Archive

Essays

IMG_0857.jpg

I’ve reached the end of nearly a month in motion at the end of a year spent here and there with no easy center. I’ve visited with family, chosen and born, seen comrades and friends, and even managed to get some work done. And now I’m finally back in Toronto. I’m exhausted.

I’m not sure––never am––that I’ve collected all the baggage that I toted with me throughout border crossings, bag searches, administrative declarations, and weather delays. How does the baggage survive all that time traveling? How do I? Speaking different languages, coming to my senses, numbing my senses, checking-in on crises of one shape or another as if my role in them matters, peppering the blandness of in-betweens with gossip or an uneasy smile, reveling in stolen sweetnesses when someone remembers who you are trying to become, recalling long dormant shared jokes, playing games, feeling like a ghost, being reminded that I am both loved in this space and an orphan of it.

What I’m left with is a question: What keeps me consistent throughout all of this movement?

Languages and architecture and ways of being in these places seem untranslatably different. Yet, in the quotidian-ness of all that crossing, they are somehow threaded together. Or maybe its the weather? How it doesn’t make sense anywhere? (Except the thick fog, as B told me, which lets you pretend that you are anywhere/nowhere.) Or maybe just the basics? Getting the laundry done in every different kind of machine, this or that surface to clean, thing to put back in its place, remembering that each place has this or that logic of where how and when to replace the thing so it can be found, moved, lost again.

Toronto-Bologna-Cleveland-Toronto is a strange itinerary. Not the Sunday Travel section’s first choice. Multiculti boomtown built over top of resplendent ancient meeting place where the trees stood in water and this would be storytelling season to medieval university town still floating on the slowly cooling magma layer of hot Augusts of decades past petty politics at war with real politics to putatively post-industrial American Great Lakes once unified (but now different) whose begged for renaissance gives those who survive the depression or the violence a specific kind of chip on their shoulder. Daytime television and a stream of oil company and pro-fracking commercials. ExxonMobil does help me.

Is home an exhaustible resource? It’s a real question. On what exchanges is home traded? How is it extracted from the peat of experience, barely compacted? Who’s gaining commission? Is being ‘at home’ a fact? A feeling? A mode? A delusion. Must it be striated through everyday life thinly, like rare earth? What work is required to be ‘at home’ here? And then here. And then, finally for now, here.

If mobility is a privilege––and my body is not always or even usually convinced of this anymore––I could say that I am in need of its opposite for a while. And I get what we need sometimes. To think that, when I was a young teenager, I was convinced that I’d never be able to see the world beyond my hometown. Stuck like every queer felt stuck and feels stuck going back. But slowly, being unstuck becomes a kind of compulsion. Adaptability a life requirement. Must keep things going. Must go. Must do without stillness or else risk stiffness.

Bodies become rigid and brittle for other reasons too. And then we are called to new effort to hold on to any consistent element, to keep at least one particle the same across all that numbing confirmation of identity. Are you who you say you are? Nationality. Do the contours of your face match the contours of the face in this document, the image of someone unwearied by so many mandatory crossings? Place of origin. Has this expired? What’s your status. They add up: Document check, document check, document check, document check. Questions: Why are you here, why were you there, what did you do, who are you carrying with you, what are you leaving behind, what is the total value of your experience? The lucky pass through the fortress, I’m told it makes me lucky. And so I try to remember that when the experience serves up the unluckiest of feelings.

No matter where I go, I carry more books than I can possibly read on any one journey across every border. Their completeness is comforting, consistent. The weight is substantial. It keeps me on the edge of frustration, which is sometimes the only way to survive travel. Books feel like dangerous travel accessories, they might say too much about you.

One book that has crossed every border with me this month is Dionne Brand’s “A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging” I’ve read it little by little and I’m still trying to understand how and why, despite the differences in the reasons for our movement and displacement and return/s, this book has helped me more than anything when I am feeling weary, uncertain, lost for words, lost in cartography, in our out of love, in or out of place; jetlagged, dreadful, devoid of thoughts, or simply too full of them, a fool.

