Trauma is a Complicated Thing

My last post didn’t cover everything I wanted to say about this topic, and it was a bit all over the place. The thoughts were all very fresh and I was still working through them, and I was also kind of dissociating at the time. Which brings me to the points I wanted to make in this follow-up.

Trauma is messy. It is messy and ugly and it doesn’t make sense a lot of the time. It has been brought up a lot recently, because of the Jian Ghomeshi trial, that there is no such thing as a perfect survivor. This is because rape is a complicated thing, and so is trauma. My personal experience is an excellent example of this. My story is just one story; it does not at all describe the experiences of every survivor of sexual abuse and assault, it may not even describe a lot of them. But it describes mine, and it is an important example of the myriad ways that trauma is messy.

I spoke in my last piece about the fact that I finally came to the conclusion that I have experienced rape. But the fact is, this wasn’t an earth shattering moment for me. I did not feel like I had been severely traumatized by my rapes; during them, I did not feel particularly violated. None of my trauma responses had come from those instances, or had been created by that relationship. That’s why it took me so long to identify it as rape. I didn’t quite feel like, just from those moments, I had been raped. BUT. That doesn’t actually mean that it wasn’t rape. Where the trauma did come from was the entire rest of the relationship. The rapes in particular didn’t really seem to affect me because they were simply one symptom of an already broken, toxic relationship. The decay had seeped so deeply into my bones that doing something I was not interested in doing was just a minor annoyance that was part of the norm. Those moments were part of an entire context of feeling disrespected, dismissed, and less than. So they did not stick out to me as particularly traumatizing; they were simply reinforcing trauma responses I had already learned.

There were other instances in that relationship that left more of a traumatic memory for me; one moment when I had felt triggered and told my partner not to touch me and instead he lay there poking me over and over again as I cried silently, telling him to stop, stop, stop. In a relationship dynamic like that, continuing to do something sexual — that I had stopped wanting to do ten minutes previously — just to stop my partner from giving me the silent treatment seemed pretty mundane in comparison. Hence never really realising or feeling like I had been raped. When coercion and a lack of respect have become the norm, rape is almost an inevitable because one cannot truly give consent in an environment of coercion.

Where I did experience a LOT of trauma, and developed a lot of my coping methods and trauma responses, was from the relationship before. A relationship in which I never even got touched. I never even met him in person. This is where my major trauma lies, and all of my typical responses to trauma happened. My shame. My flashbacks and triggers. My self-destructive coping mechanisms. My dissociation. My shame is still so overwhelming I never even talk about this experience as a relationship. How could I have been so easily manipulated, let my entire life be controlled, by someone I didn’t even know face-to-face.

But the fact is undeniable; I was emotionally abused and sexually exploited to an extreme in this relationship, and I suffered severe trauma. I felt incredibly violated and degraded during that online relationship, and I was emotionally blackmailed into doing things I was intensely uncomfortable with or even disgusted by. I became disgusted with myself. For a long time afterwards, certain phrases or situations would trigger an extreme response; I would burst into tears, or almost throw up, and I would not want to be touched. I was told a lot of horrible things about myself, and I started to internalize them. When I ended the relationship, I resorted to self-sabotaging coping mechanisms as a way to attempt to work through my feelings and take back the control I had felt I lost.

So clearly, I experienced a great deal of abuse and developed trauma responses from the situation that seems, out of context, far less terrible than a rape. And my rapes simply reinforced my trauma of the relationship as a whole, rather than being particular instances of intense trauma in and of themselves. Trauma presents itself in unexpected ways, and events that may seem more traumatic to an outsider can sometimes feel less so than other moments in our lives. Survivors of sexual abuse and assault each experience their trauma in a different way, and each of us cope in our own ways.

Expecting every survivor to fit into your expectations is not only unfair and unrealistic, but dangerous too. In our legal system, the knowledge that trauma is a complicated thing is not given space for consideration. The expectation is that abuse survivors will all share very similar experiences and thus will act in a particular way. But this is not the truth of our realities. When the reality of survivors’ experiences are not accepted or acknowledged, justice cannot be served, and verdicts like that of the Jian Ghomeshi trial become commonplace. Even when a survivor’s experience contradicts everything you think you know about trauma and people’s responses to it, you must acknowledge that you cannot possibly know their truth. Only they do. Please, believe survivors.

