First, let me apologize to Josiah for interupting his post week; it's just that I'm finally at the point where this contest can be wrapped up, and I'm sure you're all dying to know the results! So, without any further ado, ladies and gent, I am pleased to announce the winner of the Maoist Orange Cake Drag King Name Contest is (cue drum roll in your head);
Cervix Merchandise! (submitted by lil' gator)
Little Gator, on your right, you will see pictured some of the fabulous prizes you will be recieving:
1.Pinstriped fedora, festooned with Drag King crown;
2. One bag of the finest imitation human hair (I know, it looks like weed, but trust me it's just hair)
3. Spirit gum for hair application, plus spirit gum remover.
4. Two eyebrow pencils in case the spirit gum doesn't work out.
5. One snazzy grey wool tie (not pictured).
6. One disposable camera (also not pictured).
(And sorry, Mr. Tiger is not included in the prize package. I would if I could, but he's not mine---his presence is strictly for modeling purposes only.)
Lil' Gator---you mission, should you choose to accept it, is to don said Drag King gear, and record what Mr Cervix Merchandise may possibly look like with the included camera, then post the picture on this same blog! If you accept this mission, I can be reached at email@example.com, and we can discuss the mailing arrangements of your prizes> Remember, this part is strictly voluntary---no pressure.
Now we return to our regular programming; Please read Josiah's excellent post, and write many comments!
Motto of the MOC: Sincere, yes. Serious? Never!
"I would also like to add that ‘Maoist Orange Cake’ is possibly the best name for a blog ever. Just my twopence." -- The Sixth Carnival of Radical Feminists, 1 October 2007
The Twelfth Carnival of Radical Feminists is up at The Burning Times blog and mentions one of our posts, Helen 'Wheels' Keller, for recommendation. Orangeists spreading our zest!
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
First, let me apologize to Josiah for interupting his post week; it's just that I'm finally at the point where this contest can be wrapped up, and I'm sure you're all dying to know the results! So, without any further ado, ladies and gent, I am pleased to announce the winner of the Maoist Orange Cake Drag King Name Contest is (cue drum roll in your head);
Posted by shadocat at 5:44 AM
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Hi, folks. It's Josiah, Maoist Orange Cake's first Divo here. (As I said to the Graces who run this place when I accepted their kind offer to join, I'm happy to be a Diva, a Divo or even Devo.) Yes, I'm a straight man, and yes, I'm a feminist and strong supporter of LGBT rights. That combination is, alas, far more rare than it ought to be.
I recently learned that one early male feminist was L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels. (I'm thinking about Oz a lot lately, because I'm playing the Scarecrow in a production of The Wizard of Oz which goes up in September.) Baum's feminism might not be immediately apparent if your only familiarity with his work is the 1939 MGM film, but the original Dorothy is rather more forthright and active than the tearful damsel-in-distress Judy Garland played. From the second Oz book on, the Land of Oz is ruled by Princess Ozma, who spent most of her childhood as a boy named Tip. There's a good argument to be made that Ozma is an early transsexual heroine — she's certainly queer.
Baum learned his feminism from his wife, Maud Gage. Maud was the daughter of the abolitionist and suffragist Matilda Jocelyn Gage, and seems to have been a strong influence on L. Frank Baum. Before finding success as a children's author, Baum tried his hand at many lines of work, including a stint as a newspaper editor. In one editorial supporting women's suffrage Baum wrote that a man who does not support the rights of women is "selfish, opinionated, conceited or unjust — and perhaps all four combined," adding that "the tender husband, the considerate father, the loving brother, will be found invariably championing the cause of women.'' I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment.
Of course, women don't need men to champion their cause. That's something that's difficult for a lot of men to accept. I thought that I had accepted it, but recently I found myself being "chivalrous" in a situation which really didn't warrant it, which made me wonder how much I've internalized the feminist lessons I thought I'd learned.
My wife Erin is a medical student. About a month ago, we went with a group of medical students to see Sicko, as part of a protest supporting universal health care. The plan was that the medical students would attend the screening, all wearing their white coats, and afterwards would pass out flyers with information. We had printed out the flyers in advance. We were a few minutes late, but arrived as the trailers were beginning, and happily joined the throng of white-coated viewers. The film was of course moving — Michael Moore is such a great propagandist — and after it was over, Erin chatted with her colleagues and I stepped back a bit. This was her show; I was there to support. However, I soon noticed that nobody was handing out flyers. I thought that perhaps the other medical students, unaccustomed to activism, were being shy about confronting strangers — even strangers who, having seen the film, were presumably sympathetic to the cause at hand. I spoke to Erin and encouraged her to give out the flyers we had printed. She's an introvert by nature, but feels strongly about the issue, so she stepped up readily and started handing out the flyers — not just to the folks who were filing out of Sicko, but to other filmgoers as well.
