On Recognizing Privilege

I was just speaking with my partner about an upcoming overseas trip we’re planning (she is turning 40, and so has decreed that we are visiting Iceland this summer (I have no problem with that)).

More than a decade ago, back in PhD school, I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to a 2-week program in gender studies at the European University in Budapest. When the program was done, my partner flew over from the States and we took the Eurorail to visit Hungary, Vienna and Prague (this was in the days before the massive influx of US tourists, back before those places were considered de rigeur post-college walkabout spots for wealthy kids who’d gotten a European vacation as a gift for graduating… in MY day, our gift for graduating was a college degree and a lifetime of debt, okay?).

Anyway, my partner and I did this as cheaply as we could, staying in the sketchiest places, the kind one can only tolerate in one’s youth. I’m generally not a fussy or pretentious person. I had a huge meltdown, however, in Prague when we arrived at the hostel at which we were to stay and discovered a room likely last occupied by violent dinosaurs who not only ate flesh, but also carried numerous communicable diseases. They’d left… traces.

Apparently, my first words, upon walking into the room were, “Is that blood?”

My partner and I, reminiscing, were just arguing over whether that blood was on the floor and counter in the kitchenette or smeared all over the bathroom floor. (I admit, I may be mixing this memory with the one of sharing a hospital room with a slightly demented and in-pain woman who smeared her feces all over the walls of our shared bathroom.  I’m beginning to realize I’ve seen a lot of smearing in my day.)  In any case, there was blood, and it wasn’t mine and it wasn’t my partner’s.  Commence Episode 1 of Alysia Totally Losing Her Sh*t.

I was an Awful American. I stormed out of the hostel and into the streets of Wherever-We-Were, crying hysterically. I convinced my poor partner we needed to leave that place and rent a hotel room for the night instead, lest we be murdered in our sleep. Once we got the hotel room, I got upset again because there were two twin beds in the room instead of one full-sized one and, when we asked the desk clerk about it, she told us just to push the two beds together. I attributed this to the hotel’s homophobia. The desk clerk probably thought I was a prissy, Entitled American Witch. I have no argument against that; I think both assessments were probably true.

Now more than a decade later my partner and I are trying to plan a trip to celebrate her 40th birthday. She has always wanted to go to Iceland, so… we’re trying to plan a trip to Iceland in early summer.  I worry now about carrying all the medical supplies I will need (2 blood glucose test kits, a double supply of insulin for safety, insulin pump tubes & needles & reservoirs & batteries, extra syringes in case of pump failure, pre-filled syringes of MS drugs with ice-pack, extra prescriptions for emergencies,kitchen sink…); I worry about being hassled for being gay in public; I worry about being able to go to the places my love wants to go, since I stumble around with a cane and she enjoys hiking up mountains and other Sporty Person activities.

And I am fighting to balance the need to properly advocate for myself as a disabled lesbian and the need to recognize that mine is not the most dire situation—I want to remember my own privilege, even as I want to be clear about the ways that things can be tougher for disabled queers like me.  (Tougher than what? You might ask. I say: exactly.)

Here’s how I solve this dilemma for myself: my own pain and difficulty can be used to call attention to the pain and difficulty of others, rather than just to reify my own desire for comfort—even when my own pain or discomfort is so much less urgent than that of someone else. My own difficulties as a queer, disabled American woman abroad can serve a purpose: I am sensitive and aware in ways I might not have been were I more normatively-identified. And because I am first-world, because I am middle class and white, I get heard when I speak, when I know so many others don’t. It takes nothing away from my own experience of difficulty to recognize that other people experience pain and difficulty, too—in different, and sometimes more intractable or more severe, ways than I do. (Here I’m not even touching the tip of that iceberg—get it? a pre-Iceland metaphor—not even starting to talk about the ways in which I’m privileged enough to be able to take a 5-day vacation in Iceland with the person I love.)

To understand that I am privileged over many other people does not mean that I am ignoring the ways I am less privileged than others, too. Ensuring that everyone has what they need doesn’t have to feel like I’m neglecting my own needs.  Willingly advocating for giving up a little of one’s own privilege so that the gap between one’s own experience and that of others is lessened, well, that’s just humane, isn’t it? Human, even?  And it costs one so little.  (It’s a different thing when one is expected to take care of everyone else’s needs instead of one’s own; I was just speaking today with someone who’s a mom, and thus expected to subvert her own needs and desires in favor of others’—this strikes me as a uniquely different problem.)

