So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

30 January, 2007


A very stray thought riffing off something on Brownfemipower about depression:

BFP commented "This makes me think a lot about the conversation that Sly had over on his site–about how issues like poverty and militaristic violence and racism and all those other ‘isms *create* depression–and yet the *strategies* the medical community have for dealing with this depression is to completely ignore structural oppression and focus exclusively on the individual."

My thoughts on this are extremely tangled and complex, but mostly circle around the isolation of people with depressive disorders. Not only does the illness itself tend to lead to a sense of disconnection, but engaging with it is still something of a social taboo. Admitting to depression is admitting to a "mental illness", something that will make one untrustworthy in some people's eyes, unreliable, defective. People with depression just need to "get over it" because "everyone feels down sometimes". Having depression is somehow the sufferer's own fault, if they were only more virtuous or more dedicated or something like that, it wouldn't happen.

And having that there makes it easy to reinforce the depression and build the godawful bad habits around it -- the I'll-never-get-along thing, the I'm-not-worth-the-time-and-effort thing, the how-useless-am-I-that-I-can't-even-put-the-dishes-away thing. The more stuff in the environment that feeds into those patterns, the more we depressives are taught to cripple ourselves to save everyone else the time and energy.

And there's this shape of the thing -- I know that the rest of my health affects my depression; I've made changes in my diet and my habits to try to build newer habits that don't have this assumption of inability to hack it as a real person. The changes don't always stick so well, because the habit of inability is a deeply-constructed one, full of "I'll only fail, and then They'll tell me how deficient I am, so why bother?" and "If I just retreat far away from everything, nobody will notice me enough to tell me how useless I am."

There are days that I bolster myself against incapacity with lists: today I did about half the work that needs to be done to make one room usable. I got some laundry together, and I'll start it running as soon as I'm done typing. I emptied the dishwasher and put some of the dirties in it. I wrote about moderating my depression with diet and other things, and started thinking about how to fix cultural attitudes that go for the isolation first and the "Here's a meal that's supposed to help with relevant nutrient balances", which is community-building down at the instinctual shared-food level much later on, and ...

... gonna go put the laundry in, now.

Image and Reality

Back to mirrors, I think I am.

I've been chewing on, lately, the difference between the token of the thing and the thing, symbol and substance, image and reality. Which is an interesting angle to come from, since I do have a theology that has effective identity between the name of a thing and a thing -- the act of naming a thing is an act of making it real, but at the same time, the name is a symbol for the thing, and these two forms of processing reality do not always coexist happily.

I look at various things and say, "If only I had this thing settled, I'd be confident". Or comfortable, or secure, or ...

The thing is, I'm suspecting I'm deluding myself. So long as I externalise the thing into the token, I'll always be looking for another token.

But at the same time, wanting that touch, that symbol, that ritualisation, that establishing of reality, is something that matters -- even if it's no real substitute for a genuine stability. And the stability needs the tokens, needs the manifestations, needs the bau, the appearances, because if it doesn't have them, it's not terribly real, but at the same time ... augh.

This doesn't make it any easier to resolve the question. It shouldn't depend on the tokens, but at the same time if the tokens aren't there, it's not terribly real ...

If I go off on a less personal and solipsistic tangent, I think this is one of those big issues out in the universe, that tokens-for-reality thing. It feeds into consumerism, for one -- instead of being confident in ourselves, our attractiveness, our lives, whatever, people are supposed to buy the current quick fix, and substitute that for being real, up until the point that it's out of fashion or runs out, and then it's off to get the new stylish handbag or magic face cream or whatever.

Or standard romantic notions, the whole "the dream engagement, the dream wedding, all of that will make the relationship real and there will be happy-ever-after". Because the reality of it is that the relationship takes work and establishing and working out the bugs, and sometimes it's hard, and sometimes it's something one only sticks to because of sheer bloody-mindedness and the hope that it'll get better, and sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't, but the ring and veil aren't part of what actually makes it work. Even if the ritualisation is naming it and making it real.

Or people who look for a new partner -- or a new baby -- to fix whatever ails them. Or who look to find perfect self-fulfilment in their jobs. Or ... much of anything. It's gotta be inside, before it can be found outside. The token can't substitute for being a whole person.

And the token can be a way of becoming whole.

Symbology is complicated.

    To thou who thinkest to seek Me, know that thy seeking and
    yearning shall avail thee not unless thou knowest the Mystery.
    If that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee,
    thou wilt never find it without.

    For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning; and
    I am that which is attained at the end of desire.

-- from 'The Charge of the Goddess', Doreen Valiente or near adapted from same, lots of minor variants on Google

28 January, 2007

This is just stupid.