One of her friends started chatting to me, and I was distracted; when I looked up, I saw a tall man in a blue Oxford-cloth shirt saying something to Erin in a brusque manner. I didn't hear his remark, but went up to her and asked what he had said. She told me that he had said, "Get away from me, you damn socialist." Now, if someone had spoken like that to me, I would have shrugged it off, or perhaps tried to engage them in conversation on the subject ("what's so bad about socialism?"). But when I heard what this man had said to Erin, for some reason I saw red. I stood for a moment fuming, while one of Erin's colleagues spoke to her quickly. I looked over at the man in the blue shirt, and saw him talking to the movie theater's security guards. I started striding towards him determinedly. My intentions were not violent; I merely wanted to speak to him. My words would have been forceful but civil. But Erin pulled me back, saying that he wasn't worth it. And here I made my mistake. Instead of listening to her, I shook her off and said loudly, "I just want to talk to him." The security guards saw me and stepped quickly between me and the man in the blue shirt. "I just want to talk to him," I repeated. "That's not going to happen, sir," replied the security guard, intoning the word "sir" in that particular manner of voice that means "I have no respect for you at all". At this point, the man in the blue shirt started yelling at me from behind the security guard's back: "You hate America!" (Can you believe it?) I yelled right back, "I love America!" — which is actually true. I love this country, even if I hate its current rulers. At this point, the security guard asked me to leave the building. After a moment of huffing, I complied, yelling on my way out that if someone was going to curse at my wife I wanted to be able to speak to him. (There was a smattering of applause from someone standing in line, but I'm not sure if they were applauding my sentiment or the fact that I was being thrown out of the building.)
After we left the theatre, Erin told me that before we had arrived, the protest organizers had told the other medical students that the theater management had had a change of heart, and that they weren't going to allow us to hand out flyers. We had missed this announcement, and so were technically in the wrong. The security guard started to follow us to our car, to make sure that we weren't going to go back inside; then Erin told me to stay put while she explained to the security guard exactly what had happened. She asked him how he would feel if it was his wife that the man had cursed at. He said, "I'd be pretty mad too," and when we headed towards our car he didn't follow us any further. As we drove out of the parking lot, I saw him speaking to the man in the blue shirt, who was also in the parking lot. Was he reporting that he had dealt with the troublemaker, or telling the blue-shirt off for his part in the altercation? I don't know.
On the drive home, Erin was furious. She told me that by not listening to her when she asked me to let it go, I had shown disrespect for her and her autonomy. And she was right — I had. I was treating her like a prized possession that needed protecting, not an agent of her own. In that moment, I was just another testosterone-drunk male, butting heads with the rival who threatened my mate. All my feminist beliefs, all my civilized veneer, fell away, and I was a caveman posturing for alpha position in the pack and the right of access to the females. Or, at the very least I was a gentleman of the old South, "defending his lady's honor" against the crudity of a rascal — which, when you think about it, amounts to about the same thing.
I was raised in the South, in a prominent family. My father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather had all served as mayor of the small city in which I grew up. My father-in-law once said that my family has been in Virginia so long we stole it from the Indians, and he was right. My father was dedicated to the family business, and spent almost all his waking hours at work. His absence meant that I was raised almost exclusively by my mother, a real "steel magnolia" of the old Southern aristocracy. I also have three older sisters, so the house I grew up in was very female-dominated.
My oldest sister was (and is) a feminist, and ensured that I grew up listening to Free to Be You and Me, Marlo Thomas's wonderful feminist kids' album. I soaked it up, along with a degree of old-school chivalry taught by my mother. This breed of "chivalry" was largely beneficent: standing up when a woman enters a room, holding doors for women and anyone older than you, and the like. Then I went away to an all-male boarding school, and saw the underbelly of this Southern chivalry. Many of my schoolmates were clearly of the opinion that the only purposes women could serve were laundry and sex. Anyone who didn't plaster his dorm walls with posters of pneumatic blondes wearing as little as the dorm masters would permit was instantly accused of being a fag, and beaten up for it. (Yes, I was gay-bashed for preferring Doctor Who actresses to Pamela Anderson.) I had never seen this side of the South, and it disgusted me.
