Category Archives: political hot topic

the great baby gender reveal question

i subscribe to “bitch” magazine. the latest issue showed up a week or two ago & i left it laying around on the coffee table while i finished reading library books with looming due dates. jared was flipping through it one night & he pointed out that there was a point/counterpoint feature on gender reveal parties.

i just heard of gender reveal parties recently, like right around the time when i got pregnant. the “new york times” had a feature of the newest trend: having the ultrasound tech or doctor write the baby’s sex on a piece of paper & sealing it in an envelope. the expecting mom then goes to her local bakery, hands over the card, & requests a cake that is chocolate or vanilla or whatever on the outside, & dyed pink or blue or filled with pink or blue frosting on the inside. at her baby shower or specific gender reveal party, she can cut the cake & be surprised along with all of her friends & family.

another variation that seems to be popular is giving the sealed envelope to someone who prepares a large box filled with helium balloons that are either pink or blue. at the party, the mom or couple opens the box & everyone gets to ooh & ahh over the big news.

the point/counterpoint in “bitch” was…honestly, pretty silly. the writer that was opposed to the gender reveal trend got up on her high horse & made a great big stink about how these kinds of events gender children before they are even born, & leave no room for the possibility of intersex or trans babies. (to which i say, not to be a jerk, but don’t you have to have some concept of your sex or gender before you can come to the realization that your body isn’t matching up with your self-perception? babies don’t even know they have genitalia, let alone that their genitalia is incorrect for their self-identity. they don’t even have a self-identity. i’m all for supporting trans people, but i am very dubious that there are any trans newborns out there.) it was your typical gender polemic, & the counterpoint made the good point that gender reveal parties are actually kind of cool because the guests, by definition, have to bring gender-neutral gifts. so you don’t have that whole icky dynamic of all the guests being forced to wear tiaras to “welcome the little princess” or being pressed into a touch football game in order to celebrate the “little man” on the way. “plus,” she added, “you get to eat cake.” yeah, pretty much.

there is a metric assload of stuff about baby gendering that bugs the crap out of me. i HATE it when people learn they are having a little girl & they constantly refer to her as “a princess,” “the little princess,” “our princess,” etc etc. i also hate it when people seem to struggle with buying their baby gear because they fear that a lot of the flowery/pastel stuff out there is not “masculine” enough for their baby boys. i recently witnessed a woman cooing over a really pretty yellow floral crib sheet, & then talking herself out of buying it because she didn’t know her baby’s sex yet & didn’t want to risk buying something so “feminine” if she was having a boy. i tried to tell her that a baby doesn’t care what color his sheets are. babies can’t even see color right away! a baby doesn’t know what a flower is, & there is really nothing intrinsically feminine about a flower. i tried to encourage her to just buy what she likes, because she’ll be the one washing the sheets, making up the crib, looking at them everyday & having feelings about them. but her attitude is really more the norm, at least in the united states. & that makes me sad.

in my internet due date club, the vast majority of women chose to learn the sex of their babies, & most said they were doing it so they could “plan & prepare.” by which they meant, come up with a gender-appropriate nursery theme, buy gender-specific baby clothing, etc. a few women who were either choosing not to find out or, like me, wanted to find out but weren’t planning to do the whole gender-specific shopping spree thing, tried to point out that you can “plan & prepare” with gender-neutral pieces, or even buy what you like, pink or blue, & use it with baby regardless of sex. that’s pretty much what i did. i found some kimono-style newborn tees at a consignment sale for fifty cents each & i bought them, even though they were specifically labeled “boy colors” (blue, orange, red, yellow). at the same sale, i found a newborn booster for a convertible car seat. i bought it, even though it’s hot pink. at the time, i didn’t know if my baby was a boy or a girl. either way, it will need some tees & an infant booster may be useful if its car seat is a little too big when it’s a newborn. i sincerely doubt the baby will care about the colors.

but i will also say that being pregnant for real & thinking about what you would do if you were pregnant are two very different things. i never expected to have as powerful of a gender preference as i did, & i never expected to be overwhelmed by intuition about my baby’s gender (which only added to the preference problem). i still think the idea of a gender reveal party is kind of silly & definitely not for me, but i now have an intimate perspective on how weird pregnancy can make a person feel. there’s a real sense of powerlessness. sure, you can try to take care of your health & you can hope for the best, but there’s no way to control everything. there’s no way to tell if your pregnancy will be easy or horrible, if labor will be brief or interminable, if the birth will go as planned or completely off the rails, if the baby will be an easy sleeper & natural feeder or a colicky all-night screamer, if the child will grow up to be kind & smart or a big stupid jerk. learning the sex can give a pregnant lady some tiny sense of knowledge or control–even if she acknowledges that it doesn’t really tell her anything about who her child will really become. while i don’t advocate taking that info & rushing right out to enroll baby in peewee ice hockey or ballet, i understand the impulse to want to know SOMETHING, & then to share that tiny shred of knowledge with all the people you hope will be invested in your baby’s life & well-being. hollering about how it reinforces the gender binary & marginalizes the gender-non-conforming among us misses the point & is needlessly divisive, in my opinion.

