women are also prone to set back and injury because of what our spines uphold.? Our bellies swell with life and our spines pull back to hold us up and in shape. Sometimes, though, the spine gives way and loses its strength.

Pain, whether it’s the lower back or elbow, or migraine, or menstrual, is a debilitating state of existence.? Not because of the physical pain itself.? It’s debilitating because chronic or severe pain draws our minds inward, incapable of fully giving of ourselves to anything or anyone else.? In pain, I become unlike myself.? I don’t unravel.? I do the opposite, I am mummified.? Most people, but especially me, are social beings.? I feel endorphins from conversation, laughter, and intellectual exchange.? However, in the confines of a bed and four walls, my spirit goes down.? My intellect goes dim and my emotions begin to go dark.? Swathed and cast in my own stillness and short breaths, pain dictates my freedom.? I no longer care about anything.? All that matters is finding a pain-free, mobile existence.? Which is why when I check all my social media outlets – email, Facebook, Twitter, newsfeeds, and listserves – I shake my head that the world is celebrating Mardi Gras and International Women’s Day.? I wish I had the energy to care.? I find all kinds of interesting stuff to read, but before my mind digests in the information, my back spasms again and I nearly drop my laptop in shock.

Pain draws us inward.

So for me, today, the one day (unfortunately) that calls women from all over the world to stand together, I lie in bed, with my eyes closed, waiting for relief.? Luckily, for me, I am certain of two things:

patience and writing can be worked on in bed

and

I do and can stand up for women’s rights and gender justice on a daily basis.? But right now, regaining my spiritual and psychological composure after a back injury and remembering the awesome capacity of a woman’s body seems like my fight for today.

Tomorrow it may be something else.

Here’s my Feministe Question about Radical Childcare

I’ve been a reader of Feministe for a few years now.? It’s pretty much one of the few mainstream-ish blogs/sites that I pop my cyber head in for a check-in for women and gender news and updates.

It’s not just the writers that provide news.? What I find more telling about the temperature of mainstream feminism and how far (or not) we have come, is the comment section. Comments can range from supportive and affirming to downright knee-slapping hilarious for its ridiculousness.

Right now, there is a post that I genuinely support and am eager to read how others are reacting.? As a contributing writer and editor at make/shift magazine, I always feel a thrill when a significant article, like Heather Bowlan’s Power to the Parents, is picked up by another outlet, like Utne.

And then there’s more thrill when it’s mentioned in the feminist blogosphere.

My curiosity set in, though, when NO comments were made in the post.? None.? Not even a “thanks for posting the link,” or “I disagree because collective childcare is _____ ” kind of comment.

No reaction.

Or, is it no interest?

What does that say about feminist readers?? Or is it just Feministe readers?? What does it say that when feminist sites cover news about abortion signs or Planned Parenthood, media goes crazy and the readers respond. But when an article reports of a much needed service in the activist circles, the voices of support or even of mild inquiry are nowhere to be found.? When the subject is redefining the family and broadening inclusion in the “movement,” why is there an echo in the room?? For all of the cries of “liberal” and “progressive” readers, where is the interest in the news when it reports a piece of information that actually DOES something to make a difference in the lives of women?

Is there no reaction to this amazing effort by China Martens and others who work to try and include children in the movement for justice and peace?

No reaction?? Is it that people want to react to more posts about Charlie Sheen’s assholery or popular and well-covered issues such as white privilege?

Or is this more telling about the disinterest the capital *F feministers have when it comes to women who are not white, heterosexual, partnered, and without dependents of any kind?? What does a “no comments” section mean about the vested interest in a truly pro-life (non-political term usage here), pro-women, pro-family effort?

Just observin’.

Just sayin’.

Just questioning.

Truthout About Kyriarchy: An Open Letter To “Feminist” Writers, Bloggers, and Journalists

In April 2008, I wrote a post on my blog about and introduced the word “kyriarchy.” At the time, I was writing in response to a feminist blogosphere blow-up.? The feminist blogosphere in April of 2008 was busy unveiling the torrent history of feminist-identified white women writers and presses co-opting and adopting the work of women of color writers, and ignoring the lines of power and oppression between women.? Or, in other words, it was about the long history of white women acting as the authority on subject matter that clearly were out of their lines of experience.

