Yes, let’s be whole, together. A great cry for action by a man I admire.
Being born with dark brown skin is not a choice.
Being subject to violence based on the history of dark brown skin is, tragically, not a choice.
Fighting back against a systemic perversion of life based on dark brown skin is a choice.
Being born with light pink skin is not a choice.
Being associated with an embarrassing legacy of oppression created to protect light pink skin is not a choice.
Living each day to actively relieve that oppression connected to light pink skin is a choice.
Being born with a vagina is not a choice.
Being targeted as an object by ignorant people because of that vagina is, horrifically, not a choice.
Destroying restrictive patriarchy and building strong female narratives is a choice.
Being born with a penis is not a choice.
Being perceived to have immense, unwarranted, unjustified privilege because of that penis is not a choice.
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A great mission piece from a dear friend of mine. If you feel the pain of the world, chances are you have the power to help heal it. If you can only begin.
This is a call-out. I normally choose my words carefully and with beauty, but I don’t have the time to do that right now. I take that as a sign that I’m ready; this is a message to myself as much as to you. This is a message for a small but very definite percentage of people. You know who you are. You’re sensitive and you know it. You’ve probably been told you’re too sensitive, and you’ve probably learned to be ashamed of it. If you’ve ever done a Myers-Briggs assessment, you’re an intuitive feeling type.
Since you were a kid you’ve had the ability to perceive things that other people around you, especially the adults, haven’t been able to perceive and usually don’t believe you that you do either. You’ve felt things, sensed things others have seemed to be oblivious to–both interesting and beautiful things and disturbing, upsetting, painful…
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Silence is a Wound You Gave Me, by Madeline Beatrix Adams. 2/21/2015
I walked out of my self-imposed detention hall,
past the library shelves of my secret sanctum
lined with dead books felt but never written,
(the walls of silence built of borrowed shame
and overdue looks, stacked to my sealing
and leaning over prevarication’s precipice,
where anything but complete honesty felt
like complete lies. out of this guilt rising
the stark prison of my youth
and my dark ages)
and wrote to the world for a moment or two
with a hopeful trembling glow, creative demi-urge embodiment
the very forces that shut me up and shut me down
the first time and every time
reasserted, to let me know gently
that shunning would be what I had to show
if I didn’t stop showing up, showing off
who i have become
in all my naked truth.
my disgusting, revolting, offputting truth.
I still spoke one on one, in person, in stages, but not here, not where they can see
The family that gave me life
and almost took it away
cut off my wings every time I sprouted them
and I let them
I could feel their love as they snipped
my words and my being.
edit. edit. close. the door. return to complicity
Silence is a wound you gave me
See the scar? Purple, garish, like a smile
I wear it with pride
as I show my guts and all.
I will not be wounded in that way again.
I know you meant to protect me
but you were only protecting yourselves
from the light
of my shadow side
and your own
pink is my new skin my new body my whole soul
shining in the oldest darkness without shame or fear
and silent no more
Silence is a wound you gave me, but now
my spirit has a home
The day I began to claim the space that my body occupies in this world as my own, was the day that I allowed my body to become part of someone else’s work of art.
For the past two years, I have been engaged in a continuing project to free myself to experience joy, following a lifetime of self-repression. The project has evolved into an ongoing commitment to go beyond my comfort zone in at least one area every week. With each lovingly chosen adventure, I have expanded my personal world and reclaimed a little more of my vibrant woman’s heart.
Some of the pleasures of life I have reclaimed and rediscovered along the way:
- wearing clothes that match my style and self image
- speaking up with a voice that is my own
- embracing my unique gender identity and expression
- writing poetry
- spoken word performance
- peer counseling
- physical exercise
- fiction writing
What all of these have in common, is the shift from being withdrawn and hidden from the world, to being fully myself and fully engaged with my body, my mind, and the wonderful people around me. Last Sunday, the day I began to claim the space that my body occupies in this world as my own, was the day that I allowed my body to become part of someone else’s work of art. I added one more item to my list:
I was preparing to attend my first gathering of the Femme-inist Art and Culture Circle which is run by my friend, the professional artist and feminist theologian Amy Caisia Liu. In a moment of boldness, I had volunteered to be backup model for the next figure drawing session. The day of the gathering, I had the strongest feeling that I would be modeling, so I had sought advice from my niece who has done figure modeling in the past. She warned about stress positions, pointing out that any position can be agonizing if you have to hold it very long, so make sure your muscles and joints are supported and at ease with every position you take.