(standard caveat: in this post, i use the terms “sex” & “gender” more or less interchangeably, not because i don’t know the difference, but because i am usually using the most popular terms when i talk about “gender reveal parties” & “gender-appropriate clothing,” etc. most people prefer to use the term “gender” when talking about babies, because they don’t know there’s a difference between sex & gender, they are intentionally conflating sex & gender because they’re kind of jerky that way, or because they just don’t like using the words “sex” & “baby” in the same sentence.)

opting in…by co-opting the original research & writings of other feminists

well, this book could not possibly have been more disappointing. the subtitle is “having a child without losing yourself,” & based on that & the back cover blurb, i guess i was expecting a book about balancing motherhood with one’s feminist principles, & trying to create a society that values the contributions of mothers as people as well. amy richards is one of the co-authors of manifesta, a popular third-wave feminist book that i found aggravatingly simplistic, elementary, & watered down. i had hoped that she would get a little more specific in writing about motherhood. i had hoped that she might have learned from some of the critiques of manifesta & succeed in writing a book that speaks to more than just the experiences of her specific cohort: white heterosexually partnered women in their early 30s living in new york city & enjoying the relative financial privileges of making a living in a creative industry. alas, if this does not describe you, you are unlikely to get much out of opting in.

the book was written in response to a piece in the “new york times magazine,” called “the opt-out revolution”. it was a very widely-debated piece about the phenomenon of a certain type of mother (well-educated, reasonably class-privileged) choosing to eschew career for a life of stay-at-home motherhood. when i say it was “widely-debated,” i mean that a lot of people threw around a lot of opinions about it without having actually read the article. i read it. i thought it was very well-written & interesting, & far from being the first cannon fire in the new round of early oughts mommy wars or a screed about women shortchanging their kids by going back to work, or wasting their promise wiping noses all day, it seemed to examine the flawed underpinnings of the mommy wars & conclude that success & satisfaction can be defined by the individual.

add richards to the pile of folks who did not seem to actually read the article. she seems to have skimmed it with a lot of pre-conceived notions about its content & then taken umbrage with the conclusions she assumes the author was making. so, from the start, the book is based on a faulty premise. adding to the shaky foundation is richards’ conception of herself as a voice for the modern-day feminist–& she is a classic third-wave “i choose my choice/everything i do is a woman’s movement” feminist. she had a baby, so suddenly being a mom is an area of feminist inquiry. i do think that being a mom can be an area of feminist inquiry–it just bothers me when people don’t realize that until they themselves are moms. especially when they have made a career out of watering feminism down to become basically just an amusing phase for single freewheeling college girls.

even if the book had been less about how to “be a mother without losing yourself” & more a memoir about richards’ own experience balancing motherhood & feminist activism (such as her work is activism–does it still count as activism when it’s basically your career?), it would have been better than what we actually got. the book is really just an incredibly boring, tedious rehash of the research on achieving work-life balance. allow me to say that the phrase “work-life balance” is essentially code for “reasonably class-privileged women feel guilty about everything & manifest that guilt as endless judgments against one another & complaining about how difficult it is to be true to yourself in between the latest board meeting & little madison’s ballet recital”. i’ve pretty much never heard a poor working mom get all fluttery about work-life balance. it speaks to the privileged bubble that richards lives in that this is where she took her book.

she essentially wrote nothing but an annotated bibliography. the text is a tapestry woven of other writers’ research & ideas, & at no point does richards offer anything new & original. she liberally employs barbara ehrenreich’s writing about the medicalization of childbirth & misogyny in medicine in the chapter on birth options. she synopsizes judith warner’s obnoxious perfect madness when she writes about parenting strategies. it’s as if she just camped out in the new york public library like a diligent undergraduate, read her way through a shelf on motherhood, & then regurgitated it all into a manuscript. & because she is a professional feminist, it got published. she includes only the most cursory acknowledgment that there are mothers in the world that are not white &/or class-privileged–clearly hoping to avoid falling into the trap she set for second-wave feminists in exorciating them for snubbing poor women & women of color. but her efforts here are almost painfully tokenizing, & of course, her conception of feminist history is inherently self-serving. richards herself has done rather a lot to help erase the legacy of women of color in second wave feminism by parroting back the viewpoint that they didn’t exist or were shunted to the sidelines & it’s up to the good white feminists of the third wave to welcome women of color into the movement.

