Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Gay and the Country...

More ramblings about living in the country.

Coming from a more metropolitan area into a rural setting, there has been a shift in how one lives in private and in public.

I was/am a gender activist fighting for human rights – the right to be gay, the equality of female, the awareness that gender is not only a two party system.

Now I live out in the boonies where there isn’t an audience for my thoughts except for my partner and dog who listen in support as I rant and rave.

In fact, when we do go out in public, we are reverting back to being aware of how we communicate to one another. Shopping in the local grocery store, we are aware when we slip up and say, “Hey Babe, did we need some tomatoes?” Or walking down the aisle and we affectionately put our hand upon the other’s shoulder to direct a question. Or in introduction, it has become, “This is my friend, (insert partner’s name)”. It’s not even a direct communication that we live together and it’s out of the question to say “partner” or “girlfriend”.

The horror stories of the past and still seeing the stories in the present of how gay couples are subject to terror and harassment make us aware of our mannerisms. The recent incident in North Carolina underlines the present day reality. There are also a lot of hunters in this area so the chance of easy violence seems real.

We are pretty quiet people anyways so making a stink in the public forum isn’t our style. But it is nice to have the freedom to walk around as any other couple does.

I am aware that my truck has references to Stonewall and has a quote from Audre Lorde. Ironically, it says, “Your silence will not protect you.” I refuse to be so paranoid to take the stickers off. Yet I am aware that they are there.

In many ways I feel like I am letting down my activism side. This is the reality of being out in a rural setting. Am I showing cowardice by taking this stance? Am I a coward for not courting violence in the name of human rights? Is it okay that the activism I am comfortable with is the one that shows on an individual basis that the big, bad gay person as portrayed in the media is not so true, and we are human just like anyone else. I know it’s obvious, when in conversation with my partner and I at the same time, that there is affection between us and that we do live together and are building a life.

Is this a new form of activism that we show one by one that really…gay is okay. Is it a new form of activism that we build our lives, same as everyone else, carrying out the daily grind. Isn’t becoming a real part of society one in which the status of your relationship isn’t the forefront of every aspect in your life…that it is a sector just like liking mashed potatoes and hating lima beans? Like liking blonds instead of brunettes or choosing a partner who has a kind heart rather than a violent past?

I am fully aware that in the federal government, we cannot file taxes jointly because we aren’t seen as couples like heterosexual couples that had overindulged in a wedding. The benefits of heterosexuality are endless and that’s the biggest battle of all in facing equality. But in the daily grind of things, is it ok to be…to use social media as an outlet instead of using the corner picketing with signs? To maintain awareness of the world at large and to speak out when driven but to nurture hearth and home? Or is it living falsely to have your cake and eat it too when you live in an area where you would court violence if you choose to be blatant about your relationship status?

Or does it come down to being your authentic self regardless of which fence, or train track, you stand on?

Race in the Modern Age

The issue of race is a thread that continues to raise strong emotions, expose deep hurts and has become a token issue that threads across many realms. Race has very different perspectives based on the color of your skin. Race divides, collects and infuses on many aspects of an American life.

The truth of race is something that the American public has gotten away from. There is a portion of American history that one race was subjugated by another race solely based on the color of one’s skin. There is no argument about that. The argument lies in how we react to this portion of history.

What I saw last night was a lack of shame. Shame that human rights were so discounted. Shame that the mindsets were so strong of the inferiority of another color that it still echoes in present day.

Let me backtrack…
we attended an auction in our little town we had moved to. Still acclimating to this environment, we found a little slice of heaven when we came across “Rusted Gold” (Thanks American Pickers!) Most every Monday there is an auction and we happily jaunted to see what treasures our second auction would uncover.

Sitting two rows from the front table, we had almost prime seats for the action. Between the auction guys holding up the latest treasure (or trash) to bid on, we saw on the table some curious articles. Two books had the title, “Negroes…Animals or Humans?” Next to that was a framed picture…come to find out it was the Women of the Ku Klux Klan taken in Roanoke sometime in the 1930’s. There were two long sheets of printed paper that had a picture of a black man kissing a white woman and in bold letters, “The Kiss of Death”. As the auctioneer held up this paper, he read what it said in a jovial voice and made some comment about the kiss of death.
While this lot was being auctioned off, I watched Darryl – the auctioneer’s assistant. We had met Darryl, a man of color, the first time we ventured into the auction house one cold Saturday morning. He was so helpful to us as we moved through the piles of junk waiting for rusted gold to pop out at us. He even found things in the storage section that we might be interested in. With a kind heart and gentle soul, he aided us on our first treasure seeking venture.

When we arrived at our first auction, he greeted us like old friends. The second auction he stopped us to clue us in on a curio cabinet he’s got up there in case we wanted first dibs.
As the “historical curiousities” were being auctioned off, I saw him divert to other sections of the auction. As he traveled through the warehouse bringing more things to the front, another man thrust one of these materials into his hand to be held up for the latest bid. Usually Darryl camps it up for the audience with the latest product, but I now saw a man put in a horrible position of holding items from a violated past.