My life should be a recognition of both my privilege and my disempowerment, so that I can be a fierce advocate for myself and for others. This is not to suggest that I ever want to stay in a place with blood smeared anywhere in it.  I’m 45 now, and just over it.  But next time, I probably won’t throw a First World Problems hissy fit about it, either.

I’m learning to find a balance, which is not easily done. And so much depends upon it (my own well-being, and the well-being of so many other people). I’m also trying to unlearn the Midwestern White Daughter of a Conservative Immigrant Behavior that’s been drilled into me since childhood: don’t make a fuss, don’t draw attention to yourself, always be meek and polite and agreeable, shame should be your default feeling. That kind of thinking is really convenient for those who are empowered never to consider the needs of others, or the ways in which their empowerment hurts others. It makes a nation of Stepford Wives, of which it’s probably good to be the king.

I shall never forget the experience of having a man on a crowded subway press against me in the throng and rub his crotch against my ass. Terrified, I slunk my way to a corner of the train car to get away from him, trying not to be noticed. I was so ashamed. A moment later, he’d moved on to a different victim, a young woman near the car’s entrance. I know he’d moved on because she started screaming profanity and making a fuss about him frotting on her. I’d been afraid to make any noise, assuming the train was a “frotternity” (get it?) and worrying about making a scene; what I learned was that HE looked like the bad person, not the girl yelling. I hope I never forget that lesson.)

Let me unlearn my training. Let me not be a nice girl anymore. Let me not be always and only agreeable. Let me not worry that someone will be “mad at me” for speaking or thinking or desiring, or let me worry and do it anyway. Let me not squish myself up into a painful little knot in an effort to take up less space in the world. Let me no longer keep to myself; let me not hide, but also let me not eclipse someone else in my efforts to be seen.

My body is ready, friends. Let there be blood.

Advertisements

Joy: Google It!

Here’s a fun rainy-day activity for kids: if you’re lucky enough to have internet access on rainy days (I go to the library for that), try a Google Image Search for “joy.”

Discuss.

By and large, what you will find is pictures of people (or silhouettes of people) leaping, arms up, into the air.  Usually against a sunset-lit sky.  Usually skinny, young people-silhouettes with flying hair.

My first question is: are such folks the only ones with access to joy?

That’s a good question, if I do say so myself. But it’s not the only question. My other question is related, but not the same: why do almost all of the depictions of “joy” involve physically-able bodies leaping into the air? Am I, Cane Lady who has probably not leapt into the air in more than 20 years and cannot raise my left arm past navel-height, missing something by not leaping with my arms in the air? Can joy be expressed by other bodies, in other ways? Can non-normative bodies experience joy? Can those bodies produce joy for others?

Why no pictures of animal companions? Or book-reading, or violin-playing? Or the tender dependency of children? Or cake?

Why no tasteful pictures of “disabled” folks enjoying sex or being sexy? Why no images of physically-disabled folk expressing joy in the ways that they might, without leaping? Why no wheelchair basketball, or a Cane Lady laughing her ass off, or a fat woman lovingly looking at her reflection in a mirror? Why no dependent children tenderly eating cake?

I’m not suggesting that apparently able-bodied, thin, “good hair”-having folk leaping around at sunset on a beach is NOT joyful. I’m sure it is, as long as you don’t land barefoot on a broken seashell or discarded sanitary napkin (I’m from New York City, friends, and it happens). I’m just suggesting that perhaps it’s time to expand our imaginaries to include other ways of being in the world, other models of Good and Beautiful, other ways of imagining joy.

The images “we” (culturally, as Americans, Canadians and western Europeans, at least) still associate with “joy” have to do, on their underbellies, with maintaining control. Fat bodies, female bodies, disabled bodies—all of those bodies threaten “us” precisely because they propose a different understanding of “self control.”  Sex and cake? Rewards for self-control, to be enjoyed responsibly after you’ve gotten off the elliptical machine and properly cleaned your hard, glistening, straight body.

