Saturday, December 14, 2019

Monday, December 9, 2019

Second Keyword for Queer Studies: Decolonization

I was really lucky last semester to be in Dr. Pabón’s inaugural semester of Feminist Perspectives on Decolonization. I felt drawn to write about this keyword not because I think I understand it thoroughly, but because I know I don’t. What I do believe, however, is that the verb decolonize can be used as a similarly radical strategy to the verb queer. You can and absolutely should decolonize physical spaces, but you can also decolonize your politics, your networks, and yourself as much as you can queer these things. Decolonization can be understood in the unadulterated context of land ownership, rights, resources, etc.; however, in a feminist context, decolonization should be understood also to connote a questioning of and radical departure from mainstream cultural, economic, political, and gender values. It is about structures and flows of power, and protecting bodies and knowledges that are otherwise subject to violence and erasure.

One thing decolonization can do that positively impacts everyone is validating non-traditional ways of being and knowing. Of course, by non-traditional, we mean non-traditionally-Eurocentric. Micha Cárdenas describes decolonization in Decolonizing Transgender: a Roundtable Discussion as “the only possible ethical stance today” (Aizura et al. 419). Even the language we use most of the time around gender identity is colonial in nature; indigenous languages often have their own names for various genders because so many indigenous societies did not acknowledge a binary. Forcing Two-Spirit individuals, for instance, under the umbrella of transgender without their consent, furthers the work of colonization.

I’m a proudly card-carrying member of the Arbor Day Foundation. I am really into trees. Like, abnormally so. But recently I got a piece of mail from them that really pissed me off. You can now make donations to reforestation efforts in South America that symbolically put the names of non-indigenous American donors on Amazon Rainforest land, and it lit up my rage like a Christmas tree. Because even though this has less to do with genocide and more to do with saving the planet, (and I ask this as a white person) when are white people going to stop putting their names on other people’s land? These are the end times; all land has a name already. We need to decolonize allyship and activism; to do so, we need to understand how deep the need for decolonization pervades all of our lives.

Part of the problem, I think, is that this particular fundraiser perpetuates a savior-victim narrative (a particularly harmful binary framework) that is so ingrained in western relationships to exploited cultures. Tom Boellstorff says later in Decolonizing Transgender:

For instance, the self/other binarism has multiple genealogies but originates above all in the colonial encounter. As many scholars of colonialism have noted, decolonization involves not just replacing the figure of the colonizer with the figure of the indigenous but recognizing messy entanglements of colonizer and colonized in emergent assemblages of embodiment, culture, and politics. For the language of constitutive authenticity is itself a legacy of colonial thinking.” (Aizura et al. 433)

We can only help progress to be made in these efforts by placing ourselves in solidarity with indigenous conservationists, not by presuming to sweep in as a rescue effort because that is its own form of conquering and it robs indigenous people of the agency to make decisions for their own land, particularly land and people who have already been damaged by whiteness.

The Menominee poet Chrystos expounds on the many facets of their rage in their poem “They’re Always Telling Me I’m Too Angry.” They write: “Ha Ha we’re so glad you want to get rid of us so you can have all our stuff/ & rename it & explain it & defame it” (Chrystos 45). This applies to the case of these reforestation donations because the correct thing to do with any resources available to reforestation efforts would be to place them at the disposal of indigenous activists on the ground, instead of capitalizing upon the middle-class white ego.

The louder branches of the feminist movement are not mindful enough about indigenous issues, yet all true feminism is, at its core, decolonial. Decolonization is not merely one philosophy or one isolated or symbolic event of liberation. Britain, for instance, no longer controls India, but six decades into their independence, India still feels the effects of colonization. If Puerto Rico were granted independence tomorrow, a legacy of resource theft, genocide (the Taíno people of Borikén are literally considered extinct, memory of their civilization largely erased), slavery, and the early stages of climate apartheid would still haunt and disenfranchise them in the global forum.

The Jewish Puerto Rican writer Aurora Levins Morales makes these issues clear in her prose poem “Declaracion,” where she calls for:

…conscious and ecological development of our natural resources; to build economic justice among us and make ourselves into a people without rich or poor, collectively responsible for the wellbeing of every person; to pay back wages to every enslaved or exploited worker, and to all their descendants, and to invest in the wellbeing of our people, wherever they may live, with the wealth stolen and returned to the communal coffers of the people.” (Morales)

 It is up to indigenous people and only indigenous people what to do with their own homelands, and they are owed tremendous sums from the countries who robbed them in history. Decolonization is an acknowledgement of all of this and more and a commitment to stand in solidarity with indigenous people, following their lead to bring about justice that is long overdue. It is about acknowledging that the ability to be out queer white people is not an invention of whiteness or of capitalism, but an enduring part of a thousand beautiful cultures that would not be put out like a light.


WORKS CITED
Aizura, A. Z. et al. (2014). Decolonizing Transgender: a Roundtable Discussion. TSQ:
Transgender Studies Quarterly, 1(3). Retrieved from
https://bbnewpaltz.sln.suny.edu/webapps/blackboard/execute/content/file?cmd=view&content_id=_2795117_1&course_id=_126098_1

Chrystos. “They’re Always Telling Me I’m Too Angry.” Fugitive Colors (1st ed.). Cleveland
State University Publishing Center. (1995).

Morales, A. L. 8. (n.d.). Declaracion. Retrieved 17 November, 2019, from
http://www.auroralevinsmorales.com/declaracion.html

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Meaning of 'Queer'

I grew up in a very Catholic family at the turn of the twenty-first century in New York State. The periscope through which I perceived the world during the formative years of my life was colored by the Puritanical monochrome of what the adults in my life believed to be natural, decent, and necessary. Despite the best efforts of my guardians, a burgeoning rainbow lit up inside me (pun intended), present in even my earliest memories. But I was not queer until I began to express that rainbow, and so to push this already tortured allegory just a little further, it isn’t the mere presence of an internal rainbow that makes one queer, but what one does with it.