The airport people confiscated my toothpaste.

There's this sort of little knot of inchoate frustration at a universe in which people will confiscate my toothpaste because there's too much of it.

I bitched about this to my father, who commented that he'd had yogurt confiscated. Yogurt!

Microbiology of mass destruction!

For crying out loud.

24 January, 2007

Pass the Ammunition

One of the interesting things about playing with power dynamics I've found is the way that it turns over large rocks in my head and lets me see what's wriggling around underneath them.

I am not comfortable around praise. This comes up occasionally in my Feri student group, where every so often one or another of my classmates will thank me for some contribution, and I am not entirely certain how to accept that thanks. There is something in me that wants to brush it aside, put it down, "De nada," it's nothing, I'm not that special. And, of course, this is a mindset that is not exactly compatible with doing the Feri training at all, because working Pride demands owning and acknowledging my accomplishments, the value I bring.

At the same time, it's awkward.

But back to playing with power dynamics. I found myself, the other day, recognising in me a sort of inner puppy, this sort of desperate, hungry urge to beg for a treat, for a "Good girl", for anything that would feed this urge to ... praise. And my first set of responses to it was to want to hide it away, to be ashamed of this need, this desire. I did a quick scan of the responses, and found "This is childish", "A responsible adult doesn't need this sort of constant feedback", "This is just coddling your insecurity" and a bunch of similar loops. Dismissing the desire for praise, this strange hunger, as nothing more than a childish "you've been good, have a cookie".

And I look at this and I know: I was taught this. I was taught that this sort of privation is natural, is what maturity is about, and I learned it young. It takes a specialised circumstance for the wanting it to come out at all, because of the shells and layers of be-a-good-grownup, and even in that space it's wickedly hard to open up enough to say "I want to hear more of that."

It's certainly difficult to do it gracefully. And easy to want to sit back and wail, "I don't know how to deal with this! Stop drawing attention to it, stop noticing me!" in the face of special notice. Tall Poppy Syndrome, maybe.

So hard to say thank you.

So hard to acknowledge that hearing the praise even matters at all, because Should Be Stronger And More Independent Than That.

There's another mirror of the shadow for ya.

23 January, 2007

While we're talking about monsters

Consider Lamia, or her brood; a dreadful, dangerous creature, by some tales a vampire, devourer of children and consumer of the life of men. Perhaps originally a shark, by later days she was, in at least some tales, a serpent taking woman's form or partially shaped like a woman; Keats's Lamia asked to be granted human form in payment for a favor given a god. Aristophanes, in Peace, suggested that the creature has testicles, despite her female presentation. Perhaps she was one of Zeus's lovers who was cursed and made monster; He was said to have given her the ability to take her eyes out, like a sybil, in order to spare her the visions of her dead children.

When we are considering monsters, please, consider the lamia.

So you know that Aretha Franklin song? "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman"? When I first heard that thing as a kid, it gave me a nasty case of existential angst. What does it mean to 'feel like a natural woman'? What does a natural woman feel like? This implies the existence of unnatural women, too, and how do I know whether or not I'm one of the changeling brood?

I never figured it out.

I spent most of my life trying to figure out what the trick was, what it was like to be a woman, feel like a woman, all of these things, feeling like the dancer on the end of the line who's a half-step behind because I gotta see how the people who know what they're doing move so I can mimic.

Somewhere in there, I lost my voice. One of the ways you can trick out a lamia is by getting her to try to speak, and then you see the serpent's tongue and hear the hiss of the snake in woman's clothing. There were things that got dulled down, hidden away, blanketed off into the quiet, because someone might notice along the way that I don't know how to be a woman.

And getting caught as the monster among us, as the infiltrator and the interloper, that never goes well for the alien. There are enough stories about the victims of the demon bride or what happens to the one the changeling replaced that people get touchy when they learn about the snake in the grass. (Keats's Lamia, when revealed as having been a serpent, was killed by the revelation; her death also took her lover with her.)

So I try to understand the narrative. There is a story of womanhood, and faking it requires knowing how the structure of it goes. Knowing what shows, knowing which places the scales show under the occluding veils and how to communicate without letting out the forked tongue and the sibilant song of the siren.

I listened to the stories. When I hear people talk about what it is to have gendered experience, I wind up sitting on the outside. Like, "Kids that age still think the other sex has cooties", which I've heard a couple of times in the past month or so. I can say, quite securely, that I never went through the "boys have cooties" phase. Or a "girls have cooties" phase. In fact, I'm pretty sure I missed the entire cootie phenomenon; I didn't even have the game with the plastic pieces for assembling the technicolour caterpillar.