She writes:

There are ways of constructing the world –– that is, of putting it together each morning, what it should look like piece by piece –– and I don’t feel that I share this with the people in my small town. Each morning I think we wake up and open our eyes and set the particles of forms together –– we make solidity with our eyes and with the matter in our brains. How a room looks, how a leg looks, how a clock looks. How a thread, how a speck of sand. We collect each molecule, summing them up into flesh or leaf or water or air. Before that everything is liquid, ubiquitous and mute. We accumulate information over our lives which bring various things into solidity, into view. What I am afraid of is that waking up in another room, minutes away by car, the mechanic walks up and takes my face for a target, my arm for something to bite, my car for a bear. He cannot see me when I come into the gas station; he sees something else and he might say, “No gas,’ or he might simply grunt and leave me there. As if I do not exist, as if I am not at the gas station at all. Or as if something he cannot understand has arrived –– as if something he despises has arrived. A think he does not recognize. Some days when I go to the gas station I have not put him together either. His face a mobile mass, I cannot make out his eyes, his hair is straw, dried grass stumbling toward me. Out the window now behind him the scrub pine on the other side of the road, leaves gone, or what I call leaves, the sun white against a wash of grey sky, he is streaking toward me like a cloud. Frayed with air. The cloud of him arrives, hovers at the window. I read his face coming apart with something –– a word I think. I ask for gas; I cannot know what his response is. I pass money out the window. I assume we have got the gist of each other and I drive away from the constant uncertainty of encounters. I drive through the possibility of losing solidity at any moment.

Today is not a day that beings with the luxury of feeling together.

ThothOppression

One month ago today, Atlantide, Bologna’s 17-year-old trans-feminist-queer-punk social space, was forcibly evicted by the police. It seems to have been years ago; it seems to have been yesterday.

Like the hundreds, even thousands, who have been and made a part of Atlantide, I have been trying to make sense out this event, this unthinkable reality. Among the many reasons I am struggling for sense is that I am in the early stages of writing my PhD dissertation, which is rooted in the space and in my own passage in one of its core collectives, Laboratorio Smaschieramenti. The name translates as The Laboratory for Un-masking/De-masculinizing; two gestures in the same name. A portmanteau for the everyday work of trans-feminist-queer self-determination and self-management (autogestione).

After a week of turning inward to make sense out of my own last journey around the sun, this week I finally turn to more fully thinking (and writing) my immersion in Atlantide and Demasculinizing. As ever, my first steps are overwhelming. How to write from this experience?

So, I started today like I always do: Drawing a guide card over morning coffee, something to help unfold the story of the day. I picked The Ten of Wands, Oppression. Never a welcome sight (Especially the day after I pulled the Three of Swords, Sorrow.) The Ten of Wands––the spirit/fire suit––is the essence of blockage; depicting eight burning wands barred by two diamond-strong, green-gray dorjes. With the Thoth Deck, I am draw more to color than I am to the symbolism of the objects themselves. Here, the hot red fire that suffuses the wands themselves in the Ace, Two (Dominion), Three (Virtue), Six (Victory), and Seven (Valour) diffuses into a lighter, cooler orange. It becomes the background, scorching the earth.

Fire (at least as an element of this Tarot) is not meant for the ground, where it consumes and ravages, it is meant to reach upward like the smoke from burning sage. The fire of the Ten is blocked, confined, forced to spread horizontally; it is not unlike the PDs (Partito Democratico) strategy in Bologna (and elsewhere) over the last weeks as they have moved from one eviction to the next, all but setting fire to thriving experiments and established spaces of self-management. This is electoral nihilism at its finest.

The astrological aspect of this card is Saturn in Sagittarius. Saturn is, of course, the discipliner (as anyone who has been through their return/s will know too well) and Sagittarius is the mutable fire sign of the zodiac. Sag is the archer: restless, curious, half human, half animal. As far as this card is concerned, Sagittarius is hitting Saturn’s disciplinary side hard; the Ten is Sag in the third decan i.e. the latter 10 degrees of the sign itself. So, for the card, we have undeniable difficulty. Third decan Saturn (via Darkstar) is telling us stories of people who are banished for their beliefs, whose inability to handle bullshit can get them into a lot of trouble, whose sensitivity can verge on paranoia, especially when it bumps up against limitations to the will for free expression by which Sagittarius itself is more generally defined.

Oddly enough, the actual planet Saturn recently moved into Sagittarius after two years in Scorpio (2012–2014, plus a not so brief retrograde between June 15 and September 17 2015). Saturn went fully into Sagittarius on September 18 and will remain there until December 20, 2017. Actual planet Saturn is presently drifting through in the first decan of Sagittarius, a movement that lasts through December 20. Looping it back to the Thoth, the card linked to the first decan of Sag is the Eight of Wands: Swiftness, Mercury in Sag. This is a magical, electric, fast-moving, rainbow-on-top-of-a-rainbow card. It is, as Mercury is, all about communication and fast moving cycles. It is all about the forceful productions that result from a violent situation and the immense creativity that can result. Though, this kind of creativity risks moving a bit too quickly.