In “What Is This Thing Called Queer?,” Cherry Smith offers a brief history of LGBTQ community and activism, including the origin of the word queer as a sort of umbrella slur against the community, but now its meanings are still widely disputed and therefore open to infinite correct interpretations.

As a slur, queer was also used to describe illness or drunkenness, and was derived to describe us from these undesirable connotations. Smith guides readers to the conclusion that there is no universal definition of queer, nor universal acceptance of the term as reclaimable. Some of us happily describe ourselves as queer and some never will, and that’s okay. Queer has to do with structures of power, specifically those who live outside it; in its ambiguity, queer takes down boundaries and binaries and heralds in a “radical questioning of social and cultural norms” (Smith 280). Even in the most intimate settings, to queer or to be queer is radically political.

Despite the nebulosity surrounding the word queer itself, Smith does not lose focus of queer’s importance. She states, “Each time the word ‘queer’ is used it defines a strategy, an attitude, a reference to other identities and a new self-understanding” (Smith 280). Smith is telling us that we need to be mindful of how we use queer, so that its great power is not wasted; queer should be used to beget the main concomitant outcome that is natural to itself: the building of coalition and community.

Queerness can be found at the intersection between joy and otherness. In a sense, it does not have to refer to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity/ presentation at all. Many other facets of identity fall outside what Audre Lorde calls the “mythical norm,” an idealized expression of humanity often held up as a default, which typically encompasses attributes like straightness, cisgenderism, whiteness, middle-class-ness/ wealth, able-bodiedness, maleness, education, neurotypicality, Christianity, thinness, never having been a sex worker, and having been born in the global north. In “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” a chapter in her book of essays Sister Outsider, Lorde tells us that most, if not all people, fall outside the mythical norm at some point in their lives. Lorde states:

“Somewhere, on the edge of consciousness, there is what I call a mythical norm, which each one of us within our hearts knows ‘that is not me.’ …It is within this mythical norm that the trappings of power reside within this society. Those of us who stand outside that power often identify one way in which we are different, and we assume that to be the primary cause of all oppression, forgetting other distortions around difference, some of which we ourselves may be practising.” (Lorde 116)

What Lorde appears to be suggesting in this passage is that we all perhaps lean toward queerness in various ways. Queerness for Lorde could be seen as the simple doing away with hierarchy, the awareness that difference should not stop us from showing up and standing up for other people who face different oppressions than we do.

The seemingly boundless applicability of queer that can be deduced in considering Lorde’s “mythical norm” calls to mind one specific line in the essay Queerness as Horizon by José Esteban Muñoz, which has now challenged me for the space of a year. Muñoz argues, “queerness is not yet here; it is, in the language of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, a potentiality” (Muñoz). Queerness should be a universal aspiration because it represents universal safety and signals belonging and cared-for-ness for everyone on earth. It is anti-capitalist and anti-meritocracy. We can get there; to do so, we only have to change the entire world.

Definitions of queer, of life at the margins of society, and of socialist revolution usually contain similar sentiments to so many other social movements from throughout history because queers of any persuasion are minorities. The Puerto Rican human rights organization the Young Lords stated it succinctly in their 13-Point Program: “We each organize our people, but our fights are against the same oppression and we will defeat it together” (Young Lords). The Young Lords were never alone in this philosophy, though their elegant phrasing helps drive home the idea that we are all Davids up against Goliaths, and our only hope is in each other.

As Audre Lorde herself put it in her poem “A Litany for Survival,” “we were never meant to survive” (Lorde). Queer is our ability to thrive in the face of the hierarchy that has tried so many times to kill us, body and soul. Queer is strength in coalition and community. To queer or to be queer is to insist upon joy among other human rights. Queer is a refusal to submit.



WORKS CITED

Lorde, A. (1984). “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Sister Outsider:
Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press. Freedom, CA.

Lorde, A. “A Litany for Survival.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/147275/a-litany-for-survival.

Muñoz, J. E. “Queerness as Horizon: Utopian Hermeneutics in the Face of Gay Pragmatism.” A
Companion to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Studies. Edited by G. E. Haggerty and M. McGarry. 24 August, 2007. Blackwell Publishing.

Smith, C. “What Is This Thing Called Queer?” (1996). The Material Queer: a LesBiGay
Cultural Studies Reader. Edited by D. Morton. Harper Collins. New York, NY.

Young Lords Party, The. (n.d.). 13-Point Program and Platform. In University of Virginia. The
Sixties Project, University of Virginia. Retrieved May 2, 2019, from http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Resources/Primary/Manifestos/Young_Lords_platform.html

Monday, November 11, 2019

Arrival Songs: Derdriu

So NaNoWriMo is going surprisingly well. I am eleven days into Arrival Songs: Derdriu, and I really couldn't be happier with my decision to explore her early life for NaNo this month. It has been a really hard year for me, writing-wise. But Derdriu is an incredibly special character to me; she is my favorite thing I ever made. To be fair, she's also had a good deal of "making power" over me too.

I was a little bit intimidated, truth be known, to write extensively about Derdriu before Angela, but it's been incredibly rewarding, and I know that adding so much foundational content on the character of Derdriu at this stage will only serve to enrich the rest of the series as a whole. In the scene I've decided to paste below, she's about 15, and has just arrived on Locusta's doorstep. Childhood Derdriu is very interesting to me, perhaps because she was more ostensibly lesbian than Childhood Charlotte ever had the nerve to be. 