And then it resulted in an unprecedented fallout when Seal Press, whose tagline is “publishing ground-breaking books by women, for women” publicly disgraced itself by insulting women of color writers and bloggers.

It was because of these incidents, I began thinking of kyriarchy.

I studied in one of Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s classes, one of the most searing feminist theologians of our time, and, afterward, took a personal vow and role of academic vigilante.? Such thoughts and transformative insights, I thought, should be made available to those outside the ivory tower.? I began incorporating kyriarchy into my poems, criticizing the criminal cost and hoarding of knowledge by universities.? I even dipped into recorded spoken word, which resulted in a CD compilation of work by other women of color.? The CD was used as a fundraiser to financially assist mothers to get to a powerful Allied Media Conference in Detroit.? Kyriarchy became the bedrock of my activism.

That was the origin of bringing kyriarchy out of the academic walls and into the blogosphere; that it would be (more) available. I thought that by offering a new term for folks to chew on, a deeper understanding of who we are and why we are the way we are would bubble.? At the very least, an on-going and informal conversation of patriarchy vs. kyriarchy would be achieved.

To date, the piece about kyriarchy is correctly linked and cited by nearly fifty articles and posts, and one urban dictionary even added “kyriarchy” to its pages. It became apparent that kyriarchy, a neologism by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, caught fire.? A few months after writing about kyriarchy, I was contacted by the research assistants of feminist writer, 무료 바카라 게임Shira Tarrant, who asked for permission to use my name and properly cite my work in her forthcoming book, Men and Feminism.? I gave my permission, reminding the author that the term was clearly not my own, just my effort to bring the compelling word to a non-academic audience.

I was ecstatic it was so well-received by so many different circles of thought.

And then two months ago, I received a link to a recently published article in The Guardian entitled, “The Patriarchy is Dead, But the Kyriarchy Lives On,” by Nichi Hodgson.? After reading it, two questions immediately popped in my head:? “How is this article covering the emergence of kyriarchy in the feminist sphere with not one attribution and where had she learned it from?”? and “What have I done?”

(I’ll tackle the second question first because it’s ten fold more important than the first.)

Hodgson pats kyriarchy down to a nice and quasi-intelligent term that relegates the freedom to complain about oppression to include The Men, too.? It turns a highly flexible academic term by a feminist theologian into a pop cultured meat loaf: a soft, feel good term that everyone can chew and swallow.

Hodgson uses the pornography industry as an example to illustrate kyriarchy’s clarifying power.? She posits that both women and men are exploited by the porn industry. With kyriarchy as your scapel, you can see how: not only are women exploited and objectified (who could potentially benefit and profit from this work) while men, with their overexposure to the X-rated world, may experience problems keeping their sexual organs and libido “up” in high gear.

And then Hodgson makes a common and dangerous jump about kyriarchy and contemporary feminisms in general:

It helps us to recognise the interconnection of education, class and eating disorders such as anorexia, and of domestic violence and poverty, rather than encouraging us to indiscriminately blame men.

It helps to explain how women themselves can in some cases morph into the supremacist bully, when paranoid mothers pass on anxieties about food and bodies to their daughters, ground down themselves by years of trying to live up to constructed notions of beauty.

The purpose and measure of kyriarchy – and feminism in general – is not to increase our time at the microphone so we can more accurately assign BLAME.? The purpose and measure of kyriarchy is to further understand the power and crippling tendencies of the human race to push, torture, and minimize others.? It is in our nature to try and become “lord” or “master” in our communities, to exert a “power-over” someone else.? Kyriarchy does not exist to give us tools to further imprison ourselves by blaming our environment, upbringing, or social caste.? It is the opposite.? Kyriarchy exists to give us tools to liberate ourselves by understanding the shifting powers of oppression.? It is not about passing the megaphone to men so they can be included in the oppression olympics.? Simply check-marking our gender, sex, race, ablity, class, citizenship, skin color and other pieces of identity will not free us from the social ills of our stratified society.? Kyriarchy is not the newly minted alarm clock to wake us up to what’s wrong.? It exists to radically implement our finest strategies to deconstruct our personal and political powers for the liberation of self and community.? For self AND community.

Which is why I so vehemently disagree with Hodgson who believes that the most helpful piece of kyriarchy is “its emphasis on individual liberation…”

Please indulge my own theory-making right now:? There’s no such thing as liberation if the word ‘individual’ precedes it.