Putting it all together, we come to the very constellation of Tarot cards that the Tens sit in: The Magician Constellation. Which, in addition to the Tens, contains all the Aces, The Sun (XIX), The Wheel of Fortune (X), and The Magician (I). Put them together in the form of a diamond, the same material that blocks the eight burning wands of Swiftness in the Oppression card, and you have a story about communicating, including communicating across cultures. This could include cultures linked to nation, cultures linked to different modes of doing politics, or cultures linked to different communities of practice. Like the diamond, the story is about clarity between action and work. Sitting at the crux of the diamond, on its squarish facing-you facet, is the Wheel of Fortune, which turns things around. It is flanked, on the left, by the Ten of Swords (Ruin, fear of) and our friend for the day the Ten of Wands. On the right we find the Ten of Cups (Satiety) and the Ten of Disks (Wealth). So, at last, to balance the blockage and all consuming fire of the Ten, the Magician reaches for the Ace of Wands, Clarity of Vision, the fire signs together (Leo, Aries, Sag). The Ace asks: Who are you? What negativities must you refuse to bear? How can you stop from abandoning yourself? How can you trust your intuition without hesitation?

Dearest Atlantideans, through the labyrinth of some old fashioned, pre-capitalist knowledges, I send up and out all power to you/to us today. We will find our way through this fast moving, ground-loving fire, flooding it with the depth of everything we are. #AtlantideOvunque!

Academics, researchers, and other knowledge workers: Please read and sign Atlantide Statement of Solidarity, available in English and French, here.

Everybody: Please read and sign the Public Inter-Natio(A)nal Transfeminist and Queer AnNOunCEMENT for Atlantide, available in English, Italian, and Spanish, here.

English-speaking Friends: An updated version of the translation of Atlantide R-esiste‘s statement regarding the immanent eviction is now out (See Below.)

Please (re)read, share, and send your statements of solidarity, whether you are out there in internet-land on your own or you are writing on behalf of your collective, political organization, conscience. Or maybe you will consider sharing the statement with your english-speaking and politically active networks.

The clock is ticking. The eviction order issued against Atlantide takes effect tomorrow at 8am (2am EST).

A note for those who are tagged or who are, as the statement says, “just meeting us now” in this disembodied context (though some of you have visited Bologna!):

The statement references a number of technical developments specific to the Bolognese/Italian context, but familiar anywhere that neoliberal and statist “reforms,” sometimes under the guise of law-and-order, in defense of borders, sometimes under the guise of gentrification, have trampled trans*-feminist-queer (or, for that matter, any type of) self-determination and self-management (autogestione) of (urban) space.

If we believe that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, if we believe that an injury to one is an injury to all: Consider this news that an organ which you may never think about or which you never knew existed and which has been working hard and in its place for 17 years, is signaling a latent failure after a bad diagnosis in 2012, when the eviction proceedings technically began. This failure that may not immediately translate into grave illness all the way over there, but our collective integrity can be eroded in the strangest of ways.

In light of the effect this is having on the bodies in that space––who have been born and reborn (irony alert, definitively not in the christian/catholic way) there, who have found refuge there, who have already landed there as a result of the perpetual displacements that accompany being trans*-feminist-queer––we are calling up all forms of resistance to the pathogen of precarity, to the toxicity of pretextual and perpetual evictions and states of emergency, to the state-driven terrorization of living, breathing alternatives.

Your expressions of solidarity on our Facebook page and/or blog, your sharing this with your networks, groups, collectives, and so on matters incredibly and will sustain us as we once again place our bodies on the line, as if they are ever not.

It is us who contaminate their dreams, not the other way around.

We cannot be (pro)cured.

They Want Us to Drown, They’ll Make Us Overflow

The Slumber of Politics Produces Evictions

(Posted on by smaschieramenti)

It is clear by now how Bologna’s government has been taken over by the public prosecutor’s office. In the past few months, police have been investigating the municipal administration’s decision to grant the use of running water to residentially occupied buildings. We have witnessed an alarming  number of unjustified restraining orders placed on many local activists. The eviction notice which was scotch taped to Atlantide’s doors on Thursday October 1st gave us 5-days to clear the building. All of which fits perfectly well in this dismal picture.

Yesterday morning, Friday October 2nd, we interrupted the City Council’s Question Time meeting demanding a public and political response from the Mayor who had just signed the eviction notice. After our action, the Mayor candidly spoke to the press, admitting that, “This is no longer political. I am the Mayor, I cannot follow dreams: Now I have to evict you.”