richards also has an obnoxious habit of seeming to celebrate her own ignorance. again & again, she writes about how she didn’t realize how serious such & such an issue was until she got pregnant or became a mother. while i appreciate her attempts to not portray herself as an omniscient feminist overlord, some of the shit she never considered until it was directly affecting her is just embarrassing. i personally would be embarrassed to admit that i’ve been a full-time feminist for fifteen years but had never really thought before about the complications of finding good, affordable child care. i’ve written before about richards’ essay on undergoing a selective reduction when she found herself pregnant with triplets, & how she wrote about being completely unfamiliar with the concept of selective reduction until she needed one herself. really? REALLY? it’s like she’s admitting to fashioning a completely solipsistic activist career & everyone is applauding her for it!

a quote from the book that kind of sums things up: “i had read susan faludi’s backlash & considered myself well-versed in how the media systematically works to undermine women.” really? you read one of the most well-known feminist texts in the history of the english language, which is all about how the media works to undermine women, & now you’re “well-versed” in the subject? i love how she consumes the research & writing of other women & then spits it back out again, completely unadorned with her own original analysis, & claims that it’s knowledge she now possesses. if you want to read 250 pages of this kind of bargain basement “i read a book! now come to my class at the learning annex!” bullshit, this is the book for you. but if you, like me, prefer to spend your time reading books by people who can not just consume & repeat, but can also think, philosophize, & WRITE (seriously, richards is not a great writer–half the time, she employs overwrought sentence structure peppered with words that i don’t think mean what she thinks they mean, & the rest of the time, she falls into the jessica valenti camp of hyperbolizing everything until she’s not even coherent anymore), give this one a wide berth.

a little something for the shoe fetishists

photo challenge day #6: a photo of your favorite shoes. i think this is a weird one. it’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around the idea of someone having favorite shoes. i mainly think of shoes as a tool to help me avoid contracting ringworm. if left to my own devices, i wear slippers as much as possible. slippers are like pajamas for your feet, & i think we all know how i feel about pajamas. (i love them.)

these shoes are looking hella busted, because i wore them pretty much every day for four or five months this past summer. they are glittery pink toms & they are so comfortable once you break them in to the point that the glitter stops scratching your feet & causing horrifying abrasions. they are like slippers, but socially acceptable for public venues.

about a month after i bought these shoes, the first toms i have ever purchased, the news broke that the founder of the company was speaking at a focus on the family event. the reports went even further, stating that toms & focus on the family were parterning up somehow in the area of charitable giving or something. crunchy hippie lefty liberals love toms because they give a pair of shoes to an “impoverished child,” mostly in developing nations, for every pair of shoes sold. who doesn’t love helping out impoverished children by doing nothing more than buying yourself a pair of shoes? personally, i think it’s nice, but gimmicky, & i could definitely live without all the photos all over the toms website of the founder dude, blake mycoskie, with his arms around little brown children. it has kind of a white man’s burden/colonial fantasies for the new millennium flavor, & plus blake has perfected this open-mouthed grin for photographs that i find really disturbing, like he’s about to unhinge his jaw & eat the children. & needless to say, anyone who knows anything about politics at all knows that “focus on the family” is pretty much synonymous with “homophobia”.

so, i was wicked bummed. ordinarily my modus operandi upon hearing such news would be to walk around town & notice all the hipsters & cool kids wearing toms & silently judge them for being so ignorant as to support the shoe company of someone who supports homophobia. god, people are so stupid, amirite? but now i myself was one of those cool kids. & i loved the shoes so i kept wearing them. (part of the reason they look so awful is because i wore them to the beach on my birthday. going to the beach is a great way to ruin any shoes.) it didn’t take toms long to release a statement saying that they had been unaware that focus on the family was linked to homophobia, & to make clear that they are not in any kind of partnership together, & that basically they hope queers will still buy their shoes. i am kind of wondering how the fuck you spend more than half an hour on this earth without realizing that focus on the family is kind of homophobic, so the statement rings a little disingenuous, & i probably won’t buy toms in the future. but i will wear these shoes when the weather is appropriate until they literally fall apart.

my sorels! it’s hard to tell in the photo, but these have pink accents (which have discolored into looking orange-ish due to salt exposure) & pale pink laces (NOT white–i’m not a white supremacist skinhead). i got them at an army/navy surplus store in downtown boston for like $12 or something. they have thermal waterproof liners & are amazing. they’re insanely heavy, at least five pounds each, but they keep my feet toasty & dry in the worst of weather. unfortunately, their weight makes me walk weird. jared calls them my “gallumphing boots,” because he says i gallumph rather than walk when i wear them. i think he means i shuffle (not in a LMFAO way, unfortunately, although i am teaching myself that dance). i haven’t had much reason to bust them out this winter. it’s february 13 & last night was our first significant snowfall. we have maybe two inches of accumulation, & it’s supposed to be over fifty degrees for the rest of the week, so it should melt in no time. but if there is ever a blizzard, i will have no reason to fear for my feet with these guys.