I mean, I had a couple of Barbie dolls as a kid. They came out when I had a friend over who was a girl and who cared about those things. I sort of played with a doll's house on occasion, but I much rather fancied my mother's, which was a huge Victorian mansion with a slate roof, and she was building it and furnishing it herself. There weren't dolls to play with in there, there was just the art of the craftsmanship, and that was actually interesting. Nobody would go build dams in the stream with rocks with me unless I armtwisted to get the assistance.

And I had -- still have -- a collection of Breyer horses, including the ones based off of Black Beauty, and a vast collection of stuffed animals, and I played the flute, which were all girl-gendered things, somehow, but I don't see what that means, or whether it should mean any more than climbing a tree to get a better view of the egg drop physics competition in high school or having enough sheer aggression to take on a fellow student a rank or two higher than I was in the martial art I studied and hold my own. It's just stuff, and people are interested in stuff.

So every so often I used to go poking around to look for explanations of what it means To Be A Woman, trying to find the piece that I was missing, the thing that would let me shed my dubious Pinnochio status and take my place as a real girl. I figured that somewhere, there had to be a story where I could fit in, shed my scaly skin and settle in.

So I contemplated biology, the "You know you're a woman because you have girl bits." And on the one hand, I even use this sometimes, in the empowerment sense -- it makes no damn sense to say "Women can't do that" when damnit, I'm doing it, so clearly women can do that, so the people who say women-can't are clearly not attached to reality. But that only goes so far, it doesn't provide any sort of meaning, any sort of sense of what it is to feel like a woman.

And I come away with the feeling that, well, okay, I can say that feeling like a woman is feeling like I have a uterus -- which I am quite aware of right at the moment thankyouverymuch -- and that's, well. I feel like I have a liver, too. And a left pinky finger, which is also annoying me because it hurts. And I can't figure out why one of these organs is more critical and defining than any of the others. Okay, I have bits. I have other bits that don't get filed as part of my identity. I don't like the idea of having some essential beingness reduced to whether or not I possess one penetratable orifice between my legs or two. It just seems ... blowupdolly to me. Being a woman has to be about more than having a cunt and tits, because having people all wound up about the cunt-and-tits end of things I wind up feeling like an object, not a person, and feeling like a woman is feeling like a kind of person.

So I bleed. I deal with the ebb and flow of my hormonal cycle. I get hot flashes. And this is just ... biology. It's not ontologically much of anything. It has no more meaning to me that right now I want a pad to sop up excess meat than that also right now I want my cane to walk; these are facts about my body, not facts about my nature. (The cane is much more important at the moment, but using it doesn't give me a different pronoun than when I don't need it.) And it's nature that I'm looking for. It's narrative.

So I tried looking at the nature of female experience, as some people presented it. Oppression, patriarchy, the whole works. And I looked at the sexual harassment I had to deal with -- some of it when I was too young to understand anything other than that the comments were directed at me, and they were directed at me because of the girly bits. And I looked at the sexual assault that gave me a history of flashbacks, warped my sexuality, and may have contributed to the nature of my plurality.

And you know something? If that's what womanness is all about, I don't want it. Because I have worked hard to not be defined by the assault, to not frame myself as the target of junior-high-school brats or the victim who suffers from the flashback trauma. I don't want to live there. And it took me a hell of a long time to heal from being there in the first place, because if I talked about it I was sure that people would stop dealing with me as me, and would instead treat me as the victim, the survivor, the damaged goods. If womanhood is defined in terms of victimhood, then it's not worth having, and nobody should ever have to understand it, no matter whether they have an innie or an outie between their legs. Speaking here as a representative of monsterdom, I understand hoarding things up, curling up around them and charbroiling those who would take away those precious, sparkling treasures -- but really, this shit is the mediocre pewter and the tacky paste gems.

I looked at a bunch of models of what a woman should be like, what a woman should do; more explicitly stories, these, though not always coherently put together. I poked around in the madonna/whore dualism, and encountered a bunch of interesting glitches. (Like the time I spent hanging out with a bunch of frat boys, who were uncomfortable around me in the Fallen Woman sense because I had a fiance and was hooked up with one of their membership for a fairly light and in retrospect ill-advised relationship, but who had no problems with the person who was slowly sleeping her way through their membership because she only had one at a time, which is the Good Girl way.) I learned that there was the Brainwashed Pawn of the Patriarchy, who is a good housewife and mother to her 2.5 children, keeps the house clean and tidy, is dedicated to her husband, and has no particular professional goals or desires; I learned that there was the Liberated Woman, who had a high-end professional job and centred her life around it, who put off having children until her mid to late thirties if she had them at all, and who made her life a constant example that yes, women damn well can do this. I found no models of womanhood that I liked, none that felt that they fit me; if I had to put one on, the one that pinched the least was Brainwashed Pawn, but for some reason I didn't much fancy it.