I trimmed my pubic hair to less than my usual shaggy bush, took a shower, brushed my teeth, applied a little makeup to even out my complexion, washed my hair, and got dressed in an attractive skirt and top, tights and boots. I made sure it was something I could take off easily, and went without my usual jewelry. I grabbed my drawing supplies and my dish for the potluck afterward, and drove to the impromptu studio where six of us were planning to meet.
Amy was wonderful, putting me at ease, and we talked for half an hour while we waited for the others to arrive. I kept picturing myself naked in front of a group of artists (in this very room!) and my heart would beat faster.
When the model called, she was very ill and apologetic that she couldn’t make it. The other artists also were unable to make it, so with just the two of us, Amy turned to me and said, ‘Should we go ahead and start? We could take turns with the modeling.’ I said, ‘Sure, why don’t I go first.’ My pulse raced and I could feel my heart in my throat.
I carefully took off all of my clothing in reverse order from how had put it on, and stacked it neatly to the side of my unused drawing board and sketchpad. Removing the last of my clothing, I was a little nervous, but if Amy was surprised by my appearance it didn’t show on her face. The feeling I had was the same as I remember as a teenager when I would swim unclothed in the ocean, or go running in the hills behind our cabin wearing nothing but my shoes. Free.
I told her I would like to do some more challenging short poses to start with, and concentrated on posing in the most expressive way I knew how, imagining that I was the artist.
I was surprised by how long I was able to hold the difficult standing, reaching, and leaning poses; with pride I realized that I was in better shape than I allowed myself to think. I didn’t push it, just carefully balanced the tensions in my body so that the poses held me up, and I just became each pose. A deep calm came over me, as I became fully present in my body, and my sense of personal boundary, usually contained tightly within my skin, expanded to the room, as if I was radiating who I was at the same time that I was reflecting light and casting shadow.
I also felt a special bond to the artist who was sketching me. We talked from time to time while we worked. I have probably spent 100 hours doing nude figure drawing over the years, but this was the first time I was on the other side of the drawing board. It was… liberating. After the short poses, often following one stretch with an opposing one to passively work out the kinks from the last pose, I settled into some long poses and just became a feeling, an image, an idea. At an hour, Amy asked if I wanted to switch, and I honestly said that I loved the opportunity to get some experience, and would prefer to model for the second hour as well. In truth, it was just too pleasant an experience to give up so soon. The two hours went by faster than I thought possible, and reluctantly I dressed. It felt strange to wear clothes again. Then to celebrate the holiday season we had our own little potluck, while we discussed theology, aesthetics, feminism, vocation, and the things we had in common.
Even a week later I still feel different, stronger, more confident in my skin. Family members, friends, even my shrink have commented on it. Seeing myself no longer as a collection of flaws to be judged, but as a lovely, human, whole being to be perceived and appreciated (just as I always have done of the women and men I have had the pleasure to draw or paint or sculpt) has put me in a better place, permanently I think.
I am not exactly like any other being. But I am me, and that is a beautiful thing to be. Just a woman, just a living breathing work of art.
- Nude modeling and body image: The workshop report (blogs.montrealgazette.com)
- Baring Their Testimonies: Mormon Women Get Naked for the Camera (religiondispatches.org)
I wrote the following last week:
[I believe in making] the kind of world where every woman, man, and nonbinary person, has the right to be treated in a way that affirms instead of hurts.
I look forward to, and am working to make, a world where everyone knows that gender is complicated and personal, a world where if people don’t know they ask what pronouns they prefer, and how they like to be described to others, and how they like to be treated.
I am working for a world where every child and adult has the ability and right to determine their own gender, including a non-binary gender. I would call the non-binary category ‘user-defined’ if we were software not wetware; my favorite name for a third gender category is ‘Please Ask” because it tells people not to assume anything until told by the person.
In my own experience there are many many people, cis- trans- or intersex, who would feel most at home in a user-defined gender, while there are a larger number who do fit into a binary gender. Both should be ok, and when someone finds out we are transsexual that shouldn’t affect how we are treated; our social gender is what we say it is; our internal gender is whatever we feel it is (and may change from day to day).
It should not only be people who identify as trans* who have this gender freedom; it is just as needed for people who are intersex or cis*.
Full post on Susans.org: What Being Transsexual Means to Me
Today, November 20, is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance. A day for transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming individuals and their allies to come together and remember all those who died this year from violence because of their gender identity or gender expression.
I look forward to the year when there are no more names to read, no more reason for me to hold my friends and sob.
Gender oppression doesn’t just hurt trans* youth and adults. We’re just the likeliest to be killed over it.
