12 April 2013

FEMEN is not Colonialist Feminism - at least, not without some caveats

My Tumblr feed and the feminist networks of my life have recently exploded with news about FEMEN - and for good reason. I first heard of FEMEN a few years back, when they were first showing up on the feminist blogosphere radar as an admirable radical grassroots activism group in the Ukraine. FEMEN's tactic of highly visible topless protests for women's rights and other social issues in the Ukraine (for example, I once saw something about them protesting the Kiev zoo for its mistreatment of animals) garnered a lot of attention. Quickly, though, I saw various criticisms emerge, especially about the privileges exemplified by the group and its tactics. As FEMEN's scope and size grew, so did the problems with their methods; Islamophobia and racism began to manifest themselves in FEMEN's protests and statements, cumulating in their most recent wave of large-scale anti-Muslim actions, including protesting mosques throughout Europe and releasing statements promoting the so-called "liberation" of Muslim women from Islam(ism) and the like. FEMEN has since received a lot of critique from more critical feminist groups, and has most notably sparked counter-action from Muslim women (see #muslimahpride) asserting their own autonomy and resisting FEMEN's racist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, and Western-centric approach to feminism. And another interesting phenomenon has suddenly taken place - all of the sudden, I'm hearing discussions about FEMEN that never mention its Ukranian roots.

My purpose with this post is not to deny the racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and Western-centrism in FEMEN's "feminist" campaigns. It is also also especially not to deny credit to the amazing Muslim women who've spoken up against FEMEN and its oppressive actions. I write this post in full solidarity with these individuals and movements, and in complete opposition to the problematic and oppressive messages and methodology put forth by FEMEN and other white feminist groups. Rather, my purpose is to question discussion that has framed FEMEN as a prototypical case of colonialist feminism. Specifically, I think white, non-Muslim, Western feminists need to be cautious in how we frame and discuss FEMEN and its actions. FEMEN's highly visible tactics and rapidly growing scope make them an easy group to highlight in demonstrating the problems with and manifestations of colonialist feminism; however, doing so without discussing the caveats specific to this case simply dissolves issues of complex dynamics into a highly simplistic dialectic and erases much of the larger context in which this group came to exist.

Most basically, the term "colonialist feminism" implies that it is committed by a group that commits colonialist acts or benefits from colonialism. Ukraine could fit this model in some ways, such as being a European country, and white Ukranians benefit from the white privilege structures colonialism has spread throughout the world. However, it is far from a prototypical member of this model. Ukraine has been colonized itself by the Soviet Union, and does not hold nearly the level of international power as Western European countries and the United States. Additionally, FEMEN is a fringe group generally looked-down upon and oppressed in Ukraine, both by society and government. They do not hold any amount of systematic power, and cannot compare to other instances of colonialist feminism, such as the influence of privileged USian women in promoting the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The fact that FEMEN has gotten so much more attention in critical Western feminist discussions than these and other cases demonstrates that the West is not ready to face the issues right under our nose, opting instead to criticize the groups that are more distant and removed from us.

One major element of colonialist feminism missing in FEMEN's actions is the positing of one's group as the typical "us" and and the other as the atypical, deviant, and oppressed "them". FEMEN's criticisms, on the other hand, do not point solely outwards towards Muslim women, but also call for the radical restructuring of Ukrainian legal and social attitudes towards women. In fact, FEMEN formed largely in response to the chilling situation of women in their own country, including issues such as sex trafficking and forced prostitution, as well as the complicated and terrifying political situation in many Eastern European countries today. To some extent, the status of women and feminist movements in Western European countries and the US served as the goal towards which to target their actions. FEMEN expanding their actions to target Islam and Muslims is entirely unacceptable, but it doesn't come about in a vacuum. Islamophobia and colonialist feminism in the Western world probably had a large influence on FEMEN's methods and motives, and FEMEN likely took inspiration and internalized messages from Western "feminist" groups in its formation and growth. Compared to powerful and privileged women and colonialist feminists influencing large-scale policy in the US and other Western countries, FEMEN's topless protests do little in terms of both political and ideological influence.