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On Divisiveness in Activism

With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, I have heard a lot of accusations of activists being “divisive” by asking white protesters to take a back seat at rallies. This is not a new thing; in feminism there is a long history of white women telling women of colour to stop talking about race, that the movement is about ALL women and that they should stop being divisive by pointing out that women of colour have a different experience that goes ignored in feminist circles.

However, accusing people of being divisive is a dangerous thing to do in activism, as it is silencing and can veer into mimicking the very sexist or white supremacist oppression that we are trying to destroy. The problem seems to be that there is a mindset that goes like this: I am taking part in anti-oppression activism, therefore my intentions are clearly good, and we should all just focus on doing that good instead of picking on each other and destroying the movement from within.

But what this mindset fails to acknowledge is that just because you are anti-oppression, does not mean you are magically immune to perpetuating systemic oppression. The fact is that we have all grown up in these oppressive systems, and just because we are aware of them and are attempting to fight against them does not mean we do not still replicate those dynamics within our activist spaces. This is clear in feminism when men like H*** Sch***** (typing his name would inevitably attract his vitriol) become spokesmen for the movement and are considered more legitimate and relatable and a great asset to the movement. Oppressive systems are so pervasive in our lives that we model them without even realising it.

Thus, a huge part of activism is not just to protest against systemic injustice. It is also to constantly look inwards and analyse our own motivations and roles in a movement, to recognize when we are perpetuating an oppressive dynamic that we have learned. That is a huge amount of work, and not something everyone is willing to do; however, it is an integral part of being an activist. This is why activism is someone’s entire work and life – it is hard work. Activist spaces are constantly trying to unlearn oppressive behaviours and systems and create new ones; because if you do not know how to undo oppressive dynamics in your own life and spaces, how could you possibly know how to undo it on a societal level? You cannot come into an activist space, claim to be an activist, and then wonder why other activists are asking you to do the hard work that activism involves.

White people at a Black Lives Matter rally yelling the chants that do not represent their own experiences, acting as if they are affected the same way as their black co-protesters are not practising activism. Viewing people who ask these protesters to step aside and leave room for black protesters as being “divisive” is a dangerous viewpoint to hold – it is usually held by white people. White people do not get to decide where the lines are drawn in activism around racism, just as men do not get to decide what is important or necessary in feminist activism. We as privileged people do not get to define the oppression that we may perpetuate, and we do not get to ignore the voices of the people who are marginalized by a system we are part of. Telling us to take a step back is not a petty demand for people to be utterly perfect; it is a plea for us to take our activism deeper and heal the wounds we have carved into our own activist spaces.

The Quick Fix: Disability in Media

It’s July 2011 and the teaser trailer for the final instalment of Nolan’s Batman trilogy has just been released. Theories fly from every corner of the internet. There is a brief moment in the mini-trailer in which Bruce Wayne is seen with a limp and a cane. Are we seeing the after-effects of his back being broken on Bane’s leg? people wonder. Will the movie spend a portion of its screen-time focusing on Wayne’s life after his ordeal with Bane? Does he have a cane for a completely different reason, a mark of passing time and changing bodies that will complicate the plot arc of his return as Batman?

Now it’s 2013 and we all know that none of those theories were correct. We see Wayne limping around with his cane for a few scenes before Alfred tells him he needs to suck up all his angst (and mobility issues) and be Batman again. Wayne slaps on a ~~**MAGICAL KNEE BRACE**~~~, his mobility issues disappear, and are never mentioned again.

Oh, and then of course he gets his back broken. But don’t worry guys, he’s put in a prison-pit-thing and in a montage of working out and grunting and pained expressions, he’s all good again! But it was HARD! It did take WEEKS! Maybe even MONTHS! Wait, some of you were sort of expecting it to have some kind of lasting impact? Pfft, sure OKAY, yeah we’re going to make Batman disabled YEAH RIGHT GUYS THAT’D JUST BE STUPID.

Let’s go back in time a little more. Avatar was by no means a groundbreaking movie in any sense other than its computer generated imaging and special effects. But it most certainly was a very popular movie. A movie in which the main character is disabled, but spends the vast majority of screen-time trying to escape from his disabled body. Despite his disability, the main character still manages to spend most of the movie in not only a totally-abled body, but a super-abled body. As the main protagonist, we are of course meant to relate to him and be sympathetic to his feelings. If we were in his place, we think to ourselves, we would want to escape too. We don’t blame him for running off wearing his avatar. After all, we’d do the same, wouldn’t we? A whole lot of people saw that movie. A whole lot of people were supposed to sympathise with those sentiments.