Perhaps the most important thing to me about my Derdriu is that I can always count on her to call me home. Please enjoy this very rough chapter from Arrival Songs: Derdriu. ♥️ CV

~ ♆ ~

Derdriu by Charlotte Victoria (2019)


“YOU FORGET YOURSELF, NONA,” Locusta said venomously. “You will make that up to me, too.” She shrugged nonchalantly. “Eight hundred years more we’ll have to spend with one another, you and I. You can choose to hate me and make me your enemy, or you can try to show a little bit of gratitude. It makes no difference to me,” she added loftily, and Derdriu doubted this very much. “I do not require thanks.”
“Then why should we be thanking you on bended knee?” Derdriu asked, one eyebrow raised. “See, it seems to me that if you had rescued us from some shite, maybe then we ought to be thankful, but you’re saying you have as little choice in all of this as we do. And that being the case, you really should not have a problem with me simply going home to me poor old mum.”
“Derdriu–” Nona started, warningly.
“So…” Derdriu said, “I reckon I’ll just be going home, then. Unless you’re going to stop me.”
“You cannot leave the Undine Isles,” Locusta said. “You fall into the period of tenderfin containment until your one hundredth birthday.”
“So… if I am not a guest, and I am not allowed to leave but, as you are saying, I must remain here, then I reckon I’m a prisoner. Do prisoners often thank their captors in your experience, Locusta?”
Nona’s eyes had gone wide wide wide. Locusta turned to face Derdriu straight on. She had gone very pale and her lips had pressed into a hard, thin line.
“Nona, show Derdriu where she will be sleeping for the foreseeable eons,” said Locusta, her eyes sparkling madly and her lips curling wickedly upward.
“Oh!” Nona sighed, her shoulders dropping as though she were really relieved about something. Derdriu thought it was easy to imagine what: she wanted nothing more than she wanted to be out of Locusta’s presence as well. “, come with me, Derdriu.” She was already heading out of the room but her right hand flapped blindly behind her, feeling around for Derdriu’s hand to grasp. Derdriu slipped her hand into Nona’s and they were about to head up the stairs when Locusta made a strange, throat-clearing sound from behind them to get their attention, and they both turned around.
What now?
“What is the matter, Locusta?” Nona asked on tenterhooks.
She is not sleeping upstairs,” Locusta said, as though this was obvious. “Look at the state of her. It would be like having a man up there in our little henhouse. I can’t imagine any of the other ladies with whom we live would appreciate having a man in their spaces, catching them naked and free to prowl about upstairs as he likes while they sleep.”
“I am not a man,” Derdriu said firmly. “I am not referred to as a he, if it please you.”
“Well, it does not please me,” Locusta said and her voice rang out in the kitchen. She strode toward them and walked in a couple of slow, vultureish circles around them, inspecting Derdriu from every angle. “I must say that you confuse me, young Derdriu Ní Mháille. And you look confused.”
“I assure you,” said Derdriu, as evenly as she could, despite the fact that her hands were shaking with suppressed rage, “that I am not confused about anything.”
“You are,” said Locusta. For a moment, Derdriu stared at Locusta, unsure if she could respond without breaking a second chair over the regent’s head. She had never met someone so evil, or so infuriating. Her anger was pounding along with her pulse like a kettle drum in her brain. She knew the situation was not like to get any better now, but she could not imagine how it could get any worse. A second later, she realized this failure of imagination when Locusta added, “And you are going to give up that sword.”
“I am going to do no such thing,” Derdriu said. “It was me grandfather’s. I will never surrender it to the likes of you. You are unworthy to have it from me, and you never will. Mark me words.”
“Mark my words,” Locusta repeated.
Derdriu’s mind had just made itself up to kill this horrible person, but before she could draw forth her sword, she heard the door swing open behind her again, and she, Nona, and Locusta all turned to see who had come in.
At first, Derdriu thought that perhaps a lot of red cotton cloth had just blown in accidentally, but then some gnarled, wrinkled hands and a wizened brown face found their way out of the fabric and split into a wide grin at the sight of the three of them standing there. The old woman’s teeth were yellow and speckled with brown and gray, and they protruded from her mouth rather horsily when she smiled. Her long-nailed, arthritic-looking fingers clasped a knobbly wooden walking stick so that she looked a bit like a sorcerer. She appeared to place much of her weight on the stick by means of her hands because her knuckles were white with the effort to hold herself standing.
“Locusta!” she called in an airy and very geriatric-sounding voice, “I hope you did not forget the date of our appointment!”
“I have had it marked on my calendar for nearly four hundred years, Archsibyl,” Locusta said, putting on a frighteningly fake smile and moving to greet her guests.
The Archsibyl waved one of her hands enthusiastically, her eyes popping slightly with her happy expression, and then she overbalanced and went toppling into one of her younger fellows. The walking stick was sent askew, and it crashed into a large antique blue and white china vase, which teetered and tottered and fell to the floor with a resounding crash, where it shattered into several discrete pieces.
“It’s too bad you couldn’t have warned me to move my favorite vase,” she muttered so that only Nona and Derdriu could hear her.