Additionally, FEMEN's prejudices are informed by systematic prejudices in Ukranian and other Eastern European societies. Though this does nothing to excuse FEMEN's actions, it does illuminate the need for a broader discussion of oppression dynamics in Eastern Europe. FEMEN, although highly visible, does not hold power in the Ukraine and Eastern Europe, and in fact is actively oppressed by social and political forces in those regions. Nonetheless, criticism of FEMEN has been the only large-scale discussion of Islamophobia and racism in those regions that I've ever seen in Western feminist networks. Western feminists critical of Islamophobia and racism are doing nothing to highlight other much more crucial issues going on in these regions or the oppression committed by individuals and groups that hold a lot more power than FEMEN ever has or will. Discussion of FEMEN, though serious, should not be exclusive, and social issues of Eastern Europe should not fall outside the feminist radar.

In conclusion, it is not that we are criticizing FEMEN that concerns me, but how we go about it. Although FEMEN is a clear and visible example of a European white feminist group targeting Islam at the expense of Muslim women, it is not a prototypical case of colonialist feminism because of the unique dynamics of its Ukranian origin and Eastern European focus. Attempting to fit all oppressions, especially on an international scale, into neat boxes of "colonizer-vs-colonized", "Western-vs-non-western/oriental/other", "white-vs-people of color", etc. ignores the complexities of power dynamics in the world and effectively erases oppressions and issues that continue to exist. Excessive focus on the Ukrainian fringe-group FEMEN also shifts the spotlight away from more powerful forces, both perpetrators of colonialist feminism, and instituters of Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism in Eastern Europe. Though discussion of FEMEN and its oppressive means and ideology should no doubt continue, Western feminists should approach the issues with caution and question how we currently frame this case.

28 November 2012

On Dependence

"Whenever you talk about happiness," says my therapist, "you talk about other people."

I bite my lip, dig my fingers into my thigh. He is right, so I am planning my retort carefully. How could I not, I think? They all say that. That you have to depend on yourself, but what does that even mean? Try depending on yourself when you are alone. They don't know what it's like.


The morning after, I woke up at 5:30 with a void that felt as large as the darkness outside my window. At 6, I got in my car and broke through it with my headlights. Between tears, I tried counting what I missed about yesterday. It all came back to orgasms.

and sometimes kisses.


"I'm happy"

That's what I think every time I drive home. Happiness is a feeling as foreign to me as the voiced uvular fricative. Pink, in my google calendar, stands for fun events. Parties and hang-outs. My calendar looks pink these days. I have friends.

"I am happy"


I don't think I realized how much I depended on hir.

That's what the mountain roads told me as the sun rose over the horizon.

It was a lie.

I did know. I knew just how much happiness I found in hir orgasms. I knew just how stable they kept me as I once more battled a life transition. I knew just how they kept me in check, kept me looking forward. I depended. And dependence, dependence is scary.

"We can't be sleeping together forever," I told myself after the first time.

"Forever," I repeated. That's the scariest word I ever thought.


"I'm happy," I thought driving home, less than a week after. There was still a void in my throat, but I was still happy, which felt odd. I didn't know why.

"Whenever you talk about happiness, you talk about other people." I don't remember my defense, or what he said next. All I remember is those words. How can I not depends on others when loneliness is what has made me the saddest in my life?


"MY HAPPINESS," I am shouting over the whiskey to my reflection, "CANNOT BE MEASURED IN SOMEONE ELSE'S ORGASMS."

But I don't believe me. And I wonder. Who else do I depend on?

Other people. Happiness.

08 November 2012

Born For Leaving

I just realized that this year I am barely anything more than a glorified freshman, and next year I will be a senior. Like, I am legitimately graduating in the Spring of 2014. Pretty impressive, if I say so myself, that I am graduating in just five years with credits from five different schools.

I get jealous of people who stay in one place. I remember during the drag show, when the MC was asking how many shows people had gone to, and my friends K and H held up six fingers. SIX. Can you imagine doing something six years in a row??? Being near one place for six years?