In the fifth season of Supernatural, Bobby is paralysed from the waist down and becomes wheelchair-bound for basically the entire season. The fact that his disability wasn’t fixed by the end of the episode, or even the next one, gave me hope for the potential it presented. We got to watch Bobby coping with and working around the necessary changes in his life that came with being disabled, and at times it even made us think about accessibility as he struggled to do the things he used to be able to do and go places he used to go with ease. But in the end, with a wave of Crowley’s powerful demonic hand, Bobby literally gets up and walks out of his wheelchair, perfectly healed.

Supernatural does, of course, have a smaller audience than either of the aforementioned blockbusters. And in each case, the way the plot point of disability is dealt with and the way the character responds to their disability makes a lot of sense. After all, Batman is supposed to overcome anything, a soldier WOULD understandably hold a lot of resentment towards his body becoming wheelchair-bound, and Bobby is a similar personality type to that of a soldier. Many disabled people in the real world voice frustration with their bodies and even feelings of being betrayed by their bodies, etc. Those feelings are real, and they are valid, and they are legitimate.

But the fact is, these are not the only movies and TV shows portraying disability in this way, and they do not exist in a vacuum. Disability is repeatedly portrayed as an obstacle for the character to overcome, a burden for them to bear with great reluctance until the writers save them with a totally convenient magic cure. Characters are repeatedly portrayed as wanting to escape from their disabled bodies, and we are meant to sympathise with those feelings. When a type of body is constantly portrayed as being a disadvantage, as being something less-than-perfect, something that people strive to escape, that has real implications for people who have those bodies in the real world.

The use of the “quick fix” for disability in these media means that the long-term effects of living as a disabled person never have to be dealt with. It means TV show writers and movie makers can wash it off the whiteboard and carry on with the plot without a hiccup and without having to factor in a new aspect of plot or character. It means the makers of these shows and movies never really have to deal with the realities of having made a character disabled, they don’t have to deal with the complicated issue of yes there will be accessibility differences now and other uncomfortable, inconvenient, but totally important plot and character changes.

If Being Disabled isn’t like, totally the character’s entire identity and their entire point of existence, then it seems to be considered a barrier and an annoyance that should be swept away as soon as possible. But it severely limits the plot and character possibilities when we never get to see a person honestly and realistically portrayed as disabled. When disabled people are only ever either A Lesson to Be Learned or quickly fixed before it makes anything complicated, that’s an entire group of our population being completely erased and overlooked. And, as we should all know very well by now, that is a dangerous thing to do.

I am in no way an authority on disability rights and issues, and I in no way intend to be one. I have only recently started learning about disability; over the past year I have started following blogs and other online media regarding both mental and physical disability rights and justice. Because of my place of privilege as an able-bodied and neurotypical person, I have unfortunately had the option of not thinking about disability rights for the majority of my life. I am now making the effort to learn about my privilege, and share my awareness with other able-bodied people. I find that voicing my basic understandings of new concepts, flexing my writing muscles, giving a new topic some air-time in my writing, helps me to develop my understanding of said topic. Thus, this post is not meant as some Look I Know Everything About Disability Issues Aren’t I a Cool Ally kind of strutting, but as an exercise to help my little seedling of awareness sprout some more leaves.

If you want some help sprouting your own little seedling, here are some of the blogs I’ve been following (some are about physical disability, some are about being non-neurotypical) and of course a Scarleteen article for good measure:

http://icedteaandlemoncake.wordpress.com/

http://blog.cripchick.com/

http://feministsonar.com/

also just this whole tag: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/disability+rights

http://www.scarleteen.com/article/politics/no_big_deal_sex_disability

On Violence

Edit: Okay, this is just to make clear that I totally love Idle No More, and this is in no way a critique of what they’re doing or how they do it. I’m also not all like YO LET’S ALL START A VIOLENT REVOLUTION RIGHT NOW FUCK YES. I’m a big proponent of non-violent methods of protest. But I think it’s important not to immediately shoot down other kinds. I’m just trying to make people think a little bit before making grand, sweeping statements from some imagined moral high-ground. Now, with that in mind…

 

“I believe violence is NEVER the answer,” a girl announces proudly from the front row of desks.