The other red-robed women, of which there were two, looked much younger than the Archsibyl, and they carefully stood her back up again, but she still wobbled precariously.
“AHH!” roared the Archsibyl, once she was back on her feet, and everyone, including her own companions, jumped slightly in startlement. “It’s you, then, isn’t it?” She was looking at Derdriu. “Yes. Of course it’s you. I have seen you before in my visions.”
“Your… visions?” Derdriu repeated. She wasn’t sure whether or not she ought to trust this Archsibyl, but at least the Archsibyl acted friendlier than Locusta, and wasn’t quite so worried about what things (or people) looked like. Derdriu eyed the hopeless fragments of vase on the ground and had to stifle a laugh. She had grown up with a psychic mother and she had every reason to suspect that the Archsibyl could indeed have warned Locusta to protect her favorite vase, but had perhaps chosen not to out of spite. She decided that whether or not she could trust the Archsibyl, she already liked her a lot.
“Yes, my visions, girl,” the Archsibyl said. “I have been waiting for you for three hundred and seventy-seven years. That was when I first saw you. I am Pythia, Archsibyl of Oculum Island, Speaker for the Order of Blood.”
“The Order of…? You first saw me three hundred and seventy-seven years ago?” Derdriu gaped. She didn’t know what to marvel at first. She realized that she must look ridiculous to these immortals, her mouth hanging open slightly and her breaths coming with difficulty. She was waving her hands slightly in front of her and not looking into anyone’s face. “Hold on, I just need to figure out – is that a smaller number in Irish?”
A clandestine look of amusement seemed to pass between Nona and the three assembled Sibyls.
“No, it was a warm evening late in the Spring of Cancer in the year 1236. I was alone in my solar reading the diaries of my predecessor, the good Archsibyl Delphina, when I was overcome with visions of you and all that you are going to do here in the Undine Isles. My visions of you were so powerful that I believe I may have permanently corrupted your ancestors. Your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, a woman called Niamh, first developed the gift of sight because of my visions. The gift became hereditary, at least down the female line. Your mother had it, you know, as did your grandmother, a woman called Geiléis Ní Mháille.”
“I never met me grandmother,” Derdriu said. “She died long before I was born, when me mother was a child herself.”
“Yes, Geiléis died in childbirth,” the Archsibyl agreed. “But she saw you, too. I wonder if you ever heard your mother talk of a prophesied hero who would carry the name Ní Mháille–” her eyes grew suddenly wide, “and oh! That sword, that sword!” She gestured excitedly at Starrfhiacail. “Oh, it doesn’t matter how long I’ve been doing this; it never fails to amaze me.”
“Carry the name Ní Mháille and Starrfhiacail where?” Derdriu pressed.
“Oh, you scamp, Derdriu! Certainly you must know that I can’t tell you that!” the Archsibyl cackled as though she were already very fond of Derdriu, which, Derdriu reasoned, she well may be, as she had known Derdriu for centuries before Derdriu had even come to exist. Recovering, she added, “the prophecy goes that the hero will carry the name and the blade to glory. But you have already heard that.” It was not a question.
“So you’ve had an appointment to meet me for three hundred and seventy-seven years?” Derdriu asked.
“Oh, yes,” said the Archsibyl, her wild eyebrows waggling happily as she nodded.
“Well, you have come at an opportune time, Archsibyl,” Nona slid into the conversation graciously. “Locusta was just going to tell Derdriu where she is to sleep for the rest of her thousand-year stay here at Ridley Island.”
Judging from the series of looks that now traversed Locusta’s face, she had just suffered a string of small aneurysms. And everyone did of course turn to look at Locusta at just such an exact moment as to catch the tail end of this process.
“Oh, lovely,” said the Archsibyl, expertly catching on to Nona’s hint. “We can all have a look at it.”
And so Locusta was forced to lead them all up the creaking wooden stairs to the most spacious room in the house. It had several large windows that looked out on the sea and on the side garden, and by the look of it, it was not yet regularly occupied.
“Ah, yes,” said the Archsibyl. “But this is positively quaint, Locusta! It will be a perfect environs in which for young Derdriu to spend her indentureship,” she added, turning and then speaking directly to Derdriu, “before you come to Oculum Island. It is just lofty enough to support your own burgeoning gift of sight.”
“I’m sorry?” said Derdriu. “I… Archsibyl, if you please, I do not possess me mother’s gift. I have never had a vision before. I cannot predict the future.”
“But you will,” the Archsibyl said dreamily.
“I don’t think so,” Derdriu said.  She took a gratuitous look at Locusta. “Perhaps I’m not woman enough after all.”
“The gift will develop here, Derdriu,” the Archsibyl said. “All mermaids have a gift. Yours will be the little push you need to follow many generations of your grandmothers in the gift of sight. And then, if you are willing, you will come to Oculum Island to live in eternal communion with the rest of our faith. You will choose an Order, either the Order of Blood, who wear these fabulous red robes, or the Order of Water, who wear blue and live their lives in sibylline enclosure, with the exception of their Speaker, who is allowed to move about as she sees fit.”
Derdriu did not know how to respond to this. She had no interest, of course, in being a part of a weird sybilline cult. At last – “I wear trousers,” she said, stupidly.
“Yes, we’d noticed,” Locusta muttered, rolling her eyes.