I guess I have that with camp, so I can't really complain. But I do sometimes wish I had more of that in the real world, as well. I mean, I've been in the CU Boulder queer community since 2009, and I only held up two. a mere two. and 2009 was a long time ago.

I continue to have this torn relationship with the idea of "home". I moved for the first time when I was seven. Funny thing is, that's actually not that early in life. I mean, so many people move at two and four and stuff, and my first time was at seven. Yet, even before then, I am not sure I called Khabarovsk "home". I know when I was just a toddler, whenever a plane would pass overhead, I would point to it and say "someday, you will take me to America". I always knew I was going to leave. and when i was watching the election i still took everything that happened in washington state personally because that's "one of my homes".

Yes, I guess I was born for change. I was born for leaving. I get so restless, so bored with stillness, but then I wonder how much of it is actually fear of the unknown. Stillness is such an unknown for me.

I guess I am lonely. Lonely because I have so few close friendships at this age. Lonely because those i do are far away, or sporadic. Lonely because the ones i have close by are still developing. and maybe lonely, too, because i am jealous, because people have closer friends then me.

and i am scared because i finally learned how to make friends in college, and i graduate in 18 months.

i need to prepare. i need to get ready for that big change. and sometimes this process is hard.

it's not always easy or fun, but i was born for leaving.

05 November 2012

Why I Hate Election Season

It's that most corporate time of the year.
Election season. It's that most wonderful time of the (four) year(s). That time that turns friends into enemies, enemies into heroes, and every apathetic asshole you've ever met into an expert on domestic and foreign policy. Forget Christmas, Black Friday, or Hallween, there is nothing more spectacular this time of year as the well choreographed performanes we see on TV. Election season, the time of the year that Big Brother makes us cookies, freshly baked each day and topped with a sugary layer of frosting that reads, "You matter, [your name]". Ah, election season. How I adore you.

Go ahead, tell me I am wrong, but I will never stop dimissing the importance of the election and looking down at you that post insescently about presidential candidates. Fuck this shit. Here is why I hate the election.

It's that most wonderful time of the year when we decide it's ok to ignore the charade of a system that keeps us dancing like puppets to the beat of corporate drums.

To criticize the system from which our options slither out like worms baked in the power of moeny becomes taboo. To speak up against the importance we grant to a single presidential candidate who's role is more that of an image of a country than it is political, and who's decisions are simply the funneling of political shit in a direction that might be less bad than another becomes harmful. I see it go down all the time, on facebook and in real life, that the moment someone re-directs our attention to the flawed system within which we are operating, they are silenced by cries of "do you know what's at stake!" and "it's our system, for better or for worse!". The glow of TV screen during presidential debates, the lulling voices of speeches and empowering cries of crowds, the red, white, and blue so bright that it blinds - this, my friends, is what gives us this collective amnesia. Swept up by the crowd, we join the lies which we should be fighting. But, this, my friends, is not the time of the year to forget the system that keeps us chained. In fact, we should be screaming louder than ever, should be standing on the rooftops shouting to the skies. Fuck Romney, Fuck Obama, and fuck anyone that dares believe that there can be somethign good about a politician. No, I will not buy into your lies of what matters. Becouse nothing matters as much as shattering the foundations on which systematic oppression and torture is built. I will not grow silent about the prisons and lies in which we live because it's election season. I will grow louder, so hear me roar.

It's that most wonderful time of the year when we turn communities into constituencies and accept tokenizing marginalized groups so that some guy can win a popularity contest.

