Showing posts with label adolescence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adolescence. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Staking claims in all the corners

I love punk music.

There is an ongoing theme of isolation and justified outrage combined with crass, irreverent humour that appeals to pretty much every part of me.  Many bands have songs about personal experiences with mental illness or of being labelled as crazy (The Ramones, Suicidal Tendencies, DRI, L7 to name a few).  This music - along with other heavy, hard or weird music of the ‘80s and ‘90s - was my lifeline as I stumbled through adolescence. Today, it is still my go to music when I feel overcome by frustration, anger or stress.  There’s nothing quite so cathartic as belting out “You can’t bring me down” by Suicidal Tendencies.

But the problem is that punk music doesn’t love me.

When I was fourteen I remember watching a video of some live punk show in which the male lead singer pulled a woman onto the stage and punched her.

That was when I learned that my beloved punk scene was no safer for me as a woman than anywhere else.

The misogyny and homophobia, both overt and implied, is so rampant in punk music that I quickly grew weary of trying to find new bands.  These days at least I can search online for lyrics and get a sense of their overall vibe but in high school the best I could do was borrow tapes from friends and fervently read the liner notes.

Mostly I look for bands that don’t have more than one or two objectionable songs, for example Suicidal Tendencies is not bad but only if I don’t listen to this song. Occasionally I find a band that is persistently offensive but has one or two songs that standout; Dayglo Abortions has very little to recommend them lyrically (this, for instance) – sad because their sound is kickass – but I can’t get enough of rocking out to “Homophobic, sexist cokeheads”.  Often the best I can hope for is that they don’t make me want to punch them.

But every once in a while there’s some ray of light like Liza and Louise by NOFX. When I was sixteen and newly out I was hanging out in the skate shop, looking through the 45”s when I saw this.

Without hesitation I bought it and instantly fell in love. Who knew that a bunch of straight dudes could write a song about lesbians that was actually about lesbians and not some porn fantasy for the male gaze (or ear as it were).

My relationship to punk music is complicated to say the least.

And this brings me to something that many people I follow on Twitter have been discussing lately, namely that Chris Brown’s violence against Rihanna is being held up as evidence of the misogyny in rap culture.  This black rap artist is being held up as the poster boy for male violence while Charlie Sheen (to name only one example) manages to skate right past his history of abuse.  Even when you compare those two narratives there are telling differences in how people explain the two men’s behaviour. Charlie Sheen’s offensive behaviour was due to his addictions and mental health while Chris Brown’s is due to his involvement in hip -hop culture – a convenient shorthand for blackness.

I have heard many black feminists talk about their love of hip-hop and the ways in which it is complicated by the misogyny so often lamented by mainstream white feminists and pop culture commentators alike.

And this is where my love of punk and a black feminists’ love of hip hop meet and shake hands.

What is it about punk music and rap music that makes them so hostile towards women? Is it the male bravado? Is it the blackness? Is it the anarchy?

No, decidedly and absolutely not.

Because the misogyny and homophobia we find in these genres is not what sets them apart from mainstream culture, it is the thing that ties them to it.

There are many things that define what rap and punk are: they both arose out of a sense of disaffection and alienation from the larger culture, at their core they are both about speaking truth to power and refusing to be defined or confined by a classist, racist society.  The one thing about them that is not unique is the way in which they both often wind up reinforcing cultural hostilities against women, queers and other marginalized groups.  The problem isn’t that they’ve stepped too far out of the dominant culture but that they have not stepped far enough.

So yes I love punk music and I like a lot of rap music, what I don’t love is the fact that so many of its creators have utterly failed to see how their regurgitation of objectifying, hateful and outright violent attitudes towards women is aligning them with the very system against which they so passionately speak out.

So before you throw the baby out with the bath water, remember that there is no corner of our culture that isn’t home to someone spewing hateful bullshit.  And the best thing we can do is not to say “This corner sucks, I’m going back to the centre” but to stay put and point out just how naked that punk ass emperor is.