I tried looking at the things women were supposed to like. I shaved my legs once to see what the big deal was, and when I stopped the bleeding, I said, "Well, that's not worth the effort" and I didn't do it again. I got a bottle of perfume for my senior prom. I still have it, over a decade later. I still don't understand why people give each other flowers, but handing out the severed genitalia of decorative plants never really struck me as a romantic gesture. I didn't learn how to do makeup, even the most supposedly basic stuff, as a teenager, because it was never interesting. I'm not even a big fan of chocolate. As cultural stereotypes go, I'm a complete flop.

(I was really, really self-conscious about my moustache, though. My hair is dark, and so the fur on my upper lip is actually visible, and I wondered a lot whether this would betray me as a poser. Eventually I came to the conclusion that nobody seemed to notice, or if they did they didn't comment, so I should stop fretting about it, laugh at myself, and carry on with my life rather than waste any cognition fretting about my membership in Class Mammalia.)

I've met women who could honestly rhapsodise about the spiritual experience of their menstrual cycles. I've met women who did female-marked things without any trace of apparent self-consciousness, because that suited who they are and what they wanted to do. I've met women who didn't, every time someone did a "Men are like this, women are like that", have a response of, "There I go, not being a woman again." I've met women for whom femaleness appeared to be something that they did, naturally, natively, without affectedness, for whom femaleness was an intense, almost religious experience. They had a story of being a woman, a narrative, an ontological understanding.

Whereas I, if I start trying to plumb the essence of my soul, I find true androgyny. My spiritual nature has a penis to go with its tits. (And some miscellaneous other bits that aren't even human standard issue, besides.) I've been told in religious gatherings that I have a great deal of "male energy", and I'm not sure what that means any more than I know what "female energy" would mean. I can no more embrace my femaleness religiously than I can embrace my maleness, because I cannot for the life of me figure out what I'm supposed to be getting a grip on. Gender, if it exists as a thing independent of the shapes people cast, is a slippery, wriggly thing, and trying to catch it is like trying to catch a guppy with my fingers while standing up to mid-calf in the Reflecting Pool, watching it skitter away into the clouded depths, leaving only the hint of a fin or the memory of a twist and slide away on my fingers. (And I find myself remembering, just now, the people who said that no man could be attracted to a woman with a figure like mine without being gay and in denial. And contemplate lamia's testicles.)

I spent a while actively avoiding a bunch of things that were tagged "female" because of my sense that it was all masks and illusions, because I knew that someone would catch me doing it wrong. When I did male-assumed things, or neutral things, there wasn't that same sense of precariousness -- if I did it strangely, if I didn't fit in, then, well, at least nobody expected me to. A friend once told me I wasn't butch as a chosen persona, I was butch because that was who I was, and I stared a bit and said, "Am I?" Because your typical butch doesn't have the ass-length hair and the habit of the long skirts, I knew that much about gender.

And then, a couple of years ago, I sort of looked at my perspective and said, "Okay. If we talk about the biology of the stuff, I'm female; I have to deal with that and I'm fine with that. I have to deal with people's weird constructions around that, too, but that's not going to be avoidable. But as for what femaleness means ... clearly I have no clue." At which point I adopted the Ru Paul philosophy -- "We're born naked, the rest is all drag."

So in the past couple of years I've picked up a bit of eyeshadow. Which I use improperly, because that's how I want to use it; not just the occasional tracework over the eyes, but sworls and patterns across my face, occasionally deliberately to invoke the liminal and the fey with the sacrifice of powdered gemstone. I play with perfumes, on occasion.

It's all drag. It's not freighted with the concern about its femaleness anymore. I can be genderqueer, embrace the serpent form as well as the woman form, and slithering on that sinuous body does not cut my feet like pretending I know how to walk the walk does. (That poor mermaid, lost her tail and her voice both, and her feet hurt to boot.)

I have found my voice again, and you can hear the sweet music of my hiss.

(Related reading: Elise Mattheson's "elf-identified bisexual" speech.)

(Also: I did not title this "How do you solve a problem like Lamia?" But it was a very, very near thing.)

17 January, 2007

A Cat May Look: Fealty and Slavery

Three threads to this braid: respect for support roles, individualism vs. collectivism, power and vulnerability. It starts at the beginning of all the threads, but trying to write that will start putting letters on top of each other and be wickedly hard to read. And I'm not gonna try to be clever and format it into columns or shit like that.