This is about boundaries, and exceeding them or opening them up. Laughter—boistrous, real laughter—overruns a boundary. So does expressing anger, or shouting. So does peeing a little when you laugh or cry or sneeze (did you know that we say “bless you” in English when someone sneezes because a sneezing body is considered open to the entrance of evil spirits?). So does an orgasm (female bodies have also been thought to be open to the entrance of evil spirits).

Some bodies have greater access to these joyful liberties than others (I’ve gotten dirty looks for shouting at a roller derby match, while the men who dirty-looked shouted at the wheeling women to their hearts’ content). That’s political. Joy is political.

I want a picture of a fat, physically-disabled woman tenderly watching herself in the mirror as she lovingly eats cake.  I want THAT on that Google Image Search for “joy.”

Frosting everywhere. Cake all smeared, colors blending and smeared over flesh, ample body enjoying its excess of pleasure, absolutely still in a moment of sheer self-adoration, eyes locked on her own reflected eyes, ouroboros and totally focused on herself, her own needs. I want that image shimmering with unfettered glee. And I want Google to call it “joy.”

Regarding the [fat] Pain of [fat] Others

Regarding the Pain of Others

I have borrowed this title from Susan Sontag’s brilliant essay about war and violence. I borrowed it because I like the title, not because I am necessarily trying to compare my subject with war.

I want to write today about Fat Shaming, the general Intolerance of Disabled and Different Bodies, and General Shittiness in America.  (It is not that I believe this phenomenon is unique to the United States; rather, it is that I have little basis on which to speak about other cultures than my own.)

I am fat, and I am disabled (by Multiple Sclerosis and other chronic diseases, such that I walk wobbly with a cane). These two facts are not related in the way people imagine (that the fat caused the other conditions); if anything, these other conditions have encouraged the fatness that was already my genetic predisposition because I’m fairly unable to diet and exercise like a proper 1980s Aerobics Maniac with a thong excersuit up my butt and a side pony tail (I’m writing about the image, folks, not actual people here).  But, really, it doesn’t matter why I am fat to the jerks on the street, and it doesn’t matter for my point, either; I appear to be working hard to exonerate myself of the Great Shame that is being a Too-Fat Woman, and that’s counter-productive.  If the fat is in your boobs or lips, that is fine (so long as you use that for the greater (straighter) good), but if it collects in other, less heterosexually-useful areas, God help you.  Actually, to hear some folks tell it, God hates Fats as much as God hates Fags, so God probably won’t help you.  After all, Greed and Sloth are mortal sins, and we all know that fatness is the clearest expression of Greed and Sloth (the movies tell us so).

Forgive me; I’m cranky and thus sarcastic. What spurred me today was a woman waiting in a medical treatment waiting room loudly lecturing the rest of us about Fat Adults being lazy and making Fat Children because you let them eat whatever they want, and “FatfatfatfatfatEVILfatfatfatPIECEOFCRAPI’MSOSUPERIORTOALLYOUfatties.”  (I may have tuned out at some point, so my quotation may be inaccurate, but that was the gist of it.)

The whole waiting room was silent, though I made have loudly grumbled about bigots and fat-shaming and stupidity, and some folks may have smiled and side-eyed me conspiratorially. 

I may have also fantasized about whacking this idiot with my cane, or shouting her down, or insulting her somehow. I thought of so many smug come-backs I might hurl at her. And let’s not call me virtuous for holding back; let’s acknowledge that I had a small epiphany. This asshole was probably speaking loudly about this because she needed to. Maybe she needed to feel better than someone else; maybe she was angry about something and lashing out; maybe she was scared (she was, after all, in the waiting room of an MRI place); maybe she was demented. It’s also possible she’s just a really horrible person, but the point is that I didn’t know, and in those situations, it’s best to give people the benefit of the doubt, I think.  Kindness in all things, friends, is hard but most often best.

Thing is, it’s still culturally ok to shame people for being fat. It’s also okay to be shitty about disability.  It’s still okay to knock a “Cane Lady” (as I refer to myself) out of the way to get a seat on the subway, or carve “Citizen Cane” into the snow on my car’s windshield because you think it’s funny (granted, it IS) and don’t imagine how it might make someone like me feel targeted or vulnerable. It’s still okay to “fag-shame,” too—especially for those among us who are Men-Too-Feminine or Women-Too-Butch or just Too Dang Gay to Function.  (I’m not even getting into all the other stupidities that are condoned, like racism and sexism…) Point is, shut up.