I love my punk, and no amount of hostility from the macho men involved will keep me from it.

Women who rock, 10 essential punk songs
Violence and Punk  Musichttp

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I never called it rape...

*Trigger Warning*

I’ve been thinking a lot about rape lately.  It seems like I can’t go online without someone somewhere talking about rape.  Even though I know it puts me at risk of being triggered I can’t seem to stop myself from looking.  It shouldn’t surprise me really.  When I was a teen trying to come to terms with my own assault I collected articles and research on sexual assault in a big fat folder.  My best way of dealing at that time was to understand the big picture and make it political.  My big project for OAC (grade 13) drama was a play about a girl getting raped by her best friend and killing herself.  In retrospect the two predominant themes in my adolescence were sexual assault and suicide.

And yet, with all the of the processing I’ve tried to do over the last twenty three years I am still unearthing new and surprising aspects of my own trauma, and today is no different.  Over the last two decades I have called what happened to me sexual assault or sexual coercion. I have said he did something I didn’t want him to do. I have told myself that what happened to me was bad and it messed me up but women who’d been raped had it worse.

And then I was reading the comments on this post and I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.

Because rape is not only non-consensual intercourse, it is non-consensual sexual intrusion.  That means that if the perpetrator puts anything inside of you against your will it is rape.  I knew this.  I’ve always known this but I didn’t somehow take the next logical leap.

I wrote a post a few years ago and published it on someone else’s blog.  In it I wrote about not only my sexual trauma but about the physiological anomalies that have complicated my relationship with my sexuality in oh so many ways.  In short I had what is called an imperforate hymen.  I couldn’t get a pelvic exam, I couldn’t wear a tampon, and there was no way in hell anyone’s fingers could have gotten past that particular barrier.

I guess that’s why it hurt so much when he tried.

Immediately after he finished I said to him , “You said you’d never finger me” and he said, “I didn’t.” And I guess in his mind he didn’t, because my body wouldn’t let him in.

But in reality he tried, he really tried. And the question I’m forced to ask myself is this: Is it any less rape because my physiology kept him from “going the distance”?

Between the nature of the assault and my own physiological weirdness I have been invalidating myself for more than twenty years.  I have told myself that my trauma was lesser than that of rape victims.  Despite all the evidence of what it did to me I have been gas-lighting myself, feeling like I was crazy, like I was blowing it out of proportion, that I didn’t know what it was like to be raped, I “only” knew the pain of a lesser sexual assault.

But today I finally understand.  I get it.  Because what happened to me was indisputably rape.

And I don’t know how to incorporate that into my understanding.

It makes me angry, it makes me sad, and it makes sense of so many things.

But please, let there be no more surprises.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


 Slut. Whore. Tramp. These are the names so many of us live with. Whispered under the breath, like a cold rustling wind that follows us through the hallways or down the streets.  This is a letter to those girls in school right now who have been labeled and slut shamed for the sin of being a girl. And make no mistake – that is all it takes to be at risk for this brand of bullying.

Wear short skirts? Slut.
Hang out with guys? Slut.
Dated the wrong guy? Slut.
Wear baggy clothes? Slut.
Live on your own? Slut.
Wear heels? Slut.
Goth? Punk? Slut.
Listen to hip hop? Slut.
On the pill? Slut.
Have a single mom? Slut.
Get along with a male teacher? Slut.
Popular guy likes you? Slut.
Unpopular guy likes you? Slut.

There are a million reasons why someone might call you a slut but they all come down to this: All girls are fair game. While boys are kept in line by the threat of being labeled “fags” girls are forever at risk for a big fat serving of slut shaming.

When it happens it’s so easy to say, “No honey, you’re not a slut. You’re a virgin/you only slept with one guy/ you have a boyfriend.” But this misses the point.

This is what I need to say to you. It is never okay to call someone out as a slut. You’re body is yours and only you get to decide when, how and with whom you want to have sex. No one has the right to tell you that you are deficient or depraved because of your sexuality.  So long as we accept that it’s okay to call a girl a slut if she “really is one” we are giving implicit consent to those who use the word as a weapon against all girls and women.