john fluevog operettas. i almost never wear these because…come on. i’m always wearing baggy jeans & a hoodie. i don’t think heels would add much to such an ensemble. the photo makes clear that i also do not take care of them. i could probably stand to polish them up a bit & do something to keep the toes from cracking. especially because they were kind of insanely expensive–easily the most expensive shoes i own. they were a birthday present to myself when i turned thirty. i guess i was thinking that turning thirty is a big deal, a threshold in adult living, & that i should have some adult shoes. not that fluevogs are particularly adult–they look like a footwear that dr. seuss might dream up while high on opium. but you know, being a grad school widow, sometimes i have to go to fancy events where i am expected to look nice, & i have exactly one nice dress, & it is long enough that it must be worn with heels or else i look stumpy. i always get tons of compliments on these shoes. my only regret is that i bought them in this red color. i never wear red. i don’t know what i was thinking.

extortion is so punk rock

still taking a blogging break, but making a little time for an important issue. i know a lot of people who read this thing mainly know me through zine stuff, & people who know me that way are probably aware that i have been working on bringing to light joe biel’s (of microcosm publishing) history of misogynist abuse & manipulation for many years.

about a month ago, one of my closest friends here in lawrence, kansas agreed to organize an event called “dinner & bikes”. it was presented to her as an evening of vegan dinner & short films about bicycles & radical activism with some traveling presenters. she is not terribly involved with the zine community & didn’t know who the presenters were. a friend of hers (who DID know who joe was & WAS aware of his abuse history) had asked for a local volunteer to organize the event & jaimie offered.

when jaimie finally got the facebook event listing up, she invited me & i checked out the listing. that was the first time i knew that joe biel had anything to do with the event. the three traveling presenters were in fact joe (who has failed several accountability processes that have attempted to help him come to terms with his abusive, manipulative tendencies), his partner elly (who has viciously victim-blamed abuse survivors in her extremely vocal support of joe & equally vocal condemnations of any attempts to hold him accountable for his behavior), & a friend of theirs named josh, that i don’t know anything about.

i immediately called jaimie to fill her in on exactly what she’d been roped into doing. neither one of us knew what the best course of action was. cancel the event? but we knew they probably wouldn’t have too much trouble finding someone else to book them into another venue, either in lawrence or in nearby kansas city. allow the event to happen & disrupt it? but that would be really stressful for us, & there was no guarantee of being able to achieve a productive moment with lawrence community members who just wanted to watch some short films about bikes. eventually jaimie decided that canceling the event was the best course of action. she asked me to draft up an explanation of this decision that she could send out to invitees. i did so, & she passed it on to people. unfortunately, she didn’t remove elly as an administrator of the event before sending out the message, & elly immediately swooped in to delete the event from facebook, eliminating the event context for the messages. a few people were confused because they’d forgotten about the event or never intended to come in the first place, but…the event was canceled & that’s what mattered.

within a matter of days, the bikes & dinner tour succeeded in re-booking their event at a venue in kansas city for the evening they would have been in lawrence. done & done…right?

not quite. a few days later, jaimie received a message from elly, demanding immediate payment not only of the $150 guarantee the bikes & dinner people were initially requesting (for an event that never trasnpired, mind you), but an additional $150 because the event was canceled in “bad faith”. elly also requested a “retraction” of the cancellation message that had characterized joe’s abuse history as problematic & not something jaimie wanted to support in bringing into the lawrence community. never mind that elly had canceled the event on facebook, thereby eliminating jaimie’s access to the original invitation list…it’s not like jaimie was seriously going to retract anything to begin with.

jaimie has decided to make all of her correspondence with elly in organizing & canceling this event public. i’m re-posting it here because i think that anyone who is still financially supporting microcosm publishing or may find themselves in the position of supporting joe or elly in other ways, like organizing events for them, should be aware of what they are getting into. bear in mind that at least one of the women joe has been abusive to has actually requested that people boycott microcosm in order to stand with abuse survivors. if you still choose to support these people with your time, money, friendship, resources, et al, that is your choice, but consider this a gesture toward informed consent:

Aug 10th:
Hi my name is Jaimie Oller and I got your email address from Cait Giddings in a post from Ailecia Ruskin about wanting to bring your bike show through Lawrence, KS in Sept. I’d love to help set this up and was just looking for more information and the exact dates you were coming through town.

thanks so much!