I cannot speak for Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza.? I cannot pretend to even guess what Hodgson herself means in writing that phrase “individual liberation.”? However, in the spirit of feminist theology, in the spirit of radical understanding of power, I would argue with 100% confidence that the absolute LAST thing that kyriarchy strives for is individual liberation. Solely pursuing your own liberation often comes at the expense of others.? That’s not liberation, that’s mainstream feminism.

Which brings me to the second question, and my personal slant/issue on this article: where did Hodgson find kyriarchy and, knowing the migration of this term from the ivory tower to the digital masses, why is there no attribution?

After I send my message to The Guardian, in which I congratulate her for the published article, but state my concerns and ask why her references are not included, Hodgson acknowledges my message and promises to reply in a few days when she is more readily available.

A reply lands in my inbox after a few more days in which she explains her source, which is the book by Shira Tarrant, who she makes no mention of and is the author who had contacted me to cite my work on kyriarchy, and some of Schussler Fiorenza’s original texts.? Hodgson, upon rechecking Tarrant’s book,? acknowledges my name in the credits to which she offers a sincere apology if I “felt plagarized.” It concludes with a request to list where my other work is so – the next time – she can properly include my name.? I wanted to ask, 무료 바카라 게임“You mean other than the “FAQ” section of my website where it’s the first term under my own lexicon?”

“Felt plagarized?” What I found most ironic is that I was brought back to 2008, to the originating circumstances of what drove me to introduce kyriarchy to the US feminist blogosphere: the blantant and irresponsible disregard for (at minimum) thorough research and (at best) moral and ethical journalism. But, for me, this incident just tacked itself in the ongoing practice of appropriating, ignoring, and assuming authority on and of the work of women of color by feminist-identified white women.? Or, as Hodgson writes:

Perhaps most importantly, kyriarchy exposes a sin within the women’s movement itself: that of feminist-perpetuated oppression.


The Five Inconvenient Truths About Sexual Assault

The recent allegations against former VP, Oscar-winning, Nobel Prize joint holder Al Gore of sexual assault is enough to make anyone – Dem, Indie, or Republican squirm with uneasiness. I mean, it’s not everyday you hear that the former right hand man to the leader of the free world and near leader of the free world in the closest Presidential race in the history of our nation ask a masseuse to release the energy in his second chakra.

The collision of digital media and pop culture has enabled us to receive information about this case – and news in general – faster than at other point in human history. Anywhere, anytime in the world, if a story breaks, if you have access to the internet, you will have reasonable means to find out what happened.

Find out what happened, that is, from the viewpoint of the media. And the staff. And their collective point system to determine if a story is “true” or not. Granted, if I were a paid journalist for a reputable paper, I’d use my own point system of fact-checking. If you gotta report on whether XYZ is a legitimate story, you have to have all the dots connect. That’s understandable.

What’s not understandable and downright wrong is to apply the journalists’ point system of “truth” likelihood to cases of sexual violence, a field where the dots do anything but connect. It is the very nature of violence that the dots are SUPPOSED to not make sense. We’re talking trauma and memory here, not context and accuracy.

The inconvenient truth about sexual assault is that there truly is no way to determine what truly happened, except for the two people who were involved. It’s more often than not, though, that the survivor of sexual assault is a woman, the assailant is a man, and there was indeed a sexual violation. INCONVENIENT TRUTH #1: Rape actually happens. All the time. At an alarming rate that you don’t want to acknowledge or believe. And it is rare that the rapes are ever proven.

Unfortunately, society at large tends to use celebrity and public cases ala Kobe Bryant and Ben Rothlisberge for their field experience and education. People hear about a public allegation of sexual violence and the majority of media consumers jump on the PROVE IT! PROVE IT! PROVE IT! taunting bandwagon, rather than displaying any semblance of sensitive, mature decorum, or, heaven forbid, prudence. It’s disheartening, to say the least. INCONVENIENT TRUTH #2: The public’s response, sensitivity, and knowledge base about sexual violence against women is inexcusably deficient. Is it really any wonder so few women ever come forward? Or why we have such a hard time comprehending any sort of justice outside the legal court system? The public’s venomous need for graphic details and using “guilty” or “not guilty” as the barometer for truth only further darkens the already dark path for survivors of violence.