I don’t care if you’re having sex. I don’t care who you’re doing it with and I don’t care how often.

I care that you only do it when you really want to. I care that you take ownership of your sexuality and talk openly with your partner(s). I care that you take care of yourself and use protection. I care that you don’t do anything that makes you feel ‘less than’. I care that you don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re wrong or bad for being a girl who is comfortable in her own skin.

So no honey, you are not a slut. None of us are.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fatal Attraction or how I learned to fear men

Dedicated to the memory of Racquel Junio, and every other woman or girl who has died for the sin of being female.

[trigger warning]

I was thirteen when I learned what a dangerous world it is for women. And not just because of my personal experiences with abusive boyfriends and sexual bullies at school.

The year was 1989 and on December 6th of that year Mark Lepin went on a shooting rampage at L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. He was angry at “the feminists” for taking up spots in a school that he thought rightfully belonged to men. He killed 14 women. Those events quickly came to be known as the Montreal Massacre.

When I heard it on the news I cried. I still cry every time I think about it. Not just for the women who died or were terrorized on that day but because I understood in that instant just how dangerous it could be to be a woman.

Plaque commemorating the victims of Mark Lepin

In 1992, Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy were abducted and killed by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, it was later discovered that Bernardo had also been the Scarborough rapist. As a teen girl living in St. Catharines this was constantly on my mind. I had friends who had known Kristen, I knew someone who had known the Homolka family. The tension in the air was palpable. Those of us who were living in St. Catharines at the time all bear a collective scar from those years.

In 1993 Kara Taylor, a student at my school, was raped and killed by an ex-boyfriend who had been stalking her. Once again, I had friends who had known her, some of whom had begun escorting her to her car in order to protect her from her ex.

These events, partnered with my own experiences with abusive men, shaped my understanding of what it means to move about the world as a woman.

If you’re a trans woman, belong to a racialized group or have a disability you’re at even greater risk.

Do you think that Robert Pickton could have abducted and killed women for so long if his victims had been white, middle class women?

Do you think the McDonalds staff would have been so indifferent to the beating of a cis woman?

Of course not.

Every time I hear about a woman being killed by her male partner it feels like a punch in the gut. For every murdered woman there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who are daily subjected to emotional and physical abuse. From partners, from employers, from friends and family members; we watch our backs as we walk the streets at night but deep down we know that it’s not the strangers on the streets that pose the greatest threat.

Statistically, we are told, a woman stands a 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 chance of being sexually assaulted in her life. My experience is that more than half of my female friends throughout my life have been victimized in one way or another.

In the aftermath of the Montreal massacre there was a lot of heated debate over the significance of the fact that Mark Lepin targeted women. Some made the point that it was an extreme example of the misogyny and violence that rests in the hearts of so many men. Others said that he was just a deranged madman, as though that precluded his delusions from being shaped by the dominant culture’s antipathy towards women. In the midst of all this, some men decided that it was high time that men take on the responsibility for ending male violence against women. Of all the things that Jack Layton did in his life, this is the one for which I am most grateful.

We often talk of the negative impact on girls of being inundated with images of women as sexual objects. But we forget that they are also absorbing the much more visceral lessons about what it means to take up space as a girl or woman. Walking through life in a heightened state of vigilance, worrying about being called a slut, a tease, a whore. Hearing boys and men brag about “hitting that” in yet another conflation of sex and violence. Watching as friends or loved ones take hit after hit (physical or emotional) from abusive partners.

I don’t have any pithy comments. I don’t have a stunning conclusion. I only have this: If I’m rude to a man who makes a pass at me it’s because I have learned that a man showing interest in me is one of the most dangerous things of all.

