Author Archives: Avory
I have a confession to make on this Bisexual Visibility Day–I’ve definitely got some internalized biphobia going on. Whenever the topic of biphobia or bisexual invisibility comes up, I totally “rah rah” along in solidarity with bisexual folks, but I also have some kneejerk reactions to bisexuality as an identity that I need to keep interrogating. When I identified as gay, I had the bad grace to think of my own bisexual history as a phase I didn’t want to think too much about, and I definitely made the error of thinking of bisexual people as “less queer.” Now that I identify as queer, I’ve made some progress in understanding bisexuality as a valid identity for other people, but I realize that I’m uncomfortable identifying with bisexuality or seeing the commonalities between bisexuality and my own identity.
I’m thinking a bit about how queers experience space differently, and I notice that so many of my experiences of being queer are intricately linked with the dichotomy of public vs. private, even now as an out queer adult.
When queer folks talk about growing up and early sexual experiences, it’s often about hiding or trying to find safe space. Few of us had a safe, private place for sexual exploration, though sometimes keeping our identity quiet can grant us such a place. I remember kicking myself for coming out to my mom as a teen when my peers told me about being able to hook up behind closed doors, free from suspicion, because a parent would never suspect a same-sex friend. Similar dynamics can also come up for queer adults, looking for privacy as an alternative to potential violence and/or sexual abuse.
Usually when I hear discussions around the concept of white guilt, they’re about how inappropriate it is to air or focus on. This of course makes total sense in mixed-race spaces. Often when white people express their guilt around race, it’s in a mixed-race space and they’re derailing conversations to center their own emotions rather than the priorities of folks of color. It’s never right to center white guilt and white experiences in a general anti-racist space, and in that context white guilt can be just as bad as white pride.
One thing I have been frustrated about, though, is the way white folks handle white guilt in white anti-racist spaces that are designed for white people to work together without burdening people of color with their emotions or education. I haven’t heard much productive conversation about how to address this within white spaces so that we can then do effective work to dismantle racist systems in solidarity with people of color. What follows below the cut is a sharing of experiences and some thoughts that I’d love other white folks to engage with around strategy.
Note: I actually wrote this post a couple of years ago, but it felt too personal at the time to release.
I’m in my kitchen, slicing fresh corn off the cob, swaying my hips and stamping my feet to a Carolina Chocolate Drops cover of “Hit Em’ Up Style.” Body memory integrates — a rare occurrence — with the present moment, and I am brought back to my Southern childhood by the scents of fresh vegetables and the familiar rhythm of a solo dance. I am not my own audience — I prefer not to observe my movements as an outsider would — but dancing with no focus on form or appearance is its own satisfaction. I am briefly grateful for this body, the one wrapped in an old sundress with a scarf around the waist that sways as I do, the one that appreciates the taste of fresh food and the sultry song of a tuned-up fiddle. In this moment, I’m not thinking about dance-class rejections or the pain of my trans experience. For a few minutes, I’m just experiencing my own self, and the joy of creating something — both dance and meal — that can never be precisely duplicated.
In recent months, I’ve struggled to locate myself as a creative, living with an amazing writer and artist who pours creativity into everything they do. I feel outside of that world, too logical and focused on organization to claim creativity. The meal I’m eating as I write this piece, the one I’ve just created, was guided by a Blue Apron recipe, and as much as dance has guided my life, I have to face the fact that I essentially failed as a choreographer. The innocence of my mom’s always-available garden and a childish form that was constantly in motion feel remote as an adult who knows the price of organic vegetables and the pain of living in a trans body. Typically I distance myself from that body, because it’s too complicated, and because I trust my mind. Trusting my body is much harder.
I was a little startled by how much I related to Ariel Gore’s new novel, We Were Witches, out now from The Feminist Press. Deeply embedded in Gore’s experience with young motherhood, I thought I might like the story but expected to distance myself from it given the femininity of the topic. But this tale is deliciously queer in both form and function, and speaks to emotions I’ve certainly felt but found difficult to name.
In accessible language and with a playful narrative framework, Gore leaves the experience of shame cut open and dripping blood onto the page. But at the same time, she reminds us that only living things bleed, and reshapes that shame into resistance. “What does shame require to stay alive?” she asks. “What is the antidote to shame?”
Blending a personal journey with political questions, this story reminds us that even white women are not served by White Feminism, and the narrative complicates any nostalgia towards 90s feminism. Gore’s story reminds us that women can also be brutal and that whiteness can be a prerequisite for mainstream feminist protest, that seeking protection for a child can mean forced re-insertion into a heteropatriarchal structure even where the patriarch didn’t ask for it. Ariel in the story experiences both deeply personal, specific pains and the weight of oppressing systems that defy happy endings and leave some questions unanswered. This is a book about shame and magic, violence and motherhood. It’s not (entirely) a true story, but it plays with the question of what is true.
Disclosure: The publisher provided an Advanced Reading Copy of this book for review.