Four years we sit in the shadows, with "marginalized" meaning that no one cares, and suddenly they throw these words out as casually as Mardigras beads. It's like buying entire communities with fistfulls of pennies. LGBT for Obama, Latino for Obama, Women for Obama. Is it really no surprise that we don't see Pakistanis for Obama or Anti-Assimilationist Radical Queers for Obama? Because we are just targets on the path a victory, just puppets that lift liars on our shoulders. Forget the individuals we are inside, the battles we fight to survive, the differences between us that make us into rainbows. Election season means we suddenly matter, but only as faceless crowds who's votes work in unison. I am not your constituency, and I am not monochrome. There is depth to each of us and I will not let politicians forget that so that they can win Homecoming King. I will not change myself to fit your homonormative mold so that your cries of victory speak straight at me. And I will not pretend that just because some candidate has done a little good for my community, that that same candidate is not also doing so much to hurt it. I will stand my ground as an individual, as radical and (gender)queer, as an ally to my comrades who's lives are being destroyed by your candidate.

It's that most wonderful time of the year when we suddenly forget the privileges that make voting possible, and conflate them with rights, and responsibilities.

Voting is a privilege. I repeat, voting is a privilege. I will say it again, voting is a privilege, and not everyone has it. No, not everyone over the age of 18 who's a US citizen has equal access to the privilege of voting. And if you disagree, you best leave my life now. It's so easy, on college campuses, to throw out those words: "everyone should vote", "everyone should vote", "everyone should vote". But not everyone can. Those people with clipboards registering voters? They aren't everywhere. That information about where to vote? Not  always available. Transportation? Neither. Employers who give time off to vote like they're supposed to? Ha, like employers follow laws! Even if one is able to access the polls, the amount of work one must put into it is not equal. To do so easily is a privilege. The amount of time necessary to research the cause, to decide on a candidate, to know what's really going on is a lot, and requires resources that are not distributed evenly. Voting is a privilege that not everyone has. And, even if you do dare call it a right, there is no way that it is also a responsibility. You're nothing short of a scumbag if you dare say that voting is equally a responsibility for all, despite the fact that some people have to sacrifice so much more in order to vote. It's not equal. It's not fair. It's not a responsibility. And, if you take it as far as to say that someone who doesn't vote loses their right to complain and "bitch about it", like I so often hear, even though those for whom voting is most difficult have more reasons to complain about so much? Well, we should just stop talking.

It's that most wonderful time of the year when compromise is praised and to ignore significant issues is considered the ideal.

No, I will not compromise. No, I will not sacrifice. No, I will not simply overlook the issues that this election is overlooking. Oh, how often I hear it, to vote for the lesser of two evils, the candidate that's marginally better, to ignore so much for some small gain. How often people dismiss third-party votes, votes for those candidates that do not promote drones to the Middle East or abuses against protesters domestically. Now, there are valid reasons to vote for a candidate that's far from good (I did, in fact, vote Obama in this election). But that doesn't mean everyone else should - and that doesn't mean everyone else can. It makes me sick to think I voted for someone who is killing innocent people in Pakistan - but, for someone else, casting that vote could be more than just making them sick; it could be triggering; it could be impossible. There is no reason that I, or they, should compromise drone wars for abortion rights. There is no reason we should remain silent about what an awful person our current president is, and instead sidestep the issues he is sidestepping. This time of the year, we should grow louder. We should grow more vocal. And we should let our hate flood over politicians more than ever before. Instead, we grow silent. We grow positive. We shout "support". I do not support what our politicians are doing. I do not support institutionalized murder. I do not support Obama, I hate Obama and the evil he commits. And you should, too.

It's that most wonderful time of the year when everyone becomes holier-than-thou with their super special sparkly votes that nothing else matters anymore.