“Archsibyl,” Derdriu said, then decided that she ought to more carefully consider whatever it was that she was about to say, lest she offend the only powerful person here who did not seem set against her yet, “I don’t want to become a Sibyl.”
To her surprise, the Archsibyl offered up an uncharacteristically calm smile and simply said, “I know, dear. And against the counsel of some members of both my Order and the Order of Water, you have my word that I shall never force you. But when your visions start to come, we can help you. It might frighten you at first. Some of our Sibyls’ visions tend to come with an adverse effect. You may experience nausea, giddiness, oversleeping, insomnia, sleepwalking, shitting your pants, or seizures.”
“It sounds as though a lot could go wrong,” Derdriu said, grinning in spite of herself, and to her surprise, all of the Sibyls laughed. But then the Archsibyl became very serious again and looked up at Derdriu with an almost maternal sort of look in her cloudy eyes. She got very close to her. Derdriu wondered if the Archsibyl ever did anything to make her breath smell less horrifying, and doubted it.
“It will come to be, Derdriu,” she said esoterically. “But I want you to be as happy and as comfortable as you can be when it does happen.” She looked contentedly around the room, leaning on her gnarled walking stick with both hands. “I think a great deal of love will be given in this place.”
“But Archsibyl–” For the first time, one of the Archsibyl’s younger cohorts spoke up. Like her mistress, this sibyl wore a long, heavy robe of crimson so that only her face and hands were visible. She had tightly curly, frizzy copper-colored hair and a pinched-up face.
“Yes, Castalia? What is it?” the Archsibyl asked patiently, without looking back at her. Derdriu got the feeling that Sibyl Castalia questioned the Archsibyl a lot, and that even the Archsibyl may have found her a bit grating.
“Sibyls of Oculum Island are not to be given in marriage and are not to give of themselves in coitus.”
“And as we have just established, my good Sibyl, Derdriu is not one of us, which leaves her free to pursue the passions of her heart, and I would argue that it is important to the survival of all that she does so.”
Derdriu had no idea what they could possibly be talking about.
“I haven’t done anything,” she blurted out.
“No,” the Archsibyl agreed. “But you will have. Time is always shorter than we think, even, and in my opinion, most especially when one is dealing in centuries, not mere months or years. One day sooner than you could imagine, young Derdriu, all of this will become retrospect, and mark my words, it will feel to you like the blink of an eye.”
Derdriu did not know quite how to respond to that.
“Do you have any questions for me, Derdriu?” the Archsibyl asked, her eyes scanning her searchingly.
At first, Derdriu thought she could not possibly have anything to ask the Archsibyl, but then she remembered Starrfhiacail.
“Archsibyl, you and me mother and me grandmother all believed that I would carry me name and also me grandfather’s old sword to glory in the Undine Isles,” she said.
“Yes?” said the Archsibyl.
“Well, do you have any recommendations of what I could do with the sword in the event that it isn’t welcome here on Ridley Island?”
“Isn’t welcome?” the Archsibyl repeated, raising her wiry eyebrows considerably.
At this, Locusta gave a heavy sigh and snapped, “Oh, you can keep the damned sword in here, Derdriu.”
“Oh,” Derdriu said. That had been resolved a lot more simply than she had expected it to be. 
“See? Sorted!” said the Archsibyl. “If that is all then…” She turned to her companions. “Which of you has the homing bottles?”
“I do, Archsibyl,” chimed up the one who was not Castalia, presenting the Archsibyl with a wooden crate that clanked gently as it was transferred. The Archsibyl turned back to Derdriu with the crate in her surprisingly capable grip.
“These are called homing bottles,” the Archsibyl said. “Now, I want you to do me a favor, Derdriu. A compromise, since you are going to be living here and not with us. When you experience a vision, I want you to divulge its contents to me in writing. Place the parchment in one of these bottles, screw the cap on tight tight tight, and throw it into the sea. It will find me. Will you do that for me, dear?”
“Of course,” said Derdriu.
“Very good,” said the Archsibyl. “Then I don’t see any reason why it should be a problem that you are staying here.” She eyed Sibyl Castalia rather pointedly as she said this. “Come, Castalia, come, Cassandra. We must return to Oculum Island.” She turned back to the three Ridley Island mermaids. “Locusta Cassius, charmed as usual. Derdriu Ní Mháille, what an honor it has been!” And then she turned to Nona to make her final goodbye. “Nona Bastelica,” she breathed, coming close to Nona, and it was clear to Derdriu, at least, that Nona did not appreciate the reek of the Archsibyl’s breath. “Such a pity it is that this is the only time when you and I shall meet! You are so extraordinary, did you know? I am entrusting this child to you. We will show ourselves out,” she called to Locusta, and without a backward glance, the three of them retreated out of the room. Locusta stalked out a moment later, slamming the door behind her on Nona and Derdriu.
Derdriu watched the three Sibyls board their little boat and paddle back out to their greater ship. In a few minutes, it was on its way back toward the horizon line.
“Well,” said Nona, “we had better make this room fit for a permanent resident, then.”
“Nona?” Derdriu said, and Nona stopped where she stood. 
, my dear?”
“I just wanted to say thank you,” Derdriu said. “Thank you for helping me. I have a feeling the Archsibyl was right about you.”