I had yet more whiplash when I went from this reactionary high school to Yale, bastion of Northern liberalism. There, I had a serious relationship with a bisexual woman who was very active in "Yalesbians" and had founded a subchapter, "Biways Biwomen". I used to accompany her as she'd put up Woman Power posters and chalk the sidewalks with slogans like "My boyfriend knows I'm a dyke." (She later spent several years as the head of NOW's New York City chapter, defended a case before the Florida Supreme Court as a lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Rights, and now heads up the reproductive rights project at the NYCLU. Incidentally, it was she who introduced me to Dykes to Watch Out For, and generally taught me that LGBT rights are as important as women's rights — indeed, she taught me that if one really believes in women's rights, one must also believe in LGBT rights.)
By the time I got married, I thought that I was a pretty well trained feminist. I offered to change my surname to Erin's. (She demurred and ended up taking mine, but if her novel is published it will be under her birth name.) I support lots of feminist and LGBT rights organizations. And yet when I was confronted with another male threatening "my" woman, I reverted to chauvinistic type.
I apologized for my behavior that night, and Erin forgave me, eventually directing her anger at the theater's management and the security guards who assumed that those lefty troublemakers must be at fault. And yet, I still feel uncomfortable thinking about my behavior. Am I the prisoner of my biology, or of the social structures which still say that women need protecting by men? If a supposedly enlightened, feminist man like me still behaves like this, what hope is there for the unreconstructed masses? What place is there for men in the feminist world?
That's why I was so delighted to be invited to be a Diva, or a Divo, or Devo. If there is any hope for feminism, it's in engagement and thoughtful discussion, of the sort this blog specializes in. So thanks for admitting this straight male into your midst.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Greer Grimsley is one sexy Dutchman. And a hot Wotan, and an absolutely sizzling Telramund. Seattle Opera’s summer production—the first opera of the season—is generally something big. And in Seattle, something big often means Richard Wagner. Last Wednesday it was the Flying Dutchman, with Greer Grimsley in the title role. Great stuff.
As Rebecca Brown has pointed out, it’s kind of strange to be simultaneously a feminist and an opera fan. Sure, there are a lot of strong female characters in opera, but they all end up either dying or getting married, usually the former. Sometimes the man dies, but unlike the woman he never dies alone; if the man dies, the woman dies too. But just try finding an opera in which the man dies and the woman has sufficient strength of character to survive him. The only one I can think of is Werther, and that’s iffy.
Especially problematic for the feminist opera fan are the operas of Herr Wagner. Allow me to borrow from Perry Lorenzo, Education Director at Seattle Opera and Lecturer Extraordinaire. All of Richard Wagner’s operas are about one thing: Richard Wagner. They go like this: There’s this guy, and he’s alone and lost, usually in the wilderness. And he’s searching for something... something beautiful... for a woman, who will devote herself utterly to him, who will die for him, and bring him redemption. And when they finally get together at the end of the opera, and she dies—or maybe he dies first and then she dies—there’s a tremendous transformation scene which is impossible to stage and doesn’t make a great deal of sense, but is overwhelmingly beautiful and moving nonetheless. Despite Wagner’s insistence on the primacy of the “Eternal Feminine”, this is not exactly a story to warm the cockles of a feminist’s heart.
So we come to the Dutchman. Everyone knows the legend: A Dutch sea captain, trying to sail around the Cape of Good Hope in a storm, vows to round the Cape even if it takes till Doomsday. The Devil hears him and, for his hubris, curses him to sail the seas forever; he can only be saved if a woman proves to be faithful to him unto death. If she vows fidelity and fails, he will return to the sea and she will be condemned to Hell. A perfect recipe for a happy marriage. The Dutchman has tried it often and it has never worked, big surprise.
The opera opens on a modern Norwegian fishing boat, after an overture that cannot be heard as anything except a storm at sea. The Dutchman comes alongside in his 18th Century sailing ship; it is his once-in-seven-years chance to find a faithful wife. He boards the fishing boat and offers the Captain, Daland, a chest of treasure for the chance to woo his daughter Senta. Delighted at the prospect of a rich son-in-law, Daland takes the Dutchman home where Senta has been hypnotically staring at a painting of the Dutchman that just happens to be hanging over the fireplace. We’re talking pathological obsession here; she can’t talk about anything else, even to her boyfriend, Erik.