Elections take up so much room. Just look at my facebook feed in the last few months. It's flooded by pros and antis, with videos and infographics and debate quotes. And we praise it. We pet ourselves and our friends on the back for reblogging that thing about Mitt Romney is evil. We congratulate those over-election invested peers of our for "taking politics seriously". Even offline, I can't walk from class to class without collecting a flier on Amendment 64 and a thousand inquiries as to whether I support Obama (I'm even running out of clever responses). Elections become the foreground of our lives. And it's not that I necessarily think elections shouldn't matter, or that everyone should refrain from voting. I am not even saying we should talk less about it - in fact, we should be talking more, much more, about the faults in our system and the issues that both candidates agree on or ignore. But that's exactly it - we're not talking about that. Instead, we are talking about that one miniscule bit of our lives, and letting it overshadow everything else that we are dealing with, and that's going on every day. Hint: your vote probably doesn't matter. And, believe it or not, direct action and real lifestyle changes do matter. Projects that have been set in motion and continue existing fade away to the background in favor of promoting or insulting candidates. Personal changes seem unnecessary when you are such a fantastic politically involved voter. And this is all a load of shit. Because other things matter so much more. So shut up with your election, shut up with you voting, and shut up with your candidate. Focus on something real that you can do today to help someone's life. Focus on real issues that are hiding on the background. And clear the area so that real change can still remain on our radars, even during the time of this ultra special election.

26 October 2012

What It's Like to Lose a Parent as a Kid

My father died when I was six years old. I have a strange relationship with this fact. On the one hand, it's not something I think about on a daily basis. I seldom talk about it. It doesn't noticeably impact the things I say or do. And, really, it just doesn't often cross my mind. On the other hand, there is no doubt that this is probably one of the major and most life-changing events in my life. After all, I doubt anything about my life would be the same if he was still alive (or even if he had died at a different time). So this is also something important for people close to me to know, and for me to consider on my life journey.

Kids with dead parents seem to show up in all sorts of media: just look at this and this and this and this and this. I don't exactly have a problem with this being visible in society. After all, with all the generally "bad" experiences I've had in my life, it's nice that at least one of them gets recognized in the mainstream, even if it is by virtue of being practical and convenient in storytelling. My issue, though, is that these tropes and narratives are monolithic and seldom accurately reflect the lived experiences of those who lose a parent as a kid. This really came to my attention this summer, when I went though a much-belated Harry Potter furur, and went as far as to participate in an online Potterverse role-play. As one would expect, RPs in a fandom for a story in which the main character is an orphan, and death, especially the death of parents, is a frequent in-universe occurrence, many people RP characters with dead parents. It was then, when RPing and actually putting myself in this situation, that I realized how inaccurate people's perceptions of what it's like to lose a parent as a kid are. I am thus targeting this post at writers and at critical readers.

I must note that everyone's experiences of losing a parent as a kid are vastly different. Although in this post I might speak as if I am generalizing my experience, I don't intend to do so. I do believe that some of my experiences can in some ways be generalized to describe the experiences of all or most people who lose a parent as a kid. Still, everyone's experience is different, and I do not know what generalizable, and what is not. That being said, I will begin by listing out a few things that might have made my experience distinct from others', so that my readers can keep these things in mind as I work my way though the rest of this post:
  • My father died when I was six years old.
  • I am an oldest sibling.
  • I did not feel a lot of empathy as a child. I also had thorough understandings of some adult concepts, including death.
  • I have very few memories of my father.
  • My father was an alcoholic for several years before his death. This means that I probably did not have many meaningful connective experiences with him for some time prior to his death. It also means that the things I learned about my father growing up included both positive elements about what a kind, nurturing, loving father he was, and negative elements about the drunk and neglecting man he became in the years prior to his death.
  • I was raised by a single mother who dated frequently when I was young and re-married when I was 13.
I will divide this post by separate but overlapping elements of my experience.

Grief for those who lose a parent as a kid has a complex dynamic that spans both the complicated ways in which children experience loss and the unusual ways loss impacts us through time.

The overwhelming truth is that it's difficult to understand death as children, especially the death of someone who plays as a significant role in one's life as a parent. From multiple conversations with people who experienced loss as children, it seems that many popular narratives of children's understanding of death are, indeed, true. Overwhelmingly, it seems, death is confusing to children: children may struggle to understand where someone went, and how, children may wait for them to return, or try and find them in other places. Personally, this was not my experience. I feel like I understood death for as long back as I can remember, and certainly I understood it when my father died. Nonetheless, as my experience seems to be the exception rather than the rule, we should not disregard and should perhaps promote narratives of children's understanding of death that do occur more frequently.