We’re sitting in our squishy, height-adjustable, swivelling office chairs in the new building on campus, discussing decolonization and resistance movements in our Indigenous Studies class. Each desk has several electrical outlets installed, conveniently placed for our laptops (mostly MacBooks) to stay charged during the three-hour lecture. It’s minus twenty degrees Celsius outside, but we all have our jackets off in this comfortably-heated room with double-glaze windows.

“Non-violent methods are more productive.”

We read an article by Frantz Fanon, “On Violence”, about the decolonization movements in Algeria. Decolonization will always be violent, he says. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. But nobody seems to agree with him.

Non-violent methods are more productive?

That’s easy for you to say. That’s easy for any of us to say, sitting in our expensive room on our expensive computers completing our expensive undergraduate degrees. We’re cosy. We’re comfortable. Violent resistance is a theoretical abstract that is just so wonderfully easy to dismiss.

Don’t we need to consider the fact that maybe we can so self-assuredly say that “violence is never the answer” because we’ve never been put in a position where actually, maybe violence is the only answer we have left? Maybe deciding that “violence is never the answer” is much more straight-forward when we’re not faced with immediate, actual, physical violence? Maybe, just maybe, sitting in a university classroom in Canada and deciding that violence is never the answer is a bit different from the conclusion you might come to if you were living the experience of being actively, violently colonized.

Canada WAS actively and violently colonized, and the colonization of Indigenous peoples is ongoing and still violent, albeit in usually more covert, indirect, non-physically violent ways. I’m not dismissing that. But the idea that violence is never the answer — coming to that conclusion so easily and assuredly — often comes from a place of privilege. The privilege of thinking of state-endorsed violence as an abstract concept. We’re not faced with imminent physical danger as we sit in our classroom.

And it’s not that there aren’t people living in those situations who don’t still think that violence is not the answer. It’s not that thinking that violence is not the answer is only EVER a privileged opinion. It’s not that it’s a less legitimate opinion. It’s that those of us who live comfortable lives need to stop to wonder why that’s such an easy conclusion for us to come to, why we so immediately dismiss anyone suggesting violent resistance as “wrong” or “irrational” or somehow “behind the times”.

We value non-violent methods of protest so highly, and we consider them so much better than violent methods. If someone says “yeah actually, violence is sometimes called for,” we consider ourselves much more progressive and liberal and just nicer people than them. They’re advocating people KILLING people!!!!!!! Aren’t they?? HOW COULD ANYONE ADVOCATE THAT. They must be right-wing psychos! Or extremists! Why would they not see that sitting down and talking out our problems is just so much more civilized?

Civilized.

Another of the activists whose work we’ve been reading for this class, Taiaiake Alfred, talks a lot about resisting the colonialist framework; he says that trying to work within the framework, to try to get the government to recognise Indigenous people’s rights, is completely futile. To work within the colonialist framework (“Aboriginalism”) basically lends that framework legitimacy that it doesn’t deserve. Trying to make a place for yourself in that framework helps to support it and ensure that it stays in place. So, Alfred suggests, to effectively decolonize, Indigenous people need to break away from that framework, create their own, to stop from depending on the colonial systems.

People in class didn’t argue with that. Taiaiake advocates for non-violent means of decolonization, and everyone likes that. Idle No More comes up in the discussion, of course, and people think that it’s great that the movement is non-violent because then the media has no ammo to discredit them. They have to be viewed as legitimate now!

Legitimate.

There’s something underlying this discussion that doesn’t come up, and it bothers me, but I don’t say anything because I can’t quite think of how to articulate the feeling of yuck. But as the conversation goes on, the idea starts to form and by the end of class I am uncomfortable and I can identify why that is.

The professor asks a question that brings my issue into sharp focus.

“Who defines violence?”

“The colonizer.” We all know the answer. Gosh, we’re so self-aware. But nobody takes this further, nobody applies this to the assumptions and claims that we’ve all been making throughout the three hours of class. Non-violent means of resistance are always better. Violence is never the answer. Is it a coincidence that all of us, brought up in the West, in a colonialist school system, in colonized countries, unanimously agree that violence is never the answer? Why do we all agree?