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Some fem theory homework I was proud of 🥰


Critical Reflections Essay #2

So I have yet to explore a musician by whom my sister and most of my friends are completely enamored, but I saw a video of her performing this week that made me flat-out fall in love with her. You would think that seeing a plus-size Black woman powerfully taking up space and rocking a shimmering, iridescent leotard was empowering enough, but in a video published by the BBC, Lizzo gave her audience an assignment: that they say, “I love you, you are beautiful, and you can do anything” to themselves in the mirror, to her, and to another person in the crowd. In not only doing this exercise with so many hundreds of fans but also asking them to say the affirming “mantra” back to her, Lizzo taught self-love and modeled asking for affirmation from others. There’s not a single person in the world who doesn’t need to see more of that. These behaviors are the building blocks of coalition across difference.

Sue Austin says in her TED talk Deep-Sea Diving… in a Wheelchair that when she first started using a wheelchair, it quickly started to feel as if people she encountered could only see her through a lens of “pity” if they saw her at all (Austin). She discusses her journey toward self-empowerment as a wheelchair user, the first step of which, she says, was to examine and change up the narrative of disability with which she was not only met by others, but which she had internalized about herself. Austin’s film footage of herself gliding sirenically over reefs in her wheelchair is another way of bringing into the real world some of the same sentiment of Lizzo’s “mantra.” Austin is able to prove through all of the art she produces centered around the wheelchair, particularly the ethereal footage of her dive, that she is beautiful –– certainly that she is adventurous, whimsical, and unique, qualities that help enhance a person’s inner beauty –– and she can do anything a person who isn’t in a wheelchair can do. Austin states:

“And the incredibly unexpected thing is that other people seem to see and feel that, too. Their eyes literally light up, and they say things like, ‘I want one of those,’ or ‘if you can do that, I can do anything!’ And I’m thinking it’s because in that moment of them seeing an object they have no frame of reference for, or [that] transcends the frames of reference they have with the wheelchair, they have to think in a completely new way. And I think that moment of completely new thought, perhaps, creates a freedom that spreads to the rest of other people’s lives. For me, this means that they’re seeing the value of difference.” (Austin)

Austin in her TED Talk points clearly to the change-making power of teaching just a few people to alter the lens through which they view disabled bodies. Her message extends to infinite other areas of their lives, where they might even apply this new gaze, similar to Lugones’ concept of “arrogant perception” giving way to a “loving perception” (Lugones) to other issues apart from disability. Lizzo says in her performance, “I believe we can save the world if we save ourselves first” (Lizzo).

Sonya Renee Taylor might call this phenomenon “the deeply uncomfortable work of changing the world which requires the deeply uncomfortable work of changing ourselves” (Taylor). Her company, The Body Is Not an Apology, is “committed to cultivating Radical Self Love and Body Empowerment as the foundational tool for social justice and global transformation” (Taylor). Like Lizzo and like Austin, Taylor sees teaching and learning self-love on an individual basis as the way to transforming the world.

The three necessary ingredients Taylor perceives as necessary to such a transformation are what she calls “radical honesty, radical vulnerability, and radical empathy” (Taylor). In this vein, the way that Lizzo occupies space and the way she presents herself could be viewed as radical honesty. She is a plus-size Black woman who does not apologize for the space she occupies, but offers her own presence as a gift because she innately knows that it is valuable. Activities like the exercise Lizzo did with her audience in the UK can bring up shyness in even the boldest among us, but her audience participated openly in the atmosphere of total safety that Lizzo created. So radical vulnerability, check. Finally, seeing the way the audience members interacted with one another and Lizzo and her fellow performers hugging it out onstage modeled radical empathy.

Taylor tells a story of taking a photograph of herself that she really liked, but kept to herself for months when she really wanted to post it because as a fat, Black, queer woman, she had internalized a message of, “Who am I to feel beautiful?” (Taylor). However, she was finally inspired to post the photo when she saw that a plus-size model named Tara Lynn had not only publicized a similar photo of herself, but had encouraged anyone who saw it to do the same. After seeing the response that this chain of posts received and how many women posted similar photographs of themselves and felt empowered from doing so, Taylor’s movement was born.

Previously I mentioned concepts introduced and explored by María Lugones in her 1987 paper Playfulness, “World”-Travelling, and Loving Perception. Lugones delineates the opposing concepts of arrogant and loving perception: loving perception of others should be everyone’s goal, whereas arrogant perception, “systematically organized to break the spirit” (Lugones 4) precludes love. Jesse Khan’s The Body Is Not an Apology article “7 Microaggressions Trans People Face in Health and Mental Healthcare Settings” is a good example of the dehumanizing power of arrogant perception when it is weaponized against trans bodies.

We are all taught to view trans bodies arrogantly, as if trans people (binary and nonbinary alike) are freakish anomalies that fall outside of humanity, as if prodding into the intimate details of trans life is a God-given right of cishets. Individuals who survive more easily within the gender binary and cisnormativity (and I word it this way because I don’t believe anyone truly thrives in this hyperpolarized ideation of gender) don’t always even realize that they’re doing it. Other times, they believe that their behavior is permissible because it is upheld by the establishment. The article states that as many as 23% of trans people report avoiding seeking medical care because they are too afraid to face maltreatment on the grounds of their transness (Khan). Perhaps the most glaring items on Khan’s list of “microaggressions” against the trans community include numbers 2 through 4.

Item number 2 is healthcare providers verbally conflating cisgenderism with normality to and in regard to trans patients, as if they are not regular/normal people. Bluntly put, “the implication is that cisgender people are superior and that trans people are inferior and abnormal” (Khan). Numbers 3 and 4 call out providers for being inappropriately fixated on trans patients’ bodies and/or experiences specifically to ogle at their transness as if it were a glaring spectacle, and not a mere facet of a patient who is entitled to competent and sensitive healthcare.

Having encountered these behaviors both within and without the medical establishment, I want to call attention to the fact that trans, nonbinary, and queer people flock to like communities. We exist on the very edges of society, cast out of homes, places of worship, and other formative modes of community, left to forge new connections amongst ourselves. We learn to see beauty in difference. That’s why I think so many queer and trans people adore Lizzo, who prefaced her exercise with, “I want you to know that I love you very much and I’m very proud of you. I want you to know that if you can love me, you can love your goddamn self” (Lizzo). In performing this exercise, Lizzo uses her own difference as a platform to model self-love to literally anyone across difference; the message comes without reservation to validate and affirm all identities across difference.