I am no expert on childhood grief. I am sure there are experts out there who's words you should take a lot more seriously than mine. Everything I say here is from my own experience, and from the experiences my friends have described to me. Yet it seems to me that childhood grief differs from adult grief in a few specific ways: (1) childhood grief is a lot less linear than adult grief; it's not that adults don't have fluctuating up-and-down emotions as they go through grief, but it's that this phenomenon is even more pronounced in children; (2) childhood grief is less cognitive than adult grief; by that I mean, childhood grief stems more from raw emotions, and incorporates much less introspection and reflection; (3) of the emotions that make up childhood grief, confusion (and perhaps non-cognitive fear) are probably the most powerful; this is in contrast to emotions such as sadness and anger that we typically associate with grief; (4) childhood grief, or at least the most powerful, intense period of grieving, has a shorter duration than adult grief.

To go through grief of that variety as a child is necessary but not sufficient in recovering from the death of a parent. Unlike (usually) losing a friend, a pet, a grandparent, or another relative, losing a parent is not something one ever stops grieving from (I anticipate this experience is similar when losing a sibling). That's because parents tend to be such an integral part of who we are, that it's impossible to truly separate the loss of a parent from one's current life. As one grows up, elements of "adult grief" become necessary in dealing with losses. In the case of the death of a parent, wherein the grief-wound never truly closes, this means that childhood-grief becomes insufficient and incomplete. Elements of grieving as an adult appear during this time. The first time I cried over my father's death, I was sixteen, ten years after he died. Since that time, I found myself grieving over him in ways I never had before. I have episodes of overboard expressions of love, a common symptom of death; I tie in my feelings about his death with other emotions and things happening in my life; and I find myself spontaneously in tears, battling feelings of sadness and anger. The other day, for example, I found myself tearing up at the thought of my father as a child, and how sad his parents (who I never really knew) must have been about his death. I had never thought about this before, and this was a grief-hurdle I had to overcome in order to move on.

Thus, because completing grief over a parent's death is impossible, and because childhood grief is so different from adult grief, grieving for those who lost a parent as a kid is an entirely distinct experience from the dominant paradigm of grief.

It's hard not to be jealous when you lose a parent as a kid. After all, loss in general feels so much like being denied an experience. Yet, unlike what the dominant narratives about losing a parent would like us to think, our dead parents are not always the ideal epitome of perfection that we always look back at, mourning how a bit of perfect was lost from our lives. Perhaps I am biased, since my father was anything but perfect. Still, overall, those who lost parents as children are well aware that fighting, bitterness, and tears would have been a part of growing up with that parent, just as much as all the good times would have been. And don't let anyone tell you that those things are still "good" because "at least you have a parent to fight with". Because, as far as I know, no one feels that way. And those things are -not- good.

The big-picture things seldom make me jealous. I never once, for example, found myself upset on Father's Day, and I actually really love the holiday now that I have a stepfather to make presents for. (Of course, unlike Mother's Day, Father's Day does not fall during the school year, so that might also be why). Likewise, I have many friends who are self-described "Daddy's Girls", and watching their relationships with their fathers unfold does not make me jealous, or at least not jealous in the way that one might expect. By that I mean, I frequently feel great envy when I see people interacting in close, open, honest ways with their mothers as well, because my relationship with my mother was never a positive relationship of that sort. Likewise, I experience analogous feelings about the relationships others have with their fathers, since I never did have that type of experience. Had my father still been alive, I probably nonetheless would never have these experiences.

When do I feel jealous by virtue of having lost a parent at a young age? The worst episode of this was when the Girl Scout camp at which I work had father-daughter weekend. It meant being surrounded for several days by an environment I never had access to by virtue of losing a parent. It meant systematically watching experiences that never could have been mine unfold around me. And that made me jealous. Usually, though, it's the little things; the brief insights into the lives of others, the more universelizeable parts of growing up with a father that I probably would have to some extent encountered had my father not passed away. For instance, I work in the men's section of Macy's, and the other day, a father-daughter pair came in, shopping for dad's jeans. Overhearing their conversation, for an instant, yes, I did get jealous, because it was so simple and brief and an insight into what my life could have been like if life could have been different.