In a conservative estimate, the FBI reports that only 37% of actual rapes are reported. After working in sexual assault for many years in advocacy and counseling, I believe it’s probably more around the 3.7% not 37%. Many years ago, a colleague who worked as a researcher in criminal justice for the government once told me that the report she submitted for the Department of Justice, which included the data of the number of sexual assaults that occurred that year, was later published with altered data numbers. The actual number of rapes was published LOWER than what her findings suggested. Why, I asked. Because, she told me plainly, no one wants to hear about how many women are raped in this country. And no one wants to tell the truth. INCONVENIENT TRUTH #3 Even the most credible resources for sexual violence estimates are just that: estimates. Ask any person who has worked in the field for more than 1 year who has direct service experience. S/he will tell you what I will tell you: The statistics are wrong. It’s more. Much more.

Anytime I wrote or give a talk about sexual assault, inevitably, someone brings up two magic words that somehow make people, usually disbelievers, feel better about the world: FALSE REPORTS. Yes, false reports exist. Yes, false reports exist. Yes, false reports exist.

There. I wrote it. Three times just to make sure you know they they do exist.

They happen. Of course they happen. Just like how everyday people lie on the trial stand. Just like employees fudge the truth about billing hours. Just like how some people “forget” a number or two when filing their taxes. People give false reports. YES. And, in that vein, I pray that people understand that (INCONVENIENT TRUTH #4) for every false report there are about 1000 truth bearing women who will NEVER say a word because they understand that when it comes to rape, the benefit of the doubt is given to the assailant, not the survivor.

It’s also imperative that people understand the difference between a false report and a withdrawn statement.
Many, many women I worked with who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, who were beaten black and blue, whose bodies were broken and spirits were crushed withdrew their statements and vanished into thin air. (WHY? Go back and read IC #4.) That’s a withdrawn statement. An actual false report is when the alleged victim admits to lying about giving a false statement. There’s no retracting of anything, just an admittance of lying. However, I must also interject, that there are women who also admit to false reporting out of fear of going forward. Not everything is black and white.

The overwhelming majority of women I work with never report and the ones that do face incredible odds of ever witnessing legal justice. My job, for many years, was to assist women in finding justice in other ways. Justice can be measured in how many hours of sleep you got, how many days were free of alcohol or drugs to numb the pain, entering a new, healthy relationship, communicating freely…Justice, for many survivors, is about reclaiming what was stolen. Rebuilding one’s life in the safety and love of their families and communities is often all one can do. INCONVENIENT TRUTH #5 Survivors often heal on their own, absent of any retribution or affirmation.

Finding out whether cases like Gore, Bryan, or Rothlisberger are true is not my interest. The last thing on my agenda is to convince anyone if someone is a perpetrator or not. What I am most interested in is pressing critical and comprehensive understanding of sexual violence against women; and how powerful and damaging this issue truly is. And if people understood how prevalent this is in their local communities, not as many folks would be interested in the celebrity cases. I guarantee it.

Sexual assault is a the issue with no silver lining. There is no upside or sentence that begins with, “Well, at least…” No. There is no middle ground, safe haven, or pill to make this pain go away. For the survivor, it is a vicious, damning cycle of violence, judgment, disbelief, and a tedious road of recovery. There is no silver lining, but there is hope. There is hope that everyday people, like you and me, can see through the BS of media’s portrayal of sexual assault and, if nothing else, better understand the issue at hand for ourselves. The more people who understand the true facts of violence against women, the more hope we have of preventing it in our own communities and families. And if it does happen, which it likely has and will, we are able to respond with gentleness, understanding, and empathy.

Birthing a New Feminism

On December 20, 2009, I gave birth to two things: a 9lb. 7oz son and a new feminism. It was the third time my reproductive organs had encountered surgical metal; twice to remove ovarian tumors and cysts and once to remove a breathing boy.

By nightfall, I was vomiting from the drugs administered to my body for my c-section. After an excruciating vomiting episode, my head hit my pillow in utter exhaustion and my newborn began to cry out of hunger.

I looked at my body. Like a meticulous and tedious film director wanting to capture every detail of a flowerbed with a camera, I surveyed every inch of my body. I started at my feet.