Maybe because that is exactly what we are taught. By the colonial system. The colonial system that gets to define even the meaning of violence. The colonial system gets to decide what counts as violence, who’s a terrorist. But not only that; it also gets to decide that “violence is never the answer”. Because why would a colonialist system want anyone to think otherwise? Non-violent means of resistance can be a lot easier for a colonialist state to ignore. Do I think that non-violent means are NEVER effective? No, of course not. But maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason we’re all taught that violent resistance groups are wrong and bad and irrational and taking things too far.

We learn about Martin Luther King Jr. and “I have a dream”. We’re taught that Nelson Mandela and Gandhi are peace-loving, non-violent leaders of protest movements. Look, they are good! They are just, and their movements are successful! They are how protest leaders and movements Should Be!

Martin Luther King Jr. made many more speeches than just that one. How many of them have you read or heard? A lot of them were just as — if not more — stirring, inspiring, and effective… and also a lot less white-colonialist-friendly. A lot less “non-violent”. Same goes for Mandela and Gandhi. There were also protest movements that were explicitly violent, or a lot less dedicated to being non-violent, that we are taught are BAD BAD BAD, WRONG. TERRIBLE. Maybe we’re only learning about certain resistance leaders, and very particular parts of their histories and opinions, for a reason.

Maybe the colonialist state is choosing how we define and think of “good” resistance and “bad” resistance.

As I said, people in my class like Idle No More because they are non-violent and thus can’t have their acts misrepresented by the media. So people acknowledge that the media has an agenda, that when a resistance movement can be discredited, it will.

But nobody points out that the whole idea that a protest movement MUST BE NON-VIOLENT to be considered legitimate, is in itself a colonialist system’s means of discrediting a portion of resistance movements.  Somebody pipes up and says that being non-violent means that the colonizer will be more likely to listen. Hence why violent resistance movements are unproductive.

Maybe those who advocate violent resistance don’t care about being misrepresented by the media. Maybe they don’t care about the colonizer being more likely to listen. Maybe that’s because so far, the colonial system has come up with an awfully large number of reasons not to listen. The media, as extension of the colonialist system, will always be able to find ways to discredit a resistance that is inconvenient. So maybe working within the colonial framework of non-violent-is-the-only-way-to-go is futile. Because the colonial system is defining how people are even allowed to resist it. We’ll only listen to you if you say it nicely. No shouting! Stop being so aggressive! Maybe we’ll start listening if you’re more polite! Say please! Say thank you! Say “sir”! It means the colonizers get to move the goalposts and forever decide that your resistance efforts aren’t legitimate enough. Aren’t civilized. And so they don’t have to listen to you.

So maybe those who advocate violent means of resistance are fed up with that and are choosing to ignore the framework that non-violent = good, legitimate, worth listening to and violent = bad and irrational.

After all that, it might sound kind of contradictory of me to say that I’m NOT arguing that violent resistance is the better or only way to go. I am just questioning the assumption that the opposite is always the case. Think about the major social revolutions that have occurred; there was a lot of non-violent protest. I have a dream, and all that. But, alongside it, there was ALSO a lot of violent protest going on. Maybe instead of looking at it as the violent resistance being wrong and unnecessary and it was the non-violent portion of the resistance that won people all those rights and recognition under the law, maybe it was both at once. Perhaps both methods of resistance are necessary to achieve decolonization?

Doctors Aren’t Always Right and Other Life Lessons That Never Get Learned

It seems an unfortunate truth that a lot of us learn how-not-to-be-an-asshole far too late in life. So I have compiled a list of resources and some discussion on the lessons I’ve learned in mine, and hopefully this will help other people on their way to not-being-an-asshole, too. Even if you think you’re not an asshole, you may be surprised. I know I have been surprised to learn that I was an asshole (and very well still may be about something I am currently unaware of), so don’t assume that you know whether you’re being one or not.

First and foremost is the strangely prevalent idea that our doctors (and professors, anyone with a “Dr.” in front of their name) know EVERYTHING EVER and are not possibly biased at all, or are not possibly behind the times in certain areas. Doctors are weird superhumans that are infallible, and if they say something is true, then it absolutely must be, no questions asked, and if you disagree then gawd you’re so stupid thinking you’re better than your doctor. But doctors are HUMANS, and they most certainly DO have biases. Say, for example, perhaps one of the most prevalent biases in the medical community today, fat stigma. WAIT, DON’T POST AN ANGRY COMMENT TELLING ME HOW FAT HAS BEEN *PROVEN* TO BE A DISEASE AND STUPID FATTIES NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT FOR THEIR OWN GOOD BECAUSE THEY ARE *KILLING THEMSELVES*.