My body is not your business. Nobody’s body and nobody’s personhood is your business, unless you are invited by that person to consider it so.

And this is where, I think, intersectionality happens: there maybe be different results, or different instigating factors, but at the base of it, women, disabled people, LGBTQ folk, colored folk, immigrants, fat folk–I’m going to get myself in trouble (with myself) if I try to list everyone here, because I will forget to include someone—we all share the similar problem of not being recognized as human (and thus the result of economic and social sanctions).  Or, more properly, perhaps, not being recognized as AS human as other people get to be. 

There’s another point, too, that I just figured out today: operate with kindness.  Not in a turn-the-other cheek kind of way, and not out of the hope that the haters will suddenly see the light if a Fat Queer is nice to them, but because it would be nice to live in a kinder world, one in which we all recognize the value of other living things.  One in which we recognize that others have pain that may not be apparent to us, and though we can’t see it, we can treat it with care. One in which my value doesn’t depend upon taking something away from someone else.

A world in which all of us are afforded a little dignity and compassion.

Except fat chicks.  No fat chicks.

I want an Amazon-Golem

Dear Internet People, some of whom I know personally:

Amazon.com has a policy that if a book on their site receives 40 or more reviews/ratings there, they will become your Golem and market your book in all kinds of ways for free.

I would love to have a Golem.  Thus, I am asking for your help to make Amazon my Golem by helping my novel SWEET get 40 or more reviews/ratings on Amazon.

To review and/or rate, you can go to the Amazon page for SWEET.

From there, scroll down the screen and click on the button that says WRITE A CUSTOMER REVIEW.

Don’t panic!  You don’t have to write a word, I promise! You can simply click the stars to rate the book. (You can, if so moved, also write a review there, but you don’t need to do so.)

That’s it!  You did it! One step closer to turning Amazon into my Golem!  (I promise that there will always be a place in my administration for those who help SWEET. Maybe even your own Golem.)

Thank you for doing this.

Now that you’ve done this and seen how easy it is, do it for ALL the books out there.  Especially Interlude Press books.  If you need a to-do list, check out the Interlude Press catalog here.

And, hey, while you’re there, why not do a bit of shopping? That catalog makes a great holiday shopping list.

REVIEW: CEILI by Moriah Gemel

Ceili by Moriah Gemel (March 17, 2016); 200 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.
There’s a place called Ceili that is a hangout for folks who are hiding a secret from the rest of the city. They can go, drink, sing, let down their guards, let others know them. Their differences will be accepted there, and there they can find common ground with others who share their secret, too.
No, it’s not a gay bar. I know how you think, because it’s how I think.  It’s a place for Fae to congregate in modern-day L.A.—Fae are all sorts of magical folk (faeries, Sirens, and the like).  Difference is okay there; non-normativity is the norm.  The story begins when Devon, a struggling singer/songwriter, wanders into the bar by chance one night and discovers his own connections to the place—he’s Fae himself, yes, but he also has a strong attachment to the proprietor, Eldan, and a real sense of belonging when he’s there. Plus, the drinks are pretty good (they’re magical drinks, so I assume they’re good).
Ceili tells the story of Devon coming into himself—figuring out his identity as Fae, finding a place in which he just fits, finding the courage to stay there and make it his home.  (This might sound a bit familiar to some of us aging gay folk, and it should… A stand-up comic once said that “homophobia is the fear of going home’’—it’s funny because it’s true, but it’s also true that most of us gay folk have to work harder than others to find a sense of home and belonging and realness. It’s why The Wizard of Oz is all about that. The idea of “home” is really charged for those of us who are so often excluded from one in one way or another.)
It might be no accident that so many of our stories as gay folk are told as sci-fi and fantasy stories, as stories of Other-type beings and learning to live with (and even appreciate) difference, of discovering one’s true nature and finding a community and a way to live in it happily.  It also might be no accident that “Fae” (at least as I hear it in my head) is homonymnous (if that’s not a word, it is now) with “fay,” as we gays used to be called.  So often, straight culture seems to misunderstand gayness as a search for sameness (after all, the prefix we all accept, “homo”, means “same”). It’s why the preponderance of mirrors and doubles in films about the Horrifying Nature of the Gay (go on, rewatch Hitchcock’s Psycho).  But it’s really our difference from straights that makes us problematic.  It’s our Otherness, the fact that our lives and loves so often don’t adhere to the pattern we’ve all come to accept as normal. Fantasy and sci-fi seem to revel in that potential difference.
So, to heave myself back on track: Ceili is a love story, a slow, planning-into-love story between Devon and Eldan. But it’s also Devon’s story of figuring himself out, finding his place.  It’s also Eldan’s story of mentoring and leading (both Devon and the larger community).  It’s also the story of the community, of Ceili itself, of how such a place can survive in a largely hostile world. It’s a lot of stories, all braided into an addictive, enticing read.