Our needs-&-dreams are extremely different from those of an administration whichpractices pinkwashing by supporting civil partnerships while at the same time forcefully evicting those queers who practice autonomy and self-management(autogestione). An administration which fills its mouth with empty talk of “welcoming refugees” while at the same time beating those refugees who don’t comply with the city’s guidelines for “integration.” An administration which concedesagency to sexist, racist and homophobic subjects in public space (No 194, Northern League, Sentinelle), avoiding in each of these incidents, to face its political responsibility by hiding itself behind concepts of “legality” and “lawful procedures.”There is no such thing as a “democratic bulldozer.”

We know very well by now that “legality,” today’s rallying cry for parties left and right, is a continuation of politics “in disguise”: It is a way to hide the reactionary politicalaims behind the alleged neutrality of the law in order to outlaw all those forms of life which resist against the unrelenting processes of neoliberal assimilation.

In Bologna, which is an historical laboratory for privatization (sussidiarietà). For some time, the PD (Democratic Party) forced whatever kind of sprouting social initiative to become either a start-up venture or a service based on free labour. Atlantide has always refused these conditions. Our mobilization tried to unmask this logic; we forced the administration to sign a formal document in which Atlantide is acknowledged as a project based on self-management.  On this basis, one year ago, we decided to start a dialogue with the administration’s cultural sector. We saw the possibility to innovate new forms of the relationship between institutions and self-managed realities.

This dialogue has now been violently interrupted. The Mayor and his Council, whether they like it or not, will have to take responsibility for the violent closure of an historical space of fags, lesbians, trans*, and feminists. This is not going to be a smooth election for them.

Nevertheless, we are sure that whatever social services are so urgently intended to displace Atlantide will meet the same fate of those planned to replace the evicted occupation of Santa Marta, a pension and kindergarten, or of the study rooms in place of Bartleby in Via San Petronio Vecchio (to cite just a few recent examples): They will never exist. After our eviction, the building at Porta Santo Stefano will remain empty for years and years, or forever, just as has happened to all of the evicted occupations in this city.

Though they want Atlantide to be “freed from things and people” (verbatim from the eviction notice), they will find it full of free things and free people. Hordes of furious faggots, perverted feminists, warrior lesbians, unruly trans*, and unlabeled punks will flood every neighborhood.

Atlantide stays. Atlantide is everywhere.

Over the years we have come into contact with many political groups in Italy and elsewhere. We remain dedicated to fostering transfeminist, anticapitalist, d.i.y. activist networks on a national and transnational level. Whether you knew us before or you are just meeting us now your statements and expressions of solidarity with Atlantide and its fabulous, resilient inhabitants, and to the collectives that animate her, please do so by posting a statement on the Atlantide R-esiste Facebook page or by sending an email to atlantideresiste[at]gmail[dot]com. 

Needless to say, every expression of affection and solidarity is deeply appreciated and makes us stronger.

You are all invited to the upcoming events in defence of Atlantide:

Sunday Oct. 4th, “Never a last time! Party”, h 17-21, @ Atlantide, Piazza di Porta Santo Stefano 6;

Monday Oct. 5th, general assembly, h. 20.30, Palazzina della Biblioteca delle Donne, Via del Piombo 5.

Stay tuned on http://atlantideresiste.noblogs.org or Atlantide R-esiste Facebook page.

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FL - 1983: Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist Audre Lorde lectures students at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Lorde was a Master Artist in Residence at the Central Florida arts center in 1983. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Audre Lorde in New Smyrna Beach, FL (1983)

It has been some time since I have written here. Today seems like the perfect day to return to mark 36 years since Audre Lorde spoke her profound truth under the title “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Lorde’s frequently quoted axiom titled an intervention she made at the New York University Institute for the Humanities Second Sex Conference on a panel titled “The Personal and the Political.”

Lorde’s intervention––as much philosophical as urgently political; as much material as deeply informed by spirit––challenged the theoretical terms of “difference” as it had been imagined in both the content of the panel and the formal organization of the conference itself. Lorde witnesses:

It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians. And yet, I stand here as a Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel at this conference where the input of Black feminists and lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this conference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable. To read this program is to assume that lesbian and Black women have nothing to say about existentialism, the erotic, women’s culture and silence, developing feminist theory, or heterosexuality and power. And what does it mean in personal and political terms when even the two Black women who did present here were literally found at the last hour? What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.

Speaking of the weight of that “last hour” at which “the two Black women who did present [there] were literally found,” Lorde offers what would likely travel under the academic-legal terminology of an intersectional––not to mention immanent––critique. But, the term “intersectional” itself had not been coined in 1979, so we see behind and through the things that it has a tendency to shorthand when we hear it today.