I recently saw the AJ+ video Trans And Native: Meet The Indigenous Doctor Giving Them Hope on YouTube about Dr. James Makokis, a Two-Spirit Cree doctor living and working in Alberta, Canada, who has specifically set out to create a practice that is safe, sensitive, and supportive for trans patients. Patients embark on incredibly long and arduous journeys to be treated by Dr. Makokis, a fact that highlights how precious little decent healthcare is available to trans patients. A teenage patient’s mom said, “I don’t know what other doctor can help a young boy become into a Cree warrior man” (AJ+). Dr. Makokis’ openness about his Two-Spirit identity, combined with his friendly bedside manner, his infusion of indigenous knowledges and medicines, and his desire to create a safe space for trans patients lends well to Sonya Renee Taylor’s three criteria of radical honesty, vulnerability, and empathy. He makes trans patients feel seen, important, and empowered in their bodies and in their skin, which is exactly what Lizzo is trying to do for the whole planet.

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WORKS CITED

AJ+. Trans And Native: Meet The Indigenous Doctor Giving Them Hope. YouTube, 12 May 

Austin, Sue. Deep sea diving… in a wheelchair. TED.com. December, 2012. Accessed from

Lizzo. Lizzo’s Motivational Speech at Glastonbury 2019. BBC Radio 1, Facebook Watch. 30 

Lugones, María. Playfulness, “World”-Travelling, and Loving Perception. Hypatia, vol. 2, no. 2. 
Summer, 1987.

Khan, Jesse. “7 Microaggressions Trans People Face in Health and Mental Healthcare Settings.” 
The Body Is Not An Apology, 13 Nov. 2018. Accessed from 

Taylor, Sonya Renee. “Sonya Renee Taylor, The Body Is Not an Apology ~ Radical Alchemy.” 
YouTube, 4 Apr. 2017. Accessed from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9HVTLf3sj4

Thursday, June 20, 2019

First of the Gay Mermaid Playlists ✨



Something that really helps me when I’m struggling to commit equitably to my ensemble cast of gay mermaids is having different music I listen to to get into the headspace of each one. I’ve always wanted to be so organized that I had playlists for each of my characters to actually share, and I swore I would do that for all their birthdays in 2019 but then immediately missed Angela’s (January 17).

Last week, after I got invited to display my drawings at KPL for the month of December (!!!), I decided it might be cool to link playlists for each character with the most important songs I’ve collected over 11 years for each one? So I’ve been working on that for a couple of weeks. Today’s Jehona’s 130th birthday, so here’s hers. It’s liable to change between now and December, but I don’t think it will change much. I stole half the songs from Meghan’s Tumblr years ago, fair and square. (P.S., Derdriu’s playlist is totally bangin if you’re into Irish music you can swordfight + swashbuckle along to.)

I think I always forget how much I love Jehona. Every character I write has something from real life; that is their “spark of life.” If it doesn’t happen, I scrap the character. Like Derdriu, Jehona is a character who encompasses many “sparks” from many humans I have loved. The silence around Jehona and her near total solitude help her fade into the wallpaper, but she’s one of the biggest things in the Isles to me. She’s been through outrageous harm, but yet her Glandula Musa enables empathy so powerful she can experience someone else’s pain for them if she wishes to. It’s part of why she’s so reclusive. No one ever says, “Jehona was my favorite character,” not even me (let’s blame Derdriu 🔥), but like Derdriu, she’s one of the precious few who make me look up from my writing every now and then, surprised to remember that she never really lived at all because she has been such a very real friend to me, and I think that’s the most a writer could want.

As my boy Cyrano de Bergerac put it, “Lorsque j’ai fait un vers et que je l’aime, je me paye en me le chantant a moi-mème.” (“When I write a verse I love, I pay myself by singing it to myself.”) Jehona’s arc is one such a verse. 🖤

Friday, June 7, 2019

Jehona in Her Workshop

Jehona is one of my favorite mermaids, and with Fredeline is one of the only two characters I ever created in response to a friend asking me to make up a mermaid from the same country as them. However, Jehona's backstory is largely based on things I've been told about my great-grandmother Angelina, who was Sicilian and who I like to think approves (she died in 1957 but I want what I want) of the whole women's studies thing.

After J's disastrous arrival on Ridley Island in 1906, it was Angela who took her on as an apprentice seamstress. Due to choices she'd made in her teenage years for her and her family's survival (as a human, J was a sworn virgin), Jehona had no idea how to do things like sewing upon arrival, but under Angela's tutelage, became a master seamstress. However, unlike Derdriu, J lacks the community of a guild and has spent most of her ~125 years inside this dim little room – working all alone since Angela's death in 2008 – dreaming of becoming a doctor instead, as foliage increasingly occludes her only window. Jehona is a survivor and instead of running from pain, became a powerful empath who quietly does whatever she can to help those she loves.

Going to post a kinda long excerpt from The Undine Isles here because it's one of my all-time favorite scenes and I cannot will not must not abbreviate it, see below:

Detail –– see full image at bottom!


But I followed her inside and up the stairs. I’d only been inside Jehona’s bedroom the once, and it had been without invitation and in the dead of night. Now I noticed the character of the room in this filtered light. It was more den-like than Nona and Pam’s bright, elegant one, and smelled of coffee and the giant red geranium near Jehona’s bed, which was positioned just right to soak up all the natural sunlight. The windows were overgrown by thick green vines, so even at midday the room was lit by dozens of candles on tables, the wall, and a small iron chandelier that hung from the ceiling.

Jehona’s side was full of poetry anthologies and classic novels on shelves. A few old maps and posters of Klimt paintings that hung peeling from the wall were fastened in place by rusted tacks, and every horizontal surface seemed to support a vase. An antique stethoscope hung from a handle on her vanity.