The Question
Perhaps the most difficult part of growing up having lost a parent as a child is that, oh so often, I have to answer the questions:
  • So, what does your dad do?
  • You talked about your mom, what about your dad?
  • Are your parents divorced?
  • So you have a stepfather, what about your real father?
And so on, and so on, and so on. It's hard to avoid the conversation. There is a time when people want to know, want to find out about your parents. And that's when you have to answer it.

I play with words all the time. A blunt, unempathetic child, I used to simply respond: "Oh, my dad is dead", but that threw people so far off guard that I gradually changed my phrasing. "Passed away" is a term I never found especially appealing. Somehow, this soft euphemism seems to skirt the truth and create a brittle, sensitive environment around the topic. "My father died" is the phrasing I prefer these days, and, more specifically "my father died when I was six", since the age at which it took place plays as great of - maybe more - of a role in determining who I am than the fact that it did once happen.

More difficult are the responses I face in return. More often than not, answering this question causes people to shut down, apologize, then tip-toe around me as if any wrong word is going to set me off in a state of hopeless weeping. A low-battery phone is suddenly "passing away" and not dying, and the father visiting over the weekend becomes "one of their parents". Sometimes, people prod me as if I am a strange object, poking me with the blunt end of a broom from ten feet away. They ask me if I am ok, then hint that they are curious to know more in hushed tones.

I dread the question(s). I dread the shocked responses. I dread the first time I have to tell new friends that I lost a parent as a child. I've even lied before, told people I never expect to know well that I never knew my father, or that my parents are divorced. Here is the thing. Talking about my father's death does not upset me. I've had to do it my whole life. It does not trigger me, it does not break me down, my voice does not crack. For fifteen years I've had to answer the question, and yes, you get used to it after a while. What upsets me are the responses I get in return. I am not fragile or weak, you are not a villain for asking. There is no need to make this part of my life awkward and dreadful in addition to already being sad. Be polite. Be honest. Ask me questions. And please remember: I've talked about this before; I'll talk about it again; and this is nothing new to me.

Talking About It
On the topic of talking about it, let me say this: sometimes, that is important. Personally, I find it necessary to share most of my thoughts and feelings, since I am an extrovert, and I gain a lot from my conversations with others. This is one topic I seldom find myself being able to talk about, especially given the things I just discussed above. I haven't quite figured out how to go about sorting this out. I usually prefer to talk to the friends who have that also lost a parent as a kid, because they seem to understand the things I am going through better. I wish, though, that there was a way to bring this up to other people without the awkwardness that makes it impossible to say anything past the surface. It's hard to cry and have no one to talk to about it, it's hard to have thoughts and feelings that you can't share, it's hard to have all those experiences that I described above, and to keep them to myself. Family, too, is not an option for talking about these topics, since, within my family, it is a sensitive topic, and it's not one I am comfortable navigating.


In conclusion, those are just some of the feelings I have around the experience of growing up having lost a parent as a kid. Feel free to ask me any questions about it, but also please consider these things as a critical reader and writer, and when encountering people who've lost a parent as a kid in everyday life.

14 October 2012

Fuck Famous Dead White Guys

My astronomy class just covered history of astronomy, a very upsetting topic. I mean, have you ever heard of a more racist discipline than history of science? OK, you probably have, but suffice to say that history, including history of science, is written in a really fucking RACIST way.

Actual slide from the powerpoint.
Well, my professor is white. But he’s certainly not racist, is he? I mean, he’s not even colorblind. In key with our wonderful, liberal, post-racial city of Boulder, he’s not afraid to say the truth: history of astronomy, he says, is just a bunch of “Famous Dead White Guys”. No, I’m not kidding, that’s exactly what he says. And, I mean, he can’t be wrong. After all, there is such a high percentage of POC at CU that they would certainly say something if he was! Besides, isn’t that all we are learning about in class? Famous Dead White Guys?