In education, the voice of the educator is important. The lessons we learn are shaped by those who pass them on to us, just as they are shaped by the writers chosen for curricula. It’s telling, then, that as an undergraduate, I never had a single professor of color–but also telling that I didn’t realize that until recently.
I was thinking about my undergraduate education, and how I didn’t really start reading many works by people of color until law school, and didn’t start to tip the balance of my reading more towards a 50/50 split between white authors and authors of color until much later. This was my own fault, but I also noticed when thinking about the books I read at that time that I couldn’t think of a single undergraduate professor of color. When I went systemically through all the classes I took, I realized that there wasn’t one.
My university (UMBC) was a medium-sized public school in Maryland that emphasized diversity in the sciences, in particular. Our university president was a brilliant black man who was a frequent guest on NPR. But in the humanities and dance, all my professors were white. I never took an “ethnic studies” course, but I also never had a professor of color for any “mainstream” subject. In law school, I had three professors of color out of maybe twenty.
I wonder how common this experience is for white folks, and how many of us don’t even notice. I’m certain my classmates of color were noticing. So if you get a chance, white folks who attended an undergraduate institution, think back and see if you can recall how many professors of color you had. Let me know in the comments.
I guess it’s no surprise that my expectations for friendships in my thirties are different from what they were in my teens. But in thinking about how my friendship norms have changed over time, I notice some patterns that might have been alleviated by better education around friendship at a young age — a kind of relationship that’s prioritized much less than romantic relationships in the collective imagination, but is actually more important for many people.
When I was a kid, my primary models for friendship were my mom’s two best friends–one woman she’d known since high school, and another she met while pregnant with me. This idea of close, lifelong friends stuck with me and was definitely an aspiration. As a kid, I was always looking for a “best friend,” and fantasized about growing up and attending college together. I was desperate enough for a BFF that my closest friendships tended to have a cost, either of manipulation and borderline abusiveness in the friends who took advantage of that need, or of a neediness that I found overwhelming in friends who were just as desperate.
Readers, I cannot express how much I appreciate your sticking with me through the past ten years for all my blogging pursuits and other creative and activist endeavors. As you know, the content I create has always been free and will continue to be so. In addition to providing free content, though, I wanted to come up with a way for those who have the desire and the ability to support my blogs as well as some future projects I’ve been working on (did someone say game design? YouTube?)
So today I’m launching a Patreon campaign! You can follow the link to make a small recurring contribution that not only supports my work but also gives you access to awesome patron perks. Want to know more about what I’m working on each month? Want to be able to request blog topics or receive a monthly message just telling you how awesome you are in this messed-up, capitalist hellscape of a world we live in? Well, all you have to do is go to my Patreon page, choose a reward level, and sign up for exclusive content and more! And if you can’t contribute, but want to spread the word, shout-out Tweets are the best.
Thanks so much for your support over the years and keep reading and commenting!
In case you haven’t received the memo, in the United States at least, we’re living in a capitalist heteropatriarchal society. And when those two elements combine, one of the results is that it’s a citizen’s capitalist duty to literally produce people — to reproduce within a heteropatriarchal family structure. But what about the queers? Does being queer and anti-capitalist mean being opposed to production as a concept? Well, not necessarily.
I think queer creative production provides an interesting theoretical alternative to the capitalist heteropatriarchal ideal of production through reproduction. Sure, some queers make babies, but more interesting I think is another way we produce, through our creativity. Most of us don’t prioritize popping out kids to make the nationalist economy function, but a lot of do prioritize another kind of production.
Queerness has long been about producing love, producing connections, producing art and health and survival. I believe that to be queer is inherently to be making, creating, re-forming, and yes, producing. I love the way queers often form pastiches and remixes by creating on top of one another’s work, by rethinking ideas, by questioning and challenging. We get creative because we have to in order to survive, sometimes making our own alternative economies and family structures. We figure out how to survive through wit and connections and creativity. This is especially true for QTPOC and indigenous queers, for those whom society has left behind. Queerness is in this way, opposed to capitalism but also inherently generative.
Just a quick thought from me today: does the whole “Protect [identity here] Lives” meme bother anyone else? I keep seeing these great graphics focused on a particular subset — black trans lives, queer Deaf lives, queer sex worker lives, etc. — of people that I care about, and want to support. But the “protect” message feels super paternalistic and condescending. Particularly on lines of difference where I have privilege, I don’t want to be the creepy protector or savior, I want to tear down the institutions and conditions that are harming people that don’t have privilege. Why not celebrate lives or honor lives? Even support lives feels slightly better than “protect,” with its connotations of parental authority or a paternalistic possessive boyfriend. The only place where I really feel comfortable with that word is when we’re explicitly talking about younger people that legitimately need protection, as in “Protect Trans Youth,” and even then I think there’s value in using “support” to recognize the fact that youth can also act for themselves. Then again, I suppose “Dismantle the Conditions That Contribute Systemic Racism and Transmisogyny and Therefore Interfere with Black Trans Lives” doesn’t really fit on a graphic.