Some stats on violence against women in Canada

Related posts:
Padded bras and victim blame: it’s always your fault

Silence means no

And at my other blog: Sexual harassment is bullying

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dirty Little Freaks: The curious incident of the teeth in the tea towel

[I've been thinking for a while about sharing some of the more....unusual stories from my adolescence. I'm calling this series, Dirty Little Freaks]

When I was 17 I was living in second floor walk-up with my best friend and his boyfriend, let’s call them Shane and Alex. To christen the apartment we did what any self-respecting independent teens would do and threw a house warming party.  As with any group of friends, our group had “that guy”.  You know the guy, the problem drinker who gets so hammered that he just sucks the fun out of any party he goes to?  Well in our group that guy was…let’s call him Allan. 

We really hadn’t planned to invite Allan but of course he heard people talking about the party and assumed he was invited and said he would bring some beer so, what could we do but just smile and nod. 

Now let me tell you a little bit about Allan’s trademark trajectory when he would get wasted.  First he would start out yelling for anyone to hear about exactly how wasted he was.  You know, things like “I’M FUCKIN’ SKUNKED!!!!!” and the like. Next he would corner some poor girl in the kitchen (or whatever room was reasonably empty) and tell her about how miserable his life was and how miserable he was. By the end of this monologue the poor girl in question was usually wishing he would just drink himself into a coma already. Just as she was thinking escape was imminent his hapless victim would be subjected to another twenty minutes of his most sincere and heartfelt, albeit slurred, apologies for boring her with his troubles.

On this particular night he followed this little number with pissing off of my roof –and frankly, he was lucky nobody pushed him off – followed by hurling all over my bathroom and finally passing out in the middle of the hall. He spent the remainder of the evening as a tripping hazard.

Such is the life of a party animal.

This of course is nothing new to any party, and certainly not to any party Allan attended.  No, the interesting part comes the following morning (okay, full disclosure, we were a messy lot and we didn’t actually make our gruesome discovery until Monday afternoon).

Monday afternoon we were cleaning up and I picked up a tea towel from the kitchen floor only to find that there was something wrapped in it.  When I opened up the tea towel I found a souvenir that I never could have imagined. Hidden in the tea towel there was a set of partial dentures, nicotine stains and all. 

What. The. Fuck.

Me: Shane! Alex! Holy crap look what I found!
Shane: What the…that's fucking gross.
Alex: Ewww where did you find them?
Me: Whose could they be?
All of us: They must be Allan’s

So we did what anyone would do and we put the teeth in an empty cream cheese container and took them over to our local hangout.  As we showed them around and asked if anyone knew their provenance we all came to the same conclusion: Only one person was so drunk that he could have lost his teeth and not noticed and only one person puked, ergo they must be Allan’s right?

So I went to the payphone and called his house only to get his mother on the phone.

Me: Hi, is Allan there?

Her: No, he’s out right now but can I take a message?

Me: Um….well…can I ask a weird question?

Her: ….Okay.

Me: Does Allan have any false teeth?

Her: No, definitely not.

Me: Okay….Thank you, bye.

Her: Goodbye

So the question now is, how the hell does someone who’s not utterly wasted lose their teeth and not notice? That’s some fuckin’ expensive dental work, and the chewing! Weren’t they missing chewing?

So I took the dentures back to the apartment and tried to forget about it.  But before I did that I went back to the cafĂ© and told everyone that the teeth weren’t his after all (see how conscientious I was?).

Later that day we heard a pounding on the door. When I answered it, Allan was standing at the top of the stairs looking irate.


At this point of course I’m still thinking that this is all hilarious and of course he’ll see the humour in it all.

“Well we found some in the kitchen and you were the only one drunk enough to lose teeth and not notice. Besides I didn’t tell anyone that, it’s just what everyone assumed.”

From there everything went sideways and he started saying anything he could think of to hurt me. Did I mention that we had at one time been very close? I actually walked away and went to the living room but the screaming didn’t stop.  We devolved into a volley of character assassinations that took the form of “Well at least I don’t (insert embarrassing behaviour here)!!!”

Before I go any further I’d like to give you a better sense of Allan. If this were a sitcom the screen would be going all wavy and you’d hear some random harp music (although in his case I suppose it would be the Grateful Dead).