First mentioned thread: there's this fascinating thread of contempt for people who willingly take support roles. That nobody would hire on as the night janitor if they didn't have to. That nobody would settle for being the secretary if they could be the power executive. When it goes into caretaking it gets worse -- the idea that a full-time parent is actually working doesn't cross the mind of many, the people who take care of their elderly or ailing relatives are treated as having a time-consuming hobby.

A better person, a more competent, more capable person, that person would be in charge -- would have ambition, drive to succeed, would want to be the name on the letterhead, not the initials in lowercase in the bottom corner. Clearly, the one doing the typing, mopping the floor, changing the diaper, they're not suited to anything better. Anything worthy of respect.

Second thread: there's this creepy hivemind thing that I see a lot in the name of individualism. I mean, one can hearken back to the whole being a special unique snowflake just like everyone else when being flip, but there are Rules out there. Be a strong individual and follow your dream -- so long as your dream isn't to be anything that threatens the Rules. Maybe you get to pick your Rules a little and only take flak from people using different ones, but the Rules are still there. Shouldn't work, shouldn't work in these fields, shouldn't work for less than this amount of money, shouldn't think that way, shouldn't dress that way, why? Because we're more mature than that now. We know better. This is the right way. We don't want to be mistaken for Them.

Being an individual is all well and good, so long as one knows which ideology one's an individual in. Then there are the neat boxes that can be dragged out, some of them marked 'good' and some of them marked 'evil', and everything is neatly filed away, and nobody has to think about who anyone is.

Third thread: In the presence of a power differential, the people on the low end of things are living exposed and somewhat vulnerable. The power exists to affect them, and they have less to retaliate with. Holding that power is a drug, and like any drug, there is responsible use and irresponsible use. The position of power is a position to compel intimacy, to know and control more about someone else's life; even if one is not using that power, the possibility does exist for it to be used. And if the power does not exist in a framework of agreement and sufficient support for intimacy, people are gonna get hurt. And do get hurt, all the time.

Let's knot those three together with: I am kinked submissive.

And starting to braid:

Take the tension between personal loyalties and corporate ones at the middle-class level. I'm half-watching a discussion of women with professional jobs elsewhere (in this case, pharmacists), where people are complaining that women leave the field to have children. The argument was raised that these women should be more grateful for their education, and if they're not, well, maybe we shouldn't let 'em learn to be pharmacists. At the same time, men with families are expected to let their wives do the heavy lifting on childhood; they're supposed to be there for the job, work the overtime, not take off early to make it to the kid's recital or anything like that. The choice to have personal loyalty, to put family over the collective identity of the Worker For The Company, is denigrated, no matter who makes it; because women are presumed to inevitably make that choice, the women are denigrated.

Or consider the thread of the treatment of power in certain schools of feminist thought, the division into "power-over" and other things, as if there is some different taste to good power that distinguishes it from bad power. And the notion of consensus decision-making is something that I find insufferably oppressive, because it feels like a bending of the individual will inexorably into the collective, something that demands surrender, demands exposure to the intimacy of the will of the group. The collective will is coercive in a way that individual authority is not: not merely because of the psychology of mobs but because of the undercurrents of accusations of obstructionism, being difficult, not being a team player, not working with the group. The plays of power are still there, but they are all hidden under the seemingly-innocuous will of the whole.

Claim your own power, some will say, go forth and be strong and capable -- and I want to say look, I was a damn fine secretary. I did my job, I caught up the back paperwork, and for the most part, at five o'clock, I put it all down and went back to the rest of my life. I didn't need the authority, and I didn't want it; I just wanted to do the work and have done with it. But that's a subservient position, a support job -- and I'm supposed to care, supposed to subscribe to an ideology that says that being smart enough to be "more than a secretary" is sufficient reason to invest in things I don't want to do, because I am owned by my obligation to my intelligence, my obligation to my sex, my obligation to J. Random Ranting Lunatic, to be what they want me to be instead of what I want me to be.

And I come around to being submissive again, and considering my relationship with the person who evokes that most strongly in me, and all the ideologies that want to say that this is a wrong relationship for me to have -- for whatever reason, that it is not a monogamous partnership, perhaps, or that it is perpetrating the oppression of women to take a collar, or that this sexuality is improper, or that that form of power is disgusting, and I look at it. I look at where I am exposed, where I am vulnerable, what intimacies I will be bound to.

And I choose to be the vassal of a man who cares when I am in pain over being the slave of an ideology that only sees me as a point scored against the opposition.

(Edited to add: Mistress Matisse: on the subject of writing her own damn narrative. Other side of the power flip. Read it earlier today, and just realised it was apropos.)

Idle Worship

I just saw someone ask if primitive people worshipped idols.