The Dutchman arrives, and he and Senta stare at each other without speaking for twenty minutes while Daddy babbles mindlessly. This extended silent staring is a sure-fire sign of Wagnerian love-at-first-sight. Finally they start singing. Funny thing, though: throughout this passionate duet (and it is passionate!) hardly anything is said about love. It’s all about her faithfulness and his redemption. Her obsession is less love than it is religious vocation. And he wants release from his curse.
As they prepare to marry the next day, Erik comes around and begs Senta not to dump him for a cursed man. On Wednesday evening the tenor practically ripped out the audience’s heartstrings with this song, but Senta is unmoved. Not so the Dutchman, who somehow manages to interpret Erik’s plea as proof of Senta’s unfaithfulness. He refuses to listen to her and sets sail for another seven years. She proves her faithfulness-unto-death in the only way she can: she jumps into the sea and dies, still faithful. In this particular production she doesn’t drown; she grabs some high tension wires before she jumps and electrocutes herself. Flashy. Then we have the redemption music as the curse is lifted, all glorious and up-lifting in spite of everything.
I know, the story, when it’s told like that, is offensive, and even perverted. When I first started listening to Wagner on the radio with nothing but synopses to go on, my feminist principles absolutely shuddered, and I didn’t much like Wagner. But somehow, when I attend an actual performance, with great singers and actors and direction, none of the ideology matters. I don’t exactly put aside my feminism or my modern ideas about human relationships, but for those few hours at the opera house, they don’t seem to be of overwhelming importance. Against all rational expectations it is a magnificent, inspiring theatrical experience. And I’ll be back again in ’08 for The Ring.
Wagner, by the way, eventually got a woman who devoted herself to him utterly, his last wife Cosima, though she didn’t die for him. She survived him by many years, and fought like a tigress protecting his artistic legacy. Great male artists get supportive wives like that often enough that it doesn’t surprise us. For women artists it is not as common, but it does happen. Alexandra David-Neel’s husband acted as her literary agent and handled her finances through all the years she was tramping around Tibet with her Sikkimese adopted son, studying in monasteries and meditating in caves.
More to come in the comments about my first Dutchman, proper opera attire, and on-stage sailing vessels.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
In 1972, my closeted Lesbian English teacher (RIP, Ms. Duff), one of six teachers in an extremely rural and conservative school of 36 students, responded to our confused emotions about the Vietnam war by assigning us to read Johnny Got His Gun. This was an anti-war novel that she guessed nobody in the community would understand as anti-war, written by Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten whose name she counted on nobody recognizing. That novel had a profound effect on all of us.
For me, the subtle indictment of war was not the compelling part -- I was already a pacifist who had converted my mother from being a Nixon supporter in 1968 to someone who had voted for McGovern in 1972, much to the disgust of my father. In Johnny Got His Gun, a young, ignorant, shallow American man goes jingo-happy into war, only to be all but blown apart by a mine. He loses his legs and arms, and most of his face is destroyed. He is thus deaf and blind, but unbeknowst to his caretakers) his brain is intact. The novel consists of his memory and flashbacks, and his attempts to communicate with the nurses and doctors who "manage" him in the hospital. They regard him as a vegetable, with animal needs (including sexual) but no mind beneath the flesh. And, in truth, his mind is stunted, not by the blast but by his own failure to think. Now, of course, it's all he has left. When he is eventually able to transcend the communication barrier with a nurse, using body slams against the mattress in Morse code, and she responds, he goes mad and that is the end of the book.
Quite the reading for a bunch of isolated 16-year-olds.
What I took away as a message was the precious integrity of my brain and a resolve to fill it with as much knowledge and questioning as I possibly could. Two years later, feminism challenged me to redefine womanhood using no male markers. Concurrently, my generation was defining Lesbian in a radical new way, a definition which has now been overturned by the dominant paradigm. The generation a few years ahead of me had successfully challenged the myth of whiteness as biological reality, and Boomers in general were freed (briefly and incompletely, but enough to set us loose on the streets) from the absolute class drudgery of our working forebears. Reinvention was the name of the game, and we did not disappoint.