Flashback – a year and a half before:
I was sitting at my locker with some friends and Allan walked by with something clenched in his teeth.  My friends started speculating as to what it was, the consensus was that it was a pen cap. I was the only one who noticed the drop of blood on the back of his hand.  I jumped up and ran after him.  When I reached him I nearly tackled him and made him give me the razor blade he’d been carrying in his teeth. Let me repeat that. 

He was walking down the hall with a razor blade in full view and blood dripping from his hand.

I took him to the nurse and he told her about his substance abuse problems and she got him registered in a detox program.

Flashback – a few weeks later:
Before going into detox Allan planned on having one last big acid trip.  He was going to go camping with a buddy and drop some acid while his buddy watched him to make sure he didn't freak out.  Before his “big trip” Allan gathered some of his closest friends at his apartment and made a big speech  “just in case I don’t come back”. He passed around a goblet (I’m not shitting you it was a fucking goblet) and had each of us spit in it. Then he drank our spit.

I’ll give you a moment to take that in.

He then proceeded to give us each a meaningful item (I was so hoping for his copy of Sandman by Neil Gaiman).  Mine was a book about the pitfalls of atheism and as he gave it to me he held my face in his hands and said in his most dramatic and condescending voice that he hoped that one day I might see the light. This from a guy who’s about to go acid camping.

To answer your question, I don’t know why I stayed friends with him for as long as I did.

Flashback – about six months later:
I had taken Allan and some other friends up to my parents place in the country while they were away.  We were all sitting around the dining room table – sober I might add – when Allan started writing something on a piece of paper and then got up and walked out the back door.  We were all a little perplexed so we read the paper and it was a poem about suicide.  At this point I was honestly done with his dramatics, six months earlier I might have gone after him but not anymore.  I just rolled my eyes and we kept talking amongst ourselves. A little while later he came back unharmed.

As some of you may know from reading my other blog I’ve had a lifelong struggle with depression and at one point I tried to kill myself.  Most of my friends didn’t know about it, but Allan did.  So when he pulled these overly dramatic stunts it wore on me.

Now, let’s return to the fight at the top of the stairs.  After a few minutes of screaming at each other, Allan yelled, “WELL AT LEAST I DON’T CRY SUICIDE AT THE DROP OF A HAT!”

At that point I completely lost my shit.

Now I’m not talking about yelling a little harder or slamming the door in his face. I’m talking flailing arms and legs, roommates holding me back, completely lost my shit. Now of course because my roommates were holding me back and because Allan promptly grabbed my wrists, I didn’t lay a single blow.  As he was safely holding my wrists he said to me, “Now now Kristin, let's not be violent, remember you’re a pacifist!” with a nasty little smile.  Then he reached around behind my head and clocked me.

Later, when he was talking to a mutual friend he said, “I didn’t hit her, if I had I would’ve drawn blood.”

Flash forward about five years:
I’m talking to a friend who’s still hearing news from the old ‘hood and she tells me that Allan has been sent to jail for beating his roommate to death.

All I could think was, “Wow, I guess I really dodged a bullet”

Eighteen years later and I still don’t know who left their teeth in my kitchen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Let’s talk about race

This is going to be a long, and sometimes hard, one. I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts about race and racism lately, all of them great and all of them by women of colour. In particular I’ve been reading Mochamomma’s blog in which she’s discussed the unicorn cake debacle, and the “ask a black girl” phenomenon.

One of the things that has come up again and again is how rare it is for white women to blog about race and racism. I go.

Race and racism have been at the front of my mind for most of my life. As a white girl who grew up in rural Ontario the only people of colour I knew as a child were the Japanese boy in my class and the Trinidadian fruit pickers who worked on a nearby farm.

But, I also grew up with a Quaker hippie mom (of the social justice and political action variety rather than the pot smoking free love variety). I had a strong awareness of the existence of racial bigotry but had yet to witness it.