My legs were buzzing numb, still, from surgery. To keep from forming blood clots, my legs had been strapped to a pumping machine. Two pieces of plastic swathed my legs. They hissed when they squeezed my calves and lazily loosened after three seconds of tight holds. The noise prevented me from deep sleep and made my legs sweat.

A catheter was inserted. I saw the bag full of my urine with taints of blood. It was a horrendous sight.

The dressing over my surgical incision covered the most tender and vulnerable part of my birthing body, the exit wound of my baby.

An ugly red rash had exploded onto the top of my chest. Its bumps were just as unsightly as they were itchy. A reaction, maybe from the hospital gown? Or hormones?

My left hand was a splotchy mess from a messy IV insertion. Mounds of clear tape awkwardly held in a needle and dried blood itched under the surface. It was hooked to a machine, beeping and regulating my body. Bags of I don’t know what dripped into my arm.

My right arm held Isaiah as I tried to breastfeed him. His desperate attempts to latch on were beyond painful, but with the help of countless nurses and my husband, he drank.

Gulped, really.

My normally brown face was gray with remnants of drugs and fatigue. No food. No water. Only ice chips. My water was taken away when I drank too much too soon and vomited into the pan again.

Later, to help stir bowel movements, an enema was inserted.

And I surveyed my body, every orifice of my body was either plugged, bandaged, bleeding, dry, or fatigued. And as Isaiah drank, my breasts ached with new agony, unfamiliar with this new demand of nourishment and, suddenly, as if my leg pumps, catheter, IV, and surgery scars weren’t enough, I began having more contractions. My uterus throbbed with an intensity that made my eyes close.

The hormones stimulated by breastfeeding will cause contractions. This will help your uterus descend and go back to its normal size.

And Isaiah’s latch intensified.

Never, in all the days of my life, had I ever undergone anything so life-giving. Never had I myself been so life-giving. Every part of my body was simultaneously healing and giving.

But I was in much pain. The lactation consultants were so beautiful and caring, I wanted to weep into their laps.

They gently touched, massaged, and handled my breasts. The nipples, swollen and red, screamed with pain at the slightest touch of a hospital gown. Maya, a middle aged woman from Russia, was sharp, informative, and decisive. Her teaching was fast, her hands careful, but her eyes were business. She recognized the pain, she knew how hard this was. Myra understood that I was thisclose to losing my sanity.

She understood that while the vagina or, in my case, the abdomen, was the door to life in the womb, it was the nipples that were the entry point of survival for my son.

The body, my body became a poem, a poem of survival.
______

I stayed in the hospital room, save two hours to walk down the hall for a parenting class, for four days straight. My dreams were in neon and my breasts were engorged. What I remember about that period in my life was how unbelievably gentle and kind people can be when you are in pain.

Briefly, like a loose leaf lightly touching a windshield before moving on, I thought about Feminism. Now a mother. Never again like before. Never just I.
My life just took the most radical turn. That morning I had made myself chocolate chip pancakes. Six hours later, I was a mother. Everything had changed in the blink of an eye. And in that change, I came to a realization that there were two kinds of feminism. The Feminism of issues and the feminism of our lives.

I realized the Feminism that is perpetuated in mainstream and mainstream-like media is not the feminism of our lives. It is the feminism of commerce. It is the feminism that picks and chooses the winners and losers, the visible and invisible, and accessible and ignored. It chooses what will sell and what sells focuses on status climbing, material wealth, and westernized independence. Things that bring pleasure, not transformation.

The Feminism that has stepped on the backs of women of color and ignored the backs of trans and disabled women is the Feminism that camouflages itself with diverse panels and collectives but neglects to modernize its definition of social liberation in the era of digital media. It is the feminist theories stuck in the academy with no implored action. It is the round table discussions reserved for annual conferences that result in no true connection or building blocks.

This is the Feminism that has the time and luxury to ask leisure questions such as, “Why don’t you identify as feminist?” and “Where are all the women of color bloggers?” The same Feminism that circulates the energy over the same privileged circle of the educated, the employed, or as I call it, “the Sames;” the ones who stand an inch into the outskirts, banging on the “equality” door but who also ignore the women whose heads are in toilets cleaning their bathrooms or nannying their children.

This is the Feminism of fruitless banter and recycled conversations. The space to bring these issues up could be a hopeful sign of progress, however, the repetition of those conversations and the predictable accusations and defenses serve no other purpose than keeping the pendulum swinging in balance. Aka, the status quo.