Stepping through the erasures of the conference––imagining Lorde’s voice and wondering if it is a part of the archival documentation of the event itself––her words are perhaps best understood when read aloud:

Interdependency between women is the way to a freedom which allows the I to be, not in order to be used, but in order to be creative. This is a difference between the passive be and the active being.

Lorde’s truth is poetic and poetry is her truth. Eschewing the prolonged and inappropriately universalized language of White European Philosophy, Lorde reaches the core quickly. Time is limited for the appointed representatives of difference in the spaces of sameness:

Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives. Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.

Perhaps seeing the need to assuage an audience that would be threatened by both her profound presence and her Truth telling, Lorde reroutes the discomfort, rendering interdependency as a relation revelatory of difference’s generative power. This conference needs what she has to say. It is dependent on her vision and practice of interdependency. This makes her a Teacher. The open-ended-ness of the word “generate,” free of object, teaches that difference is not a localizable phenomenon to be represented by specific bodies, but a confrontation that necessarily “sparks” outside of the institution, even if it also lands there on this, or any, occasion.

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference—those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older—know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.

Having arrived there, in that particular institution, Lorde asks a series of questions that might easily be posed in the many academic institutions today. Especially where such institutions make explicit claims to feminist and queer knowledges, practices, and politics:

Why weren’t other women of Color found to participate in this conference? Why were two phone calls to me considered a consultation? Am I the only possible source of names of Black feminists? And although the Black panelist’s paper ends on an important and powerful connection of love between women, what about interracial cooperation between feminists who don’t love each other?

The organizer in me is challenged by these questions, set afloat on the fast moving stream of officially sanctioned action. Anyone who has asked a difficult question of someone in power will understand how that act immediately thrusts you outside of the smooth reproduction of the institutional order. You hit a rough rock in the stream and it cuts you as it also becomes your refuge. If you “speak from difference” it may not differ from your quotidian experience. But if you are assumed to speak from a position of institutionally sanctioned power and authority, you will feel the sense of betrayal on the part of those who rely on your silence to justify their own.

It may seem easy to emphasize love––not for anyone who has actually loved, still––but Lorde goes further than already existing or hard fought for love. She questions everything else. She makes explicit the implicit affects that effected the very organization of the conference itself. For the timid, for those who might not yet feel it, she entrusts her point to a white Truth teller, someone who can show how to take responsibility:

In academic feminist circles, the answer to these questions is often, “We did not know who to ask.” But that is the same evasion of responsibility, the same cop-out, that keeps Black women’s art out of women’s exhibitions, Black women’s work out of most feminist publications except for the occasional “Special Third World Women’s Issue,” and Black women’s texts off your reading lists. But as Adrienne Rich pointed out in a recent talk, white feminists have educated themselves about such an enormous amount over the past ten years, how come you haven’t also educated yourselves about Black women and the differences between us—white and Black—when it is key to our survival as a movement?

Lorde references the feminist movement in a move that carries us to the coda of intervention. She speaks to and from the depth of feminism and the breadth of all it can learn if it moves beyond the mere gesture of inclusion toward the substantive and substantiating act of collective self-inquiry (auto-coscenza):

Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women—in the face of tremendous resistance—as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.

The tragic multiplication of labor, the fractious “repetition of racist patriarchal though,” the redirected power of erosion: None is particularly surprising to the Warrior Poet, but each new iteration seems to demand another call to justice. And so we are called, in terms that honour what the space of intervention––the conference itself––is actually trying to do despite itself. Lorde brings us there in words that, thirty-six years later, fall like heavy raindrops on the still thirsty, root thick soil of early autumn:

Simone de Beauvoir once said: “It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for acting.”

Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.

Read all of “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House” here.
(Try doing it out loud.)

Early in 2013, I was enormously privileged to attend a series of events dedicated to the legacies of Audre Lorde. Organized by the Community Arts Practice (CAP) Certificate Program and the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, in conjunction with Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto, the series included a film screening, several lectures, and an exhibition of artwork and performance by members of CAP. The inaugural event was a lecture by Professor M. Jacqui Alexander of the Women & Gender Studies Institute at University of Toronto. Titled “Medicines for Our Survival: Indigenous Knowledge and the Sacred,” the lecture has resonated in my heart and mind throughout the year and has grounded me in a new understanding of my work.