The word "idol" derives from Greek "eidolon", which has a meaning given in my OED as "image, phantom, idea, fancy, likeness" and then "form, shape". It is possible to read it as an image of a god or spirit for worship, but the word is freighted with the idea that there is the illusory involved, the fictitious, the unreal; the gods thus imaged are false by definition, and the people with the figures in question are so foolish or credulous as to bow down before a rock or a piece of wood or a worked twist of metal.

God has no form, right? God is transcendent, right? God is not embodied -- or if He is, only partially, temporarily, as a one-time thing -- right? So those people with their statues, their sacred trees, their figures of gods and spirits, they're not doing anything real. Their focus is purely material, on the rocks they set up, of course, because there is no spirit in a rock. They're so cute, thinking that their gods are rocks and trees and forms made out of cornstalks, aren't they?

There is a ritual in ancient Egypt called the Opening of the Mouth. It was performed upon the mummified, so that their spirits would not be chained up in lifeless body, rendering that form a place that could house a spirit that was not trapped within it. It was performed upon the walls of the temples as a matter of consecration. And it was performed upon the statues made for the gods, so that the gods might choose to house Themselves in them -- not that the gods needed such material homes or were limited to them, but because it provided a nexus of connection between the divine and the mortal.

And there is this word "idol", that laughs in its contempt at the idea of making a body for a god. Clearly, says this word "idol", the making of the body is the making of the god, a soulless thing put forth by charlatans or the ignorant. If there is to be veneration at all -- an open question -- that should not be directed at something that might be touched; all must remain pure, transcendent, Platonic. Decking the statue of the god with garlands and robes is primitivism, is essentially materialistic to an idol -- this false god, this figure, soulless as a corpse. To some, this is a sign that the fools need to be shown the true spirit; to others, it is an emptiness that needs to be pared away to the reality of the spiritless. In all cases, it ignores the sense of the animist that there are things living within, dismissing the actual perspective of the worshipper as irrelevant to the narrative.

Whose perspective is the reality of the statue? Is it a body of a god, or nothing more than an object, inanimate, with the deception of depth placed upon it to fool the primitive and the gullible? Is it the narrative frame of empire or the voice of the actual believer that matters more?

Who is listening?

15 January, 2007

Off the Edge of the Map

Okay, the things I keep meaning to write keep getting sidetracked by other things that I need to write. My queue is so confused.

This is riffing off Little Light's The Seam of Skin and Scales, which you should go read, really. I'll wait. (And if you've got a moment, go read her On Cartography and Dissection, too.)

I was talking about this the other day, trying to articulate it, and now that LL is writing about it I need to get it out while it's fresh and real and bloody in my mind.

Judge where the edge of the maps are by where the monsters go. Where, somewhere, the denizens are dangerous, like to kill you or take away your name.

    But that the dread of something after death,
    The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
    No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
    Than fly to others that we know not of?
    Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
    And thus the native hue of resolution
    Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
    And enterprise of great pitch and moment
    With this regard their currents turn awry
    And lose the name of action.

A few years ago, I was at a hearing of the judiciary committee of the legislature, and there were people who didn't agree on where the monsters were. That was fascinating. The subject was, among other things, whether same-sex couples should have access to the ability to legally marry.

There was the legislator who was concerned about what this would mean for the Catholic Church (and I wanted to tell him he should be more worried about what legal divorce means for what the Catholic Church shall be required to accept).

There were the occasional "Gay people are trying to destroy marrriage by getting married" folk, for whom those people who love someone of the same sex were the monsters, the ravening incomprehensible.

Then there was the guy who proclaimed, "If you let these people get married, it will pave the way inevitably to ... polygamy." No, the same-sex couples were on his map, if only on the edge, one of those strange tribal people who are rumoured to eat young missionaries after boiling them with onions. And beyond them, in the wilderness where the people with the heads of serpents live their squelchy lives in the swamp, were the people like me.

Watch the maps. Watch where the bogeymen are lurking, the fractal edges of what counts as known space.

14 January, 2007

How dare you judge?

This is one of those things that I see crop up on occasion, generally from someone who wants the people they're dealing with to be all warm and friendly.

Setting aside the fact that I am not terribly warm and friendly, this drives me spare. "Judge" means "making a decision based on an evaluation of the evidence"; taking not-judging as an axiom is a position in favor of perpetual idiocy, because engaging the brain is forbidden.

How dare I judge?

I dare to have a brain, to use it, to think about what's going on.

"How dare you judge?" never comes out of the mouths of people who find the resulting judgements favorable. If the use of brain comes out friendly to their fragile egos, then it's wisdom, compassion, insight.