This is the same Feminism that haunts the academy and academic support offices such as Women’s Centers and elite conference gatherings. The conversation of the privileged becomes priority over decision-making. Consciousness-raising is imperative for transformation, but it cannot begin and end with questions. There must be forward motion, however slight.

Simply putting 50% of women into anything male dominated may alter the demographic, but that’s not necessarily transformative. Putting a woman’s face where a man’s once was, without any sort of critical change, is not equality but appeasement. And before Linda Hirshman takes that quote of mine again out of context, let me explain further.

The purpose of feminism is to end itself. Andrea Dworkin called it one day without rape. Others have other land posts measuring feminism’s victory. The purpose of feminism is to one day find ourselves where we don’t need to fight for human rights through the lens of women’s oppression. Note: I didn’t write that the purpose is to bring down the man. The purpose is not to have a female president. The purpose is to transform the infrastructure that holds kyriarchy in its place. Replacing men with women – of any race, ethnicity, creed, or ability – who refuse to acknowledge the insidious and mutating face of gender oppression is not forward stepping. It’s a perpetuation of history.

And so the question comes: how invested are you in the liberation of women?

Because if you agree that the liberation of all women carries more weight than the identification as a liberal feminist, the feuds over whether feminism is dead becomes irrelevant. The uproar should be about dying women, not a dying Feminism.
_____

There was something so entirely miraculous about those four days in the hospital. I witnessed myself birth life. Bones from my bones. Blood from my blood. Life from my womb, I brought a person into the world. From two, I grew my family to three.

This awesome mystery/reality settled itself in bits and fragments.

My father told me that the birthing woman is different afterward. Her power is different. She herself is different.

My power is different.

For months, nearly everyone I encountered – friends and strangers alike – offered their opinion on what parenting should and would be for me. It was in that hospital room, where Nick slept uncomfortably on the couch without shaving and I, hooked to monitors and machines, understood a profound difference.

Parenting is the responsibility that we both shared. Together. It would be the late nights of feeding, rocking, and soothing that we’d walk together, he and I. But mothering, becoming a mother, was an entirely different bond. To me, motherhood is a yearning helplessness. Yearning to love more, yearning to teach better, yearning to make the world right – however impossible that might be. And recognizing that impossibility often made me cry.

I suddenly had this crazy urge to clean up the world for my son. I needed to organize.
___________

The feminism of my life unfolded in a love story that resulted in the birth of my son. Gathered at my bed was my mother, the woman I’ve thought of and written so much about. The woman who I have processed more than any other human I’ve met. My father kept stroking my hair and muttering concerns over my state.

The feminism I had begun to build was a house of love that no longer shunned my parents out of frustration, but embraced our difficulties and disagreements. Filipino culture was not something I needed to understand to live, it was something I needed to live out.

Nick held the can for me while I vomited. He wore scrubs and, in the delivery room, wore a surgical mask. The shade of the scrubs made his hazel eyes deep green. I saw him between hurls. I saw my son. Our son.
____________

Anything that I would dedicate my life to had to include, even demand, men. It may prioritize the lens of women’s experience for the liberation of all, but men had to be there. Where was I going without my son? What was I creating if not for him? I didn’t want to go where my family would not belong. It no longer made sense to separate myself and be alone. There was no division between the world I wanted to build and my son’s participation in it. I wanted freedom. Mine and his.

The Feminism of issues serves its purpose well. It informs us of the problems. But we’re more than issues, are we not? Isn’t our life worth more than the issues?

The feminism of our lives is the story of love, survival, testament, death, and epitaph. It is what we dedicate ourselves to and what we will pass on as truth to our children. Whether or not we identify as “feminist” is a sandbar to the oceanic movements of feminisms.

In my community, there is so much work to do, so much silence to break, that for the brief minute of a life where I get to use my voice, I am not going to expend my breath on explaining whether or not I identify as feminist. And the back-breaking work of so many women and men who never use the word feminism is not qualified or standardized on the arbitrary use of the word either.

The awareness matters. The intentional work toward eradicating inequality matters. The feminisms of my life matters. The use of the label does not.

Listen. Listen closely. Can you hear it?

The revolution will not be a movement. It will be Birthed.