In Good Health,
Jamie Oller, NCBTMB, CPMT, CIMT
Devoted to creating a world where every child has the chance to meet their full potential. Liddlekidz.org

**********
Hey Jamie,
Thanks for writing! We’d love to do a Dinner & Bikes event in Lawrence, if possible. We’d be there on September 22nd, and would want to do the event from 7-9. Basically, our chef serves up a fancy vegan meal for the number of people we expect, then I give a presentation about bikes and the economy, Joe shows a bunch of super short (3 minute) movies about bike culture, and that’s that.

What we need to make it happen: A darkenable-ish place with a screen or wall to project movies on (we have a projector — and a sheet we can hang up if necessary. A place for the chef to cook — doesn’t have to be a fancy kitchen, either someone’s house works or a sink & table & place to plug in his hot plate; and a guarantee to cover food, gas, etc in case only like 4 people show up and three of them forgot their wallet (it’s happened). We usually ask for $150, and organizers usually find a sponsor (local bike shop, the library, the city) to cover it if they’re worried about attendance.

Lots more at our website: http://ramblingroadshow.com

Thanks!
Elly
503 810 9443

**********

Elly,
Sounds awesome! I think that $150 is totally possible in Lawrence and I know a space that has a kitchen and a screen! let’s go ahead and set this up! and I’ll make the space reservations tomorrow. if there’s anything that needs to change, feel free to email me or FB me (Jaimie Oller). I’ll touch base again in Sept just to make sure everything is a go!

thanks so much! this sounds awesome!

In Good Health,
Jamie Oller, NCBTMB, CPMT, CIMT

**********

Jamie,
Perfect! Wow. Thanks a ton. Let me know venue details and I’ll put them up on the website and on the fb page I just made. If you want to rsvp there, I’ll make you an admin and you can switch up whatever you like: https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=242560475778628

Likewise, if you need anything let me know.

Thanks again! I’m excited to go to Lawrence!
Elly

Also, what’s your address? I’ll send posters.

**********

Sept 12th:
Elle,
I wanted to let you know that after I agreed to organize this event I was made aware of Joe’s history and his failed attempts at community accountability. I really don’t feel comfortable bringing someone with his history into my community to discuss feminism or any other radical projects while ignoring his lack of accountability, and therefore I must cancel this event.
— In Good Health,
Jamie Oller, NCBTMB, CPMT, CIMT
Devoted to creating a world where every child has the chance to meet their full potential. Liddlekidz.org

**********

Sept. 13th:

Jamie,
I’m floored. And stunned. That about sums it up.
It sounds like you’ve made up your mind. So I’ve crossed that one off and we’ll work out something else for that day.
Best wishes to you.
Elly

**********

(this is the cancellation message, written by me, ciara xyerra, at jaimie’s request, that was sent to invitees of the lawrence bikes & dinner event, approximately september 13th.)

after doing the groundwork to get this event going, it came to my attention that one of the touring members, joe biel, has a long history of behaving in abusive & manipulative ways with women. he has failed mediation & three community accountability processes. i do not feel comfortable inviting such a person into our community to discuss feminism or other elements of radical activism. it’s my belief that such behaviors, particularly when coupled with a lack of accountability, help to create a culture in which survivors of abuse & misogyny are expected to take a backseat–that these issues are considered ‘personal’ & therefore irrelevant. the fact that joe’s tourmates would choose to overlook this history & bring him into communities across the country without being transparent about joe’s actions & lack of accountability calls their judgment into question as well. i don’t want to live in a community that looks the other way when it comes to abuse & misogyny, & i hope that you don’t either, so i have decided to cancel this event.

if you are interested in learning more about joe’s long history of abuse & failed accountability, here are some links:

http://alexwrekk.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/so-whats-the-deal-with-you-and-microcosm/

http://alexwrekk.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/hello-blog-hit-spike-thy-name-is-microcosmjoe-bielabusealex-wrekkboycott-or-any-combination-of-them/

http://sassyfrasscircus.tumblr.com/post/300364252/on-microcosm-publishing

for more information on radical community responses to abuse & misogyny, here are some links:

http://www.phillyspissed.net/

http://www.defenestrator.org/node/1796

http://www.incite-national.org/index.php?s=114

**********

Sept. 25th:
Jamie,
Please consider this email a formal request for a retraction of your defamatory statements about Joe Biel, Microcosm Publishing, and the Dinner & Bikes Tour.
Also attached is an invoice. We had agreed to a $150 guarantee for our event in Lawrence. But because for such an event we would expect to make at bare minimum $300, and because the cancellation was not in good faith, I am attaching an invoice for the larger amount. Payment is due immediately.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions. I hope that we do not have to take this to the next level.
Elly