With quiet strength he was able to pass that on to someone else to hold and moved towards the back to appear to be working as he removed himself from being put back in that position.
I sat in shock that these pieces were displayed without remorse or reaction. In fact, there were quite a few bids on these pieces, each one being auctioned off. I thought about the audience members, the ones bidding on these pieces. I thought about the spattering of people of color in the majority white audience. I started thinking about the idea of shame.

When global atrocities occur, there seems to be a sense of shame from the governing party, usually brought upon by citizen protest. Governing parties, sensing the needs of their people, tend to address and apologize for the human rights violations that have occurred. Of course there are plenty of governing parties that still refuse to address and if they do, refuse to apologize.

With the Civil Rights issue in the United States, there still seems to be an air of disregard from the governing parties. The white ruling class is still in power, even in the age of a man of color being President. There have been grounds gained in changing the ruling white mindset but there is the overall attitude of white majority dominance. This trickles down to the citizens of the country so any progressive thought will still take at least 30 years to trickle down to majority thought. The only other change from the political mindset is the celebrity obsessed influence of this country. Other than colored celebrities slowly winning accolades, such as Halle Berry being the first woman of color to win an Oscar, the issue of race is not one valiantly being fought on the forefront.

The furor of the Civil Rights movement seems to be relegated to the volatile environment of the 60’s and 70’s. The 80’s was a band aid to the seemingly exhausting environment of the previous decades. Has the fight gone out with history? Are the seemingly passive, quiet battles being slowly won the new form of human rights activism?

Change takes place slowly so it’s realistic to know one will come across pockets of blatant discriminative attitudes, especially in rural settings. What can be done when these pockets rise up in these settings, especially when there still resides the predominate ideals that white is superior and color is not? There seems to be a quiet acceptance that there are certain freedoms of all people regardless of color but that idea hasn’t soaked into the core beings of the majority public. There is still the thread of superior whiteness that is maintained, just more subtly.
When it comes to historical pieces and iconic items that reflect specific eras, there is no price to pay for history continuing to be told. yet do these pieces of subjugation priceless? Interestingly, the iconic pieces that tell the tale of how a race of people were completely and utterly terrorized raises more money in auction than white pieces of history. In our consumer driven society, doesn’t that reflect where our attitudes lie?

Should there be a consumer market for items that represented violations of specific people? Doesn’t that reflect a complete lack of shame for what happened? Is the attitude that it was a part of history make it okay? What about the people who live today knowing that it wasn’t too far in the past that they could have been subject to the same lack of human rights at their ancestors?

Interestingly, there was also a 1935 copy of the Emancipation Proclamation up for bid. It garnered no sales and no interest.

Doesn’t that just put the underline in the subject?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Introducing the new series of trees...

In the midst of Old Dominion University, there is an angel.
The influence this one woman brings to this corner of the world ripples through to reach globally. Without ego, with an immensely open heart, she teaches her classes and opens eyes to incredible worlds. It is subtle, most times, the effect she has but long after sitting in one of her classes does the affect continue to flourish within the student.
In her class Chick Flicks, the world of movies is opened up in a way that one never sees a movie the same way again. Names that roll through credits are now paid attention to, the threads of the movie machine are recognized, and the history of movies has a spotlight shining down on it. It is this new world that these trees were created.
Josephine Baker...
Names of people have always run through my mind, regardless of not knowing anything about them. I recall seeing pictures of Josephine Baker and knew she had quite an influence but on what I had no idea. Her name kept popping in my head and with glee I began research.
Now I am in awe.
Her place in life was boundless. Her beginnings were full of reasons not to become anything. Yet within these meager beginnings, she emerged to rule dance halls, rule Harlem Renaissance, to cross countries and influence a Europe that was beginning its rule in Art Deco. She was in the midst of Folies Bergeres.
That wasn't the only side of this amazing woman.
Josephine Baker stood in her beliefs to aid in going against the Nazis. Her success as a performer aided the war effort; so much so that her adopted country of France bestowed many awards on her and full French military honors at her funeral.
Her sexuality wasn't within bounds, either. She lived fully and without apologies, rising while the world around her were exposed to something they had never seen before. She performed with zest, lived life on her terms and her influence remains without bounds.
Marlene Dietrich...
Marlene is another woman who lived life on her own terms. The movie machine of the early 20th century is known for ruling every aspect of the life of one of their contract players, but Marlene made her movies and became a glamourous movie star in her way. Her legacy remains as a person who embraced both male and female sides of her personality and didn't apologise for it.
Marlene Dietrich also supported the anti-Nazi war effort and was recognized from both the United States and France. In doing so, she received alot of backlash from her home of Germany.
Her daughter's book lovingly sits on my bookshelf and I adore delving back into the many facets of her life. She died in Paris, a month before I graduated high school. How I wish now that I paid more attention back then to the women who would have such an influence.
When I started these trees, I never knew the many coincidences between these two women. Until I began writing did I see how similar they lived their lives. Their affect on me came from completely different corners but now I see the common thread that invisibly drew me to them.
Isn't it interesting what life brings to you and only unveils itself when you sit down to look?
Pausing in this hectic life to see the path that brought these trees to life, to see the immense influence Professor Vaughan Frederick still has on my daily life, and to witness the result of the richness that surrounds each and every one of us is awesome.
And I wish each and every person that they have a Vaughan in their life.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