As I see it, reinvention demands two prerequisites: You must believe in the malleability of what others label "reality", and you must be willing to understand yourself and your culture well enough to track down the lies. Too many accounts of the Second Wave (both written and pop-cultural) act as if certain key thinkers and publications shaped our emerging belief system. In fact, power went the other direction: A critical mass of us began talking to each other, especially in the form of consciousness-raising groups. We began to recognize matching themes and experiences, and from those we developed theory and practice. Our errors arose from the membership of those conversations -- too white, often dominated by middle-class ethics, and of course First World -- but not from the process itself.
Whether you call it "Biology is not destiny", constructionism, or the persistence of delusion, we rejected the meaning of masculinity and femininity, the conflation of sex with power, the hierarchy of dominance in human social relations, and the equation of appearance with real identity. The dominant culture has rebooted our hard drive, now, and seeks to erase our hard-won comprehensions, often with the gleeful assistance of those who would be better served to act as our allies. But each generation in a patriarchy is forced to learn some lessons all over again. Paula Gunn Allen correctly said "The root of oppression is the loss of memory". (Johnny, do you hear that?) And the wheel always circles back around to a new point on the spiral.
Despite the current cultural emphasis on declaring gender to be rooted in physiology (genitals, hormones, brain configuration) with a hearty jeer at those who just can't get with the program, science itself is consistently proving the sociobiologists wrong. Time and time again. Aside from the basic fact that in a culture where you are labeled with a gender and race at the moment of birth (if not before), there is no such thing as a "control group" who is free from massive conditioning, there is also the often demonstrated fact that physical reality is much more influenced by culture than vice versa. We construct lifelong narratives to bolster whatever it is we believe, and that rewrites our memory. "I was always this way" is a common mantra. And if you say it is true for you, then of course it is. But if I believe my memory of my identity from birth has been molded and remolded by the information and options available to me at the time, not by some "inherent" objective core, then that is true for me also.
One innovative, ground-breaking study of the hippocampus involved using the cultural phenomenon created by London cabdrivers known as The Knowledge. Cabbies who drive the big black hacks of Central London are not permitted to drive until they have had two years of training in The Knowledge, and are able to pass a test on The Knowledge. The final exam for cabbies includes questions of this ilk: A passenger gets in at such and such a corner at a certain time in a particular day. She requests a hotel within a certain price range, within two blocks of a tube station, within one block of an offset printing business for cheap mass copies and also within one block of a dry-cleaners who uses natural chemicals. On the way, she needs to stop at a particular bank's ATM and also get take-out Chinese food from a restaurant which does not use MSG. To find the quickest route, the cabbie will need much more than a memorized map. S/he must access a voluminous knowledge of central London that is under daily revision, incorporating which streets are one-way certain hours of the day, the calendar and attendant festivals, plus minute retail offerings and habits. There is usually only one right answer to such a question, but this is the service London cabbies offer and she must know it to be given her license to hack.
In the study, folks who were planning to become cab drivers were given detailed brain scans before their training and after they had become licensed. In addition, those who had been on the job for set numbers of years were scanned. The study found a direct correlation between exposure to The Knowledge (length of time training and/or driving) and hippocampus size. It was not just a predisposition to being able to retain such a vast memory that made cabbies; it was also a literal expansion of one portion of the brain, a remapping of neural territory beyond previous biological boundaries. Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers
A 45-year breeding experiment involving Siberian foxes has yielded a likewise startling result. The foxes, destined for fur coats, were kept in separate cages but varied greatly as to whether a human could safely approach and interact with them. Selective breeding was done for tameability, pairing less frightened and nonaggressive individuals with each other for offspring. The outcome was not just a permanent change in the domestication of these foxes, who became as friendly and eager for human company as dogs. They also, within the first generation, began to exhibit heretofore unseen variations in physical appearance: Different coat color and texture, dog-like markings, short curly tails and soft floppy ears. It was eventually understood that the adrenal systems of these animals exists in very close proximity to the neural and chemical centers for certain aspects of appearance, and the de-activation of fear and avoidance was affecting nearby structures. This has shed great light onto the likely history of canine domestication and breed diversity -- the very act of "taming" them makes them look different than their parents. And it was handed on to the next generation. Conditioning trumps biology. Genomics
But another study took this a step further. One area we've now mapped on rats' genome is known to govern the behavior of mothering, how well mother rats took care of their babies. A recent study hoped to find out how this was passed on from generation to generation. To the shock of the researchers, they discovered that not only was the behavior learned (i.e., a baby rat taken from a mother who had "bad genes" for mothering and instead raised with a rat with "good genes" for mothering would herself grow up to be a "good mother"), but, startlingly, the genes of a rat raised in a positive mothering environment would physically alter its expression from that of a "bad mother" ancestry into a "good mother" genetic expression. In other words, how you are raised can have a permanent effort not just on culture and conditioning but actual biology itself. Talk about nurture over nature. A Mother's Touch
This whole field of epigenetics is proving that what matters in the long run is not the genes you are dealt at conception, but how those genes are expressed by you individually, and that this expression is not set in stone, even within your lifetime. Further, how well you live, what influences you seek out/allow, will determine the outcome of your offspring and future generations. Epigenetics in Identical Twins
Which brings me to Generation Five. I've had the opportunity to read, hear, and speak intensively with Staci Haines, the founder of Generation Five. She identified our generation as ground zero for the interruption of child sexual abuse as an integral part of American culture. The values inherent in perceiving children as the property and sexual objects of adults (overwhelmingly, that of men) are so deep as to often be indistinguishable from the wallpaper. The emphasis on "stranger danger" instead of the reality that most children will be sexually assaulted by their own family members or trusted adult friends is a last-ditch effort to avoid the nasty secret that male conditioning creates a predisposition to sexual exploitation of children, and female conditioning creates a predisposition to complicity in this behavior.