I find the idea that doctors know better than everyone else — and if they say something is a medical condition then by golly it IS and who are you, stupid music major, to think you know better than DOCTORS — particularly strange because doctors do not focus on social justice. And receiving sensitivity training is in no way comparable. Doctors are not experts in issues of discrimination, so they can be just as thoroughly unaware of their biases as anyone else. These biases, as with any other human, can affect their research, their diagnoses/treatment of patients, everything — biases affect our view of the world, that’s the point. And since doctors are not immune to this, having studies that “prove” something does not make it True Solid Facts Totally Infallible Shut Up. Even if the data collection for a study is conducted properly, the studying of the data and trying to form conclusions, cause-and-effect, correlation, etc, can be coloured by our prejudices. That’s why there are some studies that support one side of a debate, and there are some that support the other side. It’s not that one side is just totally making shit up. But people can come to different conclusions and even get different data if they have underlying prejudices directing the way they’re approaching their research.

And even if we are unwilling to let go of the “doctor knows all” mentality, there are doctors who don’t believe that fat = UGH SO UNHEALTHY YOU ARE GOING TO DIE EARLY IF YOU DON’T LOSE WEIGHT. So why do we all believe the ones that do?

Health At Every Size
Health at Every Size Blog
21 Things to Stop Saying Unless You Hate Fat People
My Fat Body is ME
The Fantasy of Staying Exactly as I Am
Fat Stigma at the Grocery Store

On top of that, there’s a current social trend to be as totally frickin’ culturally insensitive/ironic-racist as possible. This ugly creature rears its head in the form of the trendy “Navajo” clothing at, oh say, every major retailer ever. Hipster headdresses and warpaint, comebacks of racist team logos, and the ever beloved COMPLETELY BLATANTLY-BUT-SOMEHOW-NOT-BLATANTLY racist halloween costumes. And of course popular media, but we all know that’s not a new trend. People have all sorts of reasons as to why any of those things are actually a-okay, but they never seem to stop to ask themselves why they feel the need to come up with such strong defences. Why is it so hard to just stop doing whatever it is?

Racism has always had the fiercest defence, and people seem to raise their hackles pretty quickly as soon as the term “racist” comes into a conversation. But I know I have learned to really think about who something is coming from, and who I am in relation. As in, I am a white middle-class girl. Who the fuck am I to know better than anyone else whether something’s “really” racist or not, having never been on the receiving end of that form of oppression? I don’t mean that white people can never tell when something is racist. But if you don’t think something is racist and someone who is part of a group that experiences racism — who knows first hand what oppression looks and feels like — is telling you that something is racist, you bet your ass they have a better idea of what racism looks like than you do. So maybe ask yourself why you are so unwilling to hear what they have to say.

Because chances are, they’ve already heard what YOU have to say. White people get their voices heard all the time. But how often do we hear the voices of people of colour, not silenced, not stifled, not interrupted?

The Angry Black Woman
Native Appropriations

But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?
Racebending
The Danger of a Single Story (video)

In the same vein, I STILL hear jokes about “Justin Bieber is a girl!” haha, super funny. Not at all. Considering the vast amounts of violent crimes against trans* and other non-gender-bindary folks that are still occurring, IN OUR COUNTRY, HERE AND NOW, I would expect people to stop with transphobic jokes already but hey, that’d be not-asshole-y. And if everyone was not-an-asshole, cissexism wouldn’t be a problem to begin with. Feminism isn’t immune to this shit either; some feminist circles are also transphobic — some very blatantly, and others through constantly equating/linking women with vaginas (vaginae?). Hey, newsflash, not every woman has a vagina. Why is that still news? And another newsflash-that-shouldn’t-be, making jokes about male-identified celebrities really having vaginas is transphobic, plain and simple. Cut that shit out already.

A Conversation With Isis King and Janet Mock (video)
Gender Bitch
Genderbitch on Tumblr
Not Your Mom’s Trans 101
Art of Transliness
My Genital Affirmation (video)

Obviously there are many, many more lessons in how-to-not-be-an-asshole that everyone needs to learn. But alas, I must save it for another day, as the words pass 1000 and the night grows old. So I will leave you with this information for now; the many links will hopefully bring you hours of joyous self-assessment and/or just some interesting stuff to read if you’re already down with all this. And some day hence, I shall return, with more lessons that I have learned and want to share with you. Until then, adieu!