One girl, One tale

Let me ask you this...what does a person with these following traits look like to you?
Molested at 12, teenage pregnancy, poor single mom, rigid familial gender expectations, depression issues...
what is your internal picture of this person?

Let's take a look at another person.
Undergraduate monthlong study in San Francisco, weeklong feminist boot camp in New York City, research symposium in Norfolk and Richmond, VA, internships in oyster restoration projects, assistant for NOAA/University Oceanography cruise, influence on leading texts in female gender, facilitator of riveting gender and disability performances in Norfolk, VA, a founding developer of a local LGBTQ community center, multiple scholarship winner, student of the year, multiple conference attendee, symposium creator, connector of gender activists and artists.

How did these two people become one and the same?

Let me begin with the statement - I didn't believe in myself. Too often, the voice in my head and the voice outside of my head said I couldn't do anything. But I was sick of being poor. I was bored with the jobs available to me. So I went back to school and saw a program where I could get a stipend for being a female interested in science. This was during my days at a community college. My assumption was I would get my Associate's degree and get a good job. I had no knowledge of the college system and the degrees of Bachelor, Master's and PhD were for other people.
Then I became a member of the STEM project, a National Science Foundation Initiative to bring more females into the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. In this program, the director told me I could do anything I wish. She proved it with the paid for career/personality assessment test. Meanwhile, during this time I was put in a headlock by my alchoholic girlfriend. Because my son was in the house and I would never want him to witness anything like that, I told her the next day to move out. While I was being stalked and my son and I were both threatened, the director of the STEM program gave me a safe space to talk. She still told me I could do anything I wanted to. She then sent me to a conference in Washington, DC for the AAUW College Student Women Leaders. I had never stayed in a dorm before so that was a new experience. During the conference I experienced criticism from some other women's center attendees for being "too gothic" but that was just a dark blemish on an amazing conference.
I listened to Zainab Salbi who spoke of her ordeal growing up under the reign of Saddam Hussein and being a victim of rape. She created Women For Women International and conitnues to do amazing work. I came back from that conference and met the director of the Women's Studies program at Old Dominion University, Dr. Anita Fellman. Her presence and the things she said, especially regarding the criticism I faced at the conference, gave me the drive to include women's studies in my education and to attend Old Dominion University. When I transferred as a Biology major/Women's Studies minor I was excited to view my future path in helping women in developing countries with their local biology/ecology.

The grueling science classes began to weigh on me as I worked full time and had my son full time. The Women's studies classes were my vacation. I realized I didn't have the available time to focus on my first love of science so I changed my major to Women's Studies and my life exploded.
In class, I talked about reclaiming the work Dyke. It became a heated discussion but my professor (the same Women's Studies director that inspired me to get in the program) told me later, after my many apologies for the way the discussion went, that she loved my voice and to remember that the discussion doesn't end in the classroom. I felt safe in that space to discuss anything and my voice finally emerged after 27 years. The next two years of exploring many ideas and having the space to explore them enriched my life greatly. I had belief in my thoughts and ideas and a space to speak them. My fear of public speaking (taking the required public speaking class online) was faced head on as a professor of rhetoric believed in my controversial subject and helped me develop my conference topic. I took that conference topic to the state capital, fearful of the reaction but rewarded with the opening of minds. I still am receiving questions from people who heard the conference and wanted to discuss greater ideas of gender. That is an amazing feeling to have.

I graduated in 2010 as Student of the Year after experiencing a phenomenal final undergraduate year. The shy, voiceless girl still resides within but she is accompanied with the warrior full of strong ovaries that has ideas and the desire to fulfill them. The shy, voiceless girl emerges often without the support experienced in the collegiate environment, but the warrior stands by her side to remind her of the strides she has made in a scant few years.Seeing Zainab Salbi again this year at another conference outside of my university experience still brought the intense excitement of potential. Her words were even more powerful as I recognized the inspiration she gave me years prior. To couple that with seeing Leymah Gbowee, who we discussed in class, was a synchronicity moment that I was where I was supposed to be.
Life still remains uncertain, especially in this economy that requires severe determination to find minimal exmployment but it is a little more tolerable knowing that between these two ears the thoughts do have an outlet. That alone makes the daily grind a little more tolerable, the challenge of facing each day through the clouds of depression a little more hopeful. And when I get that call or email that asks my opinion, I still feel the awe and joy that somewhere, out there, my words are still resonating.