Staci says bluntly that growing up with abuse reconfigures our brains and leaves us damaged with regard to our ability to connect with other human beings. The effects and patterns of this damage are increasingly recognized, and are quite prevalent in our literature, art, and everyday congress. The denial of those patterns is likewise prevalent. One popular evasion is the association of child predation with "gayness" -- i.e., it's those tortured, fucked up queers who prey on subadults.
Certainly the Catholic Church is pounding home this meme: They claim pedophile priests are secret gays who are drawn to the church because of its access to prey. This is to divert us from the reality that the rigid authoritarianism of Catholicism (and evangelical religiosity of any flavor, and of course Neocon ideology) lends itself to child abuse. There are, in fact, several main sexual orientations, including heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and sexual attraction to those younger than you. Many people carry a mix of these orientations, but one does not preclude the other. And all of them are learned, not inherent. If somebody can "come out", they can with equal integrity "go back in". But the orientation of identifying sexual "charge" with a profound power imbalance is so deeply-rooted and reinforced by our dominant culture that overcoming it is extremely difficult. It's easier to hide the abuse (families are expert at this), deny it as molestation, and continue on until you are stopped. Easier in a practical sense, of course, not spiritual.
Staci is not hopeless about undoing our individual damage or about reversing our cultural training. We are alike in that. All recovery is based on faith and fearless self-examination. What I'm proudest of in my life is that I was part of a small group who named the disease of child sexual exploitation for what it was, a conditioned piece of cultural expression. I don't honestly know how we were that smart and brave. We had a lot of help. In a sense, we had nothing to lose, because defending our families and perpetrators was a dead-end street. I think turning that corner was the making of me, of us. It altered the genes of what will come in future generations. Our numbers will only continue to grow.
In closing, I want to share with you a speech I gave on March 26, 1982 at the Berkeley Women's Center. It was the first time in herstory that someone in Berkeley spoke out about child sexual assault as a societal issue. I was 26 years old, and a member of the Pleiades, who led this gathering. The sister who helped me shape this statement was my friend, Shelley Coleman (known then as Shelley Clearwaters).
"To guess at the effects that incestuous assault has on us, we have to remember what it was like to be a child. We came into this world as strong, trusting, smart, enthusiastic and loving beings, with a sense of our own power and our worth. We looked to learn about the world and our place in it from the older people around us, in whom we had complete trust. We expected from these people confirmation of our belief in ourselves, but this did not happen. In many ways we did not get it.
"Child abuse comes in many forms, and at the base of all of it is the assault in our faith in the world and a denial of what we deserve from the world. Incestuous assault is a violation of our sexual space and of our control over our own bodies by someone whom we know and whom we believe we have reason to trust. It is one of the most awful and dangerous things that will ever happen to us, and it happens during our most vulnerable time in life. It is an extreme betrayal of our trust, and an unforgiveable abuse of power. Someone whom we see as having authority over us and often whom we love, rapes us. By rape I include anything from always watching us get dressed in the morning to making us suck him off or having his prick forced into our little girl vaginas. This rape is usually carried out in secret, goes on over time, is maintained by the explicit or implicit threat of losing our world as we know it, and is always accompanied by some sort of mind-fuck.