The history of science chapter (called "The Science of Astronomy") in my textbook (The Cosmic Perspective, Sixth Edition, by Jeffrey Bennett, Megan Donahue, Nicholas Schneider, and Mark Voit) is divided into five parts. (1) "The Ancient Roots of Science"; (2) "Ancient Greek Science"; (3) "The Copernican Revolution"; (4) "The Nature of Science"; and (5) "Astrology". We skipped over Part I.

Now, to be honest, I don’t blame the textbook (which, upon further observation, I discovered was written in part by two professors from CU, which is making me want to get confrontational) for grouping geographically and historically broad and vast astronomical discoveries under one chapter of "ancient astronomy"; nor do I blame my textbook for distinguishing Ancient Greek astronomy from other astronomies of and before its time, and designating an individual chapter just for this historical period. For an introductory class that goes over these things so quickly, you have to make some sacrifices. And, yes, that might include skimming over interesting and big astronomical discoveries. The Greeks, however, are a lot harder to skim over. I am not saying that they were the only ancients to make ground-breaking astronomical discovery, but, for historical reasons, their ideas are more causally linked to our astronomical understanding today. I do think, however, it was incredibly wrong of our professor to choose not to teach the chapter on ancient astronomy. He specifically chose to ignore that which was already under-represented, and I am not ok with that.

But what bothered me even more is that from there, it skips straight to Renaissance science. And there's where I bit my lip in frustration. There's a lot that happened in between.

Our favorite time-period to ignore in world history is the Golden Age of Islam. I never learned it even existed until I was twenty-one years old. Until then, I thought pretty much nothing happened during the Middle Ages. Man, was I wrong. And yes, I had studied history; I had taken World History. And I still knew so little about this. To this day, my knowledge of Islamic and Middle Eastern history is not that thorough. But I do know, vaguely, but I do know, that astronomy was important in the Muslim World during this time.

I decided to bring this up in class to see if I could get my professor to talk about it. I did this in form of a question. After patiently waiting for the end of Famous Dead White Guys, I raised my hand and asked: "Can you tell us anything about medieval Arabic astronomy".

The short answer is he said "no". That's a quote. "No".

He then admitted that he knows almost nothing about medieval Arabic astronomy, and directed us to take the ancient astronomy class or read the ancient astronomy chapter in the text book. Since when is medieval astronomy ancient? It isn't neither, chronologically nor causatively. Nor is it my responsibility to educate myself on the history of science just because my silly professor does not care enough so learn it himself. Hint:if you only know famous dead white guys, you don't know history.

Here is the thing. History; history of science; history of astronomy; none of these are famous dead white guys. That's just how we learn them. That's just how the text books are written, how the professors teach the classes. That's just how we learn history: by ignoring anyone who's not white or male. This is not how history actually is. And it makes me angry when we ignore that.

16 July 2012

The Shore

When you are on a ferry, the first few yards go quickly. You can't take your eyes off the land. The shore backs away so fast, then seems to slow down. You take a moment to glance around. You get distracted. You look the other way. Then, you look back. And it's gone, hidden behind the horizon.

I just reached that point. I'd been looking forward for so long, that I hadn't glanced back since my freshmen year. But something - a new 17-year-old friend, to be exact - made me look back. And I saw that I couldn't see it anymore. Highschool fell behind the horizon.

In retrospect. I really do miss it. There was a degree of stability to being in one place five days a week for eight hours a day. There was something nice about most of the people you know being surrounded by the same campus. It was easy to fall into a rhythm, easy to develop a pattern. Easy to make new friends through old friends.

It's funny to think how young you are in highschool, discovering those very mature things like sex and drugs and which academic pursuits interest you most. But, the whole time you are still a child, and so much of highschool feels like a game looking back. Like dressing up for school dances, decorating cars, doing drugs, it was all like childhood play.

I can't quiet swallow it, looking back, to see what a difference three years make in life. It's so far away I don't know the person I was then anymore. And that scares me.