The little room also served as Jehona’s sewing workshop. The corner nook at the foot of her bed was packed with shelves of fabrics—silks and gossamers, cotton and corduroy, and every other color or pattern imaginable. Some had brown paper tags dangling by copper safety pins. A glass jar sat precariously squeezed onto the edge of the shelf, full of gleaming antique scissors—silver, copper, brass, in different sizes, and unruly tape measures sprawled here and there from shelves and across the floorboards. And there were bins of thread on wooden spools, a gargantuan velvet pincushion, and an old adjustable dress form standing in front of it all. On the opposite side of the room, by the geranium, was an ancient pre-electric sewing machine, which shone black in the filtered sunlight.
Jehona wheeled out a brass cheval mirror from the corner by her bed and stood me in front of it. Then she started to measure me.

It was the first time one of the mermaids had touched me barehanded, and it was this mermaid. This quiet little mermaid with her period clothes and tiny feet, this mermaid who still seemed to be learning how to look at me. Jehona seemed a little surer of herself in this room. Her fingertips were small and warm, her hands gentle. It tickled slightly as she wound her paper tape measure around my neck, my chest, my waist, my legs, marking my measurements with a chipped nub of pencil on a scrap of yellow paper. She measured the length of my arms and then handed me the 1 cm. end of the measure.

I looked at her.

“Hold like so between your legs,” she said. I obeyed. Jehona lowered herself to the floor and read my inseam measurement, writing it down with the others. “Falemnderit,” she said.

“Albanian?” I asked.

Jehona gave a curt nod. “You speak?”

“Not yet,” I answered, “but I love learning new languages.”

She gave me a long, appraising stare. Then she pushed the mirror back into its corner by its brass oval frame, and wheeled out the mannequin in its place.

“How you like clothes to fit?”

“Um,” I started stupidly. Here was another language I had never really mastered. “Not too loose, but not too tight either.” I didn’t know if I was explaining myself. “I’m sorry. I’ve never had someone make me clothes before. This top you gave me is a nice fit.”

Her small white hand flattened the collar against my blouse. I could feel my heart beating inches from her hand.

“Just so,” she said. “I work now.” She ferreted a few yards of baby blue cotton fabric from the shelf.
“Um… thanks,” I said. I wasn’t sure if she meant for me to go, but I left her there.



Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Fredeline and Her Cello






This one just feels so special. Fredeline endows this series and its world with so much of its heart and its meaning. I had meant to have this drawing done for her birthday, April 30, but it didn't pan out. I think I made the cello a wee bit, well, wee, but I don't care. I am in love with this drawing.

Excerpt from The Undine Isles: 

"Oh, Maristela
," Fredeline said. "J’ai lui dit que je joue, et elle a l’achèté pour moi — ce jour là, en fait. Elle m’aime. Au moins, Teresita dit. Granmè, elle a désirée pour me devenir une infirmière, mais j’ai adoré la musique. Le violoncelle, il me donne de la joie. J’espérais que si je maîtrise, je pourrais apporter de la joie aux autres, aussi, mais je n’ai apporté pas la joie à personne jusqu’à ce que je suis venu à les Iles Ondines.” She looked up a little bit mistily, as if she'd said too much.



Monday, April 29, 2019

The Siren of the Citadel, Mneme


Excerpt from The Undine Isles:

     The gothic door creaked open and a single figure entered, wearing wispy silk robes of orange, red, and gold. She was tall and thin with aquiline features and a nose like a beak, brown hair wrapped behind her into a manicured bun, though I was quite sure there were feathers in it. Not accidentally imparted by a leaky pillow, either, but growing out amongst normal hair, glimmering like gunmetal in the light as she moved. When our gazes locked, my jaw dropped and an involuntary gasp came out. Each of the woman’s sharp eyes was a burst of vermilion that faded to saffron, each iris halved by a black slit of pupil: a lizard’s iris imposed on a human eye. 


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Angela and Derdriu in Melisende's Therma


Last week, I finished this drawing of a scene from Arrival Songs: Angela. An excerpt and details on the drawing are below. I'm pretty happy with it. 🥰

“Come take a bath with me?” Derdriu asked.
“Ooh,” I said. “Outside, where anyone could see us?”
“Ehm, yes,” Derdriu said, and now she seemed uncomfortable. “I can—”
“Don’t be silly. Don’t you think it adds something?” I asked. “Knowing that we could get… caught, together?”
Derdriu’s face broke into a grin. “I could also arrange for us to get caught, though it seems like enough to happen of its own volition.”
I laughed and twined our hands again.
Outside in the courtyard was a Roman-style bath with taps similar to the ones at the Ridley House, but the taps were shaped like spitting fishes and the bath was surrounded by lush green plant life. Derdriu and I slipped out of our sarongs, and now I did feel slightly like those denizens of Eden.

~ ♆ ~

Derdriu slipped out of her sarong. It fell to the elegantly paved ground. She stepped naked into the therma and began turning on the taps. There were ten of them—ten taps with valves for warm or hot water. Derdriu turned all of the valves as she roved around the empty stone bath.
“You seem so at home here,” I said.
Derdriu shrugged. “I suppose I am,” she admitted, “If it weren’t for Nona, I would have moved here a hundred and fifty years ago.”
Each time Derdriu turned on a tap, it would spit out a hissing, white mess of water that splashed back up at her. Drops hit her thighs. By the time she reached the last tap, the water had already accumulated a few inches, completely covering her feet.
I looked around us one more time and let my sarong fall down around my feet. I wasn’t sure how I felt about someone walking in on us, as seemed sure to happen.
“I hope you have other reasons now,” I said. Derdriu blushed. 


Detail on Derdriu in Angela and Derdriu in Melisende's Therma

Detail on Angela in Angela and Derdriu in Melisende's Therma

Derdriu's feet

The lush "green" plant life. But you have to imagine the green. 🍃