11 January, 2007

Reference Frames

A while back the only place I hung out on the internet where feminism was discussed with any regularity taught me that it wasn't safe for me to discuss feminism on the internet.

When I talked about my feeling that as a woman I was apparently obligated to go out into Corporate America and fight to prove that damnit, I could, that my focus on home-and-family was a betrayal of my feminist foremothers, I got told that I was making things up, that that wasn't really a message that could possibly be conveyed by feminism. Sometimes I was told to give cites of Big Name Feminists who put forth precisely that position, because otherwise it couldn't possibly be The Message.

When I quit my nine-to-five, I was a wreck for months. Because I was letting A Man support me, and what Good Woman could let A Man support her when she was perfectly capable of going out there into the world and answering the bedamned telephone until she snaps and murders one of the clients. (I figured that when the phone ringing led to muttering "Shut the fuck up" and then picking up the phone to say "Cheery Office Greeting!", I should quit before I got them backwards.)

In order to stop the self-abuse, I had to stop caring whether feminism thought I was a Good Woman.

On a completely different place hanging out on the internet, a half-dozen people just said, effectively, "This stupid trend in certain bits of feminism that degrades women who choose to work at home or work as homemakers has got to stop." And nobody said it was a lie or a delusion or something to back up with cites -- everyone there knew what the problem was and believed it existed.

Now that I've found people who recognise that this notion is pernicious, why am I so goddamn sad?

10 January, 2007

Sustainable Living

So I'm sitting here thinking about how to live sustainably.

Not in the usual sort of "How do I want to set up my garden, my food purchases, my use of fossil fuels" though I'm thinking about that too.

I'm thinking about actually living.

Feri work talks about calling one's power back from the places it's gotten tangled up, not submitting one's life force to the outside, and Feri work is one of the few places I've seen where that is valued. And it's a hard skill, and it's not one that there's much allowance for -- people are supposed to invest more of themselves than they can afford in things other than themselves.

I'm having to put down a project that matters to me, that needs to get done, that one of my communities needs to have, because if I worry about getting it done now it sucks up huge amounts of energy, more than I have free to give it. It will get done, someday, at some point, but I will do it on my terms. I can't be at the whim of the community -- back to the Dancing Monkeys, in a way.

And somewhere along the line there's this guilty sense that I should be sacrificing something other than this project. I can do with a little less rest, a little less food, a little less time for myself, right? I can spend less time with my family, expend less effort on my own personal emotional state?

What do I need?

Thinking about that gets the old loops going, "You're so selfish", "You're so ungrateful". Taking the time for the stuff that matters to me, feeds me, sustains me, that's something I have to fight myself to be able to do. How dare I not hold a nine to five, how dare I not work the overtime, how dare I not sacrifice myself to a political cause, a religious lack. How dare I not take all my free time and spend it working in a shelter or picking up trash by the side of the road, because someone needs to do it, after all?

How dare I take care of myself when the world needs saving?

I can work late again tonight, no problem, the company needs me. (My family misses me, but ....)

05 January, 2007

Who are you when you're alone?

Or maybe who am I.

I got an email today from someone who saw something I'd written on Making Light in 2004 and appreciated it, and thus started reading my journal. It was something I wrote about Otherkin and plurality and other interesting ways that people organise their heads which cause other people to think they're crazy if they talk about them. Apparently I made a good impression by pointing out that the process of organising one's head often looks ridiculous to someone with a different head, or something.

The thing is, that comment was rooted in a lot of experience figuring out how to organise the insides of my head, and a lot of time spent talking with other people who have been going through the same process. And some of the things people come up with are just plain bizarre -- but they work with the data of the insides of their heads. Some of the things I come up with are just plain bizarre -- and I know that, but we come back to the old "I believe in what works."

And I don't consider myself Otherkin, though by some frameworks of perspective and some definition-sets I'm probably qualified. I do consider myself plural. I do consider myself genderqueer. I do consider myself in a whole bunch of frameworks that other people think are crazy or a sign of brokenness or defect or a variety of other things.

And when I'm trying to point out that people organising the insides of their heads are trying to parse out stuff so it makes sense ... I don't mention any of these things. I'm reminded of the friend who commented to me that he stands up for all the freaks and weirdos and perverts in a particular area in part because that way nobody realises that the reason he does that is that they're all him. If I say "I'm one of the people you're calling crazy, and here's why I do what I do", it comes off as defensive or invites dismissal in a way that "Some of the people you're calling crazy have given these reasons for their stuff" does not.

It's strange, the hiding who we are so people can see more clearly.

This weekend I'm going to spend some time with a bunch of people most of whom are steeped in a particular flavor of feminist activism. And one of the things I may want to talk about is the way I've been doing personal power and strength development -- as a woman, as a human being -- and this will go over quite well, I think. So long as I don't mention that I'm getting there in significant part by being in a 24/7 relationship as a submissive.