**********

Sept. 28th:
Elly,
I want to let you know that you have no right to send such an email to me. I in no way agreed to pay you and you, yourself cancelled the public invite to the event and then replaced that night with another event in Kansas City. Legally speaking, you have no legs to stand on and I suggest that you act more carefully in the future before threatening legal action towards strangers.
In regards to Joe, Microcosm and your Tour: I will not be taking my statements back and if anything, will be making this threatening email public to allow others to see the bullying tactics you also use. Nothing I stated is unfounded and all of it can be proven. My suggestion is if you want folks to stop pointing out how fucked up Joe’s behavior has been in the past, maybe you should encourage him to work towards fixing it.
I will be disregarding your letter and demand for payment, as well as letting all other radical organizers in Lawrence and surrounding areas to no longer support Microcosm or any other projects that Joe or yourself may be involved in.

**********

Sept. 29th:
Jamie,
I absolutely encourage you to publish our correspondence. Sunlight is an excellent disinfectant.
Best,
Elly

**********

there you have it, folks! spread the word as you see fit!

my history with the “allied media conference”, part one

i was talking with my friend jessika rae the other night on the phone. she lives in detroit, where the 2011 allied media conference recently happened. she told me about a few workshops she had attended, & how her role in the new zine library in detroit has been going. she mentioned a topic that gets brought up a lot when we talk about the allied media conference–the fact that i have been completely written out of its history.

back in the fall of 1998, i was attending college at bowling green state university. i had just ended a horrible, abusive relationship with someone who had hated the fact that i was into zines. she repeatedly encouraged me to throw out my zine collection, insisting that they were a fire hazard. when i told her i had decided to major in creative writing because i wanted to be a writer, she cried. once that relationship was over, i really wanted to do something to get involved in the zine community in a significant way again. i started sketching out ideas for the zine that would, a year & a half later, become “a renegade’s handbook to love & sabotage” #1, & i was reading bucketloads of zines ordered from friends & (the beloved, departed) pander zine distro, which i’d just recently discovered. a lot of the zines i was reading were still in the riot grrrl vein, even though riot grrrl was pretty much over by that point. pretty much all of my pen pals were women, & all the zines i was reading were by women.

i had never had the chance to attend any riot grrrl conventions back when they were happening (my parents said i was too young to travel to other states & stay with strangers–which is fair enough, because i was like 14 when they were happening). i knew conventions had happened in places like omaha, nebraska. i thought, “why not bowling green, ohio? & why not focus on girl zines?” i felt that girl zines were super-marginalized within the larger zine world, & a girl zine convention could give us a chance to get together & address some facets of that marginalization, network with each other, & also work on the issues that were coming up again & again in girl zines, like body image, abuse, & sexual assault.

i was mulling this idea over one day while walking across campus on my way to work. i bumped into jason. he had gone to BGSU for his undergrad & lived in a punk house a few houses down from where i lived with my parents when i was 15 or 16. back then, i was a high school drop-out & my main job was organizing local all-ages shows at the VFW hall every sunday evening. jason was in a punk band with his roommates & he ran a small distro for punk/anarchist zines. he & his friends were five years older than me–too old to be my friends, really, i thought. my mom considered herself a punk & helped with the shows (she’s the one who made a deal with the local pizzeria where she & my dad had met in 1973 so there was always free pizza on hand for the shows). she & jason became fast friends, & before long, they were best friends. they spent all their time together, to the point that it threatened my parents’ relationship. jason took my mom home for the xmas holidays several years in a row, rather than his girlfriend. they were a hot topic of gossip all over town as everyone speculated exactly what their friendship was all about.

then jason left to go to grad school in wyoming. he & my mom had fallen out of touch, but he called to say he was coming back to work on a PhD & to ask her to contact some of her real estate friends to help him find a house. but we hadn’t heard that he was actually back in town already, so it was cool to run into him. we chatted briefly, & i said, “i had this idea to maybe do a girl zine conference here. what do you think? do you think people would actually come to a zine thing in bowling green, ohio?” jason said, “yes! definitely! but why stop at girl zines? why not make it all zines?” i tried to explain my feeling that girl zines were marginalized within zine culture & this could be a forum to work on those issues a little bit, but he said, “i have to get to class. here’s my number. call me. i’ll help you!”

when jason & i met up to discuss the idea more a week or two later, he was totally on-board. he had big ideas for a regional zine conference–all zines. i kind of weakly protested that i was really into the girl zine idea, but the concept of having someone to help me plan the whole thing–someone older, someone from a different area of the zine community, someone who knew people i didn’t know, & especially someone who seemed so confident that we could pull this thing off–really appealed to me. so i said, “if you’ll help, we can make it for all zines.”