Here’s a link to the poem I wrote for this year’s remembrance: Unknown No More
Every victim’s story is heartbreaking, but last year when I participated, I was especially touched by the many slain young people who were buried without a name or any way of notifying their friends and families. It resonated with the fear that I long held, that I would die without anyone having ever known the real me. Many of us make the same choice that those who died this year made: we would rather risk being a target for hate and prejudice, than continuing to hide who we are from the world. Hundreds of us are killed each year, but hiding is not the answer. Neither is giving in to fear.
Let us light more than candles, let us light up the world and make it safer for everyone.
If you are in Portland, I will see you at the Mass of Healing tonight!
My friend and fellow activist Leahnora Isaak standing with me, at Basic Rights Oregon’s 2013 Transgender Justice Summit. It was held at PSU Native American Student Community Center.
I had a wonderful day yesterday, in workshops and sessions with about sixty other people who share my desire to make our society and institutions safer, more affirming, and more just for people who have been oppressed because of their gender identity or expressions; this oppression often occurs simultaneously with oppression because of sexuality and because of race and ethnicity.
It was also a breakthrough day for me as a writer. I almost didn’t attend the workshop on telling one’s story, but I am so glad I did. We learned to tell the facts of a specific experience, share how it felt to us then, then share what it means to us now. We also learned to listen to another writer and give feedback that is both helpful and respectful, using “I like” and “I wish” statements.
In the workshop I wrote a deeply personal anecdote that I had never shared with another human being, except as a clinical, emotionless aside to a therapist once. It was cathartic, energizing, and a little bit scary all at once, to write it and to share it with others. For the first time I think I realized I really could tell my whole story, even though it isn’t like anyone else’s. We human beings come with tools that enable us to feel and understand and “get” other people’s experience if it is presented in a way that it designed to get past the barriers and touch the humanity in us all.
The common theme I gathered from all these amazing people was this: we can change the world one relationship at a time, by sharing our stories, connecting heart to heart and mind to mind; the institutional and cultural and personal obstacles to eliminating racism and transphobia are not unsurmountable, because of the power of our shared humanity.
Every person I met has a unique story, unique perspective, and unique personal power to make the world a better place. Like my friend Leahnora, who is transgender, intersex, and an active Latter-Day Saint. She changes the assumptions, and warms the heart, of everyone she interacts with because she is genuinely and authentically her self. You will never see such a combination of strength, courage, vulnerability, pain, transcendence, and diversity of experiences, as at a Trans* summit.
I made several new friendships and potential alliances, and came away energized and inspired by people like our keynote speaker Tobi Hill-Meyer who is a film-maker, writer, activist, and avatar of awesomeness. Nothing was sugar-coated about the challenges we face. But transgender, genderqueer, and gender variant people and their allies are tough and resilient enough to get it done, reaching out to others with truth and compassion and courage, and never giving up. These are common themes in our lives as well as in our activism.
Thanks to Todrick Hall for sharing his ‘What The Funny’ video of the great musical spoof, ‘Spell Block Tango’. In 9 short minutes we come to better understand the beautiful (if twisted) minds of six fictional villains that Disney done wrong.
I was at a writer’s workshop this past Wednesday, and I gave an author who was struggling with one of his characters who was flat and unreal, a key insight: Evil characters are rewarding to write, if you can stop judging them and start feeling them.
Evil in real life wears fancy dress and smugly recites how it is misunderstood, how the self-serving things it advocates are actually good. When you recognize that an evil person is sincere in their beliefs (EVEN IF EVERYTHING THEY SAY TO OTHERS IS A LIE), and accept that they grew up into this person from a baby like you and I started out as, you are half way there. Even a time bomb deserves to have someone understand how they tick.
In fiction writing, the only thing that is villainous is failing to get into your evil characters’ heads and under their skins. When you can see their crimes, but at the same time, feel why they know they are doing the best they can in an unfair and uncaring world, then you are ready to write them.
Real life evil is just that way: visceral dislike, mixed with feral attraction, sometimes in equal measure. When I write an evil character, I want to feel “I would so date this person, if it wasn’t for that thing they do”. The more you can accomplish this, the more they will come alive. Which can get a little scary.
“And they were out of Zebra, so I ran out to get some…”
-Brilliant. I watch this and I feel the Glee. Watch for the full cast credits at the end.
So write an evil character with all of your heart. When you are done, you will get to hear your new foul friend step out of the page and say “Thank you. You really got me. That hasn’t happened in so long”.
Of course, don’t turn your back on them. An evil character can take over your novel and your life. But that is another story, and this is the end of this one.
I rewarded myself tonight – after a productive day at work, and after completing my first of thirty installments on my novel – I left my inhibitions, took my sketchbook, and went to meet 17 new friends for a drawing pub crawl. So much fun. This particular sketch includes some illustrations for “The Original Madness of Emperor Mao”.