Books That Shaped My Life

I was a pretty avid reader as a child. In fact, I still would be if it weren’t for good ol’ university getting in the way so much; now I just read avidly, when I get the chance. So, lately I was thinking about how my understanding of the world has been shaped by the books I’ve read. And I realised that a lot of my feminism and social-justice-ism has stemmed from the books I read when I was young.

The formative years for my ideology seems to have been when I was 13-17 years old. Which is when I read the most books, yay! And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the following books actually really shaped my life, they influenced who I have become today. This is not to say that they are all 100% awesome and don’t have any kind of problems in their portrayal of characters/etc; but there’s nothing major — or often, even minor — that I noticed, and they all have very positive messages overall. So here they are, in order of most influential! I have included the age at which I read each book, and a link to each amazon page so you can take a look inside :D

I call this my Pretty-Much-Mandatory Booklist for Raising a Social-Justice-Type Kid

Stargirl – Jerry Spinelli
Age: 12-13
The Lesson: Don’t be afraid to stand out
Amazon: Linky!

This book was like my freaking Bible. I read it in 7th grade, it was actually a mandatory book to read for our English class. The teacher and class all agreed, during the group discussion, that I was very much like Stargirl; though I would actually say I’m more like her now than I was then. Stargirl is about being free to be who you are, about people needing to open their minds to people who are “different” or “whacky”. You know, typical “yay be yourself!” message, but it is a really well-written YA book with a character who may seem unbelievable to some, but to me it was like a shining beacon of “hey, being silly and whacky is actually awesome!” I also always loved that part of Stargirl’s fearlessness for being herself also included not being afraid to be incredibly kind. And I think that was a major point (if not THE major point) of the book; in all this conformity, this wanting to be cool, your humanity and kindness can sometimes get lost.

Fire’s Stone Tanya Huff
Age:14-15
The Lesson: You are all freaking awesome, no matter what.
Amazon: Linky!

I still go back and re-read this book. It’s one of my favourite EVER. It’s an older-YA book, so the messaging is a lot more subtle and underlying to an otherwise not-message-y storyline, unlike with Stargirl. This is a fantasy book (not sci-fi, shut up Amazon) about a sort-of-middle-ages-y-esque world with wizards and magic-ness and monsters and sword fights and YAY! The three main characters are: A woman of colour with shit tons of awesome attitude, a white gay(? though possibly bisexual or fluid-in-sexuality) man who has been exiled, and a white bisexual man who is the third son of a king so he sort-of-has-power-but-sort-of-doesn’t. And what’s awesome about this book is that they are all AWESOME. None of them are stereotypes even though at first they seem like they will be.

They are all fully-realised characters whom you grow to love equally, depicted as *gasp* HUMANS! And their “different”-ness is not portrayed as some kind of novelty; the relationship that develops between the two men is written just like a straight relationship is written in any other book. It’s not “LOL THEY’RE GAY FOR EACH OTHER LOL!” It’s “this is a human relationship developing! Yay!” And the WOC character rocks my socks. She’s powerful but flawed (as are all the characters), and although at first she’s considered to be the “bitchy” character, the reader and the other characters gain insight and realise that she’s not at all a bitch. She’s awesome. And the author is Canadian, by the way. SO READ IT :D

Whale Talk – Chris Crutcher
Age: 14-15
The Lesson: Racism of all kinds and calibre is hurtful and damaging to people’s lives and society.
Amazon: Linky!

I only read this one once, and don’t remember much from it… but man, does it still haunt me. It deals with racism, and though if I recall correctly there maaaaay be a bit that could be taken as “White Saviour”-ness (though I took it, at the time, more as just the father wanting to protect his son), it deals with it really well. There’s this one scene, in which a little black girl, whose white father is a racist shithead, tries to scrub her blackness away with a brillo pad. I don’t think I will ever forget this scene, because of just the starkness, that this IS a reality for people. What I got from the book when I read it at age 14 was that even for people who don’t try to scrub away their skin, the ever-present racism in our society can make you fucking feel like doing it sometimes. And us white people don’t know the half of it.