we got in touch with the american studies department (which was jason’s area of study) & arranged to make the conference organizing an independent study project for the spring semester. we both had to turn in a big writing project to get the credit. i have no idea what the details were for jason’s credits or his writing project, but i would get credit for one class in the american studies department & my writing project was a 150-page exchange of letters with my friend nicole solomon about the role of girl zines within zine culture, the political legacy of riot grrrl zines, & the connection between d.i.y. cultural production & feminism. i wish i still had that project, but i recycled it long ago.

ack! don’t tell me about your weigh-in

spinster summer is going really well, but i have been kind of cranky & easily irritated lately anyway. i decided to follow through on the plan to go back to boston for my birthday. i had this more grandiose idea to fly into philly the week before & hang out with friends there for a few days. the weekend before my birthday, bart & jared would drive down to hang out, & then we’d all go back to boston for my birthday, & then i would fly home again. but the lady i would have been staying with/mainly going to visit in philly didn’t return my calls or texts in time, & plane tickets were getting more & more expensive, so i had to make a decision, & i knew for certain that i had ride from the airport & a place to stay in boston, so…i’m just going to boston. which is fine with me. i am really just going to see jared anyway. but it would have been nice to see other friends.

i hit my wall with another zine acquaintance in terms of language that is kind of body hating. this lady is very into fitness stuff, which…that’s cool. i am dating a former bike messenger who still routinely rides his bike out into the country on the hottest summer days & then proceeds to go running. i myself take water aerobics (more for pain management than for fitness, but it is still technically a fitness class in the parks & recreation catalogue). i am all for people pursuing health & fitness! i am less pumped about dieting. i personally am not not a healthy eating guru by any stretch of the imagination (i’m not dawn schafer), but i’m generally of the opinion that eating whole foods that haven’t been super-processed in quantities adequate to supply your body with energy & nutrients beats the pants off of counting calories or weight watchers points or any of those other gimmicks.

but i also try not to get too involved in the fitness/eating choices of the people around me because i am also of the opinion that other people’s bodies are not really my business, just as my body is not their business.

this becomes more difficult when someone constantly talks about their fitness/eating choices. they are then making it my business, whether i want to know about it or not. & because we live in a fatphobic body-hating culture, fatphobic body-hating language often creeps into these conversations…particularly when the ultimate goal of the fitness/eating choices is to lose weight. even if a person is only using that language to describe their own body & no one else’s, i feel that it helps create a culture where it is normal to say body-hating things about yourself, & then we are on a slippery slope to saying body hating things about other people. how do children learn that something is “wrong” with their body shape or size if their parents or classmates aren’t explicitly telling them that something is wrong? usually by hearing their parents &/or peers saying body-hating things about themselves. & we are not immune to that transference when we are grown-ups.

i have another friend who is really concerned about trying to lose some weight. she routinely says things like, “i went out for dinner & ordered a basket of fries & then i ate them all! i know i shouldn’t have, it was so wrong. hahaha!” what exactly is wrong with a grown woman eating a basket of fries while she’s out to dinner with her friends? if she says this when i am out to dinner with her, it’s hard for me to believe that she may not be passing judgments on me if i order a basket of fries, & i may sub-consciously try to beat her to the punch by curtailing my food choices or judging myself for making the “wrong” choice.

i wouldn’t be friends with someone who was racist or homophobic. why should i be friends with someone who is body-hating? it contributes to a toxic culture that damages people’s mental &, sometimes, physical health. it makes me feel shitty. it makes me feel angry & sad. & the “i’m doing this for my health” argument only reinforces the perception that chubsters & fat people are inherently unhealthy because of their size, & that slim people are inherently healthy because of their size. as a physically disabled person, i can definitely speak to the fact that health trolling is almost always a function of moral judgments that condescend to people that are fat (in the case of fitness/diet commentary), disabled (in the case of patronizing “tips” about pain management & mobility), pregnant (in the case of all the gazillions of scare tactics inflicted on pregnant women)…i could go on.

we’re planning to discuss body image & fatphobia at feminist book club next month. my friend jaimie has been looking for readings, but she says pretty much everything she’s found says something along the lines of, “i’m fat, but i work out & eat right! i’m healthy!” jaimie said she didn’t like the way that all this writing about positive fat self-image was founded in justifying the existence of fat bodies. “fuck that noise! i’m fat because i love cake!” she said. love it! when someone justifies the sharing of their fitness/eating choices, particularly when throwing around added commentary like, “if i lose thirty more pounds, i’ll be normal & not overweight!” or, “i did a weigh-in & i’m not obese anymore!”, they are justifying their actions. in a culture of self-love & body acceptance, none of us would have to justify the amount of space our bodies take up or how we are caring for said bodies. it’s a tall fucking order, but i would really like to try to move toward that & away from living in a goddamn “cathy” cartoon strip.