"We learn from this rape that no one will protect us against harm. We learn that we have no real power of our own, that we are the property of adult males, and often we learn that our mothers are powerless also. We learn that the primary way people relate to each other is sexually. We learn that sex is love, as much as we will ever get. We learn that this way of relating sexually is to be used as someone’s object, with much desensitization and no consideration of our wishes. We learn that our worst fears will come true, over and over again. We learn to keep secrets, to keep our spirits hidden, and to lie to other women. We learn to see women as victims. We learn to never say no. We learn to be terrified of anger. We learn we are thought of as dirty, and we learn to fear, and we learn that fear and abuse are part of intimacy. We learn to distrust, and we learn how to hide this distrust by numbing out, by being hostile, by being seductive, by forgetting. We learn to be nice at all costs. We learn how to hang onto life when there is no hope. We learn how to be an adult before we have ever really been children. We learn a lot.
"And everything we learn, everything I have said, is a lie: an outrageous lie. These lies are among the first things we learn about the world. They become the building blocks of how we understand the world. To overcome the effects of incest is to turn yourself inside out and begin all over again. It is to see your childhood as a mass of scars and to heal those scars one by one.
"We who are survivors are doing just that, in a wide variety of ways and at our own pace. Some of us do it with friends, lovers and family; some of us do through our art and our work; some of us have therapists; some of us have support groups; and some of us are doing it alone. But we are doing it the best way we know how, and more are joining us every day.
"At the time we were being assaulted, we were victims. We stopped being victims when the assault stopped, but most of us continue to act like victims and to think of ourselves as victims. We stop being victims when we believe that what happened was not our fault. None of it, no matter what happened, no matter how you felt during it, was your fault. When you realize this, you start being a survivor. Most of us here tonight are survivors.
"Some of us do not survive. Some of us die as children or as teenagers or as adult women. Some of us go crazy. Some of us experience a death of the spirit. We have no way of knowing how many of us make it and how many don’t. Some of us marry to get away from home, and trade one right of sexual access for another. Some of us stay celibate all our lives; some of us run away from home. Some of us act out our anger and land in jail or get shot down. Some of us become prostitutes, alcoholics or drug-dependent. Some of us come out as lesbians, and we find that even with women, the specter of the incest is always there. And some of us do find a safe place, but we’ve been operating on a survival level for so long, we can’t see the safety we have reached. We go on acting like we believe the people we love will rape us in some way.
"But there is something after being a survivor. When you have healed – when you no longer find your life being controlled by your reactions to something that happened in your childhood – when you stop waiting for things to get all the way better – you have stopped being a survivor. It is possible to get all the way through, the nightmares, the fears, the reflexes, the paranoia. It is possible for our incestuous assault to be only memories. What we will be after that no one has named yet. Maybe as more of us reach that place we’ll name it. Or maybe it doesn’t need a name. Maybe it’s just as simple as coming home again."
As a closing ritual for this gathering, we asked each woman in the room to speak her name, what she has survived, and to say:
"It's not my fault
I'm bigger than it is
I can help stop it
I am completely lovable"
"Next year, on the twentieth of May,
I proclaim Little Alligator Day!"
Or at least, that's what I'll have to do, after missing our lil' gator's birthday?
For those of you who don't know of her, let me fill you in---she's married (to Mr. Gator, of course). She's been known to carry a stuffed alligator wearing a leather jacket (what he was doing in a leather jacket, I'll never know). She's an accomplished woodswoman, known to turn the tallest of trees into toothpick material, armed with only a miniature chainsaw. She's an accomplished verser and limerick-writer. She creates original fabric critters complete with biographies and screenplay credits of their own. She's distantly related to a rather infamous fellow, and although she herself is an upright, law-abiding citizen, she's been known to wander the local forests carrying the aforementioned chainsaw and wearing a full facemask.
Which of course means she fits right in with the rest of us.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
1955 was a wonderful year:
"Rock Around The Clock" hailed the beginning of Rock and Roll...
Elvis Presley made his first TV appearance...
The first McDonald's opened...
The Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of public schools "with all deliberate speed."
Mickey Mantel hit his career home run, number 100...
(Speaking of Mickeys)," The Mickey Mouse Club", first premiered...
Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, ushering in The Civil Rights Movement...
and one of our favorite divas, Maggie Jochild was born!