Practically, Prof. Alexander inspired my increased involvement in political struggles for justice within my Faculty and University. From an institutional perspective, this has taken the ‘recognizable’ form of committee membership on our Faculty’s relatively new Equity Committee. More personally, it has involved learning from, struggling alongside, and sharing with colleagues and comrades – faculty, students, and staff – who are committed to social justice beyond the boilerplate languages of ‘equity and diversity’ and in opposition to the violences justified in the name of ‘inclusion.’ Many of these folks, including Prof. Honor Ford-Smith were directly involved in getting Prof. Alexander up to York for her rare public lecture. Many more, including Prof. Jin Haritaworn, have been deeply involved in struggles for justice both preceding and after their arrival to FES. I name Profs Ford-Smith and Haritaworn because I have personally witnessed their incredibly hard work to organize and support struggles for justice at the intersections of race, class, ability, sexuality, and gender. In short, they help make FES (and Toronto) a fabulous place to agitate for justice.

More directly related to Prof. Alexander’s words that March evening, her discussion prompted me to start the process of thinking about legacies of colonialism and racism as they relate to my own work on urban ecologies of gentrification. This has involved learning how to draw politically honest intersectional connections to both activist and scholarly work that heretofore were not a part of my intellectual or political practices. It has involved a lot of parallel reading of both scholarly work and blogs, online archives, and political texts that travel under headings of women of color feminisms, anti-colonial struggles, critical race studies, disability studies, and trans studies. Among my favorites this year were a text that should be considered a classic of queer ecologies, Eli Clare‘s Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation (2009 [1999], South End Press; I highly recommend listening to the free MP3’s of Clare reading the text) and M. Jacqui Alexander’s own book, Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred (2005, Duke University Press), particularly the chapter called “Anatomies of Mobilization,” which tells the story of a struggle organized by a coalition of faculty, staff, and security guards at the New School in NYC. Their movement contested dominant oppressive frameworks of ‘diversity’ in a range of institutional practices including, notably and strikingly for this courageous chapter, the hiring of Prof. Alexander to a temporary position there.

The process of getting to know histories of struggle both within and beyond my immediate institutional and personal context has been necessarily slow for me. The temporality of this learning reflects the work it takes to listen and position myself as a white, queer, male-identified person who is routinely enabled and privileged by my institution. The ‘slowness’ of this work also reflects a resistance to the isolation and over-specialization that permeates the PhD journey; in my most grounded moments, I see this slowness as a refusal to work with the ‘speed’ and ‘efficiency’ required to become a depoliticized competitive PhD-candidate. Using Alexander’s terms, I would say that the path of building ‘communities of difference’ and making ‘intelligible worlds’ is not paved in advance of our walking it, even if it is well worn by the many people who have traveled ahead of us.

As this work has unfolded, I have recalled and drawn strength from my earlier social justice organizing experiences. When I was living in Prospect Lefferts Gardens/Flatbush (Brooklyn, NY), I got involved with a group of community elders and long-time residents who were trying to rebuild the fledgling Neighborhood Association in a way that build on the long histories of social justice and civil rights organizing. My comrades in this struggle ranged from white women university professors (one of whom was involved in the New School struggle that Prof. Alexander writes about), young mixed-race hetero-families whose renovated apartments brought newcomers like me to the neighborhood, an elderly white man who moved into the neighborhood while it was still redlined and who was directly involved in the civil rights struggles for integration and reconciliation, an inspirational and brilliant queer woman of color pastor from the local church, as well as many renters, homeowners, business operators, and youth from the neighborhood. We struggled to create an organization invested as much in the ‘safety’ of the neighborhood as in contesting aggressively gentrifying development projects. We did not always agree, but we created an environment in which difference and dissent grounded our process. Along the way, I learned quite a bit about listening, respect for elders, and the complexities of negotiating different political struggles alongside knowledges and practices of the sacred.

Perhaps the last point – a politics which does not shy away from the sacred – grounds what I found so profound about Prof. Alexander’s lecture that night. Prof. Alexander opened her talk with gestures of sacred ritual and with an acknowledgment of the land claims to the territory on which we were located. She then took us on a journey that called all of us to a specific awareness of our work. Cultivating an enraptured audience, Prof. Alexander drew our attention to what we need most and want least: the truth, which she said there is often ‘an allergy’ to in the academy. Honoring Audre Lorde, she spoke of the uses of the erotic as power and reminded us that sharing in the same life force is not about sameness. It is very difficult to capture the energy of the room, which, among other reasons, is perhaps why Prof. Alexander asked that nobody use a recording device other than a pen and paper to document her lecture.