Y’all come back now, y’hear?

Anybody that knows where that comes from was also forced to watch Hee-Haw by their sister, who wanted to be a cowgirl.  (That was the wrong way to go about becoming a cowgirl.)

Thank you to everyone who submitted questions, followed along, or just threw me some emotional support for yesterday’s Interlude Press Media Takeover.  It was so much fun (for me… I hope for others as well)!  And so many good questions!

If you couldn’t “attend,” you can read all the Q/As on http://interludepress.com/ or In the Interlude Press tweets from last night.  And, while you’re at it, pop over to the Interlude Press bookstore to check out the catalogue of really awesome books!

REVIEW: The Star Host by F. T. Lukens

The Star Host by F. T. Lukens (March 3, 2016); 258 pages. Available from Interlude Press/Duet Books here.

In this world (Earth and the world in the book), there are people whose bodies are home to a kind of power that can either be harnessed and used consciously, or can overpower the host and crumble him to its own use.

The Star Host by F. T. Lukens is the story of one such person, Ren, whose body holds a small piece of a star, which gives him immense power to commune with—control or be controlled by—machines.  He’s taken prisoner by a power-hungry ruler and isolated in a cell.  In the cell next to him, however, is Asher, a former Phoenix Corps military man who becomes his confidante, friend, and eventually, his love.

The novel tells the story of Ren’s capture, his attempts to harness and hide the power he has, and his witness of cruel and sometimes deadly treatment of his friends.  The novel also tells the story of how Ren and Ash become close, how they come to depend upon and support one another, and how—finally—they plan an escape from the dungeon in which they’re held.

I’m not doing it much justice here: it’s absolutely riveting.  With a plot strung tight with anticipation and sharp writing in which two very different, very distinct and real characters come to seem real, The Star Host held me so tightly I couldn’t put it down until I’d finished it entirely, in nearly one gulp.

That sentence, though, the first one I wrote, keeps calling me back.  It resonates on more than one frequency here.  Though love between two men, in this novel, in the world it describes, seems neither out of the ordinary, nor strange, nor dangerous, nor remarkable in any way (unlike in our own world), and the fact of this is unremarkable to the story’s narration itself.  Visiting in this world feels like such an immense relief, for being gay doesn’t seem to matter at all.

What matters, instead, is whether or not one can be used by—or poses a threat to—the government.  People hang their lives by this.  Children grow up poised to fight or flee.  And for those like Ren, who grow up knowing that something burns inside them, makes them different, makes them understand the world differently, makes them hunted, must be hidden, and will affect every inch of their lives, being a “star host” matters.  

Get what I’m saying? This book, I mean, is about being gay in more ways than one: yep, the protagonists are gay.  But also the “star host” phenomenon rings many of the same bells.

The result is a novel that imagines a world in which being gay isn’t a Big Thing, and in which there is a different Big Thing that drives the plot and makes the novel taut, interesting, compelling.  Being a “star host” in this world still strikes metaphorical notes for someone who wants to read it that way—one isn’t required to do so to love this novel—one could read the “star host” quality in the context of sexuality, but also as a metaphor for ethnic identity in America, intelligence, gender, teenhood, and a whole other number of Things That Make You Different.  So, to beat this “note” metaphor within an inch of its reasonable life, you could say the novel resonates, without being dictatorial, with a second voice for anyone interested to listen.

 

Jude Sierratakes on…

Twitter! She takes on Twitter!

Today (Tuesday, March 8) starting at 6 pm EST, follow along on Twitter as Jude Sierra (author of HUSH and WHAT IT TAKES) responds to all your questions!  She’s a smart, funny writer, so this should be great.

she’s taking over the Interlude Press Twitter account, so follow her at @InterludePress starting at 6!