exercising the poison pen

one of my older posts (this one) got picked up on tumblr the other day. it was only “retumbled” or whatever the term is a couple of times, but it resulted in a few hundred extra hits, & then was posted on some aggregator site. pretty weird. i never think anyone reads this thing, & then i check & i’m getting like 350 hits a day.

one woman who came across my post via tumblr apparently liked everything i had to say about the use & abuse of trigger warnings, right up until the example at the end, about RV sales messiah tom raper. she said she’d be happy to link & repost if i excised the last few paragraphs. that kind of annoyed me. just as i am always surprised to find that people read this blog, i am twice as surprised when people link to it. i don’t write this shit hoping for links, & i’m sure as hell not going to edit anything i write here in order to get links. this isn’t the first time that i have fielded a request to re-write or edit something here in order to make someone more comfortable. what part of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit here by me” are people not getting?

i guess this ties in with all the shit about hollaback that went down a few weeks ago (look for posts tagged “up the ladies!” for context). hollaback lawrence is now under way, with a goal of launching in mid-august. i am not involved. a few folks who are involved have encouraged me to come to meetings, but i have declined, less out of disinterest than because i know my presence at meetings will make certain individuals flip out & i don’t really think that’s good for them, me, or the hollaback project in general. as much drama as i have fielded in my life due to my irrepressible need to voice controversial opinions, i don’t actually enjoy drama & am not going to go out of my way to facilitate it.

as far as i can tell, some people are still feeling pretty grumpy about my opinions regarding hollaback. the more the time that goes by with grumpiness unabating, the less inclined i feel to do anything to make anyone feel better. it’s just such a stupid fucking thing to hold a grudge over. there are just a few people in my life for whom i will actually go out of my way to smooth things over in the event that they are offended by something i do or say, & none of those people have any issue with me at the moment.

feminist book club has kicked off its summer sessions. our first topic this month was polyamory, & we read the ethical slut. polyamory is one of top ten all-time least favorite topics. i totally support people having whatever kinds of relationships work best for them. i personally am in a monogamous relationship, but i concede that’s not the right fit for everyone. but long philosophical/political conversations about polyamory really grate on my nerves. a few years ago, one of my friends, a big fan of open relationships, facilitated a workshop on polyamory. she called it “radical relationships”. i told her that her workshop title was kind of aggravating because the implication is that polyamorous relationships are somehow more “radical” than monogamous relationships. i am not 100% on board with defining ANY relationship configuration as “radical,” because it’s really all just a lifestyle choice & suggesting that a lifestyle choice is inherently “radical” is kind of a perversion of the term. but if people insist on using that word, i will suggest that the most radical kind of relationship you can have is a healthy one, & that might be monogamous, polyamorous, who knows, who cares?

there were a few other book club people who shared my lack of enthusiasm for spending two weeks discussing the feminist implications of polyamory, thank goodness. i had decided to go to book club & just try to keep my mouth shut & let other people have some space to talk about their perceptions. i was very relieved when a few of the people who talked said exactly what i wanted to say, such as, “it’s fucking annoying when someone who otherwise has all the privileges in the world goes around crowing about how oppressed they are because they’re polyamorous. everyone wants to be oppressed these days.”

the next book club topic was sex-positivity, for which we read a book called opening up, which…you guessed it. it was all about fucking polyamory! again! i muddled through about half of it & then i stopped reading in disgust. there was all this language about “being true to yourself,” “expressing your sexuality,” “exploring your desire in a healthy way,” etc etc etc. all i could think about was, like, eleven-year-old child brides in afghanistan forcibly married to 40-year-old men. it’s such a huge fucking overwhelming privilege to explore your own sexual predilections because your sexual liberation is just a given. & while something being a function of privilege does not necessarily mean it is wrong & bad, it is annoying to watch people work out their tender feelings over something that is such a function of privilege.

opening up also contrasted polyamory against monogamy in really weird ways. the author suggests that a person make a pros & cons list for both monogamy & polyamory, to see if they are really cut out for the rigors of polyamory. the pros for monogamy were things like “enjoying a sense of romantic security” & “acceptance from family & community”. the pros for polyamory were things like “challenge your assumptions about yourself” & “concede that one person can’t fulfill all your needs”. um, i’m in a monogamous relationship, but that doesn’t mean i necessarily have this built-in sense of romantic security. monogamous couples can still break up. queer monogamous couples may still face ostracization from family & community. & while i may have but one boyfriend, i have never kidded myself for a minute that he can magically fulfill all my needs. i do still have friends. & i feel no pressure to sexualize those friends in order to “challenge assumptions about myself”. my relationships with other people are not a forum for me to work out my psychological baggage, hello.

i could go on & fucking on about this, but i think i’m having a blood sugar moment & should probably go snack on some potato salad.