Among the many memorable moments of testimony, storytelling, and analysis that comprised “Medicines for our Survival,” one has become an important part of my own survival throughout the perilous process of PhD professionalization. At a certain point, Prof. Alexander told us, quite simply, that she was present in the room doing her work. She followed this profoundly simple statement of purpose by saying, “And I am here to ask you: Are you doing yours?” To answer this question, she told us, we would need to know who we are and why we came. We would need to summon the courage to stand up to our academic peers, advisory committees, department heads, and Deans when they imposed upon us a vision of what ‘our work’ should be. We would need, most of all, to ‘sacrifice speed for scrutiny.’

From here, Prof. Alexander told us a bit about the methods and pedagogy she uses in her courses. In one of her courses, she explained, she asks students to connect with a medicinal plant, to make the plant a subject of their work, to explore how and why the plant has chosen them. Having only recently come to consciousness about my desire to write with and through plants, this moment deepened the impact of Prof. Alexander’s already moving lecture beyond what I could have expected. She called us to ‘think, learn, love, grow, and possess ourselves.’ This call – and the context and work that went into opening the space for it – has nourished my purpose and process more than I could have imagined.

Over the last 9 months, I have brought myself back to Prof. Alexander’s lecture many times. As I have written with and about Tree of Heaven, I have had to wonder how and why this particular plant found me. I have had to wonder how to honor the moment of truth in which I was encouraged to follow a surprising intellectual and political path lined with its newly sprouting saplings. What will I find there? What have I found without looking? What has this plant revealed about my own ignorances? My own history?

I have had to wonder how to continue to follow this path despite the reality that it has demanded a far more rigorous practice of truth-seeking and truth-saying than I could have imagined as part of this process called ‘doing a PhD.’ In fact, as Prof. Alexander so powerfully attests to in her work, academic spaces are often hostile to just such practices.

The work of making an alliance with Tree of Heaven has been both a literal and metaphoric opportunity for me to nourish and ground my participation in struggles for justice both in and as ‘my work.’ When it comes to discovering and understanding the surprise of ‘my work,’ I can’t think of a more important moment from this (or any) year than Prof. Alexander’s lecture. An indisputable moment of truth, “Medicines for our Survival,” has led me well beyond the requirements of completing my program to struggles for justice, intelligibility, and recognition. The ground on which these struggles unfold – one might say the nature of these struggles – long predates my arrival. So far, the partisans and proliferators of these struggles have been beyond generous in welcoming me, in challenging the terms of my arrival, and in leaving space for my clumsy process of coming to full awareness of oppression. My work, then, begins by accepting the invitation to rigorous self-inquiry and by taking responsibility for the state in which I accepted it.

[I am finally working my way through the reflections and responses that I drafted throughout March. These next few posts will be a loose processing of a series of incredible events (talks, meetings, lectures, performances, collective celebrations) which unfolded over the last month and to which I alluded in a post in early March. The notes, responses, reflections, and questions that I will post in the coming days/week emerge from of a series of events which have not only moved my ‘actual’ (i.e. institutional) PhD process along, but, more importantly, have witnessed the beginnings of an engagement with the community/collective of incredible folks at YorkU Faculty of Environmental Studies, as well as people located institutionally and geographically ‘elsewhere’.

The day following my first comp defense, on which I immediately, and exhaustedly/briefly reflected (below), I was honored to participate in a panel called “Doing (and Being) Queer in Environmental Studies: Research and Visibility.” For me, this was the ideal follow-up event to the more theoretically and individually inclined comp defense. I felt, as I did many years ago when I over-eagerly volunteered to discuss the history of my neighborhood association based on my very  emergent experience, a bit out of my depth. Nevertheless, I tried to listen more than speak. I will reflect more deeply on that event in another post, but say here that it marks, in very concrete terms, a distinct moment of politicization, becoming-collective, and reflexivity in my thinking and doing as a PhD student (in general) and as a queer PhD student at York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (more specifically).

Up to that point, I had been longing for a collectivity; I was very much missing the political community of the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association (see above), where I first participated in anti-racist community/collective organizing. I had been feeling isolated and uncertain about being in Toronto, but aware that there was much missing from my narrow view, framed as it was by the dashboard of the first year of a PhD in an unfamiliar city and institution.

Over the last month, I have finally begun to feel at home here: in Toronto, at York, in FES, in my apartment. But home is, as Loree Erickson explored in her contribution to “Doing (and Being) Queer…”, a contingent and complex form of ‘coming alive in our bodies,’ of reconciling the ideology of “you can do anything [in FES]” with the material realities of what ‘fits’ and ‘is needed’. As Loree explored, our survival depends deeply on making FES fabulous. This means we need to care for, accommodate, listen to, work shit out with, and also just be around each other. Radical care and support is not an option, but a necessity.

And yet, writing from my particular experience, I am aware that I don’t want to fetishize or exploit other people’s struggles for home; I especially don’t want to colonize someone else’s home. Nevertheless, at least in Canada, I am implicated in the latter even though I want to reject it, which is why decolonizing not only my thinking, but also my actions, has become and will remain an imperative. I want to be aware of the conditions under which my various movements and displacements – themselves often elaborate schemes to avoid my educational debt, to attempt to build this future-oriented structure called ‘a career’, to escape failing temporary arrangements – are undertaken. To this end, I am beginning to work on becoming a responsible and engaged ally to the many communities of which I am not a member but to which I feel an obligation and for which I hope to be a useful ally.

All of this grows from finally arriving, from allowing myself to be in one this particular place for an extended period of time; from feeling it as a new home, even if it isn’t the only one. I haven’t been very established in once place for the last few years, so I am very much looking forward to cultivating the relationships, commitments, responsibilities, and engagements that (should and do) come along with the bizarre privilege of doing a PhD.

As this series of posts will explore, my own scholarly interest in displacement, invasiveness, nomadism, and the ethics and politics of queerness are beginning to react to/situate themselves in the settler colonial country in which I reside as a temporary and conditional guest. I am trying to come to know the history and ancestry of the occupied territory which I too have come to occupy as a scholar, a queer, and an able-bodied white guy. I am trying to navigate the the various forms of institutional support, from which I sometimes benefit, and to identify, understand, and resist the violence that often comes with it. This violence is something I unambiguously oppose, but something which I cannot always figure out how to act against.

All I know is that I cannot do any of these things in isolation, which is the first thing so many people told me a PhD would be. I hope these posts speak back to the assumed inevitability of that condition by highlighting the many collectivities, dependencies, and entanglements that present themselves as evidence – and not necessarily always positive – to the contrary.]

Today March 4, 2013 was rare magic. I successfully defended my first comprehensive examination as a PhD student. The topic was queer theory, so ‘defensive’ isn’t exactly the most appropriate mood. Let’s say I embodied a version of the knowledge-object which was the focus of my first comprehensive examination. I also accounted for the extensive amount of writing I had done and listened attentively to the insights and critiques of my advisor and committee members. The discussion I had with my committee was spirited and, at times, toasty. I mentioned Cleveland more than once; this was surprising. I talked about my personal past in ways I didn’t anticipate doing. I wore a (used) suede jacket; the lining was more than a little moist after two hours. The four of us discussed two pieces of my writing – one whose title is too long to reproduce here and one called “Ec[o]topia Remixed” – and a list of 30 texts constellated around themes of time, subjectivity, sexuality, (meta)feminism, trans history, and space. I spoke at length about concepts of sexual difference, the histories of feminism and queer theory, vegetality and displacement. I’m not sure that I feel any more qualified to ‘think’ or ‘do’ queer now, but I do feel a distinct sense of what happens when certain knowledges are formally tested, acknowledged, and represented and I definitely have a greater sense of the differences and entanglements among my scholarly, activist, personal, and emotional work.

THE DECOLONIAL ATLAS

re-imagining the world.

Moontime Warrior

Fearless Philosophizing, Embodied Resistance (by Erica Violet Lee)

Kshyama's Attic

a collection of political and personal thoughts, poetry, prose.

tequila sovereign

(c) joanne barker

Seagoat Astrology

commonsense woo

Naked Heart

The LGBTQ Festival of Words

incroci de-generi

tra classe, razza, genere e specie

Sky Writer

Donna Cunningham's Blog on astrology, healing, and writing.

Yanis Varoufakis

THOUGHTS FOR THE POST-2008 WORLD

Open Geography

Open is an adjective and a verb

Insorgenze

Non lasciare che la scintilla venga del tutto spenta dalle legge - Paul Klee -

CUNTemporary

Arts Feminism Queer

Working-Class Perspectives

Commentary on Working-Class Culture, Education, and Politics

Emotional Geographies Conference

The University of Edinburgh

ALTCINEMA

films by Kami Chisholm

Picket Parade

Voices and Stories from the 2015 York Strike Lines

Heal to Strike

Refuel at Mobile Strike Therapeutics

Cento Trattorie di Bologna

La guida con le migliori trattorie e ristoranti di Bologna. Dove mangiare i tortellini, le tagliatelle e le lasagne più buone della città. Un brasiliano in giro per cento trattorie bolognesi, attento anche alla bilancia!

%d bloggers like this: