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Lately, I've had a series of frustrating experiences on the academic front, surrounding my work in fat studies. Last week, I saw a colleague of mine-- someone I thought I was down with the whole fat acceptance business-- perform an autoethnographic monologue at a conference. In it, she implied that the biggest problem plaguing fat people is the health insurance industry's refusal to pay for gastric bypass surgery because-- oh noes-- it is seen as elective surgery rather than the health emergency it apparently is. She also caricatured fat activists as people whose only goal in life is to make people feel bad for going on diets, and to sabotage other people's attempts at improving their lives-- something that, according to her, is apparently only achievable through weight loss. I'm trying to feel compassionate toward her-- I know her search for self-acceptance has been a lot more difficult than mine-- but frankly, I'm feeling pretty stunned and betrayed by her allegations.

Weighing more heavily on my mind (no pun intended) is a conversation I had with my officemate a couple days ago. She and I are in the same professional development class, and in the previous class, we had to give conference-style presentations. I gave my presentation on Big Burlesque, which I (apparently erroneously) assumed was a pretty straightforward, relatively uncontroversial intro to fat studies. I mean, it's basically: fat people are discriminated against and oppressed, and performance groups like Big Burlesque challenge that oppression by challenging mainstream assumptions about sexual currency and the right to take up space. Not particularly radical, right?

Except when I met my officemate in the office following class, she had this grim look on her face. Whereupon she proceeded to tell me that she found my presentation offensive because I'm clearly judging her for choosing to diet. (I'm not really sure what a bunch of fat 'n' proud burlesque dancers challenging spatial discrimination have to do with my officemate's dietary choices, but, you know, whatever.) Apparently, it's okay for ME to be fat (particularly since I exercise and eat a lot of vegetables and am therefore one of the "good" fatties who "can't help" her weight, as opposed to her fat, lazy aunt who has clearly "let herself go"), but SHE would feel better if she was smaller, and I just need to understand that SOME people need to diet in order to feel better about themselves, and evidently the mere mention of people who have chosen to embrace their fat and challenge fatphobia are, simply by existing, threats to those people who just need to diet.

I feel the need, at this juncture, to make my stance clear when it comes to individual choice and social movements. Though I am mostly thinking about fatness here, what I am about to say also extends to my queer activism, to my feminist activism, and basically to any other social commitments I have.

In my opinion, the discourse of fat activism-- or of any social movement-- is not intended as a means to micromanage other people's personal choices. Certainly, I try to live my own life, to the best of my ability, in ways that are informed by my activist commitments, and to make my own choices accordingly. But I don't really see any point in wasting vital activist energy that could be better spent in trying to dictate, or even judge, other people's personal choices. Fatphobia, like sexism, racism, classism, and heterosexism, are forms of systematic oppression; as such, it requires systematic solutions, and not obsessive micromanagement of the lives of fat people (or, indeed, the lives of any people, fat or not, who have been touched somehow by fatphobia). Frankly, one diet is not going to make or break an entire social movement, and as such I can't really be arsed to care about any single person's relationship to food or their body.

I do, however, highly resent when other people project their own troubled relationship to their body onto my activism and scholarship, and try to cajole me into reassuring them that it's "okay" if they choose to diet, and/or that I'm not oppressing them simply by suggesting that there are alternatives. It strikes me as a really convenient way to derail what I'm actually trying to accomplish with my work-- which is to expose fatphobia as a form of systematic oppression, and to highlight the work of activists who challenge conceptions of fat people as failed citizens, as grotesque, as lazy, immoral and less than human. Reducing the work of fat activists to a simplistic and navel-gazey battle over who should and shouldn't diet strikes me as a refusal to consider the systemic nature of fat oppression-- as if the fact that one tree is ostensibly different than the rest somehow means that there can't possibly be a forest. You may, personally, have perfectly good reasons for dieting-- I don't know, and I really don't care one way or the other-- but that doesn't change the fact that we live in a culture that valorizes thinness, that promotes a huge weight loss industry that, for the most part, fails to produce lasting results and even endangers the health of its participants; that positions corpulence as a contagious epidemic, a moral failing, a descent into the grotesque, and basically as a symbol of all that's wrong with the world today; and in which most people believe that it is perfectly acceptable to harass and discriminate against fat people "for their own good," as an incentive to get "better" (read: thin).

I resent the idea that I have to "absolve" people for their bodily practices just because I point out that some people challenge fatphobia (and-- oh noes-- that they are right to do so). Placing me in such a position not only grants me more power than I actually have; it advances a distorted-- indeed, inverted-- view of social relations. It imbues fat activists with a cultural capital we don't actually have, positioning us as tyrants whose only goal is to oppress people who want to lose weight. The point of fat activism is that fat people don't HAVE the power to oppress, to impose certain standards or bodily practices on the general populace. WE are the ones fighting bodily standards imposed upon US. And again I reiterate that this imposition is culturewide and systemic, and is not reducible to individual people's individual decisions to diet or not to diet.

Arguing that one should not HAVE to diet, or undergo weight loss surgery, or generally attempt to lose weight in order to "improve oneself" is NOT the same as arguing that it's okay to shun people who attempt weight loss. Pointing out that diets are largely unsuccessful, and that gastric bypass surgery contains health risks that are likely to far outweigh the "benefits" of weight loss, is not the same as declaring that anyone who has ever dieted or sought out weight loss surgery is a mindless cultural dupe. Declaring that fat people are not failed citizens, and that weight loss does not make one a better person, is a CHALLENGE to mainstream discourses that assign differing moral values to certain bodies, NOT a reversal of those discourses. My shit stinks as much as that of any skinny person-- the point I'm trying to make is that, contrary to popular belief, it doesn't stink more.

So I wish people would stop making my desire to combat fatphobia about them. I can't even point out your individual tree, let alone make any value judgments about it; I'm too busy examining the forest. Try joining me up here. There's clarity in this view.
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Okay, so, here's the deal.

I'm in a class this semester that is, in essence, made of epic fail. I don't think I've mentioned how much this class fails in LJ before, so let me take a few moments to explain it to y'all.

The class is called "Undoing Gender." And in theory, it's a really great class. It's supposed to be a survey of texts-- both theory and novels-- that explore the limits of mainstream assumptions about gender and sex (i.e., that there are only two sexes, that there are only two genders, that people's gender always "matches" their sex, and so on). And it tries to ask the question of what it means to pose a challenge to this kind of binary thinking-- how the lives of people who challenge these assumptions are affected by them. While we do some general queer theory stuff, there's an obvious emphasis on trans identities, intersexed people, and so on.

In practice, the class does not live up to its promises. I know this is kind of a hilarious assertion to make about a class that prides itself on challenging binaries, but there are two kinds of people in the class. There are people who know trans folks-- people for whom trans people are our friends, our current and former lovers, our family members-- people, in short, for whom these identities have a face, and who believe the questions we ask in this class actually have an impact on real people's lives. Then there are the people who have never met a trans person, for whom they are spectacles on a screen if they have faces at all, for whom "trans" represents a shiny new gender paradigm rather than actual people. ("Trans people" is not one of those categories-- if there are any trans or intersexed people in my class, they have not outed themselves.) Which makes the class particularly awful to sit through: the people in the second group keep flubbing pronouns and generally saying ignorant things, while those of us in the first group are sick of having to teach Trans 101. Again.

One of the things that bugs me personally about this class is that, to the extent that we talk about trans people at all, we talk about them as either a) recipients of medical discourse or b) victims of violence (or, more abstractly, victims of gender paradigms). I'm not saying that these are topics to avoid. Yes, the pathologization of trans identities is a real problem; yes, so is anti-trans violence. But one thing that keeps missing from this discussion is trans people as activists. Trans people as people with agency, as people with voices. And that's what I want to bring to this class.

Thus far throughout the class, I have, at varying points, let slip various things I know about the current wave of trans activism, in small and trickling ways. I have also been using the terminology I have learned through my relationships with trans people and the places where my queer women's communities overlap with trans communities, and have only really begun to realize that my terminology is not that of my classmates'. (Ask me about the offensive glossary one of my classmates gave the class last week. Go on. Ask me.)

Well, I have to give a presentation in class on Thursday, and I've decided to try and present what I know about the current wave of trans activism in a more systematic, thorough way. So I'm trying to think through what I want to tell my classmates-- the new terms I want to define for them, and the activists and issues I want to highlight. And in order to do the best job I can, I need some help with a few questions. So if you can, please look beyond the cut and help me out.

Here thar be questions. )

Thanks so much in advance to anyone who chimes in with answers, corrections, confirmations, and so on. I'm really struggling to put together a good presentation and address the gaps in my colleagues' knowledge in a sensitive but pointed way, and I'm grateful for any help you give.
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The theme of this year's NOLOSE conference was "More Than Just Fat: The Intersection of All Our Identities." The conference's concentration on building a complex, coalitional movement recognizing the need to take a variety of identities and experiences into account-- for example, race, disability, trans identity, age, and the experiences of "superfat" people in addition to those who are simply plus-sized-- is, I think, crucial to building a truly effective movement. It is also a timely theme, given the explosion of conversations about race and racism in the fat blogosphere.

I think, however, that in order to build a movement that truly takes the intersection of all our identities into account, we need to be open to the element of surprise. That is to say, we need to be careful not to assume that we can know in advance which identities will intersect meaningfully with the issue(s) we choose to foreground. I think that this year's NOLOSE conference, with its focus on caucuses converging at a Town Hall meeting, potentially began some interesting conversations about the ways in which fatness and queerness intersected with certain other marginalized identities. But I also think that within that structure, there was little to no room for that element of surprise. There was very little room for marginalized identities and experiences whose importance was not determined in advance to make themselves known, and to ask the conference at large to take their experiences into account.

In my conversations with several conference attendees-- but most notably, my conversations with ginilizGini, we perceived two major splits that were scarcely, if at all, taken into account. One such split was the coastal/middle America split: conference workshops and attendees seemed to foreground certain fat activist happenings occuring on America's coasts (the Fat Girl Flea was a particular point of interest) as having special weight (no pun intended) for all fat activists, regardless of their geographical location. This is something that Gini and I-- and, I'm sure, others-- hope to remedy by planning and publicizing more Midwestern fat activist events. It is a work in progress.

But the other split-- and the one I wish to explore in more detail here-- is the urban/rural split: the differences of interest and approach between those queers living in cities, and those living in rural and small town settings. The workshops and conversations taking place at NOLOSE seemed, by and large, to be founded on the assumption that people interested in, and affected by, the ways in which fatness and queerness intersect predominantly hail from urban centers with flourishing queer communities, in which conversations on the politicization of fatness are at least beginning to take place. But this is not true. And in order to build a widely effective, truly intersectional movement, we have to consider geographical location as a valid axis of identity and experience. We need to build a movement that takes the experiences of rural queers into account, that gives them credit as activists and bearers of agency, and that, to some extent, decenters the city as the locus of activism.

Some disclaimers, followed by some analysis. )
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Like most Americans, last week I watched the excerpt from Sarah Palin's interview with Charles Gibson, in which Palin all but admits that she has no fucking clue what the Bush Doctrine is:



And like many Americans (I'd like to also say "most" there, but I'm too cynical to believe that to be true), I find it pretty alarming that the person who, if her doddering old running mate is elected, could literally be one heartbeat away from the presidency, is someone who a) has no idea what the Bush Doctrine is, b) doesn't seem to have any clue that the U.S. government has, of late, literally been overstepping its bounds in Pakistan, c) appears physically incapable of giving a direct answer.

But upon reflection, that is not the only thing about this clip that disturbs me. I also find the way Palin calls Charles Gibson "Charlie" every three seconds really creepy. Not only is it obvious filler, but it strikes me as an attempt at excessive friendliness as a means of deflecting from the issues. It's as if Palin honestly believes that if she successfully turns on that ol' charm that landed her the Miss Congeniality title so many years ago, nobody will ever realize that she has no idea what she's talking about, or that she's a big, scary, neofascist right-winger theocrat who literally believes that most of this country is going to hell in her lifetime.

Besides, the more I watch this clip, the more it reminds me of yet another YouTube classic:



OMG SARAH PALIN IS GOING TO STEAL MY KIDNEYS
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Okay, folks. It's been a long damn time since I've written any kind of rant/polemic on this here LJ-- particularly in response to an online conflict-- but at this point, I feel compelled to speak up. "I won't be silent anymore" is a bit of a cliché, but in this case, it's kinda true.

I am kinky. I am a big ol' submissive masochist who like doing things I can't go home and tell my mama about. I am also a feminist. The two are not mutually exclusive.

It has been said, by some feminists-- and particularly, some feminists of my acquaintance of late-- that people who believe they can be kinky and feminists at the same time are simply dupes of the "sex-positive" turn in third-wave feminism. That we are mindless trend-followers. That asserting that feminism and BDSM are compatible-- just because we want them to be; just because we choose both-- is depoliticized "choice feminism" of the worst sort. That we are blithely, purposely ignorant of the ways in which the personal is political, and we don't want to examine the ways in which systems of oppression affect our sex practices, because then (obviously, of course) we would have to give up our precious kink.

None of this is true.

It may surprise some feminists to discover that I am actually quite critical of any argument that declares an act "feminist" just because a woman chooses it. A couple of years back, I was a member of an LJ community called [livejournal.com profile] feminist_sub, which is precisely what it sounds like: a community of submissives-- predominantly women; predominantly, it seemed to me, heterosexual women-- asserting that their feminism and their kink were compatible. Actually, it was more like they were trying to reconcile the two, because there's not a lot of space for them in feminist communities, or in society at large, for them to try to do that. Time after time, women would post in the community, asking how they might reconcile their kink with their politics. And time after time, people would post comments to the effect of, "because you chose both."

I always disagreed. It is, and has always been, patently obvious to me that an act is never feminist just because a woman chooses it. One has to look at the context surrounding those choices: did she have a meaningful set of choices to consider in the first place? Does her decision benefit only her, does it actually curtail the choices of other minorities, or does it help open up the possible range of choices for other people? Clearly, the simple act of choice is not inherently feminist. But this does not mean that BDSM and feminism are incompatible.

When it comes to feminism and kink, I always come to two conclusions. First, BDSM is not inherently feminist, but it can only stand to benefit from feminist critique. I am not an anarchist; I don't believe that hierarchy and power are always already oppressive. But I do believe that some forms of hierarchy are abusive and oppressive, while others may not be. As such, I believe that feminist critique is an imporant tool in BDSM communities and relationships, because it can help community members distinguish between workable power dynamics, and oppressive ones.

Secondly, it has been my experience that BDSM, at its best, can help widen women's (and queers', and other sexual and gender minorities') range of possible choices in a systematic and meaningful way. Above all, what I have learned from my involvement with kink is how to negotiate my desires and limits in the context of play. All good scenes begin with negotiation. I think most vanilla people are, by now, familiar with the concept of the safeword. But it goes beyond that: it's a constant process of negotiation. I talk with potential play partners before scenes-- perhaps by e-mail, perhaps at coffee before a play date, perhaps briefly at a play party-- to make sure I feel safe around them, and so that we can talk out what we're willing to try, and what we absolutely won't do. And in most of the really good scenes I've been in, the safeword has been the absolute last resort: one that I generally haven't had to use, because our pre-scene negotiations were adequately thorough, and because most of the really good tops I've been with have been really good about checking in at fairly regular intervals and making sure the experience is still good for me.

In other words, BDSM has enabled me to assert my sexuality more-- to communicate what I do and don't want. It's taught me how to be verbally open about my desires. I think that true sexual negotiation and consent is more than just a matter of "no means no". It means being able to, and feeling comfortable, talking about what your limits are-- preferably before the proverbial heat of passion, before things get volatile and difficult. More than that, it means learning how to say "yes"-- how to communicate what you do want. I think that a lot of people-- perhaps especially women-- don't feel comfortable asserting their desires, and that learning to do so is at least as important, if not more so, then learning to say no. BDSM, then, is not inherently feminist, but certainly a lot of its tools and techniques can be adapted for feminist purposes.

Having actually thought about these things (QED), I hope it should be pretty understandable why I get blood-boilingly angry when I am told that I am only kinky-- and a kink apologist-- because I'm a brainless urban hipster unthinkingly pushing the sex-positive orthodoxy (is this an orthodoxy? and if it is, why do I know so damned many kinky feminists who feel the need to defend themselves?). Furthermore, it makes me angry when I am told that my interest in BDSM is part and parcel of my being a patriarchal dupe who has been tricked into glorifying violence, or that I must be an abuse victim who can't think of any constructive (read: vanilla) ways to work out my victimization.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a victim of abuse. I have been in relationships where I have not been loved as well as, or in the way that, I needed to be, but that's not abuse. I have been in a couple of dubious sexual situations, but a) I began to show an interest in BDSM long before I got into those dubious situations, so my proclivities did not arise as a result of them (to say nothing of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy); b) perhaps because of the communication and assertion skills I have learned from BDSM, as soon as I realized a situation was dubious, I got the hell out of there. As far as I can tell, I've always had kinky desires; I remember being 4 and 5 and having daydreams about being ordered around by a lover. I knew I was kinky before I knew I was queer. Hell, I knew I was kinky before I even knew what sex was. The assumption that kinky people are abuse victims reacting to their past is a stereotype, and it's pop psychology of the worst variety, meant to contain certain forms of sexual and social deviancy through the deployment of so-called "common sense." Pop psychology as a means of "explaining" society's misfits is never okay.

Furthermore, what if I were an abuse victim? I bring up my relatively well-adjusted background to highlight the inaccuracy of certain stereotypes, but let me be clear: this does not mean I think that former abuse victims shouldn't engage in BDSM. Frankly, I find that whole argument offensive to people with backgrounds of abuse, because it denies them agency. Can a person who's been abused never be trusted to make hir own decisions regarding what will heal their past, what is benign, and what will constitute a traumatic re-living of that abuse? Is everything a former abuse victim does always already a reaction to the fact that s/he has been abused? Who gets to decide what acts and interests are healthy for those who have been abused, and how is the assumption that such people need an outside observer to make those decisions for them not oppressive?

Also: the automatic equation of BDSM with abuse, the assumption that all kinky people are inherently abuse victims, is potentially damaging to members of those communities, because the sad truth is that some kinky relationships are abusive. Some kinky relationships. Not all of them. But this is precisely the problem: if we issue a blanket judgment declaring all kinky relationships abusive, just because they may or may not involve a power dynamic of some sort (because, apparently, vanilla relationships are never hierarchical), then we do a disservice to those who actually are being abused in a kinky relationship, because we have no means or standards for articulating what, precisely, constitutes an abusive relationship in a BDSM context. I think this can often be a problem within BDSM communities, too, because we spend so much time trying to prove to the cultural mainstream that what we do isn't abuse, that admitting that abuse occurs within our own communities can become something of a taboo. But again, I wish to articulate that calling all kinky relationships abusive just because some are, is no more fair than arguing that, for example, all same-sex relationships are immoral because some queer people are abusers.

I would like to conclude here by asserting that I am not trying to argue that kinky people are sexually, politically, or in any other sense better than people whose tastes run to the strictly vanilla. I have no interest whatsoever in making those kinds of judgments; my only hope is that whatever you enjoy, you feel comfortable articulating your limits and desires, and that you have success in finding a lover (or lovers) who respect your limits and are more than happy to fulfill your fantasies-- whether your tastes are kinky, vanilla, asexual, or something else entirely. However, the reason I feel the need to conclude my post this way is because I am, in part, reacting to others' tendency to declare something oppressive simply because it has been problematic for them in the past. The second-wave feminist adage that the personal is political may be true (and I believe that it is), but this does not give any single feminist carte blanche to dismiss everything s/he doesn't like as oppressive. Certainly, it doesn't grant any one person the right to unilaterally decide what sex acts will and will not be okay from a feminist perspective. Choice feminism is just as problematic when it is used to prohibit, as it is when one employs it to justify one's own acts. That my tastes are different from yours, and that I assert the right to express them, does not make me an oppressor, insofar as I do not assume that all people should adopt my own desires. Asserting that I am an oppressor for those tastes, however, and arguing for a feminist utopia in which no one has such desires, might well be. From a feminist perspective, "utopian" solutions are always suspect, as they generally rely on the unilateral, one might even say magical, disappearance of all dissenters.
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Well gee, folks, it's been a long week.

As the end of the semester draws very, alarmingly nigh, I find myself running around endlessly to finish all the work I need to get done. My days seem like an endless succession of studying, writing, making sure I have all the necessary research materials for term papers, grading students' papers, applying for summer jobs--

--oh yeah. And also, smashing the bakesale of the patriarchy.

That's right, folks. Gather 'round while I tell you the tale of The Anti-Feminist Bakesale, and How It Was Defeated By a Healthy Dose of Feminist Humor (Not to Mention a Significantly Less Healthy Dose of Candy).

Monday was not a very good day for me. That is the nature of Mondays, I suppose. I was already feeling stressed out by all the work I hadn't managed to get done over the weekend. And, to add insult to injury, it appeared that Monday was going to be a warm and sunny day, which was probably my cosmic punishment for not getting my arse in gear over the ridiculously cold weekend, or something. So I was rushing across campus, mind already racing with all the things I needed to get done over the next few days... and that's when I saw it. Right there on the front steps of the Education building, stood a table with a big pink sign hanging from it. On the sign, in big, sparkly, blue puff-paint letters (pink and blue! how subtle!), were the words "ANTI-FEMINIST BAKE SALE." And behind the table, giggling like they were the cleverest cats the world ever did see, were four or five young women.

My blood boiled. I stalked to class in a righteous rage. I mean, it was bad enough that the College Republicans were holding an Anti-Feminist Bake Sale (apparently feminists don't like baked goods?) and acting like it was the most hilarious idea in the world. But that WOMEN were staffing the table? I don't think I'll ever understand how people can be so overtly, shamelessly complacent in their own oppression. I'll never understand the concept of anti-feminist women. I understand them even less than I understand gay republicans.

As I left class, I checked my cell phone, and saw that I had a voice mail from my friend uniquelysimilarEmily. Apparently, she had gone up to said bake sale to figure out what they were on about, and they had handed her a leaflet with the title RADICAL FEMINIST AGENDA at the top. On the leaflet was a series of quotes, taken completely out of historical and textual context (Did you know Betty Friedan was a radical feminist? I certainly didn't), suggesting that feminism was nothing but an insidious conspiracy to prevent all domestically inclined women from staying at home, and declare all men rapists. Angry, she had bought herself some poster board, and was now staging a counterprotest on the steps of the Education Building.

Deciding that speaking out was more important than getting an hour of homework in before my next class, I met Emily on the front steps. There, she was handing out candy to passers-by, and holding a sign that read:
The REAL Radical Feminist Agenda:
1. Smash patriarchy
2. Empower women
3. Give away candy

By the time I got there, a few fellow grad students and people from Vision, the campus LGBT organization, had joined her-- in fact, the counterprotest was threatening to become, and eventually became, more populated than the protest. I grabbed a piece of poster board, scrawled "FEMINISM TASTES BETTER!" on the front, and began waving at (and passing candy to) passers-by.

And that, my friends, is how we smashed the bake sale of the patriarchy. At first, the College Republicans tried to appease us by altering their sign to read "Anti- RADICAL EXTREMIST Feminist Bake Sale," but obviously that didn't work because, y'know, radical feminism is not a terrorist organization, but a very specific branch of feminism with a very specific history that has approximately nothing to do with the "radical feminist agenda" they were trying to repudiate. Ain't nothin' wrong with being a radical feminist, but there is everything in the world wrong with setting up a nonexistent feminist bugaboo to knock down with... um, pastries. Finally, the College Republicans agreed to shut down their bake sale at 2:30 if we agreed to shut down our counterprotest at the same time, and so we parted. By that time, we'd given away something like a dozen bags' worth of candy. The College Republicans made $28 on their bake sale. Which, if you consider that they charged 50 cents per baked good, and there's something like 18,000 students at BGSU, tells you how many people they reached.

The only misgiving I have about the whole situation has to do with the debates that arose between the feminists and the republicans at the end. I was pretty determined not to engage the republicans, as a) with the exception of sign slogans, I'm never very eloquent at protests, and b) I didn't think anything good could come out of engaging them. I think at one point, the republicans were saying they didn't like feminists because feminists didn't approve of women staying in the home, which my fellow feminists countered by saying that no, feminism was about a woman's right to choose, and that women should be able to stay in the home if they wanted to.

I understand where the feminists were coming from with that argument, but I think it's overly simple, and I'd like to complicate it a bit. I think people need to remember that, historically, all women have not stayed in the home: that has been an option, and at times an expectation, only for white middle- and upper-class women. Working-class and poor women have never had the option, let alone the obligation, of not entering the paid workforce. Black women, of course, have a history of being forced into hours of hard labor without pay. To limit discussions of women, sexism, and labor to discussions of whether or not women should stay in the home, even if they want to, excludes a wide swathe of women for whom that debate isn't even relevant. We need to remember that while feminists have historically argued for sexual equality in the workplace and for women's economic independence from men, it isn't feminism, but capitalism, that has forced women into the workplace. In this day and age, I think it's fair to note that an increased cost of living and wages that have not increased proportionately make it well-nigh impossible for most households to survive on one income. Which, of course, has devastating implications for single mothers.

I guess what I'm getting at here is, feminism isn't just a movement that advocates for the right of individual women to make individual choices. At its best, feminism is-- and should be-- a movement that shifts social, political, legal, and economic conditions such that women can make meaningful choices in the first place.

Anyway. Have some news links!

In addition to the news article linked above, BG News, the university newspaper, published two editorials about the bakesale. Read 'em. They're quite good.

My friend Emily, who started the counterprotest, also wrote her own account of events. Check out some of those comments. They're nasty.

Also, we garnered national attention via the blog Feministing. Please note that the blog entry mentions my slogan! I may not have organized the protest, but I hope that, henceforth, I will be known as The One Who Coined the Slogan: "Feminism: it tastes better." Which you may, of course, all use. And you should tell everyone that you know the woman who made it up, and that she is brilliant and sexy and-- oh yeah, available. (^_^)

Progressive Straight Talk blogged about us too. Here you will find a picture of the protest, including me, smiling the dorkiest of smiles in the history of dorky smiles.

Finally, while I don't have my own pics of the counterprotest yet, my friend Cheryl made this lovely cat macro for me:

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In the spirit of generosity (and, perhaps, procrastination), I am going to share with y'all the most effective tool I have for surviving periods of intense work and very little sleep. I invented it with my roommate back in my freshman year of college, more or less out of sheer boredom, and it has served me well in the years since. It's probably not the world's most productive strategy for intense work (for that, I would have to recommend: work steadily over a long period of time; and also, do as I say, not as I do), but if you find yourself in a crunch, it is a remarkably effective method for raising your mood, jiggling your synapses, and summoning up enough energy to work for just that little bit longer. I call it:

THE 3-MINUTE DANCE PARTY

  • Pick a song. Any song. Well, not any song. It should be an up-tempo song, with a good dance beat, a generally happy mood, and lyrics you don't have to pay much attention to. My song of choice this semester is Outkast's "Hey Ya," but back in college, it was pretty much every Eurotrash dance pop song ever invented. '80s pop and ironic butt rocker music works well, too. It's up to you, really.

  • If you're blocked for inspiration, you can use a song thematically related to your paper (or whatever work you're trying to do) in order to jog the ol' brain. Earlier this semester, my roommate Laura and I did a 3-minute dance party to Neil Diamond's "America" in order to get ideas for our American Studies Theories and Methods papers (and also, to try and maintain the fiction that being awake at 3 in the morning to write a paper was, actually, kinda funny).

  • Play said song as loud as you can without pissing off your neighbors.

  • Dance. Make an ass of yourself. Wave your hands in the air like you just don't care. Shake your bootay. Shake it. Shake it like a Polaroid picture. Bounce around, as if on an invisible trampoline. Sing into your hairbrush. If with someone else, make melodramatic facial expressions and obscene hand gestures at them as you sing. If alone, maneuver yourself in front of a mirror and make melodramatic facial expressions and obscene hand gestures at your reflection. Make yourself giggle. Giggling is good for at least an additional five minutes of intense concentration.

  • Once the song is over, get back to your desk and work. If done correctly, the 3-minute dance party can buy you anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours of additional concentration time.

  • Repeat as necessary.
riot_nrrrd: (Default)
So: Barak Berkowitz of Six Apart has made a statement regarding the LJ deletions, and some, probably most, of the deleted journals are being reinstated. (You can find a more comprehensive list of deleted journals here; those that no longer have strikethroughs in their name are no longer deleted, obviously. I'd like to point out here that, contrary to Berkowitz's statement, not all fandom journals have been reinstated, though it appears that most of the consensual fetish communities have been.)

While I am pleased that much of the damage has been undone, I am still not satisfied with much of what Berkowitz has said about the issue, or with the official LJ policies that may follow. To wit:
There were a number of profiles that expressed “interest” in activities that most of us would agree put children at risk, notably pedophilia and child rape. Both in the instructions for profiles and in other places on the site we make it clear that interests listed should be evaluated within the context of “I like x”, “I’m in favor of x” or “I support x”.   As many profiles are the only public part of a private journal and profiles serve partly as an advertisement for people of like interests, it is important that the content of a profile can be evaluated as if it stands alone. If your profile were to express interest in pedophilia with no other content that describes this interest as in helping survivors or protecting children from it we must read the profile as “I like or I support or I’m in favor of it.” For this reason we suspended profiles that meet this criteria.

First of all, anybody who has been on LiveJournal for any significant amount of time could tell you that interests lists are not used this way. Most LJ users take the interests list on their profile to be just that-- a list of interests, and what a person is interested in overlaps strongly with, but does not equal, what one likes. I have "fundamentalism" listed as an interest in my LJ profile, because I am interested in keeping abreast of fundamentalist groups in the US and challenging them wherever possible. Clearly, my "interest" in fundamentalism does not translate to me being a fundamentalist myself, or supporting fundamentalists-- which I think one would clearly get by a) reading that interest in the context of my entire interests list, b) reading my entire profile and my community affiliations, c) reading my journal itself. There are nuances to the way language is deployed in any LJ.

Speaking of nuances of language: [livejournal.com profile] trinityva has an interesting point as to how language is used in LJ interests list. As an example, she takes "beating people up," apparently one of the red-flagged interests in the LJ purge:
"Beating people up?" WTF? This can never be a joke, an expression of frustration, a cutesy description of someone who enjoys sparring in martial arts classes, a reference to consensual BDSM?

Indeed, what about context? Are we now expected to be able to explain, in our profile and our interests, the context of every single interest we list, in case someone from the LJ abuse team decides to go on a random search-and-destroy? Are we, from this point forward, not only expected to control our language in our journals, but to go out of our way to make sure that no word can be taken in a context that might alarm or discomfort people? Must we no longer not only avoid controversial interests, but avoid hyperbole, cutesiness, and facetious humor, just in case someone decides to take it too literally?

Another problem I have is this:
Another issue we needed to deal with was journals that used a thin veneer of fictional or academic interest in events and storylines that include child rape, pedophilia, and similar themes in order to actually promote these activities. While there are stories, essays, and discussions that include discussion of these issues in an effort to understand and prevent them, others use a pretext to promote these activities. It’s often very hard to tell the difference. As such, we intended to  have suspend reported journals that do not clearly and substantially object to these a reasonable person would think supported these activities. while at the same time portraying them.

First of all: I object strongly to the black-and-white approach Six Apart is apparently taking to the issues of pedophilia and incest. Apparently, there are only two ways to approach the subjects: either you are condemning them, or you are glorifying them-- and thus perpetuating them, and thus probably some sort of sexual predator yourself. Once again, the very idea that there is room for nuance, context, and in-depth exploration of these issues is summarily thrown out the window. Given this understanding, will it now be considered grounds for journal removal to, for example, portray incest in a work of fiction unless the characters involved suffer for doing so? To discuss Lolita without placing a caveat in every entry that declares pedophilia is bad, bad, bad? The writer Hanne Blank has written a lovely entry exploring the cultural contexts and emotional landscape of age-disparate genital contact; is her declaration that she, as a teenager, had a sexual relationship with an adult that didn't emotionally damage her a glorification of pedophilia and, thus, grounds for deletion?

Secondly, who is this "reasonable person" to whom we answer-- to whom we must prove that we don't support objectionable activities? Who declared them a pillar of reason? Because from where I'm standin', I don't see much reason. Apparently, "reasonable people" can't tell the difference between fiction and reality, or opinion and action, and take everything ridiculously literally and out of context. (Hey! Kinda like the fundamentalists that started this shit war in the first place.)

In the entry previous to this, gender_euphoricJay points, just in passing, to something that is very important for highlighting this debate. While Six Apart, and those who advocate their actions, cite their right as a business with a bottom line to do what they must, Jay points out that, for most of us, LiveJournal and its assorted communities constitute a culture. Whether you can, in legal terms, call what Six Apart did censorship, one must concede that what they did showed immense cultural insensitivity. As with any forum in which human beings gather to communicate, LiveJournal-- and assorted sectors of LiveJournal-- have developed their own norms, their own symbols, their own means of using and deploying language. Six Apart, showing an alarming lack of interest in understanding or working with cultural norms in place, monolithically imposed their own understanding of online language to decide which journals would get the ax, so to speak. I daresay that those on the receiving end of the deletions felt culturally threatened by this action.

So where does this leave me?

Well, I ain't deleting my LiveJournal. Not yet, anyway. There's too much history here for me to part with it so easily. Besides, my plan in grad school was to research the use and deployment of language online-- and particularly in online slash fandom-- and assuming that all the relevant communities aren't deleted by thesis time, this is going to be an immense resource that I can't afford to give up. However, I do feel that, on some fundamental level, my safety and the sanctity of my thoughts have been threatened here. Trust has been broken on this issue, and I don't know if I can ever get it back.

So I'm in the process of doing some hardcore compartmentalizing.

I am proud to announce that, after offering it to me multiple times over the years, I'm finally accepting Chris' offer to host my new blog. I've always wanted to try my hand at independent blogging, and after years of kvetching, now's the time. I'm planning on it being sort of a painfully-nerdy-queer-feminist-geeks-out-over-pop-culture sort of thing, with a little bit of body politics, sexuality, and other stuff thrown in. I am quite excited about it, and will let y'all know when the thing is up.

Secondly: if and when it is possible, I think I will be getting a journal on JournalFen. One of the things that this debate has really brought home to me is just how belittled fandom is, as a collective whole. I can't count the number of times that, while reading assorted takes on the mass deletion, I read some variation of "well, it's mostly fandom that's complaining, they're a bunch of drama whores anyway and besides, what kind of socially maladjusted weirdo writes Harry Potter porn?" I have, for a lot of assorted reasons, never been much more of a lurker on LJ fandom communities (though oh, what a lurker I am) because I'm not really keen on exploring that part of me in this journal (I am still painfully self conscious and often think: "Oh noes, what will my college friends think if I start squeeing openly or, gods forbid, posting fanfic in my journal?"). I am a big ol' fangirl, though, and especially given that I want to study fandom in grad school, I think it is only fair that I get more involved and put myself under the microscope as much as anybody else. I think I will feel much safer doing that a) away from this journal, b) with a journal service that has never been part of a mass-fandom-journal-deletion scandal, c) is specifically targeted to fandom(s), and thus features a minimum of "fans are socially maladjusted drama queens" wank.

(I'm also thinking of trying to find another forum to talk about kink and sexuality stuff. On the one hand, LJ is technically ideal for that sort of thing, given the complexity of the filter system. On the other: given the number of kink/fetish communities and journals that were suspended, I think we've established that such discussions are not safe here.)

The LJ will remain, at least for a time, for mundane everyday posts of the "I'm tired, my back itches, and oh-- this is what I ate today" variety. I will still check my friends list. But I will be writing here a lot less, and once I've finished using it for my academic purposes, I will likely delete it. And it goes without saying that I will never, ever, buy a paid account or more icons from LJ ever again.

So there you have it. It ain't an ideal solution, but hey-- it ain't an ideal situation either.
riot_nrrrd: (Default)
I realize that it's been a day since the whole controversy erupted, which means that, in LJ-land, everything to be said about it has already been said, but I feel the need to weigh in on the mass LJ deletion that has gone down in the past day.

For those of you not in the know: recently, a group calling itself Warriors for Innocence-- a self-styled child-abuse-and-incest vigilante group which a) does not appear to have any real credentials as an anti-abuse-and-incest activist group, b) appears to be little more than a few disgruntled individuals with a blog and a chip on their shoulder, c) may have links to Dominionist groups and even a right-wing militia, has threatened LiveJournal with legal action if it does not delete a number of journals that, it claims, promote incest and child abuse.

As a result, some 500 journals, including both communities and personal journals, have been deleted from LiveJournal. While some of them are, in fact, communities glorifying incest and child abuse, the vast majority of them are fanfiction communities with adult content, personal journals of fanfic writers, journals by and for rape and incest survivors, roleplay and discussion journals concerning consensual ageplay, and, in one case, a community journal dedicated to discussing the novel Lolita. (You can get a more complete list of deleted journals here.) Many, if not most, of these journals have been deleted not for their actual content, but for the content of their interests lists-- journals containing "rape" and "incest" in their interests lists, as well as other, more oblique interests (I have heard of one journal being suspended for having "pretty boys" on its interest list.) Most journals were deleted without warning, and without hope of appeal.

The powers-that-be at Six Apart (the company who owns LiveJournal) claim that the mass deletion of journal is meant to decrease their liability, by ridding LJ of journals that "promote illegal activity." Furthermore, Barak Berkowitz, chairman of Six Apart, asserts that, even if many of said journals did not actively promote real-life sexual abuse, they will stay deleted because "Our decision here was not based on pure legal issues. It was based on what community we want to build and what we think is appropriate within that community and what's not." In other words, LiveJournal is not what its users want to make of it, but what Six Apart wants to make of it, and they reserve the right to censor and delete any journal which they feel is counter to the image they want for LJ. Six Apart has since conceded that they did delete some journals in error, but that most of said journals will remain deleted, with probably little more than a dozen journals getting reinstated.

I'm sure I need not mention to all of you that this is censorship of the worst sort.

I have been a loyal member of LJ for some seven years now, and I have stuck with this site through all sorts of controversy. One such controversy keeps cropping up in my head in light of this rash of deletions. I remember, a few years ago, a huge controversy erupted regarding the proliferation of pro-eating disorder communities on LiveJournal. At the time, the powers-that-be on LJ argued that pro-anorexia and -bulimia communities were protected by free speech, and would thus be allowed to stay. (I do not remember if Six Apart was in charge at the time, but simply insert "pro ana" in the interests search at the top of your page, and you will see that this policy persists: pro-eating disorder communities are everywhere on LiveJournal.) I find it absolutely appalling that journals and communities that actively promote and encourage destructive behavior in their members are allowed to not only remain, but proliferate, on LiveJournal, while surivors' journals, and journals that explore social and sexual taboos through FICTION, are being deleted without warning or appeal.

I encourage you all to either e-mail privacy@livejournal.com, or preferably, to call Six Apart protesting this policy. (I e-mailed Six Apart today, and plan to call tomorrow.) In the meantime, I want all of your insights on the merits of free blog services you've subscribed to, and am thinking of setting up a GreatestJournal. I fear that, if this doesn't clear up, then LiveJournal and I have gone as far as we can go together.

EDIT: Apparently, said censorship not only implies an uneven application of the LJ Terms of Service, but is in direct contradiction with Six Apart's policy on the subject four months ago. The hypocrisy, it hurts the brain.

Also, while we're at it: A not entirely accurate, but certainly more comprehensive, list of victims of the LJ purge.
riot_nrrrd: (Default)
So for the past day or so I've been mulling over this entry, posted in the [livejournal.com profile] dark_christian community. In it, the original poster argues that the shrillness of the religious right is a function of its most fundamental insecurity: the fear that, because they have thus far failed to utterly dominate America's political-cultural landscape, their own salvation is not secure. In the poster's own words:
Some of the posts I'd exchanged revealed something I'd not known before; that many fundamentalists have a deep-seated fear of being Left Behind; they don't neccesarily feel secure in their salvation, even if they project the outward appearance of it....

I suspect they're scared that because they believe the End is so close (whether as a result of their actions or not), America's "sinful" nature may be putting THEIR chances of being Raptured in jeopardy; that their vengeful, zero-tolerance OT God will judge THEM guilty by association.

I think they hate us because they're afraid WE'RE going to get THEM Left Behind.


It is not this analysis of the fundamentalist psyche that troubles me. I think it is quite insightful; I think it is true. What I question is the assumption, inherent in the post, that this insecurity makes fundamentalists weak. I question the belief that to know fundamentalist culture is built upon a psychological insecurity is to possess power over adherents of that culture. In short, I think I'm questioning the liberal, Enlightenment-era notion that knowledge is, inherently and always, power.

I blame queer theory for my skepticism. I've been reading Eve Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet, a book that is challenging my fundamental assumptions about the power of knowledge and truth:
Knowledge, after all, is not itself power, although it is the magnetic field of power. Ignorance and opacity collude or compete with knowledge in mobilizing the flows of energy, desire, goods, meanings, persons.... Such ignorance effects can be harnessed, licensed, and regulated on a mass scale for striking enforcements....

The angles of view from which it can look as though a political fight is a fight against ignorance are invigorating and maybe revelatory ones but dangerous places for dwelling.... [A] writer who appeals too directly to the redemptive power of simply upping the cognitive wattage on any question of power seems, now, naive (4-7).


The thing is, the constant fear that one is not "saved" enough, and that one must constantly attempt to conquer the greater culture for (the fundamentalist's image of) Christ is not a weakness in Dominionist culture. It is, in fact, essential to its survival. It is the impetus for fundamentalists' cultural and political meddling; it is, in the original poster's own words, what makes them so shrill. If Dominionists were not insecure about being saved, if they believed they had truly done all they could do, they would have no reason to act in the greater culture.

In the message threads below the post, I ask (though perhaps not as eloquently as I had wished) what the political function of this knowledge is. Does acknowledging that Christian fundamentalism is based on a weakness give us a true advangate over its adherents, or are we just congratulating ourselves for being (according to our own personal mythology, anyway) not as "feeble-minded" as fundamentalists? And if this is an exploitable weakness, how do we exploit it?

The answers I have thus far received to this question seem to betray a blind faith in the power of "upping the cognitive wattage" on questions of worldview and Biblical interpretation. If we tell fundamentalists (so the responses tell me) that they are not following their own religious teachings, or if we can point out to them the contradictions inherent in their worldview, we will plant doubt in their minds, and we will undermine the entire fundamentalist system.

I see the following problems with this argument:

1. Those who promote this view are equating fundamentalists' doubt in their own psychological/spiritual fitness, with a doubt in the dogma itself. While it might be obvious to people outside fundamentalist culture that it is the dogma that produces the psychological shakiness, it is not necessarily apparent to those who have been schooled to believe in the absoluteness of their worldview, and in their own inherent flawedness.

2. Fundamentalist Christian belief in the literal truth of the Bible (or whatever parts of it they choose to read) does not necessarily equate to a belief in Biblical transparency, or to a belief that everyone is equally able to understand what it says. (One of my co-debaters says that the solution to this is not to interpret the verse when arguing with a Dominionist, but to simply state it. This seems naive to me. There is no such thing as not interpreting what one has read; if you state a passage from the Bible-- or any book-- in the context of making an argument, you are interpreting it.) Dominionists believe that only they, the chosen of God, truly understand what the Bible says, and only they know the correct interpretation of each verse. And this is not just an empty belief: it is continually reinscribed by constant contact with their community. A queer feminist pagan lib'rull like me pointing out the apparent contradictions in their religious worldview proves nothing. I am not one of the chosen; hence, my interpretation is inherently flawed, or twisted, or even deliberately evil. By their standards, I'm either too hard-hearted to be open to the truth, or I've been sent by the devil to tempt them away from the truth with twisted interpretations of Scripture.

3. Let's face it: logic is about the least useful tool any of us has in challenging power. Fundamentalists are not interested in facts. They are interested in being part of a great cosmic epic, in which they are warriors of light in the great battle of good and evil. They are interested in meaning rather than knowledge, in having a place in the world, in being able to see the world as all of one piece-- so much the better that they feel they are the only ones who can see the universe for what it is. They want to belong-- and as I have said previously, having strong community ties reinforces their beliefs, and wanting to hold on to that sense of security trumps holding on to facts. To deny inconvenient facts, or to deny the presence of contradictions, is not weakness to them; it is part of their faith, and they believe God demands it of them. One of the posters suggests that, for example, I might unsettle fundamentalists by asking how the story of Adam and Eve measures against recent findings of Neanderthal DNA. I'm willing to bet that the fundamentalist tunes out the second they hear "Neanderthal": such an argument places me plumb in the middle of the evil evolutionist agenda, and how dare I be diverted from God's own truth by a few bones.

Such tactics may unseat a few questioning members of Dominionist congregations who are already nursing doubts, but it's not going to unseat the entire fundamentalist works. And I'm kind of sick of seeing my fellow lefties congratulating themselves over facts, thinking against all evidence that waving a list of trivia in other people's faces is going to do anything effective, while meanwhile the right wing (have you noticed this?) has stolen the word "fascism" right out from under our noses. (We've had that word since the '60s, dammit! How could we let it slip away so easily?)

We cannot fight meaning with knowledge, but we may, if we do it right, be able to fight meaning with meaning.
riot_nrrrd: (nana)
I think I'm going to do this 101 in 1001 thing. It seems like a good way to try new things and get me motivated.

The 1001 days go into effect as soon as I figure out what all 101 of my goals will be. Here's what I've got so far:

  1. Knit at least one sweater.
  2. Memorize all the kanji in my Remembering the Kanji book.
  3. Write at least one zine.
  4. Sell my car and learn to depend on biking and public transit.
  5. Learn at least 10 new recipes and start cooking them regularly.
  6. Get a job.
  7. Sew at least 5 articles of clothing.
  8. Ask someone out.
  9. Visit Seattle. (Haven't done this since I was 10!)
  10. Go camping at least once.
  11. Finish sorting through/giving away/selling everything I brought home from college.
  12. Read at least five of the books from this list.
  13. Write one article and submit it to Bitch magazine.
  14. Take an improv theater class at the Brody Theater.
  15. Make a collage.
  16. Tell someone who really deserves it off/Say something I've really wanted to say but haven't for some reason.
  17. Learn HTML competently enough to make and maintain my own website.
  18. Read 30 of the books that I have bought over the years and not managed to finish yet.
  19. Write one piece of fiction.
  20. Buy a membership to Inner City Hot Tubs.
  21. Relearn how to play Debussy's Arabesque No. 1 on the piano.
  22. Watch 50 movies on IMDB's Top 250 List.
  23. Become informed/conversant in one "progressive" cause that isn't directly tied to gender and/or sexuality.
  24. Give at least 100 hours of solid volunteer work to said cause.
  25. Perform in a drag show.
  26. Watch the entire Babylon 5 series.
  27. Decide whether I'm going to go to grad school (and where, and what degree), teach English in Japan (and where, and through what program), or continue working (and where, and in what field).
  28. Visit the zen monastery on Whidbey Island in Washington State.
  29. Meet [livejournal.com profile] midnyght in person.
  30. Read at least one religious text in its entirety.
  31. Read 20 of the books on the 100 Best Novels list.
  32. Go for a week without using the Internet.
  33. Go for two weeks without consuming caffeine.
  34. Make at least three new friends.
  35. Be able to jog one mile without stopping.
  36. Get a library card.
  37. Go for a week without hitting the snooze button on my alarm.
  38. Be able to do 100 sit-ups.
  39. Get a massage.
  40. Get in touch with one long-lost friend.
  41. Have a conversation with someone I'd normally deem "too cool" for me to know.
  42. Buy only products that are cruelty-free, sweatshop-free, fair trade, and have good labor reputations.
  43. Shop only at stores with good labor reputations and strong nondiscrimination policies.
  44. Plan a budget, and stick with it, dammit.
  45. Attend a Quaker service.
  46. Visit the Portland Dharma Center.
  47. Read something I've written at an open mic.
  48. Go for a day without saying "like" (except in its original context).
  49. Plan one street improv event, in the style of Improv Everywhere.
  50. Learn to silkscreen.
  51. Act out at least one sexual fantasy.
  52. Visit Vancouver, BC.
  53. Go to a Catholic mass. ('Cause I've always been curious, and I've never gone.)
  54. Relearn enough Japanese that I can read my massive manga collection.
  55. Go for a week without gossiping about anybody.
  56. Knit something that I have designed myself-- NO PATTERNS.
  57. Write letters to 10 people.
  58. Paint my bookshelf.
  59. Gain the ability to type 75 wpm with minimal mistakes.
  60. Plant two types of plants and keep them alive for the 1001 days.
  61. Go for a walk in Forest Park.
  62. Visit a part of the Oregon coast that I haven't visited before.
  63. Perform a stunning piece of karaoke.
  64. Go to OMSI ('cause I haven't since I was a kid).
  65. Write and send a letter to the editor of a major publication.
  66. Call one of my congresspeople, at least once.
  67. Learn all the countries of the world, and their capitals.
  68. Go for an entire year without forgetting or being late for anybody's birthday. (I know, it's horrible that I have to mention it, but there you go.)
  69. Call my grandparents every other week for three months.
  70. Play The Sims.
  71. Learn how to use Photoshop.
  72. Show up on time to all of my professional and social engagements for a week.
  73. Make myself a blanket. (Knitted or quilted.)
  74. Go for a month without shaving my legs. (Because I've never gone for more than a week and a half, ever.)
  75. Give 40 hours of volunteer time to Planned Parenthood (or another pro-choice organization).
  76. Tell someone I love them, and mean it.
  77. Send one of my secrets to PostSecret.
  78. Keep a record of my dreams for three months.
  79. Learn to play chess. And play it well.
  80. Write a piece of erotica. Just to see if I can.
  81. Spend a day hanging out with my brother.
  82. Make and send five mix CDs.
  83. Visit at least one state I haven't visited yet.
  84. Give blood.
  85. Participate in a walk for AIDS or breast cancer.
  86. Attend a protest in Portland.
  87. Take a martial arts or self-defense class.
  88. Read The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault.
  89. Read Orientalism by Edward Said.
  90. Learn how to make one girly cocktail.
  91. Do my taxes by myself.
  92. Visit at least one college friend.
  93. Learn how to identify five different constellations (besides the Big Dipper).
  94. Buy a lottery ticket.
  95. Pierce my nose (again).
  96. Read fanfiction only once a week for twelve weeks straight.
  97. Learn to read tarot cards.
  98. Spend a day on a nude beach.
  99. Go to Oaks Park and have a day of screaming kid fun.
  100. Clean out and wash my car. Damn, that thing is disgusting.
  101. Make another list of 101 once these 1001 days are up.
riot_nrrrd: (Default)
Before I write this, you should know that I'm horribly self-conscious about it. Yeah, sure, I posted that big old rambly post a while back about starting to explore my spirituality and starting to sort of, tentatively conceive of myself as (neo)pagan, and I thought that would make talking about these things easier, but it doesn't, really. See, I'm still anticipating my readers thinking I'm nothing but a fluffy, simplistic New Age hippie freak, and while it's important to me to publicly explore these beliefs in order to see how (if) they can integrate into my everyday life, that fear keeps me from doing so. Suffice it to say that in the past few months, I have, for the first time in over three years of LiveJournaling, discovered my brand new friend the private post.

Anyway. So, being for the time being stuck in the wilds of rural Illinois, and having no access to any good bookstores (Powell's, how I miss thee), most of my research into neopagan movements has of a necessity been online. And although I am interested in general practices and histories, since I've been online, I've been most interested in taking part in online communities and observing the various paganisms as leaving, breathing entities. I'm interested in how their practitioners conceive of them, who seems to be attracted to what, the flexibility of belief and practice in each, and so on. Mostly, I've been hanging around in old LiveJournal mainstays such as [livejournal.com profile] pagan and [livejournal.com profile] nonfluffypagans, although I've also been lurking on e-mail lists like pdx_pagans and the ADF-druidry list. And what I've found is both eye-opening and disappointing.

See, to some extent, I don't feel that I fit in with this subcommunity. On one hand, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of pagans who are interested in serious scholarship and research, and making sure their spirituality is historically and philosophically informed (especially the folks over at ADF-- I don't know if I really fit into the orthodoxy/orthopraxy of any neopagan group, but they come closer than anybody I've encountered thus far to rocking my socks off). I am, as many of you know, a self-avowed nerd, and intense research highly appeals to me. On the other hand, I tend to conceive of myself first and foremost as a big ol' pretentiously postmodern queer progressive, and a lot of the discussions I've seen in neopagan online communities (in this case, particularly on LiveJournal) tend to put me off.

I'd like to present one of my grievances in detail, but first I feel the need to present a couple of disclaimers:


  • I am a newbie to all of this. A n00b, if you will. I've really only been putzing around online for three months, and I can only claim to have read one book about neopaganism. This will at some point change, when I have the resources to make it change, but right now I only have so many resources. Thus, I acknowledge that some of what I say may be dead wrong. Still, I think it may be relevant, as it is possible that there are similar newbies out there with similar thought processes. Besides, it's bugging the crap out of me.

  • Like I said, I consider myself a big ol' queer progressive first and foremost, with strong roots in postmodern gender and queer theory. I tend to filter my view of the world through my experiences in gender studies classes and activist groups, and I sometimes talk about Judith Butler as if she were god incarnate. I recognize that not all pagans are progressive; if you don't like what I have to say, just chalk it up to me being a crazy college student whose brains have been addled one too many times by that silly liberal arts crap.



Excellent. On to the grievances:

I'm not sure how much of a right I have to critique this, given that as a newbie I may well be hovering about in a fluffbunny stage of my own making, but here goes. In almost every pagan community I've encountered-- especially in the infamous [livejournal.com profile] nonfluffypagans, there is a group of people who lambastes a subsection of pagans they deem "fluffy." These people are shunned because, among other things, they have no apparent concern for the historical veracity of their respective religious traditions. They are accused of basing their practices on the shoddy scholarship and (in some cases) philosophical/ethical carelessness of such notorious characters as Silver Ravenwolf, Scott Cunningham, DJ Conway, and pretty much anything published via Llewellyn Press, and of abandoning research and a critical paradigm in favor of facile answers. They are blasted for holding blatantly untrue and unverifiable beliefs, such as a bygone era of universal duotheism, a similarly bygone era of universal matriarchy, and a massive-anti pagan crusade known as The Burning Times. They are often accused of using paganism to "prove" that they have powers most humans don't-- people who claim to be natural empaths, witches by family tradition, famous figures in a past life, and especially Otherkin (i.e., "I have a unicorn soul') are held up to this kind of scathing critique.

I feel ambivalent about this judgment of so-called "fluffbunnies." On one hand, it was my fear that most neopagans were fluffbunnies, and my fear of being thought of as similarly fluffy, that kept me from exploring this possibility for a long time. Also, being a big fat nerd, it bugs the shit out of me when people are so unscrupulous in their research and so unquestioning in their beliefs. I do think that people who espouse blatantly wrong information should be soundly called on their shit. I also think that people who make incredulous claims, such as those listed above, should be asked to back up their claims. Spiritual belief, in my opinion, is not just warm and fuzzy; it should have substance to it, and one should be able to defend their viewpoints intelligently. At the same time, I never hear anybody condemn those they consider "fluffy" simply because they haven't done the research, or because they aren't sufficiently critical of what they read. Rather, what I hear people talking about is how fluffy pagans affect the pagan community as a whole. Fluffy pagans, it is argued, dilute pagan traditions; they present paganism(s) to the public in a negative light; they dumb it down; they make us look bad.

Anybody who has taken part in anything relating to progressive politics-- especially if it's an identity-based movement such as feminism, queer rights, or a movement seeking liberation for people of color-- has heard this argument a million times before, transposed into a million different keys. It's the classic argument: if we allow those people over there to take up that identity and those set of practices, it will dilute our own identity, and endanger us. If we feminists allow lesbians into our group, then everybody will think we're lesbians, and it will ruin our public image. If we lesbians allow bisexuals in our group, they'll start dating men, and nobody will take our lesbianism seriously. If we gays, lesbians, and bisexuals allow trans people in our group, people will think we're all gender freaks, and nobody will respond to our calls for mainstream acceptance. In an even more current turn of events: if we allow those same-sex couples to declare themselves married, it will ruin marriage and the family and bring about the fall of civilization. The anti-fluffbunny argument is nothing new, and as always, it doesn't solve anything. It shuts down dialogue, it makes people defensive, it fragments communities, and likely, it's not going to move any of the purported fluffbunnies to rethink their relationship to their religions, nor will it cause them to stop identifying as pagans. Ignoring the fringe voices-- regardless of how incisive or naive those voices are-- never strengthens a movement; it weakens it, and it makes fools of the so-called "non-fluffies" as they vie for mainstream acceptance (the benefits of which are always dubious) and only serves to make them look like a bunch of callous snobs.

(Frankly, I wonder if part of the reason there are so many so-called "fluffbunnies" among pagans is because so many of the organizations I've found, out of concern for wanting mainstream acceptance and fear for being called cults, are adamant about not letting anyone under the age of 18 take part without parental permission. In some ways, I think pagans may be shooting themselves in the foot with this move, since it seems inevitable these days that teenagers raised in a more mainstream religious tradition are going to question what they were raised to believe, and there's no way in hell they're going to ask parents if they can join some random pagan organization when they know their parents will disapprove. Not being admitted to covens, groves, and the like will not, of course, keep most inquisitive teenagers from looking into paganism, and having no other guidance, they're likely to find solace in the books that speak most obviously to them, even if they're not the best, most informative books. But that's just my conjecture.)

This may seem simplistic, and I'm sure it's more difficult than this, but I support respectful open dialogue. If you see someone espousing uninformed crap, gently let them know. If you have essay and book recommendations that reveal the dubiousness of their information, give it to them. Recommend alternatives. For fuck's sake, be nice to each other. But also, realize that just because you gave somebody else the resources doesn't mean that they're going to take your recommendations. That's kind of the thing about religion in post-industrial society. We're not living an indigenous lifestyle, and our society is wildly heterogeneous; thus, as much as one might try to integrate one's spirituality into one's everyday life, there's always going to be some level of conceptual separation between the two. Which means that maintaining a spirituality-- especially a non-mainstream one-- is going to require some work. And as with any other spiritual tradition, there will be some people who are interested in the hardcore scholarship and in asking tough philosophical questions, and there will be others who just want to do the ritual thing every so often and get out of there. That's just kind of the way it is. You don't have to like it; you just have to accept it. They're not diluting your practice; they're only diluting their own.

And if you really feel the need to get angry at what you see as "fluffiness" in the pagan communities, don't get angry at them. Get angry at the Silver Ravenwolfs (Ravenwolves?) of the world, the Llewellyn Presses of the world. Get angry at the unscrupulous scholars, at the flaming egomaniacs, at the marketing machines whose aim is not to spread accurate information, but to make a quick buck. They're the ones who are diluting your movement. They're the problem. And if you stick it to them rather than to the innocent fluffbunnies just trying to figure out what the hell everything's all about, you might actually get somewhere.

Thus ends Adrienne's first fifteen minutes on the pagan soapbox. Thank you for listening.
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(March 8, continued) After visiting Shizutani, Gi-san decided to take us to Bizen since Jazz and Brandon needed omiyage (gifts purchased during travel and customarily given to family members, friends, and colleagues) for their host families. Bizen is famous throughout Japan for its pottery-- Pat the Canadian Monk actually learned pottery there before coming to Sogenji-- and because of its uniqueness, everything there is expensive. Fortunately, Bizen was having its annual Plum Festival at the time, so everything was on sale. I got a chawan (tea bowl) for myself-- I'm going to have to start drinking tea more regularly when I get back-- and a sake set for my parents in the States.

After that, we drove through Saidaiji-- home of (one of) Japan's world-famous Naked Festival(s)-- and caught lunch at Japan's illustrious answer to Denny's, a chain restaurant called Gusto. After much eating and bantering, we returned to the temple and basically dropped to sleep exhausted.

* * *


I know there is anxiety in the act of writing for any writer. How do you convey what you feel to a large group of people and make them understand what it is you have to say? For me, the problem is magnified: I always meant these words to be read by someone else, to try and convey what I understand to others, but it's more than that. I want to live this understanding, because that is the only way I can truly explain it. I think I'm starting to understand zen, but I can't say what it is. There are things you can only know by waking up every morning at 3:40, by sitting and chanting choka, by sitting zazen or doing samu or just meeting other people without words. And there are ways I want to live outside the temple: I want to practice zazen, and that doesn't just mean sitting. Zazen in a lot of ways is a mindset, not just sitting and meditating. Here in this donut shop, writing in my journal, I feel like I'm practicing zazen in a way: I have a deep calm inside me, and I'm letting my thoughts flow, but I'm not holding on to any of them, I'm not owning or being possessive of them. I want to convey this deep calm to others, to maintain it in my everyday life, but I fear that it will be misunderstood, and I will become loud and frantic and overly cerebral because it is the easier path. I want to show other the generosity I learned at the temple, and to be as mindful as I was there about not wasting or consuming so much, which could be hard in Tokyo and the U.S. People in the States will probably find me anal, if not downright crazy. I don't know how I'll explain or if I can keep that way of life up. Though I feel calm, there is a deep anxiety there.

This is not to say I've become a Buddhist or anything. I'm not, but then again I think few people at Sogenji are. It's a tradition at Sogenji that on birthdays, you get a cake and, between blowing out the candles and eating it, you recite a poem. On Jazz's birthday, after lunch, she told Dōan, "I was thinking of reciting a Bible verse as a poem, but I thought it might offend the Buddhists." Dōan just laughed and said, "Are there any Buddhists here?" Chi-san was telling me today that even the roshi doesn't consider himself a Buddhist-- he considers himself a transreligious figure, and what he offers is a practice and a way of life, not a religion. Which is good-- if there is a Buddhist doctrine, I don't believe in it. What I believe in is what I've witnessed, and what I have done myself, what my body knows.

I'm afraid of forgetting to write about something, anything, or forgetting details even after writing over 30 pages in this journal about temple life. I don't want to leave out even one detail, because that one detail may be the very key to understanding what it is to live in a temple, and what this has meant to me. To really understand, one has to live it, and I want to make people live this by giving them every last detail.

I don't remember whether it was Dōan or Corey who once said that free days were a test, to see whether you could manifest what you learn during zazen in the outside world. I guess it's nothing but free days from here on out. This is the real test, not whether I can sit zazen for four hours straight. I guess there's nothing for it but to just live, willingly, joyfully, and with awareness.
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Last full day at Sogenji. Tomorrow, I wake up at 6, pack my things, eat breakfast, have tea with the roshi, and then off I go to Hiroshima. It's crazy. I can hardly believe it. Before I get into that, though, I need seriously to update this thing. Here goes.

March 5: I had kitchen duty with Corey. I'm going to miss that guy. He's a lot more serious than I pegged him at first, but he's so sweet, and I like that he's not afraid to pursue an unconventional life course. He lived in Ashland for a while with his girlfriend, then took a semester off college to go rock climbing before enrolling at the University of Montana (humanities major; emphasis on philosophy). A couple years later, he came here. That kind of searching takes guts.

At breakfast, Corey sort of spaced out and forgot the rice; we had to serve bread. I've never seen the roshi so angry. He was yelling in incomprehensible Japanese, and he made Corey get on his knees, bow, and apologize to everyone. Chi-san was trying to console Corey; she said situations like that bring out the old monk in the roshi. Corey, however, was inconsolable. He didn't eat breakfast, and he cried all morning. I told him to take it easy on himself, that anyone could make such a mistake; he insisted it was his self-centeredness that kept the rice from getting done. Later, he told me he had been thinking about how life here, and sanzen in particular, turns you into a dependent little baby, and how difficult that is.

March 6: Jazz's birthday; Saichō arrives.

March 7: I got a chance to talk with Saichō a bit. She's really cool, and I'm sad I'm leaving before I can really get to know her. She lived in Portland for 20 years, just off Hawthorne, and her dharma name was given to her by the teachers at the Portland Dharma Center. She lives in Alaska now, in a town of 8-9,000 people called Sitka, where she works as a nurse. She loves the job; it allows her to connect with the people and, in a town of that size, she sees how her work actually makes a difference in the lives of her patients and their families. She started a zen meditation group in Sitka by putting up flyers and advertising in a newspaper-- they're small but growing, and they meet every Wednesday. She also paints watercolors-- florals, a hobby she picked up from her mother, and I love the way she looks at things with wonder-- picking up interesting seeds as she works, trying to find out what they are.

Saichō makes me think I could possibly start a zen group in Galesburg. I don't know if I'm the best qualified-- I'm a complete beginner, and I don't really believe Buddhist teachings-- but I like the idea of opening a spiritual path to the Galesburgers that is not Christian in nature; the idea of introducing alternatives.

I had almost forgotten: on the night of the 6th I met a Taiwanese woman who sits zazen here nights, and she talked about how she spent six months in a Pure Land temple. According to her, Zen is different from Pure Land Buddhism in that Zen focuses on finding the truth wholly within yourself, while Pure Land has more of an angle of getting help and power from the Buddha. This does not for me clarify the position of the Buddha in Buddhism in any way.

March 8: The time: 8:10 a.m. The scene: I'm sitting on my bed, reading and waiting for niten sōji to start, when I hear the guest house door open and a voice call my name and Jazz's. I open the door to my room, and there's Gi-san. I think, oh no, whose relative died? Gi-san looks down at Jazz and me sternly, and solemnly says, "You two are not going to samu today, because the roshi gave me permission to take you on a day trip." So, in maintaining our deep calm, we dance and squeal like little girls.

Half an hour later, the three of us and Brandon pile into the temples ancient car, and head off to Shizutani School, bantering and making fun of the bad English signs on the way. Our favorites: a store called "Virgin" with pictures of topless women plastered on the outer walls and a slogan reading, "Virgin heart, virgin pride, virgin innovation." When Jazz asked what they sold, Gi-san the ordained monk replied, "Virginity." Also, a store with giant urn-like pots in front that I lovingly named "Do-It-Yourself Cremation." (Jazz's slogan: "You Burn, We Urn.")

Shizutani School (I initially thought the sign in fron read "shizuka ni," which is Japanese for "shut up") was founded by the Ikeda family, who were daimyō (shogunate lords) in this region during the Edo period. This is the same family who founded Sogenji, and they are all buried here. The school was incredibly innovative for its day-- and was active into the '60s-- because it made education available to peasants, whereas before education was only available to the samurai classes. Seeing the architecture was really cool-- the roof tiles and the wall, the style of which only exists at the school and the temple, and, according to Chi-san cannot be replicated-- are very similar to Sogenji's. I think I would have gotten more out of this had the exhibits also been in English. Sigh.

To be continued....
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Today... oh, today. Today I did what I knew I'd be asked to do eventually: I cleaned out the toilet. And it was, to say the least, an Experience.

Toilet cleaning works like this: you have a toilet tank, and someone (Shōgen) ladles out the refuse with a big scoop. This person fills two huge buckets with the stuff, at which point two people (Jazz and I) haul the buckets to one of any number of holes in the ground dug for the purpose.

It is incredible how much waste 5 or 6 people can produce in a month. I'm sure Jazz and I probably hauled about 20 buckets full of piss and shit across that yard. It's sobering to think how much of that stuff pours out of you daily-- it makes you think twice about eating snacks. More sobering is the though of how much valuable water we waste every day using flush toilets. Shōgen says the roshi is big on making people clean their own waste, and I can see why. It makes you think.

The job is not all that bad, really; you're not knee-deep in shit or anything, and the work isn't physically taxing. Teresa told me last night that it was actually a fun job, and it almost was. The worst part is the smell: a couple of times, I thought I was going to vomit. However, there is something to be said about the virtues of vegetarianism: I can only imagine how much worse the whole thing would have smelled had we been eating meat. It's a bit more refreshing to be looking at refuse with grains and plant by-products in it than to be dealing with the remains of meat.
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All right. So... yesterday. Yesterday was a free day. Mostly. The monks were supposed to do takuhatsu (begging) on the last day of kosesshin, but they couldn't because it was raining. So they did it yesterday, and I spent my time from 6:00 to 10:00 preparing the bath for the returning monks.