And maybe I'm being unfair to them in that "so long as".

But maybe I'm right, and my context is too weird for that situation, too touchy and uncertain.

Who I am when I'm alone is full of little dark places.

I try to live as truly as I can, as genuinely, but sometimes the little dark places get in the way. Not because I don't live them, but because acknowledging that they exist to others is a risky thing with consequences, and every little dark place has to be evaluated, "Is this too weird for the situation?" I don't live in the closet, but I keep a stash of nice bamboo screens there to set up so the little dark places can be hidden from casual view.

On the internet, nobody knows you're the beast at the heart of the labyrinth.

04 January, 2007

Found conversational thoughts on sexism and what matters to us

I'm not sure why I was thinking of this earlier today.

A while back, I saw a conversation that was begun with "Is it a sign of being from a patriarchal society when someone never puts the toilet seat down?" I think the original thought was sort of half-serious, but also a comment on what sort of interactions one expects to have with one's surroundings, what consequences one expects one's actions to have on the environment.

What fascinated me about it was the people who responded with something that I can exaggerate to, "Yes! Obviously! It's a conspiracy on the part of The Man to keep women falling into toilets."

I wondered then, and I still do, where the break point is where we can say "You're responsible for paying attention to where you put your ass."

On the flip side, I'm watching a bunch of men respond to the question "Do you have a problem with women not shaving their legs".

And there are a stunning number of people for whom this is some sort of dealbreaker, some sort of major big-ass deal which makes a difference to their interactions with people. And I sit here wondering, "Who notices these things? Who cares?" I wound up posting the story about my ex, whose brother's girlfriend was horrified that his wife didn't shave her legs. "Don't you mind?" she said, turning to him; he paused for a moment, and then said, "Well, I don't shave mine, either."

There's a lot of, "Oh, the stubble feels bad, I want smooth skin to touch" and some similar stuff, and that baffles the hell out of me. My skin is plenty smooth, and I never get stubble because I don't molest my poor token mammalfur. (Now, mind, I shaved my legs once or twice in, like, 1993, just to see what all the foofaraw was about, and after I got the bleeding to stop I said, "Well, that was stupid" and didn't take it up again. So I don't exactly have much in the way of grounds for comparison here.)

But there's also the whole, "What the hell? Of all the things to consider of paramount importance in possibly forming a relationship with someone, leg hair?"

What the hell is wrong with people, anyway?

03 January, 2007

More cheerfully

That Muslim congressman who caused a bunch of idiots to start frothing at the mouth by wanting to be sworn in on a copy of the Qu'ran rather than a Bible?

Is getting sworn in on Thomas Jefferson's copy.

Take that, fuckheads.

(At some point I'll blog something that doesn't get keyworded 'politics', I'm sure.)

What does one say to this?

Seen on usenet:

"By what measure is the Iraq war not a failure?"
"By the measure I've said repeatedly. That it's not over yet."

So long as we keep killing and keep dying, the matter is, apparently, inconclusive.

01 January, 2007

Bring on the Dancing Monkeys

Recently, on a place I read, someone said something to the effect of, "What responsibility do we have to educate others about our religious beliefs?" Or something to that effect.

And there's a problem with 'responsibility' there.

The critical thing for response to this is that being a member of a minority group does not mean that one has some obligation to correct the ignorance of a majority group. Simply being of a minority religion, a minority ethnicity, a minority sexual orientation, a minority whatever else, does not mean that, because of one's minority status, one is a display item to the people who want to go, "Wow, I've never met an [adjective] person before. Tell me what that's like!"

My religion is not about you. My family is not about you. My work is not about you. My kink is not about you. My ethnic background is not about you. My sexuality is not about you. None of it is for anyone else's benefit, no matter how interesting or exotic that someone else finds it. There is no obligation to share it with anyone I do not choose to do so.

Too many people see someone who has some fascinating difference as a resource, someone to enrich their lives, someone whose strangeness only really exists visibly in order to counterpoint the mainstream, the majority, or the perceived normal. Too often, if someone is not willing to be treated as an exhibit, a display of their minority status, they get told to stop flaunting, to stop being so exotic, so exciting, so perverse, so different, if they aren't willing to get up on stage and entertain, educate, they should just become invisible.

The space to be human, to be people, who happen to have these traits, it isn't there. The possession of a minority trait, a difference, swamps it all out, drowns it, and converts the person who happens to fit the current reflection of the other into a sideshow freak, a display of what those other creatures do, what those other creatures are.

I, for one, am not a dancing monkey.