All of that changed when I was thirteen and spending my summers in St. Catharines with my best friend.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not I would tell the whole truth here. I realize that I am opening myself up to some serious judgment and anger. All I can say is, I was thirteen and I only had one friend so where she went, I went.

This is what you need to know about St. Catharines in the 80’s and 90’s: It was a breeding ground for neo-nazi skinheads. The teenagers were all neatly divided into their little boxes, especially the freaks. You had boneheads (distinct from the anti-racist skinheads), mods, hippies and punks. I was none of the above but I was definitely a freak. I also had no idea how to meet new people on my own. My best friend, however was a striking mod chick much admired by many . When she started dating a nazi punk I wound up spending a lot of time around him and his friends. I hated it but I didn’t know how to avoid it without alienating someone who meant so much to me (to her credit, the boyfriend in question gave up his Nazi ways in the time they were together).

For the most part I left the room any time they started talking their bullshit. Occasionally I took them to task only to be dazzled by the bizarre twists of “logic” they offered in defence of their views.

Eventually I was able to make other friends and stop spending time in the company of boneheads. But, honestly, I can’t say I regret that time because it taught me something about hate and hate groups that I don’t think I would have otherwise understood. Sometimes it’s good to spend some time behind enemy lines.

One thing I learned from that experience was that these people are people, they’re not monsters. Making them monsters makes it too easy to distance our selves and society from their beliefs and their actions. When we recognize that they are people we have to also examine how they came to be that way, because they sure as hell didn’t just spring from the head of Ernst Zundel like Athena from Zeus.

When I was sixteen I left home and moved to St. Catharines to finish high school. There were still plenty of boneheads but my new friends were very vocal anti-racists who had had the shit kicked out of them more than once by boneheads. I saw how ineffective it was to piss them off and I felt the fear of being chased by them. I even had them move in next door to me. After that my best friend (a different one by this time) who was Filipino refused to come to my apartment, and who can blame her? If that’s what they do to white people, what might the do to her? I had to call the cops one night because one them was pounding on my door screaming “Fucking faggot!!” at my friend who was visiting.

Most people’s experience of racism is not so dramatic. It’s the systemic racism of the criminal justice system or the unfair hiring practices of a workplace. It’s the subtle shifts in attitude when a person of colour walks into the room. It’s the throw away comments that people don’t think twice about. It’s the luxury of “not seeing race” because you can’t “see” your whiteness. It’s the wilful blindness of white people when they talk about how inspiring and heart-warming the latest edition of the white saviour trope was.

I still come to tears when I remember how volatile it was back then. How much a fabric of our daily lives it was that one of us could get beaten down at any time. I was there when my friend was attacked by five guys in steel toe boots and I was there to watch him get twisted into his own brand of hate, indiscriminately accusing people of being nazis, and even terrorizing their families.

I learned what unfettered hate looks like. And I understood that this was a natural consequence of the much subtler and more pernicious kind of racism that was a part of the very fabric of our culture. And aren’t those radical neo-nazis a perfect distraction from the much more insidious racism that affects people of colour on a daily basis?

You know what? I can identify a nazi skinhead in my sleep. I know how to tell a nazi punk from the rest of ‘em, no problem. You know what that means? It means I know where I fucking stand. It means that when I see those white laces and the iron cross on your jacket I know not to make eye contact and steer clear.

But when my coiffed middle class (white) boss at my minimum wage job starts talking about “chinamen” that’s a hole other bag of shit. That’s a blind side from someone in a position of authority and I am left speechless, because I need this job.

And when my university professor says “us” in reference to white people and “them” in reference to any people of colour – even when there are people of colour in the class – he is not only contributing to the othering of POC, he is effectively erasing those who are in the room.

One of my favourite profs in University was Andrew Winston whose research focuses on the role that social science and science have played in perpetuating racial stereotypes and racist policies (that’s a simplification but you get the gist). In intro psych we were assigned a book called “The Race Gallery” by Marek Kohn which outlined the history and the flawed science of race based research, particularly in the area of racial classification and intelligence. My take away from that book was that race is a social construct rather than a biological fact. However, and this is the important part, just because something is a social construct doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Race is real because it affects the identities and realities of everyone. Not just people of colour, everyone. Whiteness is not a blank slate, it is not the de facto absence of racial identity any more than maleness is the de facto absence of gender. The issue, for any thinking white person, is how do you inhabit and experience your whiteness? What does it mean to you to hold a racial identity that comes with so much privilege? What can you do to recognize your privilege and address it in a meaningful way? And if you answer that question with anything that sounds like, “Well I’m X so I’m oppressed too” you’re missing the point. Identity is a complicated and ever shifting thing. If you engage in the “more oppressed than thou” game everyone loses. The point is to think consciously and openly about what kind of privilege you benefit from and what that means.

Talking about race is hard, for everybody. But the difference is that white folk have the luxury, or shall we say privilege, of not thinking or talking about it. If you, as a white person, don’t notice that everyone in the room/film/book is white it’s not because you’re so progressive that you’re colour blind, it’s because you’re simply blind to the ways in which people of colour are simultaneously erased and problematically defined by those representations. If everyone in the room is white, why is that? How does that change the nature of the discussion? How does that affect the way people behave to one another? All too often an all or mostly white space is seen as a safe space to say ignorant or flat out hateful things.

So this is me, talking about race in the only way that I can, through the lens of my experience. I actually like talking about race and racism, just as I like talking about gender and sexism and homophobia and every other element of the kyriarchy (still getting used to that word). I most like talking about race with people of colour because talking about it with a bunch of white people is like talking in a vacuum and frankly, I’m more afraid of hearing some racist crap come out of another white persons mouth than I am of being called out by a black friend.

Update: I've since written a follow up post on why it matters that white people talk about racism.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Try not to laugh: adolescent poetry (1st installment)

Okay, to follow up that last post here's the first installment of my teenage angst in verse.  I know a lot of people have been doing open mic night where people read their adolescent poetry to the great amusement of the crowd.  This is not what I'm doing.  I'm not putting this out there so we can all have a good laugh at how silly teenagers are.  I'm doing this as a way to talk about how real those feelings were.  Once we grow out of the crazy emotional roller coaster that is adolescence it can be easy to dismiss teenagers as being over-dramatic.  This attitude is invalidating, insulting and flat out inaccurate.  If teenagers express their emotions in a way that seems overblown and larger than life it's because that's what they are truly feeling.  I remember one particular high-school dance at another school and I found myself sitting on the floor crying (again), not an unusual occurrence in my frequently depressive state.  One of the cops who was working the dance said to me, "What's wrong?  It can't be that bad, you're only fifteen!"  I didn't say anything.  I wanted to say, "Only fifteen?  At fifteen I could be getting abused at home, assaulted by my boyfriend, mercilessly bullied, struggling with addiction etc. etc." Life can throw crap, even devastating crap, at you at any age.  And it's about time that we start to really hear what kids and teens are trying to tell us about their lives and their perspectives.  So, to serve that end I share with you the darker places I went to as a teenager struggling with depression, bullies and not so healthy relationships.

Installment 1:
Doubt (1991 - grade ten or eleven)
Every time the platform starts to balance out in weight
a leaden rock descends upon the shoulder scales of fate.
I await the day the bulging mass dissolves into the air.
Although I know it's foolish, the pointless hope is there.
External woes surround me, eating at my mind,
creating inner turmoil, my self created bind.
I can no longer separate to whom the fault belongs,
Whether self inflicted or to the hostile throng.
If I be the instigator of this sad demise
then shall I seem so pitiful in those others' eyes?
I would that they refrain from taking such a view.
Unknown to them is the strength that I've  begun to lose.
The one remaining hope is now a distant dream
I cling to this with every fibre of my meagre being.

When I was a teenager sharing my poems with others I often liked to ask, "Can you guess what this one's about?"  I'll spare you that question.  It's pretty clear that this was one of many poems about depression plain and simple.  Stay tuned for the next installment (with much less preamble).