It's odd, how I've habituated to the life here and adjusted to its rhythms. Yesterday, sometime in the middle of my sleeping time, I woke up, having kicked my thick blanket off my bed and needing to go to the bathroom. Before I left for the bathroom, I checked my clock, and the time was 3:54 a.m. This place has me programmed.

So... after filling the bath (and trying in vain to explain to Shin-san, an eccentric French man who probably sleeps during zazen even more than I do, that he needed to wait until after I was done sweeping to use the bath) and an early lunch, Brandon, Jazz, and I headed into Okayama to see the new Lord of the Rings movie. It was... okay. Now that I've read the books, I see how much the movies fall short. That's the way of things, though, I guess. Try telling that to people who haven't read the books.

Later that day, around 6:20, I talked one-on-one with Chi-san for a bit. I've been thinking a lot about how what I do in this place informs what I do or what I should be doing in society, and I've received a lot of different messages, and I've had trouble putting them together. The roshi (who, I found out today, has a birthday the day after mine) talks both about taking what we learn here into society, and about having no regard for society and its doings. I'm especially wondering about how to apply what I learn here to social and political activism. On one hand, I've been to my share of protests, rallies, and organizational meetings, and been horribly upset and disillusioned about what I've seen. There are always a lot of egos in places like these-- everyone wants everybody else to pay attention to them, and let them have the floor, and focus on the ways they're hurt and oppressed, and agree with all their ideas. Protests are always depressing because half the people are there mostly to prove to their peers how radical and progressive and politically in tune they are, and their awareness of issues at hand is limited, at best. (I'm guilty of this, too.) On the other hand, I was struck by something Dōmyo said the other day when we were digging in the garden. We saw the people leaving for the antiwar protest in Okayama, and Dōmyo shook his head and said, "Bullshit. You fight the war inside yourself, and then there are no wars outside." I don't necessarily agree with this-- first of all, it's wishful thinking that dictates that all we have to do to end the world's ills is to make sure that each person on the individual level is just better. Secondly, I find ego in the very notion that all you have to work on is yourself. If I spend thirty years in a monastery, sitting zazen and working all day, I might reach satori at some point and have such a deep level of understanding that I never harm another living thing, intentionally or otherwise, for the rest of my life; but how many people will have suffered at the hands of society while I was busy in my little cocoon?

I told all of this to Chi-san, and she told me that this practice is not meant to be confined to some small space where society can't touch it. Enlightenment is nothing if it's only for one person; the point of zazen is to overcome your ego and learn compassion, so that your activism doesn't suffer from ego-blockage; you can learn to look beyond yourself and see the suffering of others. This speaks to something I've suspected for a long time: identity politics is shit, and doesn't get anybody anywhere. I think identity can be a good jumping-off place for political awareness: for me, it was coming out that made me realize just how prejudice workd in our society, but if you never see that it isn't just you who's being oppressed, you can't effect change. Self-awareness is no awareness at all.

After talking to Chi-san, I headed over to the little one-room house where Dōan and Corey live, and we drank tea, listened to jazz, and talked about various things. Dōan learned this neat way of serving tea when he was in Taiwan, and he shared it with us-- everyone got a teacup and a smelling cup, which is for enjoying the heady, flowery scent of the tea. The teapot sat in the middle of the bowl-- Dōan poured the water over it, and the water made the pot luminescent. The tea was incredible-- drinking it made us more mellow and thoughtful, I think, and Corey later said it was like smoking up without any of the negative effects.

Dōan talked a bit about the roshi. It seems that people here always have strong feelings about the roshi-- when they're happy with him, they love him, and when they're mad at him, they're pissed. Dōan is angry with him a lot of the time, and when he is, he does things like "forget" to leave a space for him at the end of the table during meals. There are times, though, when the roshi makes Dōan proud to have him as a teacher. He talked about one time a couple years back, during an osesshin, when the person administering keisaku hit the head monk, who then kicked the person out of the zendo because he insisted he was not sleeping. There was a big conflict over this, and it reached the roshi. The next day, the roshi came into the zendo to give out keisaku, as he generally does during osesshin. Instead of giving it to everybody, though, he went up to the two monks to hit them. Now, the roshi ususally hits hard, but on that day, he hit ten times harder than he usually does. And on the last blow to the second monk, he broke the rod. It was perfect, Dōan said, the way he refused to take sides, the way he went beyond all that.

Other parts of my day: in the morning I talked to Teresa about why she was here. She says that she wants to do something for other people, and for her it makes sense to work on the spiritual level. She's interested in the creative and performing arts, and wants to use them in a way that is not ego-centric. Between the tea party and kaichin (evening sutras), I came back to the guest house and found a huge spider, three inches in diameter. Shōgen calls those spiders "middle-sized." And after kaichin, I did shuya again, this time with Daiko. He says that people here squander the bikes and hide them on free days. Who'd have thought?

* * *


Talked to Gi-san at dinner a bit about names. Here at Sogenji, the roshi gives people a dharma name after they've been here two years, regardless of whether they've been ordained. Each name has two syllables, and each syllable is one kanji. Gi-san's name, Daigi, means "great honesty" or "great integrity." Sōzui'a name means "the root of good fortune." Daichi, or Chi-san, is "great wisdom," which fits. Gi-san told us about one man who used to live here: he was a librarian, and read a lot, and the roshi named him Daigu-- "great fool." There's a commentary for you.
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Okay, so I haven't updated this journal in a couple of days. I'm a bad girl. Please, Daddy, spank me with your long hard keisaku rod.

Hmm, so... on the 28th, I had kitchen duty all day with Bodhi. I got to sleep in all the way until 4:40, because the roshi was away in Kyoto overnight, and besides, Bodhi is notorious for sleeping in as late as he can on days when he's tenzo. Again, I screwed up left and right in the kitchen. I am suck.

I got to talk to Bodhi a bit about his background and why he's here. Bodhi is from India, and a member of the untouchable caste. Apparently, he spends at least a couple months each year in India, working to convert the untouchables to Buddhism, becaues he feels that they should not adhere to the Hindu religion when all it does is oppress and ridicule them. When I asked him why Buddhism as opposed to any other religion, he said that Buddhism was not as much a victim of sectarianism as other religions-- Christians are divided into Catholics, Protestants, etc.; and Muslims into Sunni, Shiite, etc.; but Buddhism is just Buddhism. I'm a little confused where he gets this idea-- our temple, for example, is part of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. He also talked about equality in Buddhism-- in Hinduism, people must adhere to their place in the caste system. In Christianity, only Jesus is the son of God, and no one else gets to claim that status. But in Buddhism, according to Bodhi, everyone is essentially a Buddha, and everyone can discover their Buddha nature. This really pissed off Corey, who insisted that they are all the same path and that one should not be favored over all the others. For my part, I mentioned the clause about women's impediments to enlightenment, and got a couple of confused looks. They said something about how women at Sogenji break through more quickly than men, but that was because men were deeper. Bullshit.

I'll write about today later. Yesterday was the end of kosesshin, but nothing exciting happened.
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This afternoon, I went for a walk. I took the trail through the cedar forest to a pond and found the beginning of the bamboo forest. The bamboo stalks were tall and blocked out the sky, and they bent over in the wind and made these eerie, hollow clicking sounds. I decided to wait to explore the bamboo forest for a day when I wouldn't be alone.

When I got back to the guest house, Jazz and Bodhi were talking, and I joined in and we joked around. At one point, he asked me if I had a boyfriend, and I decided to just be honest and tell him I was a lesbian. The look on his face was shock (though with humor), and I found myself fielding the old why-are-you-this-way/are-you-scared-of-men questions again. He said they really didn't have those kinds of people in India very much. Which is usual; nobody seems to think they share their country with a bunch of big ol' queers. He also said, in his confusion, "Uh... good choice." I rather think so.
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The easiest way to make me defiant and hard-working during samu is to tell me, "There, there, don't tax yourself with this big heavy load. You come over here, and let the nice young man take care of it." For fuck's sake. There are many reasons to have me carry a lighter load: for example, I'm a scrawny weakling. To lighten my work load because I'm a woman is not okay.

I'm really thankful for the samu, though. It seems odd, but the harder they work me, the more energy I seem to have later in the day, and the less likely I am to need an afternoon nap. Also, while working by the fire pit today, I noticed that the trees were starting to blossom, and felt spring coming after a long, cold winter.

* * *


When I heard Kujo was leaving, I didn't pay much attention. I knew, and had known for a long time, that he was going to his son's wedding around the beginning of March. Then I started hearing more talk about the matter, and finally today I asked Chi-san what was going on. Kujo, it seems, has left permanently. He fell too tied to his family to pursue monasticism for the rest of his life-- he realized he couldn't go on as he had, leaving to see his family every time something happened or his heart changed. I'm happy for him-- the monastic life isn't for everybody, and I don't think you can go into it with the mindset that you're going to spend the next 10-20 years preparing for death. Also, I think his family will be much happier with him back.
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Tonight after kaichin (evening sutras), I did shuya with Corey. Shuya is, quite possibly, the coolest job one can have at Sogenji-- it involves walking around the temple grounds with a flashlight and a set of clappers, chanting sutras and checking doors and windows. This in itself is cool enough, as you get to wander around the grounds and the main temple building, which is a veritable labyrinth of curtains, stairs, sliding doors, tatami, and hidden corners packed with altars and old furniture. Then Corey told me that one of the reasons we chant is to ward off evil spirits. At first my thought was, "Oh, what a quaint old custom," and I just sort of chanted for the hell of it. Then we entered a graveyard and Corey stopped dead.

"Did you feel that?" Corey whispered.

"Um..."

"Did you?"

"I think I heard a small sound back there," I replied.

"I've seen ghosts in there," Corey said.

I don't know if I really believe in ghosts. What I do know is that Corey is an unusually sensitive person. What I also know is that after he told me that, I made sure to chant just a bit louder, hit the clappers together just a little bit harder, and that when the time came to return to the guest house, I was scared to go.
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