You Don’t Know Me – David Klass
Age: 14-15
The Lesson: Life can be really shitty, but it’s usually worth living. It gets better.
Amazon: Linky!

This is another book that I only read once, and a while ago, but I remember how it made me feel. It covers depression, abuse, thoughts of self-harm and suicide. It deals with the reality of many teenagers’ not-so-awesome lives. It made me consider that I actually had a pretty fabulous life, as well, with a good support system. The book deals with how important it is to have a support system of people who you can trust and who really love you, and that sometimes the people who you think don’t care really truly do. It’s written as if we were in the main character’s mind, a character with whom pretty much anyone can relate even if they’ve never suffered the abuse that he has. It was really eye-opening for me to think about the reality of some people’s lives, as well as to finally have a book that deals honestly with internal turmoil that teens can have, without blowing it off as hormones or just a phase.

Flipped – Wendelin Van Draanen
Age: 13-14
The Lesson: Don’t be an asshole.
Amazon: Linky!

This one is kind of surprising for me, and if you’ve read the book, you might find it surprising too. The main plot is about a girl obsessed with a boy who doesn’t like her back. It follows their lives growing up, and their interactions with each other. Each chapter alternates between characters’ narration, so you get each persons’ perception of the interactions between the two. And although it’s mainly a love story, this narrative style actually worked really well for the main lesson I learned from it. It was one particular scene and each characters’ feelings around it that taught me this lesson. The main female character has a developmentally disabled uncle whom she loves dearly and spends time with as much as possible. In the particular scene, she overhears the main male character laugh at some ableist joke that a friend of his made about her uncle. Seeing it from the two different characters’ perspectives, it becomes really clear that doing or saying things just to try to fit in — even if it is simply laughing at a joke nervously when you don’t know what else to do — can make people feel just as awful as saying those things totally earnestly. Being a bullying jerk is shitty even when you’re just laughing along. Enabling bigoted and prejudiced thought can be incredibly damaging and hurtful. So. Don’t be an asshole.

Extra Bonus Books That I Read Too Late But They Totally Would Have Shaped Me If I’d Read Them Earlier On!

Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson
Age:18 (but suitable for 14-16 year olds, I’d say)
The Lesson: Rape is terrible and terrifying, and healing from it takes time, and just surviving with the reality of it every day takes incredible strength.
Amazon: Linky!

This is a pretty famous book that also got turned into a pretty decent movie (starring Kristen Stewart? Zomg no wai). It’s about a 14 year old girl who is raped by a schoolmate, and it deals with aaaaall the social SHIT around rape. It follows the beginning of her journey towards healing from her assault, and it’s a very real and honest story that is easy to relate to. It takes all the things we “know” about rape and brings it to us on a personal level, making the reader not only know, but understand.

When She Woke – Hillary Jordan
Age: 20 (but suitable for 15-17 year olds)
The Lesson: Autonomy is an incredibly important thing, and the reality of not having it would be horrifying.
Amazon: Linky!

I read this book just a few months ago, and I think it’s pretty awesome. It’s more politically-minded than any of the other books, so I think it’d be for an older age group than the others. The book is about a dystopian future (which is creepily similar to what’s going on in the states right now, actually) in which abortion is legally considered murder and people who have had abortions are socially exiled. It deals with what the reality of what taking away reproductive rights would mean for individual people. It shows how utterly important a person’s autonomy is, and how devastating it can be to have that taken away. It is, of course, wildly pro-choice, so yeah, some people would say it’s “political propaganda”. However, it’s about the personal relevance of the politics. It’s about how, if fundamentalist Christians were to really get what they want, individual people would be affected by their autonomy being taken away. It’s a reality that people who are pro-life often don’t seem to consider; I think it’s a reality that everyone NEEDS to think about, and this is a pretty well-written and interesting introduction to thinking about that reality.

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So, that’s my list! Even though I read the books when I was younger/I think the other two would be appropriate for younger readers, I’d still say everyone should read all of those books. Even though they will be a pretty easy read, they’re still really freaking awesome. And really freaking awesome books are great to read at ANY age! In fact, I’m going to go and re-read all of them RIGHT NOW.  You should go and read them too. DO IT.

I’d also really love to hear about books that other people have found to have the most impact on their ideology and mindset. What would YOU say is the book that influenced